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

Friday, January 20, 2006

Something You'll Never Hear

"So Republicans are running in 2006 on the same tired policies of the past. They didn't work then and they're not going to work now. We need to move ahead instead of clinging to the failed policies of a bygone age."

Democrats get tarred with this brush over and over again, but Republicans do the exact same thing. Just like 2002 and 2004, they're going to say "we'll protect you" and "Dems love terrorists" and expect you to buy it all over again. This despite the fact that Osama and his top lieutenants are still at large and openly laughing at us; despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security got failing grades for protecting the nation's ports, chemical facilities, airports, and borders; despite the fact that Iraq is in the same sorry shape it was nearly three years ago, and that it's now a training ground for international terrorism.

And if the Democrats do the same "clam up" strategy on national security, guess what? It'll work.

Please, somebody in the DNC offices, listen to your constituents: you can run on security as much as they can. Don't be afraid of your own shadow.


The March of Stonewall McClellan

I alluded to this in an earlier post, but it's really fascinating. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked 15 days ago about visits by convicted criminal Jack Abramoff to the White House for meetings with members of the staff.

Q Any update on the Abramoff visits to the White House beyond the three parties that he attended?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I indicated yesterday that I think there were some — a few staff-level meetings. But, no, I’m making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that. And I’ll get that to you, hopefully very soon.

As soon as he got that "thorough report," McClellan decided that it was not Administration policy to discuss staff-level meetings.

Q Specific staff? You were going to get back to us on the specific staff —

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, my understanding from the check that we did was that there are just a few staff-level meetings in addition to those.

Q Who was in the staff meetings?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t get into discussing staff-level meetings.

First of all, that's not true. I've heard about meetings between the President and his advisers countless times from that podium. Second of all, if it's not Administration policy to discuss staff-level meetings, why did McClellan promise a "thorough report"? Third of all, we know that there are published reports of at least some staff-level contacts with Abramoff. The White House is not denying them. How much more damaging can it be if they're already acknowledging meetings? And if it's just "a few meetings" with low-level staffers, what is the harm in delineating what they were and with whom?

Maybe because they weren't so low-level:

Abramoff was so closely tied to the Bush Administration that he could, and did, charge two of his clients $25,000 for a White House lunch date and a meeting with the President. From the same two clients he took to the White House in May 2001, Abramoff also obtained $2.5 million in contributions for a non-profit foundation he and his wife operated.

Another report suggests that Abramoff may have appealed to his former secretary to get a senior White House official involved in stopping a Justice Department investigation:

In 2002 Bush himself fired a prosecutor, Frederick Black, investigating Abramoff over a scandal in Guam.  Rove recommended the replacement and the inquiry of Abramoff ended! ""The demotion of ... Black looks political and should be investigated," Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, said in a press release." It would be Obstruction of Justice by Bush if true, and I personally believe it to be Obstruction, given what we already know.

Here's a bit more from the article:

A U.S. grand jury in Guam opened an investigation of controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff more than two years ago, but President Bush removed the supervising federal prosecutor and the inquiry ended soon after.

The transactions were the target of a grand jury subpoena issued Nov. 18, 2002, according to a copy obtained by The Times. The subpoena demanded that Anthony Sanchez, administrative director of the Guam Superior Court, release records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments.

A day later, the chief prosecutor, U.S. Atty. Frederick A. Black, who had launched the investigation, was demoted. A White House news release announced that Bush was replacing Black.

There are definitely major contacts going on here, and the White House is clamming up about them. For some reason, nobody in the media outside the Press Room is calling the Administration to account on this. Krugman summed it up like this:

So I have a question for my colleagues in the news media: Why isn't the decision by the White House to stonewall on the largest corruption scandal since Warren Harding considered major news?


P.S. I noticed that George Clooney used Abramoff's name as a punch line in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. This is something the Right does all the time, and it wouldn't hurt to emulate. Humor can be a powerful way to get your message across, and a ridiculed public figure quickly becomes radioactive. See Michael Moore.


Welcome to Politics, Mr. Schwarzenegger

See, you can't just change your political ideology the way you step from one movie role to the next and not expect people to be upset with you.

Republican activists disenchanted with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday that they will try to strip the governor of the party's endorsement unless he fires his new chief of staff, Democrat Susan P. Kennedy.

Restive Republicans said they would rally conservatives behind a resolution, to be offered at the state GOP convention in San Jose next month, that may give Schwarzenegger an ultimatum: Dump Kennedy by March 15 or the party will withdraw its backing of his reelection bid.

Drafts of the resolution are circulating, and proponents of the idea are planning to meet in Palm Springs this weekend to discuss strategy.

The insurgent party members said they are attempting to mobilize support among gun owners, abortion opponents and other conservatives.

"We've gotten to the point where we've just had it with the guy," said Michael Schroeder, an attorney from Corona del Mar and a former chairman of the California Republican Party. "It's become clear that he's no longer pursuing a Republican agenda."

Steve Frank, a conservative activist from Simi Valley who is planning to attend the convention, said: "I know who he is today. I have no idea who he will be tomorrow.... And we need some predictability as to which Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor."

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the GOP mounted some third-party candidate like Jim Gilchrist and really sunk Arnold. He's run to the center, then right, then left. Now everybody can't stand him.

I do think it's time to increase the pressure on him from the Democratic end, though. The reason Arnold's "year of reform" turned into a sopping mess is because groups like the nurses, teachers and firefighters got on TV early and often in a variety of ways (ads, stunts, free media) and defined his agenda to the voters. There was no way for Arnold to climb out of that. If Angelides or Westly want the governor's mansion in November they ought to be doing the same thing. The cult of personality is powerful, and the move back to the left actually started to sway some independent voters, who didn't realize what a boondoggle and a bribe this infrastructure bond issue truly is.

You don't let your opponent off the hook. This is an election year. It's time to crank it up a notch.


Don't Go Wobbly

I may have been overly effusive in my praise of Democratic efforts to come out swinging at Republican corruption and cronyism. This article, where Sen. Reid inexplicably apologizes to 33 GOP Senators, not for specific allegations in the report (none of which have been questioned) but apparently for creating it on Senate letterhead, is deeply puzzling. It allowed the writer to operate in a fact-free universe, and imagine the scandal as a bipartisan one:

The Abramoff investigation threatens to ensnare at least a half dozen members of Congress of both parties and Bush administration officials. Abramoff, who has admitted to conspiring to defraud his Indian tribe clients, has pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges and is cooperating with prosecutors.

With the midterm elections 10 months away, Democrats have tried to link Abramoff to Republicans, the main recipients of his largesse.

As Josh Marshall notes, not one Democratic member of Congress is under investigation in the Abramoff case. And "trying to link" Abramoff to Republicans is like "trying to link" Superman to the Justice League of America. Abramoff is a Republican. The former head of the College Republicans. A Bush patriot whose personal contributions of over $150,000 have all been given to Republicans. In fact, once Abramoff started dealing with tribal clients who historically gave money to both parties, these tribes started giving less money to Democrats.

The article is a piece of garbage. But the fact that Sen. Reid apologized allowed it to venture into "everybody does it" territory. Digby made his concerns known about this a couple days ago, referring to a Reid interview with Jim Lehrer that I didn't see:

Here we have Harry Reid trying very hard to make Jim Lehrer see that this is a Republican scandal. But because he is focused on "lobbying reform" --- just like the Republicans are --- Jim doesn't see the beef. Everybody knows that politicans and lobbyists are in each others' pockets. This seems to him like a tempest in a teapot. (Or he's pretending it does. Lehrer knows very well what the real story is.)

The problem is that Reid and the rest of the Democratic party believed that they had to "offer a solution" because otherwise the public would think they are just being negative. (And yes, the punditocrisy would have been all over them for not offering any solutions, just like they always are.) But had they simply said, "this is way beyond lobbying reform. Republicans like Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff have been running a criminal enterprise out of the US congress," they could have framed the argument as Republican criminality instead of systemic problems that can be fixed with a few changes in the rules.

It upsets me to say that this sounds very right. I think the drip drip drip of the Justice Department will eventually compel the suggestion that this is Republican criminality in Congress that we're dealing with here. But remember, it's Bush's Justice Department. And he won't even go on the record about repeated visits by Abramoff to the White House for meetings with staff members.

So now is not the time to go wobbly. Democratic strategists that are afraid to challenge the White House on illegal domestic spying because they think it will damage credibility on national security are the same people that have consistently lost elections for over a decade. They're the same people that have dove public opinion on Democratic national security right into the shitter, simply by buying in to Republican framing and spin. It's as if there is no contact between these strategists and the base constituency. There are admirable Democrats who have been doing their job, but far too many are still way too reactive to these bullshit spin arguments. As soon as they say "Democrats have no ideas" they offer up a plan for ethics reform without detailing that Republicans have broken existing laws. As soon as they say "Democrats are soft on national security" they fret over discussing ANYTHING to do with the topic, even if Republican credibility on Iraq is shot, and if the real issue of civil liberties is incredibly resonant to most Americans.

Then they go ahead and get a guy to give the Democratic rebuttal for the State of the Union who needs a public speaking coach. And that's not a metaphor, he ACTUALLY needs a public speaking coach.

It's like we're trying to lose. Sigh...


Yes, President DeanKennedyPelosiReid Didn't Catch Osama in Afghanistan

It's unbelievable to me that someone who's spent more than a day in a TV newsroom would take an Osama bin Laden tape completely at face value. But that's what Tweety Bird Chris Matthews did yesterday, comparing bin Laden's rhetoric to Michael Moore.

Matthews: I mean he sounds like an over the top Michael Moore here, if not a Michael Moore.

Are you joking? Seriously, you think bin Laden is an honest fellow? You think everything he says is spoken from the heart? Even the Vice President managed to figure out that his offer for a truce was a ploy (earning him the title of "No-Shit Sherlock" for 2006). Tweety Bird can't fathom that?

This guy can:

"You'd think the only focus tonight would be on destroying Osama Bin Laden, not  comparing him to an American who opposes the war whether you like him or not. You want a real debate that America needs? Here goes: If the administration had done the job right in Tora Bora we might not be having discussions on Hardball about a new Bin Laden tape. How dare Scott McClellan tell America that this Administration puts terrorists out of business when had they put Osama Bin Laden out of business in Afghanistan when our troops wanted to, we wouldn't have to hear this barbarian's voice on tape. That's what we should be talking about in America." -- John Kerry

Where was that John Kerry in 2004...

The notion that George Bush will experience a surge in popularity due to the release of an Osama bin Laden tape is a media creation. Instead of asking the basic facts, like, you know, why the fuck is this guy still alive, the media goes back to their conventional wisdom charts, reads that "evil libruls are soft on terrorism" and tosses out the same old tired narrative.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Who gives a shit what Laura Bush thinks

Why are reporters asking the wife of the President what she thinks about the internal workings of Congress and how Republicans and lobbyists engage in quid pro quo associations as if she knows ANYTHING about that? Did Bar Bush get these kind of questions? Betty Ford? Rosalynn Carter? Nancy Reagan, who was out consulting astrologers for her husband?

When are we going to ask Jenna about health care? Young Barbara about immigration? Barney the Scotch Terrier about Iraq?

As for Hillary, I agree: I'm sure a a Hillary vs. Laua debate could be arranged.


O.T. Original Terrorist

So Osama has checked back in with the American infidels, offering a truce (why didn't we leap at that, I'm sure he's on the up and up) and claiming that his fighters are preparing new attacks. What I want to know (along with 9/11 widow Kristin Breitweiser) is, why haven't we found this guy yet? Every time one of these tapes come out there is a "chain of custody." In other words, bin Laden hands the tape to someone, who hands it to someone, who hands it to someone, who hands it to someone, who gets it to the al Jazeera headquarters in Pakistan. This has been going on since at least 1998. How has the largest and most robust intelligence apparatus in the world not penetrated this?

It's been over four years since 9/11. That's a real long time. We vanquished Hitler within four years. Tojo. Mussolini. Kaiser Wilhelm. Milosevic. It's astounding that we have made seemingly no progress against the clear leader in the so-called War on Terror.

It's almost as if the leader of the free world doesn't care about catching Osama:

“So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him. … And, again, I don’t know where he is. I — I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.”

It's almost as if the President thinks it's politically expedient to keep bin Laden out there as a convenient boogeyman. Hmm...

Yet the most immediate political effect will probably be a boost in support for President George W Bush.

The commander-in-chief has been under intense pressure in recent weeks, accused of trampling on civil liberties in pursuit of terror suspects.

His defence has been that America is a nation at war.

So Bin Laden's latest threats to launch new attacks on the US will only serve to underline this argument.

Strange days indeed...


K Street

So the fabulous Hotline on Call blog managed to track down the website for the K Street Project. This site is clearly designed to put a nonpartisan face (!) on the practice of lobbyist hiring in Washington, and to attack back at Democrats who, according to the main story, started this project in the first place:

The K Street Project began in the late 1980s in response to an advertisement in Roll Call newspaper placed by a fortune 500 company, looking to hire someone to represent the company in Washington.  The firm's major concerns were promoting free trade, reducing the abuse of tort law, and lowering taxes.  The advertisement said that the firm was looking for a Democrat. Only a Democrat.

Ooh! Time to start up the revisionist history train!

This was the straw that broke the camel's back. For almost forty years Democrats had controlled the House and Senate and demanded that businesses contribute money to their candidates and hire their former congressional staffers and retiring politicians in order to ensure "access."  The men and women the business community hired owed their loyalty to their former employers and often did not agree with the positions of the companies that hired them. They had spent their lives regulating, taxing, and expanding government. They frequently didn't even understand the goals of businesses that simply wished to be alone. 

The goal of the K Street Project was and is quite simple.  We advise companies and trade associations to hire men and women who understand free-market economics, who support their principled positions for free trade, against tort law abuse, and for lower and more transparent taxation.

See, it's only an organization dedicated to get people hired who support the free market! That's not partisan, is it, you commie bastard?

Incidentally, according to the Hotline, this post was passed out in memo form at Grover Norquist's Wednesday meeting. So clearly there's a lot of coordination between this site and the Republican machine.

But the real revelation comes to us in the comments section. I'm reposting it mainly wholesale (with a little editing) because it's such a damn good job of muckraking.

Interesting thing about that website, too -- the domain was first registered (i.e. created) on April 18, 2005. Less than a year ago.

The K Street Project has been around for about a decade. Liberals/progressives have been talking about the wide web of corruption surrounding Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, and the K Street Project for at least a few years.

It's my suspicion that this web site was only recently created to provide the initial appearance of a non-partisan group once the buzz surrounding it started getting wider attention in the media (and in the Department of Justice).

A simple whois lookup shows us that the person responsible for creating is one Matthew Braynard:
Domain name:
Registrant Contact:

Matthew Braynard (
Fax: na
1226 N. Vernon Street
VA, na

Creation date: 18 Apr 2005 20:42:18
Expiration date: 18 Apr 2006 20:42:18
Who is Matt Braynard? A simple google search reveals some interesting links:


The first interesting link is to a comment he posted on Pat Buchanan's site:

"Dear Pat,
I agree with you on nearly all issues and wish to see our ideas prevail. Please stay and help me fight within the Republican party. It is where you can make the biggest difference, and that is the only thing that counts.
-- Matt Braynard - Washington, DC"

He was quoted in an article in the Washington Times saying that protesters in DC at an antiwar rally were deliberately blocking ambulances from getting to injured people. Where did I find this gem? Why, Little Green Footballs! Where else!

He might also be a member of Washington DC's largest computer gaming society!

And is the contact person for a 527 PAC called "Doctors for Affordable Healthcare". Apparently the PAC had no contributions or expenditures.

Another comment he made is only available in Google's cache:

Bow before her!

Ann Coulter is the most brilliant columnist to ever walk the earth. She is the smartest woman alive. But I know the real reason why the left hates her - and it's not because of her politics:

It's because she is stunningly beautiful. That is what they hate most about her. In their world, all of the pretty women are suppose to be on their side, not on the right - they are suppose to dedicate their lives to the destruction and hatred - economically, socially, religiously - of life and freedom.

It's the female version of why the left hates Rush Limbaugh - because he is so rich - and self made rich - the worse kind.

Even though Harding is an alleged 'Christian' school, the kind of clowns who wind up working in administrative positions at such a university are still leftists - who else would be drawn to such a job that requires no real work or skill other than schmoozing. They just used the excuse of a lot of complaints to get rid of Ann.

But I wager she will still be on campus - the College Republicans/Conservatives will invite her to speak and mark my words - it will be the _best attended_ lecture in the history of the university.

Face it haters - Ann is God, her words are divine, and her 'fifteen minutes of fame' are going on a steady 10 years since People named her one of the most
Beautiful People in America.

Matt Braynard, Ann Coulter is God, at 4:45 am EDT on September 2, 2005

Bravo to this guy. He speculates that this is some "lonely right-wing geek" who registered the site in an attempt to make some money and get some attention. Clearly it worked, if Norquist is throwing memos defending the K Street Project his way.

The point is that this website is a right-wing hack job recently put up as a propaganda tool to deflect criticism. And the bio of its administrator produces hours of laughter. It is incumbent upon us to laugh, and laugh some more, at the absurdity of its content.


Seems Very Democratic

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) tried to secure time this week to speak on the Senate floor about Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist would not allow any time for speeches until January 25, a day after the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on Alito's nomination.

The normal practice of the majority leader is to give senators time to make floor speeches about the nominee.

This is one of those cases where Republicans are trying to play up the media narrative that "the confirmation is all but assured, the ballgame is over" on one hand, while furiously stifling dissent and desperately clinging to support behind the scenes. They did the same thing with the Patriot Act, placing stories in the paper that "a deal has been reached" when absolutely nothing of the sort was done. The whole thing has been a smokescreen. This confirmation is far from over.

Already two of the most conservative Democratic Senators have come out against Alito: Max Baucus of Montana and Ken Salazar of Colorado. And Salazar even used the F word:

Given his stated objections, reporters asked whether Salazar would rule out a filibuster as an option if he votes against Alito. Salazar declined to do that, although none of the Senate Democrats who have announced their opposition thus far have threatened a filibuster.

Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who is in a re-election year, is so far the only Democrat to go public and say he's voting for Alito. There seem to be enough votes to perpetuate a filibuster of the nominee. The question is whether or not the Democrats have the political will to do it. Because if they do it will unquestionably trigger the Nuclear Option and a toe-to-toe battle in the Senate. In an election year. I don't really think either side wants that. The question really is who will blink first.

But clearly, the prohibition on floor speeches is absurd, and in my opinion Democrats should threaten the filibuster just for that reason alone.


Honest Leadership, Open Government

After totally pimping the upcoming Democratic blitz on reforming Washington, I got too busy to write anything about it yesterday. Please allow me this blog as a means of apology.

I was pretty happy with the forcefulness of the message, although the media coverage, again, was not a robust as one would expect. We can all rip the "so-called liberal media," but the Democratic message machine might need to take some of the blame as well. They need to learn how to work the refs as well as the Republicans.

But that's a meta-criticism. Louise Slaughter, a great Congresswoman from upstate New York, gave a fiery speech as part of the Washington event, in which she hammered out specific legislative steps to restoring honest government and open leadership.

Close the Revolving Door. Close the revolving door between the Congress and lobbying firms by doubling (from one year to two) the cooling-off period during which lawmakers, senior Congressional staff, and Executive Branch officials are prohibited from lobbying their former offices. Eliminate floor privileges for former Members of Congress and officers of the Senate and House who return to lobby.

Toughen Public Disclosure of Lobbyist Activity. Significantly expand the information lobbyists must disclose - including campaign contributions and client fees. Require them to file disclosure reports electronically, and increase the frequency of those filings. Require lobbyists to certify that they did not violate the rules, and make them subject to criminal penalties for false certifications.
Ban Lobbyist Gifts and Travel. Prohibit the receipt of gifts, including gifts of meals, entertainment and travel, from lobbyists.

Shut Down Pay-to-Play Schemes Like the "K Street Project." End efforts like the "K Street Project," which Republicans created to tell corporations and lobbying firms whom they should hire in exchange for political access.

Disclosure of Outside Job Negotiations. Requires lawmakers to disclose when they are negotiating private sector jobs, and requires Executive Branch officials who are negotiating private sector jobs to receive approval from the independent Office of Government Ethics.

Prohibit "Dead of Night" Special Interest Provisions. Require that all conference committee meetings be open to the public and that members of the conference committee have a public opportunity to vote on all amendments. Make copies of conference reports available to Members, and post them publicly on the Internet, 24 hours before consideration (unless waived by a supermajority vote).

Zero Tolerance for Contract Cheaters. Restore accountability and openness in federal contracting by subjecting major contract actions to public disclosure and aggressive competition; criminally prosecuting contractors who cheat taxpayers, with penalties including suspension and debarment; imposing stiff criminal and civil penalties for wartime fraud on government contracting; prohibiting contractors with conflicts of interest from conducting oversight or writing contract requirements they could bid on; mandating full disclosure of contract overcharges; creating tough penalties for improper no-bid contracts; and closing the revolving door between federal contract officials and private contractors.

Prohibit Cronyism in Key Appointments. End rampant cronyism by requiring that any individual appointed to a position involving public safety possess proven credentials, and training or expertise in one or more areas relevant to the position.

The "cronyism" one is hard to really quantify, but the others are just common sense. It's how you would run any business. The way Washington has been run for a long time, with dead-of-night secret conference committees, members of Congress voting on bills they've never had time to read, lobbyists who were once Congressmen and vice-versa, and "pay-to-play" schemes where you have to donate large sums of money to Republican Leadership before even getting a chance to lobby, is foul and rank. In a time when we're supposedly a model democracy for other countries in the world, we need to completely overhaul how business is done in Washington, which sometimes resembles a third-world kleptocracy more than anything else.

And the key to this, in addition to these reforms, is enforcement. If there are no penalties for breaking these new internal laws, they become meaningless. Who will police the policemen? I thought that a "Center of Public Integrity" (which Chellie Pingree of Common Cause suggested) is a pretty good idea. It's not enough to rely on the Fourth Estate of the media or citizen groups to make sure Congress stays in line. An outside agency is sorely needed.

Otherwise, you get Republicans offering "reform" that does nothing but put bribery out in the open:

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington.

The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.

"That's a big hole if they don't address campaign finance," said Joel Jankowsky, the lobbying chief of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of the capital's largest lobbying outfits.

So a lobbyist can lard gifts upon a member of Congress, as long as he gives him MORE money afterwards. Brilliant.

Finally, Harry Reid, a stalwart on this issue, has a Democratic declaration that does not mince words:

Throughout the history of our democracy, there has been an ongoing struggle to put the people's interest ahead of the special interests. Since the Republican Party took complete control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate, cronyism and corruption have become widespread in the people?s government.

The culture of Republican corruption is an affront to the idea of a representative democracy, and its consequences are devastating. When Vice-President Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and others bend government to serve their own interest, or the special interest of their friends, the public interest suffers and the urgent priorities of the American people go unaddressed.

Today, Democrats across America—including those in the U.S. House and Senate, our governors, mayors and state legislators—are declaring that it is time to end the Republican culture of corruption prevailing through all levels of government. We are committed to immediate change to lead this country in a new direction, to put an end to Republican business as usual, and to make certain this nation's leaders serve the people's interests, not special interests. For us, this commitment spans our lifetime, as we were elected to represent the people, not the powerful.

Our goal is to restore accountability, honesty and openness at all levels of government. To do so, we will create and enforce rules that demand the highest ethics from every public servant, sever unethical ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, and establish clear standards that prevent the trading of official business for gifts.

Honest leadership is not a partisan goal. It is the key to a stronger union. We must all work together to put progress ahead of politics. Together, America can do better. We can change this government, and the American people deserve nothing less.

Our government must reflect the absolute best of the people it serves. With honest leadership and open government, America’s leaders can once again focus on the urgent needs of the American people: real security overseas and at home, economic strength and educational excellence, affordable health care, energy independence, and retirement security.

In 2006, we, the undersigned, hereby declare that we will once again provide honest leadership and open government for all our citizens and put the Republican culture of corruption behind us, so we can make progress on the real issues facing America.



Thursday Morning Follies

In the Colorado Springs trial of a soldier accused of mudering an Iraqi general, a CIA agent was allowed to testify in open court, from behind a curtain.

Karl Rove immediately ran into the room and pulled the curtain back.

Thanks folks, I'll be here all week...


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Iraq: Mess

This was a little-noticed article in yesterday's WaPo:

The U.S. Agency for International Development paints a dire and detailed picture of the Iraq security situation in its request for contractors to bid on its $1.32 billion, 28-month project to help stabilize 10 major Iraqi cities.

The USAID program, outlined in a Jan. 2 paper, envisions development between 2006 and 2008 of partnerships in cities that make up more than half of Iraq's population. Those cities would include Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Najaf. The project, which to date has only $30 million of the proposed funds, will try to reduce violence by creating jobs, revitalizing community infrastructure, and mitigating ethnic and religious conflicts.

To prepare potential bidders for the task, USAID included an annex with the contractor application. It describes Iraq as being in the midst of an insurgency whose tactics "include creating chaos in Iraq society as a whole and fomenting civil war." Many of the attacks are against coalition and Iraqi security forces, the annex says, and they "significantly damage the country's infrastructure and cause a tide of adverse economic and social effects that ripple across Iraq."

Although President Bush and senior administration officials tend to see the enemy primarily as Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists, the USAID analysis also places emphasis on "internecine conflict," which includes "religious-sectarian, ethnic, tribal, criminal and politically based" violence.

It could be that USAID is trying to paint a decidedly negative picture in order to prime the pump for additional funds from donor countries (funds that have been very slow in coming, no thanks to our bully dilpomacy). But all of this stuff is widely known inside Iraq. You can see the militia on the street:

The activities of religious extremists against secular Iraqis were also noted by USAID. The paper describes how in the southern part of Iraq, which is dominated by Shiites, "social liberties have been curtailed dramatically by roving bands of self-appointed religious-moral police." In cities, women's dress codes are enforced and barbers who remove facial hair have been killed, and liquor stores and clubs have been bombed.

This is a very sobering document, using phrases like "the absence of state control" and "criminal elements... have almost free reign." We really have reaped a whirlwind over there. And now, we're going to stop rebuilding the country, even though such basic services as electricity and water aren't even up to prewar levels. This is after we diverted much of the rebuilding funding to security. Look as this insane quote:

"The U.S. never intended to completely rebuild Iraq," Brig. Gen. William McCoy, the Army Corps of Engineers commander overseeing the work, told reporters at a recent news conference. In an interview this past week, McCoy said: "This was just supposed to be a jump-start."

Yeah, we just wanted to bomb the hell out of it and nudge the rebuilding in the right direction. Those that are still alive can finish the job, right?


Bipartisan Outrage

Now that leading conservatives like Grover Norquist (!) and Paul Weyrich (!!) have come out against the NSA illegal spying program, do you think the White House will get the message?

Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances (PRCB) today called upon Congress to hold open, substantive oversight hearings examining the President's authorization of the National Security Agency (NSA) to violate domestic surveillance requirements outlined in the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, chairman of PRCB, was joined by fellow conservatives Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR); David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, in urging lawmakers to use NSA hearings to establish a solid foundation for restoring much needed constitutional checks and balances to intelligence law.

Despite those toadies who rushed to the aid of the President in the days following the scandal, this is not a partisan issue. Unless you think the Constitution is a partisan document.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported yesterday that not only is this wiretapping illegal, it was a huge waste of time:

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans' international communications and conducting computer searches of phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.

"We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."

It kind of ruins the whole "this is a vital tool" argument that some have been using as a basis to break the law and destroy civil liberties. On a practical scale, if this thing isn't even working, why on Earth would we keep doing it?

Well, the answer probably lies with WHO they're spying on over at the NSA. All roads on this thing lead to domestic spying of purely domestic "threats": peace groups, opposition parties, etc. Other agencies like the Defense Department have already admitted to this; mark my words, we'll find out that this is part of the NSA program as well.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

No Problem for Al

When the attack dogs in the GOP come after you, you know you've done something right. And in this case, the White House gave Al Gore the perfect opportunity to extend the news cycle:

"The Administration's response to my speech illustrates perfectly the need for a special counsel to review the legality of the NSA wiretapping program.

The Attorney General is making a political defense of the President without even addressing the substantive legal questions that have so troubled millions of Americans in both political parties.

There are two problems with the Attorney General's effort to focus attention on the past instead of the present Administration's behavior. First, as others have thoroughly documented, his charges are factually wrong. Both before and after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 1995, the Clinton/Gore Administration complied fully and completely with the terms of the law.

Second, the Attorney General's attempt to cite a previous administration's activity as precedent for theirs - even though factually wrong - ironically demonstrates another reason why we must be so vigilant about their brazen disregard for the law. If unchecked, their behavior would serve as a precedent to encourage future presidents to claim these same powers, which many legal experts in both parties believe are clearly illegal.

The issue, simply put, is that for more than four years, the executive branch has been wiretapping many thousands of American citizens without warrants in direct contradiction of American law. It is clearly wrong and disrespectful to the American people to allow a close political associate of the president to be in charge of reviewing serious charges against him.

The country needs a full and independent investigation into the facts and legality of the present Administration's program."

It took him only a few hours to come back with that statement. And it's not a defensive statement. There's no need to be defensive when you're THIS much in the right. The President is engaged in illegal behavior. Period. "Clinton did it" doesn't make it legal (and it's not even true). Gore turned this around beautifully, and showed how the "Clinton did it" gang are dangerous because they don't base their decisions on what the law is, but what they can plausibly blame on other people.

Incidentally, this bit from the Gore speech is so choice I thought I'd revisit it:

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

My grandfather worked on battleship hulls during combat as Japanese ships fired torpedos and missiles all around him. This terrorism thing is a problem. It's not the end of the Republic as we know it. It's not a reason to suspend the law. Nothing is (neither was WWII, as the Korematsu decision affirmed).

Peter Bergen, the man with the craziest-sounding laugh of any terrorism expert (if you saw him on The Daily Show you'd agree), also said this:

BLITZER: Should there be a change in attitude after 9/11?

BERGEN: I think the short answer is no. I mean, the nation has faced much more serious crises than 9/11.

We faced an existential crisis in the Cold War and with the Nazis; 9/11, obviously, was a very big deal, but I think we need to have some perspective.

We're not in a situation where our enemies can simply annihilate us as the Soviets could. Certainly, they can do us a lot of damage. But we have to, sort of, weigh that against the fact that we also want to live in a society where constitutional -- the Constitution is paid attention to.

We're finally getting some pushback on this "9/11 changed everything" nonsense. In a way this shows just how far Bush and his political style has fallen. To question this principle is to question his entire Presidency. If you make the case that "9/11 represented a threat. Radical Islam is a threat, no different that the other threats and challenges we've faced and met throughout the life of our nation. And we will succeed," the entire Potemkin Presidency falls apart. Torture, domestic spying, unnecessary wars of choice; if 9/11 didn't change everything, none of these crimes have even a shred of credibility.

Good for Bergen for telling it like it is. Good for Gore for being the conscience of the Democratic Party, for fighting back. I'll be real honest here, I went Nader in 2000. I should like the chance to give Gore a vote for President at some point in the future.


Happy 300th

To Philadelphia's adopted son, Ben Franklin.

I grew up in a town called Bensalem, where Franklin had a country estate. In fact, Growden Mansion, where he allegedly performed his "kite and key" experiments with electricity, had a field on which I played youth soccer. Even wrote a story about one of those soccer games which ended up in Highlights for Kids magazine. Small world.

I think Franklin was the quintessential Founding Father. He was a patriot, a diplomat, a literary genius, an inventor, an abolitionist (at the end of his life), a believer in the Enlightenment ideas of liberty, power drived from the consent of the governed, and all the other bedrock national qualities we've run roughshod over all too often lately. To celebrate the life of arguably the greatest American we've yet seen, I've listed some of his more famous aphorisms, many of which have a certain amount of resonance to today's perilous times. Enjoy.

All wars are follies, very expensive and very mischievous ones.   In my opinion, there never was a good war or a bad peace.   When will mankind be convinced and agree to settle their difficulties by arbitration?

Changing Countries or Beds, cures neither a bad Manager, nor a Fever.

Well done is better than well said.

Half a truth is often a great lie.

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don't have brains enough to be honest.

The Doors of Wisdom are never shut.

Dost Thou love life? Then Do not squander time, for that's the Stuff Life is made of.

When you're finished changing, you're finished.


Suits Filed on Domestic Spying

The opening salvo is getting the White House to stop breaking the law:

Federal lawsuits were filed Tuesday seeking to halt President Bush's domestic eavesdropping program, calling it an "illegal and unconstitutional program" of electronic eavesdropping on American citizens.

The lawsuits accusing Bush of exceeding his constitutional powers were filed in federal court in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights and in Detroit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The New York suit, filed on behalf of the center and individuals, names Bush, the head of the National Security Agency, and the heads of the other major security agencies, challenging the NSA's surveillance of persons within the United States without judicial approval or statutory authorization.

It asked a judge to stop Bush and government agencies from conducting warrantless surveillance of communications in the United States.

The Detroit suit, which also names the NSA, was filed by the ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greenpeace and several individuals.

It's going to be hard to prove these cases, because you essentially have to prove that the plaintiffs were indeed spied upon. I'm pretty sure the government will resist discovery of that evidence in the name of national security (or they'll flat-out say they destroyed it, which is not unusual for them to do). But it's important to file them to get Congress out of its slumber, to get them to understand that you can't let the executive get away with illegal action that sidestep legislative and judicial oversight.

At a news conference, Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Bill Goodman portrayed the president as a man on an unprecedented power grab at the expense of basic democratic principles.

He said the public was starting to understand the assertion that the erosion of individual rights is a slippery slope that lets the government "brand anyone a terrorist with no right to counsel, no right to be brought before a judge and no right to privacy in communications."

The Detroit lawsuit said the plaintiffs, who frequently communicate by telephone and e-mail with people in the Middle East and Asia, have a "well-founded belief" that their communications are being intercepted by the government.

"By seriously compromising the free speech and privacy rights of the plaintiffs and others, the program violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution," the lawsuit states.

It's your move, Congress.

UPDATE: By the way, if Abu Gonzales is going on Larry King to defend NSA spying, you know he has no argument. Larry King is the go-to guy for the truly guilty, where hard-hitting questions are as rare as Rick Santorum at an atheist luncheon. As soon as anyone appears on Larry King, we should charge them with something. The statistical probability is very high.

And Gore was absolutely right about this. If the Attorney General at the time was trying to get Congress to explicitly give authorization for domestic spying, and they demurred, you can't very well say that the authorization was IMPLICIT after the fact. It's ludicrous.


Sounds Rather Cruel and Unusual

On the same day that the Supreme Court upheld Oregon's "Death With Dignity" law, the State of California executed a man, 1 minute after his 76th birthday, who was legally blind, partially deaf, and used a wheelchair to get to the lethal injection chamber.

I feel so much safer.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Plan D Gets an F

It's important going into this election year to lay out the entire sordid prescription drug story. This "major policy intiative" from the Bush Administration was passed late at night through a strong-arming Congress, which included Tom DeLay trying to bribe Rep. Nick Smith on the House floor (then when the about-to-retire Smith didn't bite, DeLay backed a primary opponent for Smith's son for the open seat, who beat him. Don't mess with these guys on loyalty). The White House knowningly downplayed the cost of the program by billions and billions, and when the chief Medicare actuary tried to speak out about it, they threatened to fire him. The bill itself gives hundreds of millions to Big Pharma, and mandates that the federal government cannot import cheaper drugs from overseas, or even bargain with pharmaceutical companies to lower prices.

So we have corruption, bribery, lying, and corporate welfare. Then the plan kicks in January 1, and we have utter incompetence:

It has been less than three weeks since the much-anticipated Medicare drug benefit took effect, but the new system is already sputtering, leaving thousands of people with rejected prescription claims and states scrambling to cover the costs.

Medicare recipients and pharmacists from across the country are complaining that the new system, which is supposed to be part of the cornerstone of healthcare for the nation's seniors, isn't working the way it should — and that thousands who switched over to the new plan in the last few months are either mislabeled in the system or not in the system at all. And calling the government hotline to solve the problems hasn't brought much help.

"Their lines were busy, they would hang up on you, they had a nice recording saying 'Due to the volume we are not able to speak with you, please call later," said Virginia Mahan, an retiree in Texas who signed up for the new plan in December through the American Association for Retired Persons.

Pharmacists are singing a similar tune.

"It's been a complete nightmare," said Don Smith, a pharmacist in Little Rock, Arkansas.

And this isn't something where we have the luxury of patience. Seniors rely on these life-saving medicines to be dispensed on a regular and timely basis. Any delay in that starts a public health crisis. That's exactly what we have on our hands, to the extent that the states have had to step in:

From California to Minnesota, state governments issued emergency legislation to make sure their citizens are covered. For example, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, unsure that the federal government would make the new plan workable, said his state hatched their emergency plan over Christmas and launched it Thursday.

"We expect them to pay us and reimburse us for that money," he said.

And good for Schwarzenegger and his team for realizing that the feds were NOT going to make this work.

Lots of conservatives didn't like this plan to begin with, saying it was a big government entitlement. But I don't think seniors, who've been getting their drugs for years and now can't, really give a damn about political ideology. They look at the problem and say one thing. "What a fuck-up."

Seniors have really helped Republicans in the last few election cycles. This public health disaster is not going to do a whole lot for the old brand image. Is it too much to ask for a little competence SOMEWHERE in this government?


Speaking of Fighting Dems

Add another one (beyond Gore and Hackett) to the list today - Hillary Frickin' Clinton:

Speaking during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, Clinton also offered an apology to a group of Hurricane Katrina survivors "on behalf of a government that left you behind, that turned its back on you." Her remarks were met with thunderous applause by a mostly black audience at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem.

The House "has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about," said Clinton, D-N.Y. "It has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard."

"We have a culture of corruption, we have cronyism, we have incompetence," she said. "I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country."

Guess she couldn't let Gore have the WHOLE spotlight.


Fighting Dems Fight, Don't Back Down

Yesterday I learned about Paul Hackett's comments in the Columbus Dispatch. Of note was this one:

"The Republican Party has been hijacked by the religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren't a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden and a lot of the other religious nuts around the world," he said. "The challenge is for the rest of us moderate Americans and citizens of the world to put down the fork and spoon, turn off the TV, and participate in the process and try to push back on these radical nuts - and they are nuts."

The Ohio GOP sent out their attack dogs, and Hackett didn't budge.

The Ohio Republican Party Chairman (boy, THAT'S an envious position these days!), Bob Bennett, called the remarks "hateful" and "incendiary" and asked for an apology:

“Paul Hackett’s attempt to compare Christian conservatives to terrorists is abhorrent and completely inappropriate. These intolerant views have no place in the public debate, and I hope his fellow Democrats reject this divisive hate speech. Hackett has shown repeatedly that he will say or do anything to get attention, and it’s unfortunate that views like his are embraced by the Democratic Party. I think, Mr. Hackett, you’ve once again proven who real ‘radical nut’ is.”

Standard-issue GOP intimidation. Well, you're dealing with a Marine:

“I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it. Equal justice under the law for all regardless of who they are and how they were born is fundamental to our American spirit and our American freedoms. Any person or group that argues that the law should not apply equally to all Americans is, frankly, un-American.”

“The Republican Party has been hijacked by religious fanatics, who are out of touch with mainstream America. Think of the recent comments by Pat Robertson – a religious fanatic by any measure – that the United States should assassinate a democratically elected leader in Venezuela, and that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was divine punishment because Sharon wished to trade land for peace.”

“Since the Republican Party has been utterly unable to stand for something positive, they have created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and have pandered to religious fanatics not to vote for something they believe in, but to vote against their fellow Americans with whom they disagree. Those among us who would use religion and politics to divide rather than unite Americans should be ashamed.”

Hackett's team sent this to my email within a couple hours of the release. That's how you deal with this crap. Quickly, honestly, and without a hint of apology. The Ohio GOP thinks they can turn Hackett into the same caricature they manufactured for Dean, but it's just not gonna happen.

I wonder if Hackett's marrow could be donated to some of our Beltway insider Dems? Maybe that can happen when he's elected to the Senate this fall.

I'm not an Ohioan, I just love me some Fighting Dems.


Clinton Was For Warrantless Searches Before He Was Against Them

Here are the GOP Talking Points on the Gore speech.

They don't put out Talking Points Memos unless they have to. This speech cut to the quick.

Here's some of the brilliant logic (as noted by NYC Sophia):

"Clinton/Gore Administration Used Warrantless Searches:"


"-- Kristol: "I Wish Bill Clinton Had Done This. I Wish We Had Tapped The Phones Of The People Of Mohammed Atta Here Into The United States If We Discovered Phone Calls From Afghanistan To Him. That Was Why 9/11 Happened. That's What Connecting The Dots Is." (Fox News' "Fox News Sunday," 12/18/05)"

So, Clinton used warrantless searches, but he didn't use them, and that's why 9/11 happened. Genius-level reasoning there.

This from Bill Kristol, who just yesterday on Fox News Sunday defended Clinton's 1998 Operation Desert Fox as something that "went a long way to disarming Iraq," who USED Desert Fox as an example of what could be done in Iran, and yet at the time (and even recently) criticized it because it made Saddam throw out the inspectors.

He's useless. His arguments are FULL of contradictions, because he trusts that nobody who takes him seriously has an attention span of more than 8 seconds.


Out with the Q, in with the N, second verse, same as the first...

Through willful neglect and misadventures elsewhere, as well as a failure to support pro-democracy groups inside the country when they had a nominally reformist President and not a lunatic, we are on the brink of a crisis with Iran. The lack of intrenational support for former President Mohammed Khatami indirectly led to hardliner Mahmous Ahmadinejad's election. By not participating in European talks with Tehran about their nuclear program, we doomed them to failure. There's simply no way Iran could agree to any terms of disarmament without assurances from the United States, which couldn't come to them without our participation.

So we helped set this in motion. Iran has a nuclear program, one that is pretty ambitious and robust. They have a leader who denies the Holocaust and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map. And they have very strong ties to the Shiite majority in Iraq, having signed security deals and forged a kinship that gives Tehran an upper hand in the Muslim world.

But that really doesn't matter at this point, since the situation has come to a head. Iran is producing nuclear energy (at the very least) and has broken off talks with the EU. The difference is that the major countries of the globe, including Russia, appear to be in concert with US policy, decreasing the possiblity of unilateral action... maybe. It's important to remember that the notion of Iraq as a gathering crisis point grew over a matter of a year and a half until it became an inevitability. Military action seems far-flung now, but maybe not by next year at this time. In the interim, I'm sure the neocon hawks will agitate and fearmonger their way into arguing to do something. Now, this time the agitation is a little more justified; but that doesn't make it a wholly rational course of action, especially for the current gang in charge to handle. I wholeheartedly agree with Josh Marshall when he says this:

During the two years before 9/11 and March 2003, there was a group of commentators (I'd include myself among them) who bought into the basic argument about the danger posed by the Iraqi regime (though not the extremity of it), were willing, at a minimum, to put military force on the table as a means of resolving the problem, were perhaps willing to go as far as supporting an invasion, but were adamant critics of administration policy in the Middle East.

Looking back on that debate, what didn't make sense about 'my' position was that folks like myself were debating Iraq policy in the abstract. How would I deal with Iraq if I were president? What would be the sensible approach if we had a president and foreign policy team which we thought was acting in good faith and competent at handling the issue.

The problem was that there was no Iraq policy in the abstract. That was just a fantasy. There was Iraq in 2002 and 2003 with President Bush et al. calling the shots. Any discussion of the issue which didn't take those key facts into account was just a parlor game, no more than words. What's more, the existence of a cadre of commentators from the political opposition who espoused a policy that looked a lot like the president's actually gave him a great deal of cover. It made his policies look more reasonable. It greased the skids for its implementation.

So with Iran.

The prospect of a nuclearized Iran seems far more perilous to me than anything we faced or seemed likely to face with Iraq. But for those of us trying to think through how to deal with this situation, we have to start from the premise that there is no Iran Question, or whatever you want to call it. There's only how to deal with Iran with this administration in place.

Do you trust this White House's good faith, priorities or competence in dealing with this situation?

No, I don't. I didn't even give the Administration the latitude on Iraq that Josh did. All I saw was a group of vague, hazy, half-assed intelligence ideas, and then suddenly policy advisers were on C-SPAN saying things like "It'll take so-and-so amount of troops to take Saddam out." I don't think there ever was a real debate, and certainly those liberal hawks provided major cover for the President to implement his pre-emptive policy.

Now we need to make sure debate on Iran springs from a starting position of reality. The group that went to war in Iraq - without enough troops, the ones that disbanded the Army, allowed mass looting, didn't get serious about reconstruction or training for years, fostered conditions for an insurgency to take hold, plundered Congressional appropriations for billions - THAT'S the group that'd be going to war in Iran, a more powerful and more dangerous opponent. Do you really want that to happen?


I Too Have A Dream

That I would get a day off on a federal holiday.

Maybe next year.

In the meantime, listen to this and commemorate the legacy of Dr. King.


The Kickoff

Al Gore is going to start the 2006 campaign in style:

It sounds as if Al Gore is about to deliver what could be not just one of the more significant speeches of his political career but an essential challenge to the embattled presidency of George W. Bush.

In a major address slated for delivery Monday in Washington, the former Vice President is expected to argue that the Bush administration has created a "Constitutional crisis" by acting without the authorization of the Congress and the courts to spy on Americans and otherwise abuse basic liberties.

Indeed, his aides and allies are framing it as a "call to arms" in defense of the Bill of Rights and the rule of law in a time of executive excess.  

Coming only a few weeks after U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced resolutions to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and to explore the issue of impeachment, Gore is expected to "make the case that the country -- including the legislative and judicial branches and all Americans -- must act now to defend the systems put into place by the country's founders to curb executive power or risk permanent and irreversible damage to the Constitution."

And Bob Barr, the House impeachment manager in the Clinton years, is introducing him. This is a left-right partnership to stop the imperial Presidency in its tracks.

I'll return to this thread once the speech is completed.

UPDATE: Text of the speech is now up. Bob Barr didn't introduce because the video uplink was broken. That's the only thing you should make sure works. Not good.


On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during this period.

The FBI privately called King the "most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal." The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted a long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King's life, helped to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.

The result was the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted expressly to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented to an impartial judge to verify that there is a sufficient cause for the surveillance. I voted for that law during my first term in Congress and for almost thirty years the system has proven a workable and valued means of according a level of protection for private citizens, while permitting foreign surveillance to continue.

Yet, just one month ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this long settled law, the Executive Branch has been secretly spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on "large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States." The New York Times reported that the President decided to launch this massive eavesdropping program "without search warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic intelligence collection."

Excellent reminder. The big soundbite you'll hear out of this speech is the line "The President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently." I think it should be "The common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control." It's a great speech that calls everyone to task - Congress, the White House, the citizenry, Republicans and Democrats - for allowing this system of wanton criminal behavior to get so out of control, and offers specific prescriptions to head off this constitutional crisis. It reads like a laundry list of grievances many of us have had for some time.

It'll probably get 30 seconds on the evening news. Tragic.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Guess Who Didn't Come to Dinner

Reports of Ayman al-Zawahiri's demise were greatly exaggerated:

Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader was invited to a dinner marking an Islamic festival on the night of the devastating U.S. missile strike in a Pakistani border village, but did not show up, Pakistani intelligence officials said Sunday.

Ayman al-Zawahiri sent some of his aides instead, and investigators are trying to establish if any of them were among the at least 17 people killed in the attack.

If the intelligence was rock solid and we had a legitimate shot to hit Zawahiri, and we took steps to minimize other civilian casualties, I don't have a problem with it. What I have a problem with is the news media breathlessly reporting, as they have dozens of times before, that we killed a senior-level al Qaeda official, without any proof that the mission was successful. Once again, CNN and others gulped whole this story that "al Qaeda's number two has been killed," only to find out later that it wasn't true. In fact, this looks to ONLY have hit Pakistani civilians, mostly women and children; even Zawahiri's emissaries who went to the dinner in his place may have been spared. I'd appreciate facts instead of truthiness.

Meanwhile, this has stirred up a hornet's nest in Pakistan, and the White House can't blame it on Newsweek this time:

Thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets Sunday to rage for a second day against a purported U.S. attack on a border village, chanting "Death to America" and demanding U.S. troops leave neighboring Afghanistan, as more details emerged about the airstrike...

With the government's alliance in the U.S.-led war on international terror groups already unpopular in this Muslim country, the deaths of at least 17 people in Friday's attack have stoked widespread anger.

Some 10,000 people demonstrated in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, chanting "Death to America" and "Stop bombing against innocent people." Hundreds also rallied in Islamabad, Lahore, Multan and Peshawar, burning U.S. flags.

James Risen had an interesting comment on Blitzer, backed up by Evan Bayh, that in most of these cases the Pakistani government knows about these strikes in advance. They may not know the exact time and place, but they know of their imminence. It becomes a major problem if Pakistan's President Gen. Musharraf gets caught lying to his people about this, and a full-scale revolt ensues, which is entirely possible.

P.S. I read the first few chapters of Risen's book State of War this weekend. Really good reporting.


Maybe Dems DON'T Have Their Shit Together

This has got to be the stupidest thing I've seen in a while:

"I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "This might be a man I disagree with, but it doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the court."

She said she will not vote to confirm the appeals court judge, based on his conservative record. But she acknowledged that nothing emerged during last week's hearings to justify any organized action by Democrats to stall the nomination.

I can't believe you say something like this in public, before any Judiciary Committee vote or Senate Democratic caucus meeting. Do you have a strategic bone in your body?

Democrats filibustered Bolton and a string of judicial nominees (before the Gang of 14 compromise). Most of them ended up getting in anyway, but there was no political downside to any of it. I'm fairly agnostic on whether or not to filibuster (and this post by DHinMI elucidates my feelings), but what you DON'T do is pronounce judgment before the fact!

As a minority party, the objective is to fight the battles you can win, and if you can't win them, at least articulate your principles. The hearings weren't very successful in that regard, and this play by Feinstein is politically tone-deaf.


Dems Starting to Get Their Shit Together

I understand the "woe, woe to us" calls in the left blogosphere of late. Obviously everyone's upset about the prospect of Alito on the Court, and are yelling and screaming that if the Dems don't get up and fight then they'll bolt to the Greens or withhold fundraising money or any number of other vindictive expressions of backlash.

But they're missing the point to an extent. The best way to stop Alito, and those of his ilk, are to win elections. And the Dems are not only well-positioned to do this, they're about to launch an frontal assault right at the beginning of the election cycle.

Do you know what's about to happen Wednesday? There are about 100 high-profile speeches and meetings scheduled, where prominent Democrats will, in a unified way, assail the culture of corruption, offer their own proposal to reform Washington, and promote their slate of candidates in 2006. This is right from the old Republican message management playbook, and Howard Dean is at the forefront of these efforts.

This is from today's LA Times, and while it still portrays some of the bullshit media narrative (insinuating the ridiculous claim that Harry Reid is caught up somehow in the Abramoff scandal, for instance), try to ignore that and look at the content of what the Dems are about to do:

...Democrats have embraced the idea of reform with a degree of unity unseen in recent years on any other issue. The Democrats' rollout Wednesday will include speeches and news conferences nationwide involving Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and others. The coordination contrasts with Democratic congressional leaders' recent desire to distance themselves from Dean, who has a penchant for verbal gaffes. (ridiculous editorializing within the article -ed.)

On Capitol Hill, Reid and Pelosi will detail legislation calling for a ban on Congress members' acceptance of trips from corporate lobbyists and for a clamp-down on lobbyist gifts, including meals and entertainment.

In Ohio, Dean will deliver his address outside the office of Gov. Robert A. Taft, a Republican who is under fire for accepting golf outings and who is at the center of a scandal over $10 million in missing workers' compensation funds that had been invested in rare coins.

How fucking smart is that? Let's go right to the heart of Republican corruption in the swingiest of swing states and deliver a speech. This is especially resident because it's the home state of Bob Ney, the only Rep. mentioned in the Abramoff plea agreement. Framing the overarching narrative by connecting disparate events in the voter's minds: that's classic GOP strategy. Only we're doing it.

The Times got some excerpts of Dean's Wednesday speech:

In his Columbus speech Wednesday, Dean plans to say that "the Abramoff scandal is the tip of the iceberg," according to excerpts from his address provided to The Times.

Dean will argue that the Abramoff scandal is a specifically Republican embarrassment, kicking back at GOP assertions that Democrats share culpability. He will catalog ethical questions facing Republicans including Rove and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who is under scrutiny for possible insider stock trades.

"The Republican culture of corruption must come to an end," he plans to tell his audience, a theme to be echoed by Pelosi and Reed in Washington and by leading Democrats in Minnesota, Montana, Utah and other states.

Yeah, Utah. The reddest state in the country in the last election, I believe, or close to it. It matches Harry Reid's forceful editorial comparing the GOP to the Mob, printed in Tom DeLay's hometown newspaper. The fact that the Democrats are blanketing the country with this message, leaving no local paper behind, is salient and fearless.

In addition, this is the smartest thing I've seen Democrats out of the Beltway come up with in years. Here's why they're doing this on a Wednesday:

Democratic Party strategists are also targeting Norquist and his Wednesday Meeting of activists, the center of the K Street Project.

The DNC plans to videotape participants as they enter and exit Norquist's downtown Washington office building. DNC Communications Director Karen Finney said the idea was to call attention to the project and to the ties between conservative movement leaders and Abramoff.

"We want to hold Norquist and the K Street Project accountable as well as Abramoff," Finney said.

That's fucking brilliant. It's very similar to something a Kossite did by installing a billboard in front of the Wednesday meeting after Hurricane Katrina. The DNC is expanding on ideas from the netroots, and understanding the value of political stunts to raise awareness about what goes on in Washington. The fact that Kenny Boy Mehlman delivered a speech that the GOP will be the "party of reform" in 2006 AT Norquist's Wednesday meeting, attended by a parade of lobbyists and fundraisers, shows just how vulnerable they are on this issue.

The Democrats, at least in some small way, are starting to get their shit together. Maybe not on everything. But they understand that in this media landscape, you need to forcefully push a competing narrative into the public eye in order to gain any currency with the voters. If it carries an agenda, all the better. But the dirty secret is that framing your opponent WORKS. And that's what this media event is all about, and we're doing it all over the country, on the same day, with a unified and narrow-cast message.