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

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The RepubliWON'Ts

Tom Schaller wrote a very good piece a couple days ago that addresses something that continually pisses me off, and which the Republicans have been doing since maybe the 1920s.

If you listen carefully--or, really, not so carefully--national Republicans often like to refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Party." They do this with a straight face but a heavy dose of snark. It's a bully's taunt, schoolyard humor.

Schaller eventually settles on a great alternative that could be used as a catch-phrase for the 2006 midterms and beyond: Republican'ts. And while I enjoy the symmetry, I don't think that properly describes what the party in power seeks to do with government. In short, it's not RepubliCAN'Ts, but RepubliWON'Ts.

Schaller makes his case for Republican'ts, and it's a good one:

It seems to me that the "can't" theme is potentially of two varieties. The first is the incompetence and mismanagement variety--the notion that the GOP is simply incapable of managing the government, a theme Rep. Tim Ryan emphasized rather brilliantly on the House floor recently. The second is more damning because it's not a matter of capacity but of will--the fortitude to do (or not do) certain things, like balance the budget (no will) or snoop around in Americans' private behaviors (no will to stop).

I'd love to see Howard Dean, next time he's on Meet the Press, send a shot across the partisan bow by telling Tim Russert or other media types that if they refuse to correct Republicans (Ken Mehlman seems to be a common culprit) when they say "The Democrat Party," then Dean is fully entitled to begin publicly referring to Republicans as the "Republican't Party." As in: Can't balance the budget; can't stop raising the national debt ceiling; can't manage federal emergencies; can't find Osama bin Laden; can't control our borders; can't stop smearing and leaking; can't answer tough questions from the media; can't find weapons of mass destruction... (I can't spend all day doing this, but you get the point.)

I endorse the approach and I think it has a lot of possibilities. Of course it would be used best just casually, without the explanation. The Republican'ts don't say "Democrat Party" and then explain that they're doing it to allude to Democrats as "rats" (remember the commercial?) and because they're anti-democratic. It's just implied. If anyone called Chairman Dean on saying "Republican't" over and over, then he can launch into "well, what else would you call a Party that can't fix health care, can't balance the budget, can't find OBL," etc. Before that, you let the electorate understand the allusion on their own terms.

However, I must add that it is technically incorrect. To say that the Republican'ts CAN'T do anything to improve people's lives makes it primarily a problem of mismanagement and incompetence. In short, it localizes the problem to the decisions of a particular group of people. All it would take for a Mitt Romney or some other self-styled "git 'er done" politician to defuse the whole thing would be to separate themselves from the current administration, for example, by saying that they're a RepubliCAN.

In truth, we all know that it's the second half of Schaller's statement that, as he says, is far more operative and far more damning: the question of will. He brings up two examples, the inability to balance the budget and the propensity to snoop on Americans' private affairs, and in each case he says that the Republican'ts don't have the will to do either. But this is not the case. Or at least the emphasis is off. It's not that they don't have the will, that they are simply powerless to stop themselves. It's expressly that THEY DON'T WANT TO STOP.

A perfect example is the environment. Sam Seder made an incredibly insightful comment on his Air America Radio show last night when he was interviewing Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth. He asked Guggenheim if he thought that a major impediment to get the country moving against global warming was that, and I'm paraphrasing, "If the public sees that government can adequately make positive change through policy in this area, wouldn't they expect government to do that in other areas, and wouldn't that harm RAY-publican ideology?" (Sam always uses RAY-publican.)

This is absolutely on target. The entire RepubliWON'T experiment has hinged on pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps individualism, on government being the problem and not the solution. If government is the solution, to ANYTHING, that upsets the apple cart. This of course ignores the power of collective action and innovation, which for centuries has proven an effective lever to solve problems too big for one man, from back in the days of Archimedes until now. There would simply be no need for government if individuals could rectify every problem themselves. Progressives have always understood the value of progress, that good government can provide meaningful solutions in many cases and equalize opportunity while enhancing security and ensuring the common good. If a Democratic President set sustainable CAFE standards, encouraged conservation, invested in a Manhattan project for energy and actually succeeded in lowering greenhouse gas emissions demonstrably, the entire RepubliWON'T ideal that government cannot affect any positive change would fall by the wayside.

The same goes for health care. We're actually going backwards on that right now, as the last Medicare bill does not even emable government to collectively bargain for lower prescription drug costs for pharmaceutical companies. Businesses engage in this kind of leveraging process every day. But if government did it, that would be too close to moving to a solution, so that won't happen. Of course, a single-payer universal health care system would, if managed in any way like those in Europe, provide better health care at a lower cost. But RepubliWON'T ideology mandates that government is not able to solve problems. It can be argued that the rank incompetence with which the Medicare Part D plan has been administered is at least subconsciously deliberate, to further this myth that government is too inefficient to be meaningful. Certainly when you have leaders with no interest in governing, you get out of it what you put into it.

The RepubliWON'Ts have nothing but contempt for government and its institutions: in fact it's part of their charter, their contract with America. Government cannot solve problems. Therefore every instance of incompetence, every occurrence of mismanagement, serves to SOLIDIFY this central critique, and the problem is always government, never the RepubliWON'Ts themselves. In this system, you're on your own not because government can't help you, but because it WON'T.

There are any number of reasons why the RepubliWON'Ts won't govern in the way citizens need them to. They're beholden to a conservative business structure that resists any kind of change that requires they spend more on infrastructure or face regulation. They thrive on that particular strain of human selfishness, a national "free-rider" problem that says "if I can make something of myself, everybody else can figure it out." They desire to heighten alienation with the political process by lessening the value of government, thereby shrinking the pool of voters they have to convince to stay in power (and making it so that those who most need government's help are also the most disillusioned). There are many other factors. But whatever the reason, the point is that they don't want government to succeed, ever. Progressives do. We have a belief that government can be rightly administered to solve the imminent crises and problems we face.

I dig the idea of RepubliCAN'Ts, but the truth is that they're RepubliWON'Ts.


My Two-Month Late Earth Day Piece

As you all know, hurricane season started on Thursday, and I'm trying to get into the spirit of the season. I'm singing hurricane carols. I'm trying to be nice and not naughty so that the hurricane fairy will come down my chimney and obliterate it. I do think they've started putting up the decorations early this year. I was seeing cars in the trees back in May. And of course, New Orleans never took down their decorations from last hurricane season. Talk about lazy.

But I would like to note that the White House apparently is full of hurricane season cheer as well, since they just nominated one a' them enviro-wackos to be the next Treasury Secretary:

Many green leaders joined the Washington establishment and Big Business this week in applauding President Bush's nomination of Henry "Hank" Paulson -- Wall Street titan and heavyweight conservationist -- to replace outgoing Treasury Secretary John Snow and spearhead the administration's economic policy making. But while Paulson proved popular in many circles, a handful of right-wing groups bristled at the pick, claiming that Paulson's pro-environment views were too radical.

Much vaunted as chair of the investment firm Goldman Sachs since 1999, Paulson is less known for his role at The Nature Conservancy, the world's largest conservation organization. He joined the group's board of directors in 2001 and now serves as board chair. TNC President and CEO Steve McCormick hails Paulson as "a voice for environmental issues at the highest levels of business and government. His mark on the conservancy is indelible. He has helped us think big -- very big -- about our conservation ambitions."

Paulson believes environmental health and financial well-being are inextricably linked. "The environment and the economy have been totally misconstrued as incompatible," he told Muckraker in an interview earlier this year. "They are opposite sides of the same coin -- you can't consider one without the other."

We're in a new Gilded Age in America where nothing will really get done until Big Business is on board. Just as they will drive the eventual push toward universal health care in order to stay competitive globally, so are they our best hope to stem the tide of global warming. Under Paulson, Goldman Sachs invested over a billion dollars in alternative energy, committed the company to a steep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and donated almost a million acres in southern Chile to a wildlife society. And remember, the last head of Goldman Sachs was Jon Corzine, now the Democratic governor of New Jersey, and Paulson's improved on his efforts.

I don't think Treasury is much of a policy position anymore, so Paulson's contribution to the overall US strategy on climate change will likely be infinitesimal. This analyst agrees:

"Keep in mind that the Bush administration's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, also had strong environmental convictions, but he fought battle after losing battle to get his superiors to take these issues seriously, and was effectively shut down," said David Sandalow, an environmental and foreign-policy scholar with the Brookings Institution.

In The Price of Loyalty, O'Neill describes a memo he sent to Bush in February 2001 with advice on developing a climate-change strategy. Needless to say, it had no impact.

But the more members of the inner circle that have an understanding of our environmental impact, the better.

I have not yet seen An Inconvenient Truth but it is getting a lot of exposure, and global warming does appear to be a part of the national conversation as much as it ever has been. I noted last week that we wouldn't see major policy speeches by Presidential candidates devoted to this issue in the recent past.

This is all good news. But there is such a resistance to change since we don't see the effects of global warming as tangibly as, say, higher gas prices (although it's been 90+ degrees in my workplace for what seems like two months). The quicker that business sees the environment not as an opponent but a partner, the sooner that resistance will be broken. But there is another major hurdle, which I will explore in my next post.


Friday, June 02, 2006

I yield the floor to the gentleman from... where are you from again?

This editorial is a week old, but I never got around to posting about it the first time. The issue is that Rick Santorum, incumbent senator from Pennsylvania and arguably the most threatened incumbent in the nation, doesn't appear to have a working address in the state he purportedly represents:

Before every election, the Post-Gazette routinely sends letters to the candidates seeking material for the Voters Guide. Back in March, as part of that process for the primary, the newspaper sent a letter to Rick Santorum at his home address, at least the one that he claims. Back from Penn Hills came the letter with a sticker from the U.S. Postal Service checked as "Not Deliverable As Addressed -- Unable To Forward."

That is all you need to know about the nasty dispute between the Republican Sen. Santorum and his Democratic opponent, Bob Casey Jr., in the November election. The whole thing is rooted in one inconvenient fact for Sen. Santorum: He doesn't live here anymore.

This is not to say that he doesn't visit Penn Hills from time to time. But while he may meet the legal requirements for residency, his home is in Virginia with his wife and children. This is well-known and it has been for quite a while. Indeed, it was at the heart of the objection by some Penn Hills residents to the local school district paying for the senator's children to be enrolled in a cyber charter school. The theory was that -- let us emphasize it again because it is central to the current problem -- he doesn't live here anymore.

The rest of the op-ed talks about how visual evidence obtained by a news station in Pittsburgh shows no furniture in the Santorum house, overgrown weeds in the lawn, and generally a home that looked vacant for quite some time. Santorum responded with radio ads claiming that people were "trespassing" at his house. The question is whether or not he would have known that if they didn't broadcast video of it.

And this is having an effect in the Senate race, it seems, where Bob Casey Jr., the Democratic challenger, leads by 23 points according to the latest poll. That's a ridiculous state of affairs for a sitting Senator, particularly one who's a leader in his party. There's no way Santorum can distance himself as a moderate, the Democrats have a strong and viable candidate, and the side issues are piling up.

With all of this going on at the top of the ticket, Chris Bowers notes that my home state is trending more Democratic with each passing day:

The situation for Pennsylvania Republicans is rapidly collapsing statewide. The residency issue has clearly become a major problem for Santorum. Two weeks ago, in a major conservative stronghold, Democrats won a special election for the Pennsylvania state Senate by 13%. Also on the May 16th primary, Democratic turnout was over 30% higher than Republican turnout.. Rendell has moved form being the primary Republican target among Governors in 2006 to becoming a pretty safe incumbent. Lois Murphy in PA-06, Joe Sestak in PA-07, and Patrick Murphy in PA-08 have all become serious challengers to Republican held congressional seats in districts that Kerry won in 2004. Bush's approval rating in Pennsylvania has sunk to an astounding 28-70.

Pennsylvania is considered a "blue state" in popular electoral parlance, but in truth it has been red for some time. Republicans control both branches of the state legislature, have a 12-7 edge in congressional seats, and have won every full-term US Senate election since 1964. These advantages in ostensibly "blue" Pennsylvania have been absolutely crucial to Republicans maintaining their national governing coalition. However, even as a Republican activist purchases our local papers in Philadelphia, Republican dominance of Pennsylvania politics, fueled in part by longstanding Pennsylvania Democratic incompetence, seems poised to end. If the NRCC has been forced to spend nearly $4M to defend the CA-50, what can they possibly muster to the face of the coming Pennsylvania onslaught?

Patrick Murphy is running in the district in which I grew up. Lois Murphy is the one next door. These are the bellweather districts for the state. They've gone Democratic in Presidential elections but have typically kept their Republican representatives. If that changes, there will be a sweeping landslide in the state. And considering the state GOP is running the second-best wide receiver from the 70s-era Steelers as their gubenatorial candidate, I see nothing but landslide to come.

Bowers highlights the fact that the progressive community online in Pennsylvania has made a real difference in the political shift in the state.

For those of you who still believe that fighting internal Democratic battles is somehow a waste of progressive resources, you need to look no further than to Pennsylvania for counter-evidence. While the newly revitalized progressive movement in Pennsylvania has locked horns with the party establishment, the result has not been drained resources and two separate, warring factions. Instead, the result has been a tremendous upswing in pro-Democratic Party activity in Pennsylvania that has benefited both the new progressive movement and the party establishment. Our new progressive movement is working--the old ways of either simply falling in line behind the party leaders or bolting the party / sitting on your hands were not working. The progressive, internal reform movement has identified hundreds of new activists, resulted in a tremendous fundraising upswing, created new progressive media outlets, started new grassroots organizations, and forged new progressive social networking spaces. This is how you do it. This is how a progressive movement can win back Pennsylvania, and indeed the entire nation.

Good for my peeps in Philly and my Keystone State. Now that they're getting it together it's time to export that to the rest of the country.



NPR ran a story about soldiers who re-enlist in Iraq, and painted it as wholly due to "patriotism, duty, and the need to protect the homeland from terrorism."

For the sake of balance, I wonder if they would care to mention that story by the LA Times which lays out the plain fact that $500 million dollars has been spent on re-enlistment bonuses in the past year, and which quotes a number of soldiers who say the money, combined with the security for their family (housing, health care, etc.) convinced them to re-enlist.

Now, re-enlistment bonuses have been around since the Revolutionary War (remember the Bonus Marchers after WWI which were shot at in DC?), but clearly the practice is being expanded. The average bonus is $11,000/person, not bad for a young person with kids and no job prospects. There isn't much call in the domestic marketplace for a munitions analyst.

Also absent from NPR's study is the need by military men not to abandon their team on the battlefield. This is taught from day 1 in basic training. The mentality of "no man left behind" is ingrained into their consciousness. Is the sense of duty really to country or to the other members of their battalions?

I do not doubt the veracity of those quoted in the story, and the answer for what's really driving re-enlistment undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle. But I wish that NPR would show both sides of the story.



This is a nice side note to a sad story.

Kimberly Dozier, the CBS reporter wounded by a car bomb in Iraq, now has a Purple Heart at her bedside in a U.S. military hospital in Germany after a young American soldier gave her his medal, the network said.

Dozier, 39, was seriously injured in a blast Monday while covering a story on Memorial Day in Iraq. Her camera crew, Britons Paul Douglas and James Brolan, were killed in the attack, along with a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi translator [...]

On Thursday, CBS said an American soldier who had been awarded the Purple Heart medal for combat injuries made a special visit to the hospital to see Dozier.

"A young American soldier came up to Kimberly's brother Michael and told him that he had met Kimberly in Iraq two years ago after he had been wounded with shrapnel in his arm," CBS said without identifying the soldier. "The soldier had his Purple Heart with him, and he told Michael that he'd like Kimberly to have it because, he said, she's suffered as much as any soldier. That Purple Heart is now beside Kimberly's bed."

Here's a cheery stat: more journalists have now died in Iraq than did during all of World War II. If you count journalism support staff it's nearly 100 men and women dead covering this war. To be sure there is more media now than there was 60 years ago, but the theater of combat in WWII was so much bigger.

"It is absolutely striking," said Ann Cooper, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. While cautioning that the recorded number of journalists killed in past conflicts may be inexact, she said: "We talk to veteran war correspondents who have covered everything going back to Vietnam and through Bosnia. Even those who have seen a number of different wars say they have never seen something like this conflict."

Meanwhile you have bloggers and media hotshots on the right chiding journalists for not reporting the good news from Iraq. Just recently right wing radio host Laura Ingraham charmed the Today show with this comment:

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: To do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military, to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.

95 journalists lost their lives while sitting on those "hotel balconies," and none of them deserve to be called cowards by the likes of a far-right bomb-thrower. It's frankly disgusting that you can express that much contempt for people who literally risk death to get their job done, and then never get called on it by anyone except us on the blogs.

I've had plenty of differences with the media in general and certain members of the media in particular, but I have a deep respect for those out in the war zones that try to get information while in almost constant danger. They are to be respected. And those that yell at them because their reporting doesn't fulfill some expected agenda, or chide them for being cowardly, are nothing but the lowest form of life.


Bad Apples All Over Iraq

On the heels of reports of yet another incident of troops killing civilians in Iraq, the new Prime Minister has spoken out:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians [...]

In his comments, Mr. Maliki said violence against civilians had become a "daily phenomenon" by many troops in the American-led coalition who "do not respect the Iraqi people."

"They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion," he said. "This is completely unacceptable." Attacks on civilians will play a role in future decisions on how long to ask American forces to remain in Iraq, the prime minister added.

This is not good. Maliki is feeding a perception that all the US troops in Iraq are completely out of control. In truth it's likely to be a very small subset responsible for this. However, the rules of engagement could give the appearance of randomness and cruelty when the soldiers are simply following the chain of command. Furthermore, the conditions in Iraq, where soldiers have no defined mission, are unsure of the enemy, sit around in oppressive heat with poor facilities, and aren't really cared for mentally or physically, leads to these kinds of incidents. This is not to excuse criminal behavior, but the policy is just as culpable. And if Maliki is spreading this information, you can only imagine what it's like in the rest of the Islamic world.

Meanwhile, while the US prides itself on accountability in these affairs, a dog handler from the Abu Ghraib prison avoided jail time yesterday and was instead sentenced to 90 days "hard labor." This isn't that far off from the guy in Zambia sentenced to 15 days of gardening for overstaying his visa. It certainly doesn't bolster the case that the US follows the rule of law and brings those repsonsible to justice.

Just like Abu Ghraib, the Haditha incident and others (like mistakenly shooting a pregnant woman on her way to the hospital) are incredibly damaging to the credibility of the US Armed Forces, which damages our nation as a whole. Until we come up with a policy that doesn't inescapably lead to these kinds of tragedies, we need to get out. Today.

[UPDATE] Let's not forget that they're not exactly happy with our methods in Afghanistan either. Is it time for a Truman Commission on the US military? Well, it's past time for the civilian leadership in the Pentagon to depart.

[UPDATE 2] Good God, I haven't read my LA Times yet today but this is sickening:

In addition to the Haditha case, in which Marines are alleged to have gunned down 24 civilians in a rage of revenge for a bombing that killed a Marine in November, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman could face murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges as early as Friday in the April shooting death of an Iraqi man in yet another incident, a defense attorney said Thursday.

Military prosecutors plan to file the charges against the seven servicemen, who are being held in solitary confinement at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine Corps base, said Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents one of the men.

The Iraqi man reportedly was dragged from his home west of Baghdad and shot. The Los Angeles Times and NBC News said troops may have planted an AK-47 and a shovel near the body to make it appear as if the man was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb. Neither suggested a possible motive.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bill O'McCarthy

He's at it again. O'Reilly again falsely claimed that American troops shot and killed unarmed German soldiers at Malmedy, when in fact it was the other way around. The Fox News changed the transcript to make O'Reilly say "Normandy" instead of Malmedy, which is no more right. Keith Olbermann let him have it tonight on Countdown, and with good reason.

"In Malmedy, as you know" Bill O'Reilly **said** Tuesday night, in some indecipherable attempt to defend the events of Haditha, "U.S. forces captured S.S. forces who had their hands in the air and were unarmed and they shot them dead, you know that. That's on the record. And documented."

The victims at Malmedy in December, 1944... were Americans. **Americans** with their hands in the air. **Americans** who were unarmed. That's on the record. And documented.

And their memory deserves better than Bill O'Reilly.

We **all** do.

The last time O'Reilly invoked Malmedy, I wrote about how Joe McCarthy's first brush with notoriety in the Senate was when he defended the Nazi SS officers who actually killed the unarmed Americans in the Belgian town. I don't know if O'Reilly gets all his facts from McCarthy's memoirs, or if he just likes to slander a bunch of soldiers who have been dead 60 years, but this is kind of beyond the pale.


Time For Us To Panty-Sniff

I wouldn't normally get all Page Six and post a story like this, but if it's good enough for the front page of the New York Times to speculate on a President's marriage, it's good enough for me:

June 1, 2006 -- Rocky shoals for Bush marriage? Informed sources Inside the Beltway report that First Lady Laura Bush has established temporary residence in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC as a result of a tiff with President Bush over an extramarital relationship involving her husband. Mr. Bush's tryst is said to involve Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is not known how long Mrs. Bush plans to remain at the Mayflower, however, her security detail has been present at the hotel during hours when the First Lady would normally be residing in the White House. While she was National Security Adviser, Rice, who has never been married, referred to George W. Bush as "my husband" before she corrected herself and said, "the president." Rice was speaking at a dinner when she made her "husband" remarks.

I eagerly anticipate David Broder's reaction. And Tweety Matthews'. Although they'd spin it into being about a man showin his manliness, no doubt. "Yeah, he did Condi! Maybe he had a three-way with her and Karen Hughes! What are you, gay?"

Is this really where we want our politics to go? The gossip segment on Extra?



I haven't written a post about the 2004 voting irregularities in a long time. A real long time. But seeing that, not only in 2004, but in 2002 and 2000 unexpected election results, all which benefited Republicans, occurred, I don't know how you can ignore it much longer. In the newest Rolling Stone, a magazine which has a far more solid history of political journalism than its pop-culture status belies, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes a compelling case that the 2004 election was indeed stolen, and that the Republican Party systematically provided the electoral college margin of victory for George W. Bush.

I believe that Bush's 3 million-vote margin of victory in the popular probably means that more people recorded votes for him. I also believe it's plausible that making sure Bush's vote margin looked unassailable may have been a central component to the strategy. This paragraph lends creedence to that:

What's more, Freeman found, the greatest disparities between exit polls and the official vote count came in Republican strongholds. In precincts where Bush received at least eighty percent of the vote, the exit polls were off by an average of ten percent. By contrast, in precincts where Kerry dominated by eighty percent or more, the exit polls were accurate to within three tenths of one percent -- a pattern that suggests Republican election officials stuffed the ballot box in Bush country.(39)

The (39) there is but one of the 208 footnotes in this highly sourced article. And the mountain of evidence in the article required that much sourcing. I've excerpted merely one of the paragraphs; the rest demands reading.

Even to the most rabidly partisan Republican, there are some undeniable things that went very wrong in 2004. For one, people shouldn't have to wait 8 to 10 hours in line to get their vote cast. That must never happen again, and Democrats should be pushing early and absentee voting with a vengeance. You don't have to wait in line anymore in a lot of states, and this will only improve over time. In the meantime, the federal government must mandate a ratio of voting machines to people in every municipality, and should level the playing field by allocating funds to cash-strapped precincts to make sure they get the equipment they need.

Next, if a Secretary of State, the man or woman charged with control over voting for an entire state, is also the co-chair of one of the Presidential campaigns, he or she must recuse themselves from the balloting process. You cannot have such an appearance of impropriety, especially if that impropriety looks to have occurred (read the section on Ohio SoS Ken Blackwell).

Third, this should underline the importance of Electoral College reform. When only one or two states are competitive, when the campaign for President of the United States looks like a campaign for President of Ohio, then you know that the system is completely broken. The popular vote should decide the Presidential election, and it should not be administered by 1,300 separate localities but by one federal governing body. There is a movement afoot to make an end run around the electoral college by passing legislation in several states to have them pledge their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. This wouldn't take effect until states totaling over 270 electoral votes signed on to it, effectively making the winner of the national vote the winner of the election. A bill along those lines passed the California State Assembly two days ago. The framers had minority rights in mind when they adopted the electoral college system but now there are a lot more small states and they are having a disproportionate effect. Forcing candidates to run national campaigns for President makes it that much harder to steal elections, and denudes activist Secretaries of State of undue influence.

Fourth, the Federal Election Commission should hold a veto over state voter rolls and the attempts to purge them. If the NSA can database every phone call in the country, a centralized database at the nonpartisan FEC ought to be able to database voter registration.

Fifth, it goes without saying that we need a voter-verified paper trail in those states with electronic voting machines. This should frankly be a Constitutional Amendment.

We went through hell in 2000 and nothing really changed, if this article is to be believed. This cannot happen again. There's a whole lot to this article that requires explanation. I wish we had a public discourse where that were possible.


Dude, It's Bigger Than MySpace!

The Republican National Committee set up MyGOP as a next-generation social networking and team leading site. This was going to be the Republican entryway into the small-dollar donation phenomenon that has fueled the rise of the progressive blogosphere. They announced a May 22 fundraising date where their grassroots supporters could set up house parties to raise money for the RNC. The top 5 fundraisers would win, no lie, a "special Republican edition" iPod. (no songs with the words "gay" or "Constitution" will load on it)

Well, they had their event. And right now on the MyGOP page they list the top 5 fundraisers.

1. GOP Bloggers
$498 raised

2. Brian Bridgeforth
$426 raised

3. Melissa Nolen
Davie FL
$150 raised

4. Hank Gill
Tampa FL
$100 raised

5. Matthew Larvick
Vancouver WA
$50 raised

If you consider that the retail price of an iPod is about $300, the RNC lost about $200 bucks on the event. However, there was a fine print that "only people who get more than 10 contributions will receive an iPod." So they only have to give 2 of them out; only the top two crossed that threshold.

The saddest part is that the guy in the number 2 slot, Brian Bridgeforth, lists 194 "team members," which I believe is analogous to "friends" on MySpace. Which means that his fundraising effort averages out to about $2 a person.

Now, the Republican Party probably doesn't need the small donor money the way the DNC needs it. But they wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of building this networking tool if they didn't understand that people-powered movements online are the way of the future. And this pathetic performance just cements in my mind that the Republicans are FAR, FAR behind when it comes to raising money online. The right blogosphere is a message machine... OK, a whine and bitch machine. The left blogosphere is part of a progressive movement, and it doesn't stop with the typing.

By the way you can STILL set up a house party for May 22. They're a week and a half late in taking the promotion down.


But Bismarck, North Dakota's Gonna Be Totally Protected

Since we're fighting them over there, we don't have to spend any money to fight them over here!

From Times Square and the Empire State Building to the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, New York is a city of spectacular landmarks. Ask any of the 41 million tourists who visited last year.

But according to the Homeland Security Department, New York has no national monuments or icons _ a determination that led to a 40 percent cut in anti-terrorism funding.

The nation's biggest city, the one that was hit on September 11, loses anti-terrorism funding. The three cities cited in the article as receiving increases in funding are Jacksonville, Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, and Omaha, Nebraska, red cities in red states. This vindictive, petty crap has happened before, and it's happening again.


The Ugly Americans

Meet the patron saint of "Speak English or Die," John Derbyshire:

A nearby family has a sweet little girl aged 6 or 7, currently attending kindergarten or 1st grade (I'm not sure) in the local elementary school. She's taking all her lessons (except English) in Spanish. It's an option the school offers. Her parents are pleased: "She can already speak a lot of Spanish!"

No offense to anyone, but I think this is awful. I wouldn't mind if it were being done with some other language—Latin, say, or Hungarian, or Sumerian, or Chinese. Since it's being done — and ONLY being done — in Spanish, it's hard to resist the conclusion that this is part of a deliberate program of Hispanicization on the part of our political and bureaucratic elites.

I took French starting in first grade and have retained a shocking amount despite the fact that I never practice it. Study after study shows that it becomes harder to learn a new language with each passing year.

These are the guys that tell us about the global economy and how "the world is flat," and they can't even manage to pronounce "Hola" correctly. I look forward to Derbyshire's kids staying in the suburbs and going to Chi-Chis for some diversity while those parents who understand which way the world's going end up wealthier and more successful.

(hat tip TBogg, whose response to this is very smart and ends by calling the Derb a pendejo, which is even better considering the Derb won't get it.)


Time To Beat Back This One

Kevin Drum finds a nugget in the New York Times writeup on the "amazing, radical shift in US policy" regarding Iran:

Few of his aides expect that Iran's leaders will meet Mr. Bush's main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium....And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence.

...."Cheney was dead set against it," said one former official....But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside — perhaps because they read Mr. Bush's body language, or perhaps because they believed Iran would scuttle the effort....In the end, said one former official who has kept close tabs on the debate, "it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box" of trying talks.

It's time to get very loud about this. The media is calling this a "radical shift in policy" when it isn't. And they're going to be faked out of their skulls again. The Cheney Administration just wants to "check off the box" and give the appearance of diplomacy. They did the same thing with Iraq. And the media is falling for it again. I can't believe they're this stupid.

You aren't agreeing to talks when the condition for the talks is the other side stopping the only thing they want to talk about.

The intention here is to get Iran to dismiss the talks. That's worked. Now the Administration can claim that they tried, but Iran leaves the West no choice.

I can only hope that at the back channel there are more substantive negotiations going on, and what's being played out in the media is not all that's going on. But I'm not hopeful.

THIS IS NOT A SHIFT IN POLICY. It's an attempt to trap Iran into forcing Bush's hand.


Quick Hits

Not going to have a lot of time today... here goes:

-The guy who wrote a front-page article in the New York Times about the sex life of two 60 year-olds, one of whom recently had quadruple bypass surgery, admits that they don't spend any more time apart than any other Washington couple. But it's the Clintons, so it's somehow different. I don't think ANYBODY wants to know how many times a week their grandparents sleep together, so why is the media all hot and bothered about Bill and Hill?

-The Justice Department will give copies of all the documents they seized in the Jefferson case. Somehow I doubt this will stop the controversy about THE CORRUPT DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN, if the Rove machine has anything to say about it.

-Speaking of Rove, Francine Busby's campaign manager must be related to him, because she started running an ad slamming her Republican opponent's position on immigration, and highlighting the extreme anti-immigrant position of independent candidate William Griffith. In a close race, moving some people to the third party might just tip the balance. If it seemed like a straight Griffith ad I'd be really uncomfortable with it. But Busby didn't hide anything, inserting herself and her position at the end, and it was clearly marked as a Busby ad.

-Amir Taheri makes up out of thin air that Iran is passing a law forcing non-Muslims to wear badges on their clothing. As a punishment, he gets sent to the White House as an "expert" on Iraq and the Middle East. Can the Medal of Freedom be far behind?

-Harry Reid could not have paid for his "free tickets" to a series of boxing matches because he was given credentials by the Nevada Athletic Commission, which have no market value. It's illegal for the commission to accept payment for credentials. The AP responded with yet another Reid hit piece. Keep reaching for the stars, AP, you'll take him down yet!

-Cheney's office screens legislation before it reaches the President, "searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on presidential power." Well OF COURSE Cheney does that! He's the President, isn't he?

-Cheney also might end up being called to testify in the Scooter Libby trial.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why Does The US Government Hate America?

The US government has promised to make public all the details of inquiries into the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by US marines last November.

Washington made the pledge following claims that the killings of 24 people in the town of Haditha were covered up.

Why aren't they waiting until after the trial? Don't they know about "innocent until proven guilty"?

Allow me to answer that. It's because there has to be transparency in a situation that could flare bigger than Abu Ghraib. Otherwise we give up the interpretation of the incident to a propaganda machine in the Islamic world that is already using it as a recruiting tool. Especially when there are allegations of a cover-up.

Of course, the government won't indict the real culprit: the war itself, and the conditions structured in the Pentagon that allow this to happen.

(I should mention that this is in response to everyone on the Right screaming that Jack Murtha should be censured for doing exactly what the government has now decided to do.)


My Brush With Media Fame

Well, I taped the radio show. It'll play tonight at around 11pm PST in LA (KTLK-AM 1150), and there's a live stream available here.

I ended up discussing a couple recent stories from the blog, and I think I got too much into "just the facts, ma'am" mode and forgot to be entertaining in the first segment. The information was getting out there, but I think I was drowning in citations. It's a different medium, and you need to adjust. Of course, it's hard to toss a snarky comment in when you're talking about Haditha. "Those dead children should have went on a diet, they'd have outran the Marines! HAHAHAHA!".

I finished the segment and immediately said "Well, that was HILARIOUS!" Then Maron spent the rest of the show teasing that I wanted to come back on and "be funny." I actually did tell a little story at the end of the show. I was definitely more comfortable then.

Hopefully they'll have me back on and I can improve a bit. Why don't you listen to it and let me know what you think?

UPDATE: In between my two segments was this guy Jay Babcock of Arthur Magazine, with an awesome story about his interview with the lead singer of Godsmack. They're the band featured on several US Navy commercials, which has led them to untold success. Babcock called him on the fact that the military was basically using his music to seduce kids into fighting (as if they expect there to be groupies hanging out backstage from Fallujah). Here's the transcript. An excerpt:

JAY: So I notice you guys have been really involved with promoting the military.

SULLY: Well, they actually came to us, believe it or not. Somebody in the Navy loves this band, because they used ‘Awake’ for three years and then they came to us and re-upped the contract for another three years for ‘Sick of Life.’ So, I don’t know. They just feel like that music, [laughs] someone in that place thinks that the music is very motivating for recruit commercials I guess. And hey, I’m an American boy so it’s not… I’m proud of it.

JAY: You’re proud of recruiting your fans into the military?

SULLY: Well, no. [laughs, then playfully] Don’t be turning my fucking words around, you!

The whole thing is brilliant. Listen in between me!



Got an email from Boxer:

Yesterday, I spoke in San Francisco about Iraq and Darfur -- two important foreign policy issues that weigh heavily upon me and all Americans. I'm extremely frustrated by the Bush Administration's inability to resolve either conflict, even in the face of tremendous human suffering.

It's time for real leadership and some fresh ideas to break the Bush Administration's gridlock. That's why I'm speaking out -- and I hope you'll join me.

In Darfur she's calling for the children of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King to become special envoys, who would "focus the world's attention" on Darfur and the killing there. I don't know what this would practically do; the pressure needs to be put on the UN and the Sudanese government, not the world community (although the world community could put the pressure on the other two groups, but that's a step removed). Sen. Murkowski of Alaska has joined her on this proposal, and I don't think it could hurt, but it leaves me wanting somehow.

However, on Iraq she's stepped up to the plate:

After three long years, the deaths of more than 2,467 American troops, more than 18,000 wounded, and the deaths of more than 40,000 Iraqis, it's beyond time to bring our mission in Iraq to a close.

The Bush Administration misled us into an elective war that we didn't have to fight. But our brave men and women in uniform have performed admirably, successfully meeting every goal that was set for them -- from capturing Saddam Hussein and freeing the Iraqi people to training Iraqi security forces and fostering the creation of an Iraqi government. Now it should be up to the people of Iraq to decide what kind of future they want.

That's why I'll be introducing a resolution when the Senate returns to Washington next week, calling for U.S. forces to be redeployed from Iraq within 6 months or earlier, if practicable. My resolution also calls for a quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon Marine presence to be deployed in the region.

It is completely unacceptable to me to see our government paralyzed over a failed policy -- a policy that is bringing so much pain to so many. The Bush Administration's open-ended commitment in Iraq is not only causing death and destruction to our brave troops, it's also serving as a catalyst for further terrorist recruitment.

It's time to change course. That's why I'll be introducing my resolution in the Senate, which is very similar in impact to Congressman Jack Murtha's House legislation, when Congress reconvenes next week.

Eventually, the legislators are coming around to go where the people want them to go. Murtha was way out in front, as was Feingold, but I'm not going to split hairs about the right thing to do for our troops. Chris Bowers made the point yesterday that the Bush Administration's move to add troops in Al Anbar province represents a radical, fringe opinion supported by almost nobody. Arguably less people than support additional troops think that Iraq can now be won militarily. So why continue the military presence? Why not a force that can rapidly respond to help the 250,000 Iraqi soldiers I keep hearing about?

We're beyond any good ideas or good outcomes in Iraq. But let's focus on what we can salvage rather than re-fighting the same war we didn't need to fight to begin with.


The Abramoff Rules

Neil Volz was the chief of staff for Ohio Rep. Bob Ney. He wasn't testifying in Ney's trial yesterday, but he might as well have been, as he offered a devastating portrait of public corruption in the age of Abramoff:

In the first public testimony by a member of Jack Abramoff's inner circle, a former congressional aide told a federal jury yesterday how the disgraced lobbyist identified his "champions" in government and then showered them with favors to get inside information and help for his clients.

Neil G. Volz, who was chief of staff to Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) before joining Abramoff's lobbying firm, testified that among those he and his colleagues considered allies were Ney and former General Services Administration official David H. Safavian, the first person brought to trial in connection with the Abramoff scandal.

Volz went into a lot of specific detail, and unpacked the complex web of relationships that benefited Abramoff and his "champions" at the expense of all of us.

Volz testified that Safavian and Ney guided the lobbyists as they looked for ways to gain access to government-owned land in Maryland, which Abramoff wanted for a religious school, in the weeks before the lobbyists took the two officials on a luxury golf trip to Scotland.

"David was kind of the brains of the operation," Volz said, portraying Safavian as eager to aid the lobbyists on several projects before and after the Scotland trip [...]

Volz painted a picture for jurors of the way Team Abramoff did business. "When I was on Capitol Hill, I was given tickets to sporting events, concerts, free food, free meals," he testified. "In return, I gave preferential treatment to my lobbying buddies." After he left the Hill to join Abramoff, Volz said, he took on the role of doling out the favors and seeking special treatment.

Abramoff set up the Scotland trip in summer 2002. Besides Ney and Safavian, guests included Ney's chief of staff, William Heaton; Paul D. Vinovich, a lawyer on the House Administration Committee, which Ney then chaired; lobbyist Michael Williams; and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, an Abramoff business partner. They took a chartered Gulfstream II jet, golfed the Old Course at fabled St. Andrews in Scotland, then flew to London for two nights at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Prosecutors have provided evidence showing that the per-person cost was far beyond the $3,100 Safavian paid out of his pocket.

A dinner with Scottish parliamentarians that would have provided some official purpose for the U.S. group was canceled, Volz testified. When the group arrived in London, he said, members tried to set up some sort of government meeting. Ney, Volz said, "told me he went over and met with someone in the British Parliament building."

Safavian, who formerly worked with Abramoff, arrived at GSA as chief of staff in May 2002. He and Abramoff began e-mailing each other about two properties controlled by the GSA. One was land in White Oak, in Montgomery County, where Abramoff hoped to relocate a Jewish academy he founded.

On advice from Safavian, Volz said, the lobbyists first tried to insert language in an election reform bill. "We had a champion in the Congress who had already agreed to attach another provision," Volz testified, identifying the lawmaker as "Congressman Ney." Ney had agreed to try to add language to the same bill that would have aided a Texas Indian tribe represented by Abramoff.

On the stand, Volz actually implicated more than just Rep. Ney. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Don Young of Alaska, and Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio, Republicans all, were mentioned, but whether anything went past the asking for favors stage is unclear. Paul Kiel doesn't think this Volz' testimony is that big a deal, but instead of emails, and notes in the Congressional Record, and the like, Volz puts a human face on this story, one that patiently explained how Republicans in the Age of Abramoff did business. I think it's very damaging, and seeing that the government has expanded out from making favors and perks illegal to making good old-fashioned campaign donations illegal, if the led to a direct quid pro quo, we could see what Jeffrey Birnbaum calls The End of Legal Bribery.

Campaign finance laws are built on a legal fiction. To wit: Electoral donations are considered within the law even though they are actually bribes at root. Think of them as "legalized bribery." Through bundled contributions and PAC giving, industries, labor unions, and interest groups of all stripes try to persuade lawmakers to vote their way on the issues they care most about. Donors do not express their desire just that way. They use euphemisms like "buying access" to wink and nod their way toward the same thought. But the truth is the truth. Interests give money to buy votes. Unfortunately for those interests, lawmakers receive funds from so many sources, and also sometimes make their legislative decisions based on factors that have nothing to do with money, that the contributions do not always produce the result they desire. Still, the basic fact remains. The dollars would not be offered unless the donors hoped they would lead to a very specific result.

This would be great news for the public, but I don't know if the courts will allow for it. Certainly something as brazen as the Abramoff Rules are criminal, however, and yesterday's testimony suggests it's not going to get better, but worse for the GOP.

UPDATE: Speaking of Ohio,
another one bites the dust:

A coin dealer and prominent GOP fundraiser at the center of an Ohio political scandal pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges he illegally funneled donations to President Bush's re-election campaign.

Tom Noe, once a powerful political figure who also raised money for Ohio Republicans, still is charged with embezzlement in an ill-fated $50 million coin investment that he managed for the state workers' compensation fund.

Noe was charged with exceeding federal campaign contribution limits, using others to make the contributions and causing the Bush campaign to submit a false campaign-finance statement.

He pleaded guilty to arranging a contribution scheme to raise $50,000 for Bush.

But Bush gave the money back after he used it to win Ohio, so everything's OK, right?


Hey, Accountability!

Look at this, somebody in the government does something wrong and actually gets fired for it:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson announced several personnel changes yesterday that will include the firing of a senior career data analyst who lost the sensitive personal information of millions of veterans.

The 60-year-old civil servant, a GS-14 employee who earns between $91,407 and $118,828 a year, has been notified that he will be terminated, VA officials said. The employee violated department policy by taking home electronic files containing the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of as many as 26.5 million veterans.

In other changes, Michael H. McLendon, deputy assistant secretary for policy, submitted his resignation Friday and will leave the department at the end of the week. Dennis M. Duffy, who has been acting assistant secretary for policy and planning, was placed on administrative leave yesterday, Nicholson said in a statement.

Nicholson didn't find out about this for three weeks, and the guy responsible for telling him was sacked. Still, the ultimate authority rests with him, and I wish he'd consider stepping down as well. This is about the worst thing that could happen coming out of the VA Department's office.

I wonder if this virus of accountability will spread up to higher offices in the executive branch. Nah, I don't think there's cabinet post-to-cabinet post contact just yet.


Haditha: Soldiers With Nowhere to Turn

Editor and Publisher notes that Tom Lasseter was warning that the Marines at Haditha were on the verge of cracking months before the now-infamous incident:

The inability of U.S. forces to hold ground in Anbar province in western Iraq, and the cat and mouse chase that ensues, has put the Marines and soldiers there under intense physical and psychological pressure.

The sun raises temperatures to 115 degrees most days, insurgents stage ambushes daily then melt into the civilian population and American troops in Anbar find themselves in a house of mirrors in which they don't speak the language and can't tell friend from foe [...]

Officers worry about the enemy while trying to make sure their men don't crack under the pressure.

"I tell the guys not to lose their humanity over here, because it's easy to do," said Marine Capt. James Haunty, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. "I tell them not to turn into Col. Kurtz." [...]

Asked for an example of the kind of pressure that could cause Marines to crack, Haunty talked about the results of a car bomb: "I've picked up pieces of a friend, a Marine. I don't ever want to see that s--- again."

Rep. Murtha has focused on the pressure faced by these soldiers, based on the locale, the difficulty of determining the enemy, and the circumstances. It also can't help that so many of them aren't checked for mental illness before going onto the battlefield, or worse, loaded up with Prozac and told to have at it. And the fact that some of them are out on their 3rd, 4th and 5th tours of duty, something really unprecedented in our military history, takes its toll. Even in the Civil War soldiers were capped at a one-year tour. The right likes to hype the re-enlistment rates as a symbol of high morale, but doesn't take into account the underlying factors. For example, for so many of our soldiers the war is the only way to make money:

At military installations around the country, other families cling to the modest but steady wages, the guaranteed housing allowance, the solid retirement plan and the health benefits of the armed forces.

Although the Army missed its recruitment goals last year, in part because of the Iraq war, retention continues at record levels. Reenlistments this year are running 20% above the Army's goal, despite the long overseas deployments. Two out of three soldiers eligible to reenlist do so.

For many service members, it's a matter of balancing risk: Within the military, multiple deployments are commonplace, and more than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq and 18,000 have been wounded. Outside the military, 46 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance, and those who do pay increasingly higher prices for it.

And veterans are having their health benefits raised, while the enlisted men have them cut. Big incentive to stay in. So are the cash bonuses (I don't want to call them bribes, but what would you call them?):

Incentive bonuses are an Army tradition that date to the Battle of Trenton in the American Revolutionary War. But the military now uses them in more creative ways to retain qualified and experienced soldiers in a war that is stretching the ranks to their limits. Last year, the Army paid half a billion dollars in reenlistment bonuses; nearly three-fourths of soldiers who renew their contracts receive one. The average is $11,000. The longer the commitment, the bigger the bonus.

Career counselors and officers monitor soldiers who become eligible, pointing out the challenges of leaving the military's cosseted universe that provides everything from first-run movies for $1 to free prescription drugs.

"We ask them: 'Where are you going to live when you get out? Do you know how much it costs to set up a kitchen? Did you save any money?' " said Best. "The bottom line is, what are they going to do five years from now to put food on the table?"

As a result of those efforts, the Army has retained 48,666 soldiers so far this year — 120% of its goal of 40,446. That exceeds reenlistment levels that were 108% of the Army's target last year and 107% in 2004.

So a bunch of soldiers who don't want to be in this war, who are doing it out of sacrifice to their fellow troops and their families, whose presence is slowly driving them crazy, who stand around in 115-degree heat with lots of equipment on, these are the ones that end up snapping. Is that because of their personal morality, or policy? Open question.

At any rate, there might be film of this massacre, and that would be horrific. The military men that covered this up and lied about the aftermath, that set the conditions for this to happen, they need to be accountable. The troops were pawns in this game. And more of them are headed into the carnage.


A military investigator uncovered evidence in February and March that contradicted repeated claims by marines that Iraqi civilians killed in Haditha last November were victims of a roadside bomb, according to a senior military official in Iraq.

And we made payments to victim's families immediately, which you don't do unless there are innocent lives involved. Plus the President "first became aware of the episode after the Time magazine inquiry, when he was briefed by Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser." He's the COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF getting reports about serious incidents months after they occur?

The coverup needs to be prosecuted.


Fake Diplomacy

The White House's idea of diplomacy is to have the opponent unconditionally surrender, and then we'll talk.

In a major policy shift, the United States said Wednesday it is prepared to join other nations in holding direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program if Iran first agrees to stop disputed nuclear activities that the West fears could lead to a bomb.

"To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in remarks prepared for delivery at the State Department.

This is not a policy shift at all. There's only one thing to talk about with Iran, and that's the suspension of uranium enrichment. So the US is basically saying "cease with the only thing we need to talk about, and then we'll talk."

And then when Iran inevitably refuses, since that would have them enter into talks without any leverage whatsoever, the White House can say "Hey, we tried to talk, but we have no options left..."

There's another caveat to the talks that has nothing to do with Iran. The US wants Russia and China to get on board with sanctions. So if everybody in the world does what for months they've refused to do, then we'll talk to them.

European diplomats told The Associated Press that the package and the U.S. announcement of a willingness to talk were conditioned on pledges from Russia and China to eventually support tough actions such as sanctions if Iran continued to defy a U.N. call to stop its disputed activities.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the United States will not enter one-on-one talks with Iran. The European talks included Britain, France and Germany.

The press will play this as a bold step. They're walking right into the Administration's sucker-punch. And this is well-timed so that the "crisis" reaches a fever pitch before the elections.

Question for the press: how many times can you see the same movie and believe you're watching something different?



I'm on The Marc Maron Show tonight, on KTLK AM-1150 (Air America) in Los Angeles from 10pm-midnight PST. You can catch a live stream at

I'm officially part of the liberal media.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The End of Constitutional Democracy

As if it isn't enough that the Justice Department is trying to shut down investigations and lawsuits into their own lawbreaking by invoking the "state secrets" privilege, today the Supreme Court further inoculated government from any accountability:

The Supreme Court scaled back protections for government workers who blow the whistle on official misconduct Tuesday, a 5-4 decision in which new Justice Samuel Alito cast the deciding vote.

In a victory for the Bush administration, justices said the 20 million public employees do not have free-speech protections for what they say as part of their jobs.

Critics predicted the impact would be sweeping, from silencing police officers who fear retribution for reporting department corruption, to subduing federal employees who want to reveal problems with government hurricane preparedness or terrorist-related security.

Supporters said that it will protect governments from lawsuits filed by disgruntled workers pretending to be legitimate whistleblowers.

Justice Kennedy wrote the ruling (where he claimed that whistleblower protections still apply, but I don't see how since this ruling practically eviscerates them. I mean, are you THAT ignorant of how lawyers and lower-court judges use Supreme Court precedent?), but the real story here, as noted above, is the importance of Justice Alito, which is what all of us were saying prior to his confirmation:

The ruling was perhaps the clearest sign yet of the Supreme Court's shift with the departure of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the arrival of Alito.

A year ago, O'Connor authored a 5-4 decision that encouraged whistleblowers to report sex discrimination in schools. The current case was argued in October but not resolved before her retirement in late January.

Justice David H. Souter's lengthy dissent sounded like it might have been the majority opinion if O'Connor were still on the court. "Private and public interests in addressing official wrongdoing and threats to health and safety can outweigh the government's stake in the efficient implementation of policy," he wrote.

Souter was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Stephen Breyer also supported Ceballos, but on different grounds.

It's time for yet another recap. If you work for the government, and you witness official misconduct, but the information is classified, you:

-could tell your superiors, but as they did with Alberto Mora, it would probably not amount to much of anything...

-could alert the press, but not only would you be fired for leaking information, the Attorney General would want to prosecute the journalists you told...

-could sue your employer for firing a whistleblower, but you would lose based on Supreme Court precedent. Or the court would not be allowed to rule on it, since doing so would divulge classified information.

-could shut your little trap. It's literally the only way that no harm will come to you.

What we have here is the final lifting of the drawbridge from the moat that protects the executive branch from doing whatever they want and hiding the evidence. We essentially no longer have the separation of powers.

This op-ed from the LA Times argues that what constitutes a "state secret," more often than not, has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with simply keeping secrets:

Should the government's claim of secrecy result in an immediate, no-questions-asked (courtroom) dismissal? Probably not, given the government's track record. When it comes to classified documents, for example, at least half the time the government claims that something is secret for national security reasons, that official line is not the truth. I say "at least" because I believe the number is even bigger — 75% or more — but 50% is what the Bush administration has admitted.

The admission came during a 2004 congressional hearing chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who kept pressing one of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's deputies (in this case, the deputy undersecretary for counterintelligence) for her estimate of how much information was classified that did not deserve the secrecy stamp. Finally, she grudgingly admitted that overclassification was a "50-50" problem.

Others who should know say the classified document problem is even worse. The former governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean, after chairing the 9/11 commission that reviewed all of the most recent intelligence on Osama bin Laden and terrorism, told reporters that "three-quarters of what I read that was classified shouldn't have been."

President Reagan's executive secretary at the National Security Council, career Navy officer Rodney McDaniel, told a blue-ribbon commission looking at classification in 1997 that only 10% of the secrecy stamps were for "legitimate protection of secrets."

So we have it on good authority that from 50% to 90% of our government's secret documents should not actually be secret. So why is all this information in the black vaults?

Because it's stuff they don't want anyone to know about. Kickbacks. Rewarding political friends. Rank incompetence. Legal yet embarrassing situations that would impact the country politically but not in the sphere of national security.

And now, thanks to a couple Bush appointees on the Supreme Court, these secrets will stay locked away in the vaults forever.

And the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wanted to talk about recusal in a Vanguard case. Thanks for missing the point on those Alito hearings completely, guys. Bush needed protection at the Supreme Court. That's what the whole thing was about.


Round Two for Reid

The AP's John Solomon is just dying to take down Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. This is actually the second story making shady, vague allegations against him in the last few months. The first one alleged that Reid had multiple contacts with associates of Jack Abramoff, who were lobbying him to stop government regulation of sweatshop practices in the Northern Marianas Islands. That would have been real trouble for Reid, except he voted against the legislation Abramoff's goons wanted him to support, a fact the entire Solomon article left out.

This time he's trying to nab Reid on the basis of boxing tickets:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing.

Again, it'd sound bad if Reid hadn't, again, VOTED AGAINST the Nevada Athletic Commission and supported the legislation creating a federal boxing commission, which would tread on the state commission's authority. This is something that subsequent follow-up stories that recap Solomon's piece totally leave out.

TPM Muckraker's Paul Kiel says this:

Now, Solomon puts all these facts in his piece. So he's not covering up a key piece of information like he did last time. He seems to realize that he doesn't have any real story. So Solomon argues that Reid, out of an abundance of caution, should have paid for the tickets to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

I think Republicans are offered a far more charitable way out of their ethical problems. The burden of proof appears to be on the politicians in one case (to avoid the appearance of impropriety), and on the lobbyists in the other (to prove they bribed their legislators).

This John Solomon guy has a history of this kind of bad journalism. I don't think it's so much him as his editors, who have clearly assigned him to the "find the Democratic corruption to match the Republican corruption" beat.


Back Up To Speed

I spent about 5 hours sitting on tarmacks yesterday getting back West from New Jersey. Still a little groggy, but should pick up the posting later today.


The Jefferson Kabuki

We all know that Republicans are only really good at one thing: getting elected. And while last week's internecine battle between Congress and the Justice Department over the raid of Rep. William Jefferson's Capitol Hill office seemed to be working in direct contrast to that goal, it actually was a great example of how the Republican election machine is still far, far ahead of us. I think we need to discuss how to combat this kabuki theater we're still seeing well into this week, and which we'll continue to see, IMO.

First the Speaker of the House came out and decried the raiding of THE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN'S OFFICE, saying it violated the speech and debate clause of the Constitution. In reaction the White House decided to seal THE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN'S PAPERS until a deal could be reached. Later on, the Attorney General and the FBI Director threatened to resign if they were forced to give THE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN back his papers. Then the Senate Majority Leader appeared to flip-flop on the issue when he decided that the Attorney General acted responsibly when he raided THE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN'S OFFICE, and he claimed that the controversy "has been pretty much put to bed." However, the controversy saw no signs of letting up, as the House held a hearing today on the RAID OF THE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN'S OFFICE to see if it represents, as Rep. Sensenbrenner titled it, "reckless justice."

Now, what is the overriding motif in this series of events?

It seems to me that this is merely a ploy to get Rep. Jefferson's lawbreaking far more days in the news cycle than it would otherwise merit. Sensenbrenner is talking about calling Atty. Gen. Gonzales and FBI Director Mueller up to the Hill for further hearings. There will be court battles. The status of Jefferson's papers is still in question. We're in a 45-day window where the documents are sealed. And all the casual observer hears is that a Democratic Congressman had his office raided and had $90,000 in his freezer (which wasn't in the office, so it's tangential to the issue). Politics being TV with the sound turned off, according to Rove, the only visuals you ever see when this is being discussed on the cable news gabfests is Rep. Jefferson at various news conferences, walking down hallways with cameras in his face, et al.

You have to give them this, they're pretty darn brilliant. All of this "infighting" is a sound and fury signifying nothing. The important thing is that they've made the Jefferson affair a national story lasting weeks and weeks. We all understand that if the Congress were serious about having their authority limited or abrogated they might look into the 750 signing statements that overrode legislation they enacted, or trumping federal statutes against warrantless wiretapping. The Republican leadership in Congress picked this issue to thrust Democratic lawbreaking, which they are trying to put on a balance with their own, into the limelight.

So how do we combat this? It's fairly difficult. Barney Frank's floor speech was a good start:

Madam Speaker, I disagree with the bipartisan House leadership criticism of the FBI's search of a Member's office. I know nothing specifically about the case, except that the uncontroverted public evidence did seem to justify the issuance of a warrant.

What we now have is a Congressional leadership, the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress.

I understand that the speech and debate clause is in the Constitution. It is there because Queen Elizabeth I and King James I were disrespectful of Parliament. It ought to be, in my judgment, construed narrowly. It should not be in any way interpreted as meaning that we as Members of Congress have legal protections superior to those of the average citizen.

So I think it was a grave error to have criticized the FBI. I think what they did, they ought to be able to do in every case where they can get a warrant from a judge. I think, in particular, for the leadership of this House, which has stood idly by while this administration has ignored the rights of citizens, to then say we have special rights as Members of Congress is wholly inappropriate.

But he didn't go quite as far as I would have liked. How about openly questioning what the Republican leadership is afraid of? Now, in truth, they're probably not afraid of anything. They aren't likely to have incriminating materials in their Capitol offices (especially NOW), just as Rep. Jefferson might not have had anything in his (remember, the key piece of evidence, the $90,000, was found at his house). But we have to play this game, and make sure the dog whistle of REPUBLICAN CORRUPTION is just as loud as the whistle of Democratic corruption. I'd like to see Barney Frank say "I'm willing to have the FBI search my office with my consent as long as the Republican leadership does the same. What do they have to hide? Are they concerned that the FBI might find evidence of corrupt practices here in the people's House?"

I think the part of the electorate that doesn't pay attention needs it written real big with bright lines. Skywriting politics, call it. If the other side is writing "corrupt Rep. William Jefferson" everywhere, we have to be willing to do the same. Even if that means putting on some of the Kabuki makeup ourselves.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

On The Media

Jamison Foser writes a long and well-argued indictment of the media. The thesis is generally that the media has accepted narratives and applies them to Democratic and Republican figures, no matter the actuality of the matter. This goes down to even the most trvial and meaningless of stories: Hillary Clinton's discussion of the music on her iPod is necessarily calculating and indicative of poll-testing, while George Bush's iPod choices show his authenticity. Right this second I have that harpie Chris Matthews slobbering over the New York Times' tabloid gossip report about the Clinton's marriage (and as Foser points out, this is a marriage between a 60 year-old quadruple-bypass survivor and his wife. Sexy, huh?). And Foser makes an excellent comparison between the coverage of the complicated Whitewater fake scandal, which went on for years and years and revealed no illegal conduct, and the well-known knowledge that Bush, with foreknowledge, sold 200,000 shares of Harken Energy stock right before it tanked, which has rated all of 26 words in the Washington Post.

It's very important to recognize these pre-made narratives and fight against them. Foser focuses on how the media grafts sterotypical personalities of the two parties onto all their public figues. Republicans are "authentic" men of the people, while Democrats are fake, dishonest, and out of step with regular Americans. Republicans are champions of the military despite the fact that none of them served, Democrats hate the military, and anyway the ones that served fake their war wounds. (by the way, Big John, couldn't you have done this in September 2004?)

I think you can actually go further. I remember David Sirota saying last week that, on economic terms, the media is deeply conservative. And this is true. When's the last time you've heard anyone in the media outside of the Nation magazine challenge the precepts of globalization and free trade? This story, the biggest blow job I've ever seen on the front page of a respected national newspaper, might as well have been written by the World Bank. It's a sunny depiction of how great the global economy is, which of course you can say when you ignore the practical slavery employed by Chinese manufacturers. Nobody tries to shake out how low costs undermine labor security everywhere, how we pay for $5 T-shirts in the sweat and sorrow of workers around the world. The media tracks in knowledge, so of course they don't understand (and don't want to understand) the interconnected nature of the global economy.

I think we just have to accept that the media whores and the chattering class are going to bloviate away and continue using these frames and narratives. That's where we come in, pointing out their focus on the meaningless issues and not the issues facing the country. I think that which each passing story the media announces their irrelevance (even when they're talking about bloggers; this is a dumb story that attempts to marginalize the competition). We'll be here to pick up the slack and crash the gate.