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

Friday, December 14, 2007

The California Report

Let me clear out my Inbox and set you on your weekend way:

• The Megan's Law website apparently is being used as a hit list and may have led to at least one death. This is the downside of a "what about the children?" über alles mentality.

• I'm not entirely certain about this claim that state lawmakers could have solved the mortgage crisis back in 2001 by cracking down on predatory lending practices. It's a boilerplate story, a typical "they bought off the politicians" frame. But the problem, as Paul Krugman notes today, is that home prices lowered, leading to negative equity for homeowners. Not sure what the lawmakers could have done about that. This is a national crisis that required federal action. And what action could be taken on the state level is in the purview of the Attorney General. Jerry Brown is investigating home loans from Countrywide Financial for improprieties, particularly forcing buyers with good credit into subprime mortgages.

• For all the talk about Steve Poizner, he is doing his job in suing Blue Shield for their loathsome practice of dropping patients retroactively after they seek coverage. Blue Shield's response?

The state's interpretation of laws governing policy cancellations "is simply wrong."

Stupid state, not knowing their own laws as well as a private entity!

• Nancy Pelosi is under fire for saying that Republicans like this war. Juan Cole is right to slam her for assuming that Republicans would act in good faith and help to end the war after the 2006 elections. What Republican Party was she talking about?

• Anthony Wright has the new amendments released to the public on the new health care reform. I should have a lot more on this over the weekend.

• I know that I didn't execute a House roundup in November, but honestly there wasn't a whole lot going on in the races. So I postponed it and will have a December roundup in the next few days.

• And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the California Democratic Party buying three grand in French wine from Fabian Nuñez, who's now a wine salesman, I guess. I have to acknowledge Kevin Spillane (two Republicans in one day, I know) from the No on 93 campaign for the funny move of sending a bottle of Two Buck Chuck to Nuñez' office. It is an award winner.

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FEAR Unit: After The Fear Goes Away

For those joining us late, I often discuss FEAR Unit, the Federal Election-year Anti-terror Response Unit, which exists to promote seemingly bogus terror attacks just to keep everybody afraid. One of their greatest hits was the "Liberty City 7," the group in Miami that was plotting to blow up the Sears Tower - even though they didn't have enough money to buy their own shoes. Well, that trial finally wound up this week, and, um...

A jury in Miami has cleared one man of trying to blow up America's tallest building, the Sears Tower in Chicago, as part of a holy war.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on six other defendants, and the judge declared a mistrial. Prosecutors say they plan to try them again next year.

This was a group of nuts who had no operational ability to pull off anything approaching a terror attack. The only person they managed to contact to help them on this "quest" was an FBI informant, and it looked suspiciously that the informant pushed them into whatever it is they were supposed to be doing. Yet it looks good in the papers for there to be "successes" in thwarting terror plots (that the FBI creates and nurtures). Meanwhile, actual domestic terror plots go unnoticed.

Rameau says that the Liberty City Seven coverage has upstaged other important news. In a conversation with RAW STORY earlier this week, he said that on the day of the Liberty City arrests, “a former director of the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) admitted to planning terrorist acts against Cuba.”

Yet this “failed either to draw national attention or merit ‘above the fold’ coverage on the front page of the Miami Herald,” said Rameau.

The CANF conspirators were charged and acquitted by a Puerto Rican jury in 1997, after a federal judge threw out one of the defendants' self-incriminating statements. No charges have ever been brought against the individuals on the U.S. mainland.

Rameau notes that while the government has taken action against "men with little to no demonstrable capacity to advance their plans beyond the discussion stage,” it has refused to extradite – or prosecute – Luis Posada, suspected mastermind of the bombing of a Cuban airliner “full of human beings” in 1976.

And in this environment, where counter-terrorism has been totally politicized, Jane Harman wants to bring up something as stupid like her thought police counter-terrorism bill. Crazy.

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Friday Afternoon Erosion Of Democracy Dump

Michael Mukasey has revealed his true colors about who he works for.

Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Arlen Specter (R-PA) sent Attorney General Michael Mukasey a detailed list of questions about the Justice Department's knowledge of the CIA's torture tapes' destruction. What did DoJ officials know about the tapes while they existed? When did they learn they were to be destroyed? What communications did they have with the White House about it? [...]

Today, Mukasey gave his reply: no. The Department "has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters," he wrote, in order to avoid "any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence. Accordingly, I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter, but appreciate the Committee's interests in this matter." You can read that letter here.

He went even further with the House, telling CIA officials not to cooperate with the House investigation, including John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez, who were the prime movers in the destruction of the torture tapes. Mukasey is just another hack, working for Fourthbranch Cheney (who apparently still thinks he exists in a fourth branch of government, by the way). He wants to have the Justice Department investigate itself, again, and claim that there will be any impartiality in the matter.

And to top it off, Senate Republicans, who incidentally love torture, have said so out loud:

Senate Republicans blocked a bill Friday that would restrict the interrogation methods the CIA can use against terrorism suspects.

The legislation, part of a measure authorizing the government's intelligence activities for 2008, had been approved a day earlier by the House and sent to the Senate for what was supposed to be final action. The bill would require the CIA to adhere to the Army's field manual on interrogation, which bans waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh interrogation methods.

By the way, they're doing this on Parliamentary grounds, saying that the rider was improperly inserted into the bill. Well, Republicans oughta know. That's all they did while in the majority.

I'm going to turn into water and slink down the drain now...

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Some Holds Are Bigger Than Others

I don't know if you watch as much C-SPAN as I do. If you did, and you didn't know anything about the workings of Congress but just watched it like a TV show, you'd think the leader of the Senate was Tom Coburn (R-OK). He's always on the floor, making speeches, sometimes lasting an hour or longer, and he seems to have something to add to every bill that's up for consideration. Most of the time, he doesn't like them. He doesn't like them because they cost money, and Coburn considers deficit spending to be a bigger moral issue than abortion. Listening to his speeches, you'd think they were replays, except for the fact that he sports a salt-and-pepper beard these days. The speech is always about passing debt on to our children and grandchildren, and how this is a moral tragedy, and how Republicans have lost their way on the issue of federal spending, and that we should look to see what current programs are working before spending money on new ones.

These sound like fairly noble ideas on the surface, but in reality, Tom Coburn doesn't want the Senate to spend any money. He would never vote to increase revenues, and he would never vote for new programs. He just wants to drown the government in the bathtub. And so, Coburn has scrupulously put a Senatorial hold on practically every single spending initiative that the Senate has sought to pass.

Coburn, a physician who served in the House before he was elected in 2004, has rankled the collegiality of the Senate by putting roughly 80 holds on bills for new heritage areas. He even placed a hold on a bill designed to close a loophole that allowed Cho Seung-Hui to buy the gun he used in his deadly shooting spree at Virginia Tech this year.

Quizzed about his holds, Coburn reached into his pocket and brought out a card he carries with a printout displaying each of the bills on which he has a hold and its author.

Coburn is very proud of his holds, which according to another account number a hundred. He has a page on his website explaining the hold process and how he uses the unanimous consent rule to block consideration of anything he thinks includes "secret spending." He has put holds on bills like suicide prevention for veterans, naming a post office after Rachel Carson, and perhaps worst, investigating the murder of civli rights leaders like Emmett Till (UPDATE: Emmett Till was a teenage kid from Chicago who was murdered for looking at a white woman. It became a major civil rights cause, but he was not a leader. H/t Brian Pitts):

Legislation to beef up investigations into unsolved murders from the civil rights era looked like it would breeze through Congress.

The House passed it 422-2 last summer. Its Senate sponsors included some of the most senior Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But the bill has stalled since the House vote in June. Its supporters acknowledge that prospects are slim this year with just days left on the legislative calendar. The breakdown offers a case study in how even the most popular legislation can get caught up in Washington gridlock.

The Senate sponsor of the "Emmett Till Act" is Chris Dodd. Unlike Sen. Coburn, he has placed holds only in those instances where he has considered it absolutely necessary. And unlike Sen. Coburn, his holds are ignored by the Democratic leadership.

Here's Harry Reid's spokesman crying crocodile tears about the Coburn hold:

"It's absolutely outrageous that one senator and one senator only appears to be blocking us from passing this piece of legislation," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Yes, but there's nothing you can do about it, right? I mean, if one Senator wants to block consideration of a bill, I guess he can just do it...

Unless that bill gives amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms.

Harry Reid has no problem respecting the one hundred holds from Tom Coburn on all sorts of legislation, but will ignore Chris Dodd's. That's the bottom line, and given that, you have to conclude that Harry Reid is the one doing the holding.

Chris Dodd is heroically calling for a filibuster, but the real issue here is the issue of ignoring the rules of the Senate. Harry Reid is picking and choosing which Senators he will listen to. The fact that Chris Dodd came within one vote of defeating him for Minority Leader back in 2004 wouldn't have anything to do with this, would it?

Harry Reid has set up two rules for the United States Senate; one under the normal standards of conduct that have held for 200-plus years, and one for bills that he really really has to pass or the President will get mad at him. Earlier this year, Reid ignored a hold placed by Sen. Ron Wyden and confirmed an assistant Secretary of the Interior that Wyden had issues with. Sen. Wyden dropped an important amendment into the flawed Intelligence Committee bill on FISA that the President opposes, which would force the government to get a warrant to spy on Americans overseas. I guess we'll see if Reid strips that amendment out of the bill, and if he holds the same respect for amendments that he does for holds.

The point is that Harry Reid has made Tom Coburn the most important member of the United States Senate. He's made Chris Dodd, a member of his own party, irrelevant. And he's made himself into a joke. We cannot go into 2008 with this laughingstock of a leader in the Senate.

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You Forgot Florida!

That's been the mantra of Rudy Giuliani, his last hope for a victory to reverse momentum before the big Feb. 5 states. And already, even before Iowa, that's over. It's Huckabee at 27%, Romney at 23%, and 9iu11iani at 19%. The good news for him is that his number does have components of 9/11 in it.

Add that to this embarrassment, with Texas Governor Rick Perry temporarily forgetting who he endorsed.

"The issue becomes very, very clear to me from the standpoint of who I want to support and it is Mike Huckabee." Perry said yesterday while filing papers for Giuliani to participate in the Texas primary. "And it goes to the next level, who do we have that is the most electable of our the candidates, and I think without a doubt it is Rudy Giuliani."

Whoops! It's kind of bad form to say that the guy you endorsed isn't the guy you want to support.

And then there are the continuing allegations into Rudy's business practices, including taking $30 million dollars from a company that sought to spy on Americans.

Rudy's resume is the opposite of what you would want in a leader. And now the 9/11 bloom is well off the rose. His decline and fall is supremely gratifying, because a Giuliani Presidency would be terrifying.

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Everything's Fine!

Economists have kind of an incentive to keep things humming along, so when they say "we aren't headed into recession", I tend to discount their analysis. But this is simply excessive.

Government reports released Thursday showed surprising resilience in the broader economy, even as the financial system and the housing market continue to weaken. Retail sales rose 1.2 percent in November, and even housing-related areas like furniture and building materials were up.

Wholesale prices surged, indicating strong demand and raising cautionary flags about inflation, and a weekly report found that new unemployment claims fell by 7,000, suggesting a healthy job market.

OK, but inflation's up, too.

Look, the structural problems in this economy aren't going to all hit in a month. Retail sales is a function of consumers still having the easy accessibility to credit that they have. When that ends, the economy, which is driven by consumer spending, will sputter. And the credit crunch will eventually hit consumers, no matter how much money global banks inject into the system.

Denying that there's a larger problem with the economy because of the housing crisis is the worst thing we can do right now. The House and Senate certainly aren't. Neither is Alan Greenspan, who's listing the chances of recession in 2008 at 50-50. Of course, he has an incentive to wipe his hands clean of the matter, too.

All that wisdom about an “accident waiting to happen” — an accident for which he, of course, bears no responsibility.

Remember, this is the guy who brushed off Edward Gramlich when he warned about subprime problems; who “frequently argued there could be no housing bubble.”

The chutzpah is breathtaking.

In fact, the chutzpah of Greenspan can be applied to all of our economic "leaders."

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Friday Random Ten

My New Year's Resolution is to see more live music. But here's some of the taped variety:

The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get - Morrissey
Sol (Batucada) - Kinky
Lion's Jaws - Neko Case
Tryin' To Breathe - Dilated Peoples
Readymade - Beck
Vive Le Week-end - Stereo Total
Mama & Papa - Supergrass
The New Workout Plan - Kanye West
Mean Ole Frisco - B.B. King
Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy - Glen Hansard

Just to break off of that last song, Once is certainly in the top 5 best movies I've seen this year, and maybe the best. It's an absolute gem, a small film in the best sense of the word, a paean to the power of creating art.

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This Is How You Deal With A Bully

The United States has steadfastly blocked any efforts to put in mandatory caps on greenhouse gases at the Bali climate change talks. In response, European leaders said they wouldn't attend Bush's stupid "See, I'm doing SOMETHING" meeting on climate change scheduled for next year. Bush wants this meeting to give the impression that he's committed to further action on the issue. As a result, the United States is budging a bit.

At a news conference, Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who on Thursday raised serious concerns about the slow pace of the talks, said that countries were “on the brink of agreement.”

“It’s not actually all that much that is outstanding,” he said. “People are working very hard to resolve outstanding issues.”

Negotiations were continuing but the tenor of the conference improved markedly from Thursday when, amid growing frustration with the United States, European nations threatened to boycott separate talks proposed by the Bush administration in Hawaii next month.

In addition to threatening Bush with something he wanted, the assembled countries recognized that he's a lame duck, and decided to essentially ignore his concerns, in the hopes that a new (Democratic) President will be more amenable to emissions targets.

Can we send Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to Bali so they understand how you deal with a bully? You threaten to take away something they want and you de-emphasize their power. Everything the nations of the world did in Bali could be done in the US Congress.

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Advocates Sue The Mentally Ill Homeless Terminator

You may remember that in August, Gov. Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto pen to cancel $55 million in funding for the treatment and care of mentally ill homeless people.

If you don't remember it, shame on you. It should be the only thing you think of when you think of this governor. He should be forever known as the "Mentally Ill Homeless Terminator."

The claim was that Prop. 63, passed by the voters, adequately funded this need, and so the dedicated funding that passed the legislature as AB 2034 could be eliminated. That's not true. What was actually going on was that the governor was trying to limit political damage by cutting funding for people who don't vote and therefore aren't of his concern.

Well, now some advocates of the homeless are suing this governor's ass.

Advocates for the mentally ill filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger subverted the will of voters when he eliminated a $55-million program for the homeless mentally ill -- a program he himself had touted as a success.

The suit asks a judge to restore the eliminated funding, order the state to continue paying for the program and declare that the governor acted illegally -- an important provision, the advocates said, in establishing precedent for future disputes over mental health system funding.

The suit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, chosen because the plaintiffs include several mentally ill people in the county who credit the program with improving their lives -- helping them kick a drug habit, for instance, or move from the streets into their own apartment.

Allow me to file an amicus brief:

The Mentally Ill Homeless Terminator is a callous, small man.

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First Principles

Yesterday the House passed the intelligence bill, and it included a provision that intelligence agencies must follow the Army Field Manual list of approved techniques for interrogations. This is a moral imperative, a reaffirmation that we are better as a nation than one that tortures individuals. 189 House Republicans voted against it.

There you have it.

In doing so, they disagreed with thirty retired admirals and generals, who urged the Congress to ban techniques like waterboarding from the CIA. (Waterboarding is already illegal several times over, but these military leaders explain why)

"We believe it is vital to the safety of our men and women in uniform that the United States not sanction the use of interrogation methods it would find unacceptable if inflicted by the enemy against captured Americans," the military officials write. "That principle, embedded in the Army Field Manual, has guided generations of American military personnel in combat. The current situation, in which the military operates under one set of interrogation rules that are public and the CIA operates under a separate, secret set of rules, is unwise and impractical."

We now know that the FBI was so furious upon hearing about the CIA using waterboarding that they threatened to arrest the agents responsible. There are still some people working in Washington with scruples.

The President will veto this bill. Obviously what should happen then is that the intelligence community wouldn't get its money. At some point you have to stand up for principle.

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Penn Leaking Ink

I saw the Hardball appearance that Ezra Klein references as well, and it was riveting. I don't know if I'd ever seen Mark Penn live on television before, and he was uniformly awful, especially when he tried to not-so-subtly bring up Obama's cocaine use again. Joe Trippi called him on it immediately, and it became a total mess. Here's Ezra:

My hunch, right now, is that if Clinton goes down, Penn is going to be blamed. You can see the knives coming out already, but he really does a poor job here, and he's hampered not merely by his shortcomings as a speaker, but by the absence of message within the Clinton campaign. When the rationale for your campaign is that you're the frontrunner with the experience to win, losing your lead in the polls doesn't only put you in second place, it actually shreds the argument for your candidacy. What we're beginning to see here is how underdeveloped the arguments for Clinton were when separated from her aura of inevitability.

You can also see Trippi trying to position Edwards as above the fray of a Clinton-Obama food fight, and apparently Iowans are buying that. But it's not really true. It's a one-sided food fight, with the Clintons flailing away in an old style of politics. This is because, as Ezra notes, there's no rationale for her campaign. She's running on the name Clinton, as a re-election campaign, more than anything else. I made this argument earlier this week, that her candidacy is entirely about how she's in first place. It's really Iowa or bust for Clinton, and it didn't have to be that way. That's entirely a fault of positioning, and a fault of Mark Penn.

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Bye Tanner

It's pretty big Friday news dump news that John Tanner resigned. He was the chief of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division voting section. As we move into Election 2008, surely the politicized Justice Department is going to use its position of power to attempt to suppress the minority vote, as they have done practically every year of the Bush Administration. Tanner had other problems; he was flying all over creation on the public dime, and he famously said that minorities die first, and so because elderly people are the ones without identification, voter ID laws discriminate against whites. But the real reason to rid ourselves of John Tanner is because he was upholding a time-honored vote suppression strategy. The more disruption in that department, the better. Barack Obama was actually a leader in getting him removed.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Specter's Bullshit Compromise Goes Down? UPDATED: This Sucks.

I couldn't even find this except at the end of a completely different article, but this is a very interesting development:

Separately on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected legislation that would have protected telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits over helping the government eavesdrop on Americans' communications without court orders. The legislation would have made the government the defendant in such lawsuits, rather than telecommunications companies. The 5-13 vote sank the measure pushed by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who hoped it could be a compromise in the dispute over whether to immunize the companies from lawsuits.

I can't seem to find who the 13 were to vote against it.

Scottish Haggis Specter (h/t emptywheel) had proposed this bullshit compromise and it went down in flames. Now, immunity actually PASSED the same committee a few weeks ago; Leahy just didn't report out that part of the bill. There are several options as to what this means:

a) SJC members know that Reid's bringing the bill with immunity to the floor;
b) SJC members would rather take their chances with immunity itself than a bullshit compromise;
c) Activism works and many on the SJC had a change of heart.

I'm leaning towards (a).

UPDATE: I appear to have been right. Reid is most likely to bring the version of the bill with telecom amnesty to the floor, but in a sneaky way, through substitute motions and the like. He'll basically make it impossible to pass anything without immunity in it.

The reason Reid is doing this in a way that requires 60 is because he wants to pass something. And the only way he can pass something is to pass exactly what the president wants...which includes immunity. So, he has decided to choose a path that will deceive us about whether or not he is honoring Senator Dodd's hold, and deceive us about whether he made a good faith effort to prevent immunity.

I am not happy to come to these conclusions, and the reality probably is that Harry Reid doesn't have the support within the caucus that he would need pursue a strategy of not passing a new FISA bill. The law will sunset in February and too many within the caucus are afraid to let the law sunset.

Nevertheless, we are being set up to not recognize this capitulation for what it is. And I am not happy about it.

UPDATE II: Greenwald has more. Chris Dodd is heroically coming off the campaign trail in Iowa, just 3 weeks before the caucuses, to lead a filibuster. But Reid has made it virtually impossible for that to be successful.

Worse still, Reid is completely disregarding the "hold" placed by Chris Dodd on any amnesty bill -- simply refusing to honor it, even as he respectfully honors literally scores of "holds" from GOP Senators such as Tom Coburn. And while Dodd is interrupting his campaigning to fly to Washington to lead the filibuster he vowed, Reid has ensured with scheduling manuevers that the filibuster will take place only over the weekend -- when all of the members are away raising money anyway and journalists aren't paying attention -- with the intent to try to force cloture once everyone returns on Monday.

There are two key objectives for today: (1) do as much possible to pressure Reid to honor Dodd's hold and (2) do as much possible to encourage the presidential candidates and others to actively support Dodd's filibuster, not merely in a cursory way, but through authentic leadership. At least as of now, Reid is the clear villain here, doing everything possible to enable the Bush/Cheney FISA agenda on telecom amnesty and surveillance powers, and doing everything possible, yet again, to ensure that Senate Democrats stand up to nobody except their voters and their base who put them in power.

Harry Reid must not be allowed to remain Majority Leader in 2008. It must not happen.

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Filibuster Friends May Be Filibustering Their Way Out Of Washington

As despondent as I am over the Democrats' tactics in this Congressional session, it's clear that the Republicans have a stated goal to shut down the government. They're already nearing the record for filibusters in one Congress, and in only half the session. And they continue to believe this obstructionism won't hurt them at the polls. We're going to find out.

There are plenty of top-tier races where Democrats have a clear edge. But take a look at these poll numbers out of Alaska, where the whole delegation is ethically compromised, and there are excellent chances to have a Democrat come out of the Great White North for the first time since Mike Gravel in the 1970s.

If 2008 election for Congress were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Ethan Berkowitz, the Democrat, and Don Young, the Republican?

Young (R) 42
Berkowitz (D) 49

If 2008 election for U.S. Senate were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Mark Begich, the Democrat, and Ted Stevens, the Republican?

Stevens (R) 41
Begich (D) 47

While it would be of course great to knock out Series of Tubes Stevens and his Hulk tie, the race in Kentucky is actually more important. Mitch McConnell is schooled in the art of the Senate and has consistently outfoxed Harry Reid this year. His knowledge and expertise is a major reason they've been so successful at obstructing legislation. Beating him would not only be a payback for the defeat of former Minority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, but it would be as meaningful as Jim Webb's victory over presumptive Presidential nominee Macaca Allen was in 2006.

Today, Andrew Horne, an Iraq war vet, took up the challenge.

Andrew Horne, who had to step down as a Senior Advisor to to run this race, not only has a good shot to beat McConnell, he has a tremendous shot. That’s got us Iraq veterans pumped because not only will we have a voice in the Senate that comes from our own ranks, but we’re also going to take down the guy who is the single most responsible person in Congress for the war in Iraq, as well as the defeat of pro-troop, pro-veteran legislation.

Horne's campaign announcement is here, and he seems to absolutely understand the importance of McConnell in blocking a progressive agenda, and how both veterans and Kentuckians would be better served by his leadership.

"I'm running for U.S. Senate because it's time for a change and because Senator Mitch McConnell is more than part of the problem. He is THE problem. It is time for Kentuckians to take our government and country back. We should not be told to take a backseat to the wealthy and powerful. It's time to tackle the challenges facing our country instead of passing them off to our kids. It's time for leaders who'll take the right stand," Horne says in the video.

"Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader, symbolizes everything wrong with Washington. He bows to big business, practices the worst kind of politics, and doesn't take a stand when faced with tough issues. Simply put: Mitch McConnell carries George Bush's water on Iraq; I carried a rifle in Iraq" he added.

An early poll showed Horne just 11 points off the lead and McConnell well under 50%, and nobody even knows about him yet. I'm going to try and scrutinize these Democratic challengers closely and weed out the Bush Dogs, but so far Horne seems like a good choice.

UPDATE: Horne's campaign website.

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Jane Harman's H.R. "1984"

I have to admit that I was initially a smidge skeptical about the progressive outcry over Jane Harman's bill, the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act" which passed the House by a 404-6 count back in October. While I believe staunchly in the protection of civil liberties, I guess I took "homegrown terrorism" to mean groups like right-wing militia, terror groups who bomb abortion clinics, purveyors of racist hate speech, and the like. As David Neiwert said, it appeared to be an attempt to make counter-terrorism more comprehensive and complete. But when you look under the hood, there's a great deal to be scared about with this bill.

One of the findings of the bill is that, “the Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.”

And the remedy to that is... closing off the Internet? Reading everyone's blog posts for "extremist" rhetoric?

The bill calls for heightened scrutiny of people who believe, or might come to believe, in a violent ideology. (ACLU policy counsel Mike) German wants the government to focus on people who are actually committing crimes, rather than those who are merely entertaining violent ideas, something perfectly legal.

Harman’s bill would convene a 10-member national commission to study “violent radicalization” (defined as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change”) and “homegrown terrorism” (defined as “the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States […] to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”).

Now I'm getting nervous.

It's clear that any organization studying "violent radicalization" could head down some blind alleys pretty quickly. The FBI's domestic terrorism unit cites as among its greatest threats to the homeland... the Earth Liberation Front, the group that blows up Hummers. Animal rights groups also frequently show up on these domestic terror lists. And this national commission that would be created would be insular and potentially susceptible to politicization.

“The bill replicates what already exists without peer review and safeguards,” says Chip Berlet, a senior policy analyst for Political Research Associates, an independent non-profit research organization that studies political violence, authoritarianism, and homegrown terrorism [...]

The broad wording of the bill leaves open many questions. If homegrown terrorism is defined to include “intimidation” of the United States government or any segment of its population—could the Commission or the Center of Excellence task itself with investigating groups advocating boycotts, general strikes, or other forms of non-violent “intimidation”?

“While we wholeheartedly support efforts to curtail terrorism, primarily coming from white supremacists, we would also like to see legislation that more vigorously defends civil rights,” says Devin Burghart, an expert on domestic terrorism at the Center for New Communities, a national civil and human rights organization based in Chicago.

My friend Marcy Winograd, who challenged Rep. Harman to a primary in 2006, is alarmed about this bill and thinks it needs to be blocked in the Senate.

Senator Boxer, one of our more courageous lawmakers, needs to put a hold on this bill before we see a return of the McCarthy hearings, with committees interrogating conscientious Americans who have spoken out against the war and globalization. This legislation ostensibly targets those who promote violence and extremist ideology, but if that were really the case the lawmakers supporting this legislation would be impeaching and indicting Bush and Cheney for war crimes.

During my congressional challenge, Boxer campaigned for Harman so I can only assume, since their political views often differ, that she felt a personal loyalty to the former ranking minority leader on the House Intelligence Committee. Now, however, it is time for Boxer to set aside personal loyalties and consider one's allegiance to the future of our democracy. Harman's bill, though seemingly benign, would actually give the green light to multiple simultaneous cross-country hearings aimed at intimidating those who question the government. Even if the bill were benignly conceived, its effect will be to silence debate and foster a climate of suspicion.

I think that's slightly extreme, but it certainly COULD go that way, and the value of yet another "blue ribbon panel" is certainly outweighed by the potential loss of civil liberties and monitoring of groups who are Constitutionally engaging in their right to dissent. So if you are concerned about this legislation, you ought to call Senator Boxer and urge a hold on it. The bill number in the Senate is S.B. 1959.

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The Energy Bill

Yes, the Federal Energy bill is a disappointment. But think about how much more of a disappointment it would have been if the House didn't stake out such a bold position. They could have not included the renewable energy standard or the tax plan to eliminate subsidies for Big Oil. Now we know that we have 53 and 59 votes, respectively, in the Senate for these initiatives, and with a new President, those could get through. What eventually will pass includes a 40% increase in fuel efficiency and programs for efficient lighting and buildings. I'm somewhat unhappy about the reliance on ethanol, which is a sop to regional interests, and which costs as much, if not more, in energy to produce as the gas itself. However, a healthy percentage of that ethanol production would be from prairie grass and wood chips and cellulosic sources, so technology could be the killer app here.

Overall, this bill, which is likely to be signed, will not cause too much harm, will take a step in the right direction, and we'll be able to get the other noble elements later.

(This is my "pragmatic" persona. If I didn't have it, I'd be tearing my hair out by now.)

UPDATE: I agree that Mary Landrieu's behavior is disgusting. She was the only Democratic vote to uphold the filibuster of the first stripped-down energy bill, which still had the tax package. There was absolutely no reason for her to vote against the filibuster, she could have pulled a reverse Lieberman, voting to end debate and then voting against the bill. Landrieu is up for re-election in Louisiana, in a tough race and I won't be too sorry to see her go. And the Senate Democrats should have applied more pressure.

But then the bill would have drawn a veto, we can't get to 67, and there's no energy bill.

I sound like an idiot, I know, but while I would agree that you can draw a line in the sand over the truly bad global warming bill, I don't see the need to do that here. The Senate has almost no victories right now. Raising CAFE standards is not a little thing.

UPDATE II: Again, I fully understand that the two parts taken out of the bill were the two best parts. And there are all sorts of things you can do to force those wielding the filibuster out into the open. I would bring those pieces of the bill up again soon, in an election year, to put more pressure on everybody.

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281 Strong For Fred!

This is hilarious:

According to the Department of Elections, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have been certified to be on the Delaware primary ballot on Feb.5th.

Unfortunately, Fred Thompson fell short of the 500 signature mark, and will not be on the ballot.

I know Delaware is a small state, but seriously? You couldn't find five HUNDRED people?

It gets better:

UPDATE: Jason Bonham at is reporting that the DOE said Thompson only had 281 out of 500 signatures, and that most of their signatures were rejected because they were not registered Republicans.

I think this is a terrible disenfranchisement of such noble Delawarians as Phil McCracken and Oliver Closeoff.

This news will go nicely with the new poll that shows Thompson behind the mentally ill Tom Tancredo in New Hampshire.

Do you get the feeling that Freddie might not be taking the whole Presidentin' thing seriously?

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It's A Big Shit Sandwich And Everyone's Going To Have To Take A Bite - Except Rich People

Well, it was obvious, but we apparently know how the Governor is going to deal with the massive projected budget deficit.

Faced with what his staff now estimates as a $14 billion budget hole, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to seek across-the-board cuts to state operations.

The administration last month asked departments to prepare hypothetical budgets based on 10 percent reductions for the fiscal year beginning July 1 in case such a move was sought.

But now, as the fiscal outlook has worsened, the Republican governor has decided to go forward, according to advocates for social services and local government the governor has summoned in recent days for budget discussions.

That's 10 percent across the board, but of course there are some spending mandates in there, so some of those cuts will not be allowed.

Schwarzenegger also said that he is hesistant to call for tax increases because of legislative and voter resistance. In other words, he's hesitant to lead. This seems like one of those classic trial balloons to check the reaction. Well, here's one. It's clear that Republican policies of creating, artificially and against the will of the majority, a structurally unsound revenue model, will not be changing, at least not next year. And so we'll end up with a one-sided approach to a dire budget problem, when such an approach will only put off the problem. This is how government shrinks, this is how public confidence in government saps, and this is how a belligerent, UNPATRIOTIC minority (California and America are worth paying for) gets its way.

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Look At That, A Sentencing Commission That Works

An amazing thing happened this week. The Supreme Court, by a 7-2 margin, ruled that federal judges have the leeway to reduce sentences for possession of crack cocaine relative to powder. The disparity in sentencing, which has significant racial overtones, has long been unconscionably unfair. And get this: the US Sentencing Commission unanimously decided to make the guidelines retroactive which could result in thousands of convicts who were unfairly sentenced to be released.

See, there's a national sentencing commission that reviews information and makes recommendations based on logic and common sense, taking the hot-button issue of sentencing out of the political sphere. Yet here in California, we have been stymied at any effort to create such a sentencing commission, and all sentencing legislation moves in the direction of being more punitive rather than less. This is how our jails have become clogged with so many nonviolent offenders, who in the overcrowded environment without proper treatment and rehabilitation often return to jail more violent than when they got there in the first place. The executive branch of this state knows this, yet they refuse to reveal their documents and communications that would confirm it.

States have the ability to break free from the "tough on crime" box and actually change the tilt in favor of jailing more and more citizens for longer and longer periods. Heck, in New Jersey this week they voted to ban the death penalty. But the only way to see any early prison releases in California is when the state miscalculates their sentences.

Up to 33,000 prisoners in California may be entitled to release earlier than scheduled because the state has miscalculated their sentences, corrections officials said Wednesday.

For nearly two years, the overburdened state prison agency has failed to recalculate the sentences of those inmates despite a series of court rulings, including one by the California Supreme Court. The judges said the state applied the wrong formula when crediting certain inmates for good behavior behind bars.

Some inmates released in recent months almost certainly stayed longer in prison than they should have, said corrections officials, employees and advocates for prisoners. Some currently in prison most likely should be free, they said. But many whose sentences are too long are not scheduled to be released for months or years.

The inmates in question -- 19% of the state prison population -- are serving consecutive sentences for violent and nonviolent offenses. The sentencing errors range from a few days to several years.

Corrections officials say they have been unable to calculate the sentences properly because of staffing shortages and outdated computer systems that force analysts to do the complex work by hand.

This directly results from the overcrowding crisis. An overburdened corrections industry cannot keep up with the processing given the meager resources they have. This ends up costing the state more - approximately $26 million annually - than what it would cost to put the proper resources in place, particularly if you factor in the possibility of lawsuits from inmates, as we are now seeing in other respects.

Fixing miscalculations is a step. But until you have the courage and fortitude to address the root causes and meet the same responsibilities that even the federal government has decided to meet, nothing will change.

P.S. There are pending mandatory minimum sentencing bills in the federal government, which would fix the crack/powder sentencing disparity even further. It won't surprise you at all that the version of the bill that Dianne Feinstein supports is completely insufficient to deal with the problem.

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Shaheen Steps Down

I'm glad the Clinton campaign dealt with this so quickly and got rid of the guy who intimated that Barack Obama's drug use would be a problem in the campaign. But the damage is already done, isn't it? It's "out there."

It was maybe the most unfortunate moment of this campaign, and if Sen. Clinton does lose Iowa I think it'll be decisive.

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Airing The Dirty Laundry

The effect of Mike Huckabee's unfortunate comment about Mormons, which has led to the ridiculous apology of "I didn't know what I was saying about his religion, I'm just a simple theology student," has been that the econo-con/fundie-con debate within the GOP has spilled out into public view, and everybody's running for cover. Today the Krauthammer lamented:

This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN/YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasement with various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, the only answer, is that the very question is offensive.

The bargain that conservative elites have made with the theocrats was never sustainable. But the elites always thought that they could pay some lip service and beat them back at the polls. With the rise of Huck's Army in Iowa, led in large part by Christian home-schoolers, the elites are skittish. But the truth is that the GOP is so balkanized, that Huckabee cannot possibly become a unifying figure, even in particular portions of the base. The Minutemen are in a full-blown slap-fight over Jim Gilchrist's endorsement, labeling him an opportunist. This slick video from a Huckabee detractor shows that the campaign is getting uglier and uglier. (UPDATE: it's now been removed from YouTube.)

The point is that the warts of the Republican Party are on full display for an electorate that is recoiling.

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I Feel Their Pain

A public opinion poll in the world's most dangerous trouble spot, Pakistan, shows that most people want Pervez Musharraf to resign, and practically everyone expects massive vote rigging.

And yet, Musharraf is still President, and the election will be held, and that will be that.

The only difference between the despair in Pakistan and the despair stateside is that the Pakistanis might actually act on it.

Pakistan’s two main opposition leaders, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, each a former prime minister, are already accusing Mr. Musharraf of fixing the vote in advance and vowing protests if he prevails.

“If elections are rigged, we are going to need to be in a position like the people of Ukraine were, to protest those elections,” Ms. Bhutto said at a news conference last week. “A plan is under way to rig the elections, and to stop progress towards democracy.”

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Last Debate Before Iowa Quasi-Liveblog

I'm watching, since we're three weeks out and the Democrats won't meet each other on stage again until after the caucuses. I'm not going to try and transcribe, but if anything interesting happens, I'll note it.

This debate looks like it'll be pretty staid and focused on fiscal issues. I wonder if the epic capitulation by the Dems will be discussed. I like that Obama mentions the long-term fundamentals; you can't just say that you're going to balance the budget by destroying education or health priorities, for example.

...these candidates are all talking about what you can save in the budget, as if the Democratic capitulation happened in a vacuum.

I do appreciate Biden talking about runaway defense spending as a place for reduction. There's this idea on the right that defense spending isn't part of the budget, that it's paid for by pixie dust and small bands of elves. In fact, it's the most bloated part of the federal budget.

...Now we're on to how China is holding on to so much of our debt. Richardson eludes the question. Because the answer is that they have us totally over a barrel. He apparently doesn't know that they've agreed to post US officials in its food factories. I think Dodd's answer was far stronger, but still, they have us completely blackmailed, and nobody's recognizing that.

..."Entitlement" reform is such a misnomer. I don't understand why people try to wall off pieces of the budget as if it's somehow worse to pay for someone to get their health care than it is to pay for a useless weapons system that doesn't work.

...Richardson: "I believe that universal health care is a human right for every American."

...we're on to trade. There's typically a lot of double-dealing from these candidates on this. They're all saying that trade policy ought to be linked to human rights. Well, OK. This has pretty much never been a standard that the United States prioritizes, and anyone on this stage would be the first to do so.

...GOOD for Richardson for reminding people that the Iraq war is still the most important issue facing this country. It's basically a call-out to the lady from the Des Moines Register running the debate, as well as the idiots in the punditocracy that think we're in the "postwar" period.

...again, GOOD for Richardson for calling out the Senate on their deep-sixing of the federal energy bill, removing the renewable energy standard and putting back subsidies for Big Oil. Friends of the Earth has more.

“This is the wrong approach. Instead of capitulating, the Senate Democrats should show some backbone. If Republicans want to block progress on clean energy and global warming, they should be forced to mount a real filibuster—for weeks if necessary. If President Bush and Republican senators persist in their obstruction, Democrats should pull the energy bill from the floor and make it an issue at the ballot box instead. Let’s be clear. What the Republicans are doing here is morally repugnant. They are jeopardizing our children’s future in order to help corporate polluters make more money. The American people have signaled that they want a different direction, and Democrats should not yield to this obstruction.

“The basic truth is that our system of energy production and consumption is wholly unsustainable, and dramatic changes are needed or we risk a systemic collapse. Unfortunately, we are not yet getting the bold leadership from the Senate that is required to bring about these changes.”

Richardson is winning this debate. Clinton isn't on the radar. I think Obama's doing decently enough.

...Hillary makes a funny. "We'll raise our hands and say that global warming is a problem."

...Now we have a question on the Farm Bill, which would be great, except we're in Iowa, and you can't get an honest answer out of politicians about agriculture in Iowa. The fact is that the Senate again blew it this week by refusing to lower subsidies. And a Democrat, Blanche Lincoln, was the one who did it.

...I love Edwards' idea of a National Teachers University. He's going back to the One America theme in talking about the public school system.

...Obama "I will review every executive order from George Bush, and reverse them if they subvert the Constitution." Biden has a similar stance. Everyone's talking about ending the war in the first year, too. George Bush has been mentioned an infinite amount of times as he was in yesterday's Republican debate. That's because they never mentioned him.

...This is an odd set of "character" questions. Was this part of the Republican debate? Biden just got hammered on his "fresh and clean" comments, and Obama backed him up (which was a moment of character for him). The Edwards question was subtler, "How can you get anything done after trashing the stakeholders for years?" I think his answer was great. Special interests shouldn't control the debate, even if they are now.

...Obama: "Hillary, I'm looking forward to you advising me as well." That's a statement of confidence and leadership. Now he's moving on to the central foreign policy differences. To a large extent, Obama's foreign policy advisors didn't support the Bush war policy and its underlying assumptions. That was a fantastic answer.

...Next question is on signing statements. Excellent. Hillary: "I would use them the way Presidents before this President would use them." Edwards spins it into a question about executive power, saying "I would make sure the three branches of this government are co-equal." So vote for me to head one of the branches so I give away my power! I would LIKE to believe him.

...Edwards uses his "somewhere in America" imagery from the 2004 campaign. He's really doing a 2004 revisited thing.

...A bunch of Iowa-pandering to close out this debate. Joe Biden described why Iowa should be first in the nation to vote: "They take it so seriously." Yes, so seriously that just over 6% of them actually come out and caucus!


My wrap-up: the pundits will say nothing happened because nobody "attacked" one another. Because they don't really care about issues. Overall, the format gave everyone a chance to shine, and I think Richardson, Obama and Edwards rose to the occasion.

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They Destroyed The Tapes To Cover Up The Crime

Not only have federal courts ordered preservation of all relevant documents AFTER the revelation of the destroyed CIA torture tapes, apparently the same orders were in place before.

The Bush administration was under court order not to discard evidence of detainee torture and abuse months before the CIA destroyed videotapes that revealed some of its harshest interrogation tactics.

Normally, that would force the government to defend itself against obstruction allegations. But the CIA may have an out: its clandestine network of overseas prisons.

While judges focused on the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and tried to guarantee that any evidence of detainee abuse would be preserved, the CIA was performing its toughest questioning half a world away. And by the time President Bush publicly acknowledged the secret prison system, interrogation videotapes of two terrorism suspects had been destroyed.

That certainly fits with the torture timeline of the tapes being destroyed soon after Dana Priest uncovered the CIA black sites on the pages of the Washington Post. Now the ACLU is asking that the CIA be held in contempt for destroying the tapes. I'm not sure what that means (are you going to throw the whole CIA in jail), but clearly this controversy is spinning out of control. And more and more detainees and suspects are revealing that their interrogations were videotaped and audiotaped, long after the CIA claims it ended the practice. Michael Hayden has now admitted that the agency failed to disclose to Congress what the hell was going on. This all points to the failure of intelligence oversight, which has been going on more some time (although I don't think David Ignatius has a clue about what to do about that). Destruction of evidence and lack of disclosure is a persistent problem, not a brand new thing. We have to determine a way to oversee the intelligence collection meaningfully and with due haste. Part of that comes from getting leaders in those oversight committees who are committed to the rule of law. The other part may come in the form of legal liability, which always tends to button things up for a while.

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Milquetoast Democratic Action Expands Globally

Looks like the world is taking lessons from the Democrats:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon conceded Wednesday that the United States had succeeded in achieving one of its key objectives at the climate conference here, blocking a proposal that called on industrialized nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020.

Having jettisoned the idea of incorporating specific emissions targets in the framework that will guide international climate talks over the next two years, participants were hoping to find other ways to make meaningful progress here in the two-week-long meeting of nearly 190 nations.

The world is figuring out that an obstinate, ornery, obstructionist party of NO wields a lot of power. The Bush team and the Republicans in Congress don't play by the rules. And nobody's ever changed the rules on them to outmaneuver them. I agree with Rep. Wexler, impeachment hearings would be a chip the Congress could use to force compliance.

"The way we pass stem-cell research, the way we get implemented a children's health care plan, the way we get higher CAFE [corporate average fuel economy] standards to bring our energy debacle into a better condition for generations to come is to have impeachment hearings," Wexler said, appearing to nearly run out breath at one point during his speech. "Because that'll get the president's eye. That'll get the vice president's eye. That for the first time will show that the Democratic majority is here, and that in fact we have the courage of our convictions, and that we're not bound to be tied by conventional wisdom."

Somebody needs to change the game on these folks. There are too few leaders around the nation and around the world willing to do that.

UPDATE: Al Gore says what's needed to be said.

“My own country the United States is principally responsible for obstructing progress in Bali.”

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In rare news of the Congress doing their job, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved contempt citations for Karl Rove and Josh Bolten. Although, this is so far removed from the actual scandal to which it pertains (it was the US Attorney firings) that I don't think anyone remembers why they're being called, and thus politically it takes the shape of piling on needlessly, and becomes completely ineffective. Not to mention:

The criminal contempt resolutions now move to the Senate floor, although no action on them is expected until next year [...]

The House Judiciary Committee has also approved contempt resolutions against Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not set a date for a floor vote yet.

There's a principle at stake here, of course, and that's the role of Congressional oversight, but this can easily be characterized as old news, because it actually is old news. Meanwhile the US Attorney for DC, who would normally represent Congress in any legal battle with the White House, won't enforce these contempt citations. And the Bush Justice Department is gearing up to suppress the vote in 2008, again, which was after all one of the prime motivations of the US Attorney firings.

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What's Needed Is A Union of Unions

Matt Stoller notes that IATSE's President is badmouthing the WGA. That's normal. This goes back to jurisdiction fights between IATSE and the WGA that go back years, mainly over animation writers, actually, which IATSE signed up first. The starkest example is the 2006 WGA strike of America's Next Top Model. The story staff walked out, but IATSE wouldn't pull its editors. The execs and the editors finished the show, and the story staff all got fired.

There's a lot of cross-union animosity in Hollywood. The AMPTP is counting on that right now by negotiating with the DGA, which never walks out, to try and set a baseline for the other unions that is friendlier.

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I was a smidge too hard.

But only a smidge.

The actual vagaries of what's in the new budget won't change the narrative; the Democrats accepted Bush's numbers, with nothing in return. And in the end, they'll probably end this facade of funding their own "priorities", too. However, if they dump abstinence-only education, I won't be cryin'. The devil's in the details.

Democratic leaders tried to put the best face on their surrender on domestic spending levels, promising that the final bill will reflect their priorities, if not their preferred funding -- "the president's number, our priorities," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She noted that the bill would increase funding for children's health programs, nutrition and medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

Democrats will also increase spending on heating assistance for the poor, health care for veterans, local law enforcement and border security, Democratic leadership aides said last night.

To meet those goals, staff members on the House Appropriations Committee will probably target the president's "Millennium Challenge" international aid program, his abstinence-education efforts and the scandal-plagued "Reading First" education effort.

The Millennium Challenge may be a stupid thing to raid, but it's probably run like garbage.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Late Night You Tube (x2!)

First, the best video I've seen from the writers during the strike:

Then, and you have to go to another page for this, which is a hardship, I know, but here's an important public service reminder from your wise and benevolent government minders. I'm thinking that the Democrats will grudgingly mint these new Bush coins in denominations of 1, 5, and 10 gallons, but only if they get to keep funding the war and personally build a border fence.

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Fire Up Your Favorite Capitulation Carol

After all, it's Christmas, let's give George Bush a present. Actually, a multitude of presents:

Democratic lawmakers and staffers privately say they're closing in on a broad budget deal that would give President Bush as much as $70 billion in new war funding.

Congress is likely to pass an additional $70 billion in new war funds, Democrats tell CNN.

The deal would lack a key provision Democrats had attached to previous funding bills calling for most U.S. troops to come home from Iraq by the end of 2008, which would be a significant legislative victory for Bush.

Democrats admit such a move would be highly controversial within their own party. Coming just weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, vowed the White House would not get another dollar in war money this year, it would further antagonize the liberal base of the party, which has become frustrated with the congressional leadership's failure to push back on Bush's Iraq policy.

"The base will not be happy," said one senior Democratic aide, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss budget negotiations that have not been completed.

If there's one thing I know about creating a winning majority in politics, rule number one is, displease the base.


By the way, in exchange for this abomination, they'll be getting a reduction in their budget by $22 billion dollars. David Obey tried to play hardball by threatening to dump every earmarks, but bring-home-the-bacon Democrats revolted.

And this comes on a day when the President vetoed S-CHIP, again. Somehow these are seen as two completely separate events. Somehow nothing is connected between one and the other. Somehow Democrats who feel stymied and bullied into giving war funding don't have the light bulb go off and say, "OK, sign S-CHIP then." Nope, it's always framed by how constrained they are.

Privately, Democrats say they have little choice but to give the president at least some war funding because Senate Republicans have vowed to block any final budget deal unless it has at least some of the war funding Bush has requested.

Oh noes! They're going to block any budget deal! OK, no war funding then. That's called hardball, but Democrats play with only a badminton shuttlecock.

This story about the power of Senate Republicans is the most pathetic thing I've ever seen in my whole life. It's good that the NYT recognizes the historic obstructionism, but that power has to be given to the minority; they can't just take it. And the Democratic leadership gives and gives and gives, taking next to nothing.

So it was more than a little telling when Mr. (Mitch) McConnell laid down his mark in the current budget fight on Tuesday, informing the Capitol Hill press corps that he was ready to offer Democrats a deal, $70 billion in war financing with no strings attached and a total budget identical to President Bush’s proposal.

In other words, the Republicans should get virtually everything they want. And he was not kidding.

Why would he be? Nobody's standing up to him, just like nobody's standing up to Bush. And this is fast becoming an electoral problem.

Chris Bowers thinks it's time for new leadership in Congress, and he's right.

From what I understand, Pelosi is backing down because Reid wouldn't go along with Obey's plan to stand firm. In the Senate, I think Chris Dodd is the obvious choice to replace Reid, given that Dodd has demonstrated leadership and once lost a majority leader campaign by a single vote. Then again, I have no idea how to help engineer a replacement of Congressional leadership. I also don't know who would do a better job in the House than Pelosi.

If the leadership we have isn't getting the job done, we need to think about how to get better leadership. Perhaps we could even change leadership behavior without actually replacing the leaders. I don't really know, but I do know that what we are doing right now isn't working.

I mean, if you can't slap down a little pest like Tom Coburn, who's blocked 90 spending bills this year, it's time for a change at the top.

The Republicans have a strategy to shut down the government. To end all governmental actions except funding endless war. Democrats have recognized this strategy. Every so often they manage to sneak something by it (vets funding, student loans, 9/11 Commission recommendations, minimum wage). But on the major issues of the day, they have willingly, almost, ceded their power in the worst possible way, the only way that threatens expanded majorities and the Presidency in 2008. I've probably been one of the bigger defenders of Congressional Democrats in the blogosphere but I can't defend them any longer.

The expectations for this Congress may have been too high. But they managed to sink far below even the most pessimistic of hopes. They aren't worthy of staying in their leadership positions. They aren't worth much of anything right now.

UPDATE: Hey, here's some fun, the Democrats in disarray headlines are back!

Democrats Blaming Each Other For Failures

Can't argue with that. Not one bit. It's ugly. The House Dems are claiming that the Senate Dems have Stockholm syndrome, the Senate Dems are claiming that the House is passing legislation that can never get through their chamber. It's a HUGE clusterfuck.

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The Charge Of The Lightheaded Brigade

I don't have much more to add to Jon Swift's brilliant post about how wingers are attacking the credibility of a woman who was raped and imprisoned by KBR/Halliburton employees (and treating it like it's a fucking detective novel, instead of, you know, a women being raped), except to say that they never seem to turn their rhetorical fire on anyone but victims. Victims deserve scorn because they get in the way of the big victory, the logic goes. That's such a depressing way to live your life.

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I Don’t Care What The Intelligence Says

Does any sentence sum up the modern conservative movement more?

They’re undoubtedly intent upon nuclear weapons. I don’t care what this latest NIE says. That’s foolishness that represents our own inability to get a handle on it more than anything else.

That was Fred Thompson, going with his gut over established reality and creating it himself.

In a similiar and far more dispiriting vein today was Thomas Friedman, who uses an idiotic analogy (par for the course for him, I know) to suggest we would be better off lying about the reality of Iran's nuclear program in order to make ourselves look tough to the Gulf states. I don't know when it was decided that we should base our foreign policy on how Bahrain would perceive us.

People know that Iran is still enriching uranium, and they know they have the right to do so under the NPT. People know that their enrichment program is actually overblown, and wouldn't produce enough weapons-grade product for a half-decade. People know that the ability to maneuver enriched uranium into a weapon is still a threat - Europe is pretty united on that one. And people know that a good ground for negotiations occurs when one side isn't threatening to blow up the other side every five seconds. Indeed, the toning down of the rhetoric, caused in part by the release of the NIE, is aiding efforts at additional sanctions at the UN.

Friedman doesn't understand this because the words "Suck. On. This." don't appear in such a policy.

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The California Presidential Primary Has Been An Unmitigated Failure

We are 56 days from the California Presidential primary on February 5, and just a few weeks from opening early and absentee voting, and I think it's reasonable to assess how the facts of the race thus far have met with the expectations, and even if it isn't reasonable, I'm about to do it. The entire rationale for moving up the primary to February, from people as varied as the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, even our friends at the Courage Campaign, was that this would bring new attention to California in the Presidential race and would allow the state a say in the picking of a nominee.

How's that goin'?

Monday was one of the first days in months and months where the two top contenders on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, were in California at the same time. They were both here for fundraisers, and both by accident - there was supposed to be a debate on CBS in Los Angeles that day, but a pending WGA action and the unwillingness for the candidates to cross the picket line forced cancellation. Obama's fundraiser, granted, was a low-dollar event at the Gibson Ampitheatre in Universal City - a combination rock concert/political rally. In similar rallies in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, fans saw Oprah: in Hollywood, home of the stars, we got Nick Cannon and the Goo Goo Dolls. Indeed, the last public, no-money-needed appearance by any viable candidate in California fades into the back of the memory. There just haven't been any.

Last night I sat in on a conference call with supporters of John Edwards and the national campaign. It was billed as a dialogue about how Edwards supporters in Southern California can best help their preferred candidate. The unequivocal message from the campaign was that these activists can best help them by "adopting Nevada," home to one of the earlier caucuses, on January 19. They touted road trips to Las Vegas for phone banking and canvassing. This was extremely redolent of work I did with the Dean campaign in 2004 on their "Southwest Victory Tour" into Arizona and New Mexico. Four years later, absolutely nothing has changed.

This is not a slam on the top three campaigns. They are ignoring California, so to speak, because they are making the calculation that victories in the early states will lead to a momentum build that will be impossible to stop. And this is precisely the dynamic of the race. It's clear to anyone that is paying attention that Iowa, and to a lesser extent New Hampshire, have been made MORE decisive as a result of the truncated primary. There are dozens of examples I can cite. Edwards supporter and California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino was on the conference call. He wasn't whipping up support in his district, he was calling in from Iowa. Fabian Nuñez recently took a trip out to Iowa. A few weeks ago we had the executive board meeting of the CDP - the largest gathering of activists you're going to see until the primary. That inviting target attracted - well, it attracted Dennis Kucinich. There have been no TV ads run in California and exactly one mailer, by Clinton, in a small enough quantity to get the attention of the political press and nobody else. The public polling on the California race, at least on the Democratic side, has mirrored the national polling to a T, because all we're getting out here is the national race. The national primary is fictional, and so is the California primary, for all intents and purposes.

People in this state that supported this move, and it was broadly popular, were simply sold a bill of goods. It was blindingly obvious that the only way to change the primary system and allow it to have a diversity of voices was to actually change it, by removing the dominance of Iowa and New Hampshire. I am hopeful that, as a result of this ridiculous front-loading, that will happen in 2012. But clearly, California's move, which was the first of the non-early states and essentially broke the dike, causing 20 or so other states to move up in order to keep pace, EXACERBATED the problem.

And in so doing, the move enabled not only the ballot initiatives that we see on February 5, but the potential for all sorts of Republican mischief in the low-turnout June primary. Frankly, to suggest that a group of lawmakers who wished to change term limits just happened to pick a day before the deadline for filing in the June primary to hold an election which could have that on the ballot is beyond naive. In so doing, the June election became initiative bait, susceptible to all sorts of right-wing ballot measures. We may have dodged a bullet with the Dirty Tricks thing, but there will be others, as you all know (starting with the Hidden Agenda initiative about eminent domain "reform").

In point of fact, the only time that California has ever been a factor in the Presidential primaries is... when they held them in June, in the 1968 and 1972 races (the tragic death of RFK changed what would have been a decisive election in '68, obviously). I'm certainly not saying that history would have repeated itself in 2008 if California only retained its position, but I am saying that absolutely nothing good could have come from moving up, and still potentially something pretty bad could happen as a consequence.

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Your Daily Matthews

So funboy Chris reacted to Rachel Maddow's assertion that Alan Keyes was the most important figure in today's Republican debate by saying "I want to waterboard you." Har!!

Then he reacted to Chuck Todd's statement that the debate offered no revelations because everyone got to answer the issues and there were no fireworks by saying "Everything we hate." Hoo-hah!!

Then he lamented that everyone who watches The Daily Show and The Colbert Report gets the impression that politics is ridiculous and worthy of satire, and that those people who get their information from those shows probably don't vote.

Yeah, nobody would want to watch a show where politics is treated like nothing but a GAME, right?

Oblivion looks at Chris Matthews and thinks, "This guy is clueless."

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14 Patriots

Russ Feingold and 13 of his compatriots have sent a letter to Harry Reid asking that he put forward the version of the FISA bill that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which does not have telecom amnesty, instead of the Intelligence Committee bill, which does.

"The Judiciary Committee FISA bill fixes many of the flaws of the surveillance law we enacted in August and the new bill approved by the Intelligence Committee. Everyone agrees that we should give our intelligence officials the tools they need to go after suspected terrorists. There's no reason we can't do that while still protecting the privacy of innocent Americans and ensuring adequate oversight of these broad new surveillance authorities -- and without setting the dangerous precedent of granting retroactive immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an unlawful program," Senator Feingold said.

"I strongly urge the Majority Leader to take up the Judiciary Committee's version of the FISA legislation. It is absolutely essential that as the Senate begins debating reforms to FISA we do not include retroactive immunity provisions for telecommunications companies that may have engaged in illegal conduct. Additionally, the Judiciary Committee's version of the FISA legislation contains much stronger safeguards which will serve to protect Americans against the President's warantless wiretapping program," Senator Dodd said.

"The Judiciary Committee bill restores oversight and accountability to the FISA program without unnecessarily providing retroactive immunity to companies that cooperated with the Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. It is my hope that this bill will be considered by the full Senate," Senator Obama said.

"Of course we have to do everything we can to protect the American people, but we must fight international terrorism in a way that is consistent with our Constitution and the Bill of Rights," Senator Bernie Sanders said.

The full letter is here. I am pleased to belong to the same party as these Senators:

Feingold, Dodd, Obama, Sanders, Menendez, Biden, Brown, Harkin, Cardin, Clinton, Akaka, Webb, Kennedy and Boxer.

We need 26 more patriots to step up and demand a restoration of a rule of law in tatters. By contrast, we have the worm recently installed as the Attorney General, dissembling away in today's LA Times.

It therefore is vital that Congress put surveillance of terrorists and other intelligence targets located overseas on surer institutional footing. The Senate Intelligence Committee has crafted a bill that would largely accomplish that objective. Recognizing the uncommon complexity of this area of the law, the committee held numerous hearings on the need to modernize FISA, received classified briefings on how various options would affect intelligence operations and discussed key provisions with intelligence professionals and with national security lawyers inside and outside government. This thorough process produced a balanced bill approved by an overwhelming, and bipartisan, 13-2 vote.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's bill is not perfect, and it contains provisions that I hope will be improved. However, it would achieve two important objectives. First, it would keep the intelligence gaps closed by ensuring that individual court orders are not required to direct surveillance at foreign targets overseas.

Second, it would provide protections from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that have been sued simply because they are believed to have assisted our intelligence agencies after the 9/11 attacks. The bill does not, as some have suggested, provide blanket immunity for those companies. Instead, a lawsuit would be dismissed only in cases in which the attorney general certified to the court either that a company did not provide assistance to the government or that a company had received a written request indicating that the activity was authorized by the president and determined to be lawful.

And we all know that this Attorney General would NEVER dismiss the telecom companies from prosecution.

The point is that, especially in the face of a FISA ruling yesterday announcing that they will not make their opinions on the illegal wiretapping program public, there is no other way to learn what the government has done with our personal information, without letting these lawsuits against the telecom companies go forward. If Mukasey is so worried about the massive financial liability of the telecoms, he's essentially admitting that they broke the law. And no company and no individual should be given carte blanche to do that.

I'm looking for 26 more patriots who can sustain a filibuster and keep unaccountable lawbreaking out of a federal statute.

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Digging In The Dirt

Bill Shaheen, who by the way is the husband of the DSCC's preferred candidate for Senate in New Hampshire (and this is all the more reason to support Jay Buckey over Jeanne Shaheen), just playedsome dirty pool on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

Billy Shaheen contrasted Obama's openness about his past drug use -- which Obama mentioned again at a recent campaign appearance in New Hampshire -- with the approach taken by George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000, when he ruled out questions about his behavior when he was "young and irresponsible."

Shaheen said Obama's candor on the subject would "open the door" to further questions. "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" Shaheen said. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."

And opening for Democratic dirty tricks, it appears.

Look, Obama's been candid about his prior drug use since before he was a Senate candidate. We have a President right now who is a reformed drug and alcohol abuser, and America has shrugged their shoulders. The President BEFORE that, who happens to be somebody's husband, admitted to smoking pot (but he didn't inhale...). Clinton's base in Iowa is older, and maybe they're playing on images of young druggies to scare people into voting against Obama. That's disgusting.

I think that the Clinton campaign is freaking out because the dynamic of the race is clear. If Obama wins Iowa, he sweeps the early states. Same with Clinton. If Edwards manages to win Iowa, it's a crapshoot, and Clinton probably has the upper hand. The Clinton directive is to stop Obama in Iowa, otherwise their inevitability argument is dead and buried. So they'll go as low as they can to do it, trying to deny students the franchise in the state, and now bringing up the spectre of Obama selling drugs. It's beneath any Democrat, and it's an implicit racial appeal besides. This is an outrage.

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Huckabee's Slip

There's been a lot of dredging of Mike Huckabee's past record and public statements over the past couple weeks, from his belief that AIDS patients should be quarantined, to his signing of a full-page ad stating that women should "graciously submit" to their husbands, to his numerous pardons and ethics complaints. But the one statement that might hurt him the most is this mean-spirited shiv in the back of Mitt Romney.

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, to be published this Sunday, Huck admitted that he didn't know much about Mormon theology, but did say this: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

It was innocently phrased, the simple questioning of someone who doesn't know much about Mormonism (despite the fact that Huckabee was a theology student, and has claimed that the experience has given him a leg up on the other candidates in dealing with radical Islam). But there's no doubt that it was designed to scare people about the spooky religious cult of Mitt Romney's. It's completely outside the boundaries of politics, but when you have such a huge subset of the Republican coalition concerned primarily with which candidate can out-Jesus one another, when you have a candidate like Huckabee who touts his support from Tim LaHaye, the author of the Left Behind novels, this is the kind of politics you get.

Romney assailed the comment, saying that attacking someone's religion is going too far, and I agree. Of course, Romney dismissed out of hand having a Muslim in his cabinet, so he's maybe the worst messenger of that message. But I think that this kind of bigotry could actually hurt Huckabee moving forward, maybe not in Iowa but elsewhere.

(By the way, the much scarier revelations in that NYT article were that Huckabee has consulted with bitter-ender neocon Frank Gaffney and thinks Duncan "let's build a plane that can't fly" Hunter would be an excellent Secretary of Defense.)

UPDATE: Huckabee's message for the remainder of the primaries:

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Everything About Tom Tancredo Revealed

Now we know why Tancredo seems so, well, crazy. It's because he likely is.

Last year, it was reported that in 1970, after Tancredo's student deferments ran out, he appealed his 1-A draft status, which would have put him at the top of the list for draft eligibility during the Vietnam War.

Tancredo said he didn't remember it that way. But he said he was given a 1-Y status, which put him at the bottom of the list, when he reported that he had been treated for mental illness as a teenager.

Tancredo said he was diagnosed with depression when he was 16 or 17 and received medication for five years for panic attacks and bouts of anxiety and depression.

It's all so clear now.

Turns out Tancredo voted against increasing mental health services for returning veterans. He was one of only 39 Representatives to do so.

Maybe he thinks they should have gotten a cushy way out of the war in the first place like he did?

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This Is What Accountability Looks Like

Yesterday the former President of Peru was sentenced to 6 years in prison by the Peruvian Supreme Court. The reason?

He ordered an illegal search.

Supreme Court Judge Pedro Guillermo Urbina ruled that Fujimori had abused his power in 2000 when he ordered a military aide to search the apartment of the wife of Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori's former security chief, who was then embroiled in a money-laundering scandal. Fujimori did not deny ordering the search but had said it was part of a nationwide manhunt for Montesinos. Prosecutors argued that he ordered the search in an effort to seize evidence that might have directly implicated him in Montesinos's crimes.

There were no riots in the streets. Peru isn't horribly broken and needs to be healed (mainly because Peru isn't a PERSON, a common mistake of the punditocracy, ascribing their own beliefs onto the nation at large). There is not some unmanageable breakdown of trust between the people and their government. All of the horrors that High Broderists in this country continually say would be unleashed by any accountability have not materialized.

This was a simple case of a chief executive who overstepped his power and authority, and the system of government set up to check these abuses acted in the most proper manner, and justice was actually served. Wht a concept.

Fujimori is actually on trial for additional human rights abuses during his Presidency. And that will be adjudicated in the same manner.

This is a completely foreign concept in America today. When our President engages in an illegal search, the Congress moves to legalize that behavior. When our President abuses human rights, nobody in a position of power stands up to him. When torture is undertaken by this government, members of Congress find out about it and stand silent. Heck, the US Congress has done a better job holding other countries accountable than we have our own.

US lawmakers have voted to stop Burma's rubies and high-quality jade from entering the United States.

The measure, passed by the House of Representatives, tightens sanctions against the junta by attempting to stop gem dealers from laundering their goods in third countries before they enter the US.

The bill, which must be approved by the Senate and president, also tries to stop Burmese leaders using US banks to launder money in third countries.

Democratic Rep Tom Lantos said in a statement: "Burma's generals fund this repression of their own people by selling off the country's natural resources, especially oil and gems, leaving the Burmese people in poverty."

He added that tightened sanctions would "ensure that the United States stands up to these thugs".

What about the lawbreakers inside the White House?

We have mechanisms in this country to achieve accountability. We have a nation of laws that, when properly enacted, can produce incredible results.

It was the nation's first ever electoral vote on Blackwater and it was a massive people-powered grassroots victory over the mercenaries. Every "stop Blackwater" candidate won by at least 63% (results here). It was an an enormous statement to Blackwater: stay out, you are not the kind of neighbors we want in our community. It is also a blistering statement by a very conservative town to reject the Bush world view. Our nation is not better served by having a privatized Army. There is nothing pro-troop about supporting Blackwater.

The United States Congress has a lot to learn from the 500-odd citizens of Potrero. Instead we get free passes from the Democrats. We get pleas that it's time to "move on," that the nation shouldn't have to go through such a wrenching circumstance.

There is a great decay in this country, a nagging feeling that things are simply not right, and it comes right down to accountability. Its absence has us as frustrated and despondent as a nation as I've seen in a long time. The fact is that we have a lot to learn from countries like Peru. And the elites, the chattering class, is trying to whisk right by this and move on to 2008.

The only thing that will put a salve on a large section of this nation is accountability.

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