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

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"California will matter!"

I remember this refrain over and over again from everyone who demanded that California move up its Presidential primary to February 5. The most populous state should have a say in the nomination, everyone said. The candidates will have to start talking about "California issues," they said.

Chris Bowers has a post showing the number of public appearances made by all of the Presidential candidates thus far this year.

Iowa: 1,240
New Hampshire: 571
South Carolina: 268
California: 238
D.C.: 174
Florida: 146
Nevada: 111
New York: 103
Texas: 93
Illinois: 73
Michigan: 55
Virginia: 38
Georgia: 37
Pennsylvania: 37
Massachusetts: 36

There have been more trips to Iowa and New Hampshire than to every other state and territory combined. And I wish Courage Campaign was still doing their ATM Watch, because they would clearly see, as Bowers mentions...

...looking at upcoming events in California, one can see that over 60% of all scheduled appearances in the state are fundraisers, and virtually every non-fundraiser campaign appearance in the state is accompanied with a fundraiser.

When California moved up their primary, I was adamant in saying that this move would do nothing but enhance the power of Iowa and New Hampshire. And that's exactly what's happening. By putting this giant electoral prize on February 5, close to the early states, you make it imperative for candidates to be in front early to have any chance to win the nomination. Any strategy to tread water until Super Tuesday will fail, and by the looks of the appearance schedule all of the candidates know it.

Furthermore, this June primary with no Presidential race and no statewide candidates on the ballot will almost surely have a very low turnout, and Republican dirty tricksters are falling all over each other to take advantage of that, with the electoral college split and other nefarious initiatives. Was it worth it? Did everyone get what they wanted?

The only way to change the primary system is to actually change the system, with a complete overhaul. Change the way California practiced it was pointless, debilitating to democracy (a nine-month general election campaign will not be beneficial to anyone), and dangerous for the future of the state if some of those pernicious ballot measures squeak by.

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The Republican candidates can't rouse themselves to attend debates sponsored by Univision or hosted by Tavis Smiley and PBS, but of course they will madly scramble to any event organized by the three million member NRA.

Giuliani spoke at the NRA convention yesterday - a dicey proposition due to his prior words. In the following clip from Charlie Rose, Rudy! says "the NRA is involved in a strategy that I don't understand":

He goes on to call the NRA "extremists" who unwisely employ the slippery slope argument.

Then there's the federal lawsuit Rudy! filed against gun manufacturers while mayor. Here, Rudy! dances as fast as he can, tap-tap-tapping away from his affront to the gun lobby's sensibilities (which d-day also references below):

Yesterday, Giuliani backed away from the lawsuit, saying he might not uphold it if he were a judge.

"That lawsuit has taken several turns and several twists that I don't agree with," he said, without going into specifics. "I also think that there are some major intervening events -- September 11, which cast somewhat of a different light on the Second Amendment, doesn't change it fundamentally but perhaps highlights the necessity of it."

This quote and Cook's Tour courtesy of Steve Benen from TPM. But I must part ways with Steve's assessment:

By any reasonable measure, this is a fairly silly thing to say. Giuliani couldn't even chalk it up to flubbing a question, since he was reading from a prepared text.* In other words, he meant to say that 9/11 helped change his mind on gun control.

Asked to explain the shift, a campaign spokesperson said Giuliani was "making a point that personal rights such as the 2nd Amendment are even more critical in a post-September 11th world."

It's hard to believe a serious presidential campaign could offer such a foolish rationale for obvious nonsense, and yet, here we are.

Would that large swaths of the American electorate might view this rationale for Rudy's about-face as "nonsense." I'd be happy to be proved wrong, of course. But I can't imagine Rs or swing voters seeing anything wrong with Rudy's answer whatsoever. It's just the type of rationale the Republican party has been offering for six years now, a sort of collective alibi for politicians and Americans who both went screaming yellow bonkers after 9/11.

Candidates and strategists would be well-advised to remember that victims of cons will do anything to admit it to themselves. Don't count on people who readily identified with a hastily invented faux demographic cluster such as Security Moms to mock those who continue to solemnly intone that 9/11 Changed Everything. Such words are talismans against any feelings of foolishness or shame that vast numbers of people allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by The Big Con.

So how did Rudy! do at the NRA?

For the most part, Rudy! seemed to ruffle few feathers. About the best outcome he could have imagined, really, given his challenges with this audience.

But the oddest moment was when he took a moment while on stage to answer a call from his wife.

As the NYT's Caucus reports, Rudy! answered his cell phone while addressing the assembled gun advocates:
“Hello dear. I’m talking to the members of the N.R.A. right now. Would you like to say hello?” he said, apparently speaking to his wife, Judith. “I’ll give you a call as soon as I’m finished. Have a safe trip. Bye bye.”

Though there was some scattered laughter, the audience was mostly quiet as Mr. Giuliani ended the call and added: “This is one of the great blessings of the modern age – to always be available.”

This is not the first time Rudy!'s answered a call from his wife while onstage.

I haven't yet found video of this, so I can only imagine this odd moment. Rudy, speaking before a gathering of the noisiest troops of the phallic insecurity brigade, pauses to take a "Hi honey" call from his wife.

It's fascinating to see two candidates running breathlessly toward the Alpha Male prize (awarded to the Republican nominee, regardless of merit, upon nomination) who have such uncharacteristic relationships with their wives.

First we had Grandpa Freddie's controlling trophy wife chasing away one consultant after another.

Now we have Rudy making goo-goo eyes at his third wife - she of the permanently manic, Jennifer Wilbanks-like expression - while speaking to the gun lobby. What does he think this looks like? He may think it's a charming profession by a man unafraid to tell his wife he loves her in front of a bunch of hunters. Let's hope he's that clueless. Because what it really looks like is a man who has no idea how weird his relationship with his current wife looks.

Does he think this public declaration of love business will score points with women? If so, an even bigger mistake: since Judi is the prototypical marriage-wrecking Other Woman that women love to hate, this is unlikely to work with women. Rudy! sounds like just another creepy guy trying to convince his kids of their new stepmom's charms. All he ends up saying is how much he likes her. Since we can't quite see why we should like her but are repeatedly forced to consider her, our thoughts naturally roam to speculation abut why Rudy! likes her so much. And the less we dwell in that realm, the better. For all of us.

I'm waiting for the ad with Rudy holding his wife's purse.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Charlie Savage on the takeover of American democracy

In his remarks, Savage commented that we have seen through the years that Constitutional balance is always challenged in wartime. But he noted that the Bush imperial project began long before 9/11, though certainly the invoking of national security and the war on terror greased the wheels quite a bit. In a meeting of the Office of Legal Counsel right after the first inauguration, Alberto Gonzales specifically told his legal team to search for instances to expand executive power. And pulling the strings behind all of this was a man whose formative years in Washington saw the contraction of that power, and who vowed ever since then to restore it.

The invoking of inherent executive powers in the name of national security and war dates back to John Adams and the Alien & Sedition Acts. But in the late 1940s, Harry Truman invoked national security and the state secrets privilege in several instances, including starting the Korean War without a full Congressional declaration, and attempting to commandeer the steel mills for the war effort. This view of inherent powers, in particular surveillance powers which were inevitably used to spy on political opponents, continued through the age of Nixon and Watergate, after which Congress reasserted itself and put all sorts of restrictions on Presidential power. From the view of the 33 year-old White House Chief of Staff in the Ford Administration, Dick Cheney, it looked like a siege (Ford's legal counsel, by the way, was a guy named Antonin Scalia). The undercurrent of his subsequent career, both in the House of Representatives and as Secretary of Defense, was arguing for more executive power. His view was that the Founders got it wrong, that the Republic would be more secure if less people were involved in the decision-making regarding national security and war. In this argument, Cheney turns the entire system of government that has served us well for 230 years, which was designed to prevent concentrated power and remain suspicious of any governmental entity that would hold such power, on its ear. In seeking less power for Congress, even as a Congressman (see his minority report on the Iran-Contra affair, which argued that the real lawbreakers were Congressional investigators for performing oversight in the first place), Cheney essentially saw that the nation is more likely to take aggressive action if a single President is in control of national security matters, rather than a coalition of more diverse voices like the Congress. This view is also counter to traditional conservatism and their typical suspicion of government.

The unitary executive theory was a product of the Reagan legal team, and two of the staffers on that team would go on to be appointed by George W. Bush to the US Supreme Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Originally the unitary executive was about Presidential control over executive agencies - after 9/11, it naturally moved into matters of national security. The new argument, conceived by John Yoo in a series of famous documents while working for the Office of Legal Counsel, was that Congress has no limiting effect on how the President can defend the nation. One of the reasons that Yoo, a midlevel staffer, was able to wield so much power in his own right was that there was no confirmed head of the Office of Legal Counsel until December of 2001, no mitigating force on the decision-makers in the White House. Throughout the time between 9/11 and then, the inmates were running the asylum. And inmate Yoo was telling the Cheney Adminstration what they wanted to hear. Yoo was using tortured and circular logic to argue a revisionist view of the Constitution, claiming that the Founders DID want a king, only an American one who was elected every four years. In one memo which had 25 footnotes, 8 of them referred to Yoo's own writing, so he essentially couldn't find anyone to approvingly cite this theory other than himself.

A lot of this is familiar; centralizing power over career bureaucracies, nullifying Congressional statutes through signing statements, asserting wide surveillance powers that even deeply conservative Justice Department officials were willing to resign over, Guantanamo, the destruction of habeas corpus, invoking state secrets at every opportunity, the Cheney energy task force meetings, pulling out of the ABM treaty, etc., etc. But Savage put it all together in a cogent argument that saw the expansion of Presidential power as not only pervasive, but easily the most successful product of Bush's two terms as President. The Administration used ingenious ways to achieve these goals; their first invocation of executive privilege was in reference to documents from a Clinton-era scandal that Congress wanted to see. It looked like this honorable gesture, Bush defending Clinton, but at root was this idea of preserving Presidential secrecy, and the precedent was made.

During the question and answer period, I asked Savage that, given that a good bit of his reporting for which he won a Pulitzer came out of things in the public record, like signing statements and court documents and such, why did he appear to be the only journalist in Washington who was connecting the dots and seeing the importance of this radical interpretation of executive power? He kind of declined to answer that question, but later on, he mentioned that he didn't arrive in DC until October of 2003. So he missed the entire post-9/11, pre-Iraq War hysteria when the traditional media became supine and afraid. The reporting in those two years was not confrontational and not rigorous. And I believe it had a lasting effect on those who were writing during that time. Because Savage was removed from that, I believe he had a completely perspective on this Administration, and wasn't dulled by the fog of fear. He said, "I'd like to think I wouldn't have been changed from having my wife and family in Washington at that time when everyone thought it was a continuing target, but I don't know."

It should be said that Savage is incredibly pessimistic about rolling back these powers (so am I). One reason is that Presidential precedent is so often cited by future Presidents as a rationale for whatever new policy they want to undertake; how many times in the past few years have we heard about Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War? Presidential prerogative is, as Justice Jackson called it in the Korematsu opinion, a "loaded weapon" that can be pulled out at any time. So future Presidents will have an entirely new toolkit of expanded powers, cracks in the Constitutional system that can be exploited over and over again.

The other main problem is that our courts do not offer advisory opinions. And so if nobody can show standing for a case, it cannot be brought. And so most of the national security issues, which are after all secrets for the most part (we don't even fully know the extent of them), will never have the chance to be taken before a court. In effect, the Office of Legal Counsel acts like an internal Supreme Court on the executive branch, deciding if they are in compliance with executing the laws of the nation. And so you really have the executive branch enforcing the laws against itself. And that is a recipe for real disaster.

It was a fascinating evening and should be an even more fascinating book, which I am eager to read.

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No Bail For Bell

One of the Jena Six teens, Mychal Bell, was denied release today, despite his conviction being tossed out of court because he was illegally tried as an adult. Apparently, being black in Louisiana means you don't get released when charged with being in a fight. Aren't there like 1,000 bar fights a weekend in this country? Are all of those people locked up?

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No Dirty Tricks - The Movie

I was up half the night putting together this little video for the Courage Campaign's effort to fight this Republican dirty trick to split California's electoral votes and steal the Presidential election. We got a handful of semi-famous bloggers together (Jane Hamsher from Firedoglake, John Amato from Crooks and Liars, Howie Klein from Down With Tyranny, some Kos diarists, and more) and sent a message that we can fight this thing, energize California Democrats, and make the Republicans wish they never brought it up in the first place.

The Courage Campaign is setting up a conference call featuring Bradley Whitford of The West Wing to discuss the next steps. You can RSVP for it at the link.

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Kids Who Need Health Care or Pathetic Little Whiners?

Maybe if the President made his little statement in an ad in the New York Times, the Congress would rise up in near-unanimity to condemn it.

“In just 10 days the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP, is set to expire. This important program helps children whose families cannot afford private health insurance, but do not qualify for Medicaid to get coverage they need.

“I have strongly supported S-CHIP as a governor, and I have done so as President. My 2008 budget proposed to increase S-CHIP funding by $5 billion over five years. It’s a 20 percent increase over current levels of funding. Unfortunately, instead of working with the administration to enact this funding increase for children’s health, Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know that will be vetoed. One of their leaders has even said such a veto would be, ‘a political victory.’ […]

“In other words, members of Congress are putting health coverage for poor children at risk so they can score political points in Washington. The legislation would raise taxes on working people, and would raise spending by between $35 billion and $50 billion. Their proposal would result in taking a program meant to help poor children and turning it into one that covers children in households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year.”

This is maybe the most dishonest statement that Bush has ever made. The entire point is that he's threatening to veto a health insurance bill for children because it provides too much health insurance, despite it having the backing of over 2/3 of Republicans in the Senate and likely the same in the House, if they know what's good for them. Yet it's apparently the Congress' fault for wanting to fund a successful plan and let states decide how to use it.

Republicans are pretty pissed off.

"I'm disappointed by the president's comments," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who urged Bush, in an early-morning telephone conversation yesterday, to support the emerging bipartisan compromise. "Drawing lines in the sand at this stage isn't constructive. . . . I wish he would engage Congress in a bill that he could sign instead of threatening a veto."

"I'm very, very disappointed," said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). "I'm going to be voting for it."

(Sen, Orrin) Hatch, who helped negotiate the compromise, said it is flatly untrue that the bill would cover children in households with incomes of as much as $83,000. A recent Urban Institute analysis found that 70 percent of the children who would gain or retain coverage under the Senate bill, which resembles the compromise, are in households with incomes below twice the poverty level, or $41,300 for a family of four.

“We’re talking about kids who basically don’t have coverage,” Hatch said. “I think the president’s had some pretty bad advice on this.”

Asked whether he would vote to override a veto, Orrin Hatch, a staunch conservative, said, “You bet your sweet bippy I will.”

The President is turning this into an ideological battle against health care, basically, instead of pragmatically looking to expand a popular and successful program. It fits with Ezra Klein's formulation of how the two parties look at health care:

The Republican vision is for a world in which the sick and dying get to deduct some of the cost of health insurance that they don't have -- and can't get -- on their taxes. The Democratic vision is for every American to have health insurance. We clear?

In a country where almost 90 million people lacked health insurance at one point or entirely in the past two years, that's a formulation we should all commit to memory. I think I know what side the American people are on.

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9/11 Changed My Mind On Fees In National Parks

At what point is Rudolph G. just going to start showing up for press conferences dressed in an elaborate Twin Towers costume?

September 11th has persuaded him that gun rights are necessary. He said:

"I also think that there have been subsequent intervening events — September 11 — which cast somewhat of a different light on the Second Amendment and Second Amendment rights. It doesn't change the fundamental rights, but maybe it highlights the necessity for them more."

Because a plane flew into the 106th floor of an office building, people on the streets should have guns? Why, so they can shoot up at the plane? What the hell does this even mean?

I know we are all members of the 9/11 generation and everything, but Rudolph is turning it into a catch-all for every societal issue, much like how everything for Tancredo is about immigration. It's embarrassingly poor logic.

Then again, this is coming from a man who thinks we can balance a tax cut with another tax cut.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Friday that the alternative minimum tax — which is expected to generate as much as $1 trillion over the next 10 years — could be eliminated over the long term by balancing it out with even more tax cuts.

Giuliani's remarks prompted a bewildered response from his audience of technology executives. Both Republicans and Democrats said they assumed that the candidate must have misspoken as he responded to a question about the tax and its affect the middle class.

But a Giuliani spokeswoman said later that Giuliani meant what he said — tax cuts could replace the lost revenue from the AMT by boosting the overall economy.

...and anyway, after 9/11 I learned that less revenue actually means more, and maybe if you were patriotic like me, you would too. Also everyone knows my name, so shut up.

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Over Before It Started

I'm pretty down with Matthew Yglesias on this one:

The only showdown that mattered happened months ago. Democrats passed a war appropriation that funded the phased withdrawal of troops. Bush vetoed that appropriation and said he would only sign an appropriation that funded open-ended war. Bush sought to portray a congressional refusal to appropriate money for an open-ended military involvement in Iraq as some kind of plot to leave the troops starving and without bullets in Iraq. The press largely bought into this frame, which was re-enforced by the fact that many leading Democrats immediately decided to buy into as well. The party then decided not to try to fight to reframe the issue but, instead, to accept it. Given that framing of the question, the only thing to do was surrender and give Bush his money. And given that precedent, the only thing to do is to keep on surrendering any time Bush rhetorically holds the troops' well-being hostage to his preference for perpetual war.

That was a blunder -- a decision that condemned hundreds of Americans to die in Iraq -- and one that appears to have resulted from a total failure of the leadership to do any advance planning about their legislative tactics. All of September 2007 has been a meaningless sideshow. People find it comforting, I guess, to try to convince themselves that MoveOn is the reason our troops will be engaged in at least 18 more months of futile combat in Iraq, but it's just not true -- legislative defeat in September was inevitable, and the war is still very unpopular and still a very promising issue for 2008.

It's important to note that MoveOn is just as much a scapegoat for ineffectual Democrats as it is for Republicans. However, Ygs starts his piece with this obligatory "Of course I agree it was a dumb move to call him Betray Us," in this de rigeur 30 lashes with a wet noodle that all deeply serious liberals must endure if they want to make any point about that ad. I much prefer Rick Perlstein's take, arguing that sometimes you have to step on a few toes to get noticed.

The word among the supposedly right-thinking people in Washington is that, of course the Bush Administration is wrong on this, and on the merits, MoveOn is right—but that they shouldn't be so shrill about it. They shouldn't have used such blunt words. They're loud. They're rude. And this won't do. So maybe it's even OK to vote for this anti-MoveOn resolution—love the sinner, hate the sin!—to get our side back on the respectable path. They "hurt the anti-war movement's cause" more than they help it.

I thought of this as I read a review in the Texas Observer about a new book on Maritn Luther King. The reviewer reminds us of all the Americans who believed King was right on the merits, but shouldn't be so shrill about it. Shouldn't have used such blunt words. He was loud. He was rude. He who "hurt the Negro cause" more than he helped it—in fact, Gallup did polls on this very question, and learned that "even liberal whites," as the book's author points out, "interpreted nonviolent protest as a prelude to violence, rather than its politically efficient alternative":

In June 1963, when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that King headed was in the midst of the Birmingham campaign that brought images of Bull Connor’s police dogs into Americans’ living rooms, 60 percent of all Americans thought the public demonstrations with which King was by then synonymous “hurt the Negro’s cause” more than they helped it. By May 1964, that percentage had risen to 74 percent. By October 1966, following the SCLC’s nonviolent direct actions in Selma and Chicago, it reached 85 percent.

"You're right, but you're too rude" is the response of a party well down the path to surrender to evil. Let's start using proper words: what Petraeus did, what President Bush ordered Petraeus to do, was evil. A Democrat—and, yes, a Republican—who votes to censure MoveOn will be no better than one who voted to censure Martin Luther King. What we're up to here is a crusade to save the country from mountebanks and blackguards. It's not a schoolhouse sing. Only strong words will work. Only strong words are effective.

Absolutely. And there's a case to be made that MoveOn is smelling like a rose on this one. They've expanded the betrayal theme to cover George Bush and Rudy Giuliani, they raised their profile immeasurably and probably made a passel of money of the controversy. Plus, the constant theme through the media reinforces this question of betrayal, with MoveOn on the same side as the American people in believing that the war is a terrible mistake and we have to leave now. The problem, of course, is that Democrats, particularly those in the establishment who are little more than palace courtiers, don't want their power taken away by the rabble and have a lot of pressure to throw MoveOn under the bus, as they did yesterday. Given the Democrats' ineffectiveness of late, and their somewhat self-serving performance at the Petraeus hearings, this probably helps MoveOn even MORE, but it doesn't get the war stopped.

When you have an establishment that is relentlessly hawkish and protective of the status quo, anything outside the bounds of that will be criticized. But it's a shadow play. And while these establishment figures protect their own little fiefdom, they are setting themselves up for a slaughter in 2008. And that means any incumbent.

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Polly Prissy-Pants

In a deeply unsatisfying week on the political front, you have to thank your personal deity for simple pleasures. Like the schadenfreude you can take away from this story.

President Bush may like to be seen as a swaggering tough guy with a penchant for manly outdoor pursuits, but in a new book one of his closest allies has said he is afraid of horses.

Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, derided his political friend as a "windshield cowboy" – a cowboy who prefers to drive – and "the cockiest guy I have ever met in my life".

He recalled a meeting in Mexico shortly after both men had been elected when Mr Fox offered Mr Bush a ride on a "big palomino" horse.

Mr Fox, who left office in December, recalled Mr Bush "backing away" from the animal.

''A horse lover can always tell when others don't share our passion," he said, according to the Washington Post.

The guy was born in Connecticut and went to private boarding schools before legacy enrollments at Yale and Harvard. He's a guy who likes to play dress-up to convince gullible voters that he's authentically one of them. But the fact that the whole cowboy thing is SUCH a pose that he's actually scared of horses is just the icing on the cake. Say hello to Mr. All Hat And Five Cattle:

Mr Bush has spoken of his fondness for shooting doves and cutting brush on his Crawford ranch in Texas, which he bought in 1999.

The property reportedly has no horses and only five cattle.

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Jena, The Day After

The NYT story claims 10,000 but other accounts have up to 50,000 Americans marching in central Louisiana yesterday to condemn unequal justice and to support civil rights. It was certainly an evocative moment that captured simmering frustrations in the black community with the persistent theme of "racism is over, it's not an issue anymore."

“That’s not prosecution, that’s persecution,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition and an organizer of the demonstration, told a crowd in front of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse. “We will not stop marching until justice runs down like waters.”

And while President Bush reported being "saddened" by the events in Jena (I wonder why), Grandpa Freddie Thompson, as if to prove how far we still need to go with race relations in this country, does not recall.

Asked about the Jena Six case today on his way into a San Antonio fundraiser, Thompson said, "I don't know anything about it."

The fact that only yesterday did this start getting broadcast news coverage is both a testament to the power of activism and and an indictment to the Freedie Thompson-like ignorance of broadcast news. Here's a month-old story from Newsweek with plenty of astonishing details.

Decades of suppressed racial hostility spilled forth at the appearance of those swaying nooses. Word spread quickly that day; before long, scores of black students congregated under the tree. "As black students, we didn't call it a protest," says Robert Bailey Jr., one of the Jena Six. "We just called it standing up for ourselves." School officials convened an assembly in early September, where local District Attorney Reed Walters appeared, flanked by police officers. "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy," he told students, warning them to settle down. "With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear." A visit to the school, along with the fact that the three white boys who admitted to hanging the nooses were only dealt a few days' suspension, further inflamed the African-American community. "It felt like they were saying, 'We can do what we want to those n-----s'," says Marcus Jones, Bell's father.

Things reached a boil later in the semester. During the Thanksgiving holiday, someone set fire to the school, reducing the main academic wing to rubble (no one has been arrested, and though a link between what was ruled an arson and the racial discord hasn't been proved, many suspect there is one). The following day, Bailey was punched and beaten with beer bottles when he tried to enter a mostly white party in town. The white kid who threw the first punch was later charged with simple battery and given probation. The next day, Bailey ran into a young white man who was at the party. Bailey and parents of the Jena Six say that when the man pulled a gun on him, he tangled with him and stripped it away. He was later charged with theft of a firearm.

The tension culminated back at school the following Monday. Justin Barker, a white student who says he is friends with the kids who hung the nooses, reportedly taunted Bailey at lunch (Barker denies this). A while later, an African-American student allegedly punched Barker from behind, knocking him unconscious. Then, say white witnesses, a group of black students that included Bailey continued to assault Barker, kicking and stomping on him. (Jena High student Justin Purvis and other black witnesses dispute this.) Barker, who was treated for injuries at a nearby hospital, was released later that day, apparently in strong enough shape to attend a class-ring ceremony that evening.

We know the rest. The white boys got suspended, the black boys got charged with attempted murder.

Yesterday in Alexandria, Louisiana, a driver hung nooses from his truck and drove through an area where protesters were gathering to drive to Jena. The ugliness of this country is coming to the fore during this unfortunate incident. Good. It needs to be out in the open so we can deal with it, instead of tucked away somewhere.

UPDATE: What an a-hole:

O"REILLY: You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.

And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same, and that's really what this society's all about now here in the U.S.A. There's no difference. There's no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment -- people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you're gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody's skin [...]

O'REILLY: That's right. That's right. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, "M-Fer, I want more iced tea."

WILLIAMS: Please --

O'REILLY: You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.

Black people don't shoot each other while eating!!!!

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Going Down With The Ship

The Levin-Reed amendment failed this morning, and with it so did the entire menu of Democratic options regarding Iraq. The Senate Republicans simply won't budge.

It's curious, this intransigence. The Petraeus hearing clearly bought some time, and they'll tout that the 20,000 or so troops coming home by next summer (which is, you know, a long way off) represents some kind of progress. But the warning signs in Iraq are actually horrific. Due to the Blackwater shooting, the country is on lockdown, with US diplomatic personnel unable to leave their homes. Even the CIA can't walk the streets without Blackwater's cover; that's right, the licensed-to-kill years-of-training CIA can't even walk around. The mercenary company exists in a legal black hole that Congress is only now beginning to understand, making their exit from Iraq unlikely. If the Maliki government can't even expel contractors from their own country, the people of Iraq are quickly going to decide "what good are they as a government," and in addition American forces will increasingly become targets, even more so than they are now. This isn't the only contractor problem, as we learn today that deals totaling $6 billion dollars are under CRIMINAL review by investigators. The procurement system is a treasure trove for profiteers, and as that money doesn't go toward reconstruction or security, the people of Iraq are again angered.

And this is the least of their worries. There are Iraqis whose entire family are being systematically killed, and there are two million Iraqis living as refugees abroad, in addition to the other two million who are internally displaced. They are running out of money and goodwill in places like Syria and Egypt, and this humanitarian crisis could spark more regional tension; meanwhile the United States has a quota to take in a MEASLY SEVEN THOUSAND refugees, and hasn't even managed that; 68 Iraqis have been admitted as of March. We talk about the responsibility we owe to these people, yet the ones who would likely be killed as a result of a pullout, the ones who have been working with the US military, are meaningless to us.

Meanwhile this "Anbar miracle" is just window dressing, and actually has the potential to make things more dangerous. The Sunni sheikhs have no interest in compromise with the Shiites in the government, and indeed are cooperating with the Americans because they think they have beaten them. Meanwhile the constant talk about success in Sunni-controlled Anbar endangeres the lives of our troops.

I worry that’ll be the case on the political scene, as well. Sunni political and tribal leaders are increasingly throwing in their lot with U.S. forces here against Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent types. But, to get them to come over to our side, the American military has fed them a steady diet of anti-Shi'ite propaganda.

Arrests and killings of Shi’ite militants are announced from loudspeaker blasts; President Bush’s bellicose rhetoric towards Shi’a Iran is reported on friendly radio programs. But the majority of this country is Shi’ite. Are we setting ourselves up as the enemies of the majority here? Are we priming the pump for an all-in sectarian battle royale? It seems like a possibility.

In a country flush with weapons on the black market, most of them put there by US contracts, the idea of allowing both sides of the civil war to be heavily armed is just shocking.

So why have Republicans bought it, when the public certainly hasn't? Why are they content to go down with the sinking ship? Who knows, maybe they think we need the oil that badly, or maybe they've simply been duped by one too many dog-and-pony shows. They believe what they want to believe. But it's clear to me that the best of a lot of horrible options in Iraq is for the military to disengage and for diplomacy to take root, whatever that results in.

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The Random Ten Returns - Eventually

So I did get my iPod Touch in the mail, only to find that it only works with Mac OS 10.4 and above. Which I have on my laptop but not my desktop. And of course, my desktop is where all my music resides. It's one of those fun little Easter eggs that Apple throws at you every now and again to keep it fun. Like the time when they just stopped allowing you to connect your iPod using FireWire, forcing everyone to buy a USB cord. Fun! I love planned obsolescence!

So while I'm in the midst of dealing with that, I only have a couple hundred songs to choose from on the iPod, which is no fun. I'll put one up over the weekend. It'll give me time to add to 50 Cent's retirement pressure by getting the new Kanye album, anyway.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Big Trouble For Series of Tubes

We knew that Ted Stevens took bribes from Veco chief Bill Allen. We knew that the contruction worker who oversaw the renovation of his home also managed fundraisers for his campaign. What we didn't know is that the FBI taped him in a corruption sting. Until now.

The FBI, working with an Alaska oil contractor, secretly taped telephone calls with Sen. Ted Stevens as part of a public corruption sting, according to people close to the investigation. . . .

The recorded calls between Stevens and businessman Bill Allen were confirmed by two people close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way. They declined to say how many calls were recorded or what was said.

Until we know what is on those calls, we can't really say much. But since they're between Series of Tubes and the guy who has admitted to bribing him, they can't be good.

Considering that Stevens has been in Congress 50 years, he was probably doing what came naturally. His entire political life has been pay-to-play. The biggest surprise is that it's finally catching up to him.

UPDATE: Tom DeLay, who's already been indicted, may have more trouble coming his way, too.

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As Long As It's Condemnation Day

I choose this:

Even Fox News called out Boehner for his remarks.

This will be coming up for a Sense of the Senate vote sometime between tomorrow and never.

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No Movement

To top off voting to censure MoveOn today, the Senate dealt a blow to Feingold-Reid, defeating it handily. It got 29 votes in May, 28 votes today.

Did anyone even know that this was coming up for a vote today? Was Reid's office whipping up support amongst the base? His name's on the bill, after all. This was a designed-to-fail spring job.

I love Wes Clark, but this idea that we should leave politics to our betters just angers me. It's antithetical to democracy.

Matt Stoller: Chuck Hagel called his performance "a dirty trick on the American people... It's not only a dirty trick, but it's dishonest, it's hypocritical, it's dangerous and irresponsible." Admiral Fallon was reported saying that he thinks Petreaus is 'an ass-kissing little chickenshit" for the way he sucks up to politicians.' There are a lot of rumors that David Petraeus wants to run for President. My question is, um, is their criticism a mistake as well?

Wes Clark: Well, I think for Chuck Hagel, who's a sitting Senator who wants to criticize a General, that's fine. That's his right to do so. As far as Admiral Fallon was concerned, if he's got a personal quarrel with Petraeus, you know, that's between the two of them. Petraeus works for him, obviously he feels cut out and to some extent I've known situations like that, but, um, as for, it was a mistake.

Matt Stoller: But why can a sitting Senator criticize a General and millions of grassroots activists not do that? That's really what Moveon is, it's not like it's an entity.

Wes Clark: Moveon's an organization, and when it does that it distracts from the dialogue that the Senator's trying to have. Frankly, I think the better course of action is to bring out all the statistics and challenge Petraeus directly to explain how he can say that in the face of all these statistics. Did we do that? Did Moveon do that? Did they lay out the statistics and say 'Petraeus says this, here's the other fact he doesn't tell you, General Petraeus come back to us and explain to us.

Matt Stoller: Absolutely they did that. That's what the ad was, was there anything in the ad that was factually inaccurate?

Wes Clark: What instead came out was the play on his name, and that's all that came out. And that was the mistake. If it was a serious ad, did it ask those serious questions, no one could have objected to it.

I agree with the end of that to an extent, but this theme of betrayal accurately describes how a lot of us feel, particularly about Democrats at this point. The part where he says us boys and girls have to run along and play outside while the menfolk Senators have their dialogue is just putrid.

And to paraphrase Allen Iverson, puns? We're talking about puns?

That kind of reckless language, especially the use of puns and so forth...

How much of a child do you have to be to be offended by a PUN?!?!?!!? I swear, sometimes I find us Americans to be the most humorless bunch that ever walked the Earth.

The DC establishment wants no part of a progressive movement. They don't care about us and never did. And they knifed us but good today. But we do hold more power come election time than we did before. Eventually, a new generation of leaders will upset this precarious establishment balance. But we're not there yet. Not at all.

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"al-Qaida would be dancing in the streets."

There's been a familiar recent tactic on the right to assess all of their political opponents as being in league with terrorists. It's not particularly special when it happens, but it should be noted at every opportunity that this is what they're trying to do. Here's an example of the technique by Mitt Romney, at an retirement village in Florida. It got practically no coverage except from this small local newspaper.

"We're under attack from jihadists," Romney said, calling it one of the great issues of our time. While Romney did not mention the war in Iraq by name, he cited the report by Gen. David Petraeus that Americans are making progress helping the Sunnis reject al-Qaida.

"Thank heavens Barack Obama wasn't president," Romney said. "We'd have been out of there, and al-Qaida would be dancing in the streets."

He went on to call the Democratic Party the party of "bigger government and bigger taxes and Big Brother". Really, Big Brother? Who started that warrantless wiretapping and data mining and phone and email surveillance again?

My point is that it's now become commonplace among Republicans to question the patriotism of their counterparts, so much so that it no longer registers a shrug. Yet they huff and they puff when they perceive "angry libruls" questioning their revered subjects like St. David Petraeus.

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Campaign News I Noticed On TPM Election Central

• Another swing district Republican is calling it quits:

Congressman Jerry Weller (R-IL) will reportedly announce tomorrow that he is not seeking re-election.

President Bush carried his district with 53% in 2004, and Weller was re-elected with 55% in 2006. With those non-landslide margins in a district that simply was not targeted, we might just see the Democrats trying for a pick-up in a possible wave election next year.

As a side note, Weller is married to the daughter of the former dictator of Guatemala? Wow. We have a good shot to pick up this seat.

• The Republicans in the Senate finally bagged a decent candidate, but it's to replace a retiring member. Mike Johans, the current Secretary of Agriculture, resigned from the cabinet to run in Nebraska to replace Chuck Hagel. If Bob Kerrey runs on the Democratic side, this could set up a match between a former governor and a former Senator, and would become a top-tier race. But what's interesting is that Johanns is so personally ambitious that he would resign in the middle of negotiations on the farm bill, which only happens once every five years and is the most important bit of agricultural policy there is.

“For the secretary to walk away in the middle of a farm bill borders on irresponsible,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. His remarks were echoed by Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

I would imagine that farm policy is kind of important to Nebraskans too.

• There's a new poll out in North Carolina which shows Elizabeth Dole under 50% in a hypothetical matchup against state legislator Grier Martin - and then LOSING to Martin after some biographical information is put forth. I do think NC is trending blue. As long as we don't run two-time loser and terrible candidate Erskine Bowles, I think we can take out Liddy.

• Now here's something that's not from TPM. The Ted Stevens saga has hit WaPo:

A construction worker who oversaw renovation of Sen. Ted Stevens's home said his company also paid him to help run fundraisers for the Alaska Republican, a practice that appears to violate federal campaign finance laws.

Contractor Robert Williams is a key witness in a bribery investigation that stretches from Alaska to Capitol Hill and threatens legal and political headaches for the Senate's longest-serving Republican. The FBI is investigating whether Stevens received illegal gifts from Veco Corp., a once-powerful Alaska oil contractor.

Williams said he was in charge of "special projects" for Veco founder Bill Allen, and the renovation of Stevens's home was one such project. Others included working three or four fundraisers for Stevens while on the clock with Veco. Federal election laws prohibit candidates from accepting donations or free services from corporations.

Considering that Allen has admitted to bribing Stevens' son in open court, and that there are all of these other unseemly connections, Hulk Smash Ted is probably calling every lawyer in DC right now.

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Courage and Hope

So Barack Obama skipped out on the disgraceful condemnation of MoveOn vote, despite voting earlier in the day on Barbara Boxer's measure condemning political attacks on any military members (which makes me extremely uncomfortable as a general rule - they're people, not deities).

Way to get the progressive movement's back, B-Rock. I think the vote symbolizes his reticence with taking any chances, lest he soil his unearned image as somehow beyond politics. And so you get a middlebrow Iraq plan, a middlebrow health care plan, a middlebrow tax plan. When you're 20 points down in the polls, you have to take a few chances. His poor showing as a candidate is furthering Hillary Clinton's inevitability as the nominee, despite the risk-averse problems of her own. Dodd and Edwards are the only two candidates willing to step outside the mainstream and lead on important issues, rather than falling back into the pack. (And to some extent Richardson, but he has too many other problems for me to take him seriously)

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

Bin laden has declared war on Musharraf:

The 23-minute 37-second audio message -- titled "Come to Jihad: A Speech to the People of Pakistan" -- is recorded over a montage of old video, and begins with bin Laden reciting prayers and citations from the Quran in Arabic. The audio fades down, then a narrator translates bin Laden's message into Pashto. The tape is subtitled in English, and an Arabic transcript was released.

Terrorism analyst Laura Mansfield told CNN that while the message is directed at the Pakistani people, "the simultaneous release of transcripts in English, Pashto, and Arabic indicate the terror group is looking at a wider audience, including the English-speaking world."

The only time reference in bin Laden's message is to the July siege of Islamabad's Red Mosque -- a week-long standoff between Pakistani security forces and Islamic extremists who hoped to establish a Taliban-style rule across the capital. More than 100 people, including militant leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, died when troops stormed the mosque compound.

Mansfield noted that the bulk of bin Laden's message "builds a [legal] case under Islamic sharia [law] justifying why Muslims in Pakistan should take up arms against" Musharraf.

Which is a false case, of course.

Pakistan is actually at a crossroads right now. They can become a new democracy with a more functional government, or Musharraf can tighten the reins and give an opening to Islamic extremists. That Bin Laden is attacking Musharraf can be an opening here, although Bin Laden is actually more popular than Musharraf in the country, and far more popular than Bush (of course, that's mainly because pro-democracy forces don't like Musharraf). Al Qaeda is playing a game of inches with a long time horizon, and they can agitate against Musharraf while waiting to see how things play out. The question is, will this lead to more vigilant efforts against terrorism by the Pakistani government, or an accomodation?

UPDATE: Pakistan will hold its Presidential election October 6. Benazir Bhutto, seeking to become Prime Minister, won't even get in the country until October 17 to contest parliamentary elections sometime in December.

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Filibuster, The New Normal

You apparently now need 60 votes in the Senate to pass any legislation. It's not an extraordinary circumstance, it's not silencing the will of the majority, it's just the way things work. Here's a handy chart to show just how unusual this is.

The GOP has by now already come close to reaching the highest number of filibusters the Democrats ever upheld between 1994 and 2006 in THE ENTIRE TWO-YEAR TERM. Yet, this is just seen by the establishment as just ho-hum, the way the world works.

I don't want to abolish the filibuster, but I want someone to start talking about how unusual and radical it is to filibuster EVERYTHING. And making an example of these clowns by holding extended debate (the cloture motion is filed simply to cut off debate and proceed to a vote, "filibustering" in the modern sense just means voting no on cloture and continuing debate) and forcing the Republicans to defend the denial of habeas corpus, or endless war, would be nice.

UPDATE: This is only going to get worse, by the way, when the new budget fight heats up in October. Bush is already telling cabinet members to reject new funding for their own agencies. We're going to see a lot more GOP obstruction over this as they try to force a government shutdown. Hopefully reporters will do their job on that.

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Tell John Cornyn To Move On

Box Turtle John Cornyn is pushing a ridiculous Sense of the Senate resolution today (apparently all the Republicans in the Senate want to do in a time of looming recession, endless war and an expanding health care crisis is to give their SENSE) codemning the MoveOn "General Betray Us" ad. Dick Durbin and Barbara Boxer gave the proper context to this today.

Mr. DURBIN. Would the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. CORNYN. I yield for a question.

Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, in the 2004 Presidential campaign, I might ask the Senator from Texas, there was a group from Texas that attacked Senator John Kerry and said he was undeserving of the commendations and decorations he received for his courage in fighting in Vietnam and raised questions about others who served in the military who were part of his swift boat operation. One would have to say, by any stretch, that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were attacking the honor and integrity of one of our colleagues who served with honor in the Vietnam war.

I would like to ask the Senator from Texas if he is prepared to remain consistent and if he is also prepared to amend his amendment to repudiate the activities, actions, and statements of the Texas-based Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization with their unwarranted attacks on our colleague, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, during the 2004 campaign.

It's selective, OK if you're a Republican punishment, although I'm uncomfortable with juxtaposing the Swift Boat Liars with an ad that truthfully called out a General's dishonest PR campaign. Military men are not gods, and if they enter the political arena to defend a war that's killing our sons and daughters they shouldn't expect fealty.

But clearly, just as it's no business of the Senate to go around condemning political ads attacking John Kerry, the same with the MoveOn ad. Simply put, get back to work. Which is the message of Rick Noriega, a Fighting Dem who's been very aggressive so far in his upcoming Senate campaign against Cornyn. From an email:

Today John Cornyn is introducing a Senate resolution to condemn a recent advertisement from in the New York Times. While the Senate is debating important legislation focused on bringing a responsible end to the war in Iraq, this is what John Cornyn is focused on?

Yesterday, he voted against restoring the Constitution's basic right of habeas corpus. Yesterday, he voted against the Webb-Hagel amendment, legislation that would have provided a safety net for our troops, requiring that they spend as much time at home with their families as they spend deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. And today? He's wasting the Senate's and the people's time by introducing a resolution about's ad!

Send an email right now to John Cornyn. Tell him to move on from MoveOn today!

This is to be expected of John Cornyn, a faithful practitioner of the politics of Karl Rove. Instead of public conversations about the large issues that are really important -- the war on terror, the future of Social Security, education and health care for working families -- we get distractions over non-issues and tirades over wedge issues to create divisions among people.

We should not be surprised that John Cornyn doesn't want to discuss his rubberstamping of this Administration's failed policies in Iraq. That he doesn't want to talk about his obstruction of comprehensive immigration reform. And that he doesn't want to talk about the fact he voted against CHIP, a program to ensure health insurance for millions of children across the country.

While Republicans make up things to sound like whiny-ass titty-babies about, challengers are simply going to address the public record. And voting against readiness, voting against SCHIP, and voting against habeas corpus is a hell of a record. And that's just this week. Good for Noriega, I'm liking this guy.

(Cornyn's crap resolution PASSED, by the way. Why did Reid allow a vote?)

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FEAR Unit Returns

I've written a bit over the years about FEAR Unit, the Federal Even-yeared Antiterror Response. It seemed like every time an election came up we'd be bombarded with terror alerts and lurid attack plans. Since the Presidential approval ratings hit the toilet, FEAR Unit has been deployed in non-election years as well, to improve Republican standing and, in one case, to get legislation passed. Jane Harman has blown the whistle on the behind-the-scenes work to get the odious FISA bill through the Congress. It turns out that the Bushies did what they do best - they started a whisper campaign, this one about a major terrorist attack on the US Capitol that turned the Fear Caucus of the Democratic Party to jelly, and allowed the Administration to get the massive surveillance powers they sought.

Republicans and the Bush administration used a 'bogus' terror threat that raised specific fears of an attack on the Capitol to scare lawmakers into adopting a dramatic temporary expansion of the government's spy powers last month, a former top intelligence committee Democrat said Wednesday.

Congress agreed to give President Bush and the nation's intelligence agencies extra authority to spy on Americans just hours before lawmakers left for a month-long recess in August. In the legislative session's final week, news emerged of an impending plot by foreign terrorists to attack the US Capitol, and Republicans pointed to the reports as justification to expand the administration's powers.

"That specific intelligence claim, it turned out, was bogus; the intelligence agencies knew that," Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said at a forum on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act organized by the Center for American Progress in Washington. However, lawmakers did not learn of the claim's unreliability until "the day" they approved the FISA expansion, she said.

This is unconscionable and clearly should be the biggest news story of the day, if not the year. Let's go through this again: the Bush Administration used talk of a FAKE TERRORIST ATTACK to scare legislators into passing the FISA bill. There can be nothing more disgraceful than to play on those fears.

And honestly, considering that lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have had six years' worth of dealing with this guy and knowing how he operates, it's almost as disgraceful that they fell for it.

After this revelation, if any Democrat votes for re-authorization, they should be drummed right out of the party. Memo to the Democrats: the President is lying to you to get extraordinarily radical new powers. And he's manipulating the intelligence services to frighten you into doing so. And he's continuing to use his minions to do it. Michael McConnell testified the other day that the FISA court got so restrictive that NSA had to get warrants to spy on insurgents in Iraq. Not true:

That sounded dubious to us. Would the FISA Court have really issued such a patently absurd ruling? And it turns out we're not the only ones. FISA expert Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies also finds McConnell's statement dubious.

"It's totally implausible, like the claim about the arrests in Germany. Doesn't NSA have collection capabilities in Iraq? If so, they are totally outside FISA," Martin says. "Even if they're taking the Iraqi insurgent calls off the wire in the U.S. talking to each other, they don't need a court order and no court is going to bar them. Or is it that the NSA is so incompetent that it doesn't know they are Iraqi insurgents talking to each other and they were just blindly searching all traffic, which the court said they weren't allowed to do?"

We asked Ross Feinstein, McConnell's spokesman, to elaborate on his testimony. Feinstein declined, but indicated that McConnell stands by it.

The larger point here is that, if we know that they're lying to obtain the powers, can there be any doubt that they'd also lie about how they'd use them?

Appearing alongside Harman at Wednesday's forum was Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official, who has emerged as a harsh critic of President Bush. Fein noted that FISA grew out of concerns over Nixon administration scandals and revelations that foreign intelligence resources were being abused.

"Unchecked spying invariably leads to abuses in collection for political purposes, not national security purposes," Fein said. The danger inherent in giving Bush -- or any president -- authority to spy on Americans without oversight is that "it will be hijacked to advance a political agenda."

Spread this far and wide. Make sure every Congressperson in America knows about it. Lying about terror is the tactic to serve the prime agenda of this President.

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The Jena Six And Race In America

I have been remiss in writing about the Jena Six, and with today's expected protest it seems like a good news peg to do so. The story is a keen reminder that we're not yet the society we believe ourselves to be; that the ugliness of racism still permeates too many elements of our lives.

The outlines of the story are this: last year a black student in Jena, Louisiana sat under a tree "traditionally reserved for whites" at a public high school (That alone should tell you everything you need to know). The next day, white students hung a noose over the tree, evoking the sad legacy of lynching. Three white students were suspended for a couple days. Later that year, six black students beat up a white schoolmate outside the gym. The white kid left the hospital immediately and hung out at a class ring ceremony that night. The black kids were charged with attempted murder.

Although the charges were eventually reduced, and even the one conviction on battery made thus far was tossed out, the story highlighted the issue of equal justice and the continuing treatment of blacks in the South. Today's march will shine a spotlight on this persistent problem.

Today, thousands of protesters from across the country are expected to march through Jena (pronounced JEE-nuh), dwarfing its population of about 3,000. Not even the organizers know how many people to expect, but some say it could become a major civil rights march.

"Again, we come to the South to raise new hope, not to condemn," Sharpton told reporters outside the courthouse. "This is not a march against Jena."

Yet with predictions ranging from 1,000 to 60,000 protesters, many locals are apprehensive. The march has been publicized on talk radio and Internet blogs.

Jena High School and LaSalle Parish Library will close for the day. Most local business owners planned to close their stores too. Activists, they noted, vowed they would not spend money in Jena.

There's more context here. You can add in the other sickening hate crime, where 6 white West Virginians kidnapped a young black woman and repeatedly raped and tortured her for weeks, while one of them said "that's what we do to niggers around here."

We have a long way to go before we reach the goal of a truly color-blind society. And awareness is the first big step.

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Tales of Failed Presidential Campaigns

No, I'm not talking about Alan Keyes. Turns out John McCain might be headed to blood banks to round up some ready cash.

"The campaign has raised only $3.7 million to date for the quarter," a longtime, influential friend of the Arizona Republican told The Washington Times.

"The hope was to reach $4.5 million, about a third of what was raised in the 'disastrous' second quarter,' " said the McCain supporter, who has access to the senator's daily campaign operations.

The figures he cited — although anything but rosy — mask the even worse state of the campaign's finances, said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the senator.

"Those are gross numbers, not net," the friend said. "Plus the campaign is carrying $2.5 to $3 million in debt. [He's] done for."

For context, Ron Paul raised an equivalent amount in the 2nd quarter.

And then there's Freddie, whose Tragical Memory Tour hit a major roadblock to his effort to woo social conservatives. Seems that Dr. Dobson is as unimpressed as... everyone else.

According to a private e-mail obtained by the AP, influential evangelical leader James Dobson told friends he will not be backing Fred Thompson's candidacy for president [...]

Said Dobson: "Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?" Dobson wrote. "He has no passion, no zeal and no apparent 'want to.' And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!"

That's two down, only eight to go for Keyes. Keyes! He's got 621 signers to his "Pledge For America's Revival"! That's more votes than he got in Illinois in 2004!

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CA Prison Healthcare System A Mess

On Monday, the three-judge panel with the power to cap California's prison population will meet for an organizational meeting. While the prison healthcare system is already in receivership, the panel might want to take into account these grim statistics about the state of health, and how the overcrowding issue impacts everything else in prison life.

As many as one in six deaths of California prison inmates last year might have been preventable, according to a study of medical care in 32 state lockups that will be used to help rebuild the troubled system.

One inmate, who reported extreme chest pains in the middle of the night, died of a heart ailment after waiting eight hours to see a doctor.

Another who complained for days of severe abdominal pain died of acute pancreatitis after medical staff did not believe his pleas were credible.

A third died after a two-year delay in diagnosis of his testicular cancer.

And an asthma patient died after failing to receive steroid medication for two days following transfer from a county jail.

In fact, ASTHMA was the ailment most likely to cause a preventable death. Not a shiv in the shower, not a rumble in the exercise yard. Asthma. This is straight out of the 19th century.

Between delays in diagnosis, failure to treat symptoms properly, and lack of access to doctors, the common thread here is that there aren't enough doctors, aren't enough facilities, and aren't enough overseers to adequately care for inmates. It comes directly out of the overcrowding that is plaguing everything in the corrections process.

Dr. Stuart Bussey, president of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, which represents prison doctors, said: "We feel that the doctors in [the prisons] have been working in a battlefield situation. They do not have the tools to practice good medicine. The system needs work."

The cost of reorganizing the healthcare system will be enormous and take over a decade. It'd be a lot easier if sentencing reform allowed the jails to have a manageable population, but leadership was not forthcoming in this session. This is the result.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wake Me Up When September Ends

The Webb Amedment failed with 56 votes.

Last time around, in July, it got... 56 votes. This time Tim Johnson was back to vote yes, and John Warner turned his back on America and voted no.

So after all the calls, all the marches, all the pressure... nothing's changed.

Ever have one of those days?

A good majority leader would walk to the podium and say that the Republicans just squandered their best deal on Iraq. Now everything should be about hard deadlines for withdrawal. Make them BEG to have the Webb Amendment back. And make them round up their own 60 votes for a blank check.

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Dateline 1863: President Schwarzenegger Vows To Veto Emancipation Proclamation

Washington (Pony Express Press): As the War between North and South rages on, President Arnold Schwarzenegger has again announced his intention to veto a bill that would emancipate the slaves throughout the American territories, based on the fact that the practice of slavery has been ratified in the states of the Confederacy in the past.

“It would be wrong for the people, and by people I mean wealthy landowners, to vote for something and for me to then overturn it,” Schwarzenegger said. “So they can send this bill down as many times as they want, I won't do it.”

This is the second year in a row that President Schwarzenegger has vetoed the emancipation bill from the Congress, refusing to offer a proclamation of his own. The bill would set free millions of colored Americans from the bonds of slavery. Some have suggested that the people actually voted for the legislators who drafted the bill, but the President, in the midst of shuttling back and forth to Gettysburg for updates on the fighting, dismissed this.

The situation was made all the more intriguing by the fact that the President's chief of staff is currently a slave. Abolitionist activists have called on the chief of staff to resign.

OK, the metaphor is getting tired, but you get the idea. But really, gay activists have called on Susan Kennedy to resign.

GOVERNOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER said today, that he will veto the bill legalizing same-gender civil marriage because 61% percent of California voters favored Proposition 22 in March 2000. Ms. Kennedy agreed with the Governor's decision using Prop 22 (which only bars California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside California), when he used the same excuse to veto the bill in 2005. He says he will never sign this bill. In 1948, if California voters had been allowed to vote on inter-racial marriage when the California Supreme Court struck down the anti-miscegenation law and found in favor of inter-racial marriage, over 72% of the voters would have voted against it.

Even though I, a plaintiff, am going to the California Supreme Court next year, (and the Governor has said he will "abide" by the CA Supreme Court's decision), I am not only extremely disappointed in the Governor's lack of courage, but am especially disappointed in Susan Kennedy, his chief of staff, whose "same gender wedding" I attended in Hawaii several years ago.

Since I attended Susan's wedding, why is she so against attending mine? Both Arnold and Susan know that it is unconstitutional for the majority to deny a minority equal protection under the law. To hide behind that [Prop 22] as an excuse, is cowardly and unforgivable, for both the Governor and especially for Ms. Kennedy, a lesbian. Rather then backing the Governor's decision with unacceptable excuses, I ask that Ms. Kennedy resign as Chief of Staff. If not, shame on you Susan, to side against your community, and deny civil marriage to your friends.

I wonder if she'll respond.

UPDATE: Just to show you the deception at work on the part of those who argue against two people who love each other being allowed to marry, look at this cool new feature in the Washington Post, The Claim, which takes down Sen. Brownback's silly notion that countries with lenient policies on gay marriage have all kinds of kids born out of wedlock:

Republican presidential hopeful Sam Brownback posits a strong correlation between the introduction of civil unions and same-sex marriage and the increase in the number of children being born out of wedlock. His argument appears to rely on two premises: (1) that the marriage rate has plummeted in countries that have "redefined" marriage, and (2) that the declining marriage rate has in turn resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of babies born to unmarried parents.

Both parts of Brownback's claim are questionable. The decline in marriage rates and the increase in the number of children born out of wedlock long precede attempts to "redefine" marriage by permitting civil unions and same-sex marriage. Domestic partnerships or civil unions were introduced in the District in 1992, Hawaii in 1997, Vermont and California in 2000, Maine in 2004, Connecticut in 2005, New Jersey in 2006, and Washington state this year. Only one state permits same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, since 2004.

Marriage rates in the United States have been falling steadily since at least 1960, according to the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. They have not dropped appreciably faster in the past decade than during the preceding four decades.

As support for Brownback's statement, his campaign cited articles in National Review by Stanley Kurtz, an adjunct fellow at the Hoover Institution, on marriage rates in northern Europe, particularly the Netherlands. Kurtz has also cited counties in northern Norway where 80 percent of firstborn children are born out of wedlock. Although it is true that there has been a sharp rise in out-of-wedlock births in the Netherlands since domestic partnerships were introduced in 1997, there has been no appreciable increase in several other countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, that changed their marriage laws at the same time. In general, the rise in out-of-wedlock births in Europe predates changes in marriage legislation, according to the European Commission.

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Could You Possibly Hate America More?

To counter Jim Webb's dwell time amendment that gives the troops the rest and readiness they need to keep the military from becoming completely broken, Republicans are going to offer the legislative equivalent of a "Support The Troops" car magnet:

Speaking on the Senate floor this morning, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an ardent opponent of a pro-troop measure to relieve the stress on the overstretched armed forces, announced he will propose a toothless, watered-down substitute to the Webb amendment.

McCain said he and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) have teamed up to put together a “sense of the Senate” amendment to express “very clearly that we all want all our troops home and we understand the stress and strain that’s been inflicted on the men and women in the military and the guard and reserves.”

The White House put all kinds of pressure on Warner to support this toothless bill, literally the most nonbinding resolution I've ever seen, and despite the fact that he AND the Bush Administration will be retired come January 2009, he bought it. Disgraceful.

After the White House acceeded to Warner's paltry wishes and offered an early troop cut (which isn't even a troop cut, that MEU was coming home in November anyway), his knees went all to jelly and he put up this side-by-side amendment that will give the troops nothing so much as a Hallmark "we're thinkin' of ya!" greeting card. It should shock the conscience of every American, the extent to which the Republicans hate our military so much that they'd rather see it disintegrate than end their catastrophic war.

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The Real Betrayal

As I've said over and over, it's going to be next to impossible to restore habeas corpus with this Congress and this President. Cloture on the Leahy-Dodd Amendment failed 56-43 today. They added a motion to reconsider, so it may still yet pass, but they'd need 67 votes to get past Bush's veto pen, and 290 in the House (people keep discounting that as if only the Senate exists, but you're not going to be able to get 290 votes for practically anything in the House). Yes, you could continue debate until the cows come home, but not only is it going to amount to nothing, but the education of the public has not been cemented to force passage. Democrats already let this go; constantly saying "we were tricked!" gets old fast.

The real betrayal here is the continuing betrayal of American values by both the Bush Administration and a pliant Congress, who always seem to be trying to fix what they could have blocked in the first place. Today comes news that Democrats may allow retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that allowed the use of their equipment to spy on Americans, the extent of which we still don't even know.

Chairman Conyers: “Let me put it like this: how many have been overheard? I mean you’ve got minimization techniques, you wouldn’t have it if somebody wasn’t being overheard?”

McConnell: “Sir I don’t have the exact number, I’ll be happy to try and get the number provided to you.”

Conyers: “That is very, very critical.”

We already know that FBI data mining was far more expansive than at first believed. Now the Director of National Intelligence can't admit how many Americans have had their privacy violated, and the Democrats want to let telecom companies off the hook for enabling that, telecom companies who both he and the new acting Attorney General have decades of ties with? Here's Glenn Greenwald:

The FISA capitulation, though, was probably even worse. It occurred when they supposedly control the Congress. They enlarged the President's powers under the very law that he has been violating for years. They gave the Bush White House what it demanded even though the White House continues to provide them with no meaningful information about what was done during all those years when they eavesdropped on Americans in secret. And Democrats passed the law in a frenzy, under the crassest and most transparent exploitation of the Terrorist Threat ("a Terrorist attack is about to happen in DC and the blood will be on your hands unless you pass the bill we dictate").

Granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies for past lawbreaking is so plainly unjustifiable, even dangerous, that it ought to require no real debate. That Congressional Democrats are even considering submitting to this demand, let alone that they are likely to do so, dispels any doubt about what they really are.

First, retroactive immunity turns the "rule of law" into an even greater mockery than it has been for the last six years. The central premise in granting immunity is that telecom companies did nothing wrong -- even if they violated the law -- because they cooperated with warrantless spying at the behest of the President.

But we don't actually live in a country where private actors are permitted to commit crimes and violate laws provided that the President tells them that they should. The President has no greater power to authorize others to break the law than he does to break the law himself. Quite the contrary, Article II of the Constitution imposes the opposite obligation: "he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Lawbreaking is still illegal even if George Bush says it should be done. Does that principle really need to be explained?

Apparently, yes, and if the Democrats capitulate on this, they'll take ownership of all of the Bush Administration assaults on civil liberties and the rule of law.

This underscores what I think is a critical point that cannot be emphasized enough. In late 2005 and early 2006, when I and others first began writing about the assault on our Constitution from this administration in the wake of the NSA scandal and the Jose Padilla travesty, the overarching issue was lawlessness. The administration's most radical and disturbing "terrorism" policies were undertaken without any legal authorization whatsoever, and frequently, in direct violation of the law.

But over the past twelve months, that has become less and less true. On every front of executive power -- from surveillance to detention to interrogation -- what was previously covert, lawless radicalism has now become the legally authorized and Congressionally endorsed policy of the United States, on a bipartisan basis.

On a strictly quantitative level, it is true that Republicans have been more supportive than Democrats of these policies -- in the sense that more Democrats cast votes against them -- but Democrats have done nothing meaningful to stop any of it, even when they could. Indeed, paradoxically, Democrats have actively enabled and endorsed this extremism more and more as they have gained more power. As a result, what were the illegal policies of the Bush administration have become lawful as the result of a Congress which does nothing when executive lawbreaking is revealed except enact legislation to legalize the behavior.

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Thompson Train To Arrive At Empty Station

Grandpa Freddie Thompson is showing the outlines of a highly detailed and knowledgeable campaign. In just a week or so we've learned that Freedie thinks that somebody ought to do something about Al Qaeda, that the Terri Schiavo case was a couple years ago so it's hard to remember it, and that there's no oil in the Everglades.

Now, Freddie is ready to take these Miss South Carolina-like oratorical skills to the debate stage. And he's going to jump right in with... a debate that's already been cancelled.

Now this is awkward. On Monday, Fred Thompson's campaign put out a press release saying he had agreed to three debates in October. However, it turns out that one of those debates, in New Hampshire on October 14th, had already been cancelled by ABC News.

To be fair, how could Thompson have known that ABC cancelled that debate? It probably happened a few weeks ago. That's outside the "memory line" of 15 minutes that he appears to have.

Man, who knew that campaignin' was so hard?

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Self-Defense Apparently Now Unaceptable

Today Iran announced its intention to defend itself if attacked. Can you really not say that unless you're the United States?

The deputy commander of Iran's air force said Wednesday that plans have been drawn up to bomb Israel if the Jewish state attacks Iran, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.

The announcement came amid rising tensions in the region, with the United States calling for a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program and Israeli planes having recently overflown, and perhaps even attacked, Iranian ally Syria [...]

White House press secretary Dana Perino called Alavi's comment "unhelpful."

"It is not constructive and it almost seems provocative," she said. "Israel doesn't seek a war with its neighbors. And we all are seeking, under the U.N. Security Council resolutions, for Iran to comply with its obligations."

I wonder why Iran is so touchy? The US keeps blaming them for everything that goes wrong in Iraq, a prominent Senator last week openly asked a commanding general if it was time to infiltrate their territory, British troops have massed along the border... sheesh, you'd think we were deliberately trying to start a war or something! How could they get such a mistaken notion?

And then there's this Israeli airstrike on Syria. Now, the claim by the wingnut base is that Syria and North Korea were in a pact where the North Koreans were dumping the nuclear material in Damascus that they were supposed to remove as part of nonproliferation negotiations. The Israelis got wind of it and took the material out. Then there are corollaries that Turkey provided the intel and that Syria and Iran coordinated in a botched missile experiment that has left dozens dead.

This is mythology, as Joseph Cirincione notes, and it's designed to deliberately blur the differences between all of these states and make a throwback to the old "Axis of Evil" days.

This story is nonsense. The Washington Post story should have been headlined "White House Officials Try to Push North Korea-Syria Connection." This is a political story, not a threat story. The mainstream media seems to have learned nothing from the run-up to war in Iraq. It is a sad commentary on how selective leaks from administration officials who have repeatedly misled the press are still treated as if they were absolute truth.

Once again, this appears to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted "intelligence" to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda. If this sounds like the run-up to the war in Iraq, it should. This time it appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement. Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.

And now, from the same bullies and hawks that brought you those fictions comes this idea that Iran asserting the right to defend themselves and make contingency plans in the event of attack, as all nations on Earth do, is somehow belligerent and provocative. This is almost certainly coming from hard-right Likudnik groups like AIPAC, who will enlist all of their allies to ensure unanimity among both parties on anything regarding Israel, despite the fact that, as Rep. Moran says at the link, they don't represent mainstream Jewish-American opinion whatsoever. So the clueless media will parrot this line that "Iran wants to attack Israel!!!" when it's really "Iran Announces They Will Defend Themselves If Israel Attacks." If you want to see belligerence, I'd invite you to read Bernard Kouchner's comments.

The process in the UN against Iran should go forward, though the inspections process should be allowed to go forward without disturbance, and I do agree with General Abizaid that the world can live with a nuclear Iran through threat deterrance. But let's not drop our handkerchiefs because another country asserts the right to self-defense. After all, shouldn't we be far more concerned that wealthy Saudis are still bankrolling Al Qaeda and the ruling sheikhs aren't doing anything about it?

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