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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

LIVEBLOG: Global Warming & America's Energy Future Presidential Forum

Greetings from the almost-impossible-to-enter-by-car Wadsworth Theater for a Presidential forum on energy and environmental issues, featuring John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich.  All the campaigns had good support out in front of the venue.  I'm here with Hekebolos, thereisnospoon from Daily Kos, RJ Eskow from the Huffington Post, Todd Beeton of MyDD and a couple others in Blogger's Row.  Each candidate will get a half-hour to answer questions on their energy plans.  There's a live webcast starting at 2:00pm PT at the enviro website Grist.

There will be press availability afterwards, possibly with Edwards. (UPDATE: Edwards is confirmed for the press tent, along with Hillary surrogate Carol Browner, the former head of the EPA.)

UPDATE (1:26pm) Just got a pamphlet from the NRDC entitled "Solving Global Warming: It Can Be Done."  Interesting, considering that the latest IPCC report yesterday basically said it can't be done and it's time to adapt to a warmer future.  Wonder if that will come up today.

UPDATE (1:30pm) The event kicks off with welcoming remarks from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Yesterday the LA Planning Commission approved a very ambitious green building plan, which would have a dramatic impact on energy use.

Under the L.A. rules, new buildings with more than 50 units or 50,000 square feet of floor area would be required to meet national standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that is working with cities across the country. The measure is expected to come before the City Council early next year.

The standards -- known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED -- would reduce the amount of energy used in large developments to well below what is required by California's building code, the strictest in the nation.

Green building is a major part of mitigating the effects of global warming and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

UPDATE (1:42pm) Dante is liveblogging at Daily Kos.

UPDATE (2:02pm) Incidentally, every candidate from both parties was invited to attend this event.  Shows you the commitment on the Republican side to the environment.  Also, our friend Steve Maviglio and his boss Fabian Nuñez decided to attack Obama for not atending (as per a stated policy that he would only do the DNC-sponsored debates in the future).  Boy, if they'd only put that energy to attacking Republicans instead of other Democrats...

UPDATE (2:33pm) Bit of a late start, they'll be getting going in about 15 minutes.

UPDATE (2:42pm) OK, we're getting it going now.  Steve Kirwood from Living On Earth on PRI is speaking.  He's talking about Bangladesh's Katrina, the cyclone that killed over 1,500 people, and the IPCC report released today.  This should be a very substantive forum on the issues.  We're maxing out the ability of the oceans and the forests to handle the carbon dioxide levels.  This is a crucial issue for our future.  Kirwood said, "We invited all of the candidates here today, and we are pleased to have 3.  And we expect to see more later."

UPDATE (2:45pm) Dave Roberts from Grist is speaking now.  Grist is really a go-to site for news and information about the environment.  I try to check it out as much as possible.  Their interview with Ron Paul is priceless.  His position of climate change is basically "people can control the air above their house!"

UPDATE (2:47pm) Roberts gets a huge applause line talking about the "failure of the political media" in talking about this issue.  "Tim Russert has had candidates on MTP 16 times and asked 300 questions, the word climate change has not passed his lips."

UPDATE (2:50pm) Susan Smart from the California League of Conservation Voters touted California's efforts to fight global warming, and now the chair of the LCV, Gene Karpinski, is speaking.  The LCV's goal is to make global warming a priority in the Presidential campaign.  They might want to give Tim Russert a call.

UPDATE (2:51pm) More speakers.  This is a major step back by Gordon Brown in Britain, where he's cutting the climate change department in his government by almost $600 million dollars.  England was the bulwark worldwide for real change on global warming.

UPDATE (2:56pm) A bunch of other speakers went, and now Laurie David (producer on An Inconvenient Truth, environmental activist) is about to speak.  She'll be introducing Antonio Villaraigosa.  David is relating a discussion with James Hansen, who said "we are already guaranteed 2 degrees of warming, and Lord help us if we go beyond that."  Her point is that if scientists, who are extremely cautious, are willing to go that far and talk in such alarmist terms, it's time to be worried.  "Solving global warming can be America's finest moment; continuing to ignore it can be our worst."  She's now introducing Villaraigosa.  I expect him to touch on the green building proposal passed on Thursday.

UPDATE (3:00pm) Will Villaraigosa disclose that he's supporting Hillary?  So far he's praising Laurie David.  He is evenhanded in his praise of the candidates who chose to attend.  "I know the press is focused on Iowa and New Hampshire, but these candidates came West because they know we can't kick these problems down the road."  Talks about the wildfires, the Bay Area oil spill, and our SoCal drought problem.  Mentions how the Bush Administration slashed Julie Gerberding's testimony in the Senate Environment Committee on the public health problem with a warming planet.  "It's time we had somebody in the White House who actually believes in science."

UPDATE (3:04pm) I'm glad that they're giving the candidates a half-hour.  Climate change, as Steve Kirwood just said, is a difficult issue that doesn't play as a soundbite.  This should really be the model for these kinds of forums, not the Wolf Blitzer-fest we saw on display this week.

UPDATE (3:07pm) The panelists are Dave Roberts from Grist, Mary Nichols from the California Air Resources Board, and Steve Kirwood.  Kucinich is being introduced right now.

UPDATE (3:09pm) Kucinich has taken the stage.  "It's great to be at a Presidential forum that's not sponsored by the coal industry, as the last one was."  Good line.

UPDATE (3:10pm) This starts off as a pretty head-in-the-clouds speech by Kucinich.  I like that he's talking about using his own life as a model for sustainable living (his 1,600-foot home, old Ford Focus that gets 30mpg, etc).  Starts with abolishing nuclear weapons (?) and biological and chemical weapons and the landmines treaty.  I guess he's moving into cooperating with international conventions.

UPDATE (3:13pm) This is a "call to conscience" by Kucinich, talking about our interconnectedness and how global warring intersects with global warming.  Now we're getting specifics.  The "Works Green Administration" would involve every government agency. In transportation, that means mass transit.  In housing, incentives for green building and homes that use natural lighting.  In the Dept. of Energy, disincentives for oil, coal and nuclear, incentives for wind and solar microtechnologies.  This is about government as an engine of sustainability.  In health, "imagine a President who stands for a not-for-profit health care system, where we meet the challenge of obesity, which is connected to the kind of diet people have."  In education, educating at an early age.  In commerce, mandating environmental standards by cancelling NAFTA and the WTO.  in Interior, removing the incentives for extracting our natural resources.  And on and on.  This started slow, but is a really good platform.

UPDATE (3:18pm) Kucinich "I would use NASA's brainpower to move America toward a green economy."  An Apollo program for energy is sorely needed.  "I think there's an enormous amount of wealth out there that is waiting to be harnessed if we would only go green."

UPDATE (3:20pm) We move to the question stage.  Kirwood asks "how would you do this," and Kucinich answers that he would go directly to the people and get them behind me to challenge the special interests.  "This government has enormous potential as the government of the people."

UPDATE (3:22pm) Mary Nichols is basically asking about the politics of it.  How do you reverse the dynamic in the Senate?  There's tremendous resistance at the federal level.  Kucinich is giving kind of the same answer.  He thinks that a President who isn't tied to these interest groups is the answer.  That's really not sufficient.  A grassroots movement to reclaim the country is fine, but the legislative process still exists.  "I will go over the heads of Congress to the people."  How?  It's not much of an answer.

UPDATE (3:26pm) This is a better answer.  The global warming fight can be an economic engine for this country.  He explains that you can protect the coal miners at the level of pension and health care while transitioning to a new economy.  There is a need to step outside the status quo.

UPDATE (3:32pm) "The only thing that limits us is our thinking." -Dennis Kucinich.  The speech ends up veering into some other areas, but at root that's his approach.  I like that Steve Kirwood is bringing it back to the practical implementation.  Kucinich is being stubborn about this, and good for him, in a way, but practicalities need to be addressed.

UPDATE (3:34pm) "Clean coal is an oxymoron."  Good to hear a Presidential candidate say that.  And it's a nice turn to say that the price of lost jobs in stopping coal plants, for example, is miniscule compared to the price we'd pay from catastrophic global warming.  Dennis is hitting his stride here.

UPDATE (3:38pm) Kucinich on the moral issue at work here.  The effects of climate change are starting to impact people's lives.  "Resource wars" like Iraq and Iran.  Peace=sustainability.  And all of our trade agreements must include worker's rights, human rights, and environmental quality principles.  Kucinich often offers everybody a pony, but the underpinnings are sound.  "You are the ones who can change it all.  This candidacy offers the profoundest change."

UPDATE (3:42pm) A smattering of boos as Hillary Clinton is introduced.  That's not really right.

UPDATE (3:43pm) Hillary came armed with a speech, and her people provided the press with her detailed energy and climate plan.  It's pretty solid, actually, she waited until the end to deliver it, but it provides some great pieces, including a 100% auction for pollution permits, and a goal of 80% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2050.

UPDATE (3:45pm) A sober yet detailed speech here.  Clinton slams "a President who has dodged, denied and dissembled."  She says that we are more dependent on foreign oil than we were on 9/11.  This is pretty boilerplate, actually.  Clinton says she understands how hard this will be, but she wants to actually talk about implementation.  Her goals, beyond reducing greenhouse gases by 80%, are cutting foreign oil imports by 2/3 by 2030, and creating an efficient green economy which would increase 5 million jobs.

UPDATE (3:49pm) Clinton believes that the case has not yet been made on global warming.  She's really touting California's energy efficiency (our usage has remained stagnant over the last 30 years).  She's asking for everyone to pitch in.  Now she's discussing the cap and trade program she's proposed.  She's calling for a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, taking the money from oil company subsidies.  All future federal buildings would be carbon neutral.  Renewable energy by 2025.  Green-collar jobs.  The US Treasury will issue energy independence bonds.

UPDATE (3:52pm) Everyone has put forth a good plan on global warming.  Now Clinton is segue-ing into operationalizing it.  She wants to found a National Energy Council so all agencies can talk to one another.  Wants an E8 modeled on the G8 to get the world's largest emitters talking.  This is a good framework that I would hope any Democratic candidate would pick up.

UPDATE (3:55pm) Kirwood asked pretty much the same question as he did Kucinich.  Everyone says they'll tackle climate change.  The question is how.  Clinton pushes back that George W. Bush intended to do anything about global warming.  The difference is that people's awareness is greater.  But didn't she just say that when she talks about global warming on the trail, it falls flat?

UPDATE (3:58pm) Clinton mentions that we're falling behind in global leadership on this issue.  That's true; it's shameful that we created solar energy and yet we're not the global leader in it.  Now Clinton's talking about the movement in the federal energy bill.  We've never had a renewable energy portfolio and increased CAFE standards before.  She'd do as much as possible in the executive seat, but would work with Congress and she thinks it's realizable.

UPDATE (4:01pm) "I would meet every 3 months with the leaders of the most emitting countries." -Hillary Clinton.

UPDATE (4:03pm) I'm surprised at the lack of detail in this forum.  It's all about politics and not policy.  Very meta about how "the forum is significant," but nobody's digging in to the actual details about how to best go about this.

UPDATE (4:04pm) There was some sort of disturbance inside the hall, leading Clinton to snap "Were you invited to speak here today?"  As Vernon Lee sitting next to me remarked, this is a "Don't tase me, bro" waiting to happen.

UPDATE (4:06pm) Hillary launches into a stirring defense of incremental change.  This is really odd.  What happened to the global warming forum?  This whole "we have to stand united from the attacks from the other side" is too candidate-as-pundit for my taste.  How about leading and uniting instead of talking about leading and uniting?

UPDATE (4:08pm) Finally, a policy question.  Dave Roberts is asking about Lieberman-Warner, which is a bill that has little support among environmentalists as an insufficient step.  Clinton says "the bill needs a lot of improvement.  It's not a bill that I would write or that Sen. Boxer would write.  I'm a cosponsor of the Sanders-Boxer bill.  Boxer is trying to improve the bill and create a context where that bill can lay down a marker.  George Bush would likely veto this bill... what is the strongest bill we can get out of committee right now?  I can't tell you what the bill is going to be, so I don't know how to vote.  I don't like the cap and trade without auction and the payouts to polluters.  On the other hand, we have never gotten this far.  If it can get stronger, Boxer thinks it's the right thing to do.  It really comes down to a pragmatic assessment.  Is a bipartisan bill more important?"  There you have it, there's a Clinton Presidency right there.

UPDATE (4:13pm) Clinton's basically hiding behind Boxer on this thing.  She's lashing out at one environmental group running ads against her in Iowa.  There's a touch of "let's unite and line up behind me" to this thing.

UPDATE (4:15pm) Question about foreign policy and climate change.  Clinton's talking about China and India in this context, stressing the power of dialogue and showing countries that we're not trying to slow their development but jump-start it.  The power of listening and not just talking.  Namechecks Gore and the Nobel Peace Prize, he could be used as a spokesperson (vaguely mentions a "position in our government").

UPDATE (4:19pm) Edwards is being introduced.

UPDATE (4:20pm) Edwards: We need a President who won't just deliver a message on climate change to a friendly audience.  I believe that our generation needs to face hard truths.  Adds his theme of "the system is broken" to global warming.  I see politicians who are too afraid of rocking the boat to challenge the status quo.  Oil and gas companies block progress by spending millions.  Mentions the IPCC report and the need for immediate action.  Two weeks from now we'll be sending someone to the climate change conference in Bali with no ideas "it's an embarrassment."  We need to cap greenhouse gas pollution (similar stats to Clinton, he did come out with it earlier, but as I said, everyone's on board in the Democratic Party with good plans).  I believe carbon caps will have an impact on fossil fuels.  The truth is that the big change we need will not be easy.  We need a President that will challenge them to be a part of the solution.

UPDATE (4:26pm) I'm glad that all three candidates have picked up the theme that we are missing out on an economic goldmine if we don't go green.  Edwards devoted a good bit of his speech to it.  Why should there be a headline "Foreign Firms Build Wind Farms in US"?  Pushing the green jobs and entrepreneurship angle is a political winner.  So is using the term "carbon welfare," which Edwards just did.

UPDATE (4:28pm) Edwards uses his signature "It's time for the American people to be asked to be patriotic about something other than war."  He adds to that by citing the examples of our ancestors and the moral tests they faced.  This has become more of a stump speech now.  But there was some solid stuff in there.

UPDATE (4:32pm) Moving into the Q&A segment.  Let me guess: Steve Kirwood is going to ask "How?"...... Bingo!

UPDATE (4:34pm) Edwards is saying that America is hungering to do something.  After Katrina, the government was a mess, but the people took action.  We need a President to echo the JFK speech "Ask not what your country can do for you."  He jibes at Clinton subtly by not that a leader shouldn't be driven by polls.  The government has become corrupt, and we need to be honest about that.  This is pretty much the theme that he's going to live or die with.  That was an extremely strong bit of rhetoric right there, talking about how we can take on the powerful interests that are committed to blocking change.

UPDATE (4:38pm) Another process question.  "How are you going to build change in areas most impacted by the coal economy."  America should not be building more coal-fired power plants.  But we should use some of the cap and trade money to revitalize those communities.  As we make this transition to a green economy, we can work hard to generate new jobs where people are suffering.  This is true, because the jobs can be held pretty much anywhere.

UPDATE (4:41pm) Question on climate change impacting poor and undeveloped nations.  How can we help those countries adversely affected?  Edwards: We're doing nowhere close to what we need to do.  We have to be willing to invest in a way we're not investing today.  Drought-resistant irrigation techniques, walls, drought-resistant crops.  The poorest countries are ALWAYS adversely affected.  We need to be a moral leader on all the big issues, not just global warming.  Edwards spins off into international efforts on education, disease, HIV/AIDS, clean drinking water and sanitation, economic development, etc.  The only way America will be a global leader is that the world needs to see us as a force for good again.

UPDATE (4:47pm) There's a bit more on moral leadership, starting with ending the war, Guantanamo, rendition, secret prisons, warrantless wiretapping, torture, etc.

UPDATE (4:48pm) This debate could have been by three CNN commentators.  Wow.  The lack of specifics in the questioning is pretty astounding.  The candidates are actually doing a pretty good job putting it back on the issues.

UPDATE (4:52pm) "I believe in the progressive agenda." -John Edwards.  We won in November 2006 because we wanted change.  If we have a Presidential candidate that's all about big, transformative change, and we're talking about weeding out the corruption in DC, then we can win big.  This is an electability argument.  An Edwards candidacy would be a tremendous test case on the progressive agenda.

UPDATE (4:54pm) Edwards reiterates that people in the country don't have a full sense about the scope of the climate change problem.  It's really something environmental activists have to come to terms with.  A brief mention on stopping media consolidation led to a cheer in the press room.

UPDATE (5:09pm) OK, I got to ask Robert in Monterey's question to Sen. Edwards about mass transit and the subway to the sea.  He expressed strong support for mass transit as playing a role in his overall policy, and stressed his efforts in the US Senate for railway transit in the Research Triangle in North Carolina.  We wasn't familiar with the Subway to the Sea project.  It was a fairly boilerplate answer, but I'm glad I got mass transit on the radar screen.  Thanks Robert!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Over A Million People Dead Of Natural Causes Since Pelosi Took Over!

Apparently President Nancy Pelosi is to blame for you not being able to feed your kids or heat your home:

Via TPM.

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Who's The Plant

I think it is kind of serious, on a meta level, the Hillary Clinton may be planting questions at campaign events. I think it's far more serious that CNN is planting bullshit content-free questions in the middle of their debates and making it look like they're the authentic statements of "the people."

Maria Luisa, the UNLV student who asked Hillary Clinton whether she preferred "diamonds or pearls" at last night's debate wrote on her MySpace page this morning that CNN forced her to ask the frilly question instead of a pre-approved query about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

"Every single question asked during the debate by the audience had to be approved by CNN," Luisa writes. "I was asked to submit questions including "lighthearted/fun" questions. I submitted more than five questions on issues important to me. I did a policy memo on Yucca Mountain a year ago and was the finalist for the Truman Scholarship. For sure, I thought I would get to ask the Yucca question that was APPROVED by CNN days in advance."

The most annoying part is the fact that there must be "lighthearted/fun" questions in the mix, that it has to be a bucket to be filled. More from Maria:

"CNN ran out of time and used me to "close" the debate with the pearls/diamonds question. Seconds later this girl comes up to me and says, "you gave our school a bad reputation.' Well, I had to explain to her that every question from the audience was pre-planned and censored. That's what the media does. See, the media chose what they wanted, not what the people or audience really wanted. That's politics; that's reality. So, if you want to read about real issues important to America--and the whole world, I suggest you pick up a copy of the Economist or the New York Times or some other independent source. If you want me to explain to you how the media works, I am more than happy to do so. But do not judge me or my integrity based on that question."

Where you certainly don't go for real issues is the Most Trusted Name In News.

But of course, this is no different than the YouTube debate, where questions are submitted and CNN picks the ones they want to use. The point is that any media filter is going to shape the debate in a certain direction. Wolf Blitzer wants to be invited to all the cocktail parties, so he's going to make the debate about him. CNN wants to play gotcha, so they'll turn a question about the Supreme Court into a question about litmus tests for abortion. And CNN has to be lighthearted, so they choose an implicitly sexist question to end the debate.

The real revolution here would be to completely do away with the filter. Tomorrow's issue forum on global warming is through a couple progressive organizations. It'll be webcast. The more of this the better. The traditional media is useless for something like this.

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Learning At The Foot Of The Master?

In 2000, John McCain was bedeviled in South Carolina with push-polling featuring all kinds of nasty whispers. McCain claims he's not responsible for a repeat of that this year in New Hampshire against Mitt Romney, but how can you be sure this isn't just learned behavior?

New Hampshire's attorney general is investigating phone calls to voters that pretend to be opinion polls but then undercut presidential contender Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith — and make favorable statements about Republican rival John McCain. McCain says they're not his doing and he wants them stopped. Romney says it's a religious attack and "un-American."

McCain said of the phone calling, "It is disgraceful, it is outrageous, and it is a violation, we believe, of New Hampshire law." His campaign asked the attorney general to investigate, and McCain, campaigning Friday in Colorado, asked other candidates to join in the request.

One McCain adviser, Chuck Douglas, said "we believe it is being done by one of the other campaigns. We don't know which one."

It's certainly a forceful denunciation, but can we be so sure? I mean, McCain is going around attacking CNN for reporting on his calling a woman's comment of "How do we beat the bitch?" a great question, so the guy isn't exactly intellectually honest.

But this nugget at the end of the story, about the company contracted to do the push poll, is interesting:

Last year, Western Wats conducted polling that was intended to spread negative messages about Democratic candidates in a House race in New York and a Senate race in Florida, according to reports in The Tampa Tribune and the Albany Times Union, which also said Western Wats conducted the calls on behalf of the Tarrance Group.

That Virginia-based firm now works for Romney's rival, Rudy Giuliani. The campaign has paid the firm more than $400,000, according to federal campaign reports.

Curiouser and curiouser.

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Prop 93: Prison Guards Reverse Themselves

(This is about the term-limits initiative hitting the state ballot in February. First in a series)

Unexpected, at least to me:

The state correctional officers union on Friday reversed its earlier support of the Proposition 93 term-limits initiative and is promising to "put in as much as it takes" to help defeat the measure championed by Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez of Los Angeles.

"We haven't determined the overall number yet, but we have not been shy in the past in spending money on causes we believe in," said Lance Corcoran, the spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. "We're going to put in as much as it takes." [...]

In a prepared statement, CCPOA President Mike Jimenez said the union had changed its position because of the Legislature's failure to connect the term-limits measure to another proposal that would change the state's process for redrawing political boundaries.

Jimenez also ripped the Legislature's performance in the most recent session as "remarkable for the leadership's failures -- not its accomplishments -- on a wide range of issues."

I look forward to seeing angry screeds about what awful people the prison guards are on the California Majority Report. I'm guessing this is about that awful cave to Arnold on trying to build our way out of the prison crisis. Maybe if the Legislature showed a little leadership, they'd be getting some help in their incumbency-protection racket.

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Tomorrow - Toward A New Energy Future

As long as we're talking about what we're all doing this weekend, I will be your intrepid reporter tomorrow, live from the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles at the Presidential Forum on Global Warming and Our Energy Future, sponsored by the California League of Conservation Voters, the enviro website Grist and PRI's "Living On Earth" radio program. Grist will have a live webcast of the forum tomorrow at 2:00pm PT. You can find it here. I'm expecting to liveblog the event at Calitics as well.

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich are scheduled to attend, and speak for a half-hour on the environmental and energy proposals they would support as President. The good news is that practically all of our Democratic candidates, even the ones who aren't attending, have put out strong policies on fighting global warming and expanding renewable energy, from Chris Dodd's corporate carbon tax to Bill Richardson's ambitious CAFE standard porposal (50MPG) to Barack Obama's 100% auction for a cap-and-trade system, where polluters would have to buy their carbon credits and not be given them. Clinton and Edwards have also put out bold proposals in this arena, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about them tomorrow.

One thing you all can do TODAY is take action on the imminent federal energy bill. There are three planks that everyone would like to see in it; a federal renewable energy standard that would mandate a healthy percentage of all electricity come from renewables like solar and wind; tax incentives for renewable energy, both for corporations AND for individuals who put solar panels on their house (this would be vital is California is to reach its One Million Solar Roofs Initiative), and a major increase in CAFE standards. I believe that the first two would be signed by the President; he signed similiar legislation as the governor of Texas, and now Texas has MORE wind power than California. Environment California is asking people to email Speaker Pelosi today and ask her to stand strong on the federal energy bill.

UPDATE: This ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is a positive step, requiring the Bush Administration to force SUVs and light trucks to meet the already-meager federal CAFE standards. This would close a loophole the automakers have been using for a while.

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"It's The Iraqis' Fault" Meme Making The Rounds Again

I almost burned myself with coffee reading this headline:

Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say

Riiiight. It's the Iraqis' fault now. We're doing all the dirty work and they're not "stepping up." That's the poll-tested narrative that the military, the White House, and even top Democrats can use to absolve themselves of responsibility in Iraq. It's just the stupid Iraqis' fault.

Fortunately, Thomas Ricks actually knows something about the war, and the headline belies the intent of the article.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

This is the story that the military is going with. The surge worked; the Iraqis just failed to capitalize on it. Here's the problem with that; the surge actually created conditions that make it impossible for any kind of reconciliation.

The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing arrangements. And what if there is no such breakthrough by next summer? "If that doesn't happen," Odierno said, "we're going to have to review our strategy."

It's not that the Iraqis aren't meeting obligations, though, it's that they have no opportunity to do so. The military was lookng for any way to maintain stability, not because it would improve the prospects of the Iraqi government, but for DOMESTIC political reasons - to stop the chorus for withdrawal at home. They settled on this "bottom-up reconciliation" idea, that they could stabilize the Sunni regions by empowering tribal leaders, and then bring them into the government structure. This, along with other factors (the Mahdi Army laying low, no more ethnic diversity in the major towns), has led to a measurable decrease in violence. So has demonstrable border policing from Iran, who I guess is such a scary bad actor in Iraq that they're deliberately stopping smuggling of weaponry at their border just to confuse everybody.

But this emboldening of the Sunni tribes pushed the country farther away from a political settlement, not closer. Shiite leaders feared a competition for power; Shiite citizens feared a US-backed return to oppression like that under Saddam. When the Americans tried to integrate the Iraqi security forces, the Shiite ruling party squashed it. Because the Sunnis are now cooperating and the Shiites are not, in the opinion of the military, there is, believe it or not, sympathy for the insurgents. However, it could easily spiral completely out of control.

Indeed, some U.S. Army officers now talk more sympathetically about former insurgents than they do about their ostensible allies in the Shiite-led central government. "It is painful, very painful," dealing with the obstructionism of Iraqi officials, said Army Lt. Col. Mark Fetter. As for the Sunni fighters who for years bombed and shot U.S. soldiers and now want to join the police, Fetter shrugged. "They have got to eat," he said over lunch in the 1st Cavalry Division's mess hall here. "There are so many we've detained and interrogated, they did what they did for money."

The year-long progress in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq could carry a downside. Maj. Mark Brady, who works on reconciliation issues, noted that a Sunni leader told him: "As soon as we finish with al-Qaeda, we start with the Shiite extremists." Talk like that is sharply discouraged, Brady noted as he walked across the dusty ground of Camp Liberty, on the western fringes of Baghdad.

We have to understand that this strategy of allowing for ethnically homogenous, locally powerful zones of influence has put Iraq on a backwards path FAR away from a political settlement. The only thing holding the country together is the expanded US military force; civil society, democratic structures, none of them are apparent. Robert Farley's analysis of the situation is the best I've seen.

We are now farther away from having a capable, centralized Iraqi state than we have ever been. Even in 2003 and 2004, there was potential that a state might have been constructed that could govern Iraq. Now, in a process that US military authorities have more or less acknowledged, the central national government has become essentially irrelevant. The tribal strategy has cut violence, but it has also, by privileging substate actors, substantially eliminated the prospect of a democratic, unified Iraq. The Iraq we see today is utterly prostrate, completely incapable of defending itself from any outside actor with anything other than a guerilla strategy. It has no air force, no significant armored formations, no navy to speak of, and no unified military command capable of developing long range defense plans. The central government does not control its own territory, in the sense that it utterly lacks a monopoly on legitimate (not to mention illegitimate) violence. It's also worth mentioning that the actors we're currently enabling represent the most reactionary, anti-democratic elements in Iraqi life. Indeed, it's unclear which of the Sunni militias or the Shia government has less of an interest in Western conceptions of democracy.

We should acknowledge that what the US has accomplished in the last year may have been the best we could hope for. It's possible that the centralized Iraqi state was doomed from the start (or at least by the start of 2007), and that no alternative strategy could have saved it. I'm not convinced by that; a credible threat of withdrawal prior to the gutting of the centralized state might have produced some national reconciliation. It also might not have, but we'll never know.

This failure is not a failure of the Iraqis but a failure of the strategy itself. It delegitimized the national government and essentially ceded territory from it. It has created two warring factions so powerful that only the interference of the American military keeps it from breaking apart. There will never be a workable political scenario under this utter dependence. All you will get, as Marc Lynch notes, is:

partly because of U.S. political tactics in Iraq, the country is drifting "towards a warlord state, along a Basra model, with power devolved to local militias, gangs, tribes, and power-brokers, with a purely nominal central state."

(great to see the author of Abu Aardvark quoted in these important pieces in the Washington Post, by the way)

It would have been hard to imagine, at the beginning of the year, a situation that would have made Iraq substantially worse than it was. The current scenario, rosy though it may be seen by some, is just that. There were never any good options; now there are even less. And this is NOT the Iraqis' fault, it's the fault of their occupiers.

There are only two alternatives now; stay forever and keep the uneasy balance whereby only 500 Iraqis are killed every month instead of 1,500, or withdraw with some pledge of external security, eliminate training and arming of militias, and surge diplomatically. Because the occupation is being driven by political concerns rather than concerns for the Iraqi state, the former will be seen in official Washington as the best alternative, one where the pony can still be found.

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Why We Can't Have Telecom Amnesty

Today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stopped a challenge to the President's warrantless wiretapping program. An Islamic charity claimed that they were illegally spied upon. The government accidentally GAVE THEM TRANSCRIPTS of the phone calls between the defendants and their lawyers. Why was it thrown out?

A federal appeals court in San Francisco today handed a major victory to the Bush administration, ruling that a lawsuit challenging the government's warrantless wiretapping program could not go forward because of the "state secrets" privilege.

In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the government, which had argued that allowing an Islamic charity's claims that it was illegally spied upon to go forward would threaten national security.

This is why telecom companies must be held accountable. If the Specter compromise shifts the defendant in those cases from the companies to the federal government, they'll call state secrets and the suits will stall out. The courts will not want to intervene in a national security issue. This is most clear in this case when there's DEFINITIVE EVIDENCE that the government illegally spied on the charity without a warrant. Telecom companies can't claim state secrets; the government can. If you ever want to know what the government did, who they spied on, how many calls, how many emails, how much data, you must reject telecom amnesty.

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I Smell Backbone, Do You Smell Backbone?

Harry Reid is seeing the President's procedural trick and raising him one.

The Senate will be coming in for pro-forma sessions during the Thanksgiving holiday to prevent recess appointments.

My hope is that this will prompt the President to see that it is our mutual interests for the nominations process to get back on track.

While an election year looms, significant progress can still be made on nominations.

I am committed to making that progress if the President will meet me half way.

But that progress can’t be made if the President seeks controversial recess appointments and fails to make Democratic appointments to important commissions.

Why Reid didn't do this sooner is depressing, a bit, but clearly he's lost his patience. Recess appointments are a relic of when there weren't airplanes and Congress couldn't get back to session in an emergency. It'd be a small fix but I would absolutely support a Constitutional amendment banning them, period.

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Friday Random Ten

I'm seeing my first concert in I don't remember when tonight. B-52's. Back to the 80s. Let's see if the Random Ten follows suit:

Return To Hot Chicken - Yo La Tengo
Pam Berry - The Shins
Valerie (Live) - Amy Winehouse
You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You - Dean Martin
You Said Something - PJ Harvey
Scratch - Morphine
Scentless Apprentice - Nirvana
Marathon - Dilated Peoples
It Overtakes Me - The Flaming Lips
New Amsterdam - Elvis Costello & The Attractions

That's a RANDOM Ten.

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Same As It Ever Was

Another Iraq vote with a phased withdrawal "goal" blocked by the Senate. Someone has to explain to me why Dodd voted no, however. Is he going the Kucinich "no more money for Iraq" route?

Before this, a vote to pay for the war with no strings attached failed by the same vote.

Doesn't seem like Reid forced a real filibuster yet.

UPDATE: From Dodd:

"My position has been clear for months - the only way to end the war is with a firm deadline that is enforceable through funding. While I commend my colleagues in taking a step in that direction, this president's actions and continued rhetoric give me little conifidence that setting a "goal" date for redeployment will force his hand."

"I will continue to fight for a firm and enforceable deadline tied to funding to end the war and restore American security."

In the Senate that's a positively revolutionary position.

UPDATE: Roll call of the full funding with no strings attached bill. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe voted for a timeline AND voted for funding with no strings attached. The Mainers are trying to have it both ways. On the other hand, George Voinovich voted against funding with no strings attached, AND funding with a timeline, like Dodd.

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Feinstein Gets The Message

This James Risen article untangling what happened in yesterday's Judiciary Committee has an interesting little nugget halfway down the page:

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the panel, is pushing a plan that would substitute the federal government as the defendant in the lawsuits against the telecommunications companies. That would mean that the government, not the companies, would pay damages in successful lawsuits.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said in an interview after the vote Thursday that he would support a compromise along the lines of the Specter proposal.

Mr. Whitehouse was one of two Democrats who voted against an amendment proposed by Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, that would have banned immunity for the companies. “I think there is a good solution somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who also opposed Mr. Feingold’s measure, pleaded with Mr. Leahy to defer the immunity issue because she wants more time to consider several compromise proposals.

(I was under the impression that Herb Kohl also voted against the Feingold Amendment -ed.)

Feinstein had no need for compromise earlier in the week. She was gung-ho for telecom immunity. Clearly the pushback in the Senate amped up the desire for compromise, even if Specter's is a fig leaf that would still get the telecoms off the hook while effectively stopping lawsuits through an expected invocation of state secrets. But I have to assume that the heat Feinstein is taking from the grassroots back in California is driving her thinking as well. If Leahy passed out immunity she would be seen as the biggest cheerleader for it - AGAIN, after Southwick and Mukasey. It would be the last straw. So she's trying to get out in front and take credit for some kind of compromise that will eventually come.

So the progressive movement can take a little credit for winning this battle, as DFA did in a hyperventilating email last night. We have not yet won the war, and there will absolutely be a floor fight and a bullshit centrist compromise to work against.

This isn't over.

(Also the rest of the bill is pretty good, and has things that the Bush Administration has vowed to reject, always a good thing. But will the Congress cave? That's the big question.)

UPDATE: This DKos post notes that Harry Reid is going to bring up the Intelligence Committee bill as the main bill, with the Judiciary Committee bill as a substitute. That's the exact opposite of what he said yesterday. This is very fluid and there's likely to be shenanigans.

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I missed the first 15 minutes or so of last night's Democratic debate, and I spent most of the time getting my laptop back up to speed after getting a new hard drive, so I wasn't paying close attention. But I couldn't miss what Matt Yglesias described in this post:

As ever, it's really striking to observe the difference between the audience-generated questions and the journalist-generated questions. Wolf Blitzer's main interest is in asking questions designed to put Democrats on the wrong side of public opinion, even if those questions are about things like driver's licenses or "merit pay" for teachers that aren't really under federal purview. Efforts to reframe those questions by putting those topics in the larger context of immigration policy more generally or education more generally are derided as cowardly dodges. The point, after all, is to force a choice -- piss off an interest group, or say something that could be used in a GOP attack ad.

The real people, by contrast, ask about problems in their lives. The mother of an individual ready reserve member wants to know about Iran policy. The mother of an active duty soldier wants to know about military pay versus pay for military contractors. An Arab-American wants to know about racial profiling. Then the candidates explain what they think about these issues.

The voters are curious and want to learn where the candidates stand. Blitzer doesn't care about informing the public about the issues -- he actually objects when candidates try to explain their views on broad immigration policy issues -- he's just interested in trying to embarrass the candidates.

The YouTube debate wasn't a good solution to this, because the moderator still picked what questions to highlight. There honestly shouldn't be moderators at all. They're just a bunch of windbags who are interested in getting pats on the backs from their colleagues. How about a topic statement goes out, a candidate gets to answer it for a minute (strictly enforced with a buzzer), and then a rebuttal. It would only be skin-deep, but it'd be a hell of a lot better than we're getting.

The constant horse-race focus that dominates the traditional media is trailing over into these debates. There's an assumed familiarity with the issues so there's no need to delve deeper. Gotcha questions serve some purpose in terms of dealing with pressure, but that's a meta debate. Folks want a real one. The candidates have to spend too much time telling Leslie Blitzer or Punpkinhead Russert why their question misses the point instead of explaining their position.

UPDATE: Yeah, sitting James Carville on the post-debate panel is completely out of order, too. The guy has appeared in Hillary Clinton's email pitches. He's a partisan operative, and his "opinion" that Hillary won the debate without context is completely irresponsible.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Culture of Corruption, 4-Iron Edition

Don Young was getting a little cash in his golf bag.

The Justice Department is investigating whether an Alaska oil contractor used golf tournaments to funnel cash to Rep. Don Young, people close to the corruption investigation said.

The contractor, Rick Smith, told investigators that Young personally received cash at the events. Once an important ally who helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Young's election committee, Smith has become a key government informant.
As part of his cooperation, Smith allowed FBI agents to record his telephone calls with the Republican congressman in a corruption sting. The former VECO Corp. vice president has pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers to support oil-friendly legislation.

It's one thing to get perks or favors in exchange for favorable legislation. Straight cash is quite another thing.

I love the alibi:

"That tournament had nothing to do with the campaign or anything official. It was just people getting together to play golf," said Young's campaign spokesman, Mike Anderson, who declined to discuss the tournaments or how often Young won. "The congressman finds it inappropriate to discuss anything connected to an ongoing investigation."

The first great thing is the contradiction between not being able to talk about anything related to the investigation and... talking about something related to the investigation. The second is this idea that it's just a bunch of buddies, all of whom have business before the Congressman, just getting together to play a little golf. How many of those businessmen got the yips when it came down to making the final putt? "Looks like you win again, Don. Here's your dough, now don't forget about this bridge to nowhere I wanna build..."

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Looming Recession Update: Now With Less Looming

I didn't have the time yesterday to mention that the Legislative Analyst's Office has confirmed what everyone had feared for a while, that California is staring a $10 billion dollar budget deficit in the face and there's seemingly no political will to address the structural fiscal problems underlying the projected deficit and do something about it. All of the top legislative leaders had something to say about the LAO report, and I didn't see a ton of leadership there. Arnold and the Republicans focused on major budget cuts while making vague and insufficient nods toward "serious discussions" on budget reform. Speaker Nuñez was pretty vague himself though he held the line on a cut-only approach, and Senator Perata had perhaps the strongest response, though it's perhaps too focused on the past:

"Since last May, I have talked about California's flawed and unbalanced fiscal structure. Today's LAO report is another sobering reminder that quick fixes will not provide a long-term solution to the state's budget woes.

"I once again call on the Governor and my fellow legislative leaders to begin a serious discussion about how to build a structurally balanced budget.

"There is an ongoing gap between state expenditures and revenues that this Governor helped create by slashing Vehicle License Fees and refusing to balance that loss with revenue from another source. That alone accounts for $6 billion of this problem.

"An honest dialogue about closing the budget gap must include exploring all options."

But the real strong medicine was delivered by the LAO's Elizabeth Hill.

In releasing her five-year fiscal outlook Wednesday, Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill said lawmakers face tough decisions for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"All the easy solutions are gone," she said.

Hill, the state's top budget analyst, called for immediate cuts to "double up" savings for the current and upcoming fiscal years. She also offered solutions certain to meet political opposition, including raising taxes.

Her projections were worse than previously stated by the Schwarzenegger administration, which pegged the shortfall at $6 billion. Hill said the deficit has increased due to growing government expenses that have outpaced revenues in an economy weakened by the real estate slump.

Realistically, since you can't deficit spend, it's going to take a combination of revenues and cuts to balance the budget. This problem is only likely to get worse. The median home price in the state dropped $60,000 in a month. That severely impacts property tax revenue. And the state lost a Supreme Court case where they were trying to stop a payment of $200 million in interest to the teacher's pension fund. But those are just the short-term issues. The problem is long-term.

Hill said the state's structural imbalance has been around for years – a challenge state leaders have failed to address.

"We've been facing a problem every year since 2001-02," Hill said. "And when you look out to 2012-13, we still do not have our expenditures and revenues in line."

The state has confronted bigger fiscal crises before. In 2003-04, lawmakers were facing gaps as big as $38 billion. The state resorted to borrowing, which Hill said is exacerbating the current problem because cash is going to debt payments.

Borrowing at this point is almost immoral. There's going to be a need to maybe allow some painful cuts in exchange for long-term fixes in revenue structure. Next year will be incredibly difficult.

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Daily Show Writers On The Writer's Strike

Very funny. If nothing else, the WGA strike has increased the quality of YouTube by about 1000%.

Incidentally, Ari Emanuel is as much of an a-hole as the character on Entourage based on him.

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BREAKING: Patrick Leahy Is, Well, SOMETHING Of A Gangster

I'm blown away at how it went down in the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Greg Sargent picks it up.

Sources say Senator Russ Feingold offered an amendment that would have stripped telecom immunity from the bill, but it was defeated. Then Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking GOPer on the committee, offered a "compromise" amendment saying that in these lawsuits the Federal government, and not the telecoms, would be the defendants.

But because of a procedural difficulty Specter's amendment wasn't voted on -- and Senator Patrick Leahy, the chair of the committee, essentially went around Specter's amendment and moved to have a vote to report the bill out of committee without any telecom immunity in it. That passed along strictly party lines. And that's where we are.

I think there was a back-channel deal between Leahy and Reid. There is likely to be a floor fight over this, so telecom immunity is not dead. But Reid is apparently committed to filing a motion to proceed on the bill without telecom amnesty. This is not a slam dunk, as Glenn Greenwald notes.

Even under the best-case scenario -- namely, Reid introduces a bill which does not contain amnesty -- anyone can (and certainly will) offer an amendment to include amnesty in the bill, and no matter what happens, it will be necessary to find 41 Senators willing to support Dodd's filibuster to keep amnesty out of the bill. As indicated, today is a good result in that it's preferable for the bill to have left the Committee today without amnesty in it (especially given the 3 Democratic members' support for amnesty) -- and that's not nothing -- but there is no grand "victory" in the sense that there is now some huge hurdle to having the Senate's bill include amnesty.

It's easier to whip people over stopping an amendment than filibustering the whole bill, that's the improvement. Reid has every ability to limit amendments, by the way, he could also do that. I was inclined to give Leahy a lot of credit for procedural ju-jitsu (by putting through a Title I version of the bill, keeping telecom amnesty in Title II, and then only allowing Title I out of the committee), but I guess there's always an out. This is still anybody's ballgame, but civil liberties forces are in a better position today than yesterday.

UPDATE: The House passed their version of the bill, without immunity. And it's actually a half-decent bill. In addition, the House passed needed mortgage industry reform legislation with a veto-proof majority, and EVERY SINGLE DEMOCRAT voted for it.

Today, I like our Congress. It changes from day to day.

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FISA Update

I'm still trying to get a handle on what happened today in the Senate Judiciary Committee with regard to the FISA bill. I know that the bill cleared the committee on a party-line vote. That's not a horrible bill, as it includes this important distinction: "One of the key changes approved by the committee would make clear the FISA law is the exclusive authority for approving warrants for electronic surveillance."

But that was just the "Title I" part of the bill. In "Title II," there was the provision for telecom immunity. Russ Feingold offered an amendment stripping it out. It failed. Sheldon Whitehouse and DiFi (who voted for telecom immunity in the Intelligence Committee) were joined by Herb Kohl and all the Republicans in keeping it in.

But the question is, what will get to the Senate floor? Here's Ryan Singel for Wired:

Civil liberties groups got a stunningly unexpected win Thursday as the Senate Judiciary panel passed their version of the new government spying bill out of committee without including a provision giving immunity to telecoms being sued for helping the government secretly spy on Americans.

The biggest winner from the development is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose suit against AT&T in federal court would almost certainly have been wiped out by the immunity provision.

The provision - which was part of the version passed by the Senate Intelligence committee in mid-October - was widely expected to make it into the bill, due to the administration's full court press on the issue, the telcos small army of lobbyists and the vocal support of California Democrat Dianne Feintstein. Feinstein's vote was expected to reverse the Dems 10-9 advantage in the committee.

But after a long day of complicated finagling over technical amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and proposed alternatives to total immunity for companies such as AT&T and Verizon, committeee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) decided to send the bill out of committee without an agreement on immunity.

In other words, only Title I was pushed out of committee. But this is not definitive. First of all, the Intelligence and Judiciary bills need to be combined into one bill on the floor. So amnesty for telecoms could still wind up in there. And at that point, even a strong stand by Chris Dodd with a filibuster would be difficult to keep back the tide. Apparently his Senatorial hold doesn't mean anything.

On the House side, it looks like the RESTORE Act will pass, and there's no amnesty in that bill. So even if amnesty winds up making it through the Senate, it'd have to be reconciled with the House bill. Finally, both the Senate and House bills include provisions that Bush has signaled he'll veto, so all of this may be a moot point. The question there is whether we'll see yet another capitulation or whether the Democrats will simply let the temporary fix expire and revert back to the original FISA provisions.

A lot to understand. There's still a lot at play here. But we do know that Dianne Feinstein loves her some Bush Republican policies.

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Avalanche of Dumb

Juan Williams can't understand why Markos Moulitsas would be given his own column in Newsweek (ideologically balanced out by Karl Rove, by the way) because he's not a "real journalist." This is the traditional media conceit, of course, that you're not one of them unless you came up through the struggle the way they did. Steve Benen demolishes this nonsense:

Juan Williams said this while answering questions from Sean Hannity, during an interview on Fox News.

The irony was apparently lost on the host, the guest, and the audience. What a shame.

Indeed, I’d just add that the closer one looks at Williams’ complaint, the stranger it seems.

* “[T]he fact is that he’s not a journalist in terms of someone who knows how to do reporting.” — I’m obviously not in a position to speak for Markos, but I don’t think he’s ever claimed to be a journalist, and as far as I can tell, Newsweek didn’t hire him to be a journalist. He’ll be an occasional contributor. As a prominent political player, that hardly seems like an unreasonable move for a magazine like Newsweek to make.

Also, the fact that he studied journalism in college, ran the student newspaper, worked for the Guardian two years ago covering British elections and interned at a major paper certainly makes him more of a journalist than Sean Friggin' Hannity:

Hannity attended St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary in Uniondale in Long Island, graduating in 1980 with a high school diploma... He dropped out of New York University because of financial issues, and decided to pursue a radio career.Hannity hosted his first talk radio show in 1989 at the volunteer college station at UC Santa Barbara, KCSB-FM, while working as a general contractor The show aired for 40 hours of air time and, according to Hannity, he was terrible.Hannity's weekly show was cancelled after less than a year when KCSB management charged him with "discriminating against gays and lesbians" after two shows featuring the book The AIDS Coverup: The Real and Alarming Facts about AIDS by Gene Antonio. The station reversed its decision to dismiss Hannity due in part to a campaign conducted by the Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Hannity decided against returning to KCSB.

After leaving KCSB, Hannity placed an ad in radio publications presenting himself as "the most talked about college radio host in America," and WVNN in Athens, Alabama (part of the Huntsville market) hired him to be the afternoon talk show host. From Huntsville, he moved to WGST in Atlanta in 1992, filling the slot vacated by Neal Boortz, who had moved to competing station WSB. In September 1996, Fox News founder Roger Ailes hired the then relatively unknown Hannity to co-host the television program Hannity & Colmes with Alan Colmes.

Juan Williams doesn't like Kos because he doesn't know his address. He doesn't live in the Village.

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Nunes, McCarthy want to facilitate big bucks for dirty tricks

Buried inside this Politico article about Rudy Giuliani's many ties to the Dirty Tricks initiative is this nugget:

There are actually two potential ballot initiatives. One would allocate California’s Electoral College votes proportionally, as opposed to the current winner-take-all format. The other affects redistricting.

Where they connect? California Republican Reps. Devin Nunes and Kevin O. McCarthy have asked the Federal Election Commission for a legal opinion on whether they can raise unlimited donations to help the redistricting initiative. But a money-and-politics watchdog group argues that would blow a hole in the 2002 campaign finance reform law that bans federal officeholders from soliciting such big checks — and pave the way for presidential contenders to urge their supporters to shovel money into the proposed Electoral College initiative.

Nunes and McCarthy may be the safest two GoOPers in the state. They are acting as the battering rams to knock down the walls of campaign finance reform, not just for the Dirty Tricks initiative but a whole host of pernicious ballot measures.

In a way, they're trying to retroactively immunize people like Rudy and Darrell Issa for their already-questionable efforts. It's just a hop, skip and a jump from soliciting for signatures, which both campaigns have done, to soliciting for money.

As for the bait and switch techniques being employed to gather signatures, there's going to be a LOT more on this to come.

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DiFi Watch: MoveOn Calls For Censure

Adding to the dozens of organizations trying to hold Sen. Feinstein accountable is MoveOn, who sent their 500,000-member list in California this today:

Dear fellow Californian,

Last week, every member of the Senate had a chance to take a stand against torture. Most Democrats did-they opposed the nomination of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General because he left the door open to torture. He wouldn't, for example, say whether water-boarding-an interrogation technique that simulates drowning-constituted torture.

But Senator Feinstein wasn't with the majority of Democrats-she actually cast a pivotal vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm him.

And that's not all. In recent months, Senator Feinstein backed the president on issues ranging from right-wing judges to immunity for phone companies that broke the law.

Now, California Democrats-led by our friends at the Courage Campaign-are seriously organizing to get her attention. They've launched a grassroots campaign to ask the California Democratic Party to officially censure Senator Feinstein when its executive board meets this weekend.

The medium is really the message here. The actual censure resolution is not going to pass. Establishment CDP types will squash it at the Resolutions Committee and ignore the grassroots call for change in the process.

"It is going to be thrown out and rejected," said Bob Mulholland, a veteran party strategist in Sacramento. "Sometimes people can't anticipate or can't understand the big picture."

State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres did not return messages seeking comment. But his spokesman Roger Salazar told the Sacramento Bee, "this party supports our Democratic senator and will continue to do so...Period."

Bob Mulholland, by the way, is unbelievably out of touch.

I'm told that PDA is set to go forward with signature gathering to bring the censure resolution to the floor if it's blocked in committee, but apparently, because it's a late resolution, that would be out of order. The CDP bigwigs are likely to succeed in protecting their own little fiefdom here.

However, the real benefit is in the attention this garnered. Not just in the blogosphere, where stalwarts like Glenn Greenwald ripped apart the CDP's incumbency-protection-at-all-costs statement...

The Chairman has so decreed. And one can only marvel at the patronizing explanation that those who are angry about Feinstein's Bush-revering simply "can't understand the big picture."

So, in other words, they'll blindly support Feinstein no matter what she does. And she'll continue to support the Bush administration no matter what. That means, by virtue of the transitive property, that the Democratic Party apparatus will continue to support the Bush administration no matter what -- which is, of course, what explains what has been happening the last several years, and particularly this year.

...but throughout the progressive movement. Not all of MoveOn's membership aggressively follows the news. They share the organization's values and rely on it for information about what's happening. The liberal base of the party just got dropped on what Dianne Feinstein's been up to, and this will only snowball the calls for action.

The CDP has changed a little for the better overall, but at the upper echelons, they're still a relic, a by-product of insider hacks and wannabe politicians who worship at the altar of power and are stuck in a DLC-type mindset. The Legislature is too swamped by money and too concerned with self-aggrandizement. The reforms needed are obvious but there's a brick wall or hackdom you have to cut through to get to them. This mini-revolt against Feinstein is not an isolated incident, it's a symptom of something much bigger that's wrong with the Party. With a trashed Republican brand, we can do so much better than where we are right now.

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A New Age Of Communication In An Obama Administration

Barack Obama put out some good government and internet freedom proposals yesterday that were so transformative that longtime critic Matt Stoller all but endorsed him. Obama does seem to value transparency and the importance of broadband development in capturing civic engagement and bridging the digital divide. The FCC needs a radical restructuring. The current chief is trying to practically eliminate media ownership rules. An Obama Administration would encourage community and citizen-based media development by ensuring net neutrality and expanding toward universal access, in addition to goo-goo things like putting bills on the White House website (with comments enabled!) for five days before signage.

In the plan, Obama also calls for more aggressive government support of broadband access. Specifically, he says subsidies for phone carriers should be given only to those offering both regular phone service and Internet broadband to rural areas. To date, carriers offering merely phone service have been able to claim subsidies from the so-called Universal Service Fund, giving them little incentive to roll out out broadband.

Obama also calls for reviewing the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to open the wireless spectrum for competition. He thinks the FCC may not have gone far enough with its recent ruling, according to campaign managers who asked not to be named. He wants to conduct a multiyear review but is leaning toward pushing for the opening of some spectrum on the 700 MHz band so third parties can lease it on a wholesale basis.

This is to ensure that the winners of a pending auction for the spectrum - expected to be large phone carriers like Verizon - don't just sit on the spectrum and not use it. Some fear they may do that to block others from competing with them.

Obama's proposals are supported by Google, which is expected to bid on the wireless spectrum.

The candidate also is in favor of network neutrality, a policy that would prevent Internet service providers from charging companies like Google extra to ensure the speedy transfer of data over the Internet.

This really points to how an Obama Administration would be committed to change on these kinds of issues, which are at the root of our democracy. It should be noted that Edwards has been at the forefront of spectrum and media ownership issues as well.

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They Just Don't Have The Guts

The White House has defied subpoenas from the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and demanded that its employees not answer subpoenas to testify to Congress. It's a fairly unprecedented, bold and brazen act. And they get away with it because the Democratic leadership keeps playing this "stop or I'll shoot, I swear I'll shoot!" game, when everybody on the planet knows that they'll eventually back down.

House Democrats have postponed a vote until December on contempt resolutions against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, delaying for now any constitutional showdown with the White House over the president’s power to resist congressional subpoenas.

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has been pushing for the contempt vote, arguing that the White House must be held accountable for ignoring subpoenas issued by his panel as part of the U.S. attorney firing scandal. Other top Democrats, including Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), have argued that the House should put off that fight while debates over Iraq funding and electronic eavesdropping dominate the floor. The contempt vote had been tentatively scheduled for Friday before Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) informed his colleagues that it was being delayed.

“[Emanuel] has been saying that this week is not the time to do this, that it will step on our message on Iraq and FISA,” said a top House Democratic leadership aide.

I guess then they'll wait for a time when there's no pending legislation on the floor of the House. So we can all expect those contempt charges sometime around the 5th of never.

Conyers' committee authorized the contempt charges in JUNE. It's just unbelievably weak to wait five months before bringing it up for a vote. The body constituted in Article I of the Constitution is marginalizing themselves. They don't even need any help from the power-grabbing President.

The electorate learns through action. They see no action, they assume weakness and spinelessness. They're usually right.

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The New Pakistan

How will we reverse-Midas-touch the next leader of Pakistan and move the nuclear-armed country even closer to Islamic rule?

Almost two weeks into Pakistan’s political crisis, Bush administration officials are losing faith that the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, can survive in office and have begun discussing what might come next, according to senior administration officials.

In meetings on Wednesday, officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon huddled to decide what message Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte would deliver to General Musharraf — and perhaps more important, to Pakistan’s generals — when he arrives in Islamabad on Friday.

Administration officials say they still hope that Mr. Negroponte can salvage the fractured arranged marriage between General Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But in Pakistan, foreign diplomats and aides to both leaders said the chances of a deal between the leaders were evaporating 11 days after General Musharraf declared de facto martial law.

Several senior administration officials said that with each day that passed, more administration officials were coming around to the belief that General Musharraf’s days in power were numbered and that the United States should begin considering contingency plans, including reaching out to Pakistan’s generals.

The Army is powerful in Pakistan, and an Islamic takeover is indeed remote. But the country is crying out for democracy right now, and replacing one general with another general will just perpetuate the belief that the US is arming dictators to oppress the Pakistani people. That's the ONLY thing that would bring pro-democracy forces into an uneasy alliance with the Taliban-like Islamist parties, and once that reaches the election stage, there's no telling the outcome.

The option should be cutting off aid until the Pakistanis are allowed full self-determination and a functioning legal system. That's the only way in which the military would break from Musharraf and the parliamentary system would be restored.

Then there's this moment of clarity from the Bushies:

Senior administration officials in Washington said they were concerned that the longer the constitutional crisis in Pakistan continued, the more diverted Pakistan’s army would be from the mission the United States wants it focused on: fighting terrorism in the country’s border areas.

The officials said there was growing worry in Washington that the situation unfolding in the mountainous region of Swat, where Islamic militants sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda are battling Pakistan’s Army, was a sign that General Musharraf — and the Pakistani Army — might be too busy jailing political opponents to fight militants.

Ya think?

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Now We Know

The White House apparently has a line they won't cross when it comes to hiring employees. They don't care about competence, suitability for the job, whether the applicant previously worked for the company they're supposed to regulate, racial or sexual bigotry, or even if they're "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth." But if you're tight with the Mob, hey, even these guys have standards.

On December 2, 2004, President Bush announced that his pick to replace Tom Ridge as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was Bernard Kerik. On December 10th, a Friday, at 8:30 p.m., Kerik suddenly withdrew his nomination, explaining in a statement that he'd discovered that his former housekeeper and nanny might not be a legal immigrant and that he hadn't paid taxes on her. It was the sole reason given for his withdrawal, both in his statement and in subsequent comments by White House officials.

But Kerik's indictment last Thursday indicates that the White House was dealing with bigger problems: Kerik's ties to the mob.

The centerpiece of the indictment was Kerik's acceptance, from 1999 through 2000, of $255,000 worth of apartment renovations (including a marble rotunda) from executives with Interstate Industrial Corporation, a company with ties to the Gambino crime family. The feds say that Kerik, who was NYC corrections commissioner and then police commissioner during the time in question, worked on Interstate's behalf in return for the money, work that included attempting to convince city investigators that the company was free of mob ties so that it could get city contracts.

Unfortunately for Kerik, the secret of his ties to Interstate began to unravel just about the time of his nomination. On December 2nd, the same day that Bush announced Kerik was his pick, The New York Daily News, which had been digging for six weeks on Kerik's ties to Interstate, sent him a list of questions about those ties.

On December 5th, the indictment alleges, Kerik "made various false and misleading statements about his relationship with [Interstate and it's top executives]" in an email to a White House official (who remains unnamed). It was one of several allegedly false and misleading statements that Keik is charged in the indictment with making to White House officials. However, unlike the other false statements, which appear from the indictment to involves sins of omission -- like failure to disclose -- the language of the indictment suggests that the December 5th email was an affirmative misrepresentation. In other words, in the thick of the vetting process, the White House was asking Kerik about his ties to Interstate.

Arabian Horse Association guy tapped for head of FEMA, OK. Mob, ya gotta go. Good to know.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Well, another funding bill with a timeline has passed the House. A symbolic bill, with a "goal" of ending the war by the end of next year, which does mandate the beginning of troop withdrawals within 30 days (which the President was looking to do anyway, and indeed was forced to do by manpower numbers).

Bush is going to veto it.

It gives him everything he wants, allows him to escape accountability by simply ignoring the "goal," and he's going to veto it.

Ever get the sense this is more about measuring penises than anything else?

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We Apparently Have Dianne Feinstein's Attention

Shane Goldmacher got someone at Dianne Lieberman Feinstein's office on the record about the anger in the Democratic grassroots over her continued efforts to undermine Democratic values in the Senate. The leadership of the CA Democratic Party chimed in, as well. See if you can spot the difference between the two statements.

Roger Salazar at the CDP:

“This party supports our Democratic senator and will continue to do so,” said party communications director Roger Salazar. “Period.”

Here's Scott Gerber for the Senator:

Scott Gerber, a Feinstein aide, defended the senator, saying she “has been an independent voice for California.”

So one side says she's a Democratic senator and the CDP supports Democrats (no matter the policy or the principle, they just support Democrats, so shut up, grassroots!), while the other says she's an "independent voice for California."

Somebody better talk to somebody.

Then there's this howler:

“What people may not know is she was a strong leader in the fight against (now Supreme Court Justice Samuel) Alito and (Chief Justice John) Roberts,” Gerber said, noting she opposed “more than a dozen” circuit court nominees from the Bush administration.

Hmm, I didn't know that! I guess that's why Alito and Roberts were never confirmed to the Supreme Court, in the face of all that "leadership." It must have been withering attacks like this that did the trick:

"Many of us are struggling with . . . what kind of a justice would you be, John Roberts," implored Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

She voted against Roberts in committee, but made no loud effort to filibuster. And on Alito, she had this expression of leadership when it counted:

A Democrat who plans to vote against Samuel Alito sided on Sunday with a Republican colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee in cautioning against a filibuster of the Supreme Court nominee.

“I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “This might be a man I disagree with, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on the court.”

She said she will not vote to confirm the appeals court judge, based on his conservative record. But she acknowledged that nothing emerged during last week’s hearings to justify any organized action by Democrats to stall the nomination.

Fight, Dianne, Fight!

She actually ended up voting against cloture, but only after it was apparent that the filibuster wouldn't hold and after she undermined it with prior comments.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gerber, the Great Gazoogle is my friend, and your claim that she was a "strong leader" against Roberts and Alito rings hollow.

If anything positive comes out of this, it's that DiFi recognizes that a whole lot of Californians are upset with her, and she can no longer run and hide from them. It may not change a lot, but it's a first step.

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Tweety Follies

Just saw Chris Matthews give his best Lou Dobbs impression, attacking Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton for their "flip-flop" on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, saying with full precision why people don't want to allow it, and brazenly speculating if Hillary "coordinated" with Spitzer to shut down the proposal, accusing her of all sorts of backroom dealings. He was joined in the pile-on by Republican Rep. Peter King and, for balance, a writer from the New York Post.

And then he just scratched his head and couldn't figure out what this whole Judith Regan thing is all about and why it has anything to do with Rudy Giuliani. He just can't figure it out and it's all so complicated and what is Judith Regan really saying (um, it's all in the lawsuit, bud) and this is "a media echo chamber" and clearly there's no impropriety here and maybe Rupert Murdoch should "write a big check" to Regan to straighten all this out.

Interesting how he can speculate to his heart's content when it comes to Hillary, but when it's about Rudy, it's all so confusing and there's no there there.

(Also, the whole point of the Regan case is that News Corporation threatened her to shut up about her affair with Kerik to protect Rudy Giuliani's campaign, and he just had a guy from the New York Post on, who might know a thing or two about Rudy's relationship to the Post and the parent company News Corp, but he let the guy go.)

Then, John McCain "hit the middle ground" when he fielded a question about Hillary of "How can we beat the bitch?" by saying "That's a great question." And then he played Rudy Giuliani's new TV commercial, for free, twice.

This is on the "liberal" MSNBC.

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Redacted From My Memory

It's of course silly for Bill O'Reilly to lose his mind over a movie he hasn't even seen, and both Mark Cuban and progressives in general are right to hammer him for it. But I wouldn't get too out in front defending "Redacted," people. Because I saw it last night. And it's a piece of crap.

The movie is a fictional treatment of a highly-publicized incident in Samarra where US soldiers raped a 14 year-old girl and killed her and her family to cover it up (so what's "redacted," exactly; everything in this movie is well-known yet poorly dramatized). There's a movie to be made out of that, about the horrors of war, how it dehumanizes you, and breaks you down, especially if you're on an impossible mission where you can't separate friends from enemies. "Redacted" is not that movie. It just basically drops two psychopaths inside the US military and lets them have their fun. Instead of complexity, instead of trying to understand the situation soldiers face, this is nothing more than a screed.

The acting is from out of a 3rd-grade play, and the simplistic use of video and blogs (the movie is derived from "found footage" of security cams, vlogs, press coverage and eyewitness video from soldiers and insurgent groups) is an insult to viewer intelligence, too. DePalma claims that the script comes right out of the mouths of actual soldiers in Iraq. Not only do I not buy that, it's highly insulting to fall back on some desire for verite to justify a shitty script. You're allowed to add drama and eloquence and half-decent writing. There are all these annoying "video toaster" wipes everywhere, because I guess that's what them amateurs do. And for some reason, the voice of outrage at the rape and murder has to be a militant tatooed woman with a nose ring, as if only people on the so-called "fringes" of society would find such conduct abhorrent.

DePalma already made a movie called Casualties of War which depicted an atrocity by the American military, and he did it with a sufficient amount of dramatic tension. This is just a narrow-minded piece of dreck.

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Antiwar Caucus United; Actual Filibusters To Come?

It's hard to separate the good legislation from the good words when it comes to Iraq, but the news that the Out Of Iraq Caucus is on board with the latest bill helps me make my decision.

Three leading House anti-war Democrats said they now back a $50 billion bill that funds the war but calls for most troops to come home by December 2008. Their support paves the way for the bill's passage Wednesday.

The trio, California Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, represent a liberal anti-war caucus that last week expressed opposition to the measure on the grounds it was too soft and did not demand an end to combat.

The bill requires that President Bush initiate troop withdrawals within 30 days of its passage with the goal of bringing home most soldiers and Marines by Dec. 15, 2008 [...]

A provision added to the bill, to satisfy liberal caucus members, states that the primary purpose of the $50 billion included in the bill "should be to transition the mission" and redeploy troops in Iraq, "not to extend or prolong the war."

The measure is largely a symbolic jab at Bush, who has already begun withdrawing some troops but fiercely rejects the notion of setting a timetable for the war.

"While this bill is not perfect, it is the strongest Iraq bill to date," the Democratic trio wrote in a joint statement. "This is the first time that this Congress has put forth a bill that ties funding to the responsible redeployment of our troops, and it also includes language mandating a start date for the president to begin the redeployment of our brave men and women."

Versions of this legislation have passed over and over again, only to falter in the Senate. Again, Harry Reid is SOUNDING tough, saying that "the president won't get his $50 billion" if he rejects the bill, but the proof is in the action. And forcing a real-deal filibuster would be a good place to start.

Senate Democrats might force Republicans to wage a filibuster if the GOP wants to block the latest Iraq withdrawal bill, aides and senators said Tuesday.

That could set the stage for a dramatic end-of-the-year partisan showdown, which Democrats hope will help them turn voter frustration with Congress and the stalemate over Iraq into anger with the Republican Party.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), the number two Democrat in the chamber, said a forced filibuster is “possible” and would “generate attention.”

“We want to go to the bill, and [Republicans] have to decide initially whether they want us to go to the bill,” Durbin said. “I wouldn’t call it theatrics.”

Everyone needs to know exactly who is holding up the end of this occupation and an overall shift in strategy. Huckleberry Graham can start reading the dictionary and Mitch McConnell can sing a capella, for all I care.

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CA-26: Superb Web Ad From Russ Warner

Russ Warner is hammering David Dreier over his SCHIP vote. This is a great ad:

Warner is using the vote as a symbol for how out of touch Dreier has become over his 28 years serving conservative ideological masters instead of his constituents. The other thing that strikes me is the quality of the ad, and that he's releasing it on the Web. At 44 seconds it takes its time to explain the issue in a bit more detail (though I'm sure it can be cut down into a :30 television spot), yet it plays very much as something that would be broadcast.

I kind of wish there was some Democratic branding in the spot, but overall it's very good.

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The Shocking Truth: Blackwater Not Telling Truth

As new allegations of Blackwater shootings have cropped up, the FBI has completed its investigation of the incident that raised public awareness about the private military contractor - and they're basically calling bullshit on Blackwater's cover story.

Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case.

The F.B.I. investigation into the shootings in Baghdad is still under way, but the findings, which indicate that the company’s employees recklessly used lethal force, are already under review by the Justice Department.

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to discuss the matter.

This is of course the problem, since the complex web of laws serve to immunize Blackwater employees from accountability. Not to mention that the internal investigative arms of the State Department, who hired Blackwater, are irretrievably flawed. One of the reasons that State is so lenient and forgiving with Blackwater, believing their stories of "acting in self-defense," is tied up in a conflict of interest.

At the beginning of today's House oversight committee hearing on State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) dropped a bombshell: Krongard's brother, former CIA Executive Director A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, sits on Blackwater's advisory board. Blackwater, of course, is a State Department contractor.

Calling Krongard's case one of seemingly "reckless incompetence," Waxman reminded the hearing that one of the charges against Krongard is that he squelched an investigation into a State contractor -- since named as Blackwater -- smuggling weapons into Iraq. According to Waxman, Howard Krongard concealed his brother's association with Blackwater from "his own deputy."

Krongard has now recused himself from Blackwater investigations after confirming that his brother sits on the board. Clearly, Blackwater's modus operandi is to cultivate relationships with those who may be in a position to impact their bottom line. It's standard stuff.

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