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

Saturday, May 17, 2008

ME-Sen: Iraq Explodes Into Maine's Senate Race

Iraq is still going to be the major issue in the 2008 election, no matter how everyone wants to forget about it. The contours may be different, but the issue is still Iraq. If we're not talking about withdrawal or 100 years of occupation, we may be talking about waste, fraud, abuse, private military contractors, and government corruption. The Bush Administration ignored corruption in Iraq and from contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater. And now, progressive Democrat Tom Allen is hammering Susan Collins for the same thing - failing to conduct oversight of the massive corruption and profit-taking from these corporations. She's been the chair or the ranking member of the chief oversight committee in the Senate during the entire war, and she hasn't done a damn thing to see to the efficient management of the war machine. This report on a local TV station in Portland is pretty devastating, and a credit to local journalism in its ferocity.

The Portland Press-Herald also weighed in about this. Allen is starting to break through, and the issue he's using is Iraq.

Allen, who would be a major improvement and would be both a "more" and "better" Democrat, is within striking distance. Races like this will be the difference between a robust Democratic caucus in the Senate and a filibuster-proof landslide.

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This Is My Favorite Week Ever

In the comments of my last post at Hullabaloo, Jemand von Niemand ran through some of the week's highlights.

On May 15th, the Senate cast a near-unanimous vote to reverse the Federal Communication Commission's December 2007 decision to let media companies own both a major TV or radio station and a major daily newspaper in the same city. (

On May 16th... Bush used a private visit to King Abdullah’s ranch here Friday to make a second attempt to persuade the Saudi government to increase oil production and was rebuffed yet again. (NYT)

The California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage on May 15th ... invalidat[ing] virtually any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. (LA Times)

On May 14th, about 100 House Republicans refused to vote for more war funding, voting 'present'... Democrats were able to increase their 'no' vote number on funding from 141 to 149; the bill failed...

Finally the GI bill passed with overwhelming margin of 256 votes in the House, including 32 Republicans... This might actually be the most remarkable piece of the votes today; conservative Democrats agreeing to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for educational benefits for veterans. (Matt Stoller)

On May 16th, Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official who never had Democratic support to win confirmation, withdrew his nomination on Friday. Bush "reluctantly accepted" von Spakovsky's request, the White House said. (

Hell of a week, huh, Bootsie? And there are thirty more to come.

Not even a mention of Travis Childers' win in a Mississippi House seat that has caused Republicans to despair of a landslide loss in the fall.

Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia and former leader of his party’s Congressional campaign committee, issued a dire warning that the Republican Party had been severely damaged, in no small part because of its identification with President Bush. Mr. Davis said that, unless Republican candidates changed course, they could lose 20 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate.

“They are canaries in the coal mine, warning of far greater losses in the fall, if steps are not taken to remedy the current climate,” Mr. Davis said in a memorandum. “The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than it was in 2006.”

And let me give you another one to add to the list. Remember that Missouri voter ID scheme that Digby wrote about earlier in the week? Turns out the State Senate refused to consider it.

In a victory for all voters, Missouri lawmakers ended this year’s legislative session without a final vote on legislation that could have prevented up to 240,000 Missourians from voting. The proposed change would have altered Missouri’s constitution, allowing for strict citizenship and government-issued photo ID requirements that would make Missouri one of the toughest states in the country for eligible, law-abiding citizens to register to vote or cast a ballot.

“I am relieved that I will be able to vote this fall,” said Lillie Lewis, a St. Louis city resident, “I’ve been voting in every election since I can remember, but if I needed my birth certificate, that would be the end of that. I hope this is the last we hear of this nonsense.” Lillie Lewis was born in Mississippi, but the state sent her a letter stating they have no record of her birth.

Birdell Owen, a Missouri resident who was displaced by hurricane Katrina, also voiced her relief. “I should be able to participate in my democracy,” she said, “even if Louisiana can’t get me a copy of my birth certificate. I’m glad Missouri politicians had the sense to protect my right to vote.”

Oh, and Series of Tubes Ted Stevens might lose his Senate seat after 50-odd years.

We're seeing an entire political party's collapse happen before our eyes, and in many of these cases a strong citizen-led movement, aided by leadership in the political sphere, has been decisive. There are two things at work here. One, you have a conservative movement that has been horrible for the country and created all these terrible policies which have made us less safe, less economically secure, and weakened in the eyes of the world. And you have a vibrant progressive movement that has been able to broadcast these failures widely. Consider what we've learned in the last month or so:

• The Defense Department embedded "military analysts" as propaganda engines inside US media with the full knowledge of the White House, mainlining the Pentagon message directly to the public with the imprimatur of independent media voices.

• The politicized show trials scheduled to crop up at Guantanamo during the fall election have been delayed because of the amount of perversions of justice employed by interrogators. The top DoD adviser to military commissions has been barred from participating in them because of evidence of bias, and one detainee had his charges dropped because torture was used (authorized by the Secretary of Defense), making the testimony inadmissable. Meanwhile the US is planning a huge new prison in Afghanistan, suggesting that indefinite detentions of masses of prisoners will continue.

• Domestic spying in the United States has spiked at a time when actual terrorism prosecutions have decreased, a massive violation of citizen privacy with no material benefit in stopping crime.

• The US government routinely injects psychotropic drugs into detainees to keep them sedated during deportation flights. , in violation of international human rights standards.

• An official at the VA told his staffers to stop diagnosing returning soldiers with PTSD, in an attempt to lower the costs of permanent disability payments. Many leaders in Washington, including Sen. Obama, are demanding an investigation.

The Republicans are wasting away because of more than just bad branding. It's because over the last eight years they've taken the country we know and done something terrible to it. And despite media blackouts and whitewashes, Americans intuitively know this, and are reaching to alternative media sources to discover more. The historically high wrong-track numbers have a basis in economic struggles, but I believe just as much in this loss of faith in what we've become as a country in the Age of Bush. And no amount of cajoling or re-branding is going to lure people back to the GOP. Not this year. Not after all this.

It's going to take years to repair the damage, and the Republicans will be all too happy to sabotage those efforts as the opposition and pin the blame on their opponents. It's what they do. For now, however, it's time to bask in the glow of the demise of the Republican Party, and work very hard to restore America's trust in their government and the ability to move forward.

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The California Report

• As I noted at Calitics, Dennis Morris, a resident in San Luis Obispo County, got his ballot, saw that no Democrat was running in the 15th Senate District, and did something about it:

And so today he is mounting a last-minute write-in campaign to get his name on the November Ballot. From the SLO County Dems:

"The San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party endorsed Dennis Morris on May 14th in his write-in bid to run against Republican Abel Maldonado for the 15th Senatorial District which includes all of San Luis Obispo County as well as parts of several neighboring counties. The Party is urging all Democrats in San Luis Obispo County and elsewhere in the 15th Senatorial District to WRITE-IN "Dennis Morris" for that office on their JUNE 3rd BALLOT" [...]

This is crucially important. With the possible demise of the Denham recall and an unopposed Maldonado seat, Democrats were missing out on two of their best opportunities to achieve a 2/3 majority in the State Senate. Morris' bid at least provides the opportunity for a real race in one of them. Don Perata allegedly prevented top local Dems from running in this race. But this is a people-powered action that could actually be more impactful.

• So Arnold wanted to have a yacht party yesterday - at a time when his budget dropped the closure of the loophole that lets yacht owners avoid sales tax. So after his appearance got some publicity, the coward skipped out:

I waited, and waited, and waited, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t show today at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco’s Marina District for an event unveiling a hybrid pleasure-boat engine [...]

But although Frauscher’s public relations firm had insisted Wednesday, Thursday and through much of this morning that Schwarzenegger had been confirmed to attend — and that the event had been moved from Thursday to Friday to accommodate his schedule — there was no governor. He was in San Francisco, apparently meeting with a certain newspaper’s editorial board, but he didn’t make the yacht event (though many reporters did, with most splitting as soon as it appeared he wouldn’t show).

• San Francisco is leading at the forefront of the electric car movement, investing heavily in charging infrastructure. Mayor Newsom actually had an E-car back when he was on the Board of Supervisors IIRC.

• It looks like Mark Leno is cruising to victory in his challenge of Carole Migden in SD-03. Mark's a really good guy and a transformative progressive; this is good news.

• Lost amid the budget wrangling is the fact that college fees are going up again for Cal State students, with UC likely to follow. California used to have the best education system in the world. Remember those times?

• As our warehousing of human beings continues, a California man who was shipped off to Mississippi has died in prison, reportedly of "asthma," which is, you know, often treatable. What a shame.

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Man I Wish I Saw This 24 Hours Ago

So I had a real good time at the book party for Rick Perlstein last night with Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman, Todd Beeton, Vernon Lee, Armed Liberal from Winds of Change, my pal Digby and a couple others whose URLs escape me at the moment. Toward the end of the night, Mickey Kaus (no URL offered by me) showed up, as he occasionally does at the sporadic blogging get-togethers here in SoCal. He did not have his date Ann Coulter on his arm this time. I didn't hear this, but apparently he started talking people up about the Edwards love child story. Yes, he's as captivated by nonsense like that in public!

I really, really wish I had seen this bloggingheads takedown by Jonathan Alter beforehand (h/t LGM)

I've never seen a better distillation of the vacuousness of Kaus' "contrarian" shtick than that. I'm envious of Alter for not coming up with it myself, or for doing a "live bloggingheads session" and saying that to his face. Actually I usually just leave the room without acknowledging him.

On the bright side, I did see blogtopia's (y, sctp) most famous cats live and in person!

Oh, and buy Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, it rocks!

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Best Wishes To The Liberal Lion

Ted Kennedy has been airlifted to a Boston hospital with stroke-like symptoms. Let's hope for the very best.



AD-40: Don't Ask Me About The Ad Campaign On Your Behalf, Son

San Fernando Valley politics are weird and dynastic. Bob Blumenfield used to work for Howard Berman; his campaign manager is Larry Levine, whose son Lloyd is running for state Senate; Lloyd's former chief of staff is Stuart Waldman, who's running against Blumenfield. This doesn't mean they're bad people at all. But there's a dynastic feel to Valley politics that is unsettling.

And now we have this.

Michael Blumenfield thinks his son Bob would do a fine job representing the San Fernando Valley in the state Legislature.

So he poured $120,000 into campaign advertising and, he said, never discussed it with his son, who lives in the same Woodland Hills neighborhood.

By law, such "independent expenditures" cannot be coordinated with candidates. They are most often used by business and union interests to mail brochures and air TV ads for or against candidates in the weeks before an election.

Donations to independent efforts are unrestricted. They have become increasingly common since 2000, when voters capped the size of direct donations to state politicians.

Observers say they've rarely seen a candidate's family run a campaign outside the control of the candidate, although in 2001, five brothers and other relatives and friends financed a $10,000 radio ad campaign on behalf of Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

This shows that the IE laws in this state are ridiculous. And it's not like Stuart Waldman is exempt; he has a massive IE on his behalf this cycle, too.

Laurette Healey is the grassroots progressive running in this race and would represent a break from the past. Her quote in the piece is notable.

One of them, Laurette Healey of Van Nuys, a former advisor to the state controller, said the controversy illustrates the need for taxpayer-funded campaigns.

"The vote in this district, and any district should not be determined by the size of someone's bank account," she said.


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Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday News Dump Alert

Democrats held the line and Hans von Spakovsky is out as FEC Commissioner.

President Bush's contentious nominee for the Federal Election Commission has yanked his name from consideration, potentially ending a broader confirmation deadlock in the Senate.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official who never had Democratic support to win confirmation, withdrew his nomination on Friday.

Bush "reluctantly accepted" von Spakovsky's request, the White House said.

I heard that Bush was giving up on the von Spakovsky nomination in solidarity with the troops.

Get this, Hans sez that the drawn-out nomination process has been terribly hard on his family and he doesn't have the financial resources to wait around. Well that's just terrible. Hopefully some think tank like Heritage or AEI in need of a known vote suppressor on staff will pick up the slack for him. Or maybe someone is needed to go around the country and agitate for crap voter ID laws to depress turnout in November. I'm sure he'll find something.

This is kind of a big deal because it'll break the deadlock at the FEC and get it to function again in this election year. And with McCain breaking finance laws with each passing day by continuing to spend primary money over the limit without getting out of the public system, the oversight agency ought to be in working order. (I say kind of because the FEC is a rather toothless body)

But really it's big because of poor George and Hans, getting kicked around again. It feels good to win one every so often.

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Just Words

Hey, before you go off on this, just lighten up, 'kay? Mike Huckabee was only joking about the assassination of a leading black candidate for President in front of the NRA.

During a speech before the National Rifle Association convention Friday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — who has endorsed presumptive GOP nominee John McCain — joked that an unexpected offstage noise was Democrat Barack Obama looking to avoid a gunman.

“That was Barack Obama, he just tripped off a chair, he's getting ready to speak,” said the former Arkansas governor, to audience laughter. “Somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.”

Why can't you libruls take a joke? Sure, the jokes normally take the form of violence against political opponents, but it's not their fault if you don't know what FUNNY is!

Yuk it up, you bastards! You know you love it!

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Friday Random Ten

Heading down to a party hosted by uber-blogger Kevin Drum on behalf of the great Rick Perlstein, author of the similarly great Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. So I'll be checking out kind of early (maybe I'll do a quick partyblogging from my iPod). So here's the tunes:

Busy Child - The Crystal Method
Crooked Teeth - Death Cab For Cutie
Mind Reader - Sebadoh
What Sara Said - Death Cab For Cutie
Hey Mama - Kanye West
Rain - The Cult (shut up, The Cult rocks)
What New York Used To Be - The Kills
Sexx Laws - Beck
Futterman's Rule - The Beastie Boys
Bullet In The Head - Rage Against The Machine

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The Value Of Outside Groups

This is a great ad by MoveOn.

You could actually fill about 5 more with all the slimy characters Black has associated with - including Blackwater, the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, etc., etc., etc.

MoveOn is able to do this in a way that Barack Obama can't. They can be stronger and more hard-hitting than the guy running for President. It's an amplifier and a motivator. It puts major pressure on McCain.

And Obama can't really shut it down because MoveOn has figured out its own citizen-based funding model.

There should be no fear in this.

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McCain: I Rulez!!!

Rule number one of politics: when in a war, never say that you're fine with 100 more years of it. Having learned this lesson, John W. McCain tried to reduce his commitment by 96 years, claiming that Iraq will be "won" by 2013 and most combat troops will then be home (left unsaid is that the 100-year occupation would then begin at that point).

John McCain, looking through a crystal ball to 2013 and the end of a prospective first term, sees "spasmodic" but reduced violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden dead or captured and government spending curbed by his ready veto pen.

The Republican presidential contender also envisions April's annual angst replaced by a simpler flat tax, illegal immigrants living humanely under a temporary worker program, and political partisanship stemmed by weekly news conferences and British-style question periods with joint meetings of Congress.

How dare he support a timetable for withdrawal! Doesn't he know that the terrorist murderers will just wait us out?

That wasn't much of a speech at all, basically saying "McCain would be awesome, vote McCain!" without explaining how he would accomplish any of this. Eric Martin calls it the Straight Pony Express, a fantasyland of proposals that amount to "we'll win because we will win."

Alternatively, Ezra Klein finds a couple things worth liking in the speech.

First, McCain addresses nuclear non-proliferation right at the top. There's an argument whether someone with such a loose view of treaties and a dismissive view of multilateral institutions could actually coordinate international action on this, but it's heartening that he's attentive to the issue. Similarly, I was struck to see him come out forcefully against presidential signing statements and executive office overreach. "The powers of the presidency," says McCain, "are rightly checked by the other branches of government, and I will not attempt to acquire powers our founders saw fit to grant Congress. I will exercise my veto if I believe legislation passed by Congress is not in the nation's best interests, but I will not subvert the purpose of legislation I have signed by making statements that indicate I will enforce only the parts of it I like. I will respect the responsibilities the Constitution and the American people have granted Congress." It's testament to how far we've fallen that a president simply saying he'll abide by the law is cause for celebration, but hey, we're there.

I don't know about the second part, McCain has basically endorsed Bush's view of radical executive power that shouldn't be "constrained" by the judiciary. So his demurral on signing statements is nice (so is Republican Walter Jones' bill which would provide oversight on signing statements), but it's hardly the full story.

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Marriage Ruling Fallout

Yesterday's historic ruling defending marriage from double standards and discrimination, has created wide reaction across the political spectrum, most of it predictable. One reaction was fairly unpredictable, from Libertarian Presidential candidate (and former Republican) Bob Barr:

"Regardless of whether one supports or opposes same sex marriage, the decision to recognize such unions or not ought to be a power each state exercises on its own, rather than imposition of a one-size-fits-all mandate by the federal government (as would be required by a Federal Marriage Amendment which has been previously proposed and considered by the Congress). The decision today by the Supreme Court of California properly reflects this fundamental principle of federalism on which ournation was founded.

"Indeed, the primary reason for which I authored the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 was to ensure that each state remained free to determine for its citizens the basis on which marriage would be recognized within its borders, and not be forced to adopt a definition of marriage contrary to its views by another state. The decision in California is an illustration of how this principle of states' powers should work."

I think Barr is being a little disingenuous about the intent of DOMA, but it's an interesting perspective nonetheless.

On the side of gay rights advocates, there is much celebration, and a determination to forge ahead for a tough fight in the fall. Ellen DeGeneres announced her intention to get married, provoking a long standing ovation from her audience.

On the side of the wingnuts and homophobes, heads exploded. A lot of them focused on how "unelected judges" went over the heads of the will of the people. First of all, the elected legislature, elected more recently than the 2000 marriage initiative, have passed this legislation twice, and frankly that's how democracy works. Second of all, Supreme Court judges in California are, you know, elected:

But, in making their rush to judgment about the CA decision, both Blunt and Feeney have the basic facts wrong about how California’s judicial system works., a resource of the League of Women’s Voters, makes clear that California’s Supreme Court justices are “confirmed by the public at the next general election” after being appointed and “justices also come before voters at the end of their 12-year terms.”

In fact, each of the seven justices involved in yesterday’s decision were approved by California voters by overwhelming margins:

- Justice Joyce L. Kennard confirmed in 2006 with 74.5% of the vote.
- Justice Carol A. Corrigan confirmed in 2006 with 74.4% of the vote.
- Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar confirmed in 2002 with 74.1% of the vote.
- Justice Carlos R. Moreno confirmed in 2002 with 72.6% of the vote.
- Justice Marvin R. Baxter confirmed in 2002 with 71.5% of the vote.
- Justice Ronald M. George confirmed in 1998 with 75.5% of the vote.
- Justice Ming William Chin confirmed in 1998 with 69.3% of the vote.

And 6 of the 7 were appointed by Republican governors.

As for the initiative fight, Peter Hecht has a scene-setter today.

California voters eight years ago overwhelmingly approved a law against gay marriage, but as they prepare to go to the polls again in the wake of Thursday's California Supreme Court decision, the outcome is less certain.

Unlike 2000, when 61 percent voted to put a gay marriage ban in state law, the "California Marriage Protection Act" would lock the ban in the constitution, negating the court's action. The measure is expected to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot.

Pollsters say voters' views on gay marriage are more complex than the last time they considered the question, as surveys show rising acceptance in California for same-sex unions.

"The vote itself on the constitutional amendment will be wide open," said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. "It's all age-related. One generation is replacing another. And the generation that is coming in now is much more supportive of gay marriage than the one that was here eight years ago."

In a 2006 state Field Poll, voters opposed gay marriage 51 percent to 43 percent. But support was much stronger among newer voters.

Kevin Drum has crunched the numbers based on historical data between 2000 and now, and thinks it'll be very close, within 4 points. This is going to be a major battle in the fall. And I have to say, one that can skyrocket turnout on the DEMOCRATIC side. As a civil rights issue that will energize younger voters to turn out in solidarity and support, I think you could see a perfect storm that could help us downticket. It's going to take a major effort.

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Win! Useless Gas Price Reduction Plan Enacted!

Just heard on the teevee that the Energy Department has decided to stop buying oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve starting in July. This will maybe take the price of gas down about a nickel. But the Senate and House both voted for it in record numbers, so Bush had to buckle.

Of course, the price of oil is still rising because Saudi Arabia again said they won't raise production, even after Bush offered them civilian nuclear technology.

So this is a shell game, maybe good in the abstract, but doing nothing near what needs to be done, which is actually wean us off of an oil-based economy. the way, Saudi Arabia still funds terrorism all over the world, and Bush offered them civilian nuclear energy. Isn't that the textbook definition of appeasement?

...Saudi Arabia may simply be out of oil and have nothing left to give. The real story here is that Republicans and Democrats alike like to demagogue on the issue of gas prices, but there's very little we can do about it in the short term, and in the long term the goal has to be to abandon the oil economy in favor of something more sustainable.

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Delegate Matters

The unremarked-upon part of Obama's endorsement from John Edwards is that he's likely to get Edwards' 30 or so delegates, and this wipes out the gains in Michigan and Florida that Hillary Clinton would get if and when those states are seated. She has been trying to claim that the new standard for winning the nomination is 2,210 delegates, but never adds the delegates that both candidates would get from Michigan and Florida to the total that they have. That's because if she did, given the new math from the Edwards endorsement, she'd reveal that she's in exactly the same position.

Obama is assured to capture a majority of the pledged delegates on May 20, and at the rate he's picking up superdelegates (my Congressman Henry Waxman endorsed him yesterday), he may have the nomination clinched on June 3. I think Clinton will drop out June 4 after a deal on Michigan and Florida is reached. And as Obama showed today in his blistering rebuke to Bush and McCain on diplomacy, the general election has already begun.

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Shorter Coward Arnold

You guys figure that out budget thing, I've got yacht parties to attend:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger brushed aside criticism of his latest budget plan Thursday and said lawmakers now bear responsibility for resolving the state's $15.2 billion budget deficit.

The Republican governor, speaking with The Bee's editorial board, lamented he had "negotiated with myself" for the last five months because legislative leaders did not meet with him to discuss the budget.

"The reality of it is that the ball is in their court," Schwarzenegger said. "The more they scream, the deeper they bury themselves. Because in the end, they have to meet somewhere in the middle to get this budget done."

Hey, Arnold did all he could, right? He threw out some ideas to massively cut social service programs and raid lottery funds to borrow against the state's future. Isn't that ENOUGH? I mean, the guy hasn't been on the cover of a magazine or at a Laker game in WEEKS! Let him be. These yacht parties don't happen every day.

It is funny that Schwarzenegger is firmly in the middle of a Republican civil war.

"I said, 'Look, if you guys are so worried about it, I'll say it,'" Schwarzenegger said about the need to consider taxing more services. "And of course I'll get beaten up and Republicans will say this is a signal, this is a code word that means you want to raise taxes. What do I care? Let them say that. They're always going to complain anyway that I want to raise taxes."

There were hundreds of students at the Capitol yesterday protesting the education cuts that remain in the May Revise. The Yacht Party is on the wrong side of history. Arnold's also on the wrong side - unwilling to actually fix the budget out of fear, and willing to mortgage the future (and threaten taxes as a way to get his way on mortgaging the future).

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AK-Sen: Toobz Tied (Actually, Not Even, He's Behind)

Ted Stevens is in for the fight of his life in Alaska against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. A new poll commissioned by Daily Kos shows Begich with a 5-point lead on Stevens, up 48-43.

Begich is a good guy who is on the right side of a lot of issues, including net neutrality, and it's interesting that he rightly understands a neutral Internet as an economic engine.

"Net Neutrality has allowed the Internet to drive economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. I will protect and preserve net neutrality's level playing field, so that all Alaskans -- and all Americans -- can experience the vast social and economic benefits of an open Internet connection."

"Discriminatory pricing would turn the open internet into a toll road that serves only those companies that can afford the price. Access to the internet is no longer a luxury; it's a lifeline for many Alaskans."

"I will work to see that Congress adopts public policies that will protect net neutrality, preserve an open Internet and spur the growth of Alaska's economy."

In Alaska's House seat, incidentally, Ethan Berkowitz is up by 10 points over Don "Road To Nowhere" Young.

These are a couple of my favorite races this cycle.

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Obama: Israel's Best Hope

Less remarked-upon in the blowup over Bush's ignorant comments is how Israel has become so crucial to the American Presidential race. As I Jew I believe that Israel is an important ally but their every move is not necessarily how we should base our election. Besides, Barack Obama would be far superior for Israel's security than a militant warrior like John McCain.

…we have had eight years of disaster with respect to our foreign policy, and I have to share with you as an analyst, we have had eight years that have [compromised] the security of the state of Israel.

An administration that has ignored the search for peace in the Middle East to a point where you have chaos in the Palestinian Authority, and you have a sham process called the Annapolis process, in which our Secretary of State, whom I admire personally, travels to region and announces when she gets there that she is bringing no new ideas.

You have an administration that hasn’t engaged in the peace process, and so inherited a bad situation in 2001 and is leaving it in a worse situation in 2008. And you have an administration that has gotten us engaged in a war in Iraq that has not only cost American lives… but it’s now being called the $3 trillion war…And I would share with you that the cost to the security of Israel is incalculable [...]

We have one candidate who is prepared to do diplomacy. Only one candidate…

We have had eight years of no diplomacy, and you have two candidates out there who tell us they don’t want to talk to our enemies…

There is one candidate who believes in diplomacy and his name is Barack Obama.

In fact, it is McCain (and Zell Lieberman) who shows through his belligerence and dangerousness that HE is "unfit to defend America," the words he used to describe Barack Obama yesterday.

Progressive Jewish groups understand this and get the absurdity of the Bush/McCain rhetoric. Here's a message from the progressive policy group J Street.

For seven and a half years, this President's policies have fueled the fires of extremism rather than dampening them. His delusions led us into a disastrous war in Iraq. His disdain for diplomacy has alienated friends and emboldened enemies.

And the results? The forces of extremism are stronger than ever. Al Qaeda is on the move - into Iraq and elsewhere. Moderates are on the defensive from Lebanon to the Palestinian territories and elsewhere. And the United States and Israel are less secure.

This is Bush's legacy. And he has the nerve to accuse us of indulging in "foolish delusions"?

And if you want to get as simplistic as "whose associates like the Jews more", it's actually McCain who has the pastor problem here.

Yesterday I discovered an astonishing audio recording of a sermon, by controversial McCain endorser Pastor John Hagee, in which Hagee elaborates on his view that Hitler and the Nazis were divine agents, sent by God to (with gruesome inefficiency it would seem) chase Europe's Jews towards Palestine. In his 2006 book "Jerusalem Countdown", Hagee proposed that anti-Semitism, and thus the Holocaust, was the fault of Jews themselves - the result of an age old divine curse incurred by the ancient Hebrews through worshiping idols and passed, down the ages, to all Jews now alive. In the sermon Hagee also clarifies a point, on his theological views, that has long concerned me...[Note: excerpt from John Hagee sermon, given probably in the late 1990's - with its themes plied into the John Hagee books "Battle For Jerusalem" (2001, reprinted 2003) and "Jerusalem Countdown" (2006), begins 1:00 minute into the video]

This is a ridiculous story. Obama is favored among American Jews by a wide margin, 61-32. Obama is on TV now hitting back very hard against this Bush/McCain absurdity. "If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting America, that is a debate that I will be happy to have, and that is a debate that I will win, because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for."

This was a gift to Obama.

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Don't Know Much About History

Chris Matthews' brutal takedown of some robotic wingnut yesterday was notable simply for how easy it was. Apparently asking a conservative to define the words coming out of their mouth is a question on par with the final round of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Of course, what the wingnut is referring to above is the President's comments yesterday in Israel, trying to stick it to the Democrats by calling them Nazi-appeasers. He used the artful phrase "an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ in discussing the times in 1939, aware but unwilling to admit that he was alluding to Republican isolationist Senator William Borah of Idaho. What he appeared blissfully unaware of was the collaboration of his own grandfather, Prescott Bush, who reaped financial reward for him and his family (including his son Bush 41 and grandson Bush 43) through sitting on boards of companies who did business with the Nazis.

(By the way, this is the biggest gift George Bush could have given the Obama campaign, so much so that I almost believe it had to have been staged.)

But less remarked upon was this amazingly ignorant comment by John McCain in an interview with Matt Bai.

as we talked, I tried to draw out of him some template for knowing when military intervention made sense — an answer, essentially, to the question that has plagued policy makers confronting international crises for the last 20 years. McCain has said that the invasion of Iraq was justified, even absent the weapons of mass destruction he believed were there, because of Hussein’s affront to basic human values. Why then, I asked McCain, shouldn’t we go into Zimbabwe, where, according to that morning’s paper, allies of the despotic president, Robert Mugabe, were rounding up his political opponents and preparing to subvert the results of the country’s recent national election? How about sending soldiers into Myanmar, formerly Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest by a military junta?

“I think in the case of Zimbabwe, it’s because of our history in Africa,” McCain said thoughtfully. “Not so much the United States but the Europeans, the colonialist history in Africa. The government of South Africa has obviously not been effective, to say the least, in trying to affect the situation in Zimbabwe, and one reason is that they don’t want to be tarred with the brush of modern colonialism. So that’s a problem I think we will continue to have on the continent of Africa. If you send in Western military forces, then you risk the backlash from the people, from the legacy that was left in Africa because of the era of colonialism.”

Of course, there is no history of colonialism in the Middle East. Except for Algeria. And Jordan. And Iran. And Saudi Arabia. And Yemen. And Bahrain. And Oman. And Qatar. And The United Arab Emirates. And Iraq, whose borders were almost randomly drawn on a British map, which has led us to the instability we see today.

(McCain, by the way, was for talking to Hamas before he was against it, another example of torching the past.)

The worst thing the conservative movement has foisted on the country is a collapse of historical memory. Our civic education here is not so robust, and our civic knowledge of history is worse. This has given wide latitude for conservatives to create their own reality, and jabber away with "facts" that consist of shibboleths and catch phrases, which by now have been ripped of all meaning outside the Manichean "good" and "bad." That's what we saw with that shameful appearance on Hardball. That's what we saw by the President yesterday. That's what we saw from McCain in that interview. And that, sadly, is a part of America. The Poor Man says it best:

It’s all like this. Everything is just like this. Some blank young person who has memorized a 5″x7″ index card of focus group-approved phrases, yelling, yelling, yelling over everyone. And you can say what you want, and be as right as you want, but he’s going to keep yelling, and yelling, and yelling until you get sick of it, and at the end of the day everybody knows that Barack Obama goes to secret Muslim church. Everything is like this. An election won’t fix it. This rules the world.

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CA House Races Roundup - 5-16-08

I'll have another House roundup probably by Monday, but I wanted to toss out a few items of note:

• CA-26: I have to applaud Russ Warner's rapid response team for jumping on David Dreier's voting record immediately and choosing the issues where he can reveal that Dreier is not the moderate he portrays as being to his district. On the heels of yesterday's House vote on the GI Bill, Warner released this:

David Dreier voted against a bill to increase educational opportunities for veterans today. The legislation expands the education benefits veterans receive under the GI bill to restore the promise of a full, four-year college education. It passed the House with broad bi-partisan support, 256 to 166.

“I would have voted differently on this bill,” said Russ Warner, a successful small businessman and the Democratic candidate for Congress from California’s 26th district. “It’s important to make the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan part of an American economic recovery, just like the veterans of World War II were. They put their lives on the line for us, and deserve to be able to come home and go to school if they so choose. We need new leaders with new priorities in Washington, and that’s why I’m running for Congress.”

Russ Warner’s eldest son, Greg, is in the U.S. Army and served in Iraq for 17 months. Upon his return, he challenged his father to make a difference by running for Congress.

Down With Tyranny has more, including a great pic of Warner and his son Greg.

• CA-41: Please take some time to read IndieinSF's piece introducing the community to Dr. Rita Ramirez-Dean, a progressive candidate running for slimebucket Jerry Lewis' seat in the San Bernardino area. It's also linked at DWT. The post talks about the picture on the ground and the changing demographics in the district. Our growth potential in California is dependent on winning seats like this. I've met Dr. Dean and found her to be someone of character. She has also endorsed the Repsonsible Plan To End The War in Iraq, elements of which passed through the House yesterday (Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington even mentioned it on the House floor).

• CA-42: Next week, Ron Shepston has two fundraisers with Amb. Joseph Wilson. One is in Oak Canyon Park near Irvine on Wednesday, May 21, (purchase tickets here), and one is in Santa Monica on Thursday, May 22 (info here). Ron also snagged the endorsement of DFA Orange County.

• CA-24: Mary Pallant's interview at Blog Talk Radio is worth a listen.

• CA-04: Try to get the logic of this: by taking welfare payments in per diem checks from the state, Tom McClintock was denying benefits to soldiers. That's the premise of Doug Ose's new ad. Quite a logical leap, but potentially effective.

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McCain To Fire Entire Staff

If he's really going to look into the backgrounds of everyone working for him and fire those who have, er, unsavory lobbying associations, the whole staff has got to go.

One of the questions asks: "Have you ever been a registered lobbyist at either the Federal or State level?" Another asks: "Have you ever been a registered foreign agent? A third asks staff members to list all of their previous lobbying or foreign government clients.

All staff members are required to submit the form to McCain's campaign counsel, Trevor Potter and his staff, for their review.

Employees who lie about their affiliations will be fired. The new conflicts policy prohibits campaign staffers from being "registered lobbyist or foreign agent, or receive compensation for any such activity."

I mean, if this were legitimate, Charlie Black would have to go. I doubt he will. His campaign manager Rick Davis would have to go. That's not going to happen. What's more likely is that a few functionaries, like this guy whose lobbying firm worked for Qatar and Serbia, will be let go, and McCain will go back and boast to the media about how he upholds the strictest ethical standards (even though Obama had these rules in place from Day One), and nobody will bother to bring up the lobbyists still inside the campaign, or that these fired ones were involved with him in the first place.

All McCain has is that independent perception. Once, not if but once, that goes away, he'll be left with nothing. His trying to pre-empt it now means he knows it's a big problem.

...also, the stories that keep coming out detailing the favors he did for wealthy contributors can't be helping, either.

Sen. John McCain secured millions in federal funds for a land acquisition program that provided a windfall for an Arizona developer whose executives were major campaign donors, public records show.

McCain, who has made fighting special-interest projects a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, inserted $14.3 million in a 2003 defense bill to buy land around Luke Air Force Base in a provision sought by SunCor Development, the largest of about 50 landowners near the base. SunCor representatives, upset with a state law that restricted development around Luke, met with McCain's staff to lobby for funding, according to John Ogden, SunCor's president at the time.

The maverick thing is a double-edged sword, because if you envision yourself above politics, yet are the same old politician, these stories are more damaging.

UPDATE: Doesn't this also mean that McCain will have to fire his wife for making all those investments in the Sudanese government?

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Beginning of the Iraq Withdrawal

I've been cooped up all day, but I did notice that Republicans basically stopped the war funding bill in the House. The ostensible reason is the added domestic spending, but the real reason is that they don't want to have anything to do with funding Iraq - it'll be poison for their electoral chances. So a bunch of them voted present.

Stoller has a good post on this:

Today, about 100 House Republicans refused to vote for more war funding, voting 'present'. They are trying to hand off the war to the Democrats, but even Democrats were able to increase their 'no' vote number on funding from 141 to 149; the bill failed. In a separate bill, Republicans also voted against timelines, for torture, and accountability for military contractors, including various elements of a Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq. This bill passed with 227 votes; last year, it passed with only 218 votes, for a gain of 9.

Finally the GI bill passed with overwhelming margin of 256 votes in the House, including 32 Republicans. It included a war surtax of one half of one percent on people making over $500k a year to pay for the GI bill, at the behest of Blue Dogs. This might actually be the most remarkable piece of the votes today; conservative Democrats agreeing to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for educational benefits for veterans. Bill Foster and Don Cazayoux both voted well on the new GI Bill and on the Responsible Plan bill with timelines, but were 'yes' votes on war funding. So yes, they are conservative, and I expect Childers to be conservative as well. Still, the MS-01, the IL-14 special election result, and the LA-06 special election result - all red seats picked off by Democrats - are devastating Republican discipline in the House.

Republicans know that they're cooked, and it's every man for himself. Bush has lost his human shield, and Democrats ought to take advantage of this by making him veto every popular program they can think of, making him more and more hated and reflecting badly on McCain and the GOP. While war funding will probably return in the Senate (but doesn't it have to start in the House?), this is a moment of more leverage than I thought possible. The string of special election losses has demoralized House Republicans. There is now a path to ending this war if the leadership chooses to take it.

And those foolish Dems that voted for funding or against education benefits for veterans are going to be hammered over it. Here's Russ Warner already pouncing on David Dreier's vote:

David Dreier voted against a bill to increase educational opportunities for veterans today. The legislation expands the education benefits veterans receive under the GI bill to restore the promise of a full, four-year college education. It passed the House with broad bi-partisan support, 256 to 166.

"I would have voted differently on this bill," said Russ Warner, a successful small businessman and the Democratic candidate for Congress from California's 26th district. "It's important to make the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan part of an American economic recovery, just like the veterans of World War II were. They put their lives on the line for us, and deserve to be able to come home and go to school if they so choose. We need new leaders with new priorities in Washington, and that's why I'm running for Congress."

Warner added "I believe that fully equipping our soldiers, providing them with good medical care and paying them a fair wage should be considered costs of war, but David Dreier seems to believe that we don't owe our veterans anything."

The general election in the House started today, and badly for Republicans.

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California Supreme Court Helps Bend The Long Arc Of History Toward Justice

It's really a great day for California.

In a monumental victory for the gay rights movement, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage Thursday in a ruling that would allow same-sex couples in the nation's biggest state to tie the knot.

Domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage, the justices ruled 4-3 in striking down the ban.

Outside the courthouse, gay marriage supporters cried and cheered as the news spread.

Jeanie Rizzo, one of the plaintiffs, called Pali Cooper, her partner of 19 years, and asked, "Pali, will you marry me?"

"This is a very historic day. This is just such freedom for us," Rizzo said. "This is a message that says all of us are entitled to human dignity."

If it were up to me, government would be completely out of the marriage business. They could stop penalizing single people for being single with tax incentives for married folks and return that savings to everyone broadly. And the restrictions on hospital visits and health care dependents and next of kin are frankly weird. But if you're going to bestow those benefits on married couples then you have to bestow them on gay couples. This is a basic civil right and nobody in our country should be treated like a second-class citizen.

There's going to be a "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would vacate this ruling and the court would not be able to change it. So there's a LOT of work to do to keep the momentum going. But Digby is right: this is a situation where the youth movement can make a difference in this state.

This is one state where the huge youth turnout could really make a tangible difference in real people's lives immediately. If they come out in the numbers we expect in November, I believe we will defeat this on the ballot, no matter how many reactionary wingnuts get excited about it.

It's fitting that in an election year where we are dealing head on with all these issues of race and sex that we're going to have a showdown on gay marriage in the most populous state in the union. The chances have never been greater to defeat the forces of bigotry and discrimination. It's a risk, but there will probably never be a better time to take it. Bring it on.

I also think this will help the entire Democratic ballot - that's right - in November in California. The Yacht Party will rue the day they pushed wedge issues like this. A good day all around.

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Consolidation Cont'd.

A lot of people are concerned about Barack Obama's move to de-fund independent groups supporting his candidacy that would attack John McCain primarily in television ads. The reverberations have already claimed their first casualty - Progressive Media USA.

Progressive Media USA, the group organized to be the main soft-money advertising vehicle for Democrats in the fall, will dramatically scale back its efforts in deference to the wishes of the party's presumptive nominee.

"Progressive Media will not be running an independent ad campaign this year," David Brock, the head of the organization, confirmed in a statement obtained by The Fix this morning.

"Progressive Media was established to be an independent on-going progressive issue advocacy organization," Brock added. "We were not established for one issue, one candidate or one election cycle. But donors and potential donors are getting clear signals from the Obama camp through the news media and we recognize that reality."

I disagree with this effort by Obama. It's not like his ads have been setting the world on fire, so I don't know why we should expect them to be so amazing that nobody else should be able to throw in their two cents. I understand that the "change Washington" rhetoric demands that 527s get demonized, but plenty of outside groups have worked for Obama throughout the primary, particularly labor unions. Defining McCain is going to be a key strategy going into the fall, and while Obama's rhetoric has shown he can do that, from an advertising standpoint he's untested. There's no reason that you unilaterally disarm, and all this does is make it easier to criticize McCain when the inevitable conservative 527s come after you. I don't think that's a good enough trade-off.

Of course, this again gets to Obama consolidating power within the party, and this is the negative side effect of that. We need a vibrant movement outside of electoral politics to push progressive policy, and I'm not willing to give up that power to a President. I think that Obama's use of field and organizing to grow the Democratic base is laudable - his voter registration effort is the best thing to happen to the party in a long time. In fact, I was at the Los Angeles event in this video:

But that doesn't mean you cede everything to the guy. Outside groups can work TOGETHER with a President, and he has to understand that.

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You Won't Be Able To Serve Out The Last Two Days

Kind of too little, too late from John Conyers:

Join Me in Calling on President Bush to Respect Congress’ Exclusive Power to Declare War

Dear Democratic Colleague:

As we mark five years of war in Iraq, I have become increasingly concerned that the President may possibly take unilateral, preemptive military action against Iran. During the last seven years, the Bush Administration has exercised unprecedented assertions of Executive Branch power and shown an unparalleled aversion to the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution’s framers. The letter that follows asks President Bush to seek congressional authorization before launching any possible military strike against Iran and affirms Senator Biden’s statement last year that impeachment proceedings should be considered if the President fails to do so.

Never mind the fact that the dead-ender Senate Republican caucus wouldn't convict. A military strike on Iran would be likely to happen this summer at the earliest, probably not until October (surprise!). Then there are the hearings, and the vote in the House Judiciary Committee, and the vote in the full House, and the trial in the Senate, and the vote. Let's say for the sake of argument that every Republican in the Senate gets religion and decides to convict to sever all ties with this guy for good.

What does that mean, he gets to leave early and skip a weekend? The guy's got senioritis as it is.

The leverage of impeachment is over. That moment has passed. I agree with the need to reassert Congress' power to declare war (it's but one of the ways Congress must reassert power), but letting the executive get away with murder for 7 1/2 years kind of takes the edge off of a threat like this. Good luck putting the genie back in the bottle.

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War Made Easy

In the least patriotic move of all time, private military contractors who get rich off of war and occupation set up offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes. They get their entire windfall of an income from the government and refuse to give their fair share back.

Congress is finally moving to shut one of the more egregious forms of Iraq war profiteering: defense contractors using offshore shell companies to avoid paying their fair share of payroll taxes. The practice is widespread and Congressional investigators have been dispatched to one of the prime tax refuges, the Cayman Islands, to seek a firsthand estimate of how much the Treasury is being shorted.

No one will be surprised to hear that one of the suspected prime offenders is KBR, the Texas-based defense contractor, formerly a part of the Halliburton conglomerate allied with Vice President Dick Cheney. According to a report in The Boston Globe, KBR, which has landed billions in Iraq contracts, has used two Cayman shell companies to avoid paying hundreds of millions in payroll, Medicare and unemployment taxes.

Right now it's a loophole, but Senators Kerry and Obama have legislation to plug it, and as long as Max Baucus can be kept far away from the bill, they ought to be able to do it. But there's more. The House voted recently to deny government contracts to companies that don't pay their corporate taxes. This is a COMMON occurrence which over 25,000 defense contractors have taken advantage of.

And some people will go on about "runaway spending" and "earmark reform." Please. The budget could be balanced, and public health programs not raided as the President wants to do, simply by no longer funding tax evaders and thieves until they pay their fair share and stop wasting taxpayer money on useless weapons programs and endless overruns. This is one of those situations where practically everyone looks the other way and pretends the problem right in front of us doesn't exist. The military budget, and military contractors, are bankrupting the country. Bottom line.

Hopefully it got through that I'm questioning Halliburton's patriotism.

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Worst. Messenger. Ever.

The short version of this is that your policy isn't worth a damn if you're so embarrassed by it that you have to get Larry Craig to make the amendment.

Huffington Post reports that Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) “quietly created presidential campaign ripples on Tuesday” when he “announced that he would offer an amendment to the forthcoming Iraq war supplemental that would strip the legislation of Sen. Jim Webb’s [D-VA] GI Bill.”

The Republicans already tried to insert their crap version of the GI Bill into a bill that would strengthen the collective bargaining rights of first responders. They got shot down.

Republicans, it should be reminded, support the troops.

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Schwarzenegger - The Ultimate Girly-Man

(This is a little technique called "using your opponent's words against them," not an signal that I think "girly-man" is some kind of devastating or even viable slur, for the record)

Key stakeholders are weighing in on the Governor's revised budget. The Education Coalition notes that public education is still shortchanged, primarily through suspending COLA adjustments. Health Access California sees major cuts to health care, through denying certain Medi-Cal benefits to adults, eliminating coverage for some low-income working parents, and forcing others through loads of paperwork in the hopes that they'll trip up and forget to check a box so they can be purged from the rolls. Shane Goldmacher has a pretty comprehensive list of several other reactions.

But my favorite take - probably because it most mirrors my own - is from Dan Weintraub, whose main point is basically what a coward this Governor is.

The governor's revised budget would give more to schools and less to health and welfare than he proposed in January, but the real story is his proposal to use lottery revenues to bridge the stubborn gap between spending and tax collections. Schwarzenegger's press staff is furiously trying to portray the lottery deal as something other than borrowing, but borrowing it is. The state would change the game's rules in ways designed to attract more business, then lean on private investors for $15 billion in up-front payments. That advance on lottery revenues would be repaid over 30 years from the new proceeds generated by the changes. But the up-front money runs out after three years, and guess what happens then: Yup: the budget deficit reappears, unless there's an economic miracle between now and then. Ironically, if there were an economic surge and the governor's revenue-averaging proposal were in place, the state couldn't spend the new money and would still be left with a shortfall to cover. That persistent shortfall, at least according to the governor's numbers, is in the range of about $5 billion to $6 billion a year. Fixing that would be the next governor's problem.

Schwarzenegger started off saying he was going to "blow up the boxes" in Sacramento. He barely tried. He said he would be the "Collectinator" and end the state's donor status with respect to the federal government. Didn't happen. This year he said the time had come for budget reform. He offered the same answer as he has in previous years. He's even trying to shake down the state into accepting his borrow-and-spend proposal with the lottery, by raising the spectre of a regressive across-the-board sales tax if the voters knock it down in November.

He's a coward. He doesn't want to be responsible for fixing the budget permanently, so he wants to pass off the problem to his successor. He doesn't want his legacy besmirched, so he pulled back on the proposal to close parks or suspend Prop. 98. He just wants to tour the world and appear on magazine covers, without having to do any of that nasty business of governing. Nobody could be worse for this state at this time of crisis.

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UHC As The Killer App Of The Democratic Nomination

After John Edwards' endorsement and a show of unity inside the Democratic Party, thoughts turn to that "unity ticket" everyone's been buzzing about. I don't think it's such a good idea, though I can definitely see a Vice President who was a Clinton supporter like a Ted Strickland or Ed Rendell. What I do think is that someone who took 49% of the Democratic vote (YMMV) in this primary season is entitled to get something out of the exchange, as a show of her prominence and importance in the party. There are simply too many supporters to say "Sorry, you lost, go home." Clinton's influence will wane the day she gets out of the race, but there is a way to save her from herself and create some space in the next Administration - not for her, but her ideas.

Kitty Seeyle, who I'm not necessarily a fan of, hit on the idea of using universal health care as the bargaining chip that Obama's campaign could take up to ensure her support.

But since then, Mr. Obama has indicated that he would certainly want to be talking with her.

“Obviously, I’d want to have a broad-ranging discussion with Senator Clinton about how I could make her feel good about the process and have her on the team moving forward,” he said on Friday, noting it was too early to do so as long as she was still running.

Translation: Mr. Obama needs her to help him win in the fall. Her devoted contingent of Democrats is nearly as large as his own, a point that will be underscored with her expected big win tonight in West Virginia. After a divisive primary season, he knows that winning over her supporters begins with winning over her.

So how about this: What if Mrs. Clinton asked Mr. Obama to adopt her plan for universal health care? He could put Mrs. Clinton in charge of achieving it, presumably but not necessarily from her perch inside the Senate. And he could begin by putting the goal of universal coverage as a plank in the party’s platform.

Now, this is purely speculative. A Clinton spokesman says no such discussions are underway. But neither does he bat them away.

Ultimately, I think that Clinton supporters will return to the fold in the fall. But Clinton's health care plan is simply more popular than Obama's, and while I'm not the biggest fan of mandates without serious cost controls, I think there's room for an accommodation here. Clinton's bill can be the template for negotiation with stakeholders, which Obama wants to see played out in the open, on C-SPAN. Clinton can be the Senate leader at that table. Her legacy would be assured, just as many Senators are defined by their connection to key legislation, like the Stafford Loan.

This would actually get a lot of Democratic leaders on board with Obama and more comfortable with his campaign. This was the last paragraph of the story on the Edwards endorsement.

Edwards didn't even tell many of his former top advisers of his decision because he wanted to inform Clinton personally, said the person close to him. His wife, Elizabeth, who has said she thinks Clinton has the superior health care plan, did not accompany him and is not part of the endorsement.

One of the key issues, if not the key issue, for voters which have favored Clinton is health care. And that's going to be lanched from the Senate anyway. Wyden-Bennett is the furthest along right now. Clinton's plan could be the starting point from an Obama Administration's perspective, with maybe a shift of emphasis, where cost control is foregrounded. I think this would be a very good unity proposal.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tragedies In Asia

These natural disasters in nearby nations in Asia continue to have worse and worse effects. In Burma the death toll has risen to over 125,000 and the fear is that aid is trickling in so slowly, thanks to the paranoid military government, that a "second wave" of deaths from disease and starvation is imminent. In China, earthquake victims continue to be found, the death toll is approaching 15,000, and Chinese troops are desperately attempting to fill a crack in a large dam that, if breached, would overwhelm yet another city.

Amazingly enough, the quietest disaster happening in Asia could be the most far-reaching, as the second most-powerful party in the Pakistani government, Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League, has vowed to quit the cabinet, which could lead to instability in the most dangerous trouble spot in the world. Sharif's issue is that the Pakistan People's Party has not yet moved to reinstate the judges fired by Pervez Musharraf, and that the ruling party is making poor use of their power. This could blow up in a hurry. And right now, it has to be on the back burner due to the mass loss of life to its north.

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The Edwards Endorsement

Considering that John Edwards got 7% of the vote in the West Virginia primary and he's been out of the race for over three months, his endorsement of Barack Obama should feel more notable. But it doesn't. It feels like the party closing ranks around the nominee. Which is good or bad depending on your perspective.

Former Sen. John Edwards is endorsing Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy Wednesday evening, in a dramatic attempt by the Obama campaign to answer concerns regarding Obama's appeal to working-class voters, several senior Democratic sources tell ABC News.

The Obama campaign confirms Edwards will endorse Obama at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan Wednesday. The event was originally scheduled to start at 7pmET, but was moved up to 6:20pmET, presumably to have the announcement make the evening news.

Edwards, who ran for president on a platform of eradicating poverty, plans to appear alongside Obama for the announcement. The event comes one day after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Obama by 41 points in the West Virginia primary, and Edwards' endorsement will give Obama a key establishment stamp of approval as he attempts to close out the nominating process.

If Edwards helped Obama so much among white working-class voters, he'd still be in the race. Obama needs to solve that problem on his own and showing the support of his new friend isn't totally going to help.

On the other hand, it doesn't hurt. And I respect Edwards, and I think he made the right decision.

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Why Paul Begala Shouldn't Be In Charge Of Anything

Sorry, terribly busy and cut off from the 'Net for long stretches today and tomorrow.

But I did see that Markos made the point I swear I just made in conversation with someone:

Remember this, from 5/11/2006?

BLITZER: Very quickly, is Howard Dean in trouble?

BEGALA: No. I think Candy's report was spot on.

He -- yes, he's in trouble, in that campaign managers, candidates, are really angry with him. He has raised $74 million and spent $64 million. He says it's a long-term strategy. But what he has spent it on, apparently, is just hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose. That's not how you build a party. You win elections. That's how you build a party.

Funny, guess what happened in Mississippi yesterday?

No one could've ever predicted that investing in a state's infrastructure would make it easier to win elections in the future.

Ultimately, this is why Howard Dean and the 50-state strategy has been the best thing for the Democratic Party in a long time, and why Paul Begala shouldn't ever be in charge of anything remotely connected to the Party ever again. That investment in state-based infrastructure is worth so much to the future of the Party, it's not even funny. I can't say for sure, but I'm willing to bet that we don't win MS-01 yesterday without those staffers. The goal of the 50-state strategy is to be ready to take advantage of opportunities anywhere they arise.

As a state-based blogger at Calitics, you could say that I'm part of that infrastructure. And I'm proud to say Calitics has been given a credential for the DNC and will be sitting on the floor with the California delegation. 50-state strategy is go.

(This is also ultimately why the Clintonites shouldn't get back the levers of power in Washington. They weakened the party on the first go-round and their thinking is still very backward and reductivist.)

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All The Lovely Lobbyists

John McCain's firing of two lobbyists who worked for the military junta in Burma opened a window into his many other associates who have dealings with some of the worst dictators and bad actors on the planet. Charlie Black is a one-man wrecking crew all by himself, consorting with Blackwater, Chiquita (who has admitted to paying terrorists in Colombia), Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Ferdinand Marcos, Mohammed Said Barre of Somalia, and maybe the worst, Jonas Savimbi of Angola.

Those of you who were too young to be paying attention during the 1980s might not remember Jonas Savimbi and his organization, UNITA. Briefly: there had been armed resistance to Portuguese rule for years, but when Angola became independent of Portugal in 1975, a full-bore civil war broke out. It lasted, with a few short breaks, from 1975 until Savimbi's death in 2002. It started as a scramble for power after independence, heightened by the Cold War. (Apparently, declassified documents show that we intervened before the USSR and Cuba. I didn't know that.) Savimbi, who started out as a Maoist and a Portuguese agent, became one of our guys (he was also heavily supported by the apartheid government of South Africa); his main rival, the actual government of Angola, was supported by the USSR and Cuba.

During the 1980s, this turned into a full-bore Cold War proxy fight. This did not have to happen. We could have let Angola be. Its government was dreadful, but Savimbi was no rose either; even if you think that we should intervene in other countries, when a country seems to have a choice between two awful options, there's no real point in choosing sides, and certainly no point in plunging a country into civil war to get your side to win. This would not have prevented civil war -- Savimbi was supported by South Africa, which had a policy of trying to bog down the states near its borders in civil wars -- but it would have meant not actively contributing to the destruction of a country for no good reason. Alternatively, we could have chosen to support Savimbi, who was even more dreadful, in a civil war.

We chose to support Savimbi, with predictable results:

"The tap that Kissinger had turned on, and Carter had turned off, was opened again in 1981, when Ronald Reagan approved a covert aid package for Unita. South African Special Forces were good at what they did. Unita’s performance was already much improved by comparison with its half-hearted exertions against the Portuguese. Even so, Washington’s financial and diplomatic backing was an immense boost. The country, which was now a Cold War cockpit, remained undefeatable, but it could be comprehensively ruined, and this is what happened. The figures for war-related deaths, and child deaths in particular, leapt dramatically in the 1980s. Towns and villages were deserted or shelled to extinction. The countryside was a living death. There were landmines and limbless people everywhere (there still are). Young men were press-ganged into the burgeoning rabble of the Angolan Army, where the discipline of the elite units could not hope to reach. Unita kidnapped and abducted its fighters or picked up the homeless, traumatised survivors of Government offensives. Some of them were so-called ‘child soldiers’ – ‘premature adults’ is a better description. Provincial capitals became slum havens for hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Savimbi’s struggle, subsumed though it was in a large-scale offensive driven by South Africa and paid for in the United States, had come home to Angola."

Charlie Black was UNITA's lobbyist - and he's continued to lobby for his clients from aboard the Straight Talk Express. This is just a taste - you should read the whole thing at hilzoy's.

Campaign Money Watch has jumped on these unsavory associations and is demanding McCain to fire the lobbyists, which of course would be his entire campaign staff, so it's not going to happen. So they're focusing on Black, Tom Loeffler and Peter Madigan, who have worked for some of the most repressive regimes. Progressive Media USA has more.

Eventually, I'm sure that the traditional media will get around to covering this. Right. Maybe sometime around the first press conference after the inaugural.

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The May Revise Is Here, The May Revise Is Here!

I think we can pretty much conclude that Arnold Schwarzenegger, for all his bluster, is just another cowardly politician. On Monday he dropped his plan to release 22,000 elderly and nonviolent inmates early, because God forbid anyone be seen as insufficiently "toughoncrime". Today his May revise of the budget is out, and he's again retreated to borrowing against our children's future because he can't bring himself to actually do something meaningful about revenue.

• Arnold will float bonds using the state lottery as security. $15 billion over 3 years will be raised but $10 billion goes into "rainy day fund"

• If that fails, 1% sales tax hike to last no more than 3 years

• Prop 98 suspension abandoned; instead COLA will not be paid

• State parks closures abandoned; instead fees to rise $1 to $2

• $6 billion still left to cut or balance out somehow.

Overall thoughts: Here we go again. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to office in the recall of Gray Davis in 2003 promising to solve our state's budget problems once and for all. Instead he immediately blew a $6 billion hole in the budget with the Vehicle License Fee cut and then borrowed to close the rest of the gap - costing the state around $3 billion in annual debt service.

Now that Arnold's solution has predictably failed, he is predictably offering more of the same. Borrowing against the lottery is a problematic concept for many reasons, the main one being it avoids the core issues of our budget. It's yet another one-time fix that does nothing to solve the structural revenue shortfall that has plagued our state for 30 years.

Yep. Not much more to say than that. I would add that citizen activism around education cuts and park closures has seemed to work. We're not out of the woods on education and will have to see the final numbers, and at the least education funding won't grow at the same rate as expected because of the elimination of cost-of-living increases. But people all over the state were furious at the proposed 10% and rallied against it, and Schwarzenegger, girlie-man that he is, backed down.

...Selling anticipated lottery revenue is probably better than privatizing it altogether, but it's still borrowing against the future. At some point those lottery revenues won't be there for the next governor, and we'll be back to the drawing board. It's stupid economics and he keeps doing it over and over.

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The Coming Republican Dissolution

The MS-01 pickup is truly a game-changer, and bodes extremely well for the fall. I don't know if the additional Democrats mobilized by a competitive Presidential primary in Mississippi in March played a factor or not, but this was a 62% district for Bush, and we didn't just win, but we won by 8 points. With high turnout for a special election - over 100,000 voters. November looks very strong, as Kos diarist dweb8321 points out with 26 supporting reasons, many of which I've noted here in the past (McCain still hasn't polled above 45% nationally, he can't break 75% in these primaries when he's not running against anyone, Bob Barr, etc.)

Now, the Republicans made a big mistake by trying to run against Barack Obama in this seat instead of Travis Childers, something I think they'll alter for the fall unless they are stupider than I thought. Tom Cole of the NRCC basically sounded the alarm last night.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, sounded an alarm for all GOP candidates "to take stock of their campaigns and position themselves for challenging campaigns this fall" while lashing themselves to the presidential candidacy of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"The political environment is such that voters remain pessimistic about the direction of the country and the Republican Party in general. . . . Time is short," Cole said in a statement.

House leaders like John Boehner are already trying to co-opt Obama's "change" message for Republicans - which shows you how appealing McCain's message of less jobs and more wars is. Trying to ride the coattails of the opposition party's President doesn't seem to me like a winning strategy, either, but I'm not going to spend too much time trying to help the GOP out with one. "Don't call yourself Republicans and/or impeach Bush" spring to mind. Oh, and change your leadership - that's change you deserve!

Will the election of Travis Childers, and self-described "conservative Democrats," have a positive effect on progressive policy? First, Childers got himself elected on getting out of Iraq, fully funding education and "taking care of his mother" who has breast cancer. Those aren't incompatible issues with mainstream Democratic issues. In addition, the House is almost totally a majoritarian body. Nancy Pelosi has kept her caucus almost 90% of the time because she brings up for vote those bills that can hold the caucus. The more Congresscritters in the caucus, the more confidence she can have to hold the votes. So it doesn't matter exactly what Travis Childers supports, but what Pelosi can get away with. I'd like to see her try and get away with more, but with the Emanuel/Hoyer faction acting as saboteurs that's not going to happen.

But the other thing is that politicians move with their electorate. By electing progressives in the House - which we have a legitimate chance to do in November - the caucus will move to the left, particularly on economic grounds (both Childers and Don Cazayoux have strains of economic populism). And as the country goes center-left, politicians will strive to keep up.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

This Soldier Gave Up The Use of His Legs, I Gave Up Golf. Even Trade

The President of the United States knows from sacrifice. While sending off thousands of soldiers to die for his mistake, he didn't just keep on his daily routine and remove those men and women from his thoughts. He stopped golfing.

For the first time, Bush revealed a personal way in which he has tried to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers and their families: He has given up golf.

“I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said. “I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

If anything says "solidarity with men and women who are dying for your ego," it's giving up occasional leisure activities - while keeping up with other leisure activities like farting around Crawford on vacation so many times he set a record for Presidents.

Maybe it was this cringe-worthy moment from Fahrenheit 9/11 that led him to quit cold turkey.

Or maybe it was that he couldn't come up with anything that suggested he gave a second thought for the sacrifice of the military, and so he made up the whole thing, considering that his renouncing of golf times perfectly with a well-documented knee injury he incurred in 2003.

(Incidentally, Mike Allen from the Politico brought up Bush's giving up golf first in the interview, so he was fed it by some PR lackey on the Bush team and he thought it was so powerful and insightful that he had to highlight it. And people wonder why we consider some media members stenographers.)

It's an unbelievable statement, but considering that the President is making just the kind of moves that allow Democrats to win House races in the whitest parts of Mississippi, I say - keep talkin'!

UPDATE: It also happens to be untrue - the claim was that he gave up golf in August '03, yet there's documentary evidence of a golf game in October.

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