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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Quick Hits

Few things before I go off into the evening:

• A reason for optimism from Dianne Feinstein, of all people. Of course, she's pushing a paper trail and mandatory audits, which is not even what the National Institute of Standards and Technology is recommending (they want paper ballots, and so do I).

• Jane Harman continues her repentance tour, and now she's calling the warrantless wiretapping program illegal. This is the power of primaries come to life; Harman is finally responding to her constituents and serving her district. Hopefully we'll see this tough talk transformed into action.

• The nuts on the right are honestly the silliest people on the planet.

• I'm not a fan of Sen. Brownback of Kansas, but he's doing the right thing by divesting himself of Sudanese assets. Divestiture is the best way to pressure the Sudanese government. Brownback should have done it a lot sooner, and should continue to advocate for it strongly.

Great rant by John Aravosis about Dennis Prager the lunatic wanting to impose a religious test on Muslim-American politicians. And an ever better performance here, with a Washington radio host doing a "modest proposal" about Muslims:

On Sunday afternoon, Washington, DC radio host Jerry Klein of WMAL was commenting on the Muslim Imams kicked off a flight. Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

Among the callers:

"Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. "What good is identifying them?" he asked. "You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

Finally a half hour into his show, Klien revealed the game:

"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said. For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting.

• I don't have much to say about this Russian spy poisoning, except that ever since President Bush looked into Vladimir Putin's soul and saw "a decent man," Putin's been murdering his political enemies in more and more brazen ways. Hm.

Fuck yeah, thanks UCLA, now my boys in Maize and Blue have a 50-50 chance of rematching with Ohio State for a national championship. Though if you pinned me down, I'd say give Florida a shot. We had our opportunity and blew it.


Big Surprise

President "La-la-la, I'm Not Listening!" ain't changing a thing about Iraq.

With the Iraq Study Group report due on Wednesday, the Bush administration has notified allies that it will not budge on certain aspects of Iraq policy, whatever recommendations are put forth by the independent panel of 10 prominent Republicans and Democrats.

At a private briefing for diplomats this past Wednesday, State Department and National Security Council officials said they do not expect any major policy shifts to emerge from either a White House review or the bipartisan panel, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), according to diplomats familiar with the meeting. The diplomats spoke on the condition of anonymity because the briefing was private.

The officials also said any recommendations for policy shifts would have to fit in with long-term U.S. strategic objectives for Iraq, including ensuring that the nation can govern and defend itself and that it is stable, not a threat to neighbors, and an ally in the fight against terrorism.

The ISG might as well not deliver a report for all the good it's going to do. It's not an indepdendent voice, anyway, featuring nobody who was against the war from the beginning, and dedicated to nothing more than a classic, mushy-middle Washington compromise. If I were President I'd probably reject them too. For different reasons, of course; but the point is that there's no reason to do some mushy half-measure of "pull back if events on the ground allow and do it soon but really do it whenever you want." This is not dissimilar to the call-it-a-change-even-though-it-isn't strategy Don Rumsfeld recommended before being booted from office:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 — Two days before he resigned as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a classified memo to the White House that acknowledged that the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq was not working and called for a major course correction.

“In my view it is time for a major adjustment,” wrote Mr. Rumsfeld, who has been a symbol of a dogged stay-the-course policy. “Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”

Nor did Mr. Rumsfeld seem confident that the administration would readily develop an effective alternative. To limit the political fallout from shifting course, he suggested the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations.

“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis,” he wrote. “This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’ ”

The policy prescriptions in the text of the memo are warmed-over ideas like training Iraqi forces quicker, or insane ideas like BRIBING IRAQI OFFICIALS AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS to get them on our side. Because we'd want to get into a situation that greases the wheels of blackmail.

Provide money to key political and religious leaders (as Saddam Hussein did), to get them to help us get through this difficult period.

Rummy's ideas, like the ISG's ideas, are dedicated to making sure nobody in Washington, all of whom were wrong about invading, has to lose any face in the endgame. Indeed the whole system is designed to make sure nobody has to pay the price for being wrong.

Put another way, these are the premises which Friedman, prior to the invasion, expressly embraced:

(1) If the war is done the right way, great benefits can be achieved.
(2) If the war is done the wrong way, unimaginable disasters will result.
(3) The Bush administration is doing this war the wrong way, not the right way, on every level.
(4) Given all of that, I support the waging of this war [...]

The reason for this is as transparent as it is despicable -- "withdrawal" is a prohibited belief in Establishment Washington. You can pretty much advocate any course of action other than that. Why is the Baker Commission filled with people who supported this invasion in the first place? Shouldn't it be dominated by -- or, at the very least, be substantially composed of -- people who opposed the war from the beginning, i.e., the people who demonstrated foresight and wisdom and judgment?

It is not merely the case that having been pro-war doesn't count as a strike against anyone. That is accurate. But far worse, the opposite is also true. It is still the case in Establishment Washington that having been pro-war in the first place is a pre-requisite to being considered a "responsible, serious" foreign policy analyst. And having been anti-war from the start is the hallmark of someone unserious. The pro-war Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are serious national security Democrats but Russ Feingold, Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha are the kind of laughable losers whom Democrats need to repudiate.

Establishment Washington really is not interested in how to end this horrendous and despicable debacle we unleashed in Iraq. They are not interested in how to maximize U.S. interests. They are only interested in how to find a way to bring this disaster to some sort of slow resolution that looks as though it is a respectable and decent outcome -- anything that makes it seem like it wasn't a horrendous mistake in the first place.

And the best part is that Establishment Washington thinks that these deeply serious proposals they're makng to save their own asses MATTER. There's a stubborn man in the White House who is borderline delusional about reality on the ground and refuses to accept anything less that victory, a concept limited to his own mind. The establishment is talking to a brick wall, and they're so malleable and willing to subsume the good of America in order to preserve their belief in their own brilliance that they give this brick wall a convenient out. We have a severe dearth of leadership on Iraq, people who are actually serious and willing to say serious things like this:

MURTHA: Well, he said, I think, the end of 2008 have all the troops out, but that’s unacceptable.

BLITZER: You mean all the troops or just the combat troops?


BLITZER: Because half of the troops are combat troops; the other are support troops or trainers.

MURTHA: Yes, that’s true. He said combat troop. But that is unacceptable to me. We’re costing $8 billion a month, Wolf. Since I spoke out there were 400 attacks a day. Now there’s 800 attacks a day. All the measurements which you and I have talked about before, oil production, electricity production, below prewar level. The Iraqis want us out of there, the world wants us out of there. We have to find a way to redeploy the troops and we have to do it sooner rather than later.

Now, we have to work on it this year. I’m going to meet with the White House officials sometime next week and try to convince them that it’s just not going well. It’s not going to be better.

Kissinger came out with the same type of thing in the 1960s and three years later we got out of there, but we lost 20,000 troops. We’re just not making the progress. And then they say, well, we need 300,000 Iraqis trained. Then they say we need 100,000 more Iraqis trained. They keep changing the guidelines. That’s the problem with this report.

That's the problem with Washington, DC. It's Hollywood for ugly people. Everybody cares only about self-image and is ignorant about the greater picture. The difference is that this kind of ugly narcissism in DC costs human beings their lives.


Fun Day In SF

Up here in Northern California for a meeting with some other California bloggers, the fruits of which I should be able to report in the coming weeks. For today, visited the Dickens Christmas Fair, a longtime San Francisco tradition that I always missed when I lived here. Nothing like strolling around streets set to look like 19th-century London, complete with re-enactments of the novels, reading by Charles Dickens himself, various other entertainments and theatrical productions, in a giant arena called the Cow Palace.

Then tooled around my old haunts, the Sunset and Richmond Districts. Saw some of those San Francisco values that are just going to destroy our nation's capital. Exactly what do people expect to happen? Will Nancy Pelosi sit behind the President at the State of the Union in a peasant skirt waving her arms like it's a Dead concert? Will she pass the "Pot Brownie Act of 2007"?

More later.


Friday, December 01, 2006

The Republican blueprint for the next two years explained

We have to get ready. The Republicans are very, very good at being out of power. Their message machine is works well when they're on the offensive. They've successfully tunneled into the heads of traditional media opinion-makers, and made them frightened to challenge the lies and slanders they dole out for fear of being tarred with the "liberal bias" brush. They're going to be merciless, mocking, and downright mean.

And their tactic, explained on this Washington Whispers blog (h/t Carpetbagger Report), is a classic decapitation strategy:

Looks like the Republicans in the House aren't planning to play nice-nice with th Democrats after all. The emerging House Republican plan on how to address th new Democratic majority is turning toward an aggressive effort to portray Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and her team as out of touch and liberal.

"Come January, we'll take her head off every day," said a top GOP aide involved n the planning. "It will be a pure war of ideas over the next two years.

Leading the battle with be incoming House Minority Leader John Boehner and his conservative team. Insiders say that the goal is to pick at Democratic initiatives as pro-tax, pro-spending, or unworkable.

"We are going to re-establish that we are the party of ideas, that they got elected in a fluke, and we're going to make that known every day, every way," said the official. What's more, said another Republican aide, the GOP also plans to highlight what they see as Democratic hypocrisy or backtracking on previous promises. That started today when Boehner's office slammed the Democratic plan to abandon support for instituting the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. "There will be certain elements of 'I told you so' to the campaign," said the Republican aide.

By the way, we could all see that critique coming about not implementing the 9-11 Commission reforms, couldn't we? Some of us made it ourselves. It's 100% hypocritical for Republicans to lambast Democrats for that, considering they had 2 years to put the recommendations in place and demurred. But there is no such thing as internal logic in the Republican Party. They act like a shark, only ever moving forward, neglecting to see how their rhetoric matches reality.

The question is whether or not Democrats will shrink from these daily attacks, and demur at passing their agenda in the Congress, or whether they'll stand strong. Early signs, not only with the 9-11 Commission reforms but with Medicare Part D, are not promising, and this is a separate challenge we face, other than the coming Republican war:

The only thing that might stop the new Congress from going through with this sensible plan is huge bargaining power of a different kind. I'm talking now about politics. Because when it comes to campaign contributions and Washington lobbyists, Big Pharma has more bargaining clout than almost anyone. It has already lined up former Democratic congressmen and officeholders to lobby their old colleagues. And it's showering the Hill with money. Already Max Baucus, the upcoming head of the Senate Finance Committee, is expressing doubts about the new Democratic plan.

I think it's fair to say that Democrats were given an opportunity to govern rather than a full mandate. That opportunity will go right out the window if they give in to big money lobbyists and the Republican attack machine. The way to counteract this rests with the progressive movement. We have to get extremely loud right now and make sure that the incoming Democratic Congress lives up to their promises. I know that within MoveOn, this message is being internalized, and there are several events next week dedicated to letting Congress know that we are watching and we will support those that push forward an agenda for change.

The attack dogs will be out every single day. We have to not only fight back, but empower the party leadership to stand their ground and fight back as well. There's no reason to suggest that Republicans think of this as anything but a speed bump on their road to power. They're deeply wrong, but if we bungle this opportunity, we give them the chance to pull the wool over the eyes of the public again.

Here's the good news. If the Republicans overreach with their attacks on Pelosi, they threaten to only widen an increasing gender gap. Plus, there's a Republican President still in the White House who will still get a lot of blame for the country's problems, which will push the Congressional debate off to the side. And, our vast left-wing conspiracy is far more in place than the last time they tried this slash-and-burn approach in the late 1990s.

What we can do for now is make sure that our Democratic Congresscritters recognize that business as usual will not work, and that the only way to make these temporary majorities permanent is by following through on an agenda which benefits all people rather than narrow interests.


'08 Matters

In what will probably become a regular feature, here's a roundup of Presidential matters that caught my eye:

• I'm going to go ahead and say that this is probably a bad way to try and win the Democratic nomination:

Biden told the crowd he needs the GOP and its supporters to put Nov. 7 behind them. "America needs -- I need -- the Republican Party to get back up," he said. "Not a single change in direction can be done without a bipartisan consensus in this country."

Biden knew it was a Republican audience, but said he wasn't surprised people lingered and listened.

"I don't find a lot of difference between Republicans and Democrats right now," Biden said.

Been there, done that. I don't totally disagree about the need for bipartisan consensus but there's a LOT of difference between the parties right now. Biden's aping Ralph Nader's old argument, for crying out loud. The last six years have shown that to be foolish.

• Usually the "I have an illegal Guatemalan gardener" story doesn't leak out so early. But somebody must have it in for Mitt Romney. I get the feeling that the only thing John McCain learned from his 2000 bid for the Presidency is that he needs to be more ruthless and start more whisper campaigns. Heck, McCain already stepped on Romney's shot to address the Republican Governor's Association alone. He's acting like Romney's the only other person in the race.

• I agree, Obama's going for it, and this article spells out his steps to the White House (the big thing for me: actually do something in the Senate; carve out a real legislative agenda, a tall order to do in one year). To be sure, everybody's afraid of him:

Said Iowa Democratic Chair Rob Tully: "(Hillary's) been quiet and, you know, there's a question that we all hear is that she may not get in this if Barack Obama gets in. I have never seen a reaction other than Bill Clinton in terms of the excitement that people have to meet Barack Obama. Some people just wanted to touch him."

• Speaking of Hillary, Chuck Todd at the Hotline becomes the first political prognosticator to notice that Hillary's going to have a hell of a time getting nominated. By and large, his analysis is pretty correct, mainly that core activists are not passionate about her, though the money men are. I also agree with this:

President Bush: Welcome to what I believe is the single biggest problem for Clinton. It's Bush, America's second "legacy" president. It's not that any Democratic voter will believe she will be like the younger Bush as president -- it's that Democrats may want to break the cycle of Bush, Clinton, Bush and Clinton. It's possible voters got the "change" bug out of their system in '06, but if not, the fatigue of the same people in charge for a 20-year period (or basically, a generation) is going to be a problem. Clinton's far from being an outsider. Also, don't underestimate the polarization fatigue. No matter who started it, the twin-wing hatred of the Bushes on the left and the Clintons on the right may be exhausting the political system. Perhaps that "Rodham" name can be of use after all...

This probably isn't fair to Hillary but it's absolutely spot-on. This isn't a monarchy where family dynasties get picked over and over again. I think people will end up having a real resistance to this. It's why Jeb isn't getting in; otherwise he'd be about as formidable as you can get (popular governor in a swing state).

• I still say that the 800-pound gorilla in this race is Al Gore. It's no surprise that both Gore and Obama landed on The Tonight Show this week. And Gore was funny:

Former Vice President Al Gore took a swipe at Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday, referencing the conservative jurist's recent skepticism in a global warming case and role in the 2000 presidential election.

"In the arguments, Justice Scalia said, 'I'm not a scientist, I don't want to deal with global warming.' I just wish he felt that way about presidential elections," Gore joked on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Responding to the audience's cheer, he quipped: "I think 51 percent of the audience clapped for it."

Gore could wait until about September of this year, make a big splash and suck up all the oxygen in the race. Or he could announce when he receives the Academy Award for Best Documentary for An Inconvenient Truth (which is likely).

• Longshot Tom Vilsack said the right thing about Iraq today.

Vilsack, who announced his candidacy for the White House on Thursday, questioned McCain's proposal to send another 20,000 combat troops to Iraq to quell the insurgency. The Arizona senator, considered the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, has stood alone in calling for additional troops.

"I fundamentally disagree with Senator McCain on this. I think he is wrong. We cannot afford to make a big mistake bigger," the Iowa governor said to a burst of applause at the New Hampshire Technical Institute.

"We've stretched our military too thin and I'm not quite sure where Senator McCain thinks we can get these troops," said Vilsack, who made similar comments during a radio interview [...]

"We've created a culture of dependency in which the Iraqis are essentially using America either as an excuse or a reason not to confront the problem.... No matter how long we are there, no matter what we do, eventually they have to decide for themselves, do they want safety and security and stability or not?"

But Vilsack said he would maintain some troops in the northern part of the country to allow for a quick response if the stability of the Mideast is at stake.

You get points for being right on what will be the defining issue of the '08 election, barring a miracle. And Vilsack doesn't have any baggage of a vote for war.


The Brawl In Mexico City

Forget civil war in Iraq, how about the one in Mexico?

Felipe Calderón took the oath of office as Mexico's president Friday amid jeers and whistles, in a lightning-fast ceremony before congress that was preceded by a brawl between lawmakers divided over the tight presidential election.

Calderón entered through a back door and appeared suddenly on the speaker's platform, which was the site of three days of fistfights and sit-ins by lawmakers seeking to control the stage. Physically protected by dozens of lawmakers and flanked by outgoing President Vicente Fox, Calderón swore to uphold the constitution in comments almost inaudible over the noise [...]

Former presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador, of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, claims he was robbed of the presidency and has declared himself “legitimate president.” He called on thousands of supporters in Mexico's main Zocalo plaza to march peacefully to the National Auditorium, where Calderón was scheduled to address the nation.

His supporters in Congress had seized entrances to the congressional chamber Friday morning in an attempt to block Calderón from taking office. The leftist lawmakers, who draped a giant banner across the chamber reading “Mexico doesn't deserve a traitor to democracy as president,” exchanged punches with ruling-party lawmakers and erected barricades of chairs as Calderón supporters chanted “Mexico wants peace.”

This comes a couple days after Calderon filled his cabinet with close friends in an attempt to keep only those he trusts around him. This is ugly.

A Lopez Obrador Presidency may not have been much better at unifying the country, but this is a travesty. And more chaos in Mexico means more Mexicans deciding that their only hope is to leave. Vincente Fox, far from being the great hope for his country, stratified it so much between rich and poor that migration to America was the only escape for many of the downtrodden. Calderon will seek to further this legacy amidst absolute pandemonium. I honestly don't know how this is going to turn out.


Silverstre Reyes

Will be the new chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

I don't think this is anywhere near as important as the punditocracy has made it out to be. Reyes is going to carry out the work that Pelosi and the Democrats expect to be done on the committee:

Under Democratic control, his committee is expected to conduct more public oversight of some of the most difficult issues facing the United States, including terrorism, Iraq and government surveillance. Given the committee's inherently secret nature, much of the work will have to be done behind closed doors.

In an interview this month, Reyes said he will insist on more information about the Bush administration's most classified programs and how they are working. The Republicans, he said, have made a habit of rubber-stamping those programs.

He also wants to look at the role of intelligence three years after the war in Iraq and the state of traditional spycraft, known in spook lingo as "human intelligence."

"We haven't required or haven't had the administration give us the details, evaluation or plan of how these classic programs are functioning," he said. "There is plenty to do on the role of intelligence, the programs that are vital and critical to our national defense and certainly to our war fighters."

I'm cool with all of that. Executive branch secrecy is really the major problem we face in conducting oversight. Reyes did praise the nomination of Robert Gates for Secretary of Defense, but compared to Rumsfeld anything's an improvement. What did give me a little pause (but not much) is this item from Laura Rozen:

One thing you may not know about Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx), now being considered as a compromise candidate to chair the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), is that he joined his friend and colleague, outgoing congressman Curt Weldon at a meeting with infamous Iran Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, against the advice of the Agency, and without informing the U.S. ambassador in Paris, as is proper protocol. The meeting took place at the Sofitel hotel on Rue Boissy D'Anglas around the corner from the US embassy in Paris on a Saturday morning in the spring of 2004 (see update below), according to two sources. (The US government was actually surveilling the hotel lobby that morning out of concern that Iranians might potentially try to harm the congressmen; Weldon apparently loudly asked the concierge for a room for a secret meeting). Ghorbanifar and his business partner were trying to entice the U.S. congressmen to take up the cause of trying to make Ghorbanifar a paid U.S. intelligence asset again on the Middle East, but the CIA would have nothing to do with him, given that he was deemed a fabricator and made the subject of two CIA burn notices in the 1980s, and caused much grief for U.S. policymakers who dealt with him during the Iran Contra affair (think of then-National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane sitting at a Tehran airport with a cake on his lap for Rafsanjani, who wouldn't meet with him, as Ghorbanifar had promised he would, the plane of missile parts from the U.S. sitting in the hangar behind him; Ghorbanifar blamed the mishap on the Americans). What does this say about Reyes' judgment, meeting with a guy like this? Or his knowledge of U.S. operations gone amok?

Reyes denied through a spokeswoman ever meeting with Ghorbanifar. And no source recalls that Reyes was specifically there; all say "it's possible." So I'm not going to waste a lot of time on this until it's revealed that Reyes is personally trading from his private arms stockpile with Iranian agents to aid Nicaraguan Contras after Daniel Ortega (who's President there now, so you never know).

Notably, nobody in the commentariat is saying how Pelosi made a bold move by picking Reyes, or that she smartly avoided the formerly impeached Alcee Hastings, or anything like that. Their silence speaks volumes. Pelosi would have actually had to bend the rules by reinstating the term-limited Harman to the panel; that never gets mentioned either. I wouldn't count on Beltway pundits to spill a lot of ink giving Democrats credit.

UPDATE: Here's Reyes from 2002:

“Every one of us understands that we are a nation of laws, that we lead the world by example, that we have a great respect for process and to protect the rights of everyone. That is why, Mr. Speaker, I reluctantly today rise in opposition against this resolution, because I think that the president has not made a case as to why Iraq and why attack Saddam Hussein. As a member of the Intelligence Committee I have asked consistently the questions to those that have come before us with information, I’ve said — I’ve asked the question of what is the connection between 9/11 and Iraq and Saddam Hussein? None. What is the connection between Iraq and Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda? Very little, if any.”

I am officially on board.


A Reform Agenda

I'm seeing some movement on two major issues that I had all but assumed were dead in the water until sufficient political will was raised to get the politicians to act.

On the environment, this is completely unprecedented, right?

In an unprecedented action (I knew it! -ed.), representatives for more than 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are calling on Congress to take immediate action against global warming, according to a petition released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The petition also calls for an end to censorship of agency scientists and other specialists on topics of climate change and the effects of air pollution.

The petition stresses that time is running out to prevent cataclysmic environmental changes induced by human-caused pollution and urges Congress to undertake prompt actions:

“If we wait, we will be committing the next generation of Americans to approximately double the current global warming concentrations, with the associated adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”

You can read their petition here. This has the effect of being an amicus curaie brief in support of Massachusetts in their Supreme Court case against... the EPA. And these are 10,000 EPA scientists saying that they must regulate carbon dioxide emissions now, before it's too late. Can there be that many MORE EPA scientists?

Al Gore deserves a medal (though it'll probably go to Don Rumsfeld or somebody) for getting this issue in the public consciousness and building the support it needs to get on the main stage. I know that the incoming Senate Environment Committee chair, my Senator Barbara Boxer, is going to kick off with hearings on global warming early next year. Let's hope we can help secure a clean and safe environment for our planet's future.

The other reform that's popped up out of nowhere, thanks in large part to a simple Congressional election down in Florida, is election reform. In a stunning report (h/t BradBlog), the main agency advising the Federal Election Commission will for the first time state that electronic voting is not secure and the only way to ensure that the will of the voter is properly reflected is by using paper ballots.

The assessment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the government's premier research centers, is the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency.

In a report hailed by critics of electronic voting, NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse "optical-scan" systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts.

A voter-verified paper audit trail of Diebold-like e-voting systems is not enough. If the machine is flipping votes or not recording them, that piece of paper is worthless. The only option is a paper ballot.

America is sick of these e-voting machines. They know how dangerous and flawed they are. It's time to retire them. But I honestly thought it would take longer to finally vanquish them. This report shows that the ground is moving very quickly.

We're starting to see parts of a real reform agenda as the new Congress sets to convene. I would hope that they would pay attention to these developments and deliver on these reforms.


Deadline Day

So the blogging is not likely to be coming too fast or too furious. So here's something to think about.

Today is World AIDS Day. In 2004, Gwen Ifill asked a question in the Vice Presidential Debate about the rise of HIV infections in the African-American community, particularly among women. Both candidates looked at her like she just sprouted horns. They had no idea.

Two years later, almost no work has been done on this issue, and infection rates are not falling in the United States. And worldwide, it's an epidemic. 5,500 lives are lost to the disease every day in Africa.

I'm not much for the shirts (activism as fashion symbol), but Join Red is doing a good thing here by raising awareness. The AIDS virus is still decimating the world, and we already have the medical technology available to stop it. Talk to at least one person about this today. It's too important to remain silent.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thanks For Losing Iraq, Guy In The Street

The latest blame-shifting theory favored by Bush and his defenders for the war in Iraq is that they were stabbed in the back by a public who refused to clap loud enough, and summarily let Tinkerbell die. Digby has a great post about this, which shows just how craven these guys in power are, so unwilling to admit a mistake that they would rather blame the people they sold this war to than the salesmen themselves. The argument goes like this, articulated by some apologist named Stanley Kurtz:

"The underlying problem with this war is that, from the outset, it has been waged under severe domestic political constraints. From the start, the administration has made an assessment of how large a military the public would support, and how much time the public would allow us to build democracy and then get out of Iraq. We then shaped our military and "nation building" plans around those political constraints, crafting a "light footprint" military strategy linked to rapid elections and a quick handover of power. Unfortunately, the constraints of domestic American public opinion do not match up to what is actually needed to bring stability and democracy to a country like Iraq."

War should be waged under domestic political constraints. It's the worst thing you can do, to send fellow compatriots off to die in service to country. It ought not to be done without reasons compelling enough to break past those constraints. The Founding Fathers put the task of declaring war in the hands of the legislative body for a reason; it meant that to wage war you would need majority support from legislators across the country, a good facsimile for the will of the people. They did not want to vest that power in the hands of one ideologue who could make decisions about war and peace for more inscrutable reasons.

The assessment of how large a military the public would support was in direct proportion to the relative definitiveness of the evidence that Iraq had WMD. I remember watching Colin Powell at the UN and laughing out loud at the paucity of real information he gave there. Anybody who was paying attention could see that this threat was neither imminent nor gathering. But if the cost in lives and treasure and numbers of troops in harm's way was low, the Administration figured, their burden of proof could be sufficiently low as well. And so you had this absurd situation where armchair generals would get on television and say that the war would be a cakewalk because the Iraqi army represented no real threat, yet nobody would ask the followup question.

Q: Well, why do we have to disarm them, then?

A: Because Iraq poses a dangerous threat to the world...

Q: You just said they're no threat.

A: Not to the American military, no, but...

Q: Then why fight a war against a country who represents no threat to us?

(Armchair general's head explodes)

It is not the ordinary American's fault that there was no good reason to go into Iraq. Kurtz and the other Bush defenders are trying to make it sound like the people held a straw poll and decided they could only stomach a number of troops too few to get the job done. "Transformation" and a quick-strike military was Rumsfeld's baby. He was the one who shot down calls for additional troops at every turn. He was the one who threatened to fire anyone who asked for a postwar plan. This line of reasoning (coupled with blaming Iraqis for not getting their act together, and blaming the Iraqi Prime Minister for, get this, receiving information from only a small circle of advisers which skews his perception of reality - how novel) completely turns history on its head. Here's Digby:

But if the current stab-in-the-back argument is that the American people should have supported the war more, perhaps the people who are making that argument should go back and look at what the American people actually thought at the time we went in. It's not something that couldn't have been anticipated. A majority backed the war if the US could get an international coalition together. Throughout the run-up polls said over and over again that Americans expected Bush to get UN backing. He did not feel he needed to do that, he lied repeatedly, invaded anyway and once the invasion began most Americans rallied because they felt they had no choice. They hung in longer than they had any reason to.

So Kurtz is essentially right. The public had never fully approved of the war in the first place. But I don't know why this translates to some sort of failure on the part of the public. It's Bush's fault for going ahead anyway and then making the whole mid-east FUBAR. His job --- and the job of his followers -- was to get the public on-board. They didn't make an honest case and now they have to deal with the consequences.

I'm sorry that these starry-eyed neocons who looked at George Bush and saw a genius are disappointed that the rest of the country didn't support their vision. They were given more of a chance to prove themselves than dreamers and fools usually are --- and they failed on a grand scale. This is what the Bushites deserve and what they should expect for ram-rodding through a war without real public support and then screwing it up royally. The families of all these dead and wounded soldiers, unfortunately, didn't deserve this and neither did the poor Iraqis who didn't know they were going to be guinea pigs in a 7th grade neocon thought experiment based on cartoons and psycho-babble.

I guess the Iraq Study Group is going to ask in vain for a total pullout of combat troops within a little over a year. Surely the President will fight them and all the other underlying pressures on this until his last breath. But you can always see a step ahead of these guys by reading into these stupid justifications. They're revving up the "stabbed in the back" mythology machine, and when they're finally forced to leave, they'll find a convenient scapegoat - you and me. That gets it wrong. Presidents make the decisions and the public accepts or rejects them. The public doesn't get to make the decision first. But by all means, go ahead and try to pin it on them, guys. I'm sure voters in this country will be thrilled with being blamed for losing the Iraq war. They certainly would have an opportunity to act out on that delight at the ballot box.


So I Should NOT Book That Flight To Manchester Then?

The dollar is now close to half the value of the British pound. It's similarly horrible against the euro. The biggest fear to America's economy is that the world simply loses faith in the dollar and starts shifting their transactions to the euro, which is now ubiquitous enough to handle it.

Imagine, the only way our manufacturing base stops hemorrhaging is if our currency becomes so cheap that our goods and labor become a bargain. Which is how we lost all the jobs in the first place. Third World, here we come!

Of course, if this means the Fed will cut interest rates, color this man looking to buy real estate happy.


Too Much Business As Usual

The worst thing the Democrats could do is to not keep campaign promises:

It was a solemn pledge, repeated by Democratic leaders and candidates over and over: If elected to the majority in Congress, Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But with control of Congress now secured, Democratic leaders have decided for now against implementing the one measure that would affect them most directly: a wholesale reorganization of Congress to improve oversight and funding of the nation's intelligence agencies. Instead, Democratic leaders may create a panel to look at the issue and produce recommendations, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.

I always thought the "implement all the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission pledge" was part of this continued belief in the wholesome goodness of Washington blue-ribbon panels (just look how good the Iraq Study Group is turning out to be), and that maybe they should be actually scanned before implementation. But the thing is that Democrats all over the country campaigned on this. And the trepidation doesn't seem to be a cause of reconsidering how best to protect the homeland, but turf battles:

It may seem like a minor matter, but members of the commission say Congress's failure to change itself is anything but inconsequential. In 2004, the commission urged Congress to grant the House and Senate intelligence committees the power not only to oversee the nation's intelligence agencies but also to fund them and shape intelligence policy. The intelligence committees' gains would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels' defense subcommittees. Powerful lawmakers on those panels would have to give up prized legislative turf.

But the commission was unequivocal about the need.

"Of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important," the panel wrote. "So long as oversight is governed by current congressional rules and resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security they want and need."

Now Democrats are balking, just as Republicans did before them.

This seems to be held up because Pelosi doesn't want to step on Murtha's toes and take away his control of the intelligence budget on his Defense Appropriations subcommittee. That is so not the way to do business for the American people. I see that there's more than a little business as usual going on. It should be expected, for sure; most of the leadership has been there a long time, and this is part of politics. But it's a bad sign.

I do believe Pelosi is doing the right thing by keeping term limits in place on the Intelligence Committee. That was also a Commission recommendation, and it would have given us Chairwoman Harman, who's been consistently wrong by toeing the neocon line for decades before getting religion after a primary challenge. Not everything the 9-11 Commission did is the gospel, and people who think they have a monopoly on the best ideas are often wrong. The problem I have was making that promise for implementation in the first place, and then breaking it. And that the rationale for breaking the pledge is all tied up with the old-boy network of power battles and turf wars.



If it isn't screaming about how some photo editor put Bush in a burqa, the insaneosphere on the right is yelling about how verified stories from the AP are wrong, wrong, wrong. In another time, maybe the AP would have backed down and retracted their true story of Iraqis being incinerated in front of police who do nothing about it. But it's not 2002 and threats of sedition aren't what they used to be, especially when the journalists have got the goods.

The Associated Press is standing by its report that six Sunni men were burned to death in Baghdad Friday by Shiites, even though U.S. military officials have accused the wire service of relying on a source who "is not who he claimed he was," an Iraqi police captain.

Military officials also say they cannot confirm that the incident took place and have asked AP to retract or correct the story, which was repeated by media around the world and cited as a grim example of Shiites taking revenge for a deadly bombing that killed more than 200 people a day before.

"The attempt to question the existence of the known police officer who spoke to the AP is frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question," AP International Editor John Daniszewski said in a statement e-mailed to On Deadline this afternoon.

He added that "we have conducted a thorough review of the sourcing and reporting involved and plan to move a more detailed report about the entire incident soon, with greater detail provided by multiple eye witnesses."

"The police captain cited in our story has long been known to the AP reporters," Daniszewski wrote.

"The AP stands by its story."

This is a pretty powerful rebuke to the 82nd Chairborne, who still think they can intimidate people into believing that everything is going swell in Iraq. The notion that they draw the line at incineration when there are dozens of tales of violence coming out of the country every day is ridiculous. I hope reporters continue to diligently check their sources, and are prepared to fight back when the Mongol hordes decide that they're defaming Dear Leader and must call the story into question. Here's David Neiwert:

It would be one thing, of course, if all the Keyboard Kommandos had done was try to verify AP's sources. But they didn't -- they, with Malkin and Powerline leading the charge, flatly accused the AP of fraudulent reporting and condemned them as having no credibility. Powerline accused them of "shamelessly" stoking "hysteria" about Iraq and said the report indicated "an abandonment of all journalistic standards" (as though they had any understanding themselves of such matters). Malkin informed journalists that they were "writing their own" obituary. Nice.

"Frankly ludicrous" was the nice description for this kind of atrocity. "Flagrantly delusional" would be more to the point.

You can combine this with Dennis Prager claiming that the new Muslim-American member of Congress must accept his oath of office on a Bible instead of a Koran, when in fact incoming Congressmen don't have to swear on any kind of religious book, nor can any religious test be required of them, and you get the picture. These are insane people. They have no sense of American politics or law, nor do they care. They simply want to remain in power, and they'll do so by lying about everyone else's motives but their own. Their little imperial adventure is a disaster; they're tarnished beyond belief; but they'll still slander anyone who gets in their way. Which is why they, not the AP, have lost all credibility.


Petrified of People Power

When Bill Clinton got elected, the pundit class in Washington immediately saw that he didn't fit their definition of one of their guys and they decided to trash him. They trashed him for 8 years, claiming that he didn't meet their standards, that he wasn't the "right" kind of person to hold the office. I wasn't Bill Clinton's biggest fan but I instinctively rose to defend him against this nonsense that he was insufficient because he didn't go to the right cocktail parties. "He came in and trashed the place, and it's not his place," was the famous David Broder comment.

We get the 2006 version of that from the irrelevant, out-of-touch George Will:

That was certainly swift. Washington has a way of quickly acculturating people, especially those who are most susceptible to derangement by the derivative dignity of office. But Jim Webb, Democratic senator-elect from Virginia, has become a pompous poseur and an abuser of the English language before actually becoming a senator.

This entire column comes from the one reported meeting between Webb and Bush, where Bush snapped when Webb dared to suggest that he desires to see his own son come home from Iraq. See, Bush was just being all chummy when he asked, "How's your boy," and when Webb said he'd like to see him come home, Bush was of course completely justified to spit out "I didn't ask that, I said how's your boy."

See, it's Washington, so the world outside doesn't have to ruin our good time and high spirits. Sure, thousands are being killed, that doesn't mean we can't share a cocktail and kick back, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. Jim Webb doesn't want his picture taken with the President. He's there to make laws, and to determine the best course for the country. He's a serious person, and that's unbelievably dangerous to idiots like George Will.

Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb's more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being -- one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another. When -- if ever -- Webb grows weary of admiring his new grandeur as a "leader" who carefully calibrates the "symbolic things" he does to convey messages, he might consider this: In a republic, people decline to be led by leaders who are insufferably full of themselves.

Who's full of themselves? George Will probably hasn't paid for a lunch in 20 years. He sits on his mountaintop and decides who's naughty and nice, and passes judgment on them personally. Jim Webb doesn't buy into Washington bullshit, and so he will continue to be ostracized by the commentariat. And given how popular THEY are, he'll probably be President within 2 years.

UPDATE: Yes, I should mention that Will completely misrepresented the exchange between Bush and Webb, making Bush seem like an innocent concerned with Webb's son's well-being, eliminating the snippy "I didn't ask you that" part. Real principled newsman, that George Will.


In It To Win It... Win What?

So everyone got excited for about a half-hour that the Iraq Study Group would call for a pullback of troops and give the President cover to start to bring them home. Then the President stepped up to the podium in Jordan and shot that one down:

President Bush delivered a staunch endorsement of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Thursday morning and dismissed calls for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq as unrealistic, following a summit meeting in which the two leaders discussed cracking down on sectarian violence and speeding the turnover of security responsibilities.

"He's the right guy for Iraq," Bush said an a news conference in the Jordanian capital, as he stood next to a somewhat stiff and unsmiling Iraqi premier.

Bush sought to preempt a growing clamor to start a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a policy shift advanced by the results of the Nov. 7 midterm elections and expected to be endorsed by a high-level commission headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.).

Although the president was not asked directly about the panel's recommendations, which will be made public next week but were partially leaked to reporters late Wednesday, he seemed to have the group in mind when he said: "This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

Graceful exit? Damn right, it won't be graceful.

The President's been incredibly clear that he's not going to be the one who lost this war, and if we leave we lose, and so we're not leaving. Everything else is a shadow play. Short of a sit-in on the tarmacks of every US base around the world, American men and women will continue to be shipped to Iraq for no discernible reason, to play policeman in the middle of a civil war. And everybody knows it's a civil war, regardless of the hand-wringing on what to call it by the media.

We're not leaving Iraq until January 2009 at the earliest. Get everything else out of your head. The President is nothing if not consistent, and no unelected study group is going to tell him what to do. He's living in a complete fantasyland when it comes to Iraq, years after everybody else has understood the reality.

Bush is known for not telegraphing major policy changes in advance; he announced the replacement of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, for example, only days after saying Rumsfeld would stay until the end of his term. But the president's comments in Amman, coupled with other statements in the past few days, seemed to set firm lines on Iraq policy beyond which he would not be pushed.

These include no major troop withdrawals, no partition of the country and no direct talks with Iran and Syria as part of a broader diplomatic effort in the region. Bush pointedly dismissed the idea of splitting Iraq into parts according to ethnicity, saying it would only lead to more sectarian violence. His remarks, laced with familiar rhetoric, reiterated longstanding administration policies.

No direct talks. No withdrawal of troops. No partition. No changes. Stay the course.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Work To Be Done

I want to turn back to the Democrats' agenda, because I'm not merely interested in obtaining and keeping power, but really getting something done. And the leaders in the House and Senate are articulating that they will work to enact some real change. Harry Reid gave his laundry list to match up with Nancy Pelosi's first 100 hours:

Ethics reform, a higher minimum wage and more money for stem cell research are the top items on the Senate agenda next year, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press [...]

Reid also said he's doing away with the "do-nothing Congress" that Democrats campaigned against this year as they ousted the Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. The Nevada Democrat, who is wrapping up his final days as Senate minority leader, will take control of the Senate agenda when the new Congress takes the oath of office in January.

"We're going to put in some hours here that haven't been put in in a long time," Reid said. That means "being here more days in the week and we start off this year with seven weeks without a break. That hasn't been done in many, many years here."

The fact that the Senate will meet for seven straight weeks, five days a week, is in many ways the most satisfying thing on that list. Draining the swamp of corruption is important (and David Sirota has a great article about how that means really getting to the core of the nexus between money and politics), stem cells and the minimum wage is a no-brainer, but a real working Congress is a radical departure from what in the 109th Congress has been something like a government in exile. The legislative branch needs to reassert itself in American politics, and that means making it seem like a full-time job. And with the mess that the previous Congress has made, they'll need all of that time:

Reid said he will tackle those priorities after cleaning up the "financial mess" that the outgoing Republican leadership has left. He was referring to nine long overdue appropriations bills covering 13 Cabinet departments for the budget year that began Oct. 1.

"They're just leaving town, it appears," Reid said from his office in the Capitol. "We hope that's not the case, but it appears that's what they are going to do. And so we're going to have to find a way to fund the government for the next year."

The must-pass legislation totals more than $460 billion and promises to divert time and energy from other items on the Democratic agenda.

It's good that Reid is getting out in front on this, making certain that everybody knows how the Do-Nothing Republicans literally abdicated their responsibilities in this lame-duck session, and that they did it entirely for political reasons. We need to back him up on that.

Senate Democrats have also decided to try and force themselves past the Baker-Hamilton commission waiting game (they'll release their report next week) and demand the way forward in Iraq:

Leading U.S. Senate Democrats called on President George W. Bush on Wednesday to urgently appoint a special envoy to Iraq, who would pressure the Iraqi government to take steps needed to curb violence there [...]

"Time is of the essence. The president has to move out decisively with Prime Minister Maliki," Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a news conference.

"I don't think we can afford to wait for the Iraqi Study Group report, if it comes in in December or January," Reed said, speaking of a bipartisan panel charged with evaluating policy in Iraq. Not long after Reed spoke, a source close to the study group said it would present its report on Dec. 6.

More U.S. troops cannot end the violence in Iraq, the Democrats' letter said. The envoy should work full-time with the Iraqi government to stop bloodshed by disarming militias and developing a broad-based political settlement, it said.

That's good. This commission is a red herring. The President has already announced that he won't withdraw troops and that he doesn't want to negotiate with Iran until they stop enriching uranium. He doesn't want to change a damn thing, and his consigliare James Baker won't give him anything he can't handle. This New York Times report says that the ISG will call for a "pullback" or redeployment of troops "soon," but without any timeline. It gives Bush a chance to wriggle a way out of any real changes.

Democrats should not let James Baker frame the debate, they ought to do provide their own ideas that are in the interests of the troops and the public. I'm glad they're doing so. Only with a lot of pressure is that redeployment going to actually happen.

I have more here, but let's stop there for now.


No Hard Feelings

I remember writing about Brandon Mayfield two years ago. He was the Portland lawyer who was arrested in connection with the Madrid train bombing because the FBI did a shitty job:

Mayfield was released when Spanish police admitted the fingerprints found on one of the detonators belonged to an Algerian man, not Mayfield. In fact, they admitted that the prints provided to the FBI (used to indict Mayfield) were in fact photocopies. Just to recap, we're in the 21st century. He was indicted by a photocopy. It wasn't until FBI agents traveled to Spain that they saw the error of their ways.

But that was not before they used the PATRIOT Act's abilities to spy and sneak to burgle Mayfield's home on multiple occasions without his knowledge. According to Mayfield, he knew something was up when he repeatedly found the deadbolt to his front door locked, a lock that him and his wife never use. Well, at least the FBI locked up on their way out.

Did I mention that Mayfield is a convert to Islam? The initial prints called up 15 possible matches on the FBI supercomputer. Strangely enough, the Feds happened to pick the Muslim out of the 15. Imagine the odds! Once again, we have an American citizen guilty until proven innocent, as a direct result of the fear-based provisions of Ashcroft's DoJ and Tenet's FBI. How many more instances of Keystone Kops-like bungling do we have to see before we send these guys to the donut shop, permanently?

Well, today the US government gave Mayfield two million dollars for his trouble. And a written apology. Hope you don't mind being locked up for two weeks despite having done nothing. On your way, now. Toodles!

By the way, that's our two million dollars going to this guy. He more than deserves it, but we're paying because the FBI thinks a fingerprint photocopy is enough to detain a man. These are the people whose salaries we also pay so they can defend us.

That prospect has me closer than ever to buying a gun.


Two Republican Views On Iraq

I'll let you decide which one sounds the sanest:

Powell: Iraq Is In A Civil War

The former Secretary of State Colin Powell says he thinks we can call it a civil war and added if he were still heading the State Department, he probably would recommend to the Bush administration that those terms should be used in order to come to terms with the reality on the ground.

Limbaugh on Middle East: "Fine, just blow the place up"

LIMBAUGH: All right, well, let's just have them. Let's just have the civil wars and let the crumbs crumble and the cookie crumble where -- because I'm fed up with this. The Palestinian situation -- for 50 years we've had the Palestinian situation, and it's not going to be solved until the Limbaugh Doctrine is imposed or tried. And that is, this is a war, and until somebody loses it, it isn't going to stop. And now, you know, we've done everything we can to make Lebanon a democracy, and it's crumbling because Syria keeps killing the popular leaders there. Meanwhile, the Hezbos [Hezbollah] keep expanding their influence in Lebanon [...]

Fine, just blow the place up. Just let these natural forces take place over there instead of trying to stop them, instead of trying to use -- I just -- sometimes natural force is going to happen. You're going to have to let it take place. You can spend all the time you like with diplomacy, and you can spend all the time you want massaging these things with diplomatic -- you're just -- you're just delaying the inevitable.

For the record, the second guy has MUCH more influence with both the President, the Vice President, and the Republican base.

Does that seem upside-down to you?


2008 Already?

I suppose it's inevitable that the Presidential horse race has begun. Some folks have dropped out (Warner, Feingold, Frist), others have opted in (Vilsack, McCain, Biden). My favorite, Russ Feingold, will not be a candidate, so I'm taking a close look at everybody and I really haven't made a decision. Here are some initial impressions:

• I'm intrigued by Wesley Clark and I'm glad to see that he has learned somewhat from 2004, when he entered unready and too late. Clark has serious national security bona fides, and coming from the military, he has internalized the concepts of shared sacrifice and equal opportunity. I think he would be formidable at the top of the ticket or as VP.

John Edwards clearly has the best road to the nomination, having won South Carolina before, having never left Iowa (where if he comes close to home-grown Vilsack, he's a winner), and having strong union support for Nevada. I like his focus on poverty and human rights around the world. He's almost reinvented himself as the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Of course, that didn't work out entirely well the first time.

• The 800-pound gorilla is Al Gore. I may be misjudging this, but if he got into the race I'm not sure he could be stopped. The question is whether he could win a general election. His approval ratings are still fairly low but climbing.

• Obama frankly still has to impress me, although if the fact that his middle name is Hussein is all the Republicans have in their arsenal to attack him, then maybe he can't be beat. I do think he'd attract young people like no candidate since Bobby Kennedy.

• Hillary is still the insider's choice, although whether she can get out of the primary is an open question. This is funny:

Noted: the web team behind Stop Her Now (anti-Hillary site) also built Sen. John McCain's exploratory committee site.

The big boys are obviously trying to knock her down, though I'm not entirely sure why.

• Everyone else on the Democratic side is fodder, save for maybe Bill Richardson. Biden, Kerry, Dodd, Vilsack: they're going nowhere. I'll give everyone a look and probably pick whoever most matches with my policy beliefs.

Too early to tell on the Republican side, though I've recently posted about Newt and McCain. Mitt Romney may be something of a wildcard, although I did find it amusing that today he picked as his economic wonks two of the most dishonest hacks from Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, including the guy who said outsourcing was good for the economy. Ezra Klein in the post linked above seems to like them, but everything I've heard come out of Greg Mankiw's mouth has been unbelievably wrong.

More as it develops!


LA-02: WTF

This is ridiculous and amounts to an incumbency protection racket:

For reasons that are unclear to me, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has actually bucked the Louisiana Democratic Party and the citizens of New Orleans. Yes, that's right. The organized caucus of black people elected to Congress to serve the interests of the people has supported a criminal charlatan to the tune of $5000 donated on behalf of its members to Dollar Bill Jefferson's campaign. Sadly this does not shock me.

I am surprised and ashamed to hear that Rep. Maxine Waters' PAC has given Jefferson's campaign $2500, making her PAC and the CBC major donors to Jefferson's bid for re-election. Why Maxine. Why? Maybe she should change her PAC's name from "People Helping People" to "People Helping People Rip Off Other People".

Despite the CBC and Maxine Waters pitching in, Jefferson has a major cash gap against his opponent Karen Carter, mainly due to the netroots. Of course, he could always tap the freezer for a little cash.

What the CBC fails to understand is that corruption is not a partisan issue. If Carter is victorious (and it's a big "if"), the only two Democratic incumbents to have gone down this cycle would be Cynthia McKinney and William Jefferson. In my view that's a net victory.


Legal Roundup

There have been a lot of matters in our nation's courts that have caught my attention of late, so I thought I'd take a look at them.

• The Supreme Court today took on a case over whether the government should be able to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Massachusetts v. EPA was an attempt to force the federal government's hand at doing something about climate change. This article appears to show that it will be a close call, with Anthony Kennedy deciding the outcome.

Wednesday's arguments focused largely on the issue of whether Massachusetts could bring the case in the first place, with several conservative justices arguing that Massachusetts had not proved the danger to its coastline was imminent enough to merit the suit, or that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that could be achieved by limiting exhaust emissions – some 2.5 per cent of total US greenhouse emissions – would be significant enough to give them the right to sue.

"It depends what happens across the globe," Chief Justice John Roberts said, noting that any reduction in US emissions might be overcome by a rise in emissions caused by China's rapid economic development. Several liberal justices supported Massachusetts but the pivotal swing justice, Anthony Kennedy, did not reveal where he stood.

The court appeared similarly divided on the issue of whether the EPA had the authority to refuse to regulate or whether its reasons for doing so were valid.

The reasons the conservative justices are giving are dopey. Just how long should we wait before acting on global warming? Does the coastline have to extend inland to Cleveland? As for Roberts' notion that we should base our policies on what China does, it's a wonder that we end up passing any laws at all in that case. Why not just wait for every other country on the planet to act before we get started?

The ruling will come down sometime next year.

• The Supremes also ruled against two NYTimes writers and said that the federal government could seize their phone records in their investigation into who leaked classified information on terrorism funding. I think this sets a bad precedent, particularly for other reporters like Dana Priest (CIA prisons) or James Risen and Eric Lichtblau (warrantless wiretapping). I worry about the future of freedom of the press.

• About those terror groups... a different court ruled that Bush could not be the decider on who's a terrorist and who's a freedom lover:

A federal judge struck down President Bush's authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-Sept. 11 executive order was unconstitutional and vague.

Some parts of the Sept. 24, 2001 order tagging 27 groups and individuals as "specially designated global terrorists" were too vague and could impinge on First Amendment rights of free association, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said [...]

The ruling was praised by David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who represented the plaintiff Humanitarian Law Project.

It "says that even in fighting terrorism the president cannot be given a blank check to blacklist anyone he considers a bad guy or a bad group and you can't imply guilt by association," Cole said.

I guess the judge has a bad definition of freedom. You know, if these guys just played by the rules, so much of the anger directed at their policies would be blunted. Their failure to do so displays nothing but arrogance.

This great news shows that we may be getting on the way to some real accountability over the contracting and mercenary situation in Iraq:

In what may be the first chink in the badly beaten Bush body armor, Blackwater Security Consulting was ordered yesterday to stand trial for killing four of its employees in Fallujah in 2004. As seen in "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers," Blackwater sent a small, undermanned convoy into the most dangerous city on the planet - Fallujah - in March 2004, without maps, proper equipment or proper protection.

The result was the grisly death of four men, two of whose charred carcasses were strung up from a bridge. Thanks to Blackwater's parsimony, not only were men killed, but the remotest hope for seeing the US as a benevolent force in Iraq was crushed when marines then fought a three week battle to recover the corpses and somehow punish the people of Fallujah for killing the men.

Blackwater will fight this in the Supreme Court, claiming that they are an extension of the US military and as such above the law. The outcome is uncertain, but clearly the Democratic Congress is going to have something to say about this tragic circumstance of profit over people. Jane Harman, at an "Iraq for Sale" screening last night, reflected the dominant view of Democrats by saying that she believed in "holding war profiteers accountable for their actions, including facing criminal prosecution."

• This is a even better report regarding accountability:

Five years after Muslim immigrants were abused in a federal jail here, the guards who beat them and the Washington policymakers who decided to hold them for months without charges are being called to account.

Some 1,200 Middle Eastern men were arrested on suspicion of terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. No holding place was so notorious as Brooklyn's nine-story Metropolitan Detention Center. In a special unit on the top floor, detainees were smashed into walls, repeatedly stripped and searched, and often denied basic legal rights and religious privileges, according to federal investigations.

Now the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs the jail, has revealed for the first time that 13 staff members have been disciplined, two of them fired. The warden has retired and moved to the Midwest.

And in what could turn out to be a landmark case, a lawsuit filed by two Brooklyn detainees against top Bush administration officials is moving forward in the federal courts in New York.

A judge turned down a request by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to dismiss the lawsuit against them. The case is before an appeals court, where a panel of three judges signaled last month that they too believed it should go forward.

Our national soul must be cleansed of the damage done to it in the aftermath of 9-11, where that attack was used to justify all sorts of abuses and trashing of civil liberties. Some call it rehashing the past; I call it following the law.

• And finally, I've been an interested observer of the strange case of Vernon, California, which has so many twists and turns. A primer is available here. The city fathers were obviously corrupt, and while they held on in the election, they appear to be getting their comeuppance. Now it turns out that the man who goosed the three residents into filing for city council, former South Gate treasurer Albert Robles, has been sentenced to 10 years from robbing that city of millions. He came up with one of the more interesting alibis that I've ever heard:

A federal judge handed down the sentence after Robles said in an impassioned speech that he had acted "immorally" during his years as leader of South Gate, but never broke the law.

"There are different levels of hoodwinking, but I didn't think hoodwinking was a crime," Robles said. "During that period I decided not to be a very good man every day. But I did not decide to be a criminal." [...]

(Judge Stephen V.) Wilson seemed incredulous at Robles' defense. When Robles' attorney argued that what the ex-treasurer did was business as usual in California politics, the judge responded that "what you have just said is among the most absurd things I have ever heard."

Man, I have to make the Vernon documentary. It's so damn interesting, if only to me.


Things I Said Would Happen That Are Happening

I mentioned that the new GOP talking point on the war in Iraq would be that it's now a war to fight Iran and its proxy army Hezbollah, and if we leave now we give up the whole joint to the Iranians. The Tribune-Review in Pittsburgh dutifully scratches this talking point out into editorial form.

The Bush administration disputes the "civil war" moniker. And it's not a semantic argument. Just Tuesday, The New York Times reported that "the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militias led by Moktada al-Sadr." It's not the only outside influence.

Another thing I mentioned this week is that the Bushies are going to look for ways to keep defense spending up in a time when an incoming Democratic Congress will be unlikely to be as pliant as the outgoing Republicans were. I suggested their public call for NATO member countries to increase spending would be their gambit; apparently it also includes larding pork into the emergency supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan, and daring Democrats into not "supporting the troops":

The Pentagon is preparing an emergency spending proposal that could be larger and broader than any since the Sept. 11 attacks, covering not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but extending to other military operations connected to the Bush administration's war on terrorism [...]

The next request stands to be larger partly because of new rules laid out in an Oct. 25 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England. Rather than strictly limiting spending to Iraq and Afghanistan costs, the memo said the military services could include costs associated with operations that are part of the larger war on terrorism.

Previously, the military portion of the supplemental spending measures has been used almost exclusively for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. England's memo would allow the military to include a greater number of expenses more loosely tied to the actual wars, such as new military weapons systems and training exercises.

Critics of the Pentagon budget process say the memo has encouraged the services to inflate their requests.

"The England memo basically said, 'Let her rip,' " said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project and a former congressional budget aide. "Anything goes, as long as you can put it under the pretext of not only Iraq or Afghanistan but the global war on terror." [...]

Democrats acknowledged that it would be difficult to move most of the costs to the regular budget without forcing massive cuts elsewhere.

Though there will be more scrutiny of the Pentagon requests, and the more elaborate spending proposals could be nixed, there is little doubt a large supplemental will be approved, some Democratic aides said.

"People will grouse that they are loading up the supplemental, but they will be hard-pressed to say no because they realize the services need the equipment," said the Democratic aide.

It's a terrible burden being right.



I don't know if it was because of the leaked memo from Steven Hadley expressing displeasure with Prime Minister Maliki's ability to govern and where his loyalties lie ("The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action"), or all of the US officials blaming Iraqis for the continuing violence (now there's some passing the buck for you), or the 35 loyalists to Muqtada al-Sadr quitting the government in reaction to the Bush-Maliki upcoming meeting. But whatever the reason, the meeting has been postponed by a day.

President Bush's high-stakes summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was put off Wednesday after public disclosure of U.S. doubts about his capacity to control sectarian warfare. The White House said the two leaders would meet on Thursday.

There's obviously some serious damage control going on both sides of this divide. Look at this ridiculous justification o' the day:

White House counselor Dan Bartlett denied that the move was a snub by al-Maliki or was related to the leak of a White House memo questioning the prime minister's capacity for controlling violence in Iraq.

"Absolutely not," Bartlett said." He said the king and the prime minister had met before Bush arrived from a NATO summit in Latvia. "It negated the purpose for a meeting of the three of them," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said that Wednesday night's three-way meeting had always been planned as "more of a social meeting" and that Bush and Maliki on Thursday would have a "robust" meeting on their own.

"What up, King Abdi? How're your kids? Bears were playin' well til' last Sunday, weren't they? Yo, Maliki, you been working out?"

I would say that circumstances on the ground have changed in advance of this meeting. Probably no more so than by Saudi Arabia's public insistence that they would protect Sunnis if the United States left the Shiites to their own devises:

In February 2003, a month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, warned President Bush that he would be "solving one problem and creating five more" if he removed Saddam Hussein by force. Had Bush heeded his advice, Iraq would not now be on the brink of full-blown civil war and disintegration.

One hopes he won't make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that "since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited." If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.

I'm assuming that President Cheney got this message when he was summoned to Saudi Arabia over the weekend. Until then, Laura Rozen has been reporting that the US may have been looking to pick a side in the civil war, in the hopes that it would meet a swift end and at least get back to a measure of stability. The Saudi's threat to make it a wider war if that happened tosses that scenario out the window. And so maybe there needed to be a day of rethinking.

Or maybe the boycott of Sadr's loyalists from the government, which may leave Maliki without a governing coalition, caused the delay, although I don't know what could be done to manage this outside of an outright cancellation. As clammyc reported today, these 30 legislators represent a quarter of the governing coalition. If a no-confidence vote were held right now, wouldn't Maliki lose and be forced to call new elections? Perhaps the Bush Administration, unhappy with the Maliki government, would welcome this. But surely they recognize that the successor would likely be somebody even more loyal to Sadr or perhaps Sadr himself, who is simultaneously being defended by US forces and shooting at them?

There are no easy answers in the entire war, yet alone the outcome of this meeting and its delay. But clearly we have an Administration that literally has no idea what to do or which way to turn, and has been indeed "postponing" the inevitable for going on two years. So maybe this shouldn't come as a surprise.

Update: Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report notes that the al-Sadr bloc only suspended their participation in the government. If they actually pulled out, the unity government would collapse. They still have a move to play yet.


LA-02, TX-23; Midterms Ain't Over

Before I get into the real juicy (and real depressing) news of the day, I wanted to take a look at the two runoff elections for Congress happening early next month. On December 9, about-to-be-convicted Rep. William Jefferson is facing off against Karen Carter (contribute here) in a matchup of two Democrats in Louisiana. Except Jefferson is completely corrupt and has taken to trying to win his seat through gay-bashing and appealing to "traditional values" (values like hiding 90 grand in your freezer). And now, in a sign of desperation, he's begging for debates.

Early Thursday night, the Jefferson campaign sent out a email claiming Karen Carter is “ducking debates” (hard to say Turkeying the issues). The Jefferson email said, “State Rep. Karen Carter is ducking televised debates on WDSU and WGNO to avoid discussion about her lack of leadership in holding insurance companies accountable for robbing our citizens of their claims. At a time when the high cost of insurance is more on our minds, Karen Carter is expecting to come under fire for her failed leadership as Chair of the House Insurance Committee.

“The story about Karen Carter’s failed leadership will be told because we will let people know that she’s voted to increase rates for small business; she’s failed to have one hearing on real insurance accountability and reform since Hurricane Katrina; and, she has been negligent because she hasn’t attended the meetings on the Louisiana Citizens' Insurance program,” Jefferson said. “She also knows that she cannot defend her family values record, which is out of step with the people of the district. She voted to support same sex marriage; I voted against it. She voted against making it more difficult to have late term abortion; I voted to end late term abortion. I voted to make cloning a crime; she’s the only member of the state legislature to vote against making human cloning a state crime. I want to debate Karen Carter and have confirmed participation to do so on WDSU, WGNO and WWL TV. Unfortunately, she doesn’t see the need to explain her negligence and record to the people of the 2nd Congressional district.”

Carter’s spokesperson, Cheron Brylski responded with a statement which mimicked an ad currently running by the Carter campaign. Brylski said, “Tonight, Bill Jefferson launched an attack which states Karen Carter is "scared to debate" him. It's just another step in underscoring why he’s a hypocrite. On Nov. 21, the Karen Carter Campaign agreed to one televised debate on Thursday, Dec. 7 on WWL-TV. Mr. Jefferson will do anything to avoid telling the truth. He has hired an army of lawyers to avoid having to explain why the FBI videotaped him taking a $100,000 bribe. With those facts, who do you really think is scared to debate on Thursday, Dec. 7? We're still waiting to hear his honorable explanation of his record."

These just don't seem like the things an incumbent would be doing unless he was in real trouble. I hope the people in the New Orleans area understand how dishonest their Congressman is being about this, asking for debates while refusing to talk about his ethical troubles. And the main issue in the district, the continuing response to Katrina, should be paramount, not cloning bills and same-sex marriage. Tim Tagaris is covering this race for MyDD.

In Texas-23, Ciro Rodriguez and Rep. Henry Bonilla are battling in the only race between a Democrat and a Republican Bonilla's pretty extreme for what is a 50-50 district that was forced to change its boundaries by the Supreme Court after part of the Texas redistricting scam was found unconstitutional. The only thing I really remember about Bonilla is how he went on The Daily Show during the 2004 election to claim that John Kerry was "the most liberal member of the Senate" and then didn't know where that statistic came from. Stewart destroyed him.

Ciro Rodriguez is a former Congressman who lost to Henry Cuellar earlier this year in a primary. The DCCC is heavily involved in this race and they sense an opportunity. The campaign has set up an online phonebanking tool similar to the one used by MoveOn this cycle. If you have the time before December 12, give it a shot.

There are also a few recounts around the country (Mary Jo Kilroy in OH-15, Larry Kissell in NC-08). The recount in Florida's 13th District, where 18,000 votes in Sarasota just up and vanished from electronic voting machines, just got more interesting during yesterday's "machine audit" which didn't even use the actual e-machines but backups, yet STILL encountered problems.

The audit was not designed and conducted by independent experts. Rather, state personnel conducting the audit represent a deeply conflicted party. The Secretary of State is a named Defendant in the VoterAction-led suit filed on behalf of Sarasota County voters and pollworkers. (Read the complaint here: Further, the whole Division of Elections can be reasonably described as defending itself against possible shortcoming. Isn’t there something obviously flawed about allowing a defendant to conduct this investigation? [...]

Test voters vote over and over in the "audit." Real election voters don't enjoy the same opportunity to practice. They're voting cold after not having seen a machine for months or years. Practiced test voters can hone their skills at touching sensitive or even mis-calibrated touchscreens. Even with this, Lowell Finley and others observed test voters at today's audit having considerable difficulty registering their votes on the touchscreens. Some testers required two or three attempts to get a touch to register on the screen. Some appeared to have one in every three attempts to register a touch fail. So, even practiced test voters are having trouble with the touchscreens during the "audit." Not a good sign [...]

The tests today did indeed revealed discrepancies. At least three votes recorded as undervotes in the election changed to Jennings votes in today's "audit." That's comes out to an approximate 7% shift in a race decided by less than two-tenths of one percent. It will be quite interesting to see how the State Division of Elections explains this shift.

I'll be watching this one very closely. You can contribute to Christine Jennings' recount fund at the Blue Majority link on ActBlue.