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

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Games, Pt. II

The childish Republicans' little gambit worked in the House, but it'll die in the Senate, and the whole thing will accomplish nothing for anyone at all. Except worried Republican incumbents who can now dishonestly say "I voted to increase the minimum wage" without mentioning they tied it to Paris Hilton's tax cut.

The first, the VERY first, order of business in a Democratic Congress must be this: a law specifically banning combining disparate bills. Call it the Poison Pill Act. A tax bill cannot be combined with a wage hike bill. A defense measure cannot be combined with an ANWR bill. The Republicans keep doing this over and over again, the whole world knows it's dishonest, and it keeps the Congress from doing the people's business.

I almost think you could run on the Poison Pill Act in the fall if you could explain to Americans what it means.


Go Back To Shopping, America

There's a story on the front page of today's LA Times that demonstrates perfectly the precarious ledge on which the US economy is built. So much so that newspapers feel pressured to devote valuable space to what amounts to corporate propaganda. Here's the headline of the article:

Spending Less? You're Helping Slow the Economy

That's right, America! If you aren't buying that 57th pair of sandals at Nordstrom, the terrorists have already won! I am proud to say that in my 33 years I have been fortunate to have not generated one penny of self-created debt. For that reason, I'm apparently a disloyal American who's ruining the economy and taking food from babies.

Every paragraph in the article serves to hammer home the point that anything that helps average Americans get by is a net negative, and anything that keeps them in debt up to their eyeballs is a net positive. Seriously, here's the lede:

Conserving her family's cash as costs rise, Riverside resident Laureen Pittman is postponing vacations, home repairs and other big purchases. For necessities, she is increasingly relying on discount retailers, shopping at Costco instead of Ralphs and Marshalls instead of Nordstrom.

Belt-tightening by consumers like Pittman is a key reason the U.S. economy is slowing. Inflation-adjusted economic growth fell to a surprisingly sluggish 2.5% in the second quarter from 5.6% in the previous three months, largely because of slower consumer spending, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Bad consumer! Bad bad bad! Saving money and only spending on necessities? What will we tell the children?

It's not like she's cutting back out of spite for corporate executives who might not be able to get a companion yacht if she keeps this up. This and so many other middle- and low-income workers are hampered by record gas prices, skyrocketing health care and wages which have remained relatively stagnant throughout the Bush Presidency (until the last quarter or two, which the article unequivocally states as a bad thing).

This necessary cutbacks brutally illustrates the massive Ponzi scheme upon which the US economy is built. This is what happens when you throw out the entire manufacturing base of a country and rely on conspicuous consumption, and advertising that fools the gullible into desiring what they don't need, as the only viable engine for expansion. Did you know that there's a DIRECT correlation between consumer spending and economic growth in this country, more than ever before? Check the numbers.

Consumer spending grew by only 2.5% in the second quarter, down from 4.8% in the first quarter, mostly reflecting declining purchases of big-ticket items such as autos, according to the Commerce Department report Friday.

So first-quarter consumer spending was 4.8% higher, and the economy grew at 5.6% (I think that's been revised downward, too). Second-quarter spending "shrunk" to 2.5% more than the previous quarter, and the expansion "shrunk" at the same rate.

That's because consumer spending accounts for TWO-THIRDS of economic growth. This is why you see that spate of articles every Christmas about how retailers are really hoping everyone's been nice instead of naughty, and that holiday shopping will make or break their year. That's what we've come to as the most powerful country on Earth? Our life and death is related on whether or not I get my mailman a cardigan sweater? Does anyone else see how incredibly DANGEROUS that is?

In such an environment, the corporatists who increasingly run this government DEMAND that consumers remain in debt to finance their perpetual expansion. Look for the slant in this set of paragraphs from the article:

Consumers — accustomed in recent years to spending more than they earn, saving little and tapping home equity to pay the bills — have clearly been hit by $3-plus gasoline prices. Whether that and other worries prompt consumers to scale back even more will largely determine whether the economy can maintain a slower but steady "soft landing" or veer toward recession, economists say [...]

The cooling housing market does present a risk, and may be undercutting overall consumer spending as fewer people count on rising home equity to finance trips to the mall.

"People were selling part of their house to finance dinner at Olive Garden," said Dirk van Dijk, director of research at Chicago-based Zacks Investment Research. "You can play that game as long as the price of housing is going up. You take that away and it becomes a scary proposition."

See, if you aren't taking out a second mortgage or a home equity loan so you can EAT, we're in big trouble, capiche? This is an economy that REWARDS fiscal irresponsibility and scorns any attempt to get one's financial house in order. The lack of a manufacturing base and the conversion to a service-only economy, combined with stockholder zeal for permanent unsustainable growth, has put us in this position. We are literally being held up by corporate America every day. "Buy something or the economy will tank and you'll lose your job!" Who the FUCK decided it'd be a good idea to put the entire country on the same path of overextended credit that preceded the Great Depression? The corporations getting rich from it, that's who. And business law being what it is, they'd skate to safety if there were any major financial collapse.

Incredibly, the article then tries to paint globalization, the root cause of this mess, as the SAVIOR:

But today's consumers — whose spending accounts for two-thirds of growth — are increasingly resilient, able to maintain their standard of living thanks to the global economy, experts say. Such globalization has a dual effect: Although cheap labor abroad suppresses wages, it also provides consumers with low-cost goods, keeping U.S. inflation down.

"Without that international globalization, the consumer would probably be hit with an even bigger squeeze between income and outcome," said Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, a New York business research organization.

See, nobody's making any money, but the good news is that you can get a six-pack of tube socks made in Taiwan for $1.99! Oh, and buy something else while you're at it, please. Because we NEED to make the Wall Street earnings number.

What kind of convoluted logic suggests that a system which keeps wages down, which hampers innovation because it disallows any entrepreneur to keep a factory in this country, which turns workers abroad into slaves for manufacturers and turns workers here at home into slaves for department stores, what kind of logic suggests that's a POSITIVE? Only one that has a poverty of imagination, that thinks all Americans care about are those $1.99 tube socks, and not re-imagining ways to lift our least successful out of poverty by breaking this paradigm of "free trade" that isn't free for anyone but the very rich.

Then there's this whopper:

Consumers also are protected by a more stable job market. Employers are trying to increase efficiency with more technology and fewer new hires than in past expansions, leading to fewer job cutbacks.

Any recession now is likely to be milder than those in the past, because many manufacturing jobs — once the most volatile part of the economy — have been outsourced, removing the possibility of massive layoffs that sparked severe recessions, said Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

Yeah, because in the event of an economic slowdown, employers in America would never think to cut jobs. It's not like in 2001 and 2002 we lost millions of jobs from a recession or anything, years after globalization and free trade agreements were in place. Notice the little reversal that layoffs cause recessions and not vice-versa?

The entire economy is being propped up on the backs of consumers instead of business. That's not sustainable in the long term. Sooner or later, through education or high prices beyond the control of the $1.99 tube sock people, people will stop buying everything they see. They'll stop spending money they don't have. And if the stability of the country relies on the opposite, we've got a serious, serious problem that will not be able to be managed.


Friday, July 28, 2006


I love it when the majority party in power of the wealthiest, most developed country on Earth decides to play games with poor people.

Republican leaders are willing to allow the first minimum wage increase in a decade but only if it's coupled with a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates, lawmakers said Friday.

As the House pointed toward a session stretching past midnight, it was anything but certain that the plan would work. In fact, the move seemed unlikely to result in a hike in the minimum wage, which has been frozen at $5.15 per hour for a decade.

Republicans hoped to put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of voting against the minimum wage increase and the estate tax cut — and an accompanying bipartisan package of popular tax breaks, including a research and development credit for businesses and deductions for college tuition and state sales taxes.

But there was GOP discontent, too. Some conservative in the House were unhappy about the minimum wage vote while moderates in the party were restive about it being tied to cuts in the estate tax.

These are silly little games, only they have real consequences that affect people's lives. To someone making $5 an hour, it's the difference between food and medicine, between a place to live that's safe and one in a slum. To Paris Hilton, it means she can afford that second jet.

And it's completely pointless, since the bill would never even get to the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged to kill the hybrid minimum wage/tax cut bill if it got to the Senate.

"The Senate has rejected fiscally irresponsible estate tax giveaways before and will reject them again," Reid said. "Blackmailing working families will not change that outcome."

This is so Republicans, scared to death over losing the House, can make campaign ads saying "Democrats voted against the minimum wage!" It's stupid politics to hold poor people up for an honest day's pay so that Paris Hilton can get her tax cut. I didn't see any strings attached to legislative pay raises. This is about as ugly as it gets on the floor of what was once the People's House.

All the more reason to sweep all of these cynical bastards out in November.


"I Can't Believe I'm Losing To This Guy."

That was Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis in the classic SNL 1988 debate. And looking at this current crop of Republicans running for office, I'm tempted to say the same thing, with the caveat that I don't expect to lose to most of them.

Take Montana, where Conrad Burns kicked off his tough Senate race against Jon Tester by deciding to yell at firefighters, a gaffe which will surely get him on Harry Shearer's "Apology of the Week" list:

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns pointed across the Billings airport Sunday and accused a member of an elite firefighting team of not doing “a God damned thing’’ and charged that crew members just “sit around’’ on the job, the original version of a state report said [...]

On Thursday night, Burns, a Republican facing a stiff re-election challenge this year, issued a written apology for his comments. He said he shouldn’t have criticized the hard-working firefighters for how the fires were handled.

Burns was at the Billings airport Sunday and approached some members of the Augusta (Va.) Hot Shots, who were also waiting to catch a plane. In what the report called “an altercation,’’ Burns told them they had done “a poor job’’ fighting the 92,000-acre blaze near Billings and should have listened to the concerns of local ranchers [...]

Rosenthal’s original report of the incident recounted how Burns pointed to a member of the Augusta Hot Shots crew across the airport waiting area and telling her:

“See that guy over there? He hasn’t done a God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in northwestern Montana some years ago. It’s wasteful. You probably paid that guy $10,000 to sit around. It’s gotta change.’’

Rosenthal wrote in both versions: “I offered to the senator that our firefighters make around $8-$12 per hour and time-and-a-half for overtime. He seemed a little surprised that it wasn’t higher.’’

These are the same group of freelance firefighters, the Augusta Hot Shots, that worked at Ground Zero after 9/11, and have been sent out 35 times since then. What politician in his right mind criticizes first responders, and incorrectly calls them bunch of lazy fat cats?

I can't believe we're losing to this guy. Because we aren't. Support Jon Tester.

Then there's Senate candidate Michael Steele from Maryland, seen as a rising star in GOP politics, who thought it'd be a great idea to give an interview to a large group of reporters that essentially ripped his party and called his political affiliation a scarlet "R". The column this tirade generated was unsourced, but Steele eventually owned up to it, then backtracked by calling Bush his homeboy and contradicting his earlier statement that he wouldn't want Bush campaigning with him. Then he claimed that the interview was supposed to be off the record (as if that makes it all better), but it turns out even that is a complete lie, and there's an email trail to prove it:

From: "Doug Heye" To: "Dana Milbank" cc: Subject: RE: Reconsider? 07/24/2006 03:38 PM
Won't waste your time, and know deadlines are tight.

I'd probably be fine with those you sent, but since it was a backgrounder, if there are specific quotes you'd like to use, can you email them to me so I could sign off?

I can hold off on signing off for other press for the time being, as well.

In other words, the Steele campaign SPECIFICALLY signed off on quotes for the Milbank article, and now Steele claims the entire interview is off the record.

I can't believe we're losing to this guy. Because we aren't. Support Ben Cardin or Kweisi Mfume. (disclosure: I'm probably more on Cardin's team at this point, though I don't really have a dog in the fight. The primary is in September.)

Then there's total nutcase Curt Weldon, who has done so many crazy things, from pinning medals on Moammar Gadhafi (before we reconciled with Libya, by the way), to wanting to personally supervise a dig for suspected Iraqi WMD without telling the Pentagon, to having family members hired by government contractors whose bills he advances, to criticizing his opponent for the Congress for finding proper medical care for his daughter. No kidding, look at this:

Sitting in the oncology ward at Children’s National Medical Center on Jan. 19, retired Adm. Joe Sestak and his wife, Susan, awaited the doctors’ verdict about the condition of their 5-year-old daughter, Alexandra.

She had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last summer and given three to nine months to live. The Sestaks lived for four months in the ward. They watched as their daughter survived three surgeries, and as she endured chemotherapy.

But that winter day, doctors told the Sestaks that Alexandra had done remarkably well and that, although the cancer could reemerge, she could resume living like a healthy girl.


Weldon attacked Sestak’s decision to continue owning a home in Virginia while only renting in Pennsylvania and questioned why Sestak did not move back to Pennsylvania when he was working at the Pentagon. Weldon commutes from Pennsylvania each day.

Weldon also suggested Sestak should have sent his daughter to a hospital in Philadelphia or Delaware, rather than the Washington hospital. Sestak said that as soon as doctors give his daughter the all-clear, he’ll buy in Pennsylvania...

If you're Curt Weldon, you see a little girl with a malignant brain tumor and think, "Campaign opportunity!"

I can't believe we're losing to this guy. Because we're not. Support Joe Sestak for Congress.

The Republican crop of candidates this year is noticeably weaker than in recent years, the Democratic crop is pretty strong; and considering that at the end of the day, you vote for candidates, I think our chances are pretty good to make some gains. As I said yesterday, the key is going to be the tangible changes Democrats can make once they get in, to reverse the pessimism taking over the country. But stopping Burns, Steele and Weldon is like shooting fish in a barrel.

P.S. Check this out:

The DCCC's ad man is pretty solid this cycle.


Saving Face

So NOW the President needs a cease-fire and an international force. And suddenly the UN is relevant again. This comes a day after what appeared to be an open call for war with Iran because of their connection to Hezbollah.

Regarding a Middle East policy, is there any "there" there?

Could this all be because the Arab world is completely inflamed and we gotta keep those oil pumps a'flowin'?

Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.

An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.

The Saudis and Jordanians are being forced to respond to their population. When you lose them, forget it. Having Saudi Arabia and Syria (remember when) in the 1991 Gulf War coalition made that action a success. Now we can't even keep our actual allies together, as the Rome cease-fire talks proved. And instead of bending the world to our will, we're being forced to go along with the prevailing opinion.

Anytime you lead off with "a new Middle East" that's going to rattle everyone in power in the old Middle East. And any time you hold out for a "sustainable cease-fire" you admit that you couldn't care less about those dying today. So the strategy is to hold the entire Middle East in utter comtempt and once again force democracy through the barrel of a gun. See Iraq for how that ends up working.

Whatever happened to speaking softly and carrying a big stick? The threat of violence is often more effective than the violence itself. Haaretz has the article I've basically been writing over and over again about Ehud Olmert:

The security policy-making process is in fact the domain of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment. In the absence of non-IDF national security planning bodies, the major part of the planning - not only operational and tactical planning but also strategic and political planning - is done within the army.

The result is that military considerations have often become more dominant than political ones. Thus, Israel's foreign policies have come to be based on an essentially belligerent perception that favors military considerations over diplomatic ones. Violence is seen not only as a legitimate instrument in international affairs, but almost as the only means that can bring positive results.

As a result, the chief of staff in Israel is afforded power that exceeds that of his counterparts in other Western armies. He is the one to decide on the policy recommendations that will be presented to the prime minister and his ministers. This, of course, gives him great political power [...]

The current events followed the exact same pattern. The abduction of the soldiers in the north gave rise to a need "to do something." The prime minister and his government had only army assessments, intelligence the army presented to them, and the ready war plans before them. In fact, they had no other alternative but to approve what the IDF suggested for there is no other body or mechanism that can come up with suggestions for a policy in Lebanon.

Olmert didn't drive this policy, the generals who wanted to play with their shiny new toys did. That dynamic has been playing out ever since WWII in this country. When the military is nominally in charge, every solution is necessarily a military solution. Until the solution fails. THEN it's time for diplomacy.


Lighten Up

Please tell me why Congressman Robert Wexler is in trouble for playing along with a joke on The Colbert Report? How out of touch do you have to be not to understand that Wexler was not actually being serious when he said "I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do?"

The answer is that he's not in trouble. There's no downside for Wexler, despite the tut-tutting of the clueless pundit class. He now looks cool to an entire class of voters.

And why in God's name is Nancy Pelosi requesting that her caucus not appear on Colbert's "Better Know A District" segment? "Why would anybody go on there," she said. I don't know, Nanc, maybe because they want to be on the only entertainment program in America that will feature members of the House of Representatives? The only program that has a substantially young audience that talks about politics? If I was a staffer I'd ask my Representative to be on The Colbert Report nightly.

By the way, Colbert gave the perfect response to the criticism, and was clearly so agitated by the idiot news media trying to make an issue out of this that he actually stepped out of his character to do it. It's a sad commentary that you can get more news from a night on Comedy Central than a week of morning "news" shows.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Politics of Calling Someone a Racist

I don't think this weird strategy by Howard Dean and others, condemning the Iraqi Prime Minister for his failure to condemn Hezbollah and give a wet kiss to Israel, makes for great politics. But it does certainly put Republicans in a bit of a box, as Roy Edroso explains:

Since the start of the World War Whatever: Return to Lebanon, conservative bloggers have been busting leftist chops over their less-than-total-and-unqualified support of Israel -- often in the "I don't think criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, but..." manner. In fact, Althouse herself was giving the folks at Daily Kos a hard time about that just a few days ago.

Now our Government brings in for a speech to Congress Nouri al-Maliki, the PM of our other best friends in the Middle East, and al-Maliki says not one word about how much he supports the plucky little Israelis -- certainly because he doesn't support them, and because our Government let him get away with it. (I'd love to have seen those negotitations: "And we would like you to express your support for Israel." "Those pig-dogs of monkeys, may they rot in hell!" "Okay -- how about you just don't say anything about Israel?")

Our second ally in the region won't speak up for our first, and suddenly the "Say it, say you love Israel!" routine these guys have been pulling stateside is suspended, and they're all cool with nuance and realism. The Ole Perfesser shrugs: at least al-Maliki's not Kofi Annan! Even She-Wolf Michelle Malkin has nothing to say about al-Maliki's lack of Israel ardor, saving her rage for the "Hugo Chavez groupie" who heckled him.

These guys have been having it both ways for so long that simple logical connections no longer even occur to them. The punchline is, many of them are law professors.

You do have to wonder how a war that supposedly would make Israel safer is achieving that objective when the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament calls the US invasion a pure Zionist agenda. And the answer I'd expect from them, "Because democracies don't go to war," makes little sense when you consider that WE are supposed to be a democracy.

Or maybe they're just tipping their hand.

Let me make clear, however, that I don't see what purpose it serves calling Prime Minister Maliki an anti-Semite. Especially when he's a Semite.

Did the DNC get some internal poll about losing the Jewish community or something? I'm not seeing the strategy. Although, it's fun to see the Republicans try to play the free speech and tolerance card.


New Sponsor

If you look just beyond the blogroll you'll see a clickable ad for my friend Tommy's T-shirt company, Wicked Mint. Not only are they high-quality and fairly amusing T-shirts, but Tommy is generally a misanthropic and cyncial bastard, and I'm hoping that some success in the garment industry will brighten his outlook. So click through and buy yourself a T, won't you? All the kool kids are doing it.

Full disclosure, I get some miniscule percentage if you buy something.


Wait Until Dark

Before you decide to get it on in a car. This goes double if you're the 81 year-old father of Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

Hey, it is a pro-growth policy, I'll give him that.


In Over Their Heads

Ehud Olmert is in big trouble if he thinks that the current offensive in Lebanon is "meeting the goals" of Israel. Air wars cannot defeat a guerrilla group, especially if those air strikes are targeted at the civilian population instead of the guerrillas themselves. I know that Hezbollah allegedly hides among the civilian population, but at the same time, hitting trucks full of medical and food supplies and longstanding UN bases (which was under fire for a week, according to one of the dead Canadian soldiers), while leaving alone known weapons caches in Tyre reflects nothing but bad strategy. On Day One of this war Hezbollah launched 120 rockets into Israel. After two weeks of shelling, yesterday they launched 130. Yesterday was the heaviest day of fighting yet. At least 500 are dead.

It's time to look seriously at what Israel thinks they're accomplishing by this. I don't believe Olmert has a clue what to do. Israel fought for 18 years on the same strip of land, house to house, on the ground, and couldn't beat Hezbollah. Now they bomb a bunch of unrelated targets for a couple weeks and send in 50 soldiers and they expect to win?

Digby writes about the lack of US involvement, and how it has once again harmed our status in the world at a time when it could have been a great boost:

The situation in Lebanon requires American leadership and we have failed miserably to provide it. The various players are engaged in a struggle in which minimizing loss of life and face saving kabuki may be the best we can hope for at any given time. The megalomaniacal belief that if only the Israelis are allowed to "get tough" or the Americans "take it to the Iranians" or whatever other simplistic schoolyard impulses they have been operating under have led us to the point at which the US is taking on the character of a rogue superpower, not a global leader.

I maintain that the players in the mid-east expected the US to exercize its power wisely and the American failure to fulfill its obligation has led to confusion, overreach and miscalculation. This is not surprising. The bumbling, hallucinatory nature of this administration's foreign policy has been manifest for some time now, but it's still hard to wrap your mind around the fact that the most powerful country in the world is being led so incompetently that it simply cannot rise to the occasion when the stakes are so high. I confess that I'm still shocked by that myself, although less so each time we are confronted with a challenge and these neocon magical thinkers automatically default to bellicose trash talk they are unable to back up.

And now that the leader of Israel apparently is poised to make Lebanon into an analogue of our situation in Iraq, the neocons look even stupider, because they're enabling a war that's doing nothing but killing civilians and angering hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and millions in the Arab world. I wish we'd stop getting tough and start getting smart.



Are the Iraqi courts pursuing ANY other trials other than the Saddam one?

With thousands killed, one would assume they'd capture at least a few insurgents before the fact. Is it a justice-for-one state?

And do they need 3 months to come up with a verdict in the Saddam trial? Or is that just accidentally timed to coincide with the fall elections?


The Worst Poll You'll Read All Year

I too am very encouraged by the NPR poll showing major advantages for Democrats in the upcoming midterms, and you'd be even more encouraged if you listen to Mara Liasson's story. But a different poll, conducted by NBC/WSJ, and available here, confirms all the assumptions I made in my post The Era of Low Expectations.

See, people have no faith in anything anymore. Pessimism is on an astounding rise. And in that environment, we may win in November, but ultimately we'll lose.

Here are the findings of the poll.

With congressional midterm elections less than four months away, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that candidates will be facing a public that has grown increasingly pessimistic, as nearly two-thirds don't believe life for their children's generation will be better than it has been for them, and nearly 60 percent are doubtful the Iraq war will come to a successful conclusion.

And there's more pessimism: Among those who believe the nation is headed on the wrong track, more than 80 percent say it's part of a longer-term decline.

"This is just a horrendous set of numbers," says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican Bill McInturff. The mood is "as dank and depressing as I have seen."

According to the poll, 65 percent say they feel less confident that life for their children's generation will be better than it was for them. In December 2001, the last time this question was asked, respondents — by a 49-42 percent margin — said they were confident life would be better for their children.

The national mood is MORE depressed than it was three months after 9/11.

Now, with Republicans in charge, you'd assume that this was a good thing. And the pollsters would agree with you:

And this isn't good news for Bush and the Republican Party, say the pollsters who conducted this survey, because it means that — outside of an extraordinary event — the political environment is pretty much locked in as we head into the November elections.

"I feel like Republicans are in a barrel and headed toward Niagara Falls," says Hart. "It's ... a python-like grip in terms of a negative mood. This is wrapped pretty tight."

Well, I think you'd be wrong. It's clear to me that people have a sense of learned helplessness, believing that government is simply unable to solve the pressing problems facing the nation, and individuals are unable to pull themselves out of the mess either.

That's EXACTLY what Republicans want you to think. When government doesn't work, it buttresses the argument that there shouldn't be as much government. It allows our leaders to do less, not more, and continue to foster the YOYO (You're On Your Own) philosophy that is at the core of conservatism. They WANT alienation and frustration. First of all, it's likely to mean less people at the polls, if nobody believes their choice makes any kind of difference. Second of all, it relieves any pressure to actually accomplish anything for people, since there's no assumption that it's even possible to do so. Third, it removes oversight from the venal and corrupt Congressional payoff machine, as their day-to-day activities slowly become irrelevant and under no scrutiny.

We cannot continue as a society like this. This poll tells me that whatever gains the Democrats make will be predicated on how not-Republican we are, instead of how Democratic we are. And that's a stopgap measure. The more nervous Democratic strategists, like the Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas, are pessimistic about our chances in November. After reading this poll, I have to go further than him and say that at this moment, I'm pessimistic about our chances long-term, since the national mood offers no hope for inspiration, which Democrats desperately need. Strike that, which PEOPLE desperately need. We're walking around like zombies, angry about the state of affairs but with no expectations that the world's problems can be fixed. We expect nothing of our leaders, nothing of our institutions, and nothing of ourselves.

However, I think this all can turn around. And it's up to every one of us.

It's incumbent upon everyone with a stake in the future of the planet, and that pretty much covers everyone, to understand that THESE PROBLEMS CAN BE FIXED. Don't think so?

Yesterday San Francisco approved universal health care coverage for everyone within its city limits. It has a few legal hurdles, and I'm sure 100 people would have 100 opinions about its revenue structure and quality of coverage, but it's going to happen, and it's an incredibly positive step. This can be a model for the nation, and we can do this in every municipality, in every state, and at the federal level.

The Chicago City Council approved a living wage law for big-box stores that do business in their city. That's almost unprecedented. And it's common sense. Add this to Wal-Mart's efforts to go green, investing half a billion dollars in sustainability projects, and you see that people power CAN make a difference.

I'm not surprised that so many of these victories are happening at the state and local level. But it's bubbling up to the federal level as well. The House hasn't had a vote on the minimum wage in a decade. Until this year, with a bill that the Republican Whip calls a "will-pass" measure.

You can grouse and complain and despair and feel like nothing can ever change. Believe me, I do it every day. I'm about as cynical about the world as anyone. But that doesn't mean that another world isn't possible. Government can absolutely provide for its citizens. It can absolutely respond to its citizens' needs. It can absolutely be a lever to technological innovation and societal progress. When you start to believe that it's hopeless, progress can never win. Republicans thrive in such an environment, since they're contemptuous of government anyway. They'd rather reward one another under cover of darkness without having to provide services or even an explanation to the public at large. We cannot fall into this trap.

Sure, Republicans will try to block all these things. They'll play to the national pessimism and claim "it can't be done," but when you start delivering on promises, that negativity will melt away. Today's online progressive bloggers are fond of saying that they're all about winning. I'm not. I'm all about making government work for people, because when you do that, you won't just win the next election, but you'll have a permanent and lasting majority that will change the society for the better.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Operation Contradiction

I've gotten to the point where I've read so much about the Israel-Hezbollah situation, and events on the ground are so fluid, that I'm having a hard time making sense of what's happening. Or maybe the media is just breathlessly reporting new news without understanding the sequence of events.

First I read that Palestine has agreed to a deal to release their hostage and stop rocket attacks in exchange for future prisoner releases from Israel. But there's some fine print:

The deal, agreed on Sunday, is to halt the rocket attacks in return for a cessation of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured on June 25, in exchange for the freeing of Palestinian prisoners at some point in the future.

An adviser to Mr Abbas told the Guardian that all Palestinian politicians were united on the need to free the Israeli soldier and stop all violence in Gaza, but the obstacles were the Israeli government and the Hamas leadership in Damascus.

"The problem is that both Islamic Jihad and Hamas have to seek the advice of their political bureaux in Damascus and we are waiting for their response," he said.

So there's a deal in place, only the Israeli government hasn't agreed, and Hamas (the Palestinian government, at least in Parliament) hasn't agreed. Maybe that non-deal deal is why 23 died in Gaza today. The incursions into Gaza are being overshadowed by the Lebanese war, but they are ongoing.

Similarly, I read in one paper that Hezbollah is ready to move into the "post-Haifa phase" of combat, targeting cities further into Israel, and yet at the same time I read that another Hezbollah leader is surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli repsonse. One is a confident tone, the other not so much. That probably reflects the full range of opinion in the organization, actually. I don't know that Hezbollah expected this, and I don't know that their leader Nasrallah even courted this. It feels like a few radicals within the organization free-lanced this one, and Hezbollah had no choice but to back them up.

The fighting is clearly intensifying, as the international conference on Lebanon failed to broker a deal, and 9 Israeli troops died trying to take a town that the IDF claimed to have taken on Monday. Then there was this confusion.

There's much discussion of putting a multinational, NATO-led force in southern Lebanon as part of a ceasefire agreement in the Israel-Lebanon conflict, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, according to a story in the Washington Post, has said that she does "not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces . . . are expected for that force." However, a well-connected former CIA officer has told me that the Bush Administration is in fact considering exactly such a deployment.

Good thing we're not involved in any other conflicts and have the troops to spare to the effort. And good thing we're not already seen as an occupier anywhere else in the Middle East, wouldn't want to give the wrong impression.

Perhaps the best source of news I've read today comes from this anecdotal account from the great Billmon:

My friend is an old Middle East hand who has some good sources on the Israeli side, mostly ex-military and ex-Mossad, plus some contacts among the Bush I realist crowd -- although of course they're not in government any more either.

He didn't have any secret dope on what the next military or diplomatic moves will be -- it seems to be purely day-to-day now -- but he DID get a clear sense that the Americans and the Israelis both understand now that they are in serious danger of losing the war.

They're freaking out about this, of course, because they're deathly afraid that if Israel is seen to fail, and fail badly, against Hizbullah, everybody and their Palestinian uncle will get it into their heads that they can take a crack at the Zionist entity. (The tough guy realists see this as a disaster in its own right; the "cry and shoot" gang frets the IDF will have to pound the West Bank and Gaza even harder to re-establish the balance of terror. Either way, it's an unacceptable outcome.)

Plan B, then, is to try to "make something happen" on the ground -- although what, exactly, isn't clear. Today it was killing a low-level Hizbullah leader (in a border village they supposedly secured three days ago) and pumping him up as a big catch (shades of Zarqawi's 28,000 "lieutenants".) Tomorrow it will be something else -- maybe the capture of the "terror capital" of south Lebanon, beautiful downtown Bint Jbeil.

But, of course, I'm getting the impression from reading between the lines of the official propaganda that the IDF is struggling just to produce these little symbolic victories -- they seem to be "securing" the same objectives over and over again. So my guess is that the internal debate will now turn to how many more divisions to commit to the battle, how far north to push, etc. My friend can't tell, nor can I, if the primary objective is still to smash the hell out of Hizbullah, or whether the Israelis are just looking to save a little face.

I think it's premature to talk about losing a war that's barely begun. But I've no doubt that the PERCEPTION could be there among a certain paranoiac element in the IDF or our government (which needs lots and lots of victories to counteract the negatives). At any rate, this mentality of losing - more than losing itself, whatever losing would mean in such a conflict - could be the worst thing that could happen for the future of Israel.



A reminder that we'll be having another great edition of Cut and Run Comedy tonight, so if you're in the SoCal area, please do stop by:


Pin the Tail on the Condi

Via First Draft, I see that the neocons are so desperate to assign someone else the blame for the mess they've made of the world that they're offering up one of their own:

Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration’s national security and foreign policy agenda.

The conservatives, who include Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle and leading current and former members of the Pentagon and National Security Council, have urged the president to transfer Miss Rice out of the State Department and to an advisory role. They said Miss Rice, stemming from her lack of understanding of the Middle East, has misled the president on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"The president has yet to understand that people make policy and not the other way around," a senior national security policy analyst said. "Unlike [former Secretary of State Colin] Powell, Condi is loyal to the president. She is just incompetent on most foreign policy issues."

The criticism of Miss Rice has been intense and comes from a range of Republican loyalists, including current and former aides in the Defense Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. They have warned that Iran has been exploiting Miss Rice's inexperience and incompetence to accelerate its nuclear weapons program. They expect a collapse of her policy over the next few months.

You mean they hope and pray for a collapse of "her policy." They're somehow trying to pin the foreign policy disaster of this Administration, which they wrote themselves almost a decade ago, on the new girl. The point is that these guys need a scapegoat, and badly. Add to that the fact that the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Perle cabal don't believe in any of the core missions of the diplomatic arm of international relations.
I mean, if it were up to them, there wouldn't be a Department of State. So whoever's manning that portfolio is a prime candidate to get the ax.

It's uncomfortable for me to be put in any position defending Condi Rice; Lord knows she doesn't deserve it. But the war patrol agitating for unilateralism and no discussion on the international stage are ignoring how we got here. We invaded a country under false pretenses and did nothing but start a civil war (which some of these jokers see as a good thing, since at least the Sunnis and Shiites aren't fighting us anymore. Classy.) 100 Iraqis are dying every day from sectarian violence, and the GOP is so spooked even they don't want to talk about how there's "good news" anymore. The President himself admitted that the violence is "still terrible" 3-plus years after the invasion. Our military is so baffled as to what to do about this that they're being ordered to kill all military-aged males during raids. That's the strategy now; Kill 'em all and let Allah sort 'em out. Officials in the Iraqi government see a partition as all but inevitable and say things like "Iraq as a political project is finished." The White House won't even do a National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq because they're so deathly afraid of what they'll find (although the Democrats aren't letting them off the hook on that one).

All of these nightmares came out of a fundamental belief in projecting American power by attacking with force in the region, whether the subject of the attack was an imminent threat or not. The idea was to knock down and defeat an enemy to show the rest of the world the consequences for getting on the bad side of the United States. It's really as simple as that. This sustains the war machine, the military-industrial complex, and it allows the US to grow their power in an imperial sense but without the trappings of imperialism in the past. In other words, the world's financial and economic structures like the World Bank (headed by Wolfowitz) can come in and open markets and make these countries safe for multinational investment and exploitation. Oh, there will be permanent bases too; the better to prepare for strikes at other countries we feel the need to bully. But really, this is about economic colonization.

How did Condoleezza Rice have anything to do with that? This is the neocon project writ large. The notion that American foreign policy has somehow changed since she went to State is not true. We paid lip service to diplomacy before; we're doing it again. We didn't speak to Syria before; we're still not speaking (actually we were more cooperative in the past, when we rendered detainees there). We have the same awful position on North Korea. We have the same hardline position on Iran, despite their having offered a deal in 2003 that looks substantially like the deal offered now. We had unqualified support for Israel then; same now.

The only thing that's changed is that these neocon experiments aren't working. North Korea was plenty belligerent in the years leading up to their missile launch and we did nothing, offering them incentives since we knew they had the goods. Now, suddenly Newt Gingrich thinks we're screwing up and it's the Secretary of State who's to blame:

"We are sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

"Condi was sent to rein in the State Department," a senior Republican congressional staffer said. "Instead, she was reined in."

Mr. Gingrich agrees and said Miss Rice's inexperience and lack of resolve were demonstrated in the aftermath of the North Korean launch of seven short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles in July. He suggested that Miss Rice was a key factor in the lack of a firm U.S. response.

"North Korea firing missiles," Mr. Gingrich said. "You say there will be consequences. There are none. We are in the early stages of World War III. Our bureaucracies are not responding fast enough. We don't have the right attitude."

Really, Kim Jong-Il NEVER criticized the US until Condi Rice got to Foggy Bottom? Nonsense. The US strategy since the beginning of the Bush Administration has always been six-party talks. This is not a new development. It's not a hijacked policy. It's an old, bad development that recognized our trepidation with ACTUAL threats while we took care of PERCEIVED ones.

The neocon failures of the last 50 years should not be allowed to be shuffled off onto one person, no matter how incompetent he or she is. This is the standard policy of jettisoning the individuals to save the movement. "True conservatism isn't dead, it's just never been tried." That's simply untrue, and this "Blame Condi" gambit ought to be challenged.



The President's veto of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research did nothing but increase funding for the same research at the state level:

Two governors have seized the political moment to up their ante for stem cell research: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican who helped Bush win a second term but has long disagreed with him on stem cell research, cited the veto as he lent $150 million from the state's general fund for grants to stem cell scientists. At the same time, Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, a Democrat opposed to most every White House initiative, offered $5 million for similar grants in that state.

Together, the twin moves dwarf the $72 million five states had allocated for the research as well as the $90 million the National Institutes of Health had provided since 2001 for work on a restricted number of stem cell lines.

Several other governors, including at least one Republican, Jodi Rell of Connecticut, raced to denounce the president's first veto in a sign of the political potency of the stem-cell debate [...]

The California and Illinois initiatives continue the patchwork pattern of public funding for stem-cell research since Bush announced his policy restricting how federal money could be used in the arena in 2001.

More than 100 bills have been considered over the past two years by dozens of state legislatures, with one, South Dakota, banning such research altogether, and five - California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey - allocating state resources to the effort. Others, like Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts and Indiana, have taken steps to support stem-cell science without directly funding research, while Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia have formed groups to study their state's role in the emerging field.

...and it's led the rest of the world to seize the opportunity:

The European Union agreed Monday to finance human stem cell research, bypassing fierce opposition from a group of predominantly Roman Catholic countries that argued that the bloc risked paying for research that was both immoral and unethical.

The funding will only be available under strict conditions, including a ban on research aimed at human cloning for reproductive purposes and on research intended to modify the genetic heritage of humans. The funding will come from the EU's research budget of €51 billion, or $64 billion, for 2007 to 2013.

Opposition to the bloc's proposal to fund stem cell research was overcome after Janez Potocnik, the EU's research commissioner, assured science ministers from the EU's 25 member states that under no circumstances would the EU fund research that involved destroying human embryos for the procurement of stem cells.

Instead, he said the EU would fund research using embryos that would otherwise be discarded - for example, from in vitro fertilization centers.

"We will not pay for the destruction of embryos with EU money," Potocnik told reporters, adding that countries that do not allow stem cell research would not be required to do so now.

The IVF discarded embryos are exactly the ones for which Bush specifically denied funding in his veto.

So instead of getting on the side of science and ensuring US leadership, the President allowed the rest of the world to reap the eventual financial benefits (China and Singapore are already well ahead of us on this), caused a major fight in the states on a bad issue for extremist Republicans, and arguably allowed more testing nationwide and worldwide in a process he called "murder."

I guess we shouldn't worry about his vetoing other bad legislation, since by all accounts everything he does has the opposite effect. Tell you what, Mr. Bush, please ban health insurance for all Americans. Maybe we'll get it then.

P.S. Tom Harkin assailed the decision as the work of a "moral Ayatollah" last week. It's a good read.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Couple Bits of Truth

Funny how, when you get people talking, eventually they say something that's just INCREDIBLY truthful. My favorite filmmaker, Errol Morris, figured this out, and he basically conducts his interviews by asking as few questions as possible, getting his subjects to fill in the awkward silences by continuing to talk, and eventually drilling down to the unvarnished truth that they let slip from their unguarded mouths.

Today Israel hit a UN compound in South Lebanon, an observation post that Kofi Annan boldly claimed was apparently deliberately targeted. If that is true, it's insane and unbelievably damaging to Israel and the world. Christiane Amanpour backed Annan up on it on CNN, apparently saying (I haven't seen a transcript, so this is somewhat hearsay) that the UN post had been very nearly shelled 14 times that day and that they had spoken several times with IDF telling them to please not bomb that position.

So the press goes to our UN Ambassador, John Bolton. What does he say?

"We're obviously very sorry," Boltin[sic] said. "We're attempting to get information where we can to confirm the nature of the incident."

We? Is John Bolton the Israeli Ambassador to the UN? Did I miss something?

It's certainly one of those telling moments where a neocon tells you where his alliances are. Bolton has the interests of neoconservatism (bomb and conquer and project military might) at heart. By the way, my suspicion was right, and he WILL be up for renewal to the UN after George Voinovich signaled his support. Steve Clemons has all the details.

The other telling moment came on Tim Russert's CNBC show this weekend, his "Charlie Rose" type program where he talks to a guest for an hour. I watched it live, and this particular quote galled me:

"We got this free market, and I admit, I was speaking out in Minnesota--my hometown, in fact, and guy stood up in the audience, said, `Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you'd oppose?' I said, `No, absolutely not.' I said, `You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn't even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade."

But it took David Sirota to put it in focus:

what's truly astonishing is that Tom Friedman, the person who the media most relies on to interpret trade policy, now publicly runs around admitting he actually knows nothing at all about the trade pacts he pushes in his New York Times column. This is the equivalent of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke bragging to an interviewer he never actually looks at economic data, or like a political "expert" admitting to not reading any political news. It is the reason why a growing number of books, such as Sen. Byron Dorgan's and mine, are exposing Friedman as the blind corporate mouthpiece he is. It is, in sum, an admission that Friedman is so out of touch and so arrogant that he thinks it is perfectly acceptable to pollute the political debate with propaganda based on facts he doesn't even bother to investigate.

Truly. There's nothing to add to that. Sirota nails him, and nails him hard.


All Part of God's Plan

While struggling with the triple-digit heat here in Southern California, I didn't even know that Europe's having a heat wave as well. Last time that happened there were literally thousands of deaths, particularly in France. Paris, London, and Berlin are getting peak temperatures that are higher than Bangkok, Hong Kong and New Dehli.

Boy, God must want us to be really happy by giving us all these sunny days! It couldn't be anything we've done!

Seriously, this will have major effects on the world's farming if there isn't any relief soon. There's not much extra food supply in the world right now, yet alone if a significant portion of crops are wiped out due to the heat.


Question for the Big Dog

Somebody needs to ask Bill Clinton how comfortable he is headlining a campaign event that denies entry to constituents with tickets.

Jane has more. Wonder if Clinton likes speaking at a George Bush-style "town hall" event that bans people on the basis of their views. I'll bet he doesn't appreciate being party to such cowardice.


Quick Hits, International Edition

Let me take you on a trip around the world:

• Great news, girls of Afghanistan: Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is back! Just when you thought it was safe to take off the burqa, you can now be arrested for laughing out loud or wearing nail polish! Smell that freedom!

• I was talking to a friend who recently spent time in Afghanistan, and he said that Kabul is slowly coming around to a more liberal and cosmopolitan city, but at the same time the attacks are more frequent throughout the country. Anecdotal, but take it for what it's worth:

• It took Lebanese leaders all of two seconds to dismiss Condi Rice's diplomatic mission as nothing but Israeli sock-puppetry. The big idea is apparently to gather a multinational force, but nobody has a clue who'll supply the troops for it (the US has specifically declined). And this baby imagery that Rice keeps using is disturbing:

"I have no doubt there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib," Rice said. "We, of course, also urgently want to end the violence."

Digby claims that it's code language for the fundie Christians. I think that talk of dead babies during a conflict which is producing, you know, dead babies, kind of defeats the purpose. But maybe that's me. I guess that's why I can't see how an escalating and destabilizing conflict in the very part of the world we sought to spread with democracy butter and goodness represents great news for the President.

• This dates back from when fighting began, an eternity ago, but the whole idea of a reverse domino theory is pretty interesting, especially when it's coming from Gen. William Odom:

Recently on national television, Vice President Cheney warned that withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq would prompt the collapse of governments in other countries in the region, namely Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, putting them in the hands of radical Islamist rulers.

Cheney has it exactly backwards. Our continued entanglement is what is destabilizing the region.

The escalating conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas could become a new Arab-Israeli War. And it is precisely our actions in Iraq that have opened the door for Iran and Syria to support Hezbollah and Hamas actions without much to fear from the U.S.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

• As if to prove the reverse domino theory, now Saudi Arabia is losing patience and threatening that continued Israeli attacks will cause a wider war. So much for the "moderate" Sunni faction cheering on the death of Muslims in their neighborhood. It was a stupid thought to begin with. Digby has more on this as well.

• Meanwhile, as additional troops are sent into Baghdad (watch the Sunni Triangle erupt on this news, forcing us to move troops back there), Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki apparently didn't get the memo that when you're in the US, you have to loudly proclaim unequivocal support for Israel, even though if you're the Iraqi Prime Minister you likely have to do exactly the opposite. He's in a bind.


Doomed To Repeat It

Chris Matthews may be another useful idiot, and he may think that "only whack jobs" don't like Bush. But this appearance on Imus is a tour de force. It lays bare the entire bankruptcy of this Administration, how we enabled Iran, how we won't talk to Syria, the only country in the region that can change the playing field, all the missteps, all the inanities.

And he does it in a very lucid way. The part where he explains that "all the problems we've had in Iraq were the same ones that every Western nation whose gone into that part of the world has had" is obvious, but borderline brilliant.

It's a good listen.


Election Time

The New York Times has a great interactive map showing every race in the nation and their current rankings. The Times is playing it very safe, but their map does reflect real possibilities for the Democrats in November. I could spend a few hours looking at it, and report back, or you can go look yourself.

Let's do the latter.


Phil's Missing the Boat

On the heels of a new Field Poll showing Phil Angelides down by eight points to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but with the incumbent still well under 50%, the current heat wave and energy woes in California can be, as I said last night, a teachable moment. There have already been spot blackouts. About 175,000 customers lost power on Sunday, but that was due largely to failing transformers. The ISO is making it through by the skin of their teeth right now.

But here's Angelides' whole problem in a nutshell:

State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat running for governor, criticized the Schwarzenegger administration for its handling of the state's energy resources. "We shouldn't be asking businesses to shut down or the elderly to turn off their air conditioners," he told reporters.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund defended the state's utilities, noting they met California's power supply needs amid record temperatures.

Excuse me? Is the Democrat now the ANTI-conservation candidate?

That's horrible, horrible politics. I'm not supporting Arnold but even I would be on his side in that debate. There's such an appealing story to be told here and Angelides is missing the boat. The voters believe in their hearts that they're being scammed again. They see the giant freeway signs lit up saying "conserve energy" and they want to believe that government's screwing them. Angelides hasn't told that story. But it's out there. Did you know that Southern California Edison is raising rates next month for the THIRD time this year? Did you know that Arnold's first chief of staff was a Chevron-Texaco lobbyist?

Tie Arnold to Big Energy, Phil. It's your last best chance.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Hey, Specter to the Rescue Again... hurray...

Why do I get the feeling of deja vu from the king of the "strongly worded letter":

A powerful Republican committee chairman who has led the fight against President Bush's signing statements said Monday he would have a bill ready by the end of the week allowing Congress to sue him in federal court.

"We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will...authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on the Senate floor.

Specter's announcement came the same day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duty to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action.

Bush has issued at least 750 signing statements during his presidency, reserving the right to revise, interpret or disregard laws on national security and constitutional grounds.

(Here's a story on the ABA decision, by the way)

Ah yes, a day without Arlen Specter talking tough about the Administration without action is like a day without sunshine. The end result is ALWAYS disappointing. He gets to look like the big man without changing the status quo one bit. Case in point: we're at a time where a federal judge is so concerned about the NSA illegal spying program that he refused to throw out the case on national security grounds, which almost never happens when the government asks for it. This signals that the judicial branch is extremely sympathetic to the argument that the President and the Administration is breaking the law.

Arlen Specter is basically trying to get that case thrown out of court all by himself:

With the Specter legislation, Bush has not agreed to allow the FISA court, or any other court, to adjudicate the legality of his eavesdropping program (meaning whether he has been violating the law for the last five years by ordering warrantless eavesdropping). To the contrary, the Specter bill would all but kill pending litigations around the country which allege that the President acted criminally by violating FISA. Nor would the Specter bill require the President to submit eavesdropping requests to courts for approval. To the contrary, the bill expressly allows the President to eavesdrop on Americans with no judicial oversight.

The sole question which a court will decide under this claimed oral agreement between Specter and the President is whether warrantless eavesdropping violates the Fourth Amendment. Thus, what Specter is celebrating here is that the President courteously agreed to "allow" a federal court to decide whether the eavesdropping he has ordered on Americans violates the Constitution's prohibition on searches and seizures in the absence of probable cause warrants. Since when does a President have the option to prohibit judicial determinations as to whether his conduct violates the Constitutional rights of American citizens? In what conceivable way can it be said to be a "concession" that George Bush has deigned to permit a federal court to rule on the constitutionality of the eavesdropping he ordered?

So I'm sure plenty of my fellow liberals will get fired up about Specter's lawsuit, and then after negotiations it'll be revealed that this actually gives Bush the option to sure himself, and Specter will write an op-ed saying "The President NEVER would have thought about suing himself before this important legislation," and we'll wonder how we got duped again.

I'll tell you how. We listened to Arlen Specter. At least you did.

As a postscript, I want to highlight this bold-faced lie from the AP article:

Bush is not without congressional allies on the matter. Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, a former judge, has said that signing statements are nothing more than expressions of presidential opinion that carry no legal weight because federal courts are unlikely to consider them when deciding cases that challenge the same laws.

Oh really, Senator? Read much? (hat tip to hekebolos)

In his dissenting opinion to the Supreme Court's decision on Guantanamo Bay military trials earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a presidential signing statement significant weight in determining the meaning of a statute, marking a milestone in the debate over the Bush administration's expansion of executive power.

...Scalia's dissenting opinion gave Bush's signing statement on a Guantanamo-related law passed by Congress equal weight to statements by the bill's authors, suggesting that there is no legal difference between the views of Congress and the president about what a law means.

At issue was a December 2005 law curtailing the rights of Guantanamo detainees to file lawsuits. The Supreme Court's majority ruled that the law applied only to future cases, so that existing suits could go forward. But in his dissent, Scalia scolded the majority, saying it had selectively cited bits of the act's legislative history to support its view and downplayed contrary evidence -- including the signing statement Bush issued on Dec. 30, 2005.

"Of course in its discussion of legislative history the court wholly ignores the president's signing statement, which explicitly set forth his understanding that the [Detainee Treatment Act] ousted jurisdiction over pending cases," Scalia wrote.

Were Scalia's opinion in the majority, and it was one vote away from being so, that would be pretty much the end of democracy in America. The President, under the Constitution, can sign a law or veto it. He doesn't get to re-interpret it. That's the job of the courts. You'd think that "strict constructionist" Antonin Scalia would know that. But of course, he's only an originalist when it supports his argument. Otherwise he gets rather, er, original with the law.


Live By The Light Switch, Die By The Light Switch

It was 187 degrees today in the San Fernando Valley, plummeting to about 154 at my home in Santa Monica. And every conversation I've had today has featured the heat wave. People are elephants when it comes to the weather. With the threat of rolling blackouts now very probable, everyone is remembering back to the trumped-up energy crisis (or should I say Enronergy crisis) of 2000-2001, back in those heady days when Gray Davis was considered a possible Presidential candidate.

And that's why this can be a teachable moment for the California electorate, and a real opportunity for Phil Angelides. It won't be fair if Arnold Schwarzenegger is blamed for our energy demand problems; well, not completely fair, anyway. But it wasn't fair for Gray Davis either. And Arnold played a major role in that.

Literally every conversation I had today, and the vast majority of comments I heard driving home on local talk radio, referenced Enron. The history of the 2000-2001 energy crisis is well-known to all residents of the Golden State. Enron manipulated energy markets, forcing power plants offline, creating phantom congestion on transmission lines, making fake sales to artifically lower supply, and eventually getting a ten-fold increase in prices. The various degrees of schemes to manufacture a favorable market were legion. Of course, there are the famous tapes that showed Enron energy traders cheering forest fires, asking power plants to go offline, and yukking it up over "Grandma Millie" having to pay $250 dollars a megawatt-hour. But here are a couple other schemes that I didn't know about:

Megawatt laundering is the term, analogous to money laundering, coined to describe the process of obscuring the true origins of specific quantities of electricity being sold on the energy market. The California energy market allowed for price distinctions between electricity produced in-state and out-of-state. It was therefore advantageous to make it appear that electricity was being generated somewhere other than its true origin.

Overscheduling is a term used in describing the manipulation of transporting electricity along power lines. Power lines have a defined maximum load. Lines must be booked (or scheduled) in advance for transporting bought-and-sold quantities of electricity. "Overscheduling" means a deliberate reservation of more line usage than is actually required and can create the appearance that the power lines are congested. Overscheduling was one of the building blocks of a number of scams. For example, the Death Star group of scams played on the market rules which required the state to pay "congestion fees" to alleviate congestion on major power lines. "Congestion fees" were a variety of financial incentives aimed at ensuring power providers solved the congestion problem. But in the Death Star scenario, the congestion was entirely illusory and the congestion fees would therefore simply increase profits.

It's extremly likely that none of that is happening right now. But what most of the California electorate does not know is the current governor's role in the energy crisis. The great Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights details it in full:

Internal Enron e-mails confirm that Arnold Schwarzenegger was among a small group of executives who met with Lay at the posh Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel in May of 2001, in the midst of California's energy crisis. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which obtained the e-mails, is calling on Schwarzenegger to acknowledge the meetings and disclose the information that was presented and discussed. The meeting with Enron occurred ten days after rolling blackouts darkened California for two consecutive days; Schwarzenegger has previously said that he does not remember such a meeting.

"You don't meet with America's most well-known corporate crook in the middle of California's biggest financial disaster and not remember," said FTCR's senior consumer advocate Douglas Heller. "Mr. Schwarzenegger should come clean about what happened at that meeting and if he shares Ken Lay's views on energy regulation."

The documents provide a list of invitees to the hastily arranged meeting and a list of those who actually attended. Only eleven of the 45 invitees attended, including Schwarzenegger. The meeting was meant to be an opportunity to gain business community support for Enron's "comprehensive solution" to the energy crisis. In one e-mail, Enron's VP of Public Relations wrote: "We'd like to position this meeting as an insider's conversation of what's going on with the energy situation. This meeting should be for principals only." (emphasis in original)

The emails are here.

Schwarzengger and the late Mr. Lay apparently discussed a forthcoming lawsuit brought by Gov. Davis and Lt. Gov. Bustamante that sought to retrieve $9 billion in losses incurred during the 2000 energy crisis. Greg Palast has more:

Here's the story Arnold doesn't want you to hear. The biggest single threat to Ken Lay and the electricity lords is a private lawsuit filed last year under California's unique Civil Code provision 17200, the "Unfair Business Practices Act." This litigation, heading to trial now in Los Angeles, would make the power companies return the $9 billion they filched from California electricity and gas customers.

Now follow the action. One month after Cruz brings suit, Enron's Lay calls an emergency secret meeting in L.A. of his political buck-buddies, including Arnold. Their plan, to undercut Davis (according to Enron memos) and "solve" the energy crisis -- that is, make the Bustamante legal threat go away.

How can that be done? Follow the trail with me.

While Bustamante's kicking Enron butt in court, the Davis Administration is simultaneously demanding that George Bush's energy regulators order the $9 billion refund. Don't hold your breath: Bush's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is headed by a guy proposed by ... Ken Lay.

But Bush's boys on the commission have a problem. The evidence against the electricity barons is rock solid: fraudulent reporting of sales transactions, megawatt "laundering," fake power delivery scheduling and straight out conspiracy (including meetings in hotel rooms). So the Bush commissioners cook up a terrific scheme: charge the companies with conspiracy but offer them, behind closed doors, deals in which they have to pay only 2 cents on each dollar they filched.

Problem: the slap-on-the-wrist refunds won't sail if the governor of California won't play along. Solution: Recall the Governor.

New Problem: the guy most likely to replace Davis is not Mr. Musclehead, but Cruz Bustamante, even a bigger threat to the power companies than Davis. Solution: smear Cruz because -- heaven forbid! -- he took donations from Injuns (instead of Ken Lay).

The pay-off? Once Arnold is governor, he blesses the sweetheart settlements with the power companies. When that happens, Bustamante's court cases are probably lost. There aren't many judges who will let a case go to trial to protect a state if that a governor has already allowed the matter to be "settled" by a regulatory agency.

Schwarzenegger used the energy crisis to attack Gov. Davis throughout the recall, and it paid off. The $9 billion dollar lawsuit was a little complicated for voters. So was the various nefarious dealings by Enron. Arnold kept it simple. "Gray Davis turned your lights off, I'll fix everything." It worked.

Well, it's 5 years later. And we're at a Stage 2 Alert (the blackouts begin at Stage 3). Some papers wrote articles today claiming that Schwarzenegger will benefit from the long-term contracts for energy signed by his predecessor Gray Davis. But demand is higher than ever before. Sprawl has added to the unsustainability. The population growth has coincided with the hottest areas of the state. The overdevelopment replaces the chapparal with blacktop and actually traps the heat, making it warmer even when the sun isn't out (a recent study showed that the temperature has increased in CA at night even more than in the daytime). And now is a perfect time for Phil Angelides to remind voters of the aforementioned story. "The last time we had blackouts, the governor met with criminals who wanted to protect their scam. He didn't fix the problem, he caused the problem."

I'm telling you that this is a winning argument. There isn't a soul in this state that isn't engaged with this story. So far Angelides has blamed Schwarzenegger for not building more power plants. That's exactly the wrong thing to say. Building infrastructure is not the argument you need to be making right now; that's on the ballot and it's Arnold's baby, what he believes he can ride to victory. It's time to tell the truth about the governor's relationship to Enron, his role in manipulating consumers to get elected, his continuing role in shilling for energy companies (This is a good primer).

Keep it simple, Phil. Arnold's a crook who's stolen from every man, woman and child in this state. It's a winning formula. It has the added benefit of being true.


Big Trouble in South Asia

The greatest threat to world peace over the next decade is an arms race and potential nuclear war in South Asia. The only two muclear powers who have enough hatred toward one another to pull the nuclear trigger are India and Pakistan. And furthermore, considering that Pakistan is a part of the world with former and current ties to international terror, an enormously large concentration of madrassahs and Islamists, and a history of selling nuclear secrets... having them build more nuclear weapons is about the worst thing that can happen for global stability and security.

This is exactly what's happening:

Pakistan has begun building what independent analysts say is a powerful new reactor for producing plutonium, a move that, if verified, would signal a major expansion of the country's nuclear weapons capabilities and a potential new escalation in the region's arms race.

Satellite photos of Pakistan's Khushab nuclear site show what appears to be a partially completed heavy-water reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year, a 20-fold increase from Pakistan's current capabilities, according to a technical assessment by Washington-based nuclear experts.

The construction site is adjacent to Pakistan's only plutonium production reactor, a modest, 50-megawatt unit that began operating in 1998. By contrast, the dimensions of the new reactor suggest a capacity of 1,000 megawatts or more, according to the analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security. Pakistan is believed to have 30 to 50 uranium warheads, which tend to be heavier and more difficult than plutonium warheads to mount on missiles.

"South Asia may be heading for a nuclear arms race that could lead to arsenals growing into the hundreds of nuclear weapons, or at minimum, vastly expanded stockpiles of military fissile material," the institute's David Albright and Paul Brannan concluded in the technical assessment, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post.

Tensions are running hot in the region, especially in the aftermath of the Mumbai train bombings. The Indian Prime Minister has already accused Pakistan of aiding the terrorists who detonated the trains. And peace talks between the two nations have been deferred indefinitely.

We have been here before. The New Yorker article detailing just how close we were to a South Asian war back in 2002 is not available online, but it's chilling. Kashmiri militants had nearly pulled off a major terror attack in December of 2001, coming very close to opening fire inside the Indian Parliament while it was in session. As it was 9 policeman and a staffer were killed. India was ready to go to war over this, and a New York Times article from May described the potential tragic consequences:

An American intelligence assessment, completed this week as tensions between India and Pakistan intensified, warns that a full-scale nuclear exchange between the two rivals could kill up to 12 million people immediately and injure up to 7 million, Pentagon officials say.

Even a "more limited" nuclear war — as measured in number of warheads — would have cataclysmic results, overwhelming hospitals across Asia and requiring vast foreign assistance, particularly from the United States, to battle radioactive contamination, famine and disease, officials said.

"The humanitarian crisis that would result would be so great that every medical facility in the Middle East and Southwest Asia would be quickly overwhelmed," one Defense Department official said. "The American military would have no choice but go in and help with the victims and to clean up."

American estimates of the number of warheads in the Indian and Pakistani nuclear arsenals, and their capacity, remain classified. But Pentagon and administration officials, speaking in general terms, said Pakistan has "a couple of dozen" nuclear warheads and India "several dozen."

And that was four years ago, before this latest Pakistani proliferation. Neither India or Pakistan are signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The government of Pakistan is maintaining its secular nature by the skin of its teeth and the fact that the military hasn't rebelled against Gen. Musharraf yet. It's a very fragile state that could turn into an Islamocracy with one assassin's bullet. I know we're supposed to be concerned about the birth pangs in the new Middle East (and how clueless, and offensive, is that, by the way?), but Pakistan becoming a full-fledged member of the nuclear club is serious business.

Steven D at the Booman Tribune is just as freaked out:

I don't know the reason why the Bush administration has completely dropped the ball on this issue, but I do know what the result of their failure to lessen the risk of nuclear proliferation in Pakistan and India will lead to. It will spark an arms race in Southwest Asia, not only between India and Pakistan, but likely also Iran (which being Shia has much to fear from a Sunni dominated Pakistan), and even possibly Saudi Arabia. It highlights the complete failure of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, one of many legacies of the Bush administration's deeply misguided policies. Instead of strengthening enforcement of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we have enabled India and Pakistan to open the door to a massive build-up in nuclear arms and fissile material, with all of the heightened danger for nuclear confrontation that that entails.

Not only that, we have greatly expanded the possibility that Islamic terrorist organizations may obtain a nuclear device for use against either Israel or America. Pakistan is awash in extremist Sunni madrassahs. These schools fuel radical fundamentalists sentiment throughout the citizenry of Pakistan. Supporters include many members of Pakistan's military and intelligence services, individuals who have no particular love of General Musharraf, the dictator and strongman who grasp on power is increasingly threatened by his pro-American policies. Should Musharraf's regime fall, the likely replacement would be a group of fundamentalist Islamic reformers and military officers who would sympathize with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and might not be averse to holding America hostage to their demands with threats of providing nuclear material and/or weapons over to terrorist organizations.

I seem to remember both Bush and Kerry agreeing in the third Presidential debate that nuclear proliferation was the greatest threat facing America today. Where is the Bush Administration, when that threat is being fully realized in one of the most volatile areas on the globe?

There was no immediate reaction to the report from the Bush administration. Albright said he shared his data with government nuclear analysts, who did not dispute his conclusions and appeared to already know about the new reactor.

"If there's an increasing risk of an arms race in South Asia, why hasn't this already been introduced into the debate?" Albright asked. He said the Pakistani development adds urgency to calls for a treaty halting the production of fissile material used in nuclear weapons.

"The United States needs to push more aggressively for a fissile material cut-off treaty, and so far it has not," he said.

The Israeli situation is dangerous. Iraq is incredibly dangerous. But there's no doubt that the most dangerous spot in the world today, Pakistan, is being criminally ignored by this Administration, and the consequences for the world are dire.


Get Lawyers!

There's a little nugget of information in Mike Allen's Time article that suggests that the GOP brass' talk of holding the House and Senate in November may just be bravado:

As for Bush himself, he is curtailing his traditional August working vacation at the ranch so that he can barnstorm before the midterm elections. Their outlook thus far seems so ominous for the G.O.P. that one presidential adviser wants Bush to beef up his counsel's office for the tangle of investigations that a Democrat-controlled House might pursue.

Oddly, the story is one that tries to be upbeat about Bush and his "leadership moment" (gag me) in the Middle East. But just the fact that they're lawyering up suggests that they know what may be coming down the pike.

... and, if you're looking at a Democratic majority in November, and your first instinct is not to reach out for bipartisan comity, or strengthen support among Democratic moderates, but to find as many lawyers as humanly possible, you're guilty as sin.


Losing Africa

There's a fairly large continent just south of the Middle East, where Islamic fundamentalism has been taking root for some time, where two of the largest coordinated terrorist attacks prior to 9/11 occurred. Perhaps you might have heard of it. It's called Africa.

To the Bush Administration, it doesn't ring a bell:

The Bush administration and Congress have slashed millions of dollars of military aid to African nations in recent years, moves that Pentagon officials and senior military commanders say have undermined American efforts to combat terrorist threats in Africa and to counter expanding Chinese influence there.

Since 2003, Washington has shut down Pentagon programs to train and equip militaries in a handful of African nations because they have declined to sign agreements exempting American troops from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But the policy, which was designed to protect American troops, has instead angered senior military officials, who say the cuts in military aid are shortsighted and have weakened counterterrorism efforts in places where the threat of international terrorism is said to be most acute [...]

Last year, the United States cut off $13 million for training and equipping troops in Kenya, where operatives of Al Qaeda killed 224 people when they bombed the American Embassy compound in Nairobi in 1998.

In 2003, the flow of $309,000 annually was suspended to Mali, where Pentagon officials contend an Algerian separatist group with ties to Al Qaeda — known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or G.S.P.C. — has established a base. Money has also been cut for Tanzania, Niger and several other African nations.

Citing Kenya as an example, Pentagon officials say it makes little sense to ask for Kenya’s support in fighting terrorism while denying it the money it needs for training and equipping troops.

“Kenya is a key partner in our counterterrorism strategy and our goals in Africa,’’ a Pentagon official who works on Africa strategy said. “This hurts us, there’s no question about it.”

To give you an idea of just what is happening in parts of Africa right now, there's this little pickle called a regional war:

Thousands of Somalis have staged a rally in Mogadishu calling on Ethiopian troops to leave their country.

The demonstrators burnt Ethiopian flags at a protest in the capital, which since June has been run by the powerful Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

The UIC has vowed to expel Ethiopian troops who are deployed to assist the weak transitional Somali government.

As well as the government's Baidoa base, Ethiopian troops have also been seen in another central town, Wajid.

Ethiopia and the transitional government have refused to confirm Ethiopian troops are on Somali soil.

Placards carried by protesters at the rally in a Mogadishu stadium bore slogans such as "Down with the Addis Ababa regime" and "We are ready for holy war against Ethiopia".

The monomania which has attended out decision to go into Iraq has caused so many problems for us around the world, and in Africa they are quite acute. By ignoring what is going on in Africa, we risk getting completely shut out of the region. China is becoming a major player in Africa through investment. In addition, fragile governments who are about a step away from succumbing into a type of fundamentalist state like Somalia aren't receiving any tactical or financial aid from the US; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Africa might not seem strategically significant, but aside from the oil revenues in many countries there, you have a population of angry and frustrated men stricken with inescapable poverty. In other words, a terrorist recruiting center.

These are things which are concurrently happening in Latin America as well, as Chinese investment has exploded over there. One major mistake in international relations like Iraq costs you greatly in lives and treasure, but it also takes your foreign policy out of balance, and at a time when the global war on terror is presumably global, that's a big problem.