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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Why We Fight. No, Seriously, Why?

While the continued attempted attacks by random, unskilled and technologically illiterate nuts in the UK put the lie to the whole "we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" nonsense, some additional information is calling into question just why we are fighting over there in the first place. According to soon-to-be-axed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace, success in Iraq means "the Iraqi people feel a little bit better today than they did yesterday." Shit, if that's the case, give them increasing levels of Swedish fish and Nerds candy every day and let's declare victory!

But truly, the fight in Iraq, against al-Qaeda, because everyone in Iraq who isn't our bestest buddy is al-Qaeda, even though the evidence shows that al-Qaeda isn't all that involved with the violence... where was I? Oh yeah, we're supposed to be fighting there to create "breathing space" for a political solution. Except that political solution isn't forthcoming, and since the surge things on the political track have gotten worse.

Iraq Sunnis to boycott government

Iraq's main Sunni Arab bloc has said it will boycott government meetings because of legal steps being taken against one of its ministers.

The Iraqi Accord Front (IAF) has six ministers, and its move is seen as a blow to the Shia-led cabinet as it tries to reconcile the two communities.

Earlier this week, an arrest warrant was issued for Culture Minister Asaad Kamal al-Hashemi, an IAF member.

The case concerns the killing of two sons of a Sunni politician in 2005.

IAF head Adnan al-Dulaimi told the BBC that the bloc's ministers would continue their work apart from the cabinet meetings.

al-Hashemi is accused of carrying out murders on other Parliamentarians. When the government tried to hold him accountable, the Sunni bloc boycotted government meetings. That should give you a picture of how well that "breathing space" is serving the Iraq government.

Meanwhile, while everyone talks about Gen. Petraeus' report in September, the report from US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is arguably more important, since it provides the basis for the escalation in the first place. Crocker will be reporting on this tattered political situation in Iraq, and early indications are it won't be promising:

Some recent comments Crocker made to a reporter that have gone almost entirely unnoticed suggest that he is on the verge of concluding in his report that the Iraqi political scene is flatlining and that there's really no hope for political reconciliation. And if he does say this come September, it would likely undercut Petraeus's expected plea for more time to prosecute the surge. It would also give antiwar critics much more ammo to pressure wavering Republicans in Congress into abandoning Bush and the war [...]

When (Joe) Klein met up with Crocker in Iraq, he found the Ambassador in something of a frustrated mood, thanks to Maliki:

The Iraqi government is irresolute to the point of near collapse. It is nowhere near to figuring out how to make a political deal amongst the contending parties that might lead to stability. "All this attention on benchmarks has actually been bad for the process," Ambassador Crocker says. "We've wasted so much time and energy on getting a hydrocarbon law" — that is, a law to divide oil profits amongst the ethnic and religious parties, likely to be approved soon — "but it has very little to do with getting a functioning government in place." The truth is, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is puttering along, happily dependent on the U.S. "There are no consequences for them when they screw up," Crocker says. "Whatever's wrong, we take care of it."

Given that the only plausible reason for us to still be in Iraq is to give the government a chance to reconcile and succeed, and given that this report is very likely to say that the government has no hope of reconciliation or success, how can a continued commitment be justified? The answer may be that Crocker's report will be completely buried in favor of Petraeus talking about how many schools have fresh paint and how the enemy's on the run and we just need another Friedman Unit until all's well. But the entire justification for our presence in occupying Iraq is going up in smoke.

...adding, it's also quite telling that Crocker is frustrated about the emphasis on an oil law. Clearly he's not in charge of the priorities of the US government regarding Iraq, and clearly that bid to allow private oil companies to participate in profit-taking is being given major precedence.

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... I mean, oops.

COLUMBUS, NM - A 1.5-mile barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border was designed to keep cars from illegally crossing into the United States. There's just one problem: It was accidentally built on Mexican soil. Now embarrassed border officials say the mistake could cost the federal government more than $3 million to fix [...]

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said the vertical metal tubes were sunk into the ground and filled with cement along what officials firmly believed was the border. But a routine aerial survey in March revealed that the barrier protrudes into Mexico by 1 to 6 feet.

Well, if they can make us uncomfortable in a Wal-Mart because of their scary brown-ness, we can sure as shootin' steal their land. We'd better watch out for the "Minuto-hombres" on the other side of the border, though; any time we Americans step onto their Mexican land, they'll leap into action to deport us. We'd better stay on our side!

(By the way, read that article about small-town whites openly expressing their racist fears to justify an anti-immigrant stance. It wouldn't be out of place in the 1950s South talking about black people. The silent majority of Americans will reject this open hate at the polls, and the Republican Party will be doomed to be a white, Christian, regional Southern party for a generation. Watch for the open talk of secession in about a decade.)

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Fourthbranch Gets To Keep His Office

Although it was quite an amusing debate, with one Republican legislator wondering "whether Cheney would get a 'Katrina trailer' in place of his official residence," the bid to take Fourthbranch's office off the executive payroll failed by a vote of 217 to 209. Two Republicans, Ron Paul and Walter Jones, did cross the line to vote against Fourthbranch.

The vote was a bit of political theater. But there is real work to be done in the Congress about how the Vice President has acted outside and above the law from the day he came into office. 36 House Democrats from the Pacific Coast want hearings and investigations into Fourthbranch's imposition into the Klamath Falls dispute, chronicled in Part IV of Bart Gellman and Jo Becker's WaPo series. Fourthbranch basically trumped the science showing that re-routing water to Oregon farmers for irrigation would kill thousands of salmon, and got the Department of the Interior to reverse their decision. Predictably, 68,000 adult salmon died in the largest fish kill in US history, crippling the fishing industry in the Northwest and damaging the ecological balance of the region. House Democrats are angered by Fourthbranch's inserting himself into the policy debate.

“According to today’s article, the Vice President called Sue Ellen Wooldridge, deputy chief of staff to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, to pressure her into a policy for the Klamath River Basin that would benefit some farmers, over the protection of federally threatened fish – all to win votes in Oregon,” the letter stated. “His political interference resulted in a 10-year water plan for the Klamath River that has been unanimously ruled ‘arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the Endangered Species Act,’ by three courts.”

“Moreover,” the letter continued, “his action resulted in the largest fish kill in the history of the west. The ramifications of that salmon kill are still felt today, as returns to the Klamath River are so low that commercial, sport and tribal fishing season have been curtailed for the past three years. In fact, last year’s commercial fishing season for all of California and Oregon was cut by over 90 percent, and was the largest commercial fishing closure in the history of the country, causing over $60 million in damages to coastal economies.”

And oversight really is the least of Fourthbranch's worries. Outrage about his manipulation of the levers of governmental power and his acting as something of an imperial figure have led many to join Dennis Kucinich's call for impeachment, including Ronald Reagan's former deputy attorney general:

In grasping and exercising presidential powers, Cheney has dulled political accountability and concocted theories for evading the law and Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III. The most recent invention we know of is the vice president's insistence that an executive order governing the handling of classified information in the executive branch does not reach his office because he also serves as president of the Senate. In other words, the vice president is a unique legislative-executive creature standing above and beyond the Constitution. The House judiciary committee should commence an impeachment inquiry. As Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney's multiple crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify.

Read the whole stinging rebuke. There are three more cosponsors for Kucinich's impeachment bill, which I doubt will get a fair hearing, but in the wake of seeing the near-dictatorial powers Fourthbranch has assumed for himself, I'd say is worth exploring.

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Pray For Rain

Really, the GOVERNOR OF ALABAMA wants you to pray for rain.

With the state's weather forecasters not delivering much-needed rain, Gov. Bob Riley on Thursday turned to a higher power. The governor issued a proclamation calling for a week of prayer for rain, beginning Saturday.

Riley encouraged Alabamians to pray "individually and in their houses of worship."

"Throughout our history, Alabamians have turned in prayer to God to humbly ask for his blessings and to hold us steady during times of difficulty," Riley said. "This drought is without question a time of great difficulty."

So much for that separation of church and state, ay?

This proclomation comes days before an expected storm front with scattered showers in Alabama in the next couple days, proving that PRAYER WORKS!

I guess praying for weather is better than being afraid of it, at least if you're some maroon named Emily Yoffe, and you spend valuable Washington Post real estate criticizing Al Gore because all that talk about climate change is making you feel bad. Either way, it's anti-scientific, and actually I'd prefer the praying for rain, because at least that won't HARM the planet the way that complete and total denial will.

UPDATE: Via LGM, greatest Washington Post chat comment ever:

Silver Spring, Md.: I think Copernicus, Galileo and the modern astronomy community are all wrong about the sun-centered solar system. I don't have any data, or any particular expertise in the field. All I know is that it bothers me to have people saying we orbit the sun, when I can clearly see it moving across the sky. Plus it is scaring the children to hear people talk about it. Could you tell me how to get an op-ed piece published at The Post? I hear they have no standards for this anymore. Thank you!

Eugene Robinson: I think there must be a Bush administration science panel that has a spot for you!"

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Doolittle's Gravy Train Still Alive And Well

All that snooping by federal investigators hasn't stopped John Doolittle from continuing to reward his friends with favors.

Rep. John T. Doolittle, who’s been caught up in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, has requested a substantial earmark for a college represented by one of his former aides, who, coincidentally, has just been contacted by the FBI.

Pete Evich, a lobbyist and Doolittle’s legislative director until 2002, has been representing Sierra College, which could end up receiving $300,000 if the congressman’s request is approved.

My favorite part of this is that it comes right at the time when Pete Evich is being sought by federal investigators for questioning about Doolittle's role in the Abramoff scandal. It doesn't take a genius to see that as a potential payoff; Evich gets his $300,000 for the college, and he suddenly has a memory lapse when speaking with the FBI.

Incidentally, this is just one of the earmarks we know about, Doolittle has repeatedly refused to release the others.

Brown said that with most U.S. debt now owned by OPEC nations and military rivals like China , "every wastefully spent dollar by our Congress represents a national security risk."

"Addressing this growing threat starts with full public disclosure of all earmark requests," Brown said.

Personally, I believe earmarks are occasionally valuable and overblown in their purported role as the most wasteful portion of the budget (I'd direct your attention to the useless WWII-era weapons systems we're still building), but the fact that the only Doolittle earmarks we DO know about are going to friends is pretty telling.

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The Only Poll Worth Mentioning

With wingers in full "High-five, beers are on me as soon as I borrow 10 bucks from my Mom" mode over both the demise of the immigration bill and America's distaste for Congress, a little reality check is in order:

The Democratic leadership in Congress "has lost some support among Americans -- but not so much that the public wants Republicans back in charge," according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Poll.

While 49% say they "disapproved of what Democratic leaders in Congress have done since taking over in January," some 57% "said they believe Democratic control of Congress is good for the country."

And people would be more inclined to say this if they knew the lengths to which the GOP was completely obstructing Congress' work. Even as it is, the public intuitively understands that a Democratic Congress is at least trying to fight for their interests. The President is completely out of political capital and increasingly irrelevant. Republicans in Congress feel that if they give nobody a victory for the next 18 months, they can somehow run on getting America moving again or something. All they have left is playing defense.

For the Democrats, their numbers will simply not turn around until they do something about the war. Impressive domestic victories and exposing GOP obstructionism (sign the petition) won't do it. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have announced a strategy to end the war, involving a series of new votes. I don't know if it'll work, and I hope they don't resume this tactic only to cave again. But it appears that the lesson has been learned and they'll fight on this, despite the fact that continuing the war would actually be advantageous to the Democrats politically. It's time to put country before party.

And if the Democrats do that, I think their numbers at least have a chance to turn around. The Republican brand may be too shot to hell to even have a chance at that.

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No I'm Not In This Line

The scarcity of my posting today has nothing to do with this line of people outside a Cingular store in the San Fernando Valley waiting for a certain "best technology product in the history of man." Actually, I won't get an iPhone on principle because they're not allowing it beyond one cell service carrier, which happens to be the worst carrier for connectivity. Screw that noise.

Actually, I've just been on deadline.

What little I have heard today is that British police stopped a car bomb from exploding in London today. Once again, local law enforcement proves itself to be the best defense against crime, and that most of these free-lance would-be assassins have no basic understanding of science necessary to carry off a bombing attack that would do any kind of damage.

You know what you call a vehicle with 50 gallons of gas? A Cadillac Escalade. The media meltdown over this incident is simply shameful.

For starters, gasoline is not a high explosive. If we were talking 50 pounds of Semtex or the Al Qaeda standby, TATP, I would be impressed. Those are real high explosives with a detonation rate in excess of 20,000 feet per second. Gasoline can explode (just ask former owners of a Ford Pinto) but it is first and foremost an incendiary. If the initial reports are true, the clown driving the Mercedes was a rank amateur when it comes to constructing an Improvised Explosive Device aka IED. Unlike a Hollywood flick the 50 gallons of gas would not have shredded the Mercedes into lethal chunks of flying shrapenal.

As for the use of closed-circuit television, ubiquitous in Britain, to try and find the failed bomber (who could be IRA or a right-wing nut, for all we know), let's go ahead and try such a nanny-state scenario in the US, I'm sure those libertarians on the right will love being snooped upon at every waking moment. Heck, the Glenn Reynoldses of the world can't even stand traffic cameras. So watch the hypocrisy dance if the government decides to install a Big Brother-type system in the name of fighting terra terra terra.

Anyway, car bombs don't kill people, people kill people, right?

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Fired - or quit - for doing too much - or not enough

People are still trying to figure out what led to the resignation of the chair of the CARB (California Air Resources Board) yesterday. If you scan the article strictly for quotes from the governor's office, their take is that Robert Sawyer was fired for dragging his feet on implementing air pollution and global warming initiatives.

In the statement, Schwarzenegger also criticized the board for approving a request by San Joaquin Valley air quality authorities to seek an 11-year extension of a federal deadline for complying with the Clean Air Act.

"I was deeply disappointed," Schwarzenegger said. "The air board let the federal government off the hook by seeking delay." [...]

Schwarzenegger's deputy chief of communications, Adam Mendelsohn, said the governor's office did not think the air board or its staff were moving aggressively enough on air pollution and global warming.

"The issue really came to a head after the decision to ask for an extension in the San Joaquin Valley, and the lack of early action items that we wanted done … last week," Mendelsohn said. He said the items Sawyer proposed were minor, while the governor's office was seeking far tougher measures to control emissions from concrete factories and other sources [...]

Mendelsohn said the administration first became upset with the agency when Witherspoon, without consulting the governor's office, sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last spring seeking a long postponement of a federal deadline to clean up diesel soot.

"With the health threats of California air quality, this is a very high priority," Mendelsohn said.

Well, OK. And yet environmentalists are defending Sawyer and saying things like "he deserved better." And then there's this curious passage:

Sawyer ... said he was called by a Cabinet secretary who ordered him to limit to three the number of so-called early action measures the board was considering to slow global warming.

So the governor was disappointed in Sawyer dragging his feet on global warming initiatives, yet he was called last week and told to... limit global warming initiatives?

Not sure what's going on here, but you can be sure that it's not as simple as Governor Schwarzenegger's paid spinners are making it out to be. Greg Lucas' article for the SF Chronicle certainly makes it clearer:

Robert Sawyer, appointed by the governor in 2005, was one of three air board members who voted "no" last week when the board adopted three new policy changes to curb carbon dioxide and other emissions statewide. Sawyer, like several environmental groups, thought the board should have made more changes than those the governor sought.

That makes more sense, given what we know about Arnold's "fight-global-warming-with-words-more-than-actions" approach.

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Friday Random Ten

This will be a light posting day.

As Ugly As I Seem - The White Stripes
The Needle Has Landed - Neko Case
I Shall Be Released - The Band
Soothe Yourself - Luscious Jackson
The Ghost of Tom Joad - Rage Against The Machine
Wild, Sweet and Cool - The Crystal Method
Street Fighting Man - Rage Against The Machine
19-2000 - Gorillaz
Some Unholy War - Amy Winehouse
Butter The Soul - Cornershop

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Whoops, There Was A Debate?

I completely forgot that there was a Democratic debate tonight, and ended up watching the NBA draft (and seeing my 76ers get a bunch of solid but unspectacular players to add to their unspectacular roster. By the way, why does anybody think the Knicks did well to get Zack Randolph? They already have Curry in the middle, so that'll be clogged, and the whole roster is still a bunch of malcontents. Francis for Randolph seems to me like cancer for cancer.)

Reuters has a recap of the debate, which sounds like it was pretty substantive. The issues certainly were more geared towards working people, in addition to blacks and Hispanics. And all of the candidates, from what I've read, were well-received and well-versed on the issues.

It certainly is a far cry from the Animal Cruelty Party:

The behavior of K'Lo's beloved Oven Mitt does raise the issue of why so many Republican politicians have a defective chip in their brains if not an outright cruel streak when it comes to animals. It's a most disturbing pattern.

For wholesome backyard summertime fun, George Bush used to blow up frogs with firecrackers.

His vice president, Dick Cheney, takes part in canned hunts and slaughters anything that flies in a maestrom of exploding feathers.

Former blight on the landscape Bill Frist earned the nicknames "the Kitty Kevorkian" and the "Meow-Mix Mengele" because of his exploits as a medical student: "Frist disclosed that he went to animal shelters and pretended to adopt the cats, telling shelter personnel he intended to keep them as pets. Instead he used them to sharpen his surgical skills, killing them in the process."

Rudy Giuliani was so possessed of rabid ferretphobia that he pathologized the entire lovable race of pet companions and their devotees.

Of the Republican contestants, the most pet-friendly by far is John McCain, whose sinking poll numbers indicate that the modern Republican party has no place for someone who practices kindness to animals as a way of life.

Democrats '08: We Love Puppies!

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Obstructionists and Hypocrites

The GOP has hit on a strategy to delay or outright stop any legislation from passage, and then blaming the Democrats for not passing any decent legislation. They are now filibustering moving bills already passed by both houses of Congress (9-11 Commission recommendations, lobbying reform) into a conference report. They are doing absolutely everything they can to obstruct a Democratic agenda which is broadly popular in the country.

In the White House, we have a President that has suddenly found the fiscal conservative bone in his body, and who has threatened to veto any spending bill that doesn't meet with his supposedly modest goals. Meanwhile, on planet Earth, Bush is inserting his own earmarks like crazy, while calling everyone else out for inserting theirs:

Democratic and Republican appropriators are accusing President Bush of urging Congress to pack spending bills with pet projects despite his high-profile crackdown on earmarks this year.

A House Appropriations Committee report accompanying legislation funding the Department of the Interior shows that Bush requested 93 of the 321 earmarks in the bill. A panel report for the financial services and general government spending bill showed that Bush requested 17 special projects worth $947 million, more than any single member of Congress.

Senate appropriators have identified more than 350 earmarks in the military construction spending bill requested by the president.

Lawmakers say these lists of earmarks are inconsistent with Bush’s tough talk on earmarks this year.

Ya think? Name the last time a Republican was consistent with his rhetoric.

As I've said, we're in the age of Republican chutzpah. Desperate to win politically despite being deeply disliked, the GOP is putting party above the needs and desires of the American people.

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Make Me Barf

Let me just say that I don't want to say anything about this deeply conservative Supreme Court, which wrapped up trashing Americans' rights and overturning precedents that go back to the end of the Gilded Age with a series of harmful opinions today. It's clear that the Federalist Society conservative project has a deep hold on the Roberts Court, and the conservative bloc will be issuing terrible opinions for a long time to come. The Presidency in 2008 is vital, because John Paul Stevens' health is all that's keeping this Court from total disaster. And even then, it's pretty awful. Still, for the next generation, Democrats can do no better than capturing 2 out of 3 branches of government (or 3 out of 4, depending on your perspective).

UPDATE: What Stephen Breyer said (h/t AmericaBlog)

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"...and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for 9/11."


REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They attack us because we've been over there, we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East. I think Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics.

RUDY GIULIANI, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's an extraordinary statement of someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11.

-Rudy Giuliani, GOP debate, May 16, 2007


JERRY FALWELL: And I agree totally with you that the Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we've been attacked on our soil and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters -- the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats -- what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact -- if, in fact -- God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.

PAT ROBERTSON: Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to the major population.

JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this.


JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system..

JERRY FALWELL: Pat, did you notice yesterday the ACLU and all the Christ-haters, People For the American Way, NOW, etc. were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress as they went out on the steps and called out on to God in prayer and sang "God Bless America" and said "let the ACLU be hanged". In other words, when the nation is on its knees, the only normal and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be doing all the time - calling upon God. ~~~


Jerry Falwell & Pat Robertson, September 13, 2001

The punch line:

Giuliani Gets A Standing Ovation At A Christian College

Mayor Giuliani's battle to win over social conservatives in the Republican Party may not be the impossible task that many political pundits have predicted.

That certainly appeared to be the case yesterday at Regent University, the Christian college founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, where Mr. Giuliani's message of leadership and strength on terrorism met with a standing ovation., June 27, 2007

And a comment:

Steve Benen could not be more right. The Mayor of New York City on September 11th, the guy who's made "9/11" his middle name, just visited a school founded by a radical theocrat who blamed Americans for the deaths of 3,000 of its citizens. This should be the first, last and only question for Rudy Giuliani at every press event. "Do you agree with Pat Robertson that the ACLU and feminists and abortionists and gays and lesbians are responsible for 9/11?" If the guy's so consumed with talking about the terrorist attack, let's talk about it. Why are you validating the work of Pat Robertson, who has recently said that the perpetrators of 9/11 were "just a few bearded-terrorists who fly into buildings” and who thinks that "activist liberal judges" are a greater threat to America?

Forget Giuliani’s ridiculous Clinton smear; this is what matters. Reporters should be confronting Giuliani with Robertson quotes and asking a) whether he agrees with them; and b) whether presidential candidates should lend their credibility to fringe fundamentalist extremists.

In 2000, when Bush visited Bob Jones University, it became a controversy — why would a credible presidential hopeful sanction BJU with a high-profile appearance? The questions dogged Bush for weeks. There’s no reason Giuliani shouldn’t face similar scrutiny now.

I’m curious, if a top-tier Democratic candidate publicly appeared with a radical extremist who blamed 9/11 on Americans and encouraged a terrorist attack on the State Department, do you think it might become a big deal?

A smart activist would start attending Rudy's campaign events with a "Mullahs for Giuliani" sign. Look, despite what everybody thinks, Giuliani can still win the Republican nomination on an explicit "electability" argument. His negatives in the swing states are extremely low, and he's very competitive where the race will count. The time for defining Rudy, yoking him to the likes of Pat Robertson, saying irresponsible things like "Giuliani blames Americans for 9/11" and also responsible things like "Giuliani left the emergency command center at the World Trade site despite it being a terrorist target in 1993" and "Giuliani didn't fix the radio communication problem between police and firefighters which caused many unnecessary deaths on 9/11" and "Giuliani was more concerned with making people think the city was on its feet again than protecting Ground Zero rescue workers who are getting sick and dying"...

That time is now.

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When you're beating the incumbent by 28 points in a respected poll, you have to jump into the race, right? That's what Jeanne Shaheen is doing with John Sununu, another example of the absolute crumbling of Republican support in the New England states. By the end of the 2008 cycle, Olympia Snowe, Judd Gregg and Joe Lieberman might be the last ones standing in the Senate, and really maybe NOBODY in the House (Chris Shays is the only Republican House member from New England, and he'll have a challenge next year.

Sununu looks like a cross between Rick Santorum and Lincoln Chafee. He's a Republican in New England, which is suicide, and his conservative politics are wildly out of step with the state (the guy is single-handedly stopping a veto override on stem cell research, for example). Shaheen, the former governor, has yet to decide to run, but with this kind of an auspicious poll number, I can't see how she'll be able to resist. There is a revenge factor here as well - in 2002 Shaheen lost to Sununu, but New Hampshire Republicans, in association with the RNC, jammed Democratic phone lines on Election Day to hamper GOTV efforts. James Tobin, the NRSC's field guy, was convicted of this crime.

Here's hoping Shaheen decides to run.

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CA Legislature Sells Out On Worker Protection

Democrats in the California State Assembly gave the finger to labor and will allow a massive expansion on Indian gaming in the state:

A group of powerful Southern California Indian tribes have reached a tentative accord with Assembly Democrats that could clear the way for ratification of multibillion-dollar gambling compacts that have been stalled since August.

If pending compacts receive final approval, Sycuan would be among the state's Indian casinos allowed to greatly expand their operations. The five tribes that are involved are among the nation's wealthiest.

The compromises on issues such as casino operating standards and workers' compensation are outlined in a five-page “memorandum of agreement” signed June 21 by Danny Tucker, chairman of the Sycuan band of El Cajon.

That document and a similar one signed by Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro appear to be awaiting the signature of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been in Europe since Saturday. Schwarzenegger was scheduled to return to the Capitol today.

As juls notes, while the casinos won't be able to rip off the state and their customers due to meaningful oversight into operating standards, employees will still be getting the shaft. At issue is the fact that tribal lands are sovereign, and exempt from US labor laws. Under the compacts, the Legislature could have brought the tribes into compliance on those issues. But they punted:

They have fixed the accounting issues, but failed to ensure that workers rights are protected. The deal does require tribes to help the state ensure that employees do pay alimony and pay for workers comp insurance. These changes are essentially side agreement, and only four out of five tribes have agreed to the accounting provisions. They are on the fast track in the legislature and it all could be passed today.

The Compacts will not protect workers from being threatened or punished if they try and organize. Check cards will not be allowed for union organizing. Both of these were in the 2004 Compacts, but the governor failed to include them in this round and the Democrats declined to insist they be in their for passage. Needless to say, UNITE-HERE is upset.

I figure at least one Assembly Democrat will vote against these: Laura Richardson, who will still be in the Assembly until August, and who had half a million dollars thrown at her by Indian tribes to try and elect her opponent in the CA-37 race Tuesday.

This is really disappointing, but not unexpected. We have a Democratic Legislature that isn't really willing to stand up for worker's rights. This is despite the fact that Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez came out of the labor movement. So now we get these huge casinos (a tax on the poor in their own right) with scant labor protections. That wouldn't fly in Las Vegas and it shouldn't be allowed here.

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Calitics Quarterly Santa Monica - One Hell of a Party

So if you built a bar, invited Digby, John Amato from Crooks and Liars, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Todd Beeton of MyDD, members of the Russ Warner for Congress campaign, Drinking Liberally Westside LA, thereisnospoon, hekebolos, vernonlee, some CDP delegates, Calitics commenters like Zack from the SFV and Tim Goodrich, a whole mess of SoCal Kossacks like Shockwave and shayera and Major Danby and BruinKid and more, and ME... and had them come together to raise money for some great California candidates and have a blast...

Then you would have some indication of how it went last night.

Calitics and Drinking Liberally held a little event to raise awareness about the end of the quarter and try to drive people to our ActBlue page. We had lots of fun and energized the LA blogging community.  We have so many great bloggers here, but a lot of them focus on national issues.  It was great to have them out to support the local scene.  And of course, it was great to meet and thank Digby for all of her incredible work (from what I hear, those going to a certain convention in Chicago in August may get a chance to do that as well).  There was a parent who brought his 17 year-old daughter to the bar just to meet her!

It was a fabulous night.  Here are some pics:

Digby, dday

skippy, John Amato (Crooks & Liars)

vernonlee, thereisnospoon

hekebolos, Todd Beeton, Suzanne Savage from ACLU-Southern CA

shayera, Leighton Woodhouse (SEIU)

Digby holds court with hekebolos and thereisnospoon

Shockwave, thereisnospoon

dday, Todd Beeton

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Slaying The Beast

Well, the Republicans killed the immigration bill dead. I fail to see how it helps them strategically, but their brown-hating base was whipped up in a fervor so there was little they could do. Meanwhile, I wasn't particularly fond of a lot of aspects of the bill, and am not particularly sad to see it go. In 2009, there will be a better opportunity with more and better Democrats to get a better bill. If I were running the Democratic Party I would put forward a bill demanding stronger workplace enforcement, including felony jail time for businessmen who knowingly hire and exploit undocumented workers. If we cannot bring these hardworking people out of the shadows, we should at a minimum protect them from this kind of exploitation. And I believe populist Republicans can agree to that; we've seen "enforce the laws on the books" in their rhetoric. The other effect this will have is to further widen the rift between the corporate Cons who want cheap labor and the anti-immigrant base.

Ultimately, doing nothing is irresponsible, and "sealing the border" is a stupid bumper sticker that is irrelevant to the problem (a majority of "illegal aliens" overstay tourist visas). So if you are really committed to this issue, you will jail anyone who hires someone in the country illegally. That includes the guy mowing your lawn and putting up your drywall. Somehow, I think we'll find a lot of brown-hating hypocrites that way. Let's play hardball.

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Constitutional Showdown

Well, it's about time, let's get on with it.

President Bush, moving toward a constitutional showdown with Congress, asserted executive privilege Thursday and rejected lawmakers' demands for documents that could shed light on the firings of federal prosecutors.

Bush's attorney told Congress the White House would not turn over subpoenaed documents for former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor [...]

"With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation," White House counsel Fred Fielding said in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. "We had hoped this matter could conclude with your committees receiving information in lieu of having to invoke executive privilege. Instead, we are at this conclusion."

Thursday was the deadline for surrendering the documents. The White House also made clear that Miers and Taylor would not testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas, which were issued June 13. The stalemate could end up with House and Senate contempt citations and a battle in federal court over separation of powers.

OK, let's go to court on this one, then. I'd love to see the White House try to hide evidence for months and months, it'll do wonders for their image.

This has needed to happen for some time. Not only do the Democrats in Congress need to understand what's been happening at the Justice Department, where justice has been subverted, the office has been politicized, and voters have been suppressed. This is about the White House asserting no need to answer to a co-equal branch of government. Essentially this is about the very mechanisms of American government itself. For 6 1/2 years, the President has had a free hand from the Congress. Times have changed. We are seeing a direct challenge to the imperial Presidency, and Patrick Leahy is right to call this "Nixonian stonewalling."

Let the right bitch and moan about frivolous investigations and about how the Democrats are so ruthlessly partisan. There's a bigger issue at stake. And if we want a functioning democracy, this battle must be joined.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Like Borat In The Antique Shop

The United States in the Fourthbranch era really does resemble Borat in an antique shop, constantly knocking shit over, and claiming we're going to fix everything as we simultaneously make it worse. What's similar, however, is that, just like Borat, we're playing a role, and we're not actually interested in making ANYTHING better, least of all through this bumper sticker of democracy promotion

The Washington Post today has an Iranian detainee pleading with the Bush Administration to stop with the happy talk of "bringing democracy" to Iran, because it's only making the nation more and more autocratic:

A radio reporter being detained in Iran urged the Bush administration yesterday to end its vocal campaign for democracy there, saying it encouraged Iran's government to curtail its citizens' freedoms [...]

(Parnaz) Azima said the Bush administration's $66 million campaign to promote change inside Iran through Persian-language news, entertainment and music broadcasts has spurred President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government to work to eliminate Iran's democracy movement.

"I hope that Mr. Bush's administration doesn't repeat this. This is a very serious mistake," she said. "The open announcements about funding democracy in Iran have angered the government, and now they have one goal -- to crush those activities and to put pressure on the Iranian activists, especially those who are inside Iran."

This isn't the first time we've heard about Iran curtailing freedoms recently. They are arresting and purging the country of its intellectual class, particularly academics. They're also enforcing censorship codes, cracking down on protesters, and forcing civil society groups into hiding. Why is this happening now? The Iranian economy is in a lot of trouble. They were forced to ration gasoline today because, while being an exporter of oil, they don't have the refining capacity to keep up with domestic demand. Gas stations were burned by angry motorists. And the whole economy is showing problems, not just the energy sector.

Like any authoritarian society threatened by popular unrest, the mullahs are cracking down on dissent. But they have an incredible ally in this: the United States. All this public rhetoric about regime change in Iran, and particularly about the military options, has led to where we are: an unpopular government that can still garner popular support by pointing to American infilitration.

Michael Hirsh's Newsweek article about life in Iran tells a pretty robust story:

The president's effort, launched more than a year ago, has so far had the opposite effect of what Bush intended. Even though it's made little headway in promoting discontent with the regime, the mullahs have used it to intimidate reformers by tainting them as U.S. collaborators. "All the local democracy [groups] are complaining about it," said Azima, a thin, frail woman wearing a beige manteau and paisley higab, in an interview at her lawyer's office. "They don't want to have contact with me." [...]

Such is the paradox of Iran today. After years of turmoil, including mass street protests against the regime in the 1990s, the revolution has adapted. Among the public, political apathy now reigns. Active political opposition to Islamic rule is all but gone. And the current government, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is adopting a rather savvy tactic of letting ordinary people enjoy themselves a bit and, above all, taste the fruits of prosperity. He can afford to do so, sitting on $70 billion to $80 billion in oil revenue a year, which he uses to subsidize Iran's isolated economy (though Ahmadinejad has become widely unpopular for reintroducing state control of private business and driving up inflation). At the same time, his government is permitting less and less political dissent. Radio and TV are totally controlled by the government, and newspapers—which remain quasi independent—were recently confronted with a new, stricter censorship code [...]

The success of this oppressive but subtly effective system should give the regime-change advocates in Washington some pause. From the evidence in the streets of Tehran, there is no indication that this is a government or a political system that's ripe for overturning. In fact most Iranians—government officials and opposition figures alike—tend to poke fun at the Bush democracy program. "If the Americans are willing to spend their budget inside [Iran] for the purpose they are pursuing, they should just give the money to us directly," Ali Larijani, the chairman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told NEWSWEEK with a laugh. "They are just distributing it through the wrong channels."

I know "understanding the enemy" is verboten in American foreign policy, but we might want to try it sometime before we pour a bunch of money down a sinkhole in the name of "democracy promotion." Countries are obviously going to react with a certain protectiveness about their sovereignty when they see this major effort to undercut them from the outside. This is also true in Gaza, where we've had our thumbs on the scale of democracy ever since we recklessly pushed elections, only to see Hamas come out as the victor. As Juan Cole put it:

The events of the past few days have driven a nail into the coffin of Bush's "democratization" program for the "Greater Middle East." The Haniyah Hamas government had come to power in free and fair elections, but was immediately boycotted, starved of resources, and actually often simply kidnapped by the Israelis; and is now being put out of office in a kind of coup. The people of the Arab world are not blind or stupid. If this is what the "Greater Middle East" looks like, it will too closely resemble, for their taste, the colonial 19th century, When Europeans dictated government to Middle Easterners.

I would submit that this is pretty much exactly how the neocons want things to go in the Middle East, particularly in Iran. Rather than seeing democracy flourish from the bottom up, they would RATHER make an open and awkward statement of regime change, forcing the Iranians to become more belligerent, further opening tensions and pushing toward a wider war. In Palestine, I believe the idea was to bring Hamas out into the open so they could be cut off and humiliated, through the "thumbs on the scale" promotion of Fatah over them. They may have even wanted to isolate them in Gaza, making it easier to starve them out. These are some dangerous games that The Fourthbranch Administration is playing, and they're designed to increase the possibilities of more global combat, more use of weapons and defense contractors, and more projection of massive American military might. Some people just don't learn any lessons.

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Iraq in Fragments

• One Sunni minister in Parliament was arrested for ordering a hit on another minister.

• Even American military commanders now agree that Iraqis will not be able to hold any ground gains made by US troops during the surge. The culture of dependency that we've fostered over there leads to this reality. The Iraqis in the insurgency are fighting for their country; the ones in the Army are taking a paycheck. Big difference.

Yet another suicide attack in Eastern Turkey by the Kurdish separatist group PKK. The Turkish air force responded with bombing raids. We're not going to be able to hold off a Turkish incursion into Kurdistan forever.

• Some really good analysis about what's really happening in Al Anbar:

The US is currently enrolling in Iraqi police and military units tribesmen who were, ten months ago, part of the insurgency. The loyalty of such individuals can hardly be taken for granted; the tribal elite may decide, six months from now, that they are no longer pleased with the US and shift against us.

Even if the tribal elites remain loyal, the alliance poses a larger problem for basic US war aims. The alliance with these tribes serves, necessarily, to strengthen them as political units. Strengthening the tribes invariably weakens the central government. As the tribes are also among the least progressive and least interested in democracy of any Iraqi political constituencies, strengthening them also helps undercut efforts towards democratization. So, to the extent that the US goal remains the creation of a strong, democratic central government, the deal with the Sunni tribal leaders is almost completely at odds with the end that we'd like to see.

The White House is, of course, doing it because they're so desperate to promote any semblance of victory that they don't care what kind of deals they make. Just like when they set conditions to put the theocratic Shiites in charge of the government in the first place.

Finally, this rationalization by Michael Gerson is disgusting, as well as one of those zombie lies that will never die. In explaining how we can never leave Iraq ever ever ever, he claims that antiwar liberals were to blame for the Khmer Rouge's slaughter of 3 million in Cambodia (funny, they always blame "al Qaeda" for their own failures, but when they want it to look like liberal failures, they go ahead and neglect the perprtrators themselves). This is transparently stupid:

Why yes, that is a sympathetic quote from Henry Kissinger about Cambodia. You know, the very nation that Kissinger had secretly bombed when he was the National Security Advisor during the Nixon Adminstration, which bombing so destablized the country that it led to the rise of the evil Pol Pot regime, which the US continued to prop up for years afterward. And yet Gerson treats Kissinger as some sort of Cambodian savior. Revisionist history, anyone?

Jeebus, are these people so utterly used to their subordinates taking marching orders that they think the rest of the world will ignore history altogether?

The answer, of course, is yes.

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Fourthbranch Oozes Back Into The Third Branch - But Still Stonewalls

Mike Allen definitely got played when he wrote this headline:

Dems force Cheney flip-flop on secret docs

Dick Cheney's office is abandoning a justification for keeping the Vice-President's secret papers out of the hands of the National Archives.

Officials working for Cheney had tried to claim he is separate from the executive branch, but they will no longer pursue that defense, senior administration officials tell The Politico.

Believe me, I like any headline that begins "Dems force Cheney." But they haven't force him to do a whole lot. While his lawyers are giving up on trying to justify the ridiculous Fourth Branch of government claim, they aren't at all done resisting efforts to release information:

Dick Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, issued a letter to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) today defending the Vice President's interpretation of his office being outside the executive branch - only this time, he said it was because Cheney's office isn't an "agency."

A copy of the letter from David Addington to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was released to RAW STORY. Kerry said the "legalistic" response from Addington "raises more questions than it purports to answer."

"Dear Senator Kerry," Addington writes. "The executive order on classified national security information -- Executive Order 12958 as amended in 2003 -- makes clear that the Vice President is treated like the President and distinguishes the two of them from 'agencies.'"

No longer satisfied with the Vice President's office's claim that Cheney is actually an admixture between the legislative and executive branch, Addington now posits that the Vice President's office is not an "agency."

"The executive order gives the [Information Security Oversight Office], under the supervision of the Archivist of the United States, responsibility to oversee certain activities of 'agencies,' but not of the Vice President or the President."

It will not surprise you to know that if you're a constitutional scholar and you actually READ the executive order in question, Addington's reasoning is transparently silly.

Most importantly, Addington's argument would appear to be inconsistent with the statute that required the promulgation of the E.O. in the first place, the Counterintelligence and Security Enhancements Act of 1994, which requires (50 U.S.C. 435(a)) the President to "establish procedures to govern access to classified information which shall be binding upon all departments, agencies, and offices of the executive branch of Government." (Thanks to "gnarly trombone" in the comments for the cite.) Unless there is some reason to think that Congress did not mean to cover the Office of the Vice President in this directive -- which would surprise me, although I don't know anything about the intracacies of this statute -- then the E.O. must be construed to cover that Office. (Unless, of course, the statute would to that extent unconstitutionally impinge on the Commander in Chief's authority . . . but who would be so audacious as to make that far-fetched argument? (Yes, that's a rhetorical question.)

TPM Muckraker has more on this.

The Senate Judiciary Committee decided to step into this nonsense, albeit from a different angle, by issuing subpoenas for documents relating to the warrantless wiretapping program. This impacts Abu G as well, last seen dodging protestors in Idaho, since he claimed under oath that there was no internal disputes about the warrantless wiretapping program, yet James Comey testified the exact opposite and in fact detailed the nature of the dispute (as well as his Midnight Ride to stop Fredo and Card from preying upon John Ashcroft when he was sick in the hospital. The Judiciary Committee is seeking documents from DoJ as well.

But the fact that they're subpoenaing documents from the OVP means that Fourthbranch will have to trot out an executive privilege argument again. At which point he'll be again asked to comply with executive branch rules regarding oversight of classified information procedures. So Fourthbranch has stepped into a vicious cycle.

The Democrats in the Congress have really pounced on this. It's great theater. Hopefully they can walk and chew gum, and press this advantage elsewhere as well.

UPDATE: Fredo's also been dragging his feet on the supposed "investigation" of Cheney's exemption from oversight rules, and so House leaders have written him.

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With only 60 million dog owners in the US, this won't be a problem

There's no other way to describe this other than sadist.

Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog [...]

As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ''Dad!'' he yelled. ''Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.


Look, we already know that Romney doesn't think impersonating a police officer is a crime, why would he think animal cruelty is one?

Also, say what you will about George Bush, but when he tortures his dogs, at least he does it by accident. This guy apparently has pre-meditated plans of sadomasochism.

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Doolittle is Done-little

A third former staffer is talking to the Feds:

California GOP Rep. John Doolittle's former legislative director said Wednesday he was recently contacted by federal investigators in their probe of Doolittle's ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Pete Evich, Doolittle's legislative director from 1998 to 2002 and now a lobbyist, told The Associated Press that he plans to talk to the Justice Department.

The news comes two days after an attorney for another ex-Doolittle aide, former chief of staff David Lopez, said he'd given documents to federal prosecutors under subpoena.

To paraphrase Jim Morrison, "This is the end.  Doolittle, friend, the end."

All the more reason why you should give to Charlie Brown this week before the end of Q2.  It's looking more like Brown could face a tough special election, and it's a far easier (and more satisfying) proposition for him to take out Doolittle before the DoJ does.

UPDATE: And this is why Charlie Brown's such a great candidate: he actually has a heart. From an email to supporters:

As you know, the upcoming June 30th FEC deadline is a very important benchmark for our campaign. But it pales in comparison to what's happening right now in Lake Tahoe, where thousands of our neighbors are facing a devastating wildfire.

That's why between now and the FEC deadline of midnight on June 30th, we will be donating 15% of all contributions made through our online ActBlue page to the Sacramento- Sierra Red Cross--to help area residents who have been affected by this horrible tragedy.

Together, we've shown that leadership is about much more than just affecting policy in Washington. It is also about mobilizing our collective strength to address real life problems here at home. In other words, leading by example.

This guy is probably BETTER than a seat in Congress, which is why we have to get him there.

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Good For Elizabeth Edwards

Is all I have to say. Normally I wouldn't give Ann Coulter the time of day, but as long as she's on every major news show in this country spouting her bile, she ought to get challenged on it once in a while. And Edwards was very controlled and smart against and out-of-control hack comic who resorted to using the same tired lines she has for years.

What I want to know is, when will other top liberal writers get such a platform because "they sell books," as Chris Matthews has repeatedly said to justify Coulter's hourlong appearance? Will Glenn Greenwald, whose new book is #1 in nonfiction on Amazon, for example, get an hourlong slot? By the way, Coulter's books aren't even selling all that much anymore.

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We're Young, We're Liberal, Get Used To It

This is everybody's favorite graphic of the day:

It's part of a New York Times article which tracks a trend we've been seeing for a while now, that the 18-29 generation of "millennials" is quite liberal and quite open to ideas like national health insurance and gay marriage. I do think this has been the case for a LONG time; in the 1960s, the hippies weren't exactly Goldwater-Nixon supporters. One does tend to get a bit more conservative as they get older. But Matthew Yglesias may be on to something.

One thing that writeups of these findings tend to miss out on is that the cohort of 18-29 year-olds contains a substantially smaller proportion of white people than does the 30+ cohort. Viewed through that lens, combined with basic knowledge of race's heavy role in US politics, the left-leaning tendencies of the youngest voting cohort aren't that surprising. The contrast with the substantially more conservative "Generation X" cohort is, however, telling.

And Matt's right that this is the real reason why Republicans who think strategically are scrambling to cobble together some immigration reform legislation to get Latinos to like them again, though I think they're too far gone on this already. Plus, the immigrants they legalize, who have endured taunts and calls for deportation from the very vocal right-wing of the Party, aren't likely to vote Republican anytime soon either. It's actually a nearly impossible needlt for the GOP to thread.

UPDATE: The WSJ editorial board gets this, but honestly they're powerless to do anything about it (except cage more minority voters).

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I Know What'll Stop Bush! A Nonbinding Resolution!

Sorry, fellas, but Dick Lugar is not prepared to do a damn thing to stop the occupation of Iraq. You know what he favored in an interview on NPR today? MORE NONBINDING RESOLUTIONS. Really.

Given what you said, the next time there is an opportunity for you to vote on the war, would you be a vote against the war?

I'm not going to have a vote for or against the war, at least I don't conceive of how this would occur. Most likely debate will occur once again when we take up money for the troops, for the prosecution of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. I think the majority of the Senate, regardless of how they feel about the prosecution of the war, are not about to cut off funds that would jeopardize our troops in any way. That will be probably an overlying proposition.

Which sounds like you're saying that this is not going to change your vote.

Not with regard to support of the troops. I'm going to vote for the authorization and the appropriations. But there are many, many ways in which the Congress ultimately can influence even the president with regard to this war and we'll have to think through the most appropriate one.

Give me one — before we let you go — one thing that Congress can do.

Well, Congress could offer at minimum Sense of the Senate resolutions. They do not have the effect of law, but they clearly indicate how the country feels through its representatives. And that we really have not come to do simply because we have not really wanted to be ambiguous as a nation with regard to our foreign policy.

So why again is this guy getting lauded on talk shows and even liberal websites for "breaking with Bush"? He wants to do a bunch of Sense of the Senate resolutions, and he really and truly believes that the President and Fourthbranch care about public opinion:

If the president does not see things your way and continues on the same course, should the Senate and Congress in general force him to change?

I'm not certain how that occurs. I would just say that at some stage it will become apparent that the lack of support for the president not only in the Congress but with the public would command such a change. Even the president will understand that.

What an ignorant man. I mean ignorant in the sense that he's completely unaware of how Washington has worked the past 6 1/2 years, even while LIVING AND WORKING IN WASHINGTON. Dick Lugar is not going to lift a finger to bring any troops home. I suspect George Voinovich is the same way. They're still wedded to the "support the troops" nonsense and don't understand that defunding the war does not equal defunding the troops.

If this is the way they're talking now, whatever artificial happy talk comes from the guy that reported artificial happy talk back in 2004, David Petraeus, will even make them weaker on the issue. Face it, guys like Lugar and Warner and Voinovich are mush who have been rolled for years by BushCo. It's not changing anytime soon.

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I Feel Like It Deserved A Mention

I'll do a more thorough look at the fourth and final installment of the WaPo's "Fourthbranch" series later, but one thing immediately jumped out at me. Here's the first paragraph.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the 19th-ranking Interior Department official, arrived at her desk in Room 6140 a few months after Inauguration Day 2001. A phone message awaited her.

"This is Dick Cheney," said the man on her voice mail, Wooldridge recalled in an interview. "I understand you are the person handling this Klamath situation. Please call me at -- hmm, I guess I don't know my own number. I'm over at the White House."

The article goes on to talk about the "Klamath situation," an instance where Fourthbranch overturned accepted science and enabled regulators to reverse Endangered Species Act protections so Oregon farmers could get their crops watered. This move, which Atrios informs us was a cause celebre in the wingnut community, led to the deaths of tens of thousands of salmon and the near-destruction of the fishing industry in the region. This ruling, to go around the Endangered Species Act, was eventually overturned in court

Here's what the article DOESN'T mention. Yes, Wooldridge was a mid-level official at the time of Klamath, and apparently Cheney likes to go to them (because he can easily bend them to his will, or have them fired just as easily if they don't comply) in these kinds of situations. But after the Klamath issue, Wooldridge moved up the ladder, going to the Justice Department and becoming the chief government lawyer for environmental cases, with the title of Assistant Attorney General for environment and natural resources. She also married Steven Griles, who she was once counselor to at the Department of the Interior.

Griles was sentenced to ten months in jail yesterday for lying to investigators in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

In addition:

In February 2007, it was reported that in March 2006 Wooldridge had purchased a $980,000 vacation homephoto on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, together with two other individuals: Don R. Duncan, the vice president for federal and international affairs and a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips, a Houston-based oil corporation; and J. Steven Griles, a former deputy interior secretary of the United States (now an oil and gas lobbyist) who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a Senate committee's investigation into the Jack Abramoff affair.

Nine months after buying the home with Duncan and Griles, and just before stepping down, Wooldridge approved consent decrees giving ConocoPhillips three more years to pay millions of dollars in fines for a Superfund toxic waste cleanup and install pollution controls (which are estimated to cost US$525 million) at nine of its refineries.

Would it have killed the Washington Post to mention that Wooldridge was rewarded for her loyalty in the Klamath River affair by being brought into the wingnut welfare family? And that she quickly became as corrupt as the rest of the lot?

UPDATE: In the same edition of the paper, Dana Milbank provides the context:

Some romantics shower their women with wine and roses. Griles did better than that. Prosecutors said he asked Abramoff to fund a charity proposed by one woman he was dating. They said he asked Abramoff to get his law firm to hire two other women he was dating. And then there was all that Abramoff tribal money that went to Federici. Two decades Griles's junior, she was the one who introduced the two men and eventually helped with the Abramoff probe after pleading guilty to tax and perjury charges.

When the Interior Department's inspector general looked into his dealings with lobbyists, Griles, a former mining lobbyist, sought the counsel of Sue Ellen Wooldridge, another woman in the department. Wooldridge, who later joined the Justice Department, became Griles's third wife in March, three days after his guilty plea.

Griles, 59, wept as he embraced Wooldridge after his sentencing yesterday. He and his family members, some also in tears and hugging each other, departed the courtroom slowly. It was a severe but not surprising end to the sentencing hearing for Griles, the highest-ranking Bush administration official to succumb to the Abramoff scandal.

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CA-37: How Low Can You Go?

Well, Laura Richardson won her race for Congress and will represent the Long Beach area for, I gather, the next 20 years. There'll be a runoff, but that's just a formality; the Democrats in the race got close to 80% of the vote (not that there was much of a vote; turnout was about 11%, and Richardson will go to Congress with the support, in the primary at least, of 11,000 voters).

What this really shows is that you don't mess with labor. If Jenny Oropeza made a different vote in the State Senate with regard to the tribal gaming compacts, maybe she'd be headed to DC. But what dismays me is how nasty a campaign Richardson ran, and how in the end it didn't matter one bit. She continually claimed that the Congressional seat ought to go to "one of us," a not-so-subtle swipe at Oropeza's Hispanic roots (although both of them have Caucasian mothers, apparently). She also sent a sickening mailer attacking Oropeza for missing votes in the Assembly, at a time when Oropeza had liver cancer.

Ultimately, I don't think these negative attacks mattered; it was the boots on the ground from labor unions that did. But that's the problem; they DIDN'T matter. Richardson didn't pay the price for running an ugly and dishonest campaign. That, combined with the pathetic turnout, should give everyone pause. This is a low-income and low-information district. The progressive movement is nonexistent here. And the same identity politics drove the race, and labor turned a blind eye to it.

And people wonder why it's hard to take back America...

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Winning The War On Drugs

Our efforts in Afghanistan are putting Colombia out of business! Rejoice!

Afghanistan's Helmand province, heartland of Taliban guerrillas fighting NATO forces, is about to become the world's largest drug supplier, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Helmand, a province in the south of Afghanistan, cultivated more drugs than entire countries such as Myanmar, Morocco or even Colombia, the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) said in its 2007 World Drug Report.

"Helmand province, severely threatened by insurgency, is becoming the world's biggest drug supplier. In Afghanistan, opium is a security issue more than a drug issue," UNODC Director Antonio Marias Costa said in the report's preface.

There's not going to be any money left in the drug supply trade for countries like Colombia. They'll naturally have to move to other crops!

This is one instance where the drug czar and the war czar must have gotten together to make this happen.

Seriously, this is what happens in the desperation of war zones, and it shows that Afghanistan is growing ever worse, six years after the invasion.

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Fourthbranch, Bandar Bush, and the 80 Billion Dollar Slush Fund

The WaPo series on Fourthbranch Cheney has given us a template for how this de facto chief executive likes to operate. We know that he likes to operate in the shadows, valuing secrecy above almost anything else. We know that he likes to be the filter through which all decisions are ultimately made. And we know, from today's third installment, that he likes to control the purse strings, and use that as a way to keep his subordinates in line (at least that's what I got from it. If he's in charge of the most minute of budget details, then the heads of NSA or State are going to want to stay on his good side).

We can put these known knowns (to borrow a Rumsfeldian phrase) to work in understanding Fourthbranch's involvement in the burgeoning scandal in Brtiain involving the Saudi Prince Bandar (a.k.a. Bandar Bush), a British defense contractor (oh wait, they're British - defence), and hundreds of billions of dollars - far more than is being discussed in most press reports.

Today BAE Systems announced that the US Department of Justice was investigating them:

BAE faces allegations that it ran a fund to help it win plane and military equipment orders from Saudi Arabia.

The allegations of illegal payments by BAE date back to the 1980s and the £43bn ($85bn) al-Yamamah deal that supplied Saudi Arabia with Tornado jets and other military equipment.

Earlier this month, the BBC and the Guardian newspaper reported that BAE had made payments worth hundreds of millions of pounds over a number of years to Prince Bandar, a leading member of the Saudi royal family.

According to the Guardian, the Department of Justice became interested because BAE used the US banking system to transfer regular payments to accounts controlled by Prince Bandar at Riggs Bank in Washington.

As a result, prosecutors decided that BAE could be investigated under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

OK, let's back up. But put that "al-Yamamah deal" in your back pocket.

What happened initially was that Bandar Bush was getting $2 billion dollar tips from BAE for helping push through enormous military aircraft deals between London and Riyadh. It was part of a large corruption investigation which was actually shut down in Britain by Tony Blair because it would potentially harm national security by damaging the fine reputation of Saudi Arabia (the 15 9/11 hijackers, apparently, didn't). Blair, I guess, got his payback by being named Mideast envoy. DoJ got involved because the tips were going into Bandar's account at Riggs Bank in Washington. This is VERY interesting, because Riggs Bank is a known launderer for dictators like Augusto Pinochet and others.

Riggs Bank courted business from former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and helped him hide millions of dollars in assets from international prosecutors while he was under house arrest in Britain, according to a report by Senate investigators.

The report also says the top federal bank examiner in charge of supervising the District's largest bank kept details about Riggs's relationship with Pinochet out of the Riggs case file. That happened a few months before the examiner retired from the government and joined Riggs as a senior executive. The examiner, R. Ashley Lee, denied the allegations to Senate investigators.

The Senate report also said Lee recommended, while still working for the government, that the bank not be punished for failing to take steps designed to prevent money laundering.

So we know that this tip money is going into a bank with a notorious history of money laundering and covering for dirty figures around the world (Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, also did business with Riggs Bank). We know that Riggs Bank was actually run by one of Bush's uncles along with another crony, Joe Albritton. Yet DoJ is focusing pretty much on the BAE's use of the US banking system to make these corrupt payments. By the way, BAE is effectively an American company these days, and they're trying to take over US arms companies and do lots of bsuiness with the Pentagon (now why would the former head of Halliburton have a problem with that?).

Could the Justice Department be deliberately focusing on one small part of the scandal in order to distract from the big picture:

Because we know that Fourthbranch and Bandar Bush have been in cahoots lately. Sy Hersh spelled it out.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda [...]

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney’s office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon did not respond to specific queries but said, “The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran.”)

One thing that struck me after reading that is, where is the money coming from for these clandestine operations in the Middle East? Is Congress appropriating it? Hersh says no. Is it part of the intelligence budget? Hersh says it's off-the-books money. So, is it coming out of Bandar Bush's tip jar? Marcy Wheeler:

Cheney and Bandar have been freelancing on foreign policy of late. Of course, Congress is not paying for that freelancing [...] So where do you think Cheney and Bandar are getting the money? [...] I can imagine how much easier it'd be to start a war with Iran if you had an independent source of funds for the propaganda to make your case for war.

Seriously though, this looks more and more like Dick Cheney, with his buddy Bandar Bush, has decided to relive both Watergate and Iran-Contra, all in one.

And apparently, there's more than just the $2 billion dollars in Bandar's tip jar. It could be up to $160 billion, and that brings us back to the Saudi-British "al-Yamamah deal". It was essentially oil-for-jet fighters, but a lot of that cash may have been skimmed into this Riggs Bank account to fund future wars:

While British news organizations, led by The Guardian and BBC have published revealing details of BAE bribery and slush funds, involving Prince Bandar, former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and the late Dutch Royal Consort, Prince Bernhard, none of the British media have touched upon the full magnitude of the scandal--the approximately $160 billion in secret oil revenues, generated by the BAE-Saudi Al-Yamamah deal, over the past 22 years (see accompanying chart for the year-by-year cash value of the Saudi oil shipments to BAE, through British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell and the British government's Defence Export Sales Organization) [...]

British author William Simpson, who wrote the 2006 authorized biography of Prince Bandar, The Prince--The Secret Story of the World's Most Intriguing Royal, on the other hand, provided authoritative details "right from the prince's mouth" that should be of great interest to American Justice Department and Congressional investigators. What Simpson hinted at is perhaps the biggest covert Anglo-American slush fund in history --one that the author openly acknowledged had been used to fund clandestine wars, including the Afghantsi Mujahideen war against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, and other covert military actions in Africa.

Managing cash in oil deals is apparently far looser in Britain than in the United States. The Saudis would pay into a fund, and in return they would get the weapons systems. But the value of the oil was about four times the value of the systems the Saudis got. That leaves hundreds of billions of dollars... unaccounted for.

Between the more than $80 billion in untraced funds generated through Al-Yamamah, according to EIR's conservative estimate, corroborated by U.S. intelligence sources, and the use of the project as a cover for covert activities around the globe and unauthorized weapons purchases, both the Justice Department and the U.S. Congress have a much bigger series of crimes to probe than the $2 billion in fees allegedly conduited through the Saudi accounts at Riggs Bank. The issue is the British corruption and subversion of American law on a grand scale.

Prince Bandar's ghost writer, William Simpson, has revealed that Al-Yamamah provided off-balance-sheet covert funding for the decade-long Mujihadeen covert war to drive the Soviet Red Army out of Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence sources have independently confirmed that at least some of those funds went to the recruitment and training of foreign Muslim fighters, who were sent to Afghanistan. Some of those fighters, following the Afghan War (1979-1990) would later surface in such far-away places as Algeria, the Philippines, Indonesia, Yemen, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as Islamist insurgents, including members of Al Qaeda.

Which leads us back to Fourthbranch. We know that he has no respect for US law. If he wants to fund covert operations around the globe, he'll find a way to do it and he'll do his best to keep it a secret. This little kitty held by Bandar Bush and the Saudis is the perfect way to get the money where he feels it needs to go; we know he loves contorlling the purse strings. It appeared out of the reach of US justice system because it's a British/Saudi deal. But when Bandar got popped in Britain it threatened the whole deal. So DoJ is sent out to do a show investigation to divert attention away from this giant slush fund. I don't know exactly what's going on here, but there's a lot of strings that need to be pulled together.

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Fourthbranch Updates

(bumped because of the kind link by the great Meteor Blades. Welcome Kossacks!)

The third installment of the Washington Post's "Angler" series about Fourthbranch Cheney is a little milder than the first two, because the topic is the domestic and economic agenda, and other than being a standard-issue supply-sider I truly don't think he cares much about that, other than to ensure that his rich cronies get their not-so-fair share. On those points he does put the hammer down:

Air Force Two touched down at the Greenbrier Valley Airport in West Virginia on Feb. 6, 2003, carrying Vice President Cheney to the annual retreat of Republican House and Senate leaders. He had come to sell them on the economic centerpiece of President Bush's first term: a $674 billion tax cut [...]

The president had accepted Cheney's diagnosis that the sluggish economy needed a jolt, overruling senior economic advisers who forecast dangerous budget deficits. But Bush rejected one of Cheney's remedies: deep reductions in the capital gains tax on investments.

The vice president "was just hot on that," said Cesar Conda, then Cheney's domestic policy adviser. "It goes to show you: He wins and he loses, and he lost on that one."

Not for long.

His allies in the House ended up inserting the capital gains tax cut, which really only impacts the wealthy, into the bill, at the expense of one of Bush's priorities. You tell me who's more powerful.

On other elements of domestic policy, like NCLB or the prescription drug benefit, Fourthbranch DIDN'T get what he wanted, at least not according to the article. It plays out more like a typical scenario, with the Vice President one among several powerful interests pushing their agendas. Except that the entire budget gets routed through him before it goes out.

In Bush, Cheney found the perfect partner. The president's willingness to delegate left plenty of room for his more detail-oriented vice president.

"My impression is that the president thinks that the Reagan style of leadership is best -- guiding the ship of state from high up on the mast," said former White House lawyer Bradford A. Berenson. "It seems to me that the vice president is more willing to get down in the wheelhouse below the decks."

The vice president chairs a budget review board, a panel the Bush administration created to set spending priorities and serve as arbiter when Cabinet members appeal decisions by White House budget officials. The White House has portrayed the board as a device to keep Bush from wasting time on petty disagreements, but previous administrations have seldom seen Cabinet-level disputes in that light. Cheney's leadership of the panel gives him direct and indirect power over the federal budget -- and over those who must live within it.

This is another element of why Fourthbranch seems to win all these internecine battles. He selected a lot of the Cabinet and top officials, so he knows how to countermand them and roll them. In addition, he appears to hold their purse strings, and can cut them at any moment. If you depend on the Vice President for your budget money, it's even less likely that you would cross him. That's why you end up with meek milquetoast advisers like this:

When Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, broached the idea of limiting the popular mortgage tax deduction, he said he quickly dropped it after Cheney told him it would never fly with Congress. "He's a big timesaver for us in that he takes off the table a lot of things he knows aren't going to go anywhere," Lazear said.

Lazear, who is otherwise known as a fierce advocate for his views, said that he may argue a point with Cheney "for 10 minutes or so" but that in the end he is always convinced. "I can't think of a time when I have thought I was right and the vice president was wrong."

That's crazy. It's almost like Fourthbranch is turning Mr. Hydes back into Dr. Jekylls. He's not a "big timesaver," he's a walking veto pen.

In other Fourthbranch news, Rahm Emanuel appears serious about bringing an amendment to the floor to cut off funding for Cheney's executive office, estimated at $4.75 million. As long as he's not in the executive branch, he shouldn't be funded through it. Here's Emanuel discussing the plan on Hardball.

Either Wednesday or Thursday my amendment will be on the floor, because the funding for the executive branch is on the floor. And I’ll strike the money for the Vice President’s Office. He can live off the Senate presidency budget that funds him up here. And that’s fine. But if he’s going to be funded in the executive branch, he complies with the rules that apply to everybody. He is not above the rules of the executive branch.

I do have to hand it to Hardball, they led with Fourthbranch yesterday, and they spent most of the first 40 minutes on him as well.

Emanuel loves this issue because there's no political downside into going after Mr. 13%. However, when asked the inevitable "What happens when Cheney doesn't agree and just does what he wants," a legitimate question since that's what he's been doing for the last six years, Emanuel won't go near impeachment and stammers and says "he will be held accountable" without explaining how. It was ultimately a soft-as-tissue-paper performance.

Meanwhile, Dana Perino is in way over her head trying to explain the whole "I'm sometimes executive, sometimes legislative, so really I'm neither!" construction:

The explanatory task fell to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, whose skin reddened around her neck and collar as she pleaded ignorance during the daily briefing: "I'm not a legal scholar. . . . I'm not opining on his argument that his office is making. . . . I don't know why he made the arguments that he did."

"It's a little surreal," remarked Keith Koffler of Congress Daily.

"You're telling me," Perino agreed.

"You can't give an opinion about whether the vice president is part of the executive branch or not?" Koffler pressed. "It's a little bit like somebody saying, 'I don't know if this is my wife or not.' "

Turns out that Perino did manage to lie about Fourthbranch's compliance with other rules regarding classified material. The White House has been ignoring security breaches and blocking security officers from inspecting the West Wing.

And finally, Sally Quinn, head of the DC cocktail circuit, writes that Republican wags want to dump Cheney, but that means almost nothing. It ends up being a paid political announcement for Fred Thompson (that's who Quinn sees as a replacement) and little more. This is the Washington establishment trying to give their guy a push forward. Remember when they all got their backs up and claimed that Clinton "trashed the place, and it's not his place?" Well, Fourthbranch REALLY trashed the joint. Did a Led Zeppelin on it. And there's not a damn thing you can do about it. In fact, you enabled it.

UPDATE: Marcy Wheeler beat me to this. Yes, Sally Quinn is pushing to replace Fourthbranch with that nice independent Mr. Thompson, when his top foreign policy advisor is Liz Cheney. Na ga happen. Also, Fred ain't that independent:

Thompson, who likes to cast himself as a political outsider, earned more than $1 million lobbying the federal government for more than 20 years. He lobbied for a savings-and-loan deregulation bill that helped hasten the industry's collapse and a failed nuclear energy project that cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars.

He also was a lobbyist for deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was widely criticized for endorsing "necklacing," the gruesome practice of execution where gasoline-soaked tires are thrown over a person's neck and set ablaze.

In September 1991, Aristide said: "The burning tire, what a beautiful tool! ... It smells good. And wherever you go, you want to smell it."
(This is a slander of Aristide without much of a factual basis, so I'm disassociating from it)

Sounds like he'd fit in at OVP just fine.

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