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

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Everybody Must Get Stoned

See, there's a very simple explanation for how federal investigators discovered Eliot Spitzer's secret trysts in hotel rooms with prostitutes. They were merely alerted by a series of suspicious financial transactions and thought it was a bribery case and then just stumbled upon the prostitution ring. It's all so very s-

What's this now?

Almost four months before Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal, a lawyer for Republican political operative Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI alleging that Spitzer ''used the services of high-priced call girls'' while in Florida.
The letter, dated Nov. 19, said Miami Beach resident Stone learned the information from ''a social contact in an adult-themed club.'' It offered one potentially identifying detail: The man in question hadn't taken off his calf-length black socks ``during the sex act.''

Stone, known for shutting down the 2000 presidential election recount effort in Miami-Dade County, is a longtime Spitzer nemesis whose political experience ranges from the Nixon White House to Al Sharpton's presidential campaign. His lawyer wrote the letter containing the call-girl allegations after FBI agents had asked to speak to Stone, though he says the FBI did not specify why he was contacted.

''Mr. Stone respectfully declines to meet with you at this time,'' the letter states, before going on to offer ''certain information'' about Spitzer.

''The governor has paid literally tens of thousands of dollars for these services. It is Mr. Stone's understanding that the governor paid not with credit cards or cash but through some pre-arranged transfer,'' the letter said.

So a well-known Republican ratfucker with a history of making threatening phone calls to Spitzer's father in the middle of the night, is contacted by the FBI, in reference to God knows what, and he refuses to talk to them, but through his lawyer he leaks a bit of oppo research he picked up in a sex club, which he's been known to frequent. The Miami FBI apparently TAKES NO FOR AN ANSWER, and may have forwarded the information to the FBI in New York (they would not say whether or not they received the letter). A month later Stone goes on Michael Smerconish's radio show and says unequivocally that "Eliot Spitzer will not serve out his term as governor of the state of New York." A couple months later Spitzer is picked up on a wire and you know the rest. Immediately Stone is interviewed by Newsday, and you can almost smell the smugness.

"I didn't make him go to a prostitution ring," said the most famous and ruthless Republican dirty trickster who still walks the earth. "He did that all on his own."

Stone said that even before I asked if his hand was somehow in Spitzer's latest trouble. I figured, somehow or another, it had to be.

"No comment on that," Stone said. "I will say I knew it was coming. That's why I wasn't too upset about the results of the special election," where a Democrat grabbed a supposedly safe Republican State Senate seat, leaving Democrats just one vote shy of control.

Conversations with Stone often go like that. Always cocky. A little cryptic. Leaving you wondering about more.

Yeah, I'm wondering why some slimy political operative is all but managing federal investigations in the Bush Justice Department.

Scott Horton at Harper's has some more, including this new article from the New York Times.

The Justice Department used some of its most intrusive tactics against Eliot Spitzer, examining his financial records, eavesdropping on his phone calls and tailing him during its criminal investigation of the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring. The scale and intensity of the investigation of Mr. Spitzer, then the governor of New York, seemed on its face to be a departure for the Justice Department, which aggressively investigates allegations of wrongdoing by public officials, but almost never investigates people who pay prostitutes for sex.

A review of recent federal cases shows that federal prosecutors go sparingly after owners and operators of prostitution enterprises, and usually only when millions of dollars are involved or there are aggravating circumstances, like human trafficking or child exploitation. Government lawyers and investigators defend the expenditure of resources on Mr. Spitzer in the Emperor’s Club V.I.P. case as justifiable and necessary since it involved the possibility of criminal wrongdoing by New York’s highest elected official, who had been the state’s top prosecutor.

So the Justice Department, under the direction of Roger Frickin' Stone, at least from the outside, deployed massive resources to capture the bad actions of a sitting Democratic governor, while in the analogous case of the DC Madam they expended no energy entrapping David Vitter or Randall Tobias. And we know the Bush Administration has a history with going after Democratic governors and even putting them in the slammer.

Eliot Spitzer did what he did; there's no getting around that. The selective prosecution and politicization of justice, however, continues to magnify in this case.

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Angry Shiites Joining Angry Sunnis In Unity of Anger

Trouble in paradise:

Shiite leaders warned followers in Friday prayers to brace for more violence following a gruesome attack by a female suicide bomber earlier in the week and continued clashes between Iraqi security forces and followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Abdul Hadi al-Mohammadawi, the head of Sadr's office in the southern holy city of Karbala, said in a statement that attacks against Sadr followers had doubled after the bombing outside the revered Shiite Imam Hussein shrine Monday.

The cease-fire among Sadr loyalists is breaking down. There aren't supposed to be any clashes between Sadrists and the Iraqi security forces. Obviously when the attack in Kabala near the Imam Hussein mosque hit, suddenly it became harder for Shiites to remain on the sidelines.

I really don't like where this is going.

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Office of Trash Compacting Services

If I were heading up the next Administration, I would retain whoever in this White House is responsible for disposing of the evidence.

Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court Friday in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005.

The White House revealed new information about how it handles its computers in an effort to persuade a federal magistrate it would be fruitless to undertake an e-mail recovery plan that the court proposed.

"When workstations are at the end of their lifecycle and retired ... the hard drives are generally sent offsite to another government entity for physical destruction," the White House said in a sworn declaration filed with U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola.

It does sound very tidy. This isn't incompetence, this is a series of regularly scheduled dustings.

As I've said before, recycling the email tapes and copying over old data is a very green way to remove anything incriminating from the files. It's all about the environmental advantages!

Congress is going to have to step in here and mandate methods for communciation retrieval and permanent storage. The Constitution doesn't say much about email, as I remember. As for these thieves, there isn't a jail big enough.

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Holding Up Fingers, Expecting A Miracle

Of all the articles about the bad times ahead in the economy, I think this one scared me the most.

Though times are tough now, Americans believe the economy will bounce back by next year, according to a survey released Friday.

A national CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that 60% of respondents think economic conditions in the United States will be "good" next year, as opposed to the 75% who think the economic situation is "poor" now.

"Most people realize that the economy has cycles of ups and downs," said Wachovia economist Sam Bullard. "Fortunately, the last two recessions were some of the shortest on record, so in 2009 we should be pulling up out of this."

Good Jesus. It's not so much that people are uninformed, unaware of the structural, long-term challenges. It's that this economist dimwit is AGREEING with them. Surely he knows better. The housing market is going to be in the toilet for quite a while, and rising oil prices impact every sector of the economy, as well as the ability for families to make ends meet. As people are unable to borrow equity from their homes and max out their credit cards, consumer spending inevitably slips. The holes in the financial institutions' bottom line are going to take years to solve. Without some technological innovation or a ridiculously strong commitment to the green economy, I think we're going to have a Bush hangover for a long time. This is why I wouldn't wish the Presidency on my worst enemy right now. The only rationale for thinking there will be some quick and cyclical bounce-back is American exceptionalism. Certainly under four more years of Republican policies and John McSame, absolutely nothing will change, just more robberbarons stealing from the public treasury at the expense of more and more of the masses.

I mean, a story like this just breaks your heart, and it's one out of hundreds of thousands.

in August 2005, Glenda Ortiz, a cook at a Best Western who lived in a cramped apartment in Arlington County, became a homeowner. By last March, the home was in foreclosure. The loan originator and mortgage company had gone out of business. And Ortiz was headed to court.

"It was all a mistake. One hundred percent," Ortiz said recently in Spanish. "I had such a burning desire to have my own house. I didn't think about anything else."

Ortiz and her husband, an air conditioner installer, are examples of what can happen when a hot real estate market collides with cheap credit, lax lending standards and little oversight. No one is free from blame in this tale.

Theirs is a story that Erick Gutierrez, housing director for the Washington-based Latino Economic Development Corp., said is all too familiar. Gutierrez blames the government for allowing so many subprime loans, such as Ortiz's, which required no proof of income. "You could say: 'You clean houses on weekends? Great!' And then put down that they made $1,000 a week," he said.

But by then, real estate agents would have made their commissions, mortgage brokers would have their closing costs, and the risky loans would have been repackaged and sold to Wall Street. No one cared as long as the housing market continued to boom.

This fetish of homeownership is stupid. I understand why people fall for it. But the speed and power of the message, shoveling people into bad mortgages, is breathtaking. The American dream became a marketing slogan to fatten the wallets of Wall Street investment bank managers.

If you think this will just "turn around" in 2009 you don't have a good understanding of the power of marketing, or the incredible unraveling of the financial markets that'll take more than a year to set right.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

End Of The Line

Kind of surprising to see The Politico get down to reality, especially considering how their bottom line is negatively affected by such clear-eyed analysis.

One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.

Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.

As it happens, many people inside Clinton’s campaign live right here on Earth. One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.

In other words: The notion of the Democratic contest being a dramatic cliffhanger is a game of make-believe.

They go on to talk about how the traditional media doesn't want to call the race because a) it'd be bad for ratings, b) they don't want Howard Wolfson yelling at them, and c) if Obama woke up in a crackhouse on 103rd and MLK on the South Side and Clinton soared to victory, they wouldn't want to have been wrong. So it comes down to cowardice in the face of truth.

I don't have a problem with Clinton trudging on through Pennsylvania: as we near the final weekend to register to vote and be eligible for the primary, we've seen the Party add 111,227 new voters to the rolls, compared to a LOSS of 13,391 for Republicans in what is considered a swing state. Nothing about that is bad, and virtually nothing about the campaign that will be run in Pennsylvania, built in at least the main around progressive themes, will be bad either. I know that I'm supposed to buy into this fear of demographics and racism in middle America, but I'm sorry, I don't. That article doesn't mention the growing African-American and Hispanic populations in Johnstown, by the way. Further, Democrats like to say that they'll never vote for the other candidate if theirs loses and it never happens, and even in this very polarizing cycle, I don't buy that it'll happen in large numbers. Especially when the hammer comes down on McCain, although the one opportunity cost here is the delay in bringing down that hammer.

So I'm cool with things moving through Pennsylvania. There's a lot of primary money that has to be spent, anyway. And North Carolina and Indiana are two weeks after that (And I want a Pennsylvania-style level of organization in North Carolina, where I think Obama can pull off the upset). But if Obama turned this around this week, and I believe he has, then the result on May 6 is that he'll be further ahead in pledged delegates than he is now. And that'll REALLY be it because there won't be enough delegates left to gather.

If this goes one day past May 6 I'll start to get mad. Five months is plenty of time for the general election.

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I'm Not This Lucky

Will Rush Limbaugh Be Indicted for Voter Fraud?

In case you missed it, Rush Limbaugh, the nation's top-rated talk radio host, was urging Republicans in Texas and Ohio to skip their party's primary on March 4 and instead cast a vote for Hillary Clinton in order to prolong the fight between her and Barack Obama. And that Tuesday, as media in both states reported, thousands of Republicans did just what Limbaugh and others had suggested -- they changed parties to vote for Clinton.

"I want Hillary to stay in this, Laura," Limbaugh told Laura Ingraham on Feb. 29, near the start of his Hillary crusade. "This is too good a soap opera. We need Barack Obama bloodied up politically, and it's obvious that the Republicans are not going to do it and don't have the stomach for it, as you probably know." [...]

While this all makes for great talk radio and sounds like fun, there is one catch: What Limbaugh encouraged Republican voters to do in Ohio was a fifth-degree felony in that state, punishable with a $2,500 fine and six to 12 months in jail. That is because in order to change party affiliation in Ohio, voters have to fill out a form swearing allegiance to that party's principles "under penalty of election falsification."

On Thursday, March 20, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the "Cuyahoga County Board of Election has launched an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against voters who maliciously switched parties for the March 4 presidential primary." According to the report, "One voter scribbled the following addendum to his pledge as a new Democrat: "For one day only."

Except in the case of the idiot who wrote "for one day only" on his form (really, how embarrassing can you get?), I don't see how you could ever prove this, and I really kind of don't want this to be a crime. It's a thought crime if anything, and loyalty oaths make me queasy. Americans have the right to vote; they shouldn't have to defend their choice in any way.

That said, if the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections wants to ignore this and indict Rush Limbaugh as the ringleader of a massive vote fraud scandal, I wouldn't raise my voice too loudly in protest. And they'd better make sure they administer the drug test when they catch him, too.

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Friday Random Ten

And for a Friday evening, a playlist:

Myriad Harbour - The New Pornographers
Down On The River By The Sugar Plant - Mike Doughty
Dance Till the Morning - Brazilian Girls
Sol (Batucada) - Kinky
(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
How My Heart Behaves - Feist
Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
Make-Up - Elefant
Star Witness - Neko Case

All right, point of personal privilege on the "Sweet Caroline" nonsense. I am a big Neil Diamond fan, and like all Neil Diamond fans, I detest that song. It's probably in there because it was on some compilation album. Every time I hear it I have this vision of white people in party hats singing that song directly to each other and jumping around in the bar like assholes. In fact, I saw EXACTLY that last weekend in Washington at some Irish bar.

It may be time to update the ol' iPod.

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World Report

Every so often I look at the world, and make a report. This is that report.

• Zimbabwe is the biggest hell hole on Earth. Inflation is over 100,000% annually. You actually need a wheelbarrow to carry around money. And in a country dependent on international food aid, the ruling party of Robert Mugabe is using food aid as a weapon to force the public to vote for them. "No ZANU Card, No Mealie Meal," as Hilzoy puts it. I'm sickened. Among the many insufferable dictators around the globe, Mugabe may be the worst, and I would have little problem with a humanitarian intervention to force equal distribution of food aid.

• Speaking of dictators and Africa, a leader of the Janjaweed militia is finally admitting what everyone already knew, that he received his orders to rape and murder the Darfurians from the Sudanese government in Khartoum, as well as heavy weaponry. Even though this has been assumed, it's the first time a Janjaweed leader has gone public.

• So desperate to reach any kind of fig leaf of a deal in the Middle East that would signify something resembling a "legacy," the Bush Administration is now talking about allowing Hamas to participate in talks with Israel, using Egypt as an intermediary. This is mainly about negotiating a cease-fire, not some overarching agreement on Palestine. But the softening stance is probably a good thing in the long run.

• Speaking of Bush toning down his arrogant foreign policy, apparently they've discovered that nobody really likes Pervez Musharraf, and are stopping their praise of him, instead trying to cozy up to the opposition parties. Might be a little late for that, but of course we rarely learn out foreign policy lessons.

• So I guess a substantial number of our troops (at least a dozen) have been subject to accidental death by electrocution in Iraq, and Henry Waxman wants to get to the bottom of it. Support the troops, I believe, is the phrase. Man, they must be living in a pit over there, paid for by our tax dollars (funneled to unfeeeling corporations who do shoddy work, that is).

• The Islamists in Somalia, though defeated in last year's war, have not been vanquished, and in fact they beheaded three Somali soldiers, prompting the UN to raise alarms and plead for peace talks. Even the proxy wars Bush fights and wins are never actually won.

• There's some additional news from Tibet, where the authorities have arrested dozens inside the autonomous region and have acknowledged unrest outside the province, in other parts of China. Chinese police have shot Tibetan protesters in Sichuan province, wounding four. So far, the estimate from protests in Lhasa is 13 deaths, which is probably low. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama sits in exile in India, and relations between India and China may grow strained as a result. It's a bad situation, but pressure must continue to be put on the Chinese government to allow for independence or at least some peaceful solution.

• And finally, Doraemon is a Japanese ambassador. When I went to Bangkok a while ago, we saw this Doraemon piggy bank in the Thai version of a 7-11. The bank was free with a hot dog, and my friend didn't want the hot dog but was willing to pay the price for the bank. The clerk refused to give the bank without the hot dog. It was an amusing cultural misunderstanding that hopefully Doraemon, in his new diplomatic role, will help to prevent.

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Not Saint Greenspan!

Well this is long overdue. And reported on Mrs. Greenspan Andrea Mitchell's network, too, although it's from their content agreement with the Washington Post:

Perhaps the Maestro composed some discordant notes after all.

The record of longtime Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan -- worshipped by business leaders and dubbed "Maestro" in a 2000 biography by The Post's Bob Woodward -- is getting a critical look as his successor Ben S. Bernanke wrestles with problems that began on the Maestro's watch.

Many economists blame Greenspan for lax bank supervision and for keeping interest rates too low, too long from mid-2003 to mid-2004. That, the theory goes, fueled the housing bubble and spawned subprime and adjustable-rate mortgages for low-income people, vast numbers of whom can't make their payments now. Banks bought those mortgages in bundles that are worth far less than they originally were. That has led to big write-offs, shaking the entire financial system.

In an interview yesterday, Greenspan said the Fed wasn't to blame. He said that global forces beyond the control of the Federal Reserve had kept long-term interest rates low, fueling the housing bubble earlier this decade. "Those who argue that you can incrementally increase interest rates to defuse bubbles ought to try it some time," he said. "I don't know of a single example of when interest rate policy has been successful in suppressing gains in asset prices."

Oh hahahahaha. Yeah, I guess cheerleading for adjustable rate mortgages and telling everybody to go buy them up in 2004 didn't affect national attitudes. Must have been those "global forces" like US investment banks coming up with elaborate pyramid schemes to turn crap mortgages into billions in an era of lax oversight. Yeah, the Fed is TOTALLY blameless.

And now we're seeing this "global" economic meltdown hit locally.

In Seattle, sales at a long-established hardware store, Pacific Supply, are suddenly dipping. In Oklahoma City, couples planning their weddings are demonstrating uncustomary thrift, forgoing Dungeness crab and special linens. And in many cities, the registers at department stores like Nordstrom on the higher end and J. C. Penney in the middle are ringing less often.

With Wall Street caught in a credit crisis that has captured headlines, the forces assailing the economy are now spreading beyond areas hit hardest by the boom-turned-bust in real estate like California, Florida and Nevada. Now, the downturn is seeping into new parts of the country, to communities that seemed insulated only months ago.

Congratulations, "Maestro," this is your legacy. A possible depression. It'll be a little solace watching you squirm for the rest of this downturn.

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80,000 Angry Well-Armed Sunnis: We Are So Screwed In Iraq

The American media has forgotten that there are countries to the east of Pennsylvania, home of the April 22 primary. The marginalization of the Iraq debacle is expected, since in many ways the media wants to obscure their own failures in the run-up to the invasion in the first place. If they manage to re-open any foreign bureaus, perhaps they'd like to pay some attention to a story of 80,000 angry Sunnis threatening to strike and reduce Iraq to total chaos.

At issue are the Concerned Local Citizens groups (CLCs) that we have been paying for over a year not to kill us and instead to defend their territories and drive out Al Qaeda in Iraq. You could not set up a more potentially unstable situation if you tried. The CLCs have no fealty to the national government; in fact they are if anything oppositional to it. The Shiites in power are afraid of incorporating the CLCs into the Iraqi security forces. It has been alleged that the CLCs include former insurgents and rogues, and they are primarily interested in 1) receiving money, and 2) defending their corner of Iraq from all invaders, foreign and domestic. This is not a path to national reconciliation but balkanization.

And then the military and the Administration went and did the worst thing possible - they forgot to pay everyone on time. That's right - the incompetents that still reign throughout the Bush Administration aren't paying the bills. And so we may see a general strike.

The success of the US "surge" strategy in Iraq may be under threat as Sunni militia employed by the US to fight al-Qaida are warning of a national strike because they are not being paid regularly.

Leading members of the 80,000-strong Sahwa, or awakening, councils have said they will stop fighting unless payment of their $10 a day (£5) wage is resumed. The fighters are accusing the US military of using them to clear al-Qaida militants from dangerous areas and then abandoning them.

A telephone survey by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 News reveals that out of 49 Sahwa councils four with more than 1,400 men have already quit, 38 are threatening to go on strike and two already have.

Improved security in Iraq in recent months has been attributed to a combination of the surge, the truce observed by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, and the effectiveness and commitment of the councils, which are drawn from Sunni Arabs and probably the most significant factor, according to most analysts.

The military is using these Sunni forces to "do their dirty work," as one council head put it, and now they aren't even holding up their end of the bargain. Also, the fact that none of the CLC members are being allowed to get jobs in the Iraqi security forces is causing a lot of tension.

I want you to watch this video (I don't think there's any way to embed it) and you then tell me how empowering and arming these CLCs is going to lead to a stable democracy in Iraq. Here we have Sunni strikers chanting "America is the enemy of God." You'll see the story of a university professor in Diyala province who was bullied by Al Qaeda in Iraq members and fought back by leading one of the CLCs. And now he's turned against America and is leading a strike.

This is the surge going up in flames. You'd think that would merit a story or two on the nightly news. And the point is that this ad hoc strategy to build security gains in Iraq is not only fated for failure, but when that failure occurs is will be maybe the WORST possible outcome, with both sides of the sectarian divide well-armed and scornful of the Americans.

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Temporary Madness

OK, despite the fact that I have no more stakes than a $10 office pool, and that I haven't seen a college basketball game the entire year, let me just say that I'm a huge Davidson and Drake fan right now.

5.7 seconds left... don't give it to Brazelton... OK, who's Brazelton... wow, that was a nice finish. 30-footer to win, nothing but net?

OK, my bracket's busted, I'm done...

This has been your obligatory monthly sports post.

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Loyalty Is Thicker Than Blood

At Calitics we've amply covered the long and winding road that led to the rejection of the 241 Toll Road through San Onofre State Park. Members of the state parks commission showed a lot of courage in siding against big business and powerful interests in Sacramento to come out against the plan. In 2005 they passed a resolution opposing it, and they signed on to a lawsuit attempting to stop construction, before the California Coastal Commission eventually voted it down. Here is how the Governor rewarded a couple of them, including a movie pal and his own brother-in-law:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dropped his brother-in-law, Bobby Shriver, and fellow action hero Clint Eastwood from the state parks commission after their vigorous opposition helped derail a plan for a toll road through San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County.

The decision not to renew the commissioners' terms, which expired last week, surprised observers and sent a strong signal that the governor expects loyalty from political appointees.

"This is a warning shot from the governor's office to all of his appointees: Do what I say, no matter how stupid it is," said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Los Angeles. "And I know of no project more destructive to the California coast than this toll road project."

Shriver is one of my city councilmen here in Santa Monica (and as a measure of Santa Monica, he's considered one of the more conservative ones). Shriver and Eastwood weren't just two members of the board - they were the chairman and vice-chairman, and both of them wished to stay on for another term.

By the way, these aren't the only appointees who have been "terminated" by Schwarzenegger after they crossed him.

Shriver and Eastwood join a list of other spurned appointees.

Bilenda Harris-Ritter, a former member of the state Board of Parole Hearings, said she received a call from a member of the governor's office a little more than a year ago asking her to resign, six months after she had been appointed. No explanation was given, she said.

The call coincided with an Internet campaign from a crime victims group asking the governor's office to remove her for granting parole to too many prisoners [...]

In June, the chairman of the state's Air Resources Board, Robert F. Sawyer, was fired by Schwarzenegger for pushing for antipollution measures beyond what the governor's office wanted, Sawyer said. The executive director, Catherine Witherspoon, quit in the aftermath.

In September, R. Judd Hanna quit the Fish and Game Commission at the request of an aide to the governor, after Republican lawmakers urged his ouster because he had sought to ban lead bullets in condor territory.

This is a pattern of arrogance and of demanding loyalty. It's pretty obvious and sloppy.

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The Blessed Company of St. McCain

So John Hagee's going to open up in the Sunday New York Times, and among other things he's going to reiterate that John W. McCain actively sought out his endorsement. Which isn't surprising, since in addition to anti-Semitic, Catholic-hating bitter-ender Rapturists, McCain also has people like this on the payroll.

A McCain campaign aide actively pushed an incendiary, racially-charged video that uses the controversial words of Barack Obama's pastor to tar Obama as unpatriotic -- despite the fact that McCain himself has suggested that Obama shouldn't be held accountable for Wright's views.

The aide, Soren Dayton, who works in McCain's political department, has been suspended from the campaign, a McCain spokesperson, Jill Hazelbaker, confimed to me.

Suspended. With full pay and a pat on the head, I imagine. It matters more, after all, that he got the information out there, rather than the discipline.

In addition, here are some of the delightful chaps that populated McCain's fundraiser in London, which was held during a taxpayer-funded Senate trip (which he's reimbursing the government for but as woefully inaccurate levels):

Proper attire for the luncheon affair is “lounge wear,” according to the Washington Post, which also reported that the event will be held at Spencer House on St. James’s Place, “by kind permission” of Lord Rothschild and Nathaniel Rothschild.

The latter “may become the richest Rothschild of them all,” according to a profile last year in the New York Times. The story said Nathaniel Rothschild was “close to becoming a billionaire through a web of private equity investments” in Eastern Europe, and that he was “a principal adviser to Oleg Deripaska, one of the richest oligarchs in Russia.” Indeed, the Daily Mail has said that Rothschild’s wealth had “been accrued in his role as the adviser to” Deripaska.

Deripaska’s name might ring a bell. Back in early 2006, lobbyist Rick Davis, who now serves as McCain’s campaign advisor, helped introduce the senator and the oligarch during an international economic conference in Switzerland. McCain didn’t do anything for Deripaska after the meeting, but the Russian was grateful for the introduction. Deripaska wrote “a thank-you note to Davis and his partner and offer[ed] to assist them in a subsequent business deal,” according to the Washington Post.

Of course, there's no need to chastise McCain for hanging out with rogues, haters, and rubes, when in fact, he's a convicted felon in his own right.

McCain has now spent $58.4 million in his primary bid, surpassing the $50 million limit he would have faced if he participated in the public financing system he had been certified to join. McCain has decided not to accept the public matching funds, but the FEC wants him to assure regulators that he did not use the promise of public money as collateral for a $4 million loan.

McCain and his lawyers said the loan was secured with other collateral, thus freeing him to spend as much money as he wishes on his primary campaign. The Democratic National Committee has filed a complaint with the FEC arguing McCain cannot withdraw from the public finance system without FEC approval.

Until the FEC releases him from the public system, McCain with each passing day is breaking the law by spending over the legal limit. The recommended sentence is FIVE YEARS IN PRISON.

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Even Chris Wallace Gets The Blues

This is five of the best minutes of Fox News that I've ever seen. The friendly friends at Fox and Friends went on for two hours about a contextless off-the-cuff remark from Barack Obama, and Chris Wallace, apparently holding out for Obama to appear on his Sunday show, finally got fed up. Go watch the video, but here's some excerpts:

Hey listen, I love you guys but I want to take you to task if I may, respectfully, for a moment. I have been watching the show since 6:00 this morning when I got up, and it seems to me that two hours of Obama bashing on this typical white person remark is somewhat excessive and frankly I think you’re somewhat distorting what Obama had to say [...]

Far be it for me to be a spokesman for the Obama campaign, and I will tell you that they would laugh at that characterization, but you know, the fact is that after giving a speech on race earlier this week, on Tuesday, he gave a major speech on Iraq on Wednesday and a major speech on the economy yesterday. And so, I think they would say that in terms of deflecting attention away from the issues people really want to hear about, maybe it’s the media doing it, not Barack Obama.

It's like Plato's allegory of the cave, and Wallace broke his chains and stopped looking at the shadows and saw the truth. Crazy.

I think the dumber heads will prevail here, and the propagandists will continue to propagandize. But those who want the context of Rev. Wright's remarks can seek it out, which is at least new in the modern age. And as the Richardson endorsement suggests, the speech on race may have strengthened Obama's position, and those who disqualified him on the basis of the Wright flap were probably just looking for a reason not to vote for a black man anyway.

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Passport-gate: Officially Over (UPDATE: Or Not?)

Since this Obama passport thing broke, I've been trying to figure out what's in a passport file and why that information would be useful. It would, I assume, have dates and places visited, and maybe if the passport holder checked in at embassies in various countries. But what else? When Bill Clinton's passport file was violated in 1991, the spin put out from the RNC was that they were looking for a letter Clinton wrote to a US Embassy abroad asking to renounce his citizenship. Only that wasn't true, and it wasn't in the file.

UPDATE: My assumption was not so hot. Computerworld has a primer:

What exactly is a passport record? A passport record typically consists of applications made by a person for a U.S. passport, together with supporting evidence of U.S. citizenship. The records include details such as date and place of birth, naturalization details, family status, occupation and physical characteristics. Passport records do not include evidence of travel, such as exit and entrance stamps, visas or residence permits. Passport records are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974 [...]

What else is in the system? In addition to passport applications and the related material, the system stores investigative reports that might have been compiled in connection with granting or denying a passport, or in connection with any violation of passport criminal statutes. It also stores court documents and administrative determinations related to passports and citizenship, as well as copies of birth and baptismal certificates, medical, personal and financial reports and details on arrest warrants of the person applying for, extending or renewing a passport and a person's Social Security number.

OK, so there's some stuff in there that's pretty noteworthy. It's not in every file, however; the investigative reports aren't necessary made in every case. The Social Security number is in that file, and certainly that could be used for all sorts of mischief, like obtaining personal financial records and the like. But you could pretty easily determine if those records were obtained, and I'm hoping that the appropriate authorities are doing so.

So now that we've seen that Hillary Clinton's file was breached as well, and that MSNBC is reporting the same about John McCain, this really feels to me like a bunch of cube rats in the State Department snooping around on their lunch breaks, doing some info-snacking. It's against the law, and their names should be released and the investigation should be held outside the State Department's Inspector General, especially considering that there is no State Department Inspector General at the moment, but I'm not seeing the advantage you could gain here. There's a ridiculous diary on Daily Kos intimating that the Clinton campaign had something to do with this, a fact-free "guilt by association" piece of tripe that really is sad, and as we've learned, foreign travel ISN'T EVEN IN A PASSPORT FILE. The level of critical inquiry in this campaign season is well and truly in the toilet.

I think this story is more telling about how much personal information the government has on you and how unsecure it all is. Which comes at precisely the time when the Bushes want the ability to wiretap on Americans without a warrant. This should spark total outrage with the national surveillance state.

UPDATE: The fact that one of the guys who looked at Obama's information also looked at McCain's leaves open the possibility that someone is selling information of political candidates. There's enough information in that file that would be of interest to oppo researchers. This could be an inside job to funnel info to a shop that digs up all sorts of dirt.

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Richardson Endorses Obama

And he'll be on the campaign trail with him Friday in Portland. We've seen throughout the course of the campaign that these endorsements end up meaning little, but this one is interesting because Richardson appeared to have been swayed by Obama's race and politics speech. From his email to supporters:

Earlier this week, Senator Barack Obama gave an historic speech. that addressed the issue of race with the eloquence, sincerity, and optimism we have come to expect of him. He inspired us by reminding us of the awesome potential residing in our own responsibility. He asked us to rise above our racially divided past, and to seize the opportunity to carry forward the work of many patriots of all races, who struggled and died to bring us together.

As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words. I have been troubled by the demonization of immigrants--specifically Hispanics-- by too many in this country. Hate crimes against Hispanics are rising as a direct result and now, in tough economic times, people look for scapegoats and I fear that people will continue to exploit our racial differences--and place blame on others not like them. We all know the real culprit -- the disastrous economic policies of the Bush Administration!

Senator Obama has started a discussion in this country long overdue and rejects the politics of pitting race against race. He understands clearly that only by bringing people together, only by bridging our differences can we all succeed together as Americans.

His words are those of a courageous, thoughtful and inspiring leader, who understands that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And, after nearly eight years of George W. Bush, we desperately need such a leader.

What's notable here is that, as a superdelegate, Richardson was moved enough to endorse, when it was really past the time when that endorsement could have an effect. The superdelegates can end this thing now if they wanted to, and that Richardson decided to endorse at this moment suggests that they might. At this point it looks like the superdelegate fight will be dead even by the convention, meaning that they won't be a factor. The nominee will be the winner of the pledged delegate battle, which mens it'll be Senator Obama.

That the speech itself had the power to move people is also very notable. I don't think a politician like Bill Richardson is a sample of the Democratic electorate per se, but clearly Obama changed the conversation and dominated the news for the entire week. And he did so by weaving the progressive message into that complex and difficult discussion about race. I think Drew Westen penned one of the best essays about the speech.

But from a political standpoint, at least as important as the primary message of his speech was a series of meta-messages he conveyed as much through his actions as his words. Obama's speech was in many respects a rejoinder to a number of questions raised about him over the last few weeks that contributed to defeats in Ohio and Texas.

...he did more than talk about race. He began to build a progressive narrative that Democrats, and the progressive movement more broadly, have had difficulty developing. He offered a progressive vision of patriotism, integrating a more traditional view -- referring to his grandfather's service under General Patton, and the military service of Reverend Wright -- with the notion that love of country is not blind love, that forming a more perfect union -- the essence of progressivism -- is part of what it means to love one's country.

Does he have the courage, capacity, and cojones to lead? Yesterday, he led us as a nation, and he showed a firm, steady, and unflinching hand. Not only did he utter words most Democratic politicians don't speak in polite company but should have spoken years ago, but he refused to take the low road -- to denounce and cast aside someone who clearly matters dearly to him simply because he had become a political liability -- displaying both courage and conviction.

I think that's what many found touching. The speech was a discourse on race but also a display of character. That's what Bill Richardson saw as surely as whites and African-Americans and Asians all over the country saw. It does feel like something new is in the air.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

He's Going For It

Looks like Bombs Away John McCain is going to go ahead and try to lie his way to the White House.

But while the McCain campaign is backing away from the specific claims about Iranian training of Al Qaeda, it is asserting that Iran collaborates with Osama bin Laden's organization.

Mr. McCain's national security adviser, Randy Scheunemann, told The New York Sun, "There is ample documentation that Iran has provided many different forms of support to Sunni extremists, including Al Qaeda as well as Shi'ia extremists in Iraq. It would require a willing suspension of disbelief to deny Iran supports Al Qaeda in Iraq."

Responding to Mr. Scheunemann's remarks, a senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Obama, Susan Rice, yesterday told the Sun, "It's very bizarre." She noted that Mr. McCain had "made the same statement three times in as many days. Surely he must know, as Senator Lieberman reminded him, that Iran is not engaged with Al Qaeda in Iraq. I don't know if he is confused, or is he cynically trying to conflate Al Qaeda and Iran as Cheney and Bush did Al Qaeda and Iraq in 2002 and 2003?"

The far-right New York Sun has skin in this game, because their article about AQI/Iran ties is being used by the wingnutosphere, sometimes multiple times with the statement "multiple sources have confirmed" attached, to "prove" the claim. However, the fact that both Raymond Odierno and David Petraeus disagree with any mention of a Shiite Iran/Sunni Al Qaeda link isn't enough for Bombs Away John.

This is no different than Preznit Gimme 'Nother War blustering on about Iran being a continued "nuclear threat" 4 years after they curtailed their nuclear program, and explicitly claiming they want to "destroy another nation" based on a badly translated quote by the Iranian President, who has no power over military affairs. The idea is to knowingly deceive as a pretext for war.

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Earlier today I was talking about federal agencies as a campaign outreach arm. Apparently they're part of the oppo research shop, too.

Two contract employees of the State Department were fired and a third person was disciplined for inappropriately looking at Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's passport file.

Spokesman Sean McCormack Thursday night confirmed instances of what he called "imprudent curiosity" by the State Department employees.

McCormack said the department itself detected the breaches, which occurred separately on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14.

The three people who had access to Obama's passport records were contract employees of the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, NBC News reported.

A senior official told NBC News there was "no political motivation" to the incidents, adding that the three were low-level contract employees doing administrative work and accessed Obama's records out of "curiosity."


The same thing happened to Bill Clinton's passport records in 1991, and then as now, two State Department employees were fired. The Obama campaign is calling for a full investigation.

My question is really what kind of information you can get from a passport file, which is a larger question about how much personal data is stored all over these federal agencies, ready to be swooped up at a moment's notice. And these are the people we're supposed to "trust" with a program of warrantless wiretapping.

In a surveillance state, none of your data is particularly safe. And with this Administration, that means it will be espied, downloaded, and used.

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Your World In Stick Figures

This Web comic about the credit mess is really the most lucid explanation of exactly what happened to the housing market. I pretty much knew what was going on but this made it a lot easier to interpret. Basically the investment banks tried to put together a pyramid scheme, knowing that it was fated to fail but hoping that they were more clever than everyone and nobody would find out, and the housing market would hold out at the historically anomalous levels it was headed in 2004-2005.

Now fingers are pointing all over the place, and as this WSJ article makes clear, it's a complex picture. But what I get out of it is that nobody wants to talk about regulation in good times, and everybody wants to talk about it when things go to shit. This wasn't just an issue with subprime mortgages but all mortgages, which were built on wrong assumptions that everyone can just refinance and keep out of the danger zone when rates reset. I remember being told in 2005 when I was looking for a house that "nobody gets a fixed mortgage anymore." That was the mentality from the banks, the lenders, the investors. The goal was to shovel more and more people into home mortgages. Everybody looked good; government, industry, financial institutions. There was no check on this forward motion, the regulation that was needed. Unregulated capitalism will always step in the "Shitpile" this way.

UPDATE: This is really shocking to the conscience (via SadlyNo)

I don't think we have a full appreciation of what's really happening in these exurbs. This is a crime.

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McCain v. Facts

The fact that John W. McCain doesn't know anything about Purim is a small thing, but the fact that Joe Lieberman has to constantly stroll along by his side correcting him, like a real-life version of the whispered fine print in a Cialis commercial, is a big thing. It's deeply embarrassing to have to be constantly corrected, and ripe for mockery. Meanwhile, I guess Lieberman wasn't there a month ago in Houston when McCain made exactly the same "misstatement" conflating Iran and Al Qaeda.

MCCAIN: Al Qaeda is there. . .they're functioning, they are supported in--many times--in many ways by the Iranians. . . .

Of course, this is because there's no such thing as a "misstatement" here. It's a deliberate strategy, and he's in fact been wrong about these matters for a long, long time.

Before the war McCain claimed that Iraq would be a “weapons assembly line for al-Qaeda’s network.” “Iraq and al-Qaeda present the United States with enemies on multiple fronts. In World War II, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we went to war -- against them and against the Nazis, who had not attacked our homeland. We did not have the luxury of fighting one enemy at a time. Sept. 11, 2001 showed that al-Qaeda is a grave threat. Saddam Hussein has the ability to make a far worse day of infamy by turning Iraq into a weapons assembly line for al-Qaeda's network.” [USA Today 2/13/03]

McCain said Bin Laden and Saddam connected because they share “common cause.” “But what I think it's ample evidence of is that bin Laden will do anything he could to harm the United States of America, and he has common cause with Saddam Hussein who will do anything he can to harm the United States of America. And the two of them together can make a very potent recipe.” [NBC Today Show, 2/13/03]

A comprehensive report by the Institute for Defense Analysis found no relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. “An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.” [McClatchy, 3/10/08 ]

The 9/11 Commission report found no “collaborative operational relationship” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. [9/11 Commission Report]

He isn't confused or sleepy or fatigued. He truly believes this, and has more of a concern for an imagined sense of "honor" than the truth. His desire is for everyone to be as "confused" as he is about the disparate forces in the Middle East because it'll make it that much easier to bomb various countries at random.

And if you have any belief that having a military veteran in the White House will at least allow for some empathy with the plight of the troops and an awareness not to grind them up in service to their country, this is all you need to see more clearly on that front.

On his first day in office in January 2007, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, intended to be “a mirror image of the WW II G.I. Bill.” A new version with broad bipartisan support was introduced in February to help fund education for service members who had served in active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. Veterans would receive education benefits equaling the highest tuition rate of the most expensive in-state public college or university and a monthly stipend for housing.

Today, The Hill reports that Webb is still waiting for an important co-sponsor who could help push other Republicans to approve the bill: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ):

“McCain needs to get on the bill,” Webb told reporters after a Christian Science Monitor breakfast meeting on Wednesday. He said legislation mirroring the post-World War II GI bill should not be considered a “political issue.” […]

Webb’s bill has 51 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans. Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, said he may have to get 60 co-sponsors to ensure Senate passage, but then added that many more Republicans could vote for the bill if McCain endorsed it.

That's everything you need to know. He views men and women in uniform as no more human or real than little green Army men. McCain voted against allowing proper troop readiness. He's voted against increasing safety equipment and against increasing veteran's care. He's voted to keep American G.I.'s hostage in a foreign country as referees inside a sectarian war. He has voted against troops and veterans consistently over the past seven years.

The "cluelessness" on foreign policy is an EXTENSION of his contemptible record on the military. In his mind the troops are nothing but instruments used to project American power. And so are facts about Iran and Al Qaeda.

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Here We Go Again - Executive Branch As Campaign Outreach Arm

During elections as far back as 2002, Karl Rove made sure that all political resources at his disposal were employed to help elect Republicans. Federal agencies you would think had scant ability to impact an electoral debate suddenly had deputies all over swing districts, making official announcements and giving federal largesse in areas with threatened Republican members of Congress. This is of course illegal, but it didn't stop Rove from holding meetings with agency heads and briefing them on which Republicans needed help and how they could deploy that help. Here's an article that lays this out.

Thirteen months before President Bush was reelected, chief strategist Karl Rove summoned political appointees from around the government to the Old Executive Office Building. The subject of the Oct. 1, 2003, meeting was "asset deployment," and the message was clear:

The staging of official announcements, high-visibility trips and declarations of federal grants had to be carefully coordinated with the White House political affairs office to ensure the maximum promotion of Bush's reelection agenda and the Republicans in Congress who supported him, according to documents and some of those involved in the effort.

"The White House determines which members need visits," said an internal e-mail about the previously undisclosed Rove "deployment" team, "and where we need to be strategically placing our assets." [...]

Under Rove's direction, this highly coordinated effort to leverage the government for political marketing started as soon as Bush took office in 2001 and continued through last year's congressional elections, when it played out in its most quintessential form in the coastal Connecticut district of Rep. Christopher Shays, an endangered Republican incumbent. Seven times, senior administration officials visited Shays's district in the six months before the election -- once for an announcement as minor as a single $23 government weather alert radio presented to an elementary school. On Election Day, Shays was the only Republican House member in New England to survive the Democratic victory.

"He didn't do these things half-baked. It was total commitment," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), who in 2002 ran the House Republicans' successful reelection campaign in close coordination with Rove. "We knew history was against us, and he helped coordinate all of the accoutrements of the executive branch to help with the campaign, within the legal limits."

Rove may be gone, but this practice continues.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was in Minnesota on Tuesday to announce a proposed pilot project for the federal No Child Left Behind law that would give 10 states more flexibility in addressing struggling schools' specific needs....

However, Minnesota doesn't yet have enough of those schools to participate in the pilot project, prompting some to question why Spellings made the announcement here and whether it was an effort to help Sen. Norm Coleman in his reelection campaign.

Spellings appeared at the state Department of Revenue and the State Capitol alongside Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Coleman.

"It certainly smells that no Democrats were invited to this event, when we already know that this administration has politicized Cabinet agencies," said Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It looks like a stunt to help Norm Coleman's campaign."

It more than "looks like" a stunt, that's exactly what it is.

I'm growing a little tired of these things seen as "Rovian" machinations. They're just Republican ones. Rove is a cog in the wheel and focusing on him is a distraction. He learned these techniques over many decades in the conservative incubator, and the idea that they'd stop just because he's moved over to Fox News is not realistic.

This is one of those dastardly deeds that is very easy to spot but harder to counter.

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Fourthbranch, Diplomat

So given that I consistently rip the Iraq disaster to shreds, I ought to pipe in when there are brief signs of hope, as there was yesterday.

A member of Iraq’s Presidency Council, whose objections had blocked a law calling for provincial elections by October, withdrew his objections on Wednesday in a sudden turnaround that raised hopes for long-sought political progress.

The Presidency Council, in a statement, said the law would now go into effect.

Not surprisingly, it was a meeting with Fourthbranch Cheney that prompted this change of heart. This has been the model of American meddling in these Iraqi decisions. However, the "compromises" are always based on extremely thin promises of future negotiations. This is how the Constitution got ratified, with promises to revisit Sunni participation and federalism, and the promises were eventually broken. This sounds like the same:

Mr. Mehdi’s objection was widely viewed as reflecting a deep-running feud between his party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which controls provincial councils in most of the Shiite-dominated south, and the party led by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Laith Shubar, an adviser to Mr. Mehdi, said the vice president had decided to withdraw his objections after he received a promise from the Parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashadani, that lawmakers would discuss the possibility of making changes to the legislation. After the law takes effect, Parliament must still fill vacant election commission seats and approve an election law before the provincial elections can take place.

It's also true that provincial elections, particularly in Kirkuk, are going to be deadly, although they're needed because the citizens aren't getting proper participation from the government.

So we get these bridges built from straw and bubble gum, and they last for a few steps until they break, and then there's another intervention, and the bridge is rebuilt. We shouldn't look at the situation in Iraq and think victory when we actually can't leave or it'll all fall apart. This is true from a security standpoint as sure as it is from a political one.

In a brilliant and much-circulated essay written in August 2007, "Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt," David Kilcullen, a veteran Australian officer who advised Gen. David Petraeus during the early days of the surge, wrote, "Our dilemma in Iraq is, and always has been, finding a way to create a sustainable security architecture that does not require 'Coalition-in-the-loop,' thereby allowing Iraq to stabilize and the Coalition to disengage in favorable circumstances." We have achieved some security in Iraq, though even this should not be overstated. (Violence is still at 2005 levels, which were pretty gruesome.) But we have not built a sustainable security architecture.

How does one create a self-sustaining process that leads to stability? Do we need more troops? Longer rotations? Kilcullen points in a different direction: "Taking the Coalition out of the loop and into 'overwatch' requires balancing competing armed interest groups at the national and local level." In other words, we need to help forge a political bargain by which Iraq's various groups agree to live together and not dominate one another. "These [groups] are currently not in balance," Kilcullen wrote, "due in part to the sectarian biases of certain players and institutions of the new Iraqi state, which promotes a belief by Sunnis that they will be the permanent victims of the new Iraq. This belief creates space for terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, and these groups in turn drive a cycle of violence that keeps Iraq unstable and prevents us from disengaging."

Watching the recent spike in suicide bombings, one has to wonder if we are watching precisely that cycle start up again. The sectarian tensions in Iraq have not improved much. The Sunni militias—who switched sides over the past six months—have developed some trust for the United States but little for the Iraqi Army. Reports suggest that as the Iraqi Army gets stronger and better trained, and gets more expensive weapons—none of which are shared with the Sunnis—the latter are becoming more worried that they have made a bad decision. In the crucial province of Diyala last week, thousands of members of "Concerned Local Citizens" groups (CLCs) stopped working in protest over the sectarian activities of the local police force and its chief. U.S. officers have kept promising that a significant number of CLC members would be given jobs in the regular Army and police. That does not appear to be happening anywhere near as fast as it should. At the same time, the new provincial elections that Sunnis and many Shiite groups have demanded for years have once again been delayed. Maj. Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar province, publicly warned that if these polls were not held as promised by Oct. 1, it could mean more violence.

And despite the agreement yesterday, there remains no guarantee that the elections will go forward. Never believe the first press release in Iraq.

The most important thing we can do right now is resist the President's illegal status of forces agreement that he seeks with Iraq, which would constrict the ability of the next President to actually withdraw.

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Why We Should Be Better Than This

I want to amplify clammyc's remarks from yesterday about the tension and over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized the online version of this primary race. It hasn't characterized the offline version of this race, by the way; in the election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson was called an "atheist," "rapist," and "infidel," and I don't think any Federalist was denounced, rejected or repudiated. But I want to take a look at why this race has become so hotly contested, practically to the exclusion of all else, and not just in the traditional media where that's expected, but pretty much everywhere. I have a somewhat novel interpretation.

This is George Bush's fault.

Under 7-plus years of Bush, we've seen Congress cowed and the courts made irrelevant. We've seen a President ignore the popular will on a whole host of issues, break the law with total impunity, protect his cronies from prosecution or harm, and run roughshod over international law and our Constitution at home. Since 2001 we've come to believe that electing a President is akin to electing a 4-year dictator, because that's been the practical effect of Bush policies.

So why wouldn't it get heated, even among friends, over this decision about which dictator to install for the next four years? That's why these petty concerns and personal features have been magnified as the struggle between candidates with similar platforms becomes literally a battle of life and death.

There's of course a lot of evidence to support the dictator theory of American politics, but in actuality this is fiction. We have a broken Constitution, a shattered Constitution, but not one that is beyond repair. And if we neglect that repair, it won't matter who is President, because the fundamentals of the system will inevitably lead to more Bushes and more Cheneys and more Condis and more Rumsfelds. Until we get under control the restoration of the balance of power among the three branches of government, this energy and anger over the Presidential race is little more than a distraction, and we'll sink further and further away from the government the Framers envisioned.

Today Lawrence Lessig is presenting his "Change Congress" initiative in Washington. Here are some of his thoughts from an editorial in the Huffington Post.

Though "change" is the dominant rhetoric of this presidential campaign, everyone realizes that fundamental reform can't come from a president alone. If there are problems in the way Congress now works, for example, no president can fix those problems alone. Any fix would require the cooperation of the very institution that needs changing -- Congress.

Not surprisingly, however, not everyone in Congress is eager for change. Whatever they say, and however strongly they may deny it, there are many who have grown used to a system they understand well. And many of those are not about to support radically reforming that system, at least until pushed.

But the 111th Congress will be the freshest that Washington has seen in more than a decade. There are more than 67 "open seats" in this years' election; the last time we were anywhere close to that number was 1996 (62). This fact has led some to think about strategies for getting Congress to take seriously the idea of remaking itself.

Lessig organizes his movement to change Congress around issues like public financing for elections, transparency in Congress and earmark reform. He aims to use a wiki to track reform-minded candidates all over the country and track them from the outside.

This is exactly the kind of initiative the progressive online community should be embracing. Rather than relentlessly focusing on the top dog, and reinforcing a theory that the President is a dictator who wields full control of the government, we should use the other institutions of power to build a reform movement from the bottom up. And we should also empower that movement with a mandate to repair the broken institutions that have failed us in the Bush era and would normally rein in executive power and overreach. And that means supporting initiatives like the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq. At this point 22 Congressional challengers have signed on to the plan, which seeks not only to end the war, but to ensure we never make such a historic foreign policy mistake again, and really change the conversation around national security. The candidates come from places like Idaho and Maryland, Ohio and Maine, Montana and New Jersey, Florida and Colorado and Washington and Virginia. We have far more leverage and power to impact this debate and these candidates than we ever will in the Presidential race. And it actually is far more important at this stage.

We don't elect dictators. We elect Presidents, and we have a host of structures in place to hold them accountable. Unfortunately, the last seven years have seen a total breakdown of those structures. The reaction to that ought to be to repair those structures and build this movement, not bicker back and forth about who has what delegate in what state. I'm not saying the Presidency is irrelevant - that's obviously not true - but I'm saying that we shouldn't be lulled into thinking that the President equals the government. That's only true in the rampantly illegal era of Bush - and we need to roll that back if we want to keep some semblance of a democracy.

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The Knucklehead Vote

An extremely smart move by Barack Obama today - calling into the WIP morning show in Philadelphia. WIP is an agenda-setter in Philly, particularly in the ring suburbs. This is the beer-drinking, Iggles-watching, knucklehead vote. Angelo Cataldi is the symbol for the common man. If the morning hosts were swayed by him, and from reading the article they clearly were, that has a bigger impact, oddly, than a politician's endorsement.

I'd watch the polls in this region over the next couple days.

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Who Is Retiring The Great Republicans Of America?

Actually, they're doing it themselves. And a party that sees 15-20% of its membership retire in one year doesn't exactly seem poised for a comeback.

GOP sources confirm that Rep. Tom Reynolds, a Western NY Congressman since 1999 and ex-NRCC chairman, will announce around noon tomorrow in Buffalo that he will not seek re-election this fall. Reynolds spokesman LD Platt did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

Curious that the former NRCC chair gets out of Dodge right after it is revealed that the organization's treasurer diverted over a million dollars into his own bank account while under Reynolds' watch.

We have a great candidate in this district, Iraq war vet Jon Powers. He's endorsed by Blue America. He has a primary against Jack Davis, who refused to campaign in 2006 even though Reynolds was totally vulnerable, and only became a Democrat because Dick Cheney personally insulted him. This is a classic "better Democrat" scenario.

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The Economy Of War

In his third major speech in three days, Barack Obama tackled the war's impact on the economy.

“Instead of fighting this war, we could be fighting for the people of West Virginia,” Senator Obama said today. “For what folks in this state have been spending on the Iraq war, we could be giving health care to nearly 450,000 of your neighbors, hiring nearly 30,000 new elementary school teachers, and making college more affordable for over 300,000 students. We could be fighting to put the American dream within reach for every American – by giving tax breaks to working families, offering relief to struggling homeowners, reversing President Bush’s cuts to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and protecting Social Security today, tomorrow, and forever. That’s what we could be doing instead of fighting this war.”

The full text is at the link. Now, this is something of an oversimplification. In a direct sense, the war in Iraq is propping up the economy, because it's adding manufacturing jobs in the defense industry. What I'd like to see Obama do is carry this critique forward. People believe that Iraq spending hurts the economy, so we're already halfway there. What hurts the economy is unnecessary DEFENSE spending in general; wars are started from time to time simply to justify that spending. The defense budget is a sacred cow that generations have considered off-limits in a bipartisan fashion. If you want to call it the Iraq recession, fine; people are going to believe that, since they hate Bush, hate our involvement in Iraq, and think that Bush is clueless on the economy. But I hope that this goes the next step - talking about our unbalanced economy in general, with billions squandered on contracting abuse and outdated weapons systems. This could be a real point of contrast with "More Wars" McCain.

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Rep. Jane Harman (D-Elite)

It is well-known that, shortly after elements of President Bush's illegal warrantless wiretapping program was divulged by the New York Times in December 2005, Rep. Jane Harman wasn't happy. She went on Meet The Press shortly thereafter and blasted the paper for leaking the details. But we did not know that she actively sought to cover up contents of the program PRIOR to the Pulitzer Prize-winning story.

Eric Lichtblau, who along with James Risen broke the story, has a new book coming out which details the wrangling between the NYT and the Administration which caused a one-year delay in the revelation of the warrantless wiretapping program in the press. During that time, Lichtblau ran into Jane Harman in the Capitol.

In his book, Lichtblau tells how a few months after the story was held, he happened to be covering a House hearing where he heard Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) argue passionately for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

Lichtblau saw this as an opportunity to question Harman about the warrantless wiretapping program, since Harman, as a member of the "gang of eight," was one of the four Democrats who'd been briefed on it. He writes:

I approached Harman with notepad in hand and told her that I’d been involved in our reporting the year before on the NSA eavesdropping program. “I’m trying to square what I heard in there,” I said, “with what we know about that program.” Harman’s golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor.
“You should not be talking about that here,” she scolded me in a whisper. “They don’t even know about that,” she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement. “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,” she continued. I wanted to understand her position. What intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew – namely, that the government was listening to them? I asked her. Harman wouldn’t bite. “This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised,” she said. I tried to get into some of the details of the program and get a better understanding of why the administration asserted that it couldn’t be operated within the confines of the courts. Harman wouldn’t go there either. “This is a valuable program,” she repeated. This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didn’t speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harman’s position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administration’s handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.

What comes through in this exchange is that the elites in Washington have far more fealty to each other than the public. Harman has come around; she argued strongly against the program and was one of the leaders in the House fight to amend FISA responsibly last week. Now we're seeing a likely stalemate on that issue, and George Bush is almost certain not to get what he desperately wants, amnesty for the telecom companies and a rejection of the lawsuits against them which could reveal even more about the program.

Still, we have this portrait of Harman, eager to cover up, convinced that what she is told must stay secret has to stay secret, untrained in the Constitution enough to see that warrantless wiretapping is unnecessary under FISA and in defiance of the Fourth Amendment. It's relieving a bit that the past few years, with the help of the blogosphere, have given many in the Congress an education on the document they swear to uphold and defend. It's also completely sad.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Such Lovely People

So you expect a couple of conservative bitter-enders like KFI shock jocks John and Ken to depict Italian-American Don Perata as a Mafia boss. Slightly less expected was that the same graphic would make its way onto local news in Sacramento.

A televised graphic depicting Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata as an apparent Mafia leader, pointing a gun skyward, has angered Italian-Americans.

Bill Cerruti, who is chairman of a state Italian-American task force and leader of the Italian-American Cultural Society, blasted the characterization today and demanded an apology.

The graphic, depicting Perata in a purple suit and white tie, was broadcast by Sacramento's KOVR 13 – with anchor Chris Burrous – and on the website of talk-show hosts “John and Ken” of KFI radio in Los Angeles, Cerruti said.

Burrous goes on to blast Perata for suggesting the state raise taxes to help balance the state budget.

Yes, anyone who doesn't want to see thousands of teachers fired and elderly people denied health care is most certainly a gangster.

I'm not wired for outrage, so you tell me if this slur is beyond the pale or not. What I do know and expect is that the Denham recall will provide plenty more opportunities for the "Don" Perata slur to manifest itself, and the dead-ender anti-tax forces running his recall opposition campaign are not likely to disappoint. Hopefully they have Perata shoot bullets from a Tommy gun into their "No on the Recall" logo! Hey guys, pay me for that idea before you use it!

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Acceptable v. Unacceptable

When you read this story, you have to play back in your mind the vision of Brian Ross getting the release of Hillary Clinton's personal First Lady schedule, flipping through his heavily dog-eared copy of the Starr Report, and studiously matching up dates. All the while approving the clip art of the semen-stained dress and Lewinsky, making sure it all fit in the frame, etc.

You could bust a guy for sexual deviancy just for the work it took to produce this swill.

Hillary Was in White House on "Stained Blue Dress" Day

Schedules Reviewed by ABC Show Hillary May Have Been in the White House When the Fateful Act Was Committed

Hillary Clinton spent the night in the White House on the day her husband had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, and may have actually been in the White House when it happened, according to records of her schedule released today by the National Archives....

The public schedule for Sen. Clinton on Feb. 28, 1997, the day on which Lewinsky's infamous blue dress would become stained by the president, shows the first lady spent the morning and the night in the White House....

This is somehow a perfectly acceptable news item, possibly even acceptable enough for a broadcast story too. And yet coffins of American bodies coming home from an unnecessary war based on deception is too "offensive" for tender eyes.

I'll give you another example. Bill Maher said this about McCain on Hardball today:

you know, we are one terrorist attack away from john mccain i'm sure rising in the polls by ten points. because people think, oh, yeah, he is tougher. he is not tougher about the war. he's dumber about the war. he's dumb about the war because he thinks by keeping troops in the heart of the muslim world that's going to help the war on terror. that's exactly what started the war on terror. that's why bin laden was so angry at the u.s. because we had tloops in saudi arabia. we pulled them out after 9/11, by the way. of course we go right back in and plant them in the heart of the muslim world and build pizza huts. that is why young muslim men want to come here and blow themselves up and kill us. it is not about what happens in iraq. we need to get out of iraq not build bases there.

This is very true. But what of course is so ridiculous is that this is one of the quotes that, when broadly defined, got Rev. Wright in trouble. When it comes down to it, there's not much daylight between "We caused 9/11" and "bin Laden was angry at us about having bases in Saudi Arabia." I think Maher's analysis is correct, but it shouldn't be lost that he's allowed to say it.

The larger point about all this is how conservatives and in particular the media define acceptable discourse, and what will provoke outrage, or barely a twitter. When Janet Jackson shows a covered nipple, the world comes to an end. I saw about 20 minutes of Eliot Spitzer's prostitute's Girls Gone Wild video, played on an endless loop in the middle of the day today, and then we have this really putrid Brian Ross "investigative news article" literally peeping into someone else's bedroom. When Christian conservatives rewrite the words to "God Bless America" and sing it in front of Republican Presidential candidates, nobody in the media considers that to be a "problem" for the GOP because white religious nuts are SUPPOSED to be crazy, and therefore accepted. Black religious figures, on the other hand, when they step outside the bounds as defined in the media by, I don't know, "Sister Act," represent a threat to the Republic.

Now, Janet Folger, who put together that Values Voter Presidential Debate, where "Why should God Bless America" was sung from the stage, has endorsed John McCain. It's as easy to make the guilt-by-association argument with respect to him as it has been to Obama or Clinton's litany of associates. But nobody does.

This is about defining the discourse. And if it hurts Democrats, or anyone who seeks to challenge the status quo, for the most part the videotape rolls. If not it gets locked up. Funny how that works.

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A Pox On Both Their Houses

Hillary won Ohio in part by ginning up a fake controversy about Obama's credentials on NAFTA, after she worked on the agreement while she was in the White House with her husband.

Obama has apparently been instrumental in halting a proposed Michigan do-over primary, which would be crucial to establishing legitimacy for his primary victory.

Lest I forget this insanely dumb comment by a Clinton surrogate:

Next question to Kurtzer: Obama's assertion that he needn't have a "Likud view" -- that of Israel's right-wing party -- to be pro-Israel. Kurtzer explained that Obama wanted to see a "plurality of views." Silence in the room.

To that, Lewis retorted: "The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties." The audience members applauded.

Nobody's coming out of this primary smelling like a rose. The unforced errors that are damaging Democratic hopes in a year where the Republican brand is completely in the toilet really saddens me.

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Public Enemy #1

So Osama bin Laden is so concerned about Bush's war on terror and that relentless hunt for him that he has time to take a look at European cartoons and make value judgments on them.

Good thing he's on the run. I'm sure we'll smoke him out of his hole any day now.

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The GOP Nerves Begin To Show

I think that the noise machine is a little worried about this McCain useful fiction about Iran and Al Qaeda. Some Weekly Standard propagandists crashed a conference call with the National Security Network, trying to take the bullet for McCain's lies. The insaneosphere thinks McCain was only wrong by backing down on the "obvious" Iran-Al Qaeda connections. I heard Joe Scarborough try to defend McCain on the basis that he was tired, and smugly mused that such a line of argument won't push white voters in Missouri away from him in November.

I'm not sure why they're so worried about it. The media types who would supposedly hold this over McCain's head are so ignorant themselves about geopolitics that they'll blurt out the same mistakes without thinking.

Certainly we know the GOP's playbook for November: throw up more lies and obfuscations about scary furriners while running an explicitly racial campaign designed to frighten everyday people about the opponent (and if Hillary pulls this out, it'll be an explicitly sexist campaign). I really don't see why the media will throw up a roadblock against that. They don't have a whole lot more knowledge about the world than John McCain does; and they prefer to "cover the controversy" rather than referee it. The press has done little more than amplify these lies over the last several years. And the GOP manages that by yelling and screaming a lot and muddying the waters, so maybe that's all that's going on here.

Maybe the GOP understands that the public has turned against the war and the Republican brand, distrust the media (see the Tweety Effect), and will find alternative means to make their decisions about the next President and who will lead the Congress. McCain looked like either a devious warmonger or a fool today, and the war machine has already cried wolf on this one. The parallels to the Cheney Administration are undeniable, with all the weasel words and carefully selected language designed to conflate and confuse and muddle. The danger here is not a media hit; it's that people will recognize the singularity of McSame.

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Everyone is weighing in (and around these parts, getting less than ten comments) on this anniversary of our invasion and occupation of Iraq. Looking around the progressive media, I think that without question the most important article I've seen is this one by Spencer Ackerman about the Pentagon's efforts to profile and understand the foreign component of "Al Qaeda in Iraq" or AQI. While Al Qaeda is not going to overthrow the Iraqi government or follow us home if we leave, their presence in Iraq, where Al Qaeda was not before the invasion, their presence is significant, and understanding who they are and why they've come to Iraq is important. As it turns out, the occupation itself has drawn them into extremism, and made this country and the world far less safe.

Based on primary sources from Al Qaeda in Iraq members now in custody, the US military has put together a reasonably accurate profile of who Ackerman calls "Mr. AQI."

Mr. AQI is a man in his early-to-mid 20s. Chances are he came to Iraq from either north Africa or Saudi Arabia. He's single. He's lower-middle class and has some high school experience, but probably not a diploma. To earn his wages he worked in construction or maybe drove a taxi. Mr. AQI probably didn't have any significant military experience prior to joining AQI. His relationship with his dad isn't so great. And while he's been religious for as long as he can remember, he wasn't, you know, a nut about it.

So what brought Mr. AQI to Iraq? At the mosque, he met a man who could tell Mr. AQI just wanted to belong to something. That man told Mr. AQI he had something Mr. AQI needed to see. Very often, according to Colonel Bacon, it was an image from Abu Ghraib. Or it was a spliced-together propaganda film of Americans killing or abusing Iraqis. The narrative that weighed heavily on Mr. AQI, Colonel Bacon said, was that it was his "religious duty go to Iraq," where he would serve as "an avenger of abused Iraqs."

But Iraq wasn't what he thought it would be. Mr. AQI wasn't an infantryman, where he'd bravely stand and fight Americans, he was pressured into being a suicide bomber. Nor were his targets the Americans he wanted to hit -- they were the Iraqis he came to avenge. According to Colonel Bacon, in some cases, Mr. AQI was happy to be in American custody, where he would no longer cause Iraq any more pain.

Let that sink in for a moment. For Mr. AQI has a lesson for us. Counterfactual conditionals are always problematic, but in all likelihood, according to MNF-I's own profile, if the United States. were not in Iraq, Mr. AQI would be back in his taxi in Algiers or Jedda. Were it not for Abu Ghraib -- which, of course, never would have happened had we not invaded -- Mr. AQI would never have felt that it was his religious duty to kill Americans. And were it not for the war, thousands of Americans and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive, right now, and all without a propaganda windfall that spikes terrorist recruitment for the extremist lurking around the mosque trying to generate new Mr. AQIs. And what is true of our foreign-born Mr. AQI is all the more true of the perhaps 95 percent of AQI that's Iraqi Sunni. Not one of them would have any reason to be a member of AQI if George Bush did not give him one.

And this is ultimately the biggest tragedy of this occupation. The initial invasion, along with illegal and unconstitutional actions like holding terror suspects indefinitely in secret prisons and torturing and abusing and all the rest, have been nothing more than a billboard for terrorist activity. Conservative commentators talked early in the conflict about a "flypaper strategy," that drawing foreign terrorists to Iraq where they would be targets would keep them from plotting around the world. Instead it was a "rabbit strategy," where our actions bred an explosion of terrorism and religious extremism around the world. These new terrorists are lonely, alienated, malleable young people who were swayed by a radical ideology that fit in with viewable experience in Iraq. The war against terror, such that it is, is a war in the mind of a moderate Muslim young man in Pakistan. This is the war we never bothered to fight, to our severe disadvantage.

Imagine if we had not invaded Iraq but instead had devoted ourselves, five years ago to the promotion of dignity, justice and liberty to the millions of potential (and actual) Mr. AQIs around the greater Middle East. Mr. AQI desires to belong to something. He would have belonged -- not necessarily but quite possibly -- to the United States.

There are many horrors of the war, primarily the destroyed lives of Americans and Iraqis. But this is the strategic horror of the war. The good news is that there is a way to stop the generation of Mr. AQIs, both Iraqi and foreign. It is the most important counterterrorism operation of all. Stop this illegal, immoral, unjust, disastrous war.

Professional liars in the media are trying to downplay the war as an issue, but the people will not be fooled. They know that we cannot continue to create more and more Mr. AQIs and release them to world with further danger for the rest of us. We cannot achieve a "victory" the way the guardians of our discourse desperately want so they can obviate their own sins. And we cannot allow this to be forgotten.

Ah, but the glory of how it all began. In his State of the Union address in 2002, Bush said this:

For too long our culture has said, "If it feels good, do it."

On March 19, 2003, just before addressing the nation to announce his this disastrous war Bush was asked about this feelings:

Moments before the camera began broadcasting to the nation, Knight-Ridder reports that Bush pumped his fist and said, "Feels good."

Irresponsible. Out of touch. And irretrievably dangerous.

UPDATE: North Carolina Senate candidate Jim Neal:

I am committed to ending the war in Iraq. Now is the time for North Carolina to have a Senator who will stand by our troops and stand up to the Bush Administration.

When I am in the Senate, I will support using Congress' power of the purse to cut off funding for the war.

Senator Elizabeth Dole has blindly backed the policies of the Bush-Cheney Administration which took us away from the hunt for Osama Bin-Laden and entangled us in Iraq’s religious civil war [...]

It’s past time to begin planning for the sensible redeployment of our forces away from Iraq and back towards Osama Bin Laden and his followers.

We have a duty to our troops and their families to ensure they receive the medical care, education and career opportunities they have earned by putting their lives and their comfort at risk for us. We need to spend our tax dollars here at home on what matters most - providing job security for middle-class families, ensuring the health of our families, and leading the fight to protect the air, water and soil which sustains us.

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