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

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Brief Check-In

I'm in my hotel in Atlantic City, NJ (cousin's wedding). I'm here until Monday, but with free WiFi in the room, I should be able to get some posts in later on.

In the meantime, check out who Bush picked to replace indicted thief Claude "I stole shit form Target" Allen as his domestic policy advisor: a thief of words:

A magazine editor named to a top White House policy post, Karl Zinsmeister, altered his own quotes and other text in a published newspaper profile of him posted on the Web site of the magazine he has edited for more than a decade, the American Enterprise.

In response to queries from The New York Sun yesterday, the White House said all of the changes were to correct errors in the August 2004 article, which was written by Justin Park and published in a weekly newspaper, the Syracuse New Times.

"These were corrections that were made due to misattributions or misunderstandings by the reporter that were cleaned up when they were reposted," a White House spokeswoman, Jeanie Mamo, said.

Mr. Park and his editor, Molly English, rejected that explanation. "If there's an inaccuracy, he should have called me or he should have called Justin," Ms. English said. She said it was unethical for Mr. Zinsmeister to post an altered version of the story without permission. "It's reprehensible, frankly," Ms. English said. "Once this is published, it's not his property. From that point in time, he can't just pick and choose."

I guess misrepresenting intellectual property rather than stealing actual property is a step up for this Administration.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Here Was The Biggest Mistake

The media is still wetting themselves with admiration that President Bush "admitted" mistakes in Iraq, like his "tough talk." This is a red herring. The mistake was ignoring the consequences to invasion in the region at large, particularly how it played into the hands of the Iranians. Today we learned just how much of an ally Iran has in Iraq, as the Foreign Minister basically gave the finger to the US regarding the nuclear showdown:

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari of Iraq today endorsed the right of Iran to pursue the "technological and scientific capabilities" needed to create nuclear power for peaceful purposes, in the first high-level meeting between officials from the new Iraqi government and its eastern neighbor [...]

In his statement about Iran's nuclear plans, Mr. Zebari appeared to lend support to Iran as it faces enormous pressure to sharply curb its nuclear ambitions from the United States and Europe. While emphasizing that Iraq does not want any of its neighbors to obtain nuclear weapons, Mr. Zebari said Iran should enjoy the right to "possess the scientific and technological capabilities for research" in the field of nuclear power.

In the context of the debate over Iran's nuclear plans, such language normally implies uranium enrichment, which Iran has long said it needs to create nuclear fuel.

An aide to Zebari later must have run up to the New York Times reporter and screamed "Don't get my boss in trouble with the US," as the article tries to equivocate.

But Mr. Zebari's statement avoided any specific reference to enrichment, and a high-ranking aide later cautioned that Mr. Zebari was in no way endorsing or taking a position on uranium enrichment.

"We're not referring to this at all," Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi said in an interview. "This is a sensitive issue and it's not for us to say."

If he wasn't referring to uranium enrichment, he wasn't referring to anything. As the US loses its grip on Iraq, as troops move out of the country, what you're going to see is an expansive Shiite Crescent and a full-fledged alliance between Iraq and Iran. This will infuriate Sunnis in the region even more and lead to a wider war. But the Iranians will have the manpower and the leverage to gain primacy.

This American Prospect article has some key information about how Iran was looking for a peaceful solution to the nuclear question as early as right after 9/11, that they conceded to virtually all US demands, and the White House simply turned a cold shoulder. They didn't want a peaceful solution. So instead they went and made Iran even stronger. That's what you would call complete incompetence in foreign policy. We totally missed this boat:

The September 11 attacks created an entirely new strategic context for engagement with Iran. The evening of 9-11, Flynt Leverett, a career CIA analyst who was then at the State Department as a counter-terrorism expert, and a small group of officials met with Powell. It was the beginning of work on a diplomatic strategy in support of the U.S. effort to destroy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda network it had harbored. The main aim was to gain the cooperation of states that were considered sponsors of terrorism.

“The United States was about to mount a global war on terrorism with complete legitimacy from the United Nations,” recalls Leverett, “and these states didn’t want to get on the downside of it.” Within weeks, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Sudan all approached the United States through various channels to offer their help in the fight against al-Qaeda. “The Iranians said we don’t like al-Qaeda any better than you, and we have assets in Afghanistan that could be useful,” Leverett recalls.

We took up Libya on the offer, allowed Sudan to commit genocide against its own people, and put Iran and Syria in the Axis of Evil. If it seems arbitrary, it probably is. Except the biggest oil state received the most of our opposition.

Iran helped immensely in Afghanistan. But then the neocons set off on their misadventure in Iraq, and they wanted Iran to go down next. So all diplomacy was thrown out the window, where it remains to this day.

You have to read this article. There was an actual framework in place for a bargain with Iran. A workable one. This was all before Ahmadinejad was President, too, when the reformer Khatami had at least a foothold with the mullahs. We scuttled it. War was on the agenda. And now we're facing an Iran stronger than the one we encountered then. What a group of simpletons.

Meanwhile, we've made Iraq so safe that things like this happen:

The coach of Iraq's tennis team and two players were shot dead in Baghdad on Thursday, said Iraqi Olympic officials.

Coach Hussein Ahmed Rashid and players Nasser Ali Hatem and Wissam Adel Auda were killed in the al-Saidiya district of the capital.

Witnesses said the three were dressed in shorts and were killed days after militants issued a warning forbidding the wearing of shorts.

Smell that freedom.

UPDATE: Larry Johnson has some additional thoughts.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Was the contrition staged?

Wolffe: ..And for me the big giveaway was at the end of that answer, I don't know if you can see it on camera, but the President flashed a big grin to those of us sitting in the front rows.


Quick Hits

They need to stop making news so I can catch up:

-If the economy's doing so well, why is the Treasury Secretary resigning in a long-rumored move? Because he couldn't explain to Americans paying more for gas and heat and health care while their wages stagnate that "No, everything's going great, have you seen this corporate balance sheet?"

-Seymour Hersh offers more information on the massive illegal data mining program at the NSA. Key quote: "A security consultant working with a major telecommunications carrier told me that his client set up a top-secret high-speed circuit between its main computer complex and Quantico, Virginia, the site of a government-intelligence computer center. This link provided direct access to the carrier’s network core—the critical area of its system, where all its data are stored. 'What the companies are doing is worse than turning over records,” the consultant said. “They’re providing total access to all the data.'"

-Bob Kerrey, in the same article, calls the new CIA Director on his boldfaced lie that this kind of wiretapping would have prevented 9/11:

“That’s patently false and an indication that he’s willing to politicize intelligence and use false information to help the President,” Kerrey said.

Nice job pointing this one out, Democrats... oh wait, you didn't.

-Tom DeLay thinks Stephen Colbert is a hard-hitting conservative journalist. He thinks a guy on Comedy Central is not being satirical in any way. He SOURCED him at the top of his legal defense fund website and in an email to supporters.

Republicans don't know from satire.

-"The grownups are back": this is John McCain's brilliant strategy to end the war: “One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, ‘Stop the bullshit.’”

And tell them to "get with the program" or you'll start "knocking heads," too. What a con artist. "Straight talk" without anything else is empty and foolish. Ezra Klein gets this exactly right.

Woo! That's bracing stuff! And then, after the hasty consultations with translators to make sure he actually said that, the participants would stare at him quizzically, wondering what the straight-talk solution to oil sharing, political representation, entrenched hatreds, and varying conceptions of secularism will be. So what is it? McCain demands that they "stop the bullshit." What are his next ten words?

-The closest thing to General Jack D. Ripper testifies in an Abu Ghraib trial. It sounds an awful lot like he was defending himself.

-I don't think the ACLU should be blocking criticism by its board, it's antithetical to their entire purpose and, if true, it would eliminate the possibility of any future contribution by yours truly. That said, this sounds suspiciously like something that pops up in a committee and ends up never happening, but that doesn't stop the "liberal media" from putting it in their paper.


He Got The Gay Cooties On Him

Out "slimebucket of the day" award goes to Bob Ney, not just for taking bribes for the better part of his career from Jack Abramoff and others, but for this profile in sleaze, where he slams his opponent in November's Congressional election, Zack Space, for TALKING to a gay woman.

The ultra-liberal colors of Ohio's 18th District Democrat Congressional candidate Zack Space keep shining through. At the same time as he was campaigning with failed Presidential candidate and avowed Second Amendment opponent John Kerry in Ohio last week, Zack continued his outreach efforts to the national liberal and gay rights establishment by giving a lengthy radio interview on the liberal Air America network with one of the country's leading gay rights advocates, Rachel Maddow. Interestingly, a major financial sponsor of Air America is , the same liberal organization based in Washington D.C., which Space purports to have no connection with, but which has been funding negative soft-money attacks against Congressman Bob Ney.

Maddow, who lives in New York City with her "partner," questioned Space about a variety of issues popular with the national liberal establishment while acknowledging at one point that she uses a different name when dressed "in drag." But perhaps the most interesting aspect of her interview with Space came at the end with a stunning admission by Space that he doesn't sense "social issues" are still "hot button" issues.

There is no substance here. Rachel Maddow is an openly gay radio host. That makes her worthy of scorn, and according to Bob Ney, nobody should ever be seen with her. Eventually we'll look back on crap like this with the same kind of pity reserved for race-baiters from the 50s. Right now it deserves scorn. A corrupt Congressman who can't win on the issues decides to launch a homophobic tirade to make a play to gay-bashers. This is a political version of a hate crime.



Now that a bill has passed the US Senate, the real fun on immigration begins. For the last 5 years we've seen Democrats almost completely shut out of conference committees, and legislation morph from palatable to unacceptable in the blink of an eye. We know there will be some Democrats in this conference, at least on the Senate side. But they will be outnumbered, and the House will be very forceful to try and remove anything but the border security aspects of the bill.

People are discussing the politics of it, whether it would be better not to pass a bill for now because you could get a better bill in the next Congress, or how it would play in the midterms if there was a comprehensive bill passed or not. It's a good discussion to have, but I think it's important to note that in the Senate, at least, the Democrats drove the debate and got major legislation out that essentially hues to their values and ideas. Sure, there are some awful compromises in there (I can't believe the three-tiered nonsense survived), but at its heart, the Senate bill tightens the border, adds teeth to workplace enforcement, acknowledges that those already here are an economic engine and deporting them is pie-in-the-sky, and gives people who want to experience the best of America more of a chance to do so. There hasn't been legislation that close to where Democrats are at that has passed the Senate in a long time, not even when we were briefly in the majority in 2001 and 2002.

Ultimately I don't know if anything will come out of conference. There's a lot of pressure and orthodoxy on all sides. I think sometimes when you compromise and compromise that you end up with the worst of everything, and all the good intentions end up canceling each other out. There's diminishing returns for this legislation as it keeps getting batted about. I hope that at the very least we don't end up perpetuating a European model of a permanent underclass that feeds the corporate need for cheap labor, and I hope someone SOMEWHERE tries to make the point that NAFTA's role in this cannot be underestimated (20 million more Mexicans in poverty since its adoption). But it's hard to expect Congress to do the right thing these days.


Ignorant Fools

When Jack Murtha brought up last week that the military would announce that Marines killed Iraqi civilians in cold blood the fury on the Right was palpable. Murtha was a traitor, an alarmist, the scourge of his country, and anyway the report wasn't official yet, so what does he know?

Memo to the right blogosphere: Jack Murtha has better sources than you do.

A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Two lawyers involved in discussions about individual marines' defenses said they thought the investigation could result in charges of murder, a capital offense. That possibility and the emerging details of the killings have raised fears that the incident could be the gravest case involving misconduct by American ground forces in Iraq.

Officials briefed on preliminary results of the inquiry said the civilians killed at Haditha, a lawless, insurgent-plagued city deep in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, did not die from a makeshift bomb, as the military first reported, or in cross-fire between marines and attackers, as was later announced. A separate inquiry has begun to find whether the events were deliberately covered up.

Evidence indicates that the civilians were killed during a sustained sweep by a small group of marines that lasted three to five hours and included shootings of five men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint, and killings inside at least two homes that included women and children, officials said.

I've seen the video of Haditha. It's horrific. Murtha was right to get this in the open, forcing the Pentagon brass not to cover it up. I'm sure that's why his sources high up in the military told him to do so.

The bloggers that slandered him merely because they wanted to stick their head in a washing machine so they didn't have to hear the truth about what goes on in Iraq are cowardly, irrational, and frankly, stupid. They shamelessly attack everyone who hasn't fallen in love with their pretty little war, and they've set their humanity aside and picked up pom-poms, cheerleading relentlessly and yelling at the top of their lungs to everyone else to "clap louder!"

This idiot writes TODAY that Murtha is a disgrace, while acknowledging that the allegations "could be true." Then he tries to shift the debate by saying that a few stories of abuse shouldn't mean that America should turn against the war. It's a nice trick, but of course nobody said that. He also claims that Murtha was condemning the soldiers when he clearly called out the senior leadership for putting them in such a pressure-packed situation. So according to this guy, we shouldn't blame the policy, AND we shouldn't condemn the soldiers. In other words, we shouldn't say a peep about anything and let the "grown-ups" do their job.

These mewling little children can't let the facts reach their precious ears. They focus on irrelevancies like Jesse MacBeth when the reality is too painful to bear. They want to wear glasses colored with rose and make happy talk while death envelops the region. And they want to eliminate anyone who breaks the protective bubble they constructed to shield themselves from harm.


Make Them Work

I'm not necessarily disappointed in the confirmation of Gen. Michael Hayden to be the new CIA Director, but the relative ease with which it was done. Democrats in the Senate don't seem to be willing to put up a fight on anything even tangentially related to national security. The public is eminently willing to support those who stand up for the Constitution. If you can't oppose the President when he's this unpoopular you simply never will. This is not a call for knee-jerk opposition on whatever issue. But when opposition intersects with the core values of democracy, there is no political downside. People don't want to be under constant surveillance by the government. We certainly know that Congressmen don't like it. But if the public is not made aware of how dangerous warrantless wiretapping and massive data mining truly is, they one hear one side of the argument. And that makes it impossible to win it.

Again, Feingold was practically alone on this one, and it seems that ony he among the caucus gets that we can't go running for the foxhole every time there's an uncomfortable discussion about national security or foreign policy. It perpetuates the myth of the weak Democrat (which, after seeing this for the better part of a decade now, may not be a myth). Ultimately I'm optimistic because I don't think the people will like their representatives get away with being so meek forever. But it's very troubling that nobody even bothers to question the appointment of a guy who spearheaded an effort to collect research (yes, that's what it is, oppo research) on every American. And it's disgusting that they don't even use the confirmation process to articulate why that should not be allowed.

UPDATE: They're confirming Brett Kavanaugh too? Wasn't he one of the main judges tables in the "nuclear option" roil of last year?

I need to go lie down.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Tale of Two Senators

Tom Curry writes an article for MSNBC about Nebraska's Ben Nelson, the most conservative senator in the Democratic Party, someone who voted with the Sessions/Kyl/Cornyn faction all the way on the immigration debate, who voted to extend the Bush tax cuts, who's supported the President 76 percent of the time in Senate roll call votes.

Obviously, those of us in the netroots understand that you can't be the progressive champion in Nebraska that you can be in, say, Connecticut. But there's another BIG reason why Nelson, who's very popular in his state, is free from the wrath of the blogosphere. He may be conservative, but he understands why he's a Democrat.

Curry, who's clearly begging for Nelson to offer a full critique of the Democratic Party throughout the article, eventually cuts to the chase:

Given Nelson's voting record, two questions arise: Why is he a Democrat? And what reason would a Republican have to vote against Nelson?
Nelson answers the first question this way: "Democrats may not always be right, but they always try to be on the right side, whether it was Medicare, Social Security, civil rights, voting rights." He added, "I've never been pushed by the Democrats to leave the Democratic Party. While I have had overtures from Republicans (to switch parties) I've concluded that I'm very comfortable where I am."

That really struck me. It's probably better framing of how to present ourselves in conservative, rural states than I've heard. After all, this guy's won two governorships and a Senate race in Nebraska, he ought to know how to define himself and his party. And it's a positive, hopeful, "we're the party on your side" kind of statement. I know many would like to see "they always ARE on the right side," but that connotes a certain arrogance, and I see why Nelson soft-pedals this while still playing to common sense, equality, and fairness. All politicians have to some degree an instinct for self-preservation. Nelson doesn't take that out on his party.

On the other hand, Joe Lieberman could offer a full-throated progressive agenda much easier than could Ben Nelson. He could refrain from condemning Democrats or saying they speak out against the President "at our nation's peril." He could stop adopting Republican talking points that undermine his party's credibility. He certainly has a better case to make for being a good Democrat than Nelson does. But his tactics are completely objectionable.

In a nutshell, that's why Lieberman deserves a challenge and Nelson does not. It's not just regional realities, although that's part of it. It's more about wanting to be a Democrat more than wanting to be a "centrist" media darling.

UPDATE: Lieberman's getting honored by a neocon front group tonight. That'll secure his victory in the Democratic primary!



I have to say this William Jefferson scenario has been puzzling. When Randy Cunningham had his home and yacht raided nobody said a word about constitutional crises. I guess the sticking point here is that the FBU raided Jefferson's office and took papers, exposing sensitive data from the legislative branch to the executive branch. The notion that the White House doesn't know what's going on in Congress, however, is quaint. They're a bunch of sock puppets. Of course, this was a Democratic representative who was raided. I'd believe they were trying to grab opposition research a lot more if they didn't have a 95-page affadavit authorizing the search, and if they didn't find $90,000 wrapped up in tinfoil in a freezer in his apartment.

Still, for some reason Dennis Hastert has been particularly vocal about this being a "constitutional crisis." So much so that The President himself capitulated, sort of:

President Bush stepped into the Justice Department's constitutional confrontation with Congress on Thursday and ordered that documents seized in an FBI raid on a lawmaker's office be sealed for 45 days.

The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents taken last weekend from the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., and that they remain in the custody of the Justice Department's solicitor general.

Bush's move was described as an attempt to cool off a heated confrontation between his administration and leaders of House leaders of both parties, particularly Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Read this high talk from great statesmen who have nullified over 750 laws with nothing more than the stroke of a pen:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said it would "provide additional time to reach a permanent solution that allows this investigation to continue while accommodating the concerns of certain members of Congress."

The president said he recognized that Republican and Democratic leaders have "deeply held views" that the search violated the Constitution's separation of powers principles. But he stopped short of saying he agreed with them, declaring the end goal was to provide materials relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation to prosecutors "in a manner that respects the interests of a coequal branch of government."

"Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," Bush said in a statement. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."

Hastert, it was revealed yesterday, may be under investigation by the Justice Department his own damn self, which seems to suggest that the Congress reacted so violently because they don't want the skeletons dug out of their own closet. The Speaker reacted by both 1) denying that he's under investigation AND 2) accusing the Justice Department of intimidating him by... putting him under investigation. Hilarious.

The speaker was responding to an ABC News report that quoted an unnamed law enforcement source as saying that he was "in the mix" of the department's separate investigation into influence peddling by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"This is one of the leaks that come out to try to, you know, intimidate people," Hastert said on Chicago's WGN radio.

This 45-day delay, of course, keeps the Jefferson case in the news cycle for another 6 weeks, headlining a Democrat's corruption instead of the many Republicans. But I'm really not sure what's going on at this point.


House Passes ANWR Drilling

For like the 57th time. The Senate is likely to scuttle it.

Bush says we're "addicted to oil," and the Congress keeps pushing "drilling for MORE OIL" as the cure.

This should be called the "Knocking Over a Liquor Store to Feed the National Coke Habit" Act.

Here's the silver lining... once the glaciers are all melted by global warming, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge won't be so arctic, and it won't matter when we destroy it!


Some Wedge Issues

Sherrod Brown, now running for the Senate in Ohio, notes that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation that would repeal restrictions on funding stem cell research. This, you recall was the story that tortured our boy King for so many months prior to 9/11. The Senate simply hasn't taken it up. Bill Frist, MD is of course gearing up for a play to the far-right Christianist base in a 2008 election run, and his personal agenda has become the agenda of the Senate. There's no way he's going to let a stem cell research bill through. After all, it would be criminal to kill 6 blastulae in order to possibly save millions from diseases and injuries.

Rep. Brown rightly calls out his opponent in the Ohio Senate race, the supposed moderate Mike DeWine, to tell us where he stands on this bill:

I was an original co-sponsor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 in the House. My opponent, Republican incumbent Mike DeWine, opposes embryonic research under all conditions, and has helped block the vote in the U.S. Senate.

Senator DeWine has changed his position on other issues. I don't see any reason why he can't do the same for stem cell research.

Ohio families shouldn't have to wait till next January for a new U.S. Senator to vote the right way. We need to change course today.

Expanding stem cell research is our best hope to develop treatments for cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's, hemophilia, juvenile diabetes, and many, many more conditions.

This has also become an issue in the Senate race in Missouri, where Sen. Jim Talent first supported, then dropped his name off an anticloning bill (what? We had an anticloning bill? In the US Senate? Do these people base public policy on David Cronenburg movies?) that would have outlawed certain stem cell research. He's trying to walk a tightrope and his opponent Claire McCaskill is slamming him for it.

Democrats are using the stem cell issue as a wedge, and in a good way. They are playing to people's hopes instead of their fears. The hope of radical medical breakthroughs far outweighs the concern for a few blastulae. This is a circumstance where Republicans are running for cover simply because Democrats are explaining what the real issue is.

Meanwhile the gay marriage ban, which Republicans used as their wedge issue in 2004, is suddenly running up against some difficulty within the party:

It's true that Senate Republican leaders, including Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, have slated a floor vote on the amendment for early June, in hopes that grateful religious conservatives will show up to vote in November. But the overall party message is mixed. Laura Bush told Fox News last weekend that same-sex marriage should not be used "as a campaign tool," and Mary Cheney, the vice president's gay daughter, told CNN Wednesday that "writing discrimination into the Constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong."

Bush has said virtually nothing. Actually, on the eve of his second term, he said he was averse to pushing hard for an amendment, so in a sense he is simply being consistent.

To religious-right leader Gary Bauer, the president's underwhelming effort is "inexplicable." Bauer said the other day that Bush "should be calling members of Congress, twisting arms, making public statements, rallying the troops. This issue is extremely important to his base. This administration needs to get its base back." He warned that if Bush doesn't crusade against gay marriage, "this is just going to be one more thing that keeps people at home on Election Day."

The problem is that moderates are running from the party in droves, and the metrics of this election requires moderate votes. Republicans have to split the eye of a needle, which is no easy task with the War in Iraq already threatening to destroy their Congressional majority.

GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said Friday: "We can't afford to alienate moderate voters any more than they are already alienated... . Issues have a shelf life. Gay marriage passed everywhere [on state ballots] in 2004, but today, a lot of people look at that issue and think, 'It is so over and done.' Our party base is already fracturing, and if we emphasize gay marriage now, it would create new divisions."

Why are so many moderate Republican voters feeling alienated? Party strategist Craig Shirley suggested, "There is a fear, among some in the party, that the Republicans are being identified too much as a theological party." With good reason, apparently: Fabrizio estimates, based on his own surveys, that half of today's Republicans are "theocrats" who want government to "promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage," as opposed to wanting less government intrusion into personal lives.

In a sense, this split sums up the dilemma for Santorum this year: If he pushes hard on issues like this, his "theocratic" base may respond favorably - yet that could hurt him badly in the politically moderate, vote-rich suburbs of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

When you base wedge issues on hopes, they remain relevant until the hopes are realized. When you base them on fears, they fizzle out as soon as people figure out that there's nothing to be afraid of.


Early Warning

My flock of LA-area fans take note: I'm going to be on the Marc Maron radio show on AM1150 next Wednesday night. The show airs from 10pm to midnight Mon-Fri. It also streams here.

Expect reminders on this every ten minutes or so.


Net Neutrality Vote Today - Victory!

I just got off with Howard Berman's office. He's a longtime California congressman who was undecided on how to vote on the Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill HR 5417 (that's right, Sensenbrenner AND Conyers supported the same bill!) supporting Net neutrality and the principle of a free Internet with equal access for all. I asked him to support the bill.

I'm taking all the credit because the bill just passed the House Judiciary Committee, with Berman and all the Democrats but one voting for it. Ed Delahunt of Massachusetts voted "present." Guess that telecom money felt too good in his pocket.

This is pretty awesome, showing how people power can beat back corporate attempts to control our information flow. Matt Stoller and the folks at Save The Internet should be proud of their work.


Just In Time!

What the hell is up with this headline?

"Levees Rebuilt Just in Time, but Doubts Remain"

Rebuilt just in time? Does that mean there was a guy nailing in the last board to the flood wall with a hammer just as the storm surge reached the edifice, it held and everyone hugged each other like at the end of "WarGames" and went to have a beer? Give me a break! Look at this idiotic opening paragraph:

In a breathless finale that has been called one of this generation's greatest adventures in civil engineering, the Army Corps of Engineers has all but completed its repairs to this city's ruined levee system.

Like it was the end of a montage building scene from McGyver.

The story goes on to say that the Army Corps of Engineers "even improved" the levee system in many ways! Whoopee! I mean, considering the last one failed completely, one would hope they improved it!

New Orleans' levee system was routinely underfunded and therefore inadequate to protect against hurricanes, according to an independent report released Monday [...]

The study released Monday said floods overwhelmed levees and flood walls, both on the fringes and inside the city. Breaches were caused by weak soil in the levees, poor engineering and breakdowns in sections where different types of flood protection meet.

Don't worry guys, they made it a little bit better in some places this time! And not quite as designed to fail!

It's nearly offensive to characterize levee protection as "a race against time" that the diligent corps "just managed to complete." This isn't a sporting event, people's lives are at stake, and to give them this false sense of hope that we won "the amazing race" to protect New Orleans is completely disingenuous. There's a long way to go, and even in the article experts openly hope that nothing as big as Katrina hits the city this year. This will be a decades-long effort.

And anyway, considering the construction WITHIN the city has been so negligible, the real questions with building levees has to be "what exactly are you protecting?"


Kenny Boy Down


Enron founder Kenneth Lay was convicted today of all six counts against him, including conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud.

Former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling was convicted of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud.

Well, that certainly begins to restore my faith in the criminal justice system. I followed the trial, and I was stunned that the defense was essentially ignorance. Lay and Skilling that they were ignorant of the dealings of their own company. It didn't fly.

Lay and Skilling of course were major contributors to the Republican Party, and at least Lay was a close personal friend of President Bush. I wonder if there'll be a magic pardon just before leaving office?

But today is about vindication for all those employees that simply did what they were hired to do at Enron for decades, diligently paying into a pension program that vanished because of the avarice of the executives. They deserve restitution, but I can't help but think they are feeling some satisfaction today.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wrestling Coach in Figure-Four Leg Lock

So now the Speaker of the House is under investigation:

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from high level government sources.

Federal officials say the information implicating Hastert was developed from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

The other tribes were represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who reportedly has provided details of his dealings with Hastert as part of his plea agreement with the government.

The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.

I hope the Republicans keep telling me about how "everybody does" corruption in Washington. I'd be happy to provide them with a chart detailing Democrats under investigation or indictment in the last five years vs. Republicans.

William Jefferson
maybe Allan Mollohan (not definitely under investigation)
Scooter Libby
Karl Rove
Richard Armitage
Dennis Hastert
Claude Allen
David Safavian (his trial started today)
Duke Cunningham
Tom DeLay
Bill Frist
Jerry Lewis
John Doolittle (I think he's under investigation)
Jack Abramoff
Dusty Foggo
Michael Scanlon
Tom Noe
George Ryan
Gov. Chandler (KY)
Bob Ney
Neil Volz

I think I'm probably missing about 15 others. And the difference, of course, is that EVERY MAJOR BLOG AND DEMOCRATIC OFFICIAL has called for the ouster of William Jefferson. DeLay was defended. Hastert? It remains to be seen. The point is that corruption is wrong in any form. If you're abusing your office you deserve to be tossed out of it.

No wonder Denny was so vociferous about the FBI raiding Jefferson's Congressional office. He was just looking out for #1.


The Death of Diplomacy

Notwithstanding the gaining momentum on environmental reality, the most important story in the news today was this item in the Washington Post, which shows that Iran absolutely wants to settle this nuclear issue through direct talks with the United States. I never thought there was any doubt about this. The real ruler in that country, Khameini, is a mullah but also a pragmatist.

Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.

The eagerness for talks demonstrates a profound change in Iran's political orthodoxy, emphatically erasing a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran's public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century, they said.

Though the Tehran government in the past has routinely jailed its citizens on charges of contact with the country it calls the "Great Satan," Ahmadinejad's May 8 letter was implicitly endorsed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and lavished with praise by perhaps the most conservative ayatollah in the theocratic government.

"You know, two months ago nobody would believe that Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Ahmadinejad together would be trying to get George W. Bush to begin negotiations," said Saeed Laylaz, a former government official and prominent analyst in Tehran. "This is a sign of changing strategy. They realize the situation is dangerous and they should not waste time, that they should reach out."

The story details a series of back-channel attempts to negotiate, and how US intelligence analysts have taken notice. Recently at The Belgravia Dispatch conservative Greg Djerejian compiled a list of all the US officials who have urged direct talks, including Henry Kissinger, Richard Lugar, Richard Armitage, Chuck Hagel, Robert Gates, and other prominent Republicans. This story only buttresses that with statements like this one, which is completely analogous to what I said when the Ahmadinejad letter came out.

But U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said government experts have exerted mounting pressure on the Bush administration to reply to the letter, seconding public urgings from commentators and former officials. "The content was wacky and, from an American point of view, offensive. But why should we cede the high moral ground, and why shouldn't we at least respond to the Iranian people?" said an official who has been pushing for a public response.

Analysts, including American specialists on Iran, emphasized that the contents of the letter are less significant than its return address. No other Iranian president had attempted direct contact with his U.S. counterpart since the countries broke off diplomatic relations after student militants overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

The question really has to be why the Bush Administration is rejecting these overtures, and the advice of the most experienced foreign policy minds in his party? The answer is pretty simple. There's no money in diplomacy.

The Euro-three talks (where Iran negotiates with the three European powers, even though the US is the only country threatening them) are DESIGNED TO FAIL. Until we enter negotiations the Iranians will not accept anything that comes out of those talks. We won't join because we don't want to reach an agreement. We want to announce that diplomacy has failed without engaging in diplomacy. In this way it's a carbon copy of the strategy in the pre-war run-up with Iraq.

This could be resolved in two weeks. The Iranians don't want sanctions. Some would say that they would continue to hide their nuclear program but there are ways to make inspections more muscular and give them teeth. The climate is ripe for negotiation. We refuse to do it.

And we can't even explain WHY. This Kos diarist catches Helen Thomas asking a simple question, and Tony Snow completely flabbergasted with how to answer it:

Q The President apparently has gotten several messages, underground, back-channel and so forth, through intermediaries for direct talks with Iran. Surely he is not going to blow a -- speaking of opportunities with Iraq, this is an opportunity to talk directly to Iran. And why doesn't the President do it? And don't give me the -- I'm sure the three other allies and so forth would be very happy if we talked directly to Iran.

MR. SNOW: Well, if you don't wish me to answer the question, then I'll just move to the next questioner.

Q I want you to answer after I've told you what my premise is. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: This from Secretary of State Helen Thomas. The position has always been clear. We are not going to divide --

Q If elected I will serve. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Boy, that's going out everywhere today. (Laughter. The position has always been the same, which is if Iraq, in fact, proceeds with -- we think that Iraq -- Iraq -- Iran -- thank you very much -- needs to be very serious about suspending all enrichment and reprocessing of uranium. They have to agree to do it. They have to do it in a verifiable and credible manner and a permanent manner. When that happens, all right, then there may be some opportunities. But the first precondition right now -- and we've been working with our allies on this -- is to make sure that Iran does nothing in terms of advancing its ability to build nuclear weapons.

Now, we also are not going to divide up the coalition by trying to engage in side conversations with Iran. (darth's note: Noone said anything about dividing the coalition...which doesn't exist yet anyway)...(*snip)

Q Why don't we sound out whether these are true opportunities, or not?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, Iran -- I mentioned before --

Q -- lay down laws for everybody else. This is true negotiation.(SMACK!!)

MR. SNOW: This is more an argument than a question, Helen, and I'm not going the engage in arguments about what constitutes or doesn't --

Q No, it isn't. It isn't. I'm asking you, why don't we take advantage of these feelers?

MR. SNOW: You are assuming -- I am not going to tell you each and every thing this government is doing diplomatically when it comes to Iran. I'm not telling you that there are --

Q -- you're more amenable to them?

MR. SNOW: I am telling you that nothing happens, the position has not changed. Iran has an obligation -- what Iran is trying to do is to negotiate through the press right now.

Q -- no --

(Tony gets very argumentative here...)...

MR. SNOW: Sure, it is. And you're doing an able job of it, Helen. So what's going on here is that Iran, in responding to pressure, is trying to change the subject. And we're not going to let them change the subject. The subject --

Q It isn't changing the subject --

MR. SNOW: Of course, it is.

Q -- it wants direct talks with the United States.

MR. SNOW: But it already knows what the preconditions are for American talks.

Q Are they, in fact, putting out these feelers that Helen is talking about?

He couldn't talk his way out of the question. He's an empty suit, but how could he give the real answer? "We won't negotiate because we want another war!" It's almost criminal that we're even close to letting them get away with this again.


Brokeback Mountain... I Mean Blindback Mountain!

That's really funny.


We'll Pay You to Pollute!

I think this'll have to be environment day, because this just floored me:

General Motors Corp. is doing what politicians wish they could do: Lower the price of gas to $1.99 a gallon.

GM on Tuesday announced a promotion that caps gas at $1.99 a gallon for one year for buyers of certain full-size sport-utility vehicles and midsize cars in California and Florida.

Consumers will receive a monthly credit to a pre-paid fuel card for the difference between $1.99 and the average price of premium gas in their state.

The amount they receive will be based on the number of miles they drive, as recorded in the OnStar communications system in all vehicles, and the EPA city fuel-economy estimate for their vehicle.

Eligible vehicles in California include the 2006 and 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, and GMC Yukon and Yukon XL large SUVs. In Florida, Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick LaCrosse midsize cars are eligible.

These are some of the worst-polluting cars out there, and GM has just ensured that they stay in circulation for years. This is an analogue to the constant calls to drill in ANWR. That just exacerbates the problem. This guy from the Sierra Club says it perfectly (actually he says it in exactly the same language I've been using as a joke onstage for the past month):

Dan Becker, director of global warming and energy programs for the Sierra Club, blasted GM's promotion for supporting America's reliance on foreign oil.

"I have never heard of an addict getting off their addiction by having someone subsidize their fix," Becker said.

I call it the "Knock Over a Liquor Store" solution. "Here, we'll help you rob this 7-11 so you can buy more heroin!"

Meanwhile, Think Progress informs us that Bush's environmental advisor strongly supports Al Gore's film and mission, saying "They’re giving the same advice I’ve been giving for years.” What did the President have to say when asked if he would see Gore's movie?

"Doubt it."

Dismissive. Disgraceful.


An Inconvenient Trangulation

I don't think I'm giving out trade secrets when I say that Hillary Clinton is a tactician. What she learned from the collapse of her health care plan in 1994 is that she needs to get out in front of issues, pre-empt her opponents, and piggy-back on their popularity to transfer it to herself. These aren't negative traits, they're the hallmarks of good politicians. But in her public statements you can read between the lines and understand who she fears as a rival should there be a Presidential bid in 2008.

For a time, she was clearly triangulating conservatives like John McCain and Newt Gingrich and George Allen. She pushed ridiculously frivilous legislation like a flag-burning amendment and regulation of violent video games. But with yesterday's speech at the National Press Club, it's quite clear that nobody worries Hillary more than Al Gore.

Obviously, with gas prices at record highs, energy policy is in the news. Gore's movie premiere is another factor. But more than anything, I think there's been something of a tectonic shift at work here. The conventional wisdom is clearly pointing in a different direction, and Hillary is looking to play to a left-leaning base that she obviously feels will be ascendant come 2008.

I don't want to look at her speech completely through a political lens, because there were some great policy prescriptions in there. First she framed the issue as one in where the laissez-faire policies of the virtuous free market have failed, utterly:

Now, there are no easy answers to the complexity of this problem, but I believe that we can get our arms around it. It will take a well-funded, comprehensive approach with staying power. Government has to change basically our "do nothing" policies. Businesses have to be part of the solution, not the problem, and provide accessibility, efficiency and innovation, and we, as citizens, have to do much more to reduce our dependence on oil and begin to conserve and demonstrate more energy efficiency. We can't just point fingers and sort of place blame on anyone else. Foreigners over there, oil companies over here -- the ball is in our court. It is up to us to act and to act soon. It is going to require a virtual revolution in our thinking about energy and in the actions that must follow.

This is a "common good" approach, calling for all Americans to sacrifice for a much-needed cause. She goes further to explain how national security is severely affected by having choke points to oil in unstable regions. She touches on how oil-rich nations blackmail oil-hungry ones. She mentions the looming economic collapse as oil reaches a peak. And then she says this:

And finally, our values demand that we be good stewards of the planet for our children and our children's children. We are failing that simple moral test if we continue to stand by as the Earth warms faster than at any time in the past 200,000 years. I have seen firsthand and have heard from the natives in places from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Svalbard, Norway, about the consequences of global warming.

And now, thanks to former Vice President Al Gore, who has been a committed visionary on global warming for more than two decades, everyone can see those consequences for themselves at a local movie theater.

This is very canny, giving respect to the man who may become your main adversary while co-opting his main issue. But Hillary's also putting herself out on a limb here. She's calling for a revolution in thought, a plea to stop the status quo and shake up traditional beliefs. Like this sentence:

We are now spending far more on military security in the Persian Gulf than it would cost to jump-start a clean energy future with all the benefits in new jobs, enhanced security and reduced global climate change...

Now, this can't happen overnight, and it does require a major change in policy and attitude, not just in the government but also in the private sector and, indeed, in each of our lives. But we need to resist the idea that kicking the oil habit will wreck our economy. In fact the greater risk is that we will wreck our economy by failing to kick the habit.

She's also unafraid to talk about the role of conservation and efficiency, mocked as merely a "personal virtue" by the current Vice President. And she sets out concrete goals:

Today, I want to suggest a concrete goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil by at least 50 percent by 2025. That would be a reduction in oil consumption of just under 8 million barrels a day. Now I believe a 50 by 25 initiative will energize our economy, not undermine it, and how will we get there? Two words -- innovation and efficiency. They encompass the three major tasks that I want to discuss today.

First, we need to convert our liquid fuel base from oil to biomass. That can reduce our consumption by 4 million barrels a day by 2025.

Second, we need to change our reliance on high carbon electricity sources to low carbon electricity sources through innovation in renewables, such as solar and wind, as well as carbon dioxide sequestration.

The third task is efficiency; getting much more from the cars, buildings, power plants, manufacturing processes we have. Just by major efficiencies in cars, expanding hybrids, getting more fuel efficiency from trucks, industrial and residential sources, we can reduce consumption by another 4 million barrels a day.

Now, efficiency will start us down the road to a better energy future, but an independent clean energy future will require dramatic innovation. The possibilities are greater than ever for governments, science and industry to succeed. For example, scientists estimate that the wind potential of just three states -- Texas, Kansas and North Dakota -- is equal to more than half of the electricity we consume today. California could meet half of its power needs from solar alone [...]

But we can't just wait for innovation. Just like the Manhattan or Apollo projects, it takes focused and dedicated resources to make it happen. That's why today I'll be introducing legislation for a strategic energy fund. We need a serious commitment from government to prioritize advanced energy, and a commitment from our oil companies to reinvest their unanticipated profits into our shared energy future. I want the oil companies to be part of the solution. Last year, the top six oil companies had combined profits of $113 billion, more than the annual income of 170 countries. Now, Exxon Mobil had, you know, the highest profits in corporate history. Yet, when CEO Lee Raymond was asked about how much his company had invested in alternative energy over the last decade, his reply was, and I quote, "a negligible amount." Well, that's unexcusable. You know, the oil company is making $300 million a day, not because they planned on it, not because of great managerial expertise, but because of escalating world demand and, therefore, increasing prices for their commodity that they didn't create in the first place. I think it's time that we made sure they put a fair share of their profits toward a sound energy future.

There are outher proposals in there, but the point is made. This most centrist of centrist senators, the master of triangulation, feels the need to triangulate to the LEFT instead of the right. That's remarkable given the results of the last two elections, and it shows how weakened the Republican Party truly is. We have talk of wind power, fuel cells, mass transit (Wow!), cellulosic ethanol, biomass, an Apollo project for energy (all of which I strongly support) right out in the open, from arguably the most high-profile politician in the country outside who doesn't live in the White House. She mentions the fantastic proposal by Sen. Obama to trade health-care services help to the automakers in exchange for improved CAFE standards. These things were simply not part of the debate a couple years ago. But they must be today. And Hillary Clinton is not one to go out on a limb like this unless she knows it won't break.

This should come as great news to anyone who wants to hand over a better world to their children, a world that's still somewhat sustainable, viable, and secure.

This is really a great speech on the merits. But it's also an historic speech of sorts, because it shows the literal shifting of the winds in Washington. Al Gore has gone from "Mr. Ozone" to a prophet, and outside of those paid by Exxon Mobil he is being taken seriously. Hillary's coming aboard signals, as usual, that she is going where the country is already at. They're with Al Gore.

This last paragraph sums it up, and turns the ultimate Republican meme of "we're the optimists" and turns it on its head: of my colleagues came to the floor in opposition, and he just basically said: We can't do this. It'll ruin our economy. We'll go backwards. It'll destroy the American standard of living, and I just couldn't believe what was I hearing, and I got up and I went to the floor, and I said, "Since when have Americans become so fatalistic that we go around saying we can't do it, we can't do it? That is not the tradition of our country. We can do it. We just need a commitment to do it, and we need the leadership in both the public and the private sectors to get it done." And I believe that we definitely can get it done.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Quick Hits

Because I really want to let you know about all these stories:

-At least they're consistent: Iran wanted Western newspapers shut down for the Mohammed cartoons, and now they've shut down one of their own official newspapers for publishing cartoons that slander their Azeri minority. They sent the cartoonist and the editor-in-chief to prison. Hey, maybe we DO have something in common with Iran: jailing journalists!

Actually, this article notes a rise in protests and dissent, particularly by students. How would that change if Tehran is suddenly bombed? For better or for worse? It's an open question.

-ABC News reports that the Kentucky coal mine where 5 died over the weekend has been cited 41 times over 5 years for various violations. The spin on this is that 41 citations is "a normal number." Meanwhile Bush's nominee to lead the Office of Surface Mining has a lot of problems, including rolling back mine safety protections and firing a whistleblower. Another regulatory official who comes out of the industry he is charged with regulating.

-Look at this, a report finds no collusion or price gouging by the oil companies during the post-Katrina period. Of course, the chair of the FTC (who wrote the report) is a former lawyer for Chevron. See above.

-It's great that the FDA's advisory board has approved a vaccine for HPV, a virus that causes cervical cancer. The true test is if the FDA takes the advice of the panel and approves the drug for use. Christian conservatives don't want it approved becuase they think it would encourage young people to have sex (HPV is transmitted sexually). In other words, they would rather let millions contract cervical cancer as long as it promoted abstinence. There's the true colors of that movement.

-We're not going to win in Iraq, or anywhere in the Middle East, at least according to the Administration, who is setting a new standard on victory: a "non-bloodbath." They're now going to try to get out by the skin of their teeth. The next Democratic President is going to have a hell of a time cleaning up this mess. He/she should hire a Secretary of Sanitation.


Pony Up

I just posted the Act Blue netroots endorsed candidate list on your right, and I kicked off the fundraising by giving Francine Busby $50.

Francine is in a tight race in California's 50th Congressional District, where she is trying to replace Duke Cunningham. She's a true reformer, a former school board member who is running on the message of cleaning up Washington. She even stepped up and called for the resignation of William Jefferson, which is pretty bold for a relative political novice. In the last poll she led ex-lobbyist Brian Bilbray (no joke) by seven points, in what is a heavily Republican district. Bilbray may not even live in the state.

The NRCC (the House's campaign organ) just pumped TWO MILLION BUCKS into this race for the final two weeks, and the Angel of Death himself, Dick Cheney, has stopped by for a $2,100-a-plate luncheon in Bilbray's honor. They're bringing out the big guns (in Cheney's case, literally) because they don't want an early narrative of "GOP loses in their own backyard." Once again, we have a great matchup and an excellent chance to win. But Francine needs the support of small donors to combat the barrage of negative ads sure to come her way.

So pony up, will ya? We get the government we pay for. You can just put in a dollar amount and it'll get evenly distribute to all the candidates on the Act Blue list, or you can click the link and contribute to individuals.


Don't Fuck With The CIA

It's the oldest adage in politics:

WASHINGTON - Two top CIA officials will bolster prosecutors' charge that Vice President Cheney's chief aide lied to them, court papers show.

Prosecutors say disgraced Cheney chief of staff Lewis (Scooter) Libby learned CIA spy Valerie Plame's identity from, among others, agency officials who will be called to testify at his trial for perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice.

The U.S. alleges he learned about Plame from one of the CIA officials when he went after dirt on her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson shattered a pillar of President Bush's rationale for war - that Iraq was seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

Both CIA officials - including a top architect of the 2003 Iraq invasion - discussed Plame with Libby a month before columnist Robert Novak blew her cover in July 2003, prosecutors charge.

Libby has said journalists told him about Plame - not Cheney or the six witnesses named so far by prosecutors.

Until recently, the CIA officials' identities were kept secret by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who did not name them in Libby's October indictment.

But subsequent documents allege Libby asked top CIA official Robert Grenier on June 11 why the agency sent Wilson to Niger to see if Iraq tried to buy uranium. Grenier replied that Plame was an agent and "believed responsible" for arranging her husband's trip.

The other official was Craig Schmall, a CIA briefer whom Libby complained to about the Wilson trip on June 14, court files allege.

Libby's not going to be able to get out of this. I really think that's true now. Sure, there could be a pardon on January 19, 2009 or something, but there's no way he'll get off scot-free, IMO. And this just fits in neatly with the idea that a group of people at the White House wanted to get back at Joe Wilson and were unturning every stone they could find to dig up information. Libby went to CIA and got what he needed, and when Wilson went public he had the ammo, along with Rove and Cheney and everybody else, to feed reporters their version of the truth. It's kind of despicable if you think about it.


We're Not Gonna Take It

Check out the comments on the NYT's new blog. They're getting hammered over putting a meaningless story about the Clinton's sex life on today's front page. And rightfully so. Apparently they're already moderating and banning comments and commenters.

What’s the over/under on when comments are frozen and the thread gets locked? I say 5:00PST.

Some people just can’t take the heat (and yet they keep going back in the sensationalism kitchen, to torture a metaphor). They can't believe the rabble (you know, the ones that actually read their paper) are so impudent as to actually talk back to them! They didn't know that journalism was a two-way street. Well they're learning.


No Authorization

The FCC didn't even bother to open an investigation on NSA spying before closing it:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will not pursue complaints about a spy agency's access to millions of telephone records because it cannot obtain classified material, the FCC's chairman said in a letter released on Tuesday.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, had asked communications regulators to investigate a newspaper report that AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications and BellSouth Corp. gave access to and turned over call records to help the National Security Agency fight terrorists.

"The classified nature of the NSA's activities makes us unable to investigate the alleged violations," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in the May 22 letter to Markey.

So let's recap: the executive branch can break the law. Oversight agencies cannot investigate because they don't have authorization. The Congress refuses to investigate because they don't want to, and they don't have authorization. The courts have to wait for somebody to file a case, and nobody can file a case because doing so would reveal state secrets and the plaintiffs don't have authorization. The press could write a story, but they could be thrown in jail because they don't have authorization.

How is this any different from a dictatorship?


Feinstein Does Something Right

Yes, that has to be a headline. But her amendment to the immigration bill, while it failed, shows that she understands how ridiculous this "compromise" has become:

Feinstein's amendment, defeated 61 to 37, would have supplanted the compromise that allows illegal immigrants here five years or more to stay and work six years and seek legal residency after paying back taxes and fines and showing they were learning English.

Those in the country two to five years under the compromise would have to go to a point of entry, exit and file an application to return as a guest worker. Those here less than two years must leave the country, but could apply from their native country to return as a guest worker and wait in line to get a visa.

"I have come to believe that the three-tiered system is unworkable, that it would create a bureaucratic nightmare and it would lead to substantial fraud," Feinstein said Tuesday.

OF COURSE it's unworkable. Undocumented workers don't have papers. If you're basing their status on a pay stub or electric bill, and you think that'll be foolproof, you're nuts. Feinstein has at least shown she lives in the real world. 36 other Senators agreed with her. The rest have their heads in the sand (or they want to save the bill, but what good will saving it do if it's impossible to implement?).


RIP to a Statesman Who Told the Truth

Lloyd Bentsen died today. Of course, he's remembered as Michael Dukakis' vice-presidential running mate, but he was also President Clinton's Treasury Secretary who helped right the economic ship in the 1990s and move us toward historic surpluses. This is his legacy.

People of course remember his takedown of Dan Quayle in the 1988 VP debate, the famous "You're no Jack Kennedy." It's a great line (and I'm amazed how many people in the audience CHEERED at it... what a different world. You can't cheer in debates now. God forbid an audience shows they've been paying attention). But Night Owl at Kos looks at another quote from that evening:

BROKAW: Senator Bentsen, you were a businessman before you entered the U.S. Senate. Let me offer you an inventory if I may: Lower interest rates, lower unemployment, lower inflation and an arms control deal with the Soviet Union. Now two guys come through your door at your business and say, "We'd like you to change," without offering a lot of specifics. Why would you accept their deal?
BENTSEN: You know, if you let me write $200 billion worth of hot checks every year, I could give you an illusion of prosperity, too. (Laughter and applause) This is an administration that has more than doubled the national debt, and they've done that in less than eight years. They have taken this country from the No. 1 lender nation in the world to the No. 1 debtor nation in the world. And the interest on that debt next year, on this Reagan-Bush debt of our nation, is going to be $640 for every man, woman, and child in America because of this kind of a credit-card mentality. So we go out and we try to sell our securities every week, and hope that the foreigners will buy them. And they do buy them. But every time they do, we lose some of our economic independence for the future. Now they've turned around and they've bought 10 percent of the manufacturing base of this country. They bought 20 percent of the banks. They own 46 percent of the commercial real estate in Los Angeles. They are buying America on the cheap. Now, when we have other countries that can't manage their economy down in Central and South America, we send down the American ambassador, we send down the International Monetary Fund, and we tell them what they can buy and what they can sell and how to run their economies. The ultimate irony would be to have that happen to us, because foreigners finally quit buying our securities.

Bentsen got across in one paragraph (actually, in one line) what the Democrats have been trying to articulate for five years: that borrow and spend is the worst of all possible worlds. And none of this has changed: in fact under Bush II the deficit has skyrocketed, we've still sold America on the cheap to the highest bidder, and we're still in peril of foreigners who stop buying our securities.

Of course people are resistant to this talk: look at the culture we have in America. It's all "you can have your cake and eat it too." Republicans have a worldview that anything is possible and reality is just a bunch of "haters." That kind of fantasyland has a strong pull... until the crash comes. We're seeing in many ways a slow-motion recession, where conditions are analogous to the stock market crash of 1987.

A report by Barclays Capital says the run-up to the 1987 crash was characterised by a widening US current-account deficit, weak dollar, fears of rising inflation, a fading boom in American house prices, and the appointment of a new chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

All have been happening in recent months, with market nerves on edge last week over fears of higher inflation and a tumbling dollar, and the perception of mixed messages on interest rates from Ben Bernanke, the new Fed chairman.

Bentsen was a great example of how you can tell the truth in politics, and we have a lot to learn from him.


What We're Up Against

You know, progressive sites often talk about the so-called liberal media, and the outsider might look at that appellation and wonder what the hell we're talking about. Many journalists self-identify as liberal, they say. The New York Times is an offshoot of the Democratic Party, it is alleged. And so on, and so forth.

I don't think people really understand how pervasive conservative framing has become in the world of the press. There are lots of examples just today on how this is done.

Take the aforementioned New York Times, which today devotes valuable front-page space, not to Iraq, or Iran, or the immigration debate, or NSA spying, but to the personal lives of two people, the marriage of the Clintons. I thought we had collectively as a population decided that we don't give a fuck about this sometime in 1998. But to read this article, you'd think every water cooler in the country was buzzing with salacious theories of how often the Clenis had sex with his wife. This is tabloid stuff on the front page of the "paper of record." It employs the classic conservative frame of distraction, filling time with meaningless, easy-to-write stories that do nothing to give the American people the information they need. (Incidentally, I'm with Atrios in wondering when that long story about all the Republican Presidential candidates and their marriages are given the same media attention).

Of course, large swaths of the "liberal media" are explicitly conservative outlets, like Fox News, whose latest topic of discussion featured the headline "Al Gore's Global Warming Movie: Could It Destroy Our Economy?" As if merely bringing up the "inconvenient truth" (to coin a phrase) that all the melting glaciers and violent weather-related disasters of the past decade might have something to do with fossil fuel consumption will start a run on the banks. This is typical corporate conservative rhetoric, dressed up as a "question" on the fair and balanced news network. I also posted yesterday about a couple outright lies from one of the leading lights of the conservative media.

And in the supposedly "independent" media, conservative frames abound. Like that one about Democrats hating the troops, an example of which is caught by Peter Daou:

ABC's 'The Note' Suggests Democrats Want US Troops Killed and Maimed

How else to interpret this:

"As is always the case with the out-of-power party, Democrats have to root root root for bad news. And no bad news source is better for the Democrats' election prospects than the bad news from Iraq."

This is what we're up against. I don't think the media is necessarily liberal or conservative. I do think they're lazy, and as such have been easy to take ready-made conservative media narratives and frames and incorporate them into their stories. These are hard habits to break when it's so easy to write the same "everybody's corrupt" or "Democrats are anti-military" story over and over again. Plus, the influence of corporate conglomeration on the media landscape cannot be minimized.

The indepdendent media, led by the Internet, will continue to hold these slanders and lies to account. But it's important to step back and understand the "why" before simply hacking away at the "what."


Monday, May 22, 2006

The Sludge Report

Boy, another day like this and Matt Drudge isn't going to have any stories left up at his site. Twice today he's had to take down blatant lies. First he lied about Howard Dean sending DNC officials to try and get Mitch Landrieu elected over Ray Nagin in the New Orleans mayoral election. The DNC called their lawyers, and Drudge shrunk from the pressure and offered a retraction. Then he tried to smear Al Gore by claiming that he and his entourage took five cars to drive a short distance to the Cannes premiere of "An Inconvenient Truth." Not true. Think Progress nailed Drudge and he took the item down.

Digby has a knack for beating me to the punch on stuff like this, and he notes that back in Drudge's heyday, there wasn't any such thing as a progressive blogosphere to call him on his crap. Now there is, and it's only getting louder, and it's not going to brook these kinds of outright falsehoods.

On the flip side of this, Chris Bowers notes:

There is something else that this (DNC/Landrieu) story demonstrates: a difference in the willingness of many major left-wing sites online and major right-wing sites online to run with unsubstantiated stories. Last week, despite what appeared to be an extremely hot story from Leopold in Truthout about Rove, led by Peter Daou almost no major left-wing blogs ran with front-page supporting comments on Leopold's story. By contrast, Drudge posts this about Dean as his headline piece. Let's see how many right-wing blogs follow suit. (Quite a few -ed.)

The progressive political blogosphere is quite capable of self-policing, if for no other reason then we know the right-wing and the established news media are extremely eager to pounce on our mistakes to try and discredit us. As I have argued in the past, we grew as a response to establishment progressive defeats at the hand of conservatives, and as such we are always aware of the tactics conservatives use to defeat and undercut progressives. This hatchet job against Dean demonstrates that if, for once, the same level of scrutiny is applied to conservative media as was applied to progressives and progressive media, the entire right-wing media empire would disintegrate in a matter of weeks. However, should we expect Drudge to be thrashed in the established press for this train wreck? I'm not holding my breath.

And furthermore, the left blogosphere IS being discredited for hyping Leopold's Rove story, even though almost none of them did. Salon wrote a story criticizing the Leopold story. DHinMi exposed Leopold as a sock puppet, the kind of guy who would respond in comments as different people to bolster his claims. I probably was taken in more than any left-wing blogger on this one, and I was pretty equivocal:

Leopold has also said while tracking this case that up to 15 people could be indicted back in October, when only Scooter Libby was targeted. But this article is pretty believable, and given all we know what's been happening, with Rove's 5th appearance before the grand jury and Fitzgerald's stays in Washington, I think this is the real deal.

My belief came more out of the corroborating evidence than Leopold's reporting, which I knew to be suspect. And most were far more circumspect than I. But that didn't stop Howard Kurtz by tarring all liberal blogs with "breathlessly reporting the Leopold scoop" even when they didn't. Meanwhile many, many conservative blogs actually DID report Drudge's garbage, and when Drudge had to retract them, those guys get off scot-free. It's a double-standard.

I never understood the appeal of Drudge. He reprints stories 90% of the time, and his "exclusives" are usually things that will end up in the conservative media the next day, or outright lies. In the age of blogs he seems irrelevant. Sure the Right Wing Noise Machine still uses him as a megaphone, but there are so many others who don't have his credibility problems. Still he soldiers on. Maybe he's making shit up to get everyone's attention again.


Worth A Thousand Words

TBogg has some fun with pictures today. Go check it out.


We've Lost Ourselves

The Washington Post editorial board has a question:

AT THE SENATE intelligence committee hearing Thursday on Gen. Michael V. Hayden's nomination to head the CIA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked the nominee a simple question: Is "waterboarding" an acceptable interrogation technique? Gen. Hayden responded: "Let me defer that to closed session, and I would be happy to discuss it in some detail." That was the wrong answer. The right one would have been simple: No.

The Congress passed a law banning this technique explicitly. The President signed it. Of course, then he made a signing statement that essentially said "I could bypass this ban if I, um, want to." Hayden gave a de facto admission that this was indeed happening.

On a day when a sergeant faces trial for threatening detainees with dogs at Abu Ghraib, we have also learned about senior official involvement in the torturing of prisoners:

As the Iraq insurgency grew rapidly in the spring of 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld complained to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in the country, that he was not seeing results from the interrogations of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers.

"Why can't we figure this enemy out?" Sanchez recalled Rumsfeld asking in frustration, according to a previously unreleased transcript of a July 2005 interview by senior Army investigators. "Was there intense pressure? You bet. You bet there was intense pressure" to extract more from the interrogations, Sanchez said -- some of it self-imposed and some of it emanating from "different levels of the chain of command."

Somewhere we have lost our way as a nation when we have to become the butchers we're fighting in order to beat them, when we have to ignore the morality Americans cherish and mandate in order to satisfy some craven bloodlust, when we have to waterboard, electrify, humiliate, sodomize, kill the enemy. This doesn't result in good intelligence, and at some level I think these higher-ups at the Pentagon know that. But they don't care. They're under a lot of pressure from whoever their boss is, and they doubtlessly get some secret satisfaction from kicking some ass of the brown people (even if they weren't terrorists but innocents sold to the Americans for the ransom money). The UN has urged the closure of Guantanamo and I don't think that would matter one bit. You can open and close bases every couple months. But until we root out and remove the element that considers torturing another human being to be legitimate and warranted, nothing will change. Because in that moment, we've lost ourselves.


All In

This Washington Post article has the White House making the ultimate bet on the 2006 elections, saying that it's the only hope of "salvaging the Presidency." They might have thought of that before they assembled the patheic group of candidates currently running on the Republican ticket.

Bush and Cheney have made almost 100 fundraising appearances between them this year. And we know their game plan, they've used it the last two cycles. Tax cuts, national security (maybe a sprinkle of anti-immigrant Mexi-bashing tossed in for good measure). But look at these two grafs for this amazing bit of self-delusion:

Bush remains a firm believer in the "Iraq first" strategy. The war has overshadowed everything else and, in the White House's view, to a large extent has poisoned the public against other messages -- to the point that many Americans fault Bush's handling of the economy even though economic performance has been strong. So the White House calculates that if the public sees any improvement in Iraq and a withdrawal of even some U.S. troops, Republicans will be rewarded.

Aides point to the president's last spike in the polls, which came late last year after Iraqi elections and a series of Iraq speeches by Bush. A top adviser said Rove and White House political director Sara M. Taylor are advising candidates not to duck the issue of Iraq but rather to make it a centerpiece of their campaigns.

Brilliant idea, guys. The White House is admitting that they are slaves to events on the ground. There's a lot of talk today about this story that Bush and Blair will announce a phased withdrawal down to 100,000 US and far fewer coalition troops. Blair set the stage for this with today's surprise visit:

The new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today said Iraqis could be in control of security by the end of the year in all of the country apart from Baghdad and Anbar province.

Mr Maliki, appearing at a news conference with Tony Blair, who is visiting Baghdad, indicated that he expected the Iraqi government to begin taking over control of some of the more peaceful provinces from the multinational forces from next month.

This is a shadow play, an attempt to control the situation rather than having it control them. They want parades and "bring the troops home" parties to try and force the narrative that everything's just fine. While I'd prefer all our troops were redeployed over the horizon, this long-rumored "drawdown" doesn't mean a thing. It has nothing to do with our intended goals in Iraq. In fact I'll bet that the contractor/mercenary numbers go UP as the troop numbers go down. Murtha said this kind of shadow play would absolutely happen and he hasn't been wrong yet.

Bush will reject calling this leaving, and so his little political gambit won't work because Americans will not be made hopeful that this will be the end of the war. In fact, Democrats should push Republicans by questioning whether or not this is the end of the war, which will put us on the same side as the American people.

When your opponent goes all in, you don't have to fold. You can call his bluff. I know there are enough fresh progressive candidates that will do so. But it'll take the national party to follow their lead.


Quick Hits

Items clogging up my inventory of news and information:

-Here's a nice "didja know": we're funding warlords in Somalia, including some of the same ones that dragged US soldiers' bodies through the streets of Mogadishu during the infamous "Black Hawk Down" affair. These warlords are fighting Islamic groups for control, and the war on terror certainly makes for strange bedfellows, but will we ever learn that blowback is a bitch?

-In other countries long forgotten and rarely heard from, looks like we're conciliating on North Korea. Iran, take note: this move teaches the world that you're not safe from the United States if you're merely SUSPECTED of having nuclear weapons; you're only safe if you actually have them. Is up ever down.

-The Dukestir has come around and will cooperate on the ongoing investigation by the House Ethics Committee into his fellow members of Congress and their dealings with defense contractor pals Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade.

-Meanwhile embattled Democratic lawmaker William Jefferson of Louisiana apparently has a starring role inin America's Funniest Sting Videos. This blogger has been calling for the resignation of Rep. Jefferson since last September and on at least 5 separate occasions (check the archives). If indicted, I hope the DNC Chair and the House Minority Leader would do the same. And I suspect I won't be disappointed, as Dean already has stated that as his intention.

And I'll elaborate on this later, but a word on the reaction: Not only has Dean called for Jefferson's resignation if indicted, but Pelosi referred him to the Ethics Committee. This is true on blogs as well. You haven't seen one lefty blog come out in defense of Jefferson. That's the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Our instinct is to weigh the evidence and then call for lawbreakers to step down. Their instinct is to defend, and attack the accusers (be they Democrats, the media, or "rogue district attorneys."

In other words, we have a morality and an ethical line. They don't.

-Homeless vets have always been a problem, and that is continuing with Iraq War veterans. There's a documentary called When I Came Home that details this disturbing trend.

-Meanwhile the personal data of over 26 million veterans was stolen this month when an employee of the VA Office took the information home with him and then burglars took it. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to be that incompetent. It's like we're trying to win an incompetency contest.

-It's not like you can count on anything to remain secure with these guys in charge, from your identity and information to your personal safety. And two House Democrats are fighting back:

Two key Democrats on the House committee that oversees the Department of Homeland Security criticized the agency last week for not releasing to Congress reports on 118 security plans for mass transit, rail, aviation, ports and borders.

Many of the reports were due in 2003.

"The American people deserve more from the Department of Homeland Security than missed deadlines, especially when our nation's security is at risk," said a letter signed by Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Kendrick Meek (Fla.) ranking Democrat of its subcommittee on management, integration and oversight.

Democrats: They know that Congress' job includes oversight.

-Oh yeah, remember that peace deal in Darfur? Not so much.

-And while fighting in Afghanistan has reached a postwar peak, we have another one of those "announce a high-level capture on Page 1, admit the mistake on page 28" situations:

The Taleban commander Mullah Dadullah has not been captured, a spokesman for the US-led forces in southern Afghanistan has said.

Last week Afghan officials indicated they had caught the commander, who is believed to be the Taleban's military leader in southern Afghanistan.

"We have, in fact, captured a high-ranking Taleban who does fit the general description of Mullah Dadullah but I can confirm to you it is not Mullah Dadullah," Major James Yonts told the BBC.

Believe it or not, there are still 10 stories on my to-do list but I'll stop there.