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

Saturday, June 21, 2008

And I Don't Think God's On The Ballot

The view of democracy from Robert Mugabe:

President Robert Mugabe said Friday that "only God" could remove him from office, as Zimbabwe's opposition considered pulling out of next week's run-off election amid escalating violence.

"The MDC will never be allowed to rule this country -- never ever," Mugabe told local business people in Zimbabwe's second city Bulawayo, referring to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

"Only God who appointed me will remove me -- not the MDC, not the British." [...]

Later Friday, at a rally in Bulawayo, Mugabe said: "We will never allow an event like an election reverse our independence, our sovereignty, our sweat and all that we fought for ... all that our comrades died fighting for."

Only cowards let an "election" remove them from power.

There's no point to even having the election now, as the MDC has said themselves.

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Dean Broder's Parade Of Lies

Like most Villagers wishing to supplement their income, David Broder has taken tens of thousands of dollars, if not much more, in speaking fees from corporate groups and organizations. As Ken Silverstein at Harper's thoroughly documented, lots of these events were for groups that lobby Congress, like the National Association of Manufacturers' annual meeting and a fundraiser for a PAC for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. There are plenty more at the link. This is part of the Village merry go-round, but Dean Broder has a history of tut-tutting at those journalists who collect substantial fees from industry. He actually said this:

People think that we are part of the establishment and therefore part of the problem. I mean, what bothers me is the notion that journalists believe, or some journalists believe, that they can have their cake and eat it too, that you can have all of the special privileges, access and extraordinary freedom that you have because you are a journalist operating in a society which protects journalism to a greater degree than any other country in the world, and at the same time you can be a policy advocate. You can be a public performer on the lecture circuit or television. I think that’s greedy.

Some journalists named David Broder, apparently, believe that.

I wouldn't say this caused much of an uproar outside of the blogs, but it was enough for the Washington Post's ombudsman to follow up:

The Post Stylebook's ethics and standards section says only: "We freelance for no one and accept no speaking engagements without permission from department heads." Broder and Woodward did not check with editors on the appearances Silverstein mentioned [...]

Broder said he adheres to "the newspaper's strict rules on outside activities" and "additional constraints of my own. I have never spoken to partisan gatherings in any role other than a journalist nor to an advocacy group that lobbies Congress or the federal government. Virtually all of the speeches I have made have been to college or civic audiences."

The NAM, the ACCF and the national parents of the Minnesota group and Northern Virginia Realtors do lobby Congress. Broder later said he broke the rules on those speeches. He also said he had cleared his speeches with Milton Coleman, deputy managing editor, or Tom Wilkinson, an assistant managing editor, but neither remembered him mentioning them. Wilkinson said Broder had cleared speeches in the past. Editors should have been consulted on all of the speeches as well as the cruise.

"I am embarrassed by these mistakes and the embarrassment it has caused the paper,'' Broder said.

He's very, very sorry. And that's that. After all, he's the Dean.

Silverstein, by the way, is unimpressed, and we get a picture of Broder as a pathological liar.

Broder first told Howell, “I have never spoken to partisan gatherings in any role other than [that of] a journalist nor to an advocacy group that lobbies Congress or the federal government.” That turned out to be false, as Howell discovered, so Broder came back to say, “I am embarrassed by these mistakes and the embarrassment it has caused the paper.”

Broder told Howell he attended an event at the American Council for Capital Formation, “but did not give a speech.” So apparently someone at the ACCF made up this account of Broder’s speech to the group? [...]

Howell doesn’t mention this—Post reporters, it seems, will call people to ask about their actions but won’t take calls about their own. More outrageous is that Broder specifically denied to Howell that I had sought comment from him (which I know only because Howell told me during a phone conversation), even though I contacted him several times, by phone and email, beginning forty-eight hours before posting the first story [...]

So this is accountability: “We broke the rules, and we’re sorry. But as Post employees, we won’t deign to answer questions from outside reporters; we are accountable only to our internal ombudsman, if bad publicity should prompt her to address such matters.”

True dat. The Villagers demand the same amount of accountability in the politicians they cover as they do themselves, so this is no shocker. They actively participated in George Bush getting away with torture and spying on Americans, so why can't a vague and dismissive 'sorry' be anything worse? They don't mind lies that led us to war, so why not try to lie their way out of their own conflicts of interest and unethical conduct?

The Village is an accountability-free zone and has been so for a long time. They think pointing out lies or seeking justice is just terribly uncouth and inappropriate. They aren't hippies, you know.

I'm eagerly awaiting the hard-hitting Howard Kurtz article on all of this.

... from Broder's last column:

By refusing to join McCain in (town halls and public financing) in order to protect his own interests, Obama raises an important question: Has he built sufficient trust so that his motives will be accepted by the voters who are only now starting to figure out what makes him tick?

By refusing to join the Washington Post guidelines for the lecture circuit and lying to their ombudsman and outside reporters to protect his own interests, Broder raises an important question: Has he built up sufficient trust outside the Beltway so that his motives will be accepted by the readers who are only now starting to figure out that he's an unrepentant liar?

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Photo-Op Buddies

No surprise that President Bush parachuted into Iowa, spending lots of resources and the attention of law enforcement, to "show people that he cares". John McCain, of course, just had to follow him, even though the Governor asked him to lay off:

An aide to Gov. Chet Culver said Thursday that Republican presidential candidate John McCain ignored the governor's request to cancel a campaign visit amid a massive flood recovery effort in the state.

McCain toured flood-damaged sites in Iowa on Thursday, including the town of Columbus Junction in the southeast.

Patrick Dillon, Culver's chief of staff, said the governor was concerned that McCain's trip would divert local law enforcement from the flood recovery effort to provide security for McCain.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama canceled a scheduled visit to eastern Iowa last week at the request of state officials.

McCain also opposed funding for flood control in Des Moines as recently as last year.

But he did show up with a camera crew in tow. He "cares." Isn't the first time he's used a backdrop whose funding he called for cutting.

UPDATE: Obama took a whack at McCain on this today.

And just the other day, Senator McCain traveled to Iowa to express his sympathies for the victims of the recent flooding. I’m sure they appreciated the sentiment, but they probably would have appreciated it more if he hadn’t voted against funding for levees and flood control programs, which he seems to consider pork. Well, we do have to reform budget earmarks, cut genuine pork, and dispense with unnecessary spending, as we confront a budget crisis left by the most fiscally irresponsible administration in modern times.

But when it comes to rebuilding America’s essential but crumbling infrastructure, we need to do more, not less. Cities across the Midwest are under water right now or courting disaster not just because of the weather, but because we’ve failed to protect them. Maintaining our levees and dams isn’t pork barrel spending, it’s an urgent priority, and that’s what we’ll do when I’m President. I’ll also launch a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years, and create nearly two million new jobs. The work will be determined by what will maximize our safety, security, and shared prosperity. Instead of building bridges to nowhere, let’s build communities that meet the needs and reflect the dreams of our families. That’s what this bank will help us do.

The larger point is that McCain makes no distinction between "pork" and infrastructure investments that are vital economically. It allows him to demagogue about "reducing government spending" in a blind and morally corrupt way. McCain's America is one where bridges in Minneapolis fall down.

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FISA Fallout

As I try to keep it in check on the Obama cave-in, Hunter crystallizes my thoughts, particularly on the exclusivity argument.

OBAMA: It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future.

No, it really doesn't. Because FISA never went away -- it doesn't need "restoring". FISA is FISA. It was FISA, it is FISA. The only reason FISA would need "restoring" is if we are all willing to accept that it had been invalidated entirely by the president's actions -- that the president was not only able to simply break the law, but managed to erase it from the books entirely on his own say-so.

That's absurd. That's asinine. A law does not need "restoring" when it is violated, it needs enforcing. And given that the Democrats have latched onto a piece of legislation designed explicitly to prevent that from ever happening in any meaningful way, there is nothing to be the slightest bit proud of. It is complete acceptance of an illegal program, dressed up as hard-fought victory, and by God the Democrats responsible for it and voting for it, Obama included, naturally presume that if they type up some lovely-sounding bullcrap about it, they'll be able to pretend it is something other than strategically planned and executed cowardice in the face of lawbreaking [...]

...FISA was not expiring. FISA was not falling into a legislative black hole. It continued to exist, as the exclusive means for electronic surveillance of the American people, and all it required was a warrant, and all the warrant required was probable cause. That's it. That's what this entire, months-long parade of panic, bluster and torn hair has been about, that it was just too damn difficult for the administration to be asked to show two sentences of probable cause to a judge in a secret hearing before collecting whatever electronic information about you, your neighbors, your family, your friends, everyone in your town, everyone in your social organizations, everyone in every restaurant you've ever been to, etc., etc., etc. they wanted to collect.

That's about as concise as you can make it. We had a law. The President decided he didn't want to follow it. In response, the Congress immunized the President and his partners for their conduct, on the grounds that now, future Presidents will have to follow it. But if that was true, Bush wouldn't have broken the law in the first place. "If men were angels, no law would be necessary," the saying goes.

The only reason that the President wouldn't follow the law regarding FISA and couldn't be bothered to write up a warrant is because they were spying on people with no intelligence value. Maybe political enemies. Maybe activists or grassroots leaders. Maybe foreign diplomats. Who knows? We certainly won't, because this horrible deal shuts down any ability to find out. And this bill actually ratifies a lot of the warrantless spying in which Bush and his cronies have engaged since 2001. It allows for "bulk collection" - the mass sweeping up of all communications into a giant drift-net. And it has an exception for "exigent circumstances" - to be judged by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence - in which case the executive wouldn't need to consult any judge before commencing with spying. That's what eviscerates the Fourth Amendment and renders the rest of the bill kind of impotent. And quoting a fact sheet from Sen. Feingold's office:

If the government goes forward with surveillance before obtaining court approval, and the court subsequently determines that the government’s surveillance violated the law, the government can nonetheless keep and use any information it obtained. The compromise does not include a provision from the Senate Judiciary Committee bill that gives the FISA Court discretion to impose restrictions on the use of information about Americans acquired through procedures later determined to be illegal by the FISA court.

This is a better bill than some of the FISA fixes offered previously. But FISA, itself a rubber stamp most of the time for electronic surveillance, needed fixing only in TIGHTENING civil liberties protections, and the end result of this bill loosens them.

As for Obama, it's important to understand that he is no saint who is the perfect vessel of all things sweet and good, nor is he a depraved animal of the same stripe as a John McCain on failed conservative ideology. He's somewhere in the middle - and when we disagree with him, we have to let him know. For all the disappointment, one thing that has held so far throughout this election is that Obama listens to criticism and mostly reacts to it. Thereore, that criticism must be sustained and loud. If we truly are the change we've been waiting for, then we must be diligent in forcing Obama in the direction we desire.

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Two Updates

Just some further info on a couple things I wrote recently:

1) on the item of the military sending out Obama-smearing blog posts in official Army PR newsletters, the Army has responded by taking out the link, and writing a pretty honest mea culpa to a Kos diarist. Good for him.

2) on the item of Norm Coleman possibly green-screening his wife into a campaign spot, the producer of the ad put up some outtakes that appear to show that she was indeed on the set. He was kind of snotty about it, which is his right. Let this be my mea culpa.

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Welcome to Youngstown

California is starting to look more and more like the factory states in the 1980s after everybody pulled out.

California's deteriorating economy is demonstrated anew by a sharp jump in the state's unemployment rate to 6.8 percent in May.

The Department of Employment says 60,000 fewer Californians held jobs last month than in April, and 18,000 fewer than in May 2007. Unemployment, meanwhile, hit 1.3 million, up by 300,000 from May 2007.

That's an over 30% increase in the unemployed in just one year.

The paralysis of the state's government is slightly more manageable when job growth is expanding, sectors are booming and money is flowing into the coffers. When you have a dramatic downturn like this, government simply must have the flexibility to act. It actually needs that flexibility all the time, but in a downturn people suffer visibly from the structural stasis.

If the Democrats can use the Youngstown-ization of the state economy as a lever to argue for legitimate, long-lasting structural changes, they'd gather a lot of support. The LA Chamber of Commerce is talking about restoring the car tax, fercryinoutloud. The problem, of course, is that California's government is being held for ransom, in a bipartisan way, and it simply eliminates any opportunity for moving forward.

The backers of a package of bills to overhaul subprime lending regulations pointed to a deepening crisis that has put one of every 242 California homes into foreclosure in February, the second highest rate in the nation [...]

The package of subprime bills had been approved by the Assembly. But it hit rough waters Wednesday in the Senate banking committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden.

Machado has dealt with mortgage issues for years. His district is one of the national epicenters for foreclosures. But Machado is seen by some consumer advocates as overly sympathetic to the industry.

"The arguments he makes are certainly quite similar to those made by the industry folks we are negotiating with, and in many cases don't seem to put the protection of consumers at the forefront," Leonard said.

Machado isn't alone in being bought and paid for, of course. The lobbyists talk about "regulatory nightmares" that will stop anyone from getting credit and stunt job growth. They spend lots of money to ensure their argument will be heard. And they water everything down.

This is why we have a bitter, angry electorate. Democrats have the opportunity to channel that anger. But the universe of those who put their constituents first is narrow indeed. Broken government leads to broken lives.

Welcome to Youngstown.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Trouble Signs For The ObamaBomb

Obama raised the same amount as John McCain in May. If you add in the RNC and the DNC, McCain is ahead by a fairly clear margin. He's going to get a hit for his cave on FISA from at least a segment of online Democrats, and now that he's opted out he's pretty much relying on that. This information wasn't released late in the day on a Friday for no reason.

He would have raised gobs of money if he showed an ounce of backbone on this. Now I'm not certain that he'll be able to sustain the massive money advantage everyone is expecting. The May numbers are ominous.

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Just One Of Those Throw In The Towel Days

Days like these kind of make me wish I hadn't written those 7,000 or so posts for the last four years. I mean, I had fun, but it amounted to an authoritarian takeover of government and nothing resembling hope on the horizon. We have a breakdown of the democratic system of government when a political party - the one in the majority - can be bullied into leaving the Constitution in a heap and giving up responsibility to stop the outrages of the Bush years, even when given a mandate to do so. In not wanting the trouble, they are setting a dangerous precedent - that an action is legal as long as the President SAYS it's legal.

And now the standard-bearer of the party, the man many hope will lead the nation and the world in the next eight years, fails to heed the call to reject this capitulation. It could be that he wants the power as President; most Presidents don't want Congress or the courts meddling into their business. It could be he just wants to get elected and doesn't want the trouble that us dirty hippies, who think the Fourth Amendment means as it reads, will provide. Obama is tightening up his access, anyway, at the same time as he calls for bottom-up movements for change, so walling himself off from liberals would fit. I like Obama on some levels and understand perfectly that the only candidate whose views align perfectly with mine is me. But this is a damn stupid move.

More than anything, this betrayal from a rotten-to-the-core Washington establishment just brings things into focus. Republicans as a name brand are screwed for a long time. The House Democratic leadership stinks on ice. But as Howie Klein notes, the leadership beneath them - the second tier - supported the Constitution today.

The movement that was formed in response to this betrayal, the coalition calling itself "Strange Bedfellows," has raised nearly $300,000, and is running full-page ads in the Washington Post calling out Steny Hoyer. You can give here.

Goal Thermometer

There are Bush Dogs on everyone's list and that number will grow in 2008, and more in 2010. We all now know where we stand. There are about 120 Democrats in the House, and maybe 30 in the Senate. It is unacceptable and frankly obnoxious to think that some other Bush Dog like a Mark Udall, who voted for the FISA bill today, being added to the Senate would make any difference. I for one am devoting my energies solely to those who spoke out and who will not betray this movement and their causes. There are two reactions to this: disengagement or refocusing. I can only do the latter.

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AWOL No More

Just totally committed to the monarchy:

Statement of Senator Barack Obama on FISA Compromise

“Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.

“That is why last year I opposed the so-called Protect America Act, which expanded the surveillance powers of the government without sufficient independent oversight to protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans. I have also opposed the granting of retroactive immunity to those who were allegedly complicit in acts of illegal spying in the past.

“After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act.

“Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses. But this compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies to determine what took place in the past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect America Act.

“It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.”

"Work to remove" telecom immunity should be rewritten to "maybe show up to vote on some amendment that will surely be struck down and then whimper away." What a colossal failure of leadership.

Sadly, Clinton wouldn't have been any better. Or any of them save Dodd and maybe John Edwards. Dodd, of course, isn't even likely to filibuster this time around.

As President, I'm sure Obama is going to have lots of fun with those new surveillance powers while mixing them in with all his super-cool Web 2.0 tools.

We're living in a bipartisan national surveillance state.

... Obama earns a Wanker of the Day from Atrios. And it's well-deserved. I thought he'd issue some vague statement of disapproval and then miss the vote. This endorsement of a terrible "compromise" is waaaay out of bounds.

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Senator AWOL

Barack Obama is going to try and play out the string on the FISA bill.

Barack Obama is keeping his position on the new FISA bill close to the vest -- so close, in fact, that even his aides don't know what it is!

During a conference call this afternoon with reporters, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was first asked whether the Obama campaign would schedule time for the candidate to vote in the Senate next week, and how Obama would actually vote on the policy. Gibbs initially said he didn't know about the scheduling, without addressing the main subject.

Later on, another reporter asked specifically about Obama's position. "I better check on that, too," Gibbs said. "I honestly -- that's what I need to work on, as well."


Democrats have now fully embraced the very illegal actions Rep. Kucinich cited in his articles of impeachment. And Sen. Obama is highly unlikely to ride in gallantly and put a stop to it. We have a deeply conservative, authoritarian Congress, evidenced by the fact that more Republicans approve of it than Democrats. (If you can stomach it, read that whole Greenwald post.) The "bipartisanship" of this bill and every national security legislation is entirely one-sided, in the direction of the most loathed President in American history and his partners in Congress. The craven Democratic leadership doesn't even bother to make so much as a compelling ARGUMENT against it. Obama has, at least, but his follow-through in this case has been completely useless. Behold the Good Obama, making a speech:

My approach is guided by a simple premise: I have confidence that our system of justice is strong enough to deal with terrorists; Senator McCain does not. That is not the same as giving these detainees the same full privileges as Americans citizens. I never said that, the Supreme Court never said that, and I would never do that as President of the United States. So either Senator McCain’s campaign doesn’t understand what the Court decided, or they are distorting my position.

I have made the same arguments as Republicans like Arlen Specter, countless Generals and national security experts, and the largely Republican-appointed Supreme Court of the United States of America – which is that we need not throw away 200 years of American jurisprudence while we fight terrorism. We do not need to choose between our most deeply held values, and keeping this nation safe. That’s a false choice, and I completely reject it.

Now in their attempt to distort my position, Senator McCain’s campaign has said I want to pursue a law enforcement approach to terrorism. This is demonstrably false, since I have laid out a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that includes military force, intelligence operations, financial sanctions and diplomatic action. But the fact that I want to abide by the United States Constitution, they say, shows that I have a “pre-9/11 mindset.”

Well I refuse to be lectured on national security by people who are responsible for the most disastrous set of foreign policy decisions in the recent history of the United States. The other side likes to use 9/11 as a political bludgeon. Well, let’s talk about 9/11.

The people who were responsible for murdering 3,000 Americans on 9/11 have not been brought to justice. They are Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and their sponsors – the Taliban. They were in Afghanistan. And yet George Bush and John McCain decided in 2002 that we should take our eye off of Afghanistan so that we could invade and occupy a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. The case for war in Iraq was so thin that George Bush and John McCain had to hype the threat of Saddam Hussein, and make false promises that we’d be greeted as liberators. They misled the American people, and took us into a misguided war.

Here are the results of their policy. Osama bin Laden and his top leadership – the people who murdered 3000 Americans – have a safe-haven in northwest Pakistan, where they operate with such freedom of action that they can still put out hate-filled audiotapes to the outside world. That’s the result of the Bush-McCain approach to the war on terrorism.

Behold, the Bad Obama, acting on FISA:

(space left intentionally blank)

His national security working group is filled with Clinton-era retreads and Beltay denizens because there is no Democratic bench on national security and foreign policy. They are worse than Republicans on this score, for while Republicans are authoritarian imperialists at least you know where they stand. Democrats show by their actions a total weakness and lack of conviction that suggests they either agree with American hegemony and the imperial Presidency or they're too beaten down like helpless dogs to raise a peep. And so, with no meaningful opposition, we get legal theories, soon to be made the law of the land, like this:

Sen. Kit Bond was on NPR this morning explaining why telecom amnesty was justified and uttered what is the most revealing quote of the last year at least:

"When the Government tells you to do something, I think you all recognize, uh, that that is something that you need to do."

He forgot to say that we should click our heels and salute before obeying, but that omission notwithstanding, Bond has brilliantly put his finger perfectly on the bipartisan ethos of our ruling class. Pardon me, but I just need to write that again: "When the Government tells you to do something, I think you all recognize, uh, that that is something that you need to do." Clearly, Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi and we-will-see-today- how-many-other-Democrats concur.

105, Glenn. And they did so proudly, despite having the bill for less than 24 hours and debating it for less than one.

We won't forget this. We could give up on politics entirely, but that's what the corrupt Democratic establishment would want. I'm not interested in their desires.

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Rule Of Law Falls By A 293-129 Vote

One more nail in the coffin of this unspeakably corrupt, debased, indecent government. They're loving it in the corporate boardrooms and lobby shops today. Here's Caroline Frederickson of the ACLU on this unconstitutional surveillance abomination (rejected by a majority of Democrats, but again, the majority of the majority doesn't count anymore).

"It’s Christmas morning at the White House thanks to this vote. The House just wrapped up some expensive gifts for the administration and their buddies at the phone companies. Watching the House fall to scare tactics and political maneuvering is especially infuriating given the way it stood up to pressure from the president on this same issue just months ago. In March we thought the House leadership had finally grown a backbone by rejecting the Senate’s FISA bill. Now we know they will not stand up for the Constitution.

"No matter how often the opposition calls this bill a ‘compromise,’ it is not a meaningful compromise, except of our constitutional rights. The bill allows for mass, untargeted and unwarranted surveillance of all communications coming in to and out of the United States. The courts’ role is superficial at best, as the government can continue spying on our communications even after the FISA court has objected. Democratic leaders turned what should have been an easy FISA fix into the wholesale giveaway of our Fourth Amendment rights.

"More than two years after the president’s domestic spying was revealed in the pages of the New York Times, Congress’ fury and shock has dissipated to an obedient whimper. After scrambling for years to cover their tracks, the phone companies and the administration are almost there. This immunity provision will effectively destroy Americans’ chance to have their deserved day in court and will kill any possibility of learning the extent of the administration’s lawless actions. The House should be ashamed of itself. The fate of the Fourth Amendment is now in the Senate’s hands. We can only hope senators will show more courage than their colleagues in the House."

They won't. The die has been cast and the bastards in the House leadership just want to get on with it. They are very obviously protecting themselves, fearing that the illegal activities they failed to stop after the fact will make them accountable. The "Nuremberg Defense" that if the government says it's legal, then you are immunized has returned to full effect. The merging of corporate and governmental interests here is the very definition of fascism.

And ho-hum, your rights have slipped away quietly, in broad daylight, and your media doesn't care, and your elected officials enthusiastically don't care. Fine. We're going to fight this, and we're going to keep fighting this for as long as humanly possible, and we're not going to forget one name on that list of 293. We'll be slow and methodical, but someday soon we'll get rid of all of them.

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Friday Random Ten

There's a lot of crap going on today making me ornery, but first let's get to the music:

The Power of Equality - Red Hot Chili Peppers
O Valencia - The Decemberists
Past In Present - Feist
Good Shit - Cornershop
Climbing Up The Walls - Radiohead
Barbara H. - Fountains of Wayne
Trouble On The Line - Loretta Lynn
Romeo - Basement Jaxx
Sand River - Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
Lust For Life - Iggy Pop

Bonus Track:

Under Your Skin - Luscious Jackson

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He Broke His Word!!!

I guess the settled media narrative is that Barack Obama is just a weasel and a scoundrel for breaking his word - his WORD! - about public financing (even though that's a clever misinterpretation of his statements), and he's threatening to topple the whole public system by opting out for the general election. A system that gives us corporate PAC loopholes and 527 groups and all kinds of ways to use money outside the boundaries of donating to candidates. THAT system.

Somehow, the fact that John McCain is breaking the law doesn't come up:

I mentioned earlier today that it was quite a thing to see John McCain denouncing Barack Obama for breaking his word on public financing when McCain himself is at this moment breaking the law in continuing to spend over the spending limits he promised to abide by through the primary season in exchange for public financing. (By the FEC's rules, we're still in the primary phase of the election and will be until the conventions.)

I want to return to this subject though because this is not hyperbole or some throw away line. He's really doing it. McCain opting into public financing, accepted the spending limits and then profited from that opt-in by securing a campaign saving loan. And then he used some clever, but not clever enough lawyering, to opt back out. And the person charged with saying what flies and what doesn't -- the Republican head of the FEC -- said he's not allowed to do that. He can't opt out unilaterally unless the FEC says he can.

Every gallon of fuel on the Straight Talk Express, every rental of a venue for a town hall meeting, every donation phone call, every sandwich futher BREAKS THE LAW. And yet this guy is being sanctimonious about his honorable efforts in campaign finance reform?

It's not about money, it's about ACCESS. A $500 million dollar movement fueled by small donors doesn't create an unethical access problem because an individual $100 donor will have no pull with an Obama Administration. A lobbyist-fueled, PAC-fueled "movement" has a legitimate access problem - there are strings attached to their money. It doesn't matter who's "in" the system or who's "out". And anyway the system is insufficient to 21st-century campaigning.

Of course, to the traditional media, the point has nothing to do with campaign finance, which is a process story. It's about "your word" as they define it, and they will use this to set the narrative on Obama. Expect a lot of negative crap from the media for the next week.

UPDATE: As for the good government groups who are not pleased by the decision, they are advised to get over themselves. Outside of Sen. Feingold none of them have expressed much support for a real public financing system, so spare me the teeth-gnashing.

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The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

I'm still mad at the Democratic Congress, but there is a silver lining - they're not Republicans. I can hardly believe these two stories.

In New Mexico, Senate candidate and all-around wingnut Steve Pearce decided to attack his opponent Tom Udall for language in a bill that would prevent leases to extract oil from shale in the Rocky Mountains. Only problem is, it wasn't Tom Udall's bill. It was MARK Udall's. He's also running for the Senate, and when both of these Democrats get there they can have a laugh about how pathetic their opponents were.

In Minnesota, Sen. Norm Coleman put together an ad featuring his family. His wife actually lives in LA and drops in to Minnesota every now and again for campaigning. So maybe it isn't surprising that he's appeared to green-screen her into the ad the way she's green-screened into his personal life. You can see for yourself - something certainly look weird:

"Keystone Kops" would be a competent version of Republicans circa 2008.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

All In The Timing

I'm sure the military judge, in close consultation with the Defense Department, threw his Khadr dart at the calendar to come up with this date:

Canadian Omar Khadr was told by a military judge Thursday at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that his trial on war crimes charges will begin on Oct. 8.

The judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, said the date for trial by the controversial military commissions process can be changed for legal reasons if necessary.

Khadr, 21, faces up to life in prison if convicted on charges of killing a U.S. army medic with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was 15 years old at the time.

Parrish was presiding over Khadr's pre-trial hearing for the first time.

The Toronto-born detainee's military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, has accused the Pentagon of making last month's surprise change in judges to speed the process of getting his client to trial.

The last judge, Col. Peter Brownback, who had been on the case from the outset, was more concerned with following legal procedure, and leery of many aspects of the prosecution case, Kuebler has alleged.

Kuebler said Parrish has been described in an internet posting as "rocket docket" and has been parachuted in to get his client to trial before President George W. Bush leaves the White House early next year, something his predecessor, Brownback, was in no hurry to do.

Could somebody get me the significance of October 8, please? I mean other than the fact that it's a few weeks before the Presidential election. I'm not SO cynical to suggest that a high-profile trial of a Terrorist (who was the ripe old age of FIFTEEN at the time of his arrest) would fall in that month on purpose.

It has to be numerology or something.

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A New Strategy To End The War?

Perhaps the better way to go about ending this war is to make it less profitable. Of course the military contractors are always one step ahead on that front. On the one hand the President actually signed a bill closing a tax loophole that allowed contractors to avoid payroll taxes for their employees (this is from the AP so as per my practice - read the rules, AP! - I will quote without linking):

Bush signed into law the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act, which provides tax relief for military families. Included in the legislation is a provision that would treat foreign subsidiaries of U.S. government contractors as American employers. That means they now have to pay the taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare programs.

This may end entitlement reform as we know it, and at the same time may get the contractors to think about pulling the plug on this military adventurism if it hurts their bottom line. Maybe there's more money to be made overcharging for services during domestic natural disasters than in foreign wars (they're such selfless patriots, stealing money from the Treasury during Katrina and all...). In addition, if they were made to be culpable for the crimes they commit, maybe they'd pull up and leave too.

The US has accepted that foreign contractors in Iraq will no longer have immunity from Iraqi law under a new security agreement now under negotiation, says the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

Mr Zebari, speaking to The Independent in Washington, said that if there was a further incident like the one in which 17 Iraqis were killed by workers from the Blackwater security company in Baghdad last September, the Iraqis would arrest and punish the contractors held responsible.

The American concession would have a serious effect in Iraq, where there are an estimated 160,000 foreign contractors, many of them heavily armed security personnel. The contractors, who outnumber the 145,000-strong US Army in the country, have become a vital if much-resented part of the military machine in Iraq.

At the same time, the shrewder contractors like Blackwater can always find a way to wriggle off the hook.

RALEIGH - To defend itself against a lawsuit by the widows of three American soldiers who died on one of its planes in Afghanistan, a sister company of the private military firm Blackwater has asked a federal court to decide the case using the Islamic law known as Shari’a.

The lawsuit “is governed by the law of Afghanistan,” Presidential Airways argued in a Florida federal court. “Afghan law is largely religion-based and evidences a strong concern for ensuring moral responsibility, and deterring violations of obligations within its borders.”

If the judge agrees, it would essentially end the lawsuit over a botched flight supporting the U.S. military. Shari’a law does not hold a company responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their work.

I expect all military contractors to now put "al-" in front of their names and festoon their corporate logos with beards.

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Iraq 4-Ever

No-strings funding passes. 151 Democratic votes against, almost 2/3 of the caucus. Including, in one of her first votes, Donna Edwards.

I guess that "majority of the majority" thing doesn't apply.

Four Republicans voted against, and I expected Ron Paul, but John Campbell of CA-48? The hell? I think he is opposed to the process, or spending of any kind or something.

Enjoy your war, 6 year-olds.

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The Speaker's Lost Her Conscience

We're seeing a real separation of those on the side of justice and those on the side of cover-ups in the FISA fallout. On the side of justice, for example, is Patrick Leahy:

But after months of negotiations, the House today unveiled a new FISA bill that I cannot support. While I applaud the fact that this legislation includes some of the important surveillance protections we wrote into the Senate Judiciary Committee bill last year, it fails to hold the Bush-Cheney Administration accountable for its illegal wiretapping program.

I will oppose this new FISA bill when the Senate votes on it next week. We must do everything we can to protect Americans from the Bush-Cheney Administration's erosion of our civil liberties and callous disregard for the rule of law -- and this new FISA bill fails that test.

Of course, he was cut out of the decision-making on this "deal."

On the side of cover-ups is Nancy Pelosi:

Tomorrow, we will be taking up the FISA bill. As you probably know, the bill has been filed. It is a balanced bill. I could argue it either way, not being a lawyer, but nonetheless, I could argue it either way. But I have to say this about it: it's an improvement over the Senate bill and I say that as a strong statement. The Senate bill is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. This bill improves upon the Senate bill.

But you probably know that. What you may not know is that it's improvement over the original FISA bill as well. So it makes progress in the right direction. But these bills depend on the commitment to the Constitution of the President of the United States and of his Justice Department. So while some may have some complaints about this, that, or the other about the bill, it is about the enforcement, it is about the implementation of the law where our constitutional rights are protected.

But I'm pleased that in Title I, there is enhancement over the existing FISA law. Reaffirmation, I guess that's the word I'd looking for. A reaffirmation that FISA and Title III of the Criminal Code are the authorities under which Americans can be collected upon. It makes an improvement over current law and the Senate bill in terms of how you can collect on Americans overseas.

It's an improvement over the Senate bill in terms of – the Senate wanted to say, “Okay, we will agree to exclusivity,” which is, in my view, the biggest issue in the bill, that the law is the exclusive authority and not the whim of the President of the United States. They said, “We will agree to exclusivity, but only a narrow collection of things will fall that that category. Under the rest, the President has inherent authority under the Constitution.” That's out. That's out, thank heavens.

And it is again in Title II, an improvement over the Senate bill in that it empowers the District Court, not the FISA Court, to look into issues that relate to immunity. It has a strong language in terms of an Inspector General to investigate how the law has been used, is being used, will be used.

So that will be legislation that we take up tomorrow. We will have a lively debate I'm sure within our caucus on this subject and in the Congress. It has bipartisan support.

She's out of her mind. She says that the problem was with implementation of the bill, yet the bill lets the White House off the hook for 7 years' worth of illegal implementation of warrantless spying. She won't say that the District Court will assuredly immunize the telecoms because they are empowered only to see if the President gave them a piece of paper which said "this is legal." She thinks exclusivity is the most important part because that's what Feinstein told her, but if the President can hand over a piece of paper and make the illegal suddenly legal, there's nothing exclusive about FISA.

Before Pelosi became the Minority Leader in 2003 she was the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. She was briefed on these activities and knew at least the colors of what was taking place, if not the details. She's protecting her capo Steny Hoyer and protecting herself. This is what Nancy's allowing to go forward:

Reports of the newest FISA compromise indicate that, on telecom immunity, a federal court would be compelled to grant the telecoms immunity if there was substantial evidence that the Bush administration assured them that the warrantless surveillance program was legal. Doesn't that actually endorse and extend to private actors the Nixonian view that if the president says it's legal, it's legal, regardless of what the law says and the Constitution says? Wouldn't that set an awful precedent that an administration could get private actors to do whatever they wanted including breaking the law?

Despite authorizing a monarchy today, Pelosi managed to swear in Rep. Donna Edwards, a real progressive that tossed out her telecom-money-besotted chum Al Wynn, and actually used the words "Do you solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States?"

To which I would have said, "I don't know, Madam Speaker. Do you?"

...incidentally, we're hearing that Sen. Obama's staff is reviewing the FISA issue. His staff has known what was about to happen for some time. He can still end this tomorrow. He can make sure this never sees the light of day in the Senate. I know it would be terribly partisan to stand up for the rule of law and the Constitution, but it's well within his capacity. We'll have that test of his conscience in the coming days.

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LA Transit Ridership At An All-Time High

People have a funny way of adapting. They know that the oil companies are as far from committed to lowering gas prices as possible, so they'll look to lower the cost of commuting rather than search for useless answers to drop gas prices like offshore drilling, which would do absolutely nothing. The Metrolink rail system in LA isn't perfect and doesn't work for everyone, but people are making it work more than ever before.

Commuter rail ridership broke an all-time record this week, and Caltrans reported a dip in freeway traffic as commuters across California struggled with record gas prices.

Metrolink recorded its highest number of riders in a single day ever Tuesday - 50,232 - a 15.6% increase over the same amount of business last year on June 17. Metro Rail ridership last month shot up 6 percent over May 2007, said Dave Sotero, a Metro spokesman.

Meanwhile, Caltrans officials said today that traffic on California freeways dropped 1.5% compared with last year - or the equivalent of a billion fewer miles traveled, said spokesman Derrick Alatorre.

Just that miniscule drop is the difference between gridlock and a relatively smooth ride. Not to mention the fact that hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas are being saved. Between all that and not having to be constantly confronted by idiots driving while holding their cell phones, the LA commuting story is a little less bleak.

This is all happening under a BROKEN transit system. Imagine what could happen with a little investment.

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Hit and Run

So, thousands of Taliban broke out of jail in Afghanistan and vanished - check. Then they captured a bunch of villages in the South around their movement's birthplace of Kandahar - check. Then NATO forces rush in for a traditional infantry battle and the Taliban melts away.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi told journalists that the army had regained control of 10 villages that had been overrun by the Taliban after hundreds of militants escaped in a prison break at the main Kandahar jail last week.

Azimi said the fleeing Taliban had seeded the area with land mines at a time when villagers were about to begin harvesting their crops. Thousands of refugees had fled the district earlier this week as fighting loomed.

Azimi said 56 members of the Taliban had died in the coalition offensive. The governor of Kandahar province, Asadullah Khalid, put the figure of killed and wounded insurgents in the hundreds. NATO did not confirm either of those estimates.

"We don't have a definitive assessment, though casualties were inflicted," NATO spokesman Mark Laity said.

Taliban commanders acknowledged only six fighters were killed.

I think NATO needs a different strategy. The result of any frontal assault is going to be the Taliban melting away - they, like most of Southern Afghanistan, are Pashto, and indistinguishable from the general population. They'll continue to run guerrilla operations and as long as they have support from the population it can go on for decades. It's hard to know what exactly to do in Afghanistan, but running soldiers around to fight battles isn't going to work. I think we may need more troops in there, and buy-in from the locals, but there doesn't seem to be much of an objective outside of "don't let Karzai get killed".

Man, will the next President have a mess to clean up.

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2,700 Licenses In Two Days

There's no suggestion that all of these are for same-sex weddings; it is June and lots of people get married around this time, after all. But already the number of licenses issued exceed a traditional week in June. I think we can reasonably aver that at least 2,000 of these are from same-sex couples.

4,000-plus people's lives and loving relationships have been reaffirmed in just a couple days. That's nice.

Meanwhile, Virginia is SCARED OOGABOOGA!!! Actually, random nuts in Virginia are scared, even though their state has already passed a constitutional ban. It's worth remembering that, while this is a great week for California, the struggle for recognition and rights is a long way from being over.

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The Obama Ad

It's his first of the general election campaign.

Kind of up and down, and a gratuitous reference to getting people off welfare to work. But this is a red-state ad. Fourteen of the eighteen states where Obama bought time went Republican in 2004.

The first ad of the general election is on the air. We're told it's on running on t.v. stations in 18 states: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Interesting combination.

North Dakota, Montana, Georgia and Indiana leap out at me. And as Digby notes, this is really why Obama's stepping into a primary fight and endorsing Bush Dog and telecom whore John Barrow. No other reason.

I expect a bit of a move to the right in the general election, I'm prepared for it. What I cannot fathom is how the nominee and leader of the party remains mute while the Fourth Amendment is flushed down the toilet. It's astonishing to me that the only remaining Presidential candidate who appears to give a damn about civil liberties is Bob Barr.

Pardon me, but I'm angry today...

UPDATE: I'm hearing that Obama cut the radio ad for John Barrow before there was a primary opponent. Of course, there are quotes from Obama staffers praising Barrow out today, so if Barrow is doing something sneaky Obama sure appears to be going along with it.

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Here it is. The final indignity. Funding for endless war AND etching out the 4th Amendment will be combined into the same bill to force enough compliance from Bush Dogs to get this bill passed. "By any means necessary" for Hoyer and his corporate lobbying buddies.

The House Rules Committee is meeting at this hour on the "FISA Amedments Act." Later today, they'll be meeting on a technical fix that allows them to waive PAYGO rules and waive consideration of a bill within 24 hours of its rules being set.

The plan is to put the two together.

To be precise, the war supplemental will be attached to the FISA bill. This is being fast-tracked well beyond our ability to stop it. The royalists in the House want war without restrictions and free passes for lawbreakers.

UPDATE: The best information I have is the Rules Committee is acting on the FISA bill right now, and they're waiving the requirements that would conceivably allow them to act on both war funding and FISA as soon as tomorrow. However, war funding may happen tonight, with FISA tomorrow. I apologize for trying to get this information out swiftly. It's still possible but not a done deal.

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Here We Go

The handshakes have been made, the contribution checks have been written, and the telecom industry and corporate shill Democrats have joined forces to immunize lawbreaking and undermine the rule of law. This time, for real.

A final deal has been reached on a rewrite of electronic surveillance rules and will be announced Thursday, two congressional aides said.

The aides said the House is likely to take up the legislation Friday....

As of Wednesday, sources said the new bill would allow a federal district court to decide whether to provide retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies being sued for their role in the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program....One source said the federal district court deciding on retroactive immunity would review whether there was "substantial evidence" the companies had received assurances from the government that the administration’s program was legal.

Absolutely absurd. Not only does this bill still allow for mass surveillance on American citizens, but according to its provisions, if the Attorney General wrote a "get out of the Constitution free" note to its telecom partners, which we alrady know they did, then they are allowed to violate federal statutes. The telecoms don't have any lawyers who can provide their own analysis, apparently. I guess all the money goes into lobbying. This is total amnesty without any way of discovering who broke the law and when. The entire point of telecom immunity was to shut down any investigations into spying on Americans. Democrats are cupable for having not spoken up to stop this when they had the chance and the Hoyer-Rockefeller axis wants to just bury the bodies.

This will come up for a vote as soon as TOMORROW in the House, despite being just released today. Your representative needs a call. Joe Baca is a Blue Dog who supported the good FISA bill, the one without amnesty. He in particular needs some attention.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif. -- Phone: (202) 225-6161, Fax: (202) 225-8671

When this reaches the Senate, it will be another accountability moment for Dianne Feinstein. She has tried to duck this debate repeatedly, but she can tell us by her vote where she stands - with corporate execs and lobbyists, or with the rule of law and the right to privacy.

Oh, and Obama? Ducking this debate as fast as he can.

The two presumptive presidential nominees have differed over the issue. A senior aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently indicated the senator would support granting immunity to the phone companies. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was among the most vocal opponents of immunity in the Senate debate last year.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Bankston applauded Obama for his opposition to immunity for the phone companies, and he said he would "call upon him to be as vocal as possible on immunity in the coming days."

A spokesman for the Obama campaign didn't return phone calls or emails seeking comment for this article.

He's too invested in the power structure to try and change it at this stage. Bottom line. We're going to build our own power channel and leverage from the side of civil liberties. It'll make for Strange Bedfellows but people are genuinely pissed off at this latest effort to merge corporate and political power over that of the people.

UPDATE: This Obama ad for John Barrow is a symphony of lies. This is a very rough day to be a Democrat.

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The Fight For Health Reform

Today begins the AHIP (Association of Health Insurance Plans) conference in San Francisco, and Hillary Clinton's lead shill Terry McAuliffe will be addressing the crowd. The health insurance industry is the single largest force blocking meaningful reform in the United States, and for any Democrat to treat them as a partner and an ally - and to take money from them in speaking fees - is unacceptable. McAuliffe, of course, is part of the establishment crowd who is very cozy with corporate interests and dismissive of conflicts with the values and principles they don't seem to have. David Broder makes a mint on corporate speaking deals even though he covers a lot of the corporations that pay him. They don't see a problem with this - it's how things are done in Washington. Which is why the rest of us see no progress on the issues that affect us.

The Courage Campaign (I've done a little work for them but am not an employee) has highlighted this disconnect and is rallying in San Francisco today.

I was quite surprised when I learned that Terry McAuliffe was going to appear at a major convention of health insurance corporations in San Francisco on June 19.

After all, how could the former Chair of the Democratic National Committee show up as a guest of health insurance executives -- much less accept any money for his appearance at the AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans) convention? This appearance seems inappropriate at best, especially after Barack Obama and Howard Dean courageously directed the Democratic National Committee last week to reject contributions from lobbyists, including the health insurance industry.

And now it's personal. My sister, who suffers from severe and rapidly deteriorating hearing loss, just told me that she has been denied useful health care coverage. Again. Why? Because her hearing problems have been diagnosed as a "pre-existing condition," precluding her from receiving cochlear implants so she can hear again.

The last I checked, being able to hear is not "optional" medical care. Unfortunately, my sister is one of over 100 million Americans who either have no health insurance coverage or are underinsured. My entire family worries about her, but the system is designed by these health insurance executives to keep her out -- not to help her.

Health care is a human right. The middlemen have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to deny that. Politicians and insiders like Terry McAuliffe get paid off by these middlemen to legitimize it.

The coalition is building to end this perversion. In California we're going to end rescission and ban junk insurance. It's a game of inches, but we're putting an end to the stranglehold groups like AHIP have over public policy.

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Keep Those Obama Phone Calls Coming

The FISA debacle could happen as early as Friday. Nobody has seen the final bill except the cretins who are moving it forward, including the lobbyists who wrote it. Because the scared bunnies at the DCCC are so worried about keeping power and saving their blessed freshman Dems from criticism (even though it won't), this bill has to be fast-tracked and pushed through under the dead of night.

And if you think that we only have to wait for Obama's election to end this kind of backroom dealing and lobbyist-written legislation, consider that he is trying to protect an incumbent who is one of the worst reactionaries in the Democratic caucus, who supports the FISA bill completely, who defines himself by total resistance to Democratic values, and who will not be an asset to anything resembling a progressive agenda:

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has taped a radio commercial on behalf of U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Savannah, who faces a July 15 primary challenge.

It's the first case of Obama involving himself in a local race in Georgia.

Details of when the ad will start airing and where it will be broadcast - the 12th District covers much of east Georgia, including portions of Augusta and Savannah - were not immediately available Wednesday.

But the Obama campaign made clear to my colleague Aaron Sheinin that it sees Barrow, a two-term Democrat, as an important ally. We've got calls into the Barrow campaign, but haven't heard from them yet.

As Matt Stoller notes, this is part and parcel with Obama consolidating the party. He wants to do a favor for a conservative Democrat who might be in a position to return the favor for him. Regina Thomas, the progressive challenging Barrow, will support progressive values and doesn't need any favors, the logic goes.

As Glenn Greenwald notes:

This is everything Obama claims so vehemently to oppose, claims he wants to end. And yet the Congress under the control of his party is about to enact a radical bill to legalize vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and immunize telecoms who broke our country's laws for years. And not only is Obama doing nothing about any of that, but far more, he's actively intervening in a Democratic primary to help one of the worst enablers of all of this stay in power, while helping to defeat an insurgent, community-based challenger.

None of that is enjoyable to write or accept, but those are just facts. There is a disturbing tendency on all sides to view Obama through a reductive Manichean lens -- either he's the embodiment of pure transformative Good who is going magically to cleanse our polity the minute he takes office, or he's nothing other than a mindless, passive tool of the establishment whose pretty rhetoric masks a barren ambition for power and who is no better than McCain. Neither of those caricatures is remotely accurate, and a John McCain presidency would be an unmitigated disaster on every level.

But it's critical to keep in mind that Obama is a politician and, like all people, is plagued by significant imperfections. He has largely entrenched himself in, and is dependent upon, the power structure he says he wants to undermine. Uncritical devotion to political leaders, including him, is destructive. Obama needs pressure, criticism, checks, and real scrutiny just like anyone else in power in order to keep him accountable, responsive, and faithful to the principles he claims are the ones driving him.

That's absolutely right. I called on Obama from the moment he clinched the nomination to shut down this FISA bill. It undermined his national security argument, trashed the Constitution, and delivered immunity to lawbreaking. Now he's not only indifferent to such calls, he's actively enabling those "Democrats" who would do the deed.

I guess you could become disillusioned and turn away from politics entirely, smugly tell everyone you know (and some you don't) that you were right all along and Obama's no saint (though I certainly never said he was). Or you can hold him accountable. The Strange Bedfellows coalition is building, having raised nearly $200,000 in a day, with more to come. We will stand up and demand our civil liberties and our Constitutional rights, and attack those politicians, from either political party, who seek to undermine them.

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Let's See What You've Bought

So a deal has been reached on no-strings-attached war funding well into the next President's first year, and all the Democrats get out of it is a GI Bill that isn't paid for (they had to drop the tax on millionaires), some appropriations for flooding in the Midwest and Gulf Coast and modified unemployment insurance for an additional 13 weeks. That's not nothing, but given that it's a signing of a death warrant for tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, it's perverse to even talk in terms of what you "get" out of the deal.

But it's worth looking at the country we've bought for another year or so, just to kick the tires and see where it's going. Turns out that the "political progress" that is continually touted by war defenders is more like a press release than actual progress that gets implemented:

When the Iraqi parliament passed a law in January aimed at rehiring former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, U.S. President George W. Bush praised it as a step towards national reconciliation [...]

But five months later, implementation of the law is bogged down by infighting between politicians, and the committee once tasked with hunting out Baathists in government has found itself in the odd position of overseeing the process of rehiring them or offering them state pensions.

The government has still not appointed a seven-member panel to replace the deBaathification Committee, whose enthusiastic purge of Baathists from government posts prompted minority Sunni Arabs to accuse them of conducting a witch-hunt [...]

The committee has received 14,000 applications from former Baathists asking for either reinstatement or for pensions, he said.

But Iraq's presidency council -- which comprises Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, and his two deputies -- and a separate Accountability and Justice Committee in parliament have ordered [the committee's head] and his colleagues to freeze their work.

This is merely an example of a persistent pattern where the ruling government makes a show at reconciliation and then uses their power as a tool of repression. The root causes that presage all the sectarian violence we have seen remain and will certainly be acted upon at some juncture.

In other news, we are reminded that this was not a war for oil but a war for oil services contracts.

Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

Gee, I wonder how the US oil companies got the upper hand and those no-bid contracts? It couldn't be the consequence of a decision made at the initial moments of the invasion that the "victor" in Iraq would get the spoils, could it?

As Secretary of State Colin Powell told a congressional panel on Wednesday, "We didn't take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant, dominating control over how it unfolds."

And there are similar quotes from that time, freezing out Germany and France from the plunder. Not that any country should profit from the natural resources of Iraq except for Iraq.

So, for the low low price of $162 billion dollars, we have secured a ready-to-explode colony in the Middle East, full of black gold that we will pump out of their sand and mainline directly into the bank accounts of Big Oil.


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Barack Opts Out

Prepare for howls and shouts of "no fair, this means you'll have more money than us!" from the right upon this news.

Hi, this is Barack Obama.

I have an important announcement and I wanted all of you – the people who built this movement from the bottom-up – to hear it first. We’ve made the decision not to participate in the public-financing system for the general election. This means we’ll be forgoing more than $80 million in public funds during the final months of this election.

It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections. But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system. John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we’ve already seen that he’s not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.

Not that they'll stop, but it's hard for the McCain campaign to criticize this. They can talk about promising to participate in the public system and then opting out, but that's exactly what McCain did for the primary - illegally, to boot. They can talk about runaway spending in elections, but Barack just essentially added $80 million to the federal treasury. They can talk about asymmetrical warfare, but they'd get tripped up by the "money is speech" argument they've been pimping for years.

I believe in public financing, but Barack is right, the system is broken and easily gamed, and to ask him to unilaterally disarm and not rely on the strength of his movement of ordinary people for the sake of principle is absurd. I believe the idea of a "parallel public financing system" where the public and not special interests actually do the financing is another solution to the problem, and actually might get Republicans on the side of traditional public financing just so they can keep pace. At any rate, you can't throw an advantage like Obama would have down the river. This means that every swing state that's even a remote challenge is going to get massive resources. If Obama loses, it won't be for lack of cash.

This doesn't happen without the Internet, and the speed with which Obama caught its potential and used it to build a movement.

Oddly, McCain's already up with ads in some swing states, while Obama is dark. He now knows that the money will come in, so I would hope that he gets something on the air as soon as possible.

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Don't Even Bother With The Election At This Point

Suppose you had an election where one candidate's rallies were banned. He was continually arrested throughout the campaign, and the secretary-general of his party was held for treason. The national TV station refused to air his ads. On the other hand, the incumbent candidate rallies all over the country. People in the street would be beaten for not knowing his campaign slogan. Without a membership card to his party it would be next to impossible to get food aid.

Considering these factors, it's a testament to how uniformly awful a place Zimbabwe is and how hated a ruler Robert Mugabe is that the opponent WON the first round of voting.

I guess Thabo Mbeki met with Mugabe yesterday, but the opposition claims he's on Mugabe's side, so his role will be limited.

Thinking about Zimbabwe makes my head hurt. I long for the relative problems of funding endless war and allowing warrantless wiretapping.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

McCain Outsources His Brain

The New York Times did a study of John McCain's closeness to President Bush, and tried super-hard to exonerate him, but couldn't. They had to admit that his stances on the biggest issues facing the country are identical to Bush, and sometimes even at odds with his prior positions. It's pretty easy to figure out why this is. The campaign is run by practically every Republican lobbyist on K Street, and sometime after the primary they sat him down and told him exactly what he would believe and espouse and enact if installed in the White House. And McCain nodded his head and cooed "Anything else, guys?" That's how you have to judge everything out of this guy's mouth. The response to McCain calling for 45 new nuclear reactors has to be "How many lobbyists from the nuclear industry on his staff," as an example.

Problem is, they were sloppy. In addition to wanting their agenda passed starting January 2009, they wanted it immediately. And so he intervened on behalf of Airbus in awarding a lucrative Air Force contract, selling out American workers at Boeing and being so cavalier about it that the GAO ruled the deal was in fact illegal. (McCain lost any hope of winning the state of Washington with this blunder, and there's also a big Boeing facility in Wichita, Kansas, which might get competitive by the time we're done).

And despite the lobbyists swimming around the campaign, McCain found himself last year short on cash. So he flew around on his sugar momma's jet without reimbursing her, and he sold out the campaign finance process and tried to opt out of the public financing system while benefiting from it in collateral loans and ballot access. This isn't a result of financial influence from lobbyists, but it does reflect the ETHOS of a lobbyist.

McCain is now 100% pure lobbyist, without convictions or honor of his own. He's outsourced his own brain.

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Mirage In The Israeli Desert

I wouldn't call it a good sign that the Israel-Hamas truce is scheduled to begin on Thursday, and Hamas is busily firing its last rockets into Israel right up until the 6 am start time. These aren't exactly the signals of a lasting peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the truce would be fragile, while Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters that the group wouldn't drop its "resistance."

If this improves living conditions in Gaza (through Israel's concession of lifting the blockade that has turned the Strip into a prison) and stops rocket attacks in Sderot and beyond for a period of time, so be it. But it just doesn't look like something you can build on.

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Rep. Hoyer, You're About To Be Money-Bombed

Steny Hoyer's pathetic lie about why he engineered a FISA bill that grants immunity to the telecoms and the Bush Administration is so laughably bad that you wonder how this guy ever got elected Majority Leader in the first place. He certainly wilts in the spotlight.

Asked why Democrats don’t put aside the surveillance legislation until a new president is elected in November, Hoyer said he would prefer to do so, but can’t because so many House Democrats are prepared to vote for the Senate bill that he and other top House Democrats oppose.

“Clearly enough Democrats have indicated in the House they would vote for the Senate bill if it came to the floor. The alternatives are either the Senate bill or a bill significantly better” reached through negotiations with the Senate and the White House, he said.

“Many Democrats have indicated to me they are willing to wait as long as an alternative is in sight. If not, they are prepared to vote for the Senate bill,” Hoyer said.

That's just not factually correct. They all voted with the stronger House bill just a few months ago. They don't have the ability to vote for the Senate bill unless Hoyer and the leadership bring it to the floor. The discharge petition that would force the bill to a vote has been largely dormant for the past two months. It's just completely disingenuous for Hoyer to suggest he's controlled by the rank and file.

Glenn Greenwald reports that his efforts to hold Hoyer accountable for sanctioning lawbreaking are growing.

First, the amount raised in the last 24 hours is now a truly extraordinary $90,000 -- bringing the total for this campaign over $170,000. The more that number goes up, the more potent this campaign will be, the harder it will hit its deserving targets. Contributions can be made here.

The ACLU Press Release announcing this new coalition, which is being called "Strange Bedfellows," is here. We expect to announce numerous other additions to the coalition -- many quite significant -- very shortly [...]

As a result, our campaign will be unveiled in two phases, with Phase I to entail an immediate ad campaign aimed at three key Democratic enablers of this bill -- Hoyer, Chris Carney, and Blue Dog Rep. John Barrow of Georgia. The reasons for targeting Hoyer are self-evident and were set forth yesterday, and the campaign against Carney -- who has long bee one of the Blue Dogs spearheading the effort behind this bill -- is already underway and will continue.

Rep. John Barrow was, like Carney, one of the 21 Blue Dogs who signed the letter to Nancy Pelosi back in March demanding that they be allowed to vote on the Rockefeller/Cheney Senate bill. In July, Barrow faces a very credible primary challenger -- Georgia State House Rep. Regina Thomas -- who is much more in step with the district's Democratic base.

All good enough. Carney doesn't have a primary opponent, but to be honest, he can have his negatives increased so he's replaced by a Republican. Really doesn't matter a bit to me.

What Hoyer ought to be worried about comes next.

Phase II will involve a massive money bomb, to be planned by the same people who were behind the money bombs that raised millions and millions of dollars for the Ron Paul presidential campaign. The dates and other details for that will be announced shortly.

The plan there is to raise an extraordinary amount of money -- dwarfing the $90,000 raised in the last 24 hours -- by going to all of the various constituents of each member of this coalition in order to fuel a real campaign in defense of civil liberties, constitutional protections and the rule of law. The money raised will be used to oppose and punish those vulnerable members of Congress who continue to support the evisceration of our constitutional framework and core civil liberties, while supporting candidates and office-holders who meaningfully oppose that assault.

Like the ACLU said, it's Strange Bedfellows. But if citizens with different views can come together on supporting civil liberties and the rule of law, I enthusiastically support it. You can become a strange bedfellow here.

A citizen-led to use millions and millions of dollars attacking Steny Hoyer is something I can get behind.

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Schwarzenegger Says "No Thanks" To Offshore Drilling

Republicans in disarray.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today he opposes lifting a ban on new oil drilling in coastal waters, breaking with President Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

He called California's coastline "an international treasure" that must be protected by a federal oil-drilling moratorium that has been in place for 27 years.

"We're serious about that, and we're not going to change that," he told reporters and business executives at BIO International, an annual biotechnology industry conference in San Diego.

Schwarzenegger, who has endorsed McCain's presidential bid, said the federal offshore drilling ban was not to blame for soaring gas prices. In a statement issued earlier in the day, the governor said technological innovations and expanded fuel choices for consumers ultimately will lead the way to reduced fuel costs.

"We are in this situation because of our dependence on traditional petroleum-based oil," Schwarzenegger said in the statement, which referred only to Bush's call for lifting the ban and did not mention McCain.

He missed mass transit and smarter, more dense development, but in the main Arnold is right. Sen. Feinstein and Speaker Bass are quoted in the article as well dismissing the notion of offshore development as a stunt. GOP wingnut-in-charge Dave Cogdill, on the other hand, has a catch phrase:

"Personally, yes, I believe we need to be drilling in our own reserves," Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, said today during a news conference related to the state budget. "We need to use the resources available to us in this country."

He said it would reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil and would help drive down the cost of gasoline.

"So I am a very strong supporter, as I think most of my caucus is, in the catch phase 'Drill here, drill now, pay less,'" Cogdill said. "It's certainly a better energy policy relating to the needs of the citizens of the United States."

Except there's little to drill, the oil companies don't want to do any drilling but want the reserves to line their pockets, and the structural problem with a carbon-based economy lingers.

So the real slogan is, "Drill here. Drill now. Run out sooner. Get no benefits for 10 years."

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Arrested Felons For McCain!

I wanted to stay away from this Larry Sinclair story, because it was completely unworthy of attention. This is some yahoo who claims to have gay sexed with Barack Obama, taken drugs with him, and a load of other nonsense, and he actually appeared at a press conference at the National Press Club to divulge the "truth" today.

Funny thing happened on the way to DC. First, Sinclair's long criminal record was exposed.

Sinclair's biography, though, may get in the way of that pitch: Public records and court filings reveal that he has a 27-year criminal record, with a specialty in crimes involving deceit. The record includes forgery charges in two states, one of which drew Sinclair a 16-year jail sentence. The Pueblo County, Colorado, Sheriff's Office also has an outstanding warrant for Sinclair's arrest for forging an acquaintance's signature and stealing her tax refunds.

"It is what it is," said Sinclair's spokesman, Montgomery Blair Sibley, of his client's criminal record. "He's not hiding from it, he's not denying it."

If he's not denying it, he's going to spend election day in the slammer, because after his little presser today he got arrested.

Why didn't I wait until the end of the press conference and rush up to the accuser? The second Sinclair stopped taking questions, he fled the room and reporters were denied access to anyone but Sibley. I was a little disappointed until I heard the reason. Larry Sinclair was arrested after the press conference and is being held by the Washington, D.C. metropolitan police. He's been charged as a fugitive from justice; one of his warrants can be seen here.

There's more at this link.

These kinds of slimebags were hanging around the Clintons as well back in the 90s, but none of them were so awkward as to be publicly arrested at the very beginning of their smear campaign. Hilarious. Maybe John McCain will use Sinclair as one of his prominent Democrats who's now supporting him. These Youstabees and slimers coming out of the woodwork are delusional, and the less time spent on them the better.'s another idiotic smear that went nowhere, BTW.

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You Know The Drill

So John McCain and George Bush think they've found the mother lode, and have decided that they're going to carry the policy of lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling on America's coasts all the way to another four years in the White House. They've got the whole conservative movement on their side with this coordinated effort, too. Newt Gingrich is babbling about a cyber-petition (his words, I stopped using "cyber" shortly after I read my last William Gibson novel in 6th grade) with 750,000 signers, some of them possibly real, calling on America to "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less." The wingnut minions are inundating members of Congress with phone calls (that means a couple hundred). And I wish I could have seen the look on poor Charlie Crist's face when he had to grudgingly go along with this charade, as the Governor of Florida, and put his political career at risk:

Crist, last week:

Q: Gov. are you dropping your opposition to drilling for oil off of Florida’s coast?
CRIST: I am not. … No. 1, I don’t like it.

Crist today:

“What we ought to be willing to do is study it,” he said. “Reaching a conclusion about what is right or not right at this juncture is hard to do.” [...]

Florida politicians of both parties “have worked to keep the drilling ban in force along Florida shores for more than 25 years,” the Miami Herald observed today. Many fear “it would harm the state’s beaches that are so vital to its tourism.” Former Governor Jeb Bush (R) has also pushed hard for the ban on drilling.

MSNBC noted today, “No Republicans in Florida have gotten elected statewide without endorsing the moratorium on off-shore oil drilling…if Crist tries to rationalize the McCain decision then we’ll really find out just how much he wants on the ticket.”

GOP Sellout Alert! (and like McCain needs more help losing Florida, right?)

Now, I think the best way to understand what the right is actually proposing here is best typified by this chart:

With the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, you're talking about dropping the price of a barrel of oil between $0.50 and $2 over a 30-year time horizon when the price has gone up $100 since the beginning of the Bush Presidency. It's the same for drilling offshore. As Bill Scher put it,

UPDATE: Just to put a fine point on it, lowering the price of crude oil per barrel by $1 is roughly equal to a reduction in price at the pump of 2.5 cents per gallon. So lifting all of the above moratoriums, lowering the price of crude by $2.25 per barrel, would lower the price at the pump by less than 6 cents by 2025.

Meaningless, after prices have skyrocketed more than $3 a gallon between Dec. 2001 and today.

Even John McCain's top campaign adviser has admitted that drilling would have no immediate effect on higher gas prices.

But even if it did, it would be a catastrophic mistake. Debbie Cook, who is the Mayor of Huntington Beach, sits on the board of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (APSO), and who is running for Congress this year against our favorite Taliban lover Dana Rohrabacher, characterizes this quest for drilling as merely an effort to "divert our attention away from the real problem" of flattening world oil production, peak production being reached in 50 countries, and a dissipation of fossil fuel resources worldwide. From her statement:

George Bush and Dana Rohrabacher’s failure to understand the fundamental economics and geology of oil and gas production is matched only by their failures as leaders.

The true solution to our energy problems starts with conservation efforts, and investment in alternative and sustainable energy sources, which will create new American industries and jobs and jumpstart the sluggish economy.

But you have to look a little but further to get to the truth here. If two oilmen in the White House and a majority in the Congress, as Bush and Cheney had for 6 years, wasn't enough to get the job done of drilling in ANWR, do you really think they and their oil company buddies want to? The truth is hinted at in Harry Reid's response.

The facts are clear: Oil companies have already had ample opportunity to increase supply, but they have sat on their hands. They aren’t even using more than half of the public lands they already have leased for drilling. And despite the huge tax breaks President Bush and Republican Congresses have given oil and gas companies to invest in refineries, domestic production has actually dropped.

Private corporations have potentially billions of barrels of oil sitting in capped wells and untapped leased fields, some of which have been lying fallow for as much as thirty years. They won't open them because they are more profitable as untapped reserves, which inflates the stock price and goes directly into the execs' wallets. Bush and McCain say they want more drilling, but the oil companies don't. They want more untapped reserves so they can pump up their balance sheets.

This is all a game. Bush and McCain want to funnel oil services contracts to corporate boardrooms, not oil to consumers. They either have some polling about how fear of higher gas prices will allow them to gain some populist support for these measures, or they're just following the Republican playbook since the energy crisis of the late 1970s. Whatever it is, they certainly aren't interested in delivering more oil.

UPDATE: Environmentalist at Kos reaches the same conclusion.

Between 1999 and 2007, the number of drilling permits issued for development of public lands increased by more than 361%. And did you see your gasoline costs drop? How about your electricity costs? Propane? natural gas? There is absolutely no correlation between the industrialization of public lands and the price of fossil fuels [...]

What's going on here is yet another cynical attempt by the GOP and the oil and gas robber barons to increase and assure huge industry profits at the expense of the American people. These companies don’t want to drill these areas. They want to hold them as assests to limit the amount of oil and gas on the market so that prices rise still further - and they make more money. They want to hold on to these areas so that they can drill them ten or fifteen years from now and make an even bigger fortune.

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