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

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Interview with Bob Barr

You may know that Bob Barr has arrived at Netroots Nation. He bought a one-day pass and decided to mingle with the assembled conventioneers. And he drew a crowd. I first spied him when Kate Sheppard of Grist was interviewing him about his environmental policies (a lot of "we don't know if man is causing global warming, we need further study, etc). All of us wanted to talk to him, but we didn't quite know what to ask. But after a couple of minutes it hit me, and my good buddy clammyc lent me his voice recorder and I sidled up to Barr to ask my first question.

Me: Rep. Barr, do you believe the impeachment of President Clinton was a good deterrent to the expansion of executive power and the establishment of the rule of law for the executive branch?

answer on the flip...

Barr: (chuckling) Good Lord no!

Me: So do you regret your role in the impeachment of President Clinton as House manager?

Barr: No, having public officials adhere to and be answerable to the rule of law is very, very important. What distresses me greatly is that Congress has not done, in the case of this President, what they should have done. And that is to inquire into what this Administration has done with regard to breaking the laws, on the electronic surveillance of people without warrants, the improper use of US Attorneys, etc.

Me: Would you have endorsed the impeachment articles that were referred to the House Judiciary Committee last week?

Barr: I'm testifying this Thursday before the House on some of these issues, not in the context of impeachment, but in the context of the rule of law and the separation of powers. So we will be getting into some of these things. But I think it would make no sense at this point to do impeachment--

Me: At what point would it have made sense? What year would it have made sense?

Barr: You're not going to let me answer a question!

Me: I'm sorry, I'm just trying to follow up.

Barr: Go ahead, ask your question.

Me: Well, you're talking about a timeline, that it wouldn't make sense 6 months before the end of the President's term to begin an impeachment inquiry...

Barr: We're getting into the heart of a Presidential campaign. Anything that Congress would do at this point would be seen as totally political, and probably from their standpoint be counter-productive, because the other side would rally around the President, and possibly hurt the other side in the election.

Me: I have one final question. Do you feel that the impeachment of President Clinton, in effect, poisoned the well of the practice of impeachment, and always made it a political act, so that the current executive can always count on the fact that it would be seen as political to call for accountability in this fashion?

Barr: Impeachment is always going to be somewhat political, you are never going to get away from that. One of the things that I learned, and what I wrote about in my book, is that when I filed in November of 1997, the very first inquiry of impeachment, none of us knew anything about Monica Lewinsky. That didn't come up until three or four months later. The basis of which I believed it was necessary and appropriate had nothing to do with that, it had to do with national security matters, improper campaign donations from foreign sources and so forth. But even had we moved in that direction, the Republicans didn't want to, that would have been seen as political. You're never going to get away from that. That's why it's so important in any impeachment to lay your groundwork, marshal your evidence, have those Congressional hearings first, rather than reaching your conclusion first.

Audio is coming in a moment, I'll update.

UPDATE: Audio (it'll show as soon as it's processed):

I think the intellectual bankruptcy of this argument speaks for itself, so I won't say much. Barr believes that the Clinton impeachment did nothing to strengthen the rule of law vis a vis the executive branch, but he thinks he was right to do it because having public officials adhere to the rule of law is important. He thinks that the impeachment he managed was important and necessary, but wouldn't currently do it with Bush because it would be seen as political. He talks about adherence to the Constitution but quite literally makes a timeline excuse for implementing a Constitutional check. And then he endorses the concept of fishing expeditions. I appreciate Barr's work on FISA and other matters, but this was self-protective blather, and mindless blather at that. To me it was instructive. But I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

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Ask The Speaker

Watching Speaker Pelosi at the morning Q&A. First question is on inherent contempt. She name-checked Karl Rove, but is basically talking about the Catch-22 of the Justice Department not prosecuting these cases. In other words, she didn't answer the question, because inherent contempt does not require the judiciary or the Attorney General. Gina Cooper asked "will you put him in that little jail cell in the House?" Standing ovation.

Next question is about FISA and how it could possibly be seen as a compromise. She's claiming that her options were limited, which is silly (the Republicans and some bad Democrats made me put it on the calendar?). Now on to the exclusivity bull-pucky, and the IG report, which is OK. "Our bill (the initial House bill) was a good bill." She's claiming that we'll learn more from the IG than from the courts, and I'm not sure that's true. Gina asks rightly that there's no natural constituency from this bill in the public. She's doing a great job.

OK, I'm going to lose power here, again.

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The Maliki Primary

This is pretty enormous news:

In an interview with Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Maliki said he wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.

"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes" [...]

Asked if he supported Obama's ideas more than those of John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, Maliki said he did not want to recommend who people should vote for.

"Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems." [...]

"The Americans have found it difficult to agree on a concrete timetable for the exit because it seems like an admission of defeat to them. But it isn't," Maliki told Der Spiegel.

There's just no way to spin this. Regardless of Maliki's motives, this is a total rejection of the McCain conservative position on Iraq. They never wanted to "win," they wanted to stay. And they are being told they have to leave.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

How The Media Learned To Bend Over Backwards

OK, so welcome to the main exhibit hall, where we just had a debate between Markos and Harold Ford. (who defended the Congressional vote on FISA by basically saying that the Constitution doesn't poll very well. I'll elaborate later.)

Right now I'm in the front row of Digby's panel on the media, with Rick Perlstein, Paul Krugman, and Atrios. Not a bad group.

Digby dedicated this panel to Molly Ivins, who called for "sustained outrage" on the part of the citizenry against the instruments of power, admonishing the media for its too-cozy respect for authority. Now we're on to Rick Perlstein, who is giving a little history lesson on how the media went awry. Back in the early 1960s, footage of civil rights marchers having hoses turned on them galvanized public opinion against repression and bigotry. But in 1968, when the Chicago police beat up antiwar protesters half to death, the public opinion was the opposite, "Right on for the cops," etc. There was a popular bumper sticker in the country at the time, reading "I Support Mayor Daley and His Police." The press, who considered themselves guardians of the public interest, started to consider whether or not they were prejudiced, elitist, not rooted in the heartland of America, biased toward young people and minorities. And it basically all went to shit from there.

This is going to be good. I'll update...

...Now we're on to the media's liberal guilt, and Spiro Agnew's series of speeches (written by William Safire) on the "nattering nabobs of negativism" and how the media is trying to tell ordinary Americans what to think. We're 40 years on and these pundits still are haunted by this. Old narratives die hard.

Paul Krugman is up. He says he was never told to stop writing what he was writing in the run-up to war through much of the Bush years, but he was told that he was making management nervous. In 2005, he was indirectly told to lay up a bit, and that "the election solved some things." He said that a lot of these failures of the media aren't exactly political. They go beyond politics. "It is better to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right." The example is how nobody who was actually right about the war is allowed to comment about it, but that's also true with the housing bubble, etc. "There's something wrong with you if you actually figure this out too early." There's a narrow range of being counter-intuitive. It's acceptable, for example, to say "Bush is actually better on the environment than you think."

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Send Karl Rove To Jail

I'm watching the premiere of Meet The Bloggers, a brand-new Web-only issues and answers chat show, at the main hall at Netroots Nation. Marcy Wheeler, Baratunde from Jack and Jill Politics and Liliana from Alternet are discussing the case of Karl Rove blowing off the House Judiciary Committee and politicizing the Justice Department. I saw Don Siegelman today, and we all know this story, but to hear Gov. Siegelman say it himself is absolutely stunning. As he said, "If this can happen to me, someone with power and authority, this can happen to you and your family." This is about perverting the system of justice and restoring fundamental rights and the rule of law.

There's a lot of activity around this today. Gov. Siegelman put up a site called, to send a petition to legislators to not let up on their emasculation by this Administration.

Recently, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Karl Rove, demanding his testimony about his own role in the politicization of the Department of Justice and politically motivated prosecutions of Democratic leaders, including me.

Karl Rove refused to even show up for the hearing, claiming that Congress has no power to compel senior White House officials from testifying. That's outrageous. Yet again, Karl Rove has showed his callous disregard for the law and for Congress' constitutional role as a co-equal branch of government.

It's time for Congress to act: Forward an email to your Member of Congress below, urging him or her to support a contempt resolution against Karl Rove. If Karl Rove won't respond to a legitimate Congressional subpoena, it's time to turn up the heat.

And Brave New Films has come out with

To paraphrase Baratunde Thurston, there are 2.3 million people in prison in this country, but Karl Rove can blow off Congress and have relative impunity. If anyone deserves jail, it's him.

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What's The Obama Angle?

This is just dumb.

Sen. Barack Obama’s support of a recent overhaul of domestic spy laws that rankled many on the left still has them rankled if the opening session at the annual Netroots Nation convention taking place in Austin, Texas, is any indication.

One of the first questions at a session on ground organizing run by Parag Mehta of the Democratic National Committee was about what Obama supporters should tell voters they meet while canvassing who are angry about his vote. Mehta inquired how many of the dozens of people in the room felt the same way–almost every hand in the room shot up.

Mehta offered a suggested line. Tell them “it was a bad bill but there were things in the bill worth fighting for,” he said.

This is a textbook example of a news outlet going to an event with the story already written. Nobody likes Obama's support of the FISA bill but the idea that it should be the lede of talking about this convention is just nuts. There's this real desire to create a split between Obama and his so-called base. First of all, we're not necessarily his base. Second of all, we're going to criticize and praise in maybe equal amounts and make our assessments. Third, this isn't the Borg, you have a couple thousand people here with their own perspectives. At a convention about the progressive movement and all of the great ideas that we're trying to push into the mainstream, to turn this into "Obama v. Netroots" tosses out about 95% of the equation.

This narrative needs to be thrown out.

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Greetings From The Fuck Panel

Hey, so hello from Netroots Nation in Austin. I'm sitting in Digby's panel on language and rudeness and horrible vituperativeness on the Internets. So I'll try and liveblog it a little bit for you, just to bring it to the comfort of your living room or office.

...The idea of the panel is about the role of language inside the blogosphere. Digby just mentioned about how blogging is taken a bit more seriously than it was in earlier days when it was an extended conversation. And so the language is a bit more professionalized. However, as we all know, she doesn't hold back.

...Atrios just brought up the ultimate bit of rudeness in the last decade... Tom Friedman's "Suck. On. This." quote. "If Tom Friedman can say suck on this to Charlie Rose, I can say fuck every now and again." If the ideas and policies we've been subjected to over the last several years are truly offensive and repulsive, then why exactly should the words be so horrifying?

More in a minute...

...also on the panel are Jesse and Amanda from Pandagon, the Rude Pundit, and Kevin Drum, so a mix across the "fuck" spectrum. Jesse just mentioned how people mistake profanity for anger, but sometimes it's standing in for bemusement. When you see something so offensive, you can use it as a shorthand.

...Atrios said that when people on the right or in the traditional media throw a hissy fit about language, it's really about removing authority and critiquing on the margins instead of addressing the substance of the arguments. That's not to say that they are right, and we ought to censor ourselves (there are other means of marginalization). But it's well-known that there's an element that talks about bloggers by saying "they say nasty things on the Internets" to avoid the real issue.

...Here's a pretty good point to throw out there by Digby. Somehow bad language has been associated with the left. Never mind that John McCain has been quoted in public making some, shall we say, untoward comments. But it doesn't get reported, by and large. But the left ends up tarred with the brush of vulgarity. As she says, "I think the response to that is to own it and say it even more." Kevin Drum says it about a public/private argument, that when you swear in private it's somehow OK, but in public it's deeply horrifying. Think of the Jesse Jackson weeklong brouhaha. They actually got an extension in the news cycle because they found another word to hype. A word.

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Day One Thoughts

This is going to be random and disconnected and based on what I remember, which given my state of 4 hours of sleep might not be much.

• Debbie Cook is making a lot of believers, and it's well-deserved. My initial thoughts on her fundraising were that she was doing OK, but her beating Dana Rohrabacher was more of a function of him being incredibly lazy. What I'm being told by Cook's people is, no, he's trying pretty hard and Republicans are stiffing him. He's certainly an abrasive personality and it could be that a lot of people want him to fail. Cook is on the energy panel this morning, which I may look in on for a bit. She and Charlie Brown are the most exciting races in California, and both of them are here and were at the California caucus, which went well.

• The Open Left caucus became a bull session about why we can't get an advantage on the energy issue, why "Drill Now!" is so effective even though everyone knows it's bullshit. I think Matt Stoller hit the nail on the head when he talked about how, in an era of high gas prices, people will gravitate to SOMETHING as long as it looks like leadership, and the Democratic message on energy is so ad hoc and muddled that the leadership isn't there. Even the things they do right, like this "Use It Or Lose It" thing, they don't promote effectively. Apparently there was a vote on that yesterday. Hey, can we get some advance warning, guys??? There is a Democratic message sometimes, but it's not always broadcast effectively.

• Wes Clark and Howard Dean gave solid enough speeches last night at the evening keynote, and it's good to see Clark out from the bunker after his non-gaffe about John McCain, but these are the same stalwarts. I found it very telling and revealing to learn that the Senate had scheduled a Martha's Vineyard retreat for a bunch of big-dollar muckety-mucks and leading candidates this weekend. I really don't think that was unintentional. There is not one sitting member of the US Senate here, and a lot of the candidates have to split their time between here and the big-dollar meeting. Scott Kleeb was here AS HIS BABY WAS BEING DELIVERED last year, and this year he opted to go up and kiss the ring. That's not a slam on Kleeb, it's the bottom line of politics. But there's no question that the calendar sent a message to me. Sometimes this does feel like a treadmill; I commiserated with a couple people over this last night. We know change is not going to be immediate, but I don't know if we're learning the right lessons yet. The movement has come a long way but there's a danger of dislillusionment if we don't crash the gates necessary to wield real political power.

• Austin is a great city. It must have the highest concentration of bars per capita in the United States, based on my stroll to some of the offsite parties last night. Looking forward to getting some barbecue at some point.

• I'll be liveblogging a couple panels today, in particular the media panel with Atrios, Digby, Paul Krugman and Rick Perlstein.

This is hilarious:

It may be the blogosphere's equivalent of the scarlet letter, and the organizers of Netroots Nation, a gathering of liberal bloggers that is taking place this week, say they will be more than happy to pin it on Fox News.

Planners of the conference want to force representatives of the cable news network to wear credentials identifying them as opinion media rather than providing them with the regular press passes other news outlets will receive.

"Fox News calls itself fair and balanced, but it's not," Josh Orton, political director for Netroots said in an interview. He accused the network, which is popular among conservatives, of misrepresenting itself.

Fox lied and said they were never coming to the convention anyway, apparently they had called in for passes and then abruptly changed their tune.

• OK, gotta run.

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Eat It

OK, everyone can shut up now about Obama's money machine slowing down. $52 million is exactly where he needs to be, and that's only going to grow as the months go on.

I recognize I've been drinking in Austin and this is almost a day old.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Netroots Nation Thursday Check-In

Hey, finally got the Internet toobz untied. I'm sitting in the Open Left caucus right now. So far it's been fun. For putting together a California caucus in 24 hours, it sure turned out well. We had about 100 folks there, and four Congressional candidates - Debbie Cook (CA-46), Charlie Brown (CA-04), Russ Warner (CA-26), and Steve Young (CA-48). We had a pretty good discussion about the 2010 governor's race and the need for eliminating the process crap that makes California ungovernable.

Darcy Burner just introduced herself at the Open Left caucus to a round of applause. It's fun to just run into her at lunch, as I did this afternoon. It really is a community here, people of like minds who strongly believe in moving the country in a progressive direction. It's also a bunch of friends who aren't just here to hang out, but to work together.

Honestly, for maybe the first time in a while I have a strong pull to be offline instead of online. The informal chat sessions here are the best part, and you miss them if your nose is buried in your laptop. And with that, I'm out.

For now.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Netroots Nation

So I'm off in the morning to Austin for Netroots Nation. It should be a lot of fun, and it's always cool to meet the people you read and interact with online every year. I'm not on any panels, but we did manage to throw together a Calitics Caucus to discuss California-related issues. It'll be tomorrow at 3:00 in Room 18B. Details here. And if you want to get your ass beaten in the Pub Quiz, come to that and be on a team other than mine (wow, that was the whitest-sounding trash talk in history).

I'll try to post stuff as time allows, but I've always found that to be a near-impossibility at this convention, so I'm not going to sweat it too hard if I don't check in a bunch. Netroots Nation is for getting offline and talking to people.

So, light posting through the weekend. Cheers!

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If Obama Were Sporting, He'd Spot McCain Ten Points

McCain-friendly media is so desperate to keep this race competitive that every poll with an Obama lead is pre-spun to show that he has problems. Not problems winning the poll, mind you, but ... problems.

Can I just note that I seem to live in some kind of mirror universe where the fact that Barack Obama has, for months, maintained a modest lead over John McCain in every public poll constitutes bad news for Obama and that the specific reason it constitutes bad news for Obama is that the larger political climate is favorable to Obama. The trouble of course is that given the favorable climate the expectation is that Obama will lead, so in order to "really" win, he needs to win by some gigantic margin -- merely being the first Democrat in over thirty years to secure a majority doesn't cut it. Or something.

There's an expectations game in the primaries. In the general election the first past the post wins. This is totally stupid.

What I just wrote is good news for John McCain.

Those 20 new field offices in Virginia are great news for McCain, too.

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Please No

If I was playing $25,000 Pyramid right now, my response to this story as a clue would be "Things I Don't Ever Want To See In My Lifetime?"

Clyburn hasn’t aspired to be speaker, but House Democrats might find it hard to resist giving him the job, assuming that it’s theirs to give when Pelosi steps down. “I think Jim could be speaker if he wanted to,” said one Pelosi confidant, who noted that it would happen only if Hoyer were out of the equation. “How could the [Democratic] Caucus pass up making him the first black speaker?”

But another senior Democrat suggested that “the next speaker will not come from the ranks” of Hoyer and Clyburn. As the No. 4 man in the Democratic leadership, (Rahm) Emanuel would be next in line.

That's terrifying but probably accurate. As the campaign liaison, Rahm has chits in with a whole bunch of Democrats. How do you think Steny Hoyer got the Majority Leadership, incidentally? And he's the youngest member of the upper House leadership.

It's bad enough to see Hoyer in a position of power, but Emanuel is a destructive influence. His brand of center-right Democratic leadership has unquestionably given Congress its spectacularly bad approval ratings. He's itching to sell out the entire caucus on immigration, and his agenda is simply power aggrandizement over any manner of principle. He's a DLC holdover and exactly who we don't need with the Speaker's gavel at a time of rising progressivism.

There is a dual problem here. The Progressive Caucus in the House is actually bigger than the Blue Dog caucus, but they're consistently outworked. They all come from safe seats and they don't appear to have a lot of ambition, which is clearly what's necessary to rise through the ranks. So while a few liberal lions have committee chairs just because they've been there so long, by and large progressives in the House are silent backbenchers. We need more vibrant progressive leadership. If for no other reason than to stop the words "Speaker Emanuel" from ever coming together.

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Obama's New Vision Of Foreign Policy

One area where we've almost unequivocally seen good Obama is in the area of foreign policy, where, despite what the media wags want to claim, he's been remarkably consistent in his vision for placing Iraq in geopolitical context, strengthening alliances, finding and eradicating loose nukes and offering a more hopeful vision to the world. He's put together another national security ad which stresses that judgment and a change in mindset is what's needed, and in particular putting an end to this idea that problem-solving can only be achieved with guns and rockets. This was endorsed today by, of all people, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned yesterday against the risk of a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy, saying the State Department should lead U.S. engagement with other countries, with the military playing a supporting role.

"We cannot kill or capture our way to victory" in the long-term campaign against terrorism, Gates said, arguing that military action should be subordinate to political and economic efforts to undermine extremism.

Gates is of course accurate. The State Department, NGOs, and anti-poverty organizations have been sidelined in favor of private military contractors, the police state and the World Bank trying to hold rogue states for ransom. The reliance on supreme military power means that no military action can fail, lest we look weak in front of our enemies. And as Robert Farley notes, this leads to some sunk costs.

To the extent that the United States must devote years, billions upon billions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of troops to "winning" in Iraq, the very purpose of the invasion is undermined. It does no good to "throw some little country against the wall" if in doing so our own capacity to act is severely wounded; other little countries that might have been intimidated take note of the fact that we are incapable of acting. This was, of course, why Don Rumsfeld bitterly resisted proposals to go into Iraq with substantially more troops, why he resisted the idea of increasing troop levels, and why he resisted the shift to counter-insurgency; he understood that such moves undermined the purpose of the invasion in the first place. To the extent that the war has been about the extension of American imperium, it has failed disastrously.

But that was one of the real purposes of Iraq - to show those A-Rabs who's boss, and to project massive military power over the Middle East. This does nothing for stability, only for hegemony. And our faltering approach has even screwed that up.

This is what Obama is reacting against. He offers a new strategy based on common interests and mutual respect; he wants to place everything on the global stage in full context and allow one element of our foreign policy to connect to all the others. McCain is about separation, about "winning in Iraq" and "winning in Afghanistan" without noting the relationship between the two. And despite Obama's approach being as far removed from George Bush as possible, that's McCain's latest area of attack:

The McCain campaign is taking their effort to distance their candidate from the unpopular President Bush to a whole new level: McCain's advisers are now openly attacking Bush on Iraq -- and not only that, they're also saying that Barack Obama is the one who is like Bush on the war!

On a conference call just now with reporters, McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann compared Barack Obama's insistence on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq to Bush's insistence that we were winning even as things went badly for years.

Considering Scheunemann's past as the author of the Iraqi Liberation Act and a close confidant of AHMAD CHALABI, ferchrissakes, you'd think he'd be careful not to ever question anyone else's judgment again. But of course, that would require a passing familiarity with the concept of shame.

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Comedy The Entire Blogosphere Can Agree On

JibJab sucks. And the bubble-headed news anchors who will show a snippet of it coming back from break and giggle to themselves, they too, suck.

The traditional media is so slow to give up whatever they think is "hip" and "leading edge" that it reminds me of when I'd visit my grandparents in the middle of Western Pennsylvania in the 1980s and listen to the radio, and hear "that hot new song from these kids that call themselves The Who."

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Sunny Days For The Economy

While Bush and the Republican Party talk up how technically not horrible the economy is, Ben Bernanke spoke just like a whiner on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Warning of the risks of a further slowdown and higher inflation, Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, offered a gloomy assessment of the economy on Tuesday as President Bush, speaking a few blocks away, urged Americans to have faith in the country’s financial foundation.

In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Mr. Bernanke avoided the word “recession” in characterizing the current economy, noting instead that consumer spending and exports were keeping growth “at a sluggish pace” while the housing sector “continues to weaken.”

He added that spending for personal goods had “advanced at a modest pace so far this year, generally holding up somewhat better than might have been expected given the array of forces weighing on household finances and attitudes.”

While the risks to the overall economy were still “skewed to the downside,” he said, inflation “seems likely to move temporarily higher in the near term.”

As if on cue, the consumer price index jumped up yesterday at the fastest rate in 17 years, mainly due to rising energy prices. And Bernanke didn't see any hope on that horizon, either:

In his testimony, he was especially pessimistic about any easing of energy prices, dismissing suggestions that they were being driven by speculation in futures markets. Instead, he said high energy costs reflected the markets’ recognition that demand was outstripping supplies.

“Over the past several years, the world economy has expanded at its fastest pace in decades, leading to substantial increases in the demand for oil,” Mr. Bernanke said. “On the supply side, despite sharp increases in prices, the production of oil has risen only slightly in the past few years.”

I think there's a slight amount of speculation in the markets, but we're reaching a fundamental truth about oil, that production either is peaking or has peaked, and that we need an actual plan for getting off the carbon economy instead of cries of "Drill More!" for a product whose supply is diminishing.

The economy is basically everyone's #1 or #2 issue headed into the election. This NPR/Kaiser Foundation poll looking at economic issues in Ohio and Florida shows that 89% of residents in those two states think that the economy is "not so good" or "poor." Can 89% of the people be wrong? Sure, if they're all a bunch of whiners like Phil Gramm keeps saying. Of course, well over 89% of the country didn't buy the porn films he helped produce, so maybe he's just bitter.

The big picture is that the failed conservative policies of socializing risk and privatizing profit has caught up with them. They failed to react to bubbles in the housing market and practically forgot about regulation, and homeowners were screwed. They let insurance companies discriminate against their customers and saw 47 million Americans join the ranks of the uninsured. They sought bailouts for financial institutions who made bad decisions but not the homeowners who bore the greatest impact from them. They didn't respond to rising energy demand and sought only to raise profits for their oil company pals. They ran up huge deficits, borrowed for the future from China, and stratified inequality so much that it looks like a new Gilded Age. And now, they want to elect a man as President who will gladly carry out the same policies and further privatize the economy and tear at the social safety net.

(I'm glad that the DNC is taking on McCain on Social Security, by the way. Here's the video:)

It's time for a change.

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Liberal Wedge Issues, Part X

The far-right effort by the Bush Administration to define contraception as abortion is getting a lot of scrutiny. This is one of those wedge issues that I think works for liberals - it makes perfectly clear the radical right's project for a Dominionist America. Reasonable Americans see a law seeking to effectively ban birth control for low-income women as abhorrent.

Today a lot of Democrats are hitting this hard. Sens. Clinton and Murray have written the HHS Department to voice their displeasure with the proposed ruling. An excerpt:

"It is outrageous that the Bush administration is once again putting ideology over women's health. Instead of undercutting access to contraception and family planning services, the Bush Administration should put prevention first," said Senator Clinton.

"On the first day of his administration, the President reinstated the Mexico City global gag clause, a harsh, anti-family planning policy that hurt the world's poorest women and children. Now, on his way out the door it appears that he is trying to limit women's health care options here at home," Murray said. "This misguided attempt to restrict health care services and limit access to contraceptives defeats our common goal of reducing the number of abortions in this country."

And Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley, who has surged ahead of Gordon Smith in recent polling, has reached out to his supporters:

Bush would deny critical HHS funding to any health care institution that refuses to abide by the new rule. This is the last thing the Bush Administration should be doing when so many Americans are struggling to afford health care.

Sign a petition to oppose George Bush's efforts to roll back a woman's right to choose and deny access to health care.

George Bush wants to allow individuals with personal and political agendas to influence the information women receive from their health care providers.

There's a reason politicians are jumping on this. It's a core value and it's an issue on which the radical right can be defined. This is about a daddy party telling you how to manage your health care and your private life. It will be rejected.

UPDATE: There's evidence for this, via Matt Yglesias, in the latest WaPo poll which shows voters preferring Barack Obama to John McCain on "Social issues, such as abortion and gay civil unions" by 56-32. The wedge issues ain't what they used to be. Terri Schiavo was the turning point.

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Obama Blowing Out McCain in California

But just you wait until St. BBQ starts cranking up those ads and spending an entire month non-stop in the state! After all, he's from the West, so people here like him! He's a maverick! He's-

Highlights of the latest Field Poll of Californians likely to vote in the upcoming November
presidential election reveal the following:

• Democrat Barack Obama now leads Republican John McCain by twenty-four points (54%
to 30%) in California.

• More Democratic Primary voters think Obama should not select Hillary Clinton as his vice-
presidential running mate (48%) as feel he should (40%). Yet, the decision of whether
Obama does or doesn't choose Clinton would have little effect on how these voters would
vote in the fall.

• Obama has consolidated the support of California Democrats and non-partisans who voted
for Clinton in California's February 5th primary election. The poll shows Obama preferred
over McCain by 80% to 8% among these voters.

• Three times as many Obama voters (51%) as McCain voters (17%) say they are “very
enthusiastic” about supporting their candidate for president in November.

• Obama's image rating among the overall California electorate (63% favorable vs. 26%
unfavorable) is more positive than McCain's (48% to 38%).

If you factor out undecided voters, it's 61-34. And Obama is leading 64% to 18% among DTS voters. McCain's only at 44% in the INLAND areas.

But McCain hasn't even got rolling yet! He needs to spend 6 weeks in Fresno just soaking in the local coverage! I'm demanding that he come to Fresno and Bakersfield to make this a race. He can do it! Come on, McCain, who are you going to believe, some poll or the heart of a maverick?

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A Footnote On Torture And the Village

Just to add to my post on the lack of accountability among the DC establishment for torture, the right banks on this, by the way. At yesterday's torture hearing with the Stupidest Fucking Guy On The Planet, Doug Feith, Republicans repeatedly brought up the fact that Nancy Pelosi, among other Democrats, were "fully briefed" on the program in secret. Whether or not those briefings were full is questionable, but clearly the very point was to implicate Democrats so that they could never speak out or risk their own prosecution. And Democrats obliged with little resistance. Practically no effort was made on the part of the "Gang of Eight" to stop this madness. Darrell Issa and all the little torture addicts were sure to bring up Pelosi's name over and over again. They know they have their opponents over a barrel.

There are heroes in this. CREW has labeled 30 of them in a report about "Those Who Dared" to stand up for our country and its ideals. But their courage is tarnished by a Village culture that is self-protective and contemptuous of the rule of law.

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The Jesse Helms AIDS Bill

It is kind of disgusting that Liddy Dole is petitioning to get the Senate to name a global funding bill to fight AIDS after Jesse Helms, the man who did more to demonize gays than practically anyone in Congressional history. Yes, at the end of his career he supported AIDS funding in Africa and said he was "ashamed that I've done so little" to fight the disease, one of the few times he opted to repent for his sins, but that's a cold comfort.

At the same time, there is something ironic in putting Helms' name on a bill for a disease he spent most of his life attributing to teh gay. Just the fact that he would be incensed by it is reason enough to go ahead and add the title. It's almost like a final F-you.

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The Drive For 2/3: Perez Up Big In CA-AD-80

As you know, we need 6 seats in the Assembly to reach a 2/3 majority, and the latest news shows that one of those six is looking good.

I just got the results of an internal poll taken in AD-80 which shows Democrat Manuel Perez with an 11-point lead over Gary Jeandron in the seat currently held by Republican Bonnie Garcia.

AD-80: poll conducted June 10-12, 2008.
Sampling error is +/- 4.9%.

Manuel Perez: 47%
Gary Jeandron: 36%,
18% undecided.

The generic ballot tracks with the poll, as 49% desire a Democrat in the Assembly, to 36% for a Republican. The registration advantage is in the double digits as well, and the polling memo notes that almost 40% of DTS/Independents and nearly 20% of Republicans are Latino. Perez is the right fit for this district. And once bio material is presented, Perez' lead jumps to 52-39. Perez' name ID is higher in the district, too.

Best of all, Perez is a better Democrat, a transformational progressive who will be a real asset to the Assembly and not just a cog in the wheel.

This is not only good news for Perez, but Julie Bornstein as well. I fully expect Perez to have a strong grassroots operation throughout the district, and where that overlaps with CA-45, that means more Democrats coming out to vote.

You can read the polling memo here.

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This Week In Torture: The Village Speaks

Digby mentioned yesterday the video of Omar Khadr, the first we have of an interrogation at Guantanamo, sobbing uncontrollably as he attempts to tell his story to Canadian investigators. The kid is 16 and he's clearly on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

This is only the most recent in what is now a mountain of information on torture that has slowly seeped out over the past year. Just yesterday Osama bin Laden's driver Ahmed Hamdan discussed his coercive treatment in a Guantanamo military commission. And Jane Mayer's much-anticipated book on torture, rendition, and the policies of the Bush Administration has already revealed enough information to fill several stories, including the news that the CIA knew that significant numbers of prisoners captured "on the battlefield" were innocent of any charges, that the Red Cross had secret knowledge of torture that they wrote up in a classified report to the CIA, which incriminated top Administration officials in war crimes, and much more. Mayer's book, ably reviewed by Tim Rutten, is an account of the battle inside the White House as much as the battle around the world, with the stories of heroes and patriots who tried to preserve American ideals by resisting efforts to rewrite the rules of interrogation and the treatment of prisoners, and their opponents, mostly in the Vice President's office, who stymied them. Anyone who questioned the program, like the Inspector General of the CIA John Helgerson, who in 2004 wrote a very serious report alleging war crimes, mistreatment and homicide, and who received personal visits from Dick Cheney thereafter, was shut down.

...the White House was relying on opinions from John Yoo and other authoritarian ideologues in the Office of Legal Counsel who secretly told the president and vice president that they enjoyed inherent powers to overturn any law restraining surveillance, searches and seizures within the United States. As one such memo said, "The government may be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties. We think that the Fourth Amendment should be no more relevant than it would be in cases of invasion or insurrection."

Mayer does a superb job of describing how the trauma of 9/11 all but unhinged Bush and Cheney and predisposed the chief executive to embrace the ready-made unitary executive theory of presidential power, which the vice president and his chief aide, David Addington, had come to Washington prepared to promote. In the opinion of the late historian Arthur Schlesinger, "the Bush administration's extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history."

Those who have been paying attention know the consequences of this. Much of the torture and abuse was subjected to people who had no intelligence value and were never credibly charged with any crime. The methods were based on decades-old survival techniques produced by the Navy to resist torture, and a manual from the Chinese that used torture to elicit false confessions. They used psychologists to develop a program of "learned helplessness", reverse-engineered from the SERE techniques. In the end, not one terror suspect has been convicted of anything since 9/11. The "intelligence" gained from the likes of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was of the wild goose chase variety. Evidence of torture inflamed the Islamic world and became a recruitment poster for Al Qaeda. And on and on. There's more from Dan Froomkin, Andrew Bacevich, Frank Rich and Daniel Larison.

And any effort to stop this, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of its failure, was squelched, in a bipartisan fashion, because of politicians who wanted to cover their tracks. As Glenn Greenwald puts it:

This is what a country becomes when it decides that it will not live under the rule of law, when it communicates to its political leaders that they are free to do whatever they want -- including breaking our laws -- and there will be no consequences. There are two choices and only two choices for every country -- live under the rule of law or live under the rule of men. We've collectively decided that our most powerful political leaders are not bound by our laws -- that when they break the law, there will be no consequences. We've thus become a country which lives under the proverbial "rule of men" -- that is literally true, with no hyperbole needed -- and Mayer's revelations are nothing more than the inevitable by-product of that choice [...]

If the rule of law doesn't constrain the actions of government officials, then nothing will. Continuous revelations of serious government lawbreaking have led not to investigations or punishment but to retroactive immunity and concealment of the crimes. Judicial findings of illegal government behavior have led to Congressional action to protect the lawbreakers. The Detainee Treatment Act. The Military Commissions Act. The Protect America Act. The FISA Amendments Act. They're all rooted in the same premise: that our highest government leaders have the power to ignore our laws with impunity, and when they're caught, they should be immunized and protected, not punished.

Yes, because the torture program itself, in a sense, was a method to cover up an earlier crime. In the months before 9/11 the White House was completely disinterested in terrorism, dismissing the concerns of the intelligence community and neglecting to address the threat. After 9/11, they swung completely in the other direction, and the programs of torture and indefinite detention and surveillance, which were largely off the shelf from long into, were put into action to prove to the nation that something was being done, that there was a manner of payback being extracted.

After interviewing hundreds of sources in and around the Bush White House, I think it is clear that many of the legal steps taken by the so-called “War Council” were less a “New Paradigm,” as Alberto Gonzales dubbed it, than an old political wish list, consisting of grievances that Cheney and his legal adviser, David Addington, had been compiling for decades. Cheney in particular had been chafing at the post-Watergate reforms, and had longed to restore the executive branch powers Nixon had assumed, constituting what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called “the Imperial Presidency.”

Before September 11, 2001, these extreme political positions would not have stood a change of being instituted—they would never have survived democratic scrutiny. But by September 12, 2001, President Bush and Vice President Cheney were extraordinarily empowered. Political opposition evaporated as critics feared being labeled anti-patriotic or worse. It’s a familiar dynamic in American history—not unlike the shameful abridgement of civil liberties represented by FDR’s internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry. One of the strongest quotes in the book, I think, comes from Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, former counselor to Secretary of State Condi Rice, and a historian who teaches at the University of Virginia. He suggests in time that America’s descent into torture will be viewed like the internment of the Japanese, because they happened for similar reasons. As he puts it, “Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools.”

In an interview with "Fresh Air," Jane Mayer talked about how Bush and Cheney were receiving raw, unfilitered intelligence after 9/11, lurid tales of nuclear attacks on the country and massive terrorist bombings, most of it bullshit, but so vivid as to justify, in their minds, whatever depravity they ended up putting into practice. One claim in the book is that Cheney thought he had taken a lethal dose of anthrax, which contributed to his insistence on tough tactics. Incidentally, it was based entirely on a false alarm in the White House Situation Room. That didn't stop Cheney's paranoia. He was completely consumed with this stuff, and I'm sure he believes what he did was necessary to protect the country.

But that's not a legal justification. And no matter how many times John Yoo and David Addington try to rewrite the history of the Constitution, what has been done violates federal law, international treaties and war crimes statutes. In a just world, as Jerrold Nadler said yesterday, Bush and Cheney would be impeached. But this goes well beyond removal from office. This is about indictment for murder and war crimes, by definition. In case you were wondering, however, here is the official Village pronouncement about what we should do with the fact that our leaders, in a complete breakdown of the rule of law, have tortured, detained without charges, and murdered:

Dark deeds have been conducted in the name of the United States government in recent years: the gruesome, late-night circus at Abu Ghraib, the beating to death of captives in Afghanistan, and the officially sanctioned waterboarding and brutalization of high-value Qaeda prisoners. Now demands are growing for senior administration officials to be held accountable and punished. Congressional liberals, human-rights groups and other activists are urging a criminal investigation into high-level “war crimes,” including the Bush administration’s approval of interrogation methods considered by many to be torture.

It’s a bad idea. In fact, President George W. Bush ought to pardon any official from cabinet secretary on down who might plausibly face prosecution for interrogation methods approved by administration lawyers.

That's right. Just shut it down. Those mean old hippies are just too worked up about all of this stuff. We need to just move on and heal the nation's partisan wounds and forget about all this "accountability" nonsense.

As Greenwald said, this is what happens to a country when there is a removal of the rule of law, when the powerful can absolve themselves of blame and the media courtiers serve to protect them. There is no question that top Democrats were briefed about this program, if not the full extent of it. They absolutely voted to immunize any Administration official from prosecution in the Military Commissions Act (funny how "immunity" keeps coming up as a theme of Bush-led legislative initiatives). They want to pardon themselves by vowing never to bring up the word "indictment" in polite company, so leaders of all political stripes can whistle and laugh at Washington cocktail parties at the end of empire.

This "Truth Commission" thing is taking hold throughout the Village, and I understand the impulse to an extent, but it's not like the parties who would be pardoned have even acknowledged any wrongdoing. They're still asserting unitary executive powers, and they're still winning battles in the courts, so why would you instinctively want to pardon people who believe they've done nothing wrong?

President Bush has the legal power to order the indefinite military detentions of civilians captured in the United States, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled on Tuesday in a fractured 5-to-4 decision.

The same court ruled that this prisoner has the right to an additional habeas hearing, and additional habeas hearings have been ordered by other judges. But read that above sentence. Indefinite military detentions of civilians captured inside the United States. Why would anyone submit to a Truth Commission when they're winning.

But the real reason I can't abide by a Truth Commission any more, not after the slow drip of illegalities over the last few years, is because of this aspect of the Village mindset. Bradrocket says it best:

"A criminal investigation would only hinder efforts to determine the truth, and preclude any apologies. It would spur those who know the most to take the Fifth. Any prosecutions would also touch off years of partisan warfare."

And this, my friends, is the absolute nightmare of the Village Mindset: years of partisan warfare. Why do evil people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney feel they can simply break the law with reckless abandon? Because they know that modern American political culture simply does not believe in accountability for its political class. They know that in the end, they’re part of the same Villager club of Special People who are too powerful and too privileged to ever face any consequences for their actions. Prosecute government officials for state-sanctioned torture?? How uncouth!

And that's the racket in Washington. Accountability is just a word people throw around.

This comic says it all.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

See, We Tried

Some may be pleasantly surprised by the breaking news that Bush is sending the #3 at the State Department for talks with the Iranians on their nuclear program (Coverage in WaPo and NYT), but I'm not. This looks to me like a fig leaf so the Administration can say "see, we tried to talk to them." For the moment it validates Obama's position on negotiation, but the envoy will not be authorized to offer anything to Iran and the upshot will be that they can't be trusted and Obama is naive to think otherwise.

I mean, look at the early reporting:

The Bush administration will send a senior envoy to international talks this weekend with Iran about its nuclear program, in what U.S. officials described as a "one-time deal," designed to demonstrate a serious desire to resolve the impasse over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

In a significant departure from longstanding policy, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns will join a scheduled meeting in Geneva between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, according to a senior State Department official.

Burns will not negotiate with the Iranians nor hold separate meetings, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced. Instead, he will advance the White House's position that serious negotiations can only begin after Iran suspends its enrichment of uranium.

That's no different than the message they've been saying through the media for years. That is the opposite of demonstrating a serious desire to end the impasse.

It'll be fun to watch neocon heads explode for a day or two, because just being in the same room as an Iranian envoy is enough to get them sputtering "Chamberlain! Appeaser! Democracy Whisky Sexy!" But this seems like a setup to me, designed to be the "last straw" before the bomb bay doors open.

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Turning The New Yorker Cover Around

Barack Obama went on Larry King's show tonight and did a very smart thing.

KING: Considering that, though, there's a lot of e-mails going around. It gets rather terrible. A "Newsweek" poll shows that 12 percent of America believes that you're a Muslim, and 26 believe -- 26 percent believe you were raised in a Muslim home. A lot of misinformation.

How do you fight that?

OBAMA: Well, you know, by getting on "Larry King" and telling everybody I'm a Christian and I wasn't raised in a Muslim home. And pledge allegiance to the flag. And, you know, all the things that have been reported in these e-mails are completely untrue and have been debunked again and again and again. So, all you can do is just tell the truth and trust in the American people that over time, they're going to know what the truth is.

One last point I want to -- I do want to make about these e-mails, though. And I think this has an impact on this "New Yorker" cover.

You know, this is actually an insult against Muslim-Americans, something that we don't spend a lot of time talking about. And sometimes I've been derelict in pointing that out.

You know, there are wonderful Muslim-Americans all across the country who are doing wonderful things. And for this to be used as sort of an insult, or to raise suspicions about me, I think is unfortunate. And it's not what America's all about.

Whether the right wing is trying to tar Obama as a terrorist or a black militant, it's clear to me that this is not dissimilar to a hate crime. With Obama having to yell "I'm not a Muslim, I'm not a Muslim" every two seconds, and with all the sensitivities surrounding associating him with Muslims (like the two women in Michigan who were removed from the sight lines of an Obama event because they had head scarves), it was extremely necessary that he say this. It's a fine line between distancing yourself from Muslims and another form of demonization, as if the worst thing in the world to be is a Muslim. So bravo to Sen. Obama for that one.

I also think that this is the gift of the New Yorker cover, to make the intangible tangible, to force the whisper campaign out of the shadows and give it sunlight. It's a lot harder to debunk an email forward than it is a major magazine cover. Now it's out there, and smart Democratic strategists would follow Obama here and use it as an opportunity to call this demonization and hatred by its name.

See also this New York Times article about Obama and comedy generally. I think everyone's way too politically correct in this country when it comes to comedy, but it's true that there's not much to satirize yet. I think Stewart had the right idea at the start by mocking the culture of deification AROUND Obama. But what the New Yorker did was thoroughly inside the boundaries. To wit:

Mr. Stewart, who is also an executive producer of “The Colbert Report,” said the Obama campaign’s reaction to the New Yorker cover seemed part of what is now almost a pro forma cycle in political campaigns. “Nothing can occur without the candidate responding,” he said.

Bill Maher, who is host of a politically oriented late-night show on HBO, said, “If you can’t do irony on the cover of The New Yorker, where can you do it?”

If I was still doing comedy, I'm sure I'd run up against this. Still, there is a bias among audiences that only a black guy can joke about black people, only a Jew can joke about Jews, etc. As David Alan Grier says in the article, "They’ve had 200 years of presidential jokes. It’s our time.”

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CA-46, CA-50: Cook, Leibham Outraise Incumbents

Two more Democratic challengers have outraised their incumbent opponents in the second quarter. That doesn't happen very often, and it's not supposed to in the supposedly impenetrably gerrymandered state of California. But as I've been saying, this is a different year.

In CA-50, I've been informed that Nick Leibham outraised Brian Bilbray by $245K-$210K in the second quarter. From the release:

Challenger Nick Leibham raised more money than Congressman Brian Bilbray in this fundraising quarter, according to FEC reports. Leibham raised $245,504 while Bilbray managed $210,315. The quarter spanned from April 1, 2008-June 31, 2008.

“Any time that you out raise an incumbent, especially someone like Brian Bilbray who has taken over $180,000 in campaign contributions from Big Oil, it gives the campaign a huge amount of momentum,” said Leibham. “This is the clearest sign yet that the voters of the 50th are ready for change and I’m honored that so many of them are willing to contribute to our effort.”

Leibham has $266K cash on hand, compared to $528K for Bilbray.

In CA-46, there is similarly good news about Debbie Cook so I'll let it speak for itself:

Debbie Cook Raises More Than Rohrabacher For The Second Straight Quarter

Democratic Congressional nominee Debbie Cook announced today that she raised more campaign funds than Dana Rohrabacher in the latest reporting period, making it the second quarter in a row she’s out-raised the nine-term incumbent.

Cook, the Mayor of Huntington Beach, out-raised Rohrabacher by more than $10,000. Cook raised $92,900 to Rohrabacher’s $78,712.

Cook has $97K CoH. 70% of her donors are local, meaning she has grassroots support AND that she has limitless potential if she can tap into netroots energy and build a national fundraising base. She will be appearing at Netroots Nation.

Both of these are, in some respect, a reflection of two lazy incumbents. Bilbray and particularly Rohrabacher aren't paying any attention to fundraising. But there's not going to be any NRCC money forthcoming if these two get in trouble. There's not going to be any expansion of their donor base. So while both have cash reserves (Bilbray has about $528K CoH, Rohrabacher has $387K), they aren't overwhelming, and both Leibham and Cook ought to be somewhat competitive financially.

This is nothing like CA-26, where David Dreier has $1.9 million in the bank. (Russ Warner's numbers aren't out yet.)

More numbers:

CA-45: Bornstein raised a little over $96,000, has $121K CoH. No numbers for Mary Bono yet.
CA-03: Bill Durston raised around $125K, has $188K CoH. Nice haul for him. Dan Lungren raised $173K, has $615K CoH.
CA-52: Mike Lumpkin raised $128K but only has $53K CoH.

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Old Rough And Ready Revisited

Today the Obama campaign decided to set their sights on this McCain campaign tactic of saying different things to different audiences. It came to a head on multiple fronts. Here's the first paragraph of Obama communications director Robert Gibbs' message to reporters:

The self-professed candidate of "straight talk" and "experience" spent today changing his position on gay adoption, adopting Senator Obama's position that we need more troops in Afghanistan after having resisted taking that position, flip flopping on whether he'd send U.S. or NATO troops (he actually offered three different explanations on where those additional troops would come from), and referring to a country that hasn't existed since 1992 for the second time in two days.

McCain started the day opposed to gay adoptions, then his campaign responded to criticism by flip-flopping back on the issue with utmost speed.

On Tuesday, as criticism of McCain's comments spread, his campaign elaborated on the candidate's views. 'John McCain could have been clearer in the interview in stating that his position on gay adoption is that it is a state issue. ... He was not endorsing any federal legislation,' a campaign statement said. 'Sen. McCain's expressed his personal preference for children to be raised by a mother and a father wherever possible,' the statement added. 'However, as an adoptive father himself, McCain believes children deserve loving and caring home environments, and he recognizes that there are many abandoned children who have yet to find homes. John McCain believes that in those situations that caring parental figures are better for the child than the alternative.'

He then made a big speech on foreign policy, essentially adopting Sen. Obama's call for more troops in Afghanistan despite rejecting it as recently as a week ago. As Gibbs puts it:

TODAY (MORNING): McCain Called for Sending Three Additional Brigades to Afghanistan and Suggests They Would Come From Iraq. According to a press release issued by the McCain campaign on Tuesday morning, McCain would announce in a speech that he now supports sending at least three additional brigades to Afghanistan: "The status quo in Afghanistan is unacceptable, and from the moment the next President walks into the Oval Office, he will face critical decisions about Afghanistan. … John McCain Supports Sending At Least Three Additional Brigades To Afghanistan. Our commanders on the ground say they need these troops, and thanks to the success of the surge, these forces are becoming available, and our commanders in Afghanistan must get them." [McCain press release, 7/15/08]

TODAY (AFTERNOON): McCain Clarifies His Proposal On Increasing the Number of Troops, Saying They Could Come From NATO. "Speaking to reporters on his bus after today's speech, McCain indicated that he'd be open to those additional troops coming from NATO." [MSNBC, 7/15/08]

TODAY (EVEN LATER IN THE AFTERNOON): McCain Campaign Further Clarifies Proposal, Saying The Troop Increase Would Be Comprised Of Both NATO And US Forces. "McCain spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace said later that U.S. troops will compose some of the additional brigades McCain would send to Afghanistan, but not all of them. 'Will we contribute? Of course we will,' she said." [Washington Post, 7/15/08]

Somehow, this is the man still seen as the more credible commander in chief? Despite Obama's 8-point lead in that Washington Post poll, McCain is seen by a wide margin as the candidate with "a better knowledge of world affairs." This is despite having referred to Czechosolvakia, a country that NO LONGER EXISTS, twice in the last two days.

And the slip-ups are common on the campaign trail - what is not common is this tactic, which I now have to believe is deliberate, of saying diametrically opposite things to different audiences. The BBQ-stained media is running a lot of interference for him on this now, but one of these days a conservative is going to read the wrong newspaper article. Or an independent is going to run across the wrong issue of National Review. This isn't going to last.

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Still-President Bush Still Causing Harm

So the President vetoed the bill stopping cuts to Medicare payments to doctors today, despite the bill receiving more than enough votes to override. But this is more than a simple inconvenience for Congress to need to stage an override vote. This will affect people's lives, as Kagro X explains.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services had issued a temporary delay on physician pay cuts until July 15 to allow lawmakers more time to pass the legislation.

Tomorrow's date, of course, is July 15. This way, Bush assures either that the bureaucrats have to go through an embarrassing scramble again, or that medical care providers actually get hurt by his veto crayon.

The "grown up" in charge, ladies and gentlemen. They can't get this asshole out of the White House fast enough.

But this thumb in the eye of doctors and medical providers who dared to oppose his cuts to their paychecks is nothing compared to what his Health and Human Services Department has in store:

The Bush administration wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control.

Under the draft of a proposed rule, hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools would have to sign "written certifications" as a prerequisite to getting money under any program run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The rule defines "abortion" so broadly that it could also apply to birth control pills and emergency contraception. And because the rule would apply to federal health programs, low-income and uninsured women will be most affected.

This is an extension of the "Landmine Project," to install both personnel and federal rules requirements that would enshrine radical conservative goals inside of government. Check this out, they're trying to base their redefining of when life begins on polling information.

Abortion: An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. There are two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins. Some consider a pregnancy to begin at conception (that is, the fertilization of the egg by the sperm), while others consider it to begin with implantation (when the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus). A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that
49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term "abortion." Those who believe pregnancy begins at implantation believe the term
"abortion" only includes the destruction of a human being after it has implanted in the lining of the uterus.

Since Griswold v. Connecticut restricting birth control has been a central project of the radical right. This proposed ruling would give that project the force of law, at least temporarily.

The guy's still President, everyone, and there's plenty of damage he can cause in six months.

UPDATE: The Senate overrode Bush's veto, and so the cuts to Medicare will stop. What is unknown is whether or not the cuts have already begun for July and if doctors will end up getting stiffed.

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George Bush is now the latest in a long line of Republican magical thinkers who truly believe that if they gaze with their steely resolve at the world's oil supply they can will the price down.

They can pass energy legislation. I readily concede that it it's not going to produce a barrel of oil tomorrow, but it is going to change the psychology.

Now, you have to go beyond the text a little bit here. Bush has to concede that opening up the OCS or ANWR won't produce a barrel tomorrow because that's simply reality. He goes to the "psychological benefit" point to try and set up this fantasy that oil companies want to drill for oil instead of sitting on reserves. If this gambit succeeded in lowering the price of gas it would not be profitable for the oil companies to drill it out of the ground OCS and ANWR leases are only profitable as pieces of paper to show off to shareholders and raise their stock price.

That's what this is entirely about. It's a giant con game, and the same companies that get rich from $150/barrel oil aren't going to be the ones to take any steps to lower the price. With demand rising in India and China, the only solution is to gradually get off the carbon economy and move rapidly to a post-carbon future. Absolutely no other option makes sense, and this has been true for 30 years since President Carter first proposed it.

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Major Payne, Major Cash For Major Access

If you haven't heard about this top Bush Pioneer Stephen Payne accepting bribes from Central Asian dignitaries in exchange for access to Administration officials, then you are probably a member of the American media. Because it sure didn't come up in an hourlong press conference today. There was a time when bribery scandals would get at least some media attention. I know they don't think Bush is really still President with all the exciting campaign coverage taking up every minute, but a GOP-connected lobbyist negotiating with foreign agents offering meetings with Dick Cheney in exchange for Bush Library donations... it seems newsworthy. (How much would you have to pay to NOT meet with Fourthbranch?) But other than this story from the UPI, there hasn't been much interest stateside. UPI did add to the story, however.

Homeland Security officials are looking into allegations that a member of the department's advisory council offered to arrange meetings with senior administration officials in exchange for a large donation to the Bush presidential library.

Stephen Payne, a major GOP fundraiser and international affairs lobbyist, also touted his success in getting an Uzbek opposition leader removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list and issued a U.S. visa.

"This is a horribly unfortunate story," said Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner. "We are looking into the facts." She declined to comment further.

This Payne guy is a piece of work, by the way. The President's known him for 20 years, back from when he was the travel aide for Bush 41's 1988 campaign. He's worked with more foreign governments than will be represented in Beijing next month at his lobby shop.

Payne has helped Bush and Cheney when they visit the Middle East. He joined the president at the Red Sea Summit in Jordan in June 2003, serving as a "Senior Presidential Advance Representative," according to his firm's own description.

With the vice president, Payne has traveled to the Middle East in 2002 and 2005, to Korea in 2004, Kazakhstan in 2006, and Afghanistan for the inauguration of Afghan President Karzai.

Payne's firm says he's been a "governmental affairs consultant" representing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Morgan Stanley, SAP Software, & Continental Airlines. He's also worked for Yukos Oil, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Lindsay Beyerstein has more. The guy was completely connected and fully able to deliver on the promises he made to the undercover reporter. In fact, he was the go-between for the US and Pakistan right after September 11.

Both Henry Waxman and CREW want investigations. Payne is trying to claim entrapment but video is video. I'm sure Rep. Waxman will give him every opportunity to explain himself.

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CA-04: Brown Raises $357K in Q2; 6:1 Lead in CoH

This is the value of facing an opponent who had to battle through a contested primary.

Charlie Brown just released his second-quarter fundraising statistics, and he had his best quarter to date, raising $357,000 for the quarter, with over $670,000 cash on hand. Notably, $260,000 of that total was in the last 6 weeks of the quarter, which suggests that the fundraising prowess is increasing as Brown solidifies his donor base and shows his strength as a candidate. He has over 12,500 individual donors now.

Best of all, 5% of that total, nearly $18,000, will now go to the "Promises Kept Charity Challenge" for veterans care facilities.

McClintock's fundraising in his 2010 statewide accounts is pretty good (over $200,000), but because of the tough primary, he basically depleted his entire Congressional account. McClintock is at a 6:1 fundraising disadvantage. Brown ought to take advantage right now and start defining his opponent.

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Riddle Me This

If you did a blind test of two families, and one just got their student loans paid off, and both parents were the products of middle-class homes, with one raised by a single mother and occasionally on food stamps...

And the other family is fabulously wealthy, the wife just made a ton of dough from a major multinational merger involving American and Belgian beer companies, and has been recently quoted as saying "In Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane"....

Which family would you consider to be the "elitists"?

(The McCain quote, by the way, specifically refers to how to traverse a large state while campaigning, so that's not necessarily the source of the elitism there, it's the fact that Cindy decided to learn how to fly in response to a mild fear of small planes, and then bought her own plane, which is a response that's kind of out of reach to the average American. Also, will the Anheuser-Busch/InBev merger mean that the Belgians can made Budweiser taste a little less like the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth?)

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Barack On Iraq

I caught a good bit of Sen. Obama's Iraq speech today, and it was not calibrated to curry favor with bipartisan elites. In fact, the very serious Michael O'Hanlon is livid.

Michael E. O'Hanlon, a Democratic defense analyst at the Brookings Institution who has been an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq, said he could not believe that Obama would put such a definitive timeline into print before a trip to Iraq, where he is to consult with Iraqi leaders and U.S. commanders.

"To say you're going to get out on a certain schedule -- regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of what our enemies do, regardless of what is happening on the ground -- is the height of absurdity," said O'Hanlon, who described himself as "livid." "I'm not going to go to the next level of invective and say he shouldn't be president. I'll leave that to someone else."

Actually, O'Hanlon is the living embodiment of absurdity, having called for just such a withdrawal in 2004. Furthermore I'm pretty sure he doesn't live in Iraq or speak Arabic, and he's been wrong pretty much all the time with respect to Iraq, and yet he manages to put his thoughts into print every day. One would think he'd be embarrassed.

Here's a link to the speech. As Greg Sargent says, Obama has taken his Iraq policy to a higher level, placing it in a strategic context and rejecting the typical back and forth of the tactical debate. Good for him. I think what people innately understand is that trying to spend unlimited dollars reaching something that can pass for stability in Iraq has distracted us, devalued us, and threatened our national security. Obama talks about the missed opportunity in the days following September 11, something else that Americans innately feel. This is one of the strongest moments of the speech.

Imagine, for a moment, what we could have done in those days, and months, and years after 9/11.

We could have deployed the full force of American power to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all of the terrorists responsible for 9/11, while supporting real security in Afghanistan.

We could have secured loose nuclear materials around the world, and updated a 20th century non-proliferation framework to meet the challenges of the 21st.

We could have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in alternative sources of energy to grow our economy, save our planet, and end the tyranny of oil.

We could have strengthened old alliances, formed new partnerships, and renewed international institutions to advance peace and prosperity.

We could have called on a new generation to step into the strong currents of history, and to serve their country as troops and teachers, Peace Corps volunteers and police officers.

We could have secured our homeland—investing in sophisticated new protection for our ports, our trains and our power plants.

We could have rebuilt our roads and bridges, laid down new rail and broadband and electricity systems, and made college affordable for every American to strengthen our ability to compete.

We could have done that.

Instead, we have lost thousands of American lives, spent nearly a trillion dollars, alienated allies and neglected emerging threats – all in the cause of fighting a war for well over five years in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Obama's plan looks at the big picture and identifies five steps to guide his foreign policy: "ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century." On the war, I wish he would remove all residual forces, and he should be demanded to do so once in office instead of perpetuating the occupation. But he does understand that foreign policy does not begin and end in Baghdad. And he understands the economic and diplomatic incentives that we can undertake to strengthen our national security while lifting up nations of the world from poverty. His discussion with Fareed Zakaria has been instructive:

ZAKARIA: But how do you view the problem within Islam? As somebody who saw it in Indonesia ... the largest Muslim country in the world?

OBAMA: Well, it was interesting. When I lived in Indonesia -- this would be '67, '68, late '60s, early '70s -- Indonesia was never the same culture as the Arab Middle East. The brand of Islam was always different.

But around the world, there was no -- there was not the sense that Islam was inherently opposed to the West, or inherently opposed to modern life, or inherently opposed to universal traditions like rule of law.

And now in Indonesia, you see some of those extremist elements. And what's interesting is, you can see some correlation between the economic crash during the Asian financial crisis, where about a third of Indonesia's GDP was wiped out, and the acceleration of these Islamic extremist forces.

It isn't to say that there is a direct correlation, but what is absolutely true is that there has been a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there's bottom-up economic growth.

By rejecting the narrowness of the debate from McCain (who was sputtering the same empty, petty phrases like "the surge is working" and "no surrender" and "conditions on the ground" today - tell it to the 35 dead Iraqi recruits at the hands of a suicide bomb today), Obama elevates the need to look at national security in a global context, and to use all the tools at America's disposal to benefit the globe rather than pounding it into submission. He's forcing that a different judgment be made on the war, one that respects Iraqi sovereignty while acknowledging that we can't waste unlimited resources propping up their government. It's a very good re-framing of the debate.

I've already remarked upon his plans for Afghanistan. But I do want to talk about his emphasis on nuclear nonproliferation, which extends not only to removing loose nukes but also eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons from the world generally. This is a big idea and one I hope he'll keep hammering. In fact, there's a companion TV ad that makes this point as well.

BO at town hall: We are a beacon of light around the world. At least that's what we can be again. That's what we should be again.

BO in interview: The single most important national security threat that we face...

BO nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

BO VO: What I did was reach out to Senator Dick Lugar, a Republican, to help lock down loose nuclear weapons.

BO in interview: We have to lead the entire world to reduce that threat.

BO at town hall: We can restore America's leadership in the world.

BO VO: I'm Barack Obama, and I approve this message.

Instead of expelling Russia from the G8, Obama would reach out to them on this issue to gather loose nukes. This is generally agreed as one of the world's greatest threats, and yet the current Administration has really done a terrible job at securing radioactive materials in this country and abroad. I know that I've been wondering, particularly in the wake of Ryan Lizza's New Yorker article, what Obama is holding this political capital for, and where he plans to spend it. He's been running a different campaign every four years or so for over a decade, what will he spend his time on when there's no office left to conquer? I think nonproliferation will be a key component, as will building coalitions out of mutual self-interest to confront humanitarian crises or strengthen national security. A President with a vision of a non-nuclear world is a very new conception. That alone has the power for massive change, and will make us all safer. And this isn't some DFH on the side of the road with a "no nukes" sign, but the man in charge of all levers of statecraft.

It's a good speech, I encourage you to read it and think about it.

UPDATE: I forgot to flag this part:

George Bush and John McCain don't have a strategy for success in Iraq—they have a strategy for staying in Iraq. They said we couldn't leave when violence was up, they say we can't leave when violence is down. They refuse to press the Iraqis to make tough choices, and they label any timetable to redeploy our troops "surrender," even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government—not to a terrorist enemy. Theirs is an endless focus on tactics inside Iraq, with no consideration of our strategy to face threats beyond Iraq's borders.

Crucial point. When the choice is "surrender" vs. "conditions," there's one answer. When the choice is "responsible plan" vs. "stay in Iraq forever," it's quite a different picture.

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The California Report

Here are a few links for you.

• It's two days until the kickoff of Netroots Nation, and among the many luminaries attending will be Gavin Newsom, who is introducing green jobs expert Van Jones at the Sunday morning keynote. The fact that he's running for Governor has nothing to do with this, I'm sure.

• The final numbers on the June election were miserable, with a record low (for a regular election) 28.2% turnout. A ridiculous amount of voters cast ballots by mail - 58.7%, also a record. VBM is far stronger in Northern California than in the Los Angeles area, and not surprisingly turnout is higher up there as well. This is really changing how elections ought to be conducted, as we move to a VBM state. Campaign operatives need to understand this quickly.

• Hey, we had a bank run at IndyMac yesterday. Fun! The FDIC insures up to $100,000, so consumers should be fine for the most part, but what you're going to see is eroding confidence in regional banks as the financial crisis widens.

• Another leader at the LA Times is out, this time publisher David Hiller. I'm sure Sam Zell and his team can make loads of money on the paper if they just fire everybody and go to robot reporters.

• AB 97 cleared the legislature yesterday, which would ban trans fats at California restaurants and bakeries. It now goes to the governor. He did sign a ban on trans fats in school cafeterias last year.

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McCain Running The Zachary Taylor Campaign

I mentioned this yesterday, but it's important to ponder how John McCain either doesn't believe in recording equipment or has so much faith in the people doing the recording, i.e. the BBQ-stained media, that he has no problem saying 100% different things to different audiences. Conservatives hear "I don't support the DREAM Act," Hispanics hear the opposite.

When I was in high school, I remembering learning about Zachary Taylor, our 12th President, put up by the Whig Party almost entirely because of his military background. He would visit different areas of the country and give completely different speeches, citing his support of slavery in the South and his opposition to it in the North, among other things. It worked in 1848 because there wasn't a lot of regional spillover in how information was disseminated. But now we have things like the television, and videotape, and YouTube, and archives, and there's no way for the new "Old Rough and Ready" to be as successful with this tactic as the old one.

Or maybe there is. There's been such a balkanization of the media landscape, with so many people only referring to friendly sources, and there's been such a devaluation of facts in the age of Bush and his spinners who create their own reality, that McCain's campaign might figure they can lie with impunity, deny it when challenged, and never give it a second thought.

That's kind of chilling to think about.

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