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

Friday, December 02, 2005


We just passed the 10,000th visitor to this weblog, and while it's entirely possible that 9,000 of those visitors were me, I thank the other brave sould who've taken time out of their day to read my daily brain dump. Much obliged.

Have a nice weekend.


Screw the Country

We're doing what's good for the party:

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections.

We definitely need national, nonpartisan, technologically-based redistricting reform that keeps in line with the Voting Rights Act and forces political competition. What we don't need are "reforms" like the one in Texas, which are naked power grabs, which we now see were viewed by the Justice Department as illegal, but then overruled because it would really really help maintain a Republican majority.

In California we just voted down a redistricting proposal, which I didn't support because of the how. But the "why" was right on. I'll be holding my representatives' feet to the fire on coalescing around serious redistricting reform.


Dominionists Go Global

Max Blumenthal at the HuffPo has a story about how James Dobson and John Bolton have been meeting together to determine UN policy:

A disturbing reflection of Bolton's plans was provided by James Dobson in today's Focus on the Family broadcast, in which he and FoF President Jim Daly described a private, hour-long meeting they and a group of FoF staffers recently held with Bolton in New York.

Doesn't that make you feel great? A tax-exempt religious body is meeting with an official governmental foreign policy chief to discuss goals for US foreign policy. Of course, they mostly revolve around the phrase "condoms bad, abstinence good!"

JAMES DOBSON: But we had an opportunity to talk to him about the possibilty of Focus on the Family working with the United Nations. That really did excite me.

DALY: Absolutely. I think what came across in the meeting is that he [Bolton] is pro-life and pro-family and he gave us an invitation to work with him in setting some policy there at the UN that would support the values we believe in.

DOBSON: Now we're finding out why the Democrats didn't want him...

DALY: It had nothing to do...

DOBSON: He's [Bolton's] pro-life, pro-family, pro-morality and sees things the way we do regarding condom distribution and abstinence and other things.

Why are we desperately trying to forestall a theocracy in Iraq while simultaneously trying to create one at home?

Incidentally, Bolton will need to be re-confirmed (having been given a recess appointment) when the next Congress moves in Jan. 2007. The fact that he's allowing an unelected radical Dominionist to set social policy should be at the top of the list for that fight.

...and abstinence-only education is harmful, especially when combined with blocking condom distribution. Wasn't yesterday World AIDS Day? Aren't we supposed to be fighting this disease, not allowing it to spread?


Sites We Like

Robert Scheer has apparently resurfaced. After being unceremoniously dumped by the LA Times, he's heading up a news portal called TruthDig which looks very comprehensive and easy to navigate. It reminds me of The Gadflyer. They have some impressive contributors, like Juan Cole and Marc Cooper.

Today's LA Times did a story about, the SEIU labor union's attempt to bring new voices into the political process. Since money talks, they put together a contest for the best ideas about problems facing Americans, from healthcare to jobs to energy to education. A bipartisan panel of judges will pick the top 21 finalists, and then Web voters will choose the top idea. This is the grassroots at its best, basically a virtual think tank, and it's dedicated to coming up with ideas that help people, regardless of ideology.

(Colbert Nation's pretty good too, if you want the truth)


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Shit, Meet Fan

That's what'll happen in GOP circles in Washington if Jack Abramoff flips:

With a federal corruption case intensifying, prosecutors investigating Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist, are examining whether he brokered lucrative jobs for Congressional aides at powerful lobbying firms in exchange for legislative favors, people involved in the case have said.

The attention paid to how the aides obtained jobs occurs as Mr. Abramoff is under mounting pressure to cooperate with prosecutors as they consider a case against lawmakers. Participants in the case, who insisted on anonymity because the investigation is secret, said he could try to reach a deal in the next six weeks.

Incidentally, brokering jobs for GOP Congressional aides in exchange for favors was the entire point of the K Street Project. If that is shown to be against the law due to tangible kickbacks, practically every single Republican member of Congress will be implicated.

Why, here are two right now:

In a new approach that could contribute to the pressures, prosecutors are sifting through evidence related to the hiring of several former Congressional aides by a lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, where Mr. Abramoff worked from 2000 to last year, according to people who know about the inquiry. That course could impel a new set of Mr. Abramoff's former associates to cooperate to avoid prosecution.

Investigators are said to be especially interested in how Tony C. Rudy, a former deputy chief of staff to Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, and Neil G. Volz, a former chief of staff to Representative BobNey of Ohio, obtained lobbying positions with big firms on K Street.

The hiring pattern is "very much a part of" what prosecutors are focusing on, a person involved in the case said. Another participant confirmed that investigators were trying to determine whether aides conducted "job negotiations with Jack Abramoff" while they were in a position to help him on Capitol Hill.

Prosecutors are trying to establish that "it's not just a ticket to a ballgame, it's major jobs" that exchanged hands, the participant in the case said. Also under examination are payments to lobbyists and lawmakers' wives, including Mr. Rudy's wife, Lisa Rudy, whose firm, Liberty Consulting, worked in consultation with Mr. Abramoff, people involved in case said.

Jack Abramoff has been a GOP operative for decades. He's wedded to that inner circle of conservatives that includes
Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed and all the rest. He's tied to everybody, in short. If he flips it's the equivalent of a 100-ton megabomb landing in the middle of DuPont Circle. Now that's a dirty bomb nobody in the GOP wants to see.


Deserting the Sinking Ship

Per the AP, Bulgaria and Ukraine are pulling their 1,250 troops out of Iraq within the month. This is a telling paragraph:

In the months after the March 2003 invasion, the multinational force numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries. That figure is now just under 24,000 mostly non-combat personnel from 27 countries. The coalition has steadily unraveled as the death toll rises and angry publics clamor for troops to leave.

I wonder what they call the Coalition of the Willing in the White House these days. Probably "cowards" and "terrorist lovers" or something.

Later on in the article, we see that practically every country still left in Iraq is mulling a way to get out:

Underscoring mounting opposition in nearly all coalition countries, a poll published in Japan's Asahi newspaper this week showed 69 percent of respondents opposed extending the mission, up from 55 percent in January. No margin of error was given.

Japan's Kyodo News service reported Wednesday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet would decide Dec. 8 to allow its 600 troops to stay for another year, but it could decide later to withdraw troops around May.

A British drawdown would be the most dramatic.

Although Prime Minister Tony Blair's government insists there is no timetable and British forces will leave only when Iraqi troops can take over, Defense Secretary John Reid suggested last month that a pullout could begin "in the course of the next year."

South Korea, the second-largest coalition partner after Britain, is expected to withdraw about 1,000 of its 3,200 troops in the first half of 2006. The National Assembly is likely to vote on the matter this month.

Italy's military reportedly is preparing to give parliament a timetable for a proposed withdrawal of its 2,800 troops. Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government has said it plans to withdraw forces in groups of 300, but in accordance with the Iraqi government and coalition allies.

Poland's former leftist government, which lost Sept. 25 elections, had planned to withdraw its 1,400 troops in January. The new defense minister, Radek Sikorski, visits Washington this weekend for talks on Poland's coalition plans, and the new government is expected to decide by mid-December whether to extend its mission beyond Dec. 31.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Australian Defense Force, has said about 450 troops in the southern province of Muthanna could leave by May. Australia has about 900 troops and support staff across Iraq.

Not that the coalition was ever that grand anyway, but this is a time when an actual President would be reaching out for support from abroad, rather than watching it crumble. Whatever US troop movements out of Iraq probably need to be supported with a peacekeeping force, preferably one from the region. Instead, everybody's running for the door, realizing well before our leaders that troops in this mission are becoming targets without any definable strategy.

Of course, our disdain of coalition-building in the run-up to the war assuredly affects any ability to maintain or grow a coalition after it. I don't think we'll see any peacekeepers in Iraq when we leave, just a "strong Iraqi army" which will be nowhere near as ready as we're told.


Fighting the Everybody Does It Defense

Phoenix Woman at Kos has a great post about how the GOP is trying to push this "everybody does it" defense to respond to the overwhelming evidence of corruption in their ranks, and how the Democrats are getting better and better at stopping it in its tracks.

For example, yesterday Dem Senator Byron Dorgan appeared to be implicated in the Jack Abramoff investigation, the claim being that he received cash contributions from Abramoff in exchange for Indian tribe funding legislation. Dorgan shot it right down.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., took the unprecedented step Monday of publicly denouncing an Associated Press article he said inaccurately suggested he did favors for Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist being investigated for bilking tribes out of millions of dollars.

Last week's Associated Press story, written by John Solomon and Sharon Theimer, reported that Dorgan and Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., received campaign contributions from Indian tribes and Abramoff's law firm around the time they signed a letter Feb. 11, 2002, asking the Senate Appropriations Committee for an extension of funding for an Indian program. The program puts tribes' school construction projects higher on the list for federal funding if tribes agree to pay for half the costs. The AP says it stands by the story.

It turns out the main source for the AP story was "a lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians" named Jimmy Faircloth, who is little more than a Republican lobbyist. Dorgan got money from the tribe before Abramoff was hired to represent them, and he supported funding the project before getting the money. But the AP got spun by part of the Republican Noise Machine in order to push the line that "everybody does it."

But the party in power has so much more opportunity to "do it," especially if they mount an aggressive campaign to purge ALL Democrats from lobbying organizations, an insidious scheme called the K Street Project. Tom DeLay has been doing this for years. GOP leaders literally get lists of job openings from lobbyists and pick who they want to fill those positions. The whole idea is to cut out campaign contributions to Democrats, and to cut Democratic Congressmen out of the wheeling and dealing on Capitol Hill. Now there are allegations of a corrupt quid pro quo relationship between lobbyists and the GOP, and their repsonse is "everybody does it"? Then why is K Street so mad that they don't have any influence with certain top Democrats?

...Some lobbyists were annoyed that the party’s campaign arm has been reaching out to them more than (Nancy) Pelosi’s office has.

Since the departure this summer of Chief of Staff George Crawford, Pelosi’s office has not been holding its Friday meeting with lobbyists on a regular basis, said several attendees.

“They’ve canceled them a lot more often than they’ve had them,” said one regular attendee.

Democratic sources could recall only two or three meetings occurring since the new chief of staff, John Lawrence, took over in July.

“It’s all about a relationship,” said another frequent attendee. “More communication is always better.”

So the lobbyists can't even get the ear of the House Minority Leader, but all politicians are the same and they're all taking money from lobbyists and this is the criminalization of politics, etc., etc., etc.

Josh Marshall is collecting "nice tries," instances of the media trying to push this line of "everybody does it." Here's his setup, which lays it all out brilliantly:

There is one Democratic member of Congress who is currently the target of a Justice Department investigation, Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans. There are also various Democrats who received money from Jack Abramoff or his many clients.

But let's get real. The Abramoff story is overwhelmingly a Republican scandal. Abramoff's whole racket was as a paymaster and slush-funder for the DC GOP machine.

Then there are the half-a-dozen Republican members of Congress being investigated for criminal infractions arising out of the Abramoff investigation. Then there are all their staffers.

Then there is Abramoff-Norquist associate David Safavian, chief of procurement at OMB who was arrested and indicted for deceiving investigators in the Abramoff case.

Then there are the GOP capos who skimmed money off the Abramoff geyser or laundered money for him, folks like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed.

The Duke Cunningham scandal is a Republican scandal, which we'll soon see spreads into the Rumsfeld Defense Department.

The Abramoff scandal tracks into the Interior Department and the GSA.

Then there's Tom DeLay, remember him, former House Majority Leader, now under indictment in Texas. Set aside that he's also implicated in the Abramoff scandal and quite probably the Duke Cunningham scandal as well.

And then in the other body you've got Sen. Bill Frist who is at the center of a criminal investigation into his stock sales. Frist is actually sort of unique in that it's possible he may not be guilty.

Two Republican members of Congress are under indictment.

Prosecutors have already accused two of taking bribes.

These few examples only scratch the surface. And I've left aside the Fitzgerald investigation because it doesn't turn on money but pure old-fashioned abuse of power.

Yet, Republican media types have been leaning hard yesterday and today on reporters to push the bipartisan corruption line, even though the simple facts of the case simply give no basis for it whatsoever.

It's actually close to laughable.



The difference between military and civilians in the Pentagon

The military guys still have honor:

U.S. troops are obligated to stop Iraqi security forces from committing inhumane acts, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace said that if U.S. servicemembers see inhumane treatment, it is their obligation to “to intervene, to stop it” [...]

After making his comments, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld intervened to clarify Pace’s remarks.

“I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it,” Rumsfeld said

“If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place they have an obligation to try to stop it,” Pace replied.

You can get tied up in technicalities and official protocols or you can do what you think is right. Therein lies the difference.


Always Low Opinions

I don't think that Wal-Mart "war room" spin zone is helping shape public opinion:

The first national survey of public attitudes and opinions about Wal-Mart by Zogby International finds American adults hold an increasingly negative view of Wal-Mart. The poll found 38 percent, or nearly 4 in 10 Americans, hold an unfavorable opinion of Wal-Mart, and 46 percent of Americans believe Wal-Mart’s public image is worse than it was 1 year ago.

The poll found that 56 percent of American adults agreed with the statement - "Wal-Mart was bad for America. It may provide low prices, but these prices come with a high moral and economic cost." In contrast, only 39 percent of American adults agreed with the opposing statement - "I believe Wal-Mart is good for America. It provides low prices and saves consumers money every day."

It's really hard to get people, Americans in particular, to look past their personal dollars-and-cents interests and focus on the big picture. That people are coming around to that with regards to Wal-Mart is either a testament to those doing the work of educating the public, or an example of what a horrible public citizen Wal-Mart truly is. The ways in which they have undercut small business and destroyed the fabric of communities has viscerally affected people in ways that other big-box stores haven't. I saw the Robert Greenwald polemic "The High Cost of Low Prices" (although it wasn't as much of a polemic as I expected, with lots of voices from the workers themselves driving the story) with a bunch of Westside liberals. I can virtually guarantee that not one of them had been to a Wal-Mart. But they've probably gone to Barnes and Noble, or Home Depot, or any of a hundred other big box stores. People get that there's something different about Wal-Mart and their tactics: whether it's locking janitorial crews full of illegal workers in their stores overnight, or urging their workers to apply for public assistance rather than giving them a living wage or an afforable health plan, or trying to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by forcing all workers to do some form of physical activity, or not paying attention to the violent crimes that take place with staggering regularity in their parking lots, which are bereft of security personnel.

What I consider to be the most telling Wal-Mart story is pretty resonant these days, given the "Black Friday" holiday shopping season that we're currently in. There's always some story about Black Friday shoppers getting trampled in the mad rush for store openings. Well, that happens a hell of a lot at Wal-Mart (remember, there's no security outside the store). But this story from 2003 took the cake:

A 41-year-old woman was knocked unconscious and then trampled by a mob of shoppers who continued to step over her as she suffered a seizure during a Friday sale at Wal-Mart in Orange City, Fla., according to Local 6 News.

Authorities said that Patricia Van Lester arrived at Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. for an early sale on a DVD player for her mother. When the store's doors opened at 6 a.m., Van Lester grabbed the DVD player but was quickly overcome by hundreds of shoppers rushing into the store.

The woman was knocked to the ground, slammed her head on the ground and suffered at least one seizure, according to Local 6 News.

Her sister watched the incident and tried to stop the crowd as they made their way to the merchandise.

"I screamed, 'Stop, don't step on her, my sister is on the ground,' and nobody would listen," the woman's sister, Linda Ellzey said. "I've never seen so many people in a store at one time -- in one area. If there was a fire, nobody could've gotten out of there." [...]

Ellzey said Wal-Mart officials called to ask about her sister, and the store apologized and offered to put a DVD player on hold for her.

They wouldn't give her a free DVD player, they wouldn't offer to pay her medical bills. THEY OFFERED TO PUT A DVD PLAYER ON HOLD FOR HER. They basically asked her to spend money at there store again. That was their apology.

Even the devil himself looks at that exchange and thinks, "You guys suck."


Facts on the Ground

Two major gaffes have come out of the President's speech yesterday. In one, the President claimed that the invasion of Tall Afar was an Iraqi operation with Iraqi soldiers in the lead, which was totally contradicted by someone who was there:

I was in that battle from the very beginning to the very end. I was with Iraqi units right there on the front line as they were battling with al Qaeda. They were not leading. They were being led by the U.S. green beret special forces with them.

Then, the President made reference to a goodbye letter written by one of our soldiers:

One of those fallen heroes is a Marine Corporal named Jeff Starr, who was killed fighting the terrorists in Ramadi earlier this year. After he died, a letter was found on his laptop computer. Here's what he wrote, he said, "[I]f you're reading this, then I've died in Iraq. I don't regret going. Everybody dies, but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so they can live the way we live. Not [to] have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators_. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."

Here's the whole letter. Note what was left out.

Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this - that is why I'm writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances. I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom.

It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.

Now, this is a real big sticking point on the right, that the "liberal media" supposedly selectively edits everything to change the meaning of quotes. This butchered quote that the President used does change the meaning. Apparently this guy turned down a $24,000 bonus to re-enlist for a fourth time, preferring to enter college. He's obviously a proud guy, and he wanted to believe in the mission. But to cast it as a sunny-eyed "I died for freedom" line distorts and disfigures his memory.

But I guess it's like spitting into the wind to ask for this White House to be honest about the war.


Oh Shit

Not able to verify this with more than the one source, but this is what Reuters is reporting:

Iraqi militants attacked a U.S. base and a local government building with mortar rounds and rockets in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Thursday, before holding ground on several central streets, residents said.

Around 400 heavily armed, masked men were patrolling the main thoroughfares of the city, long a focus of guerrilla activity, and had set up checkpoints at major entrance and exit points, residents from across Ramadi told Reuters.

Leaflets were distributed and posted on walls declaring that al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was taking over the city.

"They've taken control of all the main streets and other sections of Ramadi," a reporter there for Reuters said. "I've seen about 400 armed men controlling streets, some of which were controlled by Americans before," he said.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq is taking control of Ramadi," one of the leaflets read. "Its followers will burn the Americans and will drive them back to their homes by force. Iraq will be a graveyard for the Americans and its allies."

Tet, anyone?

Incidentally, Ramadi is a massive city smack in the middle of the Sunni triangle, and there are no coalition or Iraqi forces patrolling the streets. Yeah, things are going great.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Because Gray Davis Was So Popular

Wouldn't you want to stay away from aides to the only recalled governor in California history?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, launching an overhaul of his administration, today named a former Democratic Party activist and high-ranking aide to Gray Davis as his new chief of staff.

The hiring of Susan P. Kennedy — a former executive director of the California Democratic Party, longtime abortion rights activist and Cabinet secretary to Davis, the Democrat whom Schwarzenegger replaced — signals a shift in direction for the Republican governor.

Yeah, a shift into desperation territory.

Look, Gray Davis was as much a marriage of convenience for California liberals as Schwarzenegger is for hardcore conservatives. So by appointing someone who shares his liberal social issue platform (which will piss off those hardcore conservatives) but also embodies Gray Davis' DLC, pro-corporate stances (which will piss off liberals), Schwarzenegger has appeared to alienate everyone in the state with one simple move. When you get quotes like this from conservatives:

"She embodies everything I have spent my life opposing. It obviously raises more problems and concerns about where he is headed next year," said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly. "There is a list of things now where it appears we would have been better off if Gray Davis were governor."

And quotes like this from progressives:

On the other side of the political spectrum, Barry Broad, a union lobbyist, said the moves suggest Schwarzenegger's government is "literally turning back into the Davis administration before our very eyes. I can't believe that they recall them and then hire them back."'re simply asking to be beaten by 50 points next November. The only people that seem to like her are exactly the entrenched career politicians in Sacramento Schwarzenegger spent a whole year fighting. And, Kennedy claimed she voted for every one of Arnold's odious initiatives (which puts her in a distinct minority in the state).

Smooth move.

P.S. She also happens to be gay and married to her partner, which is pretty interesting for the Chief of Staff to the governor of the nation's largest state to be. Maybe we'll get to a post-civil rights day and age where that's not so unusual.


Profiles in Fake Outrage Vol. XV

It's been two years now that Bill O'Reilly has been yelling about the plot to hijack Christmas, the far left progressive secular heathen liberal plot to kill the anniversary of Christ's birth by changing all the signs in stores to say "Happy Holidays." Because, you know, I'm sure the original intent of Christmas was to have everyone trample each other getting into stores so they could be faced by "Happy Holidays" signs to begin with. As far as I know, the only people who make this decision are the stores themselves, who want to appeal to the greatest number of people, and think that de-Christianizing signs for the holiday season will do that (though I personally could give a shit, and I suspect that's the mainstream view). If anything, Bill's beef is with capitalism.

Here's the funny thing. O'Reilly's OWN Fox News website sells The O'Reilly Factor HOLIDAY Ornament. Says it right there on the website. Bill's beef, then, is with his employer. Last year, it was discovered that Fox News was having a holiday party. So this is nothing new. I wonder if FNC will get on his "enemies list" now.

Clearly this is trumped-up, fake outrage to get his audience all in a tizzy by pushing a totally meaningless story, and all the while using the same "mass appeal" philosophy he decries in others to peddle his own tacky crap.

And the etymology of "holidays" is a contraction of "Holy Days." So even his initial point is stupid. What a loser.


Profiles in Fake News, Part MCMXVIII

So the US military is paying Iraqi newspapers to plant "nonpartisan" stories in their publications. If that's not exporting democracy, what is? I mean, here in the States, the Education Department was paying Armstrong Williams to write positive stories. The HHS Department and the ONDCP were creating fake "video news releases" and giving them to local news affiliates to air without divulging that they came from the government.

We're just exporting the democratic principle of propaganda!

As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.

The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.

Military psychological operations are time-tested in times of war. In fact, the military tried to mainstream this by creating an "Office of Strategic Influence" in late 2002, designed to plant propaganda stories in foreign media (it was nixed as soon as anyone found out about it). But in a war that, on principle, is about spreading freedom and democracy (at least that's what they're telling us this week), we are apparently undermining one particular freedom, that of the press, at the same time. Why, read the words of Donald Rumsfeld just yesterday:

The country is -- has a free media, and they can -- it's a relief valve.  They could have hundred-plus papers.  There's 72 radio stations.  There's 44 television stations.  And they're debating things and talking and arguing and discussing.

But what about the fact that we're planting fake stories in with this debate? Well, democracy is imperfect and messy, I'm sure that'd be the reply.


Mr. Irrelevant

Joe Lieberman is living on another planet. I don't think there's anybody to his right on this war. Even Don Imus had to smack him down. He had to say "You're the only person I talked to who thinks things are going well there..." He had to say "What evidence do you have that Saddam wanted to blow up Bridgeport or Cleveland?" After Joementum used the point that Saddam invaded his neighbors in the region, he said "We approved of him invading Iran!" Finally he had to say "Somebody's got something on you, this is crazy."

Time Magazine's Baghdad bureau chief summed it up:

I and some other journalists had lunch with Senator Joe Lieberman the other day and we listened to him talking about Iraq. Either Senator Lieberman is so divorced from reality that he's completely lost the plot or he knows he's spinning a line. Because one of my colleagues turned to me in the middle of this lunch and said he's not talking about any country I've ever been to and yet he was talking about Iraq, the very country where we were sitting.

This is a guy that's said "we saw a car bomb go off about 100 feet from us, but life was going on right next to it!" As if the fact that there are still living and breathing people left in Iraq is proof of success.

Mr. Irrelevant.


What Does Temporary Worker Mean?

The other big set of speeches the President has given this week were on the topic of immigration. Every time these speeches are given, the last thing that ever gets discussed are the already-on-the-books (but woefully unenforced) penalties to employers for hiring undocumented workers. If there's no supply, there will be no demand. Of course, that would hurt agribusiness and companies like Wal-Mart, who locks illegal cleaning crews in the store overnight. So enforcement is never stressed.

What has been stressed is border enforcement (fine, exactly, who's not for that?) and this "temporary worker" program (which used to be "guest worker," but I guess that sounded too nice for the conservatives who weren't on board with the plan), which is long on hopefulness but short on substance. We know that the plan calls for illegal workers to get a temporary work permit to attain employment for up to 6 years, then return to their countries (for up to a year, and then the whole process can start over again). What we never hear is what this will mean to their paychecks. Will they be paid the federal minimum wage (they certainly aren't now, that's why they get hired)? Will the need to be paid on the books? Will they pay into Social Security, and reap the benefits? Will they be covered with disability? Will they be able to unionize?

I think these things are deliberately murky so that the focus is on these temporary worker cards, and everyone can go back to business as usual. Making the 10 million illegal workers legal would be a boon to the federal treasury, but really eliminate the need for these workers from a business standpoint. I don't buy the bunch of bull that immigrants do the work that American workers won't do. There's nothing a hungry, unemployed American wouldn't do to feed his family. Businesses hire illegal workers because they're cheap, not because of a labor shortage. If this temporary worker program comes into place, and it's above board, there would be no compelling interest for business to hire any temporary workers. It seems to me that the plan is to put the temporary worker fig leaf over the whole thing, and then continue the cycle of exploitation and poor enforcement.

Let's not even get into the realities of how you'd get workers that have been here 6 years to leave.


Stepping Up to the Victory Podium Again

TBogg nails the recurrent theme embodied by today's "how to win" speech on Iraq:

Tomorrow (now today):

Bush to lay out Iraq victory strategy

November 14, 2005

Bush takes on critics of Iraq war

October 6, 2005

Bush plans 'major speech' on Iraq, terrorism

June 29, 2005

Bush: Iraq 'vital' to U.S. security

May 24, 2004

Bush to Outline Iraq Plans

And so on. Clearly the response to changing conditions on the ground is to give a speech. And most of these speeches have roughly the same language in them. And the media breathlessly covers them as if they reveal new information. I stopped watching sometime in mid-2003.

Actually, the additional info in this one is that, miraculously, after years of horrible reports from the commanders on the ground about the training of Iraqi forces (one batallion was ready as of just a couple menths ago), we learn that they've fully readied themselves overnight! Pardon me if i believe James Fallows over this band of happy-talkers. Rumsfeld has been saying we have more Iraqi troops in place for years now, but every time, there's a reassessment, and he's found to have been playing with the numbers. The fact that we're even still talking about how many Iraqi troops are trained nearly three years after the invasion is damning enough.

The actual victory strategy document is little more than a combination of sloganeering and statements like "our mission is to win the war." Long on why, short on how. Which is what this effort has always been. My main man Russ Feingold says that the errors in this document start with the title. We shouldn't be drafting a strategy to win in Iraq, we should be drafting a strategy to win over Al Qaeda. That's been the problem from the beginning.

He explained clearly that the American presence in Iraq--our military occupation of Iraq--was the single largest factor fueling the terrorists in the world, today. He said that the President was mistaken or confused in his understanding, and that key generals and Iraqis themselves had said that the most important factor that his helping Al Qaeda is the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

[...] He used a chessboard metaphor to explain that the fight against Al Qaeda is taking place in dozens of countries around the world. Therefore, what the President is advocating, according to Feingold, is that we fight only in "one square" and not on the whole board. It was a very clear way to frame this discussion. And one that has legs, I believe.

So, again, the Cheerleader-in-Chief gives a rah-rah, isn't-everything-terrific speech without any specifics, and when it's coupled with the inevitable, politically timed troop withdrawals next year, it'll be hailed as proof that the strategy worked.

To which I dare say, WHAT STRATEGY???


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don't Fly Over King Cheney's Bunker

The Cheney Administration is making sure NOBODY flies over that undisclosed location. From the AP:

The Federal Aviation Administration has imposed flight restrictions over Dick Cheney's new Maryland home, angering private pilots who say they can't fly overhead even when the vice president isn't around.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association spokesman Chris Dancy said Tuesday the FAA only imposes restrictions at Cheney's Jackson Hole, Wyo., home when he's there. He questioned the need to have the restrictions in place at all times over a home in Maryland, which has much more air traffic.

So anyone coming within one nautical mile of Lord Cheney's residence (in St. Michaels, MD, about 30 miles from DC) risks being escorted away by fighter jets or shot down.

Hey, I know, can we actually inspect the cargo containers that go into every commercial aircraft in this country instead of placing fighter jets on personal standby protecting the Dark Sith Lord's undisclosed location at all times???

Heck, he apparently doesn't even live there:

The vice president's official residence is on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Northwest Washington, part of the region covered by airspace restrictions that were put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks.

That's a new one to me. The Creature of the Night lives in the Naval Observatory. It must be a condo in a military-industrial complex.

Here's my favorite part of the story:

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the St. Michaels' restriction is classified as temporary, though she acknowledged there is no date for it to be lifted.

Permanently temporary. Like our presence in Iraq.

When some uninformed private plane gets plastered all over CNN for two hours because he veered too close to an EMPTY HOUSE, can we then say this is completely ridiculous? Or can we do so now, and save some taxpayer money?


Watch Me Humiliate Myself on Jimmy Kimmel.

Completely off topic - I just got out of the El Capitan Theater in LA... If you watch closely in the last segment of Jimmy Kimmel Live tonight (in about 15 minutes on the East Coast), you'll see me get ridiculed by comedian Todd Glass. About my big stinkin' nose.

It's a long story to get to how I got there (maybe I'll post it tomorrow, but yes, I did get paid for this honor), but I thought I'd pass it along. See your fellow blogger in living color!!!


3 Years Late

Think Progress is right. The time to release an unclassified “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” was March 2003, not tomorrow morning at 6:30am.


Great Idea

The DNC will hold its annual meeting next year in New Orleans. What that city, which relied on conventions and tourism even in good times, needs more than anything is an injection of cash. This isn't the 2008 convention, but it's what the DNC can do right now:

The Democratic National Committee will hold its spring 2006 meeting in New Orleans, providing an economic boost of 400 visitors as the city continues its recovery from Hurricane Katrina, officials said Monday.

"We wanted to make a statement that New Orleans will come back and we wanted in a small way to contribute to that effort by moving a major convention to New Orleans," party Chairman Howard Dean said in a telephone interview.

The Party also showed it was not as doctrinaire to special interests with this move:

Democratic events usually are held only in union hotels, Dean said, but with the only available venue for the event being the nonunion Sheraton Hotel the party was able to get labor officials to give the party "a full pass on this one."

Dean also made overtures about holding the 2008 Democratic Convention there, but acknowledged that might be a little much for the struggling city to handle. Still, 400 visitors by April is about what they can handle, and I think it's a fine gesture that one of the first organizations to return to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina is the national Democratic Party.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Bombs Away!

The always must-read Sy Hersh is back, and this time he's claiming that we shouldn't judge the book of expected troop pullouts in Iraq next year by its cover:

In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year... One sign of the political pressure on the Administration to prepare for a withdrawal came last week, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News that the current level of American troops would not have to be maintained “for very much longer,” because the Iraqis were getting better at fighting the insurgency [...]

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

Since there is no Iraqi air force, supporting their troops with air power sounds like a good idea in one respect; it gets American soldiers out of harm's way. Of course, it only expands the war at a point where our presence is supposed to be lowering. And then you read this:

Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”

If we don't have a presence on the ground, the aircraft will fly blind based on whatever whims the Iraqis in charge dream up, and the Sunni areas will simply be sliced to ribbons. We'd be the air component of the Iraqi civil war. And there's no guarantee that firing from the air would even work against an insurgency that lives underground anyway.

By the way, according to Hersh, we're already up to our necks in sorties and bombing missions inside Iraq. During the Vietnam War there would be reports about the tonnage dropped on North Vietnam, daily updates about how many flights and how many bombs. There's none of that in this war. They're hitting stuff hard and without much in the way of strategy. They're just bombing Iraq back to the Stone Age, which, given their predicament, means they're bombing Iraq back three years.

Meanwhile, there's this disturbing bit of news about the man in charge. Basically, he's a prisoner to the policy:

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose [...]

“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”

That's just so dangerous on so many levels. Nobody should be that utterly convinced of their own infallibility. Especially went it's contradicted by the preponderance of the evidence.

There are other great tidbits in the article, about Jack Murtha being the confidant for a lot of top Pentagon commanders (in other words, he was speaking for them), about how the Army cannot keep up the force levels that go along with staying the course (which is what's really driving the policy), about how Iyad Allawi is being tapped (again) to become the permanent Prime Minister (and how the British and Americans will do everything they can to make that happen), about how the civil war in Iraq has really already begun, and this, about how the Iraq war isn't even limited to Iraq any longer:

Meanwhile, as the debate over troop reductions continues, the covert war in Iraq has expanded in recent months to Syria. A composite American Special Forces team, known as an S.M.U., for “special-mission unit,” has been ordered, under stringent cover, to target suspected supporters of the Iraqi insurgency across the border. (The Pentagon had no comment.) “It’s a powder keg,” the Pentagon consultant said of the tactic. “But, if we hit an insurgent network in Iraq without hitting the guys in Syria who are part of it, the guys in Syria would get away. When you’re fighting an insurgency, you have to strike everywhere—and at once.”

All in all, this is another fascinating and saddening article by Hersh, whose sources are impeccable and who has gotten a whole lot right throughout his career and particularly during this war.

UPDATE: This story at Booman Tribune puts the air war strategy in its historical perspective. It didn't really work in Vietnam or Cambodia either.


Worse Than Saddam

And he oughta know, because as interim Prime Minister, he's the proximate cause:

Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and are even in danger of eclipsing his record, according to the country's first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam's regime.

'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'

In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said.

This is the guy that allegedly shot a bunch of insurgents execution-style in the back of the head. So if anyone would be the go-to source about Iraqi human rights abuses, it's this guy. I'm only surprised that he's surprised about it.

Some of this is politics, given that Allawi stands to gain in the upcoming elections, and he's slamming the status quo as represented by the current government. But I think this accurately represents the view in Iraq, and that's a crushing blows to our hopes there. When militias can gun down Sunni leaders while wearing Iraqi Army uniforms, clearly they're beyond the government's control. Of course, if we leave Iraq NOW there will be chaos. Yeah. As if there isn't chaos already.


CNN tips off GOP Strategy on Cunningham

About an hour ago, in the Situation Room on CNN, James Carville and Rich Galen were having their strategy session, and discussing the resignation of the Duke, Randy Cunningham.

On the ubiquitous "Situation Room" back wall was the phrase "crooked congressmen." There were three members of Congress on the picture behind it. One of them was definitely Harry Reid, and I couldn't make out the other two. But it looked a lot like the Reid-Schumer-Durbin picture from a few weeks ago after Harry brought the Senate into closed session.

Now, when CNN inadvertently puts an X on the screen during a Dick Cheney speech, that becomes such big news on the right that CNN has to announce some sort of retraction and apology. The right loves to yell about this kind of low-level bias. But when the story is about a Republican member of Congress and the picture is of the Democratic Senate Minority Leader, that's clearly premeditated, will there be a hue and cry? I doubt it.

In addition, I think we see exactly how the GOP is going to approach this story through that graphic. It was designed to muddy the waters, a visual representation of the "everybody does it" defense. I've always found this completely silly; even if you take it on its face (and given the preponderance of Republican corruption these days, you can't), does the fact that everybody in Congress takes bribes mean that you shouldn't prosecute the taking of bribes? Does the volume of crimes supersede the enforcement of crimes? That's absurd and contemptuous of the rule of law.

As we go on with the continuing drip drip of Culture of Corruption stories, this attempt to make it into an "everybody does it" story needs to be met quickly and without equivocation. If there are members on the Democratic side with ethical problems, take them through the legal system as well. This is not a partisan issue.


Our Plan, Git Yer Goddam Hands Off Our Plan

The White House appears to be governing by poll numbers on this one. I welcome their coming around to the sensible belief that troop withdrawal from Iraq is the preferred course at this point. I don't welcome this revisionism that it was their idea all along:

The White House for the first time has claimed possession of an Iraq withdrawal plan, arguing that a troop pullout blueprint unveiled this past week by a Democratic senator was "remarkably similar" to its own.

It also signaled its acceptance of a recent US Senate amendment designed to pave the way for a phased US military withdrawal from the violence-torn country.

The statement late Saturday by White House spokesman Scott McClellan came in response to a commentary published in The Washington Post by Joseph Biden, the top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said US forces will begin leaving Iraq next year "in large numbers."

According to Biden, the United States will move about 50,000 servicemen out of the country by the end of 2006, and "a significant number" of the remaining 100,000 the year after.

The blueprint also calls for leaving only an unspecified "small force" either in Iraq or across the border to strike at concentrations of insurgents, if necessary.

In the White House statement, which was released under the headline "Senator Biden Adopts Key Portions Of Administration's Plan For Victory In Iraq," McClellan said the administration of President George W. Bush welcomed Biden's voice in the debate.

"Today, Senator Biden described a plan remarkably similar to the administration's plan to fight and win the war on terror," the spokesman went on to say.

McClellan added that as Iraqi security forces gain strength and experience, "we can lessen our troop presence in the country without losing our capability to effectively defeat the terrorists."

McClellan said the White House now saw "a strong consensus" building in Washington in favor of Bush's strategy in Iraq.

Puh-leeze. What was the point of that little "immediate withdrawal" nonsense last week in the House, then? How about the catcalls after Rep. Murtha asked for a 6-month repdeployment to the periphery? Is anyone buying this notion of "No, no, no... see, it was our idea all along!"

This is the kind of idea piracy that made Republicans livid about Clinton. But I think it's a little different. Whereas Clinton would present the idea himself, here the Bush Administration allows someone else to present the idea, gauges the public reaction, and if it's positive, jumps in and says "That was our idea all along!" They did it a lot during the election. It's the behavior of a group who is, dare I say it, out of ideas.

Then, when Iraq sinks into chaos after the implementation of this idea (which is inevitable; there is no magic bullet for getting out of Iraq without the chaos that exists there now, and anyone who tells you otherwise has their head in the clouds), the White House can turn right around and say "See, Sen. Biden's idea didn't work! Typical liberal softness on terror!" It's a particular genius, but one the American people have kind of tuned out after 5 years.


Access Hollywood! I mean, DC.

This really is an amazing story by Howard Kurtz about the racket Bob Woodward had at the Washington Post until the whole Plamegate fiasco hit him. He was really just a book author being paid by the Post on retainer, a guy who wrote 2 stories for them in 3 years, who would allow the Post to excerpt his books when they came out. And his books are little more than narrative re-creations of his interviews with high-level White House officials. He's a stenographer and an admitted fabricator who frequently reshapes conversations he would never possibly be present for to fit his narrative.

This is journalism?

I agree with the readers in the online chat:

But the bonds of trust with some readers seem to have been frayed, if feedback to the paper is any measure. When Downie hosted an online chat recently, the questioners' tone was strikingly hostile.

"Do you think Woodward was covering up for the vice president?" one reader asked. "I used to regard Mr. Woodward as a hero," said another. "Mr. Woodward appeared to be more interested in protecting his book than reporting the news," said a third.

I think it's time we ended this whole occupation of "access journalism," which can be too easily managed by the high-ranking officials who give you the access. The journalist (or stenographer) craves the access for future stories, so he/she won't write anything that harms the relationship. What you end up getting is no different than a White House press conference under the guise of "insider" journalism. Politicians have figured out this game. Guys like Woodward haven't.

UPDATE: This bit is unbelievable:

"He needs as his window into history the people who talk to him," says former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry, noting that not everyone in that White House cooperated with Woodward. "That gives you a very flawed and distorted view.

"I certainly was a source on some of his books. I felt like I ended up having a prominent role that really didn't reflect reality. My role was inflated because I talked to him. You become part of the breathless narrative."

Woodward's a reconstructor without the credibility to reconstruct.


Handing Out Guilty Pleas...

on the streets of DC...

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham will plead guilty to tax violations, a person close to the investigation of the California Republican has told The Associated Press.

Cunningham has been under investigation since his sale of his home to a defense contractor at an apparently inflated price in 2003 attracted the attention of federal investigators.

A hearing in the case was scheduled in federal court in San Diego on Monday, and two people close to the investigation said Cunningham would enter a guilty plea. One of those people said he would plead to tax violations related to the home sale.

In November 2003, he sold his Del Mar, Calif., home to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1,675,000. Wade put the house back on the market and sold it after nearly a year for $975,000 — a loss of $700,000 in one of the nation's hottest housing markets.

Wade also let Cunningham live rent-free on his yacht, the Duke Stir, at the Capital Yacht Club. His firm, MZM Inc., donated generously to Cunningham's campaigns.

The quo in that quid was that Mitchell Wade's contracting company, MZM, received millions in defense contracts - and Cunningham was the Congressman giving them out.

Maybe if all of these Republican Congressmen agree to plead guilty at the same time, we could hold the court hearings in the Capitol Rotunda for everyone's convenience!



My parents have no reliable Internet access, and I didn't bring my non-working laptop, so I was cut off from the online world for a few days. Forced me to read the dreaded MSM again! Gadzooks!

Actually, I did notice something disappointing. I grew up reading and loving the Philadelphia Inquirer, particularly the Sunday front page, which would be filled with great national and international stories. These days the Inky is nothing but a wire service report. Practically every story in the entire front section was from the AP, with a few from the LA Times and other papers. I believe the Inquirer is part of the Knight-Ridder conglomerate, which includes 32 dailies, like the Philly Daily News, Miami Herald, and San Jose Mercury News. But there aren't even that many examples of cross-pollination between those papers. Mostly it's wire service stories. Dick Polman appears to be the only Washington beat reporter left. The local news and sports pages are a little more robust, but not by much.

In recent weeks the Knight-Ridder corporate board has been pressuring the company to sell its many newspaper holdings. Of course, falling circulation is seen as the culprit. But it seems to me that newspapers do a very good business online, where ad space can be another revenue stream. It seems to be they have done a poor job of creating ad partnerships between their offline and online media. The conglomeration of newspapers, along with the need for more and more profits doctated by corporate overlords, inevitably leads to cuts in the newsrooms, and you end up with once-proud papers like the Inquirer being made with a skeleton crew of typesetters. Even the LA Times and the NY Times are facing job cuts this year. It's enough to discourage actual journalism in this country. I'm not one of these blog triumphalists that believes in a new paradigm where the blogosphere becomes the new newspapers. But the constant focus on profits above content makes the whole MSM crappy media argument a self-fulfilling prophecy.