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

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Onward To Iran

The torture debate and the immigration debate and the Huge Chavez debate and all the rest are designed to distract from the disastrous circumstances in Iraq, where 6,600 civilians have died in the last two months, and torture is now worse than it was under Saddam.

Bush: Oh yeah, you want torture, I'll show you some torture!

But the greatest opportunity for the Administration to really make everyone forget the war in Iraq is by starting another war, in Iran:

The Nation has learned that the Bush Administration and the Pentagon have moved up the deployment of a major "strike group" of ships, including the nuclear aircraft carrier Eisenhower as well as a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, submarine escort and supply ship, to head for the Persian Gulf, just off Iran's western coast. This information follows a report in the current issue of Time magazine, both online and in print, that a group of ships capable of mining harbors has received orders to be ready to sail for the Persian Gulf by October 1.

As Time writes in its cover story, "What Would War Look Like?," evidence of the forward deployment of minesweepers and word that the chief of naval operations had asked for a reworking of old plans for mining Iranian harbors "suggest that a much discussed--but until now largely theoretical--prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran."

This has all the making of a blockade, much like Kennedy did to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Of course, Cuba is 90 miles off the coast of Florida, whereas Iran is 10,000 miles away and doesn't have enough enriched uranium to light a small room. Up until now the international community has been very united on Iran, but the fact that there's an election to win could be a powerful pull on the US to get this military strike started already. Seymour Hersh has been saying for months that tactical nukes could be involved in such a strike. Now Matthew Yglesias brings us an anonymously sourced bit of gossip he calls "The Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time."

According to this person, the DOD has (naturally) been doing some analysis on airstrikes against Iran. The upshot of the analysis was that conventional bombardment would degrade the Iranian nuclear program by about 50 percent. By contrast, if the arsenal included small nuclear weapons, we could get up to about 80 percent destroying. In response to this, persons inside the Office of the Vice President took the view that we could use the nukes -- in other words, launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran -- and then simply deny that we'd done so. Detectable radiation in the area of the bombed sites would be attributed to the fact that they were, after all, nuclear facilities we'd just hit.

Now I rather doubt that's going to happen. Typically, Bush dials down the crazy factor a notch or two relative to what comes out of the OVP. Nevertheless, it's a sobering reminder that we have genuine lunatics operating in the highest councils of government at the moment. It's an extremely dangerous situation.

I don't know that anything is "too crazy" for the neocons to attempt, though the idea that you could hide a nuclear strike is kind of impractical. What's more likely are bunker-buster strikes, which may end up having the same effect if they cause a meltdown of the centrifuges. But when Gary Hart seems to believe anything is possible, well, it's time to take notice:

The steps will be these: Air Force tankers will be deployed to fuel B-2 bombers, Navy cruise missile ships will be positioned at strategic points in the northern Indian Ocean and perhaps the Persian Gulf, unmanned drones will collect target data, and commando teams will refine those data. The latter two steps are already being taken.

Then the president will speak on national television. He will say this: Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons; if this happens, the entire region will go nuclear; our diplomatic efforts to prevent this have failed; Iran is offering a haven to known al Qaeda leaders; the fate of our ally Israel is at stake; Iran persists in supporting terrorism, including in Iraq; and sanctions will have no affect (and besides they are for sissies). He will not say: ...and besides, we need the oil.

Therefore, he will announce, our own national security and the security of the region requires us to act. "Tonight, I have ordered the elimination of all facilities in Iran that are dedicated to the production of weapons of mass destruction....." In the narrowest terms this includes perhaps two dozen targets.

This would be absolutely insane, could spark global economic chaos, would put 140,000 troops in Iraq, a country that would probably take Iran's side in the event of conflict, at risk, and would increase the possibility of terrorist attack. There are so many options to be tough and smart and to defuse this so-called crisis. Iran won't have a nuclear weapon if we don't want them to get it. But a military strike would be beyond crazy. Hart:

In more rational times, including at the height of the Cold War, bizarre actions such as unilateral, unprovoked, preventive war are dismissed by thoughtful, seasoned, experienced men and women as mad. But those qualities do not characterize our current leadership.

For a divinely guided president who imagines himself to be a latter day Winston Churchill (albeit lacking the ability to formulate intelligent sentences), and who professedly does not care about public opinion at home or abroad, anything is possible, and dwindling days in power may be seen as making the most apocalyptic actions necessary.

This is nothing short of desperation, the proverbial caged animal who is running out of options and simply decides to lash out. I really hope the Democrats won't sit in their offices with the door locked and pay attention.


CA-GOV: The Spinach

At Political Muscle, the new LA Times blog, Robert Salladay notes that, despite a nationwide ban on a produce product that will cost state growers nearly $100 million dollars, nobody seems to be linking this catastrophe to the Governor and his failed regulatory authority. Indeed, Salladay links to a Sacramento Bee report that shows the company largely responsible for the E.coli outbreak "has struggled to manage its wastewater and is in violation of a state water disposal permit, according to public records and state officials." Now, of course, we would expect this to be resolved before it resulted in an outbreak of this kind. But Salladay adds:

And now let me add the political twist. The distributor of the offending Natural Selection spinach is Dole Foods, which undoubtedly has been hit financially by the voluntary recall of packaged spinach. Dole Foods is owned by David Murdock, the 83-year-old healthy-living advocate and philanthropist who is also good friends with Schwarzenegger.

Last year, Schwarzenegger declared Dole Foods an "honor roll company" for helping fight obesity with portable salad bars in K-12 public schools and other healthy-eating programs. Murdock and his company, Castle & Cooke, and its executives have donated $304,600 to Schwarzenegger's various campaigns since 2002.

So we're talking about a wealthy contributor who has benefited from lax regulatory oversight, leading to a national ban on spinach that not only affects that grower but farmers in the entire state. Those who remain impacted in three counties in the state (San Benito, Santa Clara and Monterey) need to know about this comfy relationship between the governor and the head of Dole Foods.


Friday, September 22, 2006


Bill Clinton got a taste of the Fox News ambush, and hit back with a fury:

WALLACE: When we announced that you were going to be on fox news Sunday, I got a lot of email from viewers, and I got to say I was surprised most of them wanted me to ask you this question. Why didn’t you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President. There’s a new book out which I suspect you’ve read called the Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, Bin Laden said I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of US troops. Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole.


WALLACE: …may I just finish the question sir. And after the attack, the book says, Bin Laden separated his leaders because he expected an attack and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is 20 20.

CLINTON: No let’s talk about…

WALLACE: …but the question is why didn’t you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?

CLINTON: OK, let’s talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits but I want to talk about the context of which this…arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network…ABC just had a right wing conservative on the Path to 9/11 falsely claim that it was based on the 911 commission report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 commission report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said that I did too much. Same people.

They were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993 the next day after we were involved in black hawk down and I refused to do it and stayed 6 months and had an orderly transfer to the UN.

Ok, now let’s look at all the criticisms: Black hawk down, Somalia. There is not a living soul in the world who thought that Bin laden had anything to do with black hawk down or was paying any attention to it or even knew al Qaeda was a growing concern in October of 1993.

WALLACE: …I understand…

CLINTON: No wait…no wait…Don’t tell me. You asked me why I didn’t do more to Bin Laden [...]

CLINTON: Let’s look at what Richard Clarke says. You think Richard Clarke has a vigorous attitude about Bin Laden?

WALLACE: Yes I do.

CLINTON: You do?

WALLACE: I think he has a variety of opinions and loyalties but yes.

CLINTON: He has a variety of opinion and loyalties now but let’s look at the facts. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He was loyal to him. He worked for George Herbert Walker Bush and he was loyal to him. He worked for me and he was loyal to me. He worked for President Bush; he was loyal to him. They downgraded him and the terrorist operation. Now, look what he said, read his book and read his factual assertions — not opinions, assertions. He said we took vigorous action after the African embassies. We probably nearly got Bin Laden.


CLINTON: Now wait a minute…

WALLACE: missiles..

CLINTON: I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill him. The CIA was run by George Tenet who President Bush gave the medal of freedom to and said he did a good job.. The country never had a comprehensive anti terror operation until I came to office. If you can criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this, after the Cole I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full scale attack search for Bin Laden. But we needed baseing rights in Uzbekistan which we got after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that Bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred special forces in helicopters and refuel at night. Even the 9/11 Commission didn’t do that. Now the 9/11 Commission was a political document too. All I’m asking is if anybody wants to say I didn’t do enough, you read Richard Clarke’s book.

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.


CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t….. I tired. So I tried and failed. When I failed I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke… So you did FOX’s bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know...

WALLACE: Now wait a minute sir…


WALLACE: I asked a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?

CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked why didn’t you do anything about the Cole. I want to know how many you asked why did you fire Dick Clarke. I want to know…

WALLACE: We asked..


WALLACE: Do you ever watch Fox News Sunday sir?

CLINTON: I don’t believe you ask them that.

WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions of…

CLINTON: You didn’t ask that did you? Tell the truth.

WALLACE: About the USS Cole?

CLINTON: tell the truth.

WALLACE: I…with Iraq and Afghanistan there’s plenty of stuff to ask.

Just an editorial comment and then back to the smackdown. This was the best part because Fox News is all about saying "fair and balanced" but all somebody has to do is corner them on that and it all falls down. The question was "Did you ever ask the Bush Administration about the USS Cole response or the firing of Richard Clarke." Wallace knows the answer is no, and just tries to blow through it with "Do you ever watch Fox News Sunday?" But Clinton is a world smarter than Wallace, so he demands an answer to the question, and finally Wallace, knowing the answer is no, has to punt. That's exactly how to handle these creeps.

CLINTON: Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about…

WALLACE: [laughs]

CLINTON: You said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion dollars plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.

WALLACE: But President Clinton…


WALLACE: We were going to ask half the question about it. I didn’t think this was going to set you off on such a tear .

CLINTON: It set me off on such a tear because you didn’t formulate it in an honest way and you people ask me questions you don’t ask the other side.

WALLACE: Sir that is not true…

CLINTON: …and Richard Clarke…

WALLACE: That is not true…

CLINTON: Richard Clarke made it clear in his testimony…

WALLACE: Would you like to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative?

CLINTON: No I want to finish this.

WALLACE: Alright

CLINTON: All I’m saying is you falsely accuse me of giving aid and comfort to Bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia. No one knew al Qaeda existed then…

WALLACE: Did they know in 1996 when he declared war on the US? Did no one know in 1998…

CLINTON: Absolutely they did

WALLACE: When they bombed the two embassies…


WALLACE: Or in 2000 when they hit the Cole.

CLINTON: What did I do? I worked hard to try and kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. Now I never criticized President Bush and I don’t think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that think Afghanistan is 1/7 as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda with that sort of dismissive theme when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s book to look at what we did in a comprehensive systematic way to try to protect the country against terror. And you’ve got that little smirk on your face. It looks like you’re so clever…

WALLACE: [Laughs]

CLINTON: I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin laden. I regret it but I did try. And I did everything I thought I responsibly could. The entire military was against sending special forces in to Afghanistan and refueling by helicopter and no one thought we could do it otherwise…We could not get the CIA and the FBI to certify that Al Qaeda was responsible while I was President. Until I left office. And yet I get asked about this all the time and they had three times as much time to get him as I did and no one ever asks them about this. I think that’s strange.

WALLACE: Can I ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative?

CLINTON: You can.

WALLACE: I always intended to sir.

CLINTON: No you intended to move your bones by doing this first. But I don’t mind people asking me. I actually talked o the 9/11 commission for four hours and I told them the mistakes I thought I made. And I urged them to make those mistakes public because I thought none of us had been perfect. But instead of anybody talking about those things. I always get these clever little political…where they ask me one sided questions… It always comes from one source. And so…


CLINTON: And so…

WALLACE: I just want to ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative but what’s the source? You seem upset?

CLINTON: I am upset because..

WALLACE: …and all I can say is I’m asking you in good faith because it’s on people’s minds sir. And I wasn’t…

CLINTON: There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds. That’s the point I’m trying to make. There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds because they’ve done a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression. This country only has one person who has worked…against terror…under Regan…only one, Richard Clarke. And all I’d say anybody who wonders whether we did wrong or right. Anybody who wants to see what everybody else did, read his book. The people on my political right who say I didn’t do enough spent the whole time I was president saying why is he so obsessed with Bin Laden. And that was wag the dog when he tried to kill him. My Republican sec of defense — and I think I’m the only person since World War II to have a Secretary of Defense from the opposite party — Richard Clarke, and all the intelligence people said that I ordered a vigorous attempt to get Osama Bin Laden and came closer apparently than anybody has since.

WALLACE: alright…

CLINTON: And you guys try to create the opposite impression when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s findings and you know it’s not true. It’s just not true. And all this business about Somalia — the same people who criticized me about Somalia were demanding I leave the next day. Same exact crowd..

WALLACE: one of the…

CLINTON: …So if you’re going to do this for gods sake follow the same standards for everybody.

WALLACE: I think we do sir

CLINTON: …be fair.

Be fair. I'm sure that memo will get right out to the top brass over at Fox.

What people need to understand is that Fox News does this all the time, and it's well-documented. They ask Democrats and liberals onto their shows for one reason, then completely change the subject and talk about another. If you speak up about it on camera, you tend to sound like a whiner so most don't. Since Clinton answered the question, and since he was a President who today is much more popular than the current occupant, he was able to call Fox on their games afterwards.

Actually one of the best parts of the interview was the last question, which should be printed and laminated and sent to every Democrat running for Congress:

WALLACE: Do you think the White House and the Republicans want to make the American people afraid.

CLINTON: Of course they do. They want another homeland security bill and they want to make it not about Iraq but some other security issue. Where if we disagree with them we are by definition endangering the security of the country. And it’s a big load of huey. We’ve got 9 Iraq war veterans running for House Seats. President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy is the democratic candidate for Senate in Virginia. A three star admiral who was on my NSC staff — who also fought terror by the way — is running for the seat of Kurt Weldon’s in Pennsylvania. We’ve got a huge military presence in this campaign and you can’t let them have some rhetorical device that puts us in a box that we don’t belong in. That’s their job. Their job is to beat us. But our job is to not let them get away with it and if we don’t we’ll be fine.

WALLACE: Mr. President thank you for one of the more unusual interviews.

Try those military credentials on for size. I'm down on the Democrats today but honestly the candidates need to tune out the DC consultants and answer the questions exactly the way Bill Clinton just did. Don't give an inch and call the press, and the White House, and the Republicans, on their crap. Essentially that's all the American people want. They want two parties, both of whom are willing to stand up for themselves. Clinton just gave you the blueprint.


Jesus Camp

I saw this eye-opening film last night at a screening put on by People for the American Way. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady visited a summer camp for evangelicals in North Dakota, where Pastor Becky Fisher indoctrinates children as young as 6 to be warriors for God. Early in the film Fisher is asked why she is so focused on bringing children to Christ. She bascially says that children are grat because once you teach a kid at an early age they retain the information for life, and they are generally easily led. The movie goes on to show this through.

The kids are there to get attention from the adults, to share a spot in the limelight, because they're told this is fun and necessary and right by their parents and their elders and they want to please. The parents and elders, on the other hand, are carrying out a clear political agenda, dedicated to returning America to godliness. There is an amazing scene where the children are asked to pray in front of a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. There's another where the children are instructed to take a hammer and break ceramic cups with the word "government" written on them.

Interestingly, the filmmakers mentioned in a Q and A after the screening that the participants in the film screened it and were very happy with it, planning to use it as a tool to show their project to the nation. Because the filmmakers take a fairly even hand, allowing the subjects to speak openly without editorializing, I can imagine this is true. But it displays such a profound ignorance, because the film is little more than ritualized child abuse. These kids are plucked out of school, taught a perverted kind of authoritarian religious doctrine at home, sent to camps to pray and speak in tongues in displays that come right out of Islamic madrassahs, put on shows where they where camouflage and march in lockstep for Christ, hear speeches of a specific political bent, get sent to Washington to anti-abortion rallies, and are basically completely isolated from the real world. There's a heartbreakingly poignant scene with one child, maybe 10, who starts crying about how it's so hard to keep the faith and how he doesn't really believe in the literal word of the Bible but he wants to please his family. The boy literally breaks down crying and everybody else in the room is weirded out by him, astonished that anyone would even question the dogma fed to them all this time.

It's a very powerful story and you should look for it in your area, because we don't often hear about the footsoldiers in this Christianist movement in the traditional media. There are 80 million evangelicals in this country, and it's important to understand what at least some of them (not all) are doing.


The Benefit of the Doubt

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post saw through the smokescreen of this "compromise" on torture and see it for what it is: sanctioning the President with full authority to decide what is and what isn't cruel, degrading or humiliating. In a brilliant post, Tbogg underlines that this is the same President who mocked the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, committed hazing that came dangerously close to torture while at Yale, blew frogs up with firecrackers as a kid, and shot at his own brother with a BB gun. Very reassuring indeed that we're giving this guy the benefit of the doubt on torture.

The media immediately got that this compromise is not a compromise at all. They probably feel suckered but that won't stop them from being suckered again. The only thing that will stop this madness is by the Democrats actually bothering to take a stand. The message is so clear. "Do you trust George Bush to decide what's torture? After everything else he's done? Or do you trust the tripartite system of government and its virtues of checks and balances?"


Quick Hits

A lot of stuff in the tank, and I've focused with seething rage on this torture nightmare the last couple days:

• Bill O'Reilly claims the FBI told him Al Qaeda put his name on a death list, the FBI refutes ever telling O'Reilly that, and Fox News has no comment.

This guy has two million people watching him every day.

• The reason all spinach has been recalled is because cowshit got in the water. Cows developed E.coli in their stomachs because we started feeding them with grain instead of grass (the grass would kill that bacteria). Then massive cow feedlots were established too close to reservoirs and rivers. And the FDA has no money to actually inspect produce facilities for E.coli, and growers' compliance with safety rules is voluntary.

Happy eating!

• I'm very glad that Barbara Lee is leading the fight to divest Sudan of resources. The US shouldn't be supporting regimes that engage in genocide (Lee is attacking INDIRECT support, wanting to cut contracts with those companies who also do business with Khartoum). There are ways to tighten the noose on countries to get them to stop their criminal activities. Democrats would do well to heighten these attempts to stop the genocide in Sudan.

• I'm glad that a federal court reinstated the Clinton-era "roadless rule" in national forests. This is one of the few major environmental victories in the Bush era.

• More evidence that PA Rep. Curt Weldon is a crazy person: The Pentagon rejects the claim that "Able Danger" could have stopped 9/11. Weldon has been on this for a while.

• And yes, I'll be going to H&M's new store in LA. Anywhere I can go once a year and buy my whole wardrobe for cheap works for me.


Good God Dammit

MSNBC's headline right now is "Terrorist Torture Deal". They don't know how right they are. This is a deal to decide when to torture and how to torture, and it gives the President of the United States the sole authority to determine what is and is not torture.

[I]t only takes 30 seconds or so to see that the Senators have capitualted entirely, that the U.S. will hereafter violate the Geneva Conventions by engaging in Cold Cell, Long Time Standing, etc., and that there will be very little pretense about it. In addition to the elimination of habeas rights in section 6, the bill would delegate to the President the authority to interpret "the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions" "for the United States," except that the bill itself would define certain "grave breaches" of Common Article 3 to be war crimes.

So as long as the torture doesn't go on for too long, it's legal. And actually, we'll never end up knowing what's done anyway, as long as detainees have no way to challenge violations in a court of law, eliminating habeas corpus rights. Digby has been absolutely right on this from the beginning, and he continues here:

So the good news is that these fine Republicans were all able to sit in Dick Cheney's Senate office and hash out what "amount of time that a detainee's suffering must last before the treatment amounts to a war crime" in the last three days. We can sleep better tonight knowing that they decided that the suffering must do "serious and non-transitory mental harm, which need not be prolonged." Excellent. And now we know that "cruel or inhuman treatment" that would constitute a crime under the War Crimes Act is comprised of "techniques resulting in 'serious' physical or mental pain, rather than 'severe.'" That's just the kind of "clarity" they've been looking for. On with the interrogations.

Oh and they will leave it up to the president to decide if standing shackled naked in a cold room with ice water splashed randomly on you for 72 hours is torture. Or if being forced to walk around on a leash like a dog or have fake menstrual blood smeared all over your face is degrading. (I wonder what he'll say?)

The best part is that they might let the prisoners see classified evidence used against them that's been redacted or summarized, nobody who was tortured will be able to sue the government or hold anyone in it legally liable and there's a nice fat habeas corpus loophole so these embarrassingly innocent people down in Gitmo will stay under wraps.

It's tough and smart for St John and the Republicans, for sure. For reasonable people, not so much. This is a terrible bill and I don't think the Democrats will get any benefit from backing it.

Democrats got flat-out rolled. The Republicans both get to look like the tough SOBs doing what it takes to stop terrorists, AND the sensible types who defend American principles. In fact this bill does neither. Sensible people get this, but the Democrats are so piss-pants afraid of being called soft on terror (which they will be called anyway) that they decided to crawl into a hole and hide on this significant attack on American values and the Constitution. Part of the problem is that the media decided only to report on the pie fight, and consider a deal between Republicans and other Republicans as a "bipartisan compromise". But clearly, in public statements, Democrats were loath to insert themselves into the debate. They're gutless cowards, and they still don't seem to understand that their ACTIONS are far more important than their words. Hiding out during this national security debate reinforces the frame that they're not tough on national security.

Between this AWOL move on national security and Arianna Huffington's discovery that the national leaders plan to run on THE ECONOMY (!)

This is a crying shame. The 2006 election — and with it control of the House and the power to investigate the Bush administration’s abundant outrages — is there for the taking… if only Democrats would put down the economy crack pipe and put their energy into hammering Bush and the GOP for their many tragic foreign policy and national security failures, which have combined to make America far less safe.

The only thing Democrats have going for them right now is that the candidates out in the country are much more attuned to reality than those in DC. As Kos says:

I'll be shocked if we wake up on election day controlling either chamber of Congress. If we do, it'll be because enough candidates decide to give those DC consultants and staffers the middle finger and run the race they know they need to run to win.

The Fighting Dems coalition should right now, today, put out a clear statement against torture, against George Bush deciding what is and isn't torture, and against this heinous bill. They should have a unified message that every candidate could rattle off in a 30-second soundbite. They need to run their own campaign and literally tell the DCCC to get the hell out of the way. The Dems in DC right now don't know how to play the game of politics. They don't know how to win, they just know how to be afraid of losing. I will support the candidates that understand this.

UPDATE: Charlie Pierce has more and he's unsparing (and right):

You worthless passel of cowards. They're laughing at you. You know that, right?

The national Democratic Party is no longer worth the cement needed to sink it to the bottom of the sea. For an entire week, it allowed a debate on changing the soul of the country to be conducted intramurally between the Torture Porn and Useful Idiot wings of the Republican Party, the latter best exemplified by John McCain, who keeps fashioning his apparently fathomless ambition into a pair of clown shoes with which he can do the monkey dance across the national stage. They're laughing at him, too [...]

And the Democratic Party was nowhere in this debate. It contributed nothing. On the question of whether or not the United States will reconfigure itself as a nation which tortures its purported enemies and then grants itself absolution through adjectives -- "Aggressive interrogation techniques" -- the Democratic Party had…no opinion. On the issue of allowing a demonstrably incompetent president as many of the de facto powers of a despot that you could wedge into a bill without having the Constitution spontaneously combust in the Archives, well, the Democratic Party was more pissed off at Hugo Chavez.

This was as tactically idiotic as it was morally blind. On the subject of what kind of a nation we are, and to what extent we will live up to the best of our ideals, the Democratic Party was as mute and neutral as a stone. Human rights no longer have a viable political constituency in the United States of America. Be enough of a coward, though, and cable news will fit you for a toga.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

What Boxer Said... and What She Didn't

Sen. Boxer appeared on Ed Schultz' radio show today, and she was asked about Hugo Chavez' "El Diablo" speech, which is being condemned by other Democrats. Boxer bashed Chavez and called him a thug, but said how ashamed she was that such rhetoric could get a positive response in the UN. It shows how low our stature is as a nation with Bush in the lead. "Can you imagine this happening to John Kennedy? Or Bill Clinton?"

In my mind that's exactly the right attitude. I'm ashamed too that Chavez wasn't laughed out of the chamber.

However, on the torture/military commission issue, Boxer gave the lamest response of the three emails I've received from Senators on the subject. Here's Tom Harkin (this actually is from a Daily Kos thread:

The bottom line is that I am firmly against torture.

The mistreatment of detainees has been a black eye for America. It has led our allies throughout the world to question our commitment to human rights and the principles of democracy. It has undercut our moral values and runs counter to everything our Constitution stands for.

Democrats, including myself, have a long history of criticizing the Bush Adminstration's handling of terror suspects. This is where oversight is key. But so far, Congress has been asleep at the wheel in this department.

In the end this is an issue to take to the ballot box. If we want real change in policy, and not more rubberstamps from Congress, we need to elect a majority of Democrats to both the House and the Senate to provide adult supervision on our wayward President.

I don't have a problem with focusing on oversight, but he kind of doesn't address the current legislation. Here's Dianne Feinstein's email, which amazingly is the best of all:

Thank you for writing to me about the procedures for reviewing the status of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I welcome the opportunity to respond.

While the United States needs a place to hold captured terrorists, I am very concerned about the policies and practices in place at Guantanamo and other detention facilities. We need a fair and prompt review process that will efficiently allow us to determine the proper status of these people.

Senate Amendment 2523, proposed by Senator Bingaman in 2005, would have allowed foreign detainees to challenge their detention in United States courts under the writ of Habeas Corpus. I voted for the amendment, because my work on the Senate Judiciary Committee has convinced me that the current military tribunals are inadequate. Unfortunately, on November 15, 2005 the amendment was defeated by a vote of 44-54.

The Supreme Court's recent ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld raises the issue of what procedural protections must be afforded to Guantanamo detainees under our Constitution, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the Geneva Conventions. I am in the process of reviewing the Hamdan decision and its implications. Several hearings are likely to be held on this issue as we consider additional legislation and I will continue to monitor this issue closely. I am hopeful that the Administration will decide to work with Congress so that we can finally implement a sound, humane and effective review process.

She actually addresses the real issue (habeas corpus), but she's deluded if she thinks there will be any more hearings. They're probably going to bring this legislation to the floor tonight. Meanwhile, here's Boxer:

Thank you for contacting me to express your views regarding the legal rights of foreign detainees. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush has declared that anyone suspected of connection to terrorists or terrorism will be declared an "unlawful combatant." Such a determination, the Administration argues, excludes the detainees from being afforded the same protections given to regular prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

On June 29, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major ruling affirming the legal rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld . In its Hamdan decision, the Supreme Court stated that the Bush Administration had violated both U.S. military law and the Geneva Convention in establishing its military tribunals. The Court also ruled that the Executive Branch acting alone lacked the power to unilaterally determine the detainees' legal rights and that Congress had not granted this power to the Administration.

Following the Hamdan decision, the Bush Administration proposed legislation regarding the establishment of military commissions, which is now being considered by both the House and the Senate. Through this legislation, the Administration would condone the practice of hiding prisoners in secret cells. President Bush also wants to exempt the United States from Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, a critical provision that prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." Furthermore, in order to shield the practices of CIA interrogators, President Bush wants Congress to rewrite the War Crimes Act, which makes it a crime to violate the Geneva Conventions.

These provisions of the Administration's bill are deeply troubling. I agree with two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin L. Powell and John W. Vessey, who cautioned Senator John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

On September 14, 2006, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 15-9 to advance legislation that I believe is fair. I support this legislation because I believe it is critical that we try detainees in a manner that is consistent with both American military doctrine and the Geneva Convention. Please be assured that as Congress continues to debate ways to prosecute the war on terrorism, I will push for measures that advocate the rule of law.

She gives up the debate entirely to the Republican "rebels," says nothing about habeas corpus (though she mentions the rewriting of the War Crimes Act), and argues in favor of the Warner Bill that eliminates habeas corpus and eliminates the threat prosecution for torturers.

I'm not looking forward to how shitty this debate is going to be in the Senate. I fear we'll be looking for the spines, because there won't be any in the Capitol. Prove me wrong, Democrats.

UPDATE: Jane Harman grabs a spine on warrantless wiretapping, which actually does look imperiled.


The Continuing Idiocy of Bill Bradley

After John Kerry's appearance with Phil Angelides on Monday, my favorite whipping boy, LA Weekly insider Bill Bradley, claimed that Kerry pointedly did not refer to Schwarzenegger by name because the two were buddies who hung out a lot and shared a biopic director (George Butler, who directed Pumping Iron and Going Upriver).

There's no doubt that the Kerrys and the Schwarzeneggers (which includes part of the Kennedy family, the same family of the other Senator from Massachusetts) are socially friendly. Of course, that didn't stop Arnold from stumping for Bush, against Kerry, in Ohio in 2004. And this whole "he didn't mention Arnold's name" thing is bogus. First of all, I was there, Bradley wasn't, and Kerry most definitely invoked Schwarzenegger's name, in fact he did so in his first line about Arnold (his kind of lame joke about wanting to beat Arnold because he wants to see what happens in Terminator 4). Carla Marinucci confirms this in her report on the event.

Second, you can watch this and tell me if Kerry is soft-pedaling his support for Angelides.

Third, I got an email from Kerry's PAC asking me to help the Angelides campaign. And it refers to Arnold Schwarzenegger by name three times in three paragraphs:

I'm writing because Phil needs your volunteer support in his crucial race to win back the Governor's office in California and reverse Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to bring the Bush-Cheney agenda to the Golden State. Phil Angelides has stood up to Arnold Schwarzenegger from day one.

I'm proud to count Phil as a personal friend of mine. His strong commitment to the values of fairness and opportunity should serve as a model to all public leaders. And, like you and I, he knows that those principles are at stake here and now in California. Now, it's time for us to help him frustrate the Republican Party's dream of holding on to the highest office in your state.

Can you possibly volunteer between now and election day to help Phil's campaign?

When it's all said and done, political campaigns are about people reaching out to other people and sharing their hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations. But, you can't share any of those things unless you first choose to give of your time.

Want to express your determination to increase educational opportunities, improve the quality of health care, and create a strong economy that keeps jobs at home instead of shipping them abroad? Then please spend a few hours volunteering for Phil Angelides.

Want to join the fight to protect the environment and secure energy from available, affordable, and reliable alternatives? Then offer to help Phil Angelides achieve victory over Arnold Schwarzenegger in November.

Bradley's line of argument was so completely dumb that I hesitate to spend this much time on it, so let me sum up by saying that when you fly all the way across the country to appear at an event for one candidate, and you send out a mass email in favor of that candidate, it's fair to say that you WANT THAT CANDIDATE ELECTED and you WANT HIS OPPONENT DEFEATED. Capiche?


Tales from the Cabinet Crypt

The only time you hear about a Cabinet secretary in the Bush Administration is when they do something stupid. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure they have literally no job other than to say "Yes, Mr. President." Anyone want to tell me one thing Elaine Chao's done at Labor Secretary the last six years? Dirk Kempthorne at Interior? Jim Nicholson at Veterans Affairs? Mike Leavitt at Health and Human Services?

In fact, the only time the name of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson came up is when he claimed he pulled a federal contract from someone who told him "I don't like the President." Jackson tried to get out of the ensuing uproar by saying he made it up, then he weathered the storm and went down into the underground bunker where the Cabinet is currently stashed.

Funny story... there's now independent confirmation that HUD does appear to favor loyalty in their contracting.

Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson urged top aides to take contractors' politics into account when handing out grants and deals, an internal department review has found, though there is no "direct evidence" that favoritism actually occurred.

The department's inspector general began investigating Mr. Jackson after he boasted in a Dallas speech that he'd once scuttled a deal because the would-be contractor disparaged President Bush [...]

In an initial interview on May 17, for instance, HUD Chief of Staff Camille Pierce said there was no political litmus test and she never heard Mr. Jackson express sentiments akin to those he expressed in his Dallas speech [...]

In a follow-up interview on June 8, investigators confronted her with testimony from Cathy MacFarlane, who resigned that month as HUD's assistant secretary for public affairs. Ms. MacFarlane told investigators that at a senior staff meeting, Mr. Jackson "made a statement to the effect that it was important to consider presidential supporters when you are considering the selected candidates for discretionary contracts."

And Ms. MacFarlane told investigators, "I think it was a political [appointee] talking to a political, saying if all things are equal, you're giving out a contract, give it out to the family, you know."

The testimony stirred Ms. Pierce's memory. "He did say that he did not want contracts awarded — he did say something about political groups, maybe to Democrats or something like that," she said in the follow-up interview, though she added that "if I had thought he was serious, I would have gone in and said, sir, that's ridiculous."

So there's no hard proof, but everyone agrees that Jackson talked about favoritism in meetings. Jackson, amazingly, believes this "exonerates" him.

Small wonder that the housing bubble looks headed for a hard landing when a bright light like this is the HUD Secretary.


Spitting on the Troops

One of the more disgusting consequences of the Bush era has been how Republicans love to repeat "support the troops" like a mantra while enacting policies that don't support them at all. Actions speak MUCH louder than words in this case, and the reality is that Republican policies have not only endangered our troops, but gouged them:

A Pentagon report last month found that as many one in five U.S. service members “are being preyed on by loan centers set up near military bases” that can charge interest of 400 percent or more. Increasingly, soldiers have debt levels so high they are barred from serving overseas; others suffer from “bankruptcies, divorces and ruined careers.” (More facts HERE.)

The Pentagon has joined consumer, military, and veterans groups in backing a bipartisan amendment from Sens. Jim Talent (R-MO) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) that places a cap of 36 percent on high interest rates for short-term payday loans to military members.

But one conservative congressman, Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), is trying to gut the amendment. Davis has proposed his own language — praised by the payday lending industry — that sets no real limits on predatory lenders. One of Davis’s aides admitted last week that he consulted on the legislation with “CNG Financial of Mason, Ohio, one of his top campaign donors and owner of national payday lender Check ‘n Go.”

This is just another case of Republicans in the pockets of corporate America doing the bidding of Big Business instead of regular people. There's simply no reason imaginable to charge US soldiers and their families 400% interest. Soldiers, especially National Guard members who are pulled out of their jobs and given small stipends to fight overseas, have enormopus financial problems associated with war.

Fortunately, we have a candidate in Kentucky that is willing to call Geoff Davis out for this sickening affront to US servicemen. Ken Lucas is running this ad that sticks it right to Davis for his support of corporate contributors.

Ken Lucas is a former Congressman and he's running neck and neck in the polls with Davis. This ad ought to put him over the top, in a just world. Republicans like Geoff Davis spit on our troops and call themselves patriotic. It's beneath contempt.


Fake Deal

Ed Rogers, maybe the world's biggest jackass, is on Hardball right now talking about this so-called "deal" on torture, saying how Bush looked so great because he was so tough on the terrorists. And Kweisi Mfume is now agreeing that the President looked SO very Presidential in acquiescing and agreeing to this deal.

What planet are they on?

In this deal, the Congress would change the War Crimes Act to retroactively immunize those who have tortured before, and allows such torture to go forward. On military commissions, detention subjects would get arbitration on what evidence they can look at through a third-party JAG officer.

And what about the writ of habeas corpus? Without it, all of this is meaningless, since we'll never know what the CIA is actually doing because the detainees will have no opportunity to petition a court. Well, NONE of the early articles so far even mention habeas corpus.

Why does the media have their heads so far up their asses on this? This whole thing was a shadow play, destined for a fake compromise which completely hid the actual substantive problems. And nobody's saying a word.

Memo to the Democrats: time to step up. The "compromise" has been reached, once again without any single Democrat involved (this is known as "bipartisanship" according to the media). Time to explain specifically where you stand on habeas corpus. Do you stand with the Constitution or Dick Cheney?


Health Care: We're Number 1! ... In Costs

If you wanted proof that our health care system is totally broken, well, here you go:

66 is exactly the score the U.S. health system received in the most comprehensive grading to date of areas such as access to care, quality, cost, and efficiency.

The score comes from the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health policy think tank in Washington.

The group evaluated more than three dozen different measures to come up with a composite score for American health care in relation to top-performing nations — or, in some cases, individual states.

The categories included areas such as long, healthy, and productive lives (the U.S. scored a 69 on this), quality (71), access (67), efficiency (51), and equity (71) [...]

But it's not for lack of money. The U.S. spends a far bigger chunk of its economy on health care than any other nation, but has less and less to show for it.

The U.S. now spends more than $6,000 per capita on medical care, compared with $2,000 to $3,000 spent by the U.K., Germany, Canada, and France.

Hey dday, why are you being critical, we're FIRST in cost! Do you hate America because we're winning?

In virtually every other statistic, the US is behind pretty much every industrialized nation, most of which provide universal health care to their citizens that is both cheaper and better. The Europe-bashers on the right will always chide those so-called welfare states an unable to compete in modern economies (even though Ezra Klein notes that European unemployment rates are exactly the same as they are in America). But it's important for those of us who believe that health care is a right and not a privilege to internalize these numbers. The US system denies quality care to a large majority of the population. Our system costs more and is both less efficient and less effective. Universal health care, to put it simply, WORKS BETTER.

Anyone who doubts that economies of scale and centralized structures can't drive down medical costs needs only to look at what Wal-Mart is doing:

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, will test a program to sell generic prescription drugs to its workers and customers at sharply reduced prices, according to people briefed on the plans.

The giant discount chain, which has used its size to knock down the costs of toys, clothing and groceries, will sell generic versions of about 300 widely prescribed drugs for as low as $4 for a standard prescription, these people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details of the new program. On average, generic drugs cost between $10 and $30 for a 30-day prescription.

This is essentially the same Wal-Mart strategy of undercutting the competition with low prices. But it's a teachable moment for the country on health care. There's a lot of bargaining power by buying it in bulk. Of course, the real problem with health care is that HMOs are quite honestly thieving bastards. Here's the fun stuff that my personal insurer is doing:

The actual facts in the report are basic: California state regulators are investigating Blue Cross for unlawful cancellations of policies. When you buy individual coverage, unlike when you buy into group coverage, insurers can reject you based on your health history or conditions. In order to protect against fraud -- say, someone being diagnosed with heart disease, then applying for insurance the next morning without mentioning it -- the law allows for insurers to cancel policies if the applicant engaged in "willful misrepresentation." What's clever is how the insurance industry has redefined the standard: If you had a condition you didn't know about, they'll seek to not only yank your policy, but dispatch debt collectors to recover what they've already paid out.

In practice, the scam works like this: Selah Shaeffer, age four, was found to have an aggressive, cancerous tumor in her jaw. The family had been with Blue Cross for about a year, and the bump was examined and biopsied after they'd bought their insurance. But because it was growing before, Blue Cross cut off reimbursement for surgeries it had already authorized, and is now trying to recover $20,000 from the Shaeffers. Or take the Nazertyans, who had premature twins. They were covered by Blue Shield all throughout the pregnancy, and disclosed all facets of the birth and operations. Blue Shield not only dropped them, but was trying to get back $98,000 they'd already paid under the rationale that the Nazertyans hadn't disclosed an earlier miscarriage. After the Los Angeles Times reported the story, Blue Shield called off the debt collectors.

HMOs want to insure you but have to keep down costs, so when you get sick they don't want to pay you. So they literally LOOK FOR WAYS TO CANCEL YOU if you send in any claims, asking insurers to... you know, insure you.

On every single level, the American health care system is a disaster, and it's being gamed by a proliferation of middle men - HMOs, pharmaceuticals - who are getting rich off of the sick. The system needs radical change, and the numbers are there to prove it. I think the American people actually understand this, but have no expectation that their political leaders will be bold enough to articulate the kind of change that's necessary.

We need leaders that will.


Secrets of Torture Revealed

I've earlier surmised that Europe forced the Bush Adminstration's hand to get the secret prisons off of their territory. Now the Financial Times reports it was actually Bush's own CIA that refused to take the fall for this lawbreaking:

The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished [...]

But the former CIA officials said Mr Bush’s hand was forced because interrogators had refused to continue their work until the legal situation was clarified because they were concerned they could be prosecuted for using illegal techniques. One intelligence source also said the CIA had refused to keep the secret prisons going.

Senior officials and Mr Bush himself have come close to admitting this by saying CIA interrogators sought legal clarity. But no official has confirmed on the record how and when the secret programme actually came to an end.

John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, who was interviewed by Fox News on Sunday, said in response to a question of whether CIA interrogators had refused to work: “I think the way I would answer you in regard to that question is that there’s been precious little activity of that kind for a number of months now, and certainly since the Supreme Court decision.”

The CIA has a history being made the fall guy, particularly with regard to the prewar intelligence on Iraq. I think they saw the wind blowing, and knew they'd be accused of being "rogue agents" who would be put away for these crimes that were clearly authorized from up top. Now, the CIA has been rendering detainees since the Clinton Administration, so I don't have a lot of sympathy for them. But it's certainly interesting to see that they've had enough and were not going to be stuck with the check by the "torture and ditch" Bush Administration.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee, receiving the Bushie torture legislation after it easily passed the Intelligence Committee (before it became a cause celebre), engaged in the rankest of maneuvers to get it passed:

The House Judiciary Committee just reversed itself, calling a re-vote and passing a controversial detainee treatment bill that has White House backing, according to House sources.

Earlier today, the panel had voted down the measure, 18-17, with three members not voting. The re-vote swung the tally to 20-18 in favor of the bill.

Update: WSJ's Washington Wire has more details (and a better vote tally -- we'd originally reported 17-20). "The amendment might have passed had two Democrats not missed the vote; the two were at a news conference on the Medicare drug benefit."

That was a scheduled conference AFTER THE VOTE WAS ALREADY MADE. You can see this happen like it was out of a sitcom: the Republicans mull around, the two Democrats leave the room, and as soon as the door is shut, they yell "OK, REVOTE!"

This is the kind of garbage that causes folks to riot in countries that don't have American Idol.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Can't Even Sneak Illegal Wiretapping Through Congress

Once this torture imbroglio hit, it seemed like the Adminstration would use the cover to make sure their other big illegal program, the warrantless wiretapping program, was legalized by Congress and codified retroactively into law. But even trying to sneak in unconstitutional laws under the has proved unable for this Administration to do, and in this case it's severely damaged the prospects of a Republican incumbent in a swing district.

Trying to further bolster her national security credentials, Rep. Wilson has worked with House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner to pen legislation stripping Congress of mch of its oversight powers in regards to domestic surveillance. But this gambit appears to have failed as even Republicans on the panel see the move as unwise.

Jonathan Singer quotes this story from The Hill:

Unrest among GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee threatens to overthrow a bill co-sponsored by Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) aimed at altering policies governing federal intelligence-gathering programs.
Citing concerns over civil liberties and program stability, GOP committee members last week forced Sensenbrenner to cancel a markup of the bill that would allow President Bush's warrantless surveillance program to continue with limited congressional oversight.

Republican members say they have enough votes to replace what they see as an unsavory bill, introduced by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) and co-sponsored by Sensenbrenner, with a more palatable one during a scheduled markup this morning.

Several GOP and Democratic committee members are concerned that Wilson's bill would separate oversight of Bush's Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) from congressional oversight under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is spearheading GOP committee movement against Wilson's bill, said the measure fails to create a solid system for TSP and would instead establish a passive, ad hoc response to terrorist attacks, rather than a steady program with legislative oversight under FISA. Flake said this approach both threatens the stability of intelligence gathering and increases the likelihood of civil liberties abuse.

Heather Wilson is in a moderate district in New Mexico going against a state attorney general (Patricia Madrid), and the top of the ticket will have an extremely popular governor (Bill Richardson) and a popular senator (Jeff Bingaman). In a year where hard-right Republicans will have trouble in swing districts, Wilson tried to push through the President's illegal program and was rebuffed by members of her own party. The real alternative legislation, as I've mentioned before, is an actual bipartisan compromise that keeps wiretapping under FISA and gives the Administration all the latitude it needs to surveil on terrorists.

Remember that the program as it stands has already been ruled illegal in federal court, and during the case, the Justice Department didn't even bother to dispute the inherent illegality of the program because they knew their arguments were ridiculous.

I remember a time when the President had all this "political capital" he was going to spend, and the rubber stamps in the Congress where willing to give him whatever he wanted. It's amazing what a years' worth of historically low approval ratings and a dangerous election that threatens the Republican majority will do.


Kabuki Debate Revealed

Five former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have now come out against Bush's attempt to legalize torture and redefine the Geneva Conventions. But of course that is not what this debate is really about. Via Digby I see that the Center for Constitutional Rights has understood the debate and the stakes.

The debate around these bills misses the point: both versions strip away the fundamental right to habeas corpus, the right to challenge your detention in a court of law, not to be locked up under the President’s say-so, guilty or innocent, never to be heard from again.

An amendment in play could take out this dangerous measure – please use our site to fax your senators and tell them to support the Specter-Levin Amendment on habeas corpus when it gets introduced. The bills are S.3901, The Military Commissions Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Warner and S.3861, The Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Frist. Please call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 IMMEDIATELY, especially if they are among the 26 we’ve identified below as critical in this fight.

Anyone in U.S. custody, at home or abroad, must have the right to challenge their detention in court. Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than this right. Tell your Senator TODAY that they must vote to save habeas corpus.

Habeas corpus protections have ALREADY been ruled as inalienable by the Supreme Court. It's ridiculous that we have to plow this ground again. But the imperials running the executive branch are relentless. And the media is largely not understanding what is at stake. This entire thing is about immunizing high-level officials from prosecution and saving Bush's ass. The reason the timing of this is so critical is NOT the election, it's this:

The Red Cross expects to meet for the first time 14 high-level terrorism suspects who were recently transferred from CIA secret prisons to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at a visit to the camp starting next week, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Antonella Notari, chief spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said officials will arrive Monday for a scheduled two-week visit to Guantanamo. The ICRC is the only neutral agency with full access to Guantanamo detainees.

Bush needed to get these guys out of secret prisons in Europe to save himself from the International Criminal Court. Now he needs to eliminate habeas corpus and change the War Crimes Act to save humself from domestic courts. This is an accountability dodge for violations of law and treaty obligations, pure and simple.

THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE and that's the Specter-Levin Amendment. Call your senators and tell them they must vote for the Amendment.

UPDATE: I'm glad the Senate Majority Project is picking up on John McCain's fake integrity and making sure he doesn't get away unchallenged on his weasel ways. You have to attack your opponent at his strength, and for McCain it's all about integrity.


Quick Hits

The more I read, the more I want to write about, which makes me read more, and so on, and so on...

More on the Thai coup. They've apparently had 18 such uprisings since 1932. The Prime Minister was wildly popular in the countryside but hated by the elites in Bangkok. There's very vague talk of "corruption" being the problem for the PM. I'm not getting how the goal of the world according to Bush needs to be spreading freedom and democracy, and yet the military takeover of a democratically elected government can go off without a peep.

• Harry Reid and Dick Durbin try to be funny and they actually sort of succeed. The fact that the biggest boobs in the Bush Presidency have received medals for their incompetence deserves to be mocked.

• Amnesty International calls Hezbollah war criminals for targeting civilians, and the UN criticizes Israel for dropping cluster bombs on civilians in Lebanon, most of them falling in the last three or four days after a framework of a ceasefire agreement was already in place.

The point of similarity there is "targeting civilians," which is abhorrent no matter who does it.

• Hugo Chavez: now there's a guy who won't be making CBS' Free Speech segment! Honestly, the "Bush is the devil" thing is ridiculous. I don't like the guy's policies and his politics. I may have an opinion on him as a person but I honestly don't believe in "pure evil" or anything like that.

• According to the head torture lawyer John Yoo, we have to torture now instead of back in the day because the US faced no security threats in the 1970s. This will come as news to Leonid Breshnev and everyone alive in America at the time, who all collectively had thousands of Soviet missiles pointed at their heads.

• DC in the Republican era: So much corruption, so little time.

There is so much political corruption on Capitol Hill that the FBI has had to triple the number of squads investigating lobbyists, lawmakers and influence peddlers, the Daily News has learned.
For decades, only one squad in Washington handled corruption cases because the crimes were seen as local offenses handled by FBI field offices in lawmakers' home districts.

But in recent years, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and other abuses of power and privilege have prompted the FBI to assign 37 agents full-time to three new squads in an office near Capitol Hill.

Yeah, THAT'S not hurting the war on terror.

• Finally, I need to book a flight to Iceland.

Pop star Bjork is to rejoin her former bandmates in The Sugarcubes for a one-off concert in Iceland.
The gig in November will mark the group's 20th anniversary, according to a statement on the singer's website.

Anybody that can help me out with that, give me a ring.


Iraq for Sale

Atrios has a good review of Robert Greenwald's latest movie Iraq for Sale. I actually had an opportunity to work on this one, but the timing didn't work out and they were only offering 3rd editor status. If I was in on it earlier, I probably would have taken it, because it's an important story. As Duncan says:

Bush and the Republican congress used the war as an excuse to hand over billions of dollars to unaccountable companies who aren't doing the jobs they were tasked to do, all of which has had a tremendously detrimental impact on American troops, troop retention, and of course the Iraqi people. Why those on board for Little George's Grand Imperial Adventure aren't more outraged by this stuff is truly bizarre.

Indeed, there are stories of crap like this in the paper every day.

Halliburton executives ordered a big-screen TV and 10 large tubs of tacos, chicken wings and cheese sticks delivered to Iraq for last year's Super Bowl and then billed U.S. taxpayers for their party, according to a lawsuit unsealed Friday.

The Houston company also defrauded the government by double- and triple-billing for Internet, food and gym services to troops, according to the lawsuit by a former employee for Kellogg, Brown & Root, or KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary that ran dining halls for troops in Iraq.

War is now less a necessity than a corporate demand. We have massive institutional pressure to keep the war machine going for economic reasons. I saw "Why We Fight" recently, which features President Eisenhower's warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex. That fear has been made reality. And the fact that Bush hired a bunch of inexperienced loyalists to manage the postwar situation basically helped the contractors steal, because the people charged with oversight didn't know what the hell they were doing. Political polarization also innoculated the Halliburtons of the world from criticism, as every time (and there have been a LOT of them) Democrats try to get some understanding of where taxpayer dollars are going it's dismissed as partisan sniping.

Iraq as a war is a tragedy, but Iraq as a reconstruction project is nothing more than thievery. And the American people need to throw the rubber stamp Republican Congressmen who endorsed this debacle right out of office.


CA-GOV: The Unions Join The Party

I personally think the unions have waited a little too long for my taste to jump into the race, but The Chronicle says they're getting ready:

A coalition of the state's most powerful public employee unions has agreed to start an independent campaign opposing the re-election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that could cost as much as $25 million, according to several sources familiar with the plan.

The effort, which could begin as soon as this weekend, comes at a critical time for Democrat Phil Angelides, whose campaign has languished much of the summer largely because he's been unable to raise the money needed to effectively carry his message to a statewide audience.

The ABC crushed Arnold last year. Absolutely crushed him. But they did so by starting in January and making his name radioactive. Still, they have as good a ground game as there is in state politics, and can lend valuable support to the effort to elect Phil.

Our friend Julia at the ABC blog will have more as this develops, I'm sure.


Mind-Blowing Personal Tale of the Horrors of Baghdad

I got to work this morning, poured myself some coffee, and a colleague read me an unbelievable story from the front page of today's LA Times. I just shook my head in resignation, but the others listening really seemed to have no idea that Iraq had gotten as bad as all this. People are shot in the streets, and nobody will dare to help them lest they be shot themselves. This is heartbreaking and definitive proof that the militias rule the country. Needless to say, the author, a reporter in the Baghdad bureau of the Times, COULDN'T EVEN REVEAL HIS NAME IN THE BYLINE for fear of reprisal.

On a recent Sunday, I was buying groceries in my beloved Amariya neighborhood in western Baghdad when I heard the sound of an AK-47 for about three seconds. It was close but not very close, so I continued shopping.

As I took a right turn on Munadhama Street, I saw a man lying on the ground in a small pool of blood. He wasn't dead.

The idea of stopping to help or to take him to a hospital crossed my mind, but I didn't dare. Cars passed without stopping. Pedestrians and shop owners kept doing what they were doing, pretending nothing had happened.

I was still looking at the wounded man and blaming myself for not stopping to help. Other shoppers peered at him from a distance, sorrowful and compassionate, but did nothing.

I went on to another grocery store, staying for about five minutes while shopping for tomatoes, onions and other vegetables. During that time, the man managed to sit up and wave to passing cars. No one stopped. Then, a white Volkswagen pulled up. A passenger stepped out with a gun, walked steadily to the wounded man and shot him three times. The car took off down a side road and vanished.

No one did anything. No one lifted a finger. The only reaction came from a woman in the grocery store. In a low voice, she said, "My God, bless his soul."

You need to read the whole thing.

By the way, the writer is a Christian. His church underwent a series of attacks over the past year, as violence started picking up in Baghdad starting in about late 2005. Previously a man with a sense of national pride, he is now determined to leave the country. The violence is getting worse, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Considering that General Abizaid is calling for possible increases in forces through next year, it's clear that those in the corridors of power know this too, they just aren't saying it out loud. The goal of those who implement the noxious, insane policy of "stay the course" are clearly just trying to keep the band-aid on until they can hand it over to some other sucker of an Administration.

But the policy questions must be set aside when you read this story of this individual, who is literally broken by his experience in the war zone. It's the loss of HUMANITY in Iraq that ultimately signals its downfall. When nobody will bother to help a dying man, when people avert their eyes to the pools of blood drying on the streets every day, that's despair. That's fear. I don't see how that kind of repression could be any different under a dictator than it is now. The people of Baghdad simply have a new kind of fear.


They Still Need To Step Up

Anonymous Liberal is just as concerned as I am that the Democratic "strategy" of sitting on the sidelines of the torture debate could hurt them severely in November.

We're currently in the midst of one of the most important legislative debates we'll ever have in this country. At stake are the very ideals we have striven so hard over the years to achieve, ideals which have come to define us--at least until recently--and which we have tried so hard to instill in others. More than any other time in recent history, the very core of who we are as a nation is on the line. And remarkably, one of the country's two major political parties has chosen to sit out the debate entirely.

You do not make your mark as a national party by letting the other guys take the fire for you. AL notes that this strategy of keeping their mouths shut has not worked in the past:

Remember, Republican Arlen Specter talked a good talk when it came to holding the administration accountable for its blatant law-breaking, but in the end his "compromise" surveillance deal gave the White House everything it could ever have hoped for, and more. It wouldn't surprise me at all if, as others have pointed out, this is all an elaborate kabuki dance that will end in a compromise which gives the White House almost everything it wanted. When you allow others to fight your fights, you tend to get screwed when they prematurely surrender.

But even if McCain & Co. stick to their guns and somehow manage to get the president to sign on to their legislation, you still end up with a law that was drafted by some very conservative Republicans, a law that reflects virtually zero Democratic input.

Indeed, as I've maintained, the actual bill still immunizes the Administration for their past conduct of torturing detainees, and denies them the write of habeas corpus.

Democrats need to understand that Republicans will attack them and call them soft on terror NO MATTER WHAT. So they might as well put up a fight. It's not like the other side is going to call off the dogs. The political culture in Washington rewards aggressiveness and detests weakness. Right and wrong are largely besides the point. Making your principles known forcefully is what matters.

Ned Lamont totally gets this, and it adds to my suspicion that Democrats MIGHT be trying to get into this debate, only to be hit by the brick wall of the media who's simply more interested in the inter-party pie fight:

I just think it’s unconscionable that this country compromises its values like it does, be it on the military tribunals, be it on Guantanamo, be it on playing fast and loose with the Geneva Conventions. Joe Lieberman was one of the few Democrats who supported Gonzales, who said the Geneva Conventions were quaint. That’s not America. I think it’s important for Democrats to stand up and say that’s not America, that’s not our tradition, it weakens us when you compromise us that way.

As long as this gets local media support, Lamont will be fine. And we need more candidates like him. I'd love to see the Fighting Dems, 56 members strong, issue a specific statement on this legislation and what they'd like to see. The Democratic establishment still hasn't figured out how to play the political game. Our candidates are unrestrained by this groupthink. And their press secretaries need to work their contacts and make sure DEMOCRATIC voices get involved in this debate. I really think there could be a breakdown at that level, with the media unconsciously (or consciously) following the McCain soccer ball.


Mystery Democratic Theater Strikes Again

We did another snarky take on Bush's UN speech yesterday. It's easier to do this with a movie than with a static shot, but I think we got a few shots in.


Rate it up!


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bill Frist: Snatching Defeat From The Jaws of Victory

Installing Bushbot Bill Frist, an MD who thinks he can disgnose people using a VIDEOTAPE, as the Senate Majority Leader back in 2002 must have seemed a good idea as long as Bush's approval ratings were high and he could mindlessly keep their legislation sailing along, rubber stamps in both hands. Once Bush cratered, however, having someone this weak and this strategically impotent in charge has certainly backfired.

Mcjoan at Kos shows us that Frist is insisting on sandbagging the only bill on military tribunals with bipartisan and overwhelming support:

The sharp rhetoric of last week was replaced yesterday by softer language from both the Bush administration and the three Republican senators leading the opposition to its proposals: Warner, John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.).

But Frist struck a more jarring tone, telling reporters that the trio's bill is unacceptable despite its majority support.

For a bill to pass, Frist said, "it's got to preserve our intelligence programs," including the CIA's aggressive interrogation techniques, and it must "protect classified information from terrorists." He said that "the president's bill achieves those two goals" but that "the Warner-McCain-Graham bill falls short."

Frist went so far as to suggest he would FILIBUSTER any detainee legislation (whatever happened to "upperdownvote!") that in any way deviates from what the President wants.

You know, I was getting a little dispirited that the whole tribunal/torture thing was showing the country that Republicans are perfectly capable of stopping Bush all by themselves, thereby negating the "Had Enough" rubber stamp argument. Then, in comes Bill Frist to make things right and provide said rubber stamp and make the choice oh-so-clear.

I feel much better now.


CA-04: Corrupt or Ineffective?

It's very exciting when you see Congressional campaigns using frames that have been floating around the blogosphere for some time. I have read so many posts that paint the picture of Republicanism in the age of Bush as a bipolar question: they're either completely incompetent or they're making it LOOK like they're incompetent so they can steal. It's the "stupid or lying" argument.

Now, Fighting Dem Charlie Brown has internalized this central critique of the entire Republican Party, focused it on his opponent John Doolittle, and manifested it in the new website

The site has two columns and basically poses a central question: is John Doolittle corrupt? Or is he ineffective? And there are several examples to bolster either argument.

For example, Doolittle took a hundred grand from Jack Abramoff, who he still considers a "good friend". Corrupt. But Doolittle also has stood by idly while the national debt surged, port and border security has not improved from its disastrous state and dependence on foreign oil remains troublingly the same. Ineffective.

Every argument in the election, every reason not to return John Doolittle to Congress, can be neatly tossed into these two boxes. Many bloggers have discussed the value of narrative in these political races. With this site, Brown completely defines his opponent, and tells a little story about him that gives two concrete narrative frames through which to view the campaign.

There's even a little poll where you can vote for "corrupt" or "ineffective." This site comes with a companion radio spot, the second time the Brown campaign has done this (they released Doolittle Facts along with a spot about Doolittle's CNMI connections earlier).

I don't think there's another campaign that I've seen that is as innovative with using the Web to set the narrative as the Brown campaign. That's why, in a very gerrymandered state, Charlie Brown has the best opportunity to flip a seat in California. And with more touches like "Corrupt or Ineffective," I think he's going to do it.

Other campaigns need to learn by example. Essentially, corrupt or ineffective could be applied to HUNDREDS of Republican candidates. It works great for someone so tied to Abramoff like Doolittle, but there are plenty more like him in Congress. It's a powerful argument that gives your opponent nowhere to turn. You're either corrupt, or ineffective. No answer can be satisfactory. Both answers demand the call for new leadership. It's absolutely brilliant.

Call your local race and ask them to come up with something like "Corrupt or Ineffective."


Quick Hits

Very happy to have Wi-Fi on this shoot. Not that I'm needed much for it anyway, so it gives me something to do. Here's a check of the news:

• Thailand was actually the first foreign country I ever visited, outside of Mexico and Canada. So I tend to follow the situation over there a little bit, and it kind of came as a shock to me when I heard about the coup going on there today. My impression was that the Prime Minister survived the recent election and, despite his relative unpopularity, he would continue. Thailand typically has so many US visitors, I hope the State Department is on this making sure our nationals are safe.

Hungary's rioting too. Who knew that citizens would be moved to demand a leader's resignation after he admits lying to win an election?

• From the folks that brought you "Man Vs. Beast" and "Temptation Island," it's FoxFaith!

The home entertainment division of Rupert Murdoch's movie studio plans to produce as many as a dozen films a year under a banner called FoxFaith. At least six of those films will be released in theaters under an agreement with two of the nation's largest chains, AMC Theatres and Carmike Cinemas.

The first theatrical release, called "Love's Abiding Joy," is scheduled to hit the big screen Oct. 6. The movie, which cost about $2 million to make, is based on the fourth installment of Christian novelist Janette Oke's popular series, "Love Comes Softly."

"A segment of the market is starving for this type of content," said Simon Swart, general manager of Fox's U.S. home entertainment unit.

I wouldn't say "starving," Christian rock is huge, TBN and EWTN and CBN are mammoth. This is just a corporation jumping on that bandwagon. It's funny that it happens to be the one most associated with depravity and humiliation (and Page 2 girls, in London).

• CT-SEN: Does Joe Lieberman ever bother to show up for work? I know politicians spend more time fundraising than governing, but the Medicare bill might have been one you wouldn't want to skip. Especially the votes that sought to close the odious donut hole, which is catching up to seniors right about now, forcing them to pay full price for the same services they got at a discount earlier in the year.

• I dissed Barack Obama yesterday for refusing to show his principles, and instead telling Democrats what their principles should be. But he nails it in this speech from Louisville last week.

• NJ-SEN: Robert Menendez is the Republican's only hope, really, to pick up a Senate seat. So the New Jersey US Attorney Chris Christie, a Bush Pioneer and general counsel to Bush-Cheney 2000 in New Jersey, has set out to character assassinate by opening subpoenaes into 12 year-old Menendez cases.

True to form, Menendez did not mince his words on Friday when speaking to the State Democratic Convention, stating emphatically, “This is an inquiry into a lease that was executed 12 years ago for a building I sold three years ago. This lease was approved in advance by the House Ethics Committee. Suddenly 61 days before an election a prosecutor appointed by George Bush decides to take an interest, and not coincidentally, leaks to the press follow immediately. There are serious questions about the timing of this inquiry and I will not allow an orchestrated concerted effort to smear and personally destroy those who oppose this administration.”

How many times are we going to see Republican officials with clear conflicts of interests inserting themselves into electoral battles?

• I'm with Chris Bowers and I said this the other day; the media is covering the GOP pie fight without understanding that Democrats are the actual opposition here, and they represent the overwhelming majority of people against the President's sanctioning of torture.

We form the vast majority of the opposition to a piece of legislation, and the AP never quotes a single Democrat, instead portraying Republicans as the opposition to Bush .I'm sure it isn't a coincidence that Republicans around the country are doing everything they can to distance themselves from Bush and try to make themselves look Independent after six years of rubberstamping Bush administration polices. The AP is handing Republicans their desired storyline for this election on a silver platter, and ignoring Democrats altogether.

Democrats deserve equal time in these AP articles, and I am not talking about a token quote here or there. Since four Republicans were quoted in the article on torture legislation, since we form the vast majority of the opposition to the legislation, an equal number of Democrats should be quoted as well. When there is an article about war profiteering, it shouldn't take until the 15th and final paragraph to mention that Democrats are conducting hearings and investigations into these abuses. And at least one Democrat should be quoted when this happens.