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

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Access Hollywood-ization of the Media

This Pentagon propaganda program, which has had an online life despite the total blackout on television and print beyond the initial New York Times article, now is getting a second life after the Pentagon released a series of documents related to the scandal. They didn't release them out of generosity, these were the same documents forced out of the Defense Department by the Times using Freedom of Information Act requests. And the revelations in the over 8,000 documents could fill more than just one magazine article. Glenn Greenwald's investigation of just one incident after an Amnesty International report of conditions at Guantanamo is enough for its own novella.

In June of 2005, communications officials in the Pentagon began planning a military-sponsored trip to Guantanamo for selected retired military officers who were currently working as "news analysts" for various television networks and magazines. Amnesty International had just issued its most scathing report yet about Gitmo, as part of its 2005 report on America's "new gulag of prisons around the world beyond the reach of the law and decency." It specifically called Gitmo "the gulag of our times," and detailed years of extreme abuses that had taken place there.

To counter Amnesty's findings, the Pentagon planned the Gitmo trip over the course of two weeks in mid-June. They eventually confirmed June 24 as the date for the tour, with a list of ten participants, including retired Gen. Don Shepperd of CNN, along with various "military analysts" from MSNBC and Fox.

From the beginning, the whole trip was transparently propagandistic, and there was no possibility that the participants could learn anything meaningful about Gitmo. It was a one-day itinerary (pp. 7476-7477). They left Andrews Air Force Base at 6:45 a.m. on June 24, and did not land in Cuba until 10:00 a.m. Virtually the entire 3 hour plane ride was filled with "briefings" by various DoD officials, and after they landed -- and before they were taken to the detention camps -- they were given another 90 minutes of briefings.

They did not even arrive at Camp Delta -- where the detainees are kept -- until 12:35 p.m. that afternoon. After a 50-minute lunch with the troops, they began a guided tour of Camp Delta at 1:20 p.m. which lasted a grand total of one hour and 25 minutes. Packed into that 85-minute tour was a viewing of an interrogation, a tour of an "unoccupied cellblock," and a visit to the detention hospital. That was all the time they spent touring Camp Delta: 85 minutes.

Then, at 2:45 p.m., they were brought to Camp V for 10 minutes, followed by a tour of Camp X-Ray for 35 minutes. Then they left Cuba -- to fly home, with the "wheels up" on their plane at exactly 4:30 p.m. the same day, arriving back at Andrews that night at 7:45 p.m. They were then brought back to the Pentagon at 8:00 p.m. They spent a grand total of 3 hours and 55 minutes at the Guantanamo detention facilities, with almost one hour of that devoted to lunch with the troops. That was the sum total of their grand tour of the detention facility: less than 3 hours. And then the propaganda campaign to malign and dispute the extensive, amply documented findings of Amnesty was unleashed in full.

Sheppard and other "analysts" decamped to their media outlets, refuted the Amnesty International findings based on "first-hand knowledge," continually checked in with their minders at the Pentagon to appraise them of their progress, and basically provided a counterpoint to a research document based on a few tightly controlled hours being led by the nose. This is what has become of journaism in the 21st Century. Just as American government has outsourced and privatized its functions, the media has outsourced its reporting to the government. While the majority of broadcast news is spent on making metaphors between Presidential candidates and sports figures and using Republican oppo research, even the bits of legitimate issues that leak through are suspect. The Defense Department and other official executive branch organs have learned how to pierce through the thin veneer separating the media and the subjects they are charged with covering, and merged them.

It's not particularly surprising that the Pentagon would find people to carry their water and grant them access in exchange for favorable coverage; this is how the entertainment media has been doing it for 80 years. Larry DiRita at the Pentagon is simply playing publicist, allowing his "stars" to be interviewed by friendly sources, allowing inside peeks to his top productions so they can get distributed positively to the public. There is no difference between Gen. Don Sheppard and Pat O'Brien, outside of the salacious late-night phone calls.

When the conglomerates who own the traditional media forced their news operations to become profit centers, this focus on "exclusives" and access was inevitable. It is also, I think, unnecessary, and the result of small-minded thinking inside news bureaus. A broadcast journalism operation based on aggressive reporting, playing against type and the dross we see currently, could have an ready and waiting audience. But of course, corporate ownership means that there are lines which would be difficult to cross.

There is no question that what the Pentagon did was illegal. But the real problem is that to the media, it's standard practive.

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Tragic Disaster Assistance

The military leadership in Burma is choking their own citizens, and while I understand the need to keep politics at the cyclone's edge and not act in a divisive manner by insulting the government whose help you need to administer aid, their behavior has been atrocious. First they started confiscating aid shipments, causing the UN to stop sending them (they've recently changed their minds). Then they allowed a US cargo plane in the country, but basically wanted everything dropped off at the docks. They've continually refused travel visas to aid workers. And now it appears that the boxes of aid they are sending out have the generals' names plastered on them.

Despite international appeals to postpone a referendum on a controversial proposed constitution, voting began Saturday in all but the hardest hit parts of the country. With voters going to the polls, state-run television continuously ran images of top generals including junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, handing out boxes of aid at elaborate ceremonies.

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country.

"It is not going to areas where it is most in need," he said in London.

There's going to be a second catastrophe as those in most urgent need of supplies and medical care don't get them in time. The military government is failing its people and doesn't seem to have much concern over it.

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CA-42: Miller's Heebie-Jeebies

On Thursday the House of Representatives passed legislation that would provide federal underwriting for new loans to 500,000 homeowners at risk of foreclosures, as well as increase the limit on FHA loans to $729,750, include tax credits (which are loans to be paid back over 15 years) for first-time home buyers, tighten oversight of the lending industry and provide billions in grants to the states to buy and repair foreclosed homes for resale. Every California Republican voted against it except one - Diamond Bar's Gary Miller, not known as any kind of moderate squish (he voted with the majority of House Republicans 96% of the time last year). The housing crisis is playing out in districts like his, and Miller can't afford to ignore it.

...Miller, a land developer, called the housing downturn the most serious one he had seen in more than 30 years. "I really wish I could support my Republican colleagues," he said. "But I'm very concerned about the marketplace.

"A lot of people are losing their homes," he added. "That not only hurts them, but the neighbors around them because of foreclosure. Their home value drops." [...]

Miller, whose district includes parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange counties, disputes the Republican portrayal of the bill as a bailout. Under the measure, lenders must agree to take a significant loss on a homeowner's debt in return for a federal guarantee that the reduced loan will be repaid.

"I'm not in any way supporting the concept of bailing people out who made bad decisions," Miller said. "But things happen in life. . . . There are a lot of innocent people out there."

Here's why this is notable. Miller is one of the greediest and most unscrupulous developers out there. In fact, part of his calculus may just be that it'll help bail out homeowners who can stay in the developments from which he profits. However, his concern for "innocent people" hasn't been borne out by his prior voting record. What's different here is that he ran unopposed last year, even as the FBI was investigating him for tax evasion and shady land deals. This year, three opponents have stepped up to challenge him, and if nothing else, they have forced him to at least pretend his district exists. This is going to be true in every district we're contesting in November. The twin victories by Democrats in special elections in Illinois and Louisiana (and possibly another in Mississippi next Tuesday) has House Republicans ranging from mildly nervous to scared out of their gourds. And as more swing seats open up (buh-bye, Vito Fossella), there's no way the NRCC, the campaign arm of the Republicans in the House, can step in with any cash infusion to bail out an incumbent. Tom Cole, the head of the NRCC (for now), has basically told lawmakers that they're on their own. So you're going to see more out-of-character votes like this for the rest of the year. And you will be able to tell who's more nervous by their positions on these votes. I'd say Gary Miller has a few beads of perspiration on the forehead.

You can also see which issues these lawmakers think will resonate in their particular districts. Obviously the housing crisis is hitting CA-42 hard.

(yes, I do some netroots work for Ron Shepston, who's one of the Democrats running in CA-42 to replace Miller)

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Civil Strife In Lebanon

The Lebanon situation is hard to follow, at least from my vantage point. The first reports intimated that a government crackdown on Hezbollah incited the gun battles and riots. Then it appeared that no, it was Hezbollah that was trying to take over the government, then all of a sudden they stopped and order was restored to the streets, then it turns out that Hezbollah is in control of a substantial portion of Beirut. Obviously this is something of a proxy fight, which pits Sunni vs. Shiite and a pro-Western central government against a pro-Iranian rebel authority. The last time Hezbollah moved in Lebanon, tens of thousands rallied in the streets of Iraq to their cause. And the sectarian nature of the violence is also an extension of Iraq. Until we understand the nature of that crisis, and of the tensions throughout the broader Middle East, sparks like this will continue to shoot up and we can't really do a whole lot to stop it; I don't think occupying yet another Muslim society is in the cards. This also shows how the Iranian hand remains strengthened strategically in the region, and how a wider war is certainly still a risk.

UPDATE: And now there's a cease-fire in place. Apparently this initially erupted over taking a TV station off the air. And that apparently is being negotiated.


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Friday, May 09, 2008

The Iraq Treadmill

After a day of top-of-the-fold headlines that the Iraqi military had captured the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (and all by themselves, too, see they can police their own country, only not enough for us to leave for the next 100 years), it turns out, and you're not going to believe this, that wasn't true.

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, has not been captured, a senior U.S. military official told CNN on Friday.

Iraqi authorities said Thursday that al-Masri had been captured in Mosul.

U.S. military officials were surprised about the report of Abu Ayyub al-Masri's capture -- first reported by Iraqi media and picked up by The Associated Press. And intelligence officials said they were skeptical, even though Iraqi officials said al-Masri was already in U.S. military custody.

Left unsaid here is how AQI is a marginalized force inside Iraq, and virtually immaterial to the long-term stability of the state. The real problem, based on where military airstrikes are targeted, are those civilians in Baghdad slums.

See, we've been laying siege to Sadr City for the last month, first building walls so the population can't leave and then bombing the hell out of it, forcing a crisis where the population must leave.

So let's recap the scene: the US military and its Iraqi "allies" are laying siege to a sprawling neighborhood in Baghdad housing roughly 2.5 million Iraqis, launching air strikes, artillery attacks, tank shells and other assorted ordnance, shutting down hospitals and bombing others, cutting off the supply of food and walling off entire sectors of the embattled region, causing a refugee crisis by their actions - and now actually pursuing a policy with the intent of creating a larger refugee crisis!

For what reason: because a majority of residents in these regions support a political movement, and militia, that oppose our presence. Can't have that. Because we have to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq to safeguard the Iraqi people. After all, whose gonna set up the tents in the refugee catch basins we so magnanimously helped set up to receive the overflow from our relentless assault on political movements that would make it harder for us to stay in Iraq. To safeguard the Iraqi people.

Aside from, you know, eliminating American casualties, leaving Iraq would surely reduce Iraqi casualties and the attendant tensions that arise from those casualties. We hear constantly about the consequences of defeat, but they cannot be worse than creating pointless refugee crises in Baghdad. When you're staying in the country just to fight elements who want you to leave the country, there's a kind of circular logic to the whole thing.

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Wrapping It Up

It's kind of funny that the Obama fans in the blogosphere were the ones worried about the superdelegates deciding the nomination in favor of Hillary instead of "the people," when in reality they're deciding it for Obama. Which is their right, and considering that it's completely within the DNC rules and there's no "real math" that ought to be stopping them, I say good. There's certainly no additional information that they need. According to Obama's tabulations, he's 160 delegates from clinching the nomination.

Clinton is reminding me of that Hall of Famer who plays just one season too long - see Babe Ruth for the Boston Braves, or Willie Mays with the Mets - but she's earned the right to go out on her own terms.

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Friday Random Ten

I'm actually being forced to, horror of horrors, WORK today. So apologies for the lack of content. Here are some tunes:

Mama & Papa - Supergrass
One PM Again - Yo La Tengo
Earthquake Weather - Beck
Language Barrier - Mike Doughty
Three Or Four - The New Pornographers
Daddy's Car - The Cardigans
Human Behavior - Bjork
Loser - Beck
Guess I'm Doing Fine - Beck
Soul Sauce (Fila Brazilia remix) - Cal Tjader

That's a lotta Beck.

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The Transitivity Of Blackness

New Poor Man comix.

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"You are the leader."

The deafening silence from the corporate-owned media on their employment of official propaganda sources inside their news broadcasts is typical, but at least one leak has sprung. The Pentagon released all of their documents that the New York Times obtained in FOIA requests to fill in their reporting. And there are more hidden gems inside that set of documents.

But most immediately intriguing is audio of some of the briefings at the Pentagon, including two featuring Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The audio we've excerpted here comes from a meeting on April 18, 2006. It was an emergency meeting called because earlier in the month, several retired generals had hit the airwaves demanding that Rumsfeld resign. 17 analysts attended the briefing, which featured Rumsfeld and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Peter Pace. It was a remarkable display of servility, with one analyst at one point proclaiming that Rumsfeld need to get out there on the "offense," because "we'd love to be following our leader, as indeed you are. You are the leader. You are our guy."

The audio is worse than the summary makes it out to be:

This all worked out, by the way. The analysts who were in the room all trudged right out to their news stations and repeated Rumsfeld's talking points, basically mainlining the view from inside the Pentagon right through to everyone's TV set. The charitable word for this is propaganda. It is indeed illegal. And the fact that the news outlets won't utter a peep about it means they know they have to keep their head down in the face of this.

On Tuesday, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin “urging an investigation of the Pentagon’s propaganda program” to determine if the networks or analysts violated federal law.

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, a Democrat, applauded their efforts. “President Eisenhower warned against the excesses of a military-industrial complex,” Copps said in a statement. “I’d like to think that hasn’t morphed into a military-industrial-media complex, but reports of spinning the news through a program of favored insiders don’t inspire a lot of confidence.”

DeLauro said by phone that the Pentagon’s program was “created in order to give military analysts access in exchange for positive coverage of the Iraq war.”

The reckoning of this Administration, and its servile media, is coming too late for my money.

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Not Getting It

The House yesterday passed a series of bills to keep people facing foreclosure in their homes, refine the mortgage system so that future foreclosures can be avoided, and help homeowners who are seeing their communities become blighted and their properties devalued, by allowing communities to buy up foreclosed homes and care for them.

Only 11 Republicans joined Democrats on the buyback proposal, and not many more for the other provisions. Some of the biggest problem areas in the mortgage crisis are exurbs currently held by Republicans. Not for long, if they continue to bury their heads in the sand and refuse to offer assistance to their constituents in this hour of need.

Bush, for his part, is threatening vetoes on at least the buyback. He prefers a "let them eat cake" strategy.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Obama Party

On Saturday, in over 100 locations across the country, the Obama Vote for Change campaign will roll out with kickoff events all over the country designed to register and mobilize voters. At the event I'll be attending in South Los Angeles, the goal is to register 2,000 new voters in one afternoon. Multiply that out and you have 200,000 voters registered by one campaign in a single day. And that's only the beginning. Marc Ambinder has caught on to just how seismic this summer has the potential of being.

The Obama campaign calls its "Vote for Change" voter registration drive a mere voter registration drive. Nothing to see here, folks, except for ordinary people helping ordinary people gain the franchise.

But it's more than that. The Vote For Change program will lay the foundation for Obama's general election get-out-the-vote efforts. Obama aides won't say much more, but I gather that the campaign is constructing an incredibly elaborate online interface to allow its more than a million donors and volunteers to directly persuade their neighbors through a variety of media. Names gathered from the voter registration effort will be merged with names gathered through Obama's primary efforts and the names off of the Democratic Party's integrated voter file as well as lists purchased from outside vendors.

On election day, Obama might have more than a million individuals volunteering on his behalf. That should scare the beejeesus out of the McCain campaign and the RNC.

There's nothing shadowy about this - it's an extension of what the Obama campaign has been doing since he entered the race. He's building a new Democratic infrastructure, regimenting it under his brand, and enlisting new technologies and more sophisticated voter contacting techniques to turn it from a normal GOTV effort into a lasting movement. The short-term goal is to increase voter turnout by such a degree that Republicans will wither in November, not just from a swamp of cash but a flood of numbers. The long-term goal is to subvert the traditional structures of the Democratic Party since the early 1990s, subvert the nascent structures that the progressive movement has been building since the late 1990s, and build a parallel structure, under his brand, that will become the new power center in American politics. This is tremendous news.

However, despite his calls that change always occurs from the bottom up, these structures are very much being created and controlled from the top down. In a laudable piece by Matt Stoller, and not just because he quotes me, he discusses how Obama is consolidating the elements of the party and streamlining the message.

Obama has created a number of significant infrastructure pieces through his campaign, displacing traditional groups the way he promised he would by signaling the end of the old politics of division and partisanship.

Voter Registration: Obama has launched a 50 state registration drive [...] I have heard from several sources that the Obama campaign is sending out signals to donors, specifically at last weekend's Democracy Alliance convention, to stop giving to outside groups, including America Votes. The campaign also circulated negative press reports about Women's Voices Women's Vote, implying voter suppression.

Obama Organizing Fellows: These are unpaid positions, and they will be used to do field organizing, message, and helping to "continue to build the movement". This is pure leadership development, though it continues the class-based diminution of talent by refusing to pay, a problem outlined in Crashing the Gates.

Money: With 1.5 million donors, this campaign has blown away anything we've ever seen in terms of grassroots fundraising. The technology is all centralized, so Obama knows the name, address, giving patterns, and occupation of every donor out there, as well as social networking information, like who the best raisers are. He has bypassed Actblue, and will probably end up building in a Congressional slate feature to further party build while keeping control of the data.

One email from Moveon to their full list can bring in between $100k to $1M for a candidate, with $1M being the very top end of the range. With one good email to his list, in a few months, Obama will probably be able to bring in $1-3M for a Senate candidate under attack or split that among several. 10-20% of the money going to Senate candidates this cycle might come from Barack Obama's internet operation. Stunning.

Field: (MyBO): is the cornerstone of the campaign, and it will have between 10-15 million opt-in members by election day. This group can be used for lobbying on legislation, GOTV, and donations. It's a cross between and the DNC, and with the White House, it can transform progressive politics and further amplify the power of the Presidency. As coordinated campaigns pick up, and the top of the ticket brings coattails, organizing power is going to further flow to the Obama campaign.

Message and Politics: Obama used youtube to push back on Reverend Wright, something he will continue to do to move beyond sound bite politics. He has a good press shop and a way to push message out to the web. The campaign has also, despite thousands of interviews with a huge number of outlets, refused to have Obama interact on progressive blogs. The Fox News situation, where Obama went on Fox News and mismanaged communications, drew criticism from Moveon because taking down Fox News has been a key strategic goal of that organization; nevertheless, the group supported him because of overwhelming adulation from their membership.

This is a far different strategy than the McCain campaign, who, though he hates blogs, talks to them, or the Clinton campaign, who invites them on her calls. This is NOT a criticism, by the way, it's obviously worked as a strategy to centralize messaging power around the Obama shop while neutering a potentially off-message rowdy group. That has its downsides, which I'll get into, but it is a strategy.

I'm also told, though I can't confirm, that Obama campaign has also subtly encouraged donors to not fund groups like VoteVets and Progressive Media. These groups fall under the 'same old Washington politics' which he wants to avoid, a partisan gunslinging contest he explicitly advocates against.

Stoller continues that the progressive structures built around opposition to Bush and partisan combat are outdated, in Obama's view, or at least not the perception he wants to carry across. Obama's bet is to mass such a large group that nobody could possibly compete with him in a left-right matchup from either side, and so he offers the options of "unite or die," to borrow the phrase from the John Adams miniseries. These are smart, new structures and a coordinated message to a degree that the Democratic Party hasn't seen. He's reinventing the Party and training a new generation of leaders, and leveraging technology in a way that will pay dividends for decades. Forget the "he can't win X subgroup" nonsense; what's at work here is so much bigger.

There are a lot of positives to this. The old leadership of the Party has become ossified, and Obama's takeover is an extension of the Dean movement, only on less explicitly ideological terms. To strip a Lanny Davis and a Terry McAuliffe of their power is frankly a welcome development. The figures in an Obama Administration will likely be core figures within the party for the next 20 years. The next generation will be characterized, as Chris Bowers perceives, with a set of more technocratic, good-government advocates, policy types who have a command of their specific bailiwicks, rather than the corporate-friendly DLC types of recent yore. Neither of these are necessarily progressive, but I'd consider the former group, motivated by policy over politics, far more palatable. And in addition, investing in voter registration and mobilization is the wisest use of resources that I've seen in the Democratic Party in my lifetime.

What's less positive is the centralization of all these networks and amplifiers, and how that will work as a potential governing strategy, AND where that leaves those groups who have grown up in the current polarized environment, and prospered. I don't think it's the end of them - even if the big donors desert some progressive movement groups, the Obama campaign itself has shown the ability of a self-sustaining small-donor network. In addition, some of these groups, like the 2004 structures built to run field campaigns in the Kerry election, were so ad hoc and combustible that they offered no long-term hopes for success anyway, and the single-issue silos of the past have always had a range of flaws.

Still, outside amplifiers are going to be needed to enact Obama's agenda. There's a myth that progressive groups like MoveOn would dry up without a lightning rod like Bush to oppose but I don't think that's true. People aren't only mad with Bush but really are seeking legitimate solutions and will get excited about them. If Obama is shutting out these organizers who are positioned to help him put through those solutions, can he possibly build a parallel movement big enough to combat the institutional barriers in Washington? I actually think it's possible he can, but the more important question is this: what happens the first time that an agenda item fails, when Congress suddenly finds its backbone and starts acting like an independent branch of government again, when a media which loves to raise heroes only to trash them engages in that familiar cycle, when Obama experiences a legislative loss? It's bound to happen, and the question is how he'll keep together his movement, built on his image, without outside help? I appreciate the washing away of the Clintonite strain at the top of the party, which I think is out of step with the historical moment, so much so that Hillary Clinton has spent three months running away from it. But wresting away ALL the power and consolidating it is I think a misunderstanding of how inside and outside groups can be mutually reinforcing and part of a more vibrant cultural and political movement, and how the culture is moving toward more decentralized, more viral, looser networks to organize. Obama's movement, based on unity and hope, is working because politics is of the moment, a fad, Paris Hilton. To sustain that, you must institutionalize engagement, civic participation, awareness and action, even in a non-horse race year, as a necessary facet of citizenship. And there's no reason to shut down reinforcing progressive structures that can keep it fun and interesting and vital.

We are not yet here to stay. The progressive organizations, the advocacy groups, even the blogosphere may be ephemeral if it doesn't sustain itself. If the flow of money keeps moving in only one direction, less people will be able to continue the work (I hate that Obama isn't paying his organizing fellows, perpetuating that myth of "psychic income" and barring entire classes of people from the process). Obama is not trying to sweep us off the table or anything, but certainly he has his own power base and his own ideas for how best to movement-build. There's a bit of overlap, but our role is going to be radically different and to a degree unwanted at first; see the Barack Obama MySpace page incident. There's a happy medium here, but it requires a great deal of consideration and study.

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State Republicans' Big Idea - Fix The Budget By Breaking The Law

This is really kind of incredible, what "law and order" Republicans have been reduced to.

Saying the ailing economy is putting enough stress on taxpayers, Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill said Tuesday that Republicans will oppose any tax hikes to bridge California's budget deficit.

Cogdill suggested the deficit, which he pegged at $16 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, could be wiped out through service cuts and tapping into the reserves of voter-approved initiatives intended for early childhood education, mental health services and transportation [...]

Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to oppose Cogdill's suggestion to borrow money from three initiative-created funds: the county-based First Five commissions for children, established by Proposition 10; Proposition 63 to expand mental health services; and the Proposition 42 gas sales tax for transportation purposes.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the Senate's incoming president, said "no way" will he allow proceeds from Proposition 63, which he sponsored, to be used to defray the budget deficit.

"The voters of California passed an initiative which specifically prohibits the state Legislature from taking the money to balance the budget," said Steinberg, D-Sacramento, adding that such a raid on the initiative would be "unlawful."

The idea here is that if we only overturned three initiatives and defied the will of the people, and broke standing law in the state of California, then everything would be fine and we could place a gold brick in everybody's mailbox.

In other words, the Republican budget strategy is based entirely on embezzlement.

Frank Russo got out of a Yacht Party press conference and they basically said the same thing. From his notes:

This is their play: You need to have “reforms” in order to save money and balance the budget without raising taxes. All the Democrats do is talk about raising taxes. We are the only party that is talking about reforms and something other than taxes. The dems literally have no proposals. We’ve been criticized in the past for not being specific and forthcoming with our proposals (I lambasted them last year mercilessly for this) so here we have these ideas.

Take a look at the ideas and you find they are proposals to change the substantive laws in a number of areas and they are using the 2/3 vote requirement and the extreme financial emergency we are in as leverage to get things passed that they otherwise don’t have the votes for.

This is not a budget fight - it's a hostage negotiation. The Yacht Party is playing the part of the hooded figures negotiating the terms of surrender. And big ups to Don Perata for signaling yesterday that he's extremely bullish on surrender, for his part.

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Jittery On FISA

This is such a useless action. The President has a single-issue agenda for the rest of his second term, and that's getting himself immunity from any repercussions to his illegal actions. For some reason the Democrats are aiding and abetting in that scheme, and they're using lobbyist-written legislation to do it:

Telecom companies have presented congressional Democrats with a set of proposals on how to provide immunity to the businesses that participated in a controversial government electronic surveillance program, a House Democratic aide said Wednesday.

Congress has been wrestling for months with an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, with the immunity issue the primary sticking point.

Many Democrats want the companies held accountable for participating in the program, which was initiated in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The White House, however, has insisted that the participation of the telecoms is crucial to monitoring conversations between potential terrorists. President Bush has vowed to veto any bill that does not contain immunity.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday a FISA deal is “still in flux” but he described the latest developments as “promising” and said he hoped to have a solution soon.

Stunning. There is no reason to pass anything at all. FISA is perfectly robust to handle any needed wiretaps. You can add a patch to finish off the technical fix allowing for international calls that go through a domestic circuit to be surveilled, but nothing else is necessary.

Hoyer is absolutely planning to sell us out on this, because he's interested in protecting the status quo and that includes George Bush. What a terrible House Majority Leader - you literally couldn't pick anyone worse.

We are such a long way away from having the government we need to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The leadership includes a lot of dead wood, the establishment opinion is respected above all else, the job of legislation is outsourced to lobbyists, and the people get screwed. And Obama's special awesomeness isn't going to wipe this rot away, either. We've got so much work to do.

UPDATE: Marcy Wheeler has an interesting post that tries to read Hoyer's mind on this and suggests that he's actually trying to create a kind of Church Committee that would investigate all of the Bush Administration's dirty laundry. I have absolutely no faith that this leadership would pull off such a committee in any kind of satisfying way, but considering that the lawsuits aren't likely to be satisfying either and the real goal is discovery and information, it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. In addition, since the Administration wouldn't agree to such a committee unless they controlled it, and so it would derail the whole bill, perhaps it'll keep the process stalled until there's a new President, which in the final analysis is the best we can hope for.

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My Friend Classes Up MSNBC

One-time D-Day contributor Todd Beeton's shot as a cable news talking head (well, without the head):

It was a very good post they referenced, too. Todd remains the most reality-based Clinton supporter I know, although I have to agree that to some degree or another we're all hacks. I'm looking forward to this being over so we can be hacks for the same side again (heh).

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Straight Talk (Really) on Energy and Gas

So the Senate offered kind of a retread package of bills on energy and gas prices. They're all fine - cut oil company tax breaks and invest in renewables, investigate price gouging and speculation, a windfall profits tax for Big Oil - but nobody's expecting George Bush to sign this or for many Republicans to sign on. Mary Landrieu didn't support cutting the tax breaks the last time around, so the problem is not with the policy but the politics. Still, it's depressing that these ideas aren't a little bit more innovative. For example, something building on Tom Carper's discussion of transit and land use would have been a nice addition to this package of bills.

I ride the train back and forth most days. I live in Delaware, and I go back and forth. As my colleague, the Presiding Officer, knows, I go back and forth almost every night to Delaware. A strange thing is going on with respect to passenger rail ridership in this country.

I used to serve on the Amtrak board when I was Governor of Delaware, and every year we would see ridership go up by a couple of percentage points. We would struggle, try to raise money out of the fare box to pay for the system and the expansion of the system. Well, the first quarter of this fiscal year, ridership at Amtrak is up 15 percent. Revenues are up by 15 percent. People are starting to realize that maybe it makes sense to get out of our cars, trucks, and vans and take the train or take transit. Transit ridership is up again this fiscal year more dramatically than it has been in some time [...]

Americans are beginning to literally buy homes in places that are closer to opportunities for transit -- for rail, for bus, for subways, for the metro systems. As we have seen the drop in home prices across the country -- in some cases, very dramatic -- among the surprises, at least for me, is to see housing prices stable and in some cases actually going up in places where people can buy a home and live and get to work or wherever they need to go to shop without driving to get there [...]

Before I close, there are a lot of good ideas for things we ought to do. I mentioned, tongue in cheek, that we ought to provide more R&D investment for a new generation of lithium batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles. I say, tongue in cheek, we ought to use the Government purchasing power to commercialize advanced technology vehicles. We are doing that. I said with tongue in cheek we ought to provide tax credits to encourage people to buy highly efficient hybrid vehicles and very low diesel-powered vehicles that are efficient. We are doing that.

There other things we need to do too. We need to invest in rail service. We can send from Washington, DC, to Boston, MA, a ton of freight by rail on 1 gallon of diesel fuel. I will say that again. We could send from Washington, DC, to Boston, MA, a ton of freight by rail on 1 gallon of diesel fuel. But we as a government choose not to invest in freight rail and, frankly, to invest very modestly in passenger rail. It is a highly energy-efficient way to move people and goods.

Carper is the very model of a modern major backbencher and not particularly progressive, but on this issue he's absolutely right. And as Barack Obama has shown, offering short-term gimmick fixes do nothing but insult the public. Obama has actually talked about mass transit a little bit as well recently, so I'm hoping this could be a real initiative of his Administration. Maybe Carper could be the legislative point person.

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The Totally Awesome Iraq War

How do I count the ways:

• Iraqi soldiers are arresting Iraqi policemen and accusing them of being in league with the Mahdi Army and Shiite militias. This of course calms fears that the Iraqi security forces are dysfunctional and operating as arms of the central government's power-aggrandizement scheme.

• Our strategy in defending the Iraqis continues to be bombing the crap out of them and putting up giant walls to trap civilians in the areas we bomb, but it's OK because we're destroying Sadr City in order to save it, and anyway we have gated communities here in America so what's the diff between that and walling up Iraqis unwillingly?

• Combat fatalities in Anbar Province, supposed to be the model of security and stability, are edging up, suggesting that the fragile peace among former Sunni insurgents and the military is not holding, or Al Qaeda militants are not as "on the run" as we keep boasting.

How many times do we have to keep noting the constant ebb and flow of events in Iraq before we realize we're providing nothing of value to the long-term stability of the country?

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Bush Dogs Dig War, Can't Stand Veterans

So the House was supposed to vote on war funding today, which I didn't exactly support. What I did support was extending unemployment insurance and veteran's benefits in a new GI Bill, and since the Democrats were so cowardly about giving a blank check to the President on Iraq, they might as well get something in return, and anyway vet benefits ought to be part of military expenditures anyway. But it turns out the Bush Dogs want that blank check for war to be blank.

A small group of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats is threatening to block the emergency war spending bill over a program for veterans’ benefits not offset with tax hikes or spending cuts.

Because of that problem, and the efforts by House Republicans to stall floor action with procedural motions, the vote on the carefully crafted supplemental measure could be delayed until Friday or next week.

“Some of us oppose creating a new entitlement program in an emergency spending bill, whether it’s butchers, bakers or candlestick-makers,” said Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a founding member of the Blue Dog Coalition who serves on the House leadership team as a deputy whip.

The so-called GI Bill of Rights, authored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), would give veterans money for college and cost $720 million in its first two years. But critics say that could grow to billions in future years.

Bush Dogs want fiscal responsibility while giving the President $200 billion dollars OFF THE BOOKS for an unnecessary war. Their hard fiscal line softens in the face of American imperialist adventures.

According to CongressDaily the Bush Dogs are also whining because one of their members, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, didn't get HER GI Bill to the floor in favor of Jim Webb's. So this is about turf wars, too.

The Pentagon has said that the new GI Bill would be bad because it would "reward" soldiers who haven't served six years, because apparently 5 years in combat zones isn't enough of a commitment to service. But what the Bush Dogs are saying is worse. They're hiding behind a twisted notion of fiscal responsibility to deny veterans the honors they deserve no matter how long their service. And this is because they're Bush's biggest allies in Congress, desiring only to please him by offering a clean bill funding the Iraq debacle well into the future.

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Shows How Much Power Bush Has

Mitch McConnell is the de facto President right now.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said he would not allow Democrats a separate vote on each nominee and instead wanted the FEC nominees voted on as a package, which would ensure approval of the most controversial GOP pick, Hans von Spakovsky. Democrats have made it clear that von Spakovsky would not pass the Senate while the other four nominees would be approved.

The FEC consists of six commissioners, and the agency needs a minimum of four commissioners to meet a quorum and issue legal opinions. Since the beginning of this year, the FEC has had only two working commissioners and has been unable to deal with everything from John McCain's public financing to every day legal opinions on campaign ads.

McConnell said no deal has been made and he wants von Spakovsky approved along with the two pending Democrats and two pending Republican nominees.

McConnell said "they'll either let all six [ commissioners] go, or we will not have solved the problem."

Remember, Reid brokered this deal with the White House. But McConnell could care less.

For context, McConnell in the past has been a real problem for John McCain, and they've particularly clashed over campaign finance reform - he was the lawmaker who took McCain-Feingold to court. So considering that the "deal" would get rid of McCain enemy David Mason from the FEC, McConnell isn't exactly falling all over himself to throw the Republican nominee a lifeline. In addition, McConnell, who's up for re-election and is as shady as they come when it comes to fundraising, is maybe the least likely politician in Washington to want a working FEC.

A non-functional FEC during a Presidential election year is a recipe for chaos. But Harry Reid hasn't been able to figure out a way to squeeze McConnell on this (or any of his obstructionism) whatsoever, even though his denial of an "upperdown vote" is the height of hypocrisy from the party of Justice Sunday. So the stalemate continues.

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This Is Good News For Republicans

Rep. Vito Fossella has a kid out of wedlock.

Representative Vito J. Fossella, a Staten Island Republican who was arrested on May 1 in Alexandria, Va., and charged with drunken driving, issued a statement on Thursday acknowledging that he had had an extramarital affair with Laura Fay, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel, and that the two of them had a 3-year-old daughter together.

The prospect that Mr. Fossella could face a mandatory jail sentence if convicted had already threatened to bring to an end his decade-long career in the House, where Mr. Fossella is the only Republican representing New York City. The Daily News has reported that Mr. Fossella called Ms. Fay for help after his arrest and told officers that he was on his way to visit a sick daughter. As speculation swirled over Mr. Fossella’s relationship with Ms. Fay in recent days, his aides said only that they were good friends.

The drunk driving is actually worse that some personal relationship. In the old days, they actually had an orphanage for children of Congressmen born out of wedlock, so that part is nothing new. The prospect of jail time is going to force him out of Congress. The rest is just salacious. And what should actually force him out of Congress is his reactionary voting record.

UPDATE: Steve Benen checks in to note that Fossella's rating from the Christian Coalition is 81%, and he supported the Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Because marriage, you see, is sacred.

UPDATE II: From Beer To Paternity is hysterical.

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A Tragedy That Will Grow Worse

The military junta in Burma, fearful about their grip on power, is resisting international aid.

Desperate survivors cried out for aid on Thursday nearly a week after 100,000 people were feared killed by Cyclone Nargis, as pressure piled up on Myanmar to throw its doors open to an international relief operation.

The United States was awaiting approval from the ruling junta to start military aid flights, but the U.N. food agency and Red Cross/Red Crescent said they have finally started flying in emergency relief supplies after foot-dragging by the generals.

Some were bashing Bush for calling the junta a junta and making them less likely to cooperate, but I don't think words are the holdup here. The leadership just went through riots in the streets last year and cut the country's communications off. Disaster can breed independence movements and they are fearful of global intervention. Bush's approach wasn't going to help or hurt. You're talking about 46 years of military rule.

I'll tell you who could help - Chevron. They could threaten to pull up stakes if aid isn't delivered in a timely fashion. They are the only US corporation working inside Burma and they have a responsibility to at least do something positive with that privilege.

The NYT has more.

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If We Were Still Operating Under the 3/5 Compromise, I'd Be The Nominee

I can't do much better than what dnA did to this Hillary Clinton comment:

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

"There's a pattern emerging here," she said.

Not only is that completely insulting, the emerging pattern for decades in the Democratic Party, so obvious that even George Bush picked up on it in 2004, is how many take the black vote totally for granted. That's exactly the bias Clinton is betraying here. She may think that blacks are real people and hard-working Americans, but she doesn't think of them enough to think they matter in electoral politics because they'll all go Democratic anyway. dnA notes how Hillary's husband didn't set the world on fire among whites, either:

This kind of comment is less a description than an agitator, it's meant to give white voters the impression that they would be "disenfranchised" by an Obama win. It's a not so subtle effort to evoke racial resentment over Obama's success.

But the truth is, Clinton won't win the white vote either, as Steve M. points out:

According to CNN's 1996 exit poll, Bill Clinton lost the white vote (Dole 46%, Clinton 43%, Perot 9%). He lost the white male vote by an even larger margin (Dole 49%, Clinton 38%, Perot 11%). And he lost gun owners badly (Dole 51%, Clinton 38%, Perot 10%). However, Clinton won the popular vote overall

In 2000 -- when Al Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes -- he lost white males to Bush by a whopping 60%-36%, according to CNN's exit poll. He lost men overall 53%-42%. He lost whites overall 54%-42%. He lost gun owners 61%-36%. He lost small-town voters 59%-38% and rural voters 59%-37%. He lost the Midwest overall 49%-48%.

I'm not saying these are goals to aspire to. I'm saying it's a myth that Democrats had Joe Sixpack in their back pockets until that snooty arugula-eater Barack Obama came along, and it's a myth that they suffer crushing defeats when bowlers and boilermaker-drinkers aren't on board. 49%-41%-8%, and he won 70% of the electoral votes.

But it's a myth that Clinton needs to perpetuate to make a case for her continued candidacy.

It also shows how she'd run a general election: shootin' guns, drinkin' shots, saying whatever 8 yahoos in Ohio believe is the key and taking the black vote that would put her over the top for granted, even though she's insulted them here. I don't subscribe to the idea that Clinton has run a "race-baiting" campaign, and this isn't entirely a "race-baiting" comment, it's a "taking blacks for granted" comment. Which to me is worse.

Fortunately, we don't actually have to worry a lot about this. House members are turning their backs on Clinton, the money is drying up, her insiders are wavering, and it's basically over without fully being over. I agree that she ought to stay in for another two weeks so that the perception is not that Obama becomes the nominee and promptly gets thrashed in West Virginia and Kentucky, his two worst states in the nation. As long as the kitchen sink strategy ends immediately, she can go ahead and "press on" as long as she wants. But it won't end in the nomination.

And that result is mostly because Obama is a great candidate who ran a superior campaign. But the inferiority of the Clinton campaign, given the institutional advantages she had, cannot be dismissed. This reads like a joke:

Clinton picked people for her team primarily for their loyalty to her, instead of their mastery of the game. That became abundantly clear in a strategy session last year, according to two people who were there. As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state's 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified — and let Penn know it. "How can it possibly be," Ickes asked, "that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn't understand proportional allocation?" And yet the strategy remained the same, with the campaign making its bet on big-state victories. Even now, it can seem as if they don't get it. Both Bill and Hillary have noted plaintively that if Democrats had the same winner-take-all rules as Republicans, she'd be the nominee.

In fairness to her, if it weren't for black people, Democrats would have changed proportional allocation to winner-take-all. Right?

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Nobody To Root For

So what's going on with this FBI raid of the head of the Office of Special Counsel, Scott Bloch? He was looking into investigations over violations of the Hatch Act by executive branch figures, including Karl Rove (although the punishment for violating the Hatch Act is to lose your executive branch job, so I'm not sure why he's investigating) and Condi Rice. However, his hands aren't exactly clean either, having erased all the files on his computer with the help of Geeks on Call instead of the White House email technicians, and has been accused of improper retaliation against employees who disagreed with his policies. I agree with looseheadprop that this feels like a Mafia turf war, but for my money bmaz had the best take.

Bloch appears to be a bit of a nondescript, but deeply religious, party level toady that they pulled out of the mid-west, to serve as Associate Director and then Deputy Director and Counsel to the Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Justice. (Why exactly is there even such an office in the DOJ at all???). The Bushies then wanted to plug a Regent like theobot toady into the OSC, and decided Bloch fit the bill. Bloch then went about doing his job, which was effectively to do nothing and fill up the ranks with incompetent theobot types, just like they were doing all over the government and, as we know so well, especially the DOJ. But Bloch got a little ham fisted in his efforts to weed his office of teh gay in the process, which caused an amount of scrutiny and heat.

About that time, Bloch's office started being forced into relevance because of all the Hatch Act violations and other things that the Bushies have done to create whistleblowers that are supposed to fall under Bloch's office's parameters. This created a confluence of events for Bloch; he morally/religiously really believes in his purge of teh gay and, just maybe, he actually has some moral convictions on the impropriety of much of the Bushco creed. So, he starts actually doing his job on the Bushco ills, just a little, both because he knew there were ills and to push back and protect himself for what he had done. Picture a John DiIulio and/or David Kuo that, instead of just leaving, stayed and fought.

Because of the Rove, Doan, and then the USA Purgegate scandals, this little internecine battle erupted into the public consciousness, and neither side backed off. Bloch was preparing some stinging reports that would really be a poke in the eye to the Bushies, and they wanted to squelch those. The Bushies determined that it would be necessary to take out Bloch, but they didn't want it to be alleged that they did it to cover and protect Lurita "Cookies" Doan and wanted it to look like they did it for cause against Bloch. So they cooked Doan (she was a pain in the ass anyway by then, so no loss to them) as a preemptory strike in preparation for going after Bloch. Then, they went after Bloch to put the kabosh, as much as they can, on his reports on Bushco. And that is where we are at now.

Read the whole thing. Sometimes really juicy information comes out of turf wars and hurt feelings like this, so while nobody in this mess is praiseworthy there might be a good yield, so it's worth keeping an eye on.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Perata "Ends" The Recall

He has no ability to do that, mind you, but in his mind he's done it.

Senate leader Don Perata announced late Wednesday that he was dropping the recall campaign of Sen. Jeff Denham, due to his "best judgment about how to stop the long, slow slide into another long stalemate" on the budget [...]

At a late afternoon news conference on the steps of the Capitol, Perata said he decided not to pursue the recall after meeting Wednesday with Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill.

"I told him I had come to a decision that it would seem to me to be destructive to continue the recall while at the same time he and I were going to sit down with our counterparts in the Assembly and in seven weeks try to put together a budget that may well have to eliminate a $14 billion deficit.," Perata said.

"There was no quid pro quo. I didn't ask for anything. I just told him that I did not believe that this kind of politics, cast against the huge problem that we're having in this state, made a lot of sense."

Perata said he was swayed by a conversation he had with state Treasurer Bill Lockyer "who said that you all don't have a whole lot of time this year (to agree on a budget) because we're going to be broke."

"So in contemplating that -- and remembering the (53-day) stalemate that we had last year -- which simply embittered a lot lof people to no end, to no purpose, I sat down with Dave Cogdill and talked to him about something he had said the first time we met and that was about the recall."

Well, let's say that I'm happy to have been on the right side of Prop. 93, the outcome of which will send Don Perata into the sunset. What a laughable bit of incompetence this is.

First of all, he doesn't get to say what's on the ballot and what's not. The authoritarian style of "what I say goes" is the only thing that would've doomed this otherwise perfectly justifiable recall of a legislator who forgot his district and went along with an obstructionist GOP that is harming the state to a severe degree. A real Senate leader would have broadened the race into a referendum on state Republicans and would have done very well. You either do something like this full-speed or you never start it in the first place. This half-step just furthers the narrative of Democratic weakness.

Combined with the stab in the back on SD-15, where Perata demanded that nobody contest Abel Maldonado in another winnable seat, the Senate Pro Tem has assured that there is no way we reach a 2/3 majority in 2008. It's still possible by 2010 but this is a wave election, a realignment year and we're waving the white flag in two prime Senate races. That's just stupid politics. I appreciate the need to speed along the budget; the state is broke. But this recall is over by June 3, and it's not like everything's going to be wrapped up by then. And the stupidest part is that Perata RECOGNIZES that the threat of the recall was helping provide leverage for the Republicans.

In a statement, Perata credited the recall for recent legislation that passed out of the Senate:

"The vote we couldn't get last year to close the tax loophole for yacht owners -- we got that vote," he said. "The vote we couldn't get to help homeowners facing foreclosure - we got that vote. You put everyone here on notice -- and I don't think people are going to forget that anytime soon."

No, you now let everyone off the hook because you've proven you can be bullied by a Republican hissy fit and tut-tuts from the conventional wisdom crowd in the media. No Republican will EVER take a Democratic threat seriously from here on. And all the leverage on getting legislation passed in the Senate just ended.

Great friggin' job, Don. If you want to just go ahead and quit now and let any stray cat from Berkeley finish out your term, that'd be just fine with me.

...the thought has crossed my mind that Perata is just taking his name and aura off the recall because it'd be easier to pass without him, but if any organization associated with him donated a dime there'd be an even bigger hissy fit cry of "hypocrite," so his dropping the recall really signals a drop of any financial infusion, and I'm not seeing how Simon Salinas or the Dump Denham group will raise the necessary funds (especially considering that Denham is not restricted by any fundraising limits in a recall).

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Dead In The Water

Hilarious. So the House Republicans had a playdate with President Georgie today, and there are pictures, too. So much for distancing themselves from the worst President in history. In fact, Republicans are downright touchy about it.

Columbus, Ohio: You boldy predicted that Bush’s approval ratings would rebound — instead he is, according to Gallup, the most unpopular presdient [sic] in history. Will you finally admit that your vision for this nation has been overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of the people?

Karl Rove: Get your facts right — there are at least three president who had worse approval ratings, Truman, Johnson and Nixon. I’m absolutely positive history will be kind to this president, who made the right decisions in a difficult time for this nation.

Won't surprise you to know that Turdblossom got his facts wrong. But that's besides the point. It's the collective denial, the touchiness, the flinging headlong into the arms of that disaster Bush, that is sending Republicans down a path of electoral disaster.

Shellshocked House Republicans got warnings from leaders past and present Tuesday: Your party’s message isn’t good enough to prevent disaster in November, and neither is the NRCC’s money.

The double shot of bad news had one veteran Republican House member worrying aloud that the party’s electoral woes — brought into sharp focus by Woody Jenkins’ loss to Don Cazayoux in Louisiana on Saturday — have the House Republican Conference splitting apart in “everybody for himself” mode.

“There is an attitude that, ‘I better watch out for myself, because nobody else is going to do it,’” the member said. “There are all these different factions out there, everyone is sniping at each other, and we have no real plan. We have a lot of people fighting to be the captain of the lifeboat instead of everybody pulling together.” [...]

And in a closed-door session at the Capitol, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told members that the NRCC doesn’t have enough cash to “save them” in November if they don’t raise enough money or run strong campaigns themselves.

They don't have the ideas, they don't have the ear of the public, and Cole is signaling that they don't have the money. Newt Gingrich is the Cassandra of the GOP, warning that disaster is imminent And it is. This is very stark language.

The Anti-Obama, Anti-Wright, and Anti-Clinton GOP Model Has Been Tested -- And It Failed

The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti- Reverend Wright, or (if Senator Clinton wins), anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail.

This model has already been tested with disastrous results.

In 2006, there were six incumbent Republican Senators who had plenty of money, the advantage of incumbency, and traditionally successful consultants.

But the voters in all six states had adopted a simple position: "Not you." No matter what the GOP Senators attacked their opponents with, the voters shrugged off the attacks and returned to, "Not you."

The danger for House and Senate Republicans in 2008 is that the voters will say, "Not the Republicans."

I really don't think Republicans understand the enormity of this, and I don't think Newt Gingrich is that good a messenger in the sense that he will probably not be listened to in any legitimate way. And of course, Gingrich doesn't have any real answers to this dilemma. His proposed solutions - repealing the gas tax for the summer, earmark reform and cutting the runaway Census budget (!) - are a warmed-over brew of meaningless solutions that have no support among the broader public. The fact that Newt plugs his book at the end of this clarion call shows that he's looking out for himself more than the party, and that he considers his readers to be little more than suckers.

P.S. -- Father's Day is just around the corner and there are great gift ideas available at great prices at Just click here to order personally signed copies of my new novel, Days of Infamy, as well as Pearl Harbor and Real Change. With the purchase of either of these three personally signed books, you can get a signed copy of Gettysburg for only $5. If you buy both a personalized copy of Pearl Harbor and Days of Infamy, you will receive a signed Gettysburg for free!

P.P.S. -- The Days of Infamy book tour took me to New York City last week where Callista took some great pictures of us on the set of Hannity and Colmes, The View, The Daily Show and others. You can view them here.

I'm continuing the tour with a signing in Marietta, GA Wednesday. Click here for details.

This is what the conservative movement is reduced to - hawking their books while the party hollows out and lumbers toward permanent minority status. Their Idiot Boy King broke the party, and nobody can remove themselves from his embrace.

Good luck, Republicans.

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Last Chance For Accountability In Iraq

Democrats are priming for the kill tomorrow.

After a flurry of last-minute number changes, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) unveiled a three-step process Tuesday for the House consideration of an emergency $183.7 billion wartime spending bill, possibly as early as this week.

In a press conference, Obey said the House will hold three votes related to different components: the first on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the second on conditions to be imposed on the defense funds, and the third on a set of domestic initiatives, not all of which are reflected in the chairman's price-tag.

Chief among these are an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, expected to cost between $11 billion to $12 billion over 10 years, and a landmark expansion of education benefits for veterans who have served since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Extending unemployment insurance is the most effective economic stimulus you can offer, and we need a new GI Bill for the 21st century. So the third bill is fine. But this decoupling essentially writes a blank check for military operations in Iraq, extending even into the next Presidency.

This is unacceptable and it's no secret why this is being done basically in the dark. Despite Michael O'Hanlon's pleadings, the military is broken. There are no troops left to deploy, and continuing to grind the same ones into the dirt just breaks their souls - with veteran suicides on the rise. If this destruction of the volunteer military was in service of some kind of noble goal, defending the nation from enemies or some such, that would be one thing. But they're serving in an occupation that has no military solution, one where reducing violence to then-unacceptable 2005 levels makes you a hero, one where we rationalize national resentment and resistance to occupation as part of the Iraqi honor code , and one where continued involvement and even widening of the war is based on half-truths and useful fictions.

The notion of "special groups"--JAM factions that supposedly have close ties to Iran's Quds force--is, in many respects, a useful fiction. Now there is no doubt in Dr. iRack's mind that there are some JAM elements that deserve the title, but the U.S. military has made a habit of describing all JAMsters who violate the "freeze" on armed activities declared by Moqtada al-Sadr last August as "special groups." In many respects, this is useful to provide slack in the system and prevent the Sadr ceasefire from completely shattering under strain. Yet it also creates a false impression that the majority of JAMsters fighting U.S. forces take their orders directly from the mullahs in Iran (much as the use of the label "Al Qaeda in Iraq" as a catch all term for a disparate and very loosely aligned collection of Sunni insurgent groups creates the false impression that most Sunni insurgents take their orders from Bin Laden or the foreign leadership of AQI).

More than ever, as fighting has escalated in Sadr City, the fiction of special groups has seemed especially fictional. It's been clear throughout the recent conflict that rank-and-file JAM have entered the fray. Now, to be clear, some of these regular JAMsters also receive Iranian weapons, but they are not trained, directed, or controlled by Iran. They are simply opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq and are willing to take weapons from anybody who will help them fight Americans.

The war is a strain on our resources and does not make us safer. The Democrats want to deep-six any accountability until the elections. I believe that would be a fatal mistake. Things can always get worse in Iraq, and allowing the situation to muddle through for the next eight months decreases any hope for even the least worst option to succeed. This is a betrayal.

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California Election Roundup 5-7-08

• CA-03: Bill Durston may be unopposed in the June 3 primary, but he's running very hard and trying to pick up as many decline-to-state voters as possible. He's actually running a GOTV operation. The gambit here is to prove to donors and the political establishment that CA-03 is competitive. I also think it makes sense just as practice for the general and for name recognition.

• CA-04: The Club for Growth, whose record this year in primaries is actually a little mixed, has released an ad attacking Doug Ose in his race against Tom McClintock. There's plenty of outside money on both sides in this one.

• CA-42: Communications Workers of America, Southern California Council has endorsed Ron Shepston. It's somewhat notable considering that Ed Chau got the Cal Labor Fed endorsement.

Anything else you're hearing, please put it in the comments. This is an open-source elections thread.

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Bush's Terrorist Has a Coming-Out Party

Luis Posada Carriles, an admitted terrorist wanted for crimes in Latin America, had a nice dinner the other night.

...the man being honored by 500 fellow Cuban Americans at a sold-out gala was Luis Posada Carriles, the former CIA operative wanted in Venezuela on terrorism charges and under a deportation order for illegally entering the United States three years ago [...]

Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, condemned the celebration of Posada as a mockery of justice and evidence of a Bush administration double standard in fighting terrorism.

"This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about violence," Alvarez said of Posada. "He said that the whole thing now is 'to sharpen our machetes' " for a confrontation with leftist regimes in Latin America.

The U.S. government has never given Venezuela a formal answer to its 3-year-old request for extradition of Posada, despite a treaty providing for such cooperation that has been in effect since 1922, the ambassador said.

Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen, is alleged to have masterminded the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 on which all 73 on board were killed, including a youth fencing team returning from a tournament in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. He is also suspected of plotting a series of hotel bombings in Havana in the late 1990s, one of which killed an Italian tourist.

He has boasted of his many attempts to kill Castro and has allegedly been involved in, according to court documents, "some of the most infamous events of 20th century Central American politics." [...]

Analysts speculate that the U.S. government has dodged calls for prosecution of Posada for fear he would disclose details of CIA involvement in coups, assassination plots and scandals, including the Iran-Contra Affair.

Peter Kornbluh, head of the Cuba Documentation Project at George Washington University's National Security Archive, has compiled declassified CIA and FBI documents on Posada that show he remained in close touch with Washington handlers throughout his covert service.

"The spectacle of a wanted international terrorist being publicly feted as a hero in Miami makes a mockery of the Bush administration's commitment to wage a war on terrorism," he said of Posada's coming-out party.

I seem to remember a speech wherein the President averred that "we will make no distinction between terrorists and the states who harbor them."


Let the bombing of Miami commence!

More on Posada Carriles from the archives. He was a CIA operative, by the way, involved in all of these plots to overthrow governments and assassinate sovereign leaders, when a guy by the name of George Bush was CIA Director. In fact, the Cuban airliner bombing was carried out with full knowledge of the CIA, while it was under the auspices of Mr. Bush.

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Deal And No Deal

The good news - President Bush and top Democrats have the framework of a deal that would provide us with a working FEC for the general election. The bad news - it's an exceedingly strange "deal".

To break the impasse, President George W. Bush nominated three new candidates to serve on the panel, but he refused to withdraw his nomination of Republican Hans von Spakovsky to serve on the FEC despite Democrats' opposition.

They have blocked his nomination because of his work at the Justice Department's voting division, questioning whether he tried to inject politics into the group meant to independently oversee the country's voting laws.

The White House believes he "would be confirmed by the Senate if allowed a vote," said White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in a letter to Reid on Tuesday.

As part of the package, Bush nominated Democrat Cynthia Bauerly, legislative director to New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Republican attorney Donald McGahn, and Republican Caroline Hunter, who works on the Election Assistance Commission.

Let's look at that again. Bush nominated von Spakovsky and two new Republicans. One of them would replace current FEC commissioner David Mason. Mason, one of two remaining on the FEC at present, has been a thorn in the side of presumptive GOP nominee John W. McCain.

In February, the McCain campaign notified the FEC that it was withdrawing from the public financing system for the primary. Although McCain had once opted in, his campaign said that it had never received public funds and so could opt out. The move meant that McCain would not be bound by the $54 million spending limit for the system.

But Mason balked. McCain couldn't just opt out -- the FEC had to approve his request before he could. And Mason also indicated that a tricky bank loan might mean that McCain had locked himself in to the system. That would be disastrous for the campaign, since the Dem nominee would have a tremendous spending advantage through August. So McCain's campaign has continued to spend away, far surpassing the limit already. The Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the FEC and has also taken the matter to court.

And now Mason is getting the boot.

So the Bush Administration fired Mason, in essence, for insubordination, and will offer the same vote suppression expert von Spakovsky as part of their "deal."

'Scuse me?

The one concession in this deal is that von Spakovsky will get a separate vote. Now, the Bush Administration fully believes he'll pass under that standard, while Harry Reid's office says they "expect" to defeat von Spakovsky. But I don't know what they're basing that on. As far as I can tell there's no "upperdown vote" agreed to here, so his confirmation could be filibustered. Still, Mitch McConnell is wily and there are so many obstructions they've thrown up in the past, that I could easily see a scenario where they agree to move forward on some minor initiatives in exchange for von Spakovsky's nomination. Alternatively, the Republicans will relent on von Spakovsky in exchange for retroactive immunity for the telecoms. There are a lot of balls in the air.

That must not happen. Christy at FDL details why von Spakovsky is simply unacceptable and urges you to call members of the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction. It's not worth it to get a known vote suppressor installed on the ruling electoral body in the United States, and pick off a Republican who seems to have a functioning independent mind in the process.

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Baby Daddy

Vito Fossella's arrest for drunk driving may have been the least of his worries.

Fallout from New York Republican Rep. Vito Fossella’s drunken driving arrest last week could seriously jeopardize his hold on the Staten Island district and possibly cost the GOP yet another seat in the Empire State [...]

Fossella was arrested last Thursday in Virginia, with a blood alcohol level of 0.17 — over twice the legal limit in the state. If found guilty, he would have to serve five days in jail, an outcome analysts said could present major political problems.

“The prospect of jail time would make it very hard for him to run again,” said Cook Political Report House analyst David Wasserman. “The difference between serving jail time and pleading down to a lesser charge makes a huge difference in Fossella’s political future.”

But Fossella’s problems don’t end there. On Monday, the New York Daily News ran a front-page story about his relationship with a “mystery woman,” Laura Fay, a retired Air Force officer who posted his bail even though Fossella’s chief of staff lives nearby.

The Post is spreading the rumor that Fay had a kid with Fossella.

Shapely former Air Force Col. Laura Fay has been frantically phoning friends and relatives, urging them not to talk to the media about the identity of her baby's daddy, a relative told The Post yesterday.

Fay's flurry of calls is designed to shore up a wall of silence since details of her relationship with Fossella emerged when she curiously signed him out of jail after his arrest for drunk driving in Alexandria, Va. last Thursday, the relative said.

When he was stopped, "the subject stated that he was driving down from Washington D.C. to Grimm St. because his daughter was sick and needed to go to the hospital," the police report said.

Fay lives on Grimm Drive.

Fossella could probably not be from a worse place, from a political perspective, than New York City (Staten Island, to be exact). Of course, in New York, extra-marital follies have recently been bipartisan. But you apparently can't keep a good scandal down there, and so Republicans may end up losing another seat in the process.

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I Have A Dreamsicle...

Last month, 45 U.S. food-processing groups, representing firms whose raw material costs have gone through the roof, demanded that the U.S. agriculture secretary release farmers from their contractual obligation to maintain a portion of their land for wildlife preservation. The U.S. baking industry's trade association, representing firms such as Kellogg Co., Sara Lee Corp. and Interstate Bakeries Corp., plans a march on Washington by the firms' employees later this month to press for a reduction in U.S. wheat exports.

The Keebler Elf is being given the keynote...

More seriously, farmers are actually doing very well with this recent run-up of food prices, but it hurts producers and distributors. Obviously, because it also hurts the starving, there's going to be a reckoning. But it's not like Kellogg and Sara Lee are suddenly unable to make money.

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Does McCain Need A Unity Ticket?

I noticed this last night as well. In the last three races, John McCain has received 77%, 73% and 73% of the vote, which would be great numbers if he were actually running against someone, but not considering he's the presumptive nominee. Fully a quarter of the Republican base is voting for someone else, which is as close to "Anyone But McCain" as you can get.

In a weak moment last night, I had Fox News on, and Mort Kondracke actually brought this up. Fred Barnes essentially shrugged it off by saying "it's a free vote". But isn't this an indication that a chunk of the Republican base is going to stay home in November? I think it is. If they were inclined to vote for a Democrat they may have shifted their party registration. That they're voting for Huckabee or Paul or Romney (yes, 20,000 Republicans in Indiana went for Mittens) suggests they just won't come out for a McCain ticket. Or maybe they'll write in somebody else - like McCain himself reportedly did in 2000.

Not much gnashing of teeth on the news nets about this, but I consider it to be significant given the close races we've had the last two Presidential elections.

...oh yeah, and McCain is lying about the Democrats' health care plans.

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A Tale Of Two Speakers

Fabian Nunez hosted his final press conference as speaker yesterday, and began his post-speaker life by offering a series of proposals focused on process issues.

The redistricting component features an independent 17-member "hybrid" commission. No legislators will serve on the panel, with the majority picked randomly from a screened pool with no legislative influence and eight others picked by legislative leaders. Unlike the Voters First initiative that may appear on the November ballot, this proposal requires diversity in every step of the process and puts the Voting Rights Act first and foremost among the criteria in selecting districts. There's also a host of transparency and public input provisions.

The term limits provision is similar to Prop 93, but excludes the provisions that protected many incumbents that drew criticism. It reduces the maximum amount of time a person can serve in the Legislature from 14 years to 12 years, allowing a legislator to serve all their time in one house.

There's also a fundraising blackout period prohibiting campaign contributions to legislators and the Governor from May 15th until the budget is enacted.

These would go up on the ballot for passage by voters in November once they get through the Legislature. There is of course already a redistricting measure that appears to be on its way to the ballot, so it's unclear whether or not this is a "confuse and kill" strategy. But Nuñez said that his hope would be for one redistricting proposal on the ballot.

That's the past; here's the future.

Karen Bass has drawn up a short agenda for her two-year reign as Assembly speaker that begins next week.

There are only three items:

* Balance a state budget that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared is "$20 billion out of whack."

* Create a ballot initiative that would produce $300 million to $500 million annually for foster care programs.

* Restructure California's tax system to make it conform to the modern world. Actually, she wants to create a blue-ribbon commission of "the best and the brightest" to tackle taxes.

That's all.

Foster care programs are Bass' pet issue, but otherwise she's focused on, I have to say, the ACTUAL problem facing California.

We are out of money. Not out of money in theoretical terms, or on a balance sheet somewhere, but physically out of money by August if no budget is enacted. The cash reserves are empty and the revenues aren't coming in. All that matters between now and August is that we put a budget in place that is SUSTAINABLE and, as Bass notes, in line with the modern world. All of this process stuff about redistricting and term limits is what gets pundits and press people all a-twitter, but it's not the problem in California. What Bass is saying without saying it is that we need to end the 2/3 requirement so we can have a legislature that reflects the will of the people. That's the only way we're going to pass a sustainable budget, that's the only way we'll get a 21st-century revenue system. And I believe she knows that.

The governor wants to sell out our future, sell bonds, sell the lottery, hold a fire sale and mortgage California for generations. We should not have to stand for that. Selling off the state to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy is not a "creative" solution. I have no idea how Karen Bass will fare in her 2 1/2 years as Speaker, but I'm now confident that she's at least focused on the right issues.

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End Of The Line?

Hillary Clinton loaned her campaign $6.4 million dollars last month to compete in Pennsylvania. To finish out the string she'd probably have to loan herself just as much. The outcome last night will make it very hard to raise money.

Before Clinton sycophants claim that she's being pushed out of the race for financial reasons, that's how pretty much every Presidential race ends. And 50 states NEVER get their say. Under these new rules everyone has to get a chance to vote and everything, but that's not actually how Presidential nomination fights work. When you're broke, you have to get out. And that's the most likely scenario.

Mrs. Clinton’s advisers acknowledged that the results of the primaries were far less than they had hoped, and said they were likely to face new pleas even from some of their own supporters for her to quit the race. They said they expected fund-raising to become even harder now; one adviser said the campaign was essentially broke, and several others refused to say whether Mrs. Clinton had lent the campaign money from her personal account to keep it afloat.

The advisers said they were dispirited over the loss in North Carolina, after her campaign — working off a shoestring budget as spending outpaces fund-raising — decided to allocate millions of dollars, some key operatives and full days of the candidate and her husband there.

It does look like Clinton is keeping the pretense of a continued campaign going, adding a campaign event in West Virginia today. She ought to - she's going to win West Virginia big next week, and then Kentucky in two weeks, while losing Oregon - but her campaign will take on elements in the media narrative of the Huckabee campaign circa Texas and Ohio - playing out the string, no negative ads or negative words, just a dance with destiny.

UPDATE: Wes Clark is urging Hillary to drop out.

UPDATE II: Let's also note, loudly, that the gas tax holiday pander didn't work. Americans are smarter than politicians and the media think, particularly now when there are so many more options for information available to them.

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