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

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Joe Klein, Idiot (and that's redundant)

I've been reading with interest the various denunciations around the blogosphere of Time's in house "liberal" Joe Klein. That's because I knew I was going to see him this weekend, at the LA Times Book Festival. He was on a panel with Ron Brownstein of the LA Times, the great Chris Hedges (Leaving Moses on the Freeway, War is a force that gives us meaning), and Caitlin Flanagan of the New Yorker (who's sharp-witted and a deeply committed liberal).

Seeing in person this jackass prattle on about the myth of radical centrism and authenticity in politics, toeing the Beltway line that makes him almost a caricature, made this too good to pass up. And if I was lucky, I'd get to call him on his crap.

Well, I didn't get a question in. But I'll have to leave here a somewhat complete laundry list of what I heard today.

Klein, as he does in his book, called for an end to the consultants and pollsters which have given way to an endlessly cautious, bland, and uninspired politics (on that point his book and Kos' isn't all that different!). He rightly derided the Kerry campaign for focus-grouping Abu Ghraib and then never bringing it up in his convention speech or the debates. He left out how his political hero Bill Clinton told Kerry he should come out against gay marriage and Kerry said "I could never do that." He tried to split the middle between Kerry's staff and his consultants, maybe trying to save his ire for Shrum and Devine and not his pals McCurry and Lockhart. He had no problem calling Kerry an idiot, however.

His thesis is that "authenticity," the willingness to call for shared sacrifice, the ability to point out things that might be inconvenient or to speak in front of hostile audiences, must be the standard for the next candidate in '08. I had to laugh when Chris Hedges said "Then it sounds like your ideal candidate is Ralph Nader." Which set Klein off to sniping "I didn't say inconvenient to reality." See, because Klein can't stand "the Left." But everything he wishes to see in politics is populist. He has to come up with this idea of "radical centrism" which doesn't exist. As Tom Frank put it:

Liberalism sucks, authenticity rocks: All else in Politics Lost (and, indeed, in all the Klein works I have read) can be extrapolated from these two fixed points. So: If someone strikes Mr. Klein as authentic, you can be fairly sure he’s not a liberal. And conversely: If someone is the “New” kind of Democrat who pooh-poohs economic liberalism, you can be similarly confident that within a few paragraphs, ol’ Joe will pronounce him to be a one-of-a-kind Turnip Day American, brimming with leadership and humanity.

This makes for a truly bizarre series of conclusions, the first and most important of which is the courageousness of centrism. Up until now, you have probably thought that when you saw Democrats dumping their traditional principles in order to run pallid, market-tested campaigns appealing to swing voters with rhetoric borrowed from the G.O.P., they were doing so because they had been listening to consultants, pollsters, focus groups and so on. Well—according to Mr. Klein, you have it precisely backwards. In Joe’s world, the consultants and the pollsters and even the money are all on the other side, forever driving the cowardly politicians to the partisan extremes. Consultants on the Democratic side seem always to turn out to be liberals in Mr. Klein’s telling, and liberalism itself is usually the sad result of a candidate listening to consultants. What the Democratic Party is in need of is what Mr. Klein calls a “radical middle” that talks truth rather than liberal platitude.

-And this up-is-downism manifested itself in a story Klein told about a trip to New Hampshire he made with Newt Gingrich. I guess he's told this story elsewhere, but I hadn't heard it. Apparently Gingrich was speaking at some conservative organization up there, and he was asked about intelligent design. And Gingrich said "I think it's a fine philosophy, you could teach it in a philosophy class, or comparative religion, but it has nothing to do with science." Klein beamed. "And the fact that he said this, and knew I was in the room, and knew I would write about it, which I did, and knew it would wind up the next day on the desk of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, that's courageous."

So let me get this straight.

A Presidential candidate who says something to an audience, WITH A REPORTER IN THE ROOM, who then tells the reporter (by proxy of the audience) exactly what he wants to hear, that guy's being courageous? Do you really think Gingrich would have said the same thing if it WASN'T going to be written about? Klein is completely blind to how politicians, particularly on the right, use the media to write their narratives for them. He's just happy that he got his belly rubbed by "Profiles in Courage" Newt Gingrich.

See, when you play to your audience, who is actually your constituency, the ones that vote for you to do their bidding in Washington, that's pandering. But when you play to JOE KLEIN, that's courage!

Similarly, Klein kind of praised John McCain (you know, the guy who said intelligent design SHOULD be taught in schools, but somehow that didn't get a mention) for going to give the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. "I wish John Kerry would have gone into hostile environments like that, done a barnstorming tour of Mississippi and Alabama," etc. So, when a Republican like Gingrich upsets creationists on intelligent design, that's courage. When John McCain accepts an invitation to address one of the main outposts of the Christian Right, before one word of that address is given, that's ALSO courage, because the assumption is on the side of McCain (as if he's going to trash the religious right on the dais of their commencement stage). Republicans always get the benefit of the doubt from their useful idiot Joe Klein. Democrats never do. A perfect example is when he actually called for universal health care, though his idea of it is the kind of compromise worked out in Massachusetts, which he hailed as "Mitt Romney's plan" (because apparently there isn't a legislature in the Bay State).

I really wanted him to go off on "the segment of the left that hates the military" that he likes to talk about. I was all ready to go up there and ask "How does that statement fit with the fact that 53 Democrats challenging incumbents this fall, fully one out of every four, are veterans?" But that never came up, and the Gingrich thing just stunned me, and while I was formulating a question the line got packed and I was shut out.

So maybe if he's trolling tonight he can respond.

p.s. I strongly recommend Chris Hedges' book "Leaving Moses on the Freeway," if it's anything like the performance he gave today. He spent a couple years documenting the religious right in America, and he was as impassioned a speaker as I've ever seen about the dangers of this creeping totalitarianism to the fabric of our country. As someone who studied for the ministry he knows what he's talking about. At one point Hedges started to assail the Clintonite-era move away from the working class, and Klein butted in to say "I must be on another planet." Under my breath I said "No shit, it's called Washington." And Klein had the temerity to say "Bill Clinton won twice!" So selling out the middle class is OK as long as it reaches the end goal winning, which of course is what any consultant or pollster would tell you too, but the consultants and the pollsters are the whole problem, except for when they're not.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Excellence in Barbiturates

And here's the Friday afternoon news dump award, take two:

Rush Limbaugh was arrested Friday on prescription drug charges, law enforcement officials said.

Limbaugh turned himself in to authorities on a warrant issued by the State Attorney's Office, said Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office.

The conservative radio commentator came into the jail at about 4 p.m. with his attorney Roy Black and bonded out an hour later on a $3,000 bail, Barbera said.

Prosecutors seized Limbaugh's records after learning that he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion. They contend that Limbaugh engaged in "doctor shopping,'' or illegally deceived multiple doctors to receive overlapping prescriptions.

Not quite the sunny disposition of a Tom DeLay mugshot, but an affable convict, nonetheless.

This is actually the culmination of a deal for Rush, as the charges will be held in abeyance and dropped within 18 months "if he follows the law." He does have to enter a guilty or no contest plea, eventually. But he got away with this, make no mistake.

I guess it's mean to call attention to a guy's drug problem. Well, I say when that guy says all drug users should be "sent up the river," then he cops a plea to avoid jail time for the same crime, all bets are off.


Rock and Roll Revolution

Remember when rock stars weren't packages that could be sold, but voices of a generation who used their art to make a statement? Nobody under 35 does either, because it's part of a bygone age. That's why it's no surprise that it takes a 60 year-old Neil Young to make the album that should have been made about 100 times already. You can listen to the whole thing online at the link.

The traditional media is writing about the Young album, and particularly the song "Let's Impeach the President," as if it's insane that a rock musician would step out and criticize the government in any way. CNN Headline News called it "a stunning reversal." Ever hear "Ohio"? "Southern Man"? "Woodstock"? "Rockin' in the Free World"?

The conglomeration of music has deadened the message, as if by design. We desperately need a cultural shift to run counter to the political one. Thanks to Neil Young for putting the rebellion back in rock and roll.


Friday Document Dump of the Week

This week's winner is the NCTC, for their report on global terrorism, which reveals that terrorist attacks in 2005 have more than tripled over the past year, with twice as many deaths.

As ericbrewer notes, this report has been a political football for some time. The information used to come out of the State Department. In 2004 they undercounted terror attacks by completely omitting two months from a survey, showing a decline when there actually had been an increase. Condoleezza Rice knew just how to rectify this situation - she wouldn't reveal any numbers at all. After criticism she moved the report to the National Counterterrorism Center, and now the spin is that the NCTC's data collection is vastly different than State's, and so you can't compare the numbers that show massive increases. Of course, they used the same reasoning in today's report, even though they ran the data themselves for 2004:

The 2004 data set was compiled in a relatively short time and focused on those incidents that had relatively high fatality levels; as such it did not completely capture those incidents where there were few or no casualties and can not be compared to the far more comprehensive 2005 data set.

Once again we see the government trying to explain away reality. I love the other justification that is used, that many of the attacks that account for the increase were in Iraq, as if that makes it OK because it's to be expected that, three years after invasion, Iraq is a terrorist outpost that shows no sign of abatement. I mean that's a given. But everywhere else, terrorism is only going up slightly, ever since we coordinated this massive effort to fight it! Isn't that great? Of course, the only reason the numbers show that is because we have far more comprehensive data this year. Just like we had last year!

Well, there's your answer, guys, if you want to stop terrorism, stop putting so many data collectors in the field to find those terrorist events! It's a war on data!



The slow-motion genocide in Darfur represents a tragic failure of the world community. I am relieved that at least a few of our representatives understand that.

You can watch here as five Democratic members of Congress get arrested for demonstrating at the Sudanese Embassy to protest the crimes being perpetrated in Darfur. They included Tom Lantos of California, the only Holocaust survivor ever to be elected to the Congress.

I know that these arrests aren't as important as, say, Cynthia McKinney hitting a cop, but I hope that people take notice. There was another press event yesterday where conservative Sam Brownback and progressive Barack Obama came together to appeal for help in Darfur to stop the janjaweed.

As violence continues in neighboring Chad, with backing from Khartoum, the genocide in Darfur is turning into a regional conflict. The janjaweed want control of the refugee camps in Chad where displaced Darfurians are staying. And yet we still do nothing, years after the initial attacks. We were wrong to sit out Rwanda and we're wrong now. We cannot profess to support democracy and ignore killing. This is especially so when the CIA meets with Sudan's chief intelligence officer and calls the country an ally in the war on terror. They're terrorizing their own people, but they're somehow an ally.

This is an actual crisis, and each passing day causes more and more suffering. We have a duty to intervene.


Pay no attention to the 4mpg truck behind the curtain

It's cute that Republican Congressmen want to bribe the electorate with $100 to erase 5 years of bad policy on energy. It's even cuter that they want to make little photo-ops in hydrogen fuel cell cars but can't even get to the end of the street before switching to an SUV:

Just minutes after giving a speech yesterday about the horrendously high gas prices that "average" Americans have to pay -- you know, all that B.S. about bribing voters to go GOP with $100 rebates...with ANWR drilling tacked on, of course -- Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert drove off in an energy-efficient hybrid.

But once he was around the corner and, theoretically, out of the sight of photographers, he screeched to a halt, got out, and jumped in his gas-guzzling SUV to finish the trip to the Capitol.

Here's the picture that should be a billboard in every district in the country:

It's like the hybrid was poison and every passing second sapped Denny's strength to take checks from the oil lobby.

We live in a photo-op world nowadays, and this was just a photo-op gone awry. But as a statement as to where the real priorities of the GOP are on energy policy, to see the Speaker of the House sneak into his gas guzzler when he thinks nobody's looking has powerful metaphorical value.


Suing the President

House Democrats attempt to enforce the laws against a runaway autocratic executive. It's not enough of a familiar story.

Eleven House Democrats said Thursday they would sue the Bush administration, alleging the $39 billion deficit-reducing legislation signed by the president is unconstitutional because the House and Senate failed to approve identical versions.

The lawsuit, led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, was to be filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states by an Alabama attorney and a Florida-based student loan consulting firm.

"Once again the administration is playing fast and loose with the Constitution," Conyers said. "Anyone who has passed the sixth grade knows that before a bill can become law, both Houses of Congress must approve it."

A version of the bill that was narrowly approved by the House on Feb. 1 contained a clerical error. That error was fixed when the bill was transmitted to Bush, who signed it Feb. 8.

The White House and House and Senate GOP leaders have said the matter is settled because the mistake was technical and top House and Senate leaders certified the bill before transmitting it to the White House.

If the mistake was so technical, have a revote in the House and fix the technicality. I don't see how anyone would change their vote based on a two-word clerical change. Then we could put this to rest. By saying that "a couple leaders" certified the bill you've disenfranchised about 275 million people. As far as I know all Congressmen get to vote, not a couple at the top.

The point is that Republicans don't want to follow the law because they don't think it applies to them. They also don't want to redo what was a very close vote (2-vote margin, I believe) that calls for cutting education, cutting healthcare, and cutting social programs. They managed to get it through and they don't want to call attention to it before the midterms, when more people are paying attention.

The law doesn't say "The President can sign a bill into law if it is passed by the House and Senate, and it's mostly the same, you know, within a few words or something." Not how it works. We are a nation of laws and the current group in power is way too cavalier with them. This is arguably the least egregious thing they've done. But you can't cut corners on the law, despite the inconvenience.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

One is an anomaly...

Two is a trend.

Ron Wyden is doing a live filibuster right now to get a vote on "royalty relief." The program essentially subsidizes oil companies whenever the price of crude reaches above $50 a barrel (where it will be for roughly the next 100 million years, so it's a permanent subsidy). Wyden wants a vote on an amendment to eliminate royalty relief.

This is about as smart as you can get, forcing a vote which puts Republicans in the uncomfortable position of supporting Big Oil while gas prices are skyrocketing. I'm sure that if there's a vote, they'll start some kabuki like "if passed, this amendment would raise the price of gas!" but everyone can plainly see whose side everyone is on. The issue here is corporate welfare. It's as simple as that.

This comes on the heels of Nancy Pelosi's fantastic, common sense rant the other day. Democrats smell blood in the water and for once they're not shrinking from the fight.

UPDATE: I was a little vague in what the Wyden Amendment would actually accomplish. It actually subidizes Big Oil no matter what the price. "Royalty relief" allows oil companies to explore and drill on federal land without paying full royalties to the federal government. This includes off-shore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. This was put in place in the last Energy Bill to incent companies to exlpore for oil and gas. With the price of oil so high, there should be absolutely no reason to do this; companies want to drill because there's enormous profits to be made. The Wyden Amendment would cap "royalty relief" as long as the price of oil is over $55 a barrel (which, as I said, is "always"). He adds an exemption when relief is needed to avoid disruptions in supply.

My calling it corporate welfare was right (let's help out the poor oil companies), but I had the structure a little muddled.

Wyden, for his part, is still on the floor of the Senate. He's been there over 5 hours.

UPDATE II: Wyden yielded the floor. Still, he proved his point. The Rubber Stamp Republican Congress can't help falling in love with Big Oil.

UPDATE III: What a whiner Sen. Domenici is.

Domenici had interrupted Wyden's introduction of an amendment under the pretense that he was attempting to ask a question. Rather, he blasted the Senator's plan, after doing so announcing, "I just violated the rules! I didn't ask a question, I gave a speech. I hope you listened."

"I just violated the rules" should be the '06 GOP campaign slogan.


Your 2008 GOP Front-Runner

Digby and Ezra Klein beat me to this unbelievable story by Ryan Lizza in The New Republic about Virginia Senator George Allen (actually I first read about it at Taegan Goddard's site.)

The guy who the Republican Party is very serious about nominating to be the President of the United States appears to be a sadist, and a dumbshit who exercised terrible judgment in the past, at the very least. Read this garbage:

...while Allen may have genuflected in the direction of Gingrich, he also showed a touch of Strom Thurmond. Campaigning for governor in 1993, he admitted to prominently displaying a Confederate flag in his living room. He said it was part of a flag collection--and had been removed at the start of his gubernatorial bid. When it was learned that he kept a noose hanging on a ficus tree in his law office, he said it was part of a Western memorabilia collection. These explanations may be sincere. But, as a chief executive, he also compiled a controversial record on race. In 1994, he said he would accept an honorary membership at a Richmond social club with a well-known history of discrimination--an invitation that the three previous governors had refused. After an outcry, Allen rejected the offer. He replaced the only black member of the University of Virginia (UVA) Board of Visitors with a white one. He issued a proclamation drafted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans declaring April Confederate History and Heritage Month. The text celebrated Dixie's "four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights." There was no mention of slavery. After some of the early flaps, a headline in The Washington Post read, "governor seen leading va. back in time."


In 1984, he was one of 27 House members to vote against a state holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, "Allen said the state shouldn't honor a non-Virginian with his own holiday." He was also bothered by the fact that the proposed holiday would fall on the day set aside in Virginia to honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. That same year, he did feel the urge to honor one of Virginia's own. He co-sponsored a resolution expressing "regret and sorrow upon the loss" of William Munford Tuck, a politician who opposed every piece of civil rights legislation while in Congress during the 1950s and 1960s and promised "massive resistance" to the Supreme Court's 1954 decision banning segregation.

Now, Lizza is right when he says that none of this makes Allen a racist. In fact, he's trying very hard to shake off this past, by proposing and passing a Senate resolution apologizing for lynching in 2005, and more recently going on fact-finding trips through the South with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. But then you go further back, into his adolescence, and you start to understand that this guy has just an appalling lack of judgment:

George Allen is the oldest child of legendary football coach George Herbert Allen, and, when his father was on the road, young George often acted as a surrogate dad to his siblings. According to his sister Jennifer, he was particularly strict about bedtimes. One night, his brother Bruce stayed up past his bedtime. George threw him through a sliding glass door. For the same offense, on a different occasion, George tackled his brother Gregory and broke his collarbone. When Jennifer broke her bedtime curfew, George dragged her upstairs by her hair.

George tormented Jennifer enough that, when she grew up, she wrote a memoir of what it was like living in the Allen family. In one sense, the book, Fifth Quarter, from which these details are culled, is unprecedented. No modern presidential candidate has ever had such a harsh and personal account of his life delivered to the public by a close family member. The book paints Allen as a cartoonishly sadistic older brother who holds Jennifer by her feet over Niagara Falls on a family trip (instilling in her a lifelong fear of heights) and slams a pool cue into her new boyfriend's head. "George hoped someday to become a dentist," she writes. "George said he saw dentistry as a perfect profession--getting paid to make people suffer."

'Course, she's just a girl, not a big he-man like her brother. Allen actually says this in dismissing her book.

Then we learn that Allen never lived in the South until he was in college: he moved around with his football coach father, spending a lot of time in Southern California. He just gravitated to rebel redneck culture because he was so thick-headed that he thought the Confederate flag made you cool:

He hated California and, while there, became obsessed with the supposed authenticity of rural life--or at least what he imagined it to be from episodes of "Hee Haw," his favorite TV show, or family vacations in Mexico, where he rode horses. Perhaps because of his peripatetic childhood, the South's deeply rooted culture attracted him. Or perhaps it was a romance with the masculinity and violence of that culture; his father, who was not one to spare the rod, once broke his son Gregory's nose in a fight. Whatever it was, Allen got his first pair of those now-iconic cowboy boots from one of his father's players on the Rams who received them as a promotional freebie. He also learned to dip from his dad's players. At school, he started to wear an Australian bush hat, complete with a dangling chin strap and the left brim snapped up. He wore the hat for a yearbook photo of the falconry club. His favorite record was Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison. Writing of her brother's love for the "big, slow-witted Junior" on "Hee Haw," Jennifer reports, "[t]here was also something mildly country-thuggish about Junior that I think George felt akin to."

In high school, Allen's "Hee Haw" persona made him a polarizing figure. "He rode a little red Mustang around with a Confederate flag plate on the front," says Patrick Campbell, an old classmate, who now works for the Public Works Department in Manhattan Beach, California. "I mean, it was absurd-looking in our neighborhood." Hurt Germany, who now lives in Paso Robles, California, explodes with anger at the mention of Allen's name. "The guy is horrible," she complains. "He drove around with a Confederate flag on his Mustang. I can't believe he's going to run for president." Another classmate, who asks that I not use her name, also remembers Allen's obsession with Dixie: "My impression is that he was a rebel. He plastered the school with Confederate flags."

Read on to hear about the Confederate lapel pin in his yearbook picture, about spray-painting his school with slogans like "Kill Whitey" before a big basketball game against a black high school (these guys pick up ratfucking early, don't they?), about skinning a squirrel alive while in college and hanging the pelt on his wall.

The fact that an appreciation for Hee-Haw should disqualify you from public office notwithstanding, there's some fascinating stuff in here. Clearly Allen was the kind of teenager who went out of his way to be a prick to everyone he met. We all know somebody like that. He likely didn't even give a shit or really know what the Confederate flag meant, just that it stirred people up and that was the desired response. He's 40 years on and he can't explain it:

I finally ask him if he remembers the (Confederate lapel) pin, explaining that another of his classmates had the same one in his photo, a guy named Deke. "No," Allen says with a laugh. "Where is this picture?" He leans forward over his desk and tightens his lip around the plug of Copenhagen in his mouth. "Hmmm." He pauses. He speaks slowly, apparently searching his memory. "Well, it's no doubt I was rebellious," he says, "a rebellious kid. I don't know. Unless we were doing something for the fun of it. Deke was from Texas. He was a good friend. Let me think." He stretches back in the chair, his boots sticking out from underneath his desk. "Yeah, yeah, that's interesting. I'll have to find it myself." Another pause. "I don't know. We would probably do things to upset people from time to time."

He stammers some more, says he saw Deke in an airport recently. "I don't know, I don't know," he continues. "It could be some sort of prank, or one of our rebellious--we would do different things. But I remember we liked Texas."

This is the guy who wants to be President. A stammering personality chameleon who adopted the South because it suited his angry-white-male complex, who then found that the faux-redneck shtick served him well in his chosen field of politics. Larry the Cable Guy isn't from the South either. These two should go on the road together.

Allen's up for election to the Senate this year, and there's a primary on the Democratic side between Harris Miller and Jim Webb, Reagan's former Secretary of the Navy. Jim Webb has the skills and the gravitas to take out this tobacco-chewing loser and end his political career before 2008 even begins. This is the Senate race I'll be watching the closest.



Glenn Greenwald, who has the number 1 book at Amazon right now, writes this illustrative post about the truthiness of the Right:

Don't they have somewhere lurking in their brain any critical faculties at all? For the sake of one's own integrity and reputation if nothing else, who would read an undocumented assertion on Drudge -- no matter how much of an emotional need they feel for it to be true -- and then run around reflexively reciting it as truth, writing whole posts celebrating it and analyzing it, without bothering to spend a second of time or a molecule of mental energy trying to figure out if it's really true?

This intellectually corrupt syndrome goes back a long way and has been festering for a long time. Nuggets of deceitful, fact-free fantasy get planted in some cesspool like Drudge and then mindless followers who want to believe it start repeating it as fact, and then it gets ossified forever as conventional wisdom and can never be dislodged from their minds. That's how Al Gore came to "claim that he invented the Internet," how Howard Dean became a far left radical pacifist, how Jessica Lynch had a heroic shoot-out with Al Qaeda and was then rescued by gun-blazing Marines, how produced commercials saying that Bush was Hitler, how Saddam funded Al Qaeda and personally participated in the planning of 9/11. It's even how the lesbian, Hillary, killed Vince Foster in order to ensure that their affair (or whitewater crimes or drug-running landing strip) would be kept quiet and, to this day, it's how Bill Clinton was a wildly unpopular president.

This particular episode is small potatoes, a claim that Kos' and Jerome Armstrong's book isn't selling well because... because Drudge says so. He picks a statistic for his claim (Bookscan) that doesn't count online sales (where "Crashing the Gate" is currently in the top 30 on Amazon), and based on the same Bookscan stats Glenn Reynolds' book is doing worse even though it's been out a month longer. But those are inconvenient truths.

These zombie truths never die, but are repeated over and over again so that people forget the facts and remember the event. I had a similar experience with someone recently who just couldn't believe that the toppling of the Saddam statue in 2003 was an elaborate psy-ops stunt despite an admission of guilt from the Army. All of Glenn's examples resonate as well (don't forget "Michael Moore was Jimmy Carter's invited guest in his skybox at the 2004 DNC," I hear that one twice a day).

Argue on the issues, argue on the merits of your philosophy. But continuing to construct your own reality just makes you a lunatic.


Where Have I Heard This Before

This WaPo article makes it sound like Karl Rove is using a novel defense to wriggle his way out of an indictment:

In his fifth appearance before the grand jury, Rove spent considerable time arguing that it would have been foolish for him to knowingly mislead investigators about his role in the disclosure of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media, the source said.

Isn't this the plot to Basic Instinct?

John Correli: Did you kill Mr Boz, Miss Tramell?

Catherine: I'd have to be pretty stupid to write a book about killing and then kill him the way I described in my book. I'd be announcing myself as the killer. I'm not stupid.


Nick: Writing a book about it gives you an alibi for not killing him.

Catherine: Yes it does, doesn't it?

Somebody needs to frisk Karl Rove to see if he has an icepick. And is he a lesbian?

For the author of the most corrupt, double-dealing, devious Administration in recent memory to claim that he wouldn't break the law because he'd get caught is about as hilarious as you can get. They stole an election and didn't get caught! They went to war on false pretenses and didn't get caught! If all criminals claimed that it would be foolish for them to knowingly break the law all the prisons would be empty. "It would be foolish for me to rob that liquor store, your honor! The city employs cops! They'd come looking for me! Why would I want that?"

People commit crimes because they either don't care about the consequences (desperation, depression, psychopathology) or their moral center is non-existent. Figure out which one fits Turdblossom.

And, if you're going to pick a Paul Verhoeven movie to emulate, pick "Showgirls."


Hookers and Blow

Hold the blow:

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites, pursuing evidence that could broaden their long-running inquiry.

Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.


Mr. Wade in February pleaded guilty to giving bribes of more than $1 million to Mr. Cunningham, including cash, antiques and payment for yachts. Mr. Wade, who hasn't been sentenced yet, is cooperating with prosecutors. According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Mr. Wade told investigators that Mr. Cunningham periodically phoned him to request a prostitute, and that Mr. Wade then helped to arrange for one. A limousine driver then picked up the prostitute as well as Mr. Cunningham, and drove them to one of the hotel suites, originally at the Watergate Hotel, and subsequently at the Westin Grand.

It's been so long since we had a genuine sex story in Washington. Oh, for the halcyon days of Monica and her blue dress. If that only could be all we're worried about these days.

The shorthand scandal name for this story, based on its location, will be "Watergate." Pundits can now ask, "Watergate: Worse than Watergate?"


Already Winning in Connecticut

Today the Senate Homeland Security committee released a report calling for the abolition of FEMA and claiming that we are completely unprepared to deal with another catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina. The ranking Democrat, Joe Lieberman, specifically criticized the President for "failing to provide the leadership" that could have gotten the bureaucratic ball rolling. The report can be found here.

It's interesting that Lieberman, Bush's favorite Democrat, is the one to make such a drastic call for change and deliver such a stinging rebuke to the President. After all, Lieberman was the guy who pushed through the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, and suggested that FEMA be put under its control.

Or maybe it isn't so surprising.

Lieberman's facing a primary challenge this year from Ned Lamont, a true progressive who's offered a real choice for Connecticut. Joementum's delusional fantasies about Iraq, his claim that "...we undermine the President's credibility at our nation's peril," his cowardly way of voting for cloture and then against the final passage of bills so he could claim opposition (he did it on both the bankruptcy bill and the confirmation of Justice Alito), and his really bizarre views about Catholic hospitals (they shouldn't have to hand out emergency contraception to rape victims because another hospital that will is just a "short car ride" away) don't play well in the liberal Nutmeg State.

So Lieberman's moving back to the left to secure his primary spot. He's coming out in a high-profile way to criticize the President. He's "showing leadership" on Katrina by calling for major changes to Homeland Security. And this means that we've already accomplished something pretty big in Connecticut. Without a primary challenge, I don't think you'd be seeing any of this happen. I'm not actively pushing for Lieberman's ouster (I'd rather focus on defeating Republicans), but I think primaries are great because it keeps politicians honest. By putting this kind of pressure on Lieberman we've made some tangible changes in his behavior. And that will continue even if he succeeds in his primary fight and continues to serve in the Senate.

If I were voting in the state, I'd go with Lamont (especially because Lieberman continues to make suggestions that he'd run as an independent if he loses the primary; how can you vote for a Democrat that doesn't respect the wishes of Democratic voters?). But even if he loses, I'm happy that the progressive wing of the party is crashing the gate and letting the ossified Dem establishment know that they are not pre-ordained leaders, that they are eminently replaceable, and that they'd better understand that the constituents are paying attention.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006


I can't believe I didn't know about this before:

A napping Dubya was not exceptional, especially after a campaign day as busy as was Monday, spent flipping the political bird to Gore and President Clinton, swooping in on his campaign plane to stump in their respective home states of Tennessee and Arkansas. Bush finished up his campaigning Monday night with an airport rally in Austin, and then it would be bedtime. Bush likes sleep. He hits the sack by 9:30 p.m. He carried a down pillow —nicknamed "pilly" —with him on the campaign trail.

Ladies and gentlemen, your leader of the free world.

I know four year-olds who've outgrown their "pillys."

(hat tip Seeing the Forest.)


Red Rover Come Over

MSNBC and others report that Karl Rove is back at the grand jury for the fifth time to testify in the Valerie Plame investigation. Never mind the fact that targets of investigations don't give the prosecutor this many chances to skewer them. Have you ever seen anyone get more opportunities to talk themselves out of a lie than Karl Rove? First he says one thing to the grand jury, then he goes back to clear up what he had said, then he goes back again to respond to somebody else's testimony that contradicts his... at some point, shouldn't you just put the hammer down and say "look, you said what you said, under oath, you lied and you're going to be charged for it."

If this wasn't someone this high up in the executive branch... and especially if this was an ordinary workingman and not somebody in government... they'd be at that grand jury once. And if their testimony was contradicted, the prosecutor would respond. Fitzgerald must be under some enormous pressure to let Rove wriggle off the hook here.

Still, having to come back again cannot be good for his potential indictment. If there was nothing to clarify, he wouldn't be sitting there today.


Save the Freakin' Internet

Last month bloggers were worried that Congress was fixing to take away the ability for bloggers to freely organize, opine, and contribute to candidates online. We banded together, fought back and obtained what amounts to a journalist's exemption. It was an important moment.

Multiply that by about 10,000 and that's what we need right now.

Save The Internet has the details. Basically Congress is in the midst of trying to pass a bill that would abandon "network neutrality": the idea that every site on the Internet has the right to the same access. Basically this would set up a toll road on the "information superhighway," wherein telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon, who own the pipe through which the Internet is largely sent, could charge websites a premium for delivering their services faster. This will create one neighborhood on the 'Net for established, big-money sites, and a ghetto for any startup site, which won't load as fast. As the Internet rapidly evolves to incorporating audio and video, this will kill those efforts at innovation for everyone but the largest companies. Innovation will die, the vibrancy of the Internet will die.

It's disgusting that Congress is trying to push this through, seeded with campaign dollars from telecom companies. If we do nothing this will absolutely pass. My representative, Henry Waxman, supports network neutrality and the "Markey Amendment" which would preserve it. Yours must do the same. If you're on this site, you believe in the power of the Internet. Time to get off your ass and do something about it.

Read about the Markey Amendment here and become a citizen cosponsor.

Call your representatives.

Keep going back to Save the Internet.

MoveOn has a site about this as well.

UPDATE: The House Eneregy and Commerce Committee just voted to kill the Internet. We have to keep the pressure on for the votes in the full House and Senate. Five Democrats joined every Republican but one on the committee. There's a slogan for '06: "Save your Internet; vote Democratic!" These five turncoats should pay a price in the fall.

Matt Stoller writes that the tide is moving in our favor:

It’s too bad we lost the vote, but we expected that loss. What we did not expected was the narrow margin. By way of comparison, the subcommittee vote was 23-8, which means we should have gotten blown out of the water. We did not. All four targeted Dems by McJoan on Daily Kos flipped to our side, and many of the Congressmen both for and against this campaign mentioned the blogs and angry constituents.There’s a white hot firestorm on the issue on Capitol Hill. No one wants to see the telcos make a radical change to the internet and screw this medium up, except, well, the telcos. And now members of Congress are listening to us.

I think the telecom companies wanted to do this under cover of darkness, like so many other bills in Washington. The problem is they messed with the Internet, the ultimate sunshine generator. Let's keep going on this.


More Leaks To Plug

Chief water-carrier Senator Pat Roberts has good reason to stop any investigation of intelligence on Iraq, particularly the intelligence that got leaked out of his own mouth:

On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Sen. Pat Roberts was involved in disclosing sensitive intelligence information that, according to four former senior intelligence officers, impaired efforts to capture Saddam Hussein and potentially threatened the lives of Iraqis who were spying for the United States.

On March 20, 2003, at the onset of military hostilities between U.S. and Iraqi forces, Roberts said in a speech to the National Newspaper Association that he had "been in touch with our intelligence community" and that the CIA had informed President Bush and the National Security Council "of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad."

The former intelligence officials said in interviews that Roberts was never held accountable for his comments, which bore directly on the issue of intelligence-gathering sources and methods, and revealed that Iraqis close to Hussein were probably talking to the United States. These former officials contrasted the Roberts case with last week's firing of CIA officer Mary O. McCarthy, as examples of how rank and file intelligence professionals now have much to fear from legitimate and even inadvertent contacts with journalists, while senior executive branch officials and members of Congress are almost never held accountable when they seriously breach national security through leaks of information.

"On a scale of one to ten, if Mary McCarthy did what she is accused of doing, it would be at best a six or seven," said one former senior intelligence official, whose position required involvement in numerous leak investigations. "What Pat Roberts did, from a legal and national security point of view, was an eleven."

Hey, thanks a lot, asshole!

Murray Waas also lets out this new nugget in the ongoing Mary McCarthy story:

A former CIA official who worked closely with McCarthy said in an interview that McCarthy was often authorized and directed by higher-ups to talk to the press.

"It is not uncommon for an officer, when they are designated to talk to the press, to let something slip, or not report every contact," the former official said. "Mary might have said something or disclosed something inadvertently, which is exactly Roberts' defense. The only difference between them is that Pat Roberts is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mary is somebody that they are using to set an example."

Let's have you judge for yourself the impact of the two leaks. We know what McCarthy is accused of (though she denies it), calling attention to a series of illegal dentention facilities off the books, run by the CIA, for the purposes of torturing detainees. Pat Roberts, on the other hand, only was ruining the "decapitation strategy" at the forefront of the Iraq war effort:

After opening his speech with the information about human intelligence and Saddam Hussein's location in a Baghdad bunker, the senator said that President Bush had conferred with his top military advisers and had "authorized a pre-emptive surgical strike with 40 Tomahawk Missiles launched by ship and submarines and so called bunker bombs by F-117 stealth aircraft. I do not have a damage assessment. The Iraqi's report 14 killed and one wounded and are reporting damage in residential areas."

At the time, it was one of the most sensitive secrets in government that the CIA had recruited Iraqi nationals who claimed to have infiltrated Hussein's inner circle to be able to follow his movements at the onset of war. But after the bombs and missiles hit an Iraqi governmental complex known as Dora Park, located on the Tigris River south of Baghdad, Hussein either was not there, or escaped unharmed.

Whether or not Roberts' comments were inadvertent, former intelligence officials said, they almost certainly tipped off the Iraqi dictator that there were spies close to him. "He [Roberts] had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam's] inner circle," says a former senior intelligence official. "It was the worst thing you could ever do."

I don't think there should be a total judgment made between good and bad leaks. But there's a clear demarcation between whistleblowing on illegal activity, and bragging that we're gonna get Saddam, while blurting out that we have human intelligence in his inner circle. That's just pitifully stupid.

But there is a judgment among leaks made by this Administration, and it cuts across party lines. Remember the Sen. Richard Shelby case?

UPDATE: This Hill story about the eventual ending of the Shelby case (without any action) has a nice punchline:

The Senate Select Committee on Ethics is expected to end its investigation of alleged classified leaks by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in the next eight to 10 weeks, according to a source familiar with the probe.

The pace has been slowed by difficulties obtaining information, difficulties created partly by Sen. Pat Roberts’s (R-Kan.) decision not to recuse himself from the case, the source said. The investigation has been conducted “off and on” for six months.


Tonight's Daily Show script

"On Wednesday the President hired a Fox News commentator for the job of explaining his decisions to the American people... in a move that can only be described as redundant.

In a statement, Fox News chief Roger Ailes thanked the White House for picking up the other half of Tony Snow's salary."

Then insert a funny soundbite and go to Ed Helms.

Now, there is of course precedent for Presidential press spokesman having also held positions on broadcast TV. But the ones I can think of (George Stephanopolous, Dee Dee Meyers, Bill Moyers) came to their TV gigs AFTER having served in Washington. This is the only time I can think of that a pundit would go the other way around. Snow was briefly a speechwriter in the first Bush Administration, but he has far more experience hosting for Fox, including the Sunday show. If Tim Russert was hired as a Democratic Administration's press secretary... I know, I know, it's OK if you're a Republican. This really does wonders for that whole "fair and balanced" slogan, doesn't it?

You have to look at this in the context of Josh Bolten's five-point plan to save a flagging White House. One of them was "Court the Press," and what better way to do that than to make one of their own the chief spokesman. Snow's been on the DC cocktail circuit for years, and will have a much easier time cozying up to the press corps than in the past under Scott McClellan.

It was telling that neither the President nor Snow answered any questions from the podium, instead walking away as reporters yelled out queries. He's a quick learner!


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Pelosi Gets Feisty

Future House Speaker Pelosi, on gas prices:

If you want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and therefore improve our national security situation, you can't do it if you're a Republican because you are too wedded to the oil companies. We have two oilmen in the white house. The logical follow-up from that is $3 a gallon gasoline. There is no accident. Tt is a cause and effect. A cause and effect. How dare the president of the United States make a speech today in April, many, many, many months after the american people have had to undergo the cost of home heating oil. A woman told me she almost fainted when she received her home heating bill over this Winter. And when so many people making the minimum wage, which hasn't been raised in eight years, which has a very low purchasing power have to go out and buy gasoline at these prices? Where have you been, Mr. president? The middle class squeeze is on, competition in our country is affected by the price of energy and of oil and all of a sudden you take a trip outside of Washington, see the fact that the public is outraged about this, come home and make a speech, let's see that matched in your budget, let's see that matched in your policy, let's see that matched in and you're separating yourselves yourself from your patron, big oil, cut yourself off from that anvil holding your party down and this country down, instead of coming to Washington and throwing your Republican colleagues under the wheels of the train, which they mightily deserve for being a rubber stamp for your obscene, corrupt policy of ripping off the american people.

Video here.

This is a great rant because it appeals to common sense, that's why it's so great. "Two oilmen in the White House." This is something that people not attuned to politics tend to forget unless they're reminded. It is no accident that politicians wedded to Big Oil put in policies that maximize Big Oil's profits at the expense of (indeed, with the total indifference to) the public.

Great job by Nancy. She's held the caucus together on a lot of crucial votes. The next step is to foreground the Democratic plan for energy independence, which does exist. There is a plan, there is a vision, but beyond this tough talk (which is needed) that plan has to come forward.

UPDATE: Incidentally, there's a great series over at Kos called "Energize America," a kind of Wikipedia for energy policy that has come up with some great proposals. The goal generally is to make America the leader in renewable technology, equipment, and production, reducing oil imports in the process. Anyone that thinks the Democrats don't have any ideas needs to take a look at this page. These kind of smart legislative solutions are going to continue to bubble from the bottom up. An active and engaged constituency will eventually lead where the politicians will have no choice but to follow.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Just got an email from Harry Reid touting Sen. Menendez' bill to suspend the gas tax for 60 days, which he says would lower prices at the pump by 18 cents, and pay for it by repealing the tax breaks for Big Oil. It's a nice theory, but it's a temporary solution. Plus, what would stop the oil companies from then raising prices, precisely by 18 cents, to make up for their reduction in revenue as a result of the “tax increase”? I agree that tax breaks for Big Oil should be repealed, but Menendez’ idea sounds like a shell game to me, with even more revenue going back to Big Oil after they raise prices. They can always loophole their way back into the tax breaks.

What is good is that Democrats are offering solutions to these problems. I hope they keep at it, and that they get a fair hearing in the media.


Election Time

November is fast approaching, and will there's still 6 months and a lot of ground to cover, things are looking really good for the Democrats, at least this week.

First off, there's a race in June that could be a bellweather. A few weeks ago we had a special election in California's 50th District to replace Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who is unable to perform his Congressional duties from jail. In a district with a decided advantage in party ID for Republicans, our candidate's in a dead heat:

One week after the primary election, Francine Busby and Brian Bilbray are locked in a statistical dead heat, with 45% for Bilbray and 43% for Busby, with 3% for minor candidates Libertarian Paul King and Independent William Griffith and 8% undecided.

These data reflect the strength of Busby's candidacy for a number of reasons. First, the election is tied despite the significant Republican registration advantage reflected in our sample of 50% Republican to 32% Democrat. Secondly, Busby is able to maintain her competitive level of support despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the National Republican Congressional Committee in anti-Busby attack advertising on television immediately after Busby's primary win. These ads were unanswered by either the Busby Campaign or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the survey period.

Busby has an ad up now. This election is set for June 6, at the same time as California's primary (which has a couple hotly contested races on the Democratic side, which could raise Dem turnout). A pickup by Busby will be a very good sign headed into November. She'll have some of my money in the next week or two.

As far as the general election, there are encouraging signs all over the map. USA Today had an interesting article about hopes for a Democratic realignment in the Northeast:

(Kirsten) Gillibrand is among more than a dozen Democratic candidates in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania who hope to turn the region's pockets of red — House districts held by Republicans — to blue. The region, where John Kerry beat Bush handily in 2004, is fertile ground for Democrats to pick up many of the 15 seats they need to regain House control.

"If there is a (Democratic) wave this year and it's going to hit anywhere, it's the Northeast," says Amy Walter, analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report. "That is where Bush's weakness is felt."

Indeed, with Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton running so strong against token competition in New York, their coattails alone could lead to half the number of seats needed to flip the House into Democratic hands.

In Ohio, the Democratic gubenatorial candidate has been endorsed by the NRA:

"The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) has endorsed Ohio gubernatorial candidate Congressman Ted Strickland for the May 2 primary election, the Strickland for Governor campaign announced today.

Strickland received an "A" rating from the NRA based on his consistent legislative record in support of Second Amendment rights in Congress and his responses to the 2006 NRA candidate questionnaire.

Ohio is a state with lots of sportsmen, and the Democrats haven't won a statewide race here in over a decade. So showing bona fides to hunters is a big deal. The latest polling shows Strickland up by 17 points in his race against Ken Blackwell, and shows Democrat Sherrod Brown in a statistical dead heat for Senate against Mike DeWine.

This article at Congressional Quarterly shows that we may even have a shot at picking up WYOMING'S Congressional seat:

Republican Rep. Barbara Cubin is a known commodity in Wyoming, which has fewer people than any other state and an electorate in which Republican registrants outnumber Democrats by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Yet Cubin — who first won for Congress in 1994 — is not the most popular Republican to have held Wyoming’s only House seat, which previously was held by current two-term Sen. Craig Thomas and incumbent Vice President Dick Cheney. While the GOP ticket of President Bush and Cheney was sopping up 69 percent of the Wyoming vote in 2004, Cubin was elected to a seventh term with 55 percent.

This modest vote share — combined with the emergence of a Democratic challenger, Gary Trauner, who has a business background and some fundraising potential — has spurred to change its rating on this year’s House race to Republican Favored from Safe Republican.

The new rating means that the odds still strongly favor Cubin’s re-election, but that an upset cannot be completely ruled out.

Her opponent, Gary Trauner, has raised almost as much money as Cubin in the first quarter of the year. Remember, the Governor of Wyoming (Dave Freudenthal) is a Democrat who is well-liked.

Finally, this is pretty incredible:

“Democrats outdid Republicans last year in attracting political donations from investment banks, brokerages and fund managers for the first time since 1994.” Democrats received approximately $13.6 million of $26.3 million given by the financial industry in 2005.

Said one industry wag: “When the party with no power can raise more money than the party with all the power, it means people are pretty disturbed about the country's condition.”

If the suits are looking for change, we're in for a hell of a ride.

In the final analysis, I don't think you can put it in the books yet that the Democrats will take back Congress. One things Republicans are great at is campaigns (it certainly isn't governing). But these are very good signs, and should bolster the party leaders to continue to make clear distinctions on the issues and draw clear lines to give voters a real choice in November.


Inside the Senate Committees on Iraq

Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, her political instincts are nonpareil, and this is a brilliant move:

The Senate Armed Services Committee will vote on a request by Senator Hillary Clinton to take testimony from six retired generals who have called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's removal, the panel's chairman said.

Clinton, a Democrat of New York, asked Republican John Warner of Virginia in a letter last week to call a hearing so the committee "can help ensure we learn from past experiences and better shape future operations.''

Warner declined to say when the vote would take place and whether it would be in open session. "All of those matters will be taken up with members of the committee having a voice in the matter,'' he said in a brief interview today on Capitol Hill in Washington.

It's a no-win situation for those on the Armed Services Committee. By denying the testimony they appear to be water-carriers for a President with approval ratings in the low 30s. If they allow it, they open the floodgates for a "the Generals march on Washington" narrative to be played out over several days. Hillary hasn't called for the resignation of Rumsfeld (in fact, she's cleverly shifted the target over to the President, refusing to let him pass it off on Rummy by saying "As far as I can tell, Secretary Rumsfeld is doing what the President wants him to do"), but she can say that she brought the generals to Capitol Hill and gave them an audience. Plus I think it's undeniable that the country can benefit from the wisdom of these guys' experience. It's an absolute trap for Senate Republicans.

Turning to other Senate Committees that don't work, Pat Roberts of Kansas, who has no problem with being a water-carrier for the White House, is at it again:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he wants to divide his panel's inquiry into the Bush administration's handling of Iraq-related intelligence into two parts, a move that would push off its most politically controversial elements to a later time.

The inquiry has dragged on for more than two years, a slow pace that prompted Democrats to force the Senate into an extraordinary closed-door session in November. Republicans then promised to speed up the probe.

And that closed-door session has yielded nothing, and so it's time for another one. Sen. Roberts is abandoning his oversight responsibility and hurting the national security of this country by refusing to carry out this inquiry. Democrats like the ranking member Jay Rockefeller cannot let this cover-up continue. Just over the weekend we learned that Tyler Drumheller, the 60 Minutes interviewee subject who obtained inside information on Iraq's (lack of) WMD capabilities and presented it to the executive branch, only to be dismissed, actually talked to the Intelligence Committee about his findings and how they fell on deaf ears in the run-up to war. Roberts clearly does not want this and other secrets to get out into the public. But we need to know what is being done at the highest levels of government in our name, especially when the climate is ripe for the same kind of bamboozlement in dealing with Iran.

We need answers on the Office of Special Plans, on Doug Feith's role, on Cheney's constant visits to Langley in 2002, on the Niger forgeries, on Drumheller's contacts, on Curveball, on what the White House knew and when they knew it. We can't let this happen again, and there has to be accountability for these past mistakes. The Armed Services Committee may signal that they understand that. Pat Roberts doesn't.


Buying Off The Competition

There are two stories in the Washington Post today about drug companies. One is a blow job to the glory that is Big Pharma, a press release-as-news story almost entirely based on a study from the "Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America" that claims that drugmakers are increasingly targeting rare diseases.

Well, that's great. I'd rather see new drugs on the market for Crohn's Disease or leprosy than erectile dysfunction (again).

That story's on A2. Over on A12 we see some actual reporting, and the news that drug companies are paying generic manufacturers not to produce cheaper versions of their products.

Brand-name drug companies have resumed the practice of slowing the sale of cheaper generic competitors by cutting deals that result in paying millions of dollars to makers of generic drugs while consumers continue to pay brand-name prices.

The agreements follow two federal appeals court rulings last year that rejected Federal Trade Commission actions that since the late 1990s had prevented brand-name companies from paying their rivals to drop patent challenges.

So, after getting some favorable court rulings (activist judges!), Big Pharma has resumed the practice of subsidizing the generic drug industry, their main competitor, basically bribing them not to produce in order to maintain a monopoly. Even the FTC is shocked by this:

Speaking yesterday in Philadelphia, FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said that if the appeals court decisions remain in force, rival drugmakers will have "carte blanche to avoid competition and share resulting profits." He said the commission had agreed to ask the Supreme Court to overturn one of the lower-court decisions.

"Until recently, payments by brand-name companies to generics were the exception, but now they're the rule," he said in an interview after his speech. "They appear to be a new way to do business, and that's very troubling. Hopefully the Supreme Court will take our case and reverse."

Mind you that drug companies already have a 20-year monopoly on any new product via the patent system. That's not good enough for them, as they fight tooth and nail to maintain these patents, and keep generic drugs off the market. Now they've figured out that they might as well just buy them off. This is good for Big Pharma, good for the generics, and absolutely abominable for consumers. It essentially stifles competition and creates a Drug Trust.

Now we go back to the story from A2... remember the sponsor of the study on how wise and benevolent and generous the pharmaceutical industry is? The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America? Well...

The two organizations that represent the industries -- the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association -- declined to comment yesterday on the FTC report and the commissioner's comments.

There's really no way to lobby the Supreme Court to take this case and overturn it, so I'm kind of at a loss for an action item here. I'm just angry as hell.


"There was a deliberate search for an enemy"

This is unbelievable, yet also predictable:

During a appearance with Robert Wright, Fukuyama says of Bill Kristol and his circle at The Weekly Standard that during the 1990s "There was actually a deliberate search for an enemy because they felt that the Republican Party didn't do as well" when foreign policy wasn't on the issue agenda. The obvious candidates were either China or something relating to Islamic fundamentalism and, as Fukuyama notes, what they came up with was China. Then 9/11 changed things around, at least for a few years.

This is the most egregious example of party over country that I've yet seen. The movement conservative wing of the Republican Party, a central part of its noise machine, is interested in picking fights around the world because that makes a favorable political climate.

In other words, there simply must be perpetual war. Otherwise, how will we ever get perpetual peace?

We must be ever vigilant about this search for an enemy. In essence it's what Eisenhower warned in his 1961 speech about the rise of the military-industrial complex. Another prophet.


Gas, and Hot Air

It seems to me that rising gas prices, at least lately, never ends up being a political issue. The prices spike around the first of May, everyone gets angry about it, and by the fall they go down, and elections are decided on other issues. Still, in the short term legislators must give the appearance of paying attention to the nation's concerns. So today the President announced some initiatives to try and curb high gasoline prices. And I'm glad Nedra Pickler didn't bury the lede (which NPR neglected all morning long):

Bush Eases Environmental Rules on Gasoline

President Bush on Tuesday ordered a temporary suspension of environmental rules for gasoline, making it easier for refiners to meet demand and possibly dampen prices at the pump. He also halted for the summer the purchase of crude oil for the government's emergency reserve.

The moves came as political pressure intensified on Bush to do something about gasoline prices that are expected to stay high throughout the summer.

NPR foregrounded the suspension of purchase for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is a pittance and cannot possibly change the market in any meaningful way. Even in the speech, the President acknowledged this by saying "every little bit helps." Which is exactly what he's doing in that case, a LITTLE BIT.

But the key point is that he's suspending environmental rules. This is what Big Oil really wanted. They don't want to build new refineries and they don't want to spend money to adapt to any environmental standards. It's true that it costs more to get oil out of the ground nowadays, because all the low-hanging fruit is gone. Oil prices at these numbers are here to stay. But refining capacity doesn't need to be this narrow, and THAT'S what's driving the current spike in gas. The "shortage" of oil is man-made.

This commenter has it about right:

This whole crisis is bullshit. There is no oil shortage in the world at the moment. Maybe in 20 years there may be but in 2006, oil is stil everywhere. The problem is refineries. Oil companies refuse to build new ones as they would just ease the stanglehold they have on supply.

The bottleneck causing prices in lack of refineries and greed, that's it.

It is amazing how well big oil propaganda works, just look at all the people who think oil is high due to scarcity. It has nothing to do with the world running low on oil, and everything to do with big oil not willing to invest in new refineries.

And by suspending environmental rules, Big Oil reduces the need to have to build any more refineries to meet those standards.

And I'm sure they see it in their interests to drop gas prices a little bit now, presuming a cause-and-effect between the suspension of environmental rules and prices, hopefully generating enough goodwill to suspend them permanently.

And we all suffer for that. We need to move away from an oil-based economy TODAY. This is an instance where you can vote with your pocketbook. I'm in the market for a new car (my lease is up in June), and I simply refuse to buy anything that uses less than 35 mpg. I'm also interested in the Honda model that uses CNG (compressed natural gas), leaving no emissions. Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles that emit nothing but water are interesting too.

You'll continue to hear that there's no market for these vehicles, that the startup costs are too great. The cost to our planet is too great NOT to move in this direction.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Everybody Slow Down

I had my suspicions about the Mary McCarthy story because it seemed just a little too pat. Especially when the rumblings of her political donations to various Democratic campaigns started rolling in. That seemed like the icing on the cake. When I read this in the Washington Post, buried at the end of the article, I grew more suspicious:

The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials.

There should not be a political test for any position in government. It's practically discriminatory. So they find some Democrat who's about to retire anyway (today was to be her last week), and they pin her for leaking, sending a message to every other staff member in the building. They've certainly sent messages to the CIA before. In fact, there was a completely similar case of kicking a retiree-to-be out the door mired in scandal, when 4-star general Kevin Byrnes was relieved of his duty for "adultery." It turned out he was days away from a divorce, had begun dating another woman, and the "adultress" and the ex-wife actually knew one another.

So it wouldn't be unprecedented to make Mary McCarthy both an example and a scapegoat.

And both Keith Olbermann and Newsweek are reporting this:

A former CIA officer who was sacked last week after allegedly confessing to leaking secrets has denied she was the source of a controversial Washington Post story about alleged CIA secret detention operations in Eastern Europe, a friend of the operative told NEWSWEEK.

The fired official, Mary O. McCarthy, “categorically denies being the source of the leak,” one of McCarthy’s friends and former colleagues, Rand Beers, said Monday after speaking to McCarthy. Beers said he could not elaborate on this denial and McCarthy herself did not respond to a request for comment left by NEWSWEEK on her home answering machine [...]

McCarthy's lawyer, Ty Cobb, told NEWSWEEK this afternooon that contrary to public statements by the CIA late last week, McCarthy never confessed to agency interrogators that she had divulged classified information and "didn't even have access to the information" in The Washington Post story in question.

After being told by agency interrogators that she may have been deceptive on one quesiton during a polygraph, McCarthy did acknowledge that she had failed to report contacts with Washington Post reporter Dana Priest and at least one other reporter, said a source familiar with her account who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. McCarthy has known Priest for some time, the source said.

McCarthy, 61, a career CIA analyst who was working in the inspector general's office, was then told on Thursday that she was being fired. She was not escorted out of the CIA buiilding, the source said. She also had been assured that the CIA would protect her privacy--just one day before her name became publicly known as the agency official who had been dismissed for leaking to the press, the source said.

Well, the thing is, they're not good at keeping names secret.

The CIA is completely backing off the McCarthy-Priest connection, as it specifically relates to the secret prison article:

A counter-terrorism official acknowledged to NEWSWEEK today that in firing McCarthy, the CIA was not necessarily accusing her of being the principal, original, or sole leaker of any particular story. Intelligence officials privately acknowledge that key news stories about secret agency prison and “rendition” operations have been based, at least in part, upon information available from unclassified sources.

And of course, people are forgetting that Priest alleged at least a dozen contacts over a period of several years for her Pulitzer-winning series of articles.

This whole thing has a real bad stench to it. McCarthy's firing overshadowed what I assumed would be a huge story, an allegation made by a defense lawyer that the Secretary of State released classified information to two pro-Israel lobbyists now on trial for the leak. CIA Director Porter Goss is a former Republican Congressman.

I think everybody got ahead of the facts on this one. I have no idea what McCarthy's role is in the leaking of classified information. She was definitely fired for something, but nobody knows what. This definitely has all the earmarks of a Rovian ratfuck. Everyone needs to slow down until the facts slowly start to emerge.


Headline of the Day


Bush No. 1 No Matter What 'Experts' Say

Ok, it's about REGGIE Bush, but I think I've seen this headline on Powerline in a different context...



I'm currently working on a show I like to call "Katrina porn," one of a spate of shows that viscerally display what would happen in the event of an unimaginable natural disaster, like, say, the caldera under Yellowstone National Park erupting.

We might get to see something like that shortly:

A thick column of sulfurous smoke surged into the sky today as Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia, continued to show signs of an imminent eruption.

The Indonesian Center for Volcano Research and Technology Development here on Java in the shadow of Merapi recently issued its second most serious alert. All the conditions for an eruption exist, the authorities said.

Daily tremors are recorded by state-of-the-art seismographic equipment, while strategically placed video cameras monitor the tower of smoke.

But it is Merapi's mythical power, not its natural power, that might prove too great for the local government to handle. Many of the nearby villagers are distrustful of modern science and the government, turning instead to beliefs steeped in ancient Javanese mythology. As a result, most of the 60,000 people living within striking distance are ignoring the government's call to abandon their homes.

"This is now very serious," said Mulyono, village head for Hargobinangun on the southern slope of Merapi. "We are urging residents to evacuate."

Mythological beliefs trumping reality aside, the effect of a blast like this could have wide-reaching consequences well outside Indonesia. The biggest eruption in Indonesia, at Tambora in 1815, caused an ash cloud that made its way around the globe, depressing global temperatures and causing winter weather in August in the summer of 1816 in New England. Yes, a year later. I don't think Merapi is that big. But if nobody's evacuating, certainly the potential for catastrophe is great locally. And don't forget that Indonesia is an archipelago, which means that any disruption to the tectonic plates there is likely to cause a tsunami, further aftershocks, or more. The Krakatoa eruption killed upwards of 70,000, very few from the lava. It was the wall of water it kicked up.

Maybe I'm sensitive to this because of the Katrina porn I'm working on. But this could be bad.


Make Work Pay

Great ad from the Change to Win Coalition, a group of labor unions actively campaigning to increase union membership (imagine that). I was in another room when I heard this on CNN, I think, the other day, and I thought my television was broken since it was such a foreign-sounding message coming out of that box. Middle-class voices simply aren't heard in this political climate, and middle-class concerns aren't addressed.

Comedy Central and MSNBC have refused to air this ad. They said it's too controversial. Watch it for yourself. If it's controversial to ask for an honest day's work for an honest day's pay we're in big trouble in our new Gilded Age.



As King Gyanendra relents to protests and re-establishes Parliament, I think it's important to understand that the king dissolved Parliament in the first place because he claimed there was a terrorist threat, from Maoist rebels.

I don't mean to suggest that this would ever happen here, although in the event of a larger-scale terrorist strike in this country I do think you would see something appropriating martial law. However, invoking the word "terrorist" was basically all the king needed to do to fire the government and assume dictatorial control, and keep his critics at bay for over a year. It's that language of the "existential threat" that we've now exported all over the world. It's not just in Nepal; President Putin has used it in Russia to brutalize separatists (and I'm not only talking about Chechnya).

This rhetorical ploy is dangerous to the promotion of democratic societies. Countries learn from other countries as surely as criminals learn from other criminals (actually, that's a pretty apt analogy). If they see something that works in the suppression of dissent and the centralization of power, they're going to appropriate it. So we have here with King Gyanendra. "Terror!" has now become a bloody shirt that unstable despots can wave to consolidate their support. We're fortunate that it did not appear to work here. However, I find it interesting to note that according to this LA Times article from Sunday, before the king's latest concession, we were all too willing (along with the rest of the international community, I'm afraid) to let him off the hook:

The alliance is now squeezed between popular contempt for the king's offer and heavy international pressure to accept it and name a prime minister. The United States, India and the United Nations have expressed some support for Gyanendra's move, further inflaming tempers here.

"The Nepali people are not satisfied that the U.S. government is supporting this king," said Shrestha, the engineer. He looks forward to a country without an unelected ruler.

Obviously the US and UN want to deflate tensions. But they were willing to sign on to a plan that would allow the opposition parties to name a Prime Minister but would not reinstate the Parliament. In some way I think that legitimizing the swiping of power in the name of fighting terrorism. And certainly, at least in the United States, there's a vested interest in supporting that.

Another example of the collateral damage in the war on terror.


Good Leaks and Bad Leaks

James Taranto calls the firing of Mary McCarthy, who gave information on the CIA's secret prison program to a reporter, "the real CIA leak case." I don't understand how you can dismiss one leak and condemn another. There are not a lot of shades of gray in the law. Officials of the US government sign a document forbidding them to reveal classified information. When they do, they ought to suffer the consequences. It took the CIA 169 days to self-police, find out who leaked to Dana Priest, and fire her. After 1,014 days since the infamous Robert Novak column, nobody has been fired for revealing the name of Valerie Plame, despite equivocations and justifications up the yin-yang.

A leak is a leak is a leak. I don't totally agree with John Kerry here, but I understand his position:

Stephanopoulos: CIA official Mary McCarthy lost her job this week for disclosing classified information according to the CIA probably about a Washington Post story which reveal revealed the existence of secret prisons in Europe. A lot of different views. Sen. Pat Roberts praised action but some former CIA officers described Mary McCarthy as a sacrificial lamb acting in the finest American tradition by revealing human rights violations. What's your view?

Kerry: Well, I read that. I don't know whether she did it or not so it's hard to have a view on it. Here's my fundamental view of this, that you have somebody being fired from the CIA for allegedly telling the truth, and you have no one fired from the White House for revealing a CIA agent [in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle] in order to support a lie. That underscores what's really wrong in Washington, D.C., here.

Whistleblower protections exist in almost all fields. If you're witness to a violation in the law, the question of whether to report it or not violate your sworn secrecy is a difficult one. If you have to disclose information that would save lives, would you do so?

Well, maybe that's what Condi Rice may have been thinking if it comes to pass that she did in fact leak information to two members of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC. Larry Franklin, a midlevel Pentagon official, has already been convicted for doing the same thing.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist in the same manner that landed a lower-level Pentagon official a 12-year prison sentence, the lobbyist's lawyer said Friday.

Prosecutors disputed the claim.

The allegations against Rice came as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas sought by the defense for Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two are former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information.

Defense lawyers are asking a judge to dismiss the charges because, among other things, they believe it seeks to criminalize the type of backchannel exchanges between government officials, lobbyists and the press that are part and parcel of how Washington works.

I don't agree with the defense's charges for dismissal, but clearly we have a distinction made in this White House between good leaks and bad leaks. A "good leak" (like the President's "Presto!" declassifying of selective bits from the 2002 NIE that Scooter Libby could give to Judy Miller) is one that supports the White House's claims; a "bad leak" is one that does not. I think there are plenty of things that deserve official secrecy; I think there are just as many that deserve sunshine and transparency. But to suggest that there should be wide lattitude on leaks, with judgment made at the discretion of the executive branch, is not playing fair.

The other thing that nobody seems to be saying in this case is this: isn't the CIA admitting to the existence of secret prisons in Europe through these actions? I don't see a situation where you would fire someone for disclosing information that wasn't true. Taranto tries to argue otherwise, saying that McCarthy was part of the office of the General Inspector and had access to raw information that may later be discredited. But at the time of the leak, we were apparently years into this program. Is Taranto saying that nobody checked out the allegations for all that time? In truth, he has no idea. Certainly less of an idea than a CIA insider.

Speaking of which, this video from last night's 60 Minutes gives the story of Tyler Drumheller, who didn't leak information while in office, but is now coming forward to explain that the United States had direct, inside information that Saddam had no active weapons programs, and it was ignored. Not only did the White House ignore it, but the investigating committees after the fact apparently ignored Drumheller as well:

Did the Robb-Silbermann Commission not hear about what Drumheller had to say? What about the Roberts Committee?

I asked Drumheller just those questions when I spoke to him early this evening. He was quite clear. He was interviewed by the Robb-Silbermann Commission. Three times apparently.

Did he tell them everything he revealed on tonight's 60 Minutes segment. Absolutely.

Drumheller was also interviewed twice by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Roberts Committee) but apparently only after they released their summer 2004 report.

It's fair game to condemn the leaking of official secrets. But not to equivocate. And not to cover up. And not to pick and choose information when going to war. You can't just hang your hat on one part of the equation.

UPDATE: Digby:

Can someone explain to me why it's assumed that Mary McCarthy leaked information for partisan reasons (because she gave money to the Kerry campaign) while her boss Porter Goss, who was a Republican congressman until a year and a half ago, is not assumed to have fired her for partisan reasons?

Remember, when Goss was head of the house intelligence committee, he had this to say about the alleged leak of covert operative Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak:

"Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation"



Blue Fucking Cross

I'm in the Catch-22 of forking over thousands of dollars a year to company whose policies I hate - I mean really hate - and yet I probably can't stop paying them, because nobody else would accept my money.

I'm talking about health care.

nyceve points me to the story of Catherine Seipp, a conservative writer for National Review Online who, through her personal experience with Blue Cross of California, has come to understand just how severely broken the health care system is in this country. Since she's exactly the type of person you would expect to make COUNTER-ARGUMENTS to this on the basis of the glory of Free Market Jesus, I think this is a very important development. She writes:

Without me, Blue Cross' parent company, WellPoint, which reported a $2.5-billion profit last year, could have seen a profit of $2.5 billion plus about $50,000. I was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable lung cancer in 2002 and so now typically reach my $2,500 individual deductible by January and my out-of-pocket cap by February.

By law, insurance companies aren't allowed to adjust your monthly premiums just because you get sick. But they can raise the out-of-pocket cap for all of their members anytime they like, which amounts to the same thing because it affects only the unvalued sick members. (And, of course, getting sick means that even while one's medical costs go up, the ability to pay goes down — earnings potential is curbed when life becomes a series of treatment appointments.)

Lucky you, if you don't know what your out-of-pocket cap is. And if you're like every single healthy person I've queried, you probably don't. But you should know, because the out-of-pocket cap is the most important part of your policy, meant to stave off financial disaster in case of catastrophic medical expenses.

The worried well, however, tend to be remarkably ignorant about medical insurance. Policy wonks keep arguing about market competition and consumer choice. But healthcare for the sick isn't a market because choice disappears. You can't shop around for generic drugs when you have cancer. Whatever chemical treatment the doctor suggests, it almost certainly will be a brand name costing several thousand dollars a month.

That is such a vital point. You can't bring the powers of the free market to bear on health. There are no cut-rate AIDS drug treatments, or bargain MRIs. The collective action of the market is not wide enough to bring down fixed costs (unless you're talking about prescription drugs, in which case the US actually gave its bargaining power away in the 2003 Medicare bill). Such "choice" actually makes people sicker, since the one cost you can give up is preventive treatment, which leaves people ill-prepared for diseases that could have been caught earlier with regular checkups.

But here's the hammer blow:

My out-of-pocket cap is $7,500, which means that after I reach $7,500 in co-payments, Blue Cross pays 100% of my medical expenses for the rest of that year — except for the $30-per-brand-name prescription I have to pay the pharmacy after I reach my $500 annual deductible for drug coverage. According to the policy, it's supposed to be a $30 co-payment for a month's supply, but a new anti-nausea drug I was taking for weekly chemo costs $285 for just three pills, so Blue Cross made me go to the drugstore and fork over $30 every seven days.

Another thing working in insurance companies' favor is that cancer patients rarely have the energy to argue about such nickel-and-diming. I recently managed to spend a morning forcing my way through multiple disconnects and transfers on the Blue Cross 800 number, but I was eventually told that the company would probably reimburse me for the extra $90 a month I was paying for that weekly anti-nausea drug if I filled out the right forms. My far bigger worry is that out-of-pocket cap, which is essentially what insurance is for. To drastically raise it seems the definition of bad faith.

Or so I thought — until I began getting letters from Blue Cross in February announcing that it was retroactively disallowing the anti-cancer drug Avastin treatments it had been paying for since October, at $5,000 a pop every other week. It seems Blue Cross decided this new and expensive targeted therapy is experimental. (It looks as if Blue Cross is not asking to be repaid for my relatively unexperimental chemo, which had been costing about $2,500 every single week, but who knows?)

To decide after a therapy has proved beneficial that it's merely "investigational" and therefore should not be covered — that, actually, seems the definition of bad faith.

It's an unbelievable hazard to have for-profit companies making these life and death decisions. I'm not suggesting we abolish all insurance companies; they're there to pool risk. The problem arises when profits get in the way of managing that risk. We already know that Blue Cross of CA finds ways to terminate enrollees who file claims. Now they're retroactively charging customers for treatments their doctors prescribe. It's not like Seipp came up with using Avastin on a whim. And it worked.

The insurance racket is but one of the many facets to our medical nightmare in this country. Merck lost another case last week, as a jury awarded millions to the family of a man who died of heart complications after taking Vioxx. The FDA, our last line of defense against dangerous drug treatments, is routinely staffed by pharmaceutical company executives. The sellout Medicare bill of 2003 that I mentioned before has exceeded its enrollment goals, but rates are going up, the "doughnut hole" (money that all seniors in the prescription drug plan must pay out of pocket) is being enlarged, and thousands have received letters from insurance companies that they will be thrown off the plan because they have not paid (in fact it's just being mismanaged by the Medicate bureaucracy).

I'm very sorry for Seipp's troubles with Blue Fucking Cross. I hope people from all parts of the political spectrum can come together around this issue, and in fact I'm optimistic that they will. I think there's more of a chance to "reach" across the partisan divide on issues like this. The business community is coming around. They'll end up leading the crusade for universal health care. Everyone has a family. Everyone has this issue in their lives. That's why there's more of a chance to reach a moral consensus on it. You can pretend not to see the flag-draped coffins from Iraq, but you cannot duck the price tag on prescriptions, or letters such as the one Seipp received.

Of course, I'm not likely to drop Blue Cross of CA, where I am enrolled, because it'd be very unlikely that I could get an individual health plan with anyone else (my Achilles tendon surgery of a couple years ago clinched that), and I don't work in a business that really concerns itself with giving employees health care. So I'm stuck, paying money to a company whose activities I find abhorrent. Insurance companies only want you if you pay your premiums and don't ask for anything. In other words, the health care system only likes the healthy.