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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Joke Line, The Liberal Who Loves Some Republicans

The McCain man-crush is back:

There is only one American politician who sounds like this: "With my usual suicidal, masochistic tendencies, I spoke at the Detroit Economic Club last week and supported increased fuel-efficiency standards."Yes, yes, it's John McCain, rising from the crypt, but not as a zombie. The foolishly conventional Republican McCain of last year was the zombie. No, this is the funny, free-range McCain reincarnated, the independent who dares speak to an environmental forum in New Hampshire, touting his green credentials, actually supporting a return to the Kyoto global-warming negotiations, which is anathema to most Republicans. That guy — the interesting one — is back.

This is truly ridiculous of Joke Line because Obama said the exact same thing at the Detroit Economic Club like 5 months ago, and it's a major part of his stump speech so it's not like it's an invisible incident.

Also, McCain's idea of "green" means build as many nuclear power plants as humanly possible.

Joke Line is a wanker.

(h/t Digby, who notes that this comes the same week that McCain called a nurse's school training doll "Hillary." All straight talk and class, he is.)

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It occurs to me that I don't link James Wolcott enough, but he offers an incredible takedown of Roger Ailes and the launch of the Fox Business Channel, which was greeted in its inaugural week with a sustained drop in the stock market. Not enough cheerleading, I guess.

But for sheer brazenness, what took the biscuit was a bit of mockery from Ailes over CNBC's weekend schedule: "On Monday, for instance, Bill Carter of The New York Times wrote an article in which Mr. Ailes mocked the infomercials that CNBC runs on weekends (for 'nose tweezers and pimple squeezers,' he said)..."

Reading that, I wondered what Fox Business News would be putting on the air to counter CNBC's low-class leased-time nose-tweezer peddling. So picture my pretend surprise when I turned to Fox Biz (channel 43 on my Time Warner system) only to find that its Saturday morning/afternoon slate consists entirely of, yes, wall to wall infomericals. As I type, Chrissie Brinkley is demonstrating an at-home pulley-driven exercise machine that works all of the major muscle groups and stores easily in the closet [...]

I'm puzzled as to why Roger Ailes thinks his network's informercials are better--manlier, tawnier, more patriotic--than CNBC's. The papal smoke from his ass must be clouding his mind.

Have a read.

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Allowing Women To Determine Their Own Medical Care Is The REAL Holocaust

One of the more pervasive justifications on the theocon right for the failure of their economic policies is that they would all be eliminated if there were a million more people in the workforce as a result of making abortions illegal. This is a completely ridiculous argument; abortion rates in countries where the practice is illegal are virtually unchanged from countries where it's legal; all that criminalizing abortion does is cause the deaths of women who attempt to end an unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, it's one of those theories that sounds right but can be easily made applicable to account for pretty much anything, good or bad.

Crime: "If it weren't for abortions, there'd be 50 million more potential murderers and rapists on the loose!"
Iraq: "If it weren't for abortions, we'd have 50 million more potential National Guard recruits! We wouldn't have this shortage!"
Tort Reform: "If it weren't for abortions, we wouldn't have 50 million more potential lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits!"
Abortion: "If it weren't for abortions, we would have 50 million more people in the world arguing against abortions!"
Abortion (the other way): "If it weren't for abortion, we would have 50 million more potential high-risk teenagers about, some of whom might want to get an abortion!"

So I never expected to see such a reductionist argument used in anything but the outer fringes of political debate. Except when the venue is the Values Voter Summit and the speaker is Mike Huckabee:

"Sometimes we talk about why we're importing so many people in our workforce," the former Arkansas governor said. "It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973."

Thus ending the Huck-mentum bandied about by media types trying to wring some excitement out of a depressing GOP race. First of all, the Anti-Defamation League and all sorts of other organizations should be up in arms about comparing a medical procedure to the death of 6 million Jews. Second, this idea that Huckabee would unify social and fiscal conservatives was always a phantom, considering that the Club for Growth calls him Tax Hike Mike, and that tax issues were two of the top four issues to voters at the Values Voters Summit. And by the way, Huckabee split the straw poll vote with Mitt Romney, whose speech there was much more well-received.

But really, I want to stress that this could be the most inane argument ever expressed by a serious Presidential candidate. Or at least for this week, anyway.

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Looming California Recession Update

Continuing my "sky is falling" rhetoric when it comes to the California economy, we now have over a million unemployed citizens, and even the positive job news is fleeting.

Despite a boost from the Hollywood job machine, the state unemployment rate ticked up in September, when more than 1 million Californians were looking for work, the first time that benchmark had been breached in nearly three years.

Jobs were added to the economy during the month but nearly half were in Los Angeles in the entertainment sector, according to figures released by the government Friday. Producers have been racing to get movies and television shows in the can in anticipation of a writers strike.

And Hollywood probably won't deliver a happy ending. Strike or no, when the shows and movies are finished, many of those jobs will evaporate.

And it looks more like strike than no, as the WGA overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike, by a 90%-10% margin. That could happen as soon as Halloween. Most studios aren't signing writers to any future deals right now, in anticipation of a strike. And the contracts of the Screen Actors Guild and the Director's Guild are up next summer.

Besides meaning a lot of crappy reality shows coming to a TV screen near you, this means a great deal of production personnel out of work. And that just adds to the strain on the economy right now.

Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University, said it was important to note that payroll job growth had slowed to 1.1% in September from 1.6% in January and that beyond construction and financial services, the professional business services sector jettisoned jobs in September.

"Every indication is the weakness is becoming more broad-based," he said. "Retailers are getting nervous about consumer spending, and clearly they are not adding to the employment base. The job machine is getting tired."

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Friday, October 19, 2007

The Wilkes Trial: Just A Preview For The Lewis Indictment?

Josh Marshall is puzzled by the defense strategy employed by celebrilawyer Mark Geragos for corrupt defense contractor Brent Wilkes. So far he's called to the stand exactly one witness, who pretty much just called Wilkes a nice guy. That hardly refutes the voluminous amounts of evidence showing Wilkes' multiple bribery schemes.

So what's the strategy? Perhaps Geragos is hanging Wilkes out as a possible flipper for a bigger fish:

The only logic I can see to this is based on something a lawyer friend told me. If Wilkes tries to push an 'everybody does it' too hard at trial then he's locked himself to a set of facts that will make it a lot harder for him to turn around and cut a deal in exchange for serving up Bill Lowery and Rep. Lewis (R-CA).

That makes sense, I guess. Though I think I need to guard against a professional investment in having it having it be true since Wilkes serving up these two jokers would be a veritable festival of muck, something akin to taking a pin to a muck balloon. But in that case, why'd he go to trial in the first place? Something about the whole thing just doesn't fit to me.

Me neither. But we do know that Lewis is getting nervous about further investigation, because his staffer just told the Justice Department to go eat a fig.

According to RollCall, a former staffer for the House Appropriations Committee that worked for then Chairman Jerry Lewis said he intends to defy a federal subpoena he was served today from the US District Court for the Central District in California...

The staffer, Greg Lasker, is trying to hide behind the "speech and debate" clause of the Constitution and claim that the subpoena is not consistent with the "rights and privileges of the House." I guess it's a lead-by-example thing, the President and his staff doesn't see any need to comply with subpoenas, so why should Lasker?

After months of dormancy, the new US Attorney in Los Angeles, Thomas O'Brien, appears to have ramped up the Lewis investigation. Stay tuned...

(in other news, Duke Cunningham is a complete idiot)

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Only $150,000?

Let's get this up to a million and show the other candidates how good behavior is rewarded.

Senator Dodd's campaign communications director Hari Sevugan tells me that $150,000 in small contributions have poured into Dodd's campaign in the past 24 hours, since his announcement that he will put a hold on--and may even filibuster--a foreign intelligence surveillance bill approved yesterday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Dodd objects to a provision that would grant immunity to the telecommunications companies that turned over their customers' phone and e-mail records to the government's warrantless surveillance program. The companies have been hit with 40 pending lawsuits charging them with privacy violation.

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Iraq In Fragments

In case you've forgotten, we're in a war! Seemingly, with World War III around the bend and so forth, it's easy to forget. But there have been some notable developments.

• This is more notable because you get to look at Lara Logan, but she has also been in Iraq for some time, and she says that things are going extremely badly. But the schools are getting painted!

• A journalist working for the Washington Post, who put himself on the front lines just like every soldier, (even if some would question their patriotism) was killed by gunfire in Iraq. And it's significant as well for who shot him:

The area Saif Aldin was visiting is dominated by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some residents at the scene said they feared that soldiers from the Iraqi army, believed to be infiltrated by the militia, were responsible for his death.

"They killed him," one man whispered, pointing at members of the Iraqi army brigade on the street.

Iraqi police officers said they believed Saif Aldin was killed by Sunni men belonging to the nascent organization known as the Awakening Council, a tribal organization aligned with the U.S. military that started in the western province of Anbar and has spread to parts of Baghdad. Iraqi government officials have accused these Sunni tribesmen of abusing their partnership with the Americans to kill and kidnap residents.

In other words, the organization we've propped up with funds and support, who we've cited as evidence of our nascent victory in Iraq, is guilty of killing one of our journalists and kidnapping residents after being folded in to the Iraqi Army in areas of Baghdad. It's an incident that shows how foolish it is to practically accelerate the civil war because there needs to be some success to point to.

• Yet idiots like Cliff May still confuse Al Qaeda In Iraq with the larger Al Qaeda organization, instead of the unaligned and tiny insurgent group responsible for 2% of all attacks that it is. Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before the war, and it's not the source of any of the problems in the country now. The problem is sectarian violence, which only bolsters Al Qaeda as we continue to occupy a country in the heart of the Muslim world.

• Speaking of which, the Iraqi government is non-functional.

A principal architect of Iraq’s interim constitution, who resigned in August as one of the country’s top diplomats, has laid out a devastating critique of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the U.S. occupation, telling NBC News that, functionally, “there is no Iraqi government.”

The diplomat, Feisal Amin Istrabadi, said in his first interview since stepping down as Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations that “this government has got to go.”

Considering that it's taken them a month to get lawless private military contractors out of their own "sovereign" nation, and they're STILL NOT OUT, this should come as no surprise. Which is why I don't take this threat from the Iraqis, that there will be no permanent American bases in the country, too seriously.

• Finally, it's a sad day when the views of the Democratic Presidential candidates on Iraq can make a worm like Michael O'Hanlon happy.

The top three Democratic White House hopefuls have faced withering criticism for refusing to commit to withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq by 2013, the end of the next presidential term. But at least one prominent war proponent is commending Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards for their newfound "flexibility."

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and ubiquitous voice on Iraq war policy, spoke favorably of the Democratic frontrunners' recent statements on Iraq. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he touted the top-tier candidates for waiting to see the complete fallout of the President Bush's troop surge and for not committing to a war policy more than a year in advance.

"There is still fifteen months before [Clinton, Obama or Edwards] will be President. It's just factual that they cannot predict exactly what they are going to do in Iraq," O'Hanlon said. "I think the Democratic position allows all three of the top people to move in the Republican direction if things move around in the next twelve months... Clearly they aren't likely to do that unless things get dramatically better." [...]

"The only thing that would have concerned me would have been a repeat of 2003, where the populist's message of 'get out now' would overtake the Democratic Party... And low and behold we get to the election and Iraq is looking better and low and behold the Democrats lose the election," said O'Hanlon, who has given modestly in the 2008 cycle - two $200 contributions earlier this year to Senator Hillary Clinton.

I think you got that word "populist" wrong, Mikey... you mean "popular."

Your National Security Advisor in a Hillary Clinton White House, ladies and gentlemen.

UPDATE: I should add that there's little to no reconstruction going on in Iraq anymore.

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Embarrasment of the Riches

John Edwards sees the prospect of losing me to Chris Dodd, raises me a letter to the FCC about the other massive giveaway to corporate America revealed yesterday:

Dear (FCC) Chairman Martin:

I urge you to cease your efforts to radically rewrite the rules preventing excessive media consolidation. You and your fellow commissioners have the responsibility to ensure that our nation's media is open, democratic and as diverse as the American people, and not – like too much of our economy and our political system today – dominated by the wealthiest Americans, large corporations and their lobbyists. Rewriting the ownership rules in the manner you propose is contrary to that responsibility.

For decades, administrations of both parties and the FCC have tolerated and even encouraged the extreme consolidation of our media. In just the two years after telecommunications deregulation in 1996, the ownership of nearly half of America's radio stations changed, and by 2000, one media company had acquired over 1,100 radio stations. Eight business conglomerates now control the majority of media content in America, and two-thirds of all independently-owned newspapers have shut down since 1975.

Any benefits to consumers from vertical integration have been overwhelmed by the threats to competition, fair pricing and journalistic independence. The result of all this over-concentration, Mr. Chairman, is a poorer democracy, with a few loud corporate voices drowning out independent perspectives and local participation.

High levels of media consolidation threaten free speech, they tilt the public dialogue towards corporate priorities and away from local concerns, and they make it increasingly difficult for women and people of color to own meaningful stakes in our nation's media. Rather than further weakening efforts to ensure a diverse media, as you now propose, the FCC should instead be strengthening media ownership and concentration limits so that a few huge multinational corporations are not in charge of shaping our democracy.

When your predecessor Chairman Powell made a similar attempt, nearly 3 million highly diverse Americans wrote to the FCC to express their grave concerns. I hope that you and your fellow commissioners can find the will to continue to deny the ambitions of a small number of media executives and their lobbyists, in the interest of advancing a fuller, fairer democracy.

Yours sincerely,

John Edwards

The fight against Michael Powell's efforts to loosen media ownership rules was one of the first people-powered movements. It would be repeated 10 times over if Martin continues with this nonsense. We need to be making those ownership rules more restrictive, not less, and we should be encouraging media diversity, not agglomeration.

Edwards and Dodd are running campaigns the right way - by showing leadership instead of talking about it. I hear Joe Biden is signing on to Dodd's hold on the awful telecom immunity bill; that's good too, and it shows how leadership is contagious. Our problem in the Democratic Party right now is a dearth of true leadership, combined with the fact that the person running away with the primary has no interest in taking that mantle. Which is why I think an outpouring of support for leaders like Dodd and Edwards may force her to take notice.

UPDATE: Like I said, leadership is contagious. Obama wants the head of the Voting Rights Division at the Justice Department fired. How about putting a hold on the Mukasey confirmation until that happens, Barack?

In a letter today, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) urged the acting attorney general to fire voting rights section chief John Tanner. Citing Tanner's remarks earlier this month that "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first," Obama wrote that "Through his inexcusable comments, Mr. Tanner has clearly demonstrated that he possesses neither the character nor the judgment to be heading the Voting Rights Section." He concluded: "For that reason, I respectfully request that you remove him from his position."

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Getting Ugly Over Health Care Non-Solutions

So after being peppered with criticism from both term limits groups and the California Nurses Association, the Speaker's office has chosen which group to strike back at: the nurses, of course, using the exact same standard of judgment that they called a "smear job" when it was used against Nuñez.

This is an argument over improving the delivery and cost of health care, and there's plenty of ideological rigidity to go around. What started as a promising "year of health care reform" has devolved into putative allies arguing about how much money the other spends on hotel rooms. Behind the mere gaining of political points is a serious debate about how to best allow all California citizens, not just the ones with full-time employment (us freelancers need health care too), the highest quality affordable health care they can manage. And the real truth of the matter, the one that nobody really wants to talk about, is that none of these state-based plans, by definition, have any hope of working and have serious potential consequences, besides. I think that's why everyone's getting so mad at one another, because it's easier to do so than to face the facts.

We’ve got all these great universal bills passing at the state level, and I’m here to tell you that, well, they are pretty great, but they’re not going to work. It didn’t work in Washington State, when they tried it, and the insurers first jacked up the premiums, and then moved out of the state in order to kill the model. It didn’t work in Hawaii, which saw an economic downturn move more people onto their subsidies exactly as the state’s revenues dropped. It didn’t work in Tennessee, where the Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, upon killing off Tenncare and leaving 300,000 people uninsured, told his state that, "I say to you with a clear heart that I've tried everything. There is no big lump of federal money that will make the problem go away." Similar plans failed in Oregon, in Massachusetts, and many other states.

The plans fall for a few small reasons, and one big one. The big one is that states don’t have the fiscal stability to run universal health care. 49 of 50 states cant deficit spend. That means that when the state goes into recession and more people need subsidies and the revenues to give them don’t exist the state can’t borrow the money. So they dismantle the program. It’s happened time and time again -- in some states, like Oregon, more than once.

Moreover, you don’t really want this being a state-run solution. As a stopgap, increasing coverage through state plans is worthwhile, but health care reform is more than access – it’s actual reform to bring down costs, which are, at the end of the day, the biggest problem in the system. And the states don’t have the regulatory authority, the money, or, save in a few cases, the size to do that. I simply don’t trust them to fundamentally reform the system.

California is obviously one state that has the size, and certainly could float ever more bonds to spend the necessary money. But we're almost certainly on the cusp of a new recession, and the combination of massive debt passed on to grandkids and a pay-to-play system that still reigns supreme in Sacramento is unpalatable to reform.

I repsect the efforts of groups like Physicians for a Naitonal Health Plan, who have studied the issue and recommended some of the best possible solutions. But that word "national" is hard to get around; it's the only way to create the real economies of scale and managed risk necessary for a solution. I believe in health care for everyone, not simply in red states or blue states. As Ezra Klein notes,

You know, whenever you talk about the state reforms, you always hear the old Brandeis quote about the “laboratories of democracy.” But there’s another Brandeis saying that I think is more applicable: “If we would guide by the light of reason,” he said, “we must let our minds be bold.” And that’s what I’m asking: Be bold. Because nothing else will, in the long term, work.

UPDATE: I'll even give you a talking point: We want the same health care for every American that gives triple-bypass surgeries to members of Congress for virtually nothing. That'd be the simplistic version, but even with the details it's a bold, realizable goal.

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Had Enough Of Having Enough

Bill Richardson sends an email around saying he's "had enough" of Congress in the wake of their failure to override Bush's SCHIP veto. It's about the Republican leadership, but gets in some gratuitous slaps at the Democrats too by saying "no one is standing up to them," citing negative poll numbers, etc. It's hard to know just who he's angry at.

I don't know, every single Democrat save two Bush Dogs voted to override. And veto overrides themselves are exceedingly rare. This is bigger than Richardson is willing to admit. This is about an angry, eliminationist conservative movement that is seeing their power slip away inch by inch and is lashing out in increasingly nasty and heartless ways. They can't reconcile the fact that they've created a myth that Daddy Government can protect you completely in foreign affairs, but must not be trusted whatsoever in domestic ones. So they're just being bastards. And they have a base that won't let them deviate from anything but the most extreme course of action.

I don't know what Richardson thinks he can do about this, other than getting 290 and 67 Democrats in the House and Senate. And even then I don't expect much from this generation of Grover Cleveland clones. And I don't see Mr. "Pro-Growth Democrat" Richardson as all that different.

There aren't many Democrats out there who understand just what they're up against with the cornered animal that is the conservative movement. Real change is simply unlikely until that movement is fully repudiated.

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We Are So Screwed

Comcast is already violating net neutrality, because it's a "tradition" and not a full law currently, and anyway telecommunications companies don't have to comply with the law anymore according to the US Senate.

NEW YORK - Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.

Right now they're just trying to block bandwidth hogs to relieve pressure on their system. But that's the whole point. Telecoms have every incentive to make that pipe as narrow as possible. That way, they can monetize it that much easier. It's a hop, skip and a jump from stopping file-sharing to restricting content. Here's essentially what they're doing.

Comcast's technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.

Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer — it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: "Sorry, I have to hang up. Good bye."

This is access that you pay for, incidentally. And plenty of legitimate content producers use BitTorrent and other outlets to share files legally.

As I referenced earlier, telecoms have an enormous about of money that they're using to buy off politicians and force open a new revenue stream. (UPDATE: they're trying real hard to buy off Democrats now at the expense of meaningful progressive legislation. The corporations see which way the wind is blowing.) They're also jumping into the broadcast media, and the threat of consolidation will only allow their slice of the pie to grow even bigger. I still feel that the vast majority of the marketplace won't stand for this, but the institutional structures are so big and so powerful, sometimes it feels like a crushing weight.

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I Think Only O.J. Would Be A Worse Endorsement

Fred Thompson gathers the picketing soldiers' funerals vote.

Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church are urging Fred Thompson to support their stance on homosexuality — a position on which they say the Republican presidential candidate once "saw eye to eye" with them.

Thompson was hired for a mid-1980s legal case in Kansas on the recommendation of Margie Phelps, daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps.

The Topeka, Kan.-based church is now best known for protesting at soldiers' funerals, claiming their deaths are retribution for the nation's acceptance of homosexuality [...]

Church members released an open letter to Thompson this week, saying he had discussed his views on homosexuality with them while handling the case of a woman who had sued the state's Republican attorney general for sexual harassment.

"We know what your position used to be on the homosexual question — and it was wonderful, and we saw eye to eye," church members said in the letter to Thompson.

The Westboro Baptist Church is so out there on the fringe that Fox News hosts tell them they're going to hell. They're the group that right-wingers use as a punching bag to prove their "independence." The Thompson camp is trying to distance themselves as fast as they possibly can. But having Fred Phelps on your side is a stench that doesn't easily wash off.

UPDATE: I shouldn't let a "Fred!" post go by without this statement from today's Values Voters Summit:

On what he would do in his first 100 days in office: "I don't really know." But, he says, "I know what I would do the first hour. I would go in the Oval Office, close the door, and pray for the wisdom to know what was right, and the strength to do what is right."

Wait, couldn't he get started on that now? Does God wait to come up with his plan for you until after you secure the Electoral College?

Man, this guy is saving loads of money on the campaign trail on stress pills and policy papers. He has neither.

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Lights Out LA

This is a quickie. My car insurance provider noted in an email that tomorrow night is Lights Out LA, an event designed to conserve energy and raise awareness. Between 8-9 pm, LA residents are encouraged to turn off all non-essential lights in a bid to save enough energy to power 2,500 homes for a full year. The Hollywood sign, City Hall, and most government buildings will go dark. I believe something like this was attempted in San Francisco earlier this year. It's exciting that Los Angeles is attempting to raise awareness of climate change and promote conservative. You can even get a free beeswaz candle to use at this website.

My only issue is how to square this with the fact that it'll be happening in the fourth quarter of the Michigan football game. I'll get out my transistor radio, I guess.

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Friday Random Ten

Set iPods to "stun":

Maybe I Know - They Might Be Giants
Violently Happy - Bjørk
Hide Away Folk Family - They Might Be Giants
Sleeping In The Flowers - They Might Be Giants (not only 3 out of 4, but they're all Flansberg songs! Weird.)
Rich - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Kiss Me, Son Of God - They Mights Be Giants (at least it's Linnell. This is getting nuts, though)
Lint Of Love - Cibo Matto
Bittersweet Symphony - The Verve
Given To Fly - Pearl Jam
This Fire - Franz Ferdinand

An odd list. It's been an odd week.

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Empty Suits

Michael Mukasey's horrible answer about torture and waterboarding has finally raised some questions about his fitness for office.

On the second day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Mukasey went further than he had the day before in arguing that the White House had constitutional authority to act beyond the limits of laws enacted by Congress, especially when it came to national defense.

He suggested that both the administration’s program of eavesdropping without warrants and its use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects, including waterboarding, might be acceptable under the Constitution even if they went beyond what the law technically allowed. Mr. Mukasey said the president’s authority as commander in chief might allow him to supersede laws written by Congress.

The tone of questioning was far more aggressive than on Wednesday, the first day of the hearings, as Mr. Mukasey, a retired federal judge, was challenged by Democrats who pressed him for his views on President Bush’s disputed antiterrorism policies.

These questions and concerns will be stated loudly by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, leading them to delay Mukasey's confirmation for a WHOLE WEEK or so. Quite a punishment.

The truth is that anyone with those cowardly ideas, at variance with the rule of law and the Constitution, is unacceptable to be the nation's top cop. But in the Age of Bush, anyone is unacceptable.

It is similarly unfathomable -- or once was unfathomable in America -- that a nominee for Attorney General of the United States would ever have to say anything other than "no" to the question of "Is waterboarding constitutional?"

George W. Bush's detainee policies have, quite simply, rendered honest and conscientious service as an Attorney General impossible. One simply cannot serve both this president and the law faithfully. It is a paradox and an impossibility, because this president does not serve the law faithfully. And what it means, at bottom, is that George W. Bush's "administration" is an enemy of the rule of law, and has so diminished our capacity to live by it that no honest Senator should permit him the charade of attending to it with the window dressing of confirming an Attorney General.

Anyone who would hold that job in this "administration" will by definition be reduced to serving as a placeholder only -- a mere figurehead to whom everyone will, out of pure habit only, refer to as the "Attorney General," but who will at the end of the day be prevented from administering the law he will have sworn to uphold.

Indeed, almost all of President Fourthbranch Cheney's Cabinet officials are empty suits, mindless drones carrying out extreme policies of executive expansion, corporate welfare and massive war. The nameplate on the door of the various departments don't matter; they're all being run out of the Vice President's office. It can be said that there is no Department of Justice anymore. That's how tarnished this country is right now.

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Wiretapping Update: Hold, What Hold?

Chris Dodd's noble action yesterday doesn't squash the telecom immunity bill entirely, but it's supposed to slow it down and make it such a pain in the ass that nobody in their right mind would push it forward. Harry Reid is not in his right mind.

Tim Starks of Congressional Quarterly reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring the Senate’s surveillance bill up for floor debate in mid-November. That’s despite the hold that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) plans to place on the measure — something first reported by Election Central’s Greg Sargent.

I’m a bit confused here. This just doesn’t happen. So I chatted with someone I know with extensive Hill experience, who said:

“I can’t think of one time when Harry Reid went around his own. It’s just not normal for a leader to do that to his own side. Sometimes you’ll go around Republicans, sometimes they’ll use holds to be “spoilers,” but that happens to the other guy. You just don’t do it to one of your own.”

Indeed, the bill passed out of the Intelligence Committee, with only Ron Wyden and Russ Feingold opposed. Wyden did manage to place a poison pill in there:

An amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who opposed the bill for its inclusion of telecom immunity, requires the government to obtain a warrant when targeting an American overseas for surveillance.

Last night, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "We have strong concerns about that amendment. We certainly could not accept it."

Bond called the provision "problematic" and said that if it is not modified, passage could be difficult.

Jeez, it's almost like that those on the side of the rule of law are in the minority again. Putting poison pills in our own bills to knock them down? Unbelievable.

I have to hand it to Dodd again. He's fighting the good fight here, and he's the perfect person to take this on. One reason, besides the bully pulpit of running for President, is that he has already announced that he will not seek a run for re-election to the Senate. So the prospects of retaliation mean less to him. Still, this takes a lot of guts, which Barack Obama, who put out a nice little press release but hasn't gone to the same lengths, doesn't have in the same way. Obama did put a hold on the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky, which was huge, but look at the countervailing interests here. Opposing a Bush appointee is different from opposing Bush, the Republicans, and powerful telecom companies all at once.

And I'm as puzzled as Atrios about the idea of immunizing any party from breaking laws, given that there's legislation preventing ex post facto laws from being enacted.

UPDATE: If you want to know why Democratic leaders would be pushing to give telecom companies a free hand to break American law, this is a handy blog post.

Top Verizon executives, including CEO Ivan Seidenberg and President Dennis Strigl, wrote personal checks to (Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay) Rockefeller totaling $23,500 in March, 2007. Prior to that apparently coordinated flurry of 29 donations, only one of those executives had ever donated to Rockefeller (at least while working for Verizon).

In fact, prior to 2007, contributions to Rockefeller from company executives at AT&T and Verizon were mostly non-existent.
But that changed around the same time that the companies began lobbying Congress to grant them retroactive immunity from lawsuits seeking billions for their alleged participation in secret, warrantless surveillance programs that targeted Americans.

The Spring '07 checks represent 86 percent of money donated to Rockefeller by Verizon employees since at least 2001.

There are times when I really hate how perverted our political system has become.

UPDATE II: Dodd now vows to filibuster the bill.

Are you willing to go to the mat to restore the Constitution?

Just last night, we heard there are plans to disregard Senator Dodd's intention to place a hold on a FISA bill that includes amnesty for telecommunications companies.

That would be a pretty extraordinary move, but Chris Dodd has pledged to stop this horrible bill any way he can.

So if the hold is not honored, he is prepared to go to the Senate floor and filibuster.

Rolling back the Bush Administration assault on the rule of law has been a major focus of Chris Dodd's work in the Senate -- and it's also a centerpiece in his campaign for President.

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Romney Vows: We Will Quit The League Of Nations!

Multiple Choice Mitt decides that the US should pull out of organizations that we're already out of:

"The United Nations has been an extraordinary failure of late," Romney said during a South Carolina campaign stop. "We should withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council."

There's one problem: The United States already boycotts the Human Rights Council, and has not sought a seat on it. This caused an aide to clarify the remarks by saying what Romney really meant is that the U.S. should stop any possible financial support for the council.

Apparently, under a Romney Administration, we will also be boycotting the Warsaw Pact, refusing to recognize the Ottoman Empire, and denouncing the formation of the juvenile army to fight the Children's Crusade.

The real point here is that the United Nations is such a boogeyman on the right, such an effigy that must be burned, that candidates must reject it in full, even if they're completely ignorant of its organization.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

So Much For Moral Clarity

Everyone was all excited yesterday when Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey called torture antithetical to the American way. Heck, I was excited. Well, turns out he's just another slave to power. Jeez, has the entire political class in this country been to a mass emasculation ceremony?

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Mukasey if he thought waterboarding was Constitutional. "If waterboarding is torture... torture is not Constitutional," he replied.

Whitehouse wasn't satisfied. "That is a massive hedge.... It either is or it isn't." Doesn't Mukasey have an opinion on whether waterboarding is torture? He went on to describe the technique, which involves using a wet rag to make the detainee feel like he's drowning. Mukasey replied with the same answer: "If it amounts to torture, then it is not Constitutional."

I'm very disappointed," Whitehouse said, adding that Mukasey's reply had been "purely semantic."

"Sorry," replied Mukasey.

Yeah, we're sorry too.

Combine this with Mukasey's repeated statements that the President has an inherent right to break some Congressional laws, and you'll see that, on the key issues of executive power and the destruction of the Constitution, Mukasey will change absolutely nothing at the Justice Department. He may be a little less partisan and make the place a little less politicized, too little to notice, actually, since there are minefields of wingnut lawyers roaming around those halls that he'll never even know about. But on the core issues, it's business as usual.

I'd say reject him, but that's just not going to happen. Sad, isn't it?

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CA-04: The Cat Claws Are Out

Wow, Doolittle's getting it from members of his own party now.

Political pressure on GOP Rep. John Doolittle grew Wednesday as a fellow California House Republican said it would be best if Doolittle didn't run for re-election.

GOP Rep. John Campbell of Orange County became the first House member to say publicly Wednesday what other lawmakers and aides are saying privately – that Doolittle should step aside and not run for re-election.

“I am very concerned about the situation in that district and our ability to comfortably hold what is a safe Republican district,” Campbell said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“Certainly the polling shows that he's in a difficult position and I do think it would be best if he didn't seek re-election,” Campbell said.

Here's the good news: Doolittle's response.

Doolittle was defiant in a written statement responding to Campbell's comments.

“I hope John Campbell never has to experience what Julie and I have been going through the past 3 and a quarter years,” he said. “If he ever does, he will truly understand how frustrating it can be for people to attack your honor and integrity.”

And the chair of the Republican delegation in California, himself a target in 2008, came running to Doolittle's aid:

The head of the California Republican House delegation, Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, offered words of support Wednesday.

“It's up to John Doolittle and John Doolittle says he's running for re-election,” Dreier said. “And obviously he's got lots of challenges with which he's trying to deal, but he's a good, hardworking member and we'll see what happens. It's very early on.”

Expect "Dreier and Doolittle: Perfect Together" to come up in CA-26 messaging.

I love "Republicans in disarray" stories, don't you?

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, returned to her country after an exile of eight years, and uh, something happened.

A suspected suicide bomber struck Thursday night near a truck carrying former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on her triumphant return to Pakistan after eight years in exile. An official said 108 people were killed and many were wounded although Bhutto escaped unhurt.

Associated Press photographer B.K. Bangash at the scene said he saw between 50 and 60 dead or badly injured people. He said some of the bodies were ripped apart when the blast occurred more than 15 hours into a procession that was carrying Bhutto from the airport to the tomb of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, where she planned to give a speech [...]

The bombs exploded just after Bhutto's truck had crossed a bridge about halfway from the airport to the tomb. The truck had come to a halt between a mosque and an office block, and those traveling atop it with Bhutto climbed down, with one man jumping off. The blast shattered windows in her vehicle.

Bhutto at least represents the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, and there are several countervailing forces that don't want to see that happen. While the Islamists are a minority in Pakistan, they wield an outsized influence because of events like this. The worry is that the "shock doctrine" will cause Pervez Musharraf to take advantage of the situation:

It could also revive speculation that Musharraf will resort to martial law if the security situation — or his political dominance — are seriously threatened.

If Bhutto were killed I'd be willing to bet money that would happen. It still may. The situation is very fluid in Pakistan.

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The Hazy Days Of Brownback

I completely forgot about this bit of Sam Brownback trivia. Remember that he had an elaborate painting of himself in his own office? With fallen angels on it?

Brownback picture

Yep, that is a huge painting of Brownback superimposed over an American flag and the Capitol. Man, that is humility. And check out a close up of the bottom of the painting:

fallen angels

Yes indeed, those are angels with black wings, or fallen angels:

A fallen angel in Abrahamic traditions is an angel that has been exiled or banished from Heaven. Often such banishment is a punishment for disobeying or rebelling against God.

The best-known fallen angel is Satan. According to some traditions, fallen angels will roam the Earth until Judgment Day, when they will be banished to Hell.

The angels are looking up toward Brownback. I guess this is because they want redemption and Brownback is God.

Every time Sam Brownback drops out of a Presidential race, an angel loses his wings.

I also agree with Bowers, Brownback had no measurable support, therefore this doesn't "hurt" or "help" anyone.

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Et Tu, New York Times?

This headline, "Global Warming Starts to Divide G.O.P. Contenders," made me chuckle. As far as I can tell, the divide is between how much to give in subsidies to the coal and nuclear ower industries. John McCain's call for cap-and-trade is weak, and reflected in this bill that used to have his name on it. Lieberman-Warner, formerly Lieberman-McCain, would give maybe trillions of dollars in subsidies to polluting industries.

There is no divide because there is a fairly broad consensus on the right when it comes to global warming. It doesn't exist, it should be used as a element of mockery when it's cold in winter in Minnesota, as well as a reminder that Al Gore is fat, and to the extent that anything at all should be done, those actions must protect and reward polluting industries while expanding other potentially dangerous industries like nuclear power and dissembling about the myth of "clean coal." Oh yeah, and lots and lots of ethanol, because the Iowa caucuses are right around the corner.

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The OTHER Proposed Massive Giveaway To Giant Corporations Today

Overshadowed by the Senate markup of the FISA bill including retroactive immunity for telecoms, Chris Dodd's noble hold on the bill, etc., is an item in today's New York Times that has just as damaging consequences for the future of American democracy. Apparently FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin is quietly planning to relax media ownership restrictions even MORE than they are now, an action that would prompt even more consolidation in the industry and control of the news and information media in even less hands. As it would increase the power of media conglomerates, the implications for all sorts of pernicious legislation, up to and including the destruction of net neutrality, are enormous.

The head of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated an ambitious plan to relax the decades-old media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months — a plan that, if successful, would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.

Among them are Samuel Zell, the Chicago investor who is seeking to complete a buyout of the Tribune Company, and Rupert Murdoch, who has lobbied against the rule for years so that he can continue controlling both The New York Post and a Fox television station in New York.

There's a 3-2 partisan split on the FCC, and the majority Republicans are down with repealing ownership restrictions. The Democrats are questioning it for now, Michael Copps is totally against it and Jonathan Adelstein is making less forceful statements, also to his credit, he called the proposal "awfully aggressive." The plan for Martin, clearly, is to woo Adelstein and call it a bipartisan approach.

Martin's predecessor, Michael Powell, tried the same thing three years ago, was taken to court over it, and lost:

Three years ago, the commission lost a major court challenge to its last effort, led by Michael K. Powell, its chairman at the time, to relax the media ownership rules. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, concluded that the commission had failed to adequately justify the new rules. Mr. Martin’s proposal would presumably include new evidence aimed at fending off similar legal challenges.

Mr. Powell’s effort, which had been supported by lobbyists for broadcasters, newspapers and major media conglomerates, provoked a wave of criticism from a broad coalition of opponents. Among them were the National Organization for Women, the National Rifle Association, the Parents Television Council and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The agency was flooded with nearly three million comments against changing the rules, the most it has ever received in a rule-making process.

What's forcing Martin's hand are some new major acquisitions by some of the biggest names in media. Sam Zell is trying to buy out the Tribune Company, and receive by proxy the "temporary waivers" that allowed Tribune to own a newspaper and a TV station in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Hartford. In addition, there's Rupert Murdoch's recent purchase of the Wall Street Journal, and his attempt to further consolidate the information market.

It can be argued that the media consolidation that we have already seen, dating from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, are in many ways directly responsible for the cheapening of information and the trivialization of American democracy that we witness today. We know that radio has become almost a two-owner game between Viacom and Clear Channel, and as a result talk radio in particular is grossly imbalanced and not reflective of the market. The lack of local participation in media management in particular has led to mass syndication and a depressing sameness around the radio dial, as well as an elimination of any local content. Consolidation has also led to a reliance on profit and meeting Wall Street expectations rather than reporting the news. Massive cuts in newsroom budgets and foreign affairs bureaus are a direct result of control from a corporation rather than anyone acting in the local interest. So newspapers rely more on AP wire stories, shared content with other papers in the conglomerate, syndicated content, and articles that are really press releases, while local broadcast "news" has cratered almost completely. People are turning to the Internet for their news and that has spurned something of an information revolution, but the vast majority of the public still gets their information from old-media sources, and that public is not being served.

A bipartisan coalition of Senators is trying to stop this in its tracks.

Chairman Martin’s secret plans were uncovered during a Commerce Committee hearing yesterday by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), one of the most vocal critics of media consolidation. Sen. Dorgan has co-authored a letter with Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to the FCC calling for a more transparent and open public review of the media ownership rules.

“We do not believe the Commission has adequately studied the impact of media consolidation,” wrote Sens. Dorgan and Lott. “The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past. The Commission is under considerable scrutiny with this proceeding. We strongly encourage you to slow down and proceed with caution.”

Later, Dorgan said, “If the chairman intends to do something by the end of the year, then there will be a firestorm of protest and I’m going to be carrying the wood.”

Chairman Martin has preferred to operate in secret and broker deals that benefit major media conglomerates at the expense of the public interest. It's not likely that you'll hear much about this in newspapers or TV stations owned by those same conglomerates (Kudos to the New York Times for printing this, even if it came out in a public Congressional session).

Free Press has more. This is a big deal, and with telecom companies increasingly trying to insert themselves into media distribution as well, all of these bills are interrelated. A telecom industry immunized from lawbreaking could soon be owning the media that you watch - and they could be charging Web content producers in exchange for speedier access. The drive to beat back media ownership, net neutrality, and all of these deprivations is a classic case of people versus the powerful who have no intention of working in the public interest.

The FCC has a contact page. They should hear from you about this.

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Get Out The Victory Cigar

Said White House press secretary Dana Perino: "We won this round on SCHIP."

And 10 million kids lost, but they're just "collateral damage."

Yay, we won!

(This is the Administration that's trying to reauthorize something called "No Child Left Behind," right? Just checking.)

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Try Getting This Image Out Of Your Memory


A prostitute whom prosecutors say a defense contractor provided to former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham testified Wednesday that the congressman fed her grapes as she sat naked in a hot tub before they headed to a bedroom at a Hawaiian resort.

Is dry heaving due to something I read that's not work-related on company time covered on my group plan?

(This came out in the Brent Wilkes trial, by the way, as just one of the gifts offered in bribe from the defense contractor to members of Congress. But if you're reading this far, you have an AMAZINGLY strong stomach.)

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Dodd For President

Fantastic news.

The Military Commissions Act. Warrantless wiretapping. Shredding of Habeas Corpus. Torture. Extraordinary Rendition. Secret Prisons.

No more.

I have decided to place a "hold" on the latest FISA bill that would have included amnesty for telecommunications companies that enabled the President's assault on the Constitution by illegaly providing personal information on their customers without judicial authorization.

I said that I would do everything I could to stop this bill from passing, and I have.

It's about delivering results -- and as I've said before, the FIRST thing I will do after being sworn into office is restore the Constitution. But we shouldn't have to wait until then to prevent the further erosion of our country's most treasured document. That's why I am stopping this bill today.

Senator Dodd has shown the requisite courage and fortitude to earn my vote. Edwards may have done the same thing in the Senate, so I haven't given up on him. But Obama's cautious centrism is finished. The netroots has a candidate they can trust. His name is Chris Dodd.

UPDATE: Patrick Leahy continues the assault, chastises the Intelligence Committee for "caving" on immunity.

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The Sadness Of SCHIP

So today the House GOP is going to set an explosion inside their own caucus by voting to ignore the American people and sustain a veto on children's health insurance expansion. They even have visual aids.

For those with bad eyes, Mr. (Iowa Rep. Steve) King has created a chart claiming the S-CHIP really stands for “socialized Clinton-style Hillarycare for Illegals and their Parents.”

Guys, you’ve done outdone yerselves on this one. Please, please, please keep insulting middle-class families who can’t afford health insurance. I guarantee that it will launch you right back into power.

With whom are the American people going to associate themselves? A callous liar like Steve King, or Pete Stark?

First of all, I'm just amazed they can't figure out, the Republicans are worried we can't pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where ya gonna get that money? You going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement. This bill would provide healthcare for 10 million children and unlike the President's own kids, these children can't see a doctor or receive necessary care. [...]

But President Bush's statements about children's health shouldn't be taken any more seriously than his lies about the war in Iraq. The truth is that Bush just likes to blow things up. In Iraq, in the United States and in Congress.

In the end, the Democrats will press this issue, House Republicans will not be able to take the pressure, and this bill will be made law, maybe with a cosmetic change here or there. But the pain of this vote will resonate all the way to November.

"What will happen is they’ll lose the override. They’ll make cosmetic changes and our guys will cave," Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said Tuesday during an appearance at the National Press Club. "And at what cost? Our guys will get beaten up ... SCHIP is a dumb fight."

No wonder Davis is talking down a Senate run and sounding increasingly like a baby about it. His party is throwing itself in the lake and nobody seems to want to stop it. I agree that the right can't let up on health care because Democrats will actually be seen as protectors of the middle class, collapsing their coalition. But that's happening right now, anyway. It's a hole that will take a generation to crawl out of. Today the House will witness the beginning of the permanent Republican minority.

UPDATE: The final vote was 273-156, 16 votes short. The Republicans had almost nobody flip from the initial vote. Down the drain they go.

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Pardon Me While I Throw Up In My Mouth

The Senate decides to legislate their own irrelevance. After all, if they're supposed to be a lawmaking body, yet are passing laws designed to retroactively nullify federal laws, do they really have a purpose?

Senate Democrats and Republicans reached agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on the terms of new legislation to control the federal government's domestic surveillance program, which includes a highly controversial grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have assisted the program, according to congressional sources.

Disclosure of the deal followed a decision by House Democratic leaders to pull a competing version of the measure from the floor because they lacked the votes to prevail over Republican opponents and GOP parliamentary maneuvers [...]

The draft Senate bill has the support of the intelligence committee's chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and Bush's director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. It will include full immunity for those companies that can demonstrate to a court that they acted pursuant to a legal directive in helping the government with surveillance in the United States.

Such a demonstration, which the bill says could be made in secret, would wipe out a series of pending lawsuits alleging violations of privacy rights by telecommunications companies that provided telephone records, summaries of e-mail traffic and other information to the government after Sept. 11, 2001, without receiving court warrants. Bush had repeatedly threatened to veto any legislation that lacked this provision.

Retroactive immunity would be a grave injustice. It would effectively end all investigation of Bush's lawbreaking activities on surveillance, and would allow the telecoms essentially to buy their way out of criminal liability. The cost of this is that the Senate Intelligence Committee got to see a couple documents after asking for them for almost a year. I don't see the point of granting immunity in exchange for knowing what you just granted immunity for. ESPECIALLY if, unlike in a criminal case where you immunize the little guys to flip them and get to the big kahuna, nothing is going to come of the immunization. What, are they going to call for impeachment now? No.

Telecom companies have been aiding and abetting spying on their customers, repeatedly, for six years. The Senate believes that we should let them off the hook for this rampant violation of federal law. That's absurd. We used to have a Congress that understood the importance of civil liberties. In the time of the Church Committee, they set up a structure to deal with all of these surveillance questions. It's been eviscerated by the Bush Administration and now the Congress is about to go alng with it. This is what your country wants to let happen:

We have evidence of an NSA-controlled room in the Folsom Street AT&T facilities in San Francisco. We have evidence that AT&T diverted copies of everyone's Internet traffic into that room. And we know that there's very sophisticated equipment in that room that is capable of doing real-time analysis of the Internet traffic that is getting routed into there. [...]

...the FISA law already has very broad immunities for the telecoms, and if it was the case that they were acting in good faith with an honest belief that what they were being asked to do was legal, then they would already have immunity, and they don't need an additional immunity from Congress for that.

And it's also the case that they made all these arguments to Judge Walker and Judge Walker's decision on this addresses those arguments very directly -- he said no reasonable phone company in the position of AT&T could have thought that what they were being asked to do was legal. It is not the case that this phone company could have believed that the wholesale surveillance of millions of its customers for five years, six years and counting, could be legal under the law.

I know you're not supposed to throw the word "betrayal" around or you risk a sense of the Senate resolution, but that's exactly what this is.

We have a few allies on the civil liberties side in the Senate. And that's all we need. Arlen Specter has come out against immunity, but he's hopeless. Since most of the other Senators are awash in telecom donations and in the tank, it really falls to those who have a sense of principle or a stake in the outcome. Russ Feingold could step up and put a hold on this and end the whole thing; he has little use for the "comity" of the Senate. And Chris Dodd could jumpstart his campaign.

Dodd's uniquely placed to do something. He isn't a current frontrunner, but he is respected enough and enough of an insider that he can get on the teevee a bit. He has made these issues a relatively central part of his campaign. And, what do you know, he's actually in the Senate.

He can put a hold on this, and then take the case to the public. I don't know why Democrats think they need to stand with Mr. 24%, but it's time for other Democrats to make them defend why they feel the need to do so.

I would immediately support Chris Dodd if he took this step. It would show more leadership that anyone currently in the race.

Telecom amnesty implicates not only all of the issues raised by warrantless surveillance and the rule of law, but really calls into question the basic fairness of our entire political system, i.e, whether the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in Washington can literally buy their way out of lawbreaking. Anyone who boldly impedes what would be this bipartisan travesty -- and a "hold" on an issue of this magnitude would, in the context of Senate customs, be very bold -- is someone who will have demonstrated genuine leadership on a truly critical issue. There has been precious little of that thus far in the presidential race.

Sen. Dodd, our nation turns its longing eyes to you. Talking about a filibuster won't do it; there aren't 40 votes in the Senate for the rule of law (yes, you read me right). Do your duty and defend the Constitution; the benefits will be limitless.

UPDATE: Jack Balkin:

The argument against immunity is that the telecom companies were also represented by high priced counsel and they could determine for themselves whether the program was legal. If they believed it to be legally dicey, they should have hesitated without legislative or judicial authorization. If Presidents can go to any private company and encourage them to violate the law and then get retroactive immunity for the violation, this will undermine the separation of powers. Presidents will be encouraged to violate all sorts of laws-- even laws like FISA that are carefully crafted to constrain executive action-- secure in the knowledge that they can always get Congress to clean up their mess later on. The Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act are not precedents for even more immunities; they are bad precedents that show that Congress is all too willing to immunize even the worst offenses-- including war crimes-- as soon as the President says the magic words "terrorism" and "national security."

Congratulations! You have just lost your legal system! Please return home and watch Dancing With The Stars.

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The D-Day Bump

I've been so darn busy this week that I haven't had a moment to congratulate one of the heroes, Stephen Colbert, for saving America by jumping into the Presidential race. He's attempting to get on the ballot in both the Republican and Democratic primaries in South Carolina, his home state. Apparently it'll cost some coin:

The fee to be considered for the Democratic ballot is $2,500, while it’s a hefty $35,000 to gain admittance into the Republican primary.

Colbert has indicated he will seek to appear on each party's ballot and the South Carolina Secretary of State's office confirms a candidate is allowed to run in both primaries.

But it remains to be seen if the State Democratic Party's Executive Committee, whose approval Colbert needs to get on their ballot, will vote to certify a candidate who is also running in the GOP race. The rules state the candidate must be "actively campaigning" for the Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, the State Republican Party does not require an executive committee vote and would not prevent a candidate from appearing on both ballots.

I'm giving him the D-Day bump, which should increase his poll numbers quite a bit, as my audience in South Carolina is beyond comprehension. If he sets up an Act Blue page he could raise that $37,500 in no time. Hell, he could probably outraise McCain in the space of a week.

Truthiness '08. Would it really be all that different?

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Brownie, You're Doing a Heckuva Job

Sam Brownback will not be the President of the United States.

Republican Sam Brownback will drop out of the 2008 presidential campaign on Friday, people close to the Kansas senator said Thursday.

Brownback, a longshot conservative contender, had trouble raising money to compete in the race. He is expected announce his withdrawal in Topeka, Kan.

He raised a little more than $800,000 in the third quarter of this year, his lowest quarterly amount since entering race. He has brought in more than $4 million overall and is eligible for $2 million in federal matching funds.

I think the rest of the field will probably stay in until Iowa, save perhaps Duncan Hunter. Tancredo and Keyes are running vanity campaigns that don't cost much money, and everyone else has a reason to compete. Sam Brownback actually thought he could be President. He suddenly woke up to the reality that he can't. As for who this benefits, was Brownback even polling at a measurable number? I'm not sure it benefits anyone.

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Needed: Junior Chess Champion For Role Of Democratic Majority Leader

Can Steny Hoyer think more than one step ahead? Yesterday the Republican leadership put forth a poison pill amendment to the RESTORE Act that would have meant nothing legislatively, but would have thrown the bill back into committee, delaying the vote. So the Democrats pulled the bill from the floor until next week.

Um, why would the Democrats be afraid of delay when the "Protect America Act" that this bill seeks to fix will expire in three months? Why didn't the Majority Leader say that "we'll have a vote on the amendment, and if it goes back to committee it'll never get back out again," and then if the Republicans persisted and voted on it and bottled the legisltion up, Democrats could accuse Republicans and their amendment for failing to protect America. And Bush would scream his head off, and Democrats could say "take it up with your own party, Mr. President, they threw the bill into committee, not us." And Adam Nagourney would write a "Republicans in disarray" thumbsucker story, and there would be accusations flying back and forth, and come February wiretaps fall under the jurisdiction of the FISA court again, and the DNI Michael McConnell would yell "oh no, we're all gonna die" and the Majority Leader could come out and say "Now do you want to play nice, House Republicans, or do you want to cause the deaths of thousands of Americans?"

Why couldn't THAT have happened? Why is every GOP roadblock seen as a roadblock instead of an opportunity? Whatever happened to turning the tables?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Embarrassment, The Sit-Down Interview

By the way, the most highly amusing moment of the Larry Craig/Matt Lauer pow-wow was when Suzanne Craig went all "I know Larry Craig's penis, I've partied with Larry Craig's penis, you are not Larry Craig's penis":

Suzanne Craig: I was feeling violated, because they came in here and brought this almost pornographic audio tape. And played it in our home. And I knew immediately it was not the truth. Because the description he gave of Larry in some areas that only I might know about were wrong, on three counts.

Jon Stewart caught this tonight too. What are the THREE counts? Is there that much to a penis that three elements could be misstated? Are we talking birth marks? Veins? Am I sicked out yet?

This has been a late-night blog. D-Day after dark! (Except, of course, this was on in prime time on NBC. But if Janet Jackson's nipple pops out, the horrors!)

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A Seat We Can Flip - In February

Dennis Hastert is going home to spend more time with his sausages. And that sets up a special election for early next year in IL-14 (probably coinciding with their Febraury 5 Presidential primary, and with Obama involved in it I'd expect a crisp Democratic turnout). This is a seat with two good challengers on the Democratic side, John Laesch and Bill Foster, both of whom have been very aggressive in their fundraising and netroots outreach.

This is a tremendous opportunity to pick up another seat in the Midwest and get a better Democrat in there, especially if Laesch can make it through.

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Just Another Country Moralist

Mike Huckabee is surging towards the front of the pack in Iowa with a message of social conservatism and economic populism. Iowa sets up very well as a state for him, and it could slingshot him into contention in New Hampshire, although some Congressional candidates have more money in their war chests than he does, and it's dubious whether or not he can effectively organize.

One thing is pretty clear; Huckabee's sunny disposition masks some extreme views on social issues, which would be incredibly difficult to explain to a general election audience.

During a house party in New Hampshire over the weekend, Mike Huckabee was asked if his Christian values would prevent him from supporting funding for safe-sex programs. Huckabee then replied that it would be more important to ask people to simply not engage in reckless behavior.

"The best thing to do is to encourage people to make good choices," Huckabee said. "For example, if we were really serious about stopping a problem, whether it's drunk driving, we don't say, 'Okay, don't drive as drunk,' do we?"

Huckabee offered another example: "We don't say that a little domestic violence is okay, just cut it down a little, just don't hit quite as hard. We say it's wrong."

A real, under-the-radar goal of abortion opponents is to ban all forms of birth control in favor of abstinence programs that don't work and actually endanger the sexually inexperienced. Huckabee fits squarely in the tradition we've seen just today, with the President appointing someone to head the family planning section of the Department of Health and Human Services who calls contraceptives part of the 'culture of death.' This is hardly a mainstream opinion, and behind that aw-shucks demeanor, this is Huckabee's true belief.

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Six CA Republicans With Under $250K In Their War Chests

This diary at Open Left shows the very real opportunity available in California this time around. Six Congressional Rpublicans who are running for re-election have less than $250,000 in cash on hand. The NRCC, the campaign arm for the House GOP, is spread thin by retirements and challenges. So many incumbents are going to be on their own in 2008. And saying "Hello, I'm a Republican member of Congress" just doesn't rake in the money like it used to. Here's the list:

John Doolittle, CA-04
George Radanovich, CA-19
Ken Calvert, CA-44
Mary Bono, CA-45
John Campbell, CA-48
Darrell Issa, CA-49

I can add to this the fact that Gary Miller only raised a paltry $40,000 last quarter. And Doolittle's problems are well-documented.

Unfortunately, our Democrats statewide haven't fully stepped up. Two of these incumbents (Radanovich, Issa) don't have challengers yet, and Mary Bono just got one in Paul Clay. But I would hope that Art Torres and the team would wake up to the fact that there are opportunities all over the map, in places that would significantly help down-ballot races as well.

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Witnesses to History

I guess the House backed down on its bid to vote on recognizing the Armenian genocide, at precisely the moment when the Turkish Parliament voted to allow military incursions into northern Iraq. This has also sent stock markets tumbling and put oil at $87 a barrel.

Your assignment? Discuss the House and the President's relevance.

You may also want to read this informed article about the state of play in Kurdistan.

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World War III Declared

Not with a bang, but a whimper from the worst President ever.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush said Wednesday that he had warned world leaders they must prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons "if you're interested in avoiding World War III."

"We've got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel," Bush said at a White House press conference after Russia cautioned against military action against Tehran's supect atomic program.

"So I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," said Bush.

This is one of those Big Lies that's almost impossible to refute. First of all, a mid-sized country with severely limited offensive military capability is not a candidate for World War (unless you count Russia in that mix). Second, Ahmadinejad is not the leader of Iran. Third, he never actually said that Israel must be "wiped off the map." Fourth, Israel is not the 51st state, and is eminently capable of taking care of themselves, as we've seen recently (even if the Syrian airstrike may have taken out the scourge of Russian anti-aircraft batteries and not a nuclear facility). Fifth, and scariest, the goalposts have moved.

Note where Bush has placed the goalposts here. Not preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Preventing Iran from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I'm not sure what the significance of that switch is, but it seems significant.

Ygz updates to say that this has been stated policy for a while, yet it still seems significant. It was like how after the war, it suddenly went from Saddam having weapons to having weapons programs, and the next week I think it was he had a weapons book. "You can't let a madman have a weapons book! What if he reads it?"

Under the standards laid out in this press conference, World War III or VIII or XIV or whatever the warbloggers have chosen this time is inevitable. Iran is in the midst of building centifuges for what they say is peaceful civilian nuclear technology. In Bush's world that is already cause enough for war. Hell, staying relevant might be reason enough for an attack, in his mind. Maybe he'll realize that using the veto pen isn't all it's cracked up to be, and he'd feel better hopping into the flight suit with the codpiece again.

This is insanity and now is the time for the Congress to step up and do everything in their power to stop this man. Unfortunately, on national security issues they have shown themselves to be impotent beyond all reason. Maybe they AREN'T interested in preventing World War III.

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The Party of Wide Stance

I figured that since it got 24-hour coverage on MSNBC yesterday, I didn't have to mention Larry Craig's self-flagellation at the hands of Matt Lauer yesterday. But I will note one important point. At a time when the biggest domestic issue is Bush vetoing health care coverage for sick kids, and when the biggest foreign policy issues are all catastrophes that cut against the Republics in sundry ways, the guy in the GOP getting the most airtime is... Larry Craig. Sheesh. No wonder so many Republics are hitting the road as fast as they can.

There's a fair amount of Chicken Little-ism going around on the left, but the truth is that the Republican brand is just irreparably broken in the short term. That doesn't mean Democrats can't blow this thing, particularly if they continue to fail to lead on Iraq (on many other issues, it should be noted, they're doing just fine, and I recoil from the 9 year-old mentality that government must move at the speed of light to enact everything that individual constituents demand. World just doesn't work that way). But it does mean that it'll be exceedingly difficult for them to blow this thing, in many ways in spite of themselves.

UPDATE: The Baby Party:

"I don't like being in the minority," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who was first elected in the 1994 GOP landslide and will retire after this term. "It's not that much fun, and the prospects for the future don't look that good."

Waah waah waah. Whatever happened to serving the people?

UPDATE: By the way, Wide Stance said he "never used the Internet," despite discussing Google searches he made in various op-eds, etc., etc., lies, lies, bizarre weird lies for no reason, etc.

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Budget This

There's a certain irrelevancy to all of the back-slapping out of Sacramento for their presiding over a "fiscally sound budget" when you read stories like this:

Sales of houses and condominiums in the most populous Southern California counties fell 29.9 percent from the previous month and 48.5 percent from a year earlier, DataQuick Information Systems said on Tuesday.

The report covers the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura and showed a total of 12,455 new and existing homes and condos sold in September, the lowest since the company began recording the data in 1988.

Without being alarmist... aw, hell, I'm going to be alarmist. The real estate market was the only thing propping up the state's economy. There's an attempt to try and trade one bubble for another and re-create the dot-com speculation circs 1998, but that'll only go so far, too, and that crash will be just as vicious as the first one. And looming strikes in almost every aspect of the entertainment industry in LA will make life difficult as well. It's through little fault of state government, but you can see a pretty clear path to recession now.

UPDATE: On a somewhat related note, you can't raise a family in California anymore.

The CBP analysis estimates that in order to pay basic bills in California:
A single-parent family needs an annual income of $59,732, equivalent to an hourly wage of $28.72.
A two-parent family with one employed parent needs an annual income of $50,383, equivalent to an hourly wage of $24.22.
A family with two working parents needs an annual income of $72,343, equivalent to each parent working full-time for an hourly wage of $17.39.
A single adult needs an annual income of $28,336, equivalent to an hourly wage of $13.62.

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A Sick System

I think at this point I'm deeply frustrated by all sides of the health care debate in California. You have the purity trolls who believe that anything to the right of single-payer healthcare is the work of the devil and are feeding into right-wing attacks on the Speaker (some of them completely well-deserved, we'll get to him in a moment) to advance their goals. You have dissemblers like Arnold and his Hoover Institute backers who will claim that their plan is universal health care "just like Hillary Clinton's" when it offers no cost controls on insurers and essentially just creates an expensive forced market. And then you have the "go-along-to-get-along" folks who talk about "expanding access" while driving us into the ditch of strengthening employer-based health care, applying a 1940s solution to a 21st-century problem.

Nobody's working together because nobody has the incentive to work together, and there's the safety valve of the ballot box which all sides see as a panacea. So nothing will advance in this special session, and remarkably, that's probably a good thing.

The Republican position on health care is that people have too much health insurance. They want to make lousy insurance cheaper so people will buy it and "be covered," but not be able to use it as much. As the insurance industry LOVES this approach, it's the only thing they'll ever champion, in the name of "universal health care." This is why I disagree with some in the lefty blogosphere who think that just getting people like John Boehner to address universal health care is a win. No, it devalues the word. They've already turned it into something deceptive like the forced market Schwarznegger has put forth in his failed bill. The end result is confusion, leading to blurring like "Arnold's strategy is the same as Hillary's." Actually, that's almost completely untrue.

I'm not immune to an incremental approach while we continue to build the coalition for the end to for-profit health care in California. Here are two small things you could put on a ballot tomorrow that would pass: guaranteed issue, which would eliminate the practice of denying health care to anyone based on a pre-existing condition; and community rating, mandating that all insurers provide their coverage to a community at the same price regardless of age or relative health. Those two steps alone would be vastly preferable than trying to jerry-rig an approach that will inevitably take steps backward rather than forward. The insurance industry is hated in this state and in this country, and nothing beyond the status quo or forcing a market to them will placate their concerns. So if you're going to have a vigorous opposition, at least have it be in service to something that makes sense.

UPDATE: Ezra preaches it:

On the micro level, a health crisis can leave you bankrupt if you lack insurance, have too little insurance, have too high a deductible, or your insurance decides not to cover the costs of your treatment. On the macro level, the spiraling cost of health care is a massive threat to our economy. Looking into the future, if we don't restrain the growth in health spending, effective GDP-per-person (i.e, what's left after health costs) will actually begin to go down (here's a graph!), and we'll all become poorer. And my hunch is that the only way to restrain health costs in a humane and politically palatable way will be through integrating the system, bargaining down prices, and rearranging consumer incentives so soft rationing -- i.e, ineffective drugs receive less reimbursement, and so aren't as often used -- becomes possible.

These should be the minimum requirements of a sound policy. The conservative position, again, is "people use too much health care." Why this can't be honed into a fine point is beyond me.

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The Good And (Mostly) Bad From Mukasey

I think that the Attorney General nominee is making some strong statements, although it's hard to know what these confirmation hearings really mean anymore. But certainly, a US government official calling torture antithetical to the American way is a good start.

Mukasey repudiated a 2002 memo by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that said the president has the power to issue orders that violate the Geneva Conventions as well as international and U.S. laws prohibiting torture. The memo was later disavowed and overridden by an executive order on interrogation of terrorism suspects, which allowed harsh questioning but included a vaguely worded ban on cruel and inhuman treatment.

"The Bybee memo, to paraphrase a French diplomat, was worse than a sin, it was a mistake. It was unnecessary," Mukasey, 66, told the Senate Judiciary Committee under questioning by Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy said that he and other senators did not vote for Gonzales in large part because he refused to disavow the Bybee memo.

There were other statements about partisan politicization of the office and independence from the President, which all sound good on paper. But what brought me short is Mukasey's equivocation on such key issues as indefinite detention and warrantless wiretapping. He keeps talking about a "space" between FISA's statutory authority and the President's authority to protect the nation, without ever elaborating on what that space actually is (it's the space where illegal actions can be justified, I guess). And on indefinite detentions, he claims that he "can't say now" if the United States is a "battlefield" and therefore somewhere that the President has ability to detain citizens without due process or habeas protections.

So the sunshine talk is really nice, but on the key issues this is the President's choice, and he's going to side with the President. Obviously. And he's going to be as vague as possible so as not to get caught by specifics later. Nice talk on torture, but on specifics, he hasn't "looked into" actual measures like head-slapping and waterboarding to say whether or not they constitute torture. Somehow Mukasey is seen as the Very Serious Independent figure that will restore balance to the Justice Department, but he has also refused to disavow many of the illegal policies of the Bush Administration, and can predictably be seen as to fall in line with them. Glenn Greenwald has much more.

Mukasey will clearly support the Ashcroft/Comey/Goldsmith view that the President possesses Article II power to eavesdrop for foreign intelligence purposes, even on U.S. soil, and that FISA cannot restrict that power.

Hooray for independence!

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