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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Boxed In

As Shiite reprisals continue in the aftermath of the Sadr City bombing, the deadliest of the war, the man who's looking to be the most well-positioned to take over Iraq in the aftermath of the civil war has just made his first move:

The wreaking of vengeance unfolded while a powerful parliamentary bloc loyal to firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr threatened to boycott the government if Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki attends a meeting with President Bush scheduled for Wednesday in Jordan. The legislators said the American presence was the root cause of the spiraling violence in Iraq.

But it was Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, that Sunni residents blamed for the attacks today. From morning until afternoon, at least four mosques were attacked in a single mixed neighborhood in the capital. Two were completely destroyed, and at least five Sunnis were killed and 10 wounded, an Interior Ministry official said. Iraqi security forces were absent, unwilling or unable to stop the gunmen.

While miltia loyal to Sadr continue plundering the country and burning people alive, Sadr himself is playing a long game. He openly distances himself from the militia committing the worst of the violence, calls for peace between the two sects, asks rival Sunni clerics to deliver fatwas against sectarian murder, and now this, threatening to pull out of the government if Maliki meets with Bush. Sadr has championed a cause that most Iraqis can get behind (if opinion polls there are to be believed), opposing the occupation of Iraq. He's set up a situation where, if Maliki goes forward with the meeting, he can practically force new elections; and if Maliki does not, he's in nominal control of the government. The fact that the meeting is scheduled to take place in Jordan already shows how unstable and lost Iraq is; Sadr's gambit shows who's in charge. And even he cannot stop his forces from engaging in revenge killings and fighting what he perceives to be the true enemy (though I think this may be something of a pose).

It's a sad day when the world's only superpower can get strategically boxed in by a firebrand cleric with little experience in political affairs. We need to come to the realization that Iraq is finished as an imperial project. If we cannot stop al-Sadr from getting the upper hand, we can't do anything. Chuck Hagel writes a piercing op-ed for the Washington Post this morning, and he dares to say what nobody else has:

There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis -- not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.

We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government.

That is clear and unambiguous truth on what is happening over there. It's about as honest an op-ed as you'll see from a politician. Chuck Hagel and I disagree on a great many things, but on the defining issue of the day, he has been honorable and clear-headed, and his call for redeployment is purposeful and strong. He joins others on the Democratic side who've already sounded this call, and I expect there to be others on the Republican side to join him. Iraq has this week moved past partisanship, and the partisans who still argue for it are completely out of step with the American people.

Unfortunately, the nation is currently led by a man who continually boxes himself in with his rhetoric and stubborn attitude, and allows the most shallow of rivals, in this case Muqtada al-Sadr, to outwit him. The only way to win this game is to stop playing, but a petulance masked as competitiveness will force that solution off the table. Someone better than this President will have to come along and put a stop to this madness.


Something To Be Thankful For

Sen. Leahy has recognized that a duty of Congress is to engage in meaningful oversight.

Seeking information about detention of terrorism suspects, abuse of detainees and government secrecy, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are reviving dozens of demands for classified documents that until now have been rebuffed or ignored by the Justice Department and other agencies.

“I expect real answers, or we’ll have testimony under oath until we get them,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who will head the committee beginning in January, said in an interview this week. “We’re entitled to know these answers, and in many instances we don’t get them because people are hiding their mistakes. And that’s no excuse.”

Mr. Leahy, who has said little about his plans for the committee, expressed hope for greater cooperation from the Bush administration, which he described as having been “obsessively secretive.” His aides have identified more than 65 requests he has made to the Justice Department or other agencies in recent years that have been rejected or permitted to languish without reply.

This is not a witch hunt so much as it is making up for lost time. The Bush Administration has abused the trust of Congress repeatedly over the last six years. In 2002 you did not see a rush to conduct oversight, as the Democrats in charge of the Senate for that short period were willing to give a President fresh off an attack on the country the benefit of the doubt. We also had the most softball Majority Leader in history in Tom Daschle, and a caucus that was far less ideologically balanced, with a handful of conservative-leaning Senators from the South. But really this is about a Democratic Congress that is fed up with the deception and the secrecy, and concerned about how we've lost our morals and our way in the name of fighting terror.

With little more than two weeks gone since the elections that gave his party a majority in both houses, Mr. Leahy has already begun pressing the Justice Department for greater openness. In a letter last Friday, he asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to release two documents whose existence the Central Intelligence Agency, in response to a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, recently acknowledged for the first time. Although their details are not known, the documents appear to have provided a legal basis for the agency’s detention and harsh interrogation of high-level terrorism suspects.

One document is a directive, signed by President Bush shortly after the September 2001 attacks, that granted the C.I.A. authority to set up detention centers outside the United States and outlined allowable interrogation procedures.

The second is a memorandum, written by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department in 2002, that is thought to have given the C.I.A. specific legal advice about interrogation methods that would not violate a federal statute on torture.

It's a shame that Democrats have to look backward at a time when the country needs to move forward. But we can walk and chew gum at the same time. And while we implement an agenda, it's vital that we understand the breadth of the damage done to the country and the office of the Presidency. Leaders do not typically give up their power, and so an executive branch that is allowed to claim such broad controls will sustain itself into the future unless those defenders of the Constitution and this divided system of government act. Honestly, they probably wouldn't if they hadn't been pushed up against the wall like this.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Creamy Mashed Cauliflower

Bitches. Healthier than mashed potatoes and I made them in about a half-hour.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.


State of Civil War

Another day in Baghdad:

In the deadliest attack on a sectarian enclave since the beginning of the Iraq war, suspected Sunni-Arab militants used three suicide car bombs and two mortar rounds on the capital's Shiite Sadr City slum to kill at least 150 people and wound 238 on Thursday, police said.

The Shiites responded almost immediately, firing 10 mortar rounds at the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque in Azamiya, killing one person and wounding 14 people in an attack on the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad.

Despite what we're taught about Fort Sumter, civil wars don't spontaneously happen. They gradually expand with provocation after provocation until their existence is undeniable. Maybe when we look back, the bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra will be seen as the Fort Sumter moment; in truth that was just another provocation. But that was 9 months ago, and most in our government are STILL denying that a state of civil war exists.

On this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that most of the country is opening their eyes to this horror we helped unleash on what was the cradle of civilization. I'm hopeful that the rest of the country will finally understand this as well.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Caught about two minutes today of Fox News' biggest apologist, Neil Cavuto, sitting around with Chris Hitchens talking about why the UN report showing the Iraqi civilian death toll at an all-time high was wrong. Not that the report was wrong in any way, understand, but why it was wrong for them to put out a report at all. It was apparently wrong because the UN has done a lot of bad things themselves in the past (so they're not allowed to produce reports on anything, I guess), and also the UN never put out any reports on how many Iraqi civilians were killed under the Saddam Hussein regime.

Except the UN contributed to this report in 2002. And this USAid report specifically cites UN estimates of murders in Iraq under Saddam. And this page from cites UN reports of repression in Saddam's Iraq. And says this:

Former UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur Max Van der Stoel's report in April 1998 stated that Iraq had executed at least 1,500 people during the previous year for political reasons [...]

In 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur stated that Iraq remains the country with the highest number of disappearances known to the UN: over 16,000.

The line "Did the UN ever report death tolls under Saddam?" ran as a graphic during practically the whole segment. You immediately knew it was wrong. It took me five minutes to Google all of that. Furthermore, Iraq was a closed society then, and if the UN Special Rapporteur wasn't thrown out of the country in 1999, certainly there would have been even more reports. That was his job.

In addition to this outright lie, Hitch tried to obfuscate by claiming that most of the deaths have been caused by former Ba'athists and Saddam loyalists, when in fact Shi'ite militias are most likely to blame for the rise in violence. He managed to mention that oftentimes the kidnappers and killers are wearing facsimiles of Iraqi police uniforms they picked up off the street, which means that the difference between Saddam's Iraq and today's Iraq is mainly the authenticity of the uniforms, and little else, except there was more electricity back then, and now all sects are actively involved in the killing fields.

I hear Prime Minister Maliki will sit down with the insurgents next week to plead for reconciliation and an end to the violence, as if they're the only ones committing these acts and not the troops in his own Interior Ministry. As if Maliki even matters anymore. Iraq's over, and the few people still defending this war have no choice left but to lie about it.


Harry Reid Makes A Funny

Actually, he just speaks common sense:

The degree to which the new Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill despises Vice President Dick Cheney is a big plus for President Bush. Consider why incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scrapped an idea to impeach Bush: "Two words: Dick Cheney," he says, joking that it would vault the veep into the Oval Office.

I've been saying for a while that if the President really wanted to improve his approval ratings, his best course of action would be to resign. One week of President Cheney, and Bush would be right back at 90%. Heck, I would LEAD the brigade to Crawford to beg him to come out of retirement.

The real hardcore impeachers say "get rid of Cheney too," a process that would take us, between making the case to the public through deliberative investigation, passing a resolution in the House, making a trial in the Senate, going through all of those deliberations, and finally resulting in a 2/3 majority vote, approximately up until January 25, 2009, at which point Nancy Pelosi could be President for around negative-five days. It's pointless. The system is working now as long as the Democrats make proper use of their Congressional majorities.


Broadcast News

Going home to Philadelphia while living on Los Angeles time frequently makes me the last person awake in the house. So it was last night that I was puttering around at midnight when I came upon the film Broadcast News. I hadn't seen it in a while, certainly not since I began blogging and began paying attention to politics with a vengeance. It occurred to me that virtually every problem about the media revealed in that film is still at issue today. And it was released in 1987.

The fictional network news station depicted has an aloof, richer-than-God anchor who is little more than a newsreader; a Washington bureau which has the spectre of staff cuts hanging over its head continually; dwindling resources for foreign bureau reporting; and difficulty coming to terms with the new reality of the news division having to be a profit center rather than a public trust. These problems didn't begin with the election of George W. Bush. The corporate takeover of television stations has been a long time coming, and with the proliferation of cable news only in its infancy (it had only been around 8 years or so at the time of the film, and CNN was recognized for its depth of coverage... remember that?), the pressure on the media to produce dollars rather than good journalism has only gotten worse.

The film is essentially a standard love triangle, but the central story as relates to the decline of the media concerns William Hurt's character, Tom Grunick, a flaky and none-too-bright former sports anchor who is brought to the network level mainly because of his good looks. Albert Brooks plays a dedicated reporter named Aaron Altman, who writes scintillating copy and is dogged in the field but doesn't connect with the public in the same way. There's a pivotal moment when Grunick is tutoring Altman on his performance for an upcoming shot at anchoring the weekend news. "When it comes down to it, you're a salesman. You're selling yourself as credible. So when you feel yourself just reading, stop. And start selling." This is where we find ourselves today. We have people providing the information that the public needs to make informed decisions who are despicably lazy about what they're saying, but unbelievably precise about HOW THEY WANT YOU TO FEEL about what they're saying.

Altman sees right through this kind of reporter:

What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing... he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen.

The ethical line is crossed in the film when Grunick, during a report on date rape (a sexy, sensationalistic subject for the evening's broadcast), manufactures tears to use in his cutaway during a woman's description of her assault. It's a one-camera shoot, and eventually Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) discovers what he has done. When confronted, Grunick is glib and actually doesn't see how he preyed upon the emotions of the viewers. "I figured since I almost did it the first time, what's the big deal." When told he crossed the line, he says "But they keep moving it, don't they?"

What's bold is that the film eschews the happy ending and shows the reality for what it is. Tom Grunick moves up through the ranks and is made network anchor within a few years. The principled Aaron Altman moves to a local job in Portland. And the standards lower just a bit more.

Our media today, at least in the pundit class and on television, is controlled by intellectually lazy storytellers who weave narratives which they try desperately to sell to the public. Their instinct is self-preservation, so the storytelling aspect is highlighted because they believe that will keep people's interest and make politics accessible, and therefore allow them to keep their jobs. In fact these narratives rely on false assumptions that are never updated, and are characterized by personality-driven reporting where the most telegenic, the most willing to yell the loudest or exploit the basest emotions, win.

There was no chance this would ever reverse course. The rise of the Internet and technology that allowed the closed system of media to be expanded to more and more people, harnessing the creativity and talent of the entire nation to create an alternative to the dross which broadcast news and its focus on flash has become, at least provided something new. We can keep the media more honest and more responsive, and citizens have somewhere else to go for the most crucial information, an entirely new class of editors whose understanding of the Fourth Estate has nothing to do with overseas bureau costs and how the source's hair looks. Watching Broadcast News, it struck me how this has been an increasing problem for at least a generation, and not an ideological one. It's a problem with how news itself is valued, and how those who provide it are constrained by both their corporate boards and their own failure of the imagination. Reforming the media is essentially a fool's errand, because the gatekeepers have no reason to believe anything needs reform. There are obvious exceptions, of course, but in the main, media-for-profit responds solely to the rise and fall of that profit, and all you have to do is refer back to the early warning signs of this on celluloid (Network, Broadcast News) to see the evidence. So yes, demand apologies, and write petitions, and call for idiots like Glenn Beck to be fired, but the public at large knows intuitively that the discourse has been watered down, and they've already cast about to find the alternatives, and most important, the punditocracy and chattering classes and bobbleheads on cable news have a staggeringly low amount of influence. We give them a lot of agency because we're news junkies, but movies like Broadcast News wouldn't have been made 20 years ago if they didn't connect at some level to a public with a pretty low opinion for what journalism has become.

I know that with the Democrats in the majority, there will be a target on Nancy Pelosi's back, and the Heathers inside the Beltway will gossip and hiss and do whatever they can to push their familiar narratives. But less and less people are buying that fairy tale. They get that it's a tale told by an idiot.


5-Day Work Week

This is welcome news. It's become a kind of tradition to close the Congress in January so everyone can sleep off their Christmas/New Year's hangovers. Not this year.

The carping inside the Beltway about Nancy Pelosi has been undeserved and downright catty. But I think the simple fact that she'll force the Congress to show up for work five days a week, twelve months a year, will be potent out in the country. With all of the challenges we face both domestically and abroad, Congress worked between 90 and 100 days this year. That's unconscionable.

Harry Reid has also said that he'll be holding votes on Mondays and Fridays, as opposed to the Tuesday-to-Thursday schedule favored by Republicans. People are going to see something very different come 2007: a government that works. Literally.


The Only Dialup Left In America... in my parent's house. Haven't found any place with free WiFi out here in the sticks, either. Even the local community college has shut it down for Thanksgiving.

So we'll be keeping the blogging to a minimum.

I guess the nation is holding its breath for that Baker-Hamilton report, waiting to act while soldiers and Iraqi civilians continue to die. October was the worst month for Iraqi civilians yet, and November hasn't been much better.

It's important to note that the Baker-Hamilton report is a political document. Their suggestions aren't going to be particularly different that what we've been hearing for the past year. There isn't a Middle East expert among the study group members. It's a document that will be used for political cover, from BOTH sides, which are honestly too cowardly to face up to the American people and tell them the hard truth of what is possible and what is impossible, and where we can go from here. Barack Obama's call for troop withdrawals within 4-6 months fails to do that, though the substance of it is fine. Anything that pushes the eventual withdrawal date out (and it is just a matter of time, and whatever happens in the aftermath is going to happen anyway, so it's just a matter of how long you want to see Americans die to try and justify a failed policy) allows those who have control of these things to buy time to push the date out further. It essentially allows them to deny reality. And the reality is that Iraq is over as an imperial project. Kaput. Finished. The civil war that has already started will end in its own way regardless of US deployments. You can go big or go long or go home or go to the movies or go quietly or go tell it on the mountain. It doesn't matter.

So how do you tell American families whose sons and daughters are dying that they'll just be over there long enough for politicians in the executive branch to run out the clock and pass the problem off to someone else?

It's insanity. And on this Thanksgiving, I'll be giving thanks to anyone with the courage to tell the truth about Iraq.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Travel Day

Headed home to the folks for Thanksgiving. Light posting today. I have a fairly long layover in San Diego (yeah, LA to San Diego to catch my connecting flight - brilliant), so I may get some posting in there if I can find a hotspot.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Quick Hits

Just before my trip home for Thanksgiving, wanted to pontificate a bit:


Veteran Republican Sen. Ted Stevens announced yesterday that he will be running for re-election in 2008 at the age of 84, ending speculation about a possible retirement.

“Serving Alaska in the United States Senate continues to be the greatest honor of my life, and that is why in 2008 I intend to once again ask the voters of Alaska to allow me to represent them,” Stevens said in a statement Wednesday.

He won't be happy until every Alaskan has their own personal bridge! And their own personal Internet tube.

• Good news on the Houston janitors. Not only was their bail reduced, but they ended up receiving a contract after four weeks of striking. Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world, as Margaret Mead said.

• Just when you thought there was at least some path to peace in Darfur - nope, more attacks have been launched. It's unclear whether they're just trying to get them in under the gun or if they're pulling back from the deal to allow UN forces in the country. It's insane how little attention this gets. This Onion headline isn't that far off: "African Children Given 30,000 Unused 'Save Darfur' T-Shirts."

• Remember that minor stir last week that Jack Abramoff was ready to give up evidence on "eight corrupt Democratic senators"? Well, according to Abramoff's own colleagues, not so much:

Curious to learn more, we called a number of Abramoff's former colleagues from his heyday at the Greenberg Traurig lobby firm to see how the story struck them.

"Jack has not met eight Democrats in Washington," one lobbyist told us.

• Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee stripped a Democratic staffer's access to classified material a few weeks ago because, they claimed, he leaked the famed NIE on Iraq that got headlines during the election season. They had no evidence for this, you understand, they just claimed it. And now, with the election over, and hoping nobody's looking, they very quietly gave the guy back his access. Classy.

Great story about the early work of California's own Congressman-elect Jerry McNerney. Getting on the Energy and Commerce committee would be a coup. The Democratic Party has the potential to get out in front on the burgeoning alternative energy industry, and having politicians like wind energy expert McNerney will do wonders both politically and for policy.

• This is one of these crazy stories you see develop in your local paper through the weeks and months, and it just gets more and more interesting. Vernon's this little industrial town (something like 68 residents) south of LA run like a 21st-century Tammany Hall. They hadn't held an election in 25 years until this spring, when three new residents challenged them for City Council seats and promptly got evicted. Now, not only is the mayor getting busted for voter fraud (even he doesn't live there), but his son allegedly molested young boys at an LA Catholic school. There's a GREAT documentary in here somewhere.


Guess What?

The Bush Administration is deceiving the public about the weapons program of a Middle Eastern country with "I-R-A" as the first three letters of their name! Stop me if you've heard this one.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A classifed draft CIA assessment has found no firm evidence of a secret drive by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, as alleged by the White House, a top US investigative reporter has said.

Seymour Hersh, writing in an article for the November 27 issue of the magazine The New Yorker released in advance, reported on whether the administration of Republican President George W. Bush was more, or less, inclined to attack Iran after Democrats won control of Congress last week

A month before the November 7 legislative elections, Hersh wrote, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a national-security discussion that touched on the impact of Democratic victory in both chambers on Iran policy.

"If the Democrats won on November 7th, the vice president said, that victory would not stop the administration from pursuing a military option with Iran," Hersh wrote, citing a source familiar with the discussion [...]

But the administration's planning of a military option was made "far more complicated" in recent months by a highly classified draft assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency "challenging the White House's assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb," he wrote.

"The CIA found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running paallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency," Hersh wrote, adding the CIA had declined to comment on that story.

A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the CIA analysis and said the White House had been hostile to it, he wrote.

Of course, the CIA's been wrong before. And Iran isn't to be fully trusted. But clearly, dumbasses like Joshua Muravchik, who think the only answer to an undefined nuclear energy program in Tehran is to cause a global economic meltdown by bombing it into the Stone Age, should not even be dignified with a response. We have no verification about the extent of this program, and I personally have no faith that those tasked to carry out any response have the intelligence and competency to pull it off. So put the missiles and battleships away.

Instead of stamping your little feet because the intelligence doesn't give you the pretext you need to attack, how about pushing for better intelligence to verify the nature of the threat and backing up your own statements? I hope Harry Reid returns to the Iran Intelligence Oversight Act in January. We can't have this kind of deliberate deception again.


Barney Frank and the "Grand Bargain"

I'd be very curious to know what people think about this:

Representative Barney Frank has proposed in a series of meetings with business groups a "grand bargain" with corporate America: Democrats would agree to reduce regulations and support free-trade deals in exchange for businesses agreeing to greater wage increases and job benefits for workers.

In broad strokes, I generally agree with this maneuver, but of course the devil's in the details. Clearly Democrats are going to have to work with the business community and earn their acceptance of progressive policies, and making quid pro quo exchanges like this is one way to do that. But it's important to watch it closely so that there's balance in the deal.

The details, at least what we know of them, here:

"What I want to do is break that deadlock," Frank said in an interview. "A lot of policies that the business community wants us to adopt for growth are now blocked. On the other hand, the business community is successfully blocking the minimum wage [increase] and created a very anti union attitude in the Congress."

Frank proposes that if businesses support a minimum wage increase and provide protection for workers adversely affected by trade treaties, Democrats would be more willing to ease regulations and approve free-trade deals. Frank also would support changes to immigration rules favored by businesses, and noted that allowing more immigrants would put needed funds into the Social Security system.

Frank casts his proposal as a way for capitalists to quell some of the populist fervor that was expressed in last week's election, when many Democrats vowed to crack down on companies moving jobs overseas.
"I'm a capitalist, and that means I'm for inequality," Frank told Boston business leaders on the morning after Election Day, in a speech about his grand bargain. "But you reach a point where you get more inequality than is healthy, and I believe we're at that point.

"What we want to do is to look at public policies that'll get some bigger share of the increased wealth into wages, and in return you'll see Democrats as internationalists. . .. I really urge the business community to join us."

Gridlock on these policies will not be good for public image, but if you give away the farm in trade agreements and regulations, I think we'll have disarmed at our peril. It's clear to me that what has been mandated by voters and desired by the public at large is regulated capitalism. That means ending corporate welfare as we know it, and at least improving equality of opportunity. In the end, I believe such policies would increase competitiveness and open markets to US goods rather than close them. Worker protections in global free trade treaties need to be GLOBAL or they will not work. We have a race to the bottom where companies go on a hunt around the world for the lowest-wage workers to exploit with impunity. As long as that system remains in place, you can put all the worker protections together you want and it won't help anyone keep their job.

The current wage inequality, in the words of Alan Greenspan (of all people), is unsustainable and "threatens global capitalism." At some level, I believe corporate America knows this. But they've been having their way in Congress for so long, writing the laws themselves, receiving fat coporate welfare checks, that to think they're just going to buy into such a bargain (even when it may be tilted toward them) is not realistic.

But while Frank has won support in Massachusetts among financial-services executives, some national business leaders are skeptical. Bruce Josten , chief lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce said he is worried that Frank's grand bargain would mandate costly benefits to employees, including health care , in exchange for support of free trade.

"His grand bargain . . . certainly is not going to sail with the American business community," Josten said in an interview. Josten noted that Frank historically has been at odds with the US Chamber due in part to opposition to trade deals. In 2005, for example, Frank supported the chamber's issues only 33 percent of the time.

They are going to remain resistant to change and try to threaten and wheedle and maintain the status quo. Indeed they've given half a million dollars to Frank's campaign PAC in the last election cycle. And they've still got the pen of the President with which to veto. So essentially, neither side is in perfect shape on this one, which makes compromise more possible. And of course, the path to that compromise goes through health care:

A starting point could be health care. Many businesses are trying to shed high health care premiums. Frank hopes that workers and businesses can agree on a government-administered plan paid for by workers that would reduce burdens on businesses, which would pass on savings to employees through higher wages.

"I think employer-paid health care is a mistake," he said. "I think it depresses wages."

Stephen J. Collins , president of the Automotive Trade Policy Council, which represents Detroit's Big Three automakers, said business leaders would welcome such a discussion with Frank. "Our companies are very open about the fact that they are facing massive competitive challenges of a global nature that need big answers," Collins said. "There has to be a partnership between government and industry to solve some of these problems, and health is one of them."

It's fantastic that Frank understands that a single-payer system is the only one that makes sense. I think he may find a great deal of support for the business community with that proposal. When car companies are paying more for health care than steel, they intuitively understand how relieving them of that burden will increase their competitiveness and their ability to take risks (drdave noted this as well in his diary last week).

I don't think you can sign free trade agreements without global labor and environmental standards, and if health care is the carrot to that stick, so be it. As for regulations, there's a lot of bureaucracy that maybe could be trimmed, and certainly it appears that Sarbanes-Oxley will be curtailed (though I see that as a lot of corporate whining). But the real reform there is no longer having lobbyists and industry executives in charge of regulating their own industries. I've seen enough in my lifetime to believe that greed is endemic to the current capitalistic system, and while that doesn't disqualify it, it demands real regulatory agencies to conduct oversight and ensure consumer, shareholder and worker protections.

Frank is proposing a year-long series of hearings to look at this issue and build a framework for compromise. While I have faith that he will not sell out core principles, we should watch this closely to make sure that there are no efforts to do so. Where this leads will eventually define how Democrats can be seen on issues of trade and economic fairness. While striking deals with corporate America doesn't make one an automatic DLC Democrat, we should be mindful that whatever bargains are made must embody a progressive capitalism that benefits everybody rather than just the privileged few.


Well That Was Quick

The OJ special cancelled. (And the book, according to the headline, although the article itself doesn't seem to reflect that.)

No word on whether the two murders have been cancelled as well.


Santa Schwarzenegger

I watched the Bill Maher show after election night and heard him going on and on about how effective Arnold Schwarzenegger is at pushing through policies that liberals want. Somehow he conveniently forgets about how he rewrote global warming policy through an unconstitutional executive order, for example, or the dozens of other ways in which Arnold has maintained a moderate pose in public while behind the scenes doing the bidding of your average corprocrat:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doled out high-paying and prestigious state jobs this year to dozens of outgoing members of his administration, including six-figure salaries for posts he once said were a waste of taxpayer money and should be eliminated.

An Associated Press investigation of Schwarzenegger's staffing purge since last year's special election revealed that he has appointed or transferred 40 former staffers elsewhere in state government. At least half of those saw their taxpayer-funded salaries increase after they left Schwarzenegger's office, some by more than $30,000 a year.

Schwarzenegger also gave six former staffers jobs with state boards and commissions he previously tried to dismantle.

On one level, the appointments represent the latest in a long-standing practice of political patronage for loyal gubernatorial aides in the state's capital. But they also are appointments that sometimes run counter to Schwarzenegger's own statements on governing and raise questions about his willingness to make future cuts to agencies where many of his former employees now draw state paychecks.

"Schwarzenegger promised to clean up and streamline the bureaucracy that is California government," said Ned Wigglesworth, spokesman for California Common Cause. "Now he's stacking the deck with his folks, and they're making a pretty penny off taxpayers in the process. We're disappointed comparing the rhetoric to the reality."

(h/t Calitics)

By the way, the date on this article was... 10 days after the election. Thanks, AP, for making this oh-so-relevant!

We also learned after the election that California quietly stopped a review into prison official safety checks that was supposed to be mandated after an employee was stabbed. The reason cited was "fiscal issues."

Maybe if the money given to Arnold's political friends were shifted to fund worker safety reviews, everybody (except for Arnold's friends) would be happy!

This comes at a time when the chief apologist for the Governor is going on and on about how the inaugural balls this time around will be NOTHING like the lavish private parties with all kinds of press from all over the world and VIPs and celebs and lots to drink and teh kewlest time evah!!!

The subtext there is pretty clear, don't you think? Not necessarily a governor of the people, if by "people" you mean rich friends and contributors and celebrities. The useful idiots on the left who praise this guy's "sensible moderation" are either not paying attention (probably) or just as star-struck as everybody else (probably, too).


FL-13: Contesting the Vote

Whether deliberate or just a malfunction, we're headed toward a new election in Florida:

Citing statistical and eyewitness evidence of significant machine malfunctions sufficient to call into doubt the result of the election for Florida Congressional District 13, the Christine Jennings campaign today officially contested the election in Circuit Court. The complaint specifically requests the judge to order a new election “to ensure that the will of the people of the Thirteenth District is respected, and to restore the confidence of the electorate, which has been badly fractured by this machine-induced debacle.”

More than 17,000 undervotes (15%) were recorded on Sarasota County’s electronic voting machines, a rate nearly 6 times higher than the undervote rate in the other District 13 counties or in Sarasota’s paper absentee ballots. Jennings won Sarasota County by a 53% - 47% margin, while losing the district-wide manual recount by 369 votes. As noted in the complaint:

“The failure to include these votes constitutes a rejection of a number of legal votes sufficient to place in doubt, and likely change, the outcome of the election.”

In a way this election was a perfect storm. It was close enough that the e-voting problems mattered, it was distributed in such a way that at least gave the appearance of deliberate unfairness, and there were enough eyewitnesses to attest to the problems to back up the claim.

I don't know if it will ever be determined whether or not the Buchanan campaign intentionally fixed the election. But the point is that enough reasonable doubt has been raised to justify doing the election over. Certainly, there's no way that the Democratic Congress should seat this guy until all legal decisions are made final.

This little House election may be the downfall of electronic voting machines. Look at what they're requesting in discovery:

As part of the discovery process, the Jennings campaign seeks expedited discovery of items including audit and ballot-image logs generated by the iVotronic system, iVotronic machines and related hardware that generated particularly high undervote rates, and the software – particularly the source code – used to operate that hardware.

The bottom line is that the liability is so great that I can't see municipalities wanting to go through the time and expense of something like this ever again. Diebold, ES&S, all of them had better hope for their sake that they've sold a LOT of ATM machines in FY2007, because they're all done in the election industry.

...for the record, I think this was a standard-issue malfunction.



Not that I even do a ton of stand-up anymore, but having seen Kramer a few times out here, I gotta say that you could see this coming a mile away. He's not only not funny onstage, but he goes on for at least a half-hour. You can see the audience go from excited to annoyed. And he gets genuinely angry at everyone for not bowing down to his brilliance. I've seen him get in shouting matches with other comics on at least two occasions.

He's an incredibly bitter man who doesn't understand why people aren't laughing at him anymore. Typical celebrity who lashes out at those who fail to recognize his obvious talent.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Our New Rock Stars

Just caught Senator-elects Webb and Tester on Meet The Press. No gotcha, no inside-the-beltway conventional wisdom, just a fairly substantive look at the issues with two people who actually don't belong on the Sunday shows, which is why it was so refreshing to have them there.

I thought Tester was obviously leaning on Webb when talking about Iraq, but he was very good on transparency in government and the need for common sense solutions to complex problems. He's wary of government bureaucracy, evidenced by his answer showing little support for an Office of Public Integrity. He did the interview from his kitchen in Big Sandy, and it was significant to his view that the country isn't doing a whole lot to give the middle class and the working poor a chance to get ahead.

And Webb was even better on this. The great thing about him is that, as a novelist, he writes with a passion and intensity often missing from the writing of other Democrats. The excerpt from his Wall Street Journal piece on income inequality was as stirring a call to the plight of the working man that I've probably ever heard on Meet The Press. He can speak with authority and credibility on these issues, as someone who has studied the issues from an intellectual standpoint (he cited Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a model in this respect) and who has reached conclusions that reflect deep-seeded beliefs.

It's great to see somebody fighting for working-class Americans again, and these two will help carry that fight in the Senate. Sure, the White House can say that they've supported the minimum wage too, but it strains credulity. Webb and Tester ooze credibility, and it showed today. I haven't felt better about the potential of the country in a long time.


Agenda Items

It's enormously satisfying to see this spate of articles recently speculating on what specific policies Democrats will decide to push when the new session of Congress convenes in January. There's so much to do, so many problems that demand attention, that these articles become very simple to write.

For example, Democrats might focus on combating global warming:

Dramatic changes in congressional oversight of environmental issues may pump new life into efforts to fight global warming, activist groups and lawmakers said yesterday.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) announced his intention to become the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, now headed by Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has said that global warming is a hoax. Warner has called for action against climate change, and his ascension to a leadership post would accelerate significant changes already underway.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) -- a liberal who has called global warming a dire threat -- is in line to chair the committee in the next Congress as a result of last week's elections, which will give Democrats the Senate majority. Environmentalists have been hailing her impending replacement of Inhofe as chairman. Warner's takeover of the ranking minority member's slot, they said yesterday, would raise even greater hopes for advancing their agenda [...]

Whoever is the top Republican on the environment committee, Boxer said in an interview yesterday that she plans aggressive hearings on environmental concerns, especially climate change. "There is a pent-up desire on the part of many people in the country to get back to making progress on the environment," she said, adding that she plans "to roll out a pretty in-depth set of hearings on global warming."

If the government does not do more to limit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, Boxer said, "we will be facing economic decline and environmental ruin." Having Warner replace Inhofe as the committee's top Republican, she said, would send "a very different signal."

For his part, Inhofe has helpfully threatened to filibuster any legislative attempt to curb global warming, claiming instead that God would save us from climate change. Yeah, things are different now. Especially when you consider that the Administration won't even comply with a simple law mandating that NOAA produce a report on climate change every four years. The White House has never produced one.

I already reported on Democratic vows to enact robocall reform (a bill introduced by Barack Obama, who appears to be responding to fears that he hasn't led despite wanting to lead the party. More on that later). In addition to that, Patrick Leahy has called for investigation of Laura Ingraham, who on Election Day enncouraged her radio show listeners to jam Democratic election protection phone lines. The Democrats are making a strong post-election statement that these dirty tricks will not be tolerated.

In addition, they're making a statement that Congress will return to its Constitutional role as an investigative body that engages in oversight of the executive branch. As Mark Schmitt writes, investigation is part of governance.

But the point of investigations is not impeachment, its not revenge. One point is to restore some basic standards to government, some things that just aren’t done, whether a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House.

The other point of investigations is, of course, to govern. The challenges the next Congress faces are, above all, huge problems that we need to find a way out of. Iraq and the fiscal disaster are the biggest. You can't figure out how to solve huge problems unless you first figure out how you got into them. We've given uninformed policy making a try, and we've seen the results.

Henry Waxman doesn't een know what to investigate first. And Leahy also wants to take a look at two Justice Department memos regarding terrorist interrogation and detention. Both Leahy and Christopher Dodd have called for new legislation that seeks to overturn key provisions of the Military Commissions Act. While there's almost no way you could get a veto-proof majority on this, and there's even less of a chance that the President would sign it into law, it's important to get Congress on the record in support of the US Constitution and American values, and set it up for the next Administration to sign come 2009. Dodd's proposal contains what is necessary to balance security and civil liberties, and retain our moral leadership in the world.

The Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act:
* Restores Habeas Corpus protections to detainees
* Narrows the definition of unlawful enemy combatant to individuals who directly participate in hostilities against the United States who are not lawful combatants
* Bars information gained through coercion from being introduced as evidence in trials
* Empowers military judges to exclude hearsay evidence the deem to be unreliable
* Authorizes the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to review decisions by the Military commissions
* Limits the authority of the President to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and makes that authority subject to congressional and judicial oversight
* Provides for expedited judicial review of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to determine the constitutionally of its provisions

“We in Congress have our own obligation, to work in a bipartisan way to repair the damage that has been done, to protect our international reputation, to preserve our domestic traditions, and to provide a successful mechanism to improve and enhance the tools required by the global war on terror,” Dodd said.

Considering that just this week, the Justice Department argued that immigrants could be held indefinitely if they're suspected of terrorism, and that detention status trials to determine who's an enemy combatant are pretty much kangaroo courts, this legislation is sorely needed. But more important, Democrats need to be on the record as opposed to these kinds of tactics.

But there are more agenda items. Democrats want to enact all the 9-11 Commission recommendations. Though the article claims it would be difficult to get this done, I can't see any Congressman actually wanting to vote against port security; the election ads alone would be enough of a deterrent.

Finally, there are several dueling pieces of ethics legislation.

Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, mindful that voters in the midterm election cited corruption as a major concern, say they are moving quickly to finalize a package of changes for consideration as soon as the new Congress convenes in January.

Their initial proposals, laid out earlier this year, would prohibit members from accepting meals, gifts or travel from lobbyists, require lobbyists to disclose all contacts with lawmakers and bar former lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from entering the floor of the chambers or Congressional gymnasiums.

None of the measures would overhaul campaign financing or create an independent ethics watchdog to enforce the rules. Nor would they significantly restrict earmarks, the pet projects lawmakers can anonymously insert into spending bills, which have figured in several recent corruption scandals and attracted criticism from members in both parties. The proposals would require disclosure of the sponsors of some earmarks, but not all.

This is another case where Obama is seeking to take the lead, calling for reform with more accountability and a better chance of being more than cosmetic:

Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat tapped by party leaders last year to spearhead ethics proposals, said he was pushing for changes with more teeth. “The dynamic is different now,” Mr. Obama said Friday. “We control both chambers now, so it is difficult for us to have an excuse for not doing anything.”

He is pushing to create an independent Congressional ethics commission and advocates broader campaign-finance changes as well. “We need to make sure that those of us who are elected are not dependent on a narrow spectrum of individuals to finance our campaigns,” he said.

Obama's going to be knocked around by more senior members for this legislation, but he needs to expend some of his sizable capital with the public in order to rally support. The more leadership he shows, the more comfortable I am with him as a leader.

Overall, I'm just happy that these legislative proposals are being discussed and have the ability to be enacted. Democrats have a deep bench of ideas that the public is only now beginning to see, as the minority doesn't allow for any ability to promote a message. As the electoral victory was less a mandate than a chance, it's vital that Democrats get some actual legislative victories and show the country they are not just willing but quite able to govern.


What The Hell Is Going On In This Country?

First we had an incident where UCLA campus police tased an individual for not having the right ID, which if you believe is a punishment that fits that crime, then you must also believe that Rosa Parks should be tased.

After all, Rosa Parks was black, committed a premeditated crime, and loudly and rudely disrupted the commute of a lot of nice white people who simply wanted to get home after a hard day's work. Bitch.

Then there's Ernesto Miranda - another colored guy. Hell, Miranda wasn't even American - he was one of those Mexicans that Lou Dobbs is always talking about. And Miranda was even worse than Parks. Miranda got arrested, and convicted, of kidnapping and rape. Yeah, real nice guy. According to the court, he was a "seriously disturbed individual with pronounced sexual fantasies." Freak.

Or how about Roy Allen Stewart - robber, murderer, sentenced to death. He was an indigent black guy who dropped out of school in the sixth grade. Loser [...]

(PS In case a few of you haven't figured it out, the names above are all of famous US civil rights cases. Each of those nasty individuals is responsible for you having some of your most important rights as American citizens. Think about that. You have YOUR rights because the courts recognized THEIR rights. That's why cases like this, where the victim is an "asshole," matter. Those assholes are responsible for most of the rights you now take for granted.)

Now in comes the news of police using horses to trample protestors engaging in civil disobedience in Houston.

Again, these weren't violent criminals, these were janitors making $5.15 an hour who were protesting to call for better wages and affordable health insurance from the Houston real estate industry. Not only were they abused in public, but the DA set bail at $888,888 per individual, approximately $850,000 more than murder suspects in the county.

I want you to read exactly what was done to these striking low-wage workers.

We sat down in the intersection and the horses came immediately. It was really violent. They arrested us, and when we got to jail, we were pretty beat up. Not all of us got the medical attention we needed. The worst was a protester named Julia, who is severely diabetic. We kept telling the guards about her condition but they only gave her a piece of candy. During roll call, she started to complain about light-headedness. Finally she just collapsed unconscious on the floor. It was like she just dropped dead. The guard saw it but just kept going through the roll. Susan ran over there and took her pulse while the other inmates were yelling for help, saying we need to call somebody. The medical team strolled over, taking their own sweet time. She was unconscious for like 4 or 5 minutes.

They really tried to break us down. The first night they put the temperature so high that a woman--one of the other inmates--had a seizure. The second night they made it freezing and took away many of our blankets. We didn't have access to the cots so we had to sleep on a concrete floor. When we would finally fall asleep the guards would come and yell `Are you Anna Denise Solís? Are you so and so?' One of the protesters had a fractured wrist from the horses. She had a cast on and when she would fall asleep the guard would kick the cast to wake her up. She was in a lot of pain.

The guards would tell us: `This is what you get for protesting.' One of them said, `Who gives a shit about janitors making 5 dollars an hour? Lots of people make that much.' The other inmates--there were a lot of prostitutes in there--said that they had never seen the jail this bad. The guards told them: `We're trying to teach the protesters a lesson.' Nobody was getting out of jail because the processing was so slow. They would tell the prostitutes that everything is the protesters' fault. They were trying to turn everybody against each other.

This makes a mockery of American values. It is not appropriate nor should it be accepted to trample striking workers with horses and brutalize them in their holding cell, nor is it acceptable to use a taser, which can be lethal, because of a missing student ID. The country has been asleep for a few long years, believing that the world was such a dangerous place that authoritarian techniques like this were necessary and right. If that's true we've lost America, at least the one that I once knew.