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

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I'm With The Impaler

Could he be worse than Tancredo?

He calls himself a "vampyre" (the Romanian spelling, he says) and claims he's been drinking blood since age five. He also wants to be your next president.

Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey is running unchallenged for the Vampire, Witches and Pagan Party 2008 presidential nomination.

"Unchallenged," ay? I might have something to say about that.

Actually, that would be a great Hunter Thompson-like book. "Wicca and Garlic on the Campaign Trail '08"

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Payment For Services Rendered

I've heard of independent expenditures before, but never one that was bigger than the campaign's own war chest:

In the last two weeks, a Riverside County Indian tribe has independently spent more than $270,000 on behalf of a Democratic candidate in Tuesday's special election to fill a Long Beach area congressional seat.

The expenditures by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians greatly outweigh other donations in the relatively quiet race to replace Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, who died in April. Since June 14, Morongo has paid for door hangers, newspaper ads, mailers and phone calls to voters on behalf of Jenny Oropeza, a state senator from Long Beach.

The amount spent in the Morongo campaign — by law such expenditures cannot be made in consultation with the candidate — has exceeded the $219,000 Oropeza reported raising in direct donations for the entire campaign as of June 6. It is more than 2 1/2 times the $105,000 that Oropeza's chief competitor, Assemblywoman Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach), reported collecting by the same date.

Oropeza voted for the gaming compacts that would triple the number of slot machines at the Morongo casino, without allowing casino workers full ability to organize and collectively bargain. The compacts would also not offer much in the way of oversight into casino finances, which in a way is the whole point, since the state is supposed to receive 15-25% of the proceeds from the new slot machines, but may not be able to determine what those proceeds are.

But none of this kept Oropeza from breaking a state Senate campaign promise by voting in support of the compacts. And her reward is a quarter of a million dollars in advertising.

Incidentally, Morongo might want to double-check their voter lists.

(her opponent Laura) Richardson said she got two pieces of Morongo-paid mail at her home.

She called the Morongo expenditures "off the charts" but predicted that voters "are going to see through exactly what's going on."

Maybe, maybe not. And my sense is that voters aren't all that interested in the mass of mailers and robocalls, especially in the middle of June in a special election that will likely not garner 15% turnout. Still, it's interesting to see the lengths to which Morongo will go to pay back their supporters. If they really wanted to help Oropeza, however, they would spend money for GOTV machinery instead of ads and calls, to counter the network of labor groups that will be helping Richardson turn out her voters, mainly because of the very Morongo compacts Oropeza signed.

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Rahm Emanuel Reads This Blog

Yesterday I said that Rep. Emanuel is just the kind of asshole who should back up his tough talk about Fourthbranch Cheney with action, and actually submit legislation cutting funding for the Vice President's office since it isn't part of the executive branch.

And today...

Washington, D.C. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel issued the following statement regarding his amendment to cut funding for the Office of the Vice President from the bill that funds the executive branch. The legislation -- the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill -- will be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives next week.

"The Vice President has a choice to make. If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive branch funding he cannot ignore executive branch rules. At the very least, the Vice President should be consistent. This amendment will ensure that the Vice President's funding is consistent with his legal arguments. I have worked closely with my colleagues on this amendment and will continue to pursue this measure in the coming days."

Hilarious. I think it'll pass the House and might even get a few anti-Cheney Republicans, too.

Meanwhile, apparently the law isn't supposed to apply to Cheney or Bush:

The White House said Friday that, like Vice President Dick Cheney's office, President Bush's office is exempt from a presidential order requiring government agencies that handle classified national security information to submit to oversight by an independent federal watchdog.

The executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 covers all government agencies that are part of the executive branch and, although it doesn't specifically say so, was not meant to apply to the vice president's office or the president's office, a White House spokesman said.

I like when new laws are made up within executive orders and the justification is essentially "Oh, I meant to do that." Under this standard, the 2nd amendment INCLUDES the right to use handguns to kill anyone Chinese, I mean, it's not actually written in there, but that was the intent. What originalists they are.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Hey, wait a minute... September's not in the spring!

Who are they trying to kid with this one?

The U.S. may be able to reduce combat forces in Iraq by next spring if Iraq's own security forces continue to grow and improve, a senior American commander said Friday. He denied reports the U.S. is arming Sunni insurgent groups to help in the fight against al-Qaida.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top day-to-day commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, did not predict any reductions in U.S. forces but said such redeployments may be feasible by spring. There are currently 156,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

That sounds great! We only have to wait 9 months!

'Course, we heard the exact same thing in 2006:

On the eve of President Bush’s summit on Iraq, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad predicted Sunday that coalition troops will gradually move out of the country in the coming months.

Gen. George Casey said he thinks it will be possible to withdraw some of the 130,000 U.S. forces in the months ahead as long as Iraq’s government and security forces make progress.

And April 2006:

As the top U.S. commander in Iraq suggested today that the United States would soon reduce the number of troops in Iraq, Pentagon planners said to ABC News that they hoped to pull more than 30,000 troops out by the end of the year, and possibly by as early as November.

The reductions depend on political and security progress in Iraq.

And July 2005:

The top U.S. military leader in Iraq said Wednesday there could be substantial withdrawals of some of the 135,000 U.S. troops in the country as early as next spring.

Gen. George W. Casey said that despite continued lethal attacks by insurgents, the security situation in Iraq had improved. He reiterated a position he had taken earlier this year on the possible decrease in the U.S. military presence during a one-day visit by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for meetings with Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari [...]

"If the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe we'll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer," Casey said before meeting with Jafari.

And September of Frickin' 2004:

The United States Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, has suggested US troop reductions in Iraq will be possible once Iraqi security forces were trained to take over their job.

Mr Rumsfeld made the comments following a meeting with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi at the Pentagon.

For close to three years, Administration officials have been saying that they might be able to reduce the forces if things go well. And they NEVER DO. So shouldn't news organizations simply refuse to print this boilerplate story anymore until there's actually something real behind it instead of "if a magical pony comes down and reconciles the Shia and Sunni, then sure, we can leave by spring!"

Also, of course, this pushes off the "decidering" from September to 6 months later, at which point another Friedman Unit will be needed, &c.

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A New Generation of Progressive Leadership

Democrats and particularly bloggers like to take the piss out of Barack Obama and John Edwards and the rest of our slate of Democratic Presidential candidates a lot; I've joined them. But it's undeniable that we're seeing a completely different dynamic in 2007 that we saw in 2003 leading up to the primaries. Then, centrist pro-gun fiscally conservative Howard Dean was seen as a wild-eyed liberal just to the left of Karl Marx. The range of topics was extremely narrow, and the solutions expressed even narrower. Today, we see a broad progressive agenda espoused by everyone - even Hillary Clinton - and practically everyone in this race has pitched their message in a more progressive way than even Dean. (OK, not Biden, but he represents the past)

The candidates' liberal chorus about the war in Iraq, gay rights, healthcare and labor issues was a testament to the Democratic left wing's growing strength since the Republican rout in the 2006 midterm election.

The White House hopefuls called for broad healthcare reform. All embraced allowing gays to serve in the military, a step to the left of President Clinton's policy of "don't ask, don't tell."

The rival candidates also paid homage to their party's deep antiwar sentiment by competing for the mantle of being the most strongly opposed to the war in Iraq [...]

At a time when many Republicans are dissatisfied with their presidential candidates, the mood at the twin forums illustrated the energy and high hopes coursing through liberal ranks.

"There's enthusiasm and optimism that someone in this room will be elected president," said Wayne Holland Jr., head of the Utah Democratic Party who attended the conference of liberal activists organized by the Campaign for America's Future. "There's a confidence I've never seen."

We begged, pleaded, and cajoled Democrats to emphasize a true politics of contrast in 2004 and 2006. We urged them to be bold and not passive or cautious. Now we're just starting to see the fruits of that, at least on the campaign trail (in Congress is another story, though I think they're beginning to get the message as well). People in this country are starving for change and leadership; that's why they're so disgusted with Congress right now, because it appears unwilling or unable to challenge George Bush.

But candidates on the stump ARE offering a leadership agenda. Barack Obama offered one of the boldest good government proposals in recent memory today, and he framed it in terms of a regrettable American past that we are slipping into again.

As factories multiplied and profits grew, the winnings of the new economy became more and more concentrated in the hands of a few robber barons, railroad tycoons and oil magnates.

It was known as the Gilded Age, and it was made possible by a government that played along. From the politicians in Washington to the big city machines, a vast system of payoffs and patronage, scandal and corruption kept power in the hands of the few while the workers who streamed into the new factories found it harder and harder to earn a decent wage or work in a safe environment or get a day off once in awhile.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Preventing and even discouraging partipation in the political system are important tools of the entrenched interests in society. If people can't or won't change the system, the system becomes a tool for preserving injustice instead of eradicating it [...]

From Jack Abramoff to Tom Delay, from briberies to indictments, the scandals that have plagued Washington over the last few years have been too numerous to recall.

But their most troubling aspect goes far beyond the headlines that focus on the culprits and their crimes. It's an entire culture in Washington – some of it legal, some of it not – that allows this to happen. Because what's most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result.

The specific policies are numerous, but they include banning political appointees from working on anything related to their prior employer, ending no-bid contracting abuse, banning gifts to executive branch employees, enforcing the Hatch Act which bans government officials from engaging in partisan activities, ELMINATING SIGNING STATEMENTS, allowing for public comment on all bills before signage, conducting regulatory business and federal earmarking in public, and more. Obama is a candidate with a message of changing our politics, and all of these proposals, many of which he advocated before coming to Washington, all get at a drastic change from the tarnished legacy of the Bush era and a restoration of the principles of good government and respect for the Constitution. Even Ralph Nader's old group gave it a thumbs-up. You can see the speech he gave here.

We have another Presidential candidate, John Edwards, who is the first since Lyndon Johnson, really, to talk about the shame of poverty in America and advocate for those voiceless poor who have no access to the levers of power. Because he happens to be wealthy and wants to be President so he can do something about this issue, he takes a lot of heat from a clueless media, like this story today in the New York Times, alleging that Edwards' anti-poverty nonprofit was somehow used for nefarious purposes. Never mind the fact that The Times never bothered to talk to any poor people that were helped by Edwards' nonprofit. If you just look at what the Paper of Record thinks is dastardly - going abroad to talk with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and criss-crossing the country helping build unions and talking about poverty - it doesn't seem all that untoward. In fact, it seems pretty impressive:

Indeed, this all seems like an extremely successful venture. Edwards raised some money to fight poverty. He used a certain amount of that money to finance his own pre-presidential campaigning, which was entirely focused on poverty reduction. During that campaigning, he spent an enormous amount of time...talking about poverty, and restoring its place in the national political discussion. Given that the sum of money we're talking about is $1.3 million, how has this not been an extraordinarily effective anti-poverty center? Granted, among its methods were to enable a national politician to continually raise the issue's profile through his personal advocacy, but isn't that what folks donating to a John Edwards poverty center were expecting? And hasn't Edwards -- who still brings up poverty in his speeches, just released a book on the subject, and whose efforts spurred Matt Bai to write a New York Times Magazine cover story on the reemergence of the issue in the national political discourse -- proven very, very effective? If you care about poverty, this seems like $1.3 million well spent.

It's clear to me from these examples that we have a new generation of progressive leadership, one that is understanding that in a dangerous world, in the aftermath of a disastrous Presidency, we cannot be timid, we cannot be cowed, we must be strong and principled and tell the nation exactly how we can change this country and make an impact on people's lives. I'll leave the last word to E.J. Dionne, who wrote this admirable piece today:

cliches die hard, so you hear such 20-year-old questions as: "Are Democrats moving too far to the left?" or "Will Democrats abandon the center?"

This approach is about abstractions, not concrete political problems, and it misses the dynamic in American public life, which is the move away from the right and a discrediting of the conservative era. The political "center" of today is not where the "center" was even five years ago.

That's why every leading Democratic candidate for president chose to appear at this week's "Take Back America" conference organized by the Campaign for America's Future, the leading group on the party's progressive end [...]

None of this means that the country would replace the fiercely ideological politics of the right with strident leftism. On the contrary, the reaction against conservatism is being fed by two streams -- a move left by one part of the electorate, and a frustration with ideological politics altogether by another part.

It's why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flirting with an independent run for the presidency while denying he's doing so, hit a responsive chord when he declared this week that "good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular political ideology."

But the "good ideas" that voters are demanding mostly have to do with problems that have been framed by the left, not the right: the need to disengage from Iraq, to create health security, to ease economic inequalities. It's time to update our sense of where the political center lies and to adjust our view of "the left" accordingly.

The local Air America station has a new tagline: "Progressive, the new mainstream." I'm beginning to think that they're right.

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Friday Random Ten

Once again, better late than never:

King Of The Rodeo - Kings Of Leon
Rock The Bells - LL Cool J
Daybreak - Stone Roses
Pink Eye (On My Leg) - Ween
Biscuit - Portishead
Nicotine & Gravy - Beck
Le Monde - Thievery Corporation
Les Lapins - Stereo Total
Humming - Portishead
I Want To Take You Higher - Sly & the Family Stone

I'm digging that list. Although it does place me in a certain mid 90s-early 2000s context.

Let me tack on the sublime conversation I just heard in an elevator:

Woman: "See, Arbor Day's coming up!"
Man: "When?"
Woman: ", check it out."
Man: "Arbor crap. That's how I roll."

You can't make stuff like that up.

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How Do I Lie? Let Me Count The Ways...

A brief sampling of Bush Administration lies over the past few days...

• Laura Bush sez many Iraqi refugees have been welcomed to the United States. If by "many," you mean less than 500 out of the nearly two million Iraqis who have fled their country.

• General David Petraeus completely focuses on Al Qaeda in Iraq as the source of the problems in Iraq, when they are maybe 3% of the overall insurgency. He's also claiming that the September date is not a deadline for a policy change, when it is to the Congress, who actually has the ability to make that determination and not some general.

• Former deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty just wasn't all that involved in the firing of US Attorneys or the hiring of replacements, or really anything in the Justice Department, so I'm not sure how he spent his time. Of course, the Attorney General has said that he relied on McNulty's advice in approving the firings.

• Tony Snow responded to the scandal of White House officials using RNC email accounts in violation of the Presidential Records Act by saying "Clinton did it too," which is, um, not true. It's so untrue, in fact, that then-staffer John Podesta wrote a specific memo stating that all email must be incorporated into the official records system.

To be fair, not every Bush Administration official lies. Some of them don't say anything at all.

John A. Rizzo, who has spent much of the past five years honing the CIA's interrogation policies, knows how to avoid answering questions under pressure -- at least in public. In nearly two hours of Senate testimony yesterday, his longest response by far was six sentences long.

For much of the session, Rizzo confined himself to "Yes, sir," "No, sir" and "I think I'd best address that in closed session." [...]

Asked if he approved of a Justice Department opinion that only pain resulting in "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" qualified as torture, Rizzo carefully said he "did not object." Perhaps it "did appear overbroad," he added, "but I can't say that I had any specific objections to any specific parts of it."

He may be the best Administration official yet, because he tries really really hard NOT to lie.

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CA-37: GOTV Weekend

The primary election to replace Juanita Millender-McDonald is next Tuesday, June 26. Both main campaigns, State Sen. Jenny Oropeza and Assemblywoman Laura Richardson, have released internal polls showing them in the lead; however, both polls are tight enough to make this a very close race. Oropeza has about twice as much money for the final days.

There's not much of an air war going on, but the mailers are fast and furious. And Richardson continues to engage in not-so-subtle identity politics.

A crowd of nearly 100 people heard State Senator Jenny Oropeza (D., Carson-LB), a polished public speaker with 19 years of elective experience, become audibly emotional, her voice at one point seemingly approaching tears, while retaining her composure to complete her closing statement in emphatic tones. To hear this, click here.

The Senator's reaction came after fellow Democrat candidate George Parmer, Jr. ("I'm a truck driver, a working man, not a politician") said that at a candidate forum a day earlier, someone [not a candidate] suggested that he and other less well funded candidates should drop out of the race in favor of a candidate who could win. Mr. Parmer interpreted this to mean defeating a Hispanic candidate [Sen. Oropeza] to benefit a Black candidate...which he likened to returning to the "road to segregation." To hear his statement, click here.

Following Mr. Parmer and Senator Oropeza, Assemblywoman Laura Richardson (D., Carson-LB) delivered her closing statement, reiterating her stance that the Congressional seat held by the late Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D., Carson-LB) should be held by someone from "our community." Assemblywoman Richardson indicated the phrase means someone with a working class background reflective of the district, along with the legislative experience to do the job. "I'm not speaking about race. I'm talking about respect," Assemblywoman Richardson said. To hear this, click here.

I don't know what the outcome will be, but progressive politics suffer when campaigns become a race about "respect" and identity and street cred. And I sense this is all coming from one particular candidate.

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King-Harbor on the road to shutdown

You never know when the traditional media will latch on to a story, but they've certainly raised the case of L.A.'s King-Harbor Medical Center to new heights by publicizing the tragic story of a woman who died while waiting in the lobby of the emergency room while hospital staff casually walked by her. It's become a powerful symbol of our broken health care system. In fact, King-Harbor has been troubled almost since the moment it opened in 1972, and the tales of woe emanating from the medical center are numerous.

Among the cases cited:

• One patient in King-Harbor's emergency room told a triage nurse on April 30 that he was seeing "aliens and devils" and that he was thinking about drinking bleach to commit suicide. He was left in the lobby for more than an hour and not seen by a physician for almost seven hours. A mental health evaluation was not completed for 17 hours after he arrived, according to the federal report.

At that time, the patient denied being suicidal and was discharged without receiving treatment.

• A female patient went to the emergency room on March 8 complaining of two weeks of stomach pain. She said she had nausea and rated her pain as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. "The patient identified that the pain she was experiencing was constant and that nothing provided relief."

Even so, she was given no treatment to alleviate pain or reduce her fever. Two hours later, she was checked again and again offered no treatment. She was not seen by a physician until nearly seven hours after she arrived. "The patient experienced severe pain throughout her [emergency stay]," the report said. Eleven hours after she arrived, she went to surgery.

• A patient went to the emergency room on May 11 complaining of spotting during pregnancy. An hour later, a triage nurse saw her, gave her a pregnancy test and sent her back to the waiting area. When staff called her name two hours later, she had left without being seen.

Three days later, the same woman returned to the hospital with complaints of vaginal bleeding and severe pain. A nurse didn't evaluate how much she was bleeding and had her wait four hours without pain medication. During an ultrasound, she had a miscarriage and was discharged a short time later.

So today, state regulators have moved to close the hospital. But is that the right thing to do?

Both the governor and a portion of the LA County Board of Supervisors seem resigned to King-Harbor's closure:

Two of the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said Thursday that they now support closing the hospital without delay.

"I think it's over for us," Supervisor Gloria Molina said. "I'm in fact terrified that somebody else might be hurt or neglected or abused at Martin Luther King hospital."

Supervisor Mike Antonovich agreed. "The time has come to put patients' lives before incompetent employees or political agendas," he said.

The state's decision, which was approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is subject to appeal. That process could take six months to a year.

So for the next year, King-Harbor would remain open until the process is complete. But what would be in place in the wake of any closure? In the CA-37 debate, the district which includes the area around King-Harbor, almost all of the candidates stressed the fact that there are few options for the low-income residents that King-Harbor serves. Most of them use public transportation and can't afford an ambulance to take them to the next closest hospital. And the trauma centers in the area are already overburdened, and another 47,000 ER visits per year (the approximate average at King-Harbor) could create the very problem regulators are seeking to avoid. If there is an extended, year-long process to close King-Harbor, plans MUST be made to provide for some replacement access for the citizens who would be left with practically no alternative should they become sick or injured. Community advocates are saying the same thing.

"We are playing with not only fire, we have gasoline in the other hand," said Lark Galloway Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils. "That emergency room, you can't let that go. Closure to me is not an option."

Finally, this really stresses the need for a better safety net for all citizens than a crippled emergency room system that acts as a faux-universal care apparatus. People deserve better than this. They need to have access to preventative care instead of going to the ER for a fever. King-Harbor's problems are part of the larger health care crisis in America.

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On-Again, Off-Again on Guantanamo

Kagro X claims that the Administration has said they would shut Guantanamo a couple times in the past, always in June, only to have Fourthbranch shut down any possibility. So maybe yesterday's aborted meeting on Guantanamo shutdown was by design. But apparently the meeting was scheduled until the press leak. It makes sense that they would cancel it after the leak, because of the expected uproar among the conservative base. But they did schedule something to discuss a base closure that at least a majority of the Administration seeks. I think that's different from the President saying "Of course I want to close Guantanamo" and then backtracking by saying "but they're the worst terrists evah." I think there's something more going on here, and if they can get around Fourthbranch I think we are close to an end to Guantanamo.

UPDATE: There was going to be a meeting.

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Can't Stop Writing About SiCKO

Ezra Klein's review of SiCKO makes the good point that Michael Moore's position is essentially an idealistic and patriotic one. He believes that his country ought to be good enough to care for all of its citizens, ought to be concerned enough with its fellow man that they can ensure they'll never go untreated or hungry or sick.

Every story, every tale, every vignette asks the same question: "Who are we?" Who are we that our fellow citizens have to decide which fingers they'll pay to get reattached? Who are we that our hospitals push the ill and indigent into cabs, and drop them off, disoriented and clad in a paper-thin gown, on skid row? Who are we that we let insurers deny coverage to our neighbors because they are too tall, or have too many seasonal allergies? Who are we that we don't guarantee paid sick leave, or vacations, or child care, leaving that all instead to the whims of employers? And most of all, who are we to have let national pride blind us to these better alternatives, and let moneyed interests and powerful lobbies construct a country that best serves their needs rather than ours?

It is possible, of course, that Americans will see this movie and disagree with its implications. They will not think that the volunteer rescue workers who shredded their lungs inhaling the debris of the 9/11 attacks should be given health care. They will not think that all working Americans deserve paid vacations. They will not think that health care would be better if the first thing the hospital biopsied was your broken ankle, rather than your wallet. But Moore clearly doesn't believe that. This is not a movie of arguments, but of examples -- of practices Moore thinks more humane, and more in accordance with his countrymen's preferences. In that way, his critique of America is, itself, dependent on a glittering view of the country. In the end, he is an idealist, and a patriot -- confident that if he can just remind us of the forgotten America, it will be forgotten no more.

Of course, this does cut against the "rugged individualism" that is also a characteristic of America. The question is whether people watching will be stirred by a sense of compassion and humanity, or whether they'll be repelled by all those lucky-duckies in France who are getting health care and sick days without earning it.

On a completely different note, the Washington Post gives us this interesting vignette behind the scenes of the film.

Michael Moore is getting a lot of mileage out of the hit he takes on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in his provocative new movie "SiCKO," which made its Washington premiere Wednesday night at the Uptown theater.

Moore said after the premiere that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a personal friend and supporter of the Clintons whose company financed the film, "begged" him to remove a scene exposing Hillary Clinton as the second-highest recipient of campaign donations from the health-care industry.

"I said, 'No, Harvey. I gotta do the right thing.' He understood."

Clinton comes off as chastened after her health care plan failed in the early 1990s. And then, as the blurb notes, bought off. Now, Clinton has been strong in her campaign in saying that it's time for universal health care. However, she is trying to build a consensus from all of the players on the health care stage (other than the insurers, against whom she's been pretty strong). So I don't know exactly how damning the contribution list really is, actually. Even single-payer advocate Sheila Kuehl is trying to build support among hospitals and doctors. Do they factor in as the "health care industry"?

I worry that Clinton will end up releasing a plan that keeps the status quo and tries to reform instead of overhaul. In fact, that's what her ORIGINAL health-care plan was all about. But the whole campaign donations thing might be a bit of a red herring.

UPDATE: Lots of anger over this LA Times article trying to sow tension between single-payer advocates like Moore and the more modest plans of top Democrats. It is true that the major health care plans by Democrats are not single payer. However, having seen the film, Moore doesn't explicitly argue that, though he supports it, and has criticized proposals that don't go that far. But IN THE FILM he doesn't lay out any specific plan. It's more designed to provoke discussion.

In California, there's a debate in the Legislature between half-measures and single-payer. This article is really pegged to this quote from the CNA, which reflects the debate here.

Advocacy groups are already planning to use the film to pressure the Democratic hopefuls.

"The candidates haven't sensed the political fever in this country that fundamental change is called for in the healthcare system," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Assn. "What we are going to do is call on the candidates to reconsider their positions."

It's actually really GOOD to have single-payer advocates out there pushing the whole debate to the left. Far from a problem for Democrats, it can be a great boon, because then a universal plan along the lines of Edwards' (putting private and public plans in competition with one another), which would be seen as radical not long ago, can become the sensible middle.

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Fighting Dems

I've often said that Rahm Emanuel may be an asshole, but he's our asshole. And sometimes, it's good to have an asshole on your side.

After Dick Cheney's assertion that he's not part of the executive branch, Emanuel's office put out this graphic picking up on my Fourthbranch idea:

And he released this statement:

Today, we discovered that everything we learned in U.S. government class was wrong. Evidently, the Vice President does not consider himself a part of the executive branch, and therefore believes he can obstruct meaningful oversight and avoid being held accountable. If the Vice President truly believes he is not a part of the executive branch, he should return the salary the American taxpayers have been paying him since January 2001, and move out of the home for which they are footing the bill.

I wish he'd go further and actually submit that legislation on the House floor. Rahm Emanuel should be used as our Patrick McHenry.

A far less belligerent politician, Tom Harkin, offered this brilliant frame when talking about potential Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. I don't know if it was by design or not, but I love it:

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin this morning said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is like a “little rich kid” who doesn’t want to get his hands dirty with the sort of retail politics involved in presidential bids.

“Mr. Bloomberg, whom I don’t know real well — I’ve met him a few times — kind of reminds me of the little rich kid that if he can’t have it his way he’s going to take his little balls and go home,” Harkin said in a conference call with Iowa Independent and other media [...]

Harkin said Bloomberg, if he is eyeing an independent presidential run, appears to be wanting to “take all his money and do his own thing like this little rich kid that doesn’t know how to get along with anyone else.”

Harkin said that if Bloomberg were a true leader he would have showcased his skills in the two-party structure.

“Why isn’t he a leader in the Republican Party?” said Harkin, a Democrat. “Why didn’t he take leadership positions in the Democratic Party when he was a Democrat?” [...]

“It sounds like he doesn’t want to go around Iowa,” Harkin said. “He doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. He doesn’t want to go out and go to town meetings and he doesn’t want to go in people’s homes and stuff like that. He kind of wants to ride above it.”

There's an upside to Bloomberg changing parties because a lot of citizens in this country have drifted in the same way. The downside is the notion that he's constantly ducking the mechanisms of party government and changing his status for political expediency. And painting him as a spoiled rich kid is an absolutely brilliant way to portray that.

Some pretty good rapid repsonse by the Dems there.

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Where The Hell Do They Get These People?

I'm beginning to think that, in the same way that the Army has lowered the recruitment standards so that 42 year-old one-legged drug addicts currently in prison can now be deployed to Iraq, because nobody else wants to go there, the standards for joining a Republican Presidential staff have been lowered as well, since nobody wants to join up with them either.

State Police are investigating one of Mitt Romney's top campaign aides for allegedly impersonating a trooper by calling a Wilmington company and threatening to cite the driver of a company van for erratic driving, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the probe.

Jay Garrity, who is director of operations on Romney's presidential campaign and a constant presence at his side, became the primary target of the investigation, according to one of the sources, after authorities traced the cellphone used to make the call back to him. The investigation comes three years after Garrity, while working for Romney in the State House, was cited for having flashing lights and other police equipment in his car without proper permits.

The New Hampshire attorney general, according to the Associated Press, has also opened an investigation into a report that a Romney aide, later identified as Garrity, pulled over a New York Times reporter in New Hampshire and said he had run his license plate.

This is a top campaign staffer on a major campaign pulling an Olden Polynice, and apparently he has a history of this. Flashing lights in his car? What, is he playing Adam-12 when the mood strikes him?

They actually have a transcript of the phone call, which means there's a tape:

In the phone call to the Wilmington company, which was recorded by an answering service and obtained by the Globe, a man who identifies himself as "Trooper Garrity with the Massachusetts State Police" complains about the driving of a van owned by Wayne's Drains Middlesex Sewers of Wilmington. The caller repeatedly says he is a trooper and questions when the driver will return to the office.


OK, let's backtrack. On Republican campaigns in 2008, we have a coke dealer, a former Nixon spy, a serial police officer impersonator, and Tim Griffin, the guy who caged votes during the last two elections.

To be fair, who else are Republicans going to get to work for them? I imagine the campaigns are staking out the prisons as we speak.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I forgot about the child molesters:

Giuliani employs his childhood friend Monsignor Alan Placa as a consultant at Giuliani Partners despite a 2003 Suffolk County, N.Y., grand jury report that accuses Placa of sexually abusing children, as well as helping cover up the sexual abuse of children by other priests. Placa, who was part of a three-person team that handled allegations of abuse by clergy for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, is referred to as Priest F in the grand jury report. The report summarizes the testimony of multiple alleged victims of Priest F, and then notes, "Ironically, Priest F would later become instrumental in the development of Diocesan policy in response to allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests."

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Breakthrough on Energy

Early in the day it looked like the Democrats' energy package in the Senate was on the rocks. Republicans blocked the centerpiece of the proposal, removing $32 billion dollars in tax breaks and incentives for oil companies and funneling that money into alternative energy research. So the GOP maintained corporate welfare at the expense of working to save the planet. Good times.

However, by the end of the day, a compromise agreement had been reached that is actually fairly solid.

The Senate passed an energy bill late Thursday that includes an increase in automobile fuel economy, new laws against energy price-gouging and a requirement for huge increases in the production of ethanol.

In an eleventh-hour compromise fashioned after two days of closed-door meetings, an agreement was reached to increase average fuel economy by 40 percent to 35 miles per gallon for cars, SUVs and pickup trucks by 2020.

This overcame a watered-down proposal from Michigan's Carl Levin, and is a significant step. As Dianne Feinstein pointed out,

"It closes the SUV loophole," declared Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., referring to current requirements that allow much less stringent fuel efficiency standards for SUVs and pickup trucks than for cars. "This is a victory for the American public."

Industry should have closed that loophole years ago, it would have enabled them to sell more cars, but government has a vested interest in planetary survival as well as the survival of the domestic auto industry, and if the carmakers won't help themselves they must be dragged into the 21st century.

This bill could obviously be better, but getting it through the Senate with what amounts to a veto-proof majority (it got 65 votes without Sen. Johnson and I believe Boxer, so that's 67) is major news. The House may be tougher, especially considering John "I loves me some gas guzzlers" Dingell is Chairman of the relevant committee. Apparently Dingell is trying to punt on the CAFE standards issue, the most important part of the bill. Call your Representatives; we cannot let this happen.

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Forgotten Gulf Coast

New Orleans continues to be an unfolding disaster.

Large parts of the US city of New Orleans are still at risk of flooding in a major storm, a report has found.

Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina lashed the US Gulf Coast, $1bn (£502m) has been spent to fix hurricane-protection systems.

But many areas of the city would still be vulnerable in a storm much weaker than Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers study found.

Of course, the city was vulnerable before the storm because of failed workmanship by the Army Corps of Engineers, so maybe they just don't know what they're talking about. We hope.

No wonder Mayor Nagin is looking for international money to help rebuild his still-battered city. The federal government, after TWO YEARS, can't manage to make New Orleans safe. That's a blight on America right there. Many people point to Katrina as evidence of their loss of faith in George Bush and his leadership. But they've turned away from the region, and haven't kept up to know that there is STILL failure happening on the Bayou every day.

It's these kind of stories that make you despair for our country, that make you feel like we can't seem to do anything anymore, and that time will soon run out on us. But I always have hope that things can change if enough people demand it. Right now, that means getting the people responsible for this absolute mess out of office.

UPDATE: This is almost entirely OT, but when I was looking for something on Ray Nagin I came across this great analogy.

One of the strangest political developments of the post 9/11 world was the sudden--and totally inexplicable--transformation of Rudolph Giuliani from eccentric mayor of New York City to foreign policy expert. Almost instantly, a man who didn't seem to know or care very much about foreign policy became the go-to guy whenever a major television network needed someone to discuss various developments in the Global War on Terror [...]

It's like treating Ray Nagin as an expert climatologist because he happened to be Mayor of New Orleans when Katrina hit. If Nagin decided he wanted to be the head of the National Weather Service, would anyone take him seriously? Of course not.

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Closing Gitmo?

OK, I'm as despairing as the rest of you about the ability for anything positive to come about over the next 18 months or so of this Bush Presidency. But the AP has a story that may cheer some people, if it's true.

The Bush administration is nearing a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility and move the terror suspects there to military prisons elsewhere, The Associated Press has learned.

President Bush's national security and legal advisers are expected to discuss the move at the White House on Friday and, for the first time, it appears a consensus is developing, senior administration officials said Thursday.

You may recall that this is what Robert Gates recommended when he first became the Secretary of Defense, but he was outvoted. Dick "Fourthbranch" Cheney will still be involved in the discussions, according to the story, so it's not clear that this is a slam dunk:

The advisers will consider a proposal to shut the center and transfer detainees to one or more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where they could face trial, said the officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations.

Officials familiar with the agenda of the Friday meeting said Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Peter Pace were expected to attend.

It was not immediately clear if the meeting would result in a final recommendation to Bush.

Obviously, Fourthbranch doesn't want these detainees coming into this country because they might have (gasp!) legal rights to challenge their detention. But considering how the legal rulings have been going, against even the new Military Commissions Act, it seems like the Administration would not give up that much by closing Guantanamo, as well as gaining increased support among allies and the civilized world.

Of course, this has never been much of a concern for them in the past. But if this is true and the White House is indeed about to close Gitmo, we have to see this as something positive that has come out of the progressive movement. Closing Guantanamo was a fringe idea not so long ago. Now it's uttered by Democratic Presidential candidates and Republican former Secretaries of State alike. In fact, legislation requiring the closing of Guantanamo has been introduced by, of all Democrats, Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Jane Harman in the House.

It's because we were not silent. We understood how this inhumane treatment of indefinite detentions, the denial of the Great Writ of habeas corpus, the shame of torture, has damaged all of all souls and lessened our moral standing around the globe. We kept at it and kept at it until this became the majority opinion in this country. And it's the same with Iraq. Sure, Washington's behind the curve on a lot of things. But we need to keep dragging them along. I get frustrated too, and I understand the crisis of confidence that America has at this time. But we have to keep fighting, because every so often, we can get potential victories like this.

UPDATE: The White House is denying the report. Doesn't mean it's not happening, of course, but they're denying it publicly. Stay tuned.

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It's like Taco Bell's Fourthmeal. Dick Cheney's a marketing genius!

Vice President Exempts His Office from the Requirements for Protecting Classified Information

Washington, D.C. — The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an “entity within the executive branch.”

As described in a letter from Chairman Waxman to the Vice President, the National Archives protested the Vice President’s position in letters written in June 2006 and August 2006. When these letters were ignored, the National Archives wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January 2007 to seek a resolution of the impasse. The Vice President’s staff responded by seeking to abolish the agency within the Archives that is responsible for implementing the President’s executive order.

In his letter to the Vice President, Chairman Waxman writes: “I question both the legality and wisdom of your actions. … [I]t would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials.”

The phrase "rogue vice-presidency" seems to apply here.

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California Health Care Bills Combined

So, as expected, the leadership in the state legislature has agreed to combine their bills on health care reform.  The significant number is that the bill would require businesses to spent a minimum of 7.5% of payroll on health care.  But this newest proposal doesn't come close to being universal.

Most significantly, they agreed to drop the Senate plan to require that Californians with more than modest incomes get insurance. That was intended to be the middle ground between Schwarzenegger's insistence on universal coverage and the Assembly's rejection of any requirement that people have insurance.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) also agreed to apply the business requirement to every enterprise except the self-employed. The Assembly plan had carved out large exemptions for businesses with only one employee, those with payrolls of less than $100,000 and those that had been in operation for three or fewer years.

The Governor held a press conference today as well, and pretty much said that you need an individual mandate, and that nothing the Legislature passes matters, that he'll work it all out in secret.  Now THAT'S transparency in government!

I do think that somewhere down the line, an individual mandate does make some sense because it spreads the risk pool.  And I think this new bill strengthens the tying of health care to employment, when that really should be severed.  But putting in an individual mandate without regulating the insurance companies to any major degree, or setting any ceiling on affordability or floor on coverage, seems like nothing more than shoveling billions of dollars to the for-profit healthcare industry.  So I'm not particularly jazzed by any of these proposals outside of SB 840, which of course will be vetoed.  The Perata/Nunez plan looks to me to be insufficient, though I'll wait for the release of details.

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The Dog That Didn't Bark

Well, here we go. The right is having a field day with this MSNBC story showing a list of journalists' political donations, far more of which go to Democrats than Republicans.

But Matt Yglesias is right, looking at journalist donations, those who report the news, tells only part of the story.

Meanwhile, to offer the standard liberal counter to this sort of thing, where's MSNBC's report on the political giving of executives at General Electric?

Well, I can tell you that in 2006, GE's PAC gave $807,282 to Republicans and just $474,118 to Democrats. In 2004 there was a similar division of funds, in 2002 "only" 60 percent of it went to the GOP. Indeed, as you can see here essentially every PAC in the media sector backed the GOP over the Democrats.

Let's put some meat on those bones.

Adelphia: $36,000 to Republicans, $5,000 to Democrats.
Clear Channel: $295,750 (R), $196,500 (D).
Comcast: $573,184 (R), $479,300 (D).
Liberty Corp: $5,200 (R), $900 (D).
Time Warner; $232,000 (R), $199,250 (D).
Salem Communications: $51,500 (R), $0 (D).
Sony Pictures Entertainment: $123,149 (R), $100,500 (D).
CBS Corp: $10,500 (R), $8,000 (D).
National Association of Broadcasters: $409,561 (R), $318,283 (D).
National Cable and Telecommunications Association: $795,446 (R), $617,497 (D).
Viacom Inc: $94,500 (R), $54,500 (D).


Now who do you think has more power in determining what news we see? The copy editor at The Atlantic (yes, he's on the list)? Or the majority of executives at practically every top media company in America?

By the way, I've worked for Comcast, News Corp, and PBS all within the past year. I've given to Democrats. Does that mean I somehow am running the media and pushing it in a liberal direction?

This is a completely stupid story that seeks to "out the liberal media" without mentioning any of the real players who determine what gets broadcast. Not only that, political donations are, at least for now, not illegal, so I don't understand this attempt to infringe on free-speech rights (money is speech, right, conservative anti-campaign finance reform advocates?).

By the way, will those like Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt and everyone else who jumps on this story disclose THEIR political donations?

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Levin Asks More Soldiers To Die For A Mistake

I have no words for this. Carl Levin reacts to universal anger at Democrats for capitulating on Iraq by... buying the same BS frame about de-funding the troops.

I voted against going to war in Iraq; I have consistently challenged the administration's conduct of the war; and I have long fought to change our policy there. But I cannot vote to stop funding the troops while they are in harm's way, conducting dangerous missions such as those recently begun north of Baghdad. I agree with Lincoln, who decided "that the Administration had done wrong in getting us into the war, but that the Officers and soldiers who went to the field must be supplied and sustained at all events." As long as our nation's policies put them there, our troops should hear an unequivocal message from Congress that we support them.

Idiot, we're not talking about de-funding the troops, we're talking about de-funding the WAR. The troops aren't going to be panhandling for bullets and armor and trying to hitch a ride to Jordan. What is wrong with you?

Here's Russ Feingold, who lately I've thought is the last sensible man in Washington.

In the opinion piece, Levin mischaracterized the effort led by Feingold and Majority Leader Harry Reid as somehow cutting off funding for U.S. troops. In fact, the Feingold-Reid bill would not end funding for the ongoing military mission in Iraq until U.S. troops had been safely redeployed out of harm’s way.

"I’m pleased that Senator Levin and Senator Jack Reed have finally come to the conclusion that a timetable for redeployment with a hard deadline is what we need to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq," Feingold said. "But I’m disappointed that Senator Levin chose to announce his shift by disingenuously suggesting that the Feingold-Reid plan would somehow cut funding for troops in harm’s way. Senator Levin knows full well that the plan I introduced with Majority Leader Harry Reid, and which was supported by a majority of Senate Democrats, would end funding for the war in Iraq only after our brave troops have been safely redeployed out of Iraq. It is time for Senator Levin and Senator Jack Reed to drop their opposition to the Feingold-Reid plan to safely redeploy our troops by March 31, 2008, and then end funding for the mistake in Iraq."

Senator Levin and Senator Jack Reed previously had been critical of timetables culminating in a firm end date as a way to bring our military involvement in Iraq to an end. Despite Levin's current criticism of efforts to use Congress's power of the purse to end the war, Levin voted for a similar effort with regard to Somalia in 1993. In October 1993, Levin joined 75 other Senators in voting for an amendment to require redeployment of U.S. troops from Somalia by setting a deadline after which funding for the military mission there was terminated. The amendment was passed into law and U.S. troops were redeployed from Somalia by the deadline.

Anyone that doesn't understand the fundamental difference between de-funding troops and de-funding war is enabling the further death and destruction of American men and women in an intractable occupation. On this issue, Carl Levin is completely worthless. And the end of his op-ed, where he essentially says "my bill is doing better than your bill," demonstrates exactly the kind of runaway egos that have crippled our ability to govern in the 21st century.

UPDATE: What we have is a fundamental problem. Republicans don't want to talk about Iraq at all; Democrats can't help but talking about it the wrong way. And kids keep dying.

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Rudy's Bad Day

This article is painful to read. I wish I could have seen Giuliani's face as he responded to damaging question after damaging question.

Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani, whose tough talk on terrorism is the centerpiece of his campaign, said Wednesday that it was a mistake to join a bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which he later quit.

"I thought it would work, but then after a month or two I realized the idea that I was possibly going to run for president would be inconsistent with that," he said [...]

Giuliani also talked about current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced he left the Republican Party, fueling speculation he could run for president as an independent.

"I like Mike very much," Giuliani said. "I am disappointed that he left the Republican Party. I still respect what he has done as mayor." [...]

Giuliani was in Iowa, delivering a speech about fiscal conservatism, but was forced to address problems with his campaign.

South Carolina State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was removed as chairman of Giuliani's campaign in that state after he was indicted on cocaine charges.

"Any federal indictment is a very serious case," Giuliani said. "I don't know anything about it. There's no light I can shed on it. He stepped down as having anything to do with the campaign."

At what point did he take a swing at a staffer after that news conference?

We're 18 months out. Rudy will not be able to handle this kind of questioning without flipping. Please, please, PLEASE, Republicans, nominate this guy. I want to see the headline "PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HANGS JOURNALIST FROM A HOTEL WINDOW."

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Other States Getting It On Prisons

Why is California, saddled with perhaps the worst prison system in the US, perhaps the ONLY state not to understand that adding more beds is simply not a solution to the crisis? Many other states are understanding that rehabilitation and treatment, which addresses the root causes of crime and seeks to lower recidivism rates, is the only way to get a handle on the growth in the prison industry. And I'm not talking about some crunchy-Granola blue state like Vermont. I'm talking about Kansas and Texas.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) last month signed into law a prison plan that is winning accolades for its creativity. Among other measures, the $4.4 million package provides financial incentives to community correctional systems for reducing prisoner admissions and allows some low-risk inmates to reduce their sentences through education or counseling while behind bars.

Under the plan, the state offers grants to localities for preventing “conditions violations” such as parole or probation infractions – a leading cause of prison overcrowding in Kansas and nationwide. To qualify for the grants, communities must cut recidivism rates by at least 20 percent using a variety of support tactics [...]

In Texas, which houses 153,000 prisoners, the Legislature recently approved a plan that lawmakers have characterized as one of the most significant changes in corrections in a decade. The package, part of the state budget awaiting Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s approval, would divert thousands of inmates from prison to rehabilitation facilities, where beds would free up twice a year as offenders get help and re-enter society. Notably, the focus on rehabilitation would put off construction of costly new prisons.

The plan includes a new 500-bed treatment facility for those incarcerated for driving while intoxicated (DWI) – offenders who often have substance-abuse problems but receive no rehabilitation and face stiff sentences without the possibility of parole, according to one state Senate aide.

“We have changed the course of the ship substantially in the state of Texas,” said state Rep. Jerry Madden (R), chairman of the House Corrections Committee and an engineer of the prison plan.

22 other states (warning, PDF) have undertaken sentencing reforms between 2004 and 2006 which will reduce incarceration rates. In Nevada, they have recently reinstated a sentencing review commission that can recommend changes in sentencing laws (a similar measure passed the CA state Senate, but it's unclear whether or not the Governor will sign it). There is a growing feeling that the goal of reducing the prison population must be attacked at the level of rehabilitation and reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders.

Meanwhile, in California, we're wedded to the same old solutions that have given us a broken system and the highest recidivism rate in the land. I guess that's post-partisan.

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A Couple Other Things About SiCKO

• Michael Moore has affected this sing-songy voiceover delivery somewhere along the line. He sounded like a normal person in Roger & Me, for example, but in this film he too often sounds like he's delivering a nusery rhyme. I think there was a point to the technique in Fahrenheit 9-11, like he was talking in the manner of George Bush or something, but now it just annoys.

• There's a real rousing sequence from the British Labour stalwart Tony Benn, where he talks about how societies that are demoralized are easily controlled. I do think that's a key feature of the way political power manifests itself in this country, where far too many people don't vote because they don't feel like it makes any difference. Indeed, political consultants have a vested interest in keeping voter turnout low and confined, so the electorate is knowable. In other words, politicians have a directive NOT to inspire.

• In the production notes, Moore laments that John Edwards' health care plan "gives tax dollars to private insurers." I think that's a gross misreading. In fact, Edwards would regulate the insurance industry through guaranteed issue (allowing anyone to sign up for insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions), and would use tax dollars to build a public system that could compete with the private for-profit system in the free market (and it would win, because it wouldn't have any fealty to shareholders).

OK, that's it.

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Within the last 48 hours, 14 Americans have died in Iraq.

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hearts and Minds at 20,000 Feet

This is a really great post for the Guardian's blog by Matthew Yglesias, about the fuility of carrying out massive airstrikes in a counterinsurgency campaign. We failed to learn this lesson in Vietnam, and we're continuing that failure to this day.

Of course, any military operation carries some risk of civilian casualties and other forms of collateral damage that can doom a counterinsurgency operation. Air strikes are, however, especially risky in this regard. That's why the US army's highly touted new field manual on counterinsurgency warns that the "employment of airpower in the strike role should be done with exceptional care":

Bombing, even air strikes, should be weighed against the risks, the primary danger being collateral damage that turns the population against the government and provides the insurgents with a major propaganda victory. Even when justified under the law of war, bombing a target that results in civilian casualties will bring media coverage that works to the benefit of the insurgents. A standard insurgent and terrorist tactic for decades against Israel has been to fire rockets or artillery from the vicinity of a school or village in the hope that the Israelis would carry out a retaliatory air strike that kills or wounds civilians - who are then displayed to the world media as victims of aggression. Insurgents and terrorists elsewhere have shown few qualms in provoking attacks that ensure civilian casualties if such attacks fuel anti-government and anti-US propaganda. Indeed, insurgents today can be expected to use the civilian population as a cover for their activities.

But while military leaders clearly know this on some level - it's right there in the manual - they obviously aren't acting on their knowledge. Indeed, even in Iraq itself where David Petraeus, the author of the counterinsurgency manual quoted above, is in command, we're deploying more air strikes, not fewer. The first four and a half months of 2007 have already seen more air strikes than in all of 2006.

As William S. Lind observed on June 11, the rise in strikes is indicative of the ongoing failure of the "surge" on the ground. After all, "calling in air is the last, desperate and usually futile action of an army that is losing" its ground-based counterinsurgency efforts. "Worse," he writes, "the growing number of air strikes shows that, despite what the Marines have accomplished in Anbar province and General Petraeus's best efforts, our high command remains as incapable as ever of grasping 'fourth generation' war."

A military is a naturally conservative unit. In the business of saving their own soldiers' lives, they will provide whatever cover they can to help them carry out the mission. But airstrikes will simply enrage a population and, considering that they are by definition imprecise, they will fail to accomplish the kind of pinpointed goals you need to stop a counterinsurgency on the ground, and indeed may even work against the goal. (I'm also wondering if this also has to do with the lack of manpower. It's easier for one Air Force pilot to destroy a target than to send thousands of troops in there)

It hasn't been reported much, the increase in the level of airstrikes. But it's as sure a sign as any that we're losing wars on two fronts, and that our military is institutionally resistant to the kind of change needed to reverse course.

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SiCKO To My Stomach-O

I spent a good portion of the day at a screening of Michael Moore's SiCKO (finally, this blogging thing gets me a perk!). It's definitely going to get this country talking. One thing I always say about the health care debate is that you cannot easily fool the country into thinking it's going well. Unlike Iraq, which only is happening in news reports and doesn't impact the lives of anyone without a family member or friend over there, everyone in this country has participated in the giant ball of crap that is our health care system. And so the horror stories Moore collects will be quite familiar.

The film's genesis is from a segment on Moore's old show The Awful Truth, when he held a mock funeral out in front of an HMO for a man who was denied an organ transplant. Actually there are almost no confrontations like that in this film. Yet Moore is ever-present, more visible than in Fahrenheit 9/11, despite the fact that many of these stories tell themselves. Yet there is a raw power in hearing from regular people run down by a for-profit health care system that values the bottom line over human life. A lot of the tales are familiar - Blue Cross of California retroactively cancelling anyone who dares to use their insurance coverage for treatment; LA-area hospitals dumping homeless people who couldn't afford to pay their bills at Skid Row in front of social services centers; 9/11 rescue workers contracting respiratory illnesses and having trouble collecting any benefits from the city. There's not much about the drug companies, surprisingly, and little about the value of preventative care. But the fact that we have a broken health care system does shine through. In fact, Moore plays this amazing clip from the Nixon tapes about the origins of the HMO system that almost reads like a parody:

John D. Ehrlichman: “On the … on the health business …”

President Nixon: “Yeah.”

Ehrlichman: “… we have now narrowed down the vice president’s problems on this thing to one issue and that is whether we should include these health maintenance organizations like Edgar Kaiser’s Permanente thing. The vice president just cannot see it. We tried 15 ways from Friday to explain it to him and then help him to understand it. He finally says, ‘Well, I don’t think they’ll work, but if the President thinks it’s a good idea, I’ll support him a hundred percent.’”

President Nixon: “Well, what’s … what’s the judgment?”

Ehrlichman: “Well, everybody else’s judgment very strongly is that we go with it.”

President Nixon: “All right.”

Ehrlichman: “And, uh, uh, he’s the one holdout that we have in the whole office.”

President Nixon: “Say that I … I … I’d tell him I have doubts about it, but I think that it’s, uh, now let me ask you, now you give me your judgment. You know I’m not to keen on any of these damn medical programs.”

Ehrlichman: “This, uh, let me, let me tell you how I am …”

President Nixon: [Unclear.]

Ehrlichman: “This … this is a …”

President Nixon: “I don’t [unclear] …”

Ehrlichman: “… private enterprise one.”

President Nixon: “Well, that appeals to me.”

Ehrlichman: “Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit. And the reason that he can … the reason he can do it … I had Edgar Kaiser come in … talk to me about this and I went into it in some depth. All the incentives are toward less medical care, because …”

President Nixon: [Unclear.]

Ehrlichman: “… the less care they give them, the more money they make.”

President Nixon: “Fine.” [Unclear.]

Ehrlichman: [Unclear] “… and the incentives run the right way.”

President Nixon: “Not bad.”


When Moore visits other countries (Canada, England, France, Cuba) to look at their not-for-profit systems, the film is on slightly shakier footing. It was a little odd to see a few minutes of the likes of Bill Frist and Duncan Hunter extolling the great medical care at Guantanamo for detainees (I guess they need it after a full day's torturin'). I understand why he did it, to play on their field and say "Why do we have this great care for Al Qaeda but not for these 9/11 heroes," but it didn't ring true. It also was strange to end the film with this portrait of the great Cuban health care system, when in a graphic earlier in the film of the top countries at delivering health care (the US is 37th), Cuba is BELOW the United States. The stuff with the expats in France, who seemed to be trying to one-up each other ("We get free laundry! We get 10 weeks off! No, 13!") looked odd as well. But there was a great truth in there, where a woman says "In France, the government is afraid of the people, but in America the people are afraid of the government."

This is very true. And the final message of the film, that we are all in this together, that we must think in terms of "We not me" and care for our fellow man, is in the spirit of the common good that underlies most of the progressive movement. Moore tells his tales with a blunt instrument, and yes, he blurs the edges a bit. But not everyone is going to sit and read the 300-page report that underscores the failed health care system in America and the need to adopt a better plan similar to those abroad. We do need to see health care as a basic human right, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as something that is inalienable, and work to provide it to all of our citizens no matter what. And I think this film will inspire discussion along those lines.

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Slick Hillary

The way you'll see me defend Hillary Clinton on this site is from the rancid media attacks that take us back to the early 90s, when the Republican noise machine would throw any shit up against the wall to see if it stuck, and most of it did, despite it not being true and stuff.

Apparently the Slick Willie bullshit is back:

Slick Hillary? Former President Clinton earned the nickname "Slick Willy" for his mastery in the political arts of ducking and dodging. He had a knack for convincing people on both sides of an issue that he agreed with them.

His wife may not be as smooth, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing a passable impression of the ever-parsing former president.

Clinton didn't "earn" that nickname any more than Hillary earned the new one. It was thought up in some Republican think tank and stamped onto every press release and pretty soon the media just started using it because "Hey, it's on the press release, it must be true."

In fact, as Greg Sargent notes, it's the reporter who's being slick here, if anyone.

Best of all, the piece also gives us this artfully dodgy passage:

She told the crowd Tuesday that she had been calling for a troop withdrawal "for some time," not mentioning that her rivals have held that position for a longer period. On the other hand, she said some troops will need to remain in Iraq to contain al-Qaida, protect Kurds, keep an eye on Iran, protect the U.S. Embassy and maybe train Iraqi forces.

The answer offered a little something for everybody, for or against U.S. involvement in Iraq. Pretty slick.

Pretty slick? Pretty slick of the reporter, actually. Note the weaselly way in which the story says that her answer offered something for people who are for "U.S. involvement in Iraq." That phrase, of course, means nothing. The rather imprecise wording was necessary, of course, because in the real world, there's no way anyone who wants a significant American presence to remain in Iraq would be happy about what Hillary offered here. In other words, her answer actually didn't offer something for everyone. Nope -- just not true.

Also note the inane way in which Hillary's being faulted here for "not mentioning that her rivals have held that position for a longer period." Yep -- she didn't tell the crowd how great her rivals' positions on Iraq are! God, what a massive phony! Slicker than Slick Willy himself.

Exactly, Presidential candidates have this nasty habit of highlighting their positions and not praising their opponents'. They should stop it, or maybe they'll get a nickname.

Hillary is not my preferred candidate, but she'd be such a "fuck you" to the right when she won that there would at least be some solace in her victory. However, having to re-fight these idiotic Clinton-era "party like it's 1999" battles would be almost exhausting, and I don't think any President could be expected to get much done in such an environment. More than any other reason, that may be why I don't support Hillary. That, and the fact that she essentially endorsed the status quo in the war on terror in the last debate.

UPDATE: Apparently there's been more of this going around. The press is claiming that Hillary was booed at the Take Back America conference for saying she supports the truth, when everyone who was actually there say she was booed for blaming the failure of the occupation on the Iraqi government, which honestly is ridiculous (and I would have joined in the booing). This is a classic scapegoating strategy that affirms the rightness of going into Iraq in the first place, which would have been fine if those lousy legislators didn't cock it up, I guess. It wouldn't be the reduction of everyone's homes to rubble, the failure to provide even the most basic infrastructure, and the idea that you could reconcile 1,600 years of Sunni-Shiite animosity in a week, no. It's Nouri al-Maliki's fault. Right. Because he had a chance in hell. Digby:

The progressives gathered at the TBA conference are not uninformed or likely to misunderstand the unpleasant implications of this approach and so are a very poor audience on which to use it. Nonetheless, Fox News and others who are making this into something else as a way to tar the candidates and liberals again with lack of patriotism are asses.

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GA-10: Not the Best Sign

I wasn't kidding myself into thinking that Democrats could win a race in Northeast Georgia in the middle of summer when only hardcore voters would come out to the polls, and the hardcores in that district aren't Democrats. I was hoping that Marlow would get into the runoff, however, and he didn't. In fact, the Democrats in the race underperformed the Democratic opponent in 2006, against incumbent Charlie Norwood.

Not the reddest of flags, but a sign that Democrats may not exactly be excited at this stage of the game.

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If We Ignore It, It'll Go Away

I recommend this great Rick Perlstein post about a panel at the Take Back America conference on the media and the blogosphere. Pay particular attention to this exchange:

The q&a session illustrated the point. Someone asked the Washington reporters on the panel whether the sense in their newsrooms was that, as the International Atomic Energy Agency maintains, that Iran is nowhere close to having nuclear weapons, and may in fact not even be attempting to get nuclear waeapons. Or did their newsrooms trust the administration, which makes the opposite claim? Schuster affirmed that there was a "great deal of skepticism among reporters" on the administration's Iran claims. He puffed up a little with pride, and said that's why you don't see many reports on Iran these days: because they've evaluated the administration's claims and found them wanting - undeserving of attention.

Froomkin got the last word. He said: that's precisely the point. You don't respond to administration lies about Iran by not running Iran stories. You respond to it by doing stories - about adminstration lies about Iran.

Sometimes it takes a blogger to see what's in front of a mainstream reporter's face.

The White House and the conservative noise machine has PLENTY of outlets to make their case for bombing Iran. When faced with the conservative side of the argument and... nothing, who's side do you think the public will take? This is why so many Americans still think Saddam had something to do with 9/11 - because the media didn't report the story very hard, and the right did, and a busy populace had an unbalanced playing field from which to draw conclusions.

And so we get reports about the internal politics in the White House of the Iran debate, we hear about the showdown between neocons and realists within the Administration, but we don't get anything but he-said she-said numbers when it comes to Iran's actual enrichment capability, we don't hear anything about the horrifying consequences of bombing a country where you don't know the targets, where the infrastructure could malfunction in the nuclear facility upon impact and kill millions of innocents from radioactive fallout, what the counterstrike would be to our 200,000+ Americans stationed in bordering countries, what the impact would be on democracy promotion and actually fighting global fundamentalist Islam. Because a few reporters and editors have "figured it out," they're not letting their readership figure it out, and instead are making more likely this prediction:

The U.S. is badgering allies on the UN Security Council to impose a third round of sanctions on Iran for failing to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency on its nuclear program. "Look, the third round of sanctions is critical," a State Department official said. "If we're up there begging and bargaining and negotiating over the graduation of what are largely ineffective sanctions, then fine, time is not long..."

But on a June 6th visit to Washington for the US-Israel Strategic Dialogue, the Israeli team leader, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, said he and Secretary of State Rice agreed to review sanctions' effectiveness at the end of the year. "Sanctions must be strong enough to bring about change in the Iranians by the end of 2007," Mofaz was cited by JTA.

So a new timeline would appear to be emerging: if the current route of multilateral diplomacy and economic pressure hasn't achieved a change in Iran's behavior on the nuclear front by the end of the year, there is likely to be renewed and concerted pressure on the Bush administration to contemplate military action.

This is coming right down the road, the media knows it, and they won't bother to rebut the spin with the truth until it's too late. This is why alternative media has bubbled up, to fill these desperate needs for information before the spin machine starts going bonkers.

Atrios has more on this panel, including the fiction that journalists can point to ONE act of good journalism and declare the matter closed. The real problem, as Duncan points out, is the blurring of lines between news and punditry, and the generation of "conventional Beltway wisdom" which then gets dispensed into news stories and becomes the calcified Very Serious Truth which you cannot refute.

UPDATE: My point made by K-Drum. Apparently almost nobody is reporting about the fact that Rudy Giuliani, current front-runner for the GOP nomination and self-proclaimed "Hero in the fight against terror," walked off the Iraq Study Group because he was too busy getting paid to make speeches.

I'm keenly aware that an awful lot of blog criticism of the mainstream media is basically just partisan sniping. But is this seriously not considered news? A guy who's running for president based on his reputation as a hero of 9/11 was given a seat on the highest profile group ever created to investigate a way forward in Iraq, but he decided it wasn't worth his time? He blew off James Baker and Lee Hamilton so that he could give speeches in South Korea and attend fundraisers for Ralph Reed in Atlanta? And the consensus reaction is a big yawn?

But John Edwards got a haircut and it leads the news.

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I Am A Media Sensation

Join me and noted Daily Kos poster clammyc on Blog Talk Radio tonight at 8pm ET/5pm PT for "Don't Hijack My Thread", a political talk show. There's a call-in component, too! Listen here.

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I Could Get Mitt Romney In A Lot Of Trouble

This insane staged video of Mitt Romney and his family "decidering" to make the run for President really has to be seen to be believed. As TBogg writes it was just coincidental that the camera crew happened to be in Utah right at the same time that Mitt was figuring out whether or not to run for President, and captured that human drama of him and the family weigning this heavy decision. Mm-hm.

But there's something else about the video that caught my eye, mainly because I have so experience in the matter. What seems like a lifetime ago, I worked at NFL Films, which does all the highlight reels for the National Football League. The NFL is militant about licensing any of their video. One it crosses a 3-day "fair use" window, any scrap of footage from an NFL game, whether broadcast video or the film footage they shoot, must be licensed before aired anywhere. People tried to get around this all the time and use footage "without the express written consent of the National Football League." This got to be such a problem that they instituted a "Catch the Cheaters" program, where anyone on staff could call in and get a bonus for identifying a broadcaster using NFL footage without permission. The fine for such usage is $1,500 per SECOND of footage.

I don't know if the Romney campaign got consent, and I don't know how it works on the Internet, but there's at least 30 seconds of a Patriots game on in the background when Ann Romney is talking.

I don't have time to do this today (light posting throughout), but somebody should call 877-NFL-5675 and see it the Romney campaign got the rights to that NFL footage in the background of their campaign video. Let's try to blow $50,000 of Romney campaign money, shall we? I mean, some of that cash was raised by an alleged child abuser, so it shouldn't be hard for them to part with.

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Culture of Life

So let's see... by the end of the day, President Bush will have vetoed three bills over the course of his Presidency. Two are the same stem cell research funding bill, where he argues that when making tough decisions, we always have to err on the side of life. The other one, vetoing a phased withdrawal from Iraq, errs on the side of death.

P.S. This is fine, although what does "encourage" mean?

At the same time, Bush will issue an executive order directing the Health and Human Services Department to promote research into cells that, like human embryonic stem cells, also hold the potential of regenerating into different types of cells that might be used to battle disease.

He should send a bill to Congress funding that research instead of "encouraging" it. What's that mean, he goes down to the HHS department and claps?

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Institutionally Incapable of Getting It

Um, Ford? GM? Chrysler, or whatever you're calling yourself nowadays? Politics should not have to force you to accept new mileage standards. The MARKETPLACE should.

You're getting your clocks cleaned by Toyota and Honda and other companies making fuel-efficient vehicles, and that's not likely to change if you continue to resist giving people what they want. Everyone knows you have the technology to do it, and it would not cause much of an upheaval in your business arrangement. You haven't changed CAFE standards since 1983, and ever since then, you've lost market share. Coincidence?

I want to see the domestic auto industry survive, but its executives are so clueless about the world in the 21st century, it'd almost be better for them to dissolve and let companies that understand the marketplace take over.

(As a side note, it is good news that even fuel economy foes like Carl Levin and John Dingell are admitting that the political climate has changed and there will be increases this year.)

UPDATE: Apparently Levin's amendment may not even pass. Call Webb and Mikulski if you want to drag the automakers kicking and screaming into the new millennium by mandating 35mpg by 2020 (I would also like to see a change in how that mpg number is measured - my car listed at 35mpg and it rarely gets so much as 30).

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Deep Into The Mind Of Crazy

Look, the Hillary Clinton "Sopranos" spoof is inconsequential, designed to do nothing but elicit a chuckle. Those on the so-called left that want to read into it (Bill and Hill as Tony and Carmela? Are they saying they're a made family?) might want to take a look at the illogical conclusion of such a probing for meaning.

4. Bill says "No onion rings?" and Hillary responds "I'm looking out for ya." Now, the script says onion rings, because that's what the Sopranos were eating in that final scene, but I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the "O" of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home. She's "looking out" all right, vigilant over her husband, denying him the sustenance he craves. What does she have for him? Carrot sticks! The one closest to the camera has a rather disgusting greasy sheen to it. Here, Bill, in retaliation for all of your excessive "O" consumption, you may have a large bowl of phallic symbols! When we hear him say "No onion rings?," the camera is on her, and Bill is off-screen, but at the bottom of the screen we see the carrot/phallus he's holding toward her. Oh, yes, I know that Hillary supplying carrots is supposed to remind that Hillary will provide us with health care, that she's "looking out for" us, but come on, they're carrots! Everyone knows carrots are phallic symbols. But they're cut up into little carrot sticks, you say? Just listen to yourself! I'm not going to point out everything.

Yes, someone outside a mental institution wrote that paragraph, and in fact she's a LAW PROFESSOR who might be teaching your children. Be extremely afraid.

Althouse does have a point, though, doesn't she? After all, every object with even a remotely circular shape is a vagina, and everything long and thin is a penis. Of course, most thinking humansgrow out of seeing things this way around the age of 5. Either that, or Althouse is living in a fully unconscious state that can only be unraveled though dream symbolism. In that case, allow me to help her out.

The diner represents a mental prison where Hill and Bill are forever unable to escape. When Hillary falls into the water it's a birth. When they get on the train and ride through the tunnel they are rebirthing themselves just like Hillary is reimagining her health care plan. When Bill falls out of the tree and breaks the branch it means masturbation. And after Johnny Sack walks by, when the snake rapes the stove? That one's fairly obvious.

I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my interpretation.

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