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

Friday, August 25, 2006

Politicizing Right versus Politicizing Wrong

The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is being used as a political football by both sides. To expect anything less is simply to be ignorant of the way politics are played. I do think it's interesting HOW the parties are using the anniversary, and in what ways.

My Congressman, Henry Waxman (D-CA), has released a report detailing the waste, fraud and abuse in the contracts (many of them no-bid contracts) for cleanup and resconstruction in the Gulf Coast. The facts are striking.

Full and Open Competition is the Exception, Not the Rule. As of June 30, 2006, over $10.6 billion has been awarded to private contractors for Gulf Coast recovery and reconstruction. Nearly all of this amount ($10.1 billion) was awarded in 1,237 contracts valued at $500,000 or more. Only 30% of these contracts were awarded with full and open competition.

Contract Mismanagement Is Widespread. Hurricane Katrina contracts have been accompanied by pervasive mismanagement. Mistakes were made in virtually every step of the contracting process: from pre-contract planning through contract award and oversight. Compounding this problem, there were not enough trained contract officials to oversee contract spending in the Gulf Coast.

The Costs to the Taxpayer Are Enormous. This report identifies 19 Katrina contracts collectively worth $8.75 billion that have been plagued by waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement. In the case of each of these 19 contracts, reports from the Government Accountability Office, Pentagon auditors, agency inspectors general, or other government investigators have linked the contracts to major problems in administration or performance.

This is what Congress exists to do: provide legislative oversight in issues involving federal taxpayer dollars. This is a large part of Congress' mission. Revealingly, the Republicans on the Government Reform Committee did not contribute to this report. Maybe because they don't want to stop the flow of dollars to Republican big business cronies.

The Democrats in the House are using the anniversary of the Hurricane to highlight the mismanagement performed in its aftermath, in the hope that they can reverse it in the future and spend the people's money responsibly while providing help for the devastated victims of the storm and flood.

Contrast that with how Republicans are using the anniversary. They set up an aw-shucks guy named Rockey, put him in a trailer, and drive him up to Washington to get a meeting with the President. Except he's a plant:

Here's what Rockey told the nation just now on TV:

"You know, it's really amazing when a small man like me from St. Bernard Parish can meet the President of the United States. The President is a people person. I knew that from the beginning. I was confident that I could meet President Bush.

And my mission was very simple. I wanted to thank President Bush for the millions of FEMA trailers that were brought down there. They gave roofs over people's head. People had the chance to have baths, air condition. We have TV, we have toiletry, we have things that are necessities that we can live upon.

But now, I wanted to remind the President that the job's not done, and he knows that. And I just don't want the government and President Bush to forget about us. And I just wish the President could have another term in Washington."

This guy is a symbol of the misery that so many people in Louisiana and Mississippi? If we didn't know any better, this couldn't have been more of home run for Bush if the whole thing had been set up by Karl Rove.


In fact, we had a hunch -- that maybe, just maybe, Rockey Vaccarella had a background himself in GOP politics.

And, whaddya know? Turns out that the earthy Vaccarella -- a highly successful businessman in the fast-food industry -- is indeed a Republican pol, having run unsuccessfully under the GOP banner for a seat on the St. Bernard Parish commission back in 1999.

I remember watching the movie "Wag The Dog" back when Clinton was President (remember when they called Kosovo a "Wag The Dog" scenario?) and thinking how over the top it was, until this crew came into power. And they actually need Dustin Hoffman's character, because they're brutal at covering their tracks.

So Democrats use an event to do their jobs, while Republicans use an event by setting up a fake photo-op designed to blunt criticism.

There's your difference, folks.


Mike Stark Kicks Some Ass

You can take Calling All Wingnuts out of Buffalo and into law school, but you can't get Mike Stark out of the papers:

A man who identified himself as a law student confronted U.S. Sen. George Allen here today, demanding to know if the potential presidential candidate had ever used the n-word.

Mike Stark, in his early to mid-20s, also asked Allen, R-Va., why he had a Confederate flag and a noose in his office. The News Virginian confirmed that Stark is a first-year law student at the University of Virginia.

An Allen aide asked Stark to leave, while a staff person at the Holiday Inn in Staunton also told him to leave the premises.

The man paid $20 to attend a luncheon hosted by the Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce. The man stood with reporters waiting to interview Allen, then fired him questions.

“Is this an interview?” Allen asked. “I’ll be glad to talk to you afterwards.”

Allen aide David Nepp, stepped in and asked the man to leave.

“Are you with the hotel,” the man asked.

A hotel employee asked man to leave.

Stark is the same guy who's driven Limbaugh and other talk-radio clones to distraction, made O'Reilly call "Fox Security" and proudly displayed a "Hannity Sucks Ass" sign ON Hannity & Colmes a few weeks ago.

He's a one-man wrecking crew.

As for Allen, Dana Milbank wrote a piece today about how the "macaca" comment just isn't going away. In fact, it's the type of thing that will define Allen's entire career. I was, however, struck by this note from Milbank's article, which suggests that Allen is still trying some kind of racial identity strategy:

Yet Allen tiptoed around the issues of the day as he spoke to the local chamber of commerce. There was no mention of Iraq or the Middle East, not a word about terrorism and national security, and barely a mention of President Bush. And, addressing another all-white crowd, he labored to avoid even the hint of another macaca moment.

"We graduate 70,000 engineers every year; one-third are from another country," Allen said, before adding quickly: "Which is just fine."

The "which is just fine" is meaningless: he got out what he wanted to get out. Which is... hmm, just that "there sure are a lot of brown people 'round this country, vote fer me cuz we feel the same way about 'em."

Support Jim Webb.


Dixieland Brass and the 2006 Elections

Say No To Pombo writes about Howie Klein of Down With Tyranny's project to put a music track to use in the midterm elections. Howie wrote me about this project as well. It's a pretty good idea. Basically he got Rickie Lee Jones and the Squirrel Nut Zippers to do a new version of the Zippers' song "Put A Lid On It" called "Have You Had Enough."

The mp3 is here.

Howie is trying to leverage the song and create 30-second ads with it that specifically target particular races, like Rep. Richard "Let's Sell Off Our National Parks" Pombo's race against netroots candidate Jerry McNerney:

We're doing our best to get it on the radio so people start to get familiar with it and we've offered it for free download on MySpace and in 2 weeks it will be available for free on all the big digital services. The goal, though-- and why you've gotten this e-mail from me-- is a little more involved. We've made 30 second radio spots out of the song. For targeted districts, with particularly terrible incumbents and particularly excellent challengers (like Jerry McNerney taking on Dirty Dick Pombo in Northern California and Victoria Wulsin taking on Mean Jean Schmidt in Ohio) we've replaced the line "it's time to throw the rascals out" with "it's time to throw Pombo out" or "it's time to throw Mean Jean out."

The districts we're targeting are not in New York City or L.A. or Chicago or Boston or other expensive media markets. Many are in remote rural districts, what we call "dollar a holla" media markets. A very little bit of money can go a relatively long way. Our hope is to get our ads up on the radio during October. I'm trying to raise $250,000.

They have a Blue America PAC where they are fundraising to get up the ads. It's a fun way to deliver a message without making a long issue-ad or even a wonky blog post. I like it.


Ann Loses The Script

The most striking thing about this latest embarrassment of a conservative talking head, wherein Ann Coulter gets so frustrated she actually leaves, is that she appears to walk right into a trap (by calling bin Laden "irrelevant"), and then is stunned that she gets called on walking into that trap. Kirsten Powers is apparently a big Lieberman supporter, but she was on her game last night, refusing to concede even an inch. Coulter obviously thought she was dealing with a puppy like Colmes, who would play the usual script and back off, but Powers had her own lines. Coulter literally screams for Hannity's help, as if something was wrong with the transmission. Big fun.

These talking head shows don't mean a whole lot unless you capitulate to them over the course of many years the way the Democrats have since the 90s. We have two examples this week of a comeback, featuring Democrats who have the courage of their convictions and who are confident in their arguments. Battling to a draw is enough to blunt the impact of these shows. Rolling over consistently really hurts the brand. Democrats aren't rolling over anymore.


French Twist

Far be it from me to join the conservative chorus of French-bashers and deride them as a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys (although, I really don't like cheese, to cheese-eating to me is actually an insult). But today, the EU is meeting to gin up troops for the UNIFIL force of 15,000 that would patrol southern Lebanon, and French President Jacques Chirac is on record today calling that level of troops "excessive".

Um, didn't France BROKER the cease-fire deal that called for the 15,000 troops? You mean it wasn't excessive when you planned it, but now that your soldiers are actually needed, NOW it's excessive?

That's lame.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Quick Hits

'Scuse me while I whip this out:

• The survivor of the Sago Mine disaster is suing the companies who neglected his own safety and that of his colleagues. The families of the victims are following suit. The country needs accountability on this if it still cares about workplace safety.

• Shorter Conrad Burns: "Ha ha, the Guatemalan painter I hired to work on my house is an illegal! Isn't that funny?" Everything's OK as long as you're a Republican. I didn't know a series of politicians could be so tone deaf until I saw this crop of incumbents (Macaca, anyone?)

• Something I didn't get to last week: TBogg has the goods on Frank D. Wuterich, who's suing John Murtha for slandering him and his Marine unit over the Haditha massacre, when at the same time, he's one of the Marines alleged to have destroyed or withheld evidence in the case. Physician, heal thyself.

• Another week-oldie but goodie, and perhaps the tightrope-walking headline of the year: Bush says US safer, but not yet safe. In other words, we're doing a heckuva job, so vote for us, but were not doing SUCH a heckuva job that you can stop being afraid, so stay scared enough to vote for us.

The Carpetbagger Report takes a look at all the Republicans changing their party affiliation this year. There are examples from Kansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Idaho, and South Carolina. Whether it's out of conviction, out of a frustration with the radicalization of their former party, or just wanting to be on the right side of history, I'm happy to pull open the door of this big Democratic tent.

• Hey, anyone remember Darfur? Big part of Sudan, half a million natives dead, millions more turned into refugees by a forced evacuation and genocide? Well, it's worse than ever since a supposed peace plan between the government and rebel groups. The main government doesn't even want UN troops in the country. This is gravely serious and demands action. Signing John Edwards' petition is literally the least you can do.

• And finally, I thought I'd weigh in on the Hitler-themed restaurant in India. According to a friend of Matthew Yglesias, Hitler is kind of the Che of India:

There is an incredible amount of Hitler fascination in India, often tinged with Nazi-sympathy. I noticed this weeks ago, well before this whole restaurant thing blew up. I think there are two reasons for this. A) Hitler and the Indians were to some extent on the same side, and even though Indians know that they shouldn't like him, they tend to appreciate his role in breaking Britain's back, and B) they think that if anyone could have made the trains run on time in this country it would have been Hitler. (They're wrong in that respect, by the way. No one could organize this place.)

I had a surprising conversation with a friend who said that yes, the holocaust was bad, but he heard that the autobahn is the best highway system in the world, and you have to keep things in perspective. (Given that Bombay's big modern highway has a posted speed limit of 50 km/h, which it's hard to imagine anyone ever achieving, building an awesome highway system does probably overshadow 13 million or so murders.) [...] You can buy Mein Kampf at the Indian equivalent of Barnes and Noble, with a forward by some Indian guy talking about how everything must be read in it's context blah blah blah. Anyway, the holocaust is all quite far from here, as are most Jews and Gypsies and (at least uncloseted) Gays. My friends are very concerned about my feeling uncomfortable, but once they realized I wasn't particularly horrified, they all wanted to be the first to take me.

As a Jew, I've already come up with about 15 Nazi-related food items (Blintz-kreigs? The Third Rice?) because that's what we do. A little alarming about India's relative indifference, however.


Lieberman Slicing the Salami

A lot of talk in the blogosphere today about Joe Lieberman campaigning with Republicans, with others not no sure. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

It seems like a deliberate fudge to me, to give Joe plausible deniability about campaigning with a Republican while also cresting off of Jodi Rell's wave of support. As someone taking credit for "saving" the Groton submarine base, Joe has every right to show up at a celebration for the one-year annivesary of that. The reason the senior Senator from the state, Chris Dodd, is not there is likely that he's not up for re-election. And it's in Republican Rob Simmons' district, I'm assuming. And Jodi Rell's the Republican governor. So yes, that all makes sense.

However, it's 75 days from an election and Lieberman's appearing at what looks to be a public celebration with two Republicans. Remember that he's already marched in a parade with Nancy Johnson (R). He's trying to have it both ways. Again. Well, imagine that.

I also think it's good that liberal blogs did not uniformly condemn Lieberman for this move, but brought it up for scrutiny. I try to make it a practice not to believe everything I read, though I've been burned before as we all have.


Angelides on "Which Way LA?"

KCRW's flagship political show is "Which Way LA?" with Warren Olney. Phil Angelides sat down for 20 minutes with him last night and I thought he acquitted himself very well. You can hear it here.

Olney is very astute and pretty fair, and he asked the fair question of whether or not Arnold's recent deals with leaders in the Democratic legislature, on infrastructure bonds, on the minimum wage, on prescription drugs, etc., is depriving Angelides of issues he could use in November. It's one of those sucker questions where there's no good answer. If Phil says yes, he sounds like a political opportunist and an obstructionist. If Phil says no, he sounds like he's giving ground to Arnold. I think he answered it as good as it could possibly be answered.

WO: Haven't they (the Democratic legislature) deprived you of issues you could otherwise use? Is it good when Democrats do that? Or should they be more attuned to the needs of your campaign?

PA: Oh, no. They need to be attuned to the needs of millions of Californians. They need to fight to increase the minimum wage. They need to fight to make prescription drugs more affordable. It's what I believe in. It's what we oughta be doing in this state. Now the question is, do you want a governor who's faking being a Democrat for three months? Or do you want to elect someone who really embraces this agenda, who will move us forward. For example, on the minimum wage, do you want a governor who will index it to inflation, so that never again are low-wage workers pushed into poverty because of political acts like the governor's two vetoes? ... You know that old Truman line? "Given the choice between a real Republican and a fake Republican, people will always pick the real one?" In this instance, the Governor is faking being a Democrat, and if you want someone who truly embraces these issues and will for four years, I hope Californians will vote for me.

I'm sorry, but that's pretty brilliant. Calling Arnold "Democrat-lite" is a great effort to leverage the power of Democratic values to shape an election. The Republicans tell you exactly what they believe, and the electorate can tell when they see the other side shift to the right. The exact opposite is happening here and Angelides is calling them on it. If it's a choice between a Democrat and Democrat-lite, we'll win. The question is whether or not this will gain traction.

Listen to the whole thing, including a roundtable at the end that goes to the edge of suggesting that Angelides' new messaging has given him the momentum in the race. I'm eager to see the next poll.


Where's Osama

This should be a Democratic mantra, because obviously this President and this Administration, 5 years after 9/11, is just not that concerned about him:

U.S. intelligence officials say Osama bin Laden is likely hiding in Pakistan, and the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit says the United States will have to be "extraordinarily lucky" to get the al Qaeda leader.

"Sometimes you get lucky," Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA's bin Laden unit from 1996-1999, told CNN. "But looking for Osama bin Laden in the Hindu Kush is not like looking for Eric Rudolph in North Carolina."

Gary Berntsen, who led a CIA paramilitary unit pursuing bin Laden shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, said Pakistan is a country bin Laden knows well. He feels at home there and enjoys popular support. It's also a country where the U.S. military is not welcome.

It just seems to be that's a cop-out answer and a defeatist answer. Pakistan is reliant on US aid and military weaponry, and frankly the cooperation on catching bin Laden wouldn't be out in the open. But whether it's a failure of diplomacy and cooperation or the need for a convenient boogeyman, Osama's still at large. The 6'5" Muslim with the white flowing robe and the dialysis machine in Pakistan cannot be found. And according to this official, he's not even doing much of a job of hiding.

According to a U.S. military intelligence official familiar with the hunt, bin Laden is likely hiding in an area called Chitral, in the far north of Pakistan, bounded by Afghanistan to the west and China to the north.

Contrary to popular belief, the official said, bin Laden most likely isn't living in a cave but in a house, possibly with a family and no more than two bodyguards.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the hunt, said the thinking that bin Laden is in Chitral is based in part on trees that are peculiar to that region that can be seen in a 2003 video of bin Laden walking in a mountainous region.

Others dispute this account, saying that there is limited data collection on bin Laden. Why? Why would Public Enemy Number 1 be allowed to roam freely? This is symptomatic of the unserious approach this Administration has taken on the "war on terror."

Speaking of being unserious, apparently Osama hearts Whitney:

A Sudanese writer who claims she was Osama bin Laden's sex slave says the terror mastermind once had his sights set on U.S. singer Whitney Houston.

The Daily Mail reported Monday that Kola Boof, born on the Nile River in Sudan, claims to have been held prisoner for four months in a Moroccan hotel some 10 years ago where she was raped by al-Qaida leader.

She wrote in her autobiography, "Diary of a Lost Girl," which was excerpted in Harpers' Bazaar magazine: "He told me Whitney Houston was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen."

She said bin Laden was "obsessed" with the singer and considered killing her husband, Bobby Brown.

Now in Bobby Brown, bin Laden would have found a formidable opponent matching him on the road to Crazy Town. But honestly, this could be an asset. The writer also claims bin Laden was into "The Wonder Years" and "McGyver" and "Miami Vice". This is natural for a rich Saudi who grew up in a somewhat cosmopolitan manner. And it shows this guy's absolute perversion of Islam and rank hypocrisy. In a war of ideas, you can't stop American culture. Put down the gun and pick up the DVD player, that's what I say.


Plan B

Good news for anyone who wants to lower the rate of abortions and ensure proper family planning. As for those who think that putting the morning-after pill on the open market will increase promiscuity, let me remind you that taking the morning-after pill is kind of a horrible experience that involves sickness and nausea. It's not like popping an Altoids. What increases promiscuity is, um, hormones. Nothing more, nothing less. Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.

I find it interesting that, in scanning the blogospheric response to this, many of the blogs writing about it are MySpace blogs. There most definitely is a political discussion happening on there, and politicians would be wise to get with the program and join it. But then, I'm being redundant.

The Democratic Daily has more on the political fallout of the FDA's decision.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

MySpace, Netroots Alternatives, and the Great Sleeping Giant of the Angelides Campaign

We all know that the blogosphere is an established force on the political scene. Heck, political blogs are getting VC money these days. But I've been a keen observer of the role of not only the netroots, but social networking sites in politics. These sites are an extension of retail politics which can target a group of people that you might not be able to reach at campaign events and public spaces. MySpace is not the only arena for this type of activism: Faccebook is getting into the act as well. But the reach of MySpace, for example, is amazing if you think about it, and can bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats in terms of how they "micro-target" prospective voters:

MySpace just passed Yahoo! for the most pageviews per day in the country. 95 million people have set up accounts and built pages. 95,000,000. But the network's size is not the important part.

Within 5 miles of where I'm sitting with this laptop, there are 1,977 twenty-nine year-old female voters with a graduate degree who self-identify as Democrats on Myspace. That's crazy. It's crazy MySpace lets me search with that much demographic specificity. Seriously.

So how does a candidate reach people on these kinds of sites? This is a good overview:

I am among the breed of blogroll surfers - we like to get a feel for different writers' voices and senses of humor. We thrive on reading more posts and more news about a story, we look for stories with the same tags, and follow the trackbacks to get different angles on the same story. I, for one do this because I love finding and informing a narrative. I'm a storyteller.

MySpacers are similarly voracious but not for news, not for information, but instead for character and validation. For things that strike them as cool/new/passionate/goofy. They flit around, meeting people, checking out interests, as if coming into your apartment to listen to your CDs, look at the books on your shelf, see the posters on your wall - and discern (from the images you used to adorn your MySpace page) how you perceive yourself.

They will check out your friends, read what people say about you. And even if they wouldn't normally be your friend, if these visitors get the sense that you are a genuine person, fully-formed around one of the keys to authenticity for millennials (cool/new/passionate/goofy) they will add you as a 'friend.'

The cultural currency on MySpace is the posting of comments. It is truly all important. Being approachable and engaging in conversation is paramount.

There is no difference between this and the personality traits that characterize personal, door-to-door politics. Be engaging and clear, deliver your message in a personable way, show that you care about people's concerns.

I'll bet you'd be shocked to see who is the most successful candidate on MySpace today. It's not John Kerry, or Russ Feingold, or George Bush, or John McCain, or any of the other supposed "net-savvy" national figured. It's the self-described geek who's supposedly running a "charmless" campaign:

Phil Angelides, California's Democratic candidate for governor, had nothing to do with creating a MySpace page under his name. His teenage daughter was the first to point out his presence on the popular online hangout.

But rather than kill a volunteer's unauthorized efforts, the campaign has embraced the youth-heavy site, using Angelides' personal profile page to post position papers and other announcements. It also scans the comments section to gauge what's on youths' minds, turning it into an informal focus group.

"We've come to embrace it as our own," campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw said. "It can help you reach an audience that otherwise might be more difficult to reach. Not as many young voters watch the evening news."

The campaign has also turned to video-sharing site to circulate campaign ads, speeches and other clips.

Angelides' MySpace site (link) currently has 5,442 friends (by contrast, netroots darling Ned Lamont has about 175). In the past two days he has received 16 public comments, a pretty decent number. A lot of them ask specific questions about his positions. Something like 80% of registered users on MySpace are of voting age, despite the stereotype that it's just for 15 year-olds. The MySpace blog for Phil is updated pretty frequently. Some of these are press release dumps, but others are tailored to the community.

By contrast, his opponent, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who you would think would know how to use media better than anyone, has misfired badly with this approach, IMO:

If you signed up for Gov. Arnold's Schwarzenegger's text messenge campaign this weekend, you might see a few extra charges show up on your cell phone bill. The campaign asked supporters to sign up by texting the word "GOV" to 5055 to keep them updated with ongoings at the California Republican Party State Convention this weekend. When The Hotline signed up, we received no less than NINE text messages over two days. A little intense, especially given SMS number five (1:30pm PST on Saturday) asked us to donate over the phone.

People do NOT want media pushed to them, especially in this kind of annoying way.

I think this is a great untapped resource. Angelides is doing a pretty good job but it could be even better. He has a base of support here big enough to get others involved in a viral way as the election nears. This is where you can get GOTV volunteers. This is where you can spread your message to previously uninvolved groups of potential voters. This is where word of mouth can spread like wildfire. If every one of Angelides' friends sent a bulletin about the race to every one of their friends, you would literally reach more people than any television ad in the entire cycle. That's not an exaggeration; it's math.

I hope the campaign continues to use the site in a smarter way, incorporating video (2006 is pretty much the year of the YouTube campaign, IMO) and specific, personality-driven messages. That Angelides is so far accomplishing this the best on MySpace is not necessarily a testament to him but to how everyone else is late to this party. He could be doing a FAR better job of whipping up support. Treat it like retail politics; make sure you shake every hand and pay attention to people's concerns. Are the questions in the public comments getting answered? Are blog comments getting a response? Is there an effort afoot to get more friends (there are automated programs that do a superior job at that)?

Still, I'm very excited that Angelides is this far ahead of the curve, and I think it could potentially be an X factor in the governor's race.


Good For Sam

I am a big fan of Sam Seder and The Majority Report. I seem to mention this anecdote every time I mention Seder, but many years ago when I was in college I appeared in a student film with him. He's a great guy, hysterically funny, knows his shit, and has used his radio show on Air America to connect with the blogosphere like nobody else.

There was a lot of fear that the show would be cancelled after Janeane Garofalo left it (actually I think it made the show ten times better. I like Janeane, but she was hardly ever there, and when she was her fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants style and screechy radicalism really damaged the show's credibility). There was a letter-writing campaign to save the show. If this Boston Globe article is correct, he's just had the show picked up, moving to the 9am-12 noon slot, replacing Jerry Springer, whom I'm assuming would move to the nighttime shift. The article says it applies to LA as well, which fires me up, as I'll have more of a chance to hear him.

Great news for Sam. He's found an excellent niche on the radio. Now we need to get him more talking head appearances on the cable gabfests. Hackett and Seder would be a nice 1-2 punch.


Election Fixes That Make Sense

A lot of pessimists in the Democratic Left say that voting is rigged and no matter what happens the Republicans will always find a way to win and blah blah blah. There are serious concerns with the process by which we elect candidates, but just like the fact that there are available solutions to global warming, there are available solutions to voting issues as well. Mark Green, a former New York City mayoral candidate, has written a book about restoring democract which is excerpted in this HuffPo blog post that offers some concrete solutions we could institute tomorrow. Some of these fall under a larger banner of a "pro-democracy agenda," but others are strictly about voting:

• Voting should occur on a Saturday in early November called "Democracy Day," combining a day honoring veterans who died for our democracy with a non-work day where we practice it.

• States that have experimented with mail-in ballots, same-day registration, and early balloting (voting any time over a specific period pre-election day) have seen turnout increase by 10 percentage points and more.

• Electronic voting machines are the future, but they musthave paper trails (as ATMs manage to do) to deter or detect fraud.

• Instead of felony disenfranchisement laws, all ex-offenders in non-capital cases who have paid their debt to society should become full citizens, including the right to vote.

• Instead of political gerrymandering rigging "elections" so they destroy electoral competition, a nonpartisan system of former judges should oversee the drawing of the legislative lines, as in Iowa.

• Congress should enact three campaign reforms--a) establishing a system of public matching funds for qualifying candidates so that small donors diminish the sway of big donors; b) providing guaranteed TV/radio time for qualifying federal candidates as a condition of holding lucrative Federal Communications Commission licenses; and c) prohibiting lobbyists from picking up the tab for congressional junkets and from hosting fundraisers in the Washington, D.C. area.

There are a lot of other proposals he has over at the post, but I'm zeroing in on these voting issues. I don't even think that any of these are particularly partisan; most of them seem like common sense. Anything that increases democratic participation and eases barriers to entry for people to enter that process is positive in my view. You're free to see it otherwise.

In addition, Larry Sabato wrote an excellent essay some months ago about the Presidential primary process that is incredibly insightful and comes to what I think is a great conclusion.

The Congress should be constitutionally required to designate four regions of contiguous states (with contiguity waved for Alaska and Hawaii, and any other stray territories that might one day become states). The regions would surely look something like the ones on the map below, with natural boundaries denoting the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. These regions have about the same number of states: Northeast (twelve states plus DC), South (thirteen states), Midwest (twelve states), West (thirteen states). All of the states in each region will hold their nominating events in successive months, beginning in April and ending in July. The two major-party conventions would follow in August. This schedule, all by itself, would cut three months off the too-long process currently prevailing in presidential years.

The presidential nominating system would still be state-based, so each state would be free to choose any date it wished within the region’s month, and further, it would be free, as currently, to choose either the primary or the caucus method of selecting delegates. Of course, it is possible that all the states in a region will try to front-load their contests on the first possible day, but that actually makes little sense, except perhaps for the first region in the series. Even in that first region, a state may have more influence coming later in the month, perhaps standing alone on a particular day—a situation that will encourage presidential candidates to spend time and money in the stand-alone state. After all, the postprimary headlines will belong solely to the candidate who wins that stand-alone state. If there are ten states on a particular day, the headlines as well as the candidates’ time and money will be split ten ways. Note, too, that the regional system concentrates the candidates within a single region for a month. They will have a better opportunity to get to know the problems and peoples of the region and its states, and the geographic proximity of the campaigning will cut down on the wear and tear on the candidates, to some degree anyway.

This makes too much sense for it to actually happen, right? But breaking the Iowa-New Hampshire monopoly is key, I think, to sustaining our democracy by giving the whole country an opportunity to have a voice in the primary process rather than a few people. The DNC just instituted a new primary calendar that puts Nevada and South Carolina in the mix with Iowa and New Hampshire. It's an OK start, but it still adds to the front-loading of the primaries that does nothing but drag out the process and make it costlier. Sabato's solution is the perfect antidote.

Electoral reforms are not only crucial, they're extremely realizable if people advocate for them and break the status quo. The result would be very beneficial for democracy.

UPDATE: The California State Senate just passed a bill calling for them to appropriate their 55 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote for President. I think it's an amazing idea, and you can get information about the plan here. It would only kick in when states totaling 270 electoral votes or more sign it into law. It's bipartisan, too.


Hey, A Year Is Only 365 Days

The President is out trying to manage expectations in the wake of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

President Bush cautioned against placing too much importance on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s Gulf Coast strike, saying Wednesday it will take a long, sustained effort to rebuild the area.

“It’s a time to remember that people suffered and it’s a time to recommit ourselves to helping them,” Bush said. “But I also want people to remember that a one-year anniversary is just that, because it’s going to require a long time to help these people rebuild.”

The president promised to continue working to make sure the federal government’s efforts in the rebuilding effort are efficient.

A year is a heck of a long time for someone to be living in a tent or trailer. A year is a very long time for people whose homes were demolished to receive financial aid (many have had money appropriated to them but no checks cut). A year is far too long for the Lower 9th Ward to look like this:

(these photos were taken in mid-March by Louis Maistros.)

Digby has a good post up about this, saying basically that the Republicans are masters of stagecraft and the media will be all too willing to portray their photo-ops as a sign of amazing progress. The Democrats had better be prepared for this with some stagecraft of their own, which highlights the broken promises and mismanagement that has left New Orleans residents at risk. This blurb offers soome hope that they're at least thinking about it:

A report being released today by top Democrats, titled "Broken Promises: The Republican Response to Katrina," features a picture of Bush from his Sept. 15, 2005, speech in New Orleans' Jackson Square in which he promised to oversee "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen."

The report argues that every aspect of the Gulf Coast recovery — housing, business loans, health care, education, future preparedness — "suffers from a failed Republican response marked by unfulfilled promises, cronyism, waste, fraud and abuse."

Democratic leaders recently distributed packets to lawmakers, advising them to attend religious services in their districts and community events commemorating the anniversary and to coordinate with local civil-rights organizations — all to accentuate the GOP's failings.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is scheduled to spend Thursday in New Orleans with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to kick off what they call the "Hope and Recovery Tour." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., plans to arrive this weekend with about 20 other Democrats for additional events.

Democrats said they intended to respond aggressively as the White House seeks to frame the Katrina story. In a conference call with reporters, Reid tied Katrina to broader questions of national security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Of course, this is at the END of the story about what the White House is doing from a PR standpoint to counter Democratic efforts. They don't call it the bully pulpit for nothing. The Democrats had better get their game faces on and make sure their message gets into these anniversary stories in a balanced way.


Power of the Netroots

I wrote last week about the Schwarzenegger campaign hiring Ben Lopez of the Traditional Values Coalition to do outreach to evangelicals. The TVC, led by the Rev. Lou Sheldon, is little more than a right-wing fundie hate group, in my opinion. Rick Jacobs' California Courage Campaign jumped on it as well, motivating people online to petition Arnold's campaign to dissasociate himself from the TVC.

Whaddya know, it worked:

Ben Lopez, the chief lobbyist and spokesman for the Traditional Values Coalition -- the Anaheim-based evangelical advocacy group led by the controversial Rev. Lou Sheldon -- has been fired from his new job as an outreach worker with the California Republican Party, sources said Tuesday.

Lopez's hiring had been hailed by conservatives, who have been concerned about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's moves to the political center, when it was made public late last week as the state Republican Party opened its convention.

But gay and lesbian groups criticized the decision by the state Republicans to add Lopez, a well-known evangelical advocate, to the party's payroll and called on Schwarzenegger to renounce Lopez and Sheldon as intolerant.

Mike Spence, who heads the conservative California Republican Assembly, said the decision to dump Lopez brings "frustration that the governor's organization is not about the whole team effort. We're supposed to be unified behind the governor's staff like (Democrat) Susan Kennedy, and yet they fired the only person who could do church outreach."

This is a major blow to the GOP's effort to turn out evangelicals for the governor in November. It splits the state party (as the above quote shows) and makes a conservative backlash more likely. Although in the end I think they'll come home to the governor, they may have a bigger problem with GOTV.

More than anything, this shows the power of the netroots/grassroots coalition to hold people accountable for their actions. I applaud both the tradition LGBT groups and the online community in the state for agitating for this result. It's a bigger story than you might think.


I'm Still Here? Amazing!

After spending all of yesterday in a heavily fortified bunker waiting for the obvious beginning of the apocalypse as predicted by such deep thinkers as Bernard Lewis and every warblogger with an agenda who got emailed that article by Bernard Lewis, I awoke this morning, took off my flak jacket, and slowly peered up into the outside world. Amazingly enough, it was still standing!

It was so puzzling, since the theory that the anniversary of the Miraj, Mohammed's night ride, would be a perfect moment for that ruthless madman Ahmadinejad, who doesn't control the armed forces in Iraq, by the way, to launch the final, momentous, earth-shattering attack with all that enriched uranium he's been developing (so far, enough to start up a pen light!). But nothing happened! How could the neocons and the warbloggers be so wrong?

Never mind, I answered my own question.

As for what ACTUALLY happened yesterday, Iran picked the symbolic date to respond to the EU/US/UN offer of incentives in exchange for stopping their nuclear program. They gave a serious, but in other ways unserious, reply:

Iran said Tuesday that it was prepared to enter “serious talks” over its nuclear program, even as it apparently refused to suspend enrichment of uranium by the end of August, the primary demand of the United Nations Security Council, according to a European official.

Iran’s call for resuming negotiations came as part of its response to a package of economic and political incentives that Europe and the United States offered to persuade Tehran to voluntarily suspend enrichment. When Iran failed to respond promptly to the offer, the Security Council passed a resolution demanding that it suspend enrichment by Aug. 31.

As European and American diplomats analyzed Iran’s proposal on Tuesday, it increasingly appeared that its efforts to push past the Aug. 31 deadline were received as a nonstarter and would likely lead to calls for imposing sanctions. The United States, Britain, France and Germany planned to hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the Iranian proposal and the prospect of drawing up a Security Council resolution to call for sanctions.

But the meeting will not include two key members of the Security Council, Russia and China. It is not clear how Beijing or Moscow have reacted to the proposal. Russians have told Iranian officials they are under considerable pressure from the West to hold firm on the demand that Tehran suspend enriching uranium, said political analysts here.

Basically, Iran didn't agree to suspend enrichment before the negotiations to suspend enrichment began. That really would give up all their leverage right from the outset. But obviously, this is a stalling tactic. And unfortunately, Russia and China appear to be buying into it:

Iran urged Europe on Wednesday to pay attention to what it called "positive" signals in its counterproposal to a nuclear incentives package aimed at persuading Tehran to roll back its nuclear program. Russia and China backed Iran's call for negotiations to end the standoff.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said "the door is still open" for negotiations but only if Iran suspends uranium enrichment first, a step Tehran appears reluctant to agree to [...]

"If Europeans pay proper attention to positive and clear signals included in Iran's response, the case will be solved through negotiation and without tension," the radio quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying on Wednesday. He described Iran's response as a sign of his country's good will.

If the Iranians were to leave the door open to halting enrichment as talks progress, for example, that would drive a wedge between the Americans, British and French on one side and the Russians and Chinese on the other. Last month, Russia said the Security Council was in no rush to pressure Iran, striking a more conciliatory tone than the United States.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it would continue to seek a negotiated solution. China appealed for dialogue, urging "constructive measures" by Iran and patience from the U.S. and its allies.

Nobody wants Iran to continue with its nuclear program, as they have failed to pass the honesty test on whether or not they're using it for civilian energy or weapons making. Time is most assuredly on the side of the West in this one, however. This is not an imminent crisis, but one that demands attention and full US engagement. It was amusing to see Reuel Marc Gerecht from the American Enterprise Institute look so out of place on ABC's This Week on Sunday, despite being in a roundtable with two other conservatives (Will and Zakaria). He stuck out like an extreme, maniacal sore thumb:

The subject was the fiasco of American strategy in the Middle East, however, and an elite consensus of outrage and despair on that subject is clearly beginning to emerge such that the ideological slant of the team didn't prevent the discussion from being, on the whole, fairly cogent and sober-minded. (Another way of putting this is that, particularly regarding Iraq, several of the panelists made the major analytical points that liberals have been expressing for a few years now, which can be taken as a real sign of progress given that it's apparently simply too much to expect that liberals themselves will ever regularly appear on such panels.)

I don't know if that's a factor of where elite opinion has gone or that a neocon endorsing striking Iran with bunker busters is such extreme, ridiculous, self-destructive folly that even the conservative response to that sounds rational.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Phony Farmers

Funny story at Governor Phil about the CA GOP trying to disrupt an Angelides event in the Central Valley by using rented tractors without having a tractor license. Arnold must have figured that you never need a real license on the set. After all, he "never thought about" getting a motorcycle license.

UPDATE: A pic of the tractor ridden by fake famers without a license:



I just watched an amazing performance on Hardball. Chris Matthews just pummeled, PUMMELED Van Taylor (only Republican Iraq War vet running for Congress on the Republican side, in Texas), and Paul Hackett piled on, calling out Taylor as nothing but an apologist.

Matthews has been a strong antiwar voice for some time. He continually asked Taylor "why did we go into Iraq" over and over again, and Taylor simply couldn't answer it. He tried over and over again to link 9/11 and Al Qaeda and Iraq, and got sucked in to admitting that Al Qaeda is in Iraq right now because they made a decision to attack us there once we went in. Matthews then pounced on it, saying "well, if we didn't go in, they wouldn't be in there in the first place?" Matthews then hit him, wondering why what we're seeing on our TV screens (even though we're not really seeing it), where 3,100 Iraqis are dying a month, and no more than 5% can be attributed to Al Qaeda. Taylor couldn't respond.

Paul Hackett jumps in with "what you're seeing is a civil war. The US military has done every single thing they can do from a military standpoint. Hackett then asked "Where's the six-foot-two, left-handed guy with the flowing white robe and the kidney problem? (Taylor) doesn't understand the war on terror." It just got worse from there.

Hackett was fucking amazing, at one point yelling "soundbite" when Taylor was peddling a talking point. Hackett said in no uncertain terms that the war is over, what you're seeing is a civil war, and the Administration has no strategy to fix it. He really should be the only guy sent out to the talk shows. I've never seen such a mismatch tilted in favor of the Democrat on one of these type of shows in MY ENTIRE LIFE. Digby did a prescient post the other day about how Hackett should be the model for Democratic talking heads, because he plays against the stereotype of a feminized wimp. Well, this appearance was a ringing endorsement of that strategy.

Matthews tried to trip Hackett up at the end by referencing Sherrod Brown, saying "shouldn't that be you out there," but Hackett was having none of it. "Go give some money to Sherrod Brown, he's a great guy and I support him in becoming the next Senator from Ohio."

Crooks and Liars is going to get the video of this up and I urge you to go take a look. This is a model for how Democrats should handle themselves on these shows, although it was helped by a host predisposed to the Democratic argument and an incompetent boob of a Republican opponent.


Inhuff and Inpuff and Inhofe Blows the House Down

So what's wrong with this picture? On the same day that the Marines are forced to call up 2,500 of the Individual Ready Reserves because nobody in their right mind wants to go to Iraq, Sen. James "Global warming is a hoax" Inhofe unveils this incredible statement:

“What’s happened [in Iraq] is nothing short of a miracle.”

Inhofe is maybe America's worst senator. He said September 11th was God’s way of punishing America for not defending Israel. He said he was more "outraged by the outrage" over Abu Ghraib than over the torture itself. And now this comical assertion.

This type of thinking is not limited to a crackpot senator, but the President himself, who can't seem to understand why the Iraqis haven't gone out to their stores and bought those flowers and candy and sweets to throw at our Army's collective feet:

President Bush made clear in a private meeting this week that he was concerned about the lack of progress in Iraq and frustrated that the new Iraqi government — and the Iraqi people — had not shown greater public support for the American mission, participants in the meeting said Tuesday. [...]

More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. “I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States,” said another person who attended.

If he can't figure that one out himself I'm not going to help him. But the bottom line is that democracy at the barrel of a gun has a tendency to breed resentment on those with the gun barrel in their faces. And as far as Shiites demonstrating in support of Shiites, well, blood is thicker than... blood draining out of their countrymen.

These statements show a tragic ignorance with the difficult issues in the Middle East, and how little attention was paid to them before dropping bombs.


Lost In The Legislative Flurry

A lot of people are looking at the rush to enact legislation at the end of the session in Sacramento as some kind of vindication for the Governor's New Moderation. I've written in more depth that this looks to me like Monet politics.

Furthermore, there's another bill that reached the Governor's desk on Monday that I'm guessing you won't hear much about. But you should, because it highlights the key difference between Phil Angelides and Arnold Schwarzenegger: a candidate for all Californians versus a governor for special interests and corporate contributors.

CalPIRG reports that AB 675, The Honest Corporate Tax Reporting Act, has passed both Houses and reached the Governor's desk:

Corporations report profits to the California state tax board that are on average 20 percent lower than the profits they report to shareholders. Because corporations keep two sets of books, some companies are able to manipulate profit numbers through the use of offshore tax shelters and other tactics. The Honest Corporate Tax Reporting Act, AB 675 (Klehs), would require corporations to disclose and explain any differences between profits reported to shareholders and profits reported to the state tax board. The Franchise Tax Board has characterized the reporting required in this bill as “a significant audit tool” that “could assist auditors in identifying tax shelter activity and dissuade some taxpayers from entering into tax avoidance schemes.”

These are the kind of corporate tax loopholes that Phil Angelides has vowed to close. The question is, will the governor sign it?

I'm guessing no, though I'd like to be surprised. But when rich corporate contributors bankroll your campaign, how could you turn around and force their hand on their tax-avoidance schemes? After all, we have one example of the Governor letting his friends off the hook. On the flip:

Oil Firms Cleared Of Price Gouging

Oil companies did not engage in price gouging at the gas pump earlier this year, state regulators said Tuesday -- at least as far as they can tell.

A monthslong investigation revealed that although refineries made higher profits in California, it wasn't clear they were excessive -- because regulators don't have enough financial information from oil companies to say for sure.

But based on the information they did collect, "We found no evidence of market manipulation,'' said Joseph Desmond, undersecretary for energy affairs in the California Resources Agency.

The Governor personally set this investigation into motion with a very public announcement. This revelation happened a week ago. Tell me if you've heard about it.

It simply strains credulity that a increase in global oil prices, which concerns crude that won't get to market for six months, can impact gas prices in the state in the matter of a couple days. But the commission had no opportunity to force the oil companies to provide the financial evidence they needed. And the governor certainly didn't use the bully pulpit to get those laws changed. In fact, the energy commission pleaded with the governor to do just that. Remember this quote?

"I want to assure the citizens of the state that whatever the reasons for'' the spike in gas prices, Schwarzenegger said at the time, "we will get to the bottom of it.''

But he made no effort to get to the bottom of it, other than commissioning a halfhearted investigation that, in Angelides' words, would have yielded the same conclusion "if the oil industry had written the investigation themselves."

I suspect we'll hear the same kind of rhetoric on the Honest Corporate Tax Reporting Act. Or we'll hear nothing at all, as the bill fades slowly away.


Monet Politics

The end of the legislative session in California has become a prime opportunity for the Governor to get massive publicity by signing proto-progressive legislation and defusing key campaign issues from his challenger. On some of these counts, Arnold deserves some praise. On others, this looks increasingly like a surface display.

The signing of The Million Solar Roofs Bill is great news for anyone who wants to see California as a leader in alternative energy. It uses free market levers to encourage solar panels on a million roofs in the state. It's a bit redundant, as the Public Utilities Commission already made this a priority last year in response to public support for the plan. But the real losers on this are the California Democratic Party, who blocked this bill last year, supposedly because of vague union concerns. So instead they hand the Governor a big victory on alternative energy in the middle of an election year instead of when he was sinking anyway in 2005. Smart move. The CDP had no business blocking this bill then, and I'm in some ways happy they gave up resistance now, though it shows how incoherent their electoral strategy is, and the opportunity cost of implementing this plan a year late is striking.

Next, the state's top leaders in the Assembly and Senate are piecing together legislation that would make California a leader in fighting global warming by regulating greenhouse gas emissions. We've seen this before, and the bold step made be state government often fades (just see Who Killed The Electric Car). There's some loopholes in the law (like suspension in the event of a natural disaster, for example, or how much businesses could get credit from California for dropping emissions elsewhere), but there's always a push and pull at work here. This could engender a split between the Governor and the CA Chamber of Commerce, who underwrited a lot of his ads this year. So until the result of the final negotiations come out, I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach. Remember that the "historic agreement" between California and Great Britain on reduction of anti-global warming emissions ended up being COMPLETELY VOLUNTARY for corporations.

Finally, the biggest news has been the compromise on the minimum wage, an agreement to increase it from $6.75 to eventually $8.00 an hour over the next two years. Of course, this was a done deal since the beginning of the year; the only question was whether there would be an automatic COLA (cost of living adjustment) or not. There is not one in the final bill. And the deal on the minimum wage now is an attempt to brush away the two vetoes Schwarzenegger put down on this same bill over the last two years. He claims the economy is strong enough to support it now. That's the economy that added a pathetic 900 jobs in July.

Indexing would relieve the pressure on low-income Californians to struggle every few years until an increase kicks in, and would stop this situation where they are held hostage to electoral politics. As SFBrian writes at Calitics:

Indexing does nothing to increase the real wages of the state’s poorest. It merely does what is done for most people in government jobs, ties their earnings to what stuff actually costs. It takes politics out of the equation. If we passed indexing, we could set a real minimum wage once and let the indexing take care of the rest. But now we’ll be back where we started in five years. Hopefully then we will have a Democratic governor who understands the valuable role of the state’s minimum wage workers.

I think that these latest bills are a bit of Monet politics, to paraphrase Clueless; from far away they look good, but upon closer inspection, not so much.


The Many Media Opportunities of D-Day

I'll be on The Insult Review Internet radio talk show at 12 noon today. You can call in, apparently.

I'm also performing at the Improv in Hollywood this Thursday night at 10pm.

As always, there's Cut And Run Comedy every Wednesday night at the E-Spot.

And on Sunday, I'm part of The Free Speech Show, which takes place in Bill Bronner's living room but is later broadcast throughout the world via Google Video. It's kind of a salon discussion format, where comics and writers get together to chat about a particular topic. The Sunday show has to do with labor and the economy, I believe.

So none of you have any excuse to miss my many appearances this week.


Invading Iraq has made Israel less safe.

Bottom line.

I can't tell you how disgusted I was to hear from my family that the Jewish Exponent (local Philly Jewish paper) had a full-page ad disguised as an article about how Democrats abandoned that great supporter of Israel, Joe Lieberman. We have to combat this. It's ridiculous. Support for Israel is not about mindlessly parroting "I support Israel," it's about avoiding policies that put them in grave danger, as invading Iraq, which has done nothing but embolden their biggest rival, has done. This left them vulnerable to getting into a futile war with their proxy in Lebanon, which ended up as a great symbolic victory for Hezbollah (who is now engaging in the time-honored policy of buying off the public by spending all kinds of money to reconstruct the region. Somebody give them directions to New Orleans.)

Sometimes it comes down to simple slogans. Anyone interested can dig deeper. But you need to keep it simple. Invading Iraq Hurt Israel. Republicans Hate Government; Don't Let Them Govern. Breaking The Law Has Consequences. Where's Osama?

See occams hatchet's excellent diary for a variation on this theme.


Felix: You're Done

Iowa won't have George Felix Allen to kick around anymore. Charlie Cook delivers the goods to Ryan Lizza:

To answer your question, I think Allen's presidential hopes had dimmed considerably from last fall when insiders might -- and many did -- say that he was a co-frontrunner for the Republican nomination (as measured by the December National Journal Insiders Poll that showed that 39 out of 100 GOP Insiders picked Allen as the most likely nominee, 38 said McCain. I think it was seven that chose Giuliani as most likely.)

First, as the contender who was stylistically and ideologically most similar to President Bush, as the President's fortunes have fallen, so has Allen's. Republicans, today at least, seem much more likely to nominate an "agent of change," a John McCain, a Mitt Romney, heck, a Newt Gingrich, than a traditional conservative who is philosophically comparable or perhaps more conservative than Bush.

Thus, we saw Allen's hopes diminish, as measured by the May NJ Insiders poll when McCain went from 38 to 63 while Allen dropped from 39 to 20, with Romney moving up to 10. I only use that as a measurement of conventional wisdom.

To be honest, your TNR piece raised a ton of questions about Allen, that further eroded his position, but more than directly hurt him, simply put some suspicions up in the air, floating around. Then when the macaca hit the fan, this incident just began to corroborate some of the questions you raised.

In the end, I think the party needing to go in a different direction from a conventional conservative approach was the primary reason for his diminished position in the race for the 2008 nomination. This just puts an exclamation point on the view that Allen is no longer a real contender for the nomination. [Emphasis added]

I still don't buy that McCain is a slam-dunk. He still has a lot of problems with the base which would come back to haunt him if they coalesce around another candidate. That candidate would have been George Felix Allen, but now he'll be lucky just to remain in the Senate. Now, who knows? Mitt Romney has been moving up the ladder. And it's significant that he's a governor; Republicans have picked Senators twice since 1964, and both (Goldwater and Dole) were disasters. I don't think Mike Huckabee, governor of Arkansas, should be overlooked either.

But the point is that George Felix Allen has essentially ended his career for higher office, as a function of a tough Senate race. That's why you contest everywhere.


Waiting for the Avalanche of News Stories

Last week, when a Q-poll showed Joe Lieberman (Connecticut for Lieberman - CT) up by double digits in his Senate race against Ned Lamont (Democrat - CT), you couldn't read or watch any news program without that bit of information included. Today both Rasmussen and ARG show the race as a virtual dead heat.

I'm eagerly awaiting the stream of articles about this development.

So far, none. In fact the only story in the first 20 that mentions polling refers to the old 12-point Lieberman lead.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Is It FEAR Unit?

The British disruption of the civil aviation terror plot is a textbook example of why everyone should shut their mouths before these investigations move forward. Because the nature of sensationalist media and political opportunism will always hype a threat at the outset, and it remains to be seen if the dangerousness of that threat will hold.

The Pakistanis, who could find evidence whether there's a clue or not, can't find anything on the alleged mastermind of the plot:

Rashid Rauf, whose detention in Pakistan was the trigger for the arrest of 23 suspects in Britain, has been accused of taking orders from Al Qaeda"s No. 3 in Afghanistan and sending money back to the UK to allow the alleged bombers to buy plane tickets.

But after two weeks of interrogation, an inch-by-inch search of his house and analysis of his home computer, officials are now saying that his extradition is "a way down the track" if it happens at all.

It comes amid wider suspicions that the plot may not have been as serious, or as far advanced, as the authorities initially claimed.

Analysts suspect Pakistani authorities exaggerated Rauf's role to appear "tough on terrorism" and impress Britain and America.

The fact that Pakistan relies on the US for a massive amount of financial aid is a strong motivator to get results on terrorism. You remember that the US reportedly made a deal with Pakistan before the 2004 election to come up with a "high-value target" during the Democratic National Convention. So clearly there is implicit and explicit pressure on Pakistan to break big terror news on a timely basis.

Lost in the discussion about the plot, its seriousness, how advanced its stages were (you know, like the fact that a lot of the plotters didn't have passports), and whether or not it was imminent is the question of its feasibility. This article from a British paper takes a real sober look at that question, and yields some surprising results:

Binary liquid explosives are a sexy staple of Hollywood thrillers. It would be tedious to enumerate the movie terrorists who've employed relatively harmless liquids that, when mixed, immediately rain destruction upon an innocent populace, like the seven angels of God's wrath pouring out their bowls full of pestilence and pain.

Now we have news of the recent, supposedly real-world, terrorist plot to destroy commercial airplanes by smuggling onboard the benign precursors to a deadly explosive, and mixing up a batch of liquid death in the lavatories. So, The Register has got to ask, were these guys for real, or have they, and the counterterrorist officials supposedly protecting us, been watching too many action movies? [...]

Making a quantity of TATP sufficient to bring down an airplane is not quite as simple as ducking into the toilet and mixing two harmless liquids together.

First, you've got to get adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This is hard to come by, so a large quantity of the three per cent solution sold in pharmacies might have to be concentrated by boiling off the water. Only this is risky, and can lead to mission failure by means of burning down your makeshift lab before a single infidel has been harmed.

But let's assume that you can obtain it in the required concentration, or cook it from a dilute solution without ruining your operation. Fine. The remaining ingredients, acetone and sulfuric acid, are far easier to obtain, and we can assume that you've got them on hand [...]

The genius of this scheme is that TATP is relatively easy to detonate. But you must make enough of it to crash the plane, and you must make it with care to assure potency. One needs quality stuff to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," as Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson put it. While it's true that a slapdash concoction will explode, it's unlikely to do more than blow out a few windows. At best, an infidel or two might be killed by the blast, and one or two others by flying debris as the cabin suddenly depressurizes, but that's about all you're likely to manage under the most favorable conditions possible.

We believe this because a peer-reviewed 2004 study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) entitled "Decomposition of Triacetone Triperoxide is an Entropic Explosion" tells us that the explosive force of TATP comes from the sudden decomposition of a solid into gasses. There's no rapid oxidizing of fuel, as there is with many other explosives: rather, the substance changes state suddenly through an entropic process, and quickly releases a respectable amount of energy when it does. (Thus the lack of ingredients typically associated with explosives makes TATP, a white crystalline powder resembling sugar, difficult to detect with conventional bomb sniffing gear.)

This is good, scientific stuff that is typically left out of the hyperbolic reports that dominate daily cable news and fevered postings in the conservosphere. It's not enough that a bunch of yahoos in Britain WANT to blow up a plane; it's important to understand whether or not they could actually do it. We now know that 11 plotters have been charged but just as many have not been, and two were actually released. Everyone who wants to wield this plot as a political tool needs to step off the ledge and pay attention to the facts. And the facts are starting to break down quickly.


The Not-So-Solid South

Two polls out today in Southern Senate races show good news for the Democrats.

In Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr. is up 44-42 in the latest poll against Republican nominee Bob Corker. Ford is a smart candidate (I just watched him have a pretty good appearance on Hardball), and as a moderate he's the right fit for Tennessee. Corker has been dogged by issues of using his office for personal gain while mayor of Chattanooga. Essentially his real estate company collected $4.6 million dollars from Wal-Mart right after Corker signed off on selling them the land.

And in Virginia, the macaca effect appears to be working in the Democrats' favor, as a new poll has Jim Webb within 3 points of incumbent Sen. George Allen, 48-45. This race has tightened about 12-15 points in a matter of weeks, and the Webb campaign has to be thrilled with these numbers. Allen is inextricably tied to an unpopular President, and he's making more problems for himself every time he opens his mouth.

If the Republicans can't hold the solid South, this is going to be a tidal wave of an election.


Quick Hits

Cleaning up some stuff I didn't get to last week:

Middle-class Americans are having lots of trouble paying for health care. Not surprising, but consider that we knew precisely that rising health care costs were a problem during the 2000 election. It's stunning how little has been done about it, even rhetorically. They don't even talk a good game on health care at the White House.

• John McCain, Mr. Straight Talk, the maverick reformer who's going to clean up Washington, is breaking the campaign finance law that he created. He's raising soft money. Curiously, this did not come up on McCain's lengthy interview on Meet the Press. Of course, a lot of bullshit and incoherent logic did come up.

This is a good summation of the issues surrounding the employing of the Espionage Act in the prosecution of two AIPAC staffers. Basically this recent ruling says that the recepients of classified information can be punished for receiving it as much as the leakers can, even if they do nothing with that information. This is nothing but an opportunity to punish the press for doing their job.

• Alan Keyes: no difference between stem cell research and Josef Mengele's experiments. I hope he will sign the pledge not to accept future treatment from any cures discovered as a result of that research. Oh, and Keyes is a completely irrelevant crank, except he said this execrable quote at the keynote speech for Missouri Right to Life, a key supporter of the campaign of Senator Jim Talent. Wonder if he agrees with Keyes.

• Fox News producers resign in protest of the network's coverage in the Middle East. You probably won't hear about this on Fox News. Or anywhere else but Democracy Now.

• Yes, Lieberman's got a double digit lead. And I think it's completely expected at this stage of the race. The incumbent still has the advantage, and I think a few people on this side are spinning those numbers in unfortunate ways. All you have to watch Lieberman's silliness on Face the Nation to know that beating him a second time is a high priority for me. But there's a lot of work to be done. The real problem is that Lamont is outpolling Schlesinger (the Republican candidate) among REPUBLICANS. If Schlesinger was in any way credible the situation would be different.

• The latest Survey USA poll shows that George Felix Macaca is up by only three points on Jim Webb. Quite a swing over the past month. This is the race that the DSCC would have been fairly content to unilaterally disarm from and focus on opportunities elsewhere. Now it might just decide control of the Senate.


Finding the Good In Everything

Greg Sargent notices the story I read in the LA Times during my self-imposed blogging moratorium. It continues the familiar narrative that anything negative that happens to the Republicans is seen as a great victory.

GOP Sees Strategic Advantage in Court Loss on Wiretapping

WASHINGTON — This week's federal court ruling that declared the president's warrantless wiretapping program unconstitutional was a blow to the Bush administration and a victory for its critics. But in a reversal, it is Republicans who are highlighting the decision and Democrats who are sidestepping it.

There have been about 20 different stories with this theme over the past 2 years. Literally anything that happens badly for the GOP becomes a positive for the party's electoral strategy. Basically, the media has been trash talked by Republican operatives into believing that anything they do ends up helping them. By this logic, they might as well walk out en masse from the Capitol, to "draw differences" with the weak Democratic caucus.

When you've been spun into thinking that a ruling which unequivocally states that the Administration is breaking the law is somehow a good thing, you've been spun pretty good.

And the Democrat they always find to confirm this notion is Marshall Wittman of the Progressive Policy Institute. Only the PPI is a front group for the DLC, Wittman is the former legislative aide to John McCain and the Christian Coalition, and literally no serious Democrat believes him or even takes him seriously. We really need a moratorium on having Marshall Wittman listed in articles as a "Democratic strategist." It makes a mockery of the "balance" that those stories reputedly provide.


Well That Sums It Up

John de Rosier, in the Albany (NY) Times-Union:

The problem with cable news is that every story has the same amount of weight. The order of importance is only based on its freshness and new-ness. And, of course, its level of sensationalism.

This is a first-rate editorial cartoon.


Six-Year Cakewalk

I just want to expand on how insane and radical a statement Bush made in his press conference today. Atrios has highlighted the remark and what it means (Friedmans in his vernacular are a time frame of "about six months," so named because the glorious Thomas Friedman has said "we have about six months to get it right in Iraq" about seven times):

Bush (approximate transcript, too lazy to rewind the Tivo):

As long as I am president we are not leaving Iraq.

For those keeping score, that's another 5 more Friedmans at least. Which means Bush doesn't believe there's any way that his "plan" (whatever the hell that is) will "succeed" in under two and a half years.

And furthermore it means that the strategy for victory in Iraq included a military campaign of at least six years. That would make it the longest war in American history save for Vietnam. If the casualty rate remained the same, it would also involve the deaths of 5,000 American soldiers and the wounding of about 35,000.

This was the war known as the "cakewalk."

In addition, the President got so angry at having to be called for account on Iraq today, that in his fulminating and perorating (he actually tried to use that word and fumbled it badly) he lost the script and stumbled into the central fallacy about the Iraq policy:

I was listening to Numbnutz's presser and, in the middle of an off-kilter rampage about the "freedom agenda for the Middle East" and Iraq, Bush screamed (literally), "They killed 3,000 of our citizens!"

And just then, a reporter yelled out, "What did Iraq have to do with the 9-11 attack?" Bush said, "What?"

The reporter repeated the question and Bush yelled (again, literally), "Nothing!" And then he went on a rambling, insane rant about the Middle East.

We're clearly so far through the looking glass that the leader of the free world can completely contradict himself and have no trouble with it. He can give a long explanation of why we attacked Iraq, i.e. because of 9/11, and then boldly state that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and have no problem with that internal logic.

UPDATE: Bush also tried to slice the salami pretty thin when he said, "Nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks." Josh Marshall points out that the Administration certainly played up the (fictional) idea that Saddam played a role, and sought to connect Iraq and 9/11 all the time (and still do to this guy until they get called on their shit).


Self-Imposed 72-Hour Blogging Moratorium over. Just needed to recharge the batteries. I actually stayed off the Internet for almost two days for the first time in ages. But I'm back for the duration of the 80-day push to the midterm elections.

Just heard Bush losing his shit in that press conference today. I don't know how much he'll get out of the construction "If you think Iraq is bad now, just wait and see what would happen if we pull out!" He actually said that. The logic goes something like, "You'd better keep letting me fuck up or I'm going to fuck up even more!"

The decision to keep troops or redeploy troops in Iraq cannot be divorced from the commander in chief and civilian leadership that are the architects of the policy. The choice is not "do you want to stay or leave," it's "do you want these guys to keep running this country into the ground or not?" It's also impossible to talk about Iraq as if it's a choice between a series of good policy options. There aren't any. And the recognition that things won't get better on the ground is informing decisions by moderate Republicans like Chris Shays to announce their willingness to push for set withdrawal dates.

And the other false discussion is the one where anyone discusses whether to stay or leave at all, really. "We're not leaving so long as I'm the President," Bush said today. He believes that leaving equals losing. It's at the core of neocon ideology. If you just sit in a war zone, no matter whether it devolves into civil war or becomes a civil society, by their definition you can't lose. Of course, the "future President" that has to clean up the mess, he or she will be the one blamed for losing the war. It's the stabbed in the back theory that we've seen since Vietnam. The question is whether the American public will swallow what will be peddled to them again.