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

Saturday, May 02, 2009

You're Missing One

The Yacht Party's public relations staff scored a coup by getting one of their press releases into print about those mean, nasty legislators spending all our tax dollars. Now, it turns out that some of the cost-cutting measures put forward by these Republicans have a bit of merit. But it's all a matter of scale. These measures would produce savings in the millions of dollars, which is a lot to the individual blogger who really welcomes your donations (hint, hint), but not so much to a nation-state of 38 million. However, missing from the litany in this article is any measure that would actually put a dent in the budget crisis, like a broader-based sales tax that captures what people consume. AB178, which was also squashed this week, could have added anything from $2 billion-$5 billion to the General Fund. In other words, it would take more than 1,000 bills of the likes of Jeff Denham's AB44, to abolish the Integrated Waste Management Board, to have the impact of Nancy Skinner's AB178. But million and billion sound alike, so the Waste Management Board bill gets in the paper, while the squashing of the bill that would raise almost as much as Prop. 1C all by itself gets... nothing.

More of the essentially conservative slant of the media.

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"The Boston gig's canceled. It's OK, it's not a big college town."

I'm finding the Ian Faith logic in noted diaper-wearing Senator David Vitter's decision to put a hold on Craig Fugate's nomination to helm FEMA. It's not like Louisiana has any need for a working FEMA director. Not at the start of hurricane season, anyway.

By the way, if you think this is about the Louisiana Senator having serious concerns about FEMA response to natural disasters in the New Orleans area, well, no, it's about flood insurance and development.

Vitter's fellow Louisiana senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, backs Fugate. She said, however, that she understands Vitter's concerns, which apparently relate to FEMA's maps of controversial "high-velocity flood zones," a designation related to coastal areas that are at high risk in a hurricane or an area that faces significant risk in the event of a flood. Federal regulations currently prohibit FEMA from funding new construction in such zones, and Louisiana officials want more flexibility.

"When we all understand the problems with a particular nominee, we can all work to address those issues," Landrieu said in a statement.

FEMA doesn't actually want to have to constantly address emergencies, and rebuild homes and businesses in areas which might not be sustainable. And they simply don't want to add to the mess by funding new development in areas that will obviously flood again. But development whores like Vitter and Landrieu don't see a problem with it. Some communities are developed enough that moving them is impractical; New Orleans comes to mind. We have to come to terms with the fact that, in an age of climate change, there are certain parts of this country in which it makes sense not to build. That requires political leadership. Which is sorely lacking in Louisiana.

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Exponential Movement

I always expected American attitudes against gay marriage to fade as young people who clearly support gay rights matured and the older people who don't, well, reach their end. I didn't expect that change to come so rapidly.

It's a country, in short, in which no fixed ideological orthodoxy holds sway, and attitudes on hot-button issues can and do shift over time, sometimes in surprising ways.

Take gay marriage, legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut and now Iowa, with Vermont coming aboard in September. At its low, in 2004, just 32 percent of Americans favored gay marriage, with 62 percent opposed. Now 49 percent support it versus 46 percent opposed -- the first time in ABC/Post polls that supporters have outnumbered opponents.

More than half, moreover -- 53 percent -- say gay marriages held legally in another state should be recognized as legal in their states.

The surprise is that the shift has occurred across ideological groups. While conservatives are least apt to favor gay marriage, they've gone from 10 percent support in 2004 to 19 percent in 2006 and 30 percent now -- overall a 20-point, threefold increase, alongside a 13-point gain among liberals and 14 points among moderates. (Politically, support for gay marriage has risen sharply among Democrats and independents alike, while far more slightly among Republicans.)

Americans also seem to be more supportive of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, which truly is a sea change. As the article said, the "close the border" crowd still has some cachet, however, and just half support banning torture of terrorism subjects in all cases. Those are a function of conservative demagoguery and cultural demonization - it's striking that this isn't working when it comes to gay marriage.

The AP's Liz Sidoti even claims that Democrats have an opportunity on gay rights as support grows.

In recent weeks, Vermont and Iowa have legalized same-sex marriage, while New York, Maine and New Hampshire have taken steps in that direction. Polls show younger Americans are far are more tolerant on the issue than are older generations. For now at least, the public is much more focused on the troubled economy and two wars than on social issues.

In addition, over the past decade, public acceptance of gay marriage has changed dramatically.

It's the passage of Prop. 8 in California driving a lot of this, I feel. That slap in the face sparked a real movement with lots of activism that added to the national trend. It urged immediate action in other states, as activism in California bled over into other states. We're now seeing a national marriage equality movement, and I don't think Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine would have necessarily scheduled legislation without it. And when legislation passes, minds really do change. Because along with that legislation comes a debate, and when more and more states offer gay marriage in a legal process, you see more images of people who love each other, who don't deserve scorn. And even more minds change.

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Nice Government You've Got There, Be A Shame If Something Happened To It

The Pakistani Army, rousted from their slumber and their preoccupation with India, have finally started moving against the internal threat of the Taliban, with battles continuing to rage. One would think this represents a turning of the corner in Pakistan, a show that the government can be responsive to pressure. Nevertheless, the US has cast about for new options, which is interesting, given that Pakistan is a sovereign nation.

As American confidence in the Pakistani government wanes, the Obama administration is reaching out more directly than before to Nawaz Sharif, the chief rival of Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, administration officials said Friday.

American officials have long held Mr. Sharif at arm’s length because of his close ties to Islamists in Pakistan, but some Obama administration officials now say those ties could be useful in helping Mr. Zardari’s government to confront the stiffening challenge by Taliban insurgents.

The move reflects the heightened concern in the Obama administration about the survivability of the Zardari government. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the United States Central Command, has said in private meetings in Washington that Pakistan’s government is increasingly vulnerable, according to administration officials.

It's an improvement to consider the views of people who may have the support of the local population, and not reject them because "we don't negotiate with terrorists" or whatever. But Pakistan does have a right to self-determination, last I checked. I agree with the President that the country will not collapse but the government is fragile, and the situation bears watching. If Zardari and Sharif can work together, brokered perhaps by American influence, all to the good. What does seem dangerous to me is the wishful thinking in certain segments, particularly from Petraeus and leaders in the Pentagon, of a military coup and another dictatorship to further radicalize the Pakistani people.

It would be naive to think that the Pakistani military, which ruled Pakistan for the past ten years until Pervez Musharraf resigned from the Army in November 2007 and formally relinquished power last August, doesn’t believe it could do a better job of governing than Asif Ali Zardari. And it would also be naive to think that the Obama administration is closed off to the prospect, whatever it might say about democracy. Andrew Exum wonders why the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a “weird man crush” on Kayani. He might merely be prepared to bet on what he considers the stronger horse — not a strong horse, as the Pakistani army has been repeatedly beaten by the Pakistani Taliban and its allies, but a stronger one. It might also explain why Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy objects to making aid to Pakistan receivable to “civilian authorities of a government of Pakistan constituted through a free and fair election,” among other provisions of conditionalized funding.

The American frustration with the Zardari government stems from the inability of the military, to this point, to deal with Taliban attacks in the tribal areas. I think Matt Yglesias has a point - that could be a function of the military underperforming so that the government looks bad, with an eye toward returning the military to power in the government to make everything all better. But isn't this the military's problem, to begin with? And specifically, the relationship between the military and the Taliban fighters?

Sharif, at this point clearly has more popularity inside Pakistan. His influence could offer greater support to the fight against militants. And throwing money down a hole toward a leader with a history of corruption won't solve the problem. But our ability to manage that political conflict is limited. And our credibility should we actually return the military to power would be even lower in Pakistan that it currently is, if that's possible.

Charles Lemos has more.

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More Pejoratives, Please!

Republicans, lacking perspective on anything anymore, have now resorted to calling the BCS Communist.

Texas Rep. Joe Barton likened college football's Bowl Championship Series to "communism" Friday, even as he made the case that the system is what it is because of money.

In his opening remarks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee, Barton — the panel's ranking Republican — recalled the hearing he held on the same matter several years ago.

"That time, I had hoped through a spirit of volunteerism, the BCS would decide to go to a playoff system," he said. "That hasn't happened yet. It is interesting that people of good will — I think everybody on whatever side of the issue is a person of good will — keeps trying to tinker with the current system."

"It's like communism, you can't fix it."

The BCS, of course, is an oligarchic plutocracy, so Barton didn't even get the political science right.

I think we have to take up a collection for the wingnuts so they can come up with a new set of epithets to hurl at their enemies. Clearly these ones aren't working. In fact, they're only making people appreciate Communism and socialism more. I hope they don't start calling Democrats mass murderers - wouldn't want that to become popular.

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President Nelson Makes The Call

So the President from Nebraska has weighed the options, peeked at his campaign account, and decided with a heavy heart that he just couldn't let Americans have better health insurance choices:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Friday that he will oppose legislation that would give people the option of a public health insurance plan. The move puts him on the opposite side of two-thirds of Americans.

A poll released this week by Consumer Reports National Research Center showed that 66 percent of Americans back the creation of a public health plan that would compete with private plans. Nelson, in comments made to CQ, joins the 16 percent of poll respondents who said they oppose the plan.

Nelson's problem, he told CQ, is that the public plan would be too attractive and would hurt the private insurance plans. "At the end of the day, the public plan wins the game," Nelson said. Including a public option in a health plan, he said, was a "deal breaker."

The problem, as President Nelson explained, is that the public plan might be too good a deal for Americans, leading them to want to purchase it. And that would just be terrible. Terrible for Ben Nelson, anyway, because his contributions would dry up.

The company Nelson finds himself in is laid out clearly: business, the insurance industry, and Republicans. Of course, this isn't surprising, considering his campaign donation history. Open Secrets says Nelson received $608,709 from the insurance industry in 2007-2008, making the insurance industry his biggest donor group, more than lawyers and even lobbyists.

And so, Nelson has decided to bow to the wishes of his campaign contributors, instead of standing up for what 73% of the American public want: A choice of a public health insurance option.

Actually, I think we do put too much emphasis on the money game as the reason for politician's every move. Nelson probably just has a personal, cultural, ideological relationship to conservative interests, and simply cannot envision progress of this ilk. Plus, publicly opposing his own party makes him a darling of the DC media circuit and increases his clout. Despite the fact that reconciliation instructions mean that Democrats could opt for passage with only 50 votes, Nelson will get lots of publicity as he, according to the article, tries "to assemble a coalition of like-minded centrists opposed to the creation of a public plan, as a counterweight to Democrats pushing for it." And the chattering class will praise his bold centrism and ability to say no to his hippie cadres.

He may not be successful - in this case, Democrats on the left really are threatening no deal without a public plan, although what form that plan takes is more the question - but it'll sure give him that unbeatable stature. That's what makes a President a President.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Not much of a weekend in store because I'll be in my plastic bubble until this not-the-swine-flu blows over. Thinking of eating the nutritious paste through a straw that tastes like roast beef. But I digress...

Venus As A Boy - Bjork
Analyse - Thom Yorke
Ain't That Just Like A Woman - B.B. King
Paper Planes - M.I.A.
Dog Problems - The Format
Rapture - Blondie
Bones - Radiohead
Transformer - Gnarls Barkley
My Party - Kings Of Leon
Have Mercy - Loretta Lynn

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Memo To The New York Times

Arnold Schwarzenegger will not support a Democrat. He never has since he became Governor, and he never will. He said he could support Dianne Feinstein for Senate in 2006, and didn't. He said he could support Jerry Brown for Attorney General in 2006, and didn't. He markets an image of post-partisanship that the national media swallows whole. Republicans hate him, because they believe that crap, but Democrats are too smart to buy it, so they hate him too.

Please stop this.


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Grading On A Curve

The news leaking out from the stress tests just got worse and worse. First all the banks would be fine, then one would need more capital, then "at least" one, then six. So the banks did the responsible thing - they sought a delay while begging for a second opinion.

Citigroup Inc. may need to raise as much as $10 billion in new capital, according to people familiar with the matter, as the government continues negotiations with banks over the results of its so-called stress tests.

The bank, like many others, is negotiating with the Federal Reserve and may need less if regulators accept the bank's arguments about its financial health, these people said. In a best-case scenario, Citigroup could wind up having a roughly $500 million cushion above what the government is requiring.

The discussions stem from the tests being run by the Fed and the Treasury to assess the health of the country's 19 largest banks. Those results will be released Thursday, later than initially planned.

It's amazing that the banks are somehow allowed to negotiate the test results, like a slacker tenth-grader trying to pass calculus. This undermines the whole credibility of the tests, effectively making them useless. And this is a direct result of the Treasury Department structuring these tests in such a way that assured the banks nobody would fail, and all of them would get whatever funds were necessary, whether through private capital or a virtual government guarantee. It seems to me that the stress tests could have been used as leverage for negotiating Administration priorities. Instead, the opposite is the case.

It's hard to discern at a remove how much of the peevishness is the discovery by banks that they have little to lose in behaving like utter pigs. We saw it today with the failure of the bankruptcy mod bill in the Senate (even after concessions had been offered). Admittedly, Chrysler was a partial exception, since the Treasury made considerable economic concessions, but finally drew the line and put the company into bankruptcy. However. Team Obama wanted to make a show to prevent even worse shenanigans with GM (but the New York Times points out that the pre-pack could take as long as four months, hardly a quick in and out, and some bankruptcy lawyers have pointed out that other deals expected to be fast track have taken a year).

But let's face it, in a real test, you don't get to score it yourself and then argue the grade. The banks fundamentally don't seem to accept that they are regulated entities and expect to be treated as equal partners. Given the likely decay in employment given the weakening fundamentals, all the Treasury is doing is getting the banks to face the music perhaps six months ahead of time, which is something they should be doing on their own.

The Administration had something of real value, namely information, and they failed to use it. As a result, cramdown dies, thanks to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Foreign banks with substantial ties to the US can refuse to give up tax information on their offshore customers with impunity. And they'll be sure to go after the credit card reform bill in the Senate next week.

With respect to Chrysler, I keep hearing that Obama won a game of chicken with the hedge funds, and granted Cerberus ended up with nothing while Perella Weinberg accepted the government offer at the last minute. But Chrysler sits in bankruptcy, and nothing there is assured except that some of the fund managers will get their CDS paid off.

Geithner decided not to use the tools at his disposal. And I don't think he did that by accident. At this point, I'll have to believe this talk about a new Pecora Commission when I see it.

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Climate And Energy Bill Hanging By A Thread

I think that, at the end of the day, the Obama agenda on education and even on health care will make its way through the Senate. It may not look exactly like what he campaigned on, particularly on health care. But something's going to happen. Obama should be able to mass substantial bipartisan support on education reform, considering that he sides with reformers over teacher's unions, and the previous bipartisan deal on education is showing signs of success. And the budget reconciliation instructions on health care really offer a big stick to force a solution, even to conservative Democrats.

On climate and energy legislation, I'm really not so sure. People have a visceral relationship to health care and education - it's their bodies and their kids. Arguments about the climate and alternative energy, while just as important, exist in the abstract, and are ripe for conservative misinformation, particularly around costs (see the "national energy tax" fearmongering). Progressives can push back on this nonsense, and thanks to Paul Krugman for giving this a shot, particularly using conservative market principles:

To be sure, there are many who insist that the costs would be much higher. Strange to say, however, such assertions nearly always come from people who claim to believe that free-market economies are wonderfully flexible and innovative, that they can easily transcend any constraints imposed by the world’s limited resources of crude oil, arable land or fresh water.

So why don’t they think the economy can cope with limits on greenhouse gas emissions?

However, even though the Republicans are rank hypocrites on this issue, they can make an abstract debate more concrete with the constant efforts to label this a tax. Right now, Americans support regulating greenhouse gas emissions, even if it raises energy prices (and I can give this to you in more than one poll). However, just the mere action of conservative fearmongering is, I suspect, enough to waver those Blue Dog conservative Democrats who don't want to pass this bill anyway, as well as give an excuse for coal-state Democrats who resist change. Therefore, you're seeing this week Reps. Waxman and Markey hunting for votes on Capitol Hill.

House Democratic leaders appeared to still be short of the votes needed to pass climate-change legislation out of a key subcommittee, but a spokeswoman for one of the lawmakers leading the talks said negotiations were continuing.

Several moderate Democrats on the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment said Thursday that fundamental issues such as how to soften the impact of the legislation on constituents and industries in their regions are still unresolved and that the panel might not be ready to vote on the measure by next week as Democratic leaders have called for.

The qualms expressed over legislation sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Waxman (D., Calif.), and Edward Markey (D., Mass.) along with possible Republican obstruction, point to the difficulty Democrats are having in finding consensus on climate and energy issues.

“I don’t think the votes are there in the subcommittee,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D., N.C.) said in an interview. Mr. Butterfield said he was particularly concerned about the bill’s impact on low-income Americans, adding “What do I tell a single mom making eight dollars an hour?”

You can see the nonsense bubbling to the surface already. With a properly constructed cap and trade system that rebates significant money to lower-income Americans, they would actually be better off than with no system and continued pollution into their communities. But that doesn't matter. Butterfield and his fellow conservaDems are delaying, offering poison pill amendments, and emboldening Republicans to obstruct. These proposed amendments fly in the face of the science, loosening the carbon cap and generally seeking to keep polluters in business.

Some of the areas of the bill where Democrats are engaged in give and take are obvious.

A group led by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), wants to weaken the 2020 emission limits from the draft's 20 percent cut target, bringing it down to the 6 percent level spelled out last fall in legislation he produced with former Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) [...]

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said Boucher's group has endorsed the electric utility industry's call to set aside 40 percent of the proposed cap-and-trade program's allowances for free distribution to regulated local distribution companies within the electricity sector. The free credits would be phased out around 2025, which he said roughly lines up with projections of widespread deployment for carbon capture and storage at coal plants.

Doyle said the group also has recommended setting 15 percent of the credits aside for free allocation to U.S. industries considered most vulnerable to international competition, including steel, pulp, paper, cement and glass. Another 5 percent should also be walled off for petroleum refineries, he said.

Turning to the renewable electricity standard, Doyle said the moderate and conservative Democrats want Waxman to trim down his proposal from a 25 percent standard by 2025 to a less aggressive 15 percent requirement. Some states cannot meet the higher limits, he said, and they also want the definition of renewables expanded to include nuclear power.

And then you have refinery-state Dems wanting to protect their jobs. And coal-state Dems wanting to exempt coal. And nuclear-industry flaks wanting money for nuclear. There are just too many competing interests here. Now you know why Obama officials call ConservaDems the bad guys.

Unfortunately, the abstract nature of the debate obscures the urgency of legislation as soon as humanly possible. America cannot really make progress along with the world on mitigating the worst effects of climate change without a major effort like Waxman-Markey. We've already lost too much ground to stop a boiling planet, and if we let this slide, things will only get worse.

Can we really prevent global warming? Or should we be thinking more about adaptation? Building coastal fortifications may be cheaper than halting the release of CO2.

Right now, the climate scientists feel that if all humans shut off carbon emissions today, it will still glide up by about 1 degree centigrade. In the business-as-usual scenarios, Nicholas Stern says there's a 50 percent chance we may go to 5 degrees centigrade. We know what the Earth was like 5 or 6 degrees centigrade colder. That was called the Ice Ages. Imagine a world 5 degrees warmer. The desert lines would be dramatically changed. The West is projected to be in drought conditions. And certain tipping points might be triggered. We can adapt to 1 or 2 degrees. More than that, there is no adaptation strategy.

What do you mean by tipping points?

There's lots of carbon in vegetation that has grown and died in the northern tundras of Russia, Canada. Normally what happens when a tree falls and dies is the microbes come and gobble it up and they recycle in terms of carbon dioxide, methane. But in the frozen tundra, those microbes are asleep. So the big fear is that once the tundra thaws, those microbes wake up, they digest all that carbon. It goes up in the atmosphere. At that point, no matter what humans do, it's out of our control. This is the realization in the last decade that has caused many of us to get very, very concerned. Adaptation at 1 or 2 degrees will be painful, it will cause a lot of hurt and pain, but adaptation at 5 or 6 degrees—I'm terribly frightened that that's catastrophic.

Aren't we in pretty bad trouble no matter what we do? We're not going to be able to stop burning fossil fuels for quite a while.

We're in the great ship Titanic, the Earth is, and it's going to take a half century to really turn the ship. But that doesn't mean we can't start doing it today, and we must. It's possible that the United States can greatly reduce its use of energy in our buildings, which consume 40 percent of our energy, and our personal vehicles.

The scientists are warning that 2/3 of total coal reserves must be left unused if we want to stop the catastrophe that Dr. Chu is talking about here. We cannot afford to give anyone a break or hold off on a cap. This is bigger than any one district.

Two things in the corner of supporters of Waxman-Markey. One, the EPA has the authority to massively regulate emissions, including possibly implementing cap and trade if they so choose. So ConservaDems and coal-state pols can either come up with a solution or have it taken from their hands. The other trick we may have is the return of reconciliation.

This is a little bit deep in the weeds, but you may recall that back in early April when the Senate was debating the budget, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) introduced an amendment meant to prevent the Senate from passing climate change legislation through the reconciliation process, and it passed by a wide margin.

Well, in conference, that amendment was stripped out completely. Mike Johanns is very unhappy. But that doesn't mean that a cap-and-trade program will absolutely be established during the reconciliation process. And it doesn't mean that Democrats will be hanging the threat over Republicans' heads the way they are with health reform. In fact, the conference report basically says this won't happen. But technically there won't be anything (other than Senate politics) stopping Democrats from doing so.

So many Democrats voted against reconciliation in the Senate that trying to pull that trigger would probably not work. But at least there's another option. Those of us who want meaningful climate and energy legislation need something to hang on. Because it's real tough out there.

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Obama DoJ Drops The AIPAC Spy Suit

So Jon Stewart's premature speculation that nobody in the Jane Harman/AIPAC case got what they wanted was upended today when the government dropped charges against the two former AIPAC staffers.

Prosecutors said they will ask a judge to dismiss the case against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman because a series of court decisions had made it unlikely they would win convictions. The two are former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, an influential advocacy group.

Rosen and Weissman were charged in 2005 with conspiring to obtain classified information and pass it to journalists and the Israeli government. They were the first non-government civilians charged under the 1917 espionage statute with verbally receiving and transmitting national defense information. Some lawyers and First Amendment advocates have said the case would criminalize the type of information exchange that is common among journalists, lobbyists and think-tank analysts.

Harman had nothing to do with this, and I don't want to speculate on that. I just used it as a news peg to express my support for this dropping of charges. The case was less about Rosen and Weissman and more about the criminalization of journalistic practices that would have a chilling effect on the ability of investigative reporters to do their job. We have an overclassification problem in this country, used by the government to hide embarrassing secrets. So good for Obama in this case.

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Still Waiting For Democrat Arlen Specter

I have seen absolutely no change in the voting record of Arlen Specter to this point to indicate he will transmorgrify into some mainstream liberal, despite past practice among party switchers. But even if he did move his positions to the left, I can understand why senior Democrats would wince at the extreme gift of seniority bestowed upon him. Some of this is sour grapes on the part of Senators, but the rules of the chamber indicate that years of service to the party equal expanded power, and Specter spent close to 30 years opposing them, only to leapfrog them at the flip of a switch. And that's not likely to hold, because it's not Harry Reid's decision to make.

Under his deal with Reid, Specter would jump ahead of all but a few Democrats when it comes time to dole out committee chairmanships and assignments.

“That’s his deal and not the caucus’s,” the senior lawmaker said of Reid’s agreement with Specter.

The lawmaker requested anonymity because the issue of Specter’s seniority is “a sensitive subject.” The lawmaker said it would be OK if Specter joined his panel as long as he “sat at the end of the dais” with junior members.

Since Reid and Specter announced their deal, Senate insiders have speculated that Specter could bump Harkin after the election from his chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee or return to be chairman of Judiciary if the current chairman, Leahy, takes over the gavel at Appropriations. Specter was chairman of Judiciary in the 109th Congress when Republicans controlled the chamber, and ushered through the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

But the senior Democratic lawmaker disputed these scenarios: “That can’t happen. Seniority is decided by the caucus.”

That's good, in a way, since Specter has until the re-organization of committees in 2010 to show some loyalty to the party and prove his worth to the caucus. Which is why there also needs to be the threat of a primary challenge to allow constituents to make their own decision about who they want to represent them. Accountability Now PAC, the new progressive organization dedicated to electing better Democrats, sent along this release:

Accountability Now PAC announced today that it opposed efforts by elites to deny Pennsylvania Democrats their right to choose a candidate for U.S. Senate. Powerbrokers claim to have promised Senator Arlen Specter a “clear field” in next spring’s Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate.

"We believe that primaries play a critical role in empowering voters, and we oppose ongoing efforts to deny Pennsylvania Democrats their right to choose who represents them in the Senate," said Jane Hamsher, founder of and co-founder of Accountability Now. “Senator Specter certainly deserves a fair hearing from Democrats, but Pennsylvania Democrats have the right to hear from alternative voices who may be closer to their views on critical issues.”

“Elites believe that primaries are messy,” said Glenn Greenwald of and co-founder of Accountability Now. "Accountability Now believes that nothing focuses the mind of a politician on listening to citizens better than a primary."

"Accountability Now PAC is not prejudging the Pennsylvania Democratic primary," said Accountability Now's new Executive Director, Jeff Hauser. "We will follow closely voices from Pennsylvania about how well Senator Specter is serving their state, and take our cues accordingly. Ultimately, it is the Democrats of Pennsylvania who should choose their Senate nominee, not the DC Establishment.”

If Democrat Arlen Specter wants to make his case that he would be the most effective representative for Pennsylvania Democrats, so be it. But the voters ought to have a choice.

...the next few months are going to prove that 60 votes isn't a magic panacea and that Democratic Senate leaders will find all kinds of ways to make even more excuses for why they can't make progress. The bottom line is that there's one person to blame if the progress doesn't happen, and his name is Harry Reid.

...Reid is now backpedaling furiously on the seniority deal. Good.

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Obama Makes It Official

So the President just walked into the press briefing room and announced that David Souter will retire at the end of the term, and Todd Beeton grabbed a piece of his comment:

The process of picking someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as President. I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone that understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or a footnote in a casebook, it is also how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcomed in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes. I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time. As I make this decision, I intend to consult with members of both parties across the political spectrum and it is my hope that we can swear in our new Supreme Court justice in time for him or her to be seated by the first Monday in October when the court's new term begins.

This gives the President about a month to come to a decision. And it gives conservatives a good bit of time to demagogue and demonize and name-tag whoever gets picked as an ultra-liberal ideologue.

Conservative groups worked into the night Thursday after news broke of Justice David Souter’s retirement to arrange a conference call early Friday morning to talk strategy with representatives of more than 60 groups.

Leaders on the call, such as Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network, told colleagues that one of their first challenges is convincing activists there is a fight to be had.

"One thing to keep in mind is that the left and media will say this doesn't really matter — Obama will just replace a liberal with a liberal,” Long said. “It's a conservative court. We need to push back against that immediately.”

Curt Levy, also of the Judicial Confirmation Network, argued to the nearly 200 activists on the conference call that this can "be a winning issue" for conservatives if they focus on what he called the "right issues" such as same sex marriage, death penalty and the Second Amendment — issues that can split Democrats.

This seems like a one-sided debate, where conservatives whip themselves into a frenzy, and in the end, Obama picks a broadly acceptable moderate liberal who sails through. With 40 votes, it would be odd to see otherwise, provided the Judiciary Committee can move the nominee, considering that silly rule.

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You're A Racist For Calling Me A Racist!

So Byron York both embarrassed and revealed himself by basically advocating for a return to the 3/5 compromise.

[Obama's] sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are. Asked whether their opinion of the president is favorable or unfavorable, 49 percent of whites in the Times poll say they have a favorable opinion of Obama. Among blacks the number is 80 percent. Twenty-one percent of whites say their view of the president is unfavorable, while the number of blacks with unfavorable opinions of Obama is too small to measure.

As Adam Serwer notes, this is "If Only Those People Weren't Here" conservatism. Conservatives like to write black people out of electoral politics like this were 1866 and they don't deserve a vote, and then claim "If you set aside 10% of the population, X is popular/unpopular and X can win/lose!"

It reminds me somewhat of the absence of black people in most non-dystopian science fiction, except the subtextual desire in York's column is far more deliberate: If black people weren't able to vote, Republicans would win more elections. And Ann Coulter, at the very least, has had the chutzpah to say directly what she's really thinking: "If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president.

York responded to this complaint by showing offense at being called a racist. Which is of course a classic conservative maneuver to change the subject. I think Ta-Nehisi Coates says what needs to be said here.

We spend a lot of time attacking people for playing the race-card--I've done my share. But what largely animates this idea that crying racism is an overused tactic (as opposed to say crying antisemitism) is this notion that among polite, thinking people, there are no employers of racism. Racism is the trade of the American savage--the man who flies the Confederate flag, has an undiscovered dead dog under the porch, and lives in West Virginia. This man doesn't walk among the civilized.

But here is your political correctness run amok:

James Watson argues, not simply that there may be a biological explanation for IQ differences, but says of notions of intellectual equality, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not to be true," and be held up as a truth-teller.

A series of newsletters entitled the Ron Paul Freedom Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report, The Ron Paul Politcal Report are revealed to be incredibly racist. ("Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks" Martin Luther King "seduced underaged girls and boys.") But Paul knows nothing about them, and is the farthest thing from a racist. ("Ron thinks Martin Luther King is a hero.") [...]

We live in a country that may well be offended by racism, but it's equally offended that anyone might actually charge as much.

Conservatives always want to rush to an "end of racism" so they can be freed to make, frankly, racist statements, and then scold their critics for calling them racist in this post-racial era. It's a tiresome argument that usually never works, as most people judge these things on the merits. So whine away, Byron, whine away.

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Next Up, Banks Get To Torpedo Credit Card Reform

On a day that the banksters stopped cramdown in the Senate, the House bucked the trend, passing the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights by a wide, bipartisan margin.

In 2008, credit card issuers imposed $19 billion in penalty fees on families with credit cards and this year, card companies will break all records for late fees, over-limit charges, and other penalties, pulling in more than $20.5 billion. Credit-card debt in the U.S. has reached a record high of nearly $1 trillion — and almost half of American families currently carry a balance, and for those families the average balance was $7,300. One-fifth of those carrying credit-card debt pay an interest rate above 20 percent [...]

The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act passed today levels the playing field between card issuers and cardholders by applying common-sense regulations that would ban retroactive interest rate hikes on existing balances, double-cycle billing, and due-date gimmicks. It would also increase the advance notice of impending rate hikes, giving cardholders the information they need and rights to make decisions about their financial lives. Our economic recovery depends on a shared prosperity — and we must put an end to these abusive practices that continue to drive so many Americans deeper and deeper into debt.

I'm glad this ends double-cycle billing, where cardholders pay interest on debt that they've already paid off, and forces credit card companies to allocate payment to the debt with the highest interest rate. But overall, these are very modest protections that simply prohibit the credit card companies from ripping off the American people. And 105 Republicans agreed yesterday.

(Among those who didn't: David Dreier, Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Tom McClintock, Paul Ryan.)

Of course, as Dick Durbin noted yesterday, the bankers who own the Senate will return to try and ditch this bill. They've killed the same legislation before, and Harry Reid didn't exactly sound confident this time around:

Reid said the Senate next week will take up the credit card reform bill, which would restrict companies’ ability to raise rates on balances. Asked if he had 60 votes, the majority leader said, “We’ll find out.”

Heaven forbid the Senate Majority Leader actually lift a finger to get the votes.

This will be a test of leadership, but will probably end as a test to the limits of bankster ownership.

...check out the juicy rationalizations from Democrats who sold out their constituents facing foreclosure.

...By the way, cramdown was only a part of the bankruptcy bill passed by Congress yesterday. Included in this bill, which was supposed to aid foreclosure victims?

The defeat clears the way for a final vote as early as Friday for the legislation, which has several features that the banking industry has sought. One provision would have the effect of reducing a proposed special premium the banks would owe the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation later that year by more than 50 percent — a $7.7 billion saving. A second provision would make permanent the temporary increase in deposits guaranteed by the F.D.I.C., to $250,000, from $100,000.

That's right, their insurance will increase permanently (I actually agree with that part), and the premiums to the FDIC would LOWER. My insurance company has never told me they'd lower my premiums and increase my insurance. I don't have a lobbyist, however.

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Guantanamo East=Not Change

Robert Gates lets the cat out of the bag by acknowledging that up to 100 Guantanamo detainees could be held on US soil once the prison camp closes. What shocked me is that he acknowledged that these would be detainees who remain in a legal limbo, without an awaiting trial but without a release. That represents no difference from keeping Gitmo open. The problem was not the location, but the indefinite detention going on there.

Mr. Gates said discussions had started this week with the Justice Department about determining how many of the Guantánamo detainees could not be sent to other countries or tried in courts. He did not say which detainees might be in that group, but independent experts have said it probably would include terrorism suspects whom the military has not yet brought charges against, among them detainees from Yemen and the Qaeda figure Abu Zubaydah, who was subjected to brutal interrogation in secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

“What do we do with the 50 to 100 — probably in that ballpark — who we cannot release and cannot try?” Mr. Gates said in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

He did not say whether the detainees would be imprisoned temporarily or indefinitely or under what law they would be held. The Obama administration is debating how to establish a legal basis for incarcerating detainees deemed too dangerous to be released but not appropriate to be tried because of potential problems posed by their harsh interrogations, the evidence against them or other issues.

Eric Holder gave a slightly better answer while in Berlin, saying “We have to determine what would be our basis for holding that person that would to the world appear to be fair and that would in fact be fair... How could you ensure that due process was being served by the detention of such a person?” In addition, Holder appeared to be making headway on releasing some detainees in Europe, as countries seem willing to accept them. Similarly, Gates did defend the expected action of the United States settling the 17 Uighurs whose life has been a nightmare, cleared for release from Guantanamo but unable to return to China for fear of persecution. But the idea that we would continue indefinite detentions on anyone truly worries me. Here's Sharon Franklin of The Constitution Project:

"If the United States were to simply move the detainees onto U.S. soil and continue to detain them without charge or legal process, then the act of closing Guantanamo would have been meaningless," said Sharon Bradford Franklin, a lawyer for the Constitution Project, an advocacy group.

As for the Congressional NIMBYs who don't want to see detainees imprisoned in their districts, they might want to appropriate more money for their prisons, then, if they find them so insecure. Ali al-Marri, a legal resident who was held without charges at a Navy brig for five years before being charged through the criminal justice system, just pleaded guilty to conspiring with Al Qaeda operatives, and will spend 15 years in prison at a minimum. Should Illinois lawmakers be wary of his entry into jail? Should they want to offshore him? How about a carjacker? How far does this go? Saying that dangerous terrorists shouldn't be allowed in the jails equals saying that jails in America aren't secure. Is that the message they want to send?

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Post-Souter Battle, Day One

First of all, let's put into some perspective the fact that David Souter's replacement will have long-term importance but not much near-term impact on shifting the ideological balance of the Supreme Court. Next session, no matter who is in Souter's chair, they'll still try to phase out the Voting Rights Act and use bizarre logic to meet their ideological goals (does Scalia know that HE was voted in unanimously? Is there "something wrong there"? You decide). So this isn't a completely consequential near-term pick.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Vice President Biden can throw a dart at a board in making his selection. And of course, it means that no matter who Obama picks, the hard right will demonize him or her as a commune-living hippie phreek who wants to personally deliver abortions from the bench. For the record, here's a fairly representative list of possibles.

The replacements: So who are the possibilities to replace Souter? Here’s our list, per NBC’s Williams, that we unveiled back in February, after we learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s pancreatic cancer: Johnnie Rawlinson (9th Circuit Court of Appeals, African American woman), Leah Ward Sears, (chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, African American woman), Sonia Sotomayor (2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Hispanic woman), Kim McLane Wardlaw, 9th Circuit, Hispanic woman), Diane Wood, (7th Circuit, woman, knows Obama from her time teaching at the University of Chicago), Jennifer Granholm (Michigan governor, woman), Merrick Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, Deval Patrick (Massachusetts governor, African American, Obama friend), Cass Sunstein (University of Chicago law professor, Obama friend).

I agree with Mark Halerpin, how dare there be so few white men on that list. The MAN's been keeping us Caucasian males down for too long. A world with a 7-2 male/female split on the Supreme Court ain't a world I want to live in.

Obama has generally offered good statements on his ideal Supreme Court justices, particularly in saying he wanted to find someone who could empathize with those "less powerful." There are supposed to be four "conservatives" and four "liberals" on the Court, but in reality you have four on the hard right and four on the center-left, and when it comes to corporate law the playing field is pretty much entirely tilted toward the business-friendly. So Obama would do well to change that dynamic and really start to shift the ideological balance somewhat.

However, there will be one major obstacle to getting a nominee through Congress. Despite the potential for 60 votes, despite the party switch of Arlen Specter - in fact, BECAUSE of the switch of Arlen Specter - getting nominees out of the Senate Judiciary Committee under current rules will be a practical impossibility, it appears.

Check out the Senate Judiciary Committee Rules:


The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a roll call vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.

Your current lineup of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Arlen Specter
Orrin Hatch
Chuck Grassley
Jon Kyl
Jeff Sessions
Lindsey Graham
John Cornyn
Tom Coburn

Which of these fellas do you think will be ready to provide the necessary one vote from the minority to bring things to a vote in the committee on tough questions now?

Don't think they wouldn't relish bottling up an Obama nominee in committee, and using all the lies sure to be served up by the Mighty Wurlitzer and the conservative noise machine to justify it. This rule can change if there's a new organizing resolution, but in order to make that bullet-proof, all 60 Democrats would need to be seated, and willing to vote in favor. Giving even more reason for the minority to block Al Franken. Giving Specter even more power should he decide to wank and vote against a new resolution.

In the Senate, there's ALWAYS a way to obstruct.

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Campaign Update: CA-10, CA-03, CA-47, CA-50

The Internet moves at, well, Internet speed, so parts of my House race roundup were already out of date or incomplete by the time I published it. So here's an update on a few races.

• CA-10: John Garamendi announced a significant series of national labor endorsements for the upcoming CA-10 race, despite Mark DeSaulnier having locked up the Contra Costa County Central Labor Committee endorsement and the local Building Trades (which cover almost 100 local unions) and chairing the Senate Labor Committee. They include:

AFSCME: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
CNA: California Nurses Association
CFT: California Federation of Teachers
UFCW: United Food & Commercial Workers
CSEA: California School Employees Association
Laborers International Union of North America
International Union of Operating Engineers
CWA: Communication Workers of America

Many of those can provide PAC money, resources and support to Garamendi, leveling the playing field in a race where DeSaulnier captured all the early endorsements.

• CA-03: I passed on the rumor about Phil Angelides and CA-03 in my roundup, but local blogger Randy Bayne dismisses that report and notes that Elk Grove City Councilman Gary Davis will likely run, having met with the DCCC and begun the process of putting a team together. I don't agree with Bayne that a contested primary (Dr. Amerish Bera has also announced) would impact negatively on the race. Especially when the candidates have low name ID, a primary can increase their public profile and show them to be a "winner" in front of the district, at the end. Momentum can build. Primaries don't necessarily have to be nasty and debilitating, and I fail to understand why anyone would reject them out of hand.

Incidentally, I never took much stock in the rumor about Angelides, I simply thought it would be a decent line of inquiry, given his name ID, fundraising ability and progressive profile.

CA-47: One potential challenge to a Democratic incumbent I overlooked yesterday was Van Tran's run against Loretta Sanchez, profiled in Politico.

On the heels of an election marked by a dismal performance among Asian voters, top Republicans are aggressively recruiting California Assemblyman Van Tran, a Vietnamese-American, to challenge Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) next year.

If elected, Tran would be the second Vietnamese-American in Congress, after Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.), who won his seat in a 2008 election.

Tran has already been feted at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s March fundraising dinner as a guest of the committee’s recruitment chairman, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and he was encouraged to run by House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor. He also made a trip to Washington after last November’s election to meet with officials from the NRCC.

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has assisted in the recruitment process, meeting with Tran and offering support for any potential candidacy. Tran was an outspoken backer of McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and helped him carry Orange County over Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primary.

What the story fails to mention is that, not only does Tran not have full support among the Vietnamese community in the district, not only does Loretta Sanchez have experience easily defeating Vietnamese challengers, but Tran didn't even do that well in his own Assembly race last year, winning over 55% of the vote against Ken Arnold. If Tran is one of the Republicans' top recruits, they're in even bigger trouble than I thought. Incidentally, Sanchez' voting record has greatly improved over the past couple years.

• CA-50: I should have cited Francine Busby's Firedoglake chat from a couple weeks ago. I don't think I agree with her on this, though:

I’ve alway said that the Latino voters have to organize register and educate from within their own community. I see more activism and organizing going on than I did before. In fact, I will be attending a meeting on Monday of the reconstituted Latino American Democratic Club in Oceanside. We may have a strong Latina running for a state office who can rally the base. Also, Bilbray is their worst nightmare, so I expect that to motivate them to get out to vote. I reach out to leaders in the community as much as possible to maintain good communications and understanding.

Outreach consists of more than "hopefully they'll self-organize." You need to actually engage the Latino community instead of hoping some other local candidate can do it for you. Not a good sign.

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The Whine Of The Brooks Brothers Suits

Hedge fund managers are awfully steamed about the Snidely Whiplash mustache that Obama hung on them yesterday:

President Obama's harsh attack on hedge funds he blamed for forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy yesterday sparked cries of protest from the secretive financial firms that hold about $1 billion of the automaker's debt.

Hedge funds and investment managers were irate at Obama's description of them as "speculators" who were "refusing to sacrifice like everyone else" and who wanted "to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout."

"Some of the characterizations that were used today to refer to us as speculators or to say we're looking for a bailout is really unfair," said one executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. "What we're looking for is a reasonable payout on the value of the debt . . . more in line with what unions and Fiat were getting." [...]

"It sounds like people are being bullied right now," said Ron Geffner, a partner at the law firm Sadis and Goldberg, which represents hedge funds. "To play the 'I stand with Chrysler, I stand with families, I stand with the dealers, I stand with the consumers' -- that's great conceptually, but . . . I stand with the fact that we live in a capitalist society where companies who don't modify their business plans and stay current die and go by the wayside."

It's simply a lie to say they wanted a payout in line with the unions and Fiat. They wanted a bankruptcy so they could cash in on credit default swaps that pay out in the event of a bankruptcy, and make a killing at the expense of Chrysler.

Also, if we indeed do live in a capitalist society, where everyone is treated equally and companies must act within the boundaries of the regulatory landscape, then I expect these hedge fund managers to march en masse to Capitol Hill and demand they be charged the regular marginal tax rate on their income rather than the capital gains rate that allows them to hide billions from the federal government. Surely, because they believe in capitalism and the level playing field so much, they'll get right on that.

I don't have a problem with investors acting purely in their economic interests, but government has a role to play in making sure those interests aren't as perverse as this, where a minority of investors (the bigger banks signed off on the 28 cents-on-the-dollar deal) can throw a company into bankruptcy because of the side bets. And those investors can own up to the fact that their desire for CDS money left them rooting for bankruptcy. It'd be the honest thing to do.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Souter To Retire?

NPR's Nina Totenberg usually has impeccable sources on Supreme Court issues.

Supreme Court Justice David Souter is set to retire from the Supreme Court when the current term ends, NPR is reporting.

Earlier in the day, the Associated Press had the legal word buzzing with a story that hinted at Souter's retirement due to the fact that he has yet to hire any law clerks compared to the other eight justices who have each hired their four clerks.

Great, because the hard right wasn't freaking out enough, they can now shriek about Obamanazi packing the Supreme Court with socialist fascist communists.

Here on Planet Earth, I'd expect the pick to be a woman, somewhat moderate, and demonized beyond all limits of creation.

...the full NPR report. Souter is expected to stay on the bench until a successor is named.

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2010 CA House Races Roundup

In 2007-08, I wrote a monthly series of House race roundups here in California, taking a look at the races with the highest potential to change members of Congress. This cycle, there are promises from the national Democrats that they will pay attention to a number of seats in California held by Republicans, and with the statewide races at the top of the ticket looking favorable for Democrats, and Republican registration collapsing throughout the state, in theory we should see some more movement. But many of these elements were true the past two cycles, amounting to little. Because it's a statewide officer election year, I will also do a statewide races roundup at a later time. But for now, let's take a look at the seats most likely to flip in 2010, starting with seats currently held by Democrats, few of which are in play. In addition to those "threatened" by Republicans, I'm including two seats where I've heard rumblings about primary challenges to incumbents.

A word on the notations. PVI refers to the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index. I've also included the Presidential performance from last year and the particular Congressional performance, where applicable. That information is available for the whole nation at this link.


1. CA-11. Incumbent: Jerry McNerney. PVI: R+1. 2008 General: Obama 54-44. 2008 Congress: McNerney 55-45. I keep seeing this seat on Republican target lists, and the NRCC has dropped robocalls in this district, but I really think the Republicans would be wasting their money. Jerry McNerney actually slightly outperformed Barack Obama in the district in beating the hapless Dean Andal. Andal won't bother with a challenge this time around, and while former Assemblyman Guy Houston has been mentioned as a candidate, I think McNerney has solidified his position and raised enough money to scare off any challengers. SAFE DEM.

2. CA-36. Incumbent: Jane Harman. PVI: D+12. 2008 General: Obama 64-34. 2008 Congress: Harman 69-31. The recent Jane Harman scandals, documented here at Calitics, are really not the only reason she is seen as ripe for a primary challenge: there is an impression in the district that she may retire, with local electeds licking their chops. But if she does run, she will have challengers. Marcy Winograd, who got 38% of the vote in a 2006 primary with Harman, has announced an exploratory committee. And Crooks and Liars blogger John Amato, advancing a story in The Hill, has emerged to say he's considering a run. I talked to John last night and he appears to be serious. Harman has more money than God, and if she truly wants to stay in Congress she won't mind spending it, so this is a long shot. But national progressive groups think that CA-36 can do better than "the best Republican in the Democratic Party." The question is whether local activists will agree; I'm not sure they're quite there yet. SAFE DEM; LIKELY SAFE HARMAN.

3. CA-37. Incumbent: Laura Richardson. PVI: D+26. 2008 General: Obama 80-19. 2008 Congress: Richardson 75-25. If progressives really want to find a bad, vulnerable incumbent, they could look directly to the east of Jane Harman's district. Laura Richardson is a bad lawmaker, who voted for the FISA Amendments Act and other conservative pieces of legislation. What's more, she's an embarrassment to the district, having defaulted on eight houses since 2004 and, reportedly, having used her position in Congress to rescind the sale of her foreclosed home and return it to her. Her monetary acumen extends to her campaign finances. Unlike most incumbents, Richardson is currently $300,000 in debt in her campaign account. This seat is ripe for a young, fresh progressive who has a cleaner record and a better commitment to the district's needs. Nobody has yet emerged, but they should. SAFE DEM; LIKELY SAFE RICHARDSON.


1. CA-44. Incumbent: Ken Calvert. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: Obama 49.5-48.6. 2008 Congress: Calvert 51-49. Bill Hedrick shocked the political world by almost beating corrupt Rep. Ken Calvert in a race that fell off of everyone's radar screen. Hedrick just announced that he's running again to finish the job, and I had a chance to chat with him at the CDP Convention in Sacramento. He said that "something is occurring in the Inland Empire" - a combination of the bad economy, demographic shifts and a general distaste for Republicans - that bodes well for his campaign. Hedrick actually won by 5% in the Riverside County portion of the district, which is where more voters reside; but he lost the southern Orange County portion by a healthy margin. The registration figures in the OC part of the district is 90%; in Riverside, it's 50%. Clearly there is potential to increase registration in Riverside and overwhelm Calvert with numbers. Hedrick is a solid antiwar progressive, who supports a modern Pecora Commission to investigate the financial crisis, real refinancing options for people facing foreclosure, robust stimulus to get the economy moving again, and an end to American occupations abroad (he has two sons and two daughters-in-law who, between them, have 10 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan). Clearly he's going to run on Calvert's support of TARP, which should be interesting. The fear is that Hedrick won't have the funds to compete. He raised only $150,000 total last cycle, and with this race now on the radar screen, he'll need to do better. But Hedrick appears to have a plan for expanding the donor base and using his army of volunteers to make up the gap and beat Ken Calvert in 2010. LEAN REP.

2. CA-03. Incumbent: Dan Lungren. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: Obama 49.3-48.8. 2008 Congress: Lungren 49-44. This is a ripe opportunity in search of a Democratic candidate. In 2008 Bill Durston held Dan Lungren under 50% in a campaign that only got the attention it deserved at the last minute. Demographically speaking, more and more people in the district have registered Democratic in recent years, and if Durston was running again, he would be a top challenger. Unfortunately, Durston is unlikely to run owing to medical issues. Actvisits have tried to entice John Garamendi into abandoning his CA-10 bid and run in this district, where he's actually one of the largest landowners. But that also appears unlikely. It should be noted that there is an announced candidate here, Dr. Amerish Bera. But the hot rumor at the Convention was that Phil Angelides would enter the race, making it a matchup of former statewide gubernatorial candidates. I later heard that rumor was probably bunk. But this should happen! Angelides, who has become an evangelist on energy and climate issues, has a huge donor list he could activate, a progressive policy profile, and actually matured as a candidate (not that you would know it from the media) in 2006. He would bring name ID to this race like nobody else. It's time to draft Phil. LEAN REP.

3. CA-50. Incumbent: Brian Bilbray. PVI: R+3. 2008 General: Obama 51-47. 2008 Congress: Bilbray 50-45. As you can see, Obama took this district by a decent margin, and Bilbray barely hit 50%. Francine Busby, who ran in 2004 and 2006 and then took a cycle off, has returned to run for Congress, and she had a bit of visibility at the Convention. Busby has OK name ID, but this district has always seemed to me to have a ceiling for the Democratic candidate around 45%. I'm happy to be wrong, of course, and hopefully Busby has learned from her past races and is able to break through. Of course, Bilbray is sure to resurrect the “You don't need papers for voting” comment that hurt her in a special election in 2006 (which was twisted by the right, incidentally). LIKELY REP.

4. CA-26. Incumbent: David Dreier. PVI: R+3. 2008 General: Obama 51-47. 2008 Congress: Dreier 53-40. The profile of CA-50 and CA-26 are similar. And in both, a Democratic challenger will take a third run at the incumbent. Russ Warner announced at the Red to Blue dinner that he will run again and build on his efforts against David Dreier in 2008. In a conversation with Warner, he told me about meeting David Dreier a few weeks ago for the first time. Dreier asked him, "Are you running against me again?" Warner replied, "You ran against me, David." Dreier said, "But you lost." Warner: "Oh yeah? You're the one who spent $3 million dollars. Who lost?" Indeed, Warner did succeed in draining Dreier's war chest. Unlike last cycle, Dreier comes into the race with only $700,000 cash on hand. Obviously these seats require two or three-cycle efforts, so it's good to see Warner back. And with national help, who knows? LIKELY REP.

5. CA-48. Incumbent: John Campbell. PVI: R+8. 2008 General: Obama 49.3-48.6. 2008 Congress: Campbell 56-41. John Campbell, who by the way loves him some Atlas Shrugged, is kind of a nonentity in Congress, and apparently doesn't show himself much at home either. Steve Young has done yeoman work building the party in this area in recent years. And now, Beth Krom, an Irvine City Councilwoman, will run to win this seat. Krom is battle-tested - she's had 5 races over the last decade - and she has capably performed in the largest city in the district. Krom actually outraised John Campbell in the first quarter of 2009, and she looks to build on that success. We had a nice interaction with Krom at the CDP Convention, and she led off with a classic line: "This district has the largest cluster of diverse cultures in Orange County, it's 30% Asian and East Indian, and John Campbell has never spoken to somebody who doesn't look like him." She talked about her affordable housing strategies in Irvine, and the green strategies that have won national acclaim. Folks in Orange County told me she's the best candidate they've had to go up against a Republican incumbent in years. Watch this race. LIKELY REP.

6. CA-45. Incumbent: Mary Bono Mack. PVI: R+3. 2008 General: Obama 51-47. 2008 Congress: Bono Mack 58-42. I thought Julie Bornstein really underperformed in this district in 2008, but Mary Bono Mack is kind of a slippery character. She always adds enough votes to her resume to give the appearance of moderation (sometimes by voting for right-wing motions to recommit and then voting for the final bill so it looks like she's a supporter), and given that she's married to a Floridian and lives in Washington, she rarely comes back to the district. This time around, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, a gay father of two, has announced a run, and he will focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs." This area shares the profile of a lot of California, with high unemployment and lots of foreclosures. Pougnet's challenge will be to actually get Bono Mack on the record. LIKELY REP.

7. CA-46. Incumbent: Dana Rohrabacher. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: McCain 50-48. 2008 Congress: Rohrabacher 53-43. Dana Rohrabacher remains crazy, but he managed to survive a major challenge from Debbie Cook in 2008. Cook has shown no indication that she will run again, and because this seat is not one of the eight "Obama Republican" races that national Democrats have targeted, it is unlikely they will offer much in recruitment if Cook looks elsewhere. Still, if Cook does change her mind, this race would move back onto the radar screen. SAFE REP.

8. CA-04. Incumbent: Tom McClintock. PVI: R+10. 2008 General: McCain 54-44. 2008 Congress: McClintock 50.3-49.7. Obviously the chances in this race rise or fall on the entry of Charlie Brown into the race. Brown was in attendance at the CDP Convention, and he publicly mulled a run at an event with Gavin Newsom in Placer County recently. So he hasn't closed his mind to the option. Meanwhile, McClintock has been as obstructionist and nutty as you'd expect. I particularly enjoyed his Baghdad Bob claim that California didn't have a water shortage. Locally, sources tell me that McClintock is not well-liked by his fellow Republican electeds, who aren't getting their phone calls returned. But it all hinges on Brown. SAFE REP.

9. CA-24. Incumbent: Elton Gallegly. PVI: R+4. 2008 General: Obama 51-48. 2008 Congress: Gallegly 58-42. This seat has been trending to the Democrats for some time, but the right candidate to challenge Elton Gallegly has yet to emerge. Last year Marta Jorgensen raised very little in her race and still took 42%. Gallegly is always a threat to retire - he actually did it in 2006 before being coaxed back - so that option remains as well. Small businessman Shawn Stern has announced so far. SAFE REP.

10. CA-25. Incumbent: Buck McKeon. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: Obama 49-48. 2008 Congress: McKeon 58-42. Much like CA-24, this expansive district his been trending Democratic. In fact, no seat has a closer registration gap that's currently held by a Republican. But the Democratic Party infrastructure just seems to be lacking out here. Jackie Conaway raised I think $10,000 total for her entire race last year. She still managed 42% of the vote against Buck McKeon. There is certainly a profile of a Democratic candidate that could attract serious votes out here. But that person does not yet exist. Meanwhile, McKeon thinks Barack Obama broke into his house, or something. SAFE REP.

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Iraq Violence Is Rising

The President made one mistake last night, when he talked about violence still being below the levels of "a year ago." Actually, with yesterday's attacks killing 47 it has risen to that level.

BAGHDAD — April was the bloodiest month for violence in Baghdad in more than a year, another sign that Iraq's security gains are beginning to reverse.

President Barack Obama acknowledged Wednesday night that violence has risen in recent weeks, but he said the levels of violence were still below last year's.

Calling recent bombings "a legitimate cause for concern," Obama said "civilian deaths . . . remain very low compared to what was going on last year."

But statistics kept by McClatchy show that in Baghdad alone, more than 200 people have been killed in attacks so far this month, compared with 99 last month and 46 in February, according to a McClatchy count.

The last time McClatchy recorded more than 200 civilian deaths in one month in the capital was more than a year ago, in March 2008.

To maintain credibility in foreign policy, Presidents must talk straight with the American people. There's a reason for the rising violence, and that's the failure of the surge to effect a meaningful political reconciliation, which is leading to an increase in sectarian violence. Obama could make that case, and tweak his Iraq plans to increase the diplomatic efforts to force those political solutions. In fact, by dispatching Hillary Clinton to Iraq last week, he's doing that. But he shouldn't minimize the scope of the violence in Iraq right now. That's disingenuous and distorting.

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Intra-Partisan Gridlock

It is kind of fascinating that the President's budget sailed through Congress without one Republican vote, and that fact caused barely a ripple among the commentariat.

Obama is now demanding to be judged on legislative results, not process ones, and the media is playing along. The only reason it ever gave a damn about the unified Republican front against Obama's stimulus and budget bills was because Obama made bipartisan cooperation a marker for success. When he failed at that, the media dutifully reported on that failure.

But what matters in the end is legislation, not roll calls. And with Obama's team no longer forced to water down legislation in a fruitless quest for irrelevant Republican votes, we'll see much better policy in the end.

I call that progress.

Jeffrey Toobin highlighted this best yesterday when he said, "On this whole issue of bipartisanship, can I just ask, who cares?... The public cares about results."

However, I have to quibble with the idea that Obama's team is "no longer forced to water down legislation." Because the enemies still reside inside the Democratic Party, not just in the GOP. For instance, in that same no-Republican-vote budget, the Blue Dogs got their PAYGO resolution.

Leaders of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition stood shoulder to shoulder with House leaders on Wednesday and rallied around a $3.5 trillion budget agreement that also paves the way for an eventual pay-as-you-go law — a provision that became a prerequisite for Blue Dog support of the budget document [...]

“The Blue Dogs have been focused on restoring fiscal responsibility and accountability to the federal government for many years, and we’ve fought for a return to the statutory pay-as-you-go rules of the ’90s as a way to accomplish that goal,” Blue Dog Co-Chairman Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said.

Yet they acknowledged that they might have to settle for a codified version of the Democratic pay-go rule that allows for offsets to be found five or even 10 years after new spending is enacted.

PAYGO isn't totally bad, in that it forces Congress to find a revenue source instead of borrowing or running deficits. I actually don't have a huge problem with that in normal times (not during a recession, however). And tweaking it so you can find offsets multiple years down the road neuters it somewhat. But this is but one example. The banksters stopped cramdown today. They have their sights set on stopping credit card reform in the Senate. There are plenty of bad actors trying to torpedo meaningful climate change legislation. There remains a two-party system in this country, but both of them reside in the Democratic Party. I completely agree with the President when he says that bipartisanship cannot be framed as "give me everything I want or else." I do understand politics as the art of the compromise. But Obama - and his supporters - may be guilty of looking at this through too partisan a lens. Just because the Republicans have been sent off to the sidelines doesn't mean that powerful forces aren't at play to disrupt Obama's agenda. Here's Matt Yglesias:

I largely agree with this, but in many ways it still strikes me as far too optimistic. To take just one example, climate change. The administration and the congressional leadership have ruled out the use of the reconciliation process to pass their energy/climate agenda. Since it’s completely inconceivable that you could get 60 votes in the Senate for the sort of cap-and-trade proposal that Barack Obama outlined during the campaign, this means they’ve preemptively surrendered on an agenda that they ran and won on during the course of a two-year presidential campaign. And that campaign-season plan, though excellent, fell somewhat short of what scientists say is necessary to prevent a potentially irreversible catastrophe. As I wrote in my hundred days roundup that’s a very significant failure.

On health reform, it seems certain that a bill will pass and be signed into law that’s called “Obama’s health care bill.” But it remains very unclear to me and to everyone how much the bill will actually do to tackle either the social injustice or the fiscal instability of our current health care system. Meanwhile, on the banking sector the debate about the administration’s policies is essentially between people who think they’re screwing up because they’re corrupt (Simon Johnson, Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman) and those who think they’re doing close to their best when faced with objective political constraints (Felix Salmon, Brad DeLong).

Matt attributes this to partisan gridlock, but I think he's wrong on that. It's intra-partisan gridlock, between those Democrats bought off by big money interests or fundamentally conservative-thinking versus the rest of the caucus. Eventually, Obama - and more to the point, Harry Reid - needs to get his caucus under control. He has some tools at his disposal.

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MoveOn: Impeach Jay Bybee

Jay Bybee's attempt to exonerate himself for his crimes only succeeded in inspiring more activism around his impeachment.

Jay Bybee signed off on notorious Bush-era torture memos. And now? He's serving as a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, thanks to George Bush.

Jay Bybee showed no respect for our laws and isn't fit to be a federal judge. Can you sign this petition urging Congress to impeach Jay Bybee?

The President put it very plainly last night, perhaps more plainly than he'd admit.

"President Obama said, 'They used torture, I believe waterboarding is torture,'" Nadler said, speaking of Obama’s comments about his predecessors. “Once you concede that torture was committed, the law requires that there be an investigation, and if warranted, a prosecution.”

Those who would condone war crimes at this point look increasingly foolish. We are a nation of laws, and if you don't want a law prosecuted, you repeal it, but you cannot ignore it. I would refer these apologists to Sen. Robert Byrd, who knows a thing or two about the Constitution:

The recently leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as the four released memorandums from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), confirm our worst fears. These documents point to brutal, inhumane acts which were repeatedly carried out by U.S. military personnel, and which were authorized and condoned at the highest levels of the Bush Administration. These acts appear to directly violate both the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. Spain and the United Kingdom have already initiated investigations of Bush Administration officials who approved these acts. The United States needs to investigate as well. To continue to ignore the mounting evidence of clear wrongdoing is a national humiliation [...]

The rule of law is not just a lofty concept to which we should aspire only when convenient. It is a fundamental principal upon which our Republic was founded, and it is the foundation of our free society. I understand the desire to look forward and to forge a new path on high ground instead of on the low road of the past eight years. But to use the need to move on as a reason not to investigate basic human rights violations is unacceptable. Excusing individuals at the highest levels of government from adhering to the rule of law, whether in wartime or not, is a dangerous precedent, for it undercuts the principle of accountability which permeates representative democracy.

We can start by ensuring that a violator of international laws and a moral reprobate is removed from the federal bench. Call and email Congress, particularly the members of the House Judiciary Committee, and ask them to open hearings.

House Judiciary Committee
John Conyers, Michigan Howard Berman, California
Rick Boucher, Virginia Jerrold Nadler, New York
Robert C. Scott, Virginia Mel Watt, North Carolina
Zoe Lofgren, California Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas
Maxine Waters, California Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts
Robert Wexler, Florida Steve Cohen, Tennessee
Hank Johnson, Georgia Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico
Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Brad Sherman, California
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Charles Gonzalez, Texas
Anthony Weiner, New York Adam Schiff, California
Linda Sánchez, California Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Fl
Dan Maffei, New York Lamar S. Smith, Texas
Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Howard Coble, North Carolina
Elton Gallegly, California Bob Goodlatte, Virginia
Dan Lungren, California Darrell Issa, California
Randy Forbes, Virginia Steve King, Iowa
Trent Franks, Arizona Louie Gohmert, Texas<
Jim Jordan, Ohio Ted Poe, Texas
Jason Chaffetz, Utah Tom Rooney, Florida
Gregg Harper, Mississippi  

P.S. Patrick Leahy would like Judge Bybee to stop by the Senate for a little chat.

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