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

Saturday, March 15, 2008

She Can't Win

If this outcome in Iowa is any indication, the activist Democrats, basically the superdelegates, are simply not going to deliver the election to Clinton no matter what she does. In Iowa, Obama gained 10 delegates and Clinton lost 1 at the county convention, as Edwards delegates drifted to him. This is the delegate poaching that Clinton has claimed is within the bounds, so I don't see how she can object. The system simply wasn't designed for a close race like this, so the inequities in the system are all coming out, but clearly, this says to me that superdelegates and activists aren't moving toward Clinton no matter how many kitchen sinks she throws at Obama.

Clearly Clinton will have to win with the voters, which of course she can't do from the standpoint of pledged delegates. And the popular vote is out of reach, particularly if the do-over in Michigan comes to pass.

There is no path to a nomination. And yet somehow, Pennsylvania is still a "battleground".

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Catch That Goalpost

Over the last few days, White House officials and military leaders, either by themselves or through the press, have been steadily lowering expectations about the current situation in Iraq. They've walked this tightrope for quite a while now, between promoting the message that the war is going so well that we have to stay and finish the job, and that the war is not going so well and we have to stay or chaos will reign. Hence, here's A Man Called Petraeus:

Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday.

Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services.

Outside of the fact that the violence has actually ticked back up and this opportunity is increasingly slipping away, this is generally correct. The various parties in Iraq aren't even speaking to one another, let alone producing legislation aimed at reconciliation. The Sunni political groups aren't focused on returning to the coalition government, Sunni provinces like Anbar are not repesented in the Parliament because of the boycott during the last provincial elections, the Awakening groups are growing restless (as well as being bolstered by US weapons and funding, forming into something of a militia), and the internal squabbles in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south are growing. Juan Cole offers a charitable reading of Petraeus' statements.

So you could understand how Gen. Petraeus, having sacrificed so much to get some sort of social peace in Baghdad that would allow some major steps toward political reconciliation, is frustrated that no such major initiatives have been launched and that Iraqi politics just seems to be stuck.

Now we get an article by Robert Burns for the AP, suggesting that Al Qaeda in Iraq is stronger than the Bush Administration is letting on.

Al-Qaida is in Iraq to stay. It's not a conclusion the White House talks about much when denouncing the shadowy group, known as al-Qaida in Iraq, that used the U.S. invasion five years ago to develop into a major killer.

The militants are weakened, battered, perhaps even desperate, by most U.S. accounts. But far from being "routed," as Defense Secretary Robert Gates claimed last month, they're still there, still deadly active and likely to remain far into the future, military and other officials told The Associated Press.

Commanders and the other officials commented in a series of interviews and assessments discussing persistent violence in Iraq and intelligence judgments there and in the U.S.

There are some named sources in that story, but they're all military. And Petraeus has been carrying the Administration's water for some time. So what's going on here? It seems to me that, having overplayed the "surge is working" meme, the White House is reacting to imminent dangers and increased violence by working the other angle, that Iraq is so dangerous that we can't just up and leave and risk catastrophe, as if we're not there now. This is the Iraq conundrum that conservative warhawks have skillfully used time and again, moving from success to failure over and over and offering the EXACT same conclusion.

We know that the latter is not true, by the way, we know that Iraq will not become a Qaedistan whether we leave now or in 20 years. Not to mention the fact that things got steadily worse for four years, and having 100,000-plus troops there didn't stop that.

With Petraeus' report set for April, and clear signs that violence is rising, we're seeing the Administration move into the McCain argument, that we can't leave or there will be genocide. So seizing on these statements that appear to be hedges or flip-flops actually plays into Administration hands. Instead of playing a game of inches and using one statement to highlight the situation in Iraq TODAY, people who want to actually end the occupation have to talk about it in the context of the big picture, about how the Bush strategy can NEVER work. Otherwise we chase headlines and rise or fall on them.

What may be most effective heading into those hearings is pointing out this deception, and this game that Bush and his cronies continue to play.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, it's important to place all of this in the context of keeping us in Iraq well into the future, whether for the purposes of keeping the contracting money flowing or maintaining a presence in the Middle East. Here's William Arkin on the firing of Admiral William Fallon from CENTCOM:

The man most responsible for the departure of Fallon is Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, the savior of the war and the Bush administration with the surge, the counter-insurgency genius, the Washington-savvy Princeton grad, and a pretty boy called "King David" by many. His boss in the military is Fallon, commander of the Central Command, but from day one of his assignment to Iraq, Petraeus reported directly to the White House, thus circumventing the chain of command and virtually ignoring the views of his superior officer.

As my friend Fred Kaplan reports in Slate: "It is well-known that Fallon has long been at odds with Gen. David Petraeus.... I have heard from several sources that the two men dislike each other and that their disagreements have been tense, sometimes fierce."

Yesterday, I was hearing from Pentagon officials, high-ranking military officers and close observers of the building that the two were at odds on virtually every element of Iraq policy, which of course put Fallon on a collision course with the White House. In other words, Iran was the excuse but Iraq was the reason: Fallon thought that the Iraq war was a dead end and a drain on resources, that the surge should brought to a quick and successful conclusion, and that the drawdowns should continue. But most important, Fallon argued at the highest level that Petraeus was just not going to get everything he wanted, according to individuals privy to the fights.

But then Petraeus had the White House and Fallon, despite his command and authority to set priorities and decide on what resources are needed, was frozen out.

A senior officer in theater sent me an e-mail: "Petraeus has accomplished a great deal, but he is very reluctant to get rid of force structure." This officer writes that the political imperative to withdraw has become virtually overwhelming. "I think Gates, the Army, and Fallon are all pressing" Petraeus to give up more resources, he writes, but so far Petraeus is winning the battle.

My take is that Bush has voted with Petraeus and has decided to tough it out with 130,000-140,000 troops in Iraq through the end of the administration. Fallon lost the battle. The good news is that with those kinds of resources being committed to Iraq, and with the lessons of the war, the likelihood of Bush and Cheney starting an Iran war is virtually zero.

You have to look at every Petraeus statement through this lens.

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I'm Sorry, So Sorry

Both Democratic campaigns need to understand that the constant apologizing and groveling just play into a general sense of Democrats as weak. Progressives and commentators need to understand that constantly calling on people to apologize and grovel has the exact same effect. This campaign has become this ritualized Japanese seppuku, where people must commit hari kari to save face. It's bizarre, and it's being fed by the media.

I'm not saying that you should necessarily act like a Republican and be defiant in the face of a surrogate saying something stupid; the best practice is for surrogates not to say anything stupid at all. But there's a residual effect to all this denouncing and rejecting and repudiating and ejecting and trouncing and bouncing and flouncing.

UPDATE: To be clear, I thought Obama's response to the Rev. Wright thing was pretty good; I'm reacting to the fact that we've all become junior high school kids that get hurt by words.

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The FISA Miracle

Looks like the House Democrats got their act together yesterday and passed a FISA bill with strengthened civil liberties protections and no telecom amnesty. Considering that there's no political downside to opposing Bush, and the worst-case scenario of there being no bill is not a bad scenario at all, since you simply go back to the original FISA law, this is about as good a job as Democrats can do. And they held their bloc together, which shows great discipline. Greenwald:

"We lived quite well for 30 years under FISA and if no new bill is passed, we will continue to live under FISA. FISA grants extremely broad eavesdropping powers to the President and the FISA court virtually never interferes with any eavesdropping activities. And the only "fix" to FISA that is even arguably necessary -- allowing eavesdropping on foreign-to-foreign calls without warrants -- has the support of virtually everyone in Congress and could be easily passed as a stand-alone measure."

Plus, there's something cathartic in telling the President to go hang.

Now, my only concern is that, when this is rejected by either the Senate or a Presidential veto, will the Democrats say "you had your chance, no FISA bill for you!" or will they continue to negotiate with themselves? Hopefully the former. For the moment, it feels good to be a Democrat. Don't harsh my buzz!

UPDATE: Great stuff from Jane Harman:

First, the world is increasingly dangerous – and the threats from al Qaeda, Hezbollah and copy cat terror cells are real. We must do everything possible to intercept the communications and plans of bad guys and prevent or disrupt their plots to harm us.

Second, the actions we take can and must be consistent with the rule of law. FISA has served us well for 30 years – its framework is sound and, even in it present form, it permits us to secure emergency warrants in a matter of minutes to intercept communications between suspected foreign terrorists and Americans.

Third, FISA does need some tweaking – but the technical changes are not controversial. All Democrats on the Intelligence Committee proposed them almost three years ago in the LISTEN Act.

Fourth, FISA has always provided immunity for telecom firms which act pursuant to its provisions. Telecoms seeking relief from Congress now did not comply between 2001 and 2005. Nor did the Administration. That was wrong, and they must be accountable.

Fifth, telecoms are now complying with FISA and have immunity for all of their activities.

And sixth, press accounts – especially Monday’s story in the Wall Street Journal – make clear that there are up to five ongoing surveillance programs. Congress is not fully informed, and it would be reckless to grant retroactive immunity without knowing the scope of programs out there.

Fantastic. Getting people like Harman to advocate the progressive position on this gives me more hope that the Democrats will not buckle.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Holy crap are we in economic trouble

I think good ol' G.W. is trying to leave a legacy similar to Cal Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. I can't think of a time since I've been alive with such bad fundamentals. First off, nobody wants our dollars anymore.

Antique store owners in lower Manhattan, ticket vendors at India's Taj Mahal and Brazilian business executives heading to China all have one thing in common these days: They don't want U.S. dollars.

Hit by a free fall with no end in sight, the once mighty U.S. dollar is no longer just crashing on currency markets and making life more expensive for American tourists and business people abroad; its clout is evaporating worldwide as foreign businesses and individuals turn to other currencies.

That's really unbelievable. I've been overseas a bit, and in quite a few places they'd actually charge you less if you paid in dollars just so they could get their hands on them. That's been true in good economic times and bad, because the dollar was seen as tied to a strong and financially secure nation. Clearly that illusion has been wiped clean.

At the Taj Mahal, dollars were always legal tender, alongside rupees, for entry into the palace. But because of the falling value of the dollar, the government implemented a rupees-only policy a month ago. Indian merchants catering to tourists have also turned bearish on the dollar.

"Gone are the days when we used to run after dollars, holding onto them for rainy days," said Vijay Narain, a tour operator in the city of Agra where the Taj Mahal is located. "Now we prefer the euro. It gives us more riches."

In Bolivia, billboards feature George Washington's image on a $1 bill alongside a bright pink 500 euro note, encouraging savers to turn to the euro to tuck away money earned abroad or sent home in remittances.

"If the dollar's going down ... save it in Euros!!!" say the signs popping up around La Paz for Bolivia's Banco Bisa.

I'm reminded of the book The United States of Europe, and while not everything prophecied in that book is likely to come true, clearly they have a fiscal stranglehold on us right now.

That's a long-term problem. In the short term we're absolutely in a recession.

The US economy has already fallen into a recession, according to a majority of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal published Thursday.

“The evidence is now beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Scott Anderson of the bank Wells Fargo. Anderson was among the 71 percent of 55 economists asked to assess the state of the economy who agreed it is already in recession.

The biggest evidence of this is that retail sales fell in February. With consumer spending accounting for 2/3 of the economy, as the strappy shoes from Thom McCann go, so goes the nation.

The two ways in which Americans kept solvent and above water for the last decade or so has been through cheap credit and ballooning home values. The home values are cratering and have plenty of a ways to go before they hit the floor, and this is tightening credit. There are no pots of gold left for the average American.

The median price for a (Southern California) home last month was $408,000, down 17.6% from a year ago, according to DataQuick Information Systems. Area home prices have now fallen 19% on average from their peaks last year.

....The rapid pace of the decline has led Los Angeles economist Christopher Thornberg, who last year predicted a 20% decline in Southern California home prices, to revise his projection. He now thinks prices will fall 40%.

$400,000 still prices most of the middle class out of the market, leading to stories like this. Actually the entire LA Times business section last week, with its stories for how to scrimp and save against the rising cost of living, was just overwhelmingly depressing.

Deanna Corbin, 46, would live in Los Angeles if she could. But she can't, at least not with a modicum of space and safety, not on her $38,000 salary as an administrative secretary.

So Corbin gets up at 4 a.m. every day and hustles her 11-year-old daughter out the door by 5 for the two-hour drive from their apartment in Lancaster to downtown L.A.

Most days, they don't return home until 8 p.m., when Corbin tries to devote some time to her daughter's homework before they both collapse into bed. It all begins again at 4 the next morning.

How's that for your American dream?

Hoenstly, at this point you'd have to be a maniac or a sadist to WANT to become President. Our economy is the equivalent of Wile E. Coyote standing two feet from the cliff and just about to look down and disappear in a poof of smoke. Or, as my dad said to me today, "We're a third-world economy and we don't even know it."

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Pre-Friday Random Ten

Getting this up early because I'm headed out of town in the morning. The fine folks at the New Organizing Institute have put together a blogger summit this weekend in Washington, DC. It's leading into the Take Back America conference next week, but unortunately I can't make it all the way through that, and anyway "Take Back America" sounds a little too much like a fundamentalist Christian-rock festival for my taste. (Joke.) But this summit should be very cool, there'll be a lot of state-based bloggers on hand. Point for you being, it's a travel weekend and there won't be much here in the way of blog, though I'll try to check in a little. The irony of going to blogging conferences is that you end up not blogging.

So here's an early Random Ten before I go.

Papa Was A Rolling Stone - The Temptations
Kick Out The Jams (live) - Rage Against The Machine
Do You Realize?? - The Flaming Lips
Resolve - Beth Gibbons & Rustin' Man
Midnight In A Perfect World - DJ Shadow
The Information - Beck
A Method - TV On The Radio
Over - Portishead
Groove Holmes - The Beastie Boys
Sure Thing - St. Germain

Have a good weekend.

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Gov.-in-waiting David Paterson just wrapped up a news conference in the governor’s Red Room (more on that shortly), but before he finished, the question that seems to hang over him this week finally got asked: Has he ever patronized a prostitute?

The uncomfortable question grew more uncomfortable in the silence that followed as Paterson paused, paused some more, and finally said, “Only the lobbyists.”

Is he from Harlem or the Catskills?

David Paterson will be playing all week.

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Rice For America

It occurs to me that I never wrote about my meeting with Oklahoma Senate candidate Andrew Rice at a house party in Venice last weekend. Apparently the Oklahoma GOP is calling it some kind of dark secret, but somehow I found out about it and I'm not invited to anything. Furthermore, they claimed that Dianne Feinstein and Henry Waxman were on hand, which isn't true. I did see my state Senator Sheila Kuehl, my state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, and LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. But I guess they aren't big enough to term the event "a “Who’s Who” list of the most liberal Democrat’s in California." On the plus side, I suppose I'm one of those "liberal Democrat's" (jeez, they're a political organization, can't they hire a copy editor?).

Rice is a 35 year-old former divinity student (he has a Masters in theology from Harvard) who wasn't all that involved in politics until after 9/11, when his brother died inside the World Trade Center. Afterwards he devoted his life to social causes and became drawn into the world of public policy. He worked in the grassroots for a few years, behind the scenes on such projects as ensuring the creation of the 9/11 Comission. In 2006 he was elected at the age of 33 to the Oklahoma State Senate from Oklahoma City. In his speech he emphasized his proud Democratic ideals (though I'm a little upset that the word "Democrat" isn't on his fliers, I know it's Oklahoma but at some point we have to be proud of the signifier), particularly in the areas of ethics reforms, economic justice and fairness, and renewable energy solutions for Oklahoma. That last bit is significant, because he's going up against James Inhofe, public enemy number 1 for the environmentalist crowd. Inhofe's delusional rants denying the existence of global warming, which he called the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on Americans, has generated notoreity and publicity, but not the good kind. In fact, both of Oklahoma's Senators, Inhofe and Tom Coburn, are from the grandstanding, angry, wackadoo school of Republican politics. That state REALLY lost the lottery on this one.

However, even Coburn has come out and said that the war in Iraq is a mistake. Inhofe, when asked about it, said that "he couldn't have said that," moving him even further to the fringe than... Tom Coburn. At the gathering, Rice noted that Inhofe has been an elected official for 41 years - "that's six years longer than I've been alive." The nutball quotes from Inhofe over the years could fill a book, but my favorite was a story I heard at the event from an Oklahoma local. Howie Klein heard it too.

Someone I met from Tulsa told me a very interesting story about Oklahoma Secretary of State Susan Savage. Well, actually the story is about Oklahoma's crazy U.S. Senator, James Inhofe. And it isn't another "crazy Inhofe" story. This one is a "nasty Inhofe" story. I mean everyone I've ever met from Oklahoma has been polite and courteous; so this one kind of surprised me.

While Susan was mayor of Tulsa her daughter Emily's 8th grade class went on a school trip to Washington, DC. The school had arranged for the kids to meet a member of the Oklahoma congressional delegation. It turned out to be Senator Inhofe. When he came forward to address them he asked if Emily Savage could raise her hand. Nervously, she did.

"Emily's mother is the mayor of Tulsa," the senator told her classmates. "I try to work with her and do what's right for the people of Tulsa but Emily's mother believes in killing babies."

When Emily got home and told her parents what happened they thought she must have misunderstood Inhofe. Susan called the teacher who had chaperoned the trip and was aghast to learn that Emily didn't misunderstand anything. She called Inhofe and told him that if he ever came near her daughter again or said anything to her she would seek a restraining order in court. Which is exactly what the long-suffering folks in Oklahoma should do in November.

Inhofe's grandstanding and outrageousness has hurt him in Oklahoma. His approval ratings are below 50%, and Rice keeps him under 50 in a head-to-head matchup, too. That's the danger zone for incumbents. If the environmental groups see promise here, you know they'll jump in hard as well. Plus, you have to love a guy whose wife is named Apple. That's right, Apple Rice. Which I believe I've gotten at Thai restaurants from time to time.

Expanding control of the House and Senate is going to be very important this year, although it's getting almost no attention thus far. Rice is obviously a long-shot, but in a map-changing scenario anything is possible. I'll be posting a lot more on Congressional races as the year goes on.

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Mulligan Stew

Michigan appears to push closer to a deal on a do-over primary, while Florida appears to push away from one. This sets up nicely for Obama to accept a deal, make the Florida vote official, seat the delegates, take the hit on the delegate count, and try like hell to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and North Carolina and just end this. But Obama's team is maintaining that no delegate spread based on the January 29 vote will be acceptable to them. That could just be a bargaining position, however.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowers thinks we're headed to the convention. It's pretty compelling. When a deal on Michigan and Florida is struck (and one eventually will), the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination goes up to 2,208, which is a steeper hill to climb.

There is a growing sentiment that the "delegate math" favors Obama, and that he will wrap-up the nomination in June. While this is a sentiment with which I generally agree, upon closer analysis of the delegate math I think that Clinton has a better chance than many realize. In fact, a close look at the delegate math indicates that there is a good chance we will either head to the convention without a presumptive nominee, or head to the convention with a barely presumptive nominee. By "barely presumptive," I mean a candidate who is just slightly over 2,208, with that total possibly disputed by the opposing campaign. Overall, I would say there is a greater than 50% we will face one of those two scenarios [...] While he will have a lead, there is a pretty good chance there will still be enough undecided superdelegates and Edwards delegates to prevent either candidate from reaching 2,208 by June 10th. Further, even if Obama does barely eek over 2,208 in June, it is unlikely that the Clinton campaign will concede defeat as long as they still believe they can flip enough superdelegates to win the nomination.

In other words, a close look at the delegate math indicates that there is a good chance we will either head to the convention without a presumptive nominee, or head to the convention with a barely presumptive nominee. At the very least, we are headed all the way through June. A question we might want to start asking is how many delegates Obama needs to have in order to get Clinton to concede before the convention in either June or July. Personally, I don't think that number is 2,208, since they will almost certainly believe they can flip a handful of superdelegates. The actual number might be something like 2,240 or even higher, which would make the delegate flipping task virtually impossible. Other than losing a state like Pennsylvania or Florida, such an enormous delegate total strikes me as just about the only way Clinton will concede before the convention. If you have noticed anything else in her campaign behavior up until this point that indicates otherwise, I think we are watching different nomination campaigns.

This is a really agonizing situation based on a process that does not operate well with a close race. There are really two options - Obama wins Pennsylvania and Hillary concedes (and I think she would), or we go to Denver. Not that such a course is necessarily justified, but that's clearly where we are. Any Michigan and Florida re-votes wouldn't happen until June 3, which greatly increases the odds that the race will go on because there'd be a big delegate prize out there.


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Pre-Endorsement Meetings Start Tonight

This is actually a pretty important weekend for Congressional and legislative Democratic candidates across California. State party delegates will get together tonight and Saturday in pre-endorsement conferences to vote whether or not to endorse particular candidates for the June primary elections. There's been a lot of organizing to woo delegates into endorsing one candidate or another, even in races where there is no opponent. Every delegate gets one vote in Congressional districts, Senate districts and Assembly districts, based on where they live. These endorsements become the official Democratic Party endorsement if a candidate receives 70% of the vote (If a candidate gets between 50 and 70 percent, it goes to caucuses at the state party convention in two weeks). And then their names get sent out on all Democratic mailers, and that's not a little thing. Endorsed party candidates are in a very strong position. It doesn't mean the voters won't have their say, but it's a big help. In fact, there's a credible argument to be made that the party shouldn't endorse one Democrat over another in a primary. But that's the system we have now.

Throughout the weekend, it'd be good to hear from those party officials and delegates with reports on who, if anyone, received endorsements in the various districts. I'm particularly interested in AD-80, AD-78, SD-03, and some of the Congressional seats with multiple candidates like CA-24 and CA-42, among others.

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Ooooh, Secret!

So Republicans want the House to enter into a secret session to discuss the FISA bill, and there's a pretty entertaining debate on the House floor about this right now. My favorite part was when Dan Lungren (R-CA) said that the classified documents that the Intelligence and Judiciary Committee have seen would not be able to be discussed in that secret session. Which makes you wonder if the secret session is just for a big pinochle game or something.

Of course, there's hypocrisy here, as just a few weeks back the Minority Leader called a proposed secret session by the Democrats a "stalling tactic." But I think we can all figure out the point of the secret session. It's to make sure every newspaper and broadcast outlet in the country reports on a "secret session," which alludes to all kinds of secret and scary information that the Congress must act upon, and the Democrats' intransigence on giving phone companies amnesty is making the country less safe. That's pretty much it. It's the Parliamentary procedural version of a "24" episode. Similar to the President's version of a "24" episode in whiny-ass-titty-baby speech form:

The bipartisan House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees have already held numerous oversight hearings on the government's intelligence activities. It seems that House leaders are more interested in investigating our intelligence professionals than in giving them the tools they need to protect us. Congress should stop playing politics with the past and focus on helping us prevent terrorist attacks in the future.

Members of the House should not be deceived into thinking that voting for this unacceptable legislation would somehow move the process along. Voting for this bill does not move the process along. Instead, voting for this bill would make our country less safe because it would move us further away from passing the good bipartisan Senate bill that is needed to protect America.

As the Speaker of the House said, "The President is wrong and he knows it." And there remains no downside to opposing him. Not even in "secret."

... Rep David Scott (D-GA) just wondered whether or not this session is a political ploy, so that Republican members can run to the press after tomorrow's FISA vote (which does not have retroactive immunity) and say "They voted against it even though we had a secret meeting!" Ya think? Minority Whip Roy Blunt just admitted that the relevant committees had access to all the information that they will offer. Still, it's in SECRET!!! (Please add your own Count Floyd from SCTV voice when saying the word "secret.")

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Judges, Judges, Judges

Around the U.S., High Courts Follow California’s Lead

The California Supreme Court is the most influential state court in the nation.

That’s not just talk. The numbers back it up.

A new study counted up the number of times the decisions of state high courts were followed in other states — in other words, how often one state’s decision played a direct role in shaping a decision elsewhere. That sort of citation analysis is a common measure of influence, and there is a cottage industry of rankings for judges, law professors, law reviews, law faculties and the like.

According to the study, published in December in the University of California, Davis, Law Review, the California Supreme Court won by a landslide.

We don't usually talk about the Governor's seat as crucial in this area of policy, but appointing Supreme Court judges appears to be very important, maybe not as much as a President appointing Supreme Court judges but important nonetheless. It'd be good to see this identified as an issue area in 2010.

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Regulated Health Insurance Initiative on 2010 Ballot?

It looks as if the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is planning on going to the ballot in 2010 with a proposal to basically do to the health insurance industry what Proposition 103 did to the auto insurance industry.

“We are going ahead with this,” said Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “The only thing that would block this is if the single-payer (universal health care) folks want to go ahead and go to the ballot, or if a new president wants to do something more ambitious. In that case, we would back off.” [...]

The plan would remove HMOs from the regulatory authority of the state Department of Managed Health Care, which is headed by an appointee of the governor, and place them in the California Department of Insurance, which is run by a publicly elected commissioner. It would order HMOs and others to get their rates approved in advance by the state and force them to justify those rates; rates judged to be “arbitrary or capricious” would be thrown out. Rescinding coverage after an illness sets in would be outlawed. Extra costs for special services, the so-called “out-of-pocket maximums” — would be capped, as would prescription drug costs. Patients would not be penalized for changing doctors or care plans. The HMOs and others would be required to submit detailed financial information to state regulators, who would have the authority to penalize companies for violations and seize and operate companies whose fiscal condition was suspect. There would be language making it easier to sue HMOs and others, and those who bring lawsuits in furtherance of the initiative would be compensated for their time — as in Proposition 103.

This would spark maybe the most expensive initiative fight since Prop. 87 in 2006. In general, if you're going to remain with a for-profit health insurance system, then regulating it to provide for the fairness of California citizens seems apt. Prop. 103 has somehow not left Californians without car insurance. This is a valuable market for that industry, and the same with health insurers.

This could get interesting...

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More On McCain's Bind

I hear that Barack Obama went after John McCain on his flip-flop on taxes. That's great, and I hope we'll see more of it, but you can't really expect the Democratic candidates to have a major focus on McCain right now. They have to run against one another right now. In a way, getting hundreds of thousands of new Democrats to register in Pennsylvania is more effective than making some statement against McCain, so I'm not so concerned about that. And considering that labor will be going all in to define McCain right now, I'm even more unconcerned by the negatives of an extended campaign.

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor union organization, will announce plans Wednesday for a $53 million effort to elect a Democrat to the White House.

John McCain greets employees at Savvis Inc. during a campaign stop in St. Louis, Mo., Tuesday. (Associated Press)
The AFL-CIO will rely on one of the oldest strategies in the political playbook: Define your opponent before your opponent defines himself. The labor organization will launch its “McCain Revealed” campaign to paint McCain as anti-worker and to tie him to the economic policies of President Bush. The AFL-CIO, which is an umbrella group for dozens of large national labor unions, has tailored messages about McCain for each of its member unions. Members of the American Federation of Teachers will get information about where McCain stands on education, for example.

That'll be important in old labor states in the Rust Belt. Meanwhile, McCain is still in a tremendous bind. He is being defined by Democratic groups as the same as Bush, and yet people like Tony Perkins are demanding that he move further to the right, which only validates these Democratic claims. And the result of that bind is relationships with people like this:

Senator John McCain hailed as a spiritual adviser an Ohio megachurch pastor who has called upon Christians to wage a "war" against the "false religion" of Islam with the aim of destroying it.

On February 26, McCain appeared at a campaign rally in Cincinnati with the Reverend Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, a supersize Pentecostal institution that features a 5,200-seat sanctuary, a television studio (where Parsley tapes a weekly show), and a 122,000-square-foot Ministry Activity Center. That day, a week before the Ohio primary, Parsley praised the Republican presidential front-runner as a "strong, true, consistent conservative." The endorsement was important for McCain, who at the time was trying to put an end to the lingering challenge from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a favorite among Christian evangelicals. A politically influential figure in Ohio, Parsley could also play a key role in McCain's effort to win this bellwether state in the general election. McCain, with Parsley by his side at the Cincinnati rally, called the evangelical minister a "spiritual guide."

The leader of a 12,000-member congregation, Parsley has written several books outlining his fundamentalist religious outlook, including the 2005 Silent No More. In this work, Parsley decries the "spiritual desperation" of the United States, and he blasts away at the usual suspects: activist judges, civil libertarians who advocate the separation of church and state, the homosexual "culture" ("homosexuals are anything but happy and carefree"), the "abortion industry," and the crass and profane entertainment industry. And Parsley targets another profound threat to the United States: the religion of Islam.

In a chapter titled "Islam: The Deception of Allah," Parsley warns there is a "war between Islam and Christian civilization." He continues:

I cannot tell you how important it is that we understand the true nature of Islam, that we see it for what it really is. In fact, I will tell you this: I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

I know that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock with the expressed purpose of defiance against Allah. That just the kind of religious freedom they sought.

McCain's really in trouble. He uses the rhetoric of a progressive reformer while accepting the sludge of lobbyists and evangelical nutcases. Further, he doesn't even UNDERSTAND the rhetoric he uses.

In general, (Theodore) Roosevelt does not seem to think, as today's conservatives tend to, that the government is a necessarily inefficient and generally counterproductive force best used only in cases, like the national defense, where there is no workable alternative. He agrees with today's progressives, who tend to think that while of course the government should be made as efficient and flexible as possible, used well, it can help us to set the terms of economic activity in ways that benefit everyone, and ameliorate some problems that we, as a people, decide we should not have to live with. He seems to see government as an essential tool for achieving some collective goals; and while he seems quite clear that that tool must be used wisely and with skill, he does not seem to think that our efforts to use it will inevitably be counterproductive. To judge by this speech, he would have been baffled by Ronald Reagan's quip: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

If McCain wants to sign on to the idea of using government to ameliorate social problems, requiring employers to insure their employees against illness, unemployment, accident, and age, providing a living wage, and keeping people from falling too far into want and penury, it's news to me.

These discrepancies are going to come out in the fall. Trapped in a vice, needing to excite base conservatives and simultaneously run away from them, dozens of contradictions and unfortunate partnerships are going to come to the surface.

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Gotta Love It

Retiring House Republican (which is to say, House Republican, since they're all retiring) Tom Davis:

"The House Republican brand is so bad right now that if it were a dog food, they'd take it off the shelf."

This is what you get when you persistently lie for political gain to the point where you become totally untrustworthy, use government for nothing more than profit-taking and come to Washington with the idea that government is bad, necessarily producing bad government.

The president of the Chino meatpacking plant that triggered the largest beef recall in U.S. history admitted Wednesday that crippled cows, which are more likely to carry disease, probably entered the food supply at his company.

"Obviously my system broke down," said Steve Mendell, president of Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., once a major supplier to the school lunch program.

Mendell initially told a House oversight subcommittee that "downer" cows at his plant "were not slaughtered, ground or sold."

But after lawmakers screened a graphic undercover video that showed ailing cows being jabbed with electric prods, beaten and rolled with forklifts toward slaughter, Mendell acknowledged that the four-minute clip did indeed show that at least two cows were processed into food.

The Humane Society had to sniff this one out because the FDA was busy not doing anything.

We have a President whose 2008 legislative agenda is to throw out lawsuits. I mean that's the whole agenda.

So, the question I have is whether or not Tom Davis is SURPRISED that their brand is rancid dog food. From China. That got into the country because Republican regulatory agencies didn't properly inspect it.

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EPA Run Like A Crappy Pawn Shop - Only Without The Dignity

I think the saddest thing is that the EPA is not necessarily the worst-run agency in the federal government. It just looks that way.

Last week, we noted that Johnson seemed to be ignoring a decision by the Supreme Court. The Court said the EPA could no longer avoid deciding whether greenhouse gases were pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. But almost one year later, Johnson still hasn't released an official determination.

But as Waxman has found out -- and as he detailed in a letter to Johnson yesterday -- the EPA has already done all the necessary work. EPA employees told his staff in interviews that a team of 60 to 70 hashed it out last year and actually sent it to the White House in December (the EPA, of course, found that greenhouse gases did endanger public welfare). They also produced new regulations to reduce CO2 emissions from cars and trucks and sent that off to the Department of Transportation. But since then, nothing has been heard. It's just sitting on the shelf.

And as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) discovered when she asked Johnson how many staff are currently working on the greenhouse gas decision, there are none (unless you count Johnson himself).

Meanwhile, the EPA "tightened" its rules on the federal smog standard - if by "tightened" you mean "overruling the unanimous advice of its scientific advisory council for a more protective standard."

And Stephen Johnson has the, well, we Jews would call it chutzpah, to say this:

“I’ve made the most health-protective eight-hour ozone decision in the nation’s history,” said Mr. Johnson. The Clean Air Act requires periodic review, and the announcement Wednesday updates a standard from 1997.

And as I said, this is NOT the worst-run agency under Bush. In fact, I think they're all tied for last.

UPDATE: Apparently Bush intervened to kill protections of forests and crops. He's like a one-man wrecking ball, ay?

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Funny Story

Turns out that, contrary to Administration statements, the Pentagon has 50 videotaped interrogations with terrorism suspects!

The Defense Department is conducting an extensive review of the videotaping of interrogations at military facilities from Iraq to Guantánamo Bay, and so far it has identified nearly 50 tapes, including one that showed what a military spokesman described as the forcible gagging of a terrorism suspect.

The Pentagon review was begun in late January after the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged that it had destroyed its own videotapes of harsh interrogations conducted by C.I.A. officers, an action that is now the subject of criminal and Congressional investigations.

The review was intended in part to establish clearer rules for any videotaping of interrogations, Defense officials said. But they acknowledged that it had been complicated by inconsistent taping practices in the past, as well as uncertain policies for when tapes could be destroyed or must be preserved.

This is just the beginning. I'll bet there are a thousand tapes out there. Not that we'll see them.

Oh yeah, the subjects in question, including Ali al-Marri, have never been charged with anything, and yet are being detained indefinitely.

Fun stuff.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Wonder How That Could Be

Amazingly enough, people have no idea how many Americans are dying in Iraq.

Twenty-eight percent of the public is aware that nearly 4,000 U.S. personnel have died in Iraq over the past five years, while nearly half thinks the death tally is 3,000 or fewer and 23 percent think it is higher, according to an opinion survey released yesterday.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that public awareness of developments in the Iraq war has dropped precipitously since last summer, as the news media have paid less attention to the conflict. In earlier surveys, about half of those asked about the death tally responded correctly.

Related Pew surveys have found that the number of news stories devoted to the war has sharply declined this year, along with professed public interest. "Coverage of the war has been virtually absent," said Pew survey research director Scott Keeter, totaling about 1 percent of the news hole between Feb. 17 and 23.

It's really just incredible. You wouldn't suppose it has anything to do with this story appearing on Page A12, would it? Alongside the one about the rocket attack killing 3 soldiers yesterday?

Because Juan Cole asked me to, here's the AP's report on the even more deadly day for US troops on Monday:

It's all good though, because Tucker Carlson has been replaced by a show called "Race For The White House," filling that crucial campaign coverage gap, and in addition to telling us who said what about whom and who played what race or gender card, I'm sure David Gregory will keep us completely informed about the latest from Iraq.

This last bit, from the original article, is noted, in closing, without comment.

Compared with those Americans surveyed who correctly identified U.S. casualties at around 4,000 (3,975 as of yesterday morning, according to the Pentagon), 84 percent identified Oprah Winfrey as the talk-show host supporting Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) for the Democratic presidential nomination...

OK, one comment... they've really deep-sixed this war, haven't they? All the more to dodge their own culpability, I guess.

...adding, it's of course harder for some media outlets to report the news when the White House Pentagon actively seeks to censor it.

The Bush Administration apparently does not want a U.S. military study that found no direct connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to get any attention. This morning, the Pentagon cancelled plans to send out a press release announcing the report's release and will no longer make the report available online.

The report was to be posted on the Joint Forces Command website this afternoon, followed by a background briefing with the authors. No more. The report will be made available only to those who ask for it, and it will be sent via U.S. mail from Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia.

It won't be emailed to reporters and it won't be posted online.

How can we expect reporters to cover it? They won't even GET AN EMAIL! (Not that it'd matter much if they did, particularly to those who need to inform the public on exactly how many times Eliot Spitzer used the call-girl service and who the actual prostitutes were.

...I mean, wouldn't it be nice if we actually knew about kidnapped Americans in Iraq before we heard stories about their fingers sent to American forces? Wouldn't it be nice not to be so in the fucking dark all the time?

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Make It The Yacht AND Oil Party

So as expected, Assembly Republicans killed a bill that would bring California in line with every other oil-extracting state and charge obscenely rich oil companies for taking our natural resources out of the ground.

With gasoline prices soaring, legislation to slap the oil industry with higher taxes died in the Assembly late Wednesday in the latest party-line battle over the state's beleaguered budget.

Republicans killed the two-pronged oil tax proposed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, which they considered a threat to the state's economy as well as political gamesmanship meant more for public relations than problem solving.

In turn, Núñez said at a news conference before the vote that the GOP could not continue to push "knee-jerk, no-tax rhetoric" without coming to grips with its effect on schools and other public services.

Speaker Núñez is in a tough spot, faced with a recalcitrant Yacht & Oil Party who is wedded to failed ideology. The best he can do is to continue to offer these proposals, argue forcefully for them, and hold the opposition accountable for their votes in November. On a blogger conference call earlier today, the Speaker talked about PTA members from red districts coming to the Capitol to protest these extreme education cuts. The Yacht & Oil Party will absolutely face a backlash if they keep this up. Democrats are making the differences clear, and that's the best we can hope for at the moment.

Another thing - what exactly is up with this argument from the Yacht & Oil Party that the Speaker timed his proposal to coincide with layoff notices from school districts? I didn't realize that POLITICS was out of bounds in the political arena. Of course it coincided; the only way you get people in this state to pay attention to what's happening in Sacramento is by taking advantage of opportunities to show the stark philosophical differences. Saying that "you're not allowed to tell people the consequences of our policies" is a loser argument for a loser party.

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What's In The Wheaties At The House Commissary?

First they create an independent ethics board, and rely on newest House member Bill Foster to cast the deciding vote in their favor. Then their entire membership of the Judiciary Committee, having reviewed Administration documents on their illegal wiretapping program, completely ruled out telecom immunity and made arrangements to bring their alternative bill to the floor tomorrow. This undercuts the "Mean Democrats aren't letting us vote to protect America, we're all going to die and it's their fault" rhetoric, and their bill is not only pretty strong on civil liberties but pretty ingenious from a tactical standpoint.

With regard to yesterday's FISA bill, more surprising than their defiance is their shrewdness. By including a provision that explicitly authorizes telecoms to submit to the court any exculpatory documents -- notwithstanding the assertion by the administration that those documents are subject to the "state secrets" privilege -- the House bill completely guts, in one fell swoop, the primary argument that, for months, has been made by telecoms and their allies as to why amnesty is necessary.

As Marcy Wheeler documented several months ago, the primary -- really the sole -- excuse given by the Senate Intelligence Committee as to why telecom amnesty was necessary was that the telecoms did nothing wrong but were being blocked by the administration from using the documents they have to prove it.

It's critical to emphasize ... that the telecoms already have immunity under existing statutes, even if they broke the law, as long as they obtained from the Attorney General certifications that the warrantless surveillance requests were legal. If the telecoms really did obtain those certifications -- and it's extremely unlikely that they did -- then all they ever had to do was just show them to the court and they would be immune. Their excuse up until now -- "we can't use the documents we have to defend ourselves because we aren't allowed to show them to the judge" -- is now completely eliminated by the House bill.

The Judiciary Committee statement really is a tour de force, and if we had a press interested in the rule of law instead of The Emperor's Club, it'd be front-page news. But the important thing here is that Administration bullying is coming up empty, House Democrats are making a reasoned and credible alternative course, and they are furthermore clearly trying to eliminate the scenario that has led us to a total national surveillance state:

I mean, when we warn about a "surveillance society," this is what we’re talking about. This is it, this is the ballgame. Mass data from a wide variety of sources – including the private sector – is being collected and scanned by a secretive military spy agency. This represents nothing less than a major change in American life – and unless stopped the consequences of this system for everybody will grow in magnitude along with the rivers of data that are collected about each of us – and that’s more and more every day.

The TIA program, you may recall, was a massive Pentagon plan (run by Admiral John Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame) to tap into as many databases containing personal information about Americans as possible (program materials listed "Financial, Education, Travel, Medical, Veterinary, Country Entry, Place/Event Entry, Transportation, Housing, Critical Resources, Government, Communications"). All that information would then be pulled together and scanned for "suspicious" patterns. Given the density of the "data trails" that we all create in our daily lives today and in the future, it was a recipe for the routine surveillance of Americans and their every move.

TIA was supposed to have been killed off by Congress in 2003 amid widespread objections to its sweeping Orwellian scope. There have been always been hints about a secret annex to the law that permitted some limited aspects of TIA to operate within the Pentagon’s black budget for intelligence and with respect to foreigners only. Now it appears that, like a vampire that can’t be killed except with a stake through its heart, TIA has arisen again from its coffin in full body with its voracious appetite for privacy of Americans and foreigners alike.

Congress needs to really look into the revelations from that Wall Street Journal report more closely. But for the moment, the House is doing the work of the people in rejecting telecom amnesty, which as we know is Bush amnesty, and refusing to give in to fear. There's a long way to go in this fight. The opposition effort could really collapse at any time and it wouldn't surprise a soul. But for now, the good behavior should be rewarded and given due credit.

P.S. If the government was truly, truly concerned about public safety and defeating radical terrorism, on no planet would they be engaged in this:

Be careful who you frag. Having eliminated all terrorism in the real world, the U.S. intelligence community is working to develop software that will detect violent extremists infiltrating World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer games, according to a data-mining report from the Director of National Intelligence.

The Reynard project will begin by profiling online gaming behavior, then potentially move on to its ultimate goal of "automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world."

This IS a joke, right? Right?

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Grey Lady Goes Into The Depths

It's been a little disturbing how the New York Times has driven this Spitzer story purely to get extra eyeballs at their website, but this useless, unnewsworthy "interview" with "Kristen," the call girl from room 871, is about the lowest of the low. Will they print tomorrow's edition in tabloid format with Page 3 girls, too?

I know you're supposed to give the reader what they want, but show a little self-respect, would you? I mean, if the NYT covered Spitzer and Albany politics with this kind of zeal BEFORE this story broke, maybe people would actually know something about how their government functions...

This was the only quote of interest to me in the story:

"I just don’t want to be thought of as a monster," the woman said as she told the tiniest tidbits of her story.

The Clinton campaign immediately called on "Kristen" to resign.

UPDATE: More on this from Glenn Greenwald (and actually his whole post is worth reading):

All decent people agree that what Eliot Spitzer did is repulsive, morally disgusting and totally nauseating -- which is why it's so important to learn about and report on every last titillating detail about what he did, the kind of sex he had, with whom he had it, how many times he had it, and what his partners looked like -- because it's all so completely appalling that it's critical that we stay fully informed.

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I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major Idiot

Thanks to MyDD and LAist for the shout-outs about the ongoing California delegate fight. To Wonkette, for which we have Ana Marie Cox and the nexus of politics and ass-fucking to thank, big thanks for their too cool for school approach, which really makes Americans look totally awesome:

While most counts have Hillary Clinton at 207 delegates, she's more likely at about 203. We would give you the details but we find math boring, unless it concerns the price of a hooker. Here's a quote to explain things!

David Dayen, who blogs at the site Calitics and serves on its editorial board, wrote last week that Sen. Clinton won 203 of the state's 370 pledged delegates -- and not the commonly reported total of 207. He relied on updated vote totals from the state, based on late counts of absentee and provisional ballots. Later, when he noticed that several major news organizations still were showing Sen. Clinton with 207 delegates, he wrote a follow-up post explaining his calculation and exhorting, "I know math is hard and everything, but get out your calculators, people."

Thanks for doing the calculations, nerd! Within another month or two we expect Senator Obama to have a clear majority of delegates in California.

You're welcome, moron! Thanks for defining anti-intellectualism down so that anyone who knows how to use a calculator and divide ought to be ashamed of themselves!

And people wonder why our children is not learning.

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The Michigan and Florida Blues

While the Florida Congressional delegation argued against a revote last night, Hillary Clinton certainly seems open to a revote.

The letter then offers a small olive branch: "We think there are two options: Either honor the results or hold new primary elections ... We hope that your campaign will join us in our efforts to ensure that these votes are counted."

I think the case for Obama to seat Florida and, as a bargain, get a revote in Michigan, would be incredibly smart for him. Having a vote in Florida and the attendant momentum that would come with a win in a state where Clinton would be heavily favored is not worth the 30 or so delegate advantage he would give up. By contrast, a new vote in Michigan would be far more favorable to him, especially as he wasn't on the ballot previously. Polling shows that he would be competitive in Michigan, too, which has a good-sized African-American community and a demographic more like Wisconsin than Ohio. Clinton's team can SAY she won Florida as a result, but an actual contested vote validating that would be more damaging. Plus this is a compromise where each side gives up something. If Obama gets a new vote in Michigan, he can't lose the pledged delegate count, and he has another option (with Pennsylvania) to knock Clinton out. AND, we need an organizing opportunity in an important general election state like Michigan.

Sadly, his Michigan campaign co-chair says Obama opposes a re-vote, which is baffling.

UPDATE: Looks like Florida's going ahead with the mail-in vote, making this post irrelevant. Thanks a lot Florida!

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Ferraro Resigns

And the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments continues. I almost wish that everyone be allowed to say whatever they want without these ritual resignations and assignations. It's all so silly. Let's move on.

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San Jose - Superdelegate Ground Zero?

Everybody should get out their Bob Mulholland novelty masks, just for the party access possibilities:

The road to the Democratic National Convention in Denver may go through San Jose.

The state Democratic Party is holding its annual meeting here the final weekend in March, and party officials are awaiting word on whether Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will accept invitations to appear.

Why would the dueling Democrats come when Pennsylvania holds the next crucial primary April 22?

One word: superdelegates. And perhaps a chance to throw in a megabuck fundraiser or two.

"There will more politicking going on at this convention than in decades," predicted Bob Mulholland, adviser to the state party. Mulholland would know. He's one of about 20 uncommitted superdelegates in California whom the campaigns are heavily wooing in their quest to secure their party's nomination.

The convention is right in the sweet spot, a few weeks before Pennsylvania. And the fundraising opportunities in the Bay Area are numerous. I don't think there's any question that Obama and Clinton will be on hand. But will there be chocolate fountain parties for uncommitted superdelegates only?

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On To Pennsylvania

With Mississippi in the books, and a long six weeks to Pennsylvania, I wanted to try and give the benefit of my experience. I was born in Philadelphia, and was raised from the age of two in the swing battleground of Bucks County. My dad's whole family is in Northeast Philly, and my mom was brought up in the steel town of Johnstown, in western Pennsylvania. Some of her family are still there. And I lived briefly in Honesdale (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area). I haven't lived in PA in a while, but I think I have a little insight.

First, it's clear that the organization is already deep with six weeks out. Democrats have registered 65,000 new voters in the last few months (Republicans have registered, um, 3,000). This doesn't surprise me at all. The last time I checked Barack Obama's Pennsylvania events list, there were at least 30 registration drives going on just last Saturday alone, and there are double that amount today. Pennsylvania has a closed primary, but voters have until March 24 to register, so the election truly can be won or lost in the next couple weeks. And the interest is there.

An onslaught of queries about registering to vote in Pennsylvania swamped suburban election boards yesterday as the nation's attention turned to the state's April 22 Democratic primary to settle a nomination fight that Texas and Ohio could not.

"The phone's been ringing off the hook," said Patti Allen, assistant director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections [...]

Another quick measure: Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's campaign picked up 5,000 new-voter registration cards in Delaware County yesterday, Chief Clerk Mary Jo Headley said.

In a matter of hours, the coming primary registered as a seismic event in the years-in-the-making trend of the suburbs' edging closer to political parity.

Yesterday afternoon, Montgomery County's voter rolls lost 79 Republican registrants and gained 48 Democratic ones, further narrowing the registration gap there to about 21,600, less than 5 percent of the county's total.

That gap had been 30,000 in November and was more than 23,000 on Friday.

"Even before we realized that we're the game in many ways, it was clear that there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm," Montgomery County Democratic chair Marcel Groen said.

In solidly Republican Chester County, Democrats are also making inroads. Since November, Democrats have registered more than 5,600 new voters, Republicans just 1,369.

It's clear that the Philly suburbs where I am from are going to be a battleground. Montgomery, Delaware, and particularly Bucks Counties will be crucial. My parents (who support Hillary) have already been called twice by the Obama campaign just for supporter ID, and Obama's first visit to the state was a windmill plant in Fairless Hills in Bucks County (Clinton has been in the area as well). Patrick Murphy, who represents PA-08 in Bucks, is the state chairman. There's no question that Bucks County is ground zero for the campaign. And that makes a lot of sense. Bucks is a middle- to upper-middle-class area, and it's actually a bedroom community for New York City to some extent. My dad commuted to New York via nearby Trenton for 15 years, along with thousands of others in the garment and financial services industries. Because of housing affordability and schools, it's become an option for lots of people. The Bucks suburbs have slowly grown out, from the older and more culturally diverse suburbs like Bensalem, out to the frontier suburb where my parents currently live (there were 3 African-Americans in my high school graduating class of 800).

Obviously, Philadelphia proper, which is 46% black, is going to be a key for the Obama campaign, although his courtesy endorsement of Chaka Fattah in the Philly mayoral race, which caused the eventual winner Michael Nutter to endorse and campaign hard for Clinton, will make it a challenge. I don't think that the ward leaders are going to play a significant part in turnout, however; the campaigns have shown the ability to get out their voters, and Philly isn't the political machine that it once was. Philly does have a significant bohemian Brooklyn expat population and arts community, so take that information and do what you will with it. I also do think that Geraldine Ferraro's intemperate remarks may be used as an Archie Bunker strategy in the more white ethnic areas of Philly, although I agree with Kevin Drum that if Ferraro really wanted to use this as a dog whistle, she could have done better than giving her remarks to the Torrance Daily Breeze. Still, Will Bunch's remarks make a lot of sense to me:

Intentionally or not, "Archie Bunker's congresswoman" was relaying the exact message that the Clinton campaign really wants out there, not in Torrence, Calif., or back in Queens but right here in Pennsylvania, in the mostly white rowhouse "river wards" of Philadelphia and a lot of working class burgs, from Scranton all the way down to the former steel towns of the Mon Valley.

Why do you think Clinton has distanced herself from the remark, but not so much really? And why do you think Geraldine Ferraro herself has been neither rejected nor denounced by the Clinton campaign?

Think of it this way. It was easy for Obama to reject and denounce an out-there hatemonger like Louis Farrakhan, and it should have been easy for John McCain to fully reject and denounce anti-Catholic whack job John Hagee (why he hasn't is mindboggling). But the Clinton campaign can't reject and denounce Geraldine Ferraro, because it would be rejecting and denouncing itself.

A sculptor brought in to mold a Hillary Clinton voter would have crafted Geraldine Ferraro from scratch. She's 72 years old now. White. Female. Ethnic. Catholic. Emotionally vested in the idea that a woman should become president in her lifetime. Hailing from the community that was once the face of white middle-class America. Got where she was with the enthusiastic backing of New York big labor. Has views on the role of race in American politics that aren't exactly ready for prime time, but well, hey, once they get out there you can't really put the genie back in the bottle, now can you? [...]

So exactly how many blue-collar whites in Pennsylvania still hold views on race and politics that are similar to a fictional TV character from the 1970s? Certainly not all of them, and hopefully not most of them, but most likely some of them -- and in the end that's not exactly what matters anyway.

It's very true that there's a long history of racial tension in Philadelphia politics, and while this is changing, I have to ashamedly admit that members of my own family aren't very likely to vote for the schvartze. There are also those blue-collar whites who simply value experience and appreciated Bill Clinton's achievements in the 90s. Clinton has a base and that does not solely consist of "not-Obama". And a lot of that base is in Pennsylvania, particularly in the Scranton area and in the west-central part of the state. It doesn't surprise me that Bill Clinton is spending today in Erie and Johnstown. Johnstown is a very old, depressed, former steel town that now has little more than a health care industry serving its own citizens. The economy hasn't been good in 30 years. This is Jack Murtha country, and were he to endorse there could be a sea change here, but I'd say Clinton would be wise to park in areas like this and run up the score. However, I submit this anecdotal and unscientific survey: my 84 year-old grandmother is undecided and that floors me.

However, I wouldn't overestimate the strength of Clinton in the middle of the state. When Obama had time to campaign all over in Iowa, he was able to receive votes there. The area is demographically similar to Ohio, but the economic picture is different. The economy crashed 30 years ago with the collapse of textiles (SE PA) and steel (western PA). The transition has been bumpy, but health care is now a dominant industry, one that a good bit of my family works in. Many areas are still very depressed, so the economy is still an issue, but it's a needle you have to thread because the state is pretty diverse on this score.

Half the state's delegates are coming from the Philadelphia area, that's the other issue. The middle of the state does not have a ton of Democrats.

The other issue is that there are dozens of little university towns in Pennsylvania. Slippery Rock, Lock Haven, West Chester, Shippensburg, Indiana, Bucknell, Lehigh, Lafayette, Muhlenberg, Misericordia, Dickinson, Edinboro, Swarthmore, U. of Scranton, Moravian, Widener and I won't even get into all the colleges in Philly and Pittsburgh. Lots and lots of colleges. The voter registration drives should be on all of these campuses and in full force. Not to mention the big college town of State College, home to Penn State and a big Obama rally tomorrow.

Terrypinder has some other really good stuff. Northeastern PA is a New York City exurb and in some places even a suburb of Binghamton. Parts of that area are summer camp communities that will be deserted in April. You have parts of South-Central PA that are closely connected to Baltimore and Hagerstown and Washington DC.

So, my word of advice for the Obama camp would be to hit every college, park it in Bucks County and the ring suburbs of Philly, make sure you're getting out the vote in the urban centers and don't overlook the power of smaller events in the rural areas. There's enough time to do that. My advice to the Clinton camp is to work Delaware and Chester Counties hard, get as much out of Northeast and South Philadelphia as possible, make contact in Johnstown and Allentown and all the more economically disadvantaged areas and try for 70% in Scranton and the environs. It's clear that the optics favor Hillary - she's got a baseline lead of 19 points - but I expect this to end up being close.

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In Praise of Pelosi

This new House ethics panel was a long and tough fight, and it needs more teeth like subpoena power, but it's notable that finally, an independent board will be investigating and passing judgment on members of Congress, rather than the members themselves. This was a big issue for Nancy Pelosi, and she spent a year trying to get this through, with a lot of resistance from both sides of the aisle. Pelosi has actually been effective; lots of legislation has run aground in the Senate, but in general she's been able to get her agenda passed. Of course, the House is a majoritarian institution, making it easier. But Pelosi's achievement should not be discounted.

And anyone that can cause this response:

"If you have a single ounce of self-preservation, you'll vote no," implored Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) last night. OK in my book.

UPDATE: Looks like John Boehner is going to cry and whine his way to the finish line on this one.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner made clear Wednesday that he sees little likelihood of joining Speaker Nancy Pelosi anytime soon to name members of a new outside ethics board the House has reluctantly agreed to create.

“I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would want to serve on this outside panel because of the fighting that’s going to occur, not by members but by partisan groups on both sides who are going to want to file frivolous complaints,’’ Boehner said Tuesday during floor debate over the proposal to create the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Boehner aides said they didn’t know how the leader would proceed in trying to work with Pelosi on a joint list of six appointees for a panel whose creation he bitterly opposed. Minority Whip Roy Blunt , R-Mo., said the decision on how to proceed belongs solely to Boehner, R-Ohio. “The leader is the person who has to make that decision. I’m going to let him make it,’’ Blunt said.

Nice profile in courage from Blunt there.

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OK, Let's Talk Benchmarks

Michael O'Hanlon, who apparently is contractually obligated to appear on major op-ed pages once every two weeks, has had a couple more this week, both intoning about a new set of benchmarks that prove Iraq is progressing in progress-y progress and that Democrats have only one role to play, that of the "loyal opposition." As Ezra Klein notes, telling Democrats they shouldn't call for an immediate withdrawal has been very good for his TV and op-ed page appearances, as opposed to when he was writing about setting a date for withdrawal back in 2004. Clearly, taking up for the media elites who were crucially wrong on the war is a good career move.

But I want to go back to this idea of benchmarks. O'Hanlon writes:

....Iraqi leaders need to feel pressure to deliver. That is where a more conditional Democratic approach comes in. The United States stays only if Iraqis accelerate their own political efforts at reconciliation. This is admittedly a complex matter to evaluate accurately, but that is OK — Iraqis will get the message even if it is somewhat inexact and imprecise.

Democrats in Congress — including the two seeking the presidency and the leadership on Capitol Hill — should work for success in Iraq while reminding Iraqis that absent continued progress, the U.S. commitment could end, and soon. It is a message consistent with Democrats' past views on the conflict, yet cognizant of the considerable gains there in the past year.

All right, let's take a look at those "benchmarks," which O'Hanlon says unquestionably show progress. Violence is back up since January. We're pretty much at mid-2005 levels of violence, which were unacceptable then. We're keeping a lid on those levels of violence because of massive payouts to Shiite and Sunni militias so they don't kill us. Ethnic cleansing is not a magnificent myth, as O'Hanlon's buddy Fred Kagan has said, but an uncomfortable reality. The Defense Department's quarterly report counts budget and deBaathification and provincial elections laws as "progress" even though they were all vetoed by the Presidency council. And even that DoD report lists corruption as a serious problem. And billions in oil revenues are missing.

The Democratic chairman and Republican former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee have asked government auditors to determine what Iraq is doing with the billions of dollars in oil revenue it generates.

"We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earning billions of dollars in oil revenue over that time period that have ended up in non-Iraqi banks," Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John Warner, R-Va., said Friday in a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office.

"At the same time, our conversations with both Iraqis and Americans during our frequent visits to Iraq, as well as official government and unofficial media reports, have convinced us that the Iraqi government is not doing nearly enough to provide essential services and improve the quality of life of its citizens," they said.

The senators estimated that Iraq will realize "at least $100 billion in oil revenues in 2007 and 2008."

Needlenose rightly suggests that the former exiles running Iraq are probably dropping a healthy portion of these billions into offshore banks to prepare for when things go to hell in Iraq again.

So, given these benchmarks, what say you, O'Hanlon?

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Act Now And We'll Plate Them With Armor-Piercing Titanium

We're going to see things like this for the next 8 months.

Get your FREE PDF copy of HUMAN EVENTS' new special report - Barack Obama: EXPOSED! - when you sign up for our free email newsletters. It's the only way you'll get all the ammunition you need to end Obama's White House dreams once and for all.

Conservatives aren't used to or even interested in watching what they say. I have a feeling Orcinus is going to need several new writers to deal with all the hate groups and rhetoric this election season. And that's no matter who is the Democratic nominee.

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Spitzer Resigns

Two things. I love when he said "the remorse I feel will always be with me." That must be why he only consorted with prostitutes for six years, because he knew it'd be so hard to live it down.

Second, I still can't get over the fact that a blind, black man from Harlem will now be the Governor of New York now. I hear extremely good things about David Paterson, but honestly, that's a Martin Lawrence movie.

OK, now that my jokes are out of the way, this is sad, as I thought Spitzer had a bright future.

UPDATE: Looking at this story, it appears clear that the feds were sitting on the wire, waiting for Spitzer to incriminate himself with audio evidence. They had enough information to bust the prostitution ring without Spitzer, but they had to bag the Democrat, or at least the high-profile john.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Conservative Movement In Four Words

Shut up, that's why.

Though I'll admit, those words come in handy when trying to explain away total contradictions in logic.

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The Sad Spitzer Chronicles

It's really upsetting to see such a bright prospect in the Democratic Party, a guy who didn't make friends because he didn't put up with the bullshit, be brought so low. But he was of course a victim of his own hubris. Anyone who prosecuted scum as long as he did to not understand fundamentally how those rackets work and how easy it is to get caught is either stupid or amazingly arrogant.

Spitzer ended up as the subject of an investigation into the prostitution because his bank branch in Manhattan turned him in to the Internal Revenue Service as someone who might be engaged in suspicious currency transactions, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Agents of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division initially started a probe, fearing that the governor was the victim of some sort of blackmail scheme or that he was being victimized by an impostor, the sources said.

Spitzer last year had wanted to wire transfer more than $10,000 from his branch to what turned out to be the front for the prostitution ring, QAT Consulting Group, which also uses a number of other names, in New Jersey, the sources said.

But Spitzer had the money broken down into several smaller amounts of less than $10,000 each, apparently to avoid federal regulations requiring the reporting of the transfer of $10,000 or more, the sources said. The regulations are aim to help spot possible illegal business activities, such as fraud or drug deals.

Apparently, having second thoughts about even sending the total amount in this manner, Spitzer then asked that the bank take his name off the wires, the sources said.

Bank officials declined, however, saying that it was improper to do so and in any event, it was too late to do so, because the money already had been sent, the sources said.

There's something unseemly about the IRS snooping around in every transaction checking for possible violations, but if anyone knows that's occurring it's the former Attorney General of the State of New York.

I still think there are some unanswered questions about how fast this got to the press and why the government is wiretapping prostitution rings and how Spitzer was so quickly burned for this, but clearly he needs to resign as is likely, though the New York Times is more noncommital, even suggesting that his wife wants him to stay in office.

Finally, it was nice to see Tucker Carlson end his ignominious run as a TV host with such class, simultaneously decrying the peering by Big Government into private consensual activity and also having Moonlight Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof on his show to speculate about all the deviant behaviors Spitzer might have engaged in, like whips and ball gags. He's really a superb human being. And how exactly does he know Dennis, anyway? It's irresponsible not to speculate.

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Mississippi: Well On Its Way To Not Counting

Well, by the Clinton rules, anyway.

95 percent reporting

Obama 60
Clinton 38

That's actually more than the 57% I would have predicted he'd get based on the initial exit polls. Which I'm sure will be re-weighted under our noses to prove how "correct" they always are. (UPDATE: Yes they can! I wish I remembered to get screenshots of this. It's not well known that they fudge their data.)

Mississippi is the most heavily African-American state in the country and they went 9-1 for Obama. If it wasn't for a significant vote for Clinton among those who strongly favor John McCain (70-25) and self-identified Republicans (75-25), she would have had her clock cleaned in this crossover primary. Whether that's a function of Republican mischief or good ol' fashioned racism is unclear.

Six weeks without another primary until Pennsylvania... the Baataan death march continues...

...oh yeah, Democrat Andre Carson won a special election to replace his grandmother Julia in IN-07. So we're now up to 233-198 with 4 seats still vacant: CA-12, LA-01, LA-06, and MS-01. Republicans are favored in 3 out of 4, though LA-06 is a possibility, so we could have up to 235 seats stashed in Congress heading into November. As incompetent as the Republicans have been, a 55-seat victory is not insane, and that gets a veto-proof supermajority of 290. Wishful thinking, but fun with numbers...

...Run for your lives, Rep. Carson converted to Islam! Virgil Goode was right, they're multiplying and taking over!!!1!! Swearing in on the Koran ZOMG!!!

Which wingnut's going to stick his foot in his mouth this time?

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Republicans Love Sweet, Sweet Torture

Only five of them voted to overturn Bush's veto of the Intelligence Authorization bill, which would effectively ban waterboarding and other forms of torture. Your modern Republican Party, folks: in love with endless torture, endless war and endless debt.

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Chuck Todd Lies On National Television

So I'm watching Countdown, and Olbermann brings up the delegate math in the wake of Barack Obama's victory in Mississippi. He teases a discussion with Chuck Todd about "changes in the delegates in Texas, one week after the voting, and changes in the delegates in California, one MONTH later!"

So I think to myself, "Self, are you about to be mentioned on Countdown?" Because, as has been well-documented, it was changes originated on this website that led to the national media meekly changing their delegate totals to reflect reality.

So Chuck Todd comes on the show, and Olbermann asks him about California, and Todd hems and haws about there being "a lot of absentee and provisional ballots counted late" in the state, which is true, and about how some 3-1 delegate splits in various districts changed to 2-2, which is also true. Then he said, "and so when all the votes came in, it turns out Obama netted four delegates out of these districts in the last week." (rough transcript)

Yeah, that's actually kind of a lie. There has been no movement in the delegate count since CA-53 flipped to Obama on February 15. Most of the delegate changes happened very early. MSNBC just turned away from the counting, neglected to pay attention, and now makes the demonstrably false statement that Obama netted delegates "in the last week."

What actually happened was that my post about the real delegate counts got picked up by the Wall Street Journal and shamed the entire national media into getting it right. But I guess that wouldn't sound too good on Countdown.

It'll sound good in my email to Keith.

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