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

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Theocrats Mobilize for "Armageddon"

This report of a national conference call to fight Prop. 8 and marriage equality sounds more like a battle plan than a political strategy session. All the leading figures of the religious right were there, and the language is undeniably militaristic. I believe that the best way to counteract the theocratic right is to display them in all their radicalism, so the whole country understands the goals of their movement. So here ya go:

The primary focus of the call was Proposition 8 in California, described by (Chuck) Colson as “the Armageddon of the culture war.” Many speakers invoked the language of warfare, raising up an army of believers, putting soldiers in the streets, being on the front lines of a battle. Lou Engle actually described a massive rally planned in Qualcomm stadium on November 1 as a “blitzkrieg moment.”

While speaker after speaker spoke of the dire threats same-sex married couples pose to “traditional” marriage, religious freedom, and civilization itself, the overall tone of the call was confidence that victory would be won with God’s help, 40 days of prayer and fasting before the election, teams of intercessors and prayer warriors around the country, and a massive highly organized deployment of volunteers in a systematic voter identification and turnout campaign.

This is not exactly the stuff of democracy, nor is it in any way reflective of a country with a separation of church and state. What is at work here is a putsch, a desire to seize the instruments of power and subjugate everyone to one belief system. They mobilize through fear, claiming that the next steps in the fiendish plan are to ban the Bible, legalize polygamy, and "destroy marriage". They're also using supposedly apolitical churches as an illegal communications apparatus:

Ron Luce from Teen Mania ministries and other organizers talked about plans to organize 300,000 youth and their families for an October 1 simulcast, and using them to reach 2.4 million. A representative of the Church Communication Network, a satellite network that has downlink equipment in 500 churches in California, 95 in Arizona, and 321 in Florida, said it would simulcast the youth event free of charge, and would make a satellite dish available “at cost” to churches who don’t yet have one. Said one speaker of the youth organizing, “if we don’t use them, Satan will.”

That is manifestly against the spirit of tax-exempt laws regarding churches - laws which I imagine you'll see broken many times between now and November. The free simulcasting and satellite services amount to in-kind donations.

People for the American Way is on this and keeping tabs on the theocratic right. As I said, forewarned is forearmed - there's a growing segment of the state and the country who are repulsed by this fundamentalism, this anti-Democratic dominionism. We have an opportunity this fall to lay bare the innate bigotry of their movement for all to see.

UPDATE: Another aspect to this is the exhuming once again of far-right theocratic icon Alan Keyes, who's running for President again - but only in California, as part of the American Independent Party (formed in 1968 by segergationist George Wallace, which is somewhat ironic). His running mate is Rev. Wiley Drake, the minister who prayed for the death of members of Americans United for Separation of Church and State last year. The fundies are lining up, packed in two at a time, and all headed to California in lockstep. It's going to be crazy out here for the next 95 days.

Labels: , , ,


Shut Up Whiners

Dana Milbank flat-out lied in his article parroting Obama's "presumptuousness," got caught, and now can't face facts.

In a July 31 online discussion, Dana Milbank dismissed participants' criticisms of his July 30 column -- a "sketch" of Sen. Barack Obama's "premature presidency" -- as "whines." Indeed, Milbank began the discussion by acknowledging that "some of you have some thoughts you'd like to share about yesterday's Sketch on the premature presidency of Barack Obama," and before taking questions, wrote: "I've decided to approach today's chat as a wine writer would. ... Today, I am inaugurating the Whine Enthusiast, in which I will rate your whines."

The Washington Post itself was not quite as dismissive, publishing a correction to one falsehood (in a column rife with misleadingly cropped quotes, false insinuations, and negligent reporting, as Media Matters for America noted). Milbank falsely asserted that Obama "g[a]ve British Prime Minister Gordon Brown some management advice over the weekend." The Post ran the following correction: "This column incorrectly said that Sen. Barack Obama shared his views on how to avoid micromanagement with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown last Saturday. Obama shared those views with British opposition leader David Cameron."

Referring to a July 29 meeting Obama had with members of the House of Representatives, Milbank wrote in his column: "Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, 'This is the moment ... that the world is waiting for,' adding: 'I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.' " Milbank cited the quote in support of his thesis that Obama was becoming a "presumptuous nominee" and as evidence that Obama's "own hubris" may be his "biggest challenger." Several participants in the online discussion, apparently in reference to this quote, accused Milbank of "misquot[ing]" Obama, "omit[ting] the full context of his quote," and "intentionally butcher[ing] Barack Obama's words to sell papers."

During the discussion, a reader from Pasadena, California, asked Milbank: "I do wonder whether or not echoing a Rovian talking point, complete with misquote, is really your best starting point." Milbank responded:

Under challenge is a quote in the story, and in an earlier post on the blog, The Trail, by my colleague Jonathan Weisman. We cite a witness to Obama's private meeting with House Democrats telling us that Obama said "this is the moment ... that the world is waiting for" and "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

House Democratic aides got up Thursday morning and decided that the quotes looked bad. While not challenging the quotations themselves, they said that the quotes were out of context. This is interesting, because our source who was among the people complaining about the quotes yesterday sent us the quotes in writing in an email Wednesday night.

Evidently no recording was made, so we'll probably never know the exact wording.

Milbank's trying to become the next Maureen Dowd and I'm sure he got quite a few backslaps from his Beltway friends on this one. He's not going to bother with such trifles as fact-checking or accuracy. The narrative is set, and anyone who wants to change it is just a whiner who's pissed off that their guy just got zinged.

He's winning "America's Next Top Clueless Pundit," and he's not going to turn in his crown now.

It really is some news operation that looks with nothing but contempt at their readers.

...on the other hand, Bob Herbert is pretty clear-eyed today.

Labels: , , ,


Today In Your Surveillance State

They're going to want your laptop, please. For your security.

Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"The policies . . . are truly alarming," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who is probing the government's border search practices. He said he intends to introduce legislation soon that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches, as well as prohibit profiling on race, religion or national origin.

I think it was Digby who said that the security line at the airport is a massive psychological experiment to get Americans comfortable with having their liberties taken away. These days people take off their shoes without being prompted. The laptop removal will soon become commonplace as well. It's all to keep you safe.

And this principle then extends to wiretapping ("if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about"), and those laws must be determined in secret, in a star chamber, without the prying eyes of civil liberties advocates.

The Department of Justice filed court papers yesterday seeking to block the ACLU -- and any other third party -- from submitting briefs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the classified forums that will be primarily responsible for translating the federal law signed last month into practice.

The DOJ argues that any briefs the ACLU might file would be ill-informed because its lawyers cannot access the classified information at the heart of many FISA cases, and the proceedings would just clog the flow of cases.

They want to keep everything secret for your protection, you see. Not to subvert the law and create the most expansive surveillance system possible.

But you know, it's the Chinese doing all that spying on reporters at the Olympics that we have to worry about. We're doing it to keep you safe.

When asked about the NSA's own warrantless monitoring of electronic communications in the United States and how that's different from the Chinese government's practices, Brownback responded:

"We don't put the hardware and software on hotels. If there is a targeted individual that seems to be a likely prospect of terrorists, they must go through the FISA court and ask for a court to determine that there is probable cause to be able to listen in on that information.

This is a blanket requirement of a hotel to operate a license in China. It is non-specific to anybody. It can be used on journalists. It can be used on athletes -- or, excuse me, they're at the Olympic village -- but on their families. It can be used on democracy advocates, human rights advocates, none of which is prohibited. It is real time.

I think there is a huge difference between these two that are taking place."

No mention was made, during the grandstanding, of the Bush Administration's monitoring of animal rights, environmental and poverty relief activists, as documented by files released in 2005 as a result of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union. (In those cases, the monitoring was done by the FBI.)

(We don't put hardware and software in hotels because we put it in a giant room in San Francisco that sucks up every communication imaginable.)

This really is a moment to fight back against these unnecessary takings of our privacy rights. The Get FISA Right movement that started on Barack Obama's website now has its own home on the Web, and they're pushing to incorporate FISA reform into the DNC platform, as well as holding those who voted the wrong way accountable and running this ad, using SaysMe TV to get it on television for as little as $6.00, to continue to raise awareness for the issue.

In addition, the Accountability NOW campaign, designed to punish Blue Dogs for their ignorance of the Constitution and the rule of law, is ramping up. August 8 is the date scheduled for a large money bomb to raise money.

Passive acceptance of these assaults on privacy and civil liberties will only yield more of them. We have to fight back.

Labels: , , , , ,


We Have The Worst Conspiracy Theorists

So imagine that you have two incidents. Both are considered terrorism, both are connected by the policymakers to an Iraq war they desire, and both are used as a casus belli to gin up support for that war.

One is a dynamic attack with documentary evidence of planes crashing into large buildings, 3,000 people dead, a terror group which takes responsibility for it, evidence of the hijackers boarding the planes and taking control of them, audio of the cockpits during the hijacking, etc., etc.

The other is this strange series of biochemical agents delivered through the mail, most of them are sent to media and leading Democrats in Congress, nobody takes responsibility, the mystery of who sent them is not solved for years, the notes enclosed in the envelopes crudely say things like "We have this anthrax, take penacillin now, Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is great," and nobody can completely figure out the motive or who would have the means to pull this off, although the speculation is typically focused on government research labs.

You mean to tell me the cottage industry of conspiracy theories is over the FIRST one?

And before labeling me as making a false equivalence between 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, in their own way they were just as scary. I remember weeks of palpable fear, especially with their timing right after the WTC attack. Everyone in the country gets mail; not everyone gets on an airplane or works in a national landmark. The random death of the old lady in Connecticut, taking it outside the realm of postal workers and media/political figures, was particularly frightening. And there's no doubt that the recipients of the letters looked extremely calculated, designed to provoke a response of fear in the corridors of power, an upset of the social order.

Now we have thrown into this mix the strange suicide of Bruce Ivins, who reportedly was about to be charged with the anthrax mailings (he was informed of the investigation and subsequent talks with his lawyer acknowledged that charging was imminent).

Ivins, whose name had not been disclosed publicly as a suspect in the case, played a central role in research to improve anthrax vaccines by preparing anthrax formulations used in experiments on animals.

Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins also helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washington.

Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, said a friend and colleague, who declined to be identified out of concern that he would be harassed by the FBI.

This is after the government had to pay almost 6 million dollars to Stephen Hatfill, another government scientist originally tabbed as a "person of interest" in the case. That had to happen before they could charge Ivins, apparently. Ivins worked at AMRIID, the Army's institute for infectious diseases. His brother spoke to his mentality.

The eldest of his two brothers, Thomas Ivins, said he was not surprised by the events that have unfolded.

"He buckled under the pressure from the federal government," Thomas Ivins said, adding that FBI agents came to Ohio last year to question him about his brother.

"I was questioned by the feds, and I sung like a canary" about Bruce Ivins' personality and tendencies, Thomas Ivins said.

"He had in his mind that he was omnipotent."

There is a trail of strange and almost wingnutty letters to his local paper. But Ivins was one of those stereotypical quiet scientists, not the profile of a bioterrorist, and subsequent reporting shows that he was found unconscious in his home months ago, was admitted to a psychiatric facility recently after threatening co-workers, and seemed to have a mental breakdown from the strain of the investigation.

Despite the allegations -- and even after Ivins's apparent plunge into mental illness -- longtime friends and colleagues say it is inconceivable that Ivins could have been a bioterrorist. Many contend that he was driven to depression and suicide because of months of hounding by federal investigators.

"He just looked worried, depressed, anxious, way turned into himself," recalled W. Russell Byrne, an infectious-disease specialist who last saw Ivins on a recent Sunday at St. John the Evangelist, the Roman Catholic church in Frederick to which they both belonged. "It would be overstating it to say he looked like a guy who was being led to his execution, but it's not far off."

The "official story" continues today with an implication that he stood to make money off of his inventions of bioterror vaccines, but the story gets the timelines all wrong (the vaccines were sought even before 9/11 and well before the anthrax attacks) and even inside the story there's an admission that Ivins' take would have been in the tens of thousands.

There's a possibility that Ivins wanted more resources to go to bioterror and so he sent these mailings without expecting anyone would die, but that doesn't answer all the questions raised. In a seminal post, Glenn Greenwald asks about ABC News' breathless assertion at the time that Iraq was surely involved in the dispensing of anthrax based on this new information.

If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick. Without resort to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard to overstate the significance of that fact. From the beginning, there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals and the 9/11 attacks.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."

ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein. And look where -- according to Brian Ross' report on October 28, 2001 -- these tests were conducted:

And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.

That's where Ivins worked.

Like I said, we have terrible conspiracy theorists. Because it's not much of a leap, when you consider that the very lab from which the attacks are now alleged to have originated is the same one that leaked false intel to ABC News linking the attacks to Iraq; when the attacks were designed to scare media and political elites into believing that Muslims could reach them through the postal system; when one of the signature pieces of evidence shown by Colin Powell at the UN for war with Iraq was a small vial of anthrax; when you read this incredible admission from elite pundit Richard Cohen:

Anthrax. Remember anthrax? It seems no one does anymore -- at least it's never mentioned. But right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, letters laced with anthrax were received at the New York Post and Tom Brokaw's office at NBC. . . . There was ample reason to be afraid.

The attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it.

For this and other reasons, the anthrax letters appeared linked to the awful events of Sept. 11. It all seemed one and the same. Already, my impulse had been to strike back, an overwhelming urge that had, in fact, taken me by surprise on Sept. 11 itself when the first of the Twin Towers had collapsed. . . .

...when you recognize that politicians like John McCain set to linking anthrax to Iraq almost immediately; when you learn that, despite Ivins repeatedly being linked to leaked anthrax spores and residue, the government sought to blame it on Stephen Hatfill, a separate fall guy...

I mean there's a rich amount of material here for any "Truther" to make use of. And in this case, the questions are very real and very vital. There must be a full investigation.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Friday, August 01, 2008

My Debut as "The Appendage"

You can check out my Meet The Bloggers performance here - what there is of it. I really appreciate them having me on, but man, does that go fast, and I'm pretty sure Cenk could have flown that interview solo. Not sure I was totally needed or offered much to the debate, but there you are. I hope they have me back to say 10 words some other time.

It was fun to chat with Rachel Maddow though. She has a great profile in the new issue of The Nation.

Labels: , ,


The California Report

A few nuggets for you:

• A Superior Court judge in Alameda County has ruled that cell phone companies cannot charge early-termination fees, and has ordered that Sprint return $18.2 million dollars to consumers. This will probably get fought on appeal, but right on. The concept of fee for service has worked pretty well for most of consumer capitalism, as has being nice to your customers instead of bullying them into compliance.

• There's been a lot of outrage at the LA City Council's ruling banning new fast-food restaurants from breaking ground in South LA for a year. Actually, far from being an issue of infringing on freedom, it's a little thing called land use, and every city has them - even the one that the outraged Will Saletan lives in.

I'm pretty skeptical that these proposed South LA regulations will do any good. But it's not unique or unusual for land use regulations to exist. And working class people around the country suffer dramatically larger concrete harms from the sort of commonplace suburbanist regulations that Saletan's been living with, without apparent complaint, in Chevy Chase. Those kind of regulations are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and serve to use the power of the state to redistribute upwards. So if you're going to rail against land use regulations, maybe pick the ones that really hurt people.

• In environmental news, Senate leaders like Barbara Boxer are calling for the resignation of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson for his preferring ideology over science, defying the advice of his own staff, evading oversight and misleading Congress, particularly about refusing the California waiver to regulate tailpipe emissions. They're also asking the Attorney General to investigate whether Johnson perjured himself at one of the California waiver hearings in Congress. In addition, Jerry Brown is suing the EPA for their refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions at the nation's ports.

• And this is pretty interesting, turns out the Sarah of "Sarah's Law" (parental notification) doesn't have the squeaky-clean image her sponsors claim:

Backers of a ballot measure that would require parents to be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor acknowledged Friday that the 15-year-old on which "Sarah's Law" is based had a child and was in a common-law marriage before she died of complications from an abortion in 1994 [...]

A lawsuit co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood Affiliates and filed Friday in Sacramento County Superior Court asks the Secretary of State to remove the girl's story and other information it deemed misleading, including any reference to "Sarah's Law," from the material submitted for the official voter guide.

"If you can't believe the Sarah story, there's a lot in the ballot argument you can't believe," said Ana Sandoval, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood and the campaign against Proposition 4.

Using someone's life story for political means, and wrongly at that. Good people.

Ok, your turn.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


I'm Just About Done

I need some serious clarification on this:

- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Friday he would be willing to support limited additional offshore oil drilling if that's what it takes to enact a comprehensive policy to foster fuel-efficient autos and develop alternate energy sources.

Shifting from his previous opposition to expanded offshore drilling, the Illinois senator told a Florida newspaper he could get behind a compromise with Republicans and oil companies to prevent gridlock over energy [...]

"My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.

"If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage — I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done."

Yes, wouldn't want to make trouble. I'm sure Republicans will stop there and be completely happy and never call you names again, Senator. And they certainly won't accuse you of being a flip-flopper who'll say anything to win.

OK, a day ago Obama was explaining that proper car care would have about four times the impact as selling off the OCS to drilling (that the oil companies wouldn't do, by the way), and now he's jumped over to being Mr. Compromise Guy? The other thing that's totally absurd here is that gas prices have gone down for five straight weeks (thanks to less consumption) and are slated to continue to go down through the election.

Seriously, if this is what we can expect for the next four years I can do just fine without it. I'm sick of seeing these so-called Democrats so fucking afraid to just talk straight with people. Either that or, being more cynical, they love the oil company cash as much as the other side.

Blissful ignorance is looking pretty good right about now...

UPDATE: There's an actual proposal attached to this:

Later, Obama issued a written statement warmly welcoming a proposal sent to Senate leaders Friday by 10 senators -- five from each party. Their proposal seeks to break the impasse over offshore oil development and is expected to be examined more closely in September after Congress returns from its summer recess.

The so-called Gang of 10 plan would lift drilling bans in the eastern Gulf of Mexico within 50 miles of Florida's beaches and in the South Atlantic off Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, but only if a state agrees to the oil and gas development along its coast. The states would share in revenues from oil and gas development.

Drilling bans along the Pacific coast and the Northeast would remain in place under this compromise.

The plan also includes energy initiatives Obama has endorsed. "It would repeal tax breaks for oil companies so that we can invest billions in fuel-efficient cars, help our automakers re-tool, and make a genuine commitment to renewable sources of energy like wind power, solar power, and the next generation of clean, affordable biofuels," Obama noted.

"Like all compromises, it also includes steps that I haven't always supported," Obama conceded. "I remain skeptical that new offshore drilling will bring down gas prices in the short-term or significantly reduce our oil dependence in the long-term, though I do welcome the establishment of a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact."

I don't know about you, but I'm partying like it's 1996. I can't wait to be told to shut up and that I don't know how politics works, either. And I really can't wait for Republicans to chip, chip, chip away at this proposal too, until there's little left but the drilling, and for the official statement that "this was the best we can do" and "we should be happy with what we got."

...Via email, Kagro X tells me there's actually an expiration date to the Congressional ban on offshore drilling of September 30. That does change the calculus. But am I reading this part right: "Help our automakers retool?"

Are we fixing to bail out GM?

Labels: , , , , , ,


Breaking Out The Big Guns

This was the week when John McCain did "the full Rove," attacking Barack Obama relentlessly for being horrible things like "popular" and "appealing" and then crying like children when the other side notices what they're doing. They got all indignant that Obama said "the only way they figure they're going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. So what they're saying is, 'Well, we know we're not very good but you can't risk electing Obama. You know, he's new, he's... doesn't look like the other presidents on the currency, you know, he's got a, he's got a funny name.'" In fact they did create an ad with Obama replacing Ben Franklin on the $100 bill.

But this final one is the most bitter yet, taking all kinds of quotes out of context, making an "argument" the way a snickering high-schooler would.

I think the craziest thing about this is the projection that Obama is representing himself as "The One." As far as I know, he doesn't open his town hall meetings with a video like this:

John McCain has the film. At many of his events, his campaign sets up a screen and plays for the crowd a three-minute film called "Service with Honor," telling the story of McCain's more than five years of captivity in a North Vietnamese prison after his Navy plan was shot down in 1967. As sonorous music plays in the background, McCain's mother Roberta recounts her reaction on hearing of his capture, images of McCain in captivity are flashed on screen, and two fellow POW's describe his comportment. "He was offered early release and he told 'em to shove it," says one, Paul Galanti. "He has been there, he's done that, he's been miserable he's been tortured, beaten to a pulp and yet he still comes up with that patented McCain smile."

McCain himself concludes the film with these words: "The only reason I am here today is because I believe a higher being has a mission for me and my life."

Talk about presumptuous.

Whether or not this is working, I can't say. I do know that this election has hit the completely stupid season, and there's no telling whether anyone will help us out of it. Certainly the media is lapping it up.

Labels: , , , ,


Sam's Club Conservatism

Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota, is pushing this idea that government should just run like Sam's Club - using sweatshop labor and locking employees inside the store offering services at low cost and value. Because that's exactly how government works. ("Use the discount highway and bridge!")

But there is something to this "Sam's Club conservatism" - in fact, to the corporate parent it means getting everyone who works at Sam's Club to vote for conservatives out of fear of losing their job:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise [...]

The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don't specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's election, but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states.

"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.

I'm sure this won't trickle down to the rank and file employees, nor will it be framed as "vote Republican or your job is gone."

Big business is TERRIFIED by the prospect of a President Obama signing the Employee Free Choice Act. The combination of making it harder for management to harass and intimidate workers who want to bargain, and aggressive unions like SEIU ready to organize means that union membership will finally start increasing again after decades of decline (it actually went up slightly this year). The labor movement is the greatest anti-poverty program in American history, but to the corporate profiteers, it means one less yacht in the harbor. Wal-Mart is among the groups who have put up hundreds of millions of dollars to stop the EFCA and demonize unions. Some of the ads are already up and running, using euphemistic shell group names like "the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace." To economic royalist conservatives it's as important to stop this dead as it was to stop universal health care in the 1990s.

Wal-Mart is skating right on the edge of the legal line with this.

Federal election rules permit companies to advocate for specific political candidates to its executives, stockholders and salaried managers, but not to hourly employees. While store managers are on salary, department supervisors are hourly workers.

However, employers have fairly broad leeway to disseminate information about candidates' voting records and positions on issues, according to Jan Baran, a Washington attorney and expert on election law.

And check out how the corporations who have paid practically no net taxes the entire Bush era are claiming themselves to be the "underdogs" against big bad Labor and its 8% of the private-sector workforce.

Business groups say they're the underdogs since they will be outspent by unions by a wide margin. Labor has pledged to spend $300 million on the election and securing passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, compared with under $100 million by business groups, according to Steven Law, chief legal officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber's strategy is to focus on the Senate, where labor needs eight more supporters of the legislation to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

"This is a David-and-Goliath confrontation, but we believe we'll have enough stones in the sling to knock this out," said Mr. Law.

They really do consider themselves the oppressed elite. It's kind of like Bill O'Reilly lamenting that (even though taxes on the richest 1% are at their lowest rate in 18 years) they'll have to finance all the dirty hippies if the Democrats come to power.

You're already seeing Wal-Mart give to conservative Dems to hold off EFCA. It's one of the biggest battles we're going to face in the next year or so, and the stakes are enormous. So much so that the corporatocracy is trying to shake down their own employees for votes.

In case you want to know where John McCain is on all this, just see what he thinks about the most prosperous time for the middle class in American history:

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Friday Random Ten

The last two days have been extremely hectic for me, so apologies for not posting at the usual rate. Enjoy this music as a peace offering.

Sand River - Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
Spec Bebop - Yo La Tengo
Bastard Wants To Hit Me - They Might Be Giants
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life - Stevie Wonder
Stable Song - Death Cab For Cutie
About A Boy - Nirvana
Narcoteque - Nortec Collective
Learnin' To Love - Ween (this song rulez!)
Such A Little Thing Makes A Big Difference - Morrissey
How To Disappear Completely - Radiohead

Labels: ,


Just Too Much Stupid

I don't know if I'm going to be able to take the next 95 days.

There's a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal, now Rupert's paper, not in the opinion section but the front page of the weekend section, with the title Too Fit to Be President?.

Speaking to donors at a San Diego fund-raiser last month, Barack Obama reassured the crowd that he wouldn’t give in to Republican tactics to throw his candidacy off track.

“Listen, I’m skinny but I’m tough,” Sen. Obama said.

But in a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability? Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique just might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.

This isn't some late-night post at Little Green Footballs. This is in a newspaper. Someone got paid to write this.

And this is where Amy Chozick did her research:

Amy Chozick starts a thread:

Is Obama too skinny to be president?
15-Jul-08 06:04 pm

Does anyone out there think Barack Obama is too thin to be president? Anyone having a hard time relating to him and his “no excess body fat”? Please let me know. Thanks!

A reply is posted:

Re: Is Obama too skinny to be president?
15-Jul-08 10:21 pm

Yes I think He is to skinny to be President.Hillary has a potbelly and chuckybutt I’d of Voted for Her.I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.

Amy responds:

Re: Is Obama too skinny to be president? 16-Jul-08 09:12 am

Love your response and your username (onlinebeerbellygirl). Would you mind shooting me an email so I can ask you a few more quesitons? My email is [redacted] Thanks so much!


Google cached copy of this here. Somehow, us bloggers are the ones accused of poor research skills and not understanding the fundamentals of reporting.

I want to choke myself with my own hands.

Labels: , , , ,


Pity Party

You know, I go do one little Web video show and all hell breaks loose on the House floor.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democrats adjourned the House and turned off the lights and killed the microphones, but Republicans are still on the floor talking gas prices.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders opposed the motion to adjourn the House, arguing that Pelosi's refusal to schedule a vote allowing offshore drilling is hurting the American economy. They have refused to leave the floor after the adjournment motion passed at 11:23 a.m. and are busy bashing Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for leaving town for the August recess.

At one point, the lights went off in the House and the microphones were turned off in the chamber, meaning Republicans were talking in the dark. But as Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz..) was speaking, the lights went back on, and the microphones were turned on shortly afterward.

But C-SPAN, which has no control over the cameras in the chamber, has stopped broadcasting the House floor, meaning no one is witnessing this except the assembled Republicans, their aides, and one Democrat, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has now left.

This reminds me of a group of adolescents putting up a tent in the backyard for a sleepover and telling dirty words to each other while their parents are inside.

Since nobody asked, here's what I think about this drilling issue. I think it's the immigration issue of 2008. Republicans think they have a winning hand and they keep playing it, to the exclusion of everything else, and the country is in a wildly different place that what is believed. There's actually some documentary evidence of this. And with all the big oil companies rolling out record profits, and GOP whiners (who are heavily tied in with Big Oil) demanding we give the same companies making those record profits off high gas prices the opportunity to LOWER them, a smart political party would know exactly how to parry this.

Where can we get one of those?

Labels: , , ,


Who Are We Fighting?

When I appear on Meet The Bloggers in a couple hours you can be sure I'm going to ask Rachel Maddow about this:

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

This is just an extension of an earlier story about the CIA noting links between militants and the ISI, but this fills in the details. And it's absolutely frightening. I've called Pakistan the Most Dangerous Trouble Spot On Earth for the past couple years for good reason, and now to see their intelligence services act as an adjunct for the insurgency just puts a lot of this into perspective. (Of course, the Embassy bombing could also merely be an extension of the India-Pakistan cold war, using the Afghan rebels as a proxy. There have been clashes in Kashmir this week.)

Committing to a wider war in Afghanistan, where the public resists colonial efforts historically, entangles us in all sorts of regional political battles, and if you think you didn't know who your friends were in Iraq, wait until you get over there. This just has all the earmarks of a disaster. The Pakistani leadership doesn't even know how to deal with the ISI.

Some American officials have begun to suggest that Pakistan is no longer a fully reliable American partner and to advocate some unilateral American action against militants based in the tribal areas.

The ISI has long maintained ties to militant groups in the tribal areas, in part to court allies it can use to contain Afghanistan’s power. In recent years, Pakistan’s government has also been concerned about India’s growing influence inside Afghanistan, including New Delhi’s close ties to the government of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

American officials say they believe that the embassy attack was probably carried out by members of a network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose alliance with Al Qaeda and its affiliates has allowed the terrorist network to rebuild in the tribal areas.

American and Pakistani officials have now acknowledged that President Bush on Monday confronted Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, about the divided loyalties of the ISI.

Pakistan’s defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told a Pakistani television network on Wednesday that Mr. Bush asked senior Pakistani officials this week, “ ‘Who is in control of ISI?’ ” and asked about leaked information that tipped militants to surveillance efforts by Western intelligence services.

Pakistan’s new civilian government is wrestling with these very issues, and there is concern in Washington that the civilian leaders will be unable to end a longstanding relationship between members of the ISI and militants associated with Al Qaeda.

Let's remember that the ISI was strengthened when the country was under the control of Pervez Musharraf (then chief of staff of the army with jurisdiction over the military intelligence service), who we handed over billions of dollars in "aid" money with no paper trail and no accountability for where it was sent. Thus, like Juan Cole says, that money could easily be going to kill US, NATO and Afghan troops.

Oh, and the group of militants that the ISI used to carry out this attack are Pushtun guerrillas, not actually "Taliban" in the traditional sense. The shibboleths of "Taliban" and "Al Qaeda" don't quite fit here. This is a Pakistani push for regional dominance incorporating tribes and assorted fighters.

By the way, John McCain supported Musharraf. He saw him as a strong leader, typical of most American beliefs about the need for strongmen in the developing world. As Cole notes:

Musharraf's 'successful state' involved dismissing the Supreme Court, provoking massive and repeated demonstrations, violating the constitution, interfering with free and fair elections, and presiding over a virtual national meltdown on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto late last December. McCain appears to value nothing beyond sheer military might-- even if it has shady contacts to al-Qaeda!

When the newly elected civilian government of Pakistan tried to put the ISI under the civilian Ministry of the Interior last weekend, it was quickly reversed by the generals. The US government (and the candidates) should be supporting the elected civilian government in its efforts to get control of the ISI.

This news is not about Pakistan, since most Pakistanis dislike al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is not about the elected Pakistani government. It is not even about the Pakistani military, which has fought hard battles against the Pakistani Taliban and suffered hundreds of casualties in so doing. It is about corruption in the Pakistani officer corps and the penetration of pro- al-Qaeda elements in the ISI.

And we're being sucked into this slowly, bled dry and ultimately made the fool.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Nation of Whiners

OK, so there was one quarter of negative growth, but not technically two consecutively! And payrolls have been lower for seven straight months, but that doesn't mean people are hurting, it means business is doing what it has to do in a rough climate! Unemployment's at 5.7%, that's practically full employment! And wage growth may be behind inflation, but if you don't mention inflation, it's up!

So quit your bitchin'!

(I remember in 2004, the job number was considered a MAJOR leading indicator in how the election would swing. It seems like it's totally disconnected to the Presidential race this time around. Obviously there's no incumbent running, but if "the economy" is the major issue, shouldn't it, you know, be an issue?)

Labels: , , , ,


Thursday, July 31, 2008

That's Billion With A B

The kicker is that there's an Exxon station right by my house which I try desperately to avoid but occasionally visit. Me and most of the rest of the civilized world:

Record earnings for Exxon, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, have become routine as the surge of oil prices in recent years has filled its coffers. The company’s income for the second quarter rose 14 percent, to $11.68 billion, compared to the same period a year ago. That beat the previous record of $11.66 billion set by Exxon in the last three months of 2007.

Exxon’s profits were nearly $90,000 a minute over the quarter, but it was less than Wall Street had expected. Exxon’s shares fell 4.6 percent, to close at $80.43. (The company calculates that it pays $274,000 a minute in taxes and spends $884,000 a minute to run the business.)

Which means they make a million bucks a minute in raw revenue. They really expect us to not know the meaning of the word "profit." Also, I know something they're not paying 10 cents a minute on - alternative energy.

Shell's profits were a record, too. But Wall Street thinks they should have been MORE of a record, so I'm supposed to feel sorry for the oil companies and give them offshore leases.

There are these little nuggets - oil spills on the Mississippi, record profits for Big Oil, Veco bribing a sitting Senator - that should demolish the "Drill Now" argument. It's real simple - if you expect the folks who are getting rich off of high gas prices to do the lowering for you, then you're a sucker. And guess what? People actually aren't the suckers that media types and politicos make them out to be.

1. Yesterday's CNN poll found 69% supported coastal drilling, but only 51% believed it would lower gas prices. And that's without a real coordinated effort to get the facts out about how painfully little coastal drilling would affect prices.

2. Also in that CNN poll, when voters are asked which presidential candidate would do a better job on gas prices, coastal drilling opponent Barack Obama beats coastal drilling supporter John McCain, 51% to 40%. Obama has emphasized the need to invest in clean energy and use less oil, and that forward-thinking approach appears to resonate more than the drill, drill, drill mantra.

3. The headlines in California today talk up a Public Policy Institute of California poll showing support for coastal drilling rising from 41% to 51%.

But PPIC's own analysis says: "California adults narrowly support allowing more oil drilling off the California coast and narrowly oppose building more nuclear power plants, with deeply divided opinions across party lines. By comparison, there is solid support and consensus for increasing fuel efficiency of automobiles and increasing federal funding for research on alternative energy sources."

4. All of the above is in sync with last week's poll from the Wilderness Society, which found:

-- Only 34% "strongly" support coastal drilling, with another 19% merely supporting it "somewhat."

-- 54% don't believe coastal drilling will lower gas prices (slightly more than in the CNN poll), a number that rises to 64% when respondents are reminded that "we have already opened up most of our public lands to oil drilling and gas prices have not gone down."

-- 63% believe coastal drilling "is more likely to enrich oil companies than to lower gas prices for American consumers."

-- A whopping 76% believe "Investing in new energy technology including renewable fuels and more efficient automobiles" is a more important priority than "expanding exploration and drilling for more oil."

More on the CNN poll here - oil companies are blamed for high gas prices, overwhelmingly.

So this suck-up from Republicans, thinking they've got an issue to run with, is another phantom, as sure as immigration was in 2006. Meanwhile, Harry Reid smartly let the GOP walk right into a trap today.

Going into this week, the Senate Republicans insisted that they would block all the legislative measures until an energy bill was first brought to the floor.

Democratic leadership, initially furious over the obstructionism, is now calling their bluff. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last night introduced a Department of Defense Authorization bill that would, among other things, include a 3.9 percent across-the-board pay raise for military personnel; major funding increases for research into traumatic brain injury treatment and troop suicide prevention efforts; $26 billion for the Defense Health Program, and $500 million for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. A vote could come as early as tonight.

It did come tonight, and Republicans filibustered. Now I know the DSCC has a large war chest. Every dollar of it that goes against those Senators up for re-election who either voted "No" today or missed the vote:

Sununu (NH), Cornyn (TX), Chambliss (GA), Inhofe (OK), McConnell (KY), Stevens (AK), Wicker (MS)

And the message is simple - "Your Senator voted to get your kids killed. Send them a message and send them home."

They can stamp their little feet on this oil thing all they want. In so doing they make a mockery - yet again - of "supporting the troops."

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Freshen Up The Ads

Joe Sudbay makes a great point here that I've only made in passing, which is that Barack Obama's ads have been, for lack of a better word, crap. It's not that the information isn't useful at times, it's just that they look, sound and feel like every campaign ad out there. There's nothing outside the very narrow box of typical ads, and they do not reflect the candidate or his supposedly fresh approach in any meaningful way. There were a couple ads early in the cycle that hinted at a more grandiose message, or let the candidate speak in his own words, but even those are a little bit rote. The Super Bowl ad was a little fresher, with quick cuts and a focus on the movement of volunteers that were making change happen, but that was the exception, not the rule. Sudbay is right, this could easily be made into an ad.

There's a way to do this that would be the same old kind of ad. But using Obama's speech, juxtaposing with some fresh images... THAT would be a good ad.

Calling McCain a liar could help too, but that would be untoward, so we'll leave that to the surrogates.

See also the NYT op-ed, "Low Road Express."

Labels: , , , ,


Fraying At The Edges

I was on a conference call earlier with State Controller John Chiang and Rep. Hilda Solis about the Governor's callous executive order, and both delivered predictably strong comments. Chiang, who has told the governor he will refuse to comply with the order, blasted Schwarzenegger, saying "state workers shouldn't be put in the middle of a political battle," and that this was a nakedly punitive attempt against California's state employee unions, which the whom the Governor has always held a grudge (they helped deep-six his "reform" agenda in 2005). Rep. Solis was even more outraged, saying "let's put him on the federal minimum wage, and get rid of the special interests paying for his hotel room across the street from the Capitol, and see how he likes it." She rocks.

Chiang has made his decision, and now only litigation can force him to carry out the Governor's order (and Chiang discouraged litigation as a "waste of time.") But we expect these kind of statements from Democrats. Take a look at this one from Republican Greg Aghazarian:

"While I appreciate the Governor's leadership on this budget crisis, I cannot support reducing the salaries of our state employees to minimum wage.

If our state workers had the power to pass a budget, then it might be appropriate to hold them accountable, but that's not where the responsibility lies according to our State Constitution. I cannot predict when a budget will be passed, but I do know this, when it does happen it will be because we worked to achieve bipartisan solutions.

I understand what the Governor is trying to accomplish with this action, but I must respectfully disagree and urge the Governor to reconsider his executive order."

Now, Aghazarian is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He's trying to win a Senate election against Lois Wolk in SD-05, and he wants to be seen as some kind of moderate when his record suggests the opposite. But the fact that he's gone off the reservation means that there's a lot of pressure to come out against the Governor on this one, putting him alone on an island of his own making. It's important to keep pounding away and make him completely unpopular and unable to help his party in the fall as a result of this stupid, heartless action.

The Governor has set up a Web site to answer employee questions about the wage cut. Predictably, it has no interactive function. If he allowed comments on it the server would be down.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Hulk Continue Running!

Ted Stevens' indictment has already caused the bottom to drop out on his campaign for re-election.

The first poll of Alaska voters since longtime Senator Ted Stevens was indicted Tuesday for trying to cover up more than $250,000 in illegal gifts finds the incumbent Republican dropping dramatically in the polls.

But 50% still regard Stevens favorably and don’t want him to resign. Two-thirds (66%) view him as at least as ethical as most politicians.

A Rasmussen Reports telephone survey, taken Wednesday night, shows Stevens trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by thirteen points, 50% to 37%. Just two weeks earlier, Begich had taken his first significant lead after the race had been a toss-up for months.

(I don't disagree with those polled about whether he's as ethical as most politicians. Exhibit A: Trent Lott, who allegedly encouraged witnesses to give false information in a recent lawsuit. When you've been in Washington as long as Lott or Stevens, the dirt sticks to you for a reason.)

Despite this, Stevens is gung-ho on running, and he wants the trial out of the way quickly.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan just set a tentative trial date of Sept. 24.

"I can appreciate why the senator would like to have this matter commence and concluded before the election," the judge said.

He set a hearing on Stevens' change-of-venue motion for Aug. 19.

Get this, the wrongdoing (false statements on disclosure forms) took place in Washington, but Stevens wants the venue changed to Alaska, where his name is all over everything, including the airport.

What interesting is that more allegations are coming out of the woodwork now, including a campaign treasurer who is also a lobbyist, and who has LOBBIED STEVENS recently on behalf of fishing interests.

Meanwhile the rest of the Senate Republican Caucus is veering far away from their elder statesman, with the exception of Liddy Dole, who apparently wants there to be a giant papier-maché "Kiss" sculpture following her around on the campaign trail.

This is starting to look like a major pickup, one of five that look very good right now in the Senate (Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia and New Mexico being the others), along with the other competitive opportunities (Minnesota, Mississippi, Maine, and Oregon). Democrats have to make sure the culture of corruption meme infects all of these races.

Labels: , , , , ,


Meet The Bloggers

I've been invited to co-host the first segment of Brave New Films' "Meet the Bloggers" Web video show tomorrow. It's basically Meet The Press with thinking people. The guests include:

Rachel Maddow (Air America, MSNBC) interviewed by Cenk Ugyur and David Dayen (D-Day, Hullabaloo)

Bloggers roundtable with Roberto Lovato (Of America), Liliana Segura (AlterNet) and Baratunde Thurston (Jack and Jill Politics)

The topic is US policy in Afghanistan and it hopes to be a good, substantive discussion. I posted extensively about Afghanistan here - clearly this is an issue where Democrats feel they can "look tough" by believing they can shift troops and fight the "real war on terror," but there needs to be a serious, substantive look at what our goals should be and whether 5 years of trying to bomb the country into submission hasn't permanently damaged relations and led us to fight a losing battle. With the release of RAND Corporation study (hey, it only took a decade to undertake a study on how to best fight terrorism) re-affirming a strategy opposed to the militarism, colonialism and unilateralism of the current Administration, we need to think strategically about this foreign policy challenge and what might WORK best, not what will make the yahoos feel good.

(I should also say that the RAND study basically proved John Kerry right, and he is continuing to smartly lay out a new strategy against extremism designed to put military force in the background and a more totalistic "global counterinsurgency" based on legitimacy and global development in the foreground. It's well worth your time reading.)

I don't have to tell all of you that we need more progressive media, and this program, in its third episode, is an excellent opportunity for us to stake out a real tentpole. Plus, the strong commitment to women and communities of color is a very exciting way to show off this diverse movement. On this one episode you're seeing the equivalent of a year on all the Sunday chat shows combined.

More information at the Meet The Bloggers website. It streams live at 1pm ET/10am PT.

Labels: , , , , ,


Say It Loud

Billmon's back and I'm proud.

And it's the definitive takedown of John McCain, from the Keating 5 days all the way to the present. Really insightful stuff.

McCain is running a gutter campaign. Everyone knows it, even if the campaign and their friends in the barbecue-stained media get shocked, SHOCKED if you bring it up, and accuse you of playing the race card. Please. He's on the Low Road Express and running a relentlessly negative campaign because it's the only way he can win. On the policies and the merits, Americans desire a new direction away from Bush and the policies McCain is offering. The only way for them to win is to make it a referendum on the strange, exotic "new guy."

(And elitist, too - even though the guy with the half-million-dollar credit card charges and celebrity friends and eight houses and $500 shoes is the Republican.)

So they use the same campaign Republicans have used for decades on end.

The guy had an ad ready to run if Obama did visit the troops in Landstuhl, and one ready to run if he didn't. That's the campaign we're getting. Dirty, nasty, and personal. And we're 96 days out.

And if you want to know where this is coming from with the supposedly "honorable" John McCain, read Billmon. He's been unscrupulous and opportunistic for years.

Labels: , , , , , ,



OK, so check this out. Arnold signs the executive order slashing state employee salaries to $6.55 an hour, the federal minimum wage.

At the same time, he's agreed to host a fundraiser in three weeks with Oregon Senator Gordon Smith (R). Here's the invite, courtesy his Democratic opponent Jeff Merkley:

The bottom of the invite says "Host and Photo Opportunities at $10,000 give/raise."

The annual salary for a state worker under the federal, based on a 40-hour work week and a 50-week year, is $13,100.

So Arnold thinks the cost of getting a picture with him is roughly equivalent to the cost of working for an entire year running his state government.


Labels: , , , , ,


What Ron Brownstein Said That I Said

Is he reading me? This just happened on MSNBC:

Andrea Mitchell (MSNBC): Ron, Rick Davis said that this is Obama playing the race card. What is your take on this?

Ron Brownstein: Rick Davis said something that astounded me, that he can't imagine where Barack Obama was thinking that the McCain campaign was introducing race into the campaign. Andrea, there are a lot of famous people in the world: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen, Bono. All of them are globally more famous than Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. And yet, when trying to illustrate their argument about celebrity, the McCain campaign chose the images of two young white blond women to flash those images immediately adjacent to Barack Obama and, you know, we have seen this move before. In many ways, this ad is reminiscent of the ad that the Republican National Committee ran against Harold Ford -- who is now a commentator on this network -- in 2006, and I think the McCain campaign should be asked much more firmly why they chose these particular celebrities to illustrate the point. If you want to make the point that he's a celebrity, Tom Cruise is not more globally famous than Paris Hilton? Is that really a plausible argument? What are the things that those two people have in common? They were young white blond women.

That's pretty much the argument I made. The dogwhistle is very transparent. And I do see it as a maturation of the porgressive movement that mainstream journalists can pick up on and parrot these themes so quickly. It's actually something we did quite well during the Republican primaries.

A shout-out to me at Hullabaloo would have been nice, though...

Labels: , , , , , ,



This would be a major victory for the separation of powers:

A federal judge has sided with Congress in its fight with the Bush administration over whether top White House aides can be subpoenaed by Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee wants to question the president's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and former legal counsel Harriet Miers, about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

But President Bush says they are immune from such subpoenas. They say Congress can't force them to testify.

U.S. District Judge John Bates said there's no legal support for that stance. He refused to throw out the case and said the aides can be subpoenaed.

The case always rested on the Bush Administration's conception of the executive branch as a kingship. Even the judge from Ken Starr's grand jury is balking at that one. This is from the opinion:

Indeed, the aspect of this lawsuit that is unprecedented is the notion that Ms. Miers is absolutely immune from compelled congressional process. The Supreme Court has reserved absolute immunity for very narrow circumstances, involving the President’s personal exposure to suits for money damages based on his official conduct or concerning matters of national security or foreign affairs. The Executive’s current claim of absolute immunity from compelled congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law.

We have a President, not a king. Who knew?

Of course, paraphrasing Andrew Jackson, the judge has made his decision, now let him enforce it.

(if they can, this has major implications for Karl Rove)

Labels: , , , , , ,


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hey, Studying Terrorism, There's A Thought!

This RAND Corporation study is really kind of incredible. Actually the most incredible thing is that it's not ten years old. We have been aware of extremist groups like Al-Qaeda for at least a decade, it's been a major focal point for the government since 2001, and we're just getting around to studying how terrorist groups fail? Seriously?

Anyway, you might be interested to know that they fail due to the exact opposite policies that we've been undertaking.

All terrorist groups eventually end. But how do they end? Answers to this question have enormous implications for counterterrorism efforts. The evidence since 1968 indicates that most groups have ended because (1) they joined the political process or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members. Military force has rarely been
the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory. This has significant implications for dealing with al Qa’ida and suggests fundamentally rethinking post–September 11 U.S. counterterrorism strategy [...]

What does this mean for counterterrorism efforts against al Qa’ida? After September 11, 2001, the U.S. strategy against al Qa’ida centered on the use of military force. Indeed, U.S. policymakers and key national-security documents referred to operations against al Qa’ida as the war on terrorism. Other instruments were also used, such as cutting off terrorist financing, providing foreign assistance, engaging in diplomacy, and sharing information with foreign governments. But military force was the primary instrument.

The evidence by 2008 suggested that the U.S. strategy was not successful in undermining al Qa’ida’s capabilities. Our assessment concludes that al Qa’ida remained a strong and competent organization. Its goals were the same: uniting Muslims to fight the United States and its allies (the far enemy) and overthrowing western-friendly regimes in the Middle East (the near enemy) to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate. Al Qa’ida has been involved in more terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001, than it was during its prior history. These attacks spanned Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Al Qa’ida’s modus operandi also evolved and included a repertoire of more-sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and a growing use of suicide attacks. Its organizational structure evolved, making it a more dangerous enemy.

Al Qa’ida’s resurgence should trigger a fundamental rethinking of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Based on our analysis of how terrorist groups end, a political solution is not possible. Since al Qa’ida’s goal remains the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate, there is little reason to expect that a negotiated settlement with governments in the Middle East is possible. A more effective approach would be adopting a two-front strategy.

First, policing and intelligence should be the backbone of U.S. efforts. In Europe, North America, North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, al Qa’ida consists of a network of individuals who need to be tracked and arrested. This would require careful work abroad from such organizations as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as their cooperation with foreign police and intelligence agencies. Second, military force, though not necessarily U.S. soldiers, may be a necessary instrument when al Qa’ida is involved in an insurgency. Local military forces frequently have more legitimacy to operate than the United States has, and they have a better understanding of the operating environment, even if they need to develop the capacity to deal with insurgent groups over the long run. This means a light U.S. military footprint or none at all. The U.S. military can play a critical role in building indigenous capacity but should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment.

A key part of this strategy should include ending the notion of a war on terrorism and replacing it with such concepts as counterterrorism, which most governments with significant terrorist threats use. The British government, among others, has already taken this step and abjured the phrase war on terror. The phrase raises public expectations—both in the United States and elsewhere—that there is a battlefield solution to the problem of terrorism. It also encourages others abroad to respond by conducting a jihad (or holy war) against the United States and elevates them to the status of holy warriors. Terrorists should be
perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.

Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment. This strategy should also include rebalancing U.S. resources and attention on police and intelligence work. It also means increasing budgets at the CIA, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Department of State and scaling back the U.S. Department of Defense’s focus and resources on counterterrorism. U.S. special operations forces will remain critical, as will U.S. military operations to counter terrorist groups involved in insurgencies.

Pretty goddamn simple, huh? It's not like these concepts of blowback, of inflaming local populations, and of treating heinous crimes as crimes are, you know, foreign. They have formed the backbone of counterterrorism strategy since the Visigoths. They're what John Kerry actually ran on in 2004 (which earned him ridicule - I'm sure everyone is very, very sorry now). The current strategy of planting more flags in the Middle East, bombing local populations from 30,000 feet, torturing, using belligerent rhetoric like "war or terror" and "clash of civilizations" has not worked. Period. And we're in an election where we know that one candidate would not only maintain these policies, but go further.

Militarism, colonialism and unilaterism are making us less safe. This study offers hope that a President Obama might draw back from the "if not x then y" military approach that suggests we dump forces in Afghanistan, and maybe rethink the overall strategy for using all of our instruments of power to reach the actual mission goal - to end this terrorist groups the way other terrorist groups ended. The fact that DNI McConnell is actually allowing intel analysts use expert opinion in making their assessments, that's a start. The fact that Obama is talking about transparent, deliberate processes to deal with capturing terrorists and bringing them to justice - and McCain is joining him on opposite days, another start. But we need to rethink and revamp the policy entirely.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Oil Companies Prospect For Friendly Lawmakers

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Ted Stevens was indicted yesterday for his failure to disclose the gifts he received from an oil company, Veco Energy. And Stevens isn't their only project - they've donated legal contributions, and who knows how many illegal ones, to the campaign committees and PACs of a good portion of the Republican Party, plus Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the only Democratic Senator to be supportive of Stevens yesterday.

VECO contributions to active Washington politicians (1992-Present).
Don Young (R-AK) $190,530
Ted Stevens (R-AK) $102,500
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) $42,250
George W. Bush (R) $20,050
Daniel Inouye (D-HI) $13,000
Norm Coleman (R-MN) $7,000
Richard Burr (R-NC) $6,000
Tom Coburn (R-OK) $6,000
Jim DeMint (R-SC) $6,000
John Sununu (R-NH) $6,000
John Thune (R-SD) $6,000
David Vitter (R-LA) $6,000
Kit Bond (R-MO) $4,516
Arlen Specter (R-PA) $4,000
George Voinovich (R-OH) $3,750
John Ensign (R-NV) $2,000
Steve Pearce (R-NM) $1,000
Jon Porter (R-NV) $1,000
Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) $1,000
Barbara Cubin (R-WY) $500
Larry Craig (R-ID) $200

Between this and the large oil spill on the Mississippi River last week, there's plenty of ammo to go after the "Drill Now" crowd. And I actually believe that this whole thing is being played on the bully principle. Remember in 2006 when conservatives ran on immigration and said it would be a defining issue, and it, er, wasn't? I think "drill now" is this year's version of that. To their credit, both Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi aren't backing down to Bush's angry remonstrances, suggesting that they know this is a tempest in a teapot. I think their position is somewhat strong but of course it's so hard to get progressive messages out.

Maybe we can compromise. They just found oil on a moon of Saturn. I nominate McCain to be the first prospector. He can even be named President of Saturn. This works on a lot of levels.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Senate To Arnold: Say That To Our Face

As we brace for the Governor's executive order slashing state employee salaries, the Senate Governmental Organization committee wants some answers.

Anticipating that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today will sign an executive order to cut state worker pay and terminate about 22,000 temporary, part-time and contract jobs, the Senate's Governmental Organization committee has called on Schwarzenegger to explain his rationale. The committee, chaired by Senator Dean Florez (D-Schafter), has scheduled the hearing for Monday at 10 a.m. Schwarzenegger is invited. Controller John Chiang and leaders of state worker unions will testify, according to a press advisory.

Florez, who sought the advisory opinion from the legislative counsel about this move (which showed that John Chiang has more than enough constitutional authority to deny the wage cut from going through), said in his press statement: "I think the Governor owes the public a full explanation as to why he has singled out the state's workforce with his executive order to cut their salaries."

Right on. Which is why you should keep calling Arnold and ruin his birthday by demanding an explanation of your own.

This is a good move by Florez, both from the standpoint of policy and politics.

Labels: , , , ,


" many loyalists as possible."

Today the Justice Department's Inspector General, Glenn Fine, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss Monday's report showing serious violations of the law in the hiring of career Department employees. What the IG revealed today was that the attitude of extreme partisanship inside the DoJ was pervasive. Whether people were actively engaging in politicization or just tacitly accepting it, everyone was at least aware of what was happening... everyone except for Abu Gonzales, of course, who does not recall.

FINE: He said he wasn’t aware of what was going on. He said he did not know Goodling used poltiical factors when assessing candidates for career positions, did not know the search terms Goodling used, did not know even that Goodling’s portfolio including hiring for IJs [immigration judges], and basically said he didn’t have knowledge of the role the office of the Attorney General played in identifying candidates.

It is of course grossly incompetent for Gonzales to be unaware of the goings-on in a department he's supposed to manage. But I don't buy this at all. Gonzales came from the White House counsel's office, and it is beyond clear that the politicized hiring originated at 1600 Penna. Charlie Savage finds evidence inside the IG report.

On May 17, 2005, the White House’s political affairs office sent an e-mail message to agencies throughout the executive branch directing them to find jobs for 108 people on a list of “priority candidates” who had “loyally served the president.”

“We simply want to place as many of our Bush loyalists as possible,” the White House emphasized in a follow-up message, according to a little-noticed passage of an internal Justice Department report released Monday about politicization in the department’s hiring of civil-service prosecutors and immigration officials [...]

The report released on Monday by Justice Department investigators said that the context of the May 17, 2005, message from the White House about its priority-hire list “made plain” that it was seeking politically appointed government jobs, for which it is legal to take politics into account. The report did not say who sent the message.

But the message also urged administration officials to “get creative” in finding the patronage positions — and some political appointees carried out their mission with particular zeal.

“We pledge 7 slots within 40 days and 40 nights. Let the games begin!” Jan Williams, then the White House’s liaison to the Justice Department, responded in an e-mail message on May 19, 2005.

But despite this very clear evidence, the IG only consulted with one White House official, Rove protege Scott Jennings, during the entire investigation. It's this compartmentalization - investigating pieces of the federal bureaucracy in a vacuum and refusing to connect the dot to the overall project directed at the highest levels - that feeds the Beltway mindset that restricts accountability at every turn. As Jonathan Turley said yesterday, if Monica Goodling becomes the next iteration of the "few bad apples" at Abu Ghraib, with accountability and punishment ending with her, it would be pathetic.

And even getting Goodling to pay for this would be a stretch. She was given immunity against self-incrimination at her Congressional hearing, and the crime she committed doesn't appear to have a penalty now that she's no longer employed by the DoJ. This made me want to scream today:

Schumer: On of the most shocking conclusions in your report is that someone like Monica Goodling, who politicized the appointment of Assistant US Attorneys, Immigration Judges, and even Counter-Terrorism positions may not face any consequences for her actions. So let me ask you this, Mr. Fine. Should such blatant politicization and illegal activity be subject to some criminal punishment so there would be some ultimate accountability.

Fine: I'm not sure it's true to say she escaped any accountability and punishment. As I discussed with Senator Whitehouse earlier, she--people did leave the Department, so they can't be disciplined by the Department, but we've recommended that they never get a job with the Department again and hopefully with the federal government again and that hopefully they consider this report if they ever do reapply. They have been exposed. Their conduct has been exposed in a transparent way for all to see. And then, there may be--I'm not saying there is but there may be appropriate Bar sanctions for--possibly--for attorneys who have committed misconduct and may have violated a Bar rule and so the Bar may look into that [...]

Whitehouse: Um, with respect to the consequences for the violation of federal law. Can you identify what Bar rules might have been broken. ... I did not see OPR making any referrals to the Disciplinary Council as a result, so I'm a little confused about what disciplinary consequences lawyers might face?

Fine: My understanding is, and I've had discussions with OPR about this, that OPR intends to, and we will participate in a notification to the Bars of individuals who are found to have committed misconduct, for them to review the conduct. Now I don't believe OPR has done a lengthy review of this and say which exact rule but it does intend to and I think it is appropriate to notify the Bars of the individuals who were involved and in fact I think some of them have already been notified; I think individuals have provided our reports to various Bars for the Bar to look at. In terms of the rules, I'm not an expert in the area, potentially Rule 8.4 which talks about the administration of justice and acts going to the fitness to practice law. I'm not necessarily saying that does apply but I do think there are things that ought to be review and looked at and I think the experts in this area ought to do that.

Whitehouse then asked about stripping civil service protection for anyone hired during Goodling's reign, and also about John Nowacki, revealed in the IG report to have lied about Goodling's hiring practices, and STILL employed by the Justice Department. And... crickets.

This, in the end, is the problem, as surely as it's the problem with citing Karl Rove for contempt. There are follow-ups and hurdles and gaps within the law that allow these people to pervert the Justice Department, use it as an arm of the RNC, put honorable people into jail, and get away with it. Because there's no understanding of the big picture here. Krugman gets at it today.

As we all know, the Bush administration essentially brushed aside all notion of due process. It locked up and tortured people it said were “enemy combatants”; it engaged in warrantless wiretapping; and so on.

We weren’t supposed to worry our pretty little heads about this, because we were supposed to take it as a given that these were people we could trust not to abuse their power.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department was interviewing job candidates, and asking,

What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

In other words, there was a combination of power without oversight and a deeply creepy cult of personality (which was obvious long before we got the latest specifics.)

The deeply politicized Justice Department is the firewall against accountability for the crimes of the Administration. They started that project right away to make sure.

It was in a different context and regarding different criminals, but this is what accountability looks like, courtesy (Lord help us) Republican Ted Poe:

Mr. Speaker, it seems to be this is yet another example of incompetence, waste, and possible fraud against America. If crimes have been committed, the Justice Department needs to prosecute anyone that steals money from America during this time of war. Because the long arm of American law even reaches crooked contractors in Iraq. And where shall we send these people? To the well-built Guantanamo Bay prison where we house war criminals. And that’s just the way it is.

Loyalists have a different opinion.

Labels: , , , , , , ,