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

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Swift-Boating of Harry Reid

Yesterday the AP published an out-and-out hit piece that seeks to connect Harry Reid to the Jack Abramoff scandal. The traditional media wants very badly to make this scandal bipartisan, but in attempting to do so, the AP ommitted the facts and used shadowy, spurious logic to make their claim.

The article basically has two premises. The first is that Reid wrote letters helpful to Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff. That's what the first line of the article says. However, the facts inside the article paint a different picture.

Reid's office acknowledged Thursday having "routine contacts" with Abramoff's lobbying partners and intervening on some government matters — such as blocking some tribal casinos — in ways Abramoff's clients might have deemed helpful. But it said none of his actions were affected by donations or done for Abramoff.

"All the actions that Senator Reid took were consistent with his long-held beliefs, such as not letting tribal casinos expand beyond reservations, and were taken to defend the interests of Nevada constituents," spokesman Jim Manley said.

Harry Reid represents Las Vegas. That he would take steps to block the expansion of Indian casinos is perfectly logical. This may help tribes that already have their casino licenses, but it really just reflects Reid's long-held stances on this issue. He was doing it well before Jack Abramoff hooked up with any Indian clients. Reid was also getting money from tribes long before Abramoff entered the fray.

The second premise of the article is that Reid somehow conspired with Abramoff lobbyists to make sure the minimum wage in the Marianas Islands would remain under the national standard (the Marianas Islands are a US protectorate):

Most (Abramoff lobbyist contacts) were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.

Reid himself, along his Senate counsel Jim Ryan, met with Abramoff deputy Ronald Platt on June 5, 2001, "to discuss timing on minimum wage bill" that affected the Marianas, according to a bill that Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's firm, sent the Marianas...

The Marianas, U.S. territorial islands in the Pacific Ocean, were one of Abramoff's highest-paying clients and were trying to keep their textile industry exempt from most U.S. laws on immigration, labor and pay, including the minimum wage. Many Democrats have long accused the islands of running garment sweatshops.

The islands in 2001 had their own minimum wage of $3.05 an hour, and were exempt from the U.S. minimum of $5.15.

Republicans were intent on protecting the Marianas' exemption. Democrats, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record) of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller (news, bio, voting record) of California, wanted the Marianas to be covered by the U.S. minimum and crafted a compromise.

In February 2001, Kennedy introduced a bill that would have raised the U.S. hourly minimum to $6.65 and would have covered the Marianas. The legislation, which eventually failed, would have given the islands an initial break by setting its minimum at just $3.55 — nearly $3 lower than any other territory or state — and then gradually increasing it.

Within a month, Platt began billing for routine contacts and meetings with Reid's staff, starting with a March 26, 2001, contact with Reid chief of staff Susan McCue to "discuss timing and status of minimum wage legislation," the billing records say.

In all, Platt and a fellow lobbyist reported 21 contacts in 2001 with Reid's office, mostly with McCue and Ryan.

So the Democratic bill wanted to raise the minimum wage in the Marianas Islands. Abramoff and the Republicans wanted to stop it. Turns out that Harry Reid was a CO-SPONSOR of the Democratic bill. He spoke up for it in the Senate. And he always supported it. Scott Shields notes that, while Abramoff's firm tried to lobby Reid to change his mind, he never did.

The kicker, of course, is that for all of their effort, Reid never supported the Abramoff position. The very definition of "quid pro quo" is "this for that." In politics, this means something valuable like money or gifts for a politician's votes or some other form of official support. In this case, though Reid or his staffers may have taken meetings on the subject, it never amounted to anything. In other words, there may have been quid, but there was no quo. So this convoluted story is just that -- a convoluted story. No climax, no punchline, and most importantly, no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Reid.

Furthermore, Josh Marshall actually did what a journalist should do, and unlike the AP reporters, he called the lobbyist:

Then I got hold of Ron Platt, the lobbyist referenced in the passage above, on his cell phone while he was down at a conference in Florida. I asked him whether, to the best of his recollection, Reid had taken any action against the Kennedy bill. "I'm sure he didn't," Platt told me.

According to Platt, the purpose of his contacts was to see what information he could get about the timing and status of the legislation. Reid's position on the minimum wage issue was well known and there would have been no point trying to get his help blocking it. That's what Platt says. "I didn't ask Reid to intervene," said Platt. "I wouldn't have asked him to intervene. I don't think anyone else would have asked. And I'm sure he didn't." [...]

In this case, despite the AP story's narrative of lobbyist contacts, there doesn't seem to be any evidence whatsoever that Reid ever took any action on behalf of Abramoff's Marianas clients.

Wasn't that worth a mention?

Apparently not, if you're trying to create the illusion of balance. This is a typical smear attack couched in language that makes it seem like the smearee (Reid) was engaged in nefarious dealings, but upon close reading reveals nothing at all. The AP should print a full retraction.

Remember this:


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reality Show

Over at Fox News, where they are known for creating their own reality, they did the most amazing thing. They... get this... they edited out the applause for Rev. Lowery's speech at Coretta Scott King's funeral. Now, having worked in TV for a while, I completely understand WHY they would do this. The applause lasted for 18 seconds, and they pulled it up for timing purposes. Karl Rove's speech when he said "If al Qaeda is calling someone in the United States, we want to know about it, and some Democrats don't agree" was interrupted by applause, and news networks routinely pulled that up. I'm sure executive producers consider applause while a man is standing at a podium smiling to be "dead air."

But here's the thing. Morton Kondracke, after watching the edited tape, said this:

KONDRACKE: What was interesting to me was, when I saw it -- and on this tape, the crowd did not go as wild as you -- as it sounded as though it did at the time and as various people have represented. I mean, I thought that the crowd basically treated President Bush very respectfully, and it wasn't exactly uproarious in its response to either Lowery or to President Carter. So, I thought it -- on the whole -- it was a -- it was quite a dramatic and sensitive tribute to Mrs. King.

So, to recap, Fox News edited out the applause, then their pundit is surprised that there's no applause. I think this is more an indictment of Morton Kondracke, who apparently doesn't know a cut when he sees one, and who must have had his head in the sand the 35,000 other times Rev. Lowery's speech was shown unedited on Fox and elsewhere.

But still, the point is made. Kondracke gets to say that nobody appreciated Lowery's remarks, that "various people" were misrepresenting the facts, that the crowd didn't agree with the "partisanship" on display. And everyone watching Fox gets to agree with him. And then get to create their own bubble of reality, impenetrable and ignorant.


Bash the Enemies, Support the "Friends"

So yesterday Secretary of State Rice decided that the only nations to blame for the inflammatory response to Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed were, amazingly enough, two nations near the top of the neocon hit list!

Secretary of State Rice was tougher. "I don't have any doubt that given the control of the Syrian government in Syria, given the control of the Iranian government, which, by the way, hasn't even hidden its hand in this, that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes," she said standing next to the new Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. "And the world ought to call them on it."

This is not to say that Iran and Syria aren't stoking the fires of this controversy. They very likely are. But I can't help noticing how selective a list of countries that is. No mention, for example, of Saudi Arabia, whose newspapers (all state-run) started running multiple articles condemning the cartoons right after the Hajj tragedy that killed hundreds of Muslims in their country (for which they were largely to blame for not providing security). Many rioters in Lebanon and Syria were waving Saudi flags, for example.

And Rice made no mention of Egypt, despite the fact that they jumped on the controversy very early, with Egypt breaking off diplomatic relations with Denmark as early as November, and making sure the international media paid attention to the issue.

But of course, THOSE countries are our "friends." Mm-hm.


The Buck Stops With Dick

Murray Waas, whose reporting on Plamegate has been top notch, drops a bombshell:

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.

According to sources with firsthand knowledge, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war.

Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

You can bet that Fitzgerald smells blood in the water. The release of classified information was not limited to Valerie Plame's identity, it says here. Libby was leaking pieces of the NIE favorable to their pro-war position. And he was doing it at the behest of Cheney. The Veep is clearly the Great White Whale in this whole scenario. And Libby's testimony might be enough to bag him. That is highly illegal stuff he's alleging.

If this is true, it's clear that Libby has decided to use the "I was just following orders" defense:

Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war.

Libby testified to the grand jury that he had been authorized to share parts of the NIE with journalists in the summer of 2003 as part of an effort to rebut charges then being made by former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson that the Bush administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make a public case for war.

This is the house of cards many of us suspected could come falling down when the Flitzgerals investigation got going. It takes one person to set this stuff in motion. The Nixon hearings weren't going anywhere until John Dean testified. Of course, Dean was acting out of principle. Libby is acting to save his own ass. Like Ollie North did:

Libby's legal strategy in asserting that Cheney and other Bush administration officials authorized activities related to the underlying allegations of criminal conduct leveled against him, without approving of or encouraging him to engage in the specific misconduct, is reminiscent of the defense strategy used by Oliver North, who was a National Security Council official in the Reagan administration.

North, a Marine lieutenant colonel assigned to the National Security Council, implemented the Reagan administration's efforts to covertly send arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages held in the Middle East, and to covertly fund and provide military assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras at a time when federal law prohibited such activities. Later, it was discovered that North and other Reagan administration officials had diverted funds they had received from the Iranian arms sales to covertly fund the Contras.

If Libby's defense adopts strategies used by North, it might be in part because the strategies largely worked for North and in part because Libby's defense team has quietly retained John D. Cline, who was a defense attorney for North. Cline, a San-Francisco partner at the Jones Day law firm, has specialized in the use of classified information in defending clients charged with wrongdoing in national security cases.

Of course, the whole thing with North was that he was a low-level functionary. It's harder to argue that when you're the Chief of Staff to the Vice President. That's not exactly low-level.

This should be a fun year to watch how this one develops.


A Tale of Two Parties

While in the GOP, the deposed Majority Leader is pleading ignorance about Jack Abramoff and corruption, calling the repeated charges of ethics violations "baseless" and mnade up by a "liberal press," the Democrats are attacking the root of the problem:

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin and Sen. Chris Dodd, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, said yesterday that they will push for public financing of federal elections.

The revelations follow public financing proposals that two senior House Democrats unveiled late last month.

Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, announced Jan. 25 plans to reform dramatically the funding of House campaigns. Under their proposal, taxpayers would be asked to contribute voluntarily to a national campaign fund.

Congressional observers largely dismissed Obey and Frank’s proposal as a political gesture, but Durbin and Dodd’s support for public financing of elections makes the concept more viable.

This is the only way to reform the corrupt system in Washington, and these incumbent Democrats should be lauded for breaking out of the retrenched Beltway wisdom of "this'll never work" and actually moving in the right direction. While Republicans whine and plead innocence, Democrats want to do something about it. This should be a bipartisan call from the grassroots on up to have clean money elections. This will help Democrats, this will help Republicans, this will help the people. This would return voters to the political process. The only people it wouldn't help are lobbyists and interest groups. They would be emasculated.

Which may be why the GOP is lining up against it. Even their "mavericks."

The public financing of campaigns does not have — at least to this point — the support of the Senate’s leading advocate for campaign-finance reform, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain dismissed the proposal yesterday with a flat “no.”

“We’ve only had BCRA for one election cycle,” McCain said, referring to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

Of course, McCain comes from Arizona, where Clean Money elections are already in place, and he praised the system in his state as recently as 2002. They called that "flip-flopping" in an earlier time.

This is fabulous news, that Democrats are coming out strongly for public election funding. It's the only way to get the money out of politics.


O'Beirne blasts black community for "politicizing" elections

November 8, 2006

Washington, DC (BP) - National Review writer Kate O'Beirne today blasted the African American community for "politicizing" the midterm elections. The midterms culminated in major gains for Democrats, thanks in large part to the 96% vote share from majority black communities.

Speaking on MSNBC's "Hardball," O'Beirne said: "Today's actions by blacks were completely inappropriate. Election Day is a time to celebrate America and our freedoms. It's not a convention or a campaign event. That black people would make such an angry statement against the President on a day like today is shameful. Liberals don't seem to be able to keep politics away from elections."

O'Beirne also noted that the partisanship shown on Election Day has historical precedent. "Well, it was reminiscent of the 2000 and 2004 election, when 90% of blacks voted against the President. This was another cheap shot."

"Was there anything inaccurate in how the black community voted," Matthews asked. O'Beirne replied, "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if they honestly believed that Democrats looked out for their interests and could better run the country. To make a cheap political stunt on Election Day is totally contrary to the spirit of the nation. We're not talking about paying tribute to the elected officials who've come before us. We're talking about craven politics."

Not everyone in the country was complicit in this attack, said O'Beirne. "The Republicans didn't do it. They voted they way they chose and they were respectful of the incumbent Republicans and the process. They did not make it about them or politics."

"These voters are so graceless. They have no graciousness for even being allowed to vote."

When asked for comment, DNC Chairman Howard Dean reportedly "laughed his ass off."


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Please Muddy the Waters So We Can Dismiss It As Politics!

This Digby recap of the flap today between Leslie Blitzer and his take-no-B.S. partner Jack Cafferty was priceless. You can see it here.

Basically this newly minted House Majority Leader John Boehner is renting an apartment from a lobbyist.

House Majority Leader John Boehner rents a basement apartment from a lobbyist whose clients had an interest in legislation overseen or sponsored by Boehner, according to lobbying records.

Boehner, R-Ohio, pays $1,600 a month rent for the apartment owned by lobbyist John Milne and his wife, Debra Anderson, Boehner spokesman Don Seymour Jr. said.

"It is conceivable that John Milne may have lobbied Boehner on a few occasions over the years, but we are not aware of any specific instances of it, and we are certain no lobbying has taken place during the time in which John Boehner has been renting the property," Seymour said.

Lobbying records show that he represented Buca di Beppo and Parasole Restaurant Holdings Inc. - both restaurant companies - to lobby on the minimum wage, an issue handled by the Education and the Workforce Committee chaired by Boehner. The restaurant industry has opposed increases in the minimum wage, which has not risen since 1997.

So Cafferty asked a question for the viewers about whether or not this sort of thing is ethical, and the vast majority of the repsonses were "No." So Blitzer, after the segment, pleaded with Cafferty to give him just one "positive" email about Boehner, repeating that "he was renting at market value and it isn't luxurious." To which Cafferty snapped, "You must not listen to me," since Cafferty had indeed read one letter saying pretty much exactly that (it's like the emailer and Blitzer get their talking points from the same... never mind). Cafferty was clearly pissed at being pressed to maintain "balance," as if every issue has two equal and perfectly reasonable sides.

What Digby enlightened me to was a parallel incident reminiscent of this one, where Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post admitted to the "fair and balanced" game:

Since there were a bunch of questions I didn't get to in the chat, I thought I would use The Fix to answer a few more. Here goes:

New York, N.Y.: In your recent corruption roundup, you set up some ground rules that you'll only deal with current members of Congress or governors. Yet, you broke your own rules by including Rep Frank Ballance (D) who resigned in June, 2004. You omitted Connecticut Governor John Rowland (R) who also resigned in June, 2004. Why break your own rules for one but not the other?

The only thing I can think of is that you made a list and found that there are a lot more Republicans than Democrats on the list. So in an effort to appeared unbiased, you had to find another Democrat.

Cillizza: This was an editorial mixup. In my original post, Ballance was not included since, as you rightly point out, he is not a sitting member of Congress. After an edit, Ballance was unnecessarily included for, frankly, balance. I did not read the final edit and therefore was unaware that Ballance had been added to the list. I apologize for my editor's error (he's been flogged). And let no man (or woman) say The Fix opposes full disclosure.

Yeah, "editorial mixup." That's what they're calling fear of the wrath of the Republican Noise Machine these days.

You have a newspaper reporter admitting that his editor changed a story to include a Democrat who wasn't in Congress anymore to make it look like corruption is more "bipartisan." Welcome to the truthy world of mainstream news, everyone! Time to call for a blogger ethics panel.


The Biggest Loser

My nascent addiction to Bloggingheads is mainly driven by listening to Mickey Kaus, the dumbest person in the universe. Literally. We can end this debate. Let me present this post and the defense can rest. Might I remind you that these are all items taken from the past week. Kaus has been writing for far longer than that (indeed, he was one of the first bloggers on the Web), and like a fine wine that has been sitting open in a backyard in suburban Phoenix in August, he just gets worse with age.

Mickey infuriates me for so many reasons, but the biggest one is that he selectively picks and chooses individual incidents, studies, polls or events to "prove" his pre-ordained bits of conventional wisdom. This happens all the time. Take for example, his citing ONE Center for American Progress study as iron-clad proof that the country has "Katrina fatigue" and it didn't start a public debate on race. He'd have no problem knocking down a separate CAP study, and say it means nothing, mind you, but this one suits his needs, and so there you go. By the way, the study is a real indictment of those who want to lock up America's race problem in the closet and shut the door. What does Kaus get from that? "The MSM Katrina hype backfires on the Dems."

He relates that to how the "Murtha hype" backfired on the Dems, a made-up idea he simply decided one day, and cited as proof ONE Charlie Cook column, he who similarly is a fountain of Beltway conventional wisdom. Never mind the fact that this week Cook called the idea of Democrats taking back the House within reach, despite the fact that Murtha and Rep. Jim Moran had to turn people away in the middle of Virginia to listen to them speak in a town hall, despite the fact that a Richard Mellon Scaife paper in Murtha's region recently changed its tune and supported Murtha's resolution for immediate withdrawal to the periphery of Iraq, despite the Republican leader of the NY state Senatecoming out against the war and endorsing Murtha's view, depsite every poll showing the same dismal results for the President on the war, despite the new House Majority Leader acknowledging that Iraq could be a big problem in the midterms.

But sure, Mickey, go with the one post by Charlie Cook from 3 months ago. By the way, he re-endorsed this view this week.

When Kaus does get around to stopping the conventional wisdom train and come up which something resembling an original thought, it's frequently so stupid that it makes people's eyes bleed. Take this pearl from his Bloggingheads conversation with Robert Wright (no transcript): the solution for the warrantless wiretapping is to start tapping ALL phone calls! Great fucking idea, dude! Because I know a massive bureaucracy like the NSA would NEVER EVER misinterpret something I'd say and waste valuable time and resources trying to decipher it! And of course the NSA wouldn't use this resource for political purposes, right? Right now the NSA is reportedly looking at conversations from tens of thousands of people, and all of them but about 10 are worthy of even consideration for further surveillance. With a cool 300 million to cover, that ratio would hit about 300,000 citizens! Surely there are that many terrorists in the country!

Kaus also appears to have a hard-on for dismissing Brokeback Mountain (irony). First he said "I'll see it, but I don't WANT to see it," which is pathetic (why would anyone see what they didn't want to? What words from someone so guilty and uncomfortable!). Then he got all uppity at a Frank Rich column predicting that it would be "a runaway hit." When it wasn't after 3 weeks of playing in about 4 theaters (where it reached per-screen averages above everything out there) he calmly predicted that it wouldn't make $50 million dollars. It's well past $60 million already, and we're a month from the Oscars, but the rule of Kaus is "Kaus never admits Kaus is wrong; in other words, Kaus never admits anything, since he's, um, always wrong." So now he's admittedly "moved the goalposts," saying that now it has to do something like $75 million to be a REAL success. "I'm moving the goalposts! I'm a complete asshole!"

But it gets worse. He's now selectively picking and choosing cities where it's not doing well, like Clovis, New Mexico, cultural bellweather of the nation. Like an obsessive trainspotter, he culls data looking for any- ANY!- reason to prove that Brokeback is not doing as well as everyone thinks.

This is probably because, as he writes, "Hollywood is an isolated subculture populated by quirky egomaniacs, and movies have long lead times. They are lousy barometers of ‘America today." He really just knows he's not talented enough to get a movie made (or likely, even read), yet he lives in Hollywood, and he can't stand seeing everyone else around him living HIS dream. Must be tough. So tough.

But the coup de grace for the idiocy of a man who calls himself "kf" comes in this Bloggingheads segment, where Matthew Yglesias patiently explains to him that movie audiences typically skew left, since there aren't that many theaters in the sticks, and it's a pain in the ass to get to any of them (something so drearily obvious to anyone that's spent 2 seconds outside a major urban city. I spent six months living in the Pocono Mountains 45 minutes from the nearest moviehouse). There's probably more to Yglesias' point, but Kaus labels it a revelation, and says (paraphrasing) "Wow, I never thought of that. Must be that 'outside the industry' perspective." (you mean that industry you're not in, Mick?) Which prompts Yglesias to reply, "Actually, my dad's a screenwriter."

See, thinking humans can actually NOT be completely overwhelmed by their petty, insular worldview and come up with opinions that reach outside their own eyes and ears. Also that he doesn't even know who he's talking to. What a tool.

The prosecution rests. Will anyone defend the Kaus before I bequeath to him the "Stupidest Man in the Universe" honor?


TV on the PC

Maybe it's just because I've recently gotten DSL, but 2006 appears to be the critical mass year for video on the Web. This is particularly true in the political arena. There are simply so many destinations. From Rocketboom to the Huffington Post Contagious Festival to Bloggingheads to the great Crooks and Liars, I can spend my valuable time watching my favorite obsession instead of reading it. It's only a matter of time before we have one interconnected box for print, audio, and video. I'm "watching" Chris Matthews punk Victoria Clarke right now (Chrissy has always been antiwar, so this is not a surprise).

And so many people are using visuals as a great tool for change and social justice. Just today I watched a great music video by Robert Cray which painted a powerful portrait of a soldier returning home. It's really pretty amazing to be on the sidelines (hopefully the front lines, but that's hopeful thinking) of this revolution.


Buy More Oil, Says Oilman

From an unimpeachable, objective voice on America's dependence on foreign oil:

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The United States will always rely on foreign imports of oil to feed its energy needs and should stop trying to become energy independent, a top Exxon Mobil Corp. executive said on Tuesday.

"Realistically, it is simply not feasible in any time period relevant to our discussion today," Exxon Mobil Senior Vice President Stuart McGill said, referring to what he called the "misperception" that the United States can achieve energy independence.

The comments, in a speech at an energy conference in Houston, come a few days after U.S. President George W. Bush declared America was addicted to Middle Eastern oil and promised to help the country kick the habit.

The world's largest publicly traded oil company, however, says hoping to end foreign oil imports is not only a bad idea, but also impossible.

"Americans depend upon imports to fill the gap," McGill said. "No combination of conservation measures, alternative energy sources and technological advances could realistically and economically provide a way to completely replace those imports in the short or medium term."

This reads like a goddamn Onion article. "Area Oil Magnate Says America Shouldn't Stop Buying Oil."

The day we take our cues on energy independence from Exxon executives is the day we put industry executives and lobbyists in charge of the regulatory agencies! Oh, wait.


Never Heard of Him

That was the President's line on Kenny Boy Lay. That was the line on Ahmad Chalabi. And now, that's the line on Jack Abramoff.

“You know, I, frankly, don’t even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don’t know him.”

Except Abramoff spoke up today. And he's singing a different tune:

But according to (national editor of Washingtonian Magazine Kim) Eisler, Abramoff told him that the two have met almost a dozen times, shared jokes, and spoke about details of Abramoff’s family:


This game of "I dunno" is quaint, and the media always does a good job of lapping it up. But it always has been a lie, and it is again in this case. Bush's folksy, "aw-shucks" denials belie the truth. And for some reason he rarely, if ever, gets called on it.


They're Really Unbelievable

If you flash back to last year, the only thing on the President's agenda was the privatization of Social Security. He talked it up in town meetings, made a photo-op visit to look at the trust fund IOUs (remember the "these are only worthless pieces of paper" bite?), and generally put the issue onto the front pages. Democrats united, made it a priotiry to protect the earned benefits for our seniors, and Bush got walloped. The more he taled, the less people liked the idea. By the summer, this radical restructuring of Social Security was dead on arrival.

So Bush learned his lesson.

He stopped talking about it and simply inserted it into the budget:

Last year, even though Bush talked endlessly about the supposed joys of private accounts, he never proposed a specific plan to Congress and never put privatization costs in the budget. But this year, with no fanfare whatsoever, Bush stuck a big Social Security privatization plan in the federal budget proposal, which he sent to Congress on Monday.

His plan would let people set up private accounts starting in 2010 and would divert more than $700 billion of Social Security tax revenues to pay for them over the first seven years.

"The Democrats were laughing all the way to the funeral of Social Security modernization," White House spokesman Trent Duffy told me in an interview Tuesday, but "the president still cares deeply about this. " Duffy asserted that Bush would have been remiss not to include in the budget the cost of something that he feels so strongly about, and he seemed surprised at my surprise that Social Security privatization had been written into the budget without any advance fanfare.

Duffy said privatization costs were included in the midyear budget update that the Office of Management and Budget released last July 30, so it was logical for them to be in the 2007 budget proposals. But I sure didn't see this coming -- and I wonder how many people outside of the White House did.

Nevertheless, it's here. Unlike Bush's generalized privatization talk of last year, we're now talking detailed numbers. On page 321 of the budget proposal, you see the privatization costs: $24.182 billion in fiscal 2010, $57.429 billion in fiscal 2011 and another $630.533 billion for the five years after that, for a seven-year total of $712.144 billion.

700 billion dollars. The plan isn't really to privatize Social Security, it's to bankrupt it... and turn it into a welfare benefit rather than something you earn over time. Look, Americans are horrible savers, especially these days. The federal savings rate is at its lowest time since the Great Depression. And NOW the Administration wants to take the once piece of the social safety net that remains strong and cut the ropes?

They're really unbelievable. Especially in HOW they do these things. They shove them in the back of a budget where they think nobody would notice. They stick it next to the other provision to eliminate the lump-sum death benefit and survivor benefits from Social Security. Meanwhile defense budget continue to skyrocket.

To quote Gene Sperling on the budget:

(it's like) a man who leases three fully loaded Hummers, finds it stretches his family's budget to the breaking point, and decides his family has to start buying cheaper peanut butter.

These people are not fit to sit in the chair at Coretta Scott King's funeral and pay tribute to a woman who fought for the poor and underprivileged all her life.

This budget isn't likely to go anywhere, given the outcries from Republicans and the fact that it's an election year. But it's important for the whole country to know what priorities the White House has. And it's important for the country to ask if they share them.


How Did This Happen, Anyway?

Our future President wants to know how an Al Qaeda leader can escape from jail... twice.

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold today sent the following letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the recent escape of Jamal al Badawi, who allegedly plotted the attack on the USS Cole, as well as 22 other convicts from a detention center in Yemen.

In the letter, Feingold requests a classified briefing on the escape, as well as information about the other escapees. He also calls into question the U.S. relationship with Yemen in the war on terror.

Feingold writes:

"Al-Badawi's success in twice escaping Yemeni custody event not only calls into question our security and counter-terrorism relationship with Yemen, but it also raises the question of whether or not we have in place the right partnerships and relationships to ensure that known al-Qaida operatives are successfully detained and prosecuted."

And it wasn't just Al-Badawi, but 23 Al Qaeda members that escaped through a tunnel dug by sympathizers. Now, the attack on the Cole was an attack on the United States. Why were the participants in that attack being held in Yemen, especially after the first jailbreak occurred in 2003? Yemen likes to think of itself as an ally in the "War on Terror," but as the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, their citizens might have different ideas.

Yemen's turning into almost as good an ally as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jumping Ship

I guess the Karl Rove "turn the screws" campaign isn't turning all the Republicans to jelly. In fact, it may be emboldening some:

A House Republican whose subcommittee oversees the National Security Agency broke ranks with the White House on Tuesday and called for a full Congressional inquiry into the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.

The lawmaker, Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, said in an interview that she had "serious concerns" about the surveillance program. By withholding information about its operations from many lawmakers, she said, the administration has deepened her apprehension about whom the agency is monitoring and why.

Ms. Wilson, who was a National Security Council aide in the administration of President Bush's father, is the first Republican on either the House's Intelligence Committee or the Senate's to call for a full Congressional investigation into the program, in which the N.S.A. has been eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of people inside the United States believed to have links with terrorists.

I do think this shows just what a piss-poor job Alberto VO5 did defending the party line on Monday. But there's another factor at work here. Heather Wilson, last heard braying "I thought it was nasty" about Janet Jackson's nipple like it was a weapon of mass destruction all to itself, is locked in a tough re-election battle with Patricia Madrid in the 1st District of New Mexico. A recent poll showed Madrid up 44-43. What Karl Rove may have failed to account for is the extent to which Republican push-back on this issue gives members much-needed distance from the White House. With an unpopular President facing difficulties from all sides, the last thing you want is him coming to your state and stumping for you. Rove may have given the impetus for the Republican caucus to run screaming in the opposite direction.



That's what it takes to say this in front of four living Presidents:

"We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there [standing ovation]... but Coretta kew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."

And anyone that says Rev. Lowery perverted Coretta Scott King's funeral (as Kate "Women ought to know their place" O'Beirne is doing right now on Hardball) doesn't know anything about the woman. That's exactly how you honor a national civil rights icon.

Tell you what, when the GOP starts polling in the African American community above 2%, then they can dictate how African Americans should run funerals for pillars in their community.

UPDATE: Here's the video.


Blanco Fighting Back, Too

I feel like the Bush Administration has just pushed Louisiana to the brink, and now the legislators of that state are using any means necessary to force the federal government's hand. From The Picayune:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco kicked off a history-making special session of the Legislature on Monday evening at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center with a forceful message to the federal government and state lawmakers to support her levee board and housing programs for hurricane recovery.

In what was widely seen as the sharpest speech of her beleaguered political career since Hurricane Katrina, Blanco admonished President Bush for dodging Louisiana's requests for aid while giving the federal government an ultimatum to give Louisiana a larger share of oil and gas royalties from offshore drilling or face a roadblock to exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

"If no effort is made to guarantee our fair share of royalties, I have warned the federal government that we will be forced to block the August sale of offshore oil and gas leases," Blanco said. "It's time to play hardball, as I believe that's the only game Washington understands."

The state of Louisiana gets a paltry share of federal oil and gas royalties relative to other states, like Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico. And who needs it the most right now?

These latest moves by Nagin and Blanco are more like stunts, desperate pleas to raise awareness for a forgotten tragedy on our own shores. It's sickening that they have to do this, that we don't take care of our own by default. I support their efforts and vow to be more responsive on this site to the concerns of New Orleans.

Blanco also had some concrete proposals in her speech:

The governor went further than ever before in laying out details for how she wants to invest $7.7 billion the federal government has allocated to Louisiana in block grants and hazard mitigation funds.

Subject to approval by the Louisiana Recovery Authority and a legislative budget committee, Blanco said she would spend $4.6 billion to help homeowners repair, rebuild or relocate their homes. Another $1 billion would be used to develop affordable housing.

To breathe life back into hospitals, schools and utilities, she would spend $1.75 billion there, while $350 million would go toward job growth, such as business incentives, bridge loans and work force training.

The emphasis on housing is significant, because the administration feels left out in the cold on the subject after Bush rejected the so-called Baker bill, a proposal with wide support on the local and state levels that would create a public-private incentive program to keep mortgage companies and homeowners from failing financially because of blighted property.

"As you know, the White House tried to blow this solution out of the saddle. This is second-class treatment," Blanco said. "Our people who lost everything are not second-class citizens. They deserve an equitable solution. We will continue to fight for a fair hearing."

Blanco said her housing recovery program, embodied in a plan that would include the creation of a Louisiana Housing and Land Trust Authority, is not designed to replace the Baker bill.

Blanco pounded home themes she has been crafting since the storms. Her speech was interrupted 19 times with applause from the crowd, which included lawmakers, their guests and hundreds of ordinary citizens.

She drew a standing ovation for her line, "We had all better put Louisiana politics aside and worry about Washington politics or our people and our state will lose."

The governor decried the fact that Mississippi has received a much larger share, proportionately, of federal assistance and that Bush scarcely mentioned Louisiana's plight in his State of the Union address last week.

"The harsh reality is that for many people in Washington, Katrina is yesterday's problem and Rita never happened," Blanco said.

She criticized the federally constructed levee system that failed and called for a consolidation of levee boards in the New Orleans region.

"It is inexcusable that our people -- hardworking and patriotic American taxpayers -- were asked to entrust their lives and property to a worn and broken system," she said. "The people of southeast Louisiana want and deserve a single levee board run by professionals devoted exclusively to flood protection."

This is a big excerpt, but it's important to see that Blanco has some specific ideas to reinvigorate New Orleans. She is trying to fill the gaps in federal leadership. If she succeeds it would be a political resurrection unlike any other in the history of this country. But I have to say these are sound proposals.

Congress should pass the Baker bill. Outside of levee reconstruction, housing is the number one barrier for those that want to return to New Orleans. It is essential that such concerns are prioritized.

If you want some heartbreak, read these stories from legislators who toured some of the most hard-hit areas of the city. Remember this is 5 months after the storm:

Rep. Jean Doerge, D-Minden, who was on her first trip to the area, said she was amazed at the extent of damage. "This is an eye-opener to what we are really facing," she said. The bus tour "has had an effect on me. . . .I know better what we are up against. It is absolutely unbelievable. You look out here and say it's been five months and you still see devastation."

Rep. Donald Cazayoux, D-New Roads, who has made a few trips to the area, most recently in November, called the lack of progress in clearing debris "incredible. I was expecting some movement. It is just so vast.

"It is a disaster and we need to see it. I think we need to come every three months. There is no change at all."

Rep. Monica Walker, D-Hessmer, who had toured the area earlier, said that based on what she saw Monday, "it doesn't look like anything is getting done. This (tour) helps the cause. I don't think that we are the ones who need convincing."

Walker said more members of Congress and the Bush administration should be on the buses.

Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, who has flown over the devastated area but had not seen it from the ground, said the tour was sobering. "It helps to put everything in perspective," he said.

Let's not forget.


Rhetoric vs. Reality

Rep. David Obey has a great chart listing the differences between President Bush's State of the Union promises vs. the reality of his FY 2006 budget. This year's budget request isn't any better. Here's a sample:

SOTU: “In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform.”
Reality: President Bush has announced a new malaria initiative, but his last three budgets made significant cuts to malaria funding.  Last year he requested malaria funding be cut from $90 million to $57 million.
SOTU: “Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care.  Our government has a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility.”
“For all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care ... strengthen the doctor-patient relationship ... and help people afford the insurance coverage they need.”

Reality: 45 million Americans are without health insurance.  Last year, Bush’s budget cut the government agency responsible for healthcare access, the Health Resources and Services Administration, by $842 million.
For example, Bush’s budget: cut Rural Health and Telemedicine by 69% or $76 million; eliminated the Healthy Communities Access Program, which made grants to improve healthcare access for uninsured and underinsured Americans; and cut the Health Professions Programs, which increases the number of minority students in health professions schools and encourages medical students to go into primary care fields and practice in underserved communities, by 96% or $289 million.

It's nice to make a bunch of self-serving statements to the people, but if you keep going back on them year after year after year, pretty soon the Congress manages to catch on. This is a chart that could be mailed to every swing district in the country. The "accountability moment" is just 9 months away.


What The Hearings Meant

Like I said, I thought the Senators on the Judiciary Committee did a great job drilling down to the heart of the argument in Attorney General Alberto VO5's testimony yesterday. Unchecked executive power is dangerous. It's as simple as that. Congress never granted this authority, no matter what VO5 says about the Authorization to Use Military Force from 2001. To quote Arlen Specter, that defies logic and plain English. And Lindsay Graham makes the case on the "inherent authority" front:

All I’m saying is the inherent authority argument in its application to me seems to have no boundaries when it comes to executive decisions in a time of war, it deals the Congress and courts out, Mr. Attorney General.

And of course, this is a perpetual war for perpetual peace. So what we're really being asked to do is to rewrite the Constitution by proxy, to give up on the separation of powers and the notion of co-equal branches of government.

Other Presidents have not done this before. This is a radical reinterpretation of the laws of the United States. The potential for abuse is not only great, it's doubtlessly already happening:

BIDEN: Can you assure us, General, you are fully, totally informed and confident that you know the absolute detail with which this program is being conducted? Can you assure us you personally can assure us no one is being eavesdropped upon in the United States other than — other than someone who has a communication that is emanating from foreign soil by a suspected terrorist, al Qaeda, or otherwise?

GONZALES: Sir, I can’t give you absolute assurance.

BIDEN: Who can?

GONZALES: Certainly General Hayden knows more about the operational details of this [program]. What I can give the American people assurance is that we have a number of safeguards in place so that we can say with a high degree of confidence or certainly certainty that what the president has authorized in connection with this program, that those procedures are being followed.

Hey, we're trying! Later Sen. Kohl asked what is done with the records of calls from Americans swept up in the program who are later found innocent, and VO5 was noncommittal about whether or not those records are kept.

This is not only a program with potential for abuse that sets a dangerous precedent about expanding executive power. It's also a waste of money and resources, apparently:

Intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat, according to accounts from current and former government officials and private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use.

Bush has recently described the warrantless operation as "terrorist surveillance" and summed it up by declaring that "if you're talking to a member of al Qaeda, we want to know why." But officials conversant with the program said a far more common question for eavesdroppers is whether, not why, a terrorist plotter is on either end of the call. The answer, they said, is usually no.

Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.

Clearly, a program this massive, where the NSA is checking literally millions of calls in emails in a huge data mining operation (read the article for details), is costing lots of money and man-hours spent tracking down leads. These are apparently going almost nowhere. That time and money could be better spent on results-oriented enforcement, or simply by protecting borders, ports and shipping containers.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans on this committee will abdicate their position as elected officials of government and give in to the executive. This is still a Constitutional crisis until a decision is made on this by the natural arbitrator, the Supreme Court. We could stop all of this simply by the White House agreeing to get a warrant and play under the FISA rules, or by going to Congress asking specifically to grant this authority. Or we can wait until this authority is wrested away by the Congress or the courts. I hoped for the former, seeing no need to drag the country through this crisis needlessly. That particular Texan stubbornness made sure that wouldn't happen.

The President is breaking the law and now we have to find out why. If he came clean and changed the process early on we wouldn't have to dig this deep. Now it's imperative that we uncover what's really going on here. The Senate needs to take the lead in that process of discovery.


The Rivalry

Will Bunch has an idea:

Of course bloggers make mistakes -- with more than 70 million in play, how could they not? And there really are some major ethical issues that need to be hashed out. But why do I suspect that some of the loudest critics of blogs have never actually read one?

That is why I am proposing, to all newspaper editors across this great land, something I call Bunch's Law. From this day forward, no op-eds criticizing bloggers for "often" making mistakes can be published without at least ONE (1) example of said mistake. Hopefully, that will cut down on major op-ed page clutter, and maybe even save some trees in the process.

This will never happen. It serves the traidtional news media interests to tar all bloggers with the same brush of unreliability. Bloggers can fight back and be vigilant and hold blogger's ethics conferences and all the rest, but the reputation will never change. There's an extremely good reason for this.

The news media sees bloggers as the enemy.

Not only in the sense that they are a threat to job security (which is overblown; last I saw, Dan Rather still reports for 60 Minutes and has a syndicated column). They're a threat to market share. The top blogs routinely get more eyeballs than the top cable news programs. Ad revenue in the blogosphere has exploded. Not here, mind you, but look around, I assure you. There is simply no reason for these beseiged media companies, run by conglomerates who want nothing but increased growth, to report honestly on the blogs. It's in their interest to demonize them as dishonest rabble-rousers. And it will never change. This is probably coming from the corporate paymasters more than anyone else.

The truth is that the blogs need the media (unless somebody wants to pay me to fly all over the globe and report on stuff), and vice-versa (unless the major media outlets want to rehire all their fact-checkers). But there will not be many instances where this symbiotic relationship will be allowed to flourish. This will continue to be yet another polarizing battle in our polarizing culture. The media company that embraces and utilizes the blogs best will become the gold standard in news in this century. I'm not holding my breath waiting for that moment.


Somewhat Repsonsible

You don't see many companies impacting shareholders and executives the way GM did today. Although, it's an open question whether this dividend slash and executive pay cut is merely an olive branch to the unions in order to exact a similar giveback to the company down the road. And certainly, the investor and executive class can afford such a maneuver; the rank and file likely cannot.

What would be really responsible is getting together with engineers and designers and making cars that have higher fuel efficiency that don't break down, which people actually might want to buy. I'll be in the market for a car in June, and I'd like to be able to at least have American automakers on my list. But their disregard for anything but the SUV market and shoddy quality standards makes it pretty impossible for someone like me to buy American.

How about taking the advice of John York, GM's chief adviser, and dropping the Hummer? I saw more SUV ads in the Super Bowl than any other car class. America's addiction to oil is fed by these marketing techniques.


The Best of Alberto VO5

The hair was immaculate, but what was under it was muddled yesterday, as Alberto "Abu" Gonzalez stumbled through a long session with the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Democrats on the Committee did a far better job asking pertinent questions in this hearing than in the confirmation hearings for Justice Samuel Alito, but then again they were dealing with a much dimmer bulb. To wit:

Gonzales:  President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.

Quick rule: you cannot have authorized electronic surveillance before the invention of electricity.

(Furthermore, the history geek in me feels compelled to point out that Washington did authorize surveillance of British communiques with Tory sympathizers in the colonies during the Revolutionary War. Which means Gonzales is completely accurate, except for the fact that at the time there was no United States of America, no Office of the President, no Constitution, no bicameral legislature, and no Supreme Court. Other than that, he's spot-on.)

And then there's this pearl of wisdom:

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

General, how has this revelation damaged the program?

I'm almost confused by it but, I mean, it seems to presuppose that these very sophisticated Al Qaida folks didn't think we were intercepting their phone calls.

I mean, I'm a little confused. How did it damage this?

GONZALES: Well, Senator, I would first refer to the experts in the Intel Committee who are making that statement, first of all. I'm just the lawyer.

And so, when the director of the CIA says this should really damage our intel capabilities, I would defer to that statement. I think, based on my experience, it is true -- you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance.

But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.

There was laughter after that, and I'm assuming it was of the "You're the biggest fucking idiot in the world" variety. He's actually insinuating that members of Al Qaeda, an organization dedicated to committing terrorist acts inside the United States, are prone to forgetting how the United States might counteract their efforts. If their minds are that addled, they must not be much of a threat then, huh?

UPDATE: Future President Feingold (if I have anything to say about it) on the "pre-1776" worldview of the President:

At yesterday’s hearing, I reminded the Attorney General about his testimony during his confirmation hearings in January 2005, when I asked him whether the President had the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps in violation of the criminal law.  We didn't know it then, but the President had authorized the NSA program three years before, when the Attorney General was White House Counsel.  At his confirmation hearing, the Attorney General first tried to dismiss my question as "hypothetical" before stating "it's not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes."  Yesterday, he tried to claim that he had told the truth at that hearing, bringing the parsing of words to new lows.  I think it is clear that the Attorney General misled the Committee and the public not only about the NSA wiretapping program but about his views on presidential power.  That broader issue was central to the debate over his nomination.

The Attorney General's lack of candor adds to the already mounting credibility problem that this Administration faces. One of the things I tried to do in my second round of questions yesterday was to point out how incomplete and misleading the President's comments on the NSA program in the State of the Union address were.

This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view.  Our government has three branches, not one.  And no one, not even the President, is above the law.

Having a post-1776 worldview would involve, you know, knowing history and having a brain. Alberto VO5 only has the hair.


Smoking Dutch Cleanser

Maybe Specter realized he's never running for re-election again. How else to explain this:

When Gonzales argues that the Constitution gives the president undisputable powers to conduct warrantless surveillance despite a statute aimed at requiring him to seek court approval, such an interpretation "is not sound," Specter said in the interview. ". . . He's smoking Dutch Cleanser."

I don't know what Dutch Cleanser is either. But it sounds like something you'd smoke and make you go all funny.

Of course, words are words. I'll believe Specter's sincerity when I see action.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Don't Fuck With Us

Karl's putting the word out:

The White House has been twisting arms to ensure that no Republican member votes against President Bush in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the administration's unauthorized wiretapping.

Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.

"It's hardball all the way," a senior GOP congressional aide said.

The sources said the administration has been alarmed over the damage that could result from the Senate hearings, which began on Monday, Feb. 6. They said the defection of even a handful of Republican committee members could result in a determination that the president violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Such a determination could lead to impeachment proceedings.

Over the last few weeks, Mr. Rove has been calling in virtually every Republican on the Senate committee as well as the leadership in Congress. The sources said Mr. Rove's message has been that a vote against Mr. Bush would destroy GOP prospects in congressional elections.

There's got to be more to it than this. I mean, Arlen Specter's never running for re-election again in his life. Of course, that didn't stop him with regards to Alito, and he wouldn't let Abu Gonzales testify under oath today.

It's more than funding blackmail here. Remember the handpicked Mr. Frist is Majority Leader. We must be talking stripping committee assignments, chairmanships, who knows? Maybe some doctored pictures with live girls or dead boys?

By the way, doesn't this part of the article sound like the kiss of death:

Mr. Rove is leading the White House campaign to help the GOP in November’s congressional elections. The sources said the White House has offered to help loyalists with money and free publicity, such as appearances and photo-ops with the president.

Those deemed disloyal to Mr. Rove would appear on his blacklist. The sources said dozens of GOP members in the House and Senate are on that list.

With his poll numbers, does anyone really WANT an appearance from the President at their campaign event at this point?

Not J.D. Hayworth:

IMUS: Would you just answer my question, would you like [President Bush] to come to Arizona and cut campaign commercials and run them on those TV stations everywhere?

REP. HAYWORTH: In a word, no. At this time.

Keep working the phones, Karl. Reality might set in.


All Your Base Is Belong To Us

I guess we have to do something with that $493 billion dollar defense budget. Like build permanent bases in Iraq. Britain's going to get one too:

BRITAIN is laying secret plans to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq.

Ministers and military officials are in negotiations with their American counterparts over the British contribution to the long-term effort to maintain peace and stability in post-Saddam Iraq once the country is handed over to its newly elected government.

The scale of the commitment is yet to be formally agreed, but defence sources confirmed that it could see the UK maintaining a military base in south Iraq, near Basra, which it currently controls, for years to come.

The news of the potential extended military posting in one of the world's most dangerous trouble spots came as a commander admitted that British soldiers preparing to deploy to lawless southern Afghanistan were "apprehensive" about the threats they will face.

The Americans, who have yet to formally admit to concrete plans for long-term military bases in Iraq once the new government has been established, are expected to maintain at least one, much larger, facility near Baghdad. Critics claim the negotiations are part of a long-term plan to maintain US control over Iraq and its oil reserves, and to establish a valuable permanent presence in the Middle East.

Juan Cole seems skeptical and says "there's no such thing as a permanent base," but I wonder if he's been to Seoul recently. Or Germany, for that matter, and that's a remnant from the 1940s.

One would assume we'd be interested in keeping a base in Iraq to protect American oil interests. I guess that means we'll be negotiating with insurgents then:

Iraqi and American officials say they are seeing a troubling pattern of government corruption enabling the flow of oil money and other funds to the insurgency and threatening to undermine Iraq's struggling economy.

In Iraq, which depends almost exclusively on oil for its revenues, the officials say that any diversion of money to an insurgency that is killing its citizens and tearing apart its infrastructure adds a new and menacing element to the challenge of holding the country together.

In one example, a member of the Iraqi National Assembly has been indicted in the theft of millions of dollars meant for protecting a critical oil pipeline against attacks and is suspected of funneling some of that money to the insurgency, said Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the chairman of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity. The indictment has not been made public.

The charges against the Sunni lawmaker, Meshaan al-Juburi, lend credence to the suspicions of Iraqi officials that the insurgency is profiting from the nation's oil riches.

In another incident, the director of a major oil storage plant near Kirkuk was arrested Saturday, with other employees and several local police officials, and charged with helping to orchestrate a mortar attack on the plant Thursday, a Northern Oil employee said. The attack resulted in devastating pipeline fires and a shutdown of all oil operations in the area, said the employee, granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Ali Allawi, Iraq's finance minister, estimated that insurgents reap 40 percent to 50 percent of all oil-smuggling profits in the country.

Of course, that's central and southern Iraq, not autonomous Kurdistan, who's rolling out the welcome mat:

Kurdish officials are inviting foreign oil companies to explore untapped reserves in their northern region, angering Arab countrymen and raising concern about chaos in Iraq's oil industry.

Kurds, their self-ruled federation firmly enshrined in Iraq's constitution, believe they are reclaiming their right to control northern oil fields after successive Iraqi regimes purged Kurds from the industry to bring it under exclusive Arab control.

Despite the Iraqi industry's many problems _ falling production, crumbling infrastructure and relentless insurgent attacks _ the prospect of drilling in the world's second-largest proven reserves has led eight small foreign companies to invest in Kurdish-ruled territory.

One of them, Det Norske Oljeselskap, or DNO, of Norway, struck oil in December, less than a month after starting to drill in Zakho near the Turkish border.

So this is a fertile region for oil and gas interests. But the big boys are sitting it out until the security situation gets under control. Into the breach has stepped the insurgency, profiting off of oil money. The US military presence will remain strong until control of the oil is wrested from the hands of the insurgents. And it will probably take a permanent base to make it safe for Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell to enter the fray.

The great game of oil continues, friends, and it's what's behind our entire foreign policy. Anyone who fails to account for it isn't being serious about Iraq.


The End of Moderation

So this is where we're at in the world; a cartoon can cause violence, boycotts, mass protests, and calls for beheadings.

No cartoon should ever cause such a thing... unless it's Cathy.

Thank you for indulging me my joke. Now I'll get somewhat more serious.

The current outrage in the Muslim world over a cartoon that first ran in September of 2005 should provoke some skepticism. We have a war in the Islamic community, a war between the moderates and the Islamists, and the current global political climate has given the Islamists the upper hand. This is not only distressing to the West but to the leaders of many Muslim nations, who do not want to upset the status quo. Sure, it's good to throw out a little anti-American rhetoric every once in a while, but they don't want these angry youths to figure out who's REALLY suppressing them. So they need to distract, deflect, focus the fundamentalist's attention on something else to take the heat off of them.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It's basically the thesis statement of What's the Matter With Kansas. In this case, rather than Republicans fanning the flames of gay marriage to get their fundamentalists to vote against their economic interests, leaders in various Islamic countries are fanning the flames of cartoon depictions of Mohammed to get their fundamentalists to ignore the fact that their leadership is as much to blame for their desperate existences as the West.

There are other issues at play here, including (as Juan Cole points old) familiar ones of first world vs. third world, and real concerns about differences of interpretation in Muslim societies. And while in Western democracies you have the right to say anything you want, including the right to be an asshole, it's probably good to be attuned to certain sensitivities. But this is a classic deflection move by countries like Saudi Arabia, who want to keep these Islamic interests on their side.

What we've seen over the last several years, for reasons on all sides of the equation, is the end of moderation in our time. In such a climate the tiniest grievances become enormous affronts. Add to this the cynical exploitation of extremism by committed interests and these affronts grow ever larger. I fear we are losing the world I once knew: even in the 1980s, when Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death by mullahs in Iran for writing The Satanic Verses, I don't remember this kind of explosion of violence, or holding states responsible for the actions of their subjects. I don't think a giant "LIGHTEN UP, EVERYBODY!" will work anymore, though it may have in the past.

Incidentally Iran's largest paper is having a Holocaust cartoon contest. I think Andy Kindler could win it if he puts his mind to it. But they're probably not going for "funny" in that contest.


Amman on the Mississippi

Nagin's tired of waitin':

Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.

Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.

"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.

Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods.

After that, um, unfortunate "Chocolate City" remark, Mayor Nagin has his sea legs back. Politically, this is a very smart thing to do. Nothing like shame to refocus the government's attention. And they should be ashamed of themselves. No American city should have to go abroad as a last resort to survival.

Nagin said his message to President George W. Bush would be that the federal government needs to refocus on the devastated area.

"We need your undivided attention over the next six months," he said. "We need backup. We need for you to make the words that you spoke in Jackson Square a reality."

Of course, in last week's State of the Union Address, there was exactly one paragraph on New Orleans (and no mention of Hurricane Katrina). One paragraph, on the loss of a major US city. It's like it never even happened.

If France invests enough to get part ownership of New Orleans, will we rename it Freedom Orleans? That's the question.


The NSA Hearings

I thought the Democrats were doing a pretty good job batting around Alberto Gonzales today at the hearings. It's pretty clear he has something to hide. As others have pointed out, Gonzales has repeatedly referred to "the program we are discussing today," leaving open the possibility that there are other, as-yet-unrevealed programs still underway which go even further than what the White House will readily admit. What I think is more likely is that all of these civil liberties infringements and abuses of Presidential power were headquartered under one program, and then when the New York Times article came out, the executive strategy was to give the appearance of sunshine and open communication while at the same time hiding as much as humanly possible by relabeling elements of the program as separate. This is a crucial point that Democratic Senators need to jump into.

Gonzales buffeted this point by answering questions with the cop-out answer "I can only talk about what the President has revealed. There are plenty more rocks to dig under, and we cannot be afraid to do the digging.

UPDATE: Orin Kerr gives us this transcript:

SCHUMER: It's been reported by multiple news outlets that the former number two man in the Justice Department, the premier terrorism prosecutor, Jim Comey, expressed grave reservations about the NSA program and at least once refused to give it his blessing. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, here's the response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements.

There has not been any serious disagreement -- and I think this is accurate -- there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations which I cannot get into.

I will also say...

SCHUMER: But there was some -- I'm sorry to cut you off -- but there was some dissent within the administration. And Jim Comey did express, at some point -- that's all I asked you -- some reservations.

GONZALES: The point I want to make is that, to my knowledge, none of the reservations dealt with the program that we're talking about today. They dealt with operational capabilities that we're not talking about today.
. . .

SCHUMER: It's also been reported that the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, respected lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School, expressed reservations about the program. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, rather than going individual by individual, let me just say that I think the differing views that have been the subject of some of these stories did not deal with the program that I'm here testifying about today.

SCHUMER: But you were telling us that none of these people expressed any reservations about the ultimate program, is that right?

GONZALES: Senator, I want to be very careful here, because, of course, I'm here only testifying about what the president has confirmed.

And with respect to what the president has confirmed, I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you're identifying had concerns about this program.

Then what the fuck are we talking about? This hearing is confirmation that there are plenty of other surveillance programs out there, the details of which are being held from the Congress, not to mention the American people. Meanwhile the Senate Republicans are all too willing to abdicate their own authority to legislate on this matter, rendering themselves impotent.

This may be a government, but it sure ain't democracy.


Sunday, February 05, 2006


After slashing domestic programs in the FY 2006 budget, it's time to dip again into the social safety net for FY 2007:

Domestic priorities like federal aid to schools and health research are squeezed under President Bush's proposed budget for next year, but funding for the Pentagon, the war in Iraq and anti-terrorism efforts get impressive increases.

Monday's budget tome will have a price tag of more than $2.7 trillion. The departments of Education, Commerce, Interior and Energy will see their budgets, on average, frozen or cut slightly below today's already austere levels. [...]

More for Defense, more money spent overall, no change in the deficit, but less for Education and Energy. So much for American competitiveness. Even the Centers for Disease Control will face a cut. So much for fighting the potential bird flu epidemic.

And all of these cuts are an attempt to ram through new tax cuts by creating offsets, even though all that money is eaten up by Defense budgets and emergency supplemental appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan that at this point should be in the budget. Did Iraq sneak up on anybody? Did we not know we were going to be there this year? Then why is that emergency funding? It's ridiculous.

I'll be glad when this fantasyland budget-making is over sometime in early 2009.


Sunday Morning Follies

Newly minted Majority Leader of the House John Boehner was pummeled, just pummeled, on Meet the Press this morning.

I don't think Russert was softballing. He described all the lavish trips Boehner has taken on lobbyists' dimes over the years, including 8 trips he took to an exclusive resort town in West Virginia. Boehner's excuse was that "these meetings are in nice places," and he basically rejected any cessation of this trips, just approval by the House Ethics Committee. He claimed that the Ethics Committee was working again, when it's been dormant for close to five years. He dismissed calls for an outside office of Public Integrity, after admitting that the problem was enforcement of the existing rules. Clearly the Congress is unable to police themselves, but this guy called basically for business as usual.

Boehner is being touted as a reformer, but that's ridiculous. He was supposed to give them the APPEARANCE of change without any change. The problem is he's not committed to any change of any kind. He admitted to passing out PAC checks on the floor of Congress while it was in session, I hadn't seen that before. He called it both "a mistake" and "a longtime practice," which was damaging.

On Abramoff, he opened an attack line for Democrats. When questioned about Indian tribe money that flowed to him from Abramoff clients, he said that he never knew Abramoff and that the money given to him by the tribes had nothing to do with Abramoff. This is what Democrats have been saying all along, and now they can quote the House Majority Leader when pressed. The difference in Boehner's case, of course, is that he never received any tribal money before Abramoff became associated with the tribes.

And on the issues, he admitted that if Iraq is the same in November, the Republican majority in Congress is in danger. Not the kind of inspiring talk you want out of the Majority Leader.