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

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chipping Away At Maverick's Armor

We're actually starting to get some traction on John McSame, not only in the usual arenas but also in the traditional media. I think judging Presidential candidates based on their tax returns is of a fairly low priority; I really don't care how much you make compared to what you'll actually do for the country. But it's notable that McCain is not, for the most part, getting away with the gambit of releasing his tax returns, which make him look only modestly rich, without releasing the companion returns of his kajillionaire beer distributorship heiress wife (the one he picked up while still married to his first wife, who was disfigured in an accident. He's a claasy guy).

John McCain, who has clinched the Republican presidential nomination, reported $405,409 in income last year and paid $118,660 in federal taxes, according to tax returns made public today. He gave $105,467 to charity, the records show.

His campaign didn't release tax returns for his wife, Cindy, who is chairman of the Phoenix-based Hensley & Co., one of the largest beer distributors in the U.S.

"My wife and I, we have separate incomes, we have a prenuptial agreement, and her business is her business,'' McCain said in an interview. "I have never been involved in it since before I ran for the Congress of the United States, so I just feel that she has a right to a separate tax return.''

Come off it. McCain has used his wife's bankroll to get ahead in politics for 25 years. It's obnoxious to suggest that they're somehow separate incomes. Especially after Republicans went after Teresa Heinz Kerry for the same exact circumstance (Kerry eventually disclosed her tax return). And, Cindy McCain claimed she wasn't disclosing her taxes because of her children's privacy, which is kind of hilariously brazen.

But the traditional media actually managed to cover this one in a manner consistent with how they'd cover a Democrat trying to play this game. Again, I'd like to see them be as aggressive on McCain's actual statements, like his revisionist history on advocating for overthrowing foreign governments, which he called "rogue-state rollback"; the very funny flap over which earmarks he'd target for elimination, which got him in a lot of trouble this week once he realized that he was advocating cutting off aid to Israel and shuttering military housing for families; his statement that there has been great progress economically since George Bush took office, and his general flip-flopping on dozens of issues (Steve Benen is the keeper of that long list).

Still, at this point I'm happy to see any coverage of McCain that's not covered in hazy gauze. If the traditional media wants to feed their fetish and look into character issues they can pick up The Real McCain", which the McCain camp is trying furiously to suppress. I'd prefer it to be a legitimate look at his extremist record and promises of less jobs and more wars.

One thing I know is that we're not going to see anything like this tomorrow morning from our buddy Boy George.

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Again, I Choose Not To Be Afraid

Think of what a force of nature the Hillary Clinton campaign would be if they didn't spend seemingly all their time worrying about Republican attacks in November and making lists about which Democrats supported them from the beginning. Say that they instead gave Democrats a reason to support them from the beginning OTHER than blackmail, and spent a lot of time concocting attacks on Republicans!

The inevitability strategy was just confoundingly dumb, and I don't know how it could ever have worked. Ripping the argument of "I'm going to be the nominee" from "Here's WHY I want to be the nominee" just makes no sense. And, deciding that the central argument of your candidacy is how scared we should all be of the spectre of Republican attacks, when we've in fact faced them down in 2006 and won a clean sweep, is similarly stupid and makes Democrats look weak.

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We Came, We Saw, We Handed Out Flag Pins

OK, so I should mention the results of our protest yesterday at the ABC/Disney headquarters. It went really well. Consider that I had this idea sitting on my couch at 12:00pm Thursday, and by 4:00pm Friday we had 60 or 70 people out there in Burbank. Considering that in the current age there's almost an allergy to protest, that's not bad (especially in gridlocked L.A.), and we were able to get the word out without making one phone call.

I'll give you the AP's impression:

About 50 people rallied at Disney Studios Friday to protest the questions that ABC News journalists asked the Democratic presidential candidates during a debate earlier this week.

Protestors waved signs that read "Restore the Fourth Estate" and "ABC is TMZ," referring to the online celebrity site.

Organizer Rick Jacobs criticized ABC for focusing on the past gaffes of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, instead of issues like the war in Iraq and the American economy.

Jacobs said he was offended that Obama was asked why he hasn't worn an American flag pin on his lapel.

"Patriotism isn't defined by a flag pin made in China," he said.

They didn't note the most important part of the protest: our distribution of flag pins to employees as they left the ABC gates. Letting them know that they were getting "free patriotism on a stick" and telling them that "Charlie Gibson won't approve of you unless you wear one," we handed out about 300 pins. Most took them graciously and approvingly.

I'll direct you to where there are a bunch of pictures and then highlight a few.

That's me.

My personal favorite sign.

There goes a flag pin.

Breaking news.

Panama Jack Rick Jacobs.

Yes, the pins were made in China.

Thanks to everyone who came out...

UPDATE: Here's video coverage from KTLA News:

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Friday, April 18, 2008

How Do You Take "Sure" Out Of Context?

Funny stuff. So Karl Rove's lawyer, Donald "Gold Bars" Luskin, gave a statement to MSNBC's Dan Abrams saying that his client would be happy to testify in front of Congress as they investigate the imprisonment of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, which appears to have been politicized. Yesterday members of the House Judiciary Committee took Rove up on the offer, figuring that if he talks to GQ Magazine and Fox News regularly, he can chat with them about Siegelman. Suddenly, that offer dried up.

MSNBC provided Roll Call with an e-mail exchange with Luskin that the network broadcast in which a producer asked, “Will Karl Rove agree to testify if Congress issues a subpoena to him as part of an investigation into the Siegelman case?”

“Sure,” wrote Luskin, according to the e-mail. “Although it seems to me that the question is somewhat offensive. It assumes he has something to hide.”

But in an interview with Roll Call, Luskin said that his MSNBC comments were taken out of context.

“Whether, when and about what a former White House official will testify … is not for me or my client to decide,” but is part of an ongoing negotiation between the White House and Congress over executive privilege issues, Luskin said.

Let's take a look again at what Luskin considers to have been taken out of context.

“Will Karl Rove agree to testify if Congress issues a subpoena to him as part of an investigation into the Siegelman case?”

“Sure. Although it seems to me that the question is somewhat offensive. It assumes he has something to hide.”

Man, we need to have a convention on the English language, because when the word "Sure" now doesn't mean "sure" because of context, clearly the words we use have lost all meaning. It's a Derrida-like universe! Differance!

Meanwhile, Karl Rove has no time to sit down with the HJC, but found a spare moment to write a 2,100 word letter to Dan Abrams accusing him of all sorts of perfidy by daring to suggest that the most nakedly political figure in recent memory might have had a political motive to investigate a Democrat. I especially enjoyed this part:

Did you inquire when and where (Dana Jill Simpson's) supposed 2001 meeting with me took place at which she was asked to follow Siegelman and photograph him? If so, did you make any effort to see if she could document her claim?

And if you were personally convinced by her answers that there was a good likelihood of such a meeting, did you try to figure out if there was any way that I was likely to have been available for such a meeting? Or is it merely enough for her to assert for you to repeat?

Like, did you call me and ask if I would give testimony to you? Did you? I wouldn't have responded, like I won't respond to John Conyers, but still, did you?

The whole letter's like that, by the way. Someone's worried, I'd say.

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Looming Recession Update: We're Ohio Now

I'll fill you in on the protest soon. It went very well. But I'm fortunate enough to be able to go to Burbank at 4:00 on a Friday and protest. Some of our other fellow Californians aren't so lucky. They're busy trying to find a way to keep their homes and feed their families. The LA Times has the latest job numbers, and they're obscene.

California's unemployment rate rose by a whopping half a percentage point in March, reaching 6.2% as a weakening economy shed jobs in the ailing construction and financial activities sectors. In all, 1.13 million were unemployed [...]

California is doing worse than Pennsylvania and Ohio ... the two Rust Belt states that have figured prominently in the presidential primary elections because of their lost manufacturing jobs.

If the governor's budget-cutting plan moves forward and thousands of educators across the state lose their jobs, this will only get worse. The worst, absolute worst numbers are in the Inland Empire, where construction is at a standstill and housing-related employment is melting away.

The rise in unemployment during March affected all of Southern California, with the worst effects in the Inland Empire. The rate in Riverside County -- not seasonally adjusted -- rose to 7.4% from 7.0%, while in San Bernardino County it rose to 6.7% from 6.3%.

7.4% isn't approaching the 1980s just yet, but it's getting pretty damn close. And areas like the IE, which don't have a sustaining support structure for the unemployed or the needy the way that, say, Los Angeles does, are particularly vulnerable. We're on the front lines of an economic meltdown that is rapidly expanding.

Good thing we have a bantaaastic governor who gets on the cover of Time magazine!

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You're Supposed To Wait Until After Securing The Nomination To Shit On The Base

Well, I got back from the protest, and it was really great, but then I check around the Internets and see this and it really bummed me out.

At a small closed-door fundraiser after Super Tuesday, Sen. Hillary Clinton blamed what she called the "activist base" of the Democratic Party -- and in particular -- for many of her electoral defeats, saying activists had "flooded" state caucuses and "intimidated" her supporters, according to an audio recording of the event obtained by The Huffington Post.

" endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] -- which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down," Clinton said to a meeting of donors. "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."

There's audio of the event at the link.

First of all, I don't ever want to hear the words of a high-level politician in a private fundraiser ever again. They shift their remarks in order to grab more money out of their audience, and they're off the record and unless and until every single one of them is made public the remarks ought to stay that way.

But to the content.

This is very disturbing. MoveOn is part of my political coming of age. They formed, by the way, to stop Hillary Clinton's husband from getting impeached. I've been a member for close to ten years, and without them I have to say we wouldn't have a progressive movement as strong as it is, and given their activism in 2006 we wouldn't have a Democratic Congress.

And note the disdain for the "activist base." That really tells you all you need to know about Hillary Clinton, and it's been pretty noticeable for quite a long time. She doesn't like bottom-up democracy. What did it for me was a debate when she said "America shouldn't have to work so hard to get a President who cares about them." In other words, shut up and watch American Gladiators because I've got it covered. The progressive movement activates and organizes and generally provides a counterweight to the deeply conservative media establishment and political establishment. It makes it easier for progressives and Democrats to do their job. Clinton KNOWS this. She helped fund the Center for American Progress and Media Matters. She's very keen on these organizations and the "activist base" when they are working in her favor. If not, she drops them like a stone, and then makes up lies about them besides. The intimidation thing is totally bogus; when Howard Here's Eli Pariser of MoveOn:

"Senator Clinton has her facts wrong again. MoveOn never opposed the war in Afghanistan, and we set the record straight years ago when Karl Rove made the same claim. Senator Clinton's attack on our members is divisive at a time when Democrats will soon need to unify to beat Senator McCain. MoveOn is 3.2 million reliable voters and volunteers who are an important part of any winning Democratic coalition in November. They deserve better than to be dismissed using Republican talking points."

It's a damn shame that in her zeal for victory, Hillary Clinton has trashed the very movement that would make it able for her to govern. I know I won't be able to bring myself to lift a finger for her ever again. In a one-on-one against McCain, sure, on economic grounds, but clearly Hillary is signaling that she truly believes in a hawkish, hegemonic foreign policy and will lie, cheat, steal and walk all over her allies to do it. What good would it be to get the nomination, the Presidency even, if there's nobody left to help you move policy?

MoveOn endorsed Sen. Obama and obviously that caused some hurt feelings. But let's not kid ourselves that this elitist (yes, elitist), establishment attitude wasn't well-entrenched before that endorsement. Hillary Clinton likes progressive groups and organizations when they work in service of Hillary Clinton. That's it.

Close to two years ago I was out in front of the same ABC-Disney building I went to today, protesting their screed of a TV movie "The Path to 9-11." Bill Clinton and his advisers were very grateful for those efforts. Today everybody protesting made it a point of saying that this was not about Obama OR Hillary; it was about a media who failed us, again, as they have for over a decade. The liberal blogosphere was practically birthed out of the need to call out the failed media and present an alternative voice. I've tried to do that consistently whenever a Democrat was unfairly attacked, INCLUDING Hillary Clinton, on several occasions (it infuriates me that dunderheads are screaming that the anger over the ABC debate is a partisan thing without bothering to use the Google and see that it isn't). She doesn't care unless you're defending her.

This is why the party structure crumbled in the 1990s. This is why we lost the House, Senate and a bunch of Governor's mansions despite having a booming economy. This is a pathetic statement, and the scorn for having to actually deign to compete for a nomination that ought to have been handed to her really shows through. I'm sorry but there's nothing to recommend in Hillary Clinton anymore.

UPDATE: Jane Hamsher:

I defended Hillary Clinton when she refused to bow to right wing pressure and condemn MoveOn over the "General Betrayus" ad (and was sad when she finally capitulated). MoveOn are valuable progressive partners who have been with us on Donna Edwards, net neutrality, trying to bring an end to the war, FISA, and other issues we've been fighting for.

They've accepted the challenge of organizing the left in the virtual arena and done an amazing job that the right struggles to replicate. They now have 3 million members, of which I'm one. And their skill at online organization and movement building has developed a model that both of the Democratic candidates have been able to copy and learn from, acting as a democratizing influence and making candidates more responsive to the public at large and less to high dollar donors.

MoveOn may not have opposed military action in Afghanistan (according to Eli Pariser in the Washington Post) but I did, because I was quite certain George Bush would bungle it and we'd just wind up spending billions on a bunch of junk that would make his buddies rich and a lot of poor people in the poorest country in the world would die senselessly. Sadly that turned out to be right, and disparaging anyone for challenging this country's unrelenting bellicosity during the Bush administration is wrong.

Does Hillary Clinton not want my vote either?

I should also note that Clinton defended that debate today because she did not perceive the attacks as coming at her. She said something like "his supporters are all mad because he got asked tough questions." Wrong. We're mad because he, and you, asked irrelevant questions that undermine the public's need for information to make informed choices. Her dedication to ignore that in favor of point-scoring is really depressing, and will surely rebound back on her, as it is now doing.

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Friday Pre-Protest Random Ten

I'm kind of running around, organizing this protest and juggling a few other projects, so posting may be light until this evening. For now, tunes:

Addiction - Kanye West
Nobody's Fault But My Own - Beck
Go Go Dancer - Pizzicato Five
Harrowdown Hill - Thom Yorke
Every Planet We Reach Is Dead - Gorillaz
Hunter - Bjork
Fair Touching - Guided By Voices
Falling Through Your Clothes - The New Pornographers
Forever For Her (Is Over For Me) - The White Stripes
Crazy In Love - The Magic Numbers (this is a great version)


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Unity Is The Great Need Of The Hour

Count me as someone slightly worried about the endorsements of bipartisan hacks David Boren and Sam Nunn for the Obama campaign. They wisely focused on foreign policy, where Nunn at least is on sturdier ground, but this is basically the remnants of Unity '08. I'm hoping this is their effort to remain relevant, and certainly Obama is in no position to deny their endorsements, but it gives me the willies. I think Obama's conception of "unity," which is about unifying class under a progressive banner, is far different than the false Broderism that Nunn and Boren profess. Still, hmm....

Although I do have to give Michael Bloomberg, who I often knock, some props for this line:

During a question-and-answer session, Bloomberg said he will not have to agree on all matters with whomever he ultimately endorses for president.

"I'm looking for a candidate that is willing to face reality and say, 'We can't have everything and there are costs and we've got to make choices.'"

The billionaire media mogul added, "Some of the things they will be in favor of I will agree with, some of the things they will be in favor of I won't. But at least we'll have an adult in office who can lead and can accomplish something."


(I'm a bit happier with the Robert Reich endorsement.)

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Lots of California Republicans Can't Raise Any Money

I noticed this before Swing State Project codified it, but there were some stunning numbers in the Q1 Congressional fundraising reports that augur well for Democratic upsets in November.

We know that Charlie Brown is raising tons of money and has close to $600,000 cash on hand, and his challengers are spending all their money in a bruising primary race (Doug Ose has a million dollars in debts on his books). We know that three California challengers raised six figures in the first quarter (Brown, Russ Warner and Nick Leibham) and have been consistently doing so. What's notable is the lack of fundraising prowess among key Republicans.

Dean Andal is supposed to be one of the top GOP challengers in the whole country. Yet he could only manage $90,000 in the first quarter, which considering how much effort the GOP is putting into his race is embarrassing.

More interesting to me are the incumbents. David Dreier raised $136,000, not all that much more than Russ Warner's $110,000. Dan Lungren raised around $100,000, not much more than Bill Durston's $75,000 (very respectable for his grassroots campaign). And then there are two in Orange County that are shocking. Dana Rohrabacher was OUTRAISED by Debbie Cook in CA-46: $47,000 to $39,000. And Cook didn't get a full quarter in because she didn't announce until late January. (On a similar note, Julie Bornstein was able to raise $29,000 in just a few weeks after her announcement). And in CA-42, Gary Miller was outraised by Ed Chau, a carpetbagger from Montebello, and if you add in Ron Shepston's total Miller was significantly outraised by his challengers.

That's quite incredible. Miller and Rohrabacher might be dismissing the effort against them, and they still have plenty of cash on hand. But as a symbol of support in the district, clearly Democrats have the momentum all over the state. We're going to be very competitive this cycle, and if one of these districts hits, the cash-poor NRCC and the pathetic fundraising prowess of these Republicans isn't going to save them.

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Democrats Kicking The Can

I know George Bush is a walking impediment to reason, but really this is a critical time for Iraq, and I don't think we can just give up and play out the string until next January.

The war in Iraq has become "a major debacle" and the outcome "is in doubt" despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon's premier military educational institute.

The report released by the National Defense University raises fresh doubts about President Bush's projections of a U.S. victory in Iraq just a week after Bush announced that he was suspending U.S. troop reductions.

The report carries considerable weight because it was written by Joseph Collins, a former senior Pentagon official, and was based in part on interviews with other former senior defense and intelligence officials who played roles in prewar preparations.

Apparently Collins also called the war a must win, so it's a mixed message, but clearly even the defense establishment is coming around to the fact that the sunny predictions of certain victory hide a dangerous truth - that we're becoming bogged down in an unnecessary and stupid war with no end in sight, and that it's diminishing our capacity as a world leader.

The report said that the United States has suffered serious political costs, with its standing in the world seriously diminished. Moreover, operations in Iraq have diverted "manpower, materiel and the attention of decision-makers" from "all other efforts in the war on terror" and severely strained the U.S. armed forces.

"Compounding all of these problems, our efforts there (in Iraq) were designed to enhance U.S. national security, but they have become, at least temporarily, an incubator for terrorism and have emboldened Iran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East," the report continued.

When the strategy for victory includes building a big wall around Sadr City to turn an area with millions of inhabitants into a roach motel; and when the commander-in-chief literally says that his measure of success is success, you know we've got a major problem. And without leadership and a change of direction, it's not going to get better, and the potential for defeat and a crushing blow to our security and standing will actually increase.

Given all this, the fact that the Democrats are preparing to take a pass on the entire issue of funding is deeply distressing. It's like they were pounded into submission and learned only helplessness instead of resolve. The quotes in this article are cringeworthy.

The House Democratic leadership is close to finalizing a decision to combine all outstanding Bush administration requests for war funding — totaling at least $170 billion — into one huge bill, according to lawmakers and aides.

Such a move would clear war funding from the congressional agenda until well into the next administration.

On top of the war funding, Democrats also want to attach billions of dollars in domestic spending initiatives to the measure, which could be the only appropriations bill enacted this year [...]

More immediately, Democratic leaders believe that by offering more than $170 billion in war funding, they can blunt Republican attacks on them for failing to support the troops, a senior Democratic appropriator said. The lawmaker, who declined to be identified, said the strategy also would increase Democrats’ leverage to seek extra discretionary funding.

James P. Moran, D-Va., a senior House appropriator, said that the new plan was the “best idea yet” because it would provide funds for the military through June 2009.

Yes, the "best idea yet." And good luck with blunting Republican attacks, because typically in an election year they back off anyway.

I don't have a big problem with using Iraq funding to get what you need domestically if there was a reason to continue in Iraq. But there isn't. And in truth, the Democrats are giving up on their ability to impact the war at all, even though the simplest thing you can do - not pass a bill - is in their toolkit. There's simply a lack of political will to do anything meaningful. Lynn Woolsey basically explains it.

Lynn Woolsey: I'll tell you one of the things -- and you're just going to hate this -- because I hate it. But, there's this sense that we don't have the votes to do what we need to do, the right things to do, so we're not going to do anything, virtually. And what I say is, okay well if our troops, our wonderful troops over there say, "Well, you know, this is really hard and I don't know we can win this battle, so I think I won't do it." I just think we are looking at this so wrong. And I think the people of this country...89 percent of Americans polled are saying that our economy is directly related to our involvement in Iraq. I mean, they get it. We shouldn't be there in the first place. It's bringing our country down and our economy down. So I would think that the reason they made us the majority party anyway was so that we would do something about it.

I don't know how you can call this anything but complicity.

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What Dead Intern, Joe?

I caught this yesterday, when Rachel Maddow brought up McCain's former Florida campaign co-chair Bob "I'm afraid of black guys in a public bathroom so I offered them $20 and a blow job" Allen, and Joey Scarborough lost it, actually walking off the set. I wasn't sure why he lost it until I remembered that Joey Scar was a Congressman from Florida. He probably KNOWS Bob Allen. They didn't serve in the same area; Scarborough represented the Panhandle while Bob Allen comes from Brevard County on the eastern shore, but state politicians tend to know other state politicians.

Wait until Maddow starts in with the girl in his Pensacola office who died from hitting her head on a desk.

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The Pope And The Abused

While I'm not inclined to have much of an opinion on Pope Benedict XVI, I have to say that his willingness to engage on the priest sex abuse case, and even meet with some of the abused, is pretty noble, and completely counter to the Church's history on this issue*. Even the revered John Paul II refused to meet with the victims.

At some level he had to do this while he was going about America pressing for a return to moral values, but according to those victims I've heard, they believe it was genuine and not just lip service. I trust they'll hold his feet to the fire on this.

And the Pope also apparently gave an awesome speech. I agree with Jimmy Kimmel's take on this - the President is slowly turning into Will Ferrell's impression of the President.

* - And Ratzinger's own history on the issue as well, he enforced the secret document that was allegedly used by the Catholic Church to evade prosecution for sex crimes.

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We're marching on ABC/Disney in Burbank today - armed with flag pins!

OK, so everyone's frustrated with the content-free, brainless ABC News debate the other night. Chuck Todd actually gets it wrong - it's not about rabid Obama partisans rising up to hammer ABC, it's about thinking people rising up and deciding not to accept the thin gruel the media tries to feed us anymore.

The moderators are unrepentant and congenitally wired to not get it. So we're going to have to take to the streets - the mean streets of Burbank, California. We want to know if ABC/Disney executives can pass the Gibson/Stephanopoulos flag pin litmus test - it's obviously the most important issue facing the nation, so are they sufficiently patriotic? If not, we're willing to help them out.

I called up my friends at the Courage Campaign and told them we were uniquely positioned not just to throw things at our TV screen but to do something about this. The ABC/Disney headquarters is right there in Burbank, and prior to the Path to 9/11 airing, we actually protested out in front of there.

They obviously didn't get the message, and I figured out the reason why - our flag pin deficit! Nobody takes you seriously unless you bring 350 symbols of patriotism along with you.

Well, we got 'em. And now we need your help.

Today at 4:00, we're going to meet at ABC/Disney's headquarters in Burbank to protest and pass out flag pins to employees leaving their Disney corporate office.

Your mission: Ask ABC/Disney employees whether they can pass their own flag-pin litmus test: "Are you patriotic enough to wear a flag-pin?" Obviously they don't want to be considered as a bunch of America-hating terrorists by their own network news anchors, so of course they require the pin, the shield of immunity from all questions of patriotism. And maybe we'll give them a couple extras to give to George and Charlie.

If you're in the area and available, at 4 p.m. please join me and the Courage Campaign and your fellow activists at ABC's Disney Studios in Burbank in front of the West Alameda Gate, between S. Buena Vista and Keystone Streets (CLICK HERE FOR A MAP). We're going to be there until about 7 p.m.

I'll just leave you with this because it's fun.

(ultimately these things don't change a lot of minds; I don't expect ABC to issue an on-air apology or anything. But they provide an outlet for frustrations, and create a moment of accountability. If you or someone you know is in the press, please send them by, too.)

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

World Food Crisis Update

Though broadcast media types have it in their contract to avoid talking about starving people at all costs - just too, too depressing, you know? - US print media actually has caught up to the story and are delivering some decent reports.

Haiti’s hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples like beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.

Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.”

That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.

In Cairo, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out as never before. In reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by voters who cited food and fuel price increases as their main concerns.

This is an international crisis that's decades in the making, and attributable to a variety of factors. But this one bad crop can wipe out all of the gains on global poverty made in the past 10 or 20 years.

And of course, the food crisis is inextricably linked with the fuel crisis, as oil reached $115/barrel today.

This is the result:

In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”

The short-term answer is immediate food aid from the North. Longer-term, I think subsistence farming as a patriotic and economic imperative must return. The technology exists to grow something inside a planter even if you live in an apartment. A windowsill can be your farm. That's a piece of the puzzle; we also must end delivering so much agricultural product to alternative energy, and also become oil independent, which seems like a contradiction but is manageable by smart policy choices. Also, agribusiness is destroying family farms and driving up prices, and unquestionably contributing to what we're facing. Most of these are linked somewhat.

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Gibson: Dumber than the Guitar

I feel the need to hit Charlie Gibson over the head again, just to get it out of my system. His drop-dead dumbest moment was when he insisted that Sens. Clinton and Obama follow Article II, Section I of the Constitution...

Just to quote from the Constitution again, ‘In every case,’ Article Two, Section One, ‘after the choice of the president, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the vice president.’”

...apparently unaware that the clause in question was talking about the general election and the electoral college, not a primary, and that it was overruled by the 12th Amendment after the election of 1800, which was, ahem, TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHT YEARS AGO.

But for sheer right-wing nonsense masquerading as penetrating policy analysis, that would have to go to the section where he insisted that cutting the capital gains tax always, ALWAYS produces more revenue. This is, how should I put it, a lie.

My recollection was that Gibson's premise was wrong, but I couldn't remember the details of why. Fortunately, I know a few economists. Here's one of them--Jason Furman of the Brookings Institute--with the story:

Joint Committee on Taxation and Treasury both score raising capital gains taxes as raising revenues. There is some behavioral response but much of that is timing and doesn't affect the medium-to-long term revenue loss.

Note that the experience after the 1997 cut and the 2003 cut is not a meaningful way to assess the impact of capital gains tax cuts on revenues because so many things were happening simultaneously. The JCT score of the capital gains cut in 1997 was a few billion dollars annually. The 2003 cut was something like $5 billion annually. But capital gains revenues can go up or down by tens of billions annually. So it is hard to look at the noisy data and infer ex post the revenue impact of these changes.

Yes, that's part of it; assuming a tax-cut, revenue-gain relationship in a vacuum foretells an ignorance of economics. But there's more to it as well.

I think I found out the answer to the capital gains tax rate vs. revenue issue: Capital gains accrue when an asset is sold. Except in a few specialized instances, people have a choice about when to sell an asset. If they know the capital gains tax rate will be going down as of a certain date, they are likely to sell assets AFTER that date rather than before it, in order to minimize the tax due. So the increase in revenues experienced once the capital gains tax rate goes down is largely due to the fact that more people are selling assets.

Short answer: Charlie Gibson was technically correct, but his statement reflects an artifact.

Yes, the entire premise of Gibson's statement is based on people like him gaming the system. It's impossible to gather how tremendously stupid Republican economics is when you get past the one sentence they all decide to learn.

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From Academia To Psychology

This is the second time in as many days that John W. McCain has dismissed the real concerns of real people who are struggling, suffering and dying in service to policies he wholeheartedly supports.

You might remember that McCain threw out a concept for a summer gas tax holiday to ease the burden on those paying high prices at the pump (a buck-eighty at a time for a 10-gallon tank... why, that'll end poverty in our time!). It was roundly criticized for providing little to no stimulus for working families, especially when contrasted with his desire to massive cut corporate tax rates. It'd also eliminate every highway construction job in America for three months and cause a spike in gas prices in September right before the election. So to say it was an unserious proposal is pretty on the mark.

Today, McCain tried to explain the rationale for his plan.

I think psychologically, and a lot of our problems today are psychological, confidence, trust, the uncertainty about our economic future, the ability to keep our own home, this might give them a little psychological boost. Let's have some straight talk, it's not a huge amount of money. A little psychological boost, that's what I think it would help.

It must be comforting to the single mother who can't survive on the minimum wage, or the steelworker who just got laid off, that they were offered a psychological boost. Because that's really the whole problem, right? Apparently McCain is taking the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics into the economic arena. Since he analogizes everything to a basic contest of will, it makes sense. We're apparently going to fight the economy through steely-eyed resolve, and improve people's lives through sheer force of command. Never mind the structural inequality problem, or the deregulation that led to a crumbling financial marketplace, or the credit crunch which has led to decreased consumer spending and a wave of bankruptcies, or the massive uptick in foreclosures (I love how McCain thinks the ability to keep one's own home is a "psychological problem" and not, you know, an "I don't have the cash" problem). It is the height of condescension to write off economic struggles as nothing more than something going on inside the heads of the unwashed masses.

I'll tell you what, though. McCain's right about one thing. The country is experiencing major psychological problems. Only thing is that they come from hundreds of thousands of sick veterans who were traumatized during his endless war in Iraq.

Some 300,000 U.S. troops are suffering from major depression or post traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 320,000 received brain injuries, a new study estimates.

Only about half have sought treatment, said the study released Thursday by the RAND Corporation.

"There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Terri Tanielian, the project's co-leader and a researcher at the nonprofit RAND.

"Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The 500-page study is the first large-scale, private assessment of its kind — including a survey of 1,965 service members across the country, from all branches of the armed forces and including those still in the military as well veterans who have left the services.

Its results appear consistent with a number of mental health reports from within the government, though the Defense Department has not released the number of people it has diagnosed or who are being treated for mental problems. The Department of Veterans Affairs said this month that its records show about 120,000 who served in the two wars and are no longer in the military have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Of the 120,000, approximately 60,000 are suffering from PTSD, the VA said.

We're going to see deeply disturbed Iraq and Afghan war vets on our streets for decades. It's the residual cost of an unnecessary war that did not make us any safer. McCain's present to them is to deride the question of the initial invasion as an academic argument, and by describing the very real economic pain they feel as just "psychological." The fact that he wants to throw military families out of their housing is just a cherry on top.

Somehow, after this set of statements, we're not all talking about how McCain is an elitist. With this kind of corrupt thinking, I can tell you he's certainly not elite.

UPDATE: Barack Obama, of course, wants to give veterans the care and respect they deserve, and also pull our troops out of a dangerous and counter-productive situation in Iraq, just like a SNOB!!!!1!

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Bottom-Up Change Comes To California

Over the last three days, organized labor has been working in solidarity with one another in a project called Hollywood to the Docks, a three-day march and protest involving both Change to Win unions and AFL-CIO members, from the Teamsters to SAG, from the ILWU to the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports. They've literally walked from the heart of Hollywood to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for the last three days, concluding with a concert on the docks tonight and appearances by Speaker-Elect Karen Bass and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Next Monday, April 21, will be a day of action across the state put together by a coalition called Students for California's Future, representing 3.2 million students, with major rallies planned in Los Angeles and at the state capital. They are rallying against cuts to education and the university system, and this will be just the beginning of a year-long effort to call attention to education funding.

And tomorrow, at 4:00 at the ABC/Disney headquarters in Burbank, in protest of the historically awful, content-free Democratic debate aired on ABC last night, the Courage Campaign and local LA activists are going to offer lapel pins to Disney employees. Otherwise, their network news anchors George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson will think they hate America, which they obviously wouldn't want. (We'll have a lot more on this later)

Angered by eight years of conservative failure and inspired by a fiercely contested Democratic primary, a rejeuvenated grassroots is building all over the country and in California. Find an organization that speaks to you. Participate. Organize. And inch by inch, we're going to take this state and this country back.

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Coconut Road

In 2005 Don Young (R-AK) inserted an earmark into a highway bill that added money for a highway interchange on Interstate 75 near Naples, FL. That happens all the time. The problem is that he inserted it after the bill was passed by both houses of Congress, which is, what's the word, completely unconstitutional, that's it.

The Senate moved yesterday toward asking the Justice Department for a criminal investigation of a $10 million legislative earmark whose provisions were mysteriously altered after Congress gave final approval to a huge 2005 highway funding bill.

In what may become the first formal request from Congress for a criminal inquiry into one of its own special projects, top Senate Democrats and Republicans have endorsed taking action in connection with the earmark that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, inserted into the legislation.

"It's very possible people ought to go to jail," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees highway funding.

In facy, Boxer led passage of a resolution calling on the Justice Department to investigate Young.

We've seen some egregious abuses of power over the last 8 years, but this one is pretty beyond the pale. And now there's an effort to seek justice (though I don't know which Justice Department they think will do this investigating... none in the next year, that's for sure).

Young's alibi is good for a laugh.

Young's staff acknowledged yesterday that aides "corrected" the earmark just before it went to the White House for President Bush's signature, specifying that the money would go to a proposed highway interchange project on Interstate 75 near Naples, Fla. Young says the project was entirely worthy of an earmark and he welcomes any inquiry, a spokeswoman said.

"Congressman Young has always supported and welcomed an open earmark process. If Congress decides to take up the matter of this particular project, there will be no objection from Mr. Young," said Meredith Kenny, his spokeswoman. Young also sponsored a $223 million measure to build the fabled "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, a project that was killed in 2005 after it sparked widespread outrage.

Young's critics suggest that the motive for the I-75 provision was campaign contributions from real estate developers who own 4,000 acres of land near the proposed interchange. In February 2005, developer Daniel Aronoff hosted Young and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) at a highway safety event at Florida Gulf Coast University, followed by a fundraiser that brought in about $40,000 for Young's campaign [...]

Young's office accepted responsibility yesterday for the change, insisting that campaign contributions were not the motive. Rather, presentations made by Florida Gulf Coast University officials and the developers proved the case for the project, aides said.

That's right, Gulf Coast University gives the best Power Point presentations ever! They can convince even the stingiest of Alaska Republicans to break the law to get the funding!

I don't think earmarks are the sin that so many who want to ignore the military budget believe, but clearly Young needs to go down for this. And given his poll numbers, he will.

UPDATE: I was kind of getting at this, but this investigation is kind of a blind alley:

"Clearly, something went seriously awry before the 2005 highway funding bill was sent to the president. The question now is the best way to find out how and why this occurred. It certainly appears as if Don Young (R-AK) snuck in the earmark in exchange for campaign contributions from Florida developer Daniel Aronoff. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is to be commended for insisting that the Senate address this matter. Nevertheless, in sending the matter over to the Department of Justice, the Senate has ignored the Speech or Debate clause, which prevents law enforcement from introducing legislative material (such as an earmark in a bill) as evidence against a lawmaker. In addition, while the Senate has called for an investigation, the House undoubtedly will do everything possible to stymie such an inquiry. The House takes an expansive view of the breadth of the Speech or Debate clause. Recently, for example, the House counsel's office sought to quash a Justice Department subpoena issued to a former Appropriations committee staff member in connection with the criminal investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis's (R-CA) earmarks. The House likely will assert the same arguments here.

Given this impediment to a criminal probe, Senator Coburn's suggestion that a bicameral committee investigate the matter might have been more likely to reveal the facts, but sadly neither the House nor the Senate have a strong track record of policing and punishing the illegal or unethical conduct of their members. This situation perfectly illustrates why Congress needs an indepent ethics office -- with subpoena power -- to investigate members. The American public needs to have confidence that members of Congress are held accountable for their illegal and unethical conduct. Today's vote is nothing more than Kabuki theater given the likely constitutional impediment to a Justice Department investigation."

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But Does Al Qaeda Know How Many Flag Pins We Wear?

This could be a good topic for a future debate, in a bizarro America where such things are more important than someone's pastor.

Here is the title of a report from the General Accountability Office on combating terrorism released today:

The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

That is not some line buried in the report. That is the title. Wow.

But wait, there's more!

No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed, as stipulated by the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (2003), called for by an independent commission (2004), and mandated by congressional legislation (2007). Furthermore, Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in 2004 specifically to develop comprehensive plans to combat terrorism. However, neither the National Security Council (NSC), NCTC, nor other executive branch departments have developed a comprehensive plan that includes all elements of national power—diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support—called for by the various national security strategies and Congress [...]

al Qaeda’s central leadership, based in the border area of Pakistan, is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the United States… al Qaeda is now using the Pakistani safe haven to put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place [...]

al Qaeda is now using the Pakistani safe haven to put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place, including the identification, training, and positioning of Western operatives for an attack. It stated that al Qaeda is most likely using the FATA to plot terrorist attacks against political, economic, and infrastructure targets in America “designed to produce mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the population."

So then you're saying that, nearly seven years into the so-called "war on terror," Al Qaeda has regrouped, found safe haven, and is planning attacks on Americans, and we have literally no strategy to combat it?

There's a germ of a news story here. It has almost nothing to do with William Ayers, granted, but surely it's good for the final two minutes of some local broadcast in Fresno.

It was obvious this would be the result of moving on to Iraq and neglecting Afghanistan or any comprehensive global effort against terrorism. Actually the funniest part (yes, there is one) of this report comes in the recommendations, where you see the polite version of Bush-speak for "Hard work! Not my fault!"

GAO recommends that the National Security Advisor and the Director of the NCTC, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and State and others, implement the congressional mandate to develop a comprehensive plan to combat the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in the FATA. Defense and USAID concurred with the recommendation; State asserted that a comprehensive strategy exists, while the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated that plans to combat terrorism exist. In GAO’s view, these plans have not been formally integrated into a comprehensive plan as called for by Congress. The NSC provided no comments.

You know, this is actually serious. Global terrorism has become a legitimate threat once again after a halfhearted effort to stop it, precisely because of failed policy choices and neglect of regional trouble spots. This is the fundamental problem with Iraq, as Joe Biden expressed in last week's hearings. We are holding our foreign policy hostage to events in Iraq that we have little hope of affecting, while the worsening situation with a resurgent Al Qaeda goes unchecked. We've lost many thousands on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the overall rationale for their deaths - to disable terrorist networks and prevent future 9-11's from happening - is a failure. A total, unmitigated failure.

I know this is a non-flag-pin-related query, and i do apologize to the elite press who manage our discourse. I could add that nobody really sees John McCain wearing a flag pin, either, but he's very manly and a hero.

Still, you know, this could be covered. Maybe while the credits are rolling on the nightly news.

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The Great Awakening

From the brain-dead journalist's perspective, whatever candidate is on the defensive clearly is the one losing. But I think Obama made lemonade from lemons last night and at least pushed back on the moderator's ridiculous questions. And he continued that approach today.

Note that 15 second standing ovation after he mentioned it was 45 minutes before any question of substance arose. I know that it was a partisan event, but that's notable. People get this.

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Proud To Be A Republican

I guess history will judge him better.

President George W. Bush is scheduled to be the guest of honor April 25 at a fund-raiser for State Sen. David Cappiello at the Kent home of former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger and his wife, Nancy.

The cost of attending the main reception is $1,000 per person and the cost of having a photo taken with Mr. Bush is $10,000 per photo.

Area Republicans and local town officials who have been invited to, or informed of, the president's visit to a small rural town known for its art galleries, chocolate and scenic beauty were told not to publicize or discuss the event.

The only place where George Bush doesn't have to be ashamed to be George Bush is in Washington, DC. That should tell you something.

...although even in some parts of Washington, they know Bush is full of crap. Not that Gilbert Arenas should be given a political analysts' job anytime soon, but this is funny:

It’s funny, those two don’t play the same position, but DeShawn told Caron that he’ll guard LeBron (sounds like a children’s nursery school rhyme) so that Caron can rest his legs. DeShawn was like, “I’ll run him around and play D on him and get the fouls so you can just go off on the other end.” So we have our own little gimmicks we’re brewing. With a team like the Cavaliers and a player like LeBron, all you need is distractions. We got to be Bush. We got to be Bush-league. We’re having everybody talking about the war, when we just want to get the oil. We’re Bushing it. That’s all we’re doing. We’re trying distract LeBron over here while we try to get some wins over there. That’s all we’re doing.

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Health Care and the Creative Class

Frontline did an excellent health care documentary exploring systems around the world. It made the case for single-payer, or at least a comprehensive system that's far preferable to the patchwork quilt we have in America, parts of which already exist here (Medicare, the VA, even the employer-based system). But I think that this ad touting Sen. Ron Wyden's Healthy Americans Act has the potential to make a far more lasting impact, simply because... it's funny, and that humor is a Trojan horse to lucidly explaining the idea that you are a slave to a job you can't leave for fear of losing your health insurance.

Other than the fact that the latte dispenser might not have health insurance from her employer to begin with, this is a key concept that Americans can grasp. Ezra Klein explains further:

What Wyden's video does is take aim at the weaknesses of employer-based health care: You may have it now, but if you lose your job, you can't keep it. in other words, your boss owns your health care. Which means you may have to stay in a job you hate, sucking up to managers you loathe, doing work you despise, all because Jenny needs braces. Far better, says Wyden, to have a world in which you own your insurance, a world in which you can keep it no matter the professional path you choose, and a world in which a fool supervisor doesn't control your access to your medical care. That's a world where employees have a whole lot more bargaining power, and can focus their energies on bettering their job rather than keeping their insurance. But it's also a world that's different than this one, and that scares people. The fight Wyden's picking isn't an easy one, but it's very worthy. And the video, I have to say, is surprisingly funny.

As the creative class matures and works on all of these separate issues, there is a lot of potential there to upset assumptions and really look at issues like this in a different way. Severing the employer-based system and replacing it with a model like Wyden's, which regulates markets so that individuals (who get the money that flowed into health benefits into their paychecks) can choose a plan with basic coverage at a set price, is going to take a lot of idea formation like this. Kudos to Wyden for moving the ball forward.

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Academic Argument

There's of course a lot of consternation about the debate. But a far more important comment, a far more revealing comment, came out of that other abomination this week, the Hardball College Tour circle jerk between Tweety Bird and John McCain, where St. Maverick let his most contemptuous slip show:

MCCAIN: We can look back at the past and argue about whether we should have gone to war or not, whether we should have invaded or not, and that's a good academic argument.

It sure is. I can't wait for the lecture series:

Five Thousand Dead Americans, Hundreds of Thousands of Dead Iraqis, Trillions of Dollars in Treasure to Create An Iranian Client State: What Was the Purpose of This Lecture?

The only ones debating the invasion as an academic argument are the academes in establishment Washington who don't want the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history pinned on them. They're academes as diverse as Doug Feith and Charles Krauthammer, Colin Powell and Bill Kristol, Richard Perle and Judy "I was proved fucking right" Miller and Ken Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon. They all live up in an ivory tower where accountability is verboten, and with each mistake they climb a flight of stairs. They are cheered on by warbloggers and neoconservatives who so desperately want the blood off their hands, who are more afraid of their place in history than what their catastrophic mistake has done to the nation and the world.

This requires an academic argument.

BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber struck the funeral of two anti-al-Qaida Sunni tribesmen in a town north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 50 people and wounding dozens, police said.

The blast was the latest this week to break a period of relative calm in Sunni areas, raising concerns that Sunni insurgents are reorganizing at a time when U.S. and Iraqi troops are battling Shiite militiamen elsewhere.

There is nothing more dismissive, ugly and cruel than for the men and women who signed the death warrants of so many people for an exercise in futility to cast that historic mistake as something unworthy of discussion, as some sort of borrrr-ing lecture series instead of the fundamental question that will haunt the rest of their lives. "Academic argument" is actually the comment of the 2008 campaign. It encapsulates everything about conservatism.

Unfortunately, we have to find a media that isn't similarly culpable and desirous of ignoring Iraq for their own reasons, that is willing to report it.

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McCain's Economic Adventure

OK, I'm sick of talking about this debate, so let me talk about John McCain. It turns out, and this is going to shock you, that he's more interested in corporate balance sheets than working families.

Sen. John McCain yesterday offered sweeping rhetoric about the economic plight of working-class Americans, promising immediate assistance even as he spelled out a tax and spending agenda whose benefits are aimed squarely at spurring corporate growth [...]

In yesterday's speech, McCain played to his maverick image, taking corporate chieftains to task for their "extravagant salaries and severance deals." He even called out by name Angelo R. Mozilo, the chief executive of imploding mortgage giant Countrywide, and James E. Cayne, former chief executive of Bear Stearns, which was bailed out by an emergency line of credit from the Federal Reserve Board.

"In my administration, there will be no more subsidies for special pleaders, no more corporate welfare," McCain said.

But much of what he detailed was a corporate special pleader's dream: a cut in the corporate income tax rate, from 35 percent to 25 percent, a proposal to allow businesses to write off the cost of new equipment and technology from their taxes, a ban on Internet and new cellphone taxes, and a permanent tax credit for research and development.

The only tax that really does anything for a non-CEO, the gas tax holiday, is deeply irresponsible and would eliminate practically every construction job in America since gas taxes finance road improvements.

Then he got into real trouble with this remark:

In so many ways, we need to make a clean break from the worst excesses of both political parties. For Republicans, it starts with reclaiming our good name as the party of spending restraint. Somewhere along the way, too many Republicans in Congress became indistinguishable from the big-spending Democrats they used to oppose. The only power of government that could stop them was the power of veto, and it was rarely used.

If that authority is entrusted to me, I will use the veto as needed, and as the Founders intended. I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks. I will seek a constitutionally valid line-item veto to end the practice once and for all. I will lead across-the-board reforms in the federal tax code, removing myriad corporate tax loopholes that are costly, unfair, and inconsistent with a free-market economy.

Sounds like his usual focus on relatively tiny expenditures like earmarks instead of actual wasteful expenditures like Cold War-era weapons systems. But there's a catch - one of the earmarks that McCain's experts (well, not his experts, he shuffles it off to the Congressional Research Service) identify as an earmark is aid to Israel.


Here's where a progressive Middle East group like J Street will be helpful, because the very mention of cutting aid to Israel, whose economy is in better shape than ours, yields gasps out of all proportion. But cutting them off completely in the name of fighting earmarks shows how stupid the focus on the technical designation of how a bill gets appropriated truly is. And it's going to get McCain in trouble, just like mentioning any popular program that you schedule for cutting will get a politician in trouble. Republicans always say that government is wasteful, but never mention the wasteful programs, because... they're shameless liars, basically.

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The 11th Day Of September Happened On 9-11!

I think the most despicable moment in last night's debate was Boy George Stephanopoulos' Hannity-fed question about William Ayers, and particularly the "look what he wrote in the New York Times on 9-11" remark. Please. I know you can't read, Boy George, but the thing is that newspapers come out early in the morning, meaning that Ayers wrote what he wrote on 9-10, and the correlation is nothing more than incidental.

That Clinton parroted this, referencing 9-11 with an alacrity that would rival Rudy 9iu11iani, is quite disgusting. She's really crossed over into a full Republican campaign mode. Her TV ads are almost totally negative, and her justification is that "The Republicans will bring it up in the fall," apparently allowing her to... campaign like a Republican. This has an impact. I had a discussion with my Hillary-supporting dad last night and I might as well have been talking to Bill O'Reilly.

It's I guess comforting to know that if Hillary is behind in the fall she'll fight dirty, but of course this campaign in ensuring that if Hillary does pull out the nomination by a miracle, she'll be well behind in the fall.

UPDATE: I don't want to leave Charlie Gibson off the hook, his believe that $200,000 is a middle-class salary and that the most important challenge facing the nation is THE CAPITAL GAINS TAX just portrays how out of touch these stufed shirt media types are.

UPDATE II: This is pretty damn funny.

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The Gibson Effect

I agree that last night was an historic moment, where the national press truly jumped the shark and crossed over from a series of newsgathering organizations to the reincarnation of Rona Barrett. Because they are so contemptuous of Americans (they always justify their substance-free remarks by saying "This is what people are talking about") they seek not to inform but demonize, not to set out the major issues but to tear down the major candidates.

And lest one think that the first half of the debate featured the tabloid questions and the second half the "substance," uh, no.

It is certainly true that a case could be made that the moderators explicitly set out to frame even the supposedly "substantive" questions according to GOP designs. The implicit presumption of success in Iraq when, nearly an hour into the debate, the moderators finally deigned to mention the defining current event of this campaign. Gibson, as moderator, lied outright about the supposed effects of capital gains tax cuts, and dogged the candidates over it to a greater extent than any other economic issue: does he really believe that of all the economic challenges facing this nation, the most pressing of them is supplication towards a decade-long Republican bugaboo? Gun control? Affirmative action? These are the issues that are most compellingly on the minds of Democratic primary voters, in 2008? Or were the questions taken from a 1992 time capsule, insightful probes gathering dust for a decade and a half until they could find network moderators desperate enough to dig them up again?

It wasn't just embarrassing in part, but in the whole; a total capitulation of all responsibility as the fourth estate and a salient example of why we may need to actually strike out the "freedom of the press" part of the First Amendment.*

The thing is that, outside of Bobo Brooks, who's just as contemptuous of the American people as Gibson and Stephanopoulos are, most people noticed. They noticed because this is not an isolated event. In fact this campaign season has witnessed a gradually decreasing pattern leading to the irrelevance you saw on display last night. As issues and challenges faded away, the entire campaign - all of it - is predicated on gaffes and misstatements and Russert-like gotcha questions. Not as portion of it, not the last five minutes of the broadcast but all of it. The third paragraph of Tom Shales' jeremiad is technically correct but besides the point.

When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates' debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.

For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.

The fact is, cable networks CNN and MSNBC both did better jobs with earlier candidate debates. Also, neither of those cable networks, if memory serves, rushed to a commercial break just five minutes into the proceedings, after giving each candidate a tiny, token moment to make an opening statement. Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent.

CNN and MSNBC are no better; the ABC debate was a prime-time version of their substance-free midday programming, replete with everything but a live shot of a burning house somewhere.

The real question is whether this will spark a backlash, the way the media's sexist treatment of Sen. Clinton provoked a backlash in the New Hampshire primary.

Will the Keystone State's Democratic voters -- remember, these are Democrats, not general-election voters -- rebel against the negativity, the "gotcha"-ism, the endless drumbeat of cynical word-twisting and opportunistic gaffe-pouncing, that has become the central operating principle of the Clinton campaign, and vote instead for the man whose message of "hope" and "change" and a "new kind of politics" so inspired voters in the early stages of this nomination contest? If there's ever a moment for that message to gain new traction, it would be now [...]

One of the night's most popular answers, according to WPVI's undecided voter reaction tracker thingy, was this response by Obama to a question about his relationship to former Weather Underground bomber William Ayers:

George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about.

This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George. ...

[T]his kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow -- somehow their ideas could be attributed to me -- I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't.

Hillary's response? "Well, I think that is a fair general statement, but I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position." The undecided-voter meter plummeted.

Perhaps I'm being a pollyanna-ish member of the Cult of Obama here, but I think there is a real chance the voters of Pennsylvania will rise up and, once and for all, reject the endless, party-destroying "gotcha" tactics of Hillary Clinton, and choose the candidate of "change." It would be the backlash to end all backlashes. I'm not predicting it. But I think it could happen.

I think it's vital that it does happen, to discredit these tactics. If the blinders would come off of Clinton supporters and Obama supporters, Democrats would agree that this debate represents a failure of democracy. Corporate media will only get the message if their stock plummets, so I urge everyone to sell Disney stock and send it crashing. But they also made a lot of money last night off their ignorance and sensationalism. The way to send a message is really to reject that. The "b-but the Republicans will come after us in November" canard is ridiculous. That doesn't mean it has to be legitimized. Republican-style attack politics was actually rejected by voters in 2006. Now it's time to reject the media.

* - That's not what I advocate, of course, but let's recognize that national broadcasters use public airwaves and make a commitment to use them in the public interest, which clearly they have failed in doing, so there's a compelling argument to be made to the FCC for a breach in licensing agreements.

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Condi Must Go

It will, after all, give her time for her nascent Vice-Presidential career.

That aired right after the "debate" in the Philly market, doing what the moderators could not - bring up an issue of significance. I have to say that really gets a hell of a lot of information into a 30-second ad. Good work. Condoleezza Rice and everyone in those secret torture meetings doesn't deserve a future career in government. They actually don't deserve to be free men and women, but I'll settle for discredited and humiliated.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I'm deeply saddened by the state of this country, and tonight's debate is only an extension, a symptom, of that sadness. We are a better people, a stronger people, a smarter people, than is reflected to the nation and the world by our media.

I was the one who started a little campaign to get Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos to address the astonishing revelation that the President approved and authorized secret sessions inside the White House where principals from the Vice President on down directed specific torture techniques on specific detainees. Digby and myself and many others in the progressive blogosphere were outraged that this absolutely shocking statement, an almost dismissive one from the President, was met with almost complete radio silence from the traditional media.

So I figured that, since ABC actually broke the story, they might be interested in moving the story along by pushing it into the Presidential arena. And I asked good informed people who love their country to contact ABC so that we can discredit the idea of America torturing other human beings, in violation of domestic and international law, in ways that have been prosecuted by American courts in the past, which scar our nation, provide a recruiting tool for terrorists and yield bad intelligence.

You know, I thought it might have been something to get to.

But it wasn't. As you have seen. The bread and circuses that has characterized the media for over a decade continues apace. Instead of reporting out its story, we heard about lapel pins, and sniper fire, and members of the Weather Underground from 40 years ago. And this is why we have 47 million Americans without health care, and an occupation in Iraq for which these media shills are partially responsible, and finally, a country stained with the sin of torture.

And the only response I have is one of shame. That we have to listen to a Presidential candidate forced to say "I revere the American flag" or answer for the patriotism of random people is actually deeply offensive to me as a sentient being. That the right has so hijacked the discourse that all we hear from moderators in a public forum is a collection of oppo research is even more offensive.

And the worst part is that ABC News obviously has the capacity for good journalism. They considered it worthy enough to follow a story about torture discussions inside the White House, tracked down all the principals, got most everyone on the record about it, and yielded an admission from the President of the United States that he authorized waterboarding. They deemed it important enough to put it on their nightly news program, alone among the entire media. So if this is the output we can expect from them in a high-profile debate, there really is no hope. How can we expect accountability on torture - freakin' torture - if the well-informed citizenry has no knowledge to draw from.

I would gladly trade this media for any other media from any other country in the world. They can even broadcast in their native language without translation and it would have more value than this swill.

I know that traditional media is essentially a relic and that the information explosion of the blogosphere is revolutionizing media. But I have little but depression and sadness in my heart tonight. Corporations are not likely to dissolve in my lifetime. Corporate media is not likely to lose its prominence. We're big and getting bigger, and we're tuning out this narrowness of our politics in record numbers; Barack Obama was essentially standing in for all of us tonight. But that someone can be honored enough to address the next leader of the United States, can take on the responsibility of informing the public, and end up with this?


...I think the best course of action is something my fellow Pennsylvanians are prone to using: shunning. Surely we have Kossacks who live and work in Washington DC. These clowns have descended on Pennsylvania, to be sure. They should be shunned. If they approach you on the street, walk away. If you're anywhere near them, turn your back.

One good place to do this would be at the Newseum in Washington, this Sunday, when George Stephanopoulos tapes his first episode of This Week at their new home. I'm just spitballin'.

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The Worst Kind of Louts

So I've been running around all day, and haven't had much time to check in, but apparently tonight's debate was a train wreck (I wouldn't know because it's tape delayed for the West Coast), as Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos spent the first hour asking about important issues like flag pins and William Ayers (a question which was fed to him by Sean Hannity and lesser lights of the right-wing noise machine) instead of minor things like the torture of human beings planned inside the White House or an endless war in Iraq.

Outside of being infuriating, isn't this just stupid of ABC? Barack Obama is more likely than not of becoming the next President, is it really worth it to relentlessly insult him? I mean, I can't imagine Obama ever going on that network again.

Here's a list of things that didn't get discussed.

Let's tote up the colossal, the major, and also the very, very big issues that ABC's Gibson and Stephanopoulos have not deigned to bring up: Health care; the recession; Afghanistan; the mortgage crisis; deregulation; veterans' care; torture; restoring America's image abroad; the surveillance state; the environment.

When their FCC license is finally taken away for intentionally acting outside the public interest, will anyone care?

You can ask them yourself at 212-456-7777. Ask for News, then press 2 then 199 and you can leave a message for "Other News".

I actively hate this media. Star Magazine would have pulled off a better debate.

...There are almost 5,000 comments on ABC's website right now, almost all of them lambasting this horrific debate.

...Howard Wolfson is somehow DEFENDING this atrocity. All class, Wolfson. Because the most egregious shots were all taken at Obama, Clinton's team has no problem with what amounts to a Hannity-style attack job. And enough with this "it's a fair question because the Republicans would bring it up." It's easier for them to do so when the Democratic opponent brings it up first. And by the way, Republicans LIE. They'll bring up anything and everything without any kind of respect for the truth. So you might as well ask how many Americans each of these candidates have raped, because some nutjob winger is bound to bring that up in the fall, too.

I think I'm going to throw my television out the window.

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Bush Fighting The War On The Environment

George Bush is doing this "major press event" on the environment and fighting global warming, but he's not talking about anything new, but taking credit for initiatives that Democrats in Congress passed. And he sounds positively angry about it. "We're doing a lot!" he just shouted. Now he's talking about activist judges and how they're using "laws passed 30 years ago" to regulate climate change. You know, we actually do use laws that are still on the books all the time. All laws don't have a statute of limitations, and new laws aren't somehow more valid than old laws.

This is a sham. He's trying to wiggle out of the Clean Air Act and numerous court decisions mandating that the federal government regulate greenhouse gases. It's the same old "No We Can't" approach to climate change, saying that we'll ruin the economy if we make any effort to slow emissions. This is a Presidential filibuster that's been going on for close to eight years. And it's an attempt to take global warming off the table in the upcoming elections. Don't buy that the oil man is suddenly going green.

UPDATE: Rep. Ed Markey:

"By the time President Bush's plan finally starts to cut global warming emissions, the planet will already be cooked.

"The President's short-term goal is to do nothing, his medium-term goal is to do nothing much, and his long-term goal is to do nothing close to what's needed to save the planet from global warming.

"On a day of faith in America, where the Pope and scientists all agree that we must act on global warming, President Bush's paltry goals show little faith in American ingenuity and solutions to global warming.

D'you think he did it just because the Pope was here? That would make sense in a perverse way, actually.

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Our Current Class Of Elites

If the guys in power now are supposed to be the workaday types and those like Obama who have a different viewpoint on national security the elitists, can we get the elitists into power as soon as possible? I don't remember the White House beer-drinking contest as central to governance, but I do pretty much know that a President can launch an unnecessary war.

Elite #1, Doug Feith.

LEHRER: The public was never told that the Parade of Horribles were considered possibilities. Instead we were told it would be a cakewalk. Were you–

FEITH: You weren’t told that by the administration. Absolutely not.

Except when you were told it here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Elite #2, Dick Cheney.

I mean, if I look at what [Ahmadenijad's] beliefs supposedly are, the allegation that the return of the 12th Imam is something to be much desired, and that the best contribution that a man can make is to die a martyr facilitating that return, and all that goes with it, I always think of Bernard Lewis, who has said that mutual assured destruction during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets meant peace and stability and deterrence. But mutual assured destruction in the hands of Ahmadinejad may just be an incentive.

Bernard Lewis is the guy who decided that Iran was going to launch a nuclear attack on Israel on the date on the Islamic calendar when the Prophet Mohammed entered Jerusalem. So the elite Dick Cheney believes in numerology.

Elite #3, John McSame.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona may not have been paying the closest of attention last week during hearings on the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.

Speaking Monday at the annual meeting of the Associated Press, McCain was asked whether he, if elected, would shift combat troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to intensify the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“I would not do that unless Gen. [David] Petraeus said that he felt that the situation called for that,” McCain said, referring to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Petraeus, however, made clear last week that he has nothing to do with the decision. Testifying last week before four congressional committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee on which McCain is the ranking Republican, Petraeus said the decision about whether troops could be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan was not his responsibility because his portfolio is limited to the multi-national force in Iraq.

Decisions about Afghanistan would be made by others, he said.

Actually, this isn't really a mistake, per se. McCain really believes that our entire foreign policy should be hijacked and held hostage to the situation in Iraq. I'll leave it to you to decide whether it's wise to cede our military readiness to the hope of changing events on the ground. Especially when the events changing typically fall along the lines of the Iraqi security forces deserting their posts like they did yesterday.

Elite #4, the most smug and self-satisfied elitist of all, George W. Bush.

RADDATZ: All during that period -- April, May, June, July [of 2006] -- when things were really going downhill, people were talking about there being civil war.

BUSH: Yes.

RADDATZ: .You were saying, 'We're winning. We have a plan for victory. We are winning,' up through October [...]

BUSH: Well, yes. I think we -- and I wanted -- that's as much trying to bolster the spirits of the people in the field as well as -- look, you can't have the commander in chief say to a bunch of kids who are sacrificing either, "It's not worth it," or, "You're losing." I mean, what does that do for morale? I'm the commander in chief of the military as well, obviously, as, you know, somebody who speaks to the country. And if you look at my remarks, they were balanced. They weren't Pollyannaish.

Yes, the President is saying here that he had to lie to the nation for the sake of troop morale. As Phillip Carter puts it:

I was in Iraq during this time in 2006. I remember well how the violence spiraled out of control after the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. How every single indicator pointed in the direction of doom; how all our advisory efforts seemed to produce little to no security improvement; how we felt like spectators watching a civil war engulf Iraq, with too few troops to make a difference, and no political direction to do so.

All through this period, I remember the president, his senior aides and senior military commanders toeing the party line that things were going swimmingly. The dissonance between the rhetoric from Washington and our experience in Iraq was stark. WWe knew the ground truth. Being deceived by our senior political leaders certainly didn't change that, nor did it help morale at all. If anything, it hurt morale by undermining confidence in the chain of command. Put bluntly, if you can't trust your generals and political leaders to tell you and your families the truth, how can you trust them at all?

It's disappointing to hear now, two years after the fact, that the president was knowingly bull----ing us the whole time. And that he justified such dishonesty in the name of supporting the troops and protecting their morale. That's an insult to America's men and women in uniform (and their families), who deserve to be told the truth by their political leaders about what's going on. It's also an insult to us, as voters, who deserve the truth so we can make the right decisions in the voting booth.

That's about the most elitist thing I've ever heard.

UPDATE: I forgot Elite #5, Bill Kristol, who's pushing the meme that Obama is some kind of Marxist who believes religion is the opiate of the masses, when the Kristol family has basically believed this all their lives.

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