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

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sailing Dick

Here's some trivia about State Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman which may shed some light on the late round of budget cuts for social services. No, Ackerman's not a mentally ill homeless person, but he is a yacht owner.

Several lawmakers at the center of the budget dispute did not return phone calls or could not be reached. They included Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine -- a yacht owner who pushed to ease the tax burden on owners of yachts, planes and RVs.

An Ackerman spokesman said the senator was unavailable.

In other news, it's 79 degrees and excellent sailing weather in Irvine!

Here's a little more on this supposedly unnecessary mental health program, cleaved for the benefit of yachting aficianados everywhere:

It has served 13,000 people since November 1999. There are about 4,700 participants today. Among those enrolled as of January, there were 81% fewer days of incarceration, 65% fewer days of psychiatric hospitalization and 76% fewer days of homelessness compared with their pre-enrollment days.

Rusty Selix, executive director of the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies -- like Steinberg, a Proposition 63 coauthor -- said the cost of incarceration can be six times higher than the cost of enrolling someone in the mental health program.

"Rehabilitation costs money. But it's worth it," said Adrienne Sheff, director of adult services at the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center in Van Nuys. Los Angeles County receives nearly a third of the state funds through AB 2034 and serves 1,700 people.

This program was designed to lessen the cost of those homeless who eat up emergency services - like the guy who showed up at San Diego ERs 87 times in a calendar year. Ultimately this move, done purely to satisfy short-sighted bean-counters, will end up costing the state far more. But that burden will be placed on municipalities and local governments, not the state coffers. Making the bean-counters - and yacht owners like Dick Ackerman - very, very happy.

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Rudy Appearance Fights, Loses Battle With Rudy Reality

In a surface primary election featuring one cardboard cut-out candidate against other cardboard cut-out candidates, Rudy Giuliani may look slightly more three-dimensional than the others. But go just an inch past that surface and there are some troubling realities. Time Magazine, which lauded the former NYC Mayor in late 2001, has actually looked into the matter now and found the truth more uncertain:

Before 9/11, Giuliani spent eight years presiding over a city that was a known terrorist target. A TIME investigation into what he did — and didn't do — to prepare for a major catastrophe is revealing. In addition to extraordinary grace under fire, Giuliani developed an intimate knowledge of emergency management and an affinity for quantifiable results. On 9/11, he earned the trust of most Americans; one year later, 78% of those surveyed by the Marist Institute had a favorable impression of Giuliani. This magazine also named Giuliani its Person of the Year in 2001. Assuming he can keep it, trust is a priceless resource in psychological warfare.

The evidence also shows great, gaping weaknesses. Giuliani's penchant for secrecy, his tendency to value loyalty over merit and his hyperbolic rhetoric are exactly the kinds of instincts that counterterrorism experts say the U.S. can least afford right now.

Giuliani's limitations are in fact remarkably similar to those of another man who has led the nation into a war without end. Some of the Bush Administration's policies, like improved intelligence sharing between countries and our own agencies, have made the U.S. better at fighting terrorism. But others, from the war in Iraq to the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, have actually made the task much more difficult. The challenge for the next President will be focusing on and adapting the good tools and jettisoning the bad. Whether you conclude Giuliani can win this war depends ultimately on whether you think we are winning now.

And we all know how many Americans think we're just peachy these days. That whole article is worth reading.

Giuliani's economic policy is similarly negative, once you actually take a look at it and you understand that the surplus he was touting can only be seen that way if you were holding the chart upside down.

Rudolph W. Giuliani has been broadcasting radio advertisements in Iowa and other states far from the city he once led stating that as mayor of New York, he “turned a $2.3 billion deficit into a multibillion dollar surplus.”

The assertion, which Mr. Giuliani has repeated on the trail as he has promoted his fiscal conservatism, is somewhat misleading, independent fiscal monitors said. In fact, Mr. Giuliani left his successor, Michael R. Bloomberg, with a bigger deficit than the one Mr. Giuliani had to deal with when he arrived in 1994. And that deficit would have been large even if the city had not been attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

“He inherited a gap, and he left a gap for his successor,” Ronnie Lowenstein, the director of the city’s Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that monitors the city budget, said of Mr. Giuliani. “The city was budgeting as though the good times were not going to end, but sooner or later they always do.”

With realities like these, it's no wonder that Rudy has hired the media team behind the racist anti-Harold Ford ads. He's going to need some slash-and-burn politics to distract from the awful record.

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Nobody Happy Over Hillary's Terror Comment

The context:

"It's a horrible prospect to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world," Clinton told supporters in Concord.

"So I think I'm the best of the Democrats to deal with that," she added.

Chris Dodd: "Frankly, I find it tasteless to discuss political implications when talking about a potential terrorist attack on the United States."

John Edwards: "Senator Clinton’s remarks are deeply troubling. After nearly seven years of George Bush and the politics of fear, the American people deserve a President who will focus first on keeping America safe, rather than calculating the political consequences. Unfortunately, Senator Clinton is seemingly taking a page straight from the GOP playbook that got us into this mess — using fear of another terror attack as a political tactic to bolster her candidacy, and that is just wrong."

Bill Richardson: "Senator Clinton seems to think that President Bush has made this country safer. I disagree with her. Our failed policy in Iraq is making us less safe."

Barack Obama: Clinton is obsessed “with what she calls the Republican attack machine. I think we need a candidate who is obsessed with unifying this country again."

When EVERY major candidate jumps on one of your comments, suffice to say you stuck your foot in it. Furthermore, because this statement is so symptomatic of a defensive, cautious, mushy-middle crouch that recalls the Democrat-lite DLC of the past, a mindset no Democrat wants to return to, I think it could end up being a real turning point. The national polls don't mean a thing right now. Incidents like this, if they become part of the campaign narrative, do.

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Who Would Arnold Defund?

OK, time for a little role-play. You're the post-partisan governor of a large state. The state budget comes into your hands with cuts almost to the bone, but you promised an additional $700 million and just don't know what to do. Who's going to get the shaft?

Now ask yourself this...

Who doesn't vote?

Give me a sec...

I know! Mentally ill homeless people!

The Governor used his line item veto to cut the entire funding nearly $55 million for the AB 2034 housing program that serves over 4,700 adults with severe mental health needs, all of whom were homeless and frequently hospitalized or incarcerated before getting into the program. The Governor said in his veto message deleting the funding that:

"...while I support the goals of the program, this reduction is necessary to limit program expansions and to help bring ongoing expenditures in line with existing resources. To the extent counties find this program beneficial and cost-effective, it can be restructured to meet the needs of each county’s homeless population using other county funding sources, such as federal funds, realignment funds, or Proposition 63 funds. I am reducing Schedule (6) to eliminate the $12,000,000 legislative augmentation for the 5 percent rate restoration for mental health managed care. This technical veto is consistent with the legislative action taken in [Budget] Item 4440-103-0001."

Mental health advocates say that the immediate effect of the funding cut by the Governor could result in thousands of those people in the program being forced back on the streets at risk of hospitalization and incarceration... The actual outcome of these programs depend on response of local mental health agencies and the Department of Mental Health - but advocates say the cut seeks to supplant funding from the landmark Proposition 63 Mental Health Services Act - funding that was meant they say only for new community based programs - and specifically not meant to fund existing programs.

This is a bait and switch we've seen before by budgetary bean counters. Dedicated funding that's supposed to go ON TOP of budget outlays ends up being the only funding source. So the will of the voters is completely overturned; instead of supplementary mental health funding, Prop. 63 becomes the sole funding.

There were some other cuts, including $6.3 million that would have gone toward the California Discount Prescription Drug Program. But the mentally ill homeless cuts were the most drastic. And it once again shows that those with the softest voice end up getting hit the hardest.

UPDATE: State Senator Darrell Steinberg, who authored AB 2034, the bill whose funding was eliminated by the Governor's budget cut, is shrill.

"The program provides over 4,500 homeless Californians living with mental illness with permanent housing, where they can regularly receive medical and psychiatric treatment and job counseling. The program has been wildly successful according to the Department of Mental Health, reducing the number of days spent homeless by 67 percent, increasing the number of days working full-time by 65 percent, and reducing the number of days incarcerated by 72 percent.

"This is a program that works, that saves the state money in incarceration costs and that humanely treats a population that usually gets short shrift in Sacramento," Steinberg said. "I'm extremely disappointed that the Governor used his veto power in a way that punishes the least among us."

"Steinberg noted that the Governor chose to keep in the budget a $45 million tax break for yacht, private plane and recreational vehicle owners. Under the tax plan requested by Republican lawmakers, luxury vehicle owners can avoid paying sales taxes on purchases if they keep the vehicles out of California for just 90 days after purchase. According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, opening the loophole costs Californians $45 million a year.

"That's the state of California's budget: $45 million in tax relief for yacht owners will stay while $55 million to save thousands of homeless mentally ill is being sacrificed," Steinberg said. "It's wrong morally. It's wrong economically."

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Space Oddity

My senior year of high school, I had an English teacher who taped a poster for an organization called Beyond War to the lectern. Said poster was either a painting or photograph of a globe seen from outer space with a phrase something like "Imagine a World... Beyond War." Because he had a manner that inspired a mildly cult-like following, students eagerly took in this sign of a side interest of his and pestered him to tell them about the poster. He would regularly put them off, saying that One Day he'd tell us about it but not today. Finally, at the end of the year, he cracked open the vault to reveal his participation in this group that some sort of international simultaneous satellite hookup where audiences clustered in auditoriums from Sao Paulo to Moscow would look at the TVs and go "Oooooh!" all at once.

I'm quite certain I've missed the finer details (dimly recalled now; dimly understood then). But I recall the moment in that classroom that this teacher's carefully woven spell had broken. The playful, chortling teases by a teacher who probably hoped to win recruits to this goofy local cult (which I later learned was aligned with a group called Creative Initiative) - for this? Or... wait, say it again? Some paradigm-shifting adult version of LiveAid?

I recalled the woo-woo of this Beyond War hooey as I looked up one of my favorite ever pieces by Markos: a takedown of Dennis Kucinich. Granted, I had formed a dislike of Kucinich without having bothered to actually look up his record or read his positions on the issues. A greater nonentity is scarcely imaginable. But until coming across that kos post, I had no idea how malign some of Kucinich's positions truly are (or - in the case of his anti-choice past - were, before he decided to run for president).

So returning to this post reminded me this time of the Creative Initiative folks. And just because I never could figure out what this teacher was trying to subliminally inculcate in his classes doesn't mean I can't make fun of it. And draw possibly bogus parallels to other ideas I also don't understand.

So on with the fun.

Here's Kucinich describing the new cabinet department he would institute if (everyone else was kidnapped by aliens and) he were elected President: the Department of Peace (which most of us know as the State Department):

We can conceive of peace as not simply the absence of violence but the presence of the capacity for a higher evolution of human awareness, of respect, trust, and integrity. We can conceive of peace as a tool to tap the infinite capabilities of humanity to transform consciousness and conditions that impel or compel violence at a personal, group, or national level toward creating understanding, compassion, and love. We can bring forth new understandings where peace, not war, becomes inevitable. We can move from wars to end all wars to peace to end all wars. Citizens across the United States are now uniting in a great cause to establish a Department of Peace, seeking nothing less than the transformation of our society, to make nonviolence an organizing principle, to make war archaic through creating a paradigm shift in our culture for human development for economic and political justice and for violence control.

Here's an even better one, which I saved for last. An excerpt from Kucinich's keynote address at something called the "Dubrovnik Conference on the Alchemy of Peacebuilding":

Spirit merges with matter to sanctify the universe. Matter transcends to return to spirit. The interchangeability of matter and spirit means the starlit magic of the outermost life of our universe becomes the soul-light magic of the innermost life of our self. The energy of the stars becomes us. We become the energy of the stars. Stardust and spirit unite and we begin: One with the universe. Whole and holy. From one source, endless creative energy, bursting forth, kinetic, elemental. We, the earth, air, water and fire-source of nearly fifteen billion years of cosmic spiraling.

Instead of cluttering the debate stage, he needs a show in Vegas. Now that Siegfried? Roy? (whichever one was mauled by the tiger) is out of commission, maybe Dennis could fill in. Picture a dark stage. A single spotlight switches on above, its beam piercing the swirling vapor of the smoke machine. Suddenly a nebbishy, elfin figure appears. The crowd goes wild, wowed with his woo-woo.

[cross-posted at Vernon Lee]



Pity Party

All aboard the self-flagellation express.

This from WSJ's Political Wire:

PITY PITCH: McCain finance chairman Bob Mosbacher says “people feel badly” for the Arizona senator after campaign meltdown, boosting online fund raising. “It’s doing very well,” he says. Cindy McCain asks supporters to sign an e-card for her husband’s birthday on Wednesday — and donate $142, two dollars a year.

Oh dear. And to think Mosbacher - an intimate of Reagan and longtime Republican macher - has entered the brave new world of online fundraising with this candidate in this manner.

(Some consolation: I hear the weather's nice in Bermuda.)

Does John know his wife Cindy's going around reminding people (or telling those who didn't already know!) how old he is? He doesn't seem too pleased to chat about it: his interview with Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes" last night. McCain was perfectly comfortable talking about a position most find politically uncomfortable at best. But it was another issue that seemed less pleasant for him to discuss — the age question.

Reminded of a recent CBS News poll about voter attitudes toward a candidate's age, McCain seemed to bristle at the question. The poll asked what age respondents felt was preferable for a president taking office. Exactly zero percent picked 70 years or older — McCain would be 72 upon taking office if he should win the White House.

With a thin smile, McCain responded, "I don't like this line of questioning at all. I find it offensive." He then quickly launched into a recitation of his work schedule, telling Pelley that he works "seven days a week, 12, 14, 16 hours a day," and insisted voters will judge him by his conduct during the campaign, not his age.

And John has good reason to whistle past this question. It's not a profitable area of discussion, to say the least.

From Gallup:

The Feb. 9-11, 2007, poll asked Americans whether they would vote for "a generally well-qualified" presidential candidate nominated by their party with each of the following characteristics: Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, an atheist, a woman, black, Hispanic, homosexual, 72 years of age, and someone married for the third time.

Yes, would
vote for

No, would not
vote for












A woman









Married for the third time



72 years of age



A homosexual



An atheist



So he's right up there with heathens and teh gays.

All according to plan!

[cross-posted at Vernon Lee]

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Defense Against the Dark Arts

My vote for the most significant contributions to political science this year: neuroscience applied to voter psychology. We've seen a flurry of books (such as Drew Westen's excellent The Political Brain) and monographs delving into the emotional processing of information, which in turn help elucidate political behavior.

Political scientists (and consultants) have long gazed upon the surface effects of neurons invisibly reaching out and forging connections as information is taken in with frustrated puzzlement. But we're getting an ever clearer picture of how opinions are formed and ideas reinforced.

Glancing at the NYT's home page just now, I saw the name "Drew Westen" and eagerly clicked to the article... which turned out to be a David Brooks column. It's been quite a while since I bothered to follow the semolina trail of his noodlings. But I can't quite claim to be shocked, shocked that Brooks seems to have reviewed a book other than the one in bookstores appearing under the same title.

Here's Brooks' conclusion about Westen's work:

The core problem with Westen’s book is that he doesn’t really make use of what we know about emotion. He builds on the work of Antonio Damasio, without applying Damasio’s conception of how emotion emerges from and contributes to reason.

In this more sophisticated view, emotions are produced by learning. As we go through life, we learn what cause leads to what effect. When, later on, we face similar situations, the emotions highlight possible outcomes, drawing us toward some actions and steering us away from others.

In other words, emotions partner with rationality. It’s not necessary to dumb things down to appeal to emotions. It’s not necessary to understand some secret language that will key certain neuro-emotional firings. The best way to win votes — and this will be a shocker — is to offer people an accurate view of the world and a set of policies that seem likely to produce good results.

This is how you make voters happy.

Now, I do share Brooks' sentiment that political campaigns limit their energies to presenting cogent, rational arguments. But wishing doesn't make it so. I don't see how you can read The Political Brain and deny that tracks are laid down and reinforced through emotions via neural networks.

Most people - you, me, David Brooks - believe we've arrived at an opinion rationally. In fact, we derive our opinions emotionally but then convince ourselves afterward that our opinions have a logical basis.

Here's a selection from Westen, explaining the evolution of the brain in our protohominid ancestors. Appearing later than the cerebrum, the amygdala
is involved in many emotional processes, from identifying and responding to emotional expressions in others, to attaching emotional significance to events, to creating the intensity of emotional experience, to generating and linking feelings of fear to experiences.

Researchers first began to understand the functions of the amygdala decades ago, when they found that destroying a region of the brain in monkeys that later turned out to include the amygdala produced a peculiar syndrome. The monkeys no longer seemed to understand the emotional significance of objects in their environment, even though they had no trouble recognizing, identifying, or remembering them. They would eat feces or other inedible objects that normally elicited disgust or indifference, and they were no longer afraid of things that had previously led to fear. With "reason" intact but emotion incapacitated, these monkeys were generally unable to use their emotions to guide their behavior.

The amygdala can respond to stimuli even when the person has no awareness of having seen them. Presenting a threatening stimulus subliminally (i.e., so quickly that the person cannot report seeing it) can lead to activation of the amygdala, suggesting an emotion system that is constantly processing emotionally relevant information faster than we can consciously register it.

Goodness knows I'm not pleased to contemplate neuroscientists rappelling out of their ivory towers to join the ranks of K Street consulting firms. But such conclusions have already been incorporated into many an id-tickling message. And like it or not, we're going to see more Junior Roves earning their merit badges in subliminally negative advertising.

We return to Brooks for a moment to loop back to the top of his article, in which he adds a dash of sarcasm to his brief Cook's Tour of arguments from what he calls the "Why Democrats Lose" genre:
First, Democrats lose because they are too intelligent. Their arguments are too complicated for American voters. Second, Democrats lose because they are too tolerant. They refuse to cater to racism and hatred. Finally, Democrats lose because they are not good at the dark art of politics. Republicans, though they are knuckle-dragging simpletons when it comes to policy, are devilishly clever when it comes to electioneering. They have brilliant political consultants like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, who frame issues so fiendishly, they can fool the American people into voting against their own best interests.

Now why would one possibly conclude that Republicans frequently run on anything other than The Issues? What a mystery.

And I leave it to Brooks to defend Republicans' stellar domestic and foreign policy achievements lo these past six years. (I think he's onto something with the "knuckle-dragging simpletons," though.)

What's amusing here is that Brooks is chortling his way around an interesting explanation for what we can manifestly see with our own eyes. We've seen the effects; now we have a better idea of the cause.

As perhaps the best example, most of us have noticed - how to put it? - a certain pattern in terror alerts over the years. Anyone save those with a Republican axe to grind have known that these urgent bulletins about some phantom plot unraveled or the arrest for the 27th time of Al Qaeda's Number 3 man coincided with the political calendar. Armchair pontificators and official pundits alike also assume that constant invocations of terror redound to Republicans. They couldn't tell you exactly why - but it seems to be a fair supposition.

Now we're starting to flesh out that picture. John Judis has a brief but interesting introduction to the work of Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski - three academic political psychologists whose initial work sought to explain what they called "terror management theory." They hypothesized and confirmed that
the mere thought of one's mortality can trigger a range of emotions--from disdain for other races, religions, and nations, to a preference for charismatic over pragmatic leaders, to a heightened attraction to traditional mores.

An interesting beginning. And when you think about it, not much of a surprise: George Orwell was onto this stuff a half-century ago. We continue along the path of their discoveries:

To test the hypothesis that recognition of mortality evokes "worldview defense"--their term for the range of emotions, from intolerance to religiosity to a preference for law and order, that they believe thoughts of death can trigger--they assembled 22 Tucson municipal court judges. They told the judges they wanted to test the relationship between personality traits and bail decisions, but, for one group, they inserted in the middle of the personality questionnaire two exercises meant to evoke awareness of their mortality. One asked the judges to "briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you"; the other required them to "jot down, as specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you physically as you die and once you are physically dead." They then asked the judges to set bail in the hypothetical case of a prostitute whom the prosecutor claimed was a flight risk. The judges who did the mortality exercises set an average bail of $455. The control group that did not do the exercises set it at an average of $50.

Over the next decade, the three performed similar experiments to illustrate how awareness of death could provoke worldview defense. They showed that what they now called "mortality salience" affected people's view of other races, religions, and nations.

But the three had yet another important discovery ahead of them:

Drawing on psychoanalysis, but looking for experimental verification, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski developed a theory to explain how mortality salience works. When they started conducting experiments, the psychologists had believed that the sheer recognition of one's mortality directly triggered worldview defense. But, when other psychologists, varying the procedure, failed to reproduce the same results, they discovered an important caveat: When they would ask subjects to make judgments immediately following the mortality exercises, the exercises would have little effect. It was only when they interspersed a diversionary interval between the exercises and the judgments that the exercises had their full impact.

Freud had distinguished between "primary processes" of thought that were unconscious and irrational and "secondary processes" that were conscious and rational. Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski reasoned that, when individuals first feel anxiety about their mortality, they respond consciously by invoking the usual psychological defenses-- for instance, telling themselves that "it's not me, now." That allayed conscious anxiety, but, after the conscious anxiety about mortality had subsided, the thought remained unconscious and active and led people to erect worldview defenses. "The implicit knowledge of death rather than the current focal awareness is the motivating factor," they wrote. "Once the problem of death is out of focal attention but while it is still highly accessible, terror management concerns are addressed by ... bolstering faith in the worldview."

To demonstrate this effect, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski devised experiments using subliminal cues. They asked subjects to evaluate whether two words on a computer screen were related. One group of subjects had the word "death" flashed subliminally between the two words, while another group had the word "field" flashed. Afterward, neither group said they saw more than two words at a time. But, by using word-fragment completion tests--for instance, is "coff_ _" completed as "coffin" or "coffee"?--the psychologists were able to establish that the group which had "death" flashed before them, but not the control group, was unconsciously thinking about death. The psychologists then asked the groups to evaluate essays critical and supportive of the United States. Those who had "death" flashed before them had a much more negative view of the essay critical of the United States than those who had seen the word "field." They exhibited the same pattern of judgment as those who had done the mortality exercises but, unlike them, did not need an interval before making judgments. The psychologists still lacked a full explanation of how this worked, but they had shown that, in their words, "worldview defense in response to thoughts of death does not require any conscious awareness of such thoughts." Indeed, it worked best when these thoughts were unconscious.


Or rather:

Uh oh.

[cross-posted at Vernon Lee]

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Following the Money In Iraq

I recall Joe Biden staking his entire vote to fund the war in Iraq on the fact that we had to get these mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to the troops to save lives. I wonder if he'll have anything to say about this:

U.S. troops in Iraq will receive at least 1,000 fewer special armored vehicles than expected this year due to the amount of time needed for shipment, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Defense Department expected defense contractors to produce 3,900 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles this year. But only 1,500 would make it to the war zone -- down from the Pentagon's previous shipment target of 2,500 to 3,000.

"If we could get 1,500 to theater by the end of this year, that would be a positive development," Morrell said [...]

Morrell said it takes about 50 days to equip and ship a finished MRAP into the war zone. That includes 15 days for equipping and 35 for transport by ship.

This boggles the mind. During World War II we had a tank rolling off of the assembly lines by the tens of thousands. Today's military can't manage to get 1,500 into the theater of operations NEARLY FIVE YEARS after the beginning of war. This is a direct result of the horrible consequences of privatization, which contrary to popular belief creates plenty of corruption, as human greed and lax regulation creates a cocktail of waste and fraud.

A U.S. Army captain was charged on Thursday with accepting a $50,000 bribe to steer military contracts in Iraq, prosecutors said.

Austin Key, 27, of Watertown, N.Y., was stationed in Baghdad as a field ordering officer and oversaw the administration of service and supply contracts awarded by the U.S. Army worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Prosecutors accuse Key of demanding $125,000 from the owner of a business in order to protect the company's ability to win future contracts.

This happens in every war, but we have had practically no oversight for the majority of this conflict. And the people who bear the real brunt of that are our soldiers in the field, still waiting for the equipment that could protect them while the contractors get rich.

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The Lobbyist/Media Complex

I had a head-shaking moment while having the unfortunate experience of watching CNN a few minutes ago. Ed Henry did an update on his "exclusive" report (which consists of him reading IraqSlogger scoops) about Iyad Allawi's hiring of a GOP lobbying firm to promote the overthrow of the Iraqi government and his installation as Prime Minister (OK, Henry didn't completely put it that way, but that's essentially what's going on). Blitzer and Henry then let slip what that lobbying firm is doing with all that money, and how it's working.

Henry mentioned that Ambassador Robert Blackwill, an envoy to Iraq for the President, was running the Allawi account, yet still believed the Administration tripe that they have nothing to do with this lobbying effort. Henry even called Blackwill's efforts "working against the President." Really? Where's the evidence for that? Because White House spokesmen say so?

But here was the revelation. Henry said:

Now, what are these lobbyists doing for three hundred thousand bucks? So far they're sending out emails to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, their staff, some people in the media, that are essentially just clips that have already been out there in newspapers like the New York Times, attacking Nouri al-Maliki, saying that he hasn't stepped up, things that have already been in the public domain. Not bad work if you can get it, $300,000 to be sending out those media clips. They'll obviously be doing some other lobbying, but not bad work, Wolf.

And then Blitzer added:

He had an op-ed in the Washington Post over the weekend, which I read in the actual hard copy of the Washington Post, but then a day later, I got the email from a Dr. Iyad Allawi, and I had no idea where that was coming from, but you've cleared it up for me.

Later on, Blitzer announced that Allawi would be appearing on this weekend's CNN Late Edition.

Here we have the entire lobbyist-media complex that infects Washington groupthink like a horrible disease laid out for all to see. Interest groups pay lobbyists to get attention to their cause. Lobbyists pay media organizations to plant stories or print op-eds. Then they highlight these stories to the more lazy broadcast media, who chases the story like an errant soccer ball. It's all a well-known practice to those in Washington, but not to the vast majority of those media consumers. They actually think the stories with the most importance rise to the top, not the stories with the most money behind them. There is no reason for someone like Iyad Allawi, who's already failed miserably in his post as Prime Minister, should get any coverage from the traditional media.

In this case, the lobbying is on a major issue, and is designed to change both public opinion and the opinions of lawmakers. It should be no surprise that the lobbyists immediately take to planting articles and hectoring the media as the initial part of their strategy. I think there needs to be some walkback here. How was the Washington Post editorial board persuaded to print that editorial by Allawi in the first place? Did money change hands? What role did this lobbying group play in stories about the Maliki government's troubles in the first place? Where is the information for these stories coming from? Is Phillip Zelikow, who is still seen as an objective Expert on Iraq in media interviews, but who is also being paid by Allawi to degrade Maliki's stature, helping distribute anti-Maliki information to media outlets?

Glenn Greenwald asked a lot of these questions today, directly, to the GOP lobbying firm, BG&R:

I have placed several calls to BG&R today as well, and they claim that nobody responsible for answering press inquiries is available and they do not return messages. For any intrepid journalists who can obtain information from them, among the key questions are:

(1) Does Zelikow, as indicated by Chairman (Rep. Vic) Snyder, have a formal consulting relationship with the Bush administration itself to shape Iraq policy?;

(2) Did Zelikow disclose to ABC News that his firm was being paid by Allawi before agreeing to be interviewed about Iraq's future, in which he insinuated that the Bush administration was working to oust Maliki?

(3) Did BG&R have any role to play in having Fred Hiatt publish Allawi's Op-Ed two weeks ago, proclaiming Maliki to be the cause of Iraq's problems?

With the revelations by CNN, it's important that we keep asking these questions and get some real answers. Right now, a blog is driving this story for the simple reason that this reveals the traditional media to be totally ethically compromised when reporting on events like Iraq. The blogs need to keep doing the driving so we can understand what's happening here.

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The Crouch

This is my entire problem with Hillary Clinton in a nutshell. She believes the Republican's hype instead of challenging it:

"It's a horrible prospect to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world," Clinton told supporters in Concord.

"So I think I'm the best of the Democrats to deal with that," she added.

It'll only automatically give Republicans an advantage if Democrats concede that. It's this lazy contempt for the American voter that has consigned Democrats to the sidelines of every meaningful foreign policy debate of the last thirty years. Instead of placing the blame on Republicans for failed Republican policies, the Clintonite worldview, repeated by many political consultants, is that Democrats have to "deal with" Republican advantages. Here's Matty Y:

I think there's a pretty clear sense in which the further one is from Bush's Iraq policy, the easier it is politically to say that the failures of Bush's national security policy should be blamed on Bush's failed policies. Obama has a straight shot ("this is why we should have fought al-Qaeda like I said") and Edwards (and Matt Yglesias) has a straightish one ("this is why we should have fought al-Qaeda like I think in retrospect") whereas I'm not 100 percent sure what the Clinton message would be. Most of all, though, I think the politics of national security call for a strong, self-confident posture that genuinely believes liberal solutions are politically saleable and substantively workable, not the kind of worry-wort attitude that says we need to cower in fear every time Republicans say "terror."

We will NEVER gain the respect of the American people by staying in this defensive crouch, arguing from weakness instead of strength. Clinton still hasn't figured out that it's your actions and not your policies that will project strength to the American people. LGM has more:

Clinton is correct in the sense that the idea that everything is good for Republicans will get a more respectful hearing than it deserves. But it also seems obvious that the only way to counter that is for major Democrats to challenge the narrative rather than accept it as a fact of life. Which is another reason why Clinton's front-runner status is regrettable.


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The $63,000,000 Boondoggle

Duncan Hunter, the man who wants to be put in charge of the Federal Treasury, has seen the all-too-slow-death of the $63 million plane that doesn't fly, one which he enthusiastically supported for two decades.

Millions of dollars later, Congress has effectively killed a military plane program the Pentagon repeatedly rejected, and which never had a successful flight.

The $63 million Congress poured into the DP2 program over 20 years was not requested by the Department of Defense. Instead, it was mandated through obscure provisions in bills known as "earmarks." Most of those earmarks for the DP2 were inserted by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., in whose district the plane was designed and built, in prototype.

The 2008 defense spending bill does not include an earmark for the DP2. Hunter had wanted to direct $6 million toward the plane's development.

Designed as a plane that can take off straight up and then fly at 700 miles per hour, the DP2 has never attained a height of more than a few feet in prototype tests before crashing to the ground.

I guess the good news here is that, if on the off-chance that everyone's voting rights were taken away but Ann Coulter's, and he were elected, the whole country would be his district, meaning lots of pork for everyone! And since executive branch officials can apparently get corporate-funded trips without any problems, Hunter will be right at home... in Bizarro America, during the Hunter presidency.

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Another Day, Another Justification For Iraq

The surge used to have a political solution as its end goal. The point was to give "breathing space" for the Iraqi government to reach a reconciliation. Now that the surge has been in place and absolutely no political movement has occurred, the new end goal is security. The Bush Administration is just fundamentally dishonest, and listening to their pronouncements with any kind of rational standard is simply folly.

McClatchy actually got this right, as they are wont to do:

Year-by-year, month-by-month, now even day-to-day, we're treated to a different rationale for the Iraq war from a different President George W. Bush.

In the beginning, the reasons for invading Iraq and toppling the dictator Saddam Hussein were his possession of weapons of mass destruction, his nuclear weapons program and his links to the real al Qaida.

When no evidence of the truth of any of those reasons could be found after a year and millions spent in a desperate, failed search, the rationale became the installation of a freely elected democratic government in Baghdad.

That's an important editorial, a chronicle of failure in Iraq. The truth is that even on the Administration's new terms (security),the surge is not working. Violence still reigns and more refugees are leaving in droves, which artificially brings down violence numbers lower than they would be normally.

By both using security as the only benchmark that matters, fudging the numbers about that security, and placing the blame for a lack of political progress on mean ol' Nouri al-Maliki, the President will try to change the way the country views Iraq. The country won't buy it; but sadly, the Congress might.

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Chris Shays, Master of Understatement

The only New England Republican left in the House is angered that Henry Waxman is actually looking into wrongdoing by the federal government on his behalf in the 2006 election. So he pulled this one out of his ass:

“It’s the kind of thing that I think might happen in a place like Russia where the party in power goes after the party that they want never to be in power,” Shays said of the investigation. “This kind of stuff just grosses me out.”

Later, speaking about Iraq, Shays argued, “Republicans and Democrats have a harder time getting along than Sunnis and Shiites.”

Right, don't you remember all of the car bombs on the House floor? The sectarian bloodshed?

This is a guy who's trying to lament the partisanship in Washington, while making one of the most partisan statements you'll ever read. Talk about feeling the pressure. Jim Hines is a top recruit for this seat, neither Sunni nor Shiite but an American who wants to see Chris Shays retired, so he can make these rants in the privacy of his own corner bar.

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Big In Bermuda

The Straight Talk Express made it straight to the home of businessmen in shorts to campaign in a country that, it should be mentioned, isn't the United States.

US Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has pledged to protect Bermuda's international businesses if he is successful in his White House bid. The Arizona Senator, who spent three days on the Island this week meeting business and political leaders, said he understood the concerns of the insurance and reinsurance sectors about draft legislation proposing a clampdown on US business operations in so-called tax havens.

Is this like that time where I went to the Caribbean for two weeks but I took my laptop with me so I could call it a "business trip"? Also, isn't McCain's campaign a little strapped for cash to be spending a week kicking it in Bermuda?

This is actually sad. It's like a rock band playing the smaller venues when the big cities don't want them anymore. This is the equivalent of REO Speedwagon at the County Fair. I look forward to watching McCain use the Martinique and Guadaloupe caucuses as a springboard to the Presidency. And one shouldn't forget the St. Vincent and the Grenadines straw poll coming up!

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Pay To Play

Glenn Greenwald brings up a very good point. Iyad Allawi is paying $300,000 to a GOP-connected lobbying firm (perhaps using some of the billion or so his buddy stole from the Iraqi Treasury when he was Prime Minister). A week ago he had an op-ed in the Washington Post essentially laying the blame for Iraq's problems on Nouri al-Maliki, which we've seen congeal into conventional wisdom. And we know that one of the things lobbying groups do is place their clients onto editorial pages to argue for their positions, particularly on the Washington Post's page, which gets the issue in front of the politically connected.

Did a GOP lobbying group pay Fred Hiatt to run an Iyad Allawi op-ed advocating for the overthrow of an elected Iraqi government?

Wouldn't you think that would rate as a scandal?

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Schwarzenegger Comes Out Kind Of Against Electoral College Dirty Trick

The AP has a story up about Governor Schwarzenegger's reaction to the right-wing dirty tricks proposal to steal the Presidency in 2008.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a chilly reception Thursday to a GOP-backed plan to change the way California awards electoral votes in presidential elections - a proposal critics say could tilt the outcome in favor of Republicans.

"In principle, I don't like to change the rules in the middle of the game," the Republican governor told reporters.

OK, starts good, not as hard-hitting as you would want but...

Schwarzenegger added he wasn't versed in details of the ballot proposal and stressed he wasn't taking a definitive position.

Ah, the last bastion of a political scoundrel. "I haven't read it."

But his uneasy response is likely to make it harder for supporters to build momentum and could chill fundraising.

I doubt that, considering that far-right Republicans don't even much like the Governor anymore.

The proposed ballot initiative is being pushed by Thomas Hiltachk, a lawyer in a Sacramento firm that represents the state Republican Party.

Um, you couldn't have mentioned that he was Schwarzengger's personal lawyer? Would that have killed you?

The other big election story is that the governorappeared with Pete Wilson and Gray Davis to announce their intention to push for a change in redistricting laws.

Governor Schwarzenegger joined with two former governors today in Los Angeles to call for a new way to carve up political district boundaries.

Schwarzenegger appeared at a news conference with former Republican Governor Wilson and former Democratic Governor Davis.

Schwarzenegger said the current system does little to encourage competition. The governor said in the past three election cycles, only 4 of the 459 congressional and legislative seats changed party hands in California.

Schwarzenegger seeks a ballot proposal that would have an independent commission do the reapportionment, rather than the legislature. The proposal is similar to one that was unsuccessful on the 2005 ballot.

He wants the proposal on the February 2008 ballot. If this would take effect immediately, I don't know how anyone could support changing the way districts are drawn with 8 year-old Census data. But "I haven't read it"!

This is part of a new strategy of aggressiveness coming out of the Governor's office, to show the Legislature who's boss, I guess. Obviously the Governor is holding out endorsement of the term limits measure as a chip to get redistrcting done. And he's vowing not to sign any health care proposal that doesn't have his thumbprints all over it.

What remains to be seen is whether or not post-partisanship has any coalition-building left in it. The Governor came out of the budget fight relatively unscathed, and has really only taken a popularity hit this year when the public noticed his lack of a true commitment to fighting global warming. What he ends up blue-penciling out of the budget might cause a reaction as well. And the reaction to his middling response on the dirty tricks issue may hurt him. A lot of questions leading into crunch time for the legislative process.

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All According To Plan... Somewhat

Iyad Allawi's bloc in the Iraqi Parliament leaves the Maliki government, presumably under advice of his GOP lobbyist team. So confidence in Maliki withers, leading to perhaps a coup and a new Prime Minister, which would force the Bush Administration to stay in Iraq longer to give the new government more time and more breathing space, running out the clock until 2009...

What was that?

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war.

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond [...]

Pace's recommendations reflect the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who initially expressed private skepticism about the strategy ordered by Bush and directed by Petraeus, before publicly backing it.

According to administration and military officials, the Joint Chiefs believe it is of crucial strategic importance to reduce the size of the U.S. force in Iraq in order to bolster the military's ability to respond to other threats, a view that is shared by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Darn generals, coming along and raining on Bush's war parade!

Of course, later in the article is the cynical view of what probably will happen:

Any discord among the top U.S. generals could be awkward for Bush, who professes to rely heavily on advice from military leaders. But there also is tremendous pressure for military officers to speak with one voice and defer to Petraeus and other field commanders. It remains possible that the Joint Chiefs may opt to weaken their stance before approaching Bush.

After all, a general who disagrees is a general out of a job, whereas a general who falls in line is a general whose advice is listened to. After all, Gen. Pace himself is leaving at the end of September.

See also Josh Marshall's post on Jim Hoagland's ope-ed, which makes the point that what's good for Bush (trying every single thing he can think of to reverse the course of Iraqi history and restore his legacy) and what's good for the country (not irreparably breaking our military) are two different things. Which is a position of incredible danger for the rest of us.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Obama With Some Sanity on Maliki

Was I ever waiting for this:

Asked if he agrees with some fellow Democratic senators if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should be removed from power, Obama said the problem “goes beyond” who specifically is in power.

“We could have one, two, three, four replacements for Maliki,” Obama said, “but if the underlying political dynamic hasn’t changed, then we’re not going to see progress. … We know that by putting outstanding U.S. troops on the ground, that they will, on the short term, reduce violence. But unless we can get the various factions to work together, we’re not going to see the kind of progress that’s needed.”

The only false note there is the idea that we can get the factions to do anything, but Obama has discussed the need for Iraqis to take control of the reconciliation before, and the rest is first-rate, so I'll grant him that.

Look, Maliki is not the problem. The problem is the multitude of things George Bush has done to create this situation, and criticizing a figurehead like Maliki, which could result in his running into the arms of other nations like Iran, is pointless because it suggests that there's a government to begin with. There's now rumors of a military coup in the country, no doubt engineered by the GOP spin team designed to bring Iyad Allawi back to power. And then everyone will suggest that we need to give the new Prime Minister a chance to succeed. At least Obama is calling the Administration on this crap, instead of Hillary Clinton, who is enabling it.

(By the way, if there is a coup, who's to say we won't be dealing with Prime Minister al-Sadr before too long?)

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Another One Bites

Rick Renzi joins Denny Hastert, Ray LaHood, Duncan Hunter, Deborah Pryce, and Chip Pickering in the "I'm Outta Here" caucus of the House GOP.

I'm sensing a pattern. Before long the number of House members retiring will match the number of Justice Department officials retiring.

Bradley Schlozman, a former Justice Department official who was at the center of the U.S. attorneys scandal and is under investigation by the Departments inspector general for his alleged efforts to politicize the Civil Rights Division, has finally left his post at the Department.

After he left his position as the U.S. attorney in Kansas City this April, Schlozman moved to the Justice Department office that oversees all U.S. attorneys. Reached on his cell phone today, Schlozman confirmed that he'd left the Department last week, but refused to say anything more and then hung up.

With Renzi as with Schlozman, I hope the investigations into wrongdoing continue.

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Shocking News From The Romney Campaign

You'd better sit down for this one. It seems that Mitt Romney made a statement today that contradicts something he said earlier! I'm simply at a loss that someone so honest and forthright and steely-eyed in his resolve would actually say different things to different audiences! It just doesn't seem possible, and yet...

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said this week that as president he would allow individual states to keep abortion legal, two weeks after telling a national television audience that he supports a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure nationwide.

In an interview with a Nevada television station on Tuesday, Romney said Roe. v. Wade should be abolished and vowed to "let states make their own decision in this regard." On Aug. 6, he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he supports a human life amendment to the Constitution that would protect the unborn.

If we can't count on Mitt Romney to make consistent statements, what can we count on as a nation? It seemed like only yesterday there was apple pie, Mount Rushmore, and Mitt Romney's platform. Simple, clear, unmoving. Say it ain't so, Mitt.

(I guess Romney didn't hear the news that flip-flops can be hazardous to your health.)

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Sen. Warner wants Iraq pullout to begin by Xmas

This is a breaking story. John Warner, who isn't likely to run again and is therefore unencumbered by political payback, is apparently calling for the President to start a pullout of American troops in Iraq by Christmas.

"In my humble judgment, that would get everyone's attention the attention that is not being paid at this time," said Warner.

Warner said the president and other leading Bush administration officials have repeatedly said the American commitment to Iraq was not open-ended.

"The time has come to put some meaningful teeth into those comments -- to back them up with some clear, decisive action," Warner added.

It's unclear how large a pullout this would be, or just a symbolic one. It's unclear whether there's any kind of end date for the complete removal of combat troops here, or not. It's unclear whether this move by Warner would change anything on the ground in Iraq or help get our troops out of harm's way and end the occupation of Iraq.

But politically speaking, this is huge. It changes the narrative from "Dems in disarray, forced to acknowledge progress" to "GOP in disarray, some leaders calling for pullout." The NIE was the impetus for this, I believe. Suddenly, everyone will be asking GOP Senators and Congressmen whether or not they agree with Sen. Warner.

I think this is a big step toward the end of the occupation.

UPDATE: ABC has a bit more.

"I say to the President, with great respect," the 80 year-old Senator said at a press conference on Capitol Hill, "consider that you initiate the withdrawal." [...]

"I've tried to work and be respectful of the office of the Presidency," Warner told reporters, but added that after General Petraeus, the leader of coalition forces in Iraq, submits his reporton progress in Iraq come mid-September, senators should be "free to voice our own opinions."

Warner picked a number out of mid-air at his press conference: 5,000 troops out by Christmas. And he's not for a timeline for withdrawal.

Fortunately, the soccer-ball-chasing media is hyping this story, which means extremely little. They're calling it a "major GOP defection on Iraq."

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Rudy's Newest Supporter

Roger Stone, a GOP operative who was just dumped from the New York State GOP for making a threatening phone call to Eliot Spitzer's father (here's the audio); who has actually tried to claim in his defense that "unnamed Spitzer operatives broke into his New York City apartment, presumably with a voice impersonator, and placed the threatening message to Spitzer's father from Stone's phone"; a man who is one of the all-time dirty tricksters in the Republican Hall of Shame; whose past includes allegations that he routinely placed swinger ads looking for "muscular, well hung, single men" to party with him and his wife...

...makes the case for Rudy Giuliani today.

He joins such upstanding citizens as racketeer Bernie Kerik, coke dealer Thomas Ravenel, child molester Monsignor Alan Placa, and others in the new 527 "Moral Lepers for Rudy."

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Edwards Makes A Statement

We've already seen John Edwards attack the war on terror frame, but it didn't gain a hell of a lot of traction. Now he's back with another broadside, one that goes much further than any Democratic candidate on the need for transforming the conventional wisdom.

"Small thinking and outdated answers aren't the only problems with a vision for the future that is rooted in nostalgia," Edwards said in the prepared remarks. "The trouble with nostalgia is that you tend to remember what you liked and forget what you didn't. It's not just that the answers of the past aren't up to the job today, it's that the system that produced them was corrupt — and still is."

Edwards also planned to tell voters they can't simply replace "a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other." He criticized "ideas and policies that are tired, shopworn and obsolete."

That is a real indictment of Clintonesque DLC corporatism. The whole speech is right here, and it's good.

What Edwards is asking America to do is seize the moment. The Republican brand has been trashed by six and a half years of Bushism and the culture of corruption. America is ready for a totally different direction and a new set of policies to guide the future. Edwards is demanding that we not shrink from this moment.

The choice we must make is as important as it is clear.

It is a choice between looking back and looking forward.

A choice between the way we've always done it and the way we could do it if we dared.

A choice between corporate power and the power of democracy.

Between a corrupt and corroded system and a government that works for us again.

It is caution versus courage. Old versus new. Calculation versus principle.

It is the establishment elites versus the American people.

It is a choice between the failed compromises of the past and the bright possibilities of our future. Between resigning ourselves to Two Americas or fighting for the One America we all believe in.

This is a powerful speech. The war on terror re-framing didn't take off. I wonder if this will. You would think that the nation is ripe for an anti-establishment campaign; can a former Senator pull it off?

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NIE Key Judgments...

here. The short version: the security situation is improving on some counts but unevenly, the political situation is nonexistent, and pretty much nothing's going to change over the next year. The main reason violence is down in Baghdad is because it's been pretty much ethnically cleansed already. That said, it'd be worse if we left.


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Did I Say That Out Loud

While decrying the public debate over the FISA bill and wiretapping, and actually claiming Americans are going to die if the debate persists, NSA head Michael McConnell also gave up a bunch of information about wiretapping that nobody knew before, certainly not during what sadly passed for public debate.

Some highlights of McConnell’s revelations:

Court ruling declared Bush’s program illegal on May 31: “After the 31st of May we were in extremis because now we have significantly less capability” when a federal court ruled part of the wiretapping program illegal, McConnell said.

Private sector actively involved in wiretapping program: “Under the president’s program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us,” said McConnell. “Now if you play out the suits at the value they’re claimed, it would bankrupt these companies,” McConnell said, arguing for legal immunity for the companies when Congress returns from recess.

McConnell denies White House involvement: “The president’s guidance to me early in the process, was, ‘You’ve got the experience. I trust your judgement. You make the right call. There’s no pressure from anybody here,” McConnell claimed.

Thousands overseas are being monitored via warrants. “Offering never-disclosed figures, McConnell also revealed that fewer than 100 people inside the United States are monitored under FISA warrants. However, he said, thousands of people overseas are monitored,” states the AP.

Takes 200 hours to assemble a wiretapping warrant: McConnell alleged that “the issue is volume and time” as to why he was so adamant about pursuing warrantless wiretapping. “My argument was that the intelligence community should not be restricted. … It takes about 200 man hours to do one telephone number.”

I don't believe that it takes 200 hours to write up a frickin' warrant, but even if it did, tough guys, democracy is hard work. But the real revelation here is that AT&T and other telecom companies collaborated with the government to violate our civil liberties through spying. It's clear that McConnell has validated the lawsuits filed against these telecom companies by admitting this illegal involvement. Which is why there is going to be ENORMOUS pressure on the Congress to bail them out by making these companies immune from prosecution. Which the Democrats should respond to with some version of "Sorry, I can't hear you, maybe you should get a new phone, one that doesn't spy on me," but I am not optimistic about that happening.

AP has more. This is a major blunder by McConnell. Once again, Republicans see nothing wrong with leaking state secrets for their own political purposes.

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Time For A Democratic Coup

In sports, it's often said that teams can't fire all the players, so they fire the coach. This is the mentality behind the shameful proposal by some Democrats, like Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton, to "fire" Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq. Only we're not the owners of the country. The Iraqi people own the country, and only they can sort out the problems they now face. A new intelligence estimate declares that Maliki will not be able to bring together factions and achieve a political reconciliation, but it doesn't exactly see any other option, either:

“The report says that there’s been little political progress to date, and it’s very gloomy on the chances for political progress in the future,” said one Congressional official with knowledge of its contents.

The new report also concludes that the American military has had success in recent months in tamping down sectarian violence in the country, according to officials who have read it.

The report, which was intended to help anticipate events over the next 6 to 12 months, is “more dire in its assessments” than the administration has been in its own internal discussions, according to one senior official who has read it. But the report also warns, as Mr. Bush did on Wednesday, that an early withdrawal would lead to more chaos.

“It doesn’t take a policy position,” one official said. “But it leaves you with the sense that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, but we can’t let up, or it’ll get worse.”

Damned if we stay and damned if we leave. Nice position you've put the country in, W.

Indeed, American officials are ending any hopes that democracy can exist in Iraq under the current structure. Changing Maliki in favor of a strongman who will crush opposing viewpoints is essentially what the generals are arguing here. And so we're back to the cult of Iyad Allawi, which, um, didn't work the first time, fellas.

he powerful Republican lobbying group of Barbour Griffith & Rogers is plotting an effort to displace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and supplant him with former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. IraqSlogger reported:

BGR’s work for Allawi includes the August 17 purchase of the Web site domain

In recent days, BGR sent hundreds of e-mail messages in Allawi’s name from the e-mail address

Allawi has been described as “Saddam lite.” In 2004, he handcuffed and blindfolded suspected terrorists and shot them in the head with a pistol. Now, with frustrations mounting against current prime minister Maliki, the administration may be using that as an opportunity to usher in its reliable ally Allawi. In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Allawi wrote a piece that seemed to be an effort to curry favor with the White House.

You know, overthrowing governments appears to be the only thing the Bushies can manage. They certainly can't deal with the aftermath.

All of this is kind of a useless argument. To believe that changing the figurehead of the Iraqi government would effect change assumes that you believe there still IS a functioning Iraqi government, and not a collection of city-states run by militias and factions. Militias control the electricity grid, by and large. Sunni militants can hold out in tiny Baghdad neighborhoods for months on end. The Iraqi government is irrelevant in this scenario, and no matter who is its leader, they will not be listened to. We have totally broken this failed state, and whether or not leaving will cause chaos, staying certainly already has. The famed "consequences of failure" are already being met. So Bush and McCain and Lieberman can play "Rambo" and claim that if we just stay a little bit longer (read: indefinitely) everything will be all right, but everything is already all wrong.

Get out. Now.

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The "Piece-Of-Shit" Express

The perfect embodiment of John McCain's failed Presidential campaign.

“The next time we roll it out, [the new campaign bus will] be much more like the original version,” Davis said. “A piece of sh*t.”

I hear they're searching Craigslist as we speak.

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Health Care in California: Arnold Comes Out Swinging

Without a health care plan of his own that any legislator would back, Arnold Schwarzenegger is left to mold the Democratic leadership plan in his image. He came out strong yesterday in the opening salvo in the negotiating process.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took a firm stand Wednesday against the Democratic healthcare proposal moving through the Legislature, saying for the first time that he would not support an expansion of medical insurance if it were financed solely by new requirements on employers.

The Democratic proposal would require employers to spend at least the equivalent of 7.5% of their payroll on their workers' health. The governor insisted that the plan also must require all Californians to have insurance, an idea at the core of his January proposal.

Democrats omitted that concept, believing that many people would be unable to afford the premiums.

Schwarzenegger's program would have given employers the option of providing insurance or paying into a state fund that would offer it to uninsured workers and those who couldn't afford individual policies. It also would have spread the responsibility of paying for expanded healthcare to doctors and hospitals, an idea that was rejected by Democrats as politically infeasible.

Schwarzenegger essentially wants MassCare, with its individual mandate, along with a buy-in from doctors and hospitals along with individuals and employers. This is what he calls a fee but is probably a tax, which means Republicans would have to get involved because it would require a 2/3 vote. But that doesn't matter; he'd rather have no health reform at all than one without an individual mandate:

Schwarzenegger has said repeatedly that all parts of society -- including healthcare providers, individuals and businesses -- must make sacrifices if all Californians are to be insured. Nearly 5 million residents lack coverage at any given time. The Democratic proposal would cover 69% of them. Schwarzenegger's comments were even more pointed earlier in the day, when he told the Sacramento Bee editorial board that he would veto a bill that failed to spread the costs around.

"If anyone over there thinks that I will sign a bill that . . . has only employer mandate, they shouldn't," he said, according to an account posted on the newspaper's website.

"I won't sign it. It won't happen," he said.

My favorite part of the article is the part where Schwarzenegger just ignores reality.

The idea of scrapping private insurance altogether and enacting a state-run program -- an idea championed by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) in the Legislature and Michael Moore in his film "SiCKO" -- has gained support: The poll found that 36% of Californians now prefer this approach, up from 24% nine months ago.

Schwarzenegger, however, reiterated his opposition Wednesday.

"It's very clear people don't like government running their healthcare system," he said.

Yes, so clear that it's the most popular proposal before the people.

This is bluster from an action hero, and I'm not sure it should be taken seriously by Don Perata and Fabian Nuñez. Schwarzenegger wants a ready-made market for the insurance industry, and his plan had no floor on coverage and no ceiling on costs. That individual mandate starts to look like a gun barrel under those circumstances. And I'd rather see nothing enacted than something that holds up California's indigent and forces them to pay through the nose.

The guaranteed issue part of his proposal, whereby nobody could be denied insurance, should be retained. As we move toward an eventual not-for-profit system, setting up some public framework, as the new AB8 is rumored to strengthen, is crucial. And clearly, the Governor shouldn't be saying a word about healthcare until he fights the callous Bush Administration proposal to deny coverage to children by tightening S-CHIP eligibility.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

If a nuclear inspection deal happens, and nobody in the US media hears it...

This isn't getting any play in the US media, for what I would consider to be obvious reasons.

Iran and the UN's nuclear agency say they have made progress in talks on Tehran's nuclear programme.
In July the two sides announced a two-month arrangement aimed at clearing up outstanding questions and giving the agency better access to nuclear sites.

Both now say they have agreed on a timeline for implementation during a fresh round of talks in Tehran [...]

Since July's agreement, Iran has allowed the IAEA's inspectors to visit its heavy water research reactor at Arak, and has been holding talks with a UN technical team on guidelines for inspecting its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.

BBC Iran analyst Pam O'Toole says that over the past few months, Iran has appeared anxious to demonstrate the transparency of its programme.

One Iranian official recently expressed hope that the West could respond to Iran's co-operation with the IAEA by not pushing for more sanctions.

The US response to this is predictable. Even though the IAEA successfully monitored Iraq's WMD program, even though they were on the way to verifying Saddam's lack of WMD before the Bush Administration kicked them out of Baghdad, they're claiming that Iran is manipulating them and using them as stooges:

A nuclear cooperation pact Iran struck with the International Atomic Energy Agency has "real limitations" and Tehran should stop trying to manipulate the IAEA to dodge harsher U.N. sanctions, a senior U.S. envoy said.

Washington was not impressed by Iran's transparency promise -- hailed as a "milestone" by the IAEA on Tuesday -- to allay suspicions it is secretly seeking atomic bombs, and would still pursue talks on more U.N. sanctions against Tehran, the U.S. envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Gregory Schulte, said.

The IAEA declined comment on Schulte's criticism. A diplomat close to the Vienna-based agency said Schulte's remarks "shows a deliberate campaign to derail this process."

When other countries are resistent to US demands it shows that they must be dealt with. When they reach agreements with international organizations it proves that they're stalling for time and they must be dealt with.

The United States has no interest in resolving this dispute with Iran with anything but military force. And ordinary Americans are not being told the full story about Iranian activities. They get saber rattling and half-truths about "terrorist" Revolutionary Guards and infilitration into Iraq.

There is a legitimate concern that Iran is focused on timetables for transparency instead of action, and indeed European powers are saying similar things about this proposal. But I believe US diplomats are directly trying to upset international negotiations in a bloodlust to commit our military to yet another war. And the press is enabling them by writing in favor of this insanity, as well as ignoring any positive developments coming out of talks.

The diplomat close to the IAEA told Reuters that Schulte's comments were "very unhelpful" ... Such immediate downplaying of this development is disingenuous."

"To expect Iran now to comply on the whole package of demands by the Security Council, all at once, when they remain under sanctions, is unrealistic," the diplomat said.

Maybe Iran is dragging its feet. Maybe this deal with the IAEA is not kosher. Wouldn't it be nice if Americans KNEW about it?

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Romney Dissembling on Health Care

All candidates try to put their best foot forward and take credit for things done by others. But Mitt Romney is doing this to the extreme when talking about the Massachusetts health care reform:

(Romney) decries "socialized medicine" and says the Massachusetts plan is "all a private initiative, a private-based, market-based healthcare" -- omitting the fact that the state and federal governments subsidize much of the overall cost and that a public board negotiated the benefits and prices that private insurers now offer.

He wows audiences by telling them that premiums for individuals dropped from $350 a month to $175 a month, without clarifying that those figures are for the lowest-cost plan available for 37-year-olds and without mentioning that for many people, especially the elderly, premiums can be several hundred dollars more.

And he sometimes downplays the role that Democrats on Beacon Hill had in putting together the final plan.

This is my favorite part:

Romney has also implied that the new insurance law banned insurers from rejecting anyone based on a preexisting condition.

Dick Powers, a spokesman for the Commonwealth Connector, said, however, that the state's prohibition on rejecting applicants became law in the 1990s, before Romney was governor.

Mitt Romney: proudly leading the way on things that were already in place before he got there! Did you know that Romney ended the Civil War? OK, not really, but did the Civil War re-start while he was in office in Massachusetts? No! So, there you have it.

The Massaschusetts health care plan was written by Democrats, and when Romney vetoed certain parts of it, the Legislature overrode his veto. As the Speaker of the Massachusetts House said, "our bill ... became law despite Mitt Romney, not because of him."

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Now We Know What Bush Was Spending All That Time in The National Guard Doing!

He was studying Vietnam!

President Bush plans to argue today that a hasty "retreat" from Iraq would lead to the kinds of bloodbaths that followed U.S. withdrawals from Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s.

In a speech he is to deliver here at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, Bush will also say that the recent increase of U.S. troops is producing military progress in the war-racked country.

"Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they are gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq?" Bush says in prepared remarks released by the White House late Tuesday.

Here's what the actual quote was: One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of Americas withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields."

Actually, that is eminently mistakable! First of all, no reasonable historian believes that the reaction to an unwinnable war in Vietnam was to stay longer.

"We were in Vietnam for 10 years. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II in every theater. We lost 58,700 American lives, the second-greatest loss of lives in a foreign conflict. And we couldn't work our will," he said.

"What is Bush suggesting? That we didn't fight hard enough, stay long enough? That's nonsense. It's a distortion," he continued. "We've been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. It's a disaster, and this is a political attempt to lay the blame for the disaster on his opponents. But the disaster is the consequence of going in, not getting out."

Second of all, he uses "killing fields" cavalierly, when they didn't exist in Vietnam but in Cambodia. And here this is wingnut historical error like no other. In fact, Cambodian genocide was a direct result of our own aggression in that country.

Bush's invocation of the Cambodian genocide, however, is both predictable and disgusting. Rather than simply wallowing in counter-factual satisfactions (e.g., what if FDR hadn't simply "given away" a region of Europe his nation didn't actually control?) it actually inverts history by pretending that the killing fields were a consequence of American weakness rather than an effect of American aggression. The history on this is pretty unambiguous. Without four years of American and South Vietnamese bombardment of eastern Cambodia, and without the illegal invasion of the country in 1970, the preconditions for the ascent of the Khmer Rouge would not have existed. More importantly, as the Khmer became embroiled in a xenophobic campaign against ethnic Vietnamese and sought -- improbably -- to regain lands lost to Vietnam centuries before, the United States had little to say in the way of official complaint against Pol Pot's regime. Indeed, the "reasonable" position set forth by Kissinger (under Ford) and Brzezinski (under Carter) held that Pol Pot -- though detestable -- was at least useful so long as he threatened the Communists in Vietnam. And when the Khmer Rouge was deposed by a Vietnamese invasion and replaced by a Vietnamese puppet states, both Carter and Reagan continued to insist that the Khmer Rouge be acknowledged as the legitimate government of Cambodia.

Allow me to put it even more simply: to the extent that the United States abetted the Cambodian genocide, those contributions were made not by people who called for an end to the war in Vietnam but instead by those who insisted that the war be expanded into another nation; that the war could be brought under control with a massive, short-term escalation; and that domestic opposition to the war was irresponsible and meretricious.

In other words, the only historical parallel to Cambodia would be us attacking Iran and destabilizing that country, leading perhaps to another ethnic genocide. Not to mention the fact that 1.7 million Vietnamese died while we were there, suggesting that the cause of mass death was not us leaving, but us going in.

Bush also lied about the capture of "al Qaeda leaders" in Iraq, but that's familiar. Using Vietnam to BOLSTER support for staying stuck in an endless occupation is just lunacy. Most of the Democratic candidates have come out to trash this muddled logic. But this is one of those zombie wingnut lies that will never die. When we do leave the disaster of Iraq with our goals unfulfilled, these guys will claim that our troops were stabbed in the back.

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Your President Hates You

This report about the lengths to which the Bush Admnistration will go to shield and crush dissent is astonishing.

A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of "deterring potential protestors" from President Bush's public appearances around the country.

Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by "rally squads" stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

But that does not mean the White House is against dissent -- just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police "to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route." [...]

The manual offers advance staffers and volunteers who help set up presidential events guidelines for assembling crowds. Those invited into a VIP section on or near the stage, for instance, must be " extremely supportive of the Administration," it says. While the Secret Service screens audiences only for possible threats, the manual says, volunteers should examine people before they reach security checkpoints and look out for signs. Make sure to look for "folded cloth signs," it advises.

To counter any demonstrators who do get in, advance teams are told to create "rally squads" of volunteers with large hand-held signs, placards or banners with "favorable messages." Squads should be placed in strategic locations and "at least one squad should be 'roaming' throughout the perimeter of the event to look for potential problems," the manual says.

We have the most fragile ego in the free world as the purported leader of it. He literally can't be allowed to SEE protest of his Administration and his policies.

He's the President of 28% of America.

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