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

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Random Ten - Getwaway Day Edition

So I'm off to a wedding on Long Island... actually thanks to the wonder of future posting I'm boarding the plane as you're reading this. This is what I'm listening to (I scrolled back):

Brandy Alexander - Feist
Serve The Servants - Nirvana
Red Hot - Jurassic 5
Radio Radio - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Friend of Mine - Lily Allen
Sunday Part I - Cibo Matto
Kamikaze - PJ Harvey
Rapture - Blondie
Orange Mécanique - Stereo Total
Boys Who Love Girls - The Rosebuds

Light posting through Tuesday. Also I'll be contributing occasional posts to Kevin Drum's blog at The Washington Monthly until June 6. We've got a great group of posters there, so that should be a fun two weeks, starting tomorrow.

OK, later...

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Fake Cap-and-Trade Bill Flatlines

The Lieberman-Warner climate bill, which would have given away polluter credits and essentially be a mass payoff to industries that should be part of the past, is off the table.

Senate sponsors of a major global warming bill lowered expectations yesterday on their chances for final passage as aides scrambled behind the scenes to complete a revamped version of the legislation before next month’s scheduled floor debate.

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) shrugged off suggestions she is having trouble winning over moderates and conservatives from either party in her quest to find 60 votes and squash an inevitable filibuster.

“To tell you the truth, we don’t know if we’ll wind up getting 60 votes this time,” Boxer said in an interview. “But we do believe we’re making tremendous progress and we’re going to start the debate.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who provided a critical swing vote for the climate bill last winter when it moved out of the EPW Committee, provided a similar assessment. “I don’t think we can count on 60 at this point,” he said.

Good. Let's restart this process in an Obama Administration with a good bill and someone who will use the bully pulpit to push it and have more votes behind him after the elections. Half-measures are not going to be sufficient to the problem. We need to stop looking backwards for solutions, whether it's tolerating polluters without paying a price or trying to drill our way out of the problem and save pennies on the rapidly expanding price of oil. We need a cap and trade system with credits sold at auction, money plowed into alternative energy research and development, tax incentives for wind and solar and plug-in hybrids and massive improvements to mass transit and infrastructure. And until a President is willing to put himself on the line for that new reality, it's not going to happen. So I come to bury Lieberman-Warner, not to praise it.

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LAT Baseline Poll on Gay Marriage - Better Than It Looks

People are probably going to fixate on the hard numbers in this latest poll on marriage equality from the LA Times, showing the constitutional amendment passing by 54-35. However, there are a few additional items to consider.

• We all know that initiatives need to be well ahead to start before the advertising ramps up and the No side chips away at the lead. This poll would traditionally signal an initiative in the danger zone. However, the initial polls for Prop. 22 in 2000 were at 58%, and it rose to 61% by election day. Opinions may be fairly hardened on this one.

• In the internals, however, there is much good news for marriage equality advocates.

More than half of Californians said gay relationships were not morally wrong, that they would not degrade heterosexual marriages and that all that mattered was that a relationship be loving and committed, regardless of gender.

That's really, really good news. 54% say same-sex relationships are not morally wrong, and 59% say that "as long as the two love each other, it doesn't matter" what gender the two people are. It suggests that the only hurdle is the terminology of "gay marriage," based on lingering tradition. I think that can be cleared to a degree.

• There's more confirmation that this is generational.

Overall, the proportion of Californians who back either gay marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples has remained fairly constant over the years. But the generational schism is pronounced. Those under 45 were less likely to favor a constitutional amendment than their elders and were more supportive of the court's decision to overturn the state's current ban on gay marriage. They also disagreed more strongly than their elders with the notion that gay relationships threatened traditional marriage.

Considering that the likely Presidential nominee is poised to bring Americans under 45 to the polls in record numbers, it's certainly better to be on the side that appeals to them.

• If Arnold's opposition to the measure is publicized, which is likely, that does seem to change minds:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has vetoed two bills sanctioning gay marriage, has said that he respects the court's decision and that he will not support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Californians were split on his stance, with 45% agreeing and 46% disagreeing.

I think this is a pretty good place to be considering the circumstances. The marriage equality movement has powerful advocates and the weight of justice and fairness on their side. It's whether enough people have gotten used to the concept by November. I think the poll shows that's very possible.

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Unity: The Great Need Of The Hour?

So Hillary Clinton goes down to Florida and tries to blow up the nomination race, likening the seating of delegates she agreed were disqualified from the nomination campaign is as vital a voting rights issue as womens suffrage and civil rights and the election in Zimbabwe, ferchrissakes. She's whipped her supporters into such a frenzy that they're looking to recreate the Brooks Brothers Riots of 2000 in Dade County, Florida, and storm the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting on May 31 to demand that Florida and Michigan's delegates be seated. She's alienated longtime defenders and showed a willingness to put herself above the good of the party, and by extension the American people.

And for that, she may be getting rewarded.

The punditry is abuzz after a report on CNN this morning that Clinton and Obama have held formal talks about her exit from the race, with Clinton outlining three possible scenarios. Bloomberg reports:

The two Democratic campaigns are talking about ways for Clinton, from New York, to drop her bid for president that may include joining the Illinois senator's ticket, CNN reported. Talks are in a "very preliminary" stage and are described as "difficult,'" the network said.

However, the revelation from CNN cites only anonymous sources. And an interview with David Axelrod on Thursday claimed that talks had not begun between the campaigns:

The chief strategist for the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, said Thursday that no overtures had been made by Mr. Clinton or any prominent supporters to place Mrs. Clinton on the ticket.

"There have been no contacts between the campaigns, and no one is looking for a deal of any kind," Mr. Axelrod said in an interview. "She's running for the nomination for president, as we are. We're focusing on closing out the nominating fight. We'll deal with vice presidential questions in sequence."

Axelrod can say what he wants, but Obama's team has been very willing to compromise on Michigan and Florida of late, and his namecheck of "Team of Rivals" yesterday had people buzzing as well.

You know, you could get bent out of shape about Clinton's destructiveness, but in the end, this is good politics. She got 48%-49% of the primary support, and while that may not be good enough to win, it's good enough for her to have some leverage. I'm outsourcing the commentary on whether or not it's right, and honestly we don't know what's going on here. But she's certainly in Obama's head with all this talk of taking it to the convention, and she comes to the negotiation with a pretty strong hand. Whether that means Vice President or whatever, clearly she has a fair bit of power and a base of support. The unity ticket, if deployed correctly, could absolutely crush McCain, as Chris Bowers notes.

I don't know if having Clinton and Obama on the same ticket would mean that the ticket would produce the above map. However, I do know that we are not going to achieve a realignment unless we win all of the states where one candidate or the other is strong. We need Obama's strength in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington. We also need Clinton's strength in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia. If we are going to truly realign the country, we need to win all of those states, plus a few others like Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana, four seemingly red states where both candidates are performing reasonably well.

In other words, we need to combine the Clinton coalition with the Obama coalitions, rather than arguing over whose coalition is superior. The nomination campaign is over anyway, so that argument is moot and academic. And, correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the most obvious way to combine the Clinton and Obama coalitions to put them both on the ticket? It isn't a perfect method, and it won't work out like the above map, but it is probably the best method available. And really, when one looks over the conservative crop of names that are being floated for VP, like Strickland, Webb, and Bayh, isn't Clinton actually preferable to all of them, too? Not to mention that we are going to have to heal the party, and giving Clinton the VP slot is probably the fastest way to do so.

That's pretty sound analysis. But one thing must be considered: an Obama-Clinton ticket may be great politically. However, how would it be as a governing coalition? That's a key question going forward.

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Down Goes Parsley

There's a whole lotta renouncing going on over at John McCain's joint. Now he's rejected the endorsement of end-timer Rod Parsley, and he really seems shaken up by any possibility of having to play defense in the fall. In the past week, we've got 5 lobbyists, 2 ministers and a crapload of health records (tightly controlled and showed to reporters, not doctors) left by the wayside. The Parsley story was on Good Morning America the other day, but it was not yet what you would call "mainstream." It was wrong of McCain to seek out the endorsements of these religious right figures in the first place, and just cutting them loose as soon as anyone discovers what they have been preaching all these years is duplicitous as well. The idea that Parsley calling Islam inherently violent is novel among a certain strain of fundamentalist preachers is nonsense. McCain knew better at the time, he just panicked when word got out.

And for that, we have to credit Bruce Wilson at Talk2Action for willing this story into the national debate. He uncovered the Hagee sermon about Hitler performing God's will that was the catalyst for his sacking, and he's been tireless at making this story so big that it couldn't be ignored. A D-Day tip of the chapeau to him.

The right never stopped using Jeremiah Wright as a "judgment" issue. The media will certainly try to turn tail on this, but we shouldn't stop using Hagee and Parsley. Bruce Wilson will be at the head of that line.

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Sense Of Proportion

So the technical glitch on the farm bill was cleaned up, and Bush's veto officially overriden. The intent of the Congress and the President is obvious, but due to Constitutional procedure they might actually have to vote on this turkey AGAIN. Can we move ahead a couple hundred years at this point? Bill text is already available online. Can't that be the text the Congress "sends" over to the President, and can't the President do what he wants with it? If you want to keep having bill-signing ceremonies, that's fine, but why do we have to act like we're still using quills and horseback here? A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Meanwhile, is it at all possible to take John Boehner seriously?

Democrats said the matter stemmed from a clerical error. But Republicans pounced on the "fiasco," which they said would require a temporary extension of the current farm bill.

"What's happened here raises serious constitutional questions -- very serious," said Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "I don't see how we can proceed with the override as it occurred."

Yes, some clerk forgetting to insert Title III of the bill is a "serious constitutional question." The President nullifying federal laws through signing statements, torturing prisoners in violation of international law, rendition, indefinite detention, spying on Americans without a warrant in contrvention of the 4th Amendment, eliminating habeas corpus, planting military propagandists in the press and lying about the WMD threat used to take the nation to war... these are mere technicalities.


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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sistani Offers Fatwas Allowing For Armed Resistance To US Troops

We have the potential for a major problem in Iraq. As Shiites jockey for power, the most prestigious cleric in the country is sensing the value among the population of fighting the US-led occupation, and very quietly permitting the targeting of US troops. It may have as much to do with internal politics as anything else, but it makes Iraq incredibly dangerous for any American, and reinforces the need to take our men and women off the front lines and out of gun sights and back home where they belong.

The AP story, based on information from Shiite officials, suggests that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has been out of the spotlight of late, is issuing under-the-radar fatwas to his followers:

Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible - a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

So far, al-Sistani’s fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private - rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population - according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.

There is a lot at work here.

• Sistani is ill and has been out of the public spotlight for many years. In the meantime, popular resistance to the occupation from the Shiite community has been led by Muqtada al-Sadr. So there may be some reassertion of control here in the wake of attacks on Sadrist strongholds in Basra and Sadr City. However, Sadr and Sistani are essentially on the same side here, and this may be a signal to top deputies of the Sadrist movement that Sistani is behind them and just waiting for the right moment to call for, as Sadr put it, "open war."

• It would be hard for Prime Minister Maliki to continue to legitimately work with the US government if such a fatwa were made more public. After the 2006 sectarian violence it was Sistani who was most instrumental in keeping order and turning the situation around from the Shiite perspective. It would be hard for US troops to maintain safe havens inside Iraq under a Sistani edict to leave, and much harder for them to have any kind of visible role in maintaining security. This is already being shown to be the case - in the Sadr City offensive, US troops were put to the sidelines and even the Sadrists appreciated it. This begs the question of how, in such an environment, there could possibly be a role for US troops at all.

• However, this could be more like a "sense of the Senate" resolution than a call to murder - essentially putting a nail in the coffin of the idea that any permanent bases would be tolerated by the Iraqi population. I think this is ultimately about the SOFA agreement that Iraq and the US are currently negotiating. Today Barbara Lee (D-CA) got her amendment demanding Congressional authorization over any agreement passed the House, and basically Sistani just vetoed the whole thing.

• Maliki is acknowledging, through aides, that there's nothing he can do about this, and in the end he'll side with the will of the Iraq people:

A senior aide to the prime minister, al-Maliki, said he was not aware of the fatwas, but added that the “rejection of the occupation is a legal and religious principle” and that top Shiite clerics were free to make their own decisions. The aide also spoke on condition of anonymity.

As Cernig says, "Sadr now has a free hand from Sistani as long as he plays nice with Maliki. He won't shoot himself in the foot by openly opposing Sadr." Conservative gasbags may be gloating about Sadr's imminent demise, but he still holds all the cards and the support of a substantial part of the Shiite community. Maliki knows this and will not get in the way of resistance against Americans. That's because he understands that the occupation is massively unpopular and opposing resistance to it would be a death sentence.

This makes me extremely uneasy. I feel like there's a Beirut bombing in the future if we don't start planning an exit. We don't have much time:

“(Al-Sistani) rejects the American presence,” he told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to media. “He believes they (the Americans) will at the end pay a heavy price for the damage they inflicted on Iraq.”

Juan Cole, a U.S. expert on Shiites in the Middle East, speculated that “al-Sistani clearly will give a fatwa against the occupation by a year or two.” But he said it would be “premature” for the cleric to do so now [...]

“Changing the tyrannical (Saddam Hussein) regime by invasion and occupation was not what we wished for because of the many tragedies they have created,” al-Sistani said in reply to a question on his Web site.

“We are extremely worried about their intentions,” he wrote in response to another question on his views about the U.S. military presence.

Matthew Duss, Eric Martin and Kevin Drum have more. The occupation has always been unsustainable. But Sistani's rulings appear to make that even more obvious. If he acts soon, our troops could be in a horrible situation over there. And I certainly don't think the White House is paying nearly enough attention to this growing crisis.

P.S. Pushing elections as the answer to all of our problems is really a mistake. Maliki's operations in Basra and Sadr City were political in nature - he wanted to crush the Sadrists and make it easier for his groups to win the elections - but it's taking too long, and elections already have been postponed until after our Election Day in November, we learned today in Senate hearings. If Bush pushes them to coincide with our political cycle, the Sadrists will win. The only way they don't is if Maliki rigs the election, and the result of that would be chaos.

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The Obama I Want

This video from 2003 is why progressive friends of mine in Chicago (where I lived for a couple years) were so excited about Barack Obama.

"He's an unabashed liberal," my friends said.

At one level this was a partisan union crowd with Rep. Danny Davis, and you have to expect some red meat (he was trying to win a primary). But this Obama is not the one on display in this election. The new one is inspiring and hopeful and thoughtful and willing to parry accusations against him and even make a few of his own. But somewhere down the line, he decided that the ferocity and steadfastness on display in that little clip wouldn't work as a national candidate. Ultimately, I think the fire hasn't been extinguished, but it's been subdued to an extent.

There's a theory that a black candidate running for national office can't show that side of him, that he'll be painted as angry and divisive. Obama appears to have bought into that somewhat. But the Republicans have a great deal of paint, and all of it the same color. They ALWAYS smear their opponent. Obama's being charged as un-American and elitist in a series of increasingly outrageous e-mail smears. This guy on display in 2003 would be considered a lot of things, maybe, but certainly not elitist. That looks like Paul Wellstone speaking in that clip. I don't get that out of medium cool Obama. Not that this guy is bad; he's smooth and self-assured and humorous. Here's a good example. I like the guy.

He's not totally reflecting a public that's 85% wrong track, though. That guy is in the above clip. Chris Bowers is telling me that the race is tied and McCain may be slightly favored at the moment. That's probably true; of course, he's still never broken 45% in any national poll. I think in order to truly mirror the sentiment out in the country and reinforce his message of change, we need a re-appearance of this guy. Maybe in Ohio. Maybe in Pennsylvania. Maybe at the DNC.

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Subpoena Power, Only Without The Power

The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Karl Rove today. Which is just dandy. But Rove has been subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee for over a year, and you know, he didn't testify and nothing happened. And there's still a legal fight over getting the likes of Harriet Miers to testify after delivering a subpoena.

So I don't see Karl Rove strolling into the hearing room anytime soon.

However, the OPR investigation could be promising:

Late Update: The committee is especially interested in Rove's involvement in the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. In conjunction with issuing the subpoena to Rove, the committee released a letter from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility confirming that it has launched an investigation of "allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, Georgia Thompson, and Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor."

I don't know how far an investigation under the purview of the Bush Administration would go, but typically investigations like this go for a while. As in, well into the next Presidency. And depending on the new Attorney General, this could mean that the OPR probe would actually gather some momentum next year. I'm looking for accountability wherever I can find it.

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Food Fight Over The GI Bill

Old Man McCain decided to yell at a cloud today. See, he isn't allowed to vote on legislation while there's money to be raised on the campaign trail, so he wasn't allowed to give his opinion that lucky duckie Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are getting too many education benefits. But Barack Obama did on the Senate floor, saying that McCain's opposition to the Webb-Hagel GI Bill is unconscionable, and in response, McCain got really ornery, on the "how dare you disagree with me on veteran's affairs policy" tip:

"It is typical, but no less offensive that Senator Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of. Let me say first in response to Senator Obama, running for President is different than serving as President. The office comes with responsibilities so serious that the occupant can't always take the politically easy route without hurting the country he is sworn to defend. Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America's veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge. I think I have earned the right to make that claim.

"I know that my friend and fellow veteran, Senator Jim Webb, an honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously, has offered legislation with very generous benefits. I respect and admire his position, and I would never suggest that he has anything other than the best of intentions to honor the service of deserving veterans. Both Senator Webb and I are united in our deep appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives so that the rest of us may be secure in our freedom. And I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. And I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.

See, only members of the military have earned the right to give members of the military education benefits.

They used this "he didn't serve his country" crap against Bill Clinton, too, and it didn't work. Obama hit back pretty forcefully.

"I am proud to stand with Senator Webb and a bipartisan coalition to give our veterans the support and opportunity they deserve. It's disappointing that Senator McCain and his campaign used this issue to launch yet another lengthy personal, political attack instead of debating an honest policy difference. He should know that this is not about John McCain or Barack Obama -- it's about giving our veterans a real chance to afford four years of college without harming retention. Senator Webb's bipartisan bill will do this, and the bill that John McCain supports would not. These endless diatribes and schoolyard taunts from the McCain campaign do nothing to advance the debate about what matters to the American people."

It's just not rational for McCain to claim some kind of support for the troops while essentially saying that we can't let them leave because there wouldn't be enough people willing to fight in multiple wars that he'll authorize. Go ahead and keep talking about it. I'd LOVE to have this debate play out in public.

...also, John Cornyn, who voted against the bill today, decided to call those who want to honor veterans' service "the antiwar crowd." Man, that's the wrong way to go with this. Cornyn is in deep trouble in November.

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Cage Match

Tim Griffin is back. He worked in the Bush-Cheney oppo shop in 2000. He was a protege to Karl Rove. He became the US Attorney for Arkansas (at a time when it was almost certain Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee) after the purge of Bud Cummins. And in 2004, he came up with the caging scheme to prevent African-Americans and members of the military from voting.

First, a campaign identifies a geographic area with a disproportionate number of registered voters who belong to the opposite party — sometimes, but not always, taking the ethnic or racial makeup of that area into account. Second, the campaign sends “do not forward/return to sender” letters to voters in that area.

Third, the campaign challenges the right to vote of those citizens whose mail was returned “undelivered” — on the grounds that the voter does not live at the registered address. Of course, there are many reasons why a piece of mail might be “returned to sender” that have nothing whatsoever to do with a voter’s eligibility.

Now, he's going back to work at the RNC's oppo research shop.

Digby has a great backgrounder on Griffin. To me, the general election is shaping up to be fought over how best to suppress the Democratic vote. They tried to get Hans von Spakovsky on the FEC and it didn't work. They tried to pass onerous voter ID laws in Indiana, Missouri and Kansas with mixed results. And they're putting Griffin in place as well. These are the battle lines that are being drawn.

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Secret Health Data News Dump Of The Week

John McCain wants to pretend he's being forthright about his medical condition, while dumping the data on the Friday before Memorial Day and controlling who gets to see them. That's straight talk.

Senator John McCain is set to release 400 pages of medical records, including documents related to his melanoma surgery in August 2000, to a tightly controlled group of reporters on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend [...]

On Friday, the campaign will allow a small pool of reporters access to the records from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Pacific time in a conference room at the Copper Wind Resort in Phoenix, near the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale. The reporters will be allowed to take notes but not remove or photocopy the records. Campaign officials said they were imposing the restrictions to prevent the actual records from wide dissemination.

Around the same time, campaign officials said, they will post medical summaries of each year from 2000 to 2008 on the campaign Web site. The summaries will not include doctors’ notes in the actual records.

The news organizations in the pool, selected by the campaign, include ABC News, The Arizona Republic, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News, Reuters, The Washington Post and, possibly, a newsmagazine.

Each organization is allowed two representatives and is expected to file a “pool report” for other reporters detailing the information in the records.

It's completely unclear to me why any respectable media organization would agree to this, other than it's coming from John McCain and he makes sweet, sweet barbecue. Even the most experienced reporter isn't entirely equipped to make judgments on medical reports based on three hours of browsing through records without discussing them with doctors or experts. This makes a mockery of journalism and they just lay down and take it.

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NOW McCain Rejects Hagee

NBC News is reporting that the heat got too hot for John McCain, and he rejected his endorsement from Hitler-justifying extremist pastor John Hagee.

Doesn't this become the evangelical community's worst nightmare revealed - that McCain would stab them in the back in the end?

McCain didn't have a good position here, but his doing "the right thing" comes waaaaayy too late.

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Traffic As A Quality-of-Life Issue

Barack Obama has been increasingly discussing transit issues in his speeches, name-checking particular mass transit solutions depending on what city he's in. Bill Richardson was actually the best candidate on this during the primaries, and his endorsement has maybe been a catalyst here. But I hope it's more like what Ezra Klein says, that Obama may be divining voter concerns.

How long till traffic becomes a voting issue? Americans spend more time in it every year. They get heart attacks from it. And now, with gas prices well above $100 -- and racing skyward still -- how long till road rage, till driving, till a life spent in the car and a paycheck spent at the pump, become voting issues? Arguably, gas prices are already there. But no politicians has figured out how to do anything with that save promise lower gas prices. But we're not going to lower gas prices. And discontent will only become more intense. Someday, some politician is going to figure out what to do with that, and my hunch in the word "transit" will be a big part of it.

I think Obama has the potential to be that candidate, mainly because he has served inner-city constituents in the Illinois State Senate, who use mass transit often out of financial necessity. It's just easier to recognize the potential of mass transit if your personal environment has it on display.

Living in California, I know well that traffic is a unifying issue. It's the easiest way to break the ice in a conversation with strangers. And Ezra's right, politicians haven't done much to ease concerns about it. Out here it's been all about adding infrastructure to roads, with carpool lanes and additional freeways. From an environmental and just a practical perspective this is the wrong way to go about it. Eisenhower understood the value of transportation issues when he embarked upon the interstate highway system. We need a 21st-century packet of transit options, including light rail, high-speed rail, subways, and express bus services. The rising gas prices just increase pressure on politicians to get something done.

Obama is at least showing an attentiveness to this issue, and that's a big step.

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The Myth Of The Bipartisan Ticket

You can try to pick out particular policies where McCain is an independent maverick or Obama represents unity and reaching across the aisle, but in general, this is a pretty simple election with very stark contrasts between the two candidates on virtually everything. As much as the press wants to tantalize with talk of unity tickets, be it Lieberman on the McCain side or Hagel on the Obama side, there is no way that this could happen in the real world because it would muddle the message of both campaigns.

Lieberman, of course, is a slightly better bet, since he's completely divorced himself from the party on foreign policy and has basically taken a position to the right of the neocons, so he could more easily what few differences remain on domestic policy. Fortunately, the Obama campaign is ready to pin this label on him immediately and take out any benefit from the supposedly "bipartisan" ticket.

I have to admit, I haven't read the whole piece because what dawned on me about two paragraphs into the piece is that Joe Lieberman would be a fabulous secretary of state for John McCain for one reason and one reason only. What Joe Lieberman proposes and what John McCain proposes is another four years of George Bush's foreign policy. We talked about how concerned we are and rightly so about Iran but what we have done is strengthen Iran by invading Iraq in a horrible, misguided war that Joe Lieberman signed off on, that John McCain signed off on, and that George Bush was happy to wage. That’s not kind of foreign policy we need, it’s not what’s going to make us safer.

Ouch. Maybe that's why Lieberman wasn't invited to the barbecue.

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Open Mouth, Insert Foot

I don't know how many times John Hagee has to say something ridiculously inflammatory before John McCain is forced by the whole of civilized society to renounce him. This one sounds like writers in a sitcom room trying to come up with the most offensive anti-Semitic statement:

Going in and out of biblical verse, Hagee preached: "'And they the hunters should hunt them,' that will be the Jews. 'From every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.' If that doesn't describe what Hitler did in the holocaust you can't see that."

He goes on: "Theodore Hertzel is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said 'I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel.' So few went that Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the holocaust.

"Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says -- Jeremiah writing -- 'They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,' meaning there's no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended. I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel." (Listen to the audio below.)

Bruce Wilson has been doing amazing work on this story, by the way.

Hagee is claiming that his statement was mischaracterized, but as usual I don't think conservatives or religious nuts know the meaning of that word. They think "mischaracterized" means "don't print what I actually said, give me the benefit of spinning it," and thus the mischaracterization is theirs.

Can we just tell it like it is here? McCain needed the fundie vote, so he went out and found some people to endorse him, and they are predictably crazy because this kind of hate is routinely practiced from the pulpits of the religious right. Rod Parsley, another McCain endorser, has called Islam a conspiracy of spiritual evil. They are not interested in how this language endangers the world, they are fighting their own holy wars, and John McCain got sucked into it.

J Street has a petition calling on McCain to renounce Hagee. You should sign it.

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GI Bill Passes Senate

By a pretty robust 75-22 count, as well. Of course, it's folded into the broader war funding bill, which extends the blank check all the way to the next President, so it's a bittersweet day. Russ Feingold is absolutely right.

“I am deeply disappointed that Congress is considering another Iraq spending bill that does nothing to end the war in Iraq,” Feingold said. “There’s a lot of tough talk from Democrats and even some Republicans about ending the war but not enough real action to do so. Democrats took control of Congress last year pledging to work to bring an end to the war. But now, five years into this war, with 4,000 Americans killed, over 30,000 wounded, and over $10 billion per month being spent in Iraq, we’re actually moving backwards in our goal to end the war. This is a retreat from responsibility.”

That's true. But we also have a responsibility to our veterans to honor their service, and that's what the Webb GI Bill provides. Here's the roll call, and there are a few dead-enders who don't subscribe to that belief, and their vote will be highlighted for years to come. On the other hand, several endangered Republicans got the message and voted to give vets the education benefits they deserve.

John McCain was fulfilling his duty as a non-voting member of the Senate and campaigned out of town. What's interesting is that he tried to blow this whole thing up by offering a crappy "compromise" and completely lost the bulk of his party. What fine leadership!

UPDATE: Are people really going to fall for this again?

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the war in Iraq, said that he expects this fall to recommend additional cuts in U.S. troop levels there.

He said that he plans to make an assessment by September, when he would move to take over the U.S. Central Command, if he is confirmed for that position, as is expected.

"My sense is I will be able to make a recommendation at that time for further reductions," Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee today in a hearing to confirm him for the Centcom post. He said he didn't know how large those cuts might be.

Yes, just wait until September again. Why are you people so impatient? Five and 1/2 years is a perfectly respectable time to downshift into a commitment of 100,000-plus troops occupying a foreign country.

Anyone who believes this will be at all meaningful and not just a stunt is out of their minds. This has been a constant refrain since the beginning of the war.

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California Report

• Do read Robert in Monterey's report about Abel Maldonado, Don Perata's best buddy, running as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary to stall an attempt to get an opponent on the November ballot. First of all, this is an example of why crossfiling should be banned once and for all. Second, Abel Maldonado is a snake and I can now see why Don Perata would knock on doors for him. Apparently, neither of them have much interest in the democratic process.

• Arnold thinks the legalization of gender-neutral marriage will be a boost to the sluggish economy, but I hope he's not basing his entire budget on a sharp uptick in gay weddings. I mean, there are only so many Mr. Sulus rich enough to have that surge register more than a blip. By the way, good for Mr. Sulu. And good for Ellen DeGeneres for telling Straight Talk Express where to shove it.

• Speaking of John W. McCain, he's in California today. Nobody show him the PPIC numbers!

• Lucas mentioned this, but Darrell Issa got in the middle of a heated exchange between Henry Waxman and EPA Adminstrator Stephen Johnson over the EPA's breaking the Clean Air Act. Emptywheel has video:

• Why Fabian Nuñez is claiming racial bias at this late date over questions about his travel practices is completely beyond me. And he's taken to Spanish-language television for these accusations to stoke divisiveness in the Latino community, too. It's so counterproductive, as well as misleading.

• Speaking of Spanish-speaking media, this is an older story, but it's fascinating to me that the Spanish-language channels in LA are so much more substantive than the English-language ones, featuring longer, "more deeply reported" pieces.

• We could see a settlement very shortly on prison overcrowding in the state which would not require early release. There are some decent components to this deal, but it basically gives everyone three more years to clean up their act, and I wouldn't be surprised if it just puts us in the same siutation come 2011. The policies needed are well-known; the political will remains elusive.

• The Bay Area AQMD passed a carbon tax for businesses that emit greenhouse gases. It's "not enough to change behavior," one expert said, but it does presage what may be coming down the pike for polluters. Whether you get there through selling carbon permits at auction or with a tax, the bottom line is that pollution is going to cost enough money to alter business' approach to engaging in it. This is a good step.

• Arnold's plan to borrow against the lottery (and it is borrowing) is getting almost unanimously bad reviews, including from the budget nun.

• Interesting that we denied the endorsement to Rep. Laura Richardson (CA-37) on the same day that she is forced to defend herself against allegations that she walked away from her foreclosed home in Sacramento. It sounds like the Congresswoman renegotiated the loan, but the conservative fever swamps are all over this one (check the comments in that LAT blog post). She did buy the half-million-dollar home with no money down, and then left Sacramento almost immediately after winning election to fill the open seat in Congress.

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell Overturned?

Sure looks like it.

SEATTLE - The military cannot automatically discharge people because they're gay, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in the case of a decorated flight nurse who sued the Air Force over her dismissal.

The three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not strike down the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But they reinstated Maj. Margaret Witt's lawsuit, saying the Air Force must prove that her dismissal furthered the military's goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion.

I think the court is being polite. If you cannot automatically discharge an LGBT individual, then there would be no penalty for the telling, so it wouldn't matter who's asking.

In an Obama Administration, this policy will be overturned. And we can end this nonsense of having two tiers of citizens, each with their own set of privileges. That homosexuality lurks in the shadows in the military is offensive, and the "unit cohesion" arguments are weak. John McCain would continue these and other discriminatory policies, even if he's lying about them now.

I wish Obama would come out strongly for gay marriage and brush off that "civil unions" half-measure, but that's just a matter of time. And for those in support of gay rights, the choice is clear.

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Petraeus and Odierno Off Message In The Senate

A Man Called Petraeus is back in Washington today, for his Senate confirmation hearings to be the head of Centcom. Gen. Odierno is there as well, looking to be confirmed as Petraeus' successor in Iraq. And they've both had some interesting things to say.

First, Petraeus got the same question Ryan Crocker got from Joe Biden in April about the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. And he had the same answer.

Jack Reed finally brings up the gorilla in the room. He asks Petraeus if he agrees with the intelligence community and Chairman Mullen's assessment that the next terrorist attack on the United States would most likely come from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

Petraeus says YES.

And Reed naturally asks, then why does the campaign plan focus on Iraq not Afghanistan and Pakistan? Reed also asks how Petraeus would plan to actually bring more troops into that area, since they're all in Iraq.

Petraeus, nominated to Centcom, cannot hide behind his "I'm just a simple country general focused on Iraq" shtick, but really the policymakers at the White House should be the ones answering this question. Especially since the new Pakistani government is doing nothing to stop cross-border raids in Afghanistan, and has signed another peace deal with Taliban elements in the Swat Valley. This makes sense for the Pakistanis in a self-interested sense, but if you do believe that Afghanistan is waning and a safe haven for terrorist plotters is a bad thing, it's something we should probably devote some attention to.

Later, Jim Webb backed Raymond Odierno into a corner:

Webb tells Odierno that a key part of strategizing is to "be able to articulate clearly what the endpoint of that strategy is." So: What's the endgame, "in military terms"?

Odierno: "A self-reliant government that is stable, a government that will contribute inside of the regional context and the international context. Obviously, that means they need a professional security force... Obviously, a place that will not allow a safe haven for terrorists or extremists that threaten region... or the United States. ... An economic engine that [provides for] the continued improvement of the Iraqi people. ... From a military perspective, the ability to secure themselves, and do it in such a way that allows the government to continue to grow. ... and we will continue to do less and less." [...]

But what's the endpoint? Say U.S. meets all these conditions. Should there be a continued U.S. presence there? "That's a discussion... for policy." Webb won't let it go! What do you think, Gen. Odierno? Will there be a need for the U.S. military in Iraq if those conditions are met? "I do not." Finally.

Now that's how an adult asks a question.

Indeed, and it's really the entire point about Iraq. We can continue to put the country on lockdown and rule under the methods of an occupation, but it doesn't get us to that desired end-state. And if we pull back, and let the Iraqis handle things, we have no reason for being there. Webb finally got Odierno to admit that.

But the most interesting bit from the Petraeus hearings happened before them, when in written answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee he showed himself to be an un-American appeaser of the Chamberlain school:

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush's nominee to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, supports continued U.S. engagement with international and regional partners to find the right mix of diplomatic, economic and military leverage to address the challenges posed by Iran.

In written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will testify today, Petraeus said the possibility of military action against Iran should be retained as a "last resort." But he said the United States "should make every effort to engage by use of the whole of government, developing further leverage rather than simply targeting discrete threats."

Petraeus's views echoed those expressed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who this month said that talks with Iran could be useful if the right combination of incentives and pressures could be developed.

There's every reason to believe that Tehran wants talks like this, too.

This is so obvious that you can't help but go off the Bush-McCain reservation. Diplomacy is not just a tool in the shed along with bombers and tanks, it's the most powerful tool. In the Muslim world, the growing trend is that as terrorist attacks increase, terrorism grows less popular. And the flip side is also true; as American military attacks increase, that decrease in support for terrorism shoots back up as it can be recast as resistance. Without public support for terrorism it can be choked off, therefore public diplomacy becomes a much greater way to reach the desired result than bombings which inflame the population. Give terrorists the rope to hang themselves, in other words, by building a broad coalition against them. And Iran can be a player on that stage.

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A Killer Data Point For Obama In The Latest PPIC Poll

(also at Calitics)

The latest PPIC poll, a pretty decent one in California, has Barack Obama leading John McCain by 17 points, 54-37. It's a large sample size including 2003 Californians and 1086 likely voters, so it's a fairly robust poll amongst age groups and ethnicities. And if this data point is correct, Barack Obama looks VERY strong for November.

According to the poll, Obama leads McCain among Hispanics 69-20.

That's a "game over" type of number if it holds.

Cast your memory back to the February primaries, and you may remember that Obama's problem area was not white working-class voters, as they have been so eloquently called, but Hispanics. Much ink was spilled over how Obama couldn't connect with them, how there was all this antipathy between the black and brown communities, and it did manifest itself in the voting, at least in California. Hillary Clinton cleaned up in the heavily Hispanic areas in Southern California. In fact, it made up very nearly all of her delegate and popular vote win in the state. She had the backing of the Latino establishment and worked them extremely hard to get out the vote, which they did in big numbers.

I don't think anybody expected Obama to rebound among these voters this strongly, this soon. But his favorables among Hispanics are right in line with his share of the vote over McCain, at 69%.

It's one poll and it's one data point. But extrapolate it out. The legendary figure is that Hispanics voted 44% for Bush in 2004. That's probably not true - it was probably around 39%. However, that's substantially larger than 20% - and remember that Bush only won by 3 points, and Hispanic voters may be a slightly higher share of the electorate this year.

Again, it's one point in one poll, but if California's Hispanics voted at similar rates to the rest of the country's, then Colorado would be done, New Mexico would be done, Nevada would be close to done, Arizona would be in play, Texas would be in play, North Carolina and Georgia (with growing Hispanic regions) would be in play... you get the picture. Rove's "permanent Republican majority" relied on chipping away at a chunk of Hispanic voters while maintaining the white vote and building the coalition. The fearmongering and demagoguery over immigration reform, even though McCain nominally supported it (until the primary), has tarnished the Republican brand significantly among this subgroup. There's no other explanation for these numbers.

If John McCain gets 20-25% of the Hispanic vote he can't win the election. The highest that Kerry ever polled among Hispanics was 59-31. This is ten points below what Obama's polling in California. This is a bigger lead than Democrats had in 2006 among Hispanics.

I think it's kind of a big deal.

This also calls into question the handwringing about other groups supporting Obama, much of it based on faulty data. If Hispanics came over this quickly, I don't think Obama will have problems with other communities, either.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Farm Bill Follies

Apparently the House f'ed up and left a big piece out of the farm bill when the President signed it. While at some level it's annoying that we're still applying an 18th-century standard of signing a piece of paper and all of the attendant papers having to be in a bundle, it's circumstances like this that led to Don Young slipping the Coconut Road earmark into the highway bill without it ever being voted upon. I'm sure they'll sort this out, but Republicans are using it as a way to cause mischief.

Meanwhile, I see a lot of liberal bloggers like Ezra Klein praising John McCain for his resistance to the pork-laden farm bill. And I agree to an extent, but the 2002 farm bill was much worse, and the consequence of not passing this one means that the funding levels of the old one remain in place. So McCain is essentially advocating for worse subsidies and a worse bill. In addition I don't believe that McCain's vision of agricultural policy is some sort of organic food-heavy, no-GM, end to all agribusiness kind of nirvana. He actually doesn't much care about agricultural policy, but he likes to bluster about any "wasteful spending" that isn't military spending so he can rail against the farm bill without articulating any broader strategy.

The farm bill sucks, and it is an example of power politics trumping sensible policy, but let's not kid ourselves that John McCain has some larger principle about agriculture - or anything at all about it - in his back pocket.

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Just A Flesh Wound

I'm a sucker for Monty Python references.

By the way, while I think she is being sincere here, Hillary Clinton will not be taking this fight to the convention. That's because the superdelegates are rushing to Obama at such a rate that Michigan and Florida can be seated, even with her most favorable numbers, and he'd still win. He has a majority of pledged delegates and that will soon include Michigan and Florida, too. I don't like the primary system for Democrats for a variety of reasons, but under the system we have, the people and the superdelegates have made their choice. There's a reason Obama is simultaneously being very admiring of and ignoring the challenge of Clinton, and running the general election - and by the way I like this tactic:

Ten years ago, Obama said, McCain proposed barring registered lobbyists from working for candidates' campaigns.

"John McCain then would be pretty disappointed in John McCain now, because he hired some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington to run his campaign," Obama told a crowd of 15,000 at a Tampa arena.

McCain recently instituted a new no-lobbyist policy on his campaign, forcing out some top aides.

"And when he was called on it, his top lobbyist actually had the nerve to say the American people won't care about this," Obama said.

He does have a knack of picking up on things in the alternative, progressive media and using them. Obama can play this game of how he doesn't buy into framing or partisan gamesmanship, and he certainly analogizes that to blogging, but he's so far been running this general election like a blogger - speaking truthfully and forcefully while armed with new information to use against his opponent. I'll let him play the unity and hope line - but he's proving himself through his actions.

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California House Endorsements, June 2008

(cross-posted from Calitics. I had substantial input on these endorsements and I agree with all of them, so I'm giving them sanction here)

Congressional Endorsements:

We are proud to be giving opinions on every race contested by more than one Democrat, and also every race with a Democrat facing a Republican incumbent (The Democratic incumbents facing no opposition don't much need our support or to raise their name recognition, though we will talk about the incumbents we like in a later post). It's a big job, but having covered these Congressional races for well over a year now, we feel that we have the insight into what's happening throughout the state to offer this slate of endorsements. See the flip for explanations.

CA-01: no endorsement
CA-02: Jeff Morris
CA-03: Bill Durston
CA-04: Charlie Brown
CA-08: no endorsement
CA-12: Rep. Jackie Speier
CA-21: Larry Johnson
CA-24: Mary Pallant
CA-25: Jackie Conaway
CA-26: Russ Warner
CA-33: Rep. Diane Watson
CA-37: no endorsement
CA-40: Christina Avalos
CA-41: Rita Ramirez-Dean
CA-42: Ron Shepston
CA-43: Joanne Gilbert
CA-44: Bill Hedrick
CA-45: Julie Bornstein
CA-46: Debbie Cook
CA-48: Steve Young
CA-49: Robert Hamilton
CA-50: no endorsement
CA-51: Rep. Bob Filner
CA-52: Mike Lumpkin
CA-53: no endorsement

CA-01: No Endorsement

Mike Thompson is a Blue Dog in a seat that doesn't require one. His lifetime Progressive Punch Score of 86.25 ranks 150th in the House of Representatives. He voted the wrong way on warrentless wiretapping and a number of other issues. So, perhaps it is best to give democracy an opportunity to work its magic in this district. Either he connects with the community and votes better, or he's voted out. So, we were interested when we heard that Thompson is being challenged by Mitchell Clogg. However, we are not sure Clogg is the right fit for the job either. We provide no endorsement in the race.

CA-02: Jeff Morris

Morris is a Trinity County Supervisor running against far-right winger Wally Herger. This is a Democratic year, and Morris is a strong candidate.

CA-03: Bill Durston

Bill Durston is back for another round against Dan Lungren. Our former Attorney General has drifted to the right in Congress. His Progressive Punch score is 4.12, substantially lower than even Tom Tancredo's 6.72. Durston's experience in Viet Nam and as an emergency room physician will serve him well in Congress. Calitics spoke to Dr. Durston in San Jose, and we were once again impressed. Durston will be a fine congressman.

CA-04: Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown is something of a netroots favorite. He's not necessarily the most progressive on all of the issues, but he's doing yeoman's work trying to turn one of the reddest districts blue. And he came close back in 2006 with a weakened John Doolittle. This time he awaits the winner of the McClintock/Ose slugfest. But don't count Charlie out. His high positives and name ID make this one of the seats to watch this year.

CA-08: No Endorsement
We do this with something of a heavy heart as we were thrilled to see San Francisco's representative become Speaker. However, since she has risen to become the first female Speaker of the House, she has disappointed on a number of issues. Most notably, she has continued to allow full and unconditional funding of the occupation of Iraq. That being said, we expect Speaker Pelosi to continue on as Speaker come 2009. With a Democratic White House and a more solidly blue Congress, we expect her to improve upon her record.

CA-12: Jackie Speier

On her first day in Congress, Jackie Speier read a speech that caused several Republicans to get up and walk out in protest. Jackie is a fighter, and has always been. She has already made her mark on Congress, and you can bet that she'll do everything to make sure San Francisco and San Mateo are heard from.

CA-21: Larry Johnson

This is the only one of three contiguous seats in the Central Valley that is actually being contested by a Democrat this year, and we appreciate former airline captain Larry Johnson's effort to unseat Devin Nunes enough to reward him with an endorsement. We spoke with Johnson at the convention in San Jose, and we like that he's come up from the grassroots (DFA, Democratic Clubs, Fresno County Democratic Central Committee) to make this challenge.

CA-24: Mary Pallant

This is one of six seats currently held by the GOP where more Democrats voted in the February primaries than Republicans, so it's definitely a seat to watch. Jill Martinez ran in this seat in 2006 and made a little headway against Elton Gallegly, but she got into this year's race late and has been stretching the truth about her campaign's financial status. Mary Pallant is a proud progressive, a "more and better" Democrat who has been impressively racking up endorsements and working the local grassroots to promote her campaign. She also has supported the Repsonsible Plan to End the War in Iraq and is a strong advocate of single-payer healthcare (this earned her the CNA endorsement). We support her candidacy.

CA-25: Jackie Conaway

Jackie is running unopposed to face Rep. Buck McKeon in this expansive district. This is another seat where Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the February primary, so in a tidal wave election this is a winnable seat. She's too far to the right on immigration issues for our taste, but we admire the spirit of this former SEIU member.

CA-26: Russ Warner

Russ Warner was new to politics in 2006 and he did not run the campaign in the primary necessary to win. Having learned from this mistake, he's back with a far superior organization and the ability to compete with Bush rubber stamp David Dreier. This is a winnable race that has been targeted by the DCCC, and we feel Warner has the best opportunity to capitalize on that, especially with his recent timely rebukes of Dreier on such issues like the housing crisis and S-CHIP. Cynthia Matthews had her opportunity to face Dreier in 2006 and came up with virtually no infrastructure to challenge him, so Warner is better positioned.

CA-33: Diane Watson

For some reason, two Democrats are challenging progressive leader and Out Of Iraq Caucus member Diane Watson in the Democratic primary. We welcome primaries, but both of these challengers, Felicia Ford and Mervin Lee Evans, ran in the CA-37 special election last year, and I don't think I'm mischaracterizing them by calling them 50 flavors of crazy. By contrast, Diane Watson is one of our better leaders in the California caucus.

CA-37: No endorsement

Laura Richardson won this seat in a 2007 special election with a nasty, divisive, racially-themed campaign to beat State Sen. Jenny Oropeza. We didn't like it at the time, and while her voting record has been fair, we see little reason to reward her now with an endorsement in her primary race against perennial candidates Peter Matthews and Lee Davis. Matthews is a solid progressive, and we would recommend him for the seat if he ever showed the potential to compete legitimately in a Congressional race despite running for them a number of times.

CA-40: Christina Avalos

There are two Democrats running to upset Rep. Ed Royce, and we feel there is no contest as to which properly represents our Democratic values. Avalos is a full-throated progressive in the mold of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who has been endorsed by DFA Orange County, the Orange County Labor Federation and more. We add our names to the list by endorsing her grassroots campaign.

CA-41: Dr. Rita Ramirez-Dean

We're excited that four Democrats have stepped up to challenge Rep. Jerry "I've sent countless defense attorneys to college as they try to keep my butt out of jail" Lewis, but our opinion is that Dr. Rita Ramirez-Dean is the best. She has run for the Assembly in this San Bernardino-area district before, and as a 38-year educator we feel she has the best experience on that crucial issue. Hopefully she can make a run at unseating the fully corrupt Rep. Lewis.

CA-42: Ron Shepston

(disclaimer: David Dayen does some unpaid volunteer work for Shepston and his vote was not counted) In 2006, Rep. Gary Miller ran unopposed, despite revelations of seedy development deals and tax evasion that prompted an FBI investigation. This year, three Democrats have stepped up to the plate and decided to run against him. Ron Shepston was the first. He literally comes out of the netroots as a diarist on Daily Kos, and while his campaign has had its share of missteps, we feel that his profile as a veteran and an avionics engineer, his leadership during the California wildfires, and recent signs that his campaign is back on track, merits the endorsement. His positions on the issues, including support of the Responsible Plan to End The War in Iraq, are sterling.

CA-43: Joanne Gilbert

This is the only race where we have endorsed a challenger to a Democratic incumbent, and it's well-deserved. A member of the Board of Trustees for the Rialto Unified School District, Gilbert is an African-American woman who we feel can lead in this Inland Empire district far better than Rep. Joe Baca, who has done little for the district other than create a mini-political machine for his friends and relatives. These primaries are vital to keeping our elected officials honest and making them understand that their job is to represent the people.

CA-44: Bill Hedrick

While he is running unopposed in the 44th, Bill Hedrick merits an endorsement for his leadership on supporting the Responsible Plan, his lifetime of service in public education, and his courage in being the parent of three soldiers who served in Iraq. Ken Calvert is as corrupt as they come and Hedrick would be a vast improvement.

CA-45: Julie Bornstein

This district absolutely has the potential to be one of the most competitive in the state, especially considering that incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack is now married to a colleague from Florida while living mostly in Washington. Fortunately, we have a candidate with the proven experience and leadership to contend with her. Julie Bornstein has served much of this district before in the state Assembly, was the Director of HUD in Gray Davis' administration, and more recently she has led the Campaign for Affordable Housing, showing a policy facility with a key problem facing the country. Her work as a Community College trustee will serve her well, too. We believe that the district deserves better than a cardboard cutout like Mary Bono, and that Bornstein has the right resume to make a challenge here.

CA-46: Debbie Cook

This is one of the most exciting - and challenging - Congressional races in the state this year. Dana Rohrabacher has a long record of backing terrorists and supporting far-right causes, but hasn't done much for his Orange County district. Debbie Cook, currently mayor of Huntington Beach, is the strongest challenger to take on Rohrabacher in a LONG time - and will make a fantastic member of Congress in her own right. Cook has a firm grasp on the needs of this district, from health care to foreclosures to education. Perhaps most significantly, she offers strong expertise on energy and the environment, particularly on the impact of peak oil and the need to develop sustainable transportation alternatives. This is especially important for sprawling Orange County, and Cook's focus on alternative energy promises to help sustain the 46th District's middle class for decades to come. Debbie Cook is a truly transformational candidate, as her Calitics interview shows.

CD-48: Steve Young

Steve Young is a strong progressive who has come into his own as a Congressional candidate, after a strong first showing in the 2005 special election and again in the 2006 race. His list of issues shows how a progressive can appeal to Orange County residents - emphasizing reviving the middle class, reforming government (especially Republican lawbreaking) and helping take care of our veterans - whereas incumbent John Campbell has repeatedly failed them. Steve Young is also a member of the netroots, and will be one of our best allies in Congress.

CD-49: Robert Hamilton

Robert Hamilton is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, but we believe he represents the values and the beliefs that make all Democrats proud. A Navy veteran, Hamilton was a critic of the Iraq war from the beginning. He is committed to universal health care for all and the need to create new and alternative sources of energy. When faced against Rep. Darrell Issa, the guy who thinks 9/11 was just a plane crash, it's no contest. Hamilton is the best choice for CA-49 and the nation.

CA-50: No endorsement

Brian Bilbray may be wrong about virtually everything, but he's at least smart enough to know it's a bad year to be the right wing ideologue that he is. This is an exceptionally vulnerable district, and we've been impressed both by Nick Leibham's infrastructure and organization and by Cheryl Ede's uncompromising, passionate campaign. Either one of them will have a great target in the general, but we aren't prepared endorse Ede until she demonstrates stronger organization or Leibham until he finds a way to consolidate a splintering activist base.

CA-51: Bob Filner

Rep. Bob Filner has been a friend and favorite for a number of years. His work as chair of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and leadership in the fight to keep Blackwater out of San Diego are just recent examples. We look forward to another term.

CA-52: Mike Lumpkin

Rep. Duncan Hunter didn't get far in his run for President, but he's still stepping aside and apparently handing the Republican nomination to his son. We've got no interest in a Hunter dynasty in eastern San Diego, but are under no illusions: this is one of the toughest slogs of any target in the state. Vickie Butcher's progressive credentials really impress us, but Mike Lumpkin's resume and strong voice calling Republicans out on superfluous wedge issues pushed him ahead by a nose. We've seen a winning recipe emerge from recent Democratic victories in conservative districts, and forcing focus onto the economic issues that are hurting Middle America is getting it done.

CA-53: no endorsement

For far too long, conventional wisdom has improperly painted this as a swing district. In reality, only 40% of California's districts are safer by PVI, making this a district that should support a strong progressive voice. While Susan Davis' leadership on issues close to our hearts like election integrity has been admirable, we're thankful that primary challenger Mike Copass has challenged her record on the war and more broadly, failing to block the failed policies of George W. Bush. Copass got a late start and has faced an uphill battle to build infrastructure, but we hope to hear more from him in the future. More importantly, we hope the focus on Rep. Davis' less than ideal record continues to sharpen.

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The Drive For 60 In The Senate

It's close enough to the general election that polls can be somewhat descriptive, and if you look at these US Senate seats, there's lots of good news for Democrats.

In Colorado, Rep. Mark Udall has moved to a 6-point lead against the ethically challenged former Rep. Bob Schaffer, last seen touring the Marianas Islands obvlious to the rampant abuse and sexual slavery going on at its factories. The Democratic Congress just tightened controls on the CNMI.

In Alaska, Mark Begich is out in front of Series of Tubes Ted Stevens by five points, with the 50-year Senator well under 50%. The recent ethical scandals that have shown Stevens to be running a favor factory in the Great White North are taking a toll on his re-election chances.

In North Carolina, Liddy Dole is in great danger from a challenge by state Sen. Kay Hagan. The fact that Dole was so crappy at her job at the NRSC that the Republicans lost the Senate in 2006 means that she's not likely to have a lot of friends coming out to raise money for her, either.

In Texas, netroots hero Rick Noriega is very close to beating John "Box Turtle" Cornyn.

And this one blows my mind. In Mississippi - yes, that's right, Mississippi - former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove leads Sen. Roger Wicker by 8 points, 48-40. Wicker gave up his House seat in MS-01 to replace Trent Lott in the Senate. That House seat was taken by Democrat Travis Childers, and now Wicker might lose as well.

Add this to the big leads for Mark Warner in Virginia, Tom Udall in New Mexico and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and the challenges by Jeff Merkley in Oregon (where he won his Senate primary yesterday and Gordon Smith is running scared and pretending to be a bipartisan moderate), Al Franken in Minnesota and Tom Allen in Maine, and longshot races like Scott Kleeb in Nebraska and Jim Slattery in Kansas and Larry LaRocco in Idaho, and you're certainly in the ballpark where 60 Senate seats can be a possibility, especially considering that Republicans are, you know, poison.

Now, I'll have something about the fact that we need better Democrats in addition to more. But for the record, I think Noriega and Begich and Tom Udall and Allen would be great, Franken and Merkley and Mark Udall would be pretty good, and Warner and Shaheen and Hagan are moderates who can get somebody else to give them money.

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Whining and Crying Instead of Innovating

Oil prices shot up today on fears of shortages, leading the US Congress to pass the latest in a series of stupid laws regarding our energy future:

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for limiting oil supplies and working together to set crude prices, but the White House threatened to veto the measure.

The bill would subject OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela, to the same antitrust laws that U.S. companies must follow.

The measure passed in a 324-84 vote, a big enough margin to override a presidential veto.

It's a nice election-year "are you with us or are you with the oil companies" vote, but it's the complete opposite track of how we should look at the situation.

A substantial amount of the oil in the world has already been pumped out of the ground. What's left is going to be harder and costlier to reach. It's called peak oil, and nobody wants to talk about it, but in all likelihood we're already there. OPEC would be pretty happy getting $130 a barrel for oil if they had excess capacity to pump. I'm not at all sure they do.

But whether they do or not, trying to lower the price of gas on the margins is insufficient to the problem. Iran says a lot of stuff that's not entirely true, but this is an example of what the next steps could be if we invested in innovation.

Researchers at Isfahan University of Technology have invented a car which consumes only a liter of gas to drive up to 500 kilometers.

“The single-person car is capable of driving at a maximum speed of 75 kilometers per hour,” Alireza Fadaei, supervisor of the manufacturer group announced.

“The car has a 3.5 horsepower carburetor and is equipped with an injection engine,” he added.

“Composite materials with fiber-carbon, which form the body of the car, give it low weight and high strength,” the supervisor of the group claims.

The Iranian car, which is scheduled to be exhibited in France's Low Consuming Exhibit in Nogaro, aims to replace motorcycles.

It could replace cars, too. And we could encourage smarter growth and more mass transit and higher efficiency instead of spending time and effort finding out if OPEC is undercutting you on the price. Guess what - they are. They probably always have been. But that tiny amount of extra cash isn't going to do anything to solve long-term energy needs or fight global warming. The Congress is fighting the last war and trying to save their political skins from angry drivers. But this is useless policy.

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Israel is negotiating with Syria.

After eight years of stalemate and periodic tension, Israel and Syria announced Wednesday that they have launched “serious and continuous” indirect peace talks aimed at ending one of the region’s longest-running disputes.

In identical statements issued from Damascus and Jerusalem, the rival neighbors said that they are taking part in indirect negotiations with Turkish diplomats serving as mediators.

“The two sides stated their intention to conduct these talks in good faith and with an open mind,” according to the statement. “They decided to pursue the dialogue between them in a serious and continuous way, in order to achieve the goal of comprehensive peace.”

If successful, the talks could lead to a broader shift in regional dynamics by returning the Golan Heights to Syria, cutting off critical support for Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, and diminishing the influence of Iran in the region.

Yes, apparently talking to enemies can do all of that. Syria has always been the wild-card in the Middle East, wanting to get out from the shadow of Iran and assert themselves independently, and also rationally believing that the return of the Golan Heights is a satisfactory trade for ending the cycle of violence. Israel doesn't need additional enemies and wants to stop the flow of materials to Hezbollah. So both sides are acting in their own interests to forge a compromise.

That's called diplomacy. And it may be a foreign concept to George Bush and John McCain, but it's certainly not inside Israel, where the range of attitudes about negotiation are far broader than what you would expect if you've been fed on a steady diet of articles from Commentary and Fox News.

There are some Jews who would be made anxious by Mr. Obama even if he changed his first name to Baruch and had his bar mitzvah on Masada. But after speaking with him it struck me that, by the standards of rhetorical correctness maintained by such groups as the Conference of Presidents and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, Mr. Obama is actually more pro-Israel than either Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak. (To say nothing of John McCain and President George W. Bush, who spoke to the Knesset last week about external threats to Israel’s safety but made no mention of the country’s missteps.)

This is an existentially unhealthy state of affairs. I am not wishing that the next president be hostile to Israel, God forbid. But what Israel needs is an American president who not only helps defend it against the existential threat posed by Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, but helps it to come to grips with the existential threat from within. A pro-Israel president today would be one who prods the Jewish state — publicly, continuously and vociferously — to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state. Most American Jewish leaders are opposed, not without reason, to negotiations with Hamas, but if the moderates aren’t strengthened, Hamas will be the only party left.

And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse — not merely halt, but reverse — the West Bank settlement project. The dismantling of settlements is the one step that would buttress the dwindling band of Palestinian moderates in their struggle against the fundamentalists of Hamas.

The myopia in the neoconservative community when it comes to Israel is so destructive to that nation's survival. A binational Arab-Israeli state is untenable. A moderate Palestinian state in the West Bank is the only viable solution. And ending the settlement project is the only path to peace, along with a negotiated settlement on a two-state solution.

This type of negotiation is treachery in the neocon circles. But the track record for their worldview is grim.

The United States really only has two experiences with a sustained effort at the Bush/McCain approach to diplomacy. One would be our effort to deny recognition to Communist China during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. This, it's generally acknowledged, was a strategic fiasco that denied us the opportunity to gain leverage vis-à-vis the Soviet Union [...] The other is our fifty year effort to starve the people of Cuba into rebelling against Fidel Castro. McCain actually defends continuing this policy, but everyone with a functioning brain understands that it's been a ludicrous failure. So that's the path Bush has been taking with Syria and Iran and used to take with North Korea. McCain wants to keep on taking it, put North Korea back under the interdict, and perhaps add Russia to the disfavored list. Like McCain's apparent belief that it would be better if we'd spent another decade or two fighting in Vietnam, it really calls into question whether he has any understanding of what he's talking about.

Of course, it's easier to shout words divorced from their meaning like "appeasement!" and run against Democrats by saying they will ruin society and give in to terrorists. That used to be a decent political strategy, but as a fundamental policy doctrine it's disastrous and the consequences are grave.

P.S. Lebanon's government has made some sort of deal with Hezbollah. More appeasers.

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Sometimes It's Accurate

Last night on CNN a Republican consultant stated plainly that sometimes it's OK to call a woman a bitch.

I think there's plenty of racism in American society. I think there's plenty of sexism in American society. I think cultural mores allow us to publicly express the sexism. And that's sad. At the same time, the fact that racism is so pushed into oblivion and mustn't be uttered actually masks its prevalence, too, and gives the false impression that it's an old subject that has been covered and reached a successful conclusion.

This Presidential race is exposing a lot of old wounds in American life, and with the media we're saddled with, the exposure has not been elevating. If and when the next Democratic President is inaugurated in January 2009, many of those wounds aren't going to heal. In fact they'll get worse. There's no magic bullet to make America a racist-free or sexist-free country. But something has to be done about the casual acceptance of sexism in this campaign.

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I was too brief in my praise for Teddy Kennedy, and as you can see from these quotes there are lots of ways to praise him. But I want to highlight Mike Lux' piece, where he displays the remarkable output by America's greatest living Senator.

I have recently completed my book manuscript on the history of the debate between progressives and conservatives in America, and I have been researching a lot about the congressional debates this country has had in these last 220 years, and I have no doubt that Kennedy should be ranked as the single most important and effective senator in terms of progressive politics. Other senators I would put high on the list- including the great champion of abolition Charles Sumner, the great Progressive era leader Bob LaFollette, Sr., FDR's partner on much of the New Deal era legislation George Norris, and liberal lion Hubert Humphrey- all accomplished great things, but had neither the longevity in the Senate nor the breadth and depth of accomplishments of Ted Kennedy.

Kennedy has been a player in literally every major progressive accomplishment of my life, usually a major player, quite often the leading player: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Legal Services, the War on Poverty, environmental legislation, OSHA, bringing down Richard Nixon on the Watergate investigations, ending the Vietnam War, stopping military aid to the Contras in Central America, the Martin Luther King holiday, stopping Robert Bork, the increases in the minimum wage, Family and Medical Leave, National Service, Motor Voter Act, S-CHIP. His fingerprints are on all of that legislation, and more.

In the blogosphere we like to look at numbers and votes and margins of victory and how many sets we hold in the House and Senate. The truth is that without leaders like Ted Kennedy, you could have 95 Democrats in the Senate and nothing would get done. He is the man who, through power of intellect and willingness to fight, has brought progressive policy to America and untold benefits to its people.

Over the next few days we'll find out the extent of his ailment and whether he can pull through. But it's unmistakable that a Kennedy loss would be almost as great a factor as an Obama Presidential gain, from the perspective of real change. You need advocates to get the legislation needed to create that change, people with respect and courage. I really want to see Ted Kennedy on that stage in Denver. I want to see him back in the Senate. And the reason is that I believe in a progressive America, and fighting for the causes I believe in. I don't see how we get to where we need to be without Ted Kennedy. We're not yet ready for that torch to be passed to a new generation of leadership.

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My Country, My Country

Bob Gates says we're stuck with that Guantanamo prison. Just nothing we can do about it.

Mr Gates told a US Senate hearing: "The brutally frank answer is that we're stuck. We have a serious 'not in my backyard' problem.

"Either their home government won't accept them or we're concerned that the home government will let them loose once we return them home," he said.

"What do you do with that irreducible 70 or 80 who you cannot let loose but will not be charged and will not be sent home?" he asked.

Dianne Feinstein, who has been good on this issue, brushed up against this point, but Gates makes an enormous understatement when he says that those 70 or 80 "will not be charged." He fails to give the reason why, because they've been tortured to obtain information that wouldn't hold up even in their kangaroo courts. Yesterday the Congress heard from a detainee who was tortured and subsequently found to be innocent:

Murat Kurnaz told members of Congress today he was subjected to "water treatment," electric shocks and other abuse during the almost five years he spent in U.S. custody, putting a face to the Justice Department's inspector general report released today, detailing abuses witnessed by FBI agents overseas at detention facilities run by the military and CIA.

Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen, was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks while he traveled with a religious tourism group, and was eventually handed over to U.S. forces. He was held in U.S. facilities in Afghanistan and then at Guantanamo Bay.

Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee via video link from Germany with his lawyer at his side, Kurnaz described how he was abused while he was held at a U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and described how he was subjected to "water treatment" while in custody.

"They stuck my head into a bucket of water and punched me in the stomach," he said. "I inhaled the water. ... It was a strong punch."

Kurnaz testified that, although he had no links to al Qaeda, and German intelligence services told U.S. officials in 2002 that he was not a terrorist, he languished at Guantanamo until August 2006.

While he was detained in Kandahar, Kurnaz testified, he was chained by his arms to the ceiling with his feet dangling and subjected to electric shocks. Kurnaz also alleges U.S. interrogators tried to force him to sign papers admitting his guilt.

These 70 and 80, whom the Pentagon claims are guilty, received the same treatment. But the claim against sending them to their home countries has always been that they would be tortured or killed by their governments. So we insourced the torture and played buddy-buddy with those new authoritarian partners.

U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men -- or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves, according to claims in a new government report.

Buried in a Department of Justice report released Tuesday are new allegations about a 2002 arrangement between the United States and China, which allowed Chinese intelligence to visit Guantanamo and interrogate Chinese Uighurs held there.

According to the report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, an FBI agent reported a detainee belonging to China's ethnic Uighur minority and a Uighur translator told him Uighur detainees were kept awake for long periods, deprived of food and forced to endure cold for hours on end, just prior to questioning by Chinese interrogators.

Susan Manning, a lawyer who represents several Uighurs still held at Guantanamo, said Tuesday the allegations are all too familiar.

U.S. personnel "are engaging in abusive tactics on behalf of the Chinese," she said Tuesday. When Uighur detainees refused to talk to Chinese interrogators in 2002, U.S. military personnel put them in solitary confinement as punishment, she said.

"Why are we doing China's dirty work?" Manning said. "Surely we're better than that."

Surely we're not. We've now become a country with an extra-judicial detention system, one where suspects can be held, tortured, interrogated, and left to die without charges, where the prisoners see the only escape as suicide.

We've now become a country where we aid the Chinese in their own repression of ethnic minority groups.

We've now become a country where all of this is done and our own Secretary of Defense tells us he's very sorry but we can't stop.

If you think one election will wash all this away, you're crazy.

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