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

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Signing Statements Are Back, But With A Twist

Attached to the military appropriations bill signed by the President last month included the first signing statement since the new Congress came into power, and the details of it should cheer those who think that the Democratic takeover have achieved absolutely nothing. Because this is a kinder and gentler signing statement, a less unitary executive, who just allowed through a provision against permanent bases in Iraq which a Democratic successor would surely be pressured to enforce.

Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Savage has the report.

In the statement, which the White House filed in the Federal Register on Nov. 13 but which initially attracted little attention, Bush challenged several requirements to provide information to Congress.

For example, one law Bush targeted requires him to give oversight committees notice before transferring US military equipment to United Nations peacekeepers.

Bush also challenged a new law that limits his ability to transfer funds lawmakers approved for one purpose to start a different program, as well as a law requiring him to keep in place an existing command structure for the Navy's Pacific fleet.

Obviously, it's distressing that Bush has reverted to the practice of trying to nullify Congressionally-mandated statutes. But look at the language that he has used to reject these portions of the law.

"The Act contains certain provisions identical to those found in prior bills passed by the Congress that might be construed to be inconsistent with my Constitutional responsibilities," Bush's statement says.

"To avoid such potential infirmities, I will interpret and construe such provisions in the same manner as I have previously stated in regard to those provisions."

This is not the "I am the commander in chief and the unitary executive and what I say goes" President of years past. This is a meeker statement, simply claiming that there are inconsistencies in the record between these and other statutes. This seems to me like something fully within the purview of the judiciary to determine which language takes precedent. And in addition, it's far less confrontational and far easier to be challenged.

And this is the real surprise:

In a further sign that the White House adopted a muted tone, the new signing statement also said nothing about two higher-profile provisions in the bill that limit presidential power: One law prohibits the military from using foreign intelligence information that was collected illegally, and the other forbids expending funds to establish permanent US military bases in Iraq.

As lawmakers drafted the bill earlier this year, the White House warned Congress that the illegal intelligence and Iraq-base provisions "impermissibly" infringed "on the president's constitutional authority" over national security and foreign affairs.

The complaints about constraining executive power are gone. The reign of President as emperor, picking and choosing the laws he likes, are gone.

Now, this is not to say that the President has suddenly decided to follow the Constitution. If he wants to appropriate funds toward building permanent bases in Iraq, he very well might. He probably doesn't have to, since most of them are already built. But the statute is now official US law. Same with preventing the military from using "illegally collected" intelligence information. And so it will not only be applied to this President, but most importantly the NEXT President.

The Democratic Congress has obviously been something of a disappointment. But you have to put this in perspective. Change in Washington moves at a glacial pace. Despite this, they have passed the first minimum wage increase in a decade, the largest student loan reform maybe ever, implemented the 9/11 Commission recommendations, instituted needed ethics reforms, and more. This coming week they will take up an energy bill that will raise fuel efficiency by 40% and add a renewable energy standard for electricity.

Now, we're seeing that the focus on Constitutional issues has actually backed up the most radical Administration in history from further destruction. We've seen that in the resignation of all the government officials engaged in some of the most horrific practices. We've seen that in the reinstitution of Senate oversight in the US Attorney process. And now, we've seen it in the tempering of signing statements. Maybe the dark legacy of increasing executive power will be stalled, after all.

This is in no way redeems the Democratic Congress for all their missteps; if anything, the man most responsible for this backtrack on signing statements is the author Charlie Savage, who did a great deal to put this in public view. But it should be a reminder that elections actually do have consequences.

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Just Raise Charity For Charities

There's a simple solution to all of this. When politicians want to use their influence to raise money for charity, the money shuld go directly to the charity. They get the credit, the charity gets their money, everyone's happy. But that's not what's happening, and too many questions are being raised about just what the politicians are doing with the money.

The chairman of California's political watchdog agency says the growing practice of politicians soliciting millions for pet causes apparently is being abused for self-serving gain and needs to be reined in.

"If I could, with the stroke of a pen, I'd do away with it," said Ross Johnson, chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

"It's a huge end run around the contribution limits that the people of California voted for" in Proposition 34 seven years ago, he said.

Payments "at the behest of" should clearly be abolished. There's absolutely no reason for them. If you want to look like a good politician by raising money for charity, let the charity have it directly. Otherwise, you get stuff like this.

More than $5 million has been donated at politicians' request both this year and last – far more than any year since disclosure began nearly a decade ago.

The money is meant for public benefit and cannot be used for campaigning, but some has been spent in ways that enhance a politician's image, such as for billboards or television ads.

Days before a fiercely contested Democratic primary last year, for example, John Garamendi solicited $300,000 in public-benefit funds for a TV advertisement in which he touted his performance as insurance commissioner without specifically asking voters to support him in his bid for lieutenant governor, a post he ultimately won.

Just cut it out. It's nonsense.

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Democratic Opposition Creaking To Life

Adding to a newly emboldened Congress, at least at the edges (baby steps, people), Patrick Leahy has rejected the claim of executive privilege that's keeping White House officials from testifying in the US Attorneys case.

A Senate chairman said Thursday that President Bush was not involved in the firings of U.S. attorneys last winter, and he therefore ruled illegal the president's executive privilege claims protecting his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and former adviser Karl Rove.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy directed Bolten, Rove, former White House political director Sara Taylor and her deputy, J. Scott Jennings, to comply ''immediately'' with their subpoenas for documents and information about the White House's role in the firings of U.S. attorneys.

''I hereby rule that those claims are not legally valid to excuse current and former White House employees from appearing, testifying and producing documents related to this investigation,'' wrote Leahy, D-Vt.

The ruling is a formality that clears the way for Leahy's panel to vote on whether to advance contempt citations against the four to the full Senate.

While we've seen this before, and we've seen both the House and Senate come tantalizingly close to approving contempt citations, this is closer than ever, and does reflect some new strategic tactics from the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. Rerutled has more.

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Sex on the City - They Walked Her Dog

The slow trickle of revelations about the escapades of Judi 'n' Rudy have turned into a firehouse. Since New York's City Hall made public the financial records obtained by the Politico through a Freedom of Information Act request, the stories have come fast and furious. To wit:

• Mayoral aides were forced to go out of town to the Hamptons during Giuliani's love trysts, forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for travel expenses.

• The Mayor's Office put $400,000 in expenses on a prepaid American Express card to cover expenses from Rudy's security detail. The bill was charged to an agency that's supposed to provide lawyers for poor defendants. This $400,000 fund was then used to pay for travel expenses incurred during many of Rudy's trips out to the Hamptons.

• Apparently, the security coverage given to Judith Nathan not only protected her, but ferried around friends and family, without Nathan, in NYPD cars. It's bad enough to expend security resources on a private citizen - Nathan was not the Mayor's wife at this time, and Giuliani was still married to Donna Hanover - but using the NYPD as a chauffeur in addition to their other crimefighting activities is beyond the pale.

• NYPD cops walked Judi Nathan's dog.

The focus on the Shag Fund has crowded out other stories about Giuliani that broke this week, including his business ties to a Qatari sheikh who harbored Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. But clearly, this episode reflects that anyone loyal to Giuliani lives under different rules than the rest of us. It's cronyism, it's patronage, it's preferential treatment. It's, as John Edwards has said, "Bush on steroids."

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Still Trickstin'

The forces trying to put the Dirty Tricks Initiative on the June ballot in California had a deadline of November 29 to gather signatures. That has passed and they still need signatures and money, but somehow the movement rages on:

Organizers had set this week as a deadline for wrapping up their petition drive, but said they had not raised the roughly $2 million needed to pay petition circulators. Secretary of State Debra Bowen had recommended a deadline of Nov. 29.

Campaign manager Dave Gilliard said that agents would work through the weekend to obtain the 434,000 valid signatures required to put the Electoral College initiative on next June's ballot and that he expected to submit the names by midweek.

Gilliard was less than certain that he would reach his goal of 700,000 names, a number allowing leeway for signatures that might be disqualified.

"We won't know until they're collected," he said.

Man, the whole initiative structure in California is weird. Bowen RECOMMENDED a deadline? Does that have any force of law? Guess not.

Initiative backers are already floating that they'll push off efforts to November, which would be fantastic, because it wouldn't come close to passing compared to catching everyone napping in a low-turnout June election. So obviously there's a lot of weakness here.

My favorite part was at the very end:

The idea of altering California's system has been discussed within Republican circles for years.

It became so serious in the 2004 campaign that California Republicans approached the Republican National Committee about it.

But the GOP and President Bush's political team concluded that Bush could win the election without the added boost that such a move would bring.

Even the BUSH campaign thought this idea was too hot to handle. Soon, these chumps will find out the same thing.

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A Deal On Fuel Efficiency

This is the best that can be hoped for given the margins in the House and Senate, and for now, the renewable energy standard for electricity is still in the bill, which is crucial. If that stays then this is a tremendous step forward, and a big win for Nancy Pelosi.

Congressional negotiators reached a deal late Friday on energy legislation that would force American automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of their cars and light trucks by 40 percent by 2020.

The proposal, which would require automakers to achieve 35 miles per gallon on average, is similar to a measure that was passed in the summer by the Senate but was bitterly opposed by the auto companies, who argued they did not have the technology or the financial resources to reach that goal [...]

Ms. Pelosi called the compromise on mileage “an historic advancement in our efforts in the Congress to address our energy security and laying strong groundwork for climate legislation next year.” She said that she was confident it would win the backing of environmentalists, auto makers and labor and would clear Congress by the end of this year.

Mr. Dingell, in a statement, called the new mileage standard “aggressive and attainable.”

Standing up to the automakers here, and getting the buy-in from the Dingellsaurus, reflects a strong negotiating hand and an expectation of favorable public opinion to do something about rising gas prices. And raised awareness about global warming has led 150 global business firms to seek mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming. This legislation would take a step in that direction.

Some of the world's largest firms -- including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Shell, Nestlé, Nike, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, British Airways and Shanghai Electric -- said that the scientific evidence for climate change is "now overwhelming" and that a legally binding agreement "will provide business with the certainty it needs to scale up global investment in low-carbon technologies."

A separate coalition of environmental groups and U.S. companies, including Honeywell, Shell Oil and Pacific Gas & Electric, helped underwrite a report, released yesterday by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., that analyzes how much it would cost to reduce U.S. emissions significantly by 2030. The report, which examines 250 options, concludes that the United States could cut emissions by 3 billion to 4.5 billion metric tons a year through existing approaches and "high-potential emerging technologies" if the federal government signaled that it was determined to reduce greenhouse gases dramatically. That would represent a 7 percent to 28 percent reduction from the 2005 levels.

The President hasn't been shy threatening to veto bills this year, yet he's said nothing on this one, so this might actually pass through, and believe it or not, would culminate a pretty solid year of accomplishments for the Democratic Congress relative to recent years. Obviously, the failure on Iraq is troubling, but one interesting angle of the lack of focus on Iraq is that the President's plaintive wails about getting more no-strings funding aren't quite as loud in the media, allowing Pelosi to be far more forceful on troop pullback dates. At some point there will be a tipping point and this will change, but for now she's standing tall.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Random Ten

On the nightshift, so I'm getting this one up late.

So What'cha Want - The Beastie Boys
On Tha One - Big Advice (OK, that's hilarious but it would take me several posts to explain why)
N.Y. - Doves
Spaceship - Kanye West featuring GLC & Consequence
Bixo - Manu Chao
Pneumonia - Bjørk
Beauty*2 - Ladytron
First Of The Gang To Die - Morrissey
Another Place To Fall - KT Tunstall
Drinking In L.A. - Bran Van 3000

Man, I need some new music. To the Hype Machine!

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Earlier this week, Gary Kasparov, the chess champion and a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was detained by authorities after an opposition rally protesting the upcoming Parliamentary election. He was later released after a five-day sentence, but he immediately spoke out against the creeping loss of democracy in the country.

Mr. Kasparov said his coalition, Other Russia, would continue its protests against the Kremlin in order to spotlight what he described as a government that has grown increasingly repressive.

“We’ve entered a very dangerous period because we don’t know where this is going to stop,” he said at an impromptu news conference outside his home in Moscow shortly after being freed. The failure of the government to abide by its own laws and Constitution, he said, “could result in a catastrophe for the whole country.”

Basically, the Kremlin is rigging the election, using their official government power to disrupt the opposition parties, destroying campaign literature and signage, arresting and beating opposition campaign workers, and intimidating civilians to vote for United Russia, Putin's party.

This could be the most dangerous legacy of the Bush Administration. The President looked into the soul of Pootie-Poot and saw a kindred spirit. He ignored the blinking red lights warning that democracy in Russia was on the brink. Putin will eventually run the country from a Prime Minister post after being termed out as President. He's never going to give up power and we are impotent to effect any kind of reforms. Putin has outfoxed the President at every level, and now he's suspending the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which could lead to a major military buildup on the Russian border. There's really a lot to worry about regarding the future of Russia. They can use petrodollars to finance whatever they want in the short term, and they are increasingly becoming a despotic regime. So much for that freedom agenda.

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Tucker Carlson: I'm Mentally Ill

In reference to the end of the standoff at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire, Tucker Carlson just said "this guy should have done what most mentally ill people in this country do, he should have started a blog."

Which, I'm assuming, is what Tucker will do, once his lame-ass show is canceled once and for all.

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More On Man Dates

The John Edwards proposal to enforce his individual mandate for a universal health care plan leaves me a little confused. It started off that he would enroll anyone in the plan as soon as they came in contact with the health care system. Now this report suggests that it would coincide with Americans filing their income taxes.

Under the Edwards plan, when Americans file their income taxes, they would be required to submit a letter from an insurance provider confirming coverage for themselves and their dependents.

If someone did not submit proof of coverage, the Internal Revenue Service would notify a newly established regional or state-based health-care agency [which] would enroll the individual into the lowest cost health-care plan available in that area....The newly covered individual would not only have access to health benefits but would also be responsible for making monthly payments with the help of a tax credit.

....If a person did not meet his or her monthly financial obligation for a set period of time (perhaps a year, perhaps longer) the Edwards plan would empower the federal government to garnish an individual's wages for purposes of collecting "back premiums with interest and collection costs.

I think that's a pretty bad idea if it were the only way they were capturing individuals. First of all, lots and lots of poor people don't file taxes because they don't earn enough money to have to pay anything. And I share Kevin Drum's concern that the IRS shouldn't be the instrument for enforcing health care mandates, and that politically this is a big nonstarter. Capturing people at the health care "point of sale," as it were, and enrolling those who can't afford to pay in a subsidized public plan, would be a lot smarter.

But Edwards' website suggests that both are true, and ABC's reporting is a little shoddy.

"I have laid out exactly how my mandate would work. The fundamental structure of my plan provides subsidies and the subsidies go up to about $100,000 of income. So for lower income families they'll be basically 100 percent subsidized, and the subsidy decreases for up to about $100,000 of income. The way we bring people into the system is anytime they have contact with the health care system or the government they can enroll - they go to the hospital to the emergency room, they sign their children up to school.

Hm. That's actually a lot better situation. People are going to interface with the health care system a lot more often than filing their taxes, as they do once a year.

I do agree with Paul Krugman, however, that Barack Obama's attacks on this issue are really misplaced. How to get to the mandate is a legitimate subject for criticism; having a mandate at all, and by the way single-payer is an individual mandate, is not.

Why have a mandate? The whole point of a universal health insurance system is that everyone pays in, even if they’re currently healthy, and in return everyone has insurance coverage if and when they need it.

And it’s not just a matter of principle. As a practical matter, letting people opt out if they don’t feel like buying insurance would make insurance substantially more expensive for everyone else.

Here’s why: under the Obama plan, as it now stands, healthy people could choose not to buy insurance — then sign up for it if they developed health problems later. Insurance companies couldn’t turn them away, because Mr. Obama’s plan, like those of his rivals, requires that insurers offer the same policy to everyone.

As a result, people who did the right thing and bought insurance when they were healthy would end up subsidizing those who didn’t sign up for insurance until or unless they needed medical care [...]

Second, Mr. Obama claims that mandates won’t work, pointing out that many people don’t have car insurance despite state requirements that all drivers be insured. Um, is he saying that states shouldn’t require that drivers have insurance? If not, what’s his point?

Look, law enforcement is sometimes imperfect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have laws.

Third, and most troubling, Mr. Obama accuses his rivals of not explaining how they would enforce mandates, and suggests that the mandate would require some kind of nasty, punitive enforcement: “Their essential argument,” he says, “is the only way to get everybody covered is if the government forces you to buy health insurance. If you don’t buy it, then you’ll be penalized in some way.”

Well, John Edwards has just called Mr. Obama’s bluff, by proposing that individuals be required to show proof of insurance when filing income taxes or receiving health care. If they don’t have insurance, they won’t be penalized — they’ll be automatically enrolled in an insurance plan.

That’s actually a terrific idea — not only would it prevent people from gaming the system, it would have the side benefit of enrolling people who qualify for S-chip and other government programs, but don’t know it.

Mr. Obama, then, is wrong on policy. Worse yet, the words he uses to defend his position make him sound like Rudy Giuliani inveighing against “socialized medicine”: he doesn’t want the government to “force” people to have insurance, to “penalize” people who don’t participate.

This is even worse when coupled with Obama's attacks from a right-wing frame on Social Security, which is a non-issue compared to all of the other challenges in the federal budget, most notably... health care!

My fear is that Obama is playing a dangerous game here, trying to appeal to seniors by attacking progressive proposals through scare-mongering. This also plays into the Beltway mania with entitlements like Social Security, which they don't really understand. So Obama gets praise from the Broders of the world, and he stays on the side of the Harry and Louises on health care by conjuring up images of people being forced to give health insurers money at gunpoint. Very upsetting.

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Some Straight Talk On The Huck

Mike Huckabee's rise in the polls in Iowa has certainly gotten the attention of the traditional media, and the Romney camp is clearly managing expectations in order to blunt the effect of a potential Huckabee victory:

"It would be nice if Romney won," said Doug Gross, an attorney overseeing Romney's Iowa campaign. "If he finishes in the top two, he's fine."

Now that Huckabee has launched himself to the top of the heap (and if he follows through, it would be kind of an indictment of the notion that money rules in politics), it's time to take a substantive look at his record and his proposals. I'm dubious that the media will actually do this. For example, perhaps the most prominent soundbite to come out of the YouTube debate was his statement that "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office" when asked about his support for the death penalty. This was actually a massive cop-out.

...what reporters didn't note is that Huckabee was dodging a direct question on the very area -- the intersection of religion and policy -- on which he is building his campaign. The man whose ads call him a "Christian Leader" and who says his faith "defines me" wouldn't answer a pretty simple question on how his faith affects his opinion on a policy issue.

But the press stood up an applauded. So witty! So clever! Ah, that Mike Huckabee, what a lovable guy!

In fact, it's this tendency to focus on Huckabee's personality instead of his policy that is masking one of the most insane ideas to appear in this cycle - his "fair tax" proposal.

"Abolishing the IRS", of course, is the purported effect of enacting the "FairTax" proposal Huckabee supports. This would replace the income tax with a national sales tax. But you would still need a bureaucracy to enforce the sales tax! Business owners aren't going to be willing to hand over 30% of the cost of goods sold [the tax rate you would need to have a revenue neutral sales tax] just because they're a bunch of really swell people. In addition, a sales tax of that magnitude is terrible economics. The FairTax idea is beyond silly, and in the unlikely event that Huckabee is the GOP nominee, right-of-center economists will be committing professional malpractice if they don't rise up en masse to debunk this malarky. Bruce Bartlett provides a good template: "In short, the FairTax is too good to be true, and voters should not take seriously any candidate who supports it."

Huckabee takes a complex problem (the byzantine tax code) and applies a simple solution that would actually be unbelievably regressive and essentially shovel more money to the rich and powerful, as well as open up a huge expansion of the black market trafficking in untaxed goods. There's no justification for it, which is why it has been roundly denounced any time a politician, like Steve Forbes, brings it up. Because Huckabee is an amiable politician with some rhetorical gifts, he's getting away with a batshit crazy idea as his main campaign plank.

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Taking The Crisis Seriously

The Bush Administration is actually recognizing this major crisis in the housing market, albeit a little late. But this would help some people:

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration and major financial institutions are close to agreeing on a plan that would temporarily freeze interest rates on certain troubled subprime home loans, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

An accord could reassure investors and strapped homeowners, both of whom are anxious as interest rates on more than two million adjustable mortgages are scheduled to jump over the next two years. It could also give a boost to the Bush administration, which is facing criticism for inaction amid the recent housing turmoil.

The plan is being negotiated between regulators including the Treasury Department and a coalition of mortgage-related companies including Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., Washington Mutual Inc. and Countrywide Financial Corp. People familiar with the talks say the individual members have agreed to follow any agreement reached by the coalition, which is called the Hope Now Alliance.

The early reaction is generally positive, although it's about a year late. Clearly, as the mortgage mess began to threaten economic growth by tightening credit markets, something had to be done. The big issue here, of course, is that the problem is not limited to "subprime mortgages," which has become code for any mortgage that goes into foreclosure. Actually the problem is irresponsibility in the lending markets, and this deal would force the bankers to bite the bullet.

Now, the next step is getting the Bush Dogs to understand what the Administration understands, that something must be done immediately at the federal level.

In the midst of the housing crisis, a cadre of self-described "conservative" Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition is demanding congressional leaders delay legislation designed to help people trapped in high-interest loans stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. The bill, House Resolution 3609, allows judges to ameliorate the terms of abusive "subprime" mortgages. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., is championing it -- a gutsy move for a lawmaker whose state domiciles major lenders.

The Blue Dogs say they oppose Miller's initiative out of concern for the integrity of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill -- a telling justification. Under that odious law, millionaires can shield their mansions from creditors, and corporate executives (think: Enron guys) can prevent ripped-off shareholders and employees from seizing their holdings. Harvard's Elizabeth Warren notes that the law also "permits people with vacation homes and investment property to rework their mortgages in bankruptcy."

But regular homeowners? Sorry -- without Miller's legislation, judges are barred from defending you against the vultures.

This is just the fruits of expansive lobbying by the banking industry, and is a textbook example of Bush Dogs prioritizing lobby money over the concerns of their districts, which are some of the hardest hit by the mortgage crisis. The concern for protecting the bankruptcy bill, too, is charming. Fortunately Chris Dodd is stepping up and offering a real reform of that horrible bill, which I hope he will push in the Congress as well as on his campaign platform, especially since he chairs the committee that would have jurisdiction.

In a Dodd Administration, hardworking people who have fallen on hard times will be afforded a new beginning that re-establishes a safety net and helps families get back on their feet. As President, he will:

• Modify the means test to ensure families have sufficient resources to live on

• Protect children, not creditors

• Ensure all medical debts are dischargeable

• Permit bankruptcy courts to restructure mortgages so families can stay in their homes

• Allow private student loans to be dischargeable

I do think there's a commitment to take this seriously. Eventually the banks will probably be bailed out in the most horrific way imaginable, either through fishy means like the Countrywide situation or foreign capital. But for now, there is at least a small commitment on the people who are losing their homes.

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Why I Want Rudy To Win The Nomination

Because this will be a daily occurrence:

OKATIE, SC -- Giuliani refused to take questions here today about allegations that travel expenses were picked up obscure city offices when he was mayor of New York City.

“We’ve already explained it,” he said, walking past reporters after a town hall meeting.

Giuliani, who is normally friendly to reporters, bristled past them, and campaign staffers were unusually physical in keeping the press away. Several campaign aides told campaign reporters to return to the press area, and some of his security detail manhandled reporters. On other occasions, reporters have been free to video Giuliani as he is shaking hands and signing autographs after events, and he often informally takes questions from reporters.

At root, Giuliani is an authoritarian with an adversarial relationship to anyone who disagrees with him. He's a thug, and a general election would be a nine-month-long series of thuggish acts like this. This is the real Rudy. Don't you want to see "NOMINEE HITS CAMERAMAN" headlines for nine months?

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Hostage Situation At Clinton Office In New Hampshire

This is pretty awful and I don't have much to say about it, and I'm sure news sites will have better information than I do. I will say that increasing polarization and demonization in political matters can lead to stuff like this, which is very regrettable.

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Don't Believe The Hype

The AP calls the new contract proposal from the studios to the WGA a sweetened offer. The United Hollywood blog says otherwise.

That big, amazing proposal that the companies hinted to Nikki Finke was coming? Well, it came.

Turns out their exciting, groundbreaking proposal is... a residual rollback. And not just any rollback, one of the biggest in the history of the Guild. Then, stunningly, the companies have the balls to say their plan gives us more compensation. Well, I'm sorry, but If you take away a dollar and give me a nickel, the nickel ain't a raise. Somewhere, Nick Counter's first-grade math teacher is embarrassed [...]

When an hourlong episode of television is streamed on the Internet, writers would get a flat $250 payment for one year of reuse. That's $250 as opposed to, for example, $20,000 per episode when it's reused on network television. They proposed nothing new on downloads, it's still the DVD formula for those (ie. two-thirds of a penny for an iTunes download). For theatrical movies, they're offering exactly $0.00 on streaming. Oh, and they want to be able to define any content they like as "promotional" -- for which they would pay zero dollars. Even if they stream an entire film or tv episode, and even if they sell ads on it, they can call that promotional and pay us nothing.

Looks to me like the AMPTP responded to the positive public opinion generated by the writers by trying to get public opinion on their side over their "generous offer," and subsequently call the writers "whiners" or something when they refuse to accept it. With the information out now, that's not likely to happen.

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G(iuliani)NR Lies

By spinning in ten different directions at once with regard to the Shag Fund, the Giuliani campaign is simply reinforcing the now well-established image of them as fabricators, which The New York Times finally blows the whistle on today.

Discussing his crime-fighting success as mayor, Mr. Giuliani told a television interviewer that New York was “the only city in America that has reduced crime every single year since 1994.” In New Hampshire this week, he told a public forum that when he became mayor in 1994, New York “had been averaging like 1,800, 1,900 murders for almost 30 years.” When a recent Republican debate turned to the question of fiscal responsibility, he boasted that “under me, spending went down by 7 percent.”

All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong.

When a campaign has earned a reputation as flat-out liars, explaining away a story of the magnitude of the Shag Fund gets even more difficult. And really, it's about time that somebody noticed how Team Giuliani operates, although the Times pretty much confines it to statistics about his record in New York City, rather than the other examples, like making up stats about England's record on prostate cancer.

The point is that today is the day when the lying catches up to Rudy Giuliani.

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Shag Fund Explodes

Today brings us a load of media stories about Rudy Giuliani's taxpayer-funded adultery. And Rudy's campaign clearly can't keep the story straight. They appear to have settled on the idea that the expenses were reimbursed by the NYPD and there's nothing to see here. Of course, this is a non-answer. Unless there's some wealthy benefactor named "NYPD," mayor's office and police department funds are all paid by taxpayers. It's irrelevant to the main issue: why did Rudy stash these expenses in obscure portions of the budget in the first place?

One explanation blames anonymous bookkeepers. Then they tried to claim it was a longstanding practice, leading to one of the funniest attempts at spin I've ever seen:

Joe Lhota, a deputy mayor in Giuliani's City Hall, told the Daily News Wednesday night that the administration's practice of allocating security expenses to small city offices that had nothing to do with mayoral protection has "gone on for years" and "predates Giuliani."

When told budget officials from the administrations of Ed Koch and David Dinkins said they did no such thing, Lhota caved Thursday, "I'm going to reverse myself on that. I'm just going to talk about the Giuliani era," Lhota said. "I should only talk about what I know about."

That's priceless.

As more and more gets unearthed, it looks like these Shag Fund expenses were only a part of Giuliani's living off the public dime.

It seems more likely in his final years and months as mayor Rudy was living larger and larger on the NYC dime. And a look at the book-keeping details that are emerging suggests a very conscious effort to use these squirrelly accounting techniques to hide Rudy's high-living ways from public scrutiny. Some of it was Shag Fund spending, but not all, probably not even most.

The problem is that even though the accounting techniques were part of a general effort to hide Rudy's living the high-life on the city's dime, it's now shined a bright light on the Shag Fund. And the Shag Fund was evidently spread more widely than the stuff accounted for with the squirrelly book-keeping.

Who paid for the city car and driver given to Judi while she was still Rudy's mistress?

Who paid for her security detail?

Why did she have one?

Does the city have to pay for travel and expenses for Rudy's wife and his mistress? Can't the budgeting be monogamous even if Rudy's not?

The NY Times has more on this element of the story. The attempts to conceal this from public view until well after his potential Senate run, and his stonewalling of investigations into these practices by auditors in 2001 and 2002, back up the accounts.

(City Comptroller William C. Thompson) said auditors working under his predecessor first raised questions about the travel costs during the Giuliani administration. Their requests to the Giuliani administration for details and justification went unanswered, Mr. Thompson said.

Indeed, while Mr. Giuliani and his aides provided extensive responses yesterday to the reports about the billing practices, they did not, according to the Politico report, offer any explanation before its publication.

You know you're in trouble when Bernie Kerik has to vouch for you.

This story and one other are dominating headlines today. More on that one in a separate post.

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Tom Toles deserves a medal, especially because he's taking apart his own paper.

The Washington Post has been hammered by their front-page piece on Barack Obama, but never so skillfully as this cartoon.

Incidentally, the reporter responded to the criticism:

I thought the facts that 1. these falsehoods persist and 2. Obama make mentions of his time living in a Muslim country on the campaign trail as part of his foreign policy were both worth remarking. I think the story makes clear, including in the candidate's own words, he is a Christian.

That's of course not the problem. The problem is the whole story is designed as a kind of whodunit, assessing what might happen if Obama were a Muslim and how that would affect his candidacy. It's like the President constantly putting Iraq and Al-Qaeda in the same sentence in the run-up to war. People get the message.

There's no need to dignify bullshit Internet rumors except to smack them down (and maybe to try and find who's planting them, that would be some investigative journalism). The WaPo glorified them.

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No Way Out

Kudos to the New York Times editorial board:

Without a serious effort at national conciliation, American troops are just holding down the lid on a pressure cooker. Iraq’s rival militias, the insurgents, the bitter sectarian resentments and the meddling neighbors haven’t gone anywhere. Consider this all too familiar horror: yesterday, police said they pulled six bodies from the Tigris River about 25 miles south of Baghdad. They were handcuffed and showed signs of having been tortured. And five, including a child, had been beheaded.

Perhaps 160,000 American troops could hold down the overall casualty numbers indefinitely, but they cannot wipe away that sort of hatred. That’s the job of Iraq’s leaders. Either way, the American military doesn’t have enough troops for such an occupation without end, and the American Treasury can’t keep spending $10 billion a month to maintain it.

Read the whole thing. And here's some more facts to add on to that informed opinion. First of all, these numbers being cited as a source of success are increasingly being generated by the unreliable Iraqi government.

And just as Iraqi forces have had a mixed record in fighting insurgents, they have been spotty at providing data from the regions where they have taken command.

Iraqi officials have been reporting far higher civilian death totals than those reported by U.S. forces, and aides to American commanders now acknowledge that the U.S. military probably had been undercounting such casualties.

We're also wearing out our welcome with Iraqi lawmakers, as treatment in the Green Zone and throughout the country becomes more violent and aggressive. At some point, the trade-off between providing security and humiliating the locals will become unsustainable. Plus, eventually there are going to be a lot of refugees flowing back into these ethnically cleansed areas, and there is absolutely no plan to deal with them.

The Iraqi government lacks a mechanism to settle property disputes if former residents return to Baghdad only to find that their homes are occupied, the officials said. Nor is it clear whether Iraqi authorities will be able to provide aid, shelter and other essential services to the thousands of Iraqis who might return. American commanders caution that if the return is not carefully managed, there is a risk of undermining the recent security gains.

“All these guys coming back are probably going to find somebody else living in their house,” said Col. William Rapp, a senior aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, speaking at a two-day military briefing on measuring military trends for a small group of American reporters in Baghdad.

“We have been asking, pleading with the government of Iraq to come up with a policy so it is not put upon our battalion commanders and the I.S.F. battalion commanders to figure it out on the ground,” he added, referring to the American and Iraqi security force commanders.

These conditions presage an eventual crumbling of a very fragile situation, and without political and diplomatic measures, we simply won't be able to keep that lid on.

NPR ran a very good piece this morning basically explaining that all the happy talk from Republican candidates about Iraq is almost completely irrelevant. They keep calling it a war against Islamofascism when it's actually a complex web of countervailing forces vying for power. Some think that Iraq will recede as a campaign issue, but that will only happen if the Democrats allow Republicans to get away with this blurring strategy. Iraq is still very dangerous, and we ignore that at our peril.

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California: Special Session-O-Rama

Looks like that Dec. 5 deadline for voting on a health care proposal has been extended, after the power play of scheduling it on the day of the Republican Assembly retreat was justified by the Speaker's office by saying "Deadlines are deadlines." Until they aren't.

And now, there's talk of a third special session, this one on the subprime mortgage crisis. I guess the inaction on the first two was not sufficient; we need a third. And I appreciate efforts to stop predatory lending, though I'm not sure how this would make a dent in what is a national credit lending problem.

I'm still not sure we have a housing "crisis" or just a housing market downturn, but I am pretty sure that nothing the Assembly is going to do in a special session this year is going to affect it one way or the other. Well, they are probably capable of making it worse. But I don't think they can or will do anything to increase the value of my home, and while I'd love the help, I don't particularly think they should try.

I'm not as dismissive as Dan Weintraub; this is most definitely a crisis. But I'm not really sure what the Assembly can do. The bills they have proposed would only apply to new loans. That's important, but they would not do a whole lot for those facing foreclosure. And anyway, those entering into new loans would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to agree to some no-money-down ARM at this point. And this bit from the press conference is flat-out embarrassing:

In an illustration of the complexity of the crisis, though, one of the homeowners presented at the press conference as a victim said the house he lost was actually one of two that he owned.

While many owners have lost homes they occupied, others were investors who saw the real estate run-up of the past decade as an investment opportunity.

Sacramento resident Carlos Villegas said he was forced into foreclosure when monthly payments on the house he bought in 2005 shot up from $2,200 to $3,550.

"They gave me three days to move," he said. "I feel frustrated with the system.

In response to questions from reporters, Villegas said after the foreclosure, he moved back to a smaller house he had purchased 10 years earlier, which he had been renting out.

Of all the people with foreclosure problems, you found a guy with another house?!?

The credit mess is a national problem, and state solutions are nice, but they're not going to work. Perhaps driving down the costs of healthcare through a new reform would be the BEST way to help those struggling with home payments.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Madame Judi's Chariot

Rudy Giuliani is trying to call the story about his taxpayer-funded adultery a hit job. In that case, the hits just keep on coming.

In 2001, the last year of Rudy's mayoralty, the city gave Judi her own taxpayer-funded security detail, too -- even as it reduced the size of the security detail assigned to Rudy's soon-to-be-ex.

From the New York Post on June 4, 2001:

"The Post has learned that city detectives have once again been assigned to protect Mayor Giuliani's girlfriend, even as he has scaled back the size of his estranged wife's police detail.

Nathan and her pooch were seen yesterday being escorted to her Upper East Side apartment by one of the detectives now assigned to watch over her during the day when she's not at the mayor's side."

Turns out that the NYPD were a taxi service for the Mayor's mistress. All of these costs protecting a private citizen, the overtime and travel expenses, were billed to New York City taxpayers. This is exactly the kind of behavior that took down New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who was using state employees "as chauffeurs and aides to his wife." So we not only have extremely unethical behavior, it could be criminal, though Josh Marshall thinks Rudy will skate because Hevesi was nailed on a state law, not a city statute.

It's still unclear how much money we're talking about here, because the expenses are so buried and misallocated:

The comptroller found that Giuliani's office hid $143,867 worth of "non-local travel" expenses in random city agencies in 2000; they upped the slippery accounting in 2001, charging $435,215 in 2001. Given the charges for the Hamptons travel noted in the Politico piece, only a fraction of this was for the eleven trips.

In other words, Giuliani's office had something like a widespread policy of misallocation of which the trysts were just a part -- something that they'd also done for certain salaries, according to today's New York Times:

"The administration of Mr. Giuliani’s successor, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said in 2002, several months after taking office, that the Giuliani administration had kept the budget for the mayor’s office artificially low by paying more than $5 million in salaries through other city agencies. The agencies to which Mr. Giuliani billed the travel expenses were outside the mayor’s office."

The Times adds that the NYPD typically picked up the bill for the mayor's security detail. But a Bloomberg aide tells the New York Daily News that it is common for the security detail to bill the mayor's office and then for the NYPD to reimburse it. However, "the aide could not confirm it was past practice to shuffle costs among an alphabet soup of agencies." There lies the rub.

What we have is the slow uncovering of a history of recklessness and lawlessness while in the Mayor's office, where loyalty was valued and rules were disregarded. I think that'll be of note to the voters.

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Federal Energy Bill: A Lot Of Sludge

It looks as if there will be a new federal energy bill after the Thanksgiving recess, but it's a half-measure.

Congressional negotiators are nearing agreement on the components of an energy bill that would boost fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and require vast increases in the use of biofuels, according to congressional aides and lobbyists.

The auto industry and its champion, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), have accepted the target of achieving an average of 35 miles a gallon for each carmaker's fleet of new U.S. vehicles by 2020, set in the version of the bill passed by the Senate in June. However, Dingell and the automakers appeared to have won concessions extending fuel efficiency credits for flexible-fuel vehicles and creating separate mileage standards for cars and light trucks.

The two main and most likely features of the final bill are variations of what the Senate adopted. In addition to the 35 mile-per-gallon target for 2020, the Senate bill ramped up the requirement for gasoline makers to use ethanol and other biofuels, to at least 13 billion gallons by 2012 and 36 billion gallons by 2022.

There has been one change in the biofuels measure. While the Senate bill required that at least 3 billion gallons of "advanced biofuels" derived from sources other than corn be used starting in 2016, escalating to 21 billion gallons by 2022, new language would require that the first advanced biofuels be used in 2013. That might ease demand for corn, which has soared in price, and recognize that companies are making progress in using new feedstocks in pilot projects.

Many elements that were in the version of the energy bill passed in August by the House -- such as a requirement for utilities to use minimum amounts of renewable fuels and a rollback of the oil industry's share of a tax break for manufacturers -- seemed unlikely to be included, congressional sources said.

I'm all for compromise, but these seem to be compromises in the wrong places. The President signed bills in Texas mandating a renewable energy portfolio for utilities. Federally, that gets shunted aside. It's completely unclear that the President would sign a fuel efficiency increase, he's been very resistant to it in the past. Further, there are plenty of loopholes crammed into the bill, particularly regarding light trucks, that would incentivize American car companies against innovation and toward more of the same. (What will eventually push them is the market, as they've become almost irrelevant in the global auto economy.) Plus, there appear to be loan guarantees for nuclear power plants in the bill.

I believe the renewable energy standard would provide a more immediate impact to reducing fossil fuels. In fact, the new bill would ELIMINATE tax breaks for wind and solar, in the hopes that they would be reinserted in a later tax proposal. About the only positive I see from this bill is this:

Dingell is also pressing for a provision that would take the responsibility for regulating tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide away from the Environmental Protection Agency and give it to the Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last week, Chrysler circulated a paper arguing that tailpipe emissions were linked to fuel efficiency standards NHTSA oversees. But earlier this year, the Supreme Court said the EPA has the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, and congressional sources said it was unlikely that the auto companies would prevail.

Because energy legislation is a difficult issue with all kinds of regional biases toward certain policies, you typically only get a shot at it every decade or so. It seems to me that the Congress is missing an opportunity, albeit in troubled circumstances

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

So the Perv is vowing to end the state of emergency in a few weeks, bowing to pressure from the US government and the international community. Is the "emergency" as Musharraf described it over? Of course not. There are still violent attacks in the border region, there are still Islamists taking over these small villages. Nothing has changed as a result of the state of emergency. The only "emergency" was that the Pakistani Supreme Court was about to vote against Musharraf on whether or not he was allowed to run for President while being chief of staff of the Army. Now that the Court has been deposed, Musharraf sworn in, a new Army Chief of Staff in power, the emergency has been lifted.

The question is whether or not the opposition will call him on this.

UPDATE: Interesting article about the Pakistani version of "The Daily Show." Seems like Musharraf is aware of the power of mockery.

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Which Is It?

Kind of funny watching the right simultaneously argue that CNN allowed the YouTube questioners to be all Democratic plants, and also that CNN allowed the questioners to be all Republican wackos. Surely it has to be one or the other, right?

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Quick definition of terms:

Sudan convicting a teacher to 15 days for allowing a teddy bear in her classroom to be called "Mohammed": Regrettable.

Sudan, the same country, enabling the genocide of close to a million Darfurians: Unforgivable and a global tragedy.

Unfortunately, only the first one of these is on the news today.

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Tough! Effective! Sleeves In Their Proper Position!

Mitt Romney's latest ad:

Note especially the slo-mo sleeve-rolling, which is as much proof as anyone could possibly need that this is a go-getting go-getter who gets on the go and, um, go-gets.

That really is priceless. Who needs a record when you can make a perfect crease on a pressed white shirt and roll it up to the elbow? I fully expect the next ad to be ALL sleeve-rolling. It's simply too powerful to rebut.

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Iraq In Fragments

• The surge is progressing so nicely, even on the security level, that nobody can report on it.

Nearly 90 percent of U.S. journalists in Iraq say much of Baghdad is still too dangerous to visit, despite a recent drop in violence attributed to the build-up of U.S. forces, a poll released on Wednesday said.

The survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed that many U.S. journalists believe coverage has painted too rosy a picture of the conflict.

A separate Pew poll released on Tuesday showed that 48 percent of Americans believe the U.S. military effort in Iraq is going very or fairly well, up from 34 percent in June, amid signs of declining Iraqi civilian casualties and progress against Islamist militants such as al Qaeda in Iraq.

But most journalists said they believe violence and the threat of violence have increased during their tenures.

To the wingnuts, this probably means that the journalists are on the other side. But really, they're inside their hotel rooms trying to keep from getting killed. This is called "success."

• Turns out that arming the Sunnis could make things worse:

The American campaign to turn Sunni Muslims against Islamic extremists is growing so quickly that Iraq's Shiite Muslim leaders fear that it's out of control and threatens to create a potent armed force that will turn against the government one day.

The United States, which credits much of the drop in violence to the campaign, is enrolling hundreds of people daily in "concerned local citizens" groups. More than 5,000 have been sworn in in the last eight days, for a total of 77,542 as of Tuesday. As many as 10 groups were created in the past week, bringing the total number to 192, according to the American military.

I mean, does ANYONE trust the US military, desperate for good news, to properly screen these Sunnis? We already know that some of them are former insurgents. We know that they have no interest in a political reconciliation. This does nothing but create a three-pronged set of armed militias, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. A short-term fix that risks long-term stability is folly.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, the White House wants their money:

“No matter how some leaders here in Washington, D.C., feel about the war, our troops deserve their full support,” President Bush’s chief spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said as the president was heading to the Pentagon for a series of briefings, after which he was to comment.

This is the "let's be friends, we'll agree that you have concerns, and you agree that we can do every single thing we want."

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Face Of The Republican Party: Booing The American Soldier

I've only seen Steve Benen pick up on this so far.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Gen. Kerr, who was in the audience for the event, whether he was satisfied with the responses. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t.

“With all due respect, I did not get an answer from the candidates,” Kerr said, adding, “We’re talking about doctors, nurses, pilots, and the surgeon who sews somebody up when they’re taken from the battlefield.”

Wmtriallawyer has an excellent post about CNN's apology for allowing Ret. Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr to ask candidates in the Republican YouTube debate about the don't ask don't tell policy toward gays in the military. Wingnuts are screaming and shrieking that Kerr was a Hillary plant and that this proves that CNN is in the tank for her. But I don't think they want to harp on this too long, because maybe then the Democrats will wise up and start playing the tape. And the whole country can see, over and over again, Republicans booing a career military officer for the "crime" of being gay.

At which point, the Republican audience began booing the 43-year military veteran. It was an interesting contrast — at Democratic debates, veterans get standing ovations. At Republican debates, veterans get booed if they’re gay.

The nutjobs can keep yelling "Hillary plant! Hillary plant!" (as if Grover Norquist was just an average American getting his question answered), but do they really need this replayed over and over:

Check it out around 4:00 in.

This is a question that has been asked of both Democrats and Republicans in previous debates. You don't need a plant to get this question across. However, when the questioner is retired military, THEN some in the audience saw fit to boo him. Someone who served this country for 43 years. Simply because they disagree with him on a policy.

THAT was the most revealing moment from the debate. The party that "supports the troops" takes every opportunity to smear, marginalize, and even outright attack troops that disagree with them on policy.

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Authoritarianism Run Amok

This is the inevitable consequence of a right-wing movement that seeks only to diminish human freedom:

The Virginia GOP has found an interesting way to discourage non-Republicans from voting in their presidential primary. Voters will be required to sign an oath, pledging to support the party's nominee for president.

Loyalty oaths? That's where we're headed in our elections? Apparently Virginia Republicans aren't alone - Kansas is trying something similar. And Steve Benen notes similar "loyalty oaths" that came out of Bush-Cheney campaign events in 2004.

The Republican Party wants lockstep agreement. They want their supporters to be "avowedly with them." They seek a nation of robots.

Even David Freddoso at The Corner had a problem with this.

This is deeply troubling [...] I would feel differently if this were a private, party-funded event to pick the nominee — in that case, they can make you stand on your head for all I care. But Virginia has an open primary that is funded by the government. It is extremely strange that the state Board of Elections would allow this.

If the Republican Party really demanded absolute loyalty to Republican principles and not just votes, they would have to throw out every single one of their elected officials.

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Now We Know The Source

Lots of forward movement in the Joe Klein/FISA debacle today. First of all, Peter Hoekstra, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has outed himself as a source for Klein's mendacious article, and tried in the National Review to feed the public the same crap Klein lapped up:

As one of Klein’s sources for the complex technical and legal points that seem to be in contention — and because Klein, his critics, and Democrats in Congress have accused Republicans of trying to “misrepresent” these issues — it is important to correct and clarify the record on three critical points, which also bear heavily on the broader debate currently at hand.

First, the issue in both the Protect America Act that became law in August and the legislation currently under consideration in Congress, is how to ensure effective surveillance of foreign intelligence targets in foreign countries. The issue is not nor has it ever been about surveillance of Americans, as some Democrats have irresponsibly suggested. Under any of these bills, if the intelligence community wanted to target an American in the United States for surveillance, it would need to obtain an individualized court order.

This is completely untrue, but it's a Republican acting in bad faith, so never mind that. What's important here is that we now know who got to Klein. We know who he listens to. And we know how he forms his opinions.

Here on Planet Earth, people understand that letting telecoms off the hook for enabling lawbreaking would be a devastating threat to the rule of law.

ROBERT REICH: You'd think anyone who remembered J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and Nixon's CIA, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 -- let alone the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution -- might be concerned about the government illegally snooping on Americans.

But executives at the nation's biggest telecoms didn't blink an eye when the NSA, America's biggest spy agency, came knocking. You want records of domestic phone calls? Sure, help yourself. Emails? Yeah, we got tons -- they're yours.

When word of this leaked out and the companies got sued by Americans who didn't particularly like the idea of government rummaging through everything they said or wrote, the telecoms went to Congress and complained it wasn't their fault. They deserved immunity from such lawsuits. They were only following orders.

Only following orders? What if the government told telecoms to use their technologies to spy on American bedrooms, or turn over our bank accounts, or our personal photographs, home videos, anything else we store on computers or transmit through cables or over the Internet? The "only following orders" excuse would make telecoms extensions of our spy agencies.

It's just common sense, which is lost on some of our elected leaders. And we're about to find out which ones are being bought off by the industry.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has won another significant legal battle, as a federal judge in California yesterday ordered the Bush administration (.pdf) to comply with EFF's FOIA demand and disclose documents revealing its "communications with telecommunications carriers and members of Congress" regarding efforts to amend FISA and provide amnesty to telecoms. Better still, the court imposed an extremely quick deadline for release of these documents -- December 10 -- so that "the public may participate in the debate over the pending legislation on an informed basis."

Needless to say, the Bush administration raised every argument it could to avoid having to disclose this information. These disclosures will reveal -- among other things -- which telecom lobbyists and other representatives were meeting with DNI Michael McConnell in order to secure telecom amnesty, as well as which members of Congress McConnell and other Bush officials privately lobbied. As an argument of last resort, the administration even proposed disclosing these documents on December 31 so that -- as EFF pointed out -- the information would be available only after Congress passed the new FISA bill. The court rejected every administration claim as to why it should not have to disclose these records.

We're going to find out which senators are meeting privately with lobbyists and the Director of National Intelligence to give away the rule of law in preference for telecom industry love. That's going to be a very interesting disclosure, much like Hoekstra's disclosure of lobbying Joe Klein. It's an incestuous little village in Washington and we're just starting to see it uncovered.

UPDATE: By the way, this is what a correction looks like, Time.

UPDATE II: It's important to note that Pete Hoekstra is crazy, and shouldn't be trusted in any way on national security, considering it was his bright idea to put Iraq and Al Qaeda documents online for wingnuts to peruse that included plans on how to build a nuclear bomb. This is Joe Klein's go-to source for national security questions.

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YouTube Debate Lowlights

Booman offers the best roundup of the Republican YouTube debate that I've seen. I have only seen parts of it. But as far as I can gather, it was a lightning round of immigrant-bashing, historical revisionism (public opinion lost the Vietnam War), Jesus praise (apparently, there is a religious test for office on the Republican side), and anti-tax rhetoric. It was a Wednesday, the day of Grover Norquist's weekly conservative meeting, and so I guess that's why he got to ask a question even though he has unfettered access to Republicans. I already mentioned Rudy Giuliani's stumble through questions about his taxpayer-financed booty calls. You had Mitt Romney refuse to call waterboarding torture until he consulted with an executive for Blackwater. Mike Huckabee came armed with an excellent amount of one-liners that allowed him to sidestep substantive questions. Fred Thompson made it through the whole debate without sleeping, though there was one touch and go moment where someone had to hold a piece of glass up to his nose to ensure he was still breathing. And CNN didn't exactly cover themselves in glory by failing to disclose that one of their questioners is on a steering committee for Hillary Clinton.

All in all, I'm pleased with my decision to be somewhere else last night. Anyone else have any thoughts?

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Bogus E-mail: Worthy of Front-Page News!

Yes, it's revolting that somehow, an Internet rumor is important enough to hit the front page of the Washington Post. There is a way for this to be justified, if the reporter refereed on the side of truth and framed the story as "why are these obviously fake stories about Barack Obama being a Muslim so widespread on the Internet," but that's not what the reporter did.

Despite his denials, rumors and e-mails circulating on the Internet continue to allege that Obama (D-Ill.) is a Muslim, a "Muslim plant" in a conspiracy against America, and that, if elected president, he would take the oath of office using a Koran, rather than a Bible, as did Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the only Muslim in Congress, when he was sworn in earlier this year [...]

An early rumor about Obama's faith came from Insight, a conservative online magazine. The Insight article said Obama had "spent at least four years in a so-called madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." It attributed this detail to background information the Clinton campaign had been collecting.

After Obama denied the rumor, Jeffrey Kuhner, Insight's editor, said Obama's "concealment and deception was to be the issue, not so much his Muslim heritage," and he suggested that the source of the madrassa rumor was the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign denied the charge.

Human Events, another conservative magazine, published on its Web site a package of articles called "Barack Obama Exposed." One of them was titled "The First Muslim President?"

Robert Spencer, a conservative activist, wrote in Human Events that "given Obama's politics, it will not be hard to present him internationally as someone who understands Islam and Muslims, and thus will be able to smooth over the hostility between the Islamic world and the West -- our first Muslim President."

The denial by Obama is perfunctory, but there's a series of add-ons to the "rumor," not lie, which is what it is. The whole article, as Josh Marshall notes, is structured as if he is a Muslim, and how the public would react to that, and how it might help him abroad, which would be great and all except it's NOT TRUE IN ANY WAY.

The piece actually breaks new ground in the use of the word 'rumor'. In public writing, 'rumor' generally refers to a wholly or partly unsubstantiated report. To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence that Obama is a Muslim any more than I am. So I would think the Internet sludge that has him attending Madrassas in Indonesia and being a covert Muslim today who plans to turn the US into a Muslim theocracy with mandatory gay marriage are not really 'rumors' but rather scurrilous lies which the Post has chosen to peddle (wink,wink) second hand.

This is completely irresponsible of the Washington Post.

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Blast From The Health Care Past

Really interesting article about Nixon's plan for universal health care, which shares similarities with the major Democratic plans today. He called for it in 1974, and at that point he called have called for free lollipops for children and he wouldn't have gotten it through. This could clearly be seen as a job-saver, as well as an attempt to write the wrong of creating the HMO system and making the insurance industry even more powerful. But his universal system would have preserved the employer-based insurance plans, but this part is interesting:

Nixon first proposed national health insurance as a conservative California congressman in 1947. He grew up poor and lost two brothers to tuberculosis, which marked him for life. He frequently pointed to the cure for tuberculosis as a medical marvel that underscored the need for a public-private partnership on health care.

"It was something personal for him," Price said of Nixon's health-care push.

Despite the heated politics of Watergate, national health-care legislation was proceeding in Congress thanks to a compromise brokered by a young Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy, a Nixon nemesis.

But then, according to a 1974 political almanac published by Congressional Quarterly, the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers lobbied successfully to kill the plan. Unions hoped to get a better deal after the next elections.

Wow. Shows you the folly of continually waiting until the next elections.

We are closer to the moment where everyone agrees that health care is a right and not a privilege and the government needs to play a role to revive the current broken system. Everyone has a different way of doing it, but I really like what I'm hearingabout the Edwards mandate:

Later today, John Edwards will announce the specifics of how his mandate works. And they're quite good. Whenever you come into contact with the health care system, or whenever you pay your taxes, you will be asked to provide proof of insurance, presumably a policy number or some similar identifier. If you cannot, you will automatically be enrolled in either a public plan that you qualify for (like Medicaid or S-CHIP) or the cheapest plan offered by his Health Insurance Market. Bills will then get sent out, and if they're not paid, will be collected just like the government collects on student loan debts, or taxes, or anything else, using tools up to and including collection agencies and wage garnishment. (It's notable, here, that Edwards doesn't shy away from saying what his stick will be.)

In this way, Edwards' plan is much less an individual mandate and much closer to a government mandate. The burden is less on the individual to seek new insurance and more on the government to simply enroll them in it. From there, they can opt in to a different insurer if they so choose, or simply stay with their default plan. It's a smart and efficient way to move towards universality, and, for now, it puts Edwards ahead of both Obama and Clinton on the substance of the policy, and the speed with which he presented it to the public.

This is the smartest way to quickly and efficiently get everyone in the country covered. And it will take the sting out of those who avoid the hospital for fear of not being able to pay; presumably, those who are indigent will be put on a public plan. In the end this will bring DOWN emergency room costs for constantly dealing with the uninsured. Not sure whether or not Nixon would approve.

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The Rudy Booty Kitty: Day 2

You can either defuse or intensify a scandal within the first 48 hours. For Rudy Giuliani, he's committing one of the cardinal sins - he's throwing the book at it, making multiple excuses, none of which pass the smell test.

Somehow CNN managed to shoehorn the question about his government-financed adultery into the YouTube debate, even though the questions were supposed to be all pre-taped. And he stumbled through it:

"First of all, it's not true," he said during a GOP debate hours after the story broke. "I had 24-hour security for the eight years that I was mayor. They followed me everyplace I went. It was because there were, you know, threats, threats that I don't generally talk about. Some have become public recently; most of them haven't.

"And they took care of me, and they put in their records, and they handled them in the way they handled them," Giuliani said. "I had nothing to do with the handling of their records, and they were handled, as far as I know, perfectly appropriately."

That's a nutty answer. If it's not true, that should be the end of it. But he goes on to say that he had nothing to do with it, that the police put in their own records. If the whole thing is not true, how would he know what the police did? You can't claim it's false AND blame someone else. Furthermore, it makes no sense that the NYPD would hide his love trysts in the mayoral budget and not the police budget. That very act means that the mayor's office had to be involved at some level.

And this is only the most recent answer.


TRY THIS: "SECURITY." In 2001 and 2002, when city auditors questioned the expenses, the mayor's office refused to provide the documents, citing "security." [, 11/28/07]

TRY THIS: "ACCOUNTING." Speaking with the Politico, which broke the story, "A Giuliani aide...denied that the unorthodox billing practices were aimed at hiding the expenses, citing 'accounting.'" [, 11/28/07]

TRY THIS: "COMMON PRACTICE." Denying charges to the CBS Evening News, the Giuliani campaign said "this is common practice." [CBS Evening News, 11/28/07]

TRY THIS "HE DID EVERYTHING APPROPRIATE." Campaign surrogate Congressman Peter King told ABC: "The mayor did absolutely nothing improper, he did everything appropriate, the NYPD did everything appropriate. And even if you read the story carefully it does not say the mayor billed anyone for anything. But again, Mayor Giuliani and his staff, city hall will give a definitive answer. But I can assure you now that everything was done properly and there is absolutely nothing to it." ["Political Radar,", 11/28/07]

TRY THIS: "LEGITIMATE EXPENSES," "FACT OF LIFE" The evening the story broke, top Giuliani aide Tony Carbonetti told the Associated Press that "these were all legitimate expenses incurred in protecting the mayor, and his police detail covered him wherever he went, 24/7." He continued to say "You just do what you do and the police go with you. That's just a fact of life when you're the mayor of New York." [Associated Press, 11/28/07]

TRY THIS: WE'LL INVESTIGATE. Carbonetti then told reporters in the same time period "that he has ordered an investigation, and "he does not know why the charges were accounted for" in this way. He continued to say "I first learned the fact of this today," and while he had "heard about something like this a few days ago" he "was told it was being handled." ["The Trail,", 11/28/07]

That's SIX explanations in one day. Actually, seven, because later in the AP story an aide came up with this beaut:

Later, an aide said that for accounting purposes, the expenses appear to have been temporarily allocated to city offices and paid for out of the mayor's budget but that the police department ultimately picked up the tab and reimbursed the mayor's office at the end of each year.

Huh? It's common practice in New York City for extra-budgetary payments hidden from taxpayers?

Probably should be mentioned that the guy in charge of security in this period was Bernie Kerik.

The truth is that the Giuliani camp has no idea how to deal with this one. There's no unity of message because there's no proper explanation for hiding exuberant expenses in the most audacious manner:

Admittedly he only charged $10,000 to the people with disabilities fund. Chump change for the shag fund. But the office charged with getting counsel for indigent defendants got stuck with $400,000.

Rudy and Judy aren't like us little people. But even that high in the stratosphere, half a million dollars covers a lot of shagging.

I'd heard a lot that Rudy'd done a lot to screw poor folks caught up in the criminal justice system but this puts the matter in a whole new light.

So far this story isn't getting major attention, but I can't see that continuing, although admittedly I don't know what it takes for the traditional media to notice things at this point.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Big Bad Democrats Made Me Do It

After this, I don't think it's possible to believe a word Karl Rove says, if it ever was.

According to Karl Rove (on Charlie Rose), the Bush Administration did not want Congress to vote on the Iraq War resolution in the fall of 2002, because they thought it should not be done within the context of an election. Rove, you see, did not think the war vote should be "political".

Moreover, according to Rove, that "premature vote" led to many of the problems that cropped up in the Iraq War. Had Congress not pushed, he says, Bush could have spent more time assembling a coalition, and provided more time to the inspectors.

This statement runs counter to everything we know about Democrats, Republicans, and even Rove himself.

And yet, this guy, who was a hair's breadth away from being indicted on multiple occasions, will be writing a column, saying things just like this, at Newsweek right up until the election.

Love that liberal media.

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Giuliani Engages In Government-Financed Adultery

This could end up being a big deal, because nothing gets the media going more than hypocrisy and sex.

As New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons, according to previously undisclosed government records.

The documents, obtained by Politico under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, show that the mayoral costs had nothing to do with the functions of the little-known city offices that defrayed his tabs, including agencies responsible for regulating loft apartments, aiding the disabled and providing lawyers for indigent defendants.

Yes, it would be hard to justify expenses incurred out in the Hamptons, which is kind of, you know, not in New York City.

Isn't Giuliani the guy who goes on and on about how government-financed health care is like socialism? What does that make government-financed adultery?

Also, Rudy isn't exactly poor. He couldn't spring for a city hotel room to have his trysts with Judi Nathan, instead of putting it on the public dime and forcing the security detail to tag along? or he couldn't use the Ground Zero-area love nest like Bernie Kerik? I think this is more about somebody abusing the system because they could, and hiding it from public view because that's the way things are done.

The expenses first surfaced as Giuliani's two terms as mayor of New York drew to a close in 2001, when a city auditor stumbled across something unusual: $34,000 worth of travel expenses buried in the accounts of the New York City Loft Board.

When the city's fiscal monitor asked for an explanation, Giuliani's aides refused, citing "security," said Jeff Simmons, a spokesman for the city comptroller.

But American Express bills and travel documents obtained by Politico suggest another reason City Hall may have considered the documents sensitive: They detail three summers of visits to Southampton, the Long Island town where Nathan had an apartment.

The official secrecy, the abuse of the public trust - sound like somebody currently in the Oval Office that you know?

Interesting to note this too:

Receipts show him in Southampton every weekend in August and the first weekend in September of 2001, before the terror attacks of Sept. 11 disrupted the routines of his city.

9/11 really did change everything. Even Rudy's booty call schedule.

My favorite part of the very detailed article, though, is this:

None of the 2001 trips to Southampton appear in Giuliani's official schedule. However, the schedule does contain a potential clue to his destination. Before three of them, Giuliani paid a visit to his barber, Carlo Fargnoli, on York Avenue near the mayor's official residence, Gracie Mansion.

Judi must have been a stickler for proper appearance. Seriously, a barber before every date? And considering we're talking about Giuliani, for WHAT?

This is less a story about the awkward, bungling efforts to charge the public for his own affairs, so much as what it reveals about Rudy himself, his arrogance, his lack of accountability, his unfamiliarity with ethics.

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How About A "Year Of Doing Your Job"?

The Schwarzenegger era will be remembered as the era of "blockbuster politics," where the Governor took the same marketing techniques that made his movies popular and transferred them to the political stage. He wouldn't just make an issue a priority, he would structure the entire year around it. "The Year of Reform!" "The Year of Education!" "The Year of Healthcare!" "The Year of The Environment!" As an actor he only put out one movie a year, so one legislative initiative a year sounded about right for the average attention span. The details of governance would be pushed backstage; the thrust would be to go big on one issue and hope the goodwill gained from success would mask whatever failures occurred. This has not been a slam dunk; the year of reform crashed badly, other signature issues have yielded fruit. Now, with this year's blockbuster on the rocks due to Republican resistance, legal challenges, initiative politics and structural roadblocks, the inattention to the small problems that weren't on the big agenda are starting to consume the state. In an excellent editorial, Assemblyman John Laird, Chairman of the Budget Committee, explains how our current mess of a $10 billion dollar shortfall could have been easily avoided if the Governor would have paid attention to something other than staging the next blockbuster.

... [T]he chronic boom-and-bust budget cycle is rooted in a simple problem: Californians generally believe in government and want it adequately funded -- so much so that they repeatedly have voted for laws or constitutional amendments that lock in guaranteed spending for, say, education or transportation. At the same time, the state's revenue system is antiquated and volatile. It is heavily reliant on income taxes, for instance, and so the pains of an economic downturn have a magnified effect on state revenue.

The short-term solutions that get us through on a year-to-year basis all have been tried -- and tried. It's time for bipartisan hard work to bring California's long-term spending demands into balance with long-term revenues. It won't be easy, but the easy paths have been taken, and they've left the state awash in red ink.

Wingnut conservatives are calling on the Governor to declare a fiscal crisis. It's one of their own doing. When California could have eliminated the constant catastrophes of the budget process by restructuring the revenue offsets to services the population desires, instead the Governor floated a $15 billion dollar bond in 2004. The result is $3 billion a year extra in debt, every year, to repay the costs of a senseless short-term fix. If sound Republican budgeting means "put the problem off to children and grandchildren," then we've got a lot of sound budgeters in Sacramento:

On paper, it may look like spending has increased in recent years, but that is largely driven by the expiration of earlier budget-balancing tricks -- such as temporarily shifting school funding to local governments, shifting costs to special funds and the multibillion-dollar temporary cut to education.

There really haven't been significant program spending increases, with three exceptions: public safety, the result of various court cases regarding our prison system and implementation of "Jessica's Law" to track sex offenders; debt service, primarily the annual $3-billion payment on the $15-billion deficit bond; and local government funding, a result of the vehicle license fee cut because billions from that fee used to go to cities and counties.

Sacramento does not have a spending problem. It has a denial-of-reality problem. The cuts are always accommodated in the state budget, like this year's delay of COLA (cost of living adjustments) for elderly public assistance, and the $1.3 billion in transportation funding. The revenue increases are always blocked. Stopgaps that run out and increases in population wipe out the cuts. We're left on an unsustainable track.

The state is rapidly headed toward bankruptcy if it continues down this stupid, temper-tantrum approach to the budget. if Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to leave a lasting legacy, and let's face it, that's all he wants to do, he can work hard to fix the structural problems that will always put the state's financial picture in peril. That would require sitting in his office and doing his job, not holding big speeches behind backdrops that say "The Year of the Tiger!" or whatever he's trying to peddle to the electorate.

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