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

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Remembering Katrina

We tend to have a collective short-term memory in this country, but even I'm shocked at how quickly the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has dropped off the radar screen. Michael Tisserand writes a great piece in The Nation that seeks to wake up the public to this ongoing tragedy.

Yes, a handful of midterm campaigners did remind voters about just what happened in New Orleans, among them Keith Ellison, elected to the House from Minnesota's Fifth District, who promised that the country will no longer tolerate "victims of natural disasters being left on the rooftops to rot." Ron Dellums, the mayor-elect of Oakland, told a meeting of African-American journalists that "Katrina was a metaphor for everything wrong in urban America." But most seemed to follow the script that Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, laid out in an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Katrina didn't show up in ads, he acknowledged, but it came up in conversations on the campaign trail. It's as if this year, Katrina was the subliminal issue. Either that, or it served mainly as cement shoes for the President. "It's about Katrina; it's about the conduct of the war.... This Administration is marked by gross incompetence," said new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her postelection wrap-up chat with The NewsHour's Margaret Warner [...]

For New Orleans, the most dangerous outcome of the midterms would be if voters receive the message that Katrina was a terrible thing, a Republican blunder, but it's now over. Nothing could be further from the truth. The mental health infrastructure in New Orleans remains shattered, depression is a local epidemic and the suicide rate has officially tripled. Incredibly, some residents of public housing are still unable to enter their own homes, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development moves to demolish more than 5,000 public housing units. Unchecked insurance costs are preventing others from selling, buying or repairing property. Federal dollars are flowing to corporate bailouts and disaster profiteers, not to affected citizens, revealed an August analysis by CorpWatch, a San Francisco-based organization that previously investigated profiteering in Iraq and Afghanistan [...]

More than anything, Democrats must set themselves apart by keeping their promises to Katrina survivors. At an August press conference in New Orleans, party leaders pledged that the first 100 hours of the new Congress would include bills to assist New Orleans by streamlining insurance, creating more affordable housing options and restoring the coast. But Pelosi's recently released "New Direction for America" didn't include one mention of post-Katrina needs. Such omissions offer cold comfort to New Orleanians who wonder if some leaders have stopped thinking of their home as an American city at all.

This is an absolute disaster and it requires leadership among the Democrats. Of course, The Nation is a partisan magazine that reaches a small audience. But I was encouraged this week by (of all things) TNT, who devoted the entire halftime of their game between the San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Hornets to the devastation in the 9th Ward. Charles Barkley toured the area with some community activists. Unfortunately, TNT didn't put the video up on their site, because it was a clear-eyed and realistic portrait of the 9th Ward, from the perspective of those in the community. They see the little improvements, small signs of life, and they're indefatigable, but they need help from the city, the state, and the nation. It aired at 11:00pm in the East, and that's a shame, but I guarantee you more people saw Charles Barkley talking about the need for leadership in New Orleans than read Michael Tisserand.

Fortunately, leadership may be arriving. This is not just a brilliant political maneuver, but a real show of compassion by John Edwards as he kicks off his Presidential campaign.

John Edwards will officially announce his Presidential run later this month in a New Orleans neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina, according to two Democratic officials who spoke to the Associated Press. "The Lower Ninth Ward provides a stark backdrop to highlight his signature issue — that economic inequality means that the country is divided into 'two Americas,'" the AP says.

"Since the Democrats’ loss to President Bush, Edwards has worked to build support for a repeat presidential bid," the AP continues. "He has a retooled agenda that is more openly progressive and has spent time building relationships with labor leaders and traveling overseas to build his foreign policy credentials beyond his one term in the Senate."

The loss as the Vice-Presidential nominee, far from tainting Edwards, has taught him to speak as a true Democrat and advocate a real progressive agenda, without hairsplitting and without hedging. The primary calendar, with Iowa (where Edwards leads in the latest poll), Nevada (with its strong labor presence - and Edwards is the labor candidate) and South Carolina (where Edwards won the primary in 2004) up at the front, sets up perfectly for his candidacy. And if he continues to speak his values, he's going to be difficult to beat, regardless of Hillary and Barack.


Where They're At

With Bill Richardson's speech today, here's, as far I can tell, where the presumed 08 candidates are on Iraq:

Richardson - withdrawal and redeployment in 2007.

Vilsack - phased redeployment to the North of Iraq (over-the-horizon force).

Edwards - immediate withdrawal of "thousands of troops" from Iraq.

Obama - withdrawal beginning in 2007.

Biden - split the country into three parts, but also draw up plans to "responsibly withdraw" US troops by the end of 2007.

Kucinich - immediate withdrawal and cut all funding for the war.

Clark - no timeline for withdrawal, a political solution comes first, because without a political process, “the discussion about troop levels is sort of missing the point.”

Kerry - deadline for Iraq at a date certain.

Dodd - Repositioning of troops within 12 to 18 months.

Clinton - "change course" in Iraq, including a redeployment of American troops.

That's almost unanimous, and it's interesting that Wes Clark is the holdout. He's essentially dodging the question by foregrounding the political solution.



I've been meaning to discuss this article from the Washington Post about the rise of the thirtysomethings in the Democratic leadership. What's striking about it is how much it departs from the norm in what it typically a seniority-driven body.

The young Democrats played an important role in helping their party take control of Congress, and now they are beginning to reap the benefits. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who will become speaker of the House when her party assumes control of Congress next month, is making room for these and other young House Democrats, giving them opportunities they would not normally enjoy under the rigid seniority system that typically defines life in the Capitol.

Last week, Pelosi announced Wasserman Schultz will be a deputy chief whip and Meek and Ryan will serve on the party's steering committee, which sets policy and makes committee assignments, along with two incoming freshmen. In addition, Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) are being considered for a seat on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, which sets tax policy, and Meek is vying for a seat on the Appropriations Committee.

"Some members have waited four or five terms to be a member of Appropriations or Ways and Means," said Meek, who hauled an oversized rubber stamp to the House floor to argue that the Republican Congress was in lockstep with the White House. "The fact that an incoming third-termer is even being considered is evidence that Speaker Pelosi is committed to giving opportunities to younger members to participate in real policymaking."

In fact, Davis and Meek did get on Ways and Means (full list here), and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Tim Ryan nabbed spots on the Appropriations Committee (full list here).

The Democratic share of the youth vote is large and growing, so it's only natural for the caucus to highlight its younger members, and give them a greater say in legislative matters. But the party should be a meritocracy, with the strongest voices naturally rising to the top. In this case, those preferences are neatly aligned: the young Democrats are fantastic carriers of the brand, and ought to be out in front.

But the youth movement isn't the only thing that's different with the 110th Congress. The leadership is making bold steps to take control of both Iraq spending and intelligence oversight and funding. The Congress has been unwilling to use the power of the purse in recent years, but these steps indicate that they will do so. It is absurd that funding for the war has continued to be processed through emergency supplemental requests three years after the invasion of Baghdad. And placing oversight and funding for intelligence agencies under the same panel will create more motivation for the agencies to do better work. This was a key recommendation of the 9-11 Commission, and it's important to cut through the spin here.

In 2004, the commission urged Congress either to create a House-Senate intelligence panel or 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, which now control intelligence spending. But, the commissioners said, intelligence agencies were routinely ignoring the intelligence committees because those panels did not have the power of the purse.

Because Pelosi opted for the oversight/intelligence proposal rather than the joint panel, Republicans are actually trying to say that she didn't fulfill her campaign promise to enact all of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations. True geniuses, aren't they. You can't enact BOTH a joint panel and empower the separate panels with funding capabilities. It was set out by the 9-11 Commission as an either/or scenario. And shockingly, despite writing this paragraph, the WaPo still fell for the spin. Here's the second graf, ABOVE the one that lays out the true story:

The twin moves demonstrated the delicate balance that Pelosi (D-Calif.) is trying to strike to maintain her political power while fulfilling the promises of the Democrats' successful 2006 campaign. Both decisions fall short of recommendations coming from the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and from ethics groups. But they go well beyond what Republicans were willing to do while they controlled Congress and beyond even what some Democrats were anticipating in recent weeks.

No they don't! She took one of two options! I wish I had the capacity to be surprised by such dishonesty.

Meanwhile, on even more simple terms, we are beginning to see Democrats engaging in real oversight even before they're handed the gavel.

Kevin Martin, the Chairman of the FCC and a rabid right-wing partisan, was all set to force through a merger between AT&T and Bellsouth, creating the largest telecommunications company in the country. This has serious implications for net neutrality, because one of the conditions of the deal that AT&T has rejected is protections for net neutrality. With such a massive footprint, AT&T's market power would be excessive and their investment patterns would be determinative for the future of the internet [...]

On Friday, Martin informed congressional leaders and incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D., Mich.) that he's asked the FCC's general counsel to decide whether Republican FCC member Robert McDowell should be cleared to vote on AT&T Inc.'s pending purchase of BellSouth Corp. McDowell has questioned whether he should vote since he most recently lobbied on behalf of a trade group that represents smaller phone companies, which oppose the deal. The merger review has bogged down in partisan politics at the FCC, which is split 2-2 without McDowell's vote.
The general counsel was expected to announce his decision as soon as today. On Tuesday evening, however, he received a dreaded "Dingell-gram" from the incoming chairman's office. House Democrats are seeking answers to 15 detailed questions about the chairman's interest in clearing McDowell "by Monday, December 11."

Martin was going to force McDowell to unrecuse himself so that the merger could go through without AT&T having to make any concessions. He still may do that so he can call in favors later when he pursues political office in North Carolina, as he is rumored to want to do. But he's going to get pulled before Dingell in the House if he breaks the administrative process so egregiously and inappropriately. Dingell-grams are scary pieces of paper, because Dingell is a very smart bulldog legislator who knows how to investigate and conduct hearings. And the FCC hasn't had any oversight in a LONG time.

Not only that, but oversight will be conducted in many cases to raise awareness of issues and insert them into the public conversation.

Incoming Democratic committee chairmen say they will hold a series of hearings and investigations early next year to build the case for their call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and for possible action against defense contractors found to have wasted billions in federal funds.

The emerging plans to grill administration officials on the conduct of the war are part of a pledge for more aggressive congressional oversight on issues such as prewar intelligence, prisoner treatment at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and the government's use of warrantless wiretaps.

This is a very ominous article for the White House, detailing Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Jack Murtha's newfound spotlight and how they plan to use it. I agree that Bush isn't about to leave Iraq, because leaving=losing in his mind. But holding high-profile hearings will be a powerful way to galvanize public opinion, which is already against the war, and to put pressure on lawmakers who have fewer and fewer ties to a lame-duck President.

What you're essentially seeing is the mechanism of government moving back to its normal manner of business. It's the political equivalent of regression to the mean. This is how Congress is supposed to work. It's not supposed to serve at the pleasure of the executive branch. It's supposed to be an equal administrant of governmental functions, and yes, even adversarial at times. For a few years, everyone went crazy and the Congress abdicated its responsibility to its constituents. We're finally starting to see that change.


Just Think Of What You'll Be Missing

You won't have Evan Bayh to kick around anymore.

U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., announced early today he will not be a candidate for president in 2008.

His decision was made public in a statement released to The Indianapolis Star.

"As you know I have been exploring helping the people of my state and our country in a different capacity," he wrote. "After talking with family and friends over the past several days, I have decided that this is not the year for me to run for President and I will not be a candidate for the presidency in 2008.

"It wasn't an easy decision but it was the right one for my family, my friends and my state. I have always prided myself on putting my public responsibilities ahead of my own ambitions."

I think the field winnowing this early is probably bad for the country. I'm not a big fan of Evan Bayh's, but the marketplace of ideas should be broader than Hillary/Obama/Edwards. Hopefully others won't be talked off the ledge as well. Obviously it's a money problem, and that fact - that you have to raise so much to run for President or really anything - is reaching a crisis point for our democracy.


Friday, December 15, 2006

From Anti-Spammers to Political Activists

Pretty interesting story in Wired magazine about a couple of anti-spammers, makers of the Blue Frog software, who have taken such technology to the next level and created a tool that allows any organization to engage Internet users in any kind of political activism.

I'll have more on this later. For now, have a good Friday night.


CA Lethal Injection Method Ruled Unconstitutional

In district court today, Judge Jeremy Fogel, who earlier imposed a moratorium on all executions in the state, ruled that the current method of imposing the death penalty via lethal injection risks violating the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  The judge did say that "California's implementation of lethal injection is broken, but it can be fixed."

This is the second state in recent months to rule this particular type of lethal injection unconstitutional, joining Missouri. In addition, this comes on the heels of a report that death penalty cases are at their lowest number in decades, 60% below its peak in 1999.

I'm wondering exactly how the situation could be fixed to minimize the amount of pain and suffering.  The issue, as I remember, is that the anaesthetic administered was not sufficient to definitively eliminate pain.

This is yet another capper on the troubled legal system in the state, including the prison overcrowding problem, where the judiciary has stepped in and demanded a fix within six months or prisoners must be released.

More as it develops.

UPDATE: I don't think it was related, but Florida suspended all of their executions today after it was revealed through an autopsy that their last execution victim suffered from a botched series of injections. One of the things I remember from the great movie Mr. Death was that Fred Leuchter, the protagonist, was a guy who designed electric chairs, and when the states largely switched over to lethal injection machines, they had Leuchter design them because they figured "well, you design electric chairs, you can do it." There is no care taken in the design of these machines, and until now nobody really speaking for the death row inmates and the violation of their Constitutional rights. Clearly the technology is there to satisfy such concerns, but the states don't give a crap.

Of course, to believe that you can execute death sentences humanely, you have to believe that state-sponsored execution is not in and of itself cruel and unusual punishment.


Civil Unions In New Jersey

I wish people would wise up and relinquish their fear of the word "marriage," but nevertheless this is a positive development:

Civil unions (A-3787) passed with 56 votes in favor, 19 against and 5 abstentions in the Assembly and 23 - 12 - 5 in the Senate.

Also, New Jersey became the 9th state to pass transgender equality legislation today, by a 10-1 margin: (from Garden State Equality)

By a vote of 69-5 with six abstentions, the New Jersey Assembly has just passed a bill to outlaw discrimination against New Jersey's transgender citizens. The New Jersey State Senate passed the bill last Monday by a vote of 31-5. The combined vote in the two chambers was an historic 100 to 10, a ten-to-one margin that is the largest margin in American history by which a state legislture has passed a transgender equality law.

The new law will add a citizen's "gender identity or expression" as a basis for protection under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Enactment of the new law has been a top priority for Garden State Equality, which has taken a number of bold measures to advance the bill; and for the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, the statewide transgender organization.

Equality fights take decades of hard work and dedication, and often the outcomes are not good for long amounts of time. But we can clearly see actual results in the marriage equality debate. New Jersey is now the 5th state to have something approaching equality for same-sex couples, whether it's civil unions (Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey), domestic partnerships (California) or gay marriage (Massachusetts). I would say this is pretty far down the road in the short time where this has become a major national issue. It'll take a lot longer to have full civil rights for gay citizens as well as others (heck, the Supremes are likely to enact a slow-motion dismantling of Brown v. Board of Education in a few months).

For now, while it could be better, the New Jersey legislature did a good thing.


The Invasion of Privacy

Good news for privacy advocates: Pat Leahy's in town.

The incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee promised on Wednesday to combat what he denounced as President George W. Bush's war-time trampling of American rights and laws.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said, if needed, he would seek to subpoena members of the administration to testify at congressional hearings on such matters as stepped-up federal surveillance. Leahy said he might even move to cut off some federal funding or deny Bush confirmation of key nominees.

"The Congress has the ability to make sure ... that the president does what the Constitution requires him to do: to faithfully execute the laws we pass," Leahy said.

"We have ways of doing that between the powers of the purse and, certainly in the Senate, the power of confirmation," Leahy added.

Now, as I said yesterday, once bad laws are in place it's incredibly difficult to get them overturned. But clearly this kind of oversight will be a major improvement over the ridiculous "privacy panel" handpicked by the President to oversee civil liberties protection. Wired has the story on what kind of lapdogs are on this panel.

The three-hour meeting, held at Georgetown University, quickly established that the panel would be something less than a fierce watchdog of civil liberties. Instead, members all but said they view their job as helping Americans learn to relax and love warrantless surveillance.

"The question is, how much can the board share with the public about the protections incorporated in both the development and implementation of those policies?" said Alan Raul, a Washington D.C. lawyer who serves as vice chairman. "On the public side, I believe the board can help advance national security and the rights of American by helping explain how the government safeguards U.S. personal information."

Board members were briefed on the government's NSA-run warrantless wiretapping program last week, and said they were impressed by how the program handled information collected from American citizens' private phone calls and e-mail.

But the ACLU's Caroline Fredrickson was quick to ridicule the board's response to the administration's anti-terrorism policies, charging that the panel's private meetings to date largely consisted of phone calls with government insiders and agencies.

"When our government is torturing innocent people and spying on Americans without a warrant, the PCLOB should act -- indeed, should have acted long ago," Fredrickson said. "Clearly you've been fiddling while Rome burns. This board needs to bring a little sunshine. So far America is kept in the dark -- and this is the first public meeting you have had."

Lisa Graves, the deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, asked the board two simple questions: Did they know how many Americans had been eavesdropped on by the warrantless wiretapping program, and, if so, how many?

Raul acknowledged in a roundabout way that the data existed, but said it was too sensitive to release. Graves then asked if the board had pushed to have that data made public, as the Justice Department is required to do with typical spy wiretaps.

Raul declined to say. "It is important for us to retain confidentiality on what recommendations we have and haven't made," he said.

Hey, we're handling it, you don't need to KNOW how we're handling it!

We're at a real crossroads with civil liberties in America. The public is split on whether those protections should be curtailed in a time of terrorism, I feel, because nobody has credibly advocated for the alternative. With the Democrats in power, it's incumbent upon them to speak out about American values and the need for privacy and civil liberties as authorized by the Constitution. Sen. Leahy is one of the most effective speakers in the country on these issues. And he may need to take on this as the test case for how to deal with official lawbreaking and the destruction of civil liberties.

A previously undisclosed Pentagon report concluded that the three terrorism suspects held at a brig in South Carolina were subjected to months of isolation, and it warned that their "unique" solitary confinement could be viewed as violating U.S. detention standards.

According to a summary of the 2004 report obtained by The Washington Post, interrogators attempted to deprive one detainee, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and former student in Peoria, Ill., of sleep and religious comfort by taking away his Koran, warm food, mattresses and pillow as part of an interrogation plan approved by the high-level Joint Forces Command.

Interrogators also prevented the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting at least one detainee, according to the report, which noted evidence of other unspecified, unauthorized interrogation techniques.

What's clear from this article is that the Pentagon has had knowledge of these illegal tactics for two years, and has not been compelled to do anything about it. This is where Sen. Leahy needs to attack by all means at his disposal. As he has said:

Quoting one of the America's founding fathers, he added: "Benjamin Franklin memorably warned that those who would 'give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security."'

Leahy said: "Freedom and security must not become mutually exclusive values in America. We can have both, and we must have both."


California's Prison Problem

This week a federal judge threw down the gauntlet and demanded that California devise a solution to prison overcrowding within six months. This is some serious pressure.

SACRAMENTO — A federal judge Monday told the Schwarzenegger administration to act immediately to ease prison overcrowding or face the prospect of a court-imposed population cap.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton said that if substantial progress is not seen within six months, he will give lawyers for inmates what they seek: the appointment of a three-judge panel to consider limiting prison admissions.

The lawyers, representing inmates in a long-running lawsuit over mental health care, were disappointed by Karlton's order. Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office said state officials have had ample time to address the crisis and that only a population cap would provide immediate relief.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we will be back here in six months and the problems will only be worse," Specter said.

The Governor tried a stopgap maneuver by allowing prisoners to be voluntarily shipped out of state. That yielded a whopping 80 transfers out of the 173,000 inmates in the prison population.

Over at Calitics, Erik Love explains that this is not a new problem, just one that had to get to a crisis point before anybody decided to do something about it.

Given the dire state of the prison system in California, it's no surprise that one of Arnold's top promises in 2003 during the Recall election was to provide prison reform. Sure enough, on his second day in office, Arnold appointed a tough new leader of the department of corrections, and stated that "Corrections should correct." It seemed that serious reform of the prison system was soon to follow.

Instead, little changed in the three years that followed. The prison system got even worse. But, during his 2006 reelection campaign, Arnold again stated that prison reform would be at the top of his agenda for his new term. This time, Arnold gave some specifics. Schwarzenegger:

Promised to create a new program to help people released from prison find counseling and life-skills training.
Promised to build two new prisons using "lease-revenue" bonds.
Promised to hire more correctional officers, to essentially make the bloated prison system even bigger.
Promised to use private prisons - for-profit, non-state facilities - to house some people sentenced in California.

Pretty much nothing was done on these promises until the 2006 election campaign. And Erik rightly points out that the real problem is the sentencing system, which is entirely too punitive and has led to the overcrowding. In fact, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in a split ruling. As Erik says:

Changing California's unreasonable sentencing laws must be step one in any real effort at reform. Far, far too many people in California prisons are there for non-violent, victimless crimes like simple drug possession. The "three-strikes law" means that many people end up sentenced to decades behind bars for trivial offenses. Experts predict that if sentencing guidelines are left unchanged, the prison population in California will increase even further over the next five years to the tune of 21,000 more people. This rate is astronomical and will defeat any prison-building plan. California can do better.

As Byron Williams writes, we have preferred to lock away our problems with the prison system the same way we lock away our prisoners. There is no focus on rehabilitation, education, and particularly drug treatment. Drug addiction is an illness and demands treatment rather than incarceration. The extreme amount of nonviolent offenders in prison will come to a head in six months, when actual violent criminals will be turned out onto the street. This is a failure of leadership from a governor who has been disinterested in the problem for too long (unless it's election season), and is pulled in the direction of the reactionary Republican base, who are concerned only with retribution. Maybe they can do some conversions to change their attics and basements into jails, because otherwise there's nowhere to put these people.

We cannot have inmates in cots and hallways and living on top of one another like some kind of vermin. There needs to be some sanity brought back to the process. It's shameful that a federal judge has to push it to this level to wake up Sacramento.


Breaking the Army

It certainly appears that the new idea in Iraq will be to add troops and surge into Baghdad. Right, because we've never tried this before.

Yet Baghdad has received a substantial infusion of American forcse since mid-2006, for an offensive known as Operation Forward Together. And Baghdad became more dangerous, not less. After all, Iraq is in the throes of multi-tiered sectarian conflict, which Kagan recognizes -- threats to both the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, and U.S. troops arise from al-Qaeda, Sunni insurgents, Sunni death squads, Shiite death squads, Shiite militias, and the Iraqi security forces themselves. And here's where Kagan's agnosticism on Iraqi politics will doom his plan. To send an additional 20,000 or so troops to simultaneously take on Sunni and Shiite forces in the capitol with no evident strategy is more likely to plunge Baghdad deeper into chaos while absolutely severing the factions in the Iraqi government from the population it allegedly represents.

The fact that we've already made this "one last push" into Baghdad, and found it to be a miserable failure, is lost on neocon politicians like Joe Lieberman, who has completely gone back on his campaign promise to find a way out of Iraq (not that the media has called him on it). It's a topsy-turvy world when the saner people, the cold-eyed realists, are not the civilians but the military generals in the field.

Warning that the active-duty Army "will break" under the strain of today's war-zone rotations, the nation's top Army general yesterday called for expanding the force by 7,000 or more soldiers a year and lifting Pentagon restrictions on involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, issued his most dire assessment yet of the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the nation's main ground force. At one point, he banged his hand on a House committee-room table, saying the continuation of today's Pentagon policies is "not right."

In particularly blunt testimony, Schoomaker said the Army began the Iraq war "flat-footed" with a $56 billion equipment shortage and 500,000 fewer soldiers than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Echoing the warnings from the post-Vietnam War era, when Gen. Edward C. Meyer, then the Army chief of staff, decried the "hollow Army," Schoomaker said it is critical to make changes now to shore up the force for what he called a long and dangerous war.

"The Army is incapable of generating and sustaining the required forces to wage the global war on terror . . . without its components -- active, Guard and reserve -- surging together," Schoomaker said in testimony before the congressionally created Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

How did we get in a situation where we were this clueless about future needs? We had a year and a half between Afghanistan and Iraq. We put too FEW troops into Iraq. Three years of war turned the all-volunteer army into chicken feed? This is a management crisis. I don't disagree that the Army needs to expand if we cannot handle this level of responsibility. Particularly when you have a crew with itchy trigger fingers running the show. Actually, I'd only resist expanding the Army if it meant that the magical thinkers in the Office of the Vice President wouldn't be able to view the world as a personal Risk board anymore.

I should mention at this point that John Kerry called for adding 40,000 soldiers to the Army as part of the 2004 campaign, which would have at least helped us not get to the crisis point we're at currently.

Meanwhile, there are only about three people on the planet that really want to add troops into the meat grinder that is Baghdad. George Bush, John McCain, and Joementum. The Iraqis sure don't want it.

The idea is also running into strong opposition in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn't want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials. The U.S. sent thousands of additional combat personnel to Baghdad earlier this year in an attempt to quell the daily violence there, but American officials say Mr. Maliki has made clear that he wants to see those forces -- except for U.S. trainers and advisers -- moved out of the city.

Senior U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq, meanwhile, say they aren't sure additional forces are needed in Iraq.

Even Donald Frickin' Rumsfeld questioned the strategy and wondered whether these extra troops would have anything positive to do. What is the plan, fighting Sunnis and Shiites at the same time? Stopping Al-Sadr and Al Qaeda and everybody else who doesn't like us in that country? We'd be fighting the whole country.

Not only is this a stupid recipe for getting more Americans killed, it's actually destroying our capacity to protect and defend ourselves. This is a nightmare from which I fear we'll have real problems managing to recover.


Danger in Africa

I thought those of you who might not be paying attention to events in the Horn of Africa might like to know that we're on the brink of regional war over there.

Racked by clan rivalry, disorder and violence, the failed state of Somalia is now lurching towards a war that could suck in several of its neighbours, the UN warned today.

The organisation's top official for the country urged the international community to do everything possible to prevent conflict and help the 1.8 million people there who were in dire need of help.

"Since the 1990s, we have never been so close to war, and this has the possible impact of spreading all across the Horn of Africa," Mr Laroche said.

The prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, has warned that Islamist forces backed by 4,000 foreign fighters are moving into position for a possible attack on the interim government's base.

Mr Gedi's government is one in name only: the western-backed administration controls just the western town of Baidoa, near the Ethiopian border. Opposing the weak and divided government is the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC).

The Islamic Courts is a more complicated body than simply "they're Islamic, let's get them!" They may have a jihadist element, but they've also restored a lot of order to the country. They may have moderates involved, but they also have hardliners who talk of "greater Somalia" and want to take over parts of Ethiopia and Kenya. Eritrea would fight on the side of the Islamists, while Ethiopia has vowed to protect the nominal government.

This is really bad stuff and The Guardian appears to be the only news outlet that cares. The Islamic Courts may at least be indifferent to terrorists taking harbor in a country controlled by them. It's hard to say, but the point is that we're currently so overstretched in Iraq that we're in no position to deal with other developing threats in the world. Somalia is totally off the radar screen, and yet you could be looking at a 4- or 6-country war. And the African Union's major force is in Darfur and unable to deal with this as well.

Sometimes, you make the world more dangerous because of what you don't pay attention to, as well as what you do.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Picture Gallery

Haven't done this in a while.

But this is a nice picture to show, it's the new political map by Congressional district.

Guess we're not living in Red America after all.

And I've wanted to post this Tom The Dancing Bug cartoon for a while. I've seen this joke done a bunch of times; in fact, around the 2004 election I was DOING this joke onstage. But this is an excellent version of it. You can click to enlarge.


Crashing the Gate In California

Today, Matt Stoller wrote a list of eight rules for building a progressive America. One of them concerns putting progressives in charge of the Democratic Party at all levels.

In one month, the California Democratic Party is holding elections for the DSCC (Democratic State Central Committee). There will be 80 separate caucuses, one for each assembly district, on the weekend of January 13-14. The 6 men and 6 women who win these elections will become 1/3 of the delegates to the CDP, and will as part of their duties become delegates to the state convention in April, where they can vote on the party platform, party operation and machinery, and specific candidate endorsements. This is a real opportunity to get progressives and reformers into the state party to attempt to steer it in a direction that is more responsive to the grassroots, more engaged with the electorate, and generally more functional and successful.

I'm going to be running in the 41st Assembly District, and everyone in California who wants to help take back the party should do so as well.

First, there's a little background you may need to know. This is not a situation where progressives are starting from scratch. In the 2005 CDP delegate elections, the opportunity to take back the party was seized by groups like DFA and PDA (Progressive Democrats of America), and was fairly successful. In fact, the Progressive Caucus of the CDP is the largest caucus in the Party. But clearly, this was not successful enough to impact real change. The CDP refused to endorse Prop. 89, the Clean Money Elections initiative, despite the fact that virtually every progressive organization and Democratic club endorsed it. The number of contacts with voters was, in a word, abominable. The Democratic wave breaking across the country appeared to end somewhere in Reno. Democrats did not perform at the level they should have given the mood of the electorate.

There are 3 components to the CDP. 1/3 of the delegates are elected officials, nominees, and appointments. 1/3 come from the county committees, which are weighted by populations. The final 1/3 are elected in the assembly district caucuses. So, in order to maximize the impact of these elections, the Progressive Caucus is seeking to run full 12-person slates in each assembly district. Many of the major grassroots organizations
(Progressive Democrats of America, DFA-Link, SoCal Grassroots) are partnering to help form these slates. The idea behind the slates is simple: each person brings a certain number of people to the delegate elections, and gets them to vote for everybody on the slate. If each candidate gets around 10 people, in most districts that will probably be more than enough to put everybody into office. In some districts, they're lucky to get 12 people TOTAL to these elections. The times and locations of the elections are publicized on the Web but not really anywhere else. It's a deliberately closed process that seeks to keep power in the hands of those who control the party. This is an opportunity to distribute that knowledge and use the democratic process to take the party back.

It's important to note a couple things. The Progressive Caucus is doing this in a very open-source manner. They are collecting names from assembly districts all across the country. Once they have them, they will put out an email to connect those progressives together, so they can discuss how to most effectively get out the vote. The various district slates will also be able to pick the platform they'd like to have on the back of the slate card. There's been a lot of controversy about this. The initial meeting I attended seemed to suggest that the Progressive Caucus was basing participation on whether or not prospective delegates will agree to vote with the caucus on 5 core issues. It seemed like the equivalent of a loyalty oath in return for their endorsement and the resources therein. The five issues are:

-universal health care
-clean money elections
-immediate withdrawal from Iraq
-elimination of poverty
-investigation toward impeachment of the President

That last one was the source of major controversy within the caucus. I was at the caucus meeting last Friday as part of the CDP executive board meetings in Anaheim, and what amounted to a live version of the impeachment flame war we see here on a daily basis broke out. Some wanted the last item to read "impeachment"; others wanted "investigation." There was vigorous debate and eventually "investigation toward impeachment" won out by a resounding margin.

But here's the point. These are the issues that the Progressive Caucus will focus on when it comes to determining a platform. But they are also the true reformers in the party. They have actively started a "Red-to-Blue" program to engage Democrats in rural and conservative areas of the state. Procedurally speaking, they do want to make the party more small-d democratic. And as for the litmus test, they are leaving it up to the individual progressive slates to decide what issues they want to run on. It's democracy in action. The Progressive Caucus would hope that everyone they decide to endorse would support these broad goals. But I think they took a lot of heat with their initial rigidity and have opened the tent a little bit, as long as the delegates are committed to progressive principles and the idea of reform in the party.

If you want to take part in this process, the Progressive Caucus has already set up a website,, as a clearinghouse for all the information you need to run, an explanation of the duties and responsibilities of a delegate, how to find your assembly district, everything. Through the site you can contact the people who are collecting all the information about potential candidates. What you need to know is that the deadline to file your candidacy is January 2, 2007. The elections will be held the weekend of January 13-14, and the CDP has all the information on time and place centrally located at this site.

I think it's important for the netroots to get on board with this project. The grassroots is actually far ahead of us at this point. But this is a way to strengthen that bond between the two groups, as well as become unified in advocating for reform within the California Democratic Party and a more effective, 80-assembly-district, 53-Congressional-district, 58-county strategy.


Michael Crichton's a dick

And a bad writer. But putting a vocal critic of your anti-global warming screed as a child rapist takes the cake.

Alex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers. Crowley was a wealthy, spoiled Yale graduate and heir to a pharmaceutical fortune [...]

It turned out Crowley's taste in love objects was well known in Washington, but [his lawyer]--as was his custom--tried the case vigorously in the press months before the trial, repeatedly characterizing Alex and the child's mother as "fantasizing feminist fundamentalists" who had made up the whole thing from "their sick, twisted imaginations." This, despite a well-documented hospital examination of the child. (Crowley's penis was small, but he had still caused significant tears to the toddler's rectum.)

Here's the real-life Michael Crowley, he of The New Republic, with his response.

The next page contains fleeting references to Crowley as a "weasel" and a "dickhead," and, later, "that political reporter who likes little boys." But that's it--Crowley comes and goes without affecting the plot. He is not a character so much as a voodoo doll. Knowing that Crichton had used prior books to attack very real-seeming people, I was suspicious. Who was this Mick Crowley? A Google search turned up an Irish Workers Party politician in Knocknaheeny, Ireland. But Crowley's tireless advocacy for County Cork's disabled seemed to make him an unlikely target of Crichton's ire. And that's when it dawned on me: I happen to be a Washington political journalist. And, yes, I did attend Yale University. And, come to think of it, I had recently written a critical 3,700-word cover story about Crichton. In lieu of a letter to the editor, Crichton had fictionalized me as a child rapist. And, perhaps worse, falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer.

It's an act of extreme cowardice to turn anger over being criticized into a fictional character. Crichton has no belief in his own capacity for argument and debate, so he hurls insults within the body of his novel.

It's been my experience that many writers are a-holes. Crichton is cementing that characterization.


Recent History Lesson

Just watched a report on CNN where an unnamed Republican Senator said that any speculation of Sen. Tim Johnson (who's in critical but stable condition) stepping down, or the balance of power in the Senate, was "ghoulish at the worst and irresponsible at best."

"OK, thanks," said Wolf Blitzer, and then went on to a 10-minute report speculating on Tim Johnson's health condition, a profile of the South Dakota governor who could name his replacement, and thoughts about... Tim Johnson stepping down and the balance of power in the Senate.


Let's turn back the clock one month. Two days after the election, before George Allen conceded defeat and control of the Senate tipped to the Democrats, Sen. Craig Thomas, a Republican from Wyoming, was diagnosed with leukemia after spending three days in the hospital. The governor of Wyoming is Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat. If Thomas was to die, or were he incapacitated and unable to serve his office, Freudenthal would have been likely to choose a Democrat to replace him, and at the time this news broke on Thursday, that could have shifted the balance of power.

I don't remember ONE report about the political ramifications of Thomas' condition. The AP report linked above didn't mention it. This ABC report doesn't. Nor does this CNN report.

Now, Johnson's condition appears to be more serious than Thomas'. But Thomas was in the hospital with pneumonia for three days before the diagnosis was announced. So we really didn't know what was going on. Thomas, who was up for election in 2006, cancelled a bunch of campaign appearances set for that Monday.

When a Republican Senator is stricken, the story is just the facts about that illness. When it's a Democrat, immediately the question goes to political ramifications. Why?

And to those who think I'm being ghoulish about Sen. Thomas, here's what I wrote the day his diagnosis was disclosed.

Our thoughts go out to Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas, diagnosed with leukemia. We need to fight war on diseases like this, they're far too pervasive given the technology at our fingertips.

I think that talking about politics when a guy's laying on an operating table is beyond the pale. I agree with the unnamed Republican, it's irresponsible. There seems to be a double standard in the media along those lines.

UPDATE: Apparently, a Thomas vacancy would result in a Republican taking his seat, per state law. You learn something new ev'ry day. Though, for some reason I'm not convinced that this is the reason the media didn't comment on the political ramifications at the time. Indeed, why wouldn't they just report this?


Quick Hits

Some things from the past 24 hours:

• For those who think this matters 23 months out, here are a bunch of polls matching potential Presidential nominees.

• Why is David Duke getting a national forum to spout hate? He can say whatever he wants, but why exactly are people inviting him on the air? Well, probably because it was fascinating television.

• Two years later, the Swift Boaters were fined $300,000 for their activities as a 527 group in the 2004 elections. MoveOn was fined as well. The 527 loophole probably needs some tweaking.

• Pakistan made a deal with the Taliban and surprise! Cross-border attacks have increased, Taliban groups are regrouping and rearming themselves, and Afghanistan is seeing more violence than ever. For the uninitiated, Pakistan is our friend and ally.

• Between dead and wounded, we are at 25,000 casualties in Iraq. Thank your lucky stars for advances in battlefield medicine, or far more would be dead right now.

• If David Geffen's $2 billion CASH bid for the LA Times is successful, maybe it'll reverse course and be a decent paper again, causing me not to cancel it.

• Babel was OK, but I'd hardly say that's the best there is to offer from Hollywood this season. The Queen, for example, was excellent, best I've seen so far. And Borat, of course, especially if you know Hebrew.


Free Choice

Via Taylor Marsh, this is great stuff from John Edwards on the Employee Free Choice Act, and it shows the bias from the national media on this issue.

MATTHEWS: Are you for the card check?
J. EDWARDS: I am for the card check.

MATTHEWS: You think that's fair to be able to have four people from a labor union, big people come up to a little person and say you're going to vote for the union, aren't you? You're going to vote for the union, aren't you?

Today the law says you have to have a big meeting and everybody has to be there to vote for the union. You're saying--the card check says all you need is 51 percent of the people to be individually talked into signing a card and you think that's OK.

J. EDWARDS: I think it's democracy. I do.

MATTHEWS: But not having an election?

J. EDWARDS: It's democracy because what happens is the way the system has been loaded up is the employers bring in these union busters who are exerts at busting the union. They sometimes violate the law. The way the enforcement works is almost nonexistent. Three or four years down the road there's a slap on the wrist.

All I want is I want to see a level playing field. If employees want to join a union, democratically they ought to be able to do that. If they don't, they can choose not to.

MATTHEWS: OK, the average person is working at the mill, they're working on the job and they're on the machine, and four guys come up to them, big guys, they go up and say sign this card, we want to start a union here. And that little person goes I'd rather not. You'd rather not? Isn't that kind of intimidating for a person?

J. EDWARDS: But why would you assume it's the fellow employees who are going to intimidate...

MATTHEWS: Because it's the outside labor organizations.

J. EDWARDS: ... them instead of the guy who's writing their check?

MATTHEWS: Because if they international union guys come in. I'm asking you a question. Do you think that shows independence our your part, or the fact that you're in bed with labor.

J. EDWARDS: I think it shows that I am a complete believer in workers having a voice and being able to collectively bargain. I don't think we have a problem in America with big, multinational corporations being able to have their voice heard. Their voice is heard loud and clear.

Media shills like Chris Matthews automatically assume that the big bad union guys are the ones who would use scare tactics. It's been documented that the EMPLOYERS use these tactics over and over again, and game the secret ballot system by delaying the vote until they can intimidate all of the workers in the facility. In the final analysis, the ones writing and signing the checks are more likely to have leverage in such intimidation.

There's so much to be done that this card-check legislation might get lost in the shuffle. It shouldn't because it's vital to furthering worker rights.



If The Decider won't make any moves to stop the crisis in Iraq (don't rush me, it's only been 3 1/2 years!), then it's time for the adults to step in.

Syrian President Bashar Assad told Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday that he was willing to cooperate with the U.S. to control the porous border between Syria and Iraq used by insurgents.

The one-hour meeting in Damascus, which State Department officials had opposed, was the first between a high-level American official and Assad since a bipartisan panel suggested that the U.S. work with Syria and Iran to curb bloodshed in Iraq.

"Assad clearly indicated the willingness to cooperate with the Americans and/or the Iraqi army to be part of a solution," the Florida Democrat said in a conference call from Amman, Jordan.

Bill Nelson is an American citizen, we're not currently at war with Syria, and as a legislator he has a keen interest in finding solutions for his constituents. This is perfectly fine, and it's a brilliant move to force the White House's hands to start paying attention to what needs to be done. This was the one part of the ISG report that I felt was self-evident, that you negotitate with people in the region because it couldn't possibly hurt.

Bush immediately reacted to this by stamping his little feet and yelling about what bad, bad people they are (apparently, they're holding prisoners in secret locations without allowing them to challenge their detention... now who does that sound like?). Meanwhile, the floodgates are opening, as Damascus is looking more and more like the Capitol.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the administration does not agree with lawmakers traveling to Syria.

"We just don't think it's appropriate," he said Wednesday of Nelson's meeting. Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., also plan to meet with Assad soon.

It's completely whitewashed in the media that Iran gave the United States a good deal of help at the beginning of the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, including helping us rescue downed aircraft. Just because a country is nominally "the enemy" doesn't mean you can't work together with common interests. In fact, that's how you stop them from being enemies.

While the public pose is against talks with Syria, however, one report claims that the back-channel is wide open, albeit with an infamous - and familiar - envoy.

A little-noticed visit by Ahmad Chalabi to Syria is igniting speculation that the former Iraqi exile leader is emerging as a key channel between Damascus and Washington.

After a weekend meeting with the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, Mr. Chalabi announced that Syria and Iraq would formally open their respective embassies in Damascus and Baghdad on Monday. An American diplomat said yesterday that Mr. Chalabi also was gauging the interest of the Assad regime in a limited rapprochement with America.

Mr. Chalabi regularly consults with the American ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad. On Saturday, Mr. Chalabi told reporters that Syria and Iraq were considering joint patrols along the porous border they share.

I don't trust Chalabi, nor should anyone. It could be that the Bush Administration is in fact listening to the ISG report, but in the worst possible way.


McCain Doth Protest Too Much

McCain apparently had a staffer dispatched to Instapundit tout suite to claim that the CNet article about his "Shut Down The Blogs" proposal was a distortion, and he doesn't want to stymie free speech on the Internet. Maybe he should write a narrower law, then.

Digby notices that even the parts of the law that aren't about social networking sites are colossally stupid:

But what is most irritating about this latest absurd solution to a difficult problem is the fact that once again, you have idiots making policy about things of which they don't even have a basic understanding:

The other section of McCain's legislation targets convicted sex offenders. It would create a federal registry of "any e-mail address, instant-message address, or other similar Internet identifier" they use, and punish sex offenders with up to 10 years in prison if they don't supply it [..]

"This constitutionally dubious proposal is being made apparently mostly based on fear or political considerations rather than on the facts," said EFF's Bankston. Studies by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show the online sexual solicitation of minors has dropped in the past five years, despite the growth of social-networking services, he said.

A McCain aide, who did not want to be identified by name, said on Friday that the measure was targeted at any Web site that "you'd have to join up or become a member of to use." No payment would be necessary to qualify, the aide added.

Yes. We're all issued an e-mail address at birth so a registry of such addresses will definitely make it impossible for sexual predators to operate on the internet. Maybe we could have a permanent web-cam embedded in their foreheads so that we could watch them while they type, too. And it's a good thing they're targeting the sites where you have to "sign up" because that will certainly put a stop to it.

Exactly. I probably have had 7 or 8 email addresses in my lifetime. Wait... I just signed up for another one. And another. You really think that you can put a hold on that?

I'm not defending sex offenders but these unenforceable, liberties-smashing laws in the name of protecting children not only overreach because they're politically popular, but they're totally ineffective and not even based on any kind of epidemic outside of Dateline NBC shows. In fact Internet predator statistics are often wildly misstated because it suits the goals of reactionary pandering politicians who want to whip up a fervor about the issue. If they really wanted to stop online predators, they might have walked over to the House of Representatives and gave the gentleman from Florida a buzz.

There are no cosponsors for this bill. As it should be. John McCain is digging his own grave, and declaring open war on the Internet. All for the sake of a few votes.


Critical Condition

After emergency brain surgery. Wow, this is pretty scary about Sen. Johnson. The Senate matters less to me than that he pulls through.

Harry Reid wouldn't even say whether or not Johnson was conscious. This is serious. My thoughts are with the Senator and his family.

UPDATE: This is pretty disgusting, even for Fox. Hey guys, how about reporting on the dozens of people kidnapped in Baghdad rather than the one-man death watch?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

John McCain Wants To Shut Me Down

This is essentially cherry-picking from another site, but it involves this blogosphere, and therefore I find it very important and disturbing. John McCain, Mr. Open and Honest Straight Talk himself, has introduced legislation that would hold blogs responsible for all activity that occurs within their comment section or anywhere on their site. Such a measure would severely hamper the ability for most blogs, particularly community sites like the Daily Kos, to function, as there would need to be almost full-time policing and background checking on the site.

Here are some highlights, or lowlights, of this legislation.

• Commercial websites and personal blogs “would be required to report illegal images or videos posted by their users or pay fines of up to $300,000.”

• Internet service providers (ISPs) are already required to issue such reports, but under McCain’s legislation, bloggers with comment sections may face “even stiffer penalties” than ISPs.

• Social networking sites will be forced to take “effective measures” — such as deleting user profiles — to remove any website that is “associated” with a sex offender. Sites may include not only Facebook and MySpace, but also, which permits author profiles and personal lists, and blogs like DailyKos, which allows users to sign up for personal diaries.

Regarding photos and videos, I'm assuming this is why photo storage sites are limited to a select view. Still, that's no safeguard against ripping something off the Web and uploading it to Flickr, for example. The idea that blog owners would be personally responsible for that action, at a cost of $300,000, is far more punitive that what would seem a logical standard.

We've already seen, with soon-to-be former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick's legislation, how dangerous it is to give the federal government sway over "social networking sites," especially when they set the definition of what they are. Anything with a comment, and certainly anything with a profile, can be seen as a networking site. It appears that the burden would be on the site owner to provide criminal background checks on all of its users, many of whom are anonymous for very specific reasons.

This is an absolute intrusion into the blogosphere and makes a mockery of freedom of speech. I don't expect that such an awful measure would pass a Democratic Congress. However, once you start putting things in terms of "protecting children," anything can happen. And if this passes, I don't know how you could have anything but a top-down blog without comments. Otherwise the mass of writing on the site that is not user-generated could never be vetted.

It is incumbent upon those of us who benefit from this experience to make our legislators aware of this attempt to crush dissent. And it's very incumbent to make everyone aware of who the prime mover in this is: John McCain. The straight-talking maverick. I guess when straight talk isn't to his liking, he moves to silence it.


Bad Laws are Like Cancer

They're pretty much impossible to carve out:

A federal judge upheld the Bush administration's new terrorism law Wednesday, agreeing that Guantanamo Bay detainees do not have the right to challenge their imprisonment in U.S. courts.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robertson is the first to address the new Military Commissions Act and is a legal victory for the Bush administration at a time when it has been fending off criticism of the law from Democrats and libertarians.

Robertson rejected a legal challenge by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose case prompted the Supreme Court to strike down the Bush administration's policy on detainees last year [...]

Though Robertson originally sided with Hamdan, he said that he no longer had jurisdiction to hear Hamdan's case because Congress clearly intended to keep such disputes out of federal courts. He said foreigners being held in overseas military prisons do not have the right to challenge their detention, a right people inside the country normally enjoy.

"This is the first time in the history of this country that a court has held that a man may be held by our government in a place where no law applies," said Barbara Olshansky, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has handled many detainee cases.

I expect the CCR to appeal, but clearly this sets a precedent that allows the US to deny habeas corpus protections to detainees. It hampers any challenge on the constitutional question.

During the shameful debate on the Military Commissions act, I remember both legislators (like Arlen Specter), and people in the progressive blogosphere, claiming that this would be ruled unconstitutional and don't worry because judiciary will bail us out.

Care to give a statement now?


How's That Demonization Going?

One of the important developments out of Ciro Rodriguez' victory last night is what it means for an enduring Democratic coalition with the Latino community. And it's entirely of Republican's doing. Henry Bonilla's support for a fence along the Mexican border killed him among the border community. Bonilla didn't understand his own constituency:

Bonilla was a strong supporter of the tough-on-immigration measures sponsored by the Republicans. He voted for the construction of the 700-mile border fence, and supported Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s bill penalizing workers who hire illegal immigrants.

Based on the election results, it appears Latino voters – even among his previous supporters – turned on him and supported ex-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D). In Maverick County (95% Hispanic), Bonilla won a miniscule 14% of the vote. By contrast, Bonilla carried the county in his comfortable 2004 win, and President Bush even performed respectably here in 2004 when he won 40%.

Val Verde County (76% Hispanic) has traditionally been a solidly pro-Bush, pro-Bonilla county. Bush carried it with 59% of the vote in 2004. But Bonilla barely carried it, only winning 51% there against Rodriguez.

By contrast, the majority-white counties in the district remained strongly pro-Bonilla. Medina County (45% Hispanic) overwhelmingly voted for Bonilla, giving him 68% of the vote. That’s not much of a dropoff from Bush’s 70% performance there in 2004.

It's important to note that this is not at all about identity politics. Henry Bonilla was the only Mexican-American Republican in the whole Congress. Here's the Burnt Orange Report:

Not only did Ciro's win in TX-23 make for a very nice Christmas gift to Democrats, it also is an investment. As many in Texas know, Bonilla (the only Mexican-American Republican in Congress) was the poster boy for the Republican Party's 'outreach' to Latino voters. Meaning of course, the photo-shopped version of someone who looks like you but sells you out and screws you over in reality.

Not only that, but it's an open secret that Bonilla had his eyes on becoming a US Senator for Texas. For now, we've taken away his launching pad and platform to run for statewide office.

Not only that, but Rodriguez, a progressive Mexican-American, should be able to hold this majority-Latino seat for a while, because he fits with the ideology of the district. And increasingly, Republicans are showing themselves to be enemies of Latinos, despite the fact that on social issues and traditional values, they often line up.

I'm telling you, more stories like this from Republican-run agencies will just kill them electorally more and more:

A troubling report from the DHS immigration raids yesterday, from the Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune. In this case, DHS agents allegedly separated workers by their skin color -- light-skinned were considered citizens, dark-skinned got scrutiny. Predicatably, they swept up at least one dark-skinned U.S. citizen up with immigrant workers:

If only for a few minutes, Maria felt like an ''illegal alien'' in her homeland - the United States of America.
She thought she was going on break from her job at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant here [in Hyrem, Utah] on Tuesday, but instead she and others were forced to stand in a line by U.S. immigration agents. Non-Latinos and people with lighter skin were plucked out of line and given blue bracelets.

The rest, mostly Latinos with brown skin, waited until they were ''cleared'' or arrested by ''la migra,'' the popular name in Spanish for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees said.

''I was in the line because of the color of my skin,'' she said, her voice shaking. ''They're discriminating against me. I'm from the United States, and I didn't even get a blue bracelet.'' . . .

The Latino population is among the fastest-growing in the country, and increasingly, the word "Republican" in those households is poison. These are American citizens who will vote against Republicans reflexively. If Democratic organizations can increase turnout among this community, they will have an excellent chance of winning for a long, long time.


Ezra Klein on The Healthy Americans Act

Though he's barely out of college I respect Ezra Klein's opinion on the health care issue more than anybody, and he comes away from Sen. Wyden's health care proposal guardedly optimistic.

Here's how it would work: The Healthy Americans Act of 2007 would begin by dissolving all employer-based insurance. Instead, it would mandate that every employer who had covered his employees in 2006 convert the total they spent on insurance into salary increases creating, in one day, the single largest pay raise America has ever seen. Now, why would employers go along with that? Well, legislatively they'd have to, but, as Len Nichols explained to me, they'll also want to: Health costs are accelerating, every year costs 10 or so percent more than they ear before. By freezing the total at what employers paid in 2006, Wyden's plan would exempt them from 2007's increase.

Meanwhile, an individual mandate would be implemented, forcing every American to purchase one of the options offered by their state's newly formed Health Help Agency (HHA). The HHA's will have a menu of private insurance plans, all of which must provide coverage equal to or better than the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Plan used by Congress. All plans will be community rated by the state, meaning an end to adverse selection and preexisting condition problems. The only acceptable variables for price will be geography, family size, and smoking status. Subsidies will be offered up to 400 percent of the poverty line, will full coverage provided to those below 100 percent. Employers will contribute through a set equation related to business size and yearly profits. There's quite a bit more, but that's the basic outline.

I have to spend some more time with the legislation ("c'mon baby, open up to me, tell me your secrets..."), but my snap reaction is heavily favorable. It isn't everything I'd want, but imposing the combination of community rating and an insurance floor will be a huge step forward. The cost stability offered to employers seems very, very savvy, as does the forced conversion of 2006 health costs into salary increases. The Lewin Group, the gold standard in health care actuarial data (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence), has evaluated the plan. Their conclusion? The plan would cover more than 99 percent of Americans, we'd save $4.8 billion in the first year and $1.48 trillion over the next decade. How's that sound? To me, it sounds like precisely the sort of big thinking Democrats need to be doing now that they're back in the majority.

The Ezra seal of approval is helpful for me. Again, this is not single-payer, but it creates a lot of efficiencies and puts the end goal of health insurance for all within reach. It's a solid baseline proposal we can present to the country and get them interested in the idea of fixing the health care crisis. Preparing the ground, if you will. It also puts the Democratic Party solidly at the forefront as a party of new ideas.

By the way, as a freelancer myself, I'm wondering exactly how this would impact me. I already purchase individual insurance. Will I have access to a better menu of choices? Would I be eligible for subsidies? I'll have to dive into the report.


Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) suffers stroke


I hope he has a speedy recovery, as I did when Republican Representative Mike Castle suffered a stroke a few months back.

It's somewhat unjust that the balance of power in the Senate could rest on Sen. Johnson's recovery. Let's hope it doesn't come to that and he recovers, for the sake of his family.

UPDATE: Apparently it was NOT a stroke, according to his office. Maybe we should all calm down and let the doctors describe what's going on.


They Should Do More Than Just Consider It

After the debacle that was the Ethics Committee Report on the Foley mess, it was clear to everyone with a brain that Congress was unfit and unwilling to police themselves. I'm not entirely hopeful that the Democrats got the message, but this article suggests that they're at least moving in that direction.

House Democrats are seriously exploring the creation of an independent ethics arm to enforce new rules on travel, lobbying, gifts and other issues that Democrats intend to put in place on taking power next month.

Senior party officials said Tuesday that Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the incoming speaker, had consulted with Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the minority leader, on forming a bipartisan group to examine outside enforcement. The goal would be to have the group report back in the spring.

An independent Congressional watchdog, if approved, would be a major break with tradition. Some lawmakers say House and Senate members have sole responsibility for policing themselves when it comes to internal rules.

Some lawmakers have said an independent entity could be unconstitutional.

The Democratic officials, who spoke only if they were not publicly identified because the proposal for the new panel was now being presented to lawmakers, said the prominence of corruption as a concern in the elections last month gave new impetus to such an idea.

“With ethics such a big issue coming out of the election, members see a need to think outside the box,” one senior official said.

This sounds to me like something that is coming up from the rank and file rather than down from the leadership. A lot of the freshmen Representatives got into Congress on the corruption issue, and they have a strong belief that government needs to be verifiably clean.

I hope that some bipartisan commission doesn't look into this and release a report that nobody reads, followed by a roar of silence and no legislation. The grassroots needs to continue to push for an outside agency, it's the only way to restore integrity in government.


A Tale of Two Editorials

Yesterday, the Washington Post wrote a mash note to Augusto Pinochet.

It's hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America. In the past 15 years, Chile's economy has grown at twice the regional average, and its poverty rate has been halved. It's leaving behind the developing world, where all of its neighbors remain mired.

Not only untrue (as Argentina is sporting a comeback of late), but a strange view of how ends justify means, that as long as the country is stable and economically vibrant 15 years after you leave power, you can throw political opponents out of helicopters. Somehow the WaPo believes that right-wing dictatorships produce more liberal democracies than Communist ones, quietly neglecting the whole of Eastern Europe in that meaningless equation. Human rights advocates are a bit more concerned with which innocents are dying than who ends up having the higher GDP 20 years later.

In fact, this is the only editorial I read yesterday that mattered to me about Chile.

IN 1995, I went to Chile's National Stadium to watch a soccer match. Soccer was something I neither enjoyed nor understood, but the game was hardly on my mind; instead, it was the arena.

I was 20 years old and had come to Chile to study. I also hoped to meet some of the surviving allies of leftist President Salvador Allende, who had been toppled in the 1973 coup by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. I didn't care that the team Colo Colo was playing Universidad de Chile, a squad affiliated with the college until 1980. I didn't understand why security police were everywhere, or why someone threw a flaming brick at me as I walked to the cheering section for La U, as the Universidad team is also known.

All I could think of was: My God! This is National Stadium, where the bleachers were once filled with dissidents of every stripe after the coup, a mass waiting room for those about to be executed or tortured. This is where women were raped for the crime of wearing pants.

And it was at nearby Chile Stadium where the great Victor Jara — the Bob Dylan of Chile and a political activist (or was Dylan the Victor Jara of the U.S.?) — was murdered by the Pinochet regime. Jara's fingers were mutilated in front of thousands of other prisoners. He attempted to sing songs of resistance, his hands bloody stumps, only to be gunned down as people in the stands tried to join him in chorus.

I didn't want to be near these places any more than I would want to watch a baseball game at Auschwitz.

The author does stay, however, and sees La Universidad de Chile win, a symbolic victory over the team that Pinochet backed during his rule. It's a powerful story that ends with the acknowledgment that while Pinochet never had to face his accusers and be called into account for his crimes, in his mind he knew his transgressions, and so did the Chilean people.

Transgressions that Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post don't seem to care about.


Thinking Big on Health Care

California's Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata released a health care plan yesterday that he will propose in the coming year. It creates a state-run pool of money, provided by employers and employees, that would be funneled into existing private insurance plans. Essentially everyone in the state who works would eventually be covered. There aren't many details beyond that.

This is thinking small. Working within an already broken system will not produce a positive result. The money is already spent on health care to create a universal, single-payer system, and it's time to have that conversation. In the past I've been somewhat happy with these Massachusetts-style forced-health insurance plans, because they at least set covering everyone as the end goal. But using the same private insurance structure keeps in place the same inefficiencies that have made the American health care system the costliest in the world, without being the most effective. And as long as you have for-profit companies in the system, as long as you make the tacit argument that health care is a privilege and not a right, those inefficiencies will remain.

I am much more heartened by Ron Wyden's bid for universal health care for all. Wyden understands that forcing employers to provide health care makes them less competitive in a global economy, and has led to them cutting back as far as they can, so that the coverage they do provide is insufficient to prevent illness and disease before it occurs. But he also understands the difficulty with government bureaucracy (and particularly the perception of it). So he threads the needle with a hybrid idea that is both smart and good for the economy:

Wyden said his new plan would allow workers to carry their health insurance from job to job without penalty. More efficient administration and more promotion of competition for health care plans, he said, would allow greater coverage while costing no more than the government is paying today for health insurance coverage.

Called the "Healthy Americans Act," the plan would cover all Americans except those on Medicare or those who receive health care through the military.

It would require that employers "cash out" their existing health plans by terminating coverage and paying the amount saved directly to workers as increased wages. Workers then would be required to buy health insurance from a large pool of private plans.

After two years, companies would no longer have to pay the higher wages. Instead, Wyden said, they would pay into an insurance pool, based on annual revenues and the number of full-time workers.

At Wyden's request, the Lewin Group, a Virginia-based health care consulting firm, reviewed the plan. The consultant said the plan would reduce health spending by private employers by nearly three-quarters and would save $1.4 trillion in total national health care spending over the next decade.

Taking health care out of the grip of employers will allow workers to be more flexible and more entreprenurial. I can't tell you how many people I know who won't quit their job because of the health insurance they're getting. They don't want to slip into the trap the other 46 million Americans without insurance have.

The full legislation is here and I hope Don Perata and everyone in California concerned with the coming crisis of health care read it. It's time to think big, not small.

UPDATE: Wow, so David Sirota gave his piece on the Wyden proposal the exact same title. Sirota's also right that Wyden's solution is not single-payer. But it's a big step in the right direction, outside of the muddled middle of the Massaschusetts option. (alliteration)


Better than the Republican Revolution ever did


Democrats now have 233 seats in the 110th congress, more than Republicans have had since 1952. the Republican "revolution" never secured this large a majority in the House. We beat them. We did better than they ever did. So much for the vaunted Republican political machine, which recorded record voter contacts, record fundraising, and record early voting this cycle. With their best effort, we beat them harder than they ever beat us. With FL-13, we could make our total in the House 234.


You want to know why pundits will continue to call this a conservative victory? Because so many politicians and media types have spent so long sucking up to conservative institutions--K Street and the Republican Noise Machine--that turning back now and calling this election cycle a progressive victory would means years, if not decades, of wasted investment. People who owe their access and their careers to conservative institutions are not about to throw everything away because one of measly election. We will only achieve a progressive America when politicians and media types are spending more time sucking up to progressive institutions--academia, unions, even the blogosphere--than they are to conservative institutions. Quite frankly, it is a miracle that we managed a progressive majority with the institutional forces lined up against us. That miracle was found in people-power.

This is a key point. The American people have the ability to figure things out for themselves. There may be institutional forces lined up against us, there may be right-wing punditry dominating the political scene, there may be scads of money from the national Republican party, there may be dirty tricks and scheduling elections on Mexican holidays, but the American people can see through all of that. As long as you give them a real choice. That's why the netroots-endorsed candidates did so well in 2006, right down to Ciro Rodriguez. They offered a choice.

Of course, the Republican Party's implosion didn't hurt either.


Corporate Whoredom

Taken to previously unknown levels.

David Cross covered it.

(h/t chumley)

This probably happens more often than anyone would admit. And is it really any different than some teeny bopper whoring for BMG Universal or Sony?


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Fly In the 80% Ointment

The White House has been making signals that they would make an attempt to back the Shiites over the Sunnis in Iraq, in a short-term maneuver designed to restore order. That's essentially what they did by invading, but explicitly taking sides in the civil war, what many have called "the 80% solution" (so named because it would mean certain doom for the 20% of the country who's Sunni), would essentially be an endorsement of genocide, as Josh Marshall essentially says.

Point one. In the 1990s, the Czechs and the Slovaks managed are remarkably amicable and peaceful divison of their country. Let's say that the Sunni and Shi'a don't appear to be pursuing that model. At the moment, we're in a process of what you might call slow-motion ethnic cleansing and mass-killing. Once it's war to the knife, I think you have to figure both escalate dramatically. There's probably a decent chance of inter-sectarian bloodshed on a Balkan scale, or perhaps one that would make what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s pale by comparison.

My recollection is that Sunni Arabs make up about 20% of the population in Iraq. If we're actively backing the Shi'a, how well do you figure they make out? How well do they fair in the areas of mixed population? And where do we fit in in that? We'll be on hand to enforce the Geneva Conventions?

Point two. If Iraq's Sunni population is set to be slaughtered or at least dominated by the Shi'a Arabs, where do they go for help? Presumably to the rest of the nearby Arab states, each of which is overwhemingly Sunni. (There are some exceptions here: I believe the majority of Lebanese Muslims are Shi'a and I think that at least one of the Gulf emirates has a Shi'a majority even though it's ruled by Sunnis.) In any case, the major point is they don't have a shortage of potential allies nearby, not the least of which is Saudi Arabia. So it's us on one side and potentially the Saudis, the Jordanians, possibly the Egyptians who see the Iranians as major rivals, maybe the Turks since they may assume a Shi'a-dominated Iraq wouldn't care as much about keeping the Kurds in the country.

Well, funny you should bring that up, Josh, because the Saudis have given what would amount to a warning on that score. Actually, they did this a couple weeks ago. And now they're feeling the need to do it again.

Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

We've now put ourselves into a regional war, and we have to take sides between the guys that have been our key allies since the early 20th century, and the guys that we invaded to liberate. We can't leave because the Saudis won't allow it, and we can't stay because the Americans won't allow it. And I think that Saudi warning is more about the US taking the Shiite side than the US leaving.

The President clearly wants to respond to the growing chaos by doubling down and sending in a surge of troops to Baghdad to make "one last chance" to secure the country... until the next last chance, that is. Because the last time this happened, just a scant few months ago, we didn't do a thing to help in Baghdad for more than a couple days. But this is much worse. Now we're being essentially blackmailed into staying, and as what? As policemen standing in between two groups with guns pointed at our heads? We have no mission left, and we suffer whether we stay or leave. We've turned the Middle East into a massacre zone. Millions will die. Tens of millions maybe. And we've got 140,000 Americans right there with targets in their sites.

Digby, in discussing how adding 20,000 troops will kill a McCain presidency, but it will... put 20,000 troops into grave danger, speaks the absolute truth:

It's a very unpalatable set of options these right wing failures have left us, isn't it? Let's hope they are taken out of the foreign policy loop for a good long time. If this mess doesn't finally prove they are incapable in this area, nothing will.

UPDATE: Here's the "and monkeys might fly out of my butt" moment:

The Bush administration is also working on a way to form a coalition of Sunni Arab nations and a moderate Shiite government in Iraq, along with the United States and Europe, to stand against “Iran, Syria and the terrorists,” another senior administration official said Tuesday.

Yes, and maybe Pervez Musharraf and a call center in New Delhi can team up, and Kim Jong Il and Shinzo Abe can become the Wondertwins and fight crime together, and maybe Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams can become Prime Minister of England and start a new church with the Pope and the ancestors of Martin Luther! Somebody get a report from the Heritage Foundation on that!