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

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Barbara Boxer On Bybee Impeachment: "I'm Very Open To That."

At a press avail following her speech at the California Democratic Party convention, I asked Sen. Boxer about the Resolutions Committee passing support for a Congressional inquiry into the actions of torture judge Jay Bybee and the imposition of all possible penalties including impeachment. She said "I'm very open to that.... there is an ongoing investigation at the Justice Department into his work (at the Office of Professional Responsibility -ed), and we'll see how that goes. But I'm very open to that. And I'll remind everyone that I didn't vote for him when his nomination came up. I was one of 19 to do so."

Needless to say, the support from Sen. Boxer will be a great help in the Resolutions Committee, when they prioritize the top ten resolutions to send to the floor of the convention tomorrow.

The other interesting tidbit from the presser was that Sen. Boxer offered no indication of her endorsement on the ballot measures for the special election on May 19. She says she and Sen. Feinstein haven't studied the measures yet, and that they will get together in Washington and offer a joint statement once they make their decision. "I'll let you know when I go public. But let me say this - the budget process in California is dysfunctional, because of the super-majority needed to pass a budget and tax increases. And until we get to the root causes of changing that, it's very difficult to do anything." This pretty much tracks with what we've been saying for a long time. Until you pass #1, it won't matter if you pass #2-#10.

Other topics covered included torture investigations (Boxer supports the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Sen. Leahy recommended), the fate of cram-down provisions in the Senate ("Sen. Durbin is doing a heroic job... the banks are still a major lobbying group."), potential opponents in her 2010 re-election (I hope nobody runs against me!"), and the news of a budget reconciliation deal on health care in the Senate (she didn't have much to say on that other than that reconciliation should always be on the table, as it was during the Reagan years, and that the situation is "in flux.") Boxer was at her most eloquent answering a question about the rule of law and the impression that those at the highest levels of power, be it the banksters or the torture regime, were above it. "The law must prevail... the people should feel that something's wrong, if nothing is done on torture. If we don't like a law, we repeal it, we don't ignore it."

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General Session Open Thread

Here's a thread for the opening session at the CDP convention. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is taking the stage right now, leaving me wondering what this would be like if she was speaking as a candidate for Governor. Ah well.

The juicy tidbit I've heard is that Phil Angelides is strongly considering jumping into the CA-03 race against Dan Lungren. This makes a pretty good deal of sense. Angelides has the policy chops, the ability to raise money (he has a huge list of supporters to tap from 2006), and a focus on green jobs and clean energy from the Apollo Alliance. I'd like to see this.

Solis' money quote: "This is the most progressive Administration I've seen in a long time."

More later.

...The Garamendi-bots are out, bringing him to the floor. I think they just had a bunch of leftover signs from when he was running for Lt. Governor.

...Most awkward quote ever: "George W. Bush, you are bad history!" Garamendi followed up with the old "We now have a President who can speak a complete sentence" standby...

...So Gavin Newsom is being introduced now. Lots of "visibility" in the crowd.

As Gavin talks about his alleged delivery of health care to everyone in San Francisco, can someone please ask him about cutting the city health care budget by 25% across the board to cover his city's budget deficit? I will, in a couple hours.

Money quote - "We're not intent to relive history." Yes, just to rewrite it.

Boy, Jack O'Connell is wooden.

Barbara Boxer is up right now. I'm reading over the speech, and it's a bunch of red meat.

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Resolutions Committee Passes Support For Congressional Inquiry Into Jay Bybee

The very, VERY good news is that the resolution to impeach Jay Bybee from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals passed the Resolutions Committee with only small changes to the language. Any impeachment process must begin with a Congressional inquiry that gets remanded to the House Judiciary Committee. That's exactly the language we got, a resolution supporting a Congressional inquiry into Bybee and the other lawyers who justified torture. To everyone that signed petitions, you helped make this happen. We're not done yet, however. In order to get to the floor, the resolution must get ranked among the top ten at a "prioritizing" meeting today. Many more than ten resolutions passed in committee, so it will be a fight to get the Bybee resolution on the floor. I will be testifying in the committee today and lobbying for passage, armed with the thousands of signatures and personal testimonials gathered over the past week.

This could be as consequential as anything done in this convention, despite it happening off the floor and relatively outside of scrutiny. A resolution of support from the full CDP would be powerful. I'll keep you updated.

...Maybe some of Jay Bybee's anonymous friends will show up to speak on his behalf.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Blogiversary To Me

(bumped to the top for the week. There's new stuff below)

Somehow, I've been doing this blog for five years. I can hardly get my mind around that reality.

As of today, 248,078 people have visited the site, generating 290,957 page views. That's about 110,000 unique visitors this year, which is a new record. The site keeps growing, and I thank every single person who makes this site a part of their day. It's truly an honor.

Last year I ran a little experiment on Blogiversary Week. This hobby takes up a ridiculous amount of my time, and while I'm happy to do my part as an engaged citizen, there's precious little reward for all the time reading, organizing, emailing, and doing the leg work to make this blog happen. I don't do this for money, but I do believe that there is some value here, and maybe you feel the same way.

The donation button in the right-hand column links to my Paypal account. If that doesn't work, my Paypal name is d_dayen-at-yahoo-dot-com...

(I deleted the donate button in this post because it didn't work even though it used the exact same code as the one on the right-hand side. The one in the right-hand column appears to work. Also, you know, my Paypal name.)

I don't want to put on my public radio hat, but if you feel like this is a good place to spend part of your day, consider dropping a few coins in my account. My goal is to outraise Roland Burris' entire fundraising total for the first quarter of this year: $845. I think it's reachable. Ultimately, we have to build models of sustainable activism, so that we have people committed full-time to progressive causes. Fundraising drives for low-dollar donations are an example of how we get there. So I hope you can participate in my funding drive this week. Thanks so much.


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Bye Jim

Tedisco throws in the towel.

The NY-20 special election is now officially over, with Democrat Scott Murphy the winner.

GOP candidate Jim Tedisco, who trailed by 401 votes as of yesterday's vote count, has called Murphy to concede, according to Murphy spokesman Ryan Rudominer. (The latest vote count puts Murphy ahead by 399 votes.)

Murphy takes over in the seat from its previous Democratic occupant, Kirsten Gillibrand, whose appointment to the United States Senate set up the special election for this marginal district.

Only one Sore Loserman left. Unfortunately, he's dragging that out as much as possible.

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Resolutions Committee Recommends Yes on All Propositions on May 19 Ballot

In the Resolutions Committee meeting here in Sacramento, the committee approved a "Yes" vote for all the measures on the May 19 ballot. The discussion was fairly revealing and typical of what I've seen around the state. The committee members, almost to a man except for Calitics' own Brian Leubitz, argued that the ballot measures reflected the best that the legislature could do, and spun tales about the consequences of failure. Out in the audience, the crowd loudly cheered any time this official narrative was challenged by remarking on the consequences of success, for example the spending cap that would ratchet down state services permanently. My favorite part was when someone, arguing for 1D, said that "if we don't pass this, children will suffer painful cuts." Which of course is the POINT of 1D. "We have to think of the children when we cut programs for children!" was the basic message.

Once again, we see the grassroots/establishment divide, where the legislature and their compatriots in learned helplessness wail about tales of woe while urging a Yes vote on measures that would make things demonstrably worse in the state. We've gone through this over and over again, so the fact that the resolutions committee supported the measures doesn't surprise. However, the strength of the opposition in the room tells me that something may occur on the floor on Sunday.

I would guess that the establishment will try to push the entire package through, and since the only real institutional opposition is on 1A, there will be an effort to pull 1A from the consent calendar. I think it's genuinely up for question as to whether or not it was successful, which is interesting in and of itself.

More later...

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This Time I Do Believe The 11-Dimensional Chess

On the heels of the OLC memos, the SASC report, and the Sentate Intelligence Committee timeline, add yet another disclosure from Washington, this one more visceral than a legal opinion, to increase the pressure to act.

The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush White House.

The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Forty-four photos that the American Civil Liberties Union was seeking in a court case, plus a "substantial number" of other images, will be released by May 28.

The photos, examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib, which became a symbol of U.S. mistakes in Iraq. But Defense Department officials nevertheless are concerned that the release could incite another backlash in the Middle East.

Some of the photos show U.S. service members intimidating or threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them, according to officials who have seen them. Military officers have been court-martialed for threatening detainees at gunpoint.

"This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration's claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational," said Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, which reached the agreement as part of a long-running legal battle for documents related to anti-terrorism policies under President George W. Bush.

If Abu Ghraib merely existed in documents, the impact would have been far less. Pictures, videos, just any images bring these abstract debates home in a more immediate way. And there will be even more disclosures to come from this ACLU lawsuit.

Other disclosures to be considered in the weeks ahead include transcripts of detainee interrogations, a CIA inspector general's report that has largely been kept secret, and background materials in a Justice Department investigation into prisoner abuse.

In each instance, Obama and his administration are being forced to decide whether to release the material entirely, disclose it with redactions, or follow the lead of the Bush administration and fight in court to keep it classified.

The OPR investigation, which is fully completed, will really put pressure on the DoJ lawyers who provided the legal justifications for torture.

Given all this, I just don't buy the official narrative about the White House blocking investigations and stalling accountability. Sure, they may be halting a rush to investigations for now, but they're methodically laying out a fact pattern, both by themselves and with the support of the Congress, that will make investigations impossible to ignore. I have no doubt that the President worries about his forward-looking agenda. But he made the tough decision to release the memos that kicked off this frenzy, and he's committing to releasing more. There's a difference between not wanting a commission and not wanting to be responsible for one. Of course, the best way to ensure that would be through a special prosecutor. After all, we now have senior Bush Administration officials definitively signing off on torture. A trickle of releases makes no sense without follow-up, investigation and some accountability. And surely Obama knows this.

No wonder Liz Cheney's so nervous.

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In It For The Voter Suppression

By this point, Jim Tedisco could be out of the race, but at the very least, he has admitted defeat, if privately. Now he's playing a long game for 2010, and for upstate New York Republicans far and wide.

A GOP source on Capitol Hill said Thursday afternoon that Republican Jim Tedisco’s camp has abandoned hope of winning New York’s 20th district special election but that the former state Assembly Minority Leader won’t concede the race to Democrat Scott Murphy until technical legal questions surrounding voter residency issues are resolved.

The source said that Tedisco believes the residency issues that came up during absentee vote counting after the March 31 contest could have a bearing on future races in New York. As such, the source said, Tedisco wants to see those issues resolved before ending the legal battle.

He's trying not just to get voters disqualified in his district, but throughout the upstate New York region. As Hudson noted in the comments to the last Tedisco post, state law appears to be on the side of those with dual residencies deciding where they want to vote: "New York State’s highest court found in Ferguson v. McNab, 60 N.Y.2d 598 (N.Y. 1983) that someone who has more than one residence 'may choose one to which she has legitimate, significant and continuing attachments as her residence for purposes of the Election Law.'"

Not that "the law" matters to the GOP. So I assume they'll fight this one out. At least this time, unlike with Norm Coleman, the loser is admitting that he's only stretching out the race to test the limits of voter suppression and delay the entry of the winner into Congress. It's refreshing, in a way.

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Perverting The Science, Boiling The World

Here's an incredibly unsurprising story: for decades, big business put their own profits ahead of reality and did whatever they could to poison the planet.

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

This story is a smoking gun as much as the secret emails showing that cigarette makers knew their products caused disease and death. We have industry ignoring science for material gain. And the losers are you and me.

All they had to do was deny the science, and the broken media structure did the rest - posing the issue as a debate rather than exploring the facts, sowing confusion instead of certitude. For 15 years or more, we dithered, when we could have been moving forward on solving the problem. And we're still having to fight these groups.

The coalition disbanded in 2002, but some members, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, continue to lobby against any law or treaty that would sharply curb emissions. Others, like Exxon Mobil, now recognize a human contribution to global warming and have largely dropped financial support to groups challenging the science.

Documents drawn up by the coalition’s advisers were provided to lawyers by the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, a coalition member, during the discovery process in a lawsuit that the auto industry filed in 2007 against the State of California’s efforts to limit vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions.

This time around, we do have a counterpart - progressive groups that have formed an alliance to finally get meaningful climate legislation passed. But we have lost so much valuable time, to the extent that we have not much left. And all because some executives decided they needed a new luxury yacht to go with the beach house.


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CDP Convention - On The Way

Headed out the door for a nice, leisurely six-hour drive through the Central Valley to Sacramento for another California Democratic Party Convention. Calitics will have full coverage, of course - many of our writers will be on hand, both as delegates and as plain old media. There's a lot to cover, from party elections to endorsements on the May 19 election to the resolution to impeach Jay Bybee from the 9th Circuit to the unofficial opening of the 2010 election.

The early pre-convention news is that Antonio Villaraigosa won't be making the trip with me (although there's still room in the car, so you never know). It's a confusing development, considering all the high-profile events other gubernatorial hopefuls Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown are holding (Jerry's got a kegger at the old Governor's Mansion, while Gavin is part of an outdoor block party featuring Wyclef Jean). But that may be the reason, as Villaraigosa wasn't able to compete.

Villaraigosa’s press office sent out a release announcing: “Mayor Villaraigosa today announced that he will convene emergency weekend meetings with union leaders to tackle the city's budget crisis.

“Talks will focus on ways to close a $530 million budget deficit through shared sacrifice and shared responsibility. The Mayor will begin meetings in City Hall with labor leaders on Friday evening and will continue through the weekend.” [...]

Calbuzz asked Tony V spokesman Sean Clegg if the emergency budget session was "just a lame, bullshit excuse" to skip the convention. “It’s exactly the opposite of that," Clegg said. "The city of Los Angeles and most cities across California are facing an unprecedented economic crisis and jobs come first.”

Clegg said Villaraigosa is putting the needs of his city before his personal political fortunes by trying to pull together an agreement that would require labor unions to give back some hard-earned gains in order to save jobs and services in Los Angeles.

“This is a leadership moment. Antonio Villaraigosa is not going to Twitter while Rome burns,” Clegg said -- a clear shot at the other mayor who would be governor: San Francisco's Gavin Newsom.

At the same time, a Tulchin Research/Acosta|Salazar pre-convention poll (which is three weeks out, but released on convention eve) shows Villaraigosa slipping. The poll had Garamendi in the race at the time.

Tulchin Research/Acosta|Salazar +/- 4.5% (Mar. 31-Apr. 2)
Brown 31%
Newsom 16%
Villaraigosa 12%
Garamendi 11%
O'Connell 6%
Other 4%
Undecided 20%

Obviously, that top-line support is soft, with 1 in 5 undecided. But I'm frankly surprised how quickly this is turning into a two-horse race, which could actually open the door for a progressive movement candidate, if one existed. But alas...

Anyway, those are just a couple of the issues we'll see unfold. Stay with us throughout the weekend.

(I've teed up a few posts while I'm on the ride, but it'll be a light post day until late afternoon)

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

If I were the Obama Administration I'd be nervous about Pakistan myself.

The Obama administration reacted with increasing alarm yesterday to ongoing Taliban advances in Pakistan, warning the Pakistani government that failure to take action against the extremists could endanger its partnership with the United States as well as American strategy in neighboring Afghanistan.

"The news over the past several days is very disturbing," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, adding that the administration "is extremely concerned" and that the issue was taking "a lot" of President Obama's time.

Obama held a White House meeting on the subject with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative to the region, officials said, and also brought it up in a separate session with congressional leaders. Holbrooke spoke by telephone to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Secretary of State Clinton publicly expressed her frustration during Congressional testimony, accusing the Pakistani government of "basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists.” I think this is an overly simplistic view of the situation. Prime Minister Zardari has no legitimacy inside the country due to the sparring with Nawaz Sharif and his initial refusal to reinstate the Supreme Court Justice. His approval ratings are in the low double digits, and Sharif is at around 83%. Zardari is less concerned with following the dictates of the Administration with respect to the Taliban than saving his own government from ruin. Obviously the White House has money to dangle, but Congress has yet to appropriate it. The Administration wanted to hold a 2-day summit with Zardari and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, but Zardari is concerned that, if he leaves the country, he won't be Prime Minister when he returns - perhaps because of a military coup.

Pakistan will not fall to Islamists or extremists anytime soon - that's alarmist rhetoric. It is unstable, however, without a handle on much of the countryside, and that spells danger for a good bit of the region. The military has moved into the area near Islamabad that has been taken over by Taliban forces, so perhaps they've gotten the message. But they cannot snap their fingers and achieve legitimacy over all the people.

Meanwhile, there was a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about Afghanistan yesterday, and it almost felt like an afterthought. Might as well change that nickname to "Pak-Af."

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

CDP Convention Tomorrow - Last Chance To Sign Petitions To Impeach Bybee

I'll do a fuller convention preview post in the morning, but just a final mention - I have a petition to tell the CDP to support the resolution to impeach federal Judge Jay Bybee, who sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals despite having been one of the architects of the flawed legal justification for torture committed in our name. There are musings about independent commissions and special prosecutors in Washington - the establishmentarians in the Senate and the more cautious types in the White House are trying to resist the pressure, but this is bigger than them now.

The central debate dominating discussions of a possible investigation into torture by the Bush administration seems to have shifted sharply in the past few days: from whether such an investigation should take place, to now what form it will have when it comes [...]

Thursday morning, Sen. Claire McCaskill told MSNBC that she was "sure there will be some form of investigation in Congress." She said she could not make the same value judgments about the other two forms of investigation.

Meanwhile, one of the few legislative vehicles actually geared toward starting the torture investigation process already has bipartisan support. Legislation backed by House Judiciary chairman John Conyers to establish "a national commission on presidential war powers and civil liberties" has one rather notable co-sponsor: Republican Rep. Walter Jones, a vocal GOP critic of the Bush administration. Jones' office did not return requests for comment but Conyers' office confirmed the North Carolinian remains a co-sponsor of the legislation.

I believe this is a direct result of the grassroots activism of the past week or so, and we must press on all fronts, and the impeachment of Bybee, who sits on the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, is particularly acute here in this state. Currently I have 4,435 signatures - please sign by midnight tonight and I will present yours and everyone else's name at the Resolutions Committee tomorrow at 3pm. If we get this resolution passed, we will have a powerful tool to force California members of Congress to initiate hearings in the House Judiciary Committee to impeach Bybee. I think it's absolutely possible that we make this happen over the weekend - but the leadership of the CDP needs to know that there's a large and powerful constituency behind this effort.

Please sign the petition if you haven't already. And California's Courage Campaign has their own petition, with around 8,500 signatures at last count. 13,000 people arguing for impeachment is a powerful number - let's go for more. I'll let you know how it goes.

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This Week In Health Care

Ezra Klein is moving to the Washington Post. That's great - Ezra is one of my favorite bloggers, and I particularly appreciate his ability to drill down on health care policy. So in his honor, here's a great big health care post!

I would describe the prevailing mood from health care policy experts on the Hill as ebullient. The Senate committee chairs with jurisdiction are planning to mark up a bill by June, while working in close concert so the bills aren't all that different, and a final vote is expected by early fall. This appears to be happening.

The question, of course, is "what is happening?" What form will this legislation take? Some liberals are alarmed by the subtle shifts in the debate, and for good reason.

As Congress returns to begin an intense debate over reshaping the nation's $2.2 trillion health-care system, prominent left-leaning organizations and liberal House members are issuing a warning to their Democratic allies: Don't cave on us.

The early skirmishing -- essentially amounting to friendly fire -- is perhaps the clearest indication yet of the uphill battle President Obama faces in delivering on his promise to make affordable, high-quality care available to every American.

Disputes over whether to create a new government-sponsored insurance program to compete with private companies shine a light on the intraparty fissures that may prove more problematic than any partisan brawl.

More than 70 House Democrats recently warned party leaders that they will not support a broad health reform bill that does not offer consumers a government-sponsored policy, and two unions withdrew from a high-profile health coalition because it would not endorse a public plan.

"It's way too early" to abandon what it considers a central plank in health reform, said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He said the organization pulled out of the bipartisan Health Reform Dialogue because it feared its friends in the coalition were sacrificing core principles too soon. "You don't make compromises with your allies."

Ultimately, I think the Administration supports a public plan, but they're willing to make it more of a public plan in name only (PPINO?), along the lines of Uwe Reinhardt's plan, which would operate like Medicare, but not paying the same bargain rates. That makes little sense to me and doesn't do much more than add a non-profit health care provider to the space. It won't necessarily force the private market to compete on price and quality, and given that a separate set of rules would do away with pre-existing condition and rate communities with a standard price, I don't see the benefit to a neutered public option. Reinhardt's plan isn't all bad, and it's actually better than other "level playing field" options I've heard. But I question its efficacy, and think that progressives still ought to push for a real public option.

The other big fight is over budget reconciliation, allowing Congress to pass the budget, with health care embedded therein, on a party-line vote instead of it being subject to filibuster.

Under the reconciliation process, the House and the Senate first agree on an overall budget blueprint and then pursue legislation — in this case, the health care overhaul — “reconciling” the blueprint with the needed policy changes. If enough Senate Democrats support the legislation, the White House would not need a single Republican vote.

The House adopted its version of the budget with the procedural shortcut. The Senate has been reluctant to authorize it, but may ultimately follow the House’s lead as the two chambers try to work out their differences.

A health care bill written mainly or entirely by Democrats would almost surely create a new public health insurance program, to compete with private insurers. It would require employers to provide insurance to employees or contribute to its cost. Employers who already offer insurance could be required to provide more or different benefits, and Congress could limit the tax breaks now available for such employer-provided insurance.

There's actually a budget vote today that would keep the option of reconciliation alive for health care, which Democrats in the Senate appear to be ready to allow, or at least not kill for now, since the leverage from threatening it can at least get Republicans to the bargaining table. This is an option, it must be said, that is a commonly used technique by both parties over the last three decades, and does not represent anything approaching a power grab. Nevertheless, obstructionist Republicans are vowing all-out war if Democrats go the route of reconciliation.

Although Senate Democrats are far from reaching a consensus on the reconciliation issue, party leaders confirmed Wednesday that they are reserving the right to use it to pass health care reform if Republicans fail to negotiate in good faith. Senate Republicans — saying they have every intention of being a full partner in the upcoming health care negotiations — said holding reconciliation in reserve could poison the discussions, and threatened retribution.

“If they go down that road, I think the fur is going to fly,” Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. “I suspect that there is going to be an awful lot of resistance, and we will exercise our prerogatives so that the rules of the Senate are respected.” [...]

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was a member of the 2005 bipartisan “Gang of 14” that negotiated a deal on President George W. Bush’s stalled judicial nominees, said he would be willing to tap into the Senate’s parliamentary arsenal to block the majority from pursuing its agenda.

Similarly, National Republican Senatorial Committee John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) predicted that the GOP Conference would respond to Democrats’ use of reconciliation on health care with tough action.

What's comical about this is that Republicans are CURRENTLY using everything in their parliamentary arsenal to block the President and the Democratic Congress' agenda. Just today they blocked a vote on Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services Secretary, despite the fact that she has enough votes on the floor to beat a filibuster (two Republicans voted her out of committee, plus 58 Democrats). And the head of the RNC has called on Obama to withdraw Sebelius from the position, all because she supports reproductive choice, as does the President, who was elected by the American people by a wide margin. I don't know how much more Republican obstructionists could possibly slow the chamber, given the circumstances.

Meanwhile, even their leadership is off message on this. Here's Paul Ryan on reconciliation.

“It's their right. They did win the election,” said Ryan, R-Wis. “That’s what I tell all my constituents who are worried about this. They won the election. They did run on these ideas. They did run on nationalizing health care. So, you're right about that. They have the votes with reconciliation. They nailed down the process so that they can make sure they have the votes and that they can get this thing through really fast. It is their right. It is what they can do.”

More proof that the GOP is stumbling around on this health care fight, without an alternative option and without a strategy other than "block that kick." They're giving the Administration and the Democratic Congress little choice but to blow right by them, and in that case, Democrats ought to get everything they can in the absence of Republican participation.

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Shorter Arnold: It'd Be A Lot Easier If This Were A Dictatorship... As Long As I'm The Dictator

This is simply an incredible performance by Der Governator, captured by Josh Richman:

The governor went on a bit of a tirade against dissent, first talking smack about U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger’s 2007 order reducing the operation of pumps in the Delta to protect the endangered Delta Smelt, then about a three-federal-judge panel’s moves toward ordering the release of certain inmates to reduce California’s chronic and unconstitutional prison overcrowding, and then about Clark Kelso, the receiver empowered by a federal judge to demand $8 billion from the state to correct unconstitutional, decades-long underfunding prison health care.

“It’s not productive for the state to have so many chefs in the kitchen,” the governor grumped. “Those are the kinds of things that make it very difficult.”

But his ire wasn’t just directed at the federal courts. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, he said, opposes him on fiscal policy at every turn, he said: “He’s running for Congress now, so that’s good.”

And he cited state Controller John Chiang’s and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s opposition to his plans to cut state salaries last year. “How does a coach win a basketball game when all of the players are running off in different directions?” Schwarzenegger asked.

Maybe that’s why he’s so hot for Proposition 1A, which would give the governor new authority to unilaterally reduce some spending for state operations and capital outlay and eliminate some cost-of-living increases, all without legislative approval – shoo, you pesky compromises; begone, consensus! Also, maybe he’s forgetting that these federal judges’ job is to hold California to its obligations under federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and that the Democratic statewide elected officials he’s knocking are with this state’s majority party while he’s in the minority.

Now you tell me that this Governor is a good-faith operator when he seeks to grab additional executive power without legislative oversight. He's an actor used to getting his way because he has the biggest trailer on the set. And he has little use for those measly checks and balances. It's all so very American. So why not just get rid of them?

Only problem for Mr. Whiny Ass Titty Baby, nobody in the state likes him and they consider him to be a terrible steward of government. That's why they're rejecting his efforts to hamstring the state even further.

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Pecora Percolating

A little-known financial fraud bill in the Senate could be the vehicle to a wide-ranging Congressional commission to study the financial crisis and make recommendations for regulation.

The Senate signaled a willingness late Wednesday to create a select committee to investigate causes of the nation’s financial crises.

In an amendment accompanying other legislation on financial fraud, senators agreed in a voice vote to consider creation of a special commission that would delve into the roots of the collapse.

The amendment had bipartisan support from Senators Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, and Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, as well as Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and John Dorgan (it's Byron -ed.), Democrat of North Dakota. In a statement, Senator Dorgan’s office said the select committee would have full subpoena power and would not only hear testimony, but make recommendations for reforms to try to prevent future downturns of this type.

However, that vote contrasts with a separate commission voted through on the same bill, which would make the commission independent of Congress.

The Senate passed an amendment to an anti-fraud bill yesterday that would create an independent outside commission, complete with subpoena power, to investigate the causes of the crisis on Wall Street. The amendment was written by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), but was cosponsored by, among others, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) [...]

These developments comes amid high level discussions among Congressional Democrats about the creation of an internal commission--modeled on the Pecora investigation into the 1929 collapse--to investigate the key events that preceded today's financial crisis. Dodd's staff has been largely silent on the idea of an internal commission, noting that his committee has already laid the groundwork for a thoroughgoing investigation. (Interestingly, the Pecora commission was conducted under the auspices of the Senate Banking Committee, which Dodd currently chairs.)

If the bill passes both the House and Senate with both amendments in tact, then the two commission will move forward, one outside the direct control of Congress. Democratic leaders agree that an investigation of some kind is in order have indicated some flexibility as to the exact specifications of such a commissions. Among the chief concerns are whether an external commission would enjoy subpoena power (though that concern might now be allayed) and that it could be stacked with people who lack either accountability or the incentive to investigate the issue thoroughly. One could, of course, raise similar concerns about an internal commission.

Barney Frank is already pulling back legislation on regulation, presumably until this commission business is straightened out. And I think that's somewhat wise. We're only going to get one shot at decent regulations, so we'd better array all the evidence and show all the fraud in the system before we set up the new rules of the road.

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Can Meaningful Credit Card Legislation Pass Congress?

There really isn't a better populist issue for the President to take on than the issue of usurious credit card fees and rates. The industry has essentially gotten away with murder for decades, and given the populist fury whipped up on both sides of the aisle even the corporate-loving Republicans will have a hard time voting against this one.

WASHINGTON — President Obama threw his support on Thursday behind legislation that would keep banks from imposing higher fees and interest rates on credit card users, and said terms must be “written in plain language and be in plain sight.”

“The days of any-time, any-reason rate hikes and late-fee traps have to end,” the president said at the White House after meeting with top executives from the nation’s largest credit card companies, a session Mr. Obama called “constructive.”

“No more fine print, no more confusing terms and conditions,” the president said, following up on campaign pledges to try to curtail high fees and rates and chop away at the thickets of fine print in credit card statements.

The meeting came as the House was preparing to adopt new restrictions on credit cards. Lawmakers said on Thursday that they had agreed to make some amendments to the legislation that were being sought by senior White House officials. One provision would require the credit card companies to apply consumer payments first to any debt that has the highest interest rate.

This is a move they always pull. If you get behind on one payment, whatever you pay in the future only pays off the lowest-rate debt.

That would be additional to the rules that the Federal Reserve already has adopted regarding the industry. The bill codifying those rules into law, along with several other provisions, has already passed the House.

On Wednesday the House Financial Services committee overwhelmingly approved a bill that would reduce many fees and limit the ability of the credit card companies to charge penalties. The bill, sponsored by Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, was adopted 48 to 19.

The bill put into law most of the credit card restrictions adopted last year by the Federal Reserve, and also imposed some new rules on the industry. It would, for instance, prohibit the companies from marketing credit cards to minors. It also would require the companies to provide more information to regulators and permit consumers to order companies to set their credit limits at amounts lower than the card company was willing to offer.

Congressional aides said the measure could reach the House floor as early as next week, and they predicted swift passage.

A similar bill was adopted by the Senate banking committee three weeks ago, but its narrow passage and opposition from all of the committee’s Republican members indicated that it faced an uphill battle.

It's always the Senate, isn't it? Not to mention the fact that the Representatives from South Dakota and Delaware, the "offshore tax havens" of the credit card industry, aren't likely to go along with much of anything. And in the Senate they hold far more power relative to their population than they should. Unicameral legislature FTW! We'll see the limits of what the President can pull off here.

Incidentally, Carolyn Maloney, who is a great progressive fighter, is seriously considering a primary challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York. If she does it, she'll have my support.

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Actually, Americans Want To Fully End The Freeze In Relations With Cuba

So the mild steps taken by the President on Cuba were supposed to be the end of Western civilization as we know it, if you listen to talk radio, but not only are Americans, even Cuban-Americans, cool with it, but they would rather the President go even further than he's currently willing to go:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As President Barack Obama weighs the future of U.S.-Cuba relations, Americans continue to express support for closer ties. Since 1999, a majority of Americans have consistently said they favor re-establishing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba -- including 60% in a new Gallup Poll conducted after Obama's decision last week to relax some restrictions.

While Obama's move did not go as far as re-establishing full diplomatic relations with Cuba, his decision to grant Cuban-Americans rights to travel freely to Cuba and to send remittances there, and to give U.S. telecommunications companies the right to pursue business there represent a first step. On Sunday at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Obama said that America's existing policy toward Cuba isn't working and that he would welcome reciprocal moves by Cuba to put the two nations on a path toward better relations.

Over the past decade, Gallup has found Americans remarkably steadfast in their views about U.S. relations with Cuba -- particularly in regard to the U.S. trade embargo. Since 1999, Americans have been more likely to support than oppose the U.S. government's ending its trade embargo against Cuba -- with support narrowly ranging between 48% and 51%, including 51% in the new poll.

Americans more widely support ending restrictions on travel to Cuba -- with 64% in favor.

What's notable is how remarkably stable these numbers have been for a decade. The people are far ahead of the politicians on this one, recoginizing that a fifty-year embargo has done nothing but put the Cuban people into poverty while not affecting their leaders or the changes sought in their policies.

I support the first step that Obama has done, but agree with the majority of Americans that he could do more. Let's see how the Cuban government reacts.

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The Rump Party

This DKos poll about secession just about sums up the state of the Republican Party these days.

Do you think Texas would be better off as an independent nation or as part of the United States of America?

US: 61
Independent nation: 35

Democrats: US 82, Ind 15
Republicans: US 48, Ind 48
Independents: US 55, Ind 40

Do you approve or disapprove of Governor Rick Perry's suggestion that Texas may need to leave the United States?

Approve: 37
Disapprove: 58

Democrats: Approve 16, Disapprove 80
Republicans: Approve 51, Disapprove 44
Independents: Approve 43, Disapprove 50

I mean, this is the definition of patriotism. And you have half of Texas Republicans who would rather split from the union than live in a hellscape where the top marginal tax rate is several points below what it was under Ronald Reagan. They are officially the Party of Crazy, and only grow worse with each day. Texan John Cornyn (wonder what side of the divide he lands on) is actively encouraging far-right Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, someone who cannot possibly win a primary. Yglesias writes:

This is all reminiscent of the 2008 Virginia Senate race, which I think never got enough attention. You had a longstanding conservative state that had been trending blue. And you had a very strong Democratic candidate in Mark Warner. And you had one and only one possible Republican nominee who would have stood a chance to beat Warner in moderate Representative Tom Davis. But not only did the Virginia GOP decline to nominate Davis, they actually changed the rules by which the nominee is picked to stack the deck against Davis. The result was a totally noncompetitive senate race. The Republicans just fronted the Democrats a Republican-held Senate seat. And Davis decided to retire, thus leaving his House seat open to be nabbed by a Democrat as well. It was staggeringly self-defeating move. And now they’re set to do it again in Pennsylvania

It seems a bit like overconfidence, but how could a movement that’s clearly on the ropes be feeling overconfident.

Overconfident... or just in a death spiral.

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Dragging It Out

Jim Tedisco found a judge willing to enable his now-quixotic quest to get into Congress:

ALBANY—The ballot-counting in the race to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in Congress will likely go on for a long time, in light of a court ruling just issued.

Judge James Brands declined to set a specific standard regarding valid residency, and said that objections lodged on the basis of ballot applications will, indeed, stand. While Democrat Scott Murphy leads Jim Tedisco by 273 votes, according to the latest official tally, there are some 1,800 votes left uncounted.

This ruling favors the Tedisco camp—or at least buys them time.

Actually, buying them time is the end goal, I would say. The vote count is up to a 365-vote lead for Murphy now, meaning that practically everyone that Tedisco says should be disqualified would need to be for Tedisco to win. Somehow I doubt that.

Meanwhile, a top Tedisco staffer stole $32,500 from a New York State Assembly campaign account to pay for his own legal bills. Just in case you wanted to know what a Congressman Tedisco tenure would look like.

...Now Panic at Tedisco is trying to challenge Sam Seder's ballot. I draw the line at people I was in student films with 15 years ago. How dare YOU, sir!

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CA-10: Exclusive Calitics Interview With Anthony Woods

The race to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher in Congress received a jolt yesterday with the announcement of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi that he expects to be a candidate for that seat. And just today, Joan Buchanan has decided to enter the race as well. But these are not the only candidate poised to jump into the race. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Woods, a young West Point graduate who served two tours as a platoon leader in Iraq. Woods was born in the district on Travis AFB in Fairfield, to a single mother who worked as a housekeeper. He was raised in the area, and after his stint at West Point, he volunteered and took command of two separate platoons that shipped out to Iraq, once in 2004-05 and again in 2005-06, engaging in service for which he received the Bronze Star. Returning to the states, he took graduate studies in public policy at the Kennedy School for Government at Harvard, and in his second year, he entered into a relationship that made him realize the absurdity of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Tired of shutting down his gay identity and hiding himself, he came out to his commander - "I wasn't going to lie about it anymore" - kicking off a lengthy investigative process that resulted in an honorable discharge (for "moral and professional dereliction of duty") in December 2008. Woods was also forced to pay back his education benefits. (A full bio on Anthony Woods can be found here.)

Here is someone willing to serve his country, able to perform honorably on the battlefield, yet because of his identity as a gay American cannot be a member of the military. The insanity of this official policy has been well-documented around here. What is striking about Woods is that he foregrounds the concept of service instead of the injustice of the policy, and would rather not dwell on that incident but instead find a new way to serve. He is close to making a decision on whether to enter the 10th District race, and on the flip, you can read a paraphrase of the rest of my interview with him.

Calitics: I suppose there's a tension between having this incredibly compelling story and not wanting to be pigeonholed into being "the gay candidate" or the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" candidate. How will you smooth over that tension, if you choose to run?

Anthony Woods: I think it's much more important to the people of this district that I didn't have health care until I was 18 years old. I believe the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy is wrong, and I won't shy away from taking strong stands, but I don't want to be seen as a single issue candidate. All of my life experience will help me, from being raised by a single mother to not having health care to having to strive for a good education to my experience with veteran's aftercare to my service in Iraq.

Calitics: Let's talk about Iraq for a second. You served two tours there. What do you think of the President's policy, to honor the status of forces agreement and commit to a full withdrawal of all forces by the end of 2011? Is that too soon, not soon enough?

AW: I think the President's policy is right on point. The end of 2011 gives us enough time to wind down this war. I didn't support the war from the beginning - I entered the conflict to bring my platoon home and to serve my country. In 2008, at my commencement address at Harvard I questioned the war and some people didn't like that. But I have always believed that the longer we stayed, the longer we would delay that sense of urgency among the Iraqis to make the choices necessary to take responsibility for their country. So setting a definite timeline of leaving will provide that internal pressure for the Iraqis to reconcile.

Calitics: The Senate Armed Services Committee released their long report about interrogation tactics by the military, and this is the latest in a series of disturbing disclosures about torture. How do these reports make you feel, as someone who served, and what do you think ought to be done in the name of accountability?

AW: You know, I first got to Iraq shortly after the revelations at Abu Ghraib, right after our reputation in Iraq and around the world was sullied. The tactics undertaken by the previous Administration directly put me and my soldiers at risk. They did not make us safer at all. I'm glad that the President put the memos out there, so we can all see the truth. At first I agreed with the decision of the President not to go after CIA personnel who followed orders they believed to be legal by the Justice Department, but with the more facts that come out, I think there's a major need for accountability. Someone needs to have a reckoning for these actions committed in our name. I'm very big on accountability and trust.

Calitics: Have you made a final decision yet on running in this race?

AW: I haven't made a final decision, but I'm real close. If I do decide to run, I will make this race about issues that are personal to me. The challenges we face today are not new, you can see them over the last 30 years. The struggles I faced early in life are the same struggles families are facing right now. The fact that I didn't have health insurance until I was 18, or that my mom's premiums are skyrocketing today, these are all the same problems. And I think there's a need for some new leadership around them.

Calitics; Let's talk about health care, since you have personal attachments to the issue. What would you like to see in a major health care reform?

AW: I support universal health care with a public option. I would like to see an increase in SCHIP to cover all children, an early buy-in for Medicare, maybe at 55 years of age, and subsidies for those in the middle, so they can purchase quality health insurance. And everyone should have that public option so that they don't have to rely on a private insurer that may deny them coverage for a pre-existing condition. I think this is a major issue for families, but also a huge issue for businesses, who have such a burden of health care costs that it's stopping them from being competitive.

Calitics: How has you experience with the VA system colored your sense of this issue:

AW: Very much so. Veteran's aftercare is in kind of an ugly state right now, so I wouldn't want to model the VA system completely. But I do think we can address a lot of the bureaucratic slowness in that system and apply it to the overall health reform.

Calitics: Another big issue we're seeing debated in congress is energy. The legislation being debated in Congress right now is massive, and includes renewable energy standards, cap and trade, etc. I don't want you to have to summarize the whole thing, but what parts of energy policy are important to you?

AW: You know, having been to Iraq, I would say it's not out of the question that a big reason why we were over there instead of other trouble spots in the world is because of their oil reserves. The case can be made. And so I would like to stress that our national security is tied up with our energy security. We have to move beyond the dependence on fossil fuels like oil. Offshore drilling is just a band-aid, it will not solve the problem. I think we have to look to other sources of energy like wind and solar and biodiesel, and it's crucial to our national security in the future.

Calitics: One thing I see not mentioned in these debates is the need for more livable communities, so that people don't have to commute such long distances to get from home to work. The 10th has a lot of bedroom communities, do you think smart growth and livable communities make sense?

AW: Since I left the district, I've lived in places like Boston and Washington, DC, where there is a major focus on public transportation and mass transit. California definitely needs to focus on that, and we need that right here in this community. I also like what you're saying about smart growth. We can build commercial space closer to where people live, and through information technology we can increase telecommuting. There are a whole number of ways to decrease commute times and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to invest in things like high speed rail, in infrastructure projects that also have the added benefit of aiding our environment. Obama did a good job in that aspect in the stimulus package.

Calitics: Last question. Obviously, there's a lot of attention in this race, from the likes of State Senators and State Assemblymembers and even the Lieutenant Governor of California. You've never held elected office. What will be your pitch to people in the 10th to give you the opportunity to serve?

AW: We're at a time when we're frustrated with the solutions we have, but we keep sending the same politicians back to Washington to work on those solutions. That doesn't make sense to me. I have respect for everyone who will be in this race, but these are old problems that have not been solved by the same people. It's time for a fresh perspective, and new energy, and a new generation of leadership. That's what I believe we saw with Obama's election last year, and that's what I think people are still wanting to see. And while I think that elected office is obviously important experience, I'm also coming at this with a different set of experiences. I was a platoon leader in Iraq, I have taken strong stands in my life, things that cost me personally. I have dealt with the health care system, the veterans aftercare system, the education system. I believe I am ready to serve this district with courageous leadership drawing on my personal experiences.

Calitics: Thanks for your time.

AW: Thank you.

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Only If You Ignore The Law

The LA Times prints the opinion of a few legal minds and decides that it would be impossible to prosecute lawyers for their legal opinions authorizing torture.

First, the lawyers would have to be shown to have deliberately misinterpreted the law against torture.

"It would be a real stretch. As long as they thought they were honestly interpreting the [anti-torture] law, they are not criminal conspirators," said Stephen A. Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and a former prosecutor. "They may be bad lawyers who gave extremely bad advice," he said, but that is not a crime [...]

In this instance, a prosecutor would have to show that Yoo or Bybee intentionally misstated the anti-torture law. "Given the somewhat subjective basis for almost all legal analysis, I don't know how you would ever prove that," said Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer and onetime counsel to former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr.

"You would have to show they knowingly gave bogus advice," said Peter Zeidenberg, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department's public integrity unit. "Theoretically, you could do it, but only if you had evidence they knew that's what they were really doing."

Legal experts said they would see the matter differently if the focus was on war crimes and international law.

Except, you know, the focus IS on war crimes and international law, which these torture memo writers expressly disobeyed. Even in the Bradbury memo of 2005, he admits that this country condemns the use of these techniques when employed by other countries.

The United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries. Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned appear to bear some resemblance to CIA interrogation techniques [...]

The State Department’s inclusion of nudity, water dousing, sleep deprivation, and food deprivation among the conduct it condemns is significant and provides some indication of an executive foreign relations tradition condemning the use of these techniques.

The reason we condemn those acts of torture (and thank you John Boehner for finally calling it that) is because they are illegal, and when practiced by our own leaders we have an obligation to hold those who authorized and directed torture accountable.

many people, such as Scott Horton, have argued that prosecutions of Bush DOJ lawyers who authorized torture find precedent in the Nuremberg prosecutions (as part of the Justice Case) of German lawyers who also declared various war crimes to be legal. International law professor Kevin Jon Heller -- who questioned the applicability of that precedent -- today writes about a separate set of prosecutions by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, as part of The Ministries Case, in which German officials were prosecuted for doing nothing other than stating, when asked, that they had no objection to the deportation of 5,000 Jews from France. Those officials, who were convicted at Nuremberg, did not order the deportation or carry it out; rather, they merely failed, when asked, to object to the policy on the ground that it violated international law. Professor Heller argues that this case provides an almost perfect precedent for holding OLC torture-authorizing officials accountable (emphasis in original):

The parallels between the Foreign Office’s role in the SS deportations and the OLC’s role in the CIA’s torture regime are uncanny. Nothing is lost if we simply substitute "Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury" for "Woermann and von Weizsaecker," "OLC" for "Foreign Office," and "torture" for "deportations."

Indeed, in one critical respect, the case against the authors of the OLC memos is even stronger than the case against von Weizsaecker and Woermann. The latter’s criminal participation in the deportations consisted solely of omissions -- failing to point out that the deportations violated international law. The former’s criminal participation in the CIA’s torture regime, by contrast, consists of both acts and omissions, because Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury not only failed to point out that the torture regime violated international law (and US law, as well), they crafted legal arguments to conceal the illegality of that regime.

Now, you can argue, like McCain, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, that poor legal advice is not a crime, but you would be at odds with international law and precedent. At the very, very least, kep architects of the torture regime shouldn't still have a job in the US Government, or as a federal judge with a lifetime appointment. But ruling out prosecutions as impractical just rules out the law itself.

I'll throw in a last plug for my petition to have the California Democratic Party pass a resolution to impeach Jay Bybee from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I have 4,420 signatures on the petition already, and I will present them at the Resolutions Committee tomorrow.

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They're Smearing Dawn Johnsen

Sen. Specter is whacking off on the Senate floor about some bills of his on limiting executive power. And yet he refuses to move forward on confirming a Justice Department nominee who would be the leading critic inside the executive branch on executive power, and with the power to limit it besides.

President Barack Obama's nomination of an Indiana University law professor to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel is meeting stiff resistance in the Senate, stalled for a month by Republicans who say she's a polarizing figure because she aggressively criticized the Bush administration's legal rationale on torturing terrorism suspects and radical in her views on abortion rights.

Dawn Johnsen's nomination made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, but the Senate's Democratic leadership has yet to schedule a final floor vote on her confirmation.

"I think she's in real trouble," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. "From what I'm picking up from consensus, she's got a problem." [...]

Senior Senate aides say there is no single senator holding up Johnsen's nomination. But they acknowledge that efforts to bring her up for a vote now would likely be blocked procedurally.

Johnsen and her supporters are trying to change that. She's met with Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican. Specter passed on voting for or against moving her nomination out of committee. He said Wednesday that he hasn't decided yet how he would vote if her nomination goes to the floor.

Sheldon Whitehouse, Dawn Johnsen's greatest defender, says he'll be ready if conservatives try to move on a filibuster. But it's people like Specter, claiming to be concerned about executive power while opposing the woman who would be his biggest ally in that fight, that kills me.

Christy Hardin Smith sums up the conservative smear job on Johnsen:

What's Cornyn's real beef -- and that of the GOP establishment? That Dawn supports the rule of law. That she takes the job and her responsibilities in it seriously, meaning that she isn't the sort of person who puts shortcuts and shading to further personal ambitions ahead of doing the right thing and following the written precedents.

In other words, unlike some people, Dawn isn't the kind of gal who can be bought off or shut up. And Cornyn no likey that. This is all about GOP CYA and the kabuki to cover it.

Why is OLC important? I'll let ACS' Peter Shane explain:

Perhaps the most important reason we have government lawyers is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” even when laws are ambiguous and especially when no one is looking. If the rule of law is to have any meaning, government lawyers playing an advisory function must take a relatively objective stance....It is critical that government lawyers remember that their “client” is the American people, and not the ephemeral roster of incumbent federal officer holders.

There it is in a nutshell: putting the public interest ahead of political kabuki. Hence the fear and stall tactics from Cornyn and company:

The pressure to kill the Johnsen nomination may become even stronger now that President Obama has released more OLC memos detailing the CIA’s abusive interrogation tactics last week.

Let's not let them get away with it. The stakes are too high.

I don't know that this is even about Johnsen. The GOP just wants a victory.

Christy has a list of Senators you can call about this. Please do so.

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Haggling With Taxpayer-Owned Companies

This is a maddening enough situation when you isolate it, but keep in mind that the government has kept these same banks afloat with hundreds of billions of dollars in capital.

The Obama administration has entered a tense showdown with several of the nation’s largest banks that appears likely to determine whether Chrysler survives.

Last week the Treasury Department, which runs President Obama’s automobile task force, presented banks holding $6.9 billion in Chrysler’s secured debt with a plan under which they would get about 15 cents on the dollar, or about $1 billion.

That is roughly the trading level of Chrysler debt in recent days, a reflection of Mr. Obama’s declaration that the firm is not viable on its own, and must put together a partnership with Fiat or go out of business [...]

On Monday the banks, led by JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, rejected the administration’s plan outright, with some of the debtholders arguing that they would rather break up Chrysler and sell its assets — notably its Jeep brand — because they believed that they would receive more money selling the assets than they were being offered by the administration.

The lenders offered 65 cents on the dollar and a 40% stake in Chrysler, and the government has now counter-offered with 22 cents and a 5% stake in the reorganized company. The union is sitting on the sidelines at this point.

Can I just re-emphasize how ridiculous this is? For all practical purposes, we own the banks that are haggling with us. And this isn't the only area in which the banks are using our money to show leverage over our government. Among the millions of dollars in political lobbying, the banksters are stopping progress on consumer bills:

The banks have made it difficult for Congressional Democrats and the White House to give stretched homeowners a stronger hand in negotiating lower monthly payments on mortgages and to prevent credit card companies from imposing higher fees and interest rates.

Having won some early skirmishes by teaming with Republican allies, the banks now appear to have the upper hand and may wind up killing — or at least substantially diluting — both pro-consumer measures.

I don't think they'll stop the credit card bill - the President has personally stepped in on that one and I expect a decent bill to pass, the way it did yesterday - but cram-down does look dead, with key Democrats jumping ship. James Kwak correctly sources my anger.

The banks leading the charge over Chrysler: JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. The banks opposed to cram-downs: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The banks blocking credit card protections: American Express, Bank of America, Capital One Financial, Citigroup, Discover Financial Services, and JPMorgan Chase. All or almost all are bailout beneficiaries. But don’t blame them: they’re just doing what they can to maximize their profits at the expense of the taxpayer, which is perfectly legal (and even ethical, depending on your conception of shareholder rights). Instead, you should be wondering why they are in a position to be maximizing profits at the taxpayer’s expense.

If you’re Tim Geithner or Barack Obama, you’re probably thinking that now would be a nice time to have a controlling interest in these banks so they would stop blocking your efforts to help the rest of the economy. But the government has consistently bent over backward to avoid gaining control over the banks. It began with Henry Paulson (Bush administration) taking non-convertible, non-voting preferred shares last October; it continued with the Citigroup and Bank of America bailouts in November and January (during the transition period), in which the banks got underpriced asset insurance in exchange for more non-voting shares; and it peaked in the third Citigroup bailout in February, when the Obama administration insisted on forcing other investors to convert preferred shares into common, precisely to avoid getting a majority stake.

If the government had simply accepted the ordinary consequences of its actions - majority ownership - it would at least not have to plead for favors from Citigroup and Bank of America, who desperately needed help on any terms the government chose to dictate. Arguably JPMorgan and Wells are in a different situation, since the government was never in a position to buy a majority stake, and they are claiming they only took TARP money as an act of patriotic solidarity. But leaving aside TARP capital, the government has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the financial system - guarantees on money market funds, increased guarantees on deposits, guarantees on bank debt, massive programs to lend against or purchase securities, not to mention the AIG bailout conduit - without which none of these banks would be in a position to make a profit. Yet it has left the banks in a position to capture the entire surplus from its actions, without getting the kind of concessions that would come in handy now.

When government takes its own tools away from itself, this is the consequence - a society governed by oligarchs.

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They're Reframing Torture

Greg Sargent is right - the media has managed to find a "he said, she said" entryway into the torture debate by focusing on the irrelevant data point of whether or not torture works. It doesn't - ask Bush's FBI Director - but turning this into a debate humanizes the tactic, turning it into some option that's open to reasonable disagreement instead of a universally rejected, illegal action. We don't have a debate over whether stealing from rich investors through a Ponzi scheme "worked." It's illegal and that's the end of the story. Here's Sargent:

This is precisely what Cheney and other Bushies want the debate to be about: Whether torture has stopped terror attacks, as opposed to whether it’s moral, or detrimental to America’s global image, or a boon to Al Qaeda recruitment, or whether the architects of the policy broke the law and should be prosecuted.

The Bushies want this question — “did torture stave off terror attacks and save lives?” — hovering in the air. There’s plenty of evidence that torture hasn’t worked at all and has done more harm than good. Even some former Bush administration officials have conceded it hasn’t done anything to stop terror attacks.

But it’s easy for the Cheney camp to muddy the waters and turn this into a matter of debate by citing unspecified classified info that supposedly supports the claim that it has saved lives — info that we’ll never see. Having the debate focused this way also lays the groundwork for the Cheney camp to say “I told you so” in the event of another terror attack.

And not only do sadists like Bill O'Reilly enable this misdirected debate, but useful idiots like Andrea Mitchell.

The law never asks if what the lawbreakers have done "worked." The law follows the law to its conclusion. A debate about the efficacy of torturing human beings debases everyone who participates in it. It mainstreams these vile actions. Eric Holder has this exactly right.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that he would "follow the law" as he weighed potential prosecutions of Bush administration officials who authorized controversial harsh interrogation techniques [...]

"We are going to follow the evidence, follow the law and take that where it leads. No one is above the law," Holder said at an Earth Day event.

...I can't believe I'm saying this, but what Shepard Smith said.

On's online show The Strategy Room, Smith took his opposition to a whole other level. "We are America!" he shouted, slamming his hand on the table. "I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are AMERICA! We do not fucking torture!!"

...I should add that the NYT also ran a powerful op-ed today from Ali Soufan, an FBI special agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah before the CIA decided to take the gloves off, who avers that "there was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics." I still say it's a false debate.

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Burton Out-One-Lines The One-Liners

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Budget Reform Now group released their first TV ad yesterday, full of buzzwords and bullet points ("Hold the politicians accountable!") and admitting that the package includes a "spending limit," which is certainly further than the Democratic legislative leadership has been willing to go. But as one-line summations of the election goes, you can't get much better than future chair of the CDP John Burton, who took a pass on giving his specific voting choices for May 19, but who uttered this classic quip:

In any case, pressed on the question of whether his lifelong bleeding heart liberalism would allow him to back some of the permanent budget cuts that would result if Prop. 1A is passed, Mr. Almost Chairman responded with a classic Burtonism:

“I think when it’s all over, the ones getting fucked will be the poor people.”

Now, I could give you the charts showing how spending will be forced down and payments to the reserve fund mandated even in bad budget years, or offer the example of TABOR's spending cap in Colorado, which was disastrous. And I could follow you through the contours of this bad public policy and how it does nothing to relieve the structural problems that can get California out of the ditch. But I cannot improve upon that line. I've been critical of Burton in the past, based on the need for forward-thinking strategies at the CDP, but I've never questioned his liberalism. And you have to give him the credit for this, er, bon mot.

Now who will have the guts to put it on a mailer?

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Iraq Still A Dangerous Place

Two major bombings in Iraq, among the biggest this year, show that stability in Iraq remains a long way off. The Iraqis reportedly captured Abu Omar al-Baghdadi today, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the important part of that would be that the Iraqis did the capturing. But the bombings today show that leaders can cycle in and out as long as the breadth of the insurgent movement remains. Unfortunately we have not seen the political reconciliation necessary to bring about real and lasting stability.

The selection of a critic of Nouri al-Maliki as the Speaker of Iraq's Parliament could perhaps lead to that reconciliation, as Maliki has little other choice to get his agenda passed. However, the last speaker was something of a critic as well. So the problems still stew. We need to remain on track in Iraq, because our leaving, and maybe only our leaving, will spur the kind of compromises needed to end the chaos once and for all.

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Slaps Five With Other Dudes Back At The Frat House

Joe Barton thinks he stumped a Nobel Prize winner with his question straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

This was my favorite response video. Someone took the time to upload this to YouTube and I'm glad they did:

The sideshow that is the GOP continues; outsmarted by a piece of paper.

Incidentally, if you want to read an actual smart person's smart comments, here.

...Brad Johnson actually offers the science on this.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Building A Fact Pattern

I don't think you can debate whether or not to have an investigation on the Bush torture regime anymore, because the investigation is happening regardless. Jeffrey Smith and Peter Finn advance the ball in an article for tomorrow's paper. Little of this is new, but given the new revelations of the past week, it sets itself in proper context.

Condoleezza Rice, John D. Ashcroft and at least 10 other top Bush officials reviewed and approved as early as the summer of 2002 the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods on detainees at secret prisons, including waterboarding that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has described as illegal torture, according to a detailed timeline furnished by Holder to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

At a moment when the Justice Department is deciding whether former officials who set interrogation policy or formulated the legal justifications for it should be investigated for committing crimes, the new timeline lists the members of the Bush administration who were present when the CIA's director and its general counsel explained exactly which questioning methods were to be used and how those sessions proceeded.

Rice gave a key early approval, when, as Bush's national security adviser, she met on July 17, 2002, with the CIA's then-director, George J. Tenet, and "advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaydah," subject to approval by the Justice Department, according to the timeline. Rice and four other White House officials had been briefed two months earlier on "alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding," it states. Waterboarding is a technique that simulates drowning.

A year later, in July 2003, the CIA briefed Rice, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Attorney General Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other techniques, it states. They "reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy."

This is the kind of article that results from the authors putting a bunch of index cards on the wall and moving them around. It's what Marcy Wheeler does best. And it suggests that the major news organizations are mapping this out and taking a long look at every granule of information.

By the way, Condi Rice gave that approval two weeks before the Bybee memo allowing the CIA to move forward on torturing Abu Zubaydah. She could have stopped this irrespective of the legal underpinnings. She had two months to determine whether waterboarding, a technique used since the Spanish Inquisition, was torture. She chose not to, and now she must be held to account as well.

I know the President doesn't want the responsibility for future investigations. He apparently quashed the idea of a Presidential-level Torture Commission. But he cannot stop the wheels now in motion. Congress will have their crack at an investigation, and the media will return to the issue. The Attorney General will have to make his own independent judgment. And the truth may yet out.

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"Then We Realized We ARE Getting Paid Off!"

Read beyond the headline on this one:

Lockheed Martin will not spend any more time and effort trying to overturn Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision to halt production of F-22 Raptor fighter jets, a top company official said Tuesday.

After making a vigorous case for the F-22 with Gates, other senior Pentagon officials and Congress in recent months, Lockheed plans to move on and meet its commitments for other major defense programs such as the F-35 joint strike fighter.

"We had our chance to lobby this matter," Bruce Tanner, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said in a quarterly conference call with financial analysts.

"We think we had a full hearing of that discussion," Tanner said. "We are disappointed by the decisions, but we will accept those and go on."

I don't know if you've ever seen the military-industrial complex in action over the past 50 years or so, but they frequently, um, don't take "no" for an answer. So the idea that they had a serious debate on the merits and came up short doesn't scan. But it does, if you add this additional information:

Loren Thompson, a staunch F-22 advocate with the Lexington Institute, said Lockheed officials realized that their company stands to benefit more than any major contractor from Gates’ defense-spending plans, including a decision to accelerate work on the F-35 [...]

Lockheed’s biggest program, the $300 billion F-35 joint strike fighter being developed in Fort Worth, is designated for $3 billion or more in additional funding in 2010 under the Gates plan to increase the pace of flight testing and production work.

The liberal supporters of Bob Gates' transformation strategy always seem to leave out the fact that it's a lateral strategy. Lockheed's going to do just fine under this new management. And the military budget will remain as bloated as ever.

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The Rogue's Gallery

Chris Matthews has Jon Ensign dancing on the head of a pin today, as he tries to distinguish between Gitmo and the exact same techniques and abuses at Abu Ghraib, as he tries to dismiss the Senate Armed Services Committee document as a "Democrat (sic) report" when the ranking member, one John McCain, signed off on it, claiming that the intelligence gained through torture stopped "a terrorist attack in California" when that attack was allegedly thwarted a year before KSM was captured, etc. It's just not worth the breath of the argument, though seeing the Republican Party become The Party of Torture right before our eyes just pushes them further into a cocoon of irrelevance.

What concerns me is whether or not we'll see any accountability for the architects of torture. Let's start with the California Two, Jay Bybee and John Yoo, one who has burrowed into the federal judiciary, the other who has no problem defending his discredited, insane theories of executive power. Yoo held a public event yesterday, in the middle of this:

At a spirited forum Tuesday at (Chapman University), Yoo, who was the author of much of the legal rationale for using waterboarding and other severe interrogation techniques, defended his legal guidance as correct and necessary to protect the nation.

"Three thousand of our fellow citizens had been killed in a deliberate attack by a foreign enemy," Yoo, unruffled by shouts that he is a war criminal and should be in jail, told a packed auditorium on the Orange County campus. "That forced us in the government to have to consider measures to gain information using presidential constitutional provisions to protect the country from further attack."

In a war with a non-state enemy that doesn't follow international law, getting information from captured combatants is vital, Yoo said, contending that 50% of U.S. intelligence about Al Qaeda was gleaned from interrogations.

"Was it worth it?" he asked, brushing off the reproachful reaction. "We haven't had an attack in more than seven years."

Correlation is not causation, and anyway, terrorism has of course skyrocketed worldwide since 9/11. John Yoo is a moral reprobate who would subvert the Constitution to use techniques that have not made us safer, have endangered our relations with allies, and quite simply violated both domestic and international law, not to mention the conscience of the sane. After the DoJ IG report, which I suspect will denounce his flawed reasoning, he should be disbarred.

Bybee burrowed into the federal judiciary so he won't go public on these issues, but for much the same reasons he ought to be impeached. John Dean doesn't seem to think it could happen, because of the precedent set by Justice Chase over "impeaching and removing an office holder for his or her official opinions", but other legal scholars disagree, and in this case, Nuremberg precedent shows that those opinions constitute a violation of war crimes statutes.

Moving on, we have a key architect, John Rizzo at the CIA, still working for the Obama Administration.

John Rizzo, the man who worked with both Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury to pre-authorize torture, is still being paid by you and me to make sure that the CIA follows the law.

As the SASC report notes, Rizzo is the man who provided the list of torture techniques to Jay Bybee for inclusion in the memo--the key link in turning SERE techniques into torture.

"According to Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, the techniques that the OLC analyzed in the Second Bybee memo were provided by his office. In his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. Rizzo stated that his office was 'the vehicle' for getting the interrogation practices analyzed in the Second Bybee memo to the Department of Justice."

That information that Rizzo gave to OLC were a bunch of lies, by the way, and to the extent that they mitigated OLC opinions over torture, he certainly is implicated in designing the torture regime. How does he still hold a job in this executive branch?

Jane Mayer cites a couple other culprits for us:

The Levin report provides some new details. On April 16, 2002—a couple weeks after Zubaydah’s capture, and three and a half months before the Bybee memo—a military psychologist named Dr. Bruce Jessen was already circulating a blueprint for cruelly coercive interrogations based on torture methods used by Chinese Communist forces during the Korean War. The report describes Jessen’s blueprint as a “draft exploitation plan” for U.S.-held captives. (I wrote about Dr. Jessen’s partner, James Mitchell, in the July 11, 2005, issue of The New Yorker.)

By June 2002—again, months before the Department of Justice gave the legal green light for interrogations—an F.B.I. special agent on the scene of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah refused to participate in what he called “borderline torture,” according to a D.O.J. investigation cited in the Levin report. Soon after, F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller commanded his personnel to stay away from the C.I.A.’s coercive interrogations.

What did the F.B.I. see in the spring of 2002? And exactly who was involved? How high up was this activity authorized? Is it off-limits for criminal investigation?

There are plenty of new names and details in the Armed Services Committee report, including a scene of two military men teaching the C.I.A. how to use Chinese torture techniques. One of the instructors, Joseph Witsch, played the “beater,” while the other, Gary Percival, became the “beatee.” By the mid-summer of 2002, beating was no longer just an academic exercise. Precisely when these tactics were used on live captives, and at what point top Bush officials endorsed them, may be a matter of serious interest to Attorney General Eric Holder.

The list goes on and on. And we should follow the lead of Dick Cheney and offer full disclosure, and then let the chips fall where they may. And that includes prosecution.

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