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

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Fires Head South

The latest on the California wildfires is that Goleta has been saved for the moment. Firefighters are diverting their resources to protecting the much larger city of Santa Barbara.

Fire crews, backed by 10 airtankers, will now concentrate on rugged terrain near Goleta to block a potential advance toward Santa Barbara, said Rolf Larsen, another spokesman for the multi-agency effort.

"The priority is to put a lot of resources in and order where there are homes and specifically to the east ... where it could move toward Santa Barbara," Larsen said.

The area's steep slopes and canyons are filled with dry brush that in some spots has not burned for a half a century.

Weather is aiding the effort to protect Big Sur as moist air has rolled in for a day, but already 20 homes have been lost.

The real problem is that we have so many fires and scant resources to deal with them. We need money, not just for more firefighters and planes, but to deal with the public health threat that arises from weeks' worth of smoke Over time we're going to need to find a way, with the increasing year-round fire season, to provide more equipment and staff to attack what will probably grow as a problem. It's yet another constraint on the budget that conservatives in the Yacht Party will dismiss as unimportant.

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GA-12: Thomas Cleans Up In Debates

Next week is not going to be that fun. We're going to see a total capitulation from Democrats on FISA and telecom immunity, and the unitary executive, its theories legally discredited, will remain pre-eminent. The way that we're going to restore accountability is by defeating the Democratic enablers who are fundamentally conservative and reactionary, and who team up with Republicans to undermine progress and subvert the rule of law. July 15 is our first test, as Georgia Rep. John Barrow faces State Senator Regina Thomas in a district where African-American primary turnout could top 60%. Barrow is a conservative who voted to fund endless war and to eliminate our privacy on FISA, the Patriot Act and a host of other issues. Howie Klein has been following this race with interests and notes that Thomas gave it to Barrow at a recent debate:

The Democratic primary challenger to U.S. Rep. John Barrow accused him of dragging his feet on reducing gas prices and supporting illegal wiretapping of Americans during a televised debate Tuesday.

State Sen. Regina Thomas of Savannah called herself the "true Democrat" in her race against Barrow, a two-term incumbent in the 12th Congressional District.

"The incumbent has always voted with Bush and the Republicans, and look at where we are," Thomas said in a dig at Barrow's support for President Bush's signature tax cuts and his votes against setting timetables for withdrawal from Iraq [...]

Thomas also attacked Barrow for his recent vote favoring passage on an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, intended to balance privacy rights while protecting the U.S. against attacks.

Thomas said the legislation gave telecommunications companies immunity from prosecution for illegal wiretapping of American citizens. Barrow denied that's what the act does.

"It gives the intelligence community the tools they need to follow up and track the bad guys while protecting the civil rights we're all about in the first place," he said.

Thomas called Barrow's answer "smoke and mirrors" and insisted the legislation "will still allow the government to violate the right to privacy of American citizens."

This was followed by another debate where Thomas explained plainly and simply that Barrow was a Bush Dog who favored endless war. Barrow is being helped by corporate PAC money and his Establishment buddies. This is not going to be an easy race - Barrow has a ton of built-in advantages - but it's a beginning in the fight to have a voice for ordinary people in the Congress.

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It's The Economy, Estupido

This week we got further proof that the myth of Barack Obama doing poorly among Latinos was completely unfounded, as he's outpacing John Kerry's 2004 effort significantly. When seeking an explanation for why a culturally conservative bloc supports the culturally liberal candidate, Matt Yglesias stumbles upon an answer. Latinos with ties to Mexico, Central and South America, who have acutely felt the effects of authoritarian governments and their policies towards the poor, actually vote their pocketbooks:

If you look at it in detail, though, the Hispanic electorate mostly seems to vote the way Thomas Frank suggests everyone should in What's the Matter With Kansas -- poorer Hispanics vote Democratic, richer ones vote Republican, and social and cultural issues just don't seem to play very much. Because Hispanics are poorer-than-average this leads to a big pro-Democratic tilt. I think it's clear that Republicans can hurt themselves with the immigration issue by acting like racist demagogues but the GOP's primary problem with this voting group really is things like S-CHIP rather than a lack of sufficient immigration-related pandering.

For those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, talk of lowering corporate tax rates falls as flat as tsk-tsking about cultural outrages. Hispanics are far more in tune with the real-world impacts of their vote.

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The Horrors! Peaceable Assembly!

Jesse at Pandagon says about all that's needed to be said over Roger Simon's comments here:

They are floating the idea of changing the venue of [Barack Obama's] acceptance speech from Denver’s Pepsi Center to the much larger outdoor Invesco Field. I’m not going to indulge in the obvious comparisons. But I am disturbed by this development. 76,000 people blindly screaming “Yes, we can!” in a giant stadium is not an image I relish seeing in a free society.

There's something fun about saying you will not indulge in the obvious comparisons followed by indulging in them. But as Jesse says, that field is not used solely for Leni Reifenstahl film re-enactments and re-education camps. 75,000-plus people show up to cheer mindlessly hundreds of times every fall weekend. They call it "football." And I'll be damn happier when 75,000 people come together in support of taking steps to provide more affordable health care or ending the war in Iraq rather than cheering a play-action fake and fly route for a touchdown.

Note to conservatives - fascism does not equal "popular".

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Chris Satullo, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, made the suggestion in his column the other day that, instead of Fourth of July celebrations this year, we should sit in quiet contemplation of the plain fact that our country over the past seven years has engaged in torture, indefinite detention without charges, rendition, and other unspeakable acts. It was a clear and provocative call to stand up for liberty in the face of fear, for honest criticism of our leaders as an act of patriotism.

We have betrayed the July 4 creed. We trample the vows we make, hand to heart.

Don't imagine that only the torturer's hand bears the guilt. The guilt reaches deep inside our Capitol, and beyond that - to us.

Our silence is complicit. In our name, innocents were jailed, humans tortured, our Constitution mangled. And we said so little.

We can't claim not to have known. The best among us raised the alarm. Heroes in uniform, judges in robes, they opposed the perverse logic of an administration drenched in fear, drunk on power.

But did we heed them? Hardly. Barely . . .

Today, Satullo wrote a follow-up column, explaining the authoritarian response to his initial offering. His initial words about the death of outrage have revealed that, all too often in America, the only outrage is about the outrage.

...Rush (Limbaugh) gave my piece a dramatic reading on his Tuesday show. His intent was not to praise my Swiftian panache. He urged his listeners to let me know what a rotten person I am.

My computer screen soon filled with missives with angry exclamation points in the subject line.

I will say this: Rush's listeners have a zest for insult and invective. Correct spelling, not so much. Also, I'm unclear what my sexual orientation (hetero, by the way) has to do with this topic. Wishing death on someone you've never met is unkind, to a degree. And telling someone to move to another country stopped being a witty riposte somewhere around 1967.

(The homophobic references are a staple of conservative criticism. Happens to be a plain fact.)

Satullo's main response to this is one of deep confusion:

Just seven years ago, who would have ever thought that being against torture could prove so controversial? When did the running of Turkish prisons become an integral part of the American Way?

Will we ever move beyond this dead-end view: If you criticize America on some point, you are unpatriotic, and can't possibly love or honor your country?

It's rather incredible, isn't it? But of course, we've been governed by leaders who have equated criticism with a lack of patriotism for seven years, and have been very skillful at it, besides. Sure, Bush is scraping bottom and even loathed by his own party now (they love his money-raising from his fellow authoritarians but that's about it), but that's because of how he damaged their standing, not the country. On the fundamentals, the Big Daddy belief that we should not question our great and glorious leaders, there is still a great consensus. As long as there are authoritarians willing to frighten the population with lurid tales about murderers on the loose, they will use that fear to bludgeon the country into accepting whatever powers they desire, and silencing dissent besides.

WASHINGTON - The White House said Thursday that dangerous detainees at Guantanamo Bay could end up walking Main Street U.S.A. as a result of last month's Supreme Court ruling about detainees' legal rights. Federal appeals courts, however, have indicated they have no intention of letting that happen [...]

"I'm sure that none of us want Khalid Sheikh Mohammed walking around our neighborhoods," White House press secretary Dana Perino said about al-Qaida's former third in command.

Chris Satullo was making a fairly unremarkable statement about the need to consider our fundamental ideals as human beings, let alone as a nation that presumes to stand for concepts like freedom and justice and equality, and the knee-jerk reaction was unbridled anger and requests to shut his mouth. This will be repeated anytime anyone presumes to question whether the architects of these policies or torture and detention and rendition ought to sit in a jail cell for their crimes. The lack of a culture of accountability in Washington, of any connection between those founding ideals and the actions taken in their name, leads to the rot at the center of our collective souls. we are in 2008. And I don't think anyone can seriously dispute that the current President of the United States violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or any number of legal commitments to refrain from torture. Some people think these violations were good policy. Many of those who regard those violations as good policy, also maintain that higher constitutional principles grant the President the right to break the law. Which is precisely what you could say on behalf of Richard Nixon. And Bush, like Nixon, has become unpopular. But Bush won't be hounded out of office.

I'm not exactly sure what accounts for the difference. I wasn't alive in 1973-74. I have a vague sense that at that time America's elites operated with some sense of conscience and dignity, and it was taken for granted even among Republican leaders that one couldn't just break the law. These days, a misleading deposition taken in the course of a frivolous lawsuit aimed at avoiding the revelation of an affair is a grave national crisis, but it's taken for granted that only a lunatic would believe that Bush or any of his henchmen should be held accountable in any way for repeated violations of the law. I don't really know what changed, or why David Broder and other gatekeepers of elite consensus can't see that something's gone wrong here, but I'm not happy about it.

As Brad DeLong notes, it was ever thus among those guardians of the status quo like David Broder, who looked at the impeachment of Nixon as some sort of political game to map out, not a vital act to preserve some semblance of coherence to the rule of law. But from where I'm sitting, it certainly seems different, not among the elites but the public. Every four years, particularly when there's a transition in the White House from one party to the next, we hear some encomium to the strength and vitality of the American system, that it can allow the peaceful transition of power, that election-year fights end on the day of voting and the country comes together in harmony to salute its new democratically elected leader. This comfort, this blissful faith in our democracy, is exactly what has made us so fat and happy that we practically cannot recognize a Constitution in crisis. We are so benighted that when a lonely voice, as if freed from the shackles of Plato's cave to see reality as it truly is, yells "what has gone wrong with us," he gets shouted down by those authoritarians who confuse patriotism with an blind loyalty for literally whatever declaration their leaders make (this all turns around when there's a Democrat in the White House, of course, and such conventions like the Presidency are given precisely no respect).

This unthinking loyalty to party has presented a debate on torture where there ought to be none, a notion of liberty that must be subservient to security, and the sentiment of fear guiding belief far more than reason. There was always this strain in human behavior, but the difference in 21st-century America is that the authoritarian mindset has had seven years to bully the nation. We may score a political victory in November, but the authoritarians will not be vanquished, they will continue to use the weapon of fear, and the lack of accountability for the age of Bush will still leave a gaping hole in the nation, a wound not allowed to properly heal. The ghosts - and the young authoritarians who learned at their masters' feet - won't go away. They'll return in a future Administration and seek more power, make the Presidency more like a monarchy, and thumb their nose at more dissenters who will be more marginalized. This will be the final outrage.

UPDATE: Andrew Bacevich kind of also said this a few days ago. The Bush legacy is absolutely horrible and must be vanquished.

The challenge facing Obama is clear: he must go beyond merely pointing out the folly of the Iraq war; he must demonstrate that Iraq represents the truest manifestation of an approach to national security that is fundamentally flawed, thereby helping Americans discern the correct lessons of that misbegotten conflict.

By showing that Bush has put the country on a path pointing to permanent war, ever increasing debt and dependency, and further abuses of executive authority, Obama can transform the election into a referendum on the current administration's entire national security legacy. By articulating a set of principles that will safeguard the country's vital interests, both today and in the long run, at a price we can afford while preserving rather than distorting the Constitution, Obama can persuade Americans to repudiate the Bush legacy and to choose another course.

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Osama Gets What Osama Wants

He had some help from the oilmen in the White House, but bin Laden's hope has come to pass:

In a 1998 interview, Osama bin Laden — the terrorist organizer of 9/11 who still roams free — listed as one of his many grievances against the U.S. that Americans “have stolen $36 trillion from Muslims” by purchasing oil from Persian Gulf countries at low prices. The real price of a barrel of oil should be $144, bin Laden demanded.

Ten years ago today, the price of a barrel of oil was just $11. Heading into this holiday weekend, the price of a barrel of oil rested at $144 — a thirteen-fold increase.

Bin Laden's strategy didn't work, for the most part, in the Muslim world, where his goal of an Islamic caliphate is actually massively unpopular. His strategy with regards to America, to drain us economically while entangling us in protracted conflicts that destabilize the world, has been picture-perfect. By responding childishly and without reason instead of resolutely and with respect to the universal nature of the problem, understanding the importance of public diplomacy and global poverty, for example, we have given the world's top terrorist absolutely everything he has wanted. He has a new safe haven in Pakistan, the renewed ability to launch attacks and an opposing empire struggling with enormous structural problems. Oil isn't as high as it is solely because of bin Laden - rising demand in China and India is a far greater factor - but global instability absolutely inflates the price.

There will not be a new caliphate and women in Missouri forced to wear the hijab - that's paranoid crazy talk of the highest order. But there is no question that failed neoconservative policies - policies of which they are still incredibly proud - have weakened our security, our economic future and our global standing, and given a great victory to extremists. Heckuva job.

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Everybody's Working For The Weekend

John McCain is off the campaign trail again this weekend. This has become a trend. He's held exactly one campaign event on the weekend since February.

This is really incredible. Most people are not working on the weekend, making them actually available to attend a campaign event. McCain is running a Presidential campaign on a Senate schedule. He didn't get out among people yesterday, on the Fourth of July, either. I think that's probably the number one opportunity for political candidates to shake hands and kiss babies on the calendar. Barack Obama was gladhanding in Butte, Montana yesterday at a parade and picnic. McCain was hanging out at home, making Fred Thompson look vibrant.

Is he even trying?

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Friday, July 04, 2008

An Historical And Cultural Perspective To This Election

I want to share something that hit me today in the midst of my July 4th. It's not particularly profound or revelatory but I think it is, however flawed, important - an important lesson about how we are witnessing something truly different in this country this election year.

Have you ever tried to recite the names of the Presidents in order? Somehow I've managed to shoehorn that into my brain. After reading a little Presidential puzzler that came in my morning LA Times, I decided to run through the list again.

George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
James Polk
Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
James Garfield
Chester Arthur
Grover Cleveland (first term)
Benjamin Harrison
Grover Cleveland (second term)
William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
William Howard Taft
Woodrow Wilson
Warren Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
Bill Clinton
George W. Bush

Not that this is a criterion for much of anything, but I look at that list of names, and consider someone named Barack Obama in there, and there's a certain twinge of pride. To have all those white Protestant men and this other name, and face, brushed up against them, is almost shocking. There's barely a whiff of ethnicity in that last - Van Buren and Roosevelt are Dutch, at least, and a few are Irish. If you want to graphically understand one of the differences that we could see in this election, read that list aloud and say "Barack Obama" afterwards. It's quite jarring.

I think policy matters, and direction for the country matters, and to put 43 Presidents on one side and this man on the other doesn't make a lot of sense. But there's another side, a side of imagery suggested by heritage, the cultural wallpaper, if you will, that says "yes, this really is a sea change, this really is a revolution of sorts." I think that will have an undeniable effect nationally and globally. On the policy side it's up to us and engaged citizens like us to never let up with pressure and move this candidate in the right direction. On the imagery side, if you stop and think, there really is a marvel to this, a small miracle, something so unexpected and brave. There's a significance to it. I don't know if I can put it totally into words. But read that list and you may find it as well.

Happy 4th.

UPDATE: On the flip side.

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Friday Random Ten - 4th of July Edition

Have fun watching things blow up.

What Have I Done - DJ Shadow feat. Christina Carter
Little Birds - Neutral Milk Hotel
Stacked Crooked - The New Pornographers
Planet Of Weed - Fountains Of Wayne
The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get - Morrissey
Life - Sly & The Family Stone
Yeh Yeh - They Might Be Giants
As We Go Up, We Go Down - Guided By Voices
13 - Sylk130
A Salty Salute - Guided By Voices

I should also mention that my local NPR station is playing a great retrospective today of early rock and roll and rockabilly. It'd kind of a perfect 4th of July moment and a tribute to a uniquely American art form - one that, predictably, was ingrained more into British youths than Americans, at least at the time.

Bonus Track:

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Pat On The Head

I've been busy and such so I never got around to writing about Barack Obama's note to his supporters that are questioning his position on FISA. It's been pretty well covered by Glenn Greenwald, Kagro X and emptywheel, so I don't know that I have too much to add. The short version is that Obama felt the need to address this issue when otherwise he would never have had to do so, and for that reason alone the FISA group at is a success. Also the fact that he took the time to address and acknowledge supporters is nice. That said, the statement itself is not sufficient, as it makes the same rejected claim that "exclusivity" is somehow a reason to support the bill (FISA already was the exclusive means for electronic surveillance), and it focuses on telecom immunity rather than the expanded wiretap provisions in the bill.

Obama promises that the Inspector General report would provide some accountability on the Bush Administration's past sins, and to an extent that's true, but while there may be public knowledge arising from that, Administration officials will probably never be held accountable (it'll fall outside the five-year statute of limitations, they'd be out of office, and the IG can't enforce any laws). He promises a "comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs" once he's President, but of course since that's not a given, relying on that is weak tea. The idea that he would, as John Dean hopes, pursue criminal investigations after the fact is negated by the aforementioned statute of limitations, as well as the fact that Bush could pardon the whole gang on the way out the door (I think staying out of prison will override any concerns about tacit admissions of guilt).

All of that we knew, but this part actually got my goat a little bit:

Now, I understand why some of you feel differently about the current bill, and I'm happy to take my lumps on this side and elsewhere. For the truth is that your organizing, your activism and your passion is an important reason why this bill is better than previous versions. No tool has been more important in focusing peoples' attention on the abuses of executive power in this Administration than the active and sustained engagement of American citizens. That holds true -- not just on wiretapping, but on a range of issues where Washington has let the American people down.

Essentially, Obama is saying, "All of your hard work is why we didn't allow a really really crappy bill and only this really crappy one! Aren't you pleased?" It's kind of insulting to the intelligence of those civil libertarians who engaged in this debate. It's a wave of the hand, a silly attempt to placate and then a big brush-off.

I'm pleased with the debate but obviously not the result. Clearly Obama wants this behind him along with the rest of the party. We're going to have long memories about this one, however. The fight will not end on July 8.

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Jesse Helms RI... Something

I went to my small-town Fourth of July parade today and had some good-ole American fun. Then I learned about the demise of Jesse Helms, and thought that if anybody didn't deserve to die on July 4th, it was this guy. What a buzzkill.

For some reason, NPR ran this piece that explained how Helms "used race effectively." I know the guy just died, but do we have to be that euphemistic? Helms was a racist. He used racial appeals just effectively enough to eke out electoral victories in North Carolina (he never got more than 54% of the vote), and without them he would have had no identity. Can we just call this like it is?

Personally, I think the guy passed before having to endure a biracial President. And it would be quite something if the state that elected Jesse Helms for 30 years ended up choosing Barack Obama in November.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Maybe The Greatest Senate Floor Debate Of All Time

Robert Byrd gives Jim Bunning exactly the respect he deserves.

Oh, the full dialogue from the blogpost below according to WaPo's Paul Kane (and other reporters in the gallery) who heard the full shouting match between Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Sen. Jim Bunning, shouting from their seats across that aisle at each other:

Bunning: "Regular order!"

Byrd: "Who said that?"

Bunning: "I did."

Byrd: "Who are you?"

Bunning: "I'm a senator."

Byrd: "You're a great baseball man."

Bunning: "I'm a senator; I have the same rights as you."

Byrd: "Yeah, man, you're a senator." [Ends by laughing hysterically at Bunning.]

I'm guessing this is about the pro forma sessions that Harry Reid has been insisting upon to block the President from any recess appointments. Which are fully legal, by the way. But that's besides the point. Jim Bunning isn't fit to shine Robert Byrd's shoes, and Republicans in general have pretty much no credibility to discuss the "rules" after what they've done the past 7 1/2 years.

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The California Report

A few things of interest as we head into the holiday weekend:

• That mortgage legislation that I noted passing the Assembly yesterday was quickly taken up in the Senate (there were some amendments in the Assembly bill so concurrence was needed, and it passed easily (the vote was 32-8). The legislation will now be sent to the Governor and there are indications that he will sign it. Because of the 2/3 vote it received, most of its provisions will take effect immediately. It's a decent first step but it had better not be the last.

• The new Cook Report ratings are out, and among the slew of seats where Democrats are gaining, one race in California has shifted:

CA-46 Dana Rohrabacher Solid Republican to Likely Republican

That's pretty big news. Charlie Cook's report is widely read by insiders, and clearly they are taking notice as to the strength of Debbie Cook's campaign. Joe Shaw, communications director for Cook's campaign, calls it "the first Orange County congressional race to be considered competitive since Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez’s 1996 race against incumbent Bob Dornan."

• In CA-04, Charlie Brown announced a whirlwind schedule for the 4th of July, participating in events in King’s Beach, Lincoln, Roseville, Grass Valley, Auburn, and Alturas. Tom McClintock must have seen that and scrambled up on the plane from his Thousand Oaks redoubt, because he hastily scheduled a couple campaign events. In fact, the two candidates will be in the same parade in Lincoln. That should be fun.

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Now This Is Getting Ridiculous

During the campaign, all three leading Democratic candidates were asked if they could guarantee all troops out of Iraq by 2013 and they said no. I was bitterly disappointed and flirted with Bill Richardson's campaign when he took a stand over no residual forces. Ultimately, Obama won the nomination, and he was completely consistent over and over that we have to be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. I'm almost satisfied with that, though I'd like to know what he means by "getting out" - whether than means all troops instead of just combat troops, and all contractors besides.

But I agree with Greg Sargent. Obama did NOT make any substantive difference in his Iraq policy today.

All Obama is doing here is defusing the GOP argument that he'd withdraw recklessly and preserving flexibility for himself as commander in chief. These journalistic errors are matters of nuance. But nuance is hugely important here.

Will Obama in fact change his withdrawal policy at any point? I have no idea. Anything is possible. But he certainly didn't say anything today that's even remotely as suggestive or ominous as this reporting makes it seem.

The Village wants to apply that unprincipled flip-flopper label very badly. I agree that Obama could be smarter about how he talks about Iraq, and draw the contrast with McCain a little stronger. But really, he's not saying anything different than he did during the campaign. Further, if national Democrats actually stood up and presented a united front and pushed back against this "we're winning" nonsense it'd be easier for all candidates to make a stand.

I'll post about his FISA statement in a little bit.

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Noted With Little Comment

Barack Obama is polling ahead in Montana.

The GOP is buying ad time for John McCain in Virginia.

Bush went down to a fundraiser for Roger Wicker, an endangered incumbent Senator from Mississippi.

We're looking at the changing of the map.

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Checking The Wheels On The BMW (Direct)

TPM Muckraker and the new investigative group Pro Publica have their meathooks in this story about BMW Direct, a conservative fundraising groups that raises loads of cash all over the country for obscure clients and then taking a substantial cut of that money for themselves, essentially bilking contributors out of millions. Here's what we know so far:

• This wasn't limited to candidates, but for dummy PACs like the "Freedom's Defense Fund" which don't appear to actually exist.

• Apparently there's a two-tiered model for how BMW raises money for candidates. Sometimes they fund legitimate ones, like Reps. Geoff Davis and Virgil Goode, but BMW appears to take a lot less money out of their hauls for direct mail services. Then there are the nobody candidates like Deborah Travis Honeycutt, and almost all of her money goes into BMW's pocket. In the case of the obscure candidates, BMW appears to be significantly involved with their campaigns, with members of the organization serving as campaign Treausrers. It seems to me that the established Congressmen are the bait that enables BMW to hook the smaller fish.

• Pro Publica did some more searching. This is really sad:

Characteristic of BMW Direct's fundraising campaigns, more than 80 percent of the contributions came from out of the state and most donors disclosed their occupation as "retired," according to CQ Money Line. Among them was a 91 year-old man, whose family has become so alarmed by his giving to various Republican campaigns -- $139,000 since 1996 - that they've asked his caretaker to screen his calls and mail.

Despite this, the firm denies any wrongdoing in interviews to Pro Publica. Of course, they're not proud of the new-found exposure either - after the initial breaking of this story in the Boston Globe, BMW took their Web pages down.

• Incredibly, the suckers in this game (aside from the contributors), the candidates themselves, don't appear to be bothered by giving all their fundraising money to some direct-mail firm:

That didn't seem to bother (Honeycutt's) campaign manager, Michael Murphy.

"We've been very pleased with them. BMW Direct has been able to help us raise resources and tap into a thirst in the country for the principles and platforms that she stands on," he said.

Murphy was unable to say what that campaign money raised was spent on. The three campaign staffers are volunteers, and so far the main activity has been "pressing the flesh," he said.

Maybe BMW cuts these people in on the action after the fact. I don't know.

The overriding point here is that the conservative movement has set up a substantial series of organizations to steal from their most robust supporters to enrich themselves. That's how they fund-raise and that's how they govern.

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Notice The Difference?

So you have two campaigns. I'll leave off the partisan identification for the moment.

One has just thrown overboard its second campaign manager in a matter of months. He had to respond to those within his own party who were concerned that the campaign was faltering and not taking advantage of the turmoil on the other side. A unique series of decentralized regional campaign offices was dismantled and now must be rebuilt as a more top-down organization in a matter of months. The new staff comes from acolytes to the architect of one of the worst midterm losses in electoral history, where his party didn't capture a single seat from an incumbent for federal office anywhere in the country.

Now, the other campaign has a tightly focused, buttoned-up campaign which has gone largely unchanged since the beginning of the year, adding more staff only for the general election. There are no egos, their names rarely get in the papers, and they have built an almost unprecedented modern organization in all 50 states, with passionate supporters numbering maybe in the millions ready to work between now and Election Day. The discipline and effectiveness is remarkable.

Believe it or not, paragraph #1 describes the Republican nominee, and paragraph #2 describes the Democratic nominee.

It's a strange year.

I will also say this about the rise of the Rovians inside McCain's campaign. First of all, it's the end of the "reformer" model. That was already dead with all the lobbyists and insiders crawling around the campaign, but now it's truly dead and buried. I think the Republican bigwigs have taken a look at the polling and recognized that the only way to beat Obama is to go hard negative, to try to turn him into a combination between Michael Dukakis and Malcolm X and hope that they can fool the nation again.

Problem is, they're up against a far more formidable opponent this time around.

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Exclusivity Argument Goes Up In Flames

The main talking point that, in particular, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi have used to claim the necessity of the FISA capitulation is that under this law, the FISA Court will be the "exclusive means" for electronic surveillance. The bamboozlement here is that FISA, a federal statute, never was the exclusive means before. Now we have confirmation of this, from a federal judge in California no less.

A federal judge in California said Wednesday that the wiretapping law established by Congress was the “exclusive” means for the president to eavesdrop on Americans, and he rejected the government’s claim that the president’s constitutional authority as commander in chief trumped that law.

The judge, Vaughn R. Walker, the chief judge for the Northern District of California, made his findings in a ruling on a lawsuit brought by an Oregon charity. The group says it has evidence of an illegal wiretap used against it by the National Security Agency under the secret surveillance program established by President Bush after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 [...]

But Judge Walker, who was appointed to the bench by former President George Bush, rejected those central claims in his 56-page ruling. He said the rules for surveillance were clearly established by Congress in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to get a warrant from a secret court.

“Congress appears clearly to have intended to — and did — establish the exclusive means for foreign intelligence activities to be conducted,” the judge wrote. “Whatever power the executive may otherwise have had in this regard, FISA limits the power of the executive branch to conduct such activities and it limits the executive branch’s authority to assert the state secrets privilege in response to challenges to the legality of its foreign intelligence surveillance activities.”

Idiots, idiots, idiots. In the course of giving away massive new surveillance powers and immunity for lawbreakers, the so-called "chip" that they received in return was already in the law to begin with. Remember that exclusivity was DiFi's amendment, and Pelosi said it was "the most important" aspect of any new law.

(By the way, this lawsuit is against the federal government, not the telecoms, so it would continue regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's vote.)

UPDATE: More on the Obama backlash on his website in USA Today. It's now the largest group on the site, with 14,000 supporters.

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Bye Bye Jobs

When the last recession hit in 2002, it affected my industry as much as any other. I lost my staff job and found slim pickings elsewhere. Now I'm finding that business here is pretty robust, but nationwide it's just cratering.

Employers trimmed jobs from their payrolls in June for the sixth straight month, as the government's closely watched report Thursday showed continued weakness in the labor market.

The Labor Department reported a net loss of 62,000 jobs in the month. That matched the job loss figure for May, which was revised higher from 49,000. Economists surveyed by had forecast a loss of 60,000 jobs.

The June number brought to 438,000 the number of jobs lost by the U.S. economy so far this year.

The unemployment rate remained the same, but remember it jumped a half a percentage point a month ago. According to ADP, the private sector slashed 79,000 jobs last month, so this is not just about construction or service industries. It's very broad and very scary. And the 13-week extension of unemployment benefits might help in the short term, but long-term we have serious economic issues.

Look, when Starbucks has to close 600 stores in this coffee-addicted economy because people can't afford their drinks anymore, you know something's extremely wrong. Who do you want steering the ship of state in these troubled times? Not the guy who admits that he doesn't know anything about the economy.

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The Two Faces Of Zebari?

There's conflicting information coming out about the negotiations between the White House and Iraq over a long-term agreement for troops to remain in the country. On the one hand, Agence France Presse reports a breakthrough in the talks.

The Iraqi foreign minister said on Tuesday that Washington has agreed to scrap immunity for foreign security guards in Iraq, moving the two countries closer to signing a long-term security pact.

"The immunity for private security guards has been removed. The US has agreed on it," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP after briefing Iraqi MPs on the controversial US-Iraq security pact which is being negotiated.

This would seem to suggest that progress was being made in the talks. Providing immunity for contractors was among the key sticking points. And the WaPo article flat-out states that there's progress. However, a New York Times staffer attended the same press conference with the same Iraqi Foreign Minister and came up with a very different conclusion.

Declaring that there will not be “another colonization of Iraq,” Iraq’s foreign minister raised the possibility on Wednesday that a full security agreement with the United States might not be reached this year, and that if one was, it would be a short-term pact.

American officials, speaking anonymously because of the delicate state of negotiations, said they were no longer optimistic that a complete security agreement could be reached by the year’s end.

I mean, these stories are completely at odds with one another. What the hell is going on? You could say that there are a lot of negotiators, each with their own agendas, but both stories quote the SAME GUY. What's probably happening is that Zebari wanted to tout the concession over contractor immunity and pressure the US negotiators at the same time, holding out the possibility of signing an interim agreement or none at all. And both journalists went with different aspects of the press conference.

It does appear that the Iraqis have the upper hand in these negotiations, I'll say that.

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It Is Designed To Obtain False Confessions

Torture as an intelligence-gathering tool is extremely counter-productive and anyone who went to elementary school knows it. If you found yourself at the mercy of some bully's full nelson you would say whatever you could to get out of it. It's insulting to the professionals who actually work as interrogators to tell them to use torture instead of their tested and true techniques.

Torture as a tool of intimidation, as a tool which gives the illusion of progress in gathering intelligence, is quite good. And the evil men and women running policy in Washington knew that, and installed it to that purpose. Today we learned that the interrogators at Gitmo designed a program of torture specifically to obtain false confessions.

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners [...]

The 1957 article from which the chart was copied was entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From Air Force Prisoners of War” and written by Albert D. Biderman, a sociologist then working for the Air Force, who died in 2003. Mr. Biderman had interviewed American prisoners returning from North Korea, some of whom had been filmed by their Chinese interrogators confessing to germ warfare and other atrocities.

Those orchestrated confessions led to allegations that the American prisoners had been “brainwashed,” and provoked the military to revamp its training to give some military personnel a taste of the enemies’ harsh methods to inoculate them against quick capitulation if captured.

You can see the old Air Force study here. We already knew that the techniques were based on SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), so this isn't that new. But the fact that the Koreans used this program to obtain false confessions is extremely telling. This is why the bigwigs in Washington quashed any reviews and tried to hide the evidence. The US government was using torture for exactly the same purpose as the Koreans. By obtaining false confessions, they can pretend to be successfully fighting the war on terror, justify the masses of people swept up into prison camps, and "send a message" to the rest of the world about how big and bad they are. This was the goal. It's all that Arab mind bullshit the right has swallowed whole for decades.

This is now starting to come out on these cretins, on the techniques they used to debase our country and imperil our national security. And their excuses are pathetic.

Throughout this ugly drama, U.S. leaders have assured the public that the extreme interrogation measures used on detainees have thwarted acts of terrorist and saved thousands of American lives. The trouble with such claims is that professionals who know something of interrogation or intelligence don’t believe them. This is not just because the old hands overwhelmingly believe that torture doesn’t work -- it doesn’t -- but also because they know that torture creates more terrorists and fosters more acts of terror than it could possibly neutralize.

The administration’s claims of having “saved thousands of Americans” can be dismissed out of hand because credible evidence has never been offered -- not even an authoritative leak of any major terrorist operation interdicted based on information gathered from these interrogations in the past seven years. All the public gets is repeated references to Jose Padilla, the Lakawanna Six, the Liberty Seven and the Library Tower operation in Los Angeles. If those slapstick episodes are the true character of the threat, then maybe we’ll be okay after all.

As the above-linked report makes clear, the CIA is STILL doing some of this crap. There are going to be consequences, and as the writer says "It may be impossible for the next administration to fix what has happened to the CIA in the last seven years. It may be a broken brand. Perhaps the only way to proceed next January will be to start over afresh, with a new intelligence structure and new institutions."

That's not just true for the CIA. a postscript, am I the only one to be a little sick of these writers, who want desperately to be as manly as Ernest Hemingway, that cannot believe for certain whether or not waterboarding is torture until they do it themselves? How arrogant (not surprising for Hitchens) to assume that the literally thousands of years of data on the tactic is incomplete until an out-of-shape writer cements it for certain. Hitchens came to the same conclusion as the victims of the Inquisition and the judges at the Nuremberg trials, so what was the point? That anyone feels the need to dignify the brain-dead sadists on the right by calling the efficacy of waterboarding up for question is beyond me.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

It's All In The Timing

Today the Colombian government made a daring rescue of political prisoner Ingrid Betancourt, three Americans and other hostages from the FARC paramilitary group. John McCain just so happened to be in Colombia at the time. He has one senior advisor, Charlie Black, with longstanding ties to the government, having represented Occidental Petroleum (Colombia's top foreign producer of oil and gas) for many years. Another backer, Carl Lindner, recently pleaded guilty to funding a terrorist group inside Colombia, the AUC (the right-wing paramilitaries who have been fighting the left-wing FARC. Colombia is complicated). Terrorist groups are OK when they're right-wing and in South America, you see.

The point is that McCain's camp has connections with the Colombian government. If they could've moved on this rescue mission a week ago, but could also see an opportunity to please their American masters who they get billions in aid from, and help the national security perception of a trusted friend, I don't see why they wouldn't.

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Density Comes To California

Via Matt Yglesias and Atrios, the city of Sebastopol is thinking about supporting increased density in their upcoming development plans.

The Sebastopol City Council kicked off deliberations of a controversial redevelopment plan Tuesday with a majority of members voicing support for higher-density buildings as the most environmentally sound approach.

"Density is what makes transit feasible, giving us the option of getting out of our cars," said Councilman Larry Robinson [...]

The redevelopment plan would allow 300 residential units and nearly 400,000 square feet of new business and civic space between the Laguna de Santa Rosa and downtown.

Supporters have said the plan encourages the most environmentally sound method of development and would help add economic vitality to the city.

This approach is not without critics. There remain those who consider tall buildings an urban blight, think that all development comes with traffic woes and want to maintain local "character" when talking about growth.

The point here is that we have to start to re-orient to a different kind of lifestyle. If basic necessities are within walking distance and a strong transit spoke can build out from denser development, the traffic problems are eliminated, the quality of life goes up, and people can get around and get to work without the need for their cars. Santa Monica is a pretty dense city, with several points of interest and commercial shops within walking distance and a strong bus system. It's not Manhattan and it doesn't have to be. But there's less of a reliance on the automobile, and ultimately reducing that reliance is the key to making us energy secure.

The alternative is areas like the Inland Empire, where runaway sprawl and persistent construction of single-family homes is not only unsustainable, it's unaffordable, as the mortgage crisis and soaring energy costs turn these developments into ghost towns. With 200 dollar-a-barrel oil on the horizon, urban planning simply cannot retain the status quo and expect to survive. There isn't one complete answer here - telecommuting and Internet delivery, increased mass transit (I can't wait for my subway to the sea), and density will all play a role. But we cannot sacrifice any of those options in the name of NIMBYism.

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Poor McMaverick

I'm a little angry that this question gets asked to thinking people, but the results are certainly gonna leave a mark.

People would rather barbecue burgers with Barack than munch meats with McCain.

While many are still deciding which should be president, by 52 percent to 45 percent they would prefer having Barack Obama than John McCain to their summer cookout, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo! News poll released Wednesday.

Men are about evenly divided between the two while women prefer Obama by 11 percentage points. Whites prefer McCain, minorities Obama. And Obama is a more popular guest with younger voters while McCain does best with the oldest.

Having Obama to a barbecue would be like a relaxed family gathering, while inviting McCain "would be more like a retirement party than something fun," said Wesley Welbourne, 38, a systems engineer from Washington, D.C.

Clearly these philistines haven't tasted his dry rub. If they only knew him like his base the media knows him, if they knew his honor, his saintliness, his wizardry with charcoal, if they only knew him like David Broder knows him!!!!!

(by the way, I think that'll be the final tally on the election. We're a dumbed-down culture that still thinks in terms of who we'd want to have corn on the cob with in our leaders.)

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Sigh... Team Obama's Bamboozlement On FISA.


Good for Mike Stark and the gang (and since I'm part of it, myself) for getting the New York Times to notice the group, now the largest on his site, which is protesting his recent position on FISA and telecom immunity. It's a solid piece, and a testament to the spirit and creativity of the netroots to get something like this accomplished. I just want to mention one thing from the end of the article.

Greg Craig, a Washington lawyer who advises the Obama campaign, said Tuesday in an interview that Mr. Obama had decided to support the compromise FISA legislation only after concluding it was the best deal possible.

“This was a deliberative process, and not something that was shooting from the hip,” Mr. Craig said. “Obviously, there was an element of what’s possible here. But he concluded that with FISA expiring, that it was better to get a compromise than letting the law expire.”

FISA is not expiring. The Protect America Act expired in February, reverting intelligence gathering through foreign surveillance back to FISA, where it had been for 30 years. FISA's burden is not onerous, it's frequently a rubber stamp, and its existence as a secret court may violate the Fourth Amendment in its own right, but it's not "expiring." What's expiring are a few open wiretaps which surveil foreign targets but go through a US switcher. The proper compromise would have been to just fix those and treat them as foreign communications. Massively expanding wiretap capability and telecom immunity was completely unnecessary. Greg Craig is trying to bamboozle you.

UPDATE: Glennzilla is all over this, he even got Craig on the phone and forced him into a bunch of lies and misstatements. Meanwhile, Blue America has created this very cool whip count call tool.

Blue America is launching a call tool today to help you get in touch with Senators regarding the FISA bill. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for everyone to talk with their Senators about the importance of standing up for the constitution, the rule of law — and standing against telecom immunity.

We have been working hard to put together some tools to make your voice heard — and there is more to come today.

This first tool allows you to directly contact Senators to tell them to stand up for the rule of law and vote in favor of the Dodd-Feingold-Leahy amendment. (That’s S.A.5064 to H.R. 6304 which will come up for a vote on July 8th, 2008.) Not only will this tool help you phone your Senators — including connecting your call — but it also gives us the ability to track positions on FISA given your input on what you ascertain during your conversations.

It's worth trying.

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The Latest On Darcy Burner

So Blue America is raising moneyfor Darcy Burner in her time of need. This money will go toward her campaign; it's a FEC nightmare to give her direct donations for her house and possessions, and the campaign contributions will help because it gives her time to stay off the campaign trail and get her life back in shape instead of attending fundraisers and bugging people for money. David Goldstein writes:

We’ve asked a lot of Darcy, and I’ve never known a politician who has worked harder to deliver. It was a grueling race in 2006, and after briefly pausing to digest her narrow loss, she got right back to work. But now she needs to take a few days off to tend to her family and herself… to literally get her house in order. And that’s where we all can help.

Darcy needs to raise about $150,000 this July to keep pace with Dave Reichert and her own 2006 fundraising, and everyday she takes off makes her campaign budget that much harder to hit. That’s about $5,000 a day.

And that’s why I’m joining with bloggers nationwide to ask our readers to contribute what they can today, to help give Darcy the breathing room she needs to tend to her own affairs without worrying about neglecting her campaign. Every $5,000 increment we raise represents a day that Darcy won’t have to dedicate to her own fundraising efforts. It is a gift more precious than money; it is a gift of time.

Donate here to Darcy Burner's campaign. And check out this news report from local Seattle news:

Let's pitch in and help our progressive friends. I just gave her a hundred bucks.

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So Many Whistleblowers, So Little Time...

Here's just another example of the difference between a Democrat and a Republican in the White House. Democrats run the Justice Department their way; Republicans run it as an arm of the RNC. In addition, they deliberately bottleneck cases that would be harmful to their corporate contributors.

More than 900 cases alleging that government contractors and drugmakers have defrauded taxpayers out of billions of dollars are languishing in a backlog that has built up over the past decade because the Justice Department cannot keep pace with the surge in charges brought by whistle-blowers, according to lawyers involved in the disputes.

The issue is drawing renewed interest among lawmakers and nonprofit groups because many of the cases involve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising health-care payouts, and privatization of government functions -- all of which offer rich new opportunities to swindle taxpayers.

I don't know if there are more whistleblowers than in the past, or less. What I do understand is that creating a backlog of their cases creates a kind of gag order on those alleging fraud. The Justice Department reviews the charges under seal, and any foot-dragging results in a delay in public disclosure about the case. Government investigations take time and it's clearly not what the Bush Administration is interested in doing. We're talking about big money - billions of dollars that would go into government coffers. But it would go away from military contractors, prescription drug companies, and other friends of the regime. So they languish.

Jessalyn Radack, herself a federal whistleblower, has a lot more in this Kos diary.

the Justice Department has taken extraordinary steps to delay and block these cases. It's normal for the Justicce Department to seek extensions of the seal on a qui tam whistleblower suit for 6 or 12 months while it investigates the case. But in Iraq reconstruction fraud suits, the extensions run into years, meaning that suits filed back in 2003 and 2004 remain entirely under wraps.

In 2006, Taxpayers Against Fraud reported that the Justice Department won damages in 95 separate qui tam cases, recovering a total of almost $3.2 billion. But not a penny of this came from suits against contracting firms in Iraq, even though the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction admits that $9 billion is missing in action.

Last September, Senator Leahy asked why the Justice Department was not intervening in this category of cases. We're still waiting for the answer that we all know: because the orgy of greed and war profiteering are being enjoyed by friends of the Bush administration like Halliburton and KBR. Is it too outlandish to suggest that the same Justice Department that, in concert with the White House, fired U.S. Attorneys for political reasons is suppressing war-related fraud claims for political purposes


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Spies Like Us

Turns out that, even before overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we're engaging in plenty of foreign surveillance - of the Iraqi Army. Nothing says confidence in your allies more than tracking all of their movements.

Caught off guard by recent Iraqi military operations, the United States is using spy satellites that ordinarily are trained on adversaries to monitor the movements of the American-backed Iraqi army, current and former U.S. officials say.

The stepped-up surveillance reflects breakdowns in trust and coordination between the two forces. Officials said it was part of an expanded intelligence effort launched after American commanders were surprised by the timing of the Iraqi army's violent push into Basra three months ago.

The use of the satellites puts the United States in the unusual position of employing some of its most sophisticated espionage technology to track an allied army that American forces helped create, continue to advise, and often fight alongside.

Maybe the whole war isn't working out so great if we feel the need to spy on the Army that's supposed to give us the ability to leave. The White House can spin yarns about success all they want, but this is really the proof. We have no confidence in the Iraqi security forces to maintain order in the country, we have not progressed on the underlying causes of violence, and we're prolonging the inevitable at great cost in lives and treasure.

Meanwhile, one of the most depressing things about our surveillance state is that we're not even that good at it, or at least not as good as the Iranians.

David Ignatius has the gem down low in today's Washington Post column, which describes a half-hearted, even feckless U.S. covert action program to send operatives from Iraq into Iran.

"The danger of these cross-border activities was explained to me by one intelligence source," Ignatius writes.

He said the Iranians had recently captured several dissident Iranian operatives who had been recruited by U.S. military officers inside Iraq and then sent into Iran. The Iranians, whose intelligence network inside Iraq is pervasive, surveilled the meeting, then followed the agents across the border and seized them.

I'd gather that Iran has far better human intelligence inside Iraq in addition to electronic surveillance. So when we sink money into covert operations using front groups and dissidents, we should realize that the operations aren't that covert, are led by incompetents, and only serve to harden Iranian opinions about their need for a weapons program.

Whatever happened to the age when we had the good spies? Not even good at espionage anymore. Getting harder to believe in this country's leading-edge innovations.

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Off His Game

An ABC reporter gave John McCain the opportunity to discuss Wes Clark's comment - the ACTUAL remarks - and McCain went apeshit.

McCain became visibly angry when I asked him to explain how his Vietnam experience prepared him for the Presidency.

“Please,” he said, recoiling back in his seat in distaste at the very question.

McCain allies Sen. Lindsey Graham stepped in to rescue him. Graham expressed admiration for McCain’s stance on the treatment of detainees in US custody.

(That would be the stance that he flipped on by voting against a ban on torture in the Senate just this year.)

Another few questions like this and he's going to strangle somebody. The precedent of him hauling off at people is certainly there. And this reporter is probably going to have to fly in the back of the plane from now on.

I actually think that Wes Clark completely threw McCain off with this. The Villagers are having their little hissy fit, but this has exposed that McCain believes in his own divine right to the Presidency based entirely on his suffering and his wounds (which he's ever so "reluctant" to talk about, he mentioned in the same interview. Yeah, right.) Clark touched a nerve here by questioning the assumption that McCain's biography can stand in for his judgment or policy prescriptions. He deflated McCain's entire rationale for his candidacy. And McCain can't take it so he's acting like a WATB.

You endured a horrible imprisonment for our country years ago, and we thank and honor you for it. But let's have some actual straight talk here: you've been thanked and honored for this exact thing for decades. Lionized, feted, canonized even. Maybe the problem is that you feel entitled to nothing BUT that at this point, but... if so, you shouldn't be running for President. It's not appropriate for a democracy to give anyone that office as a gift, without the proper debate.

What you want, Mr. McCain, is to be spared scrutiny. You want the office to be given to you by acclaim, and for ANY criticism of your record to be called an act of disrespect for your military service. It's a cowardly way to approach this election -- morally bankrupt and un-American.

McCain's in quite a bit of trouble. The insiders are worried, he had to overhaul his top staff again and he's caught up in lies over his past statements about not knowing anything about the economy. This Clark story may look like a win for him, but it's consumed almost a week of his campaign, which again is message-free, rootless and unfocused, without any overarching narrative or reason to be President other than "I served." He's angry when challenged about the substance behind the bio, and it comes off ugly.

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Obama And National Service

I feel like we're in a mode on the blogosphere where only the bad "move to the center" things about Obama are mentioned and nothing else he's doing. So I thought I'd mention his upcoming speech today on national service, which has a series of vague-sounding but generally laudable initiatives:

• Encourage national service to address the great challenges of our time, including combating climate change, extending health care, improving our schools and strengthening America overseas by showing the world the best of our nation.
• Expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 slots and double the size of the Peace Corps.
• Integrate service-learning into our schools and universities to enable students to graduate college with as many as 17 weeks of service experience under their belts.
• Provide new service opportunities for working Americans and retirees.
• Expand service initiatives that engage disadvantaged young people and advance their education.
• Expand the capacity of nonprofits to innovate and expand successful programs across the country.
• Enable more Americans to serve in the armed forces.

Like Matt Yglesias I agree that service for service's sake is not a desired goal, and that these all must be measured for effectiveness. But engaging people in a new meaning of citizenship and becoming active within their communities is a pretty solid concept, and so I think this blueprint combined with measurement would be excellent. In a way it's catching the wave of civic engagement that has taken off politically with things like the... well, the Obama campaign.

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Mortgage Legislation Passes CA Assembly - What's In It?

Yesterday, the Assembly passed SB 1137, which would alter the mortgage industry in California and aid those in danger of losing their homes. It got through the Assembly by one vote, with 10 Republicans voting with the Democrats. The Senate will need to pass it again to conform to some amendments and then this will go quickly to the Governor's desk. As Frank Russo writes:

The bill that passed, SB 1137 is authored by Democratic Senators Don Perata, Ellen Corbett, and Michael Machado, and coauthored by Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass and principal coauthor Assemblymember Ted Lieu, who presented it on the Assembly floor. It goes beyond federal laws and received broad support from consumer groups. The legislation requires lenders and servicers to: 1) contact borrowers (or engage in a prescribed process to do so) to schedule telephone or in-person meetings on restructuring options before beginning the foreclosure process, 2) requires a 60-day notice to be given to tenants of buildings facing foreclosure before they can be removed from a rental housing unit; and 3) allows fines of up to $1,000 a day for owners of foreclosed properties that fail to adequately maintain them.

I like aspects of this legislation, particularly the steps toward removing blight in homes that aren't properly maintained, which is a big problem in heavily foreclosed areas. But this bill is a watered-down supplement to the raft of bills presented by Ted Lieu earlier this year, which would have really reformed the mortgage market. There would have been enhanced regulation, limits to penalties for prepayment, a requirement to translate loan terms to non-English speaking customers (yes, that's not current law), eliminate yield spread premiums (which rewarded lenders for getting their customers into higher interest-rate loans) and gotten rid of weasel language in mortgage documents like involuntary legal waivers. Almost all of those bills were gutted to the delight of the lending industry. What's in its place is vaguely helpful to borrowers, but not at all the industrywide reform that is needed to ensure that a runaway market like we saw a few years ago will never be repeated. Lieu modeled his reforms after those in North Carolina, where they work very well. This was a case of the lobbyists getting a hold of legislation before it could actually do any good.

Here's Ted Lieu's statement:

“Senator Don Perata’s SB 1137 sends a strong message that the California State Legislature will go further than federal law to address the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Recently and unfortunately, the Senate Banking, Finance and Insurance committee killed a comprehensive package of Assembly mortgage reform bills based on industry’s argument that California should do nothing other than conform to federal law. SB 1137 is a clear and stunning rejection of the ultra-conservative industry argument that California has no role other than to follow the federal government. This bill shows we will lead, not just follow, and that relying on the same federal regulators that failed us during the mortgage crisis is not an option.

“California was the hardest hit and therefore needs to be at the forefront of creating such a comprehensive plan. Such states as New York and North Carolina have already passed comprehensive mortgage reform. It is time we do more.

“Again, I would like to commend Pro Tem Perata on his recognition that sensible mortgage reform requires California to go further than federal law. SB 1137 is a solid first step, but we certainly need to do more to address adequately the mortgage crisis. The Assembly already passed a solid package of comprehensive reforms to the Senate. The ball is now in the California Senate’s court.”

Sen. Mike Machado was instrumental in getting industry's back and gutting the most far-reaching aspects of the Lieu bills, and Democrats in the Assembly gave some payback by killing most of the legislation he offered this year. Rather than an elementary school slap-fight, it'd be nice if there was some conviction from the leadership to go beyond the most cosmetic solutions and fight for their constituents.

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Help Darcy

Activists in the Northwest have set up to provide assistance and support to Darcy Burner and her family in the wake of the tragic fire that consumed their home yesterday.

Here are some things you can do to help:

Leave a message of support here at We’ll build a message board featuring your comments and deliver it to the Burner family to let them know we’re thinking about them.

Ask the campaign what you can do to help out around the office. Darcy plans to continue running for Congress, but she’s taking time off to get her life back in order. Your help can keep her going strong.

Upload any pictures you have of the Burners to help them replace the recorded memories they lost. Original JPGs are preferred. (Images will not be displayed publicly, however, they will be given to the family).

The Burners are not looking for donations right now, but if that happens I'll let you know. I wouldn't even know how to begin to put my life back together if I lost everything to a fire, so I really feel for her situation. Please visit and show your support.

UPDATE: This is the shirt Darcy was wearing when the fire hit:

She's not going to be able to raise money for a while, so give at Act Blue if you can.

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Won't Someone Think Of The Ballplayers?

Because of the OC Register, I hate being alive. I hope they're happy.

In a column from last week that would have escaped me if Jesse from Pandagon hadn't seen it, Hank Adler decides that the best way to attack Barack Obama's spending plan is to remind everyone what professional athletes will lose out of the deal.

It was fortunate for Tiger that his most-recent U.S. Open win occurred in 2008. Under twin tax proposals from Obama to 1) remove the "cap" from Social Security taxes for individuals earning over $250,000, a plateau Tiger has long since surpassed in 2008, and 2) eliminate the "Bush" tax cuts, thereby raising the top marginal federal income tax rate to 39.6 percent, Tiger's taxes on his winner's check would have increased to approximately $776,000, a boost of almost $190,000. Instead of Tiger keeping 57 percent of his earnings and the government taking 43 percent, under the twin Obama tax proposals, Tiger's federal and California taxes would have amounted to 57 percent of his winnings, leaving Tiger with just 43 percent.

I know when California families are deciding between air conditioning or meat, when they muse about using a rickshaw to get to work because gas is as out of reach as gold, they are actually upset because they know Tiger Woods is being deprived of $190,000 out of the eleventy billion in his bank account. What, his new baby has to get silver-plated starter clubs now instead of the expected gold? Can you look yourself in the eye and say that doesn't eat you up inside?

Adler continues:

Prefer baseball to golf?

The New York Yankees have a 2008 payroll of approximately $208 million. Under the twin Obama tax proposals, the 24 Yankee players would be hit with an aggregate increase in federal income taxes of just over $22 million, with slugger Alex Rodriguez single-handedly getting dunned with $2.6 million in additional federal taxes.

The owner of the Yankees would owe an additional $7.5 million of federal taxes. Ticket prices would need to be increased by about $65 million so that the owner and players could have the same after-tax income as before. The increase in ticket prices would amount to an average $16 per ticket. Given that the least-expensive ticket in Yankee Stadium currently is $14, this would more than double the cost of a seat in the bleachers.

Adler hit upon the two most sympathetic characters in all of sports, maybe all of Christendom, to single out as martyrs: Alex Rodriguez and George Steinbrenner. Incidentally, with the Yanks 7 1/2 games out of first, I don't think anyone's going to feel too bad about them losing money. Then there's the part where Steinbrenner is entitled to his after-tax earnings and simply must fleece the hardworking fans, because the Yankees have no other revenue streams to speak of.

You can go on to dispute Adler by mentioning the top-level tax rate in 1960 (it was 90%), the tax rates under Clinton which Obama would restore and how that affected business (the largest peacetime expansion in history), etc., etc. But someone with the insight to use the plight of enormously wealthy ballplayers to rally the middle-class public to his cause isn't really worth the time. Only the mockery.

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Yes, You Read That Right

I'm almost glad that this idiot wrote such an aggressively stupid hit piece in the WaPo today, because at least the blogosphere can be united in the mockery.

Shortly after joining the U.S. Senate and while enjoying a surge in income, Barack Obama bought a $1.65 million restored Georgian mansion in an upscale Chicago neighborhood. To finance the purchase, he secured a $1.32 million loan from Northern Trust in Illinois.

The freshman Democratic senator received a discount. He locked in an interest rate of 5.625 percent on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, below the average for such loans at the time in Chicago. The loan was unusually large, known in banker lingo as a "super super jumbo." Obama paid no origination fee or discount points, as some consumers do to reduce their interest rates.

Compared with the average terms offered at the time in Chicago, Obama's rate could have saved him more than $300 per month.

Three hundy a month! A man could lease a used Scion xB with that kind of scratch!

What exactly is the problem here? The reporter is assuming that all loans are created equal, that someone with decent credit can't get a better than "average" loan, that competitive rates don't exist, that consumer rates don't vary, and about 30 other things about this transaction to cast some kind of pall over it.

If Obama was getting preferential treatment, I hope he'd have the good sense to net more than three hundred bucks a month out of it. I want my thieves significantly more effective than that. That's not change I can believe in, my friendssssshhh!

Here's the best part:

Obama's Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, has no mortgages on properties he owns with his wife, Cindy, who is a multimillionaire.

Left unsaid is the whole thing about the McCains forgetting to pay property taxes on one of their seven homes. Not relevant because the deed is not precisely in John McCain's name. Only his wife's, who of course has nothing to do with him.

Unbelievable that this made any kind of paper, let alone the Washington Post.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hersh's Gambit

I've spent the last two days puzzling over Sy Hersh's latest New Yorker piece about the prospect of war with Iran. There's no question in my mind that the Cheneyites want to be the "real men" who go to Tehran. Fourthbranch Cheney may have lost the skirmish inside the Administration on North Korea, but it's clear the country with the oil in it is the bigger prize, and in a way, has always been the focus.

I know there's a lot of talk about Israel going ahead with an airstrike, but Hersh doesn't buy it, and neither do I. Fourthbranch doesn't believe they have the firepower needed to penetrate the deeply embedded facilities he thinks the Iranians have, and he figures the US would be blamed for any attack anyway, so why not go ahead with it. Furthermore, the Israelis are doing too much talking about this, telegraphing the fact that they don't want to actually do it. If they were serious about attacking, nobody at the New York Times would get briefed about preparatory maneuvers.

About 13 years ago, while working on a British TV magazine program, I found myself spending a couple of days with Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls/the Notorious B.I.G. (I swear, I still have the tape, but it’s analog.) This extended interview took place at the time when Tupac Shakur was yelling from the rooftops that he was going to kill Brooklyn’s greatest rapper, and getting plenty of publicity and selling records by doing so. Biggie wasn’t particularly alarmed. He’d been a hustler in Bed-Stuy for too long to take seriously threats that are broadcast. In far more colorful language, he said words to the effect of “On the streets, when someone is telling anyone who’ll listen that they’re going to kill you, you don’t have to lose any sleep over it. You’re not going to hear about it beforehand when the real killer comes.”

Exactly. (Yes, I know, Biggie was eventually, tragically, murdered — but his point is proven by the fact that his killers had nothing to do with Tupac.)

So Fourthbranch wants to take the shot himself (Israel's even asking them to do it for them, which is the point of all the talk). And if you're someone like Sy Hersh who thinks that is abhorrent, that it would be deeply destabilizing and catastrophic to this country's national security, you do whatever you can to stop it. So he's been reporting about the imminent possibility of an attack, in the hopes that the presence of the articles will become a deterrent. He's revealed that the weapons have been moved into position, the exercises prepped, the bombing routes checked. He knows he can't rely on the Democratic Congress, obviously; as this latest article shows, the only people who have been standing in the way of war with Iran are at the Pentagon.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.) [...]

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”

Hersh is basically writing what he hopes are self-negating columns. He wants the very act of publishing, of making transparent all these efforts to bomb Iran and the pushback, to deter the Administration. This is pretty much Spencer Ackerman's take, and so far, so good.

However, what Hersh is putting up front in this piece is that the war has actually already begun:

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

The reason for the Finding, which is yet another hideous example of playing with fire (we're arming and training Sunni fundamentalist Baluchis from the same region as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?), is that the normal blueprint for ginning up a war in the Middle East hasn't worked. Cheney initially took the Iraqi pre-war marketing plan, with neocons in high places going to battle on the op-ed pages and TV, articles about Iranian perfidy strategically placed, and the like. Didn't cause more than a ripple, and after the NIE showing Iran discontinued their nuclear program years ago, dead on arrival. It should be known that the NIE itself, finally released after years of delay and attempted suppression, is now a fading memory in the national consciousness. It's a wonder we got it out at all:

The onetime undercover agent, who has been barred by the CIA from using his real name, filed a motion in federal court late Friday asking the government to declassify legal documents describing what he says was a deliberate suppression of findings on Iran that were contrary to agency views at the time.

The former operative alleged in a 2004 lawsuit that the CIA fired him after he repeatedly clashed with senior managers over his attempts to file reports that challenged the conventional wisdom about weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Key details of his claim have not been made public because they describe events the CIA deems secret [...]

"On five occasions he was ordered to either falsify his reporting on WMD in the Near East, or not to file his reports at all," (his attorney Roy) Krieger said in an interview.

So Plan B was launched - to start a dirty war inside Iran, using enemies of the Iranian government, in the hopes that they can spark an event that the Administration can credibly call an act of aggression. They had to get the go-ahead from the Gang of Eight in Congress, which buckled (again). But they authorized a very different program than Fourthbranch ended up implementing:

Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference [...]

“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight.

Emptywheel has more on this aspect of the White House evading oversight so they can set the fuse for a casus belli. Clearly they want to "prep the battle space" and garner just enough support to go over the heads of the wavering generals and launch the attack of their dreams. And the fact that just talking about this stuff enough raises the price of oil makes it a win even if they lose.

Here's how Fourthbranch tried to get to Hersh the last time he foiled one of his dastardly plans:'s May, 1975, and Seymour Hersh of the New York Times has just broke the story of a secret submarine mission inside Soviet territorial waters.

Here's Dick Cheney's handwritten notes on how the Ford administration might proceed next: "go after Hersh papers in his apt."

I don't know what it'll be this time. But it's clear to me, as we approach July 4th, that there's no better patriot in this country than Seymour Hersh, taking on the job of 236 Democrats in the House and 50 in the Senate, trying to hold off this insanity for a few more months before transitioning into a new Adminstration which will hopefully recognize the broad consensus for negotiation and diplomacy with the Islamic Republic as opposed to the folly of war.

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