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

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Conduct Unbecoming

Between challenging legitimate, DNC-approved processes for the Nevada caucus, outwardly attempting to discourage the student vote in Iowa, and serious allegations about voter suppression in New Hampshire, I think it's fair to say that there's a pattern here with the lengths to which the Clinton campaign will go to win. I'd be just as appalled by these kind of tactics from any Democrat, so if Barack Obama's campaign is somehow equally culpable, bring on the evidence. But you really have to ask yourself "at what price victory?" Some would say that, as long as the Clinton campaign is following the law, no matter how much they walk right up to the line, then they're justified and they prove by their efforts what a formidable opponent they would be in November. I don't agree; I think how you campaign and how you govern are at least tangentially linked, and I prefer honesty.

For example, a beloved former President hacking off the second half of a quote in order to make a politically favorable point is not my idea of a fun next four years.

Yesterday, as part of his racial damage control tour, Bill Clinton took a shot at Obama that he's frequently taken during the campaign, charging that the Illinois Senator's criticism of Hillary's support of the war is disingenuous in light of something Obama said back in 2004.

Bill pointed out that at the time, Obama said that he could not say how he would have voted on the war had he been in the Senate himself in the run-up to the invasion. Bill has repeatedly pointed to this quote to cast doubt on Obama's anti-war bona fides, and it's become part of the conversation of Campaign 2008.

Obama defended himself against this criticism a few days ago, recalling that at the time he didn't want to criticize the war votes of John Kerry and John Edwards in the middle of the 2004 presidential campaign. Obama accused the former president of cherry picking from his past quote:

He keeps on giving half the quote. I was always against the war...obviously I didn’t want to criticize them on the eve of their nomination. So I said, 'Well, I don’t know what -- you know, I wasn’t in the Senate. I can’t say for certain what I would have done if I was there. I know that from where I stood the case was not made.' He always leaves that out.

That is in fact the quote, and Clinton knows it. It's really unprecedented for a former President to be used to deliver opposition research in the first place (though I'm sure the sitting President will oblige in the fall).

I'm not Barack Obama's biggest fan; I think he hasn't shown enough of a willingness to actually lead, and he's attacked his rivals from the right repeatedly in the campaign. Furthermore, he hasn't distinguished himself meaningfully from Clinton, or at least he hasn't highlighted those distinctions, so we get a race disturbingly based on identity politics. But these Clinton tactics are troubling. They inform how her Administration should govern. And I believe they should be rejected.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, and she voted for the war. As Matt Taibbi said last night on Bill Maher, "The country is 70% for leaving Iraq, and we could end up with two pro-war candidates. If that doesn't tell you that the system is fucked up, I don't know what does."

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Bipartisanship Observed

The dissolving of Unity08 (what am I going to do with all my political capital points now?) and folding it into a Draft Bloomberg movement is just so revealing. The idea was to have this supposedly inclusive "online convention" to draft a serious alternative to the two parties. Instead, it's a conduit for hero worship toward a billionaire who's looking to buy the White House. I guess the people weren't deciding the right way so their betters had to do the deciding for them. Some grassroots movement.

Now that the speculation has heightened on a Bloomberg candidacy, with even some backlash, it's worth taking a look at how a politics based on nothing but calls to "get along" would work in practice. All of us in California have a unique perspective on this question.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger were named Arnold Schwartz, and if he were born in Austin and not Austria, he would almost certainly be the vessel of the hopes of the Unity08 crowd, not Bloomberg. In truth, Schwarzenegger is a con man, which is what you'd expect from an actor playing at executive. Since coming into office, he has played with a variety of images - reformer, hardcore Republican, environmental advocate - before settling on the label of "post-partisan". These are just labels, because his core ideological concerns have not changed a bit, with policies friendly to big business, concerned with redistributing wealth upwards, and punishing the middle and lower classes.

The first thing Schwarzenegger did in office was eliminate an increase in the vehicle license fee, depriving government of $8 billion dollars in revenues. Then he sought to solve every problem under the sun through massive amounts of borrowing, combined with a philosophical opposition to any tax increases. This constrained any solutions to move the state forward to a narrow band. Then he cut worker's compensation benefits to benefit his corporate buddies. All the while he spent and spent and tried to be all things to all people, in the interest of being liked. An example (Not that I'm a fan of the heartless Tom McClintock, but the quote is so instructive).

McClintock showed the governor a chart he had drawn. It illustrated that spending under Davis had increased an average of 7% a year. Under Schwarzenegger, it was climbing at a 10% rate. Similarly, he pointed out, the deficit -- the billions being spent over the revenue coming in -- was larger than under Davis.

According to McClintock, the governor replied: "That is bad news that people don't want to hear. People want to hear only good news. I don't want to hear pessimism. I'm an optimist."

This year, the inequities in California's budget structure were made clear. The housing debacle and major increases in unemployment shrunk revenues and created a $14 billion dollar deficit. Not only that, but state employee retiree health care was majorly unfunded, and the prisons were the worst in the country, overcrowded and mismanaged to the extent that federal judges were about to mandate releases.

Faced with the consequences of his own policies of borrowing and putting off reality to our children and grandchildren, Schwarzenegger declared a "fiscal emergency," and is using the shock doctrine principle by taking advantage of the crisis to radically alter the power of the executive in state government. He put together a budget that only deals with the problem from the spending side. He plans to cut education, release 50,000 prisoners, slash services for the elderly and the blind, lay off prison guards, close 48 state parks (that's the California dream, isn't it?), and reduce health care for the needy (more on that later). Loopholes for corporations and people who buy yachts don't come under the budget knife.

Schwarzenegger is trying to suspend Prop. 98, which mandates a certain level of education funding, and he seeks a constitutional cap on spending where mid-year cuts would be at the complete discretion of the executive. This is something that Arnold tried to push through the Legislature in 2004, to no avail. He tried a ballot measure in 2005; it was rejected. Faced with a crisis, he's gone to the same failed solution, and is holding the budget hostage to it.

The "post-partisan" label that Schwarzenegger has taken up has enabled him to just use the language of both sides of the political aisle while rigidly holding to conservative "drown the government in the bathtub" policy. So he sounds schizophrenic to those who don't scratch the surface.

If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to further his reputation as a dabbler who has political Velcro glued to his fingers, he succeeded with elements of his State of the State speech yesterday.

One minute this Republican governor was praising the public works programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The next he was calling for more partnerships with private industry to build public infrastructure – the seeming antithesis of the New Deal.

One minute he was acknowledging the harsh consequences of spending cuts that involve "not just dollars, but people." The next he was calling for across-the-board spending cuts and refusing to raise taxes.

Because he's supposed to be some kind of post-partisan, state political insiders have convinced themselves into believing that this is an elaborate ruse, that Schwarzenegger is just calling for outlandish cuts without taxes to get a broader compromise (Odd way of forcing compromise, by proposing something entirely on one side of the equation). They're so convinced that he's some kind of coalition builder and compromiser that they don't listen when he says he won't raise taxes (actually, he'll just call taxes fees and make sure they're applied regressively, if at all). It's entirely based on the image of the Governor and not the reality.

Meanwhile, as if it's happening in a different sphere, the Governor is pushing ahead with health care reform while cutting the public programs set to expand under that reform. The health care plan is predicated on an individual mandate, subsidies so everyone can afford coverage, and a massive expansion of public programs. Without the public programs it's just a forced market. And yet this is what he's cutting in the current budget. This is a familiar pattern for the governor. Earlier this year he used the line-item veto to terminate treatment for mentally ill homeless people (now that's post-partisan!) because he claimed a ballot measure that was supposed to add money to the program provided full funding for that treatment. It's a dodge and a lie, yet the same people who want to work with this guy because he's so beyond partisanship continue to fall for it.

I go into so much detail on this because it's a model for how progressive policy would suffer, necessarily, under "post-partisan" executive leadership. Envisioning a government of national unity where everyone puts aside differences neglects the inconvenient fact that politicians have substantive differences, including those who claim to be above politics. Mayor Bloomberg, himself faced with a significant budget deficit, responded to the crisis by saying “The first thing we’re going to do for the city is try to reduce spending.” He has his own ideological rigidities, too, especially in foreign policy, where he shows little difference from George Bush. "Let's everybody get along" is a transparent way to not say "Let's everyone do what I say" when that's the actual meaning. Corporatist warmongers don't get to say who should start or stop the bickering. They have to put their ideas in front of the public and allow them to be accepted or rejected. The cult around Bloomberg mirrors the starstruck media cult around Schwarzenegger. Failing to scrutinize what this call for "bipartisanship" is a cover for will put the country in the same dire straits as California is in right now.

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Politics On The Strip

I had been wondering about how those working on the Strip during next week's Nevada caucus would be able to vote. Apparently the Nevada State Democratic Party set up at-large precincts based on employment (in other words, if you work at the Rio, you can vote at the Rio's on-site precinct). Why you would create caucuses in Nevada when the casinos operate 24-7 and aren't likely to let their employees take an hour off (they're apparently being very resistant about it) is an open question. But the uniqueness of the on-site at-large precincts is election lawsuit bait, and the Clinton campaign has proven themselves up to the challenge.

Nevada’s state teachers union and six Las Vegas area residents filed a lawsuit late Friday that could make it harder for many members of the state’s huge hotel workers union to vote in the hotly contested Jan. 19 Democratic caucus in Nevada.

The 13-page lawsuit in federal district court here comes two days after the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Nevada endorsed Senator Barack Obama, a blow to Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Obama addressed the Culinary Union at their hall earlier Friday.

The lawsuit argues that the Nevada Democratic Party’s decision, decided late last year, to create at-large precincts inside nine Las Vegas resorts on caucus day violates the state’s election laws and creates a system in which voters at the at-large precincts can elect more delegates than voters at other precincts. The lawsuit employs a complex mathematical formula to show that voters at the other 1,754 precincts would have less influence with their votes.

I guess the biggest takeaway here is that caucuses are undemocratic. But given that they're the system we have in place in Nevada, this lawsuit is a bunch of crap. The Clinton campaign wasn't concerned about the at-large precincts until they lost the Culinary Workers endorsement. It's wrong of them to base their victory strategy in Nevada on disenfranchisement.

Overall, I think things are setting up for the DNC to have major egg on their face. Nevada was one of the four states given this early date for their election, and there appears to be a lot of confusion over who will vote, so much so that national pollsters are begging off of polling the state. If this lawsuit calls into question the eventual outcome, which it certainly would, since it impacts as much as 10% of the total delegates distributed in the caucuses, that will look miserable.

Can we change this system, please?

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Stimulus Stuff

So Hillary Clinton puts out an economic stimulus package which basically would enable Americans to help keep their homes and deal with rising unemployment and recession worries. And Obama is being encouraged to do the same. Of course, these are sitting Senators who have the ability to do more than talk about leading.

Clinton's plan, as well as the bipartisanplan being discussed in Congress, seems to me to be partially concerned with buying favor in an election year. While Bush wants to permanently extend the tax cuts (a dead letter), the Dems want rebates and help for low-income citizens.

Democrats are considering three ideas — an extension of unemployment insurance, expansion of food stamps and perhaps most importantly, rebate checks or more for every single taxpayer. The amount of these checks is being debated, but they would be similar to the $300 checks taxpayers received in 2001. President Bush has not been specific about his ideas beyond calling for a permanent extension of his 2001 tax cuts, which expire in 2010.

I guess this goes back to what I wrote about the shocking payout of $115 million dollars to failed CEO Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide. These things the Democrats are proposing are probably needed, but what we really need is to get control of this skyrocketing CEO pay that rewards wealth over responsibility. This creates so many inefficiencies in the economy that any effort to use government to bring inequality back into balance will fall short. They can't print enough money. I don't think any Presidential candidate would lose votes talking about this issue.

UPDATE: This is a terrific rundown of how fucked this economy truly is, and how the solutions are to be found in resurrecting areas of the economy that can provide some stability as we dig ourselves out of this mess. It is Stupid's economy, truly.

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How do you deal with something like this? Really, how do you stop a process where someone who destroyed his company, caused pain for thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of homeowners, ends up with this kind of windfall?

Countrywide Financial Corp. founder Angelo Mozilo, one of the nation's highest-paid chief executives, stands to reap $115 million in severance-related pay if his troubled company is acquired by Bank of America Corp., regulatory filings show.

Free rides on the company jet are also included in Mozilo's departure deal, and the company will pick up his country club bills until 2011 [...]

"This is a failed chief executive -- a failed and overpaid chief executive -- who has driven his company to the brink of bankruptcy," said Daniel Pedrotty, director of the office of investment at the AFL-CIO. "I think shareholders are going to be especially outraged if he walks away with another pay-for-failure package."

But the idea that shareholders control the process is a myth. The board does what the board wants. And more than anything, this is what causes recession; the redistribution of wealth upwards means that ordinary consumer spending suffers due to a lack of resources. And yet so many of these corporations rely on that same consumer spending.

Government has mechanisms to deal with corporations that break the public trust. They apply for charters which are reviewed periodically. They have "personhood" status under the law which doesn't have to remain.

There's a way to channel this outrage.

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World's Dumbest Argument

I wish I had the energy of those in the liberal blogosphere who have gone beyond the call of duty to take apart Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Granimals to What's For Dinner Mom? Alex Koppelman in Salon gave Goldberg enough rope to hang himself with an interview about the book, and in the first line he proudly describes the book as "a revisionist history," seemingly with no sense of irony. You almost have to look away from the interview as if it were an actual car wreck, especially in moments like this:

He points out that this organic food movement, the whole-grain bread operation, the war on cancer, the war on smoking, that these things were as fascist as death camps and yellow stars. They were as central to the ideology of Nazism as the extermination of the Jews. Now, that is not the same thing. And I want to be really clear about this: That is not the same thing as saying that banning smoking is as morally disgusting and reprehensible as trying to wipe out the Jewish people. You can say that something is as much part and parcel of an ideology and not say that it is as evil.

I mean, you wince when you see someone explain that the organic food movement is as central to Nazi ideology as killing 6 million Jews, while trying to also say that it's not the same thing. And there are more and more of these intellectual cul-de-sacs, like when he tries to call problem-solving fascistic (which would certainly account for all the unsolved problems of the conservative era, no? Goldberg's trick in this interview is to broadly define any facet of what he considers contemporary liberalism as fascist, while conveniently forgetting the words and actions of actual fascists like Benito Mussolini (it's hilarious when he responds to a question about Mussolini's "The Doctrine of Fascism" by saying that he hasn't read it in a while and doesn't remember it, despite having researched and written a book, with Mussolini's name in the subtitle, about how Mussolini was a socialist and not a fascist at all. You'd think that'd be a primary text).

The Sadlynauts have the definitive takedown of this interview, complete with Hitlet smiley face ratings. But I want to also note John Holbo's review of this absurdly broad argument, which takes in so many facets of what Goldberg dislikes about liberalism as fascism that he basically creates a globe full of fascists (in that, he's a doughy Holden Caulfield):

What explicit definition of ‘fascism’ is Goldberg operating with, if any? To judge from reviews, the author’s own comments, his ‘results’, he must be applying the term to any sort of ‘statist’ or ‘collectivist’ political rhetoric, policy proposal, or legislative act, especially such of these as entangle the state in coercive action on behalf of ‘communitarian’ values or ‘identity’ politics: values that subordinate the individual to the whole. The trouble is: pretty much the only sort of conservative who is not going to come out fascist, under this umbrella, is (maybe) the likes of F. Hayek, when penning essays with titles like “Why I Am Not A Conservative”. Otherwise, the whole tradition of conservative thought, from Burke to Kirk and beyond, is ‘fascist’. Hillary says it takes a village, but Burke would never have settled for small-time socialism. He thundered about “the great primeval contract of eternal society.” No doubt ‘it takes a village’ is pretty weak, qua anti-fascist vaccine. But switching to the belief that you would do best to unquestioningly submit yourself to some sort of primordial, vaguely mystical, hierarchical social order is not going to inoculate you either [...]

Now we get to what is maybe an actually half-interesting point. There are two reasons why ad hitlerem arguments tend to be rude and crude. (Everyone knows Godwin’s Law is law. Here’s why, more or less.) First, the Holocaust. It’s pretty obvious how always dragging that in is not necessarily clarifying of every little dispute. Second, a little less obviously, ad hitlerem arguments are invariably arguments by moral analogy. Person A espouses value B. But the Nazis approved B. Not that person A is necessarily a Nazi but there must be something morally perilous about B, if espousing it is consistent with turning all Nazi. The trouble is: with few exceptions, the Nazis had all our values – at least nominally. They approved of life, liberty, justice, happiness, property, motherhood, society, culture, art, science, church, duty, devotion, loyalty, courage, fidelity, prudence, boldness, vision, veneration for tradition, respect for reason. They didn’t reject all that; they perverted it; preached but didn’t practice, or practiced horribly. Which goes to show there is pretty much no value immune from being paid mere lip-service; nominally maintained but substantively subverted. Which, come to think of it, isn’t surprising. How could a list of ‘success’ words guarantee success, after all?

Most people pass simple algebra classes and understand this is not a rational line of argument anymore, and go on to political debates on a different plane. Moral reprobates like Goldberg simply must pursue this faulty reasoning for little more than the scoring of poltiical points, so he makes up definitions, excludes his allies and includes his opponents, and then dares anyone to refute a logical system that only exists inside his own head. It's enervating to actually argue, and the best rejoinder is then NECESSARILY mockery. So, a tip of the cap to those doing the Lord's work here.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

He's Not Your Monkey

Been meaning to get to this all week. The New York Times got all catty about Jon Stewart's return without his writers, people who he's worked with for close to a decade and to whom he owes his success. How dare he not treat us all to some of that acerbic wit, and how dare he "educate" his viewers about why he's been off the air for nine weeks:

Instead of the latest primary mishaps, Mr. Stewart devoted most of his mock news show to the writers’ strike and to his own decision to return to work without writers (or censors: he let off several obscenities that were not bleeped in time) [...]

Last night, Mr. Stewart’s vexation was keener than his wit.

He likened the “Speechless” ads, a series of bleak, self-righteous black and white video spots on the guild’s Web site, to an anti-AIDS public service message. He noted that late-night talk shows stayed dark for just one week after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, whereas the current strike — a dispute over Internet revenues — had lasted nine weeks. And he joked, somewhat sourly, that by that calculation, “the writers’ strike is nine times worse than 9/11.”

His sole interview for the night was with Ron Seeber, a professor of labor relations at Cornell University, who failed to clarify why the strike was going on so long. (That's silly - he was brought on to talk about labor relations in general -ed.)

Mr. Stewart had funny moments. But overall, the show was a jarring display of solipsism from a performer famous for expertly tweaking the vanity and self-importance of politicians and conventional news organizations. Mr. Stewart is just as merciless when it comes to the self-serving compromises and moral ambiguities of other institutions. And his position was certainly ambiguous: he was resentful of the producers and angry at the writers’ representatives, who so far have failed either to reach an agreement or to grant Comedy Central a special exemption for “The Daily Show.”

It's solipsism, then, to discuss an issue which has far broader importance than who's winning or losing in New Hampshire. Just because labor issues rarely, if ever, appear in newspapers like The New York Times doesn't mean they don't have significance to anyone who works for a living. The WGA strike is a teachable moment, an opportunity to understand a labor issue because it involves something we all experience. Just because Stewart isn't being funny about what you want him to be funny about, doesn't mean he's not being funny. Or instructive.

For the record I thought both Stewart and Colbert did a great job this week under tough circumstances. As more companies settle with their writers, hopefully they won't have to continue that way for long.

(I don't know whether the Director's Guild negotiations set for next week are good or bad for the writers. Perhaps it will create pressure for an industry-wide agreement, but the DGA hasn't put up much of a fight in year's past.)

UPDATE: The AMPTP being a bunch of assholes. What a surprise.

AMPTP staffers, consultants and members (especially corporate publicity departments) are busily posting comments on WGA-friendly websites and blogs that Hollywood visits regularly and filling them with hate-filled rants against the WGA leadership, the A-list actors, and the companies who've made WGA side deals. The goal is to turn off readers and drive traffic away and in the process spread pro-AMPTP propaganda and make it look as if the strike is breaking apart.

News Corp. No. 2 Peter Chernin realized the AMPTP was losing the PR war and was most responsible for bringing in Fabiani and Lehane as the AMPTP's public affairs consultants since his company has a close relationship with them. Fabiani and Lehane were paid by News Corp. to orchestrate a 2004 campaign organizing advocacy groups by race and ethnicity to hammer Nielsen Media Research over its plans to modernize how it measures viewing habits.

Warner Bros Chairman Barry Meyer has handpicked the AMPTP paid mouthpieces who have spread the AMPTP's insults and disinformation about the WGA leadership.

The other day, an AMPTP consultant tried to start a rumor that a WGA exec was connected to child pornography.
The AMPTP repeatedly lies that the WGA has "a $30 million PR fund" to spread public information about the strike when the reality is that the WGA's entire communications budget is several hundred thousand dollars.

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The Filipino Monkey

Banging head against desk...

The threatening radio transmission heard at the end of a video showing harassing maneuvers by Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz may have come from a locally famous heckler known among ship drivers as the “Filipino Monkey.”...
In recent years, American ships operating in the Middle East have had to contend with a mysterious but profane voice known by the ethnically insulting handle of “Filipino Monkey,” likely more than one person, who listens in on ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumps on the net shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets....

Rick Hoffman, a retired captain who commanded the cruiser Hue City and spent many of his 17 years at sea in the Gulf was subject to the renegade radio talker repeatedly, often without pause during the so-called “Tanker Wars” of the late 1980s.

“For 25 years there’s been this mythical guy out there who, hour after hour, shouts obscenities and threats,” he said. “He could be tied up pierside somewhere or he could be on the bridge of a merchant ship.”

There have been naval incidents in the past, there will be more again. If the hype that this particular one got can cool down the tendencies in the Gulf, great. But the goal here was to create something that wingnut zombies can discuss over and over again in an effort to promote future war with Iran.

UPDATE: There were two other incidents between Iranian crafts and US warships in December. They were previously unreported. Hm, I wonder why? Maybe because they were routine and unremarkable and shouldn't have been released to be used as wingnut war fodder? But now that the Pentgon and the Administration is feeling heat about the Filipino Monkey incident, they have to release these other two. Good to know.

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Guantanamo and Hiding The Evidence

Tonight I'll be at a bar in Los Angeles at an ACLU-sponsored "Un-Happy Hour" to recognize the 6th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. (It's from 7-9pm at "The Bar" on Sunset and Bronson).

So much has been said about the legal black hole that is Guantanamo that I find it hard to expand upon it. Hundreds of human beings, the majority of them victims of bounties for terror suspects given by the US government to greedy Pakistanis, have been sequestered at Gitmo, without the rights of citizens that 800 years of history have granted. This has harmed irreparably our standing around the world and our fight against terror, to the extent that practically everyone in the Bush Administration has signaled the need to close Guantanamo, without actually going ahead and doing it. Here's an excerpt of Meteor Blades excellent post:

Prisoners have been dehumanized, brutalized and tortured. All of it excused as necessitated by the war on terror, all of it justified by tortuous legalistic rigamarole.

While Guantánamo has been transformed from a camp with buckets for toilets and mats for beds to one of the most high-tech prisons on the planet, several hundred of its captives have been released, in most cases after years of arbitrary detention. But many who have been cleared for release still haven’t been repatriated. In some cases, that’s because their home country doesn’t want them back, a situation exacerbated because U.S. officials repeatedly called the Guantánamo prisoners the "worst of the worst" and never admitted to mistaken detentions.

Some prisoners cannot be released because it is prohibited to send them to places – like China – where they might be tortured or otherwise abused. Yet some have been repatriated to countries such as Libya, where torture occurs frequently. The most recent release was of 10 Saudi nationals repatriated in late December. Another 13 Saudis could be released soon. As of today, about 275 prisoners remain at Guantánamo.

The ACLU is asking people to sign this pledge to close Guantanamo, to put an end to torture and indefinite detention. On this very anniversary, a US appeals court refused a lawsuit on behalf of 4 Guantanamo detainees, alleging torture, abuse, and human rights violations. The only desire for this Administration is to live out their lives without indictment. Their lawmaking over the last two years has simply served to immunize their own criminal behavior. Also today, the Lieutenant Colonel who was courtmartialed in the Abu Ghraib scandal, Steven Jordan, had his conviction thrown out. We're seeing the systematic protection of those who have done such great harm to this country.

Our next President will either sustain these policies or end them. They'll either restore this nation or break any last vestiges of it. The choice is clear.

Sign the pledge.

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Lawrence O'Donnell Is A Loser.

OK, maybe a bit harsh, but he's way off base here, and he shows a total lack of understanding of the primary process, if it's not just shilling for his preferred candidate.

While the media has focused on the more fiery and more negative aspects to Edwards' stump speech, he actually has considered a model to get things done nd leverage that anger into progress. He probably does need some more optimism in his core argument, more of the nuts and bolts of how to actually reverse the ship. But it's undeniable that he has made a valuable contribution to the primaries; namely, by driving the policies of all the front-runners and moving the entire debate to the left.

No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, the fact remains that the Edwards campaign has set the domestic policy agenda for the entire field. He was the first with a bold universal healthcare plan, the first with an ambitious climate change proposal that called for cap-and-trade, and the leader on reforming predatory lending practices and raising the minimum wage to a level where it regains its lost purchasing power....Ultimately, though, the Edwards campaign has been both a campaign and a cause, with the latter outperforming the former. Few remember that the signature economic policy of Bill Clinton's presidency, balancing the budget, originated as a plank in the platform of his primary rival Paul Tsongas. If the next Democratic President manages to pass universal healthcare or a carbon cap-and-trade, we'll owe the Edwards campaign a significant debt.

Anyone who doesn't understand that worthiness just doesn't understand politics. Edwards has made what was unacceptable in 2004 acceptable in 2008. I thought, and I continue to think, that this leadership ought to be rewarded with the nomination. That's obviously remote now. But Edwards let liberalism and populism become part of the mainstream Democratic Party again. He made poverty and economic justice central planks of his campaign. He really moved the health care debate and came up with a plan that can seamlessly flow into single payer by including a public option that can compete with the insurance companies. And he'll have a significant chunk of delegates to enshrine that all into the platform. If that's a "loser," I wonder what Lawrence O'Donnell considers a winner.

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Democrats For Mitt

Could this be Romney's biggest endorsement yet?

What I love about this is that a Romney win in Michigan is now tarnished even if he wins no matter what Democrats actually did. The corollary to this should be active lying to exit pollsters.

I do think that Michigan's Democratic primary matters in the delegate fight, however. When the embargoed delegates inevitably get seated, they shouldn't be decisive.

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I Found My Voice

I think we have to pay attention to the fact that the voice Hillary Clinton found is one that goes relentlessly negative. She threw everything she had at Obama in New Hampshire and it worked. Even during the "Tears" moment, she questioned Obama's fitness for office. Her surrogates are using a lot of shaded racism to discuss Obama's character and misleading statistics to discuss his record (the abortion mailer, for example). This is leading House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) to reconsider his neutrality. And now we have this little slap in the face.

Clinton implied that Obama's career has mostly been spent running for office rather than governing.

"He was a part-time state senator for a few years, and then he came to the Senate and immediately started running for president," she said. "And that's his prerogative. That's his right. But I think it is important to compare and contrast our records."

What the hell does "part-time Senator" mean? Considering Hillary didn't spend her entire time in the White House on trade missions or official state visits, does that make her a "part-time first lady"? That's a steaming pile of garbage.

I know that as good liberals we're supposed to be on the lookout for media bias, and to be sure there's been a great deal of sexism directed at Hillary Clinton in this campaign. But can we take a quick look at how she's running right now? I mean, if you think that Democrats need sharper elbows to go up against the Republican machine, maybe you're happy with the candidate sailing to victory in the primary on the strength of negative attacks. But there's a fine line here between "contrasting records" and the kind of ethical black hole we see from the Republicans. I don't want to see the media inject themselves into this campaign. I also don't want to see a Democrat go negative against a fellow Democrat and turn the primary into a farce out of a burning desire to be President.

UPDATE: Publius makes the case against Hillary here. Despite the way this primary has slid away from issues and into identity politics, these things are important. I hope that voters in the other states take a look at this stuff. I think another Clinton Administration would feature incremental half-measures on the domestic front and a missed opportunity to advance our national security and foreign policy, plus the team that would make up her senior staff are the worst kind of Democrats imaginable. I don't think she's right for this historical moment. Maybe in the 1950s, like her husband, the best Republican President we've had since Eisenhower.

UPDATE II: Just stop it.

"If you have a social need, you're with Hillary," the aide said. "If you want Obama to be your imaginary hip black friend and you're young and you have no social needs, then he's cool."

Give me a fucking break. The Clinton campaign is winning by going right into the mud.

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Pure Hell

I'm certainly glad Tom Ricks understands this. The problem is that the broadcast news outside of Olbermann doesn't have a clue.

Discussing the one-year anniversary of President Bush’s call for the “surge” on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night, Washington Post Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks said that, “judged on the terms in which the president presented it, the surge has not worked.” “The purpose was to improve security, but to improve it to lead to a political breakthrough,” said Ricks. “And that political breakthrough has not happened.”

Asked about whether the Iraqis “think it has worked,” Ricks said they “recognize that large parts of Baghdad are more peaceful,” but only compared to the “pure hell” of 2006:

"I think Iraqis recognize that large parts of Baghdad are more peaceful than they were, but violence is basically back to 2005 levels. And that was no picnic, 2005. It’s just 2006 was pure hell."

I'll say. You have that Iraqi soldier who killed two US troops that were kicking a pregnant woman being lauded as a hero. That is the result of a country under occupation, and they don't like it. With hundreds of thousands dead (probably more, considering that Iraqis might not want to tell government officials that their relatives died fighting the government) and 40,000 pounds of bombs still dropped on a daily basis, there's nothing to suggest that Iraqis are content with hundreds of thousands of American troops occupying their country for the next 100 years. This is untenable.

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Serious Seriousness Watch


Did John McCain, running to be leader of the free world, really say that the Straits of Hormuz "incident" was a serious situation of the utmost seriousness? Really?

And by the way, if this doesn't prove the recklessness of the Administration or the Pentagon or whoever leaked this routine incident and scared it all up with voices that bore no relationship to the incident itself, I don't know what does. This will now be another zombie lie buried deep in the conservative brain, and anyone making the case for war with Iran will certainly add "and they attacked our ships in the Straits of Hormuz." It'll jump all the way to that conclusion.

This is how wars start. Years and years of little things in the background.

And it's sick that the racist homophobe is the voice of reason in the Republican Party.

Guess what, today the Navy commander of the fifth fleet was on ABC and announced that, “you know, that voice might not have come from those vessels.” So what does that mean? Was there a rush to judgment on this, ready to go to war? … And we don’t need another war, and this incident should not be thrown out of proportion to the point where we’re getting ready to attack Iran over this.

That will be buried under the weight of history.

UPDATE: Russell Walter Mead:

From the 18th century to the present day, threats to American ships and maritime commerce have been the way most U.S. wars start. The pattern began early. Attacks by the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean led President Thomas Jefferson to send the U.S. Navy thousands of miles on a risky expedition to suppress the threat to American merchant ships in 1801....The widespread (though probably erroneous) U.S. belief that the USS Maine had been destroyed by a Spanish mine in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, forced a reluctant President William McKinley to launch the Spanish-American War in 1898....The Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964 (alleged attacks on U.S. ships by North Vietnamese boats) led Congress to authorize President Lyndon Johnson's use of force in Indochina.

Exactly. Even in this age of technology we don't have a Chopper 6 out in the Persian Gulf. We have to rely on the Defense Department for this kind of information, and we have to rely on the President and his staff to put it in the proper context. This has been a familiar historical pattern.

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Friday Random Ten

The Random Ten. Tested. Ready. (can you work without paychecks for a few weeks?)

You Could Have It So Much Better - Franz Ferdinand
Cash Cow - Mike Doughty
Want One? - Guided By Voices
Crown of Love - The Arcade Fire
Evil - Interpol
She's Got A Problem - Fountains Of Wayne
I Think I Smell A Rat - The White Stripes
Hands - The Raconteurs
Cinémania - Stereo Total
People Of The Sun - Rage Against The Machine

I need some new records.

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Push (Poll), Nevada?

This is interesting. Pollsters will be taking a pass on Nevada, gun-shy from blowing New Hampshire and understanding what we're all hearing - that Nevadans don't have a damn clue about these caucuses. They're vaguely aware of an Election Day, but the caucuses are very new to the state, and the voters don't seem to understand that they'll have to spend an hour or so at the polling location. It's in the middle of the day on a Saturday, which could be a plus or a minus. This Culinary Worker's endorsement from Obama isn't going to help with everyone who'll be working in the casinos at the time. It's not like the Strip's going to close down at 11:00am on the 19th.

What a way to run a railroad.

I actually agree with Hillary Clinton, even if she is tamping down expectations for what may be a loss for her in Nevada.

"You have a limited period of time on one day to have your voices heard. That is troubling to me. You know in a situation of a caucus, people who work during that time -- they're disenfranchised. People who can't be in the state or who are in the military, like the son of the woman who was here who is serving in the Air Force, they cannot be present."

Nevada is probably tied right now, but we really don't know. They've had to understand the campaign as a national campaign, just like us out in California. From a national standpoint, Obama's endorsements from John Kerry, border state governor Janet Napolitano, and Ned Lamont certainly showed that he's charging ahead. This has unfortunately become a race tinged with identity politics, in the absence of either side making a strong contrast with the other on issues. We'll see who that benefits. But the fact that Nevada is a somewhat important primary for momentum, and yet it's so chaotic that pollsters won't even poll it, speaks to how ridiculous this primary process is.

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Money For Nothing

Giuliani Time is now on your own dime.

About a dozen senior campaign staffers for Rudy Giuliani are foregoing their January paychecks, aides said Friday, a sign of possible money trouble for the Republican presidential candidate.

"We have enough money, but we could always use more money," contended Mike DuHaime, Giuliani's campaign manager and one of those who now is working for free. "We want to make sure we have enough to win."

At the end of December, he said the campaign had $11.5 million cash on hand, $7 million of which can be used for the primary. He disputed the notion of a cash-strapped campaign, and said Giuliani continues to bring in cash; several fundraisers are scheduled this week in Florida.

DuHaime and other aides stressed that relinquishing pay was voluntary and was limited to senior staffers.

What's incredible is that every Republican campaign has now shown money troubles except for Ron Paul. Freddie Thompson was begging for donors to fill up his red pickup truck, McCain's in debt, Huckabee couldn't raise anything until Iowa, and Romney has pulled all his ads to double down in Michigan.

The more these guys campaign, the less anyone wants to give them money.

UPDATE: McCain violated election laws by using his campaign fundraising list to get a bank loan. Nobody can raise a dime in the Republican Party. Hilarious.

UPDATE II: Giuliani's trying to make up for his lack of fundage by offering the largest tax cut in American history while increasing defense spending. TO be paid for by pixies and fairies.

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The Choices We Have

So yesterday, we learned that the phone companies are so committed to helping the Bush Adminstration defeat the enemies of freedom that they would only cut off illegal wiretaps if the bills weren't paid, not because they were, uh, illegal.

In at least one case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation ''was halted due to untimely payment,'' the audit found. FISA wiretaps are used in the government's most sensitive and secretive criminal and intelligence investigations, and allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies.

''We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence,'' according to the audit by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

True patriots, eh? When duty called, when September 11 happened (oh, wait, actually before September 11 happened), these brave footsoldiers in the trash-the-Constitution movement were more than willing to charge the government millions. Of course, the fact that the Administration let these kinds of bills go unpaid is ridiculous, too, but nobody's really covered in glory here. Especially when these are the same phone companies who want full amnesty for this lawbreaking, and the Administration has made it their top priority to deliver it to them.

In the wake of this, Harry Reid, if the Wall Street Journal can be believed, is looking to punt on FISA reform.

We're told that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is saying privately he now won't attempt to update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on the wiretapping of al Qaeda suspects. Instead, he'll merely support another 18-month extension of the six-month-old Protect America Act. Among other problems, the temporary bill includes no retroactive immunity for the telecom companies that cooperated with the feds after 9/11.

Now, let's remember that the Protect America Act was a piece of garbage that gave Bush everything he wanted, with the exception of telecom amnesty. Michael McConnell and the booga-booga brigade pretended that the terrorists were a-comin' to every member of Congress' house, and they capitulated almost completely. The civil liberties protections are negligible and the surveillance is virtually unlimited. The version of the FISA bill passed by the House was designed to fix this abomination, to need to do which is recognized by absolutely every Democrat.

So if this is indeed Reid's strategy, our options are now: maintain a bill that shreds the Fourth Amendment, or put forth a new bill that gives a little protection to the Fourth Amendment but lets the rapacious phone companies off the hook.

Remember, this is a Democratic Congress.

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Full Circle

“Go back to bed, America, your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed America, your government is in control. Here, here's American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up, go back to bed America, here is American Gladiators, here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on the living in the land of freedom. Here you go America - you are free to do what well tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!”

-Bill Hicks, 1991

American Gladiators: A Breakout Hit?

Is “American Gladiators” the unexpected hit of the 2007-08 television season?

It’s far too early to say anything definitive, but Sunday’s two-hour premiere of the NBC reality competition “delivered the highest ratings among adults 18 to 49 of any new show this season on any network,” Benjamin Toff noted earlier this week.

The program drew an average of 12 million viewers on Sunday, gaining viewers during each half hour, and another 11 million when a second episode was shown in what will become its normal time slot on Monday night. This week a repeat will be shown on Sunday at 10 p.m., in a time slot originally filled by the Golden Globes.

Ah, progress.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Handing Over Control Of The Government

There's one passage in today's execrable op-ed by Saints McCain and Lieberman from Our Lady of the Endless War that give you pause:

As the surge should have taught us by now, troop numbers matter in Iraq. We should adjust those numbers based on conditions on the ground and the recommendations of our commanders in Iraq -- first and foremost, Gen. Petraeus, who above all others has proven that he knows how to steer this war to a successful outcome.

So we're supposed to basically outsource commander-in-chief operations to a military commander instead of the civilian leadership. Hm. Mike Huckabee has said this as well, by the way, and it's been George Bush's mantra for some time. Of course, Petraeus only commands one piece of our military footprint. He's going to ask for as many resources as possible to sustain his theater. So will those commanders in Afghanistan, who want 3,000 more Marines. So will every commander in every operation around the world. That's why this is a democracy and not a military junta.

The answer, clearly, is that while a responsible president needs to listen to what his military commanders in theater think but then he needs to use independent judgment. You're never going to get an answer like "Sir, my strategy has failed" or "Sir, this other guy's mission is more important than mine" out of an official in any kind of organization -- military or civilian.

What's President McCain going to do when it turns out that all of his subordinates throughout the government want more resources to be put at their disposal?

Well, we kind of know what he'll do: overburden the military in a quest for endless war. It's what he's been doing for a long time. And talk of exit strategies, of the political progress needed to get us out of Iraq, will be put aside in favor of some other narrative he wants to spin. Here's how that plays out in practice:

From Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to Army privates and aid workers, officials are expressing their willingness to stand back and help Iraqis develop their own answers. "We try to come up with Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," said Stephen Fakan, the leader of a provincial reconstruction team with U.S. troops in Fallujah.

In many cases -- particularly on the political front -- Iraqi solutions bear little resemblance to the ambitious goals for 2007 that Bush laid out in his speech to the nation last Jan. 10. "To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis," he pledged. "Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year . . . the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution."...

To Crocker, the meaning of "Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems" is "blindingly obvious. Iraq has got a government. It's got a system. It's got provincial governments. It's got a military and a police. And it has leaders of all of these things who increasingly take themselves seriously as leaders."

That's basically surrender. That says "we don't know what to do to influence the mess of a government we've ended up with, so we'll let them fight it out." It's completely irresponsible. So is this continued talk that any uptick in violence represents a "desperate" insurgency. If that's true they've been desperate for five years.

McCain's "plan" for Iraq is to do absolutely nothing, put it all in the hands of the generals, give them every last resource at the expense of breaking the military, and hoping the Iraqis can stumble across a political solution on their own.

That's considered the "experienced and sensible" view of foreign policy.

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The Huckster Advantage

I do think that this Wayne Dumond ad, which will likely be brutal in a Republican primary, could significantly impact what I'm about to say. But I do think Mike Huckabee has the clearest path to the nomination as anyone.

The road to the GOP nomination will certainly not be based on issues; antiwar Republicans went for John McCain in New Hampshire (though you have to wonder what "antiwar Republican" really means; maybe it's someone who wants to get out the most honorable way possible, in which case they consider McCain the most experienced option). It's going to fall on identity issues, much as the Democratic race is falling along identity lines in kind of an ugly way. And there's no doubt in my mind that Southern conservatives, who will end up deciding this nomination, will end up rejecting John McCain, whose fundamentals in New Hampshire were weaker than in 2000, and who still has no love from mainstream conservatives. McCain has problems with tax-cutters, too, and while Huckabee doesn't inspire confidence on this front, his embrace of the FairTax has blunted that criticism to a degree. And if Huckabee were smart, he would attack McCain at his strength, pointing out all of the earmarks he has received for his constituents in Arizona.

Money is a non-factor, in my view. The guy with the most is in a do-or-die situation in Michigan, and the only other candidate with even a little money is hanging out in Florida trying to gin up "security" events to get attention. And I maintain that Huckabee has more money on hand right now and eligible to spend than McCain; that's why they're going the 527 route to beat him.

But like I said, this is about identity. And I think it will be hard to wave base voters off of Huckabee. He still has the national lead, and is the only candidate at or near the lead in all the big states to come (Michigan, South Carolina, Florida). Michigan would be a pipe dream for him but would clearly put him on a path to the nomination; if he loses, I believe South Carolina will come through. Plus there's this analysis:

If Huck exceeds expectations--even marginally--then he can probably knock Mitt out of the race. Huck has a real possibility of bumping Mitt to third place in his Daddy's state, which I gotta believe would chase him from the race.

And then we'd be left with Huck versus McCain. A Baptist preacher who will chase away the corporatists versus a war-monger who will chase away the nativists and evangelicals. While I think either Huck or McCain may do well in the General election (I'd rather be running against Mitt), I think a two-way contest between Huck and McCain has the real potential to cause the GOP a while lot of angst between now and whenever they do get to the General.

I gotta believe that Huck looked at this polling and realized he had the ability to hit Mitt with a real body blow, taking out the one other guy who can appeal to the values voters. Which makes this very interesting indeed.

Knocking out Mitt would be fatal for the guy who doesn't connect with base Republican voters, McCain. And South Carolina is a closed primary.

I truly believe Huckabee is the front-runner right now, such as it is. And only a really gut-level smear campaign can derail him.

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I, The Economy, Am Coming To You

I think 0% interest rates are how low Helicopter Ben Bernanke would have to cut them to get us out of this mess. The economy is just souring on too many fronts, and it's all interconnected. We know that housing is a mess. People are barely managing to keep their homes, and they certainly aren't able to borrow against it and live off the home. As a direct result, consumer spending is in the toilet:

An already weak holiday shopping season turned out to be even worse than expected for many of the nation's retailers, who reported Thursday they had disappointing sales results for December. The poor performance raised more concerns about consumer spending, and in turn, the health of the economy.

And if you have no way of borrowing against your home, but you need to borrow to survive, or just borrow to grab some more material goods or that last Christmas present, or to keep up with your own living standard, why then you'd borrow against your credit cards.

We've just learned that credit card debt increased at an 11.3% annual rate in November. In 2005, it increased at a 3.1 percent rate. Why the jump? As Dean Baker says, "People borrow against their credit cards when they can't borrow against their homes. It looks like a lot of people can't borrow against their homes."

Meanwhile, we know that certain prices continue to soar. Gas is expected to hit $3.50 a gallon this summer, and health care costs averaged seven THOUSAND dollars a person last year. Now, that's mostly incurred by the sickest among us, but premiums and deductibles are certainly going up. And that's delivering a health care system that is decreasing in effectiveness.

A pair of researchers has just published an update that compares various countries on their rates of "amenable mortality," defined as deaths that are "potentially preventable with timely and effective health care." In 1997, the United States ranked 15th out of 19 industrialized countries. So how are we doing now?

Answer: we're now 19th out of 19. The rest of the countries have improved their performance by an average of 16%, while the U.S., that well-known engine of healthcare innovation, has improved by only 4%. So now we're in last place.

As Kevin Drum says, "This is really bad news. The chickens are coming home to roost."

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Go Go Uncommiteds

The first public poll I saw on the Michigan Democratic non-primary, where the whole field but Clinton and Kucinich pulled out because the new date violated DNC rules, had Clinton at 48% and "Uncommited" at 28%. I was worried that uncommited really meant undecided, but it's a legitimate strategy for grassroots Obama and Edwards supporters in the state.

Top Michigan Democrats made a plea "to coax supporters of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards to vote 'uncommitted' in Tuesday's Michigan primary, rather than staying home or crossing over to vote in the Republican contest," according to the Detroit News.

Obama and Edwards "yanked their names off the ballot here, leaving New York Sen. Hillary Clinton as the only leading contender for Democratic voters."

Obama and Edwards supporters "can still have an indirect say in the nominating process if they check the 'uncommitted' box on the ballot. State law prohibits write-ins for candidates who have not authorized write-in campaigns; Obama and Edwards have not. If 'uncommitted' draws at least 15 percent of the vote in a congressional district, delegates not bound to any candidate could be sent to the national convention, possibly enabling Obama and Edwards supporters to play a role in the nomination."

So uncommitted is almost certain to garner a lot of delegates (I think it'll reach 40%, how's that), meaning that Michigan won't be a clean sweep for Hillary. It would be a shame if the delegate fight turned over a technicality like one candidate defying DNC rules, but it's not going to happen. So it's on to Nevada for what amounts to a 10-day sprint. Despite this long pre-primary season, giving the candidates a week to camp out in Nevada is not conducive to an informed choice. Another problem with the compressed primary calendar.

UPDATE: I hope that the housing mess does become an issue, now that we're heading into some primary states where that is affecting the economy deeply. Sometimes regional issues and national issues are the same, and this is an example.

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CA-04: D-Day

Man, where did I come up with a title like that?

John Doolittle will address the media at 10:30 am about his intentions. Regardless of what he decides to do, I don't think it's a controversial statement that the best candidate we have running as a challenger for Congress in California this year is Charlie Brown. He has the candidate experience, the most assured stance on the issues, and the money, but most important he has the right perspective, by not waiting until 2009 to lead but doing it every single day. The donation of a percentage of his fundraising to aid the care of our veterans is one of the more inspired displays of leadership I've seen out of someone running for political office. So let's not forget that, no matter what happens.

UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee is reporting that Doolittle will retire. I imagine that the NRCC turned off the money spigot.

UPDATE II: With Doolittle out, the rumors have him selected former Rep. Rico Oller to be the GOP nominee. Given Doolittle's need to retire to avoid being slaughtered in the district, why should we expect his endorsement to carry any weight? We know that this will be a wild primary on the Republican side. Eric Egland and 2006 Doolittle Mike Holmes are already in, and State Assemblyman Ted Gaines and possibly even former Rep. Doug Ose could follow. This will be a bloody primary and I don't think anyone will be anointed. Meanwhile, Charlie Brown keeps raising money and meeting the voters. You can give a donation today at our ActBlue page if you like.

UPDATE III: Charlie Brown's statement:

Roseville: In response to today’s announcement that Representative John Doolittle will not seek re-election, CD4 Congressional Candidate and Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown issued the following statement:

“I believe John did the right thing today for his family, for the 4th District and for America . Now is the time to unite as Americans, heal our wounds and move forward to solve the many difficult challenges we face both here in CD4, and across the country we love.”

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Straits of Hormuz Audio/Video - Almost Certainly A Fake

After a few days of scrutiny, the Straits of Hormuz "incident" with Iranian gunships is completely falling apart. Not for the President - he's still using it as a scaremongering tool - but for anyone who's seriously looking at this thing.

It's important to note that non-events like this happen in the Gulf with regularity. In military parlance it's described as "free training. And certainly, from the video released by the Pentagon, it doesn't look like a whole lot more than that. I guess they felt like they had to spruce it up more. So they added this additional audio track that sounds like a random bad guy from Iron Eagle or something, threatening the American ships:

That audio really makes you laugh out loud. Apparently there are plenty of people at the Pentagon who feel the same way:

The list of those who are less than fully confident in the Pentagon’s video/audio mashup of aggressive maneuvers by Iranian boats near American warships in the Strait of Hormuz now includes the Pentagon itself.

Unnamed Pentagon officials said on Wednesday that the threatening voice heard in the audio clip, which was released on Monday night with a disclaimer that it was recorded separately from the video images and merged with them later, is not directly traceable to the Iranian military.

I think it's more directly traceable to a Hollywood soundstage. There's no background audio behind the "Iranian," yet he's supposed to be on a gunship with an outboard motor? This has to be the rationalization of the century from the spokesliars at the Pentagon:

Pentagon officials said they could not rule out that the broadcast might have come from shore, or from another ship nearby, although it might have come from one of the five fast boats with a high-quality radio system.

As emptywheel said,

Oh yeah. Those fancy Iranian motorboats have such high-quality radio systems that they filter out the ambient noise of an outboard motor working at full speed while the tape taken from the US ship, taken at least partially inside the bridge, itself has the noise of a ship at sea.

That extra audio, which is the only thread between this and a perfunctory and meaningless incident, could easily have been chatter from the shoreline about the incident, kind of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" version of what happened. It sure isn't credible that it came from the boat.

All ships at sea use a common UHF frequency, Channel 16, also known as “bridge-to bridge” radio. Over here, near the U.S., and throughout the Mediterranean, Ch. 16 is used pretty professionally, i.e., chatter is limited to shiphandling issues, identifying yourself, telling other ships what your intentions are to avoid mishaps, etc.

But over in the Gulf, Ch. 16 is like a bad CB radio. Everybody and their brother is on it; chattering away; hurling racial slurs, usually involving Filipinos (lots of Filipinos work in the area); curses involving your mother; 1970’s music broadcast in the wee hours (nothing odder than hearing The Carpenters 50 miles off the coast of Iran at 4 a.m.)

On Ch. 16, esp. in that section of the Gulf, slurs/threats/chatter/etc. is commonplace. So my first thought was that the “explode” comment might not have even come from one of the Iranian craft, but some loser monitoring the events at a shore facility.

The timing here is very ironic, and not because it matches up with the President's trip to the Middle East (hey guess what, he can snap his fingers and deliver a Palestinian state! Presidentin' is easy!). This comes in a week when newly released reports from the NSA reveal that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was definitively a hoax.

The author of the report "demonstrates that not only is it not true, as (then US) secretary of defense Robert McNamara told Congress, that the evidence of an attack was 'unimpeachable,' but that to the contrary, a review of the classified signals intelligence proves that 'no attack happened that night,'" FAS said in a statement.

"What this study demonstrated is that the available intelligence shows that there was no attack. It's a dramatic reversal of the historical record," Aftergood said.

"There were previous indications of this but this is the first time we have seen the complete study," he said.

I don't think this Straits of Hormuz incident is going to have the same impact as the Gulf of Tonkin, except in maybe making "I'm coming at you" the "Don't tase me bro" catchphrase of 2008. But it's clear that both incidents share the desire to generate propaganda for the purposes of serving foreign policy goals. In 1964 they pulled it off. In 2008, with little credibility for this government, they had to show their work. And it's about the level of a junior high school crank call.

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Obama on National Security

I do think it's notable that John Kerry endorsed Barack Obama today. Kerry has a 2 million-strong email list from his run for President. I don't think anyone has a much bigger contact set on the Democratic side. This follows Tim Johnson of South Dakota's endorsement yesterday. And there's at least speculation that Ted Kennedy could be next. If Obama is so dead in the water after the New Hampshire victory for Hillary Clinton, why are so many people and organizations now rushing to endorse him?

(Update: I forgot that he also got George Miller's endorsement, which is a de facto Nancy Pelosi endorsement.)

I don't think that you can look at this news story about Obama's grandmother in Kenya and not think that there's something really transcendant here, something that actually could resonate around the globe. I don't want to put too much on this "Great Man" theory that a cosmopolitan American President would be a game-changer, but the fact that Obama also seems committed to a different kind of foreign policy is something that I find very attractive. I think this Ari Berman article misses the mark. Almost all of the foreign policy advisors to Obama had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war, whereas in the Clinton camp you have people like Lee Feinstein who say things like "the problem with pre-emption is that it may not go far enough." Berman calls the differences "stylistic," though he does say that "doesn't make them less interesting." I think the difference is very simple: wankers like Michael O'Hanlon can't stand Obama. That's actually good enough for me.

1. O’HANLON: “[Obama] seems contemptuous of the motivations of those who supported the war.”

O’Hanlon offers up a thinly-veiled defense for analysts like himself who offered tragically wrong advice in the war in March 2003 — O’Hanlon cannot seem to face up to the fact that he lined up on the wrong side of the arguments on Iraq, and America has suffered serious damage to its national security as a result [...]

2. O’HANLON: “Obama’s second Iraq problem is his insistence that, whatever happens there during 2008, he would withdraw all our main combat forces in the first 16 months of his presidency.”

Here O’Hanlon again offers bad advice and displays his unwillingness to recognize the Bush surge in Iraq has failed to achieve its fundamental goal — to advance political reconciliation among Iraq’s leaders. It’s a good thing that fewer Iraqis are dying, but Iraq’s leaders are no closer to a political settlement, which was the point of the surge. Unless Iraq’s leaders strike the power-sharing deals necessary to stabilize their country, the drop in violence is not likely to be sustainable. O’Hanlon favors fostering the dangerous and dysfunctional culture of dependency among Iraq’s leaders that comes with his proposals to keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

Today is the first anniversary of the Bush speech on the surge, and here O'Hanlon is making the same false arguments that propagandists like John McCain and Joe Lieberman make today in the Wall Street Journal. They try to say that "the surge has worked" while acknowledging that "there has been no political progress," when political progress was the only function of the surge. Both Clinton and Obama have been fine in speeches and debates talking about this, but only Obama is singled out for scorn from the kind of people like Michael O'Hanlon. Michael Bérubé has more.

In the wake of the Bush Administration failures, progressive have an opportunity to lead on national security, just as there was an opportunity to lead on economic security in the 1990s.

...there is a substantive policy reason for progressives to offer a clear contrast: Americans are less secure at the start of 2008 because of a failure of conservative ideology. Growing instability around the world is not simply a result of mismanagement or poor implementation. How conservatives view the world and the role of government is at the core of America's inability to tackle global terrorism in the nearly seven years since 9-11. The conservative push for ever smaller government at home and an obsession with tax cuts has not only weakened America economically, it has also created a budgetary house of cards that could collapse and create strains on America's ability to project its power and influence in the world in the years to come [...]

First, progressives need to continue to provide a clear alternative on the key issues like Iraq and the fight against global terrorist groups. Saying "me too" and just simply stating that we're "tough and smart" didn't work before, and it won't work in the coming year.

Second, progressives need to beware of muddled arguments to blindly move to the "center" without evaluating the reality (which is exactly what progressives did in 2002 when they mistakenly supported bad arguments for invading Iraq). In addition, the center has shifted on national security, and Americans want a clear alternative that puts more emphasis on other components of American power like diplomacy and economic might.

Finally, progressives should also avoid tactical arguments like the ones presented in 2004, such as plans on how America will train Iraq's troops effectively. Americans want to hear more from their leaders about how they are going to revive American power and moral authority after eight years of Bush and his allies in Congress making the wrong choices.

And I think that someone like Obama, who reaches out to heal the nation of Kenya while on his campaign bus, has the temperament and moral authority to lead in this area. It's a past-versus-future argument that I believe is much more than stylistic.

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No Immunity, No Way, Jose

Jose Rodriguez wants the full Goodling:

Attorneys for Jose Rodriguez told Congress that the former CIA official won't testify about the destruction of CIA videotapes without a promise of immunity, a person close to the tapes inquiry said Wednesday.

Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, ordered the tapes destroyed in 2005. Rodriguez was scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee at a Jan. 16 hearing.

Defense attorney Robert Bennett told lawmakers, however, that he would not let Rodriguez testify because of the criminal investigation into the case. Without a promise of immunity, anything Rodriguez said at the hearing could be used against him in court.

Now, the only potential outside review was basically scuttled yesterday, as a federal judge refused to inquire into the destruction of the tapes. Which leads emptywheel to say:

So, let's see. No Rodriguez testimony before Congress (hopefully, that is ... did you know that Non CIA Rat is almost an anagram for Iran-Contra?), no Kennedy inquiry into the terror tapes. That DOJ investigation into the torture tapes is looking like a pretty good way to bury any discussion of the torture tapes for a good little while, isn't it? Maybe even long enough for Bush to start pardoning people wildly in about a year, huh?

I believe Mukasey is Albanian for "stonewall".

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

All Hat No Cattle

This is hilarious. Turns out that the one state Multiple Choice Mitt managed to win was completely irregular (h/t dc20005):

The results of Republican nonbinding straw polls in some Wyoming counties Saturday don't jibe with the statewide delegate selection results in favor of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

In Johnson County, for example, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee came in first in the straw poll, while Romney was in fourth place [...]

In Park County's straw poll, Hunter outpolled Romney 26-20, according to the Cody Enterprise's online edition. But the county delegates chose Marilyn Taylor, a Romney supporter, as an alternate delegate to the national GOP convention.

In Campbell County, Romney supporter Greg Schaefer won the delegate slot although Paul won the straw poll, according to published accounts.

And in as many as half the counties, they didn't even HOLD a straw poll.

Isn't this what the primary process was meant to STOP, these kind of Tammany Hall (or Laramie Hall, in this case) tactics? I mean, this pretty much comes off like Romney bought the Wyoming primary, far from the media spotlight.

Prompting Tagg Romney to say, "I can haz inheritance now?"

(yet ANOTHER reason why the primary process is indisputably broken.)

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Richardson Out

So now we're down to three (five with Kucinich and Gravel, if you want to be charitable). This "Iowa and New Hampshire didn't matter meme" is simply wrong. It mattered plenty. In these states where retail politics is supposed to be important, where you can't buy the race, they winnowed the field down to the two candidates who raised $100 million dollars. And I would argue that it was because there was this February 5th backstop that demanded a quick start. If raising money is a key factor in picking a candidate then so be it. But let's be honest about it.

Don't be fooled into thinking this primary system is somehow fixed.

On a side note, I met Bill Richardson out in San Diego at the state convention. Nice enough guy, couldn't stand his domestic agenda, particularly the insidious "I'm a pro-growth Democrat" theme.

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NPR was trying to spin this as somehow a LOW number of Iraqi civilian casualties in the last three and a half years, because it comes in lower than the Lancet study. But it remains 150,000 human lives, dead, senselessly, for an unnecessary war of choice. And that only goes up to June 2006, and the authors of the study admitted they were unable to reach certain areas that were "too violent."

Not to mention the 3,900-plus soldiers, including 9 in the last two days. And the numbers of wounded are incalculable.

All to remove a dictator who wasn't nearly as efficient at killing Iraqis.

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9 Soldiers Dead in 2 Days

You would think that, considering that Baghdad's streets are newly paved with gold and everything's back to normal and candies are handed out at every market and the air is laden with magic pixie dust, there wouldn't be any need for a new major offensive in Iraq. And yet, Phantom Phoenix started yesterday in Diyala province. And already, it's claimed 9 lives.

Nine American soldiers were killed in the first two days of a new offensive to root out al-Qaida in Iraq fighters holed up in districts north of the capital, the U.S. military reported Wednesday.

The losses came as many militants fled U.S. and Iraqi forces massing in Diyala, a province of palm and citrus groves that has defied the trend toward lower violence. The campaign's scope is nationwide but is mainly focused on gaining control of Diyala and its most important city, Baqouba, which al-Qaida has declared the capital of its self-styled Islamic caliphate.

The fact that six of these troops were killed in a booby-trapped house suggests that the insurgents knew they were coming. And indeed:

All indications are that al-Qaida fighters retreated north from Diyala, presumably to Salahuddin, before the offensive began Tuesday, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, told reporters in Baghdad.

"Operational security in Iraq is a problem," he said, noting that the Iraqi army uses unsecured cell phones and radios. "I'm sure there is active leaking of communication."

One more death in Iraq is needless. The country is not on a path to political or even security sustainability because of the occupation. Even the Pentagon admits that factional reconciliation through the political progress is the only way to a solution, and that the chances of that are 50-50 at best. Meanwhile, the supposedly fixed security situation isn't all that fixed:

In a separate attack, police said on Tuesday that gunmen kidnapped eight members of a newly-formed U.S.-backed Shiite armed group in northern Baghdad's Shaab neighborhood, one of the capital's most dangerous areas and a center for outlawed Shiite fighters.

The men were manning a checkpoint when they were kidnapped Monday night, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information. Last Sunday, the head of the group, Sheik Ismaiel Abbas, was shot to death in Shaab.

Elsewhere in the capital Tuesday, the head of the municipality of Baghdad's primarily Sunni neighborhood of Yarmouk was killed when a bomb attached to his car exploded, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.

Add to that the fact that Diyala is actually more deadly now, post-surge, than it was in June.

I keep writing about this in the dim hope that somebody will recognize the pickle we've managed to get ourselves into. There have been bad options and worse options in Iraq for the last 3 years. The bad options have grown worse and the worse options have grown unthinkable. The less people that have to die in that exchange, the better. When this occupation ends it will be pinned on the Democrats. But the responsibility lies with George Bush every step of the way.

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Ron Paul: The Newsletters

I'm not a James Kirchick fan, but I remember getting one of these racist and homophobic Ron Paul mailers back when I was in college, and the reporting here is very thorough. For his part, Paul claims that he only wrote the parts of the mailers that weren't racist. Oh, OK.

When you can't even win the antiwar vote in the GOP from John "million years in Iraq" McCain, you have message problems. And maybe because this kind of ugliness has seeped in.

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Meanwhile, On The Court

Two major Supreme Court cases have been heard this week, and on each of them, it does not appear that the side of justice and the Constitution will be victorious. In the Kentucky case opposing the use of the lethal injection method in capital punishment, the conservative block was skeptical:

"This is an execution, not surgery," Justice Antonin Scalia told the attorney who was representing two Kentucky inmates who say the use of the three-drug compound poses "an unnecessary risk of pain" to the dying man.

"Where does that come from, that you must find the method of execution that causes the least pain?" Scalia continued. "We have approved electrocution. We have approved death by firing squad. I expect both of those have more possibilities of painful death than the protocol here."

Yes, where the hell does that come from, this idea that punishment should not be cruel or unusual? What first-year law student pulled that out of their ass?

So, it appears that we'll continue with a process that has been invalidated for the euthanizing of dogs.

In the other big case, the ruling on Indiana's voter ID law, the Court again appeared unswayed by arguments about equal protection and the deliberate efforts to suppress voter turnout.

Only two Justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens — even hinted at the real-world fact that the photo ID law in Indiana is at the heart of a bitter, ongoing contest reaching well beyond Indiana. It is a dispute between Republicans worried over election fraud supposedly generated by Democrats to pad their votes, and Democrats worried over voter suppression supposedly promoted by Republicans to cut down their opposition. The abiding question at the end: can a decision be written that does not itself sound like a political, rather than a judicial, tract? Can the Court, in short, avoid at least the appearance of another Bush v. Gore? [...]

It was apparent from the outset that the Court’s more conservative members were most interested in (a) finding that no one had a right to bring the constitutional challenge, at least at this stage, (b) putting off a challenge until the law has actually been enforced or at least until just before election day, or (c) salvaging as much as possible of the Indiana photo ID requirement on the theory that voter fraud is a problem that states have a legitimate right to try to solve. There was some hand-wringing, particularly by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., over how difficult it is for a judge to “draw the line” on when a voting requirement would or would not pass a constitutional test [...]

In a notable way, therefore, it appeared that — once more — Justice Anthony M. Kennedy may hold the vote that controls the outcome. He displayed some skepticism about the challenge to Indiana’s law, somewhat impatiently suggesting at one point that the challengers would oppose any kind of voter ID requirement other than a simple signature match at the polling place. Kennedy seemed ultimately to be looking for ways to assure voters who demonstrably would be significantly burdened by the law that they could challenge it, perhaps even before election day came around.

Count me as not sanguine that Alito's handwringing will hold up. And Kennedy appears lost.

As has been said many times, this is a solution without a problem. The Indiana secretary of state, when pressed, could not come up with one documented instance of voter fraud in his state. Never has so much attention been paid to a crime that has not been proven to be committed. The agenda is as transparent as tissue paper.

These two cases reveal just how partisan, and really cowardly, the Court has become, as the arguments showed an unwillingness to engage on the Constitutional questions, while looking to uphold the rulings on narrower, more technical grounds. This has been the Roberts Court agenda since he rose to Chief Justice.

The revolution that many commentators predicted when President Bush appointed two ultra-right-wing Supreme Court justices is proceeding with breathtaking impatience, and it is a revolution Jacobin in its disdain for tradition and precedent. Bush's choices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, have joined the two previously most right-wing justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, in an unbreakable phalanx bent on remaking constitutional law by overruling, most often by stealth, the central constitutional doctrines that generations of past justices, conservative as well as liberal, had constructed.

That article by Ronald Dworkin is important. Go read it. (I'll be here.)

And let's be very clear about what each and every Republican candidate has said, with total unanimity, on the subject of judges.

Rudy Giuliani

"I will nominate strict constructionist judges with respect for the rule of law and a proven fidelity to the Constitution -- judges in the mold of Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts."

Mitt Romney

"I think the justices that President Bush has appointed are exactly spot-on. I think Justice Roberts and Justice Alito are exactly the kind of justices America needs."

Fred Thompson

"I like Roberts and Alito and Scalia and Thomas. One of the best things that I got to do as a private citizen was to help get Justice Roberts through the confirmation process... We're in a heck of a lot better shape because of Roberts and Alito, and one more gain would put us in even better shape."

Mike Huckabee

"My own personal hero on the court is Scalia, not least because I duck-hunted with him."

John McCain

"One of our greatest problems in America today is justices that legislate from the bench, activist judges. I'm proud that we have Justice Alito and Roberts on the United States Supreme Court. ... [When asked whether he admires any Supreme Court justice in particular] Of course, Antonin Scalia... I admire how articulate he is, but I also from everything I've seen admire Roberts as well."

The two parties have more than a dime's worth of difference on this, and the Supremes had better be right at the top of the issues that we talk about in the fall.

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