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

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Quick Hits

Nearing the end of Festivus here, so let me unfurl my stocking-stuffers of news and analysis:

• This is going to come as a shock to you, but talks with North Korea ended without agreement on anything. I know, because you thought the Bush Administration was so good at diplomacy. By the way, isn't it interesting that negotiations with Syria and Iran (who was just sanctioned by the UN today) are completely wrong because they would "reward bad behavior," yet we just finished talks with the country that blew up a nuclear weapon underground earlier this year? The foreign policy of the US is currently incoherent.

• Moving to good news, Sudan has acceeded to UN demands for a peacekeeping force in their country. It'll end up being a hybrid of UN and AU troops. The US did appear to provide some diplomatic muscle to get this proposal to agreement. However, it's unclear if this force will have a clear mission to stop the janjaweed attacks.

• I got blog-spammed by the National Association of Manufacturers, who call the imminent card-check legislation "one that will allow unions to win recognition without an election, and by using coercion." Right, because manufacturers NEVER use coercion to bust unions. Tell you what, I'll go with elections for unions as mandated by the NLRA, if corporations agree to stop bringing in union busters and that the election must happen within 15 days from when it's called. Sound good? Otherwise, give me card-check. Because collective bargaining is a right and not a privilege.

• Curt Weldon, um, a federal grand jury has some questions for you. He didn't disclose a subpoena he received before the November election because he wanted to save his own ass. Also the grand jury wants access to his Congressional files. See you in the Big House, pal.

• Never to late to cash in on manufactured outrage. There are only two shopping days left until the end of the War on Christmas. It was obvious that those whining about this made-up war were doing so for political advantage; apparently they were doing it for financial advantage as well.

This is sickening:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 — FEMA trailers, the cramped, impersonal housing units that have come to define the federal response to major disasters, may be on the way out, thanks to $388 million in federal grants, announced Friday, that will test half a dozen cozier, more permanent models of postdisaster housing [...]

Mississippi came out on top in the contest for the grants, receiving $280.8 million, compared with $74.5 million for Louisiana, $16.5 million for Texas and $15.7 million for Alabama.

Officials in Louisiana were furious, saying their state, which suffered the greatest losses in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, had been shortchanged.

“FEMA has clearly learned very little from its mistakes, let alone basic math or a sense of fundamental fairness,” Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said in a statement.

Not that Mississippi doesn't need better housing for its storm victims, but there's a political component to this. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is a former RNC Chair, lobbyist, and skillful plunderer of federal coffers. This looks like a case of rewarding friends and punishing enemies.

Just go read this. Hilarious.

• Jim Webb was not the source for the exchange between him and the President at the White House that caused so much controversy recently. "This was something that emanated from the White House. I did not say anything about this for two weeks. I said nothing publicly at all." The White House leaked this out to portray Webb as an angry Bush-hater. Instead it played as Bush being callous and insensitive to a man whose son is fighting in Iraq. Nice job, Rove and the gang. And these guys are supposed to be masters of politics?

• The Boston Globe gets points in noticing that, while Keith Ellison has been singled out by the right for being a Muslim elected to Congress, nobody has said a peep about Hank Johnson and Mazie Hirono, two Buddhists elected this year. Is the country being overrun by the Buddhist menace? Are they going to rewrite the Constitution into a series of koans?

• Finally, funny stuff lampooning another symbol of intolerance.

A satirical new Web site pokes fun at Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta by claiming he has banned Santa Claus, "the nation's most prominent undocumented worker," from the city.

Playing off the mayor's recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, the elaborate claims that Barletta has launched a campaign against the jolly old elf, who is "not an American, nor is he legally recognized for residency or occupational purposes in this country."

Appearing unlawfully for too long to remember, the site says facetiously, Santa Claus employs "hundreds to thousands of elves in what are clearly described as sweatshop or slave labor-type conditions." That undercuts the American workforce in favor of unfair foreign competition or informal domestic laborers, the site contends.

We do need to fix our severe trade imbalance with the North Pole. Why do we let these bearded, jolly illegals into the country? Into our homes? Into our chimneys? Giving gifts to OUR kids?


The Potterville-ization of America

It was a throwaway line in a throwaway feature on the making of "It's A Wonderful Life" in today's LA Times, and yet the line was so resonant, of the coldness of economic reality in the 21st century, and of the fictions we must tell ourselves to deny these realities.

(Frank) Capra shot much of the film on a specially constructed quaint-town set located at RKO's ranch in the San Fernando Valley — a site that has long been overtaken by property development.

Yes, good old Bedford Falls is now, literally, a Potterville - yet another paved-over, mini-mall-infested, sprawling addition to the Valley, which holds more citizens than all American cities save New York and Chicago.

There's nothing wrong with development in and of itself, when combined with effective mass transit and attention paid to population density. But the loss of Bedford Falls is more of a metaphorical one than a literal one. All over the country, small towns have become hollow shells, ghost towns that probably resemble that RKO backlot before it was bulldozed. Economic policies that favor big business interests over family-owned small business, that favor the wealthy over the middle class, have been hammering at the backbone of this country for the last 50 years. This November, we saw a backlash in the form of populist Democrats winning seats in Congress all over the nation. Maybe this was from some real belief that the economic policies of the recent past are not working for the vast majority of Americans. But I believe it was probably just a general uneasiness and a hope for something new. It's instructive to lay out exactly what has been done to Potter-ize America, and what can be done to stop it.

Paul Krugman, one of our nation's few high-profile progressive economists, does exactly that in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone. The first-order issue is wealth transfer, where corporate executive and the moneyed class gets ever richer while the middle class gets the squeeze. Mind you, only with a strong and vibrant middle class can countries sustain economic growth (somebody has to buy all this stuff to keep the economy going, after all).

America has never been an egalitarian society, but during the New Deal and the Second World War, government policies and organized labor combined to create a broad and solid middle class. The economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo call what happened between 1933 and 1945 the Great Compression: The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer. Americans found themselves sharing broadly similar lifestyles in a way not seen since before the Civil War.

But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. Yet Scott's compensation excites relatively little comment, since it's not exceptional for the CEO of a large corporation these days. The wages paid to Wal-Mart's workers, on the other hand, do attract attention, because they are low even by current standards. On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

The broader picture is equally dismal. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly wage of the average American non-supervisory worker is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1970. Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared -- from less than thirty times the average wage to almost 300 times the typical worker's pay.

This doesn't only affect the middle class but the poor, particularly blacks and Hispanics, 1 in 5 of whom lack healthy food and about 1 in 16 of whom go hungry every day. Unemployment is low but what is never discussed are the QUALITY of those jobs - mostly those in the lower-wage sector, which is simply not a living wage in most parts of the country. Right-wing economic policies have dismantled most of the social safety net for those who are poor or struggling. In addition, they are indifferent to the real challenges of the middle class, like doing something about soaring health care and energy prices, while letting businesses get away without paying taxes and essentially destroying the regulatory oversight of the government, by placing industry lobbyists and executives to head those oversight agencies, for example.

As a parallel problem, the entire economy is built on smoke and mirrors. We have a current account deficit that is in the danger territory. We pay more in interest to the rest of the world than we take in from assets abroad. Practically every single dollar, then, is flowing out of the country, and 78% of our budget deficit is owned by foreign investors (I expect that number to rise). As a result, the dollar is at historic lows in buying power worldwide. Christian Weller explains the danger here.

Why is this bad? At some point foreigners will not want to lend us money at low interest rates, especially if an ever larger share of U.S. income is dedicated to interest payments on international debt and not on important investments, such as education or health care. Already, Japan — the largest foreign creditor of the U.S. government — has slowly been selling off its T-bills. If other countries follow suit, interest rates will go up to attract more money to the U.S. This means higher mortgage and credit card payments for families, but also less investment by firms, all of which spells less growth and fewer jobs.

Plus, not only do we spend more than we earn on a federal level, but we do the same on an individual level. As we've seen in the past (see: the 1920s), credit is a wonderful way to make people forget how to live within their means. And we have a federal government that encourages - nay, demands - shopping as a means to boost consumer spending to mask all of the structural problems with the economy (consumer spending is SEVENTY percent of GDP - the health and security of the nation rests on you buying an iPod - How scary is that?). Eventually, consumers will wise up the same way that foreign investors will, stopping the insanity and leading the country into recession or worse. This is the problem with living in a faith-based economic system: when everyone stops believing in it, they crumble.

So, what can we do about it? Krugman lays out some myths about the economy which I found important to recognize.

According to this view, most Americans are sharing in the economy's growth, with only a small minority at the bottom left behind. That places the onus for change on middle-class Americans who -- so the story goes -- will have to sacrifice some of their prosperity if they want to see poverty alleviated.

But as our line illustrates, that's just plain wrong. It's not only the poor who have fallen behind -- the normal-size people in the middle of the line haven't grown much, either. The real divergence in fortunes is between the great majority of Americans and a very small, extremely wealthy minority at the far right of the line.

This view -- which I think of as the eighty-twenty fallacy -- is expressed by none other than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Last year, Greenspan testified that wage gains were going primarily to skilled professionals with college educations -- "essentially," he said, "the top twenty percent." The other eighty percent -- those with less education -- are stuck in routine jobs being replaced by computers or lost to imports. Inequality, Greenspan concluded, is ultimately "an education problem."

It's a good story with a comforting conclusion: Education is the answer. But it's all wrong. A closer look at our line of Americans reveals why. The richest twenty percent are those standing between 800 and 1,000. But even those standing between 800 and 950 -- Americans who earn between $80,000 and $120,000 a year -- have done only slightly better than everyone to their left. Almost all of the gains over the past thirty years have gone to the fifty people at the very end of the line. Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser.

In this view, America is the land of opportunity, where a poor young man or woman can vault into the upper class. In fact, while modest moves up and down the economic ladder are common, true Horatio Alger stories are very rare. America actually has less social mobility than other advanced countries: These days, Horatio Alger has moved to Canada or Finland. It's easier for a poor child to make it into the upper-middle class in just about every other advanced country -- including famously class-conscious Britain -- than it is in the United States.

Not only can few Americans hope to join the ranks of the rich, no matter how well educated or hardworking they may be -- their opportunities to do so are actually shrinking. As best we can tell, pretax incomes are now as unequally distributed as they were in the 1920s -- wiping out virtually all of the gains made by the middle class during the Great Compression.

Krugman essentially talks about the things we need to rein in: CEO compensation (which is obscene), union-busting (unions themselves need to be held accountable, however, and focus on growth over consolidating their old constituencies) and anti-labor policies, and the "transformation into a permanently unequal society." It's going to be a difficult slog. Over the past 25 years the tools by which government rewards the rich and punishes the less fortunate have been honed to a fine edge. But the growing unease in the country is significant. We don't want to live in Pottervilles anymore, serving at the pleasure of a moneyed elite who doesn't share the same concerns for anyone but themselves. I don't mind a certain inequality based on merit and hard work, but not an inequality of opportunity, that is unacceptable and antithetical to our founding documents. Only by working together from the ground up can we press forward policies that benefit the greatest number rather than the privileged few. The new Congress provides an opportunity to talk about these issues for the first time in many years. It's important that the Democrats recognize the fundamental issues with our economy and seek ways to manage them.

No more Pottervilles. Give us a country where a Bedford Falls can still exist.


A Story of Christmas Cheer

Via the indispensable Carpetbagger Report (seriously, I don't know when that guy sleeps, man) comes the funniest goddamn story I've heard in a long, long time. It reminds me of the guy who scammed the Nigerian email scammers into sending him thousands of dollars in carvings of British cartoon characters. You should read that one too, hilarious.

In this case, the communications director for Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, a guy named Todd Shriber, tried to hire hackers to break into the TCU computer files and change his college grades. Why someone who already has the job they desire would need to do this for any other reason than narcissism is a mystery. And the correspondence, which is absolutely hilarious and posted in full on the hacker's website, shows that Shriber got the grades he deserved. Actually, maybe they were too high.

From: security curmudgeon (
To: Todd Shriber (
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2006 17:30:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Question for you or other Attrition members

: Wow, I feel dumb now. I honestly cannot rember if there were pigeons on
: campus or not. A lot of crazy squirrels, but I can't remember pigeons.
: Just for my own edification, why do you need to know that? I'll find out
: for you.

Hey, squirrels work fine. First, let's be clear. You are soliciting me to
break the law and hack into a computer across state lines. That is a
federal offense and multiple felonies. Obviously I can't trust anyone and
everyone that mails such a request, you might be an FBI agent, right?

So, I need three things to make this happen:

1. A picture of a squirrel or pigeon on your campus. One close-up, one
with background that shows buildings, a sign, or something to indicate you
are standing on the campus.

2. The information I mentioned so I can find the records once I get into
the database.

3. Some idea of what I get for all my trouble.

It's hard to excerpt this conversation, because you have to actually read the whole thing. Shriber ends up actually taking pictures of squirrels and sending them to the hackers. Eventually, the hackers pretend they were compromised and end the conversation after stringing Shriber along. Then, AFTER they put the whole email chain up on the Internet to mock Shriber, he writes back:

From: Todd Shriber (
Date: Fri, 8 Sep 2006 11:31:32 -0700 (PDT)

Lyger -

I just want to say thanks for trying and it's no big
deal that things didn't work out. I was getting
serious cold feet and going to tell you to abort until
I saw your last email. To that end, I have spoken
about this to no one as we agreed and I will not speak
of it in the future. As a gesture of good faith, I was
hoping you guys would remove our correspondence from
your web site. Isn't that risky for all of us to have
it up there? Please do this ASAP. I really don't want
any problems for any of us. Thanks for considering this.

Well, someone finally noticed the sorry exchange, and it led to Shriber getting fired from his Capitol Hill job.

Seriously, go read the whole thing, this will cheer you up if you're experiencing any holiday depression syndrome. Yes, no matter how big a loser you feel, out there is a bigger loser than you. Schadenfruede: it's not just for breakfast anywhere.

By the way this brings the tally of Republican lawbreakers in Washington to... 206! Congratulations!


Schlussel Postscript

A few people wrote in to mention that, when Debbie Schlussel compared Keith Ellison using the Koran in a photo-op to the Barbary pirates in my appearance with her on BBC Radio yesterday, she was leaving out one key point.

The Treaty of Tripoli (the Treaty of Peace and Friendship) was a 1796 peace treaty between the United States and Tripoli. It was signed at Tripoli on November 4, 1796 and at Algiers (for a third-party guarantee) on January 3, 1797 by Joel Barlow, the American consul-general to the Barbary states of Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis [...]

The English translated version of the Treaty is notable for Article 11, which reads:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

Article 11 has been a point of contention regarding the proper interpretation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. It is sometimes argued that this provision is confirmation that the government of the United States was specifically intended to be religiously neutral, or that the United States is not historically "Christian."

So much for that "America is a Christian nation" thing, ay? Schlussel's claim, that we fought the Barbary pirates because we rejected their religion instead of, you know, piracy, is utterly refuted by the treaty document. Darn, if I had that at my fingertips just a little sooner...


Escalation Must Be Stopped

General William Casey has such a history of buckling under and adopting the talking points of his civilian leaders, you'd think the White House has nasty photos of him with Ann Coulter, and he doesn't want to get thrown out of the military. (Don't ask, don't tell, remember?)

Today, after years of claiming we need to put an Iraqi face on the security situation, Casey suddenly reversed course and joined top commanders in Iraq in recommending a "surge" of American troops, for a mission they can't even define themselves. Maybe Casey didn't want to be put out to pasture like General Abizaid, so he had to remain a committed yes-man. In doing so, he ignores the advice of military leaders in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but what do they know, right?

Commanders have been skeptical of the value of increasing troops, and the decision represents a reversal for Casey, the highest-ranking officer in Iraq. Casey and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East who will step down in March, have long resisted adding troops in Iraq, arguing that it could delay the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the United States in the Arab world [...]

Several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also have expressed reservations. Because the Joint Chiefs are not part of the military's formal chain of command, the recommendation to increase or decrease will go from commanders in Iraq to Gates and then to Bush. But the Joint Chiefs retain an important advisory role.

Gen. James T. Conway, the new commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs, emphasized the drawbacks of adding troops in public comments last week.

"We would fully support, I think, as the Joint Chiefs, the idea of putting more troops into Iraq if there is a solid military reason for doing that, if there is something to be gained," he said. "We do not believe that just adding numbers for the sake of adding numbers — just thickening the mix — is necessarily the way to go."

Like Conway, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, has said extra troops must be given a clearly defined mission.

"We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker said recently. "And that purpose should be measurable."

To respond to this criticism, like the fact that threre is no plan for these troops, the commanders on the ground, those with the ear of the President (not those meddling Joint Chiefs, you know, those liberal hippie chiefs of the armed forces), welll... we'll cross that bridge when they come to it.

Those skeptical about the efficacy of an increase argue that any new troops must be given clear instructions. However, defense officials say the U.S. commanders in Iraq have not settled on what that mission should be, although they are expected to decide before calling up new units.

Within the military, some officers favor using a buildup of forces to confront radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, perhaps by moving forces into Sadr City, the Shiite slum in Baghdad where he has his political base.

Other military leaders say a larger force should be used to improve the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy and take more effective measures to protect Iraqis. These officers favor a plan developed by retired Gen. Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, to use the extra troops to secure mixed Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods where most of the sectarian violence is taking place.

Which mission is selected could determine the size of the troop increase.

"If it is a surge to take on Sadr, that is one size. If it is to do something else, that is another size surge," said the military official.

There's no consensus on how to use them, but sure, we need the troops, yeah. Sounds like this White House to a T. We;ll implement the policy and then figure out why we're doing it. It's how we got into Iraq in the first place.

But the most bizarre thing in that LA Times article, which put me off my breakfast this morning, is this symbol of what we think of democracy in Iraq:

Iraqi politics would be a key factor in deciding how to use extra U.S. military force. American diplomats are trying to engineer an ouster of Sadr's political faction from the government and are trying to help set up a moderate coalition of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites that would be more willing to confront Sadr's militias.

The U.S. military now considers forces loyal to Sadr to be the top threat to the security of Iraq.

Sadr controls 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament and six cabinet seats in the current government, although the Sadr loyalists have been boycotting the government in protest of Maliki's meeting with Bush in Jordan in November.

Military officials were dismayed that one of the country's most influential clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, did not immediately back efforts to establish a new coalition government. If Sistani insists that Sadr remain within the Shiite coalition, it would represent a blow to the U.S. goal of marginalizing the radical cleric.

"The goals are tied to the palace intrigue," the military official said. "We are watching them carefully."

Remember this quote?

"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern." -George W. Bush.

Unless they self-govern the "wrong" way, one assumes.

Let's define our terms here. This is not a surge. This is an escalation, where the American presence will either do high-profile house-to-house searches and police work, which is not their training and which will inflame every Iraqi as sure as it inflamed every Vietnamese, or where the Americans will directly confront the Shia militia, which are a far better fighting force than the Sunni insurgency, which is already brazen and successful. Either strategy unites the whole country against us, but not with each other. While we're trying to shape a new government by meddling in Iraq's public affairs, the notion that we can somehow overcome 1,400 years of animosity in one fell swoop is arrogant and not borne out by recent history in the region.

Now, the White House wants a hundred billion for this war and Afghanistan. There are those who say we shouldn't give one more thin dime. And there are those who agree with him. But clearly, there's nobody on the Democratic side who favors escalation (within the Connecticut for Lieberman coalition, however, there's unanimous support). There are maybe 10 Senators who agree with this suicide mission. Here's Vali Nasr explaining what will happen:

Wrong-headed military and political steps provoked the Sunni insurgency in 2003-04, and then more mistakes helped fuel sectarian violence in 2005-06. Another set of mistakes can turn 2007 into the year that U.S. provoked a Shia insurgency. That may prove to be the mother of all mistakes. Hell in Iraq will come when the Shia south—accounting for 60% of the country’s population, largest urban areas, oil, supply lines to Kuwait, and only gateway to the Persian Gulf—rises up against the U.S. Then we either have to get out of Iraq altogether and very quickly, or we will have to commit to many more troop surges to deal with the problems created by the first one.

We're having record deaths in Iraq right now, I can't imagine how much worse it would get with an escalation. Given that the public has soured on this war, given that the Democrats are united in opposition to it, given that we're dealing with delusionals in the executive branch who say things like "the goal is victory" and "Iraq is worth the investment" as if US men and women on the front lines are stocks and bonds to be traded...

Given all this, I don't know how the Democratic leadership could ignore the need to pre-empt this march to more war by following Steve Soto's brilliant plan, which I reiterate here:

1. Democrats should convene early hearings at Ike Skelton’s House Armed Services Committee and Carl Levin’s Senate Armed Services Committee in mid-January to pin down the Joint Chiefs on what they told the White House about an escalation;

2. Then use those hearings to force the escalation votes ahead of his 2007 State of the Union speech as a way to kneecap him prior to the speech and undercut his influence for the remainder of the Congress.

This is a long post, because nothing else matters right now. Iraq policy must be the only priority of this incoming Congress. I know that ruins the 100-hour plans, I know that upsets the narrative, but we've got a crisis on our hands. We're about to send a lot of people to their deaths because we have a President who's too arrogant to admit what he's started and that he is powerless to stop it. We need to mobilize support for getting out of Iraq, even though it's not likely to work. The Decider will Decide, and that'll be that. But we need to stand with the country and say, "No." We need to make the policy radioactive. We need to do the right thing.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Good for The New York Times

What a difference a few years and 50 or 60 points in approval ratings makes.

In 2002, the New York Times was all too willing to be the royal stenographer, and simply report White House spin as fact. And they would agonize over, and delay any, attempts to print something with which the White House didn't agree. The 2005 article about warrantless wiretapping was put on the back burner for over a year, until it was safely away from election season.

Look to me like the Times has had it. Had it with the compromising, had it with the claims of treason, had it with kneeling to power, had it with the federal government trying to control what they write. Today they printed the redacted version of an op-ed written by Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council employee. Leverett claimed that the White House was trying to classify public information solely to get his voice off the op-ed page. Not only did the Times run it, redactions and all, but they added a second editorial by Leverett and his co-author Hillary Mann.

HERE is the redacted version of a draft Op-Ed article we wrote for The Times, as blacked out by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Publication Review Board after the White House intervened in the normal prepublication review process and demanded substantial deletions. Agency officials told us that they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House.

Indeed, the deleted portions of the original draft reveal no classified material. These passages go into aspects of American-Iranian relations during the Bush administration’s first term that have been publicly discussed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; a former State Department policy planning director, Richard Haass; and a former special envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins [...]

National security must be above politics. In a democracy, transparency in government has to be honored and protected. To classify information for reasons other than the safety and security of the United States and its interests is a violation of these principles. It is for this reason that we will continue to press for the release of the article without the material deleted.

It goes on from there. This just makes the White House look idiotic, as well as petty and vindictive. And it's a good thing for America when journalists aren't suck-ups to power, but fulfilling the duty of the Fourth Estate to question and doubt, as well as standing up for the right of a free and unhindered press.


Mitt Romney: Democrat for '08

I think Romney should just give up and move over to the other side. I mean, once you've voted for Paul Tsongas, you're basically a liberal. And this is only the latest in the series of revelations about Romney's other life supporting gay rights ("I'll be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy!"), abortion rights, and other policies abhorrent to social conservatives. Plus, he brought the closest thing to universal health care (OK, was pulled by the Massachusetts Legislature, to be honest) in any state in the Union.

So jump into the other primary, Mitt. I mean, you can't end up doing much worse than Hillary's doing in Iowa.


Me vs. Debbie Schlussel on the BBC

So BBC Radio has a program called "World Have Your Say," which covers issues of interest around the globe and frequently features bloggers to give their opinions. They emailed me about a year ago to be on the show, then bumped my segment "because of rioting in Addis Ababa." I can't compete with that.

Well, they called me again today, and the topic was Rep. Virgil Goode's comments. So I made myself available between 10:30 and 11 to make my international radio debut. As is typical for these kind of talking head segments, they pair up the conservatives and liberals. And yes, I was paired with Debbie Schlussel, the same person who wrote the paranoid, lunatic rating about Barack Obama this week entitled "Once a Muslim, Always a Muslim." So I was the balance for the insane. Making me sane. Confirmed. So shut up, voices in my head!

I came on the line in the middle of the discussion. They had some conservosphere irregular named Myron from Virginia, who claimed his fear of Keith Ellison stems from the fact that he'll introduce Sharia law into the Congress (!). His "opponent" was Rob from Raising Kaine, who very calmly and rationally explained that 218 Muslims aren't going to be taking over Congress anytime soon, and that it's a stupid argument anyway to equate all Muslims with pure evil. Trapped, then Myron compared the election of David Duke to Keith Ellison!!! A paraphrase:

"You know, when David Duke ran for office, the liberals were all upset, but now when this guy wins a seat in Congress, it's fine!"

Rob countered, startled, asking, "Did you just compare the KKK to Muslims?" Myron answered that most members of the KKK were not violent (!)... the hole just kept getting bigger from there.

The host cut off that discussion (or manifestation of wingnuttery, take your pick) and introduced my segment. "All right, we have two other bloggers, Dave from Los Angeles and Debbie from Michigan..." Could it be? Could I be about to face off against Debbie Schlussel? The most paranoid woman on the Internet?

She got to kick off the segment, and sure enough, I recognized the voice. I had to think strategy and think about it quick. Should I try to debate her, or just answer honestly what I thought about Rep. Goode's comments. About five seconds into her statement, I realized that it was impossible to debate her. The paranoid rantings are almost impenetrable. She went on and on about Ellison organizing the Million Man March, and CAIR, and random Muslims in Michigan There are two approaches to lunacy of this sort. You can attack it, or let it play out for what it is. So when they came to me for comment, I did the latter.

I think Mr. Ellison is an American citizen. His family is American. He can trace his ancestry in America back to 1742. Virgil Goode doesn't understand what it means to be an American. He doesn't understand why settlers came to America in the first place, to escape religious persecution and to practice their beliefs freely. He doesn't understand the meaning of the Bill of Rights, or the idea of "no religious test" for public office.

Unfortunately, it looks better on paper than it did with my stumbling speech. But I thought it was the way to go. Schlussel ventured off into crazy-land again after that, and then they brought on a Muslim-American blogger, who preferred the attack style of confrontation. He called Schlussel's comments "the textbook example of fearmongering and xenophobia, to conflate all Muslims with the most extreme few." So they returned to me for comment, and I simply had to pile on.

I completely agree that this is an expression of xenophobia. You have a woman on the phone, Debbie, who wrote an article this week about Barack Obama, claiming that he must be a Muslim because his middle name is Hussein.

After mentioning a couple of the choicer bits from that sorry post, the Muslim-American blogger chimed in. "Yeah, in fact the post was called 'Once A Muslim, Always A Muslim.' She was basically calling him the anti-Christ because his dad was Muslim."

Sadly, Schlussel was already off the line by the time we mentioned this. I guess she had to attend some anti-croissant rally ("These pastries are unnecessarily deferential to Islam!"). But the point was made. And really, these forums are worth their weight in gold. People get angry that conservatives are given free reign to spout their hate on these talk shows. No, I say let 'em. People aren't stupid. They can smell out bigotry from a mile away. Obviously balance is important, as a counterweight for those views. But really it's enough for the counterweight just to shine a light on the folly to their immediate right.

UPDATE: I almost forgot how Schlussel responded to my comment about Goode not knowing what it means to be an American. She claimed that the Founding Fathers fought religious extremists in their midst by declaring war on the Barbary pirates. Right, because we fought the Barbary pirates because of their RELIGION, not because they, you know, stole our ships and enslaved the crews. And also, by virtue of practicing Islam, Keith Ellison is... a Barbary pirate, apparently. Like I said, you can't compete with that logic.


Goode Gone Wild

The story of Virgil Goode's letter to his constituents, attacking incoming Rep. Keith Ellison for... um, being Muslim?... has jumped from the blogs into the traditional media. The New York Times had the story yesterday, and today the Washington Post editorial board hits Goode hard, calling him "A Bigot In Congress."

BIGOTRY COMES in various guises -- some coded, some closeted, some colossally stupid. The bigotry displayed recently by Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., a Republican who represents a patch of south-central Virginia, falls squarely in the third category. Mr. Goode, evidently in a state of xenophobic delirium, went on a semi-public tirade against the looming peril and corrupting threat posed by Muslim immigration to the United States. "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America," he wrote in a letter to constituents.

The inspiration for Mr. Goode's rant is Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who last month became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Mr. Ellison, who was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college, has decided to use the Koran during a ceremonial swearing-in, as is his constitutional right. This does not sit well with Mr. Goode, who, obnoxiously referring to his congressional colleague-to-be as "the Muslim Representative from Minnesota," warned ominously that current immigration policy would lead to an outbreak of elected Muslims in this country and unfettered use of the Koran.

Forget that Muslims represent a small fraction of immigrants to America. And leave aside the obvious point that Mr. Goode was evidently napping in class the day they taught the traditional American values of tolerance, diversity and religious freedom. This country's history is rife with instances of uncivil, hateful and violent behavior toward newcomers, be they Jewish, Irish, Italian or plenty of others whose ethnicities did not jibe with some pinched view of what it means to be American. Mr. Goode's dimwitted outburst of nativism is nothing new.

Let's point out the word "ceremonial swearing-in," because it's important to understand what's worked up Mr. Goode. It's a photo-op, not an official ceremony of any means. Goode is defending the right of citizens who don't want to see people pictured with the Koran. That's what this is all about. And his particular views on the evils of Muslim immigration make no sense considering Mr. Ellison can trace his ancestry in America back to 1742.

Ellison, for his part, took the high road in the NYT article.

Since the November election, Mr. Ellison said, he has received hostile phone calls and e-mail messages along with some death threats. But in an interview on Wednesday, he emphasized that members of Congress and ordinary citizens had been overwhelmingly supportive and said he was focusing on setting up his Congressional office, getting phone lines hooked up and staff members hired, not on negative comments.

“I’m not a religious scholar, I’m a politician, and I do what politicians do, which is hopefully pass legislation to help the nation,” said Mr. Ellison, who said he planned to focus on secular issues like increasing the federal minimum wage and getting health insurance for the uninsured.

“I’m looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him,” Mr. Ellison said, speaking by telephone from Minneapolis. “I want to let him know that there’s nothing to fear. The fact that there are many different faiths, many different colors and many different cultures in America is a great strength.”

Well, yes, but of course, Virgil Goode doesn't understand what it means to be an American. He doesn't understand why settlers came to America in the first place, to escape religious persecution and to practice their beliefs freely. He doesn't understand the meaning of the Bill of Rights, the idea of "no religious test" for public office. He's an ignorant nativist, and I agree with the Washington Post, he is unfit for public office defending a document about which he knows nothing.

Incidentally, he won't apologize. But this interview with Fox News shows that he's feeling the pressure (and if you're feeling the pressure on Fox News, well, you're in trouble).

David Asman: So you do believe there're too many Middle Easterners here now?
(brief pause)

Rep. Virgil Goode: No, I — I said there were — and the Diversity Visa program needs to be ended. It shouldn't have been adopted to begin with, in my opinion.

Asman: But do you think there are too many Middle Easterners in the United States right now?

(brief pause)

Goode: Uh — I'm not gonna say 'yes' or 'no' on that. I'd like to know the exact number. I don't have the exact numbers.

This is going to get even worse for the GOP, as now it's become a feeding frenzy. Every Republican lawmaker will be forced to defend Goode's remarks. It's become a creature of the media now, and this is the kind of easy thing to which the cable nets can devote three hours or so per day.

Way to go, Rep. Goode. You're not only a bigot, but you're kicking your own party while it's down.


CA Prisons: "Too Much Brick and Mortar"

So the Governor's borrow-and-build solution to the current prison crisis yielded a surprising couple of paragraphs from the chief Democratic legislator on the committee that would oversee it. I don't know what to make of Gloria Romero's statement:

Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), a longtime advocate of expanded rehabilitation programs in the state prison system and chairwoman of a legislative committee that oversees corrections, stood with the governor as he unveiled his proposal. Romero said she was optimistic that Schwarzenegger's plan would help foster the kind of reforms she seeks.

"We have historically paid little attention to what happens after [inmates] get that $200 and the bus ticket out," she said. "We will never merely build ourselves out of this problem."

Little of the new spending the governor is proposing would be used for rehabilitation.

Why exactly is she rolling over on this one? The proposal accomplishes the opposite of her goals.

In fact, it devotes most of its spending to more beds, and not rehabilitation and reform. In addition, the Governor will set up a 17-member sentencing commission consisting of the Attorney General, legislators, citizens groups, the corrections secretary and a judge. Their ostensible directive is to review sentencing guidelines, but the Governor has already made clear that three-strikes is off the table, and look what they'll be spending their time on in the midst of a time where we may face a cap on inmates:

Commissioners would spend their first year examining whether the state’s mandatory three-year parole period could be safely shortened for some ex-convicts. The governor is also proposing an $11 billion building program to add space for thousands of additional inmates and changes to the state parole system.

Shouldn't we be looking at the sentences of the people actually GOING TO JAIL to solve the problem of too many people in jail? Wouldn't that be the smart thing to do in the first year?

I still believe that you will not build your way into a solution on prison reform, and any proposal that primarily borrows money to sink it into more brick and mortar ends up making some people rich, more people incarcerated, and the same problem in five years. The recidivism rate in California is 70%, the worst in the nation. The Governor described this as "unacceptable" but gave no step to actually reducing that rate other than giving the recidivists a better place to sleep when they come back.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Men

'Tis the season... to let human beings freeze to death:

My lovely hometown council told the homeless of our community to freeze to death. In their last meeting of the year before heading to their warm homes in our suburban town, they denied a request by the Interfaith Community Services to use their own building to house a few homeless during our unprecedented cold snap we're having (temps have pretty regularly dipped below 30F, which is very cold for a So Cal town):

Four of the five council members said during their last meeting of the year that they couldn't support a request by officials of the Salvation Army and Interfaith Community Services to open a temporary winter shelter in the gymnasium of the Salvation Army at Las Villas Way near Centre City and El Norte parkways.

The council didn't vote on the matter because no motion was made. Only Mayor Lori Holt-Pfeiler, who put the item on the meeting agenda, said she supported opening the shelter. No city money was requested for the shelter, only the council's approval of the building's additional use.

How heartless can you get? It wouldn't have cost the city a thin dime. The members of the council just don't want dirty ugly people anywhere near them.

In addition, 'tis the season... to imprison children in American internment camps:

The T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas (on the outskirts of Austin, Texas) is a private detention facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America. It and a smaller center in Pennsylvania are the only two facilities in the country that are authorized to hold non-Mexican immigrant families and children on noncriminal charges.

What does this mean?

It means that at the Taylor facility of the 400 people "held" there, 200 are children. And all are families that can be held there for whatever length of time without due process conducted in a timely manner.

To top it off, as long as the men, women and children are held there, the facility's operator draws a daily profit - per person.

The children range in age from infants on up.


Jeans and t-shirts have been replaced with jail uniforms; children are issued uniforms as soon as they can fit into them and everyone must wear name tags, even the babies.

Infants wearing name tags.

Ah, the spirit of the holidays.

I almost want to throw up at reading this. Our damaged moral fiber as a nation is almost too much for me to bear. We have federally managed detention centers where small children are treated like common criminals. And don't give me this bullshit about how the kids broke the law. The employers broke the law. As Pachachutec says:

Here's what you need to know about immigration politics in this country: everything you hear is utter cant. Here's the litmus test: no discussion of immigration reform is in any way honest or serious if it excludes serious tracking and enforcement mechanisms on employers. Period.

If we can create a point of sale system to verify credit card accounts at purchasing sites all over the country, we can create a central verification and tracking process to ensure workers hired are legal. My issuing bank tells me if there's unusual or suspicious activity on my card, and I get a regular accounting of all charges on my card that I can verify personally. I think some central system could pick up if someone is working under my name at a second full time job somewhere. This is not rocket science.

People flee poverty and oppression in Mexico, Central America and other places because American employers offer them jobs, dangerous jobs in unsafe conditions, knowing these people have no recourse but to work in horrible conditions without protest or questions asked. This is systematized exploitation, American style, of mostly brown people. American lobbyists for big corporations want it this way (like Swift, Conagra and others), and they are paying well for no one in politics to address the job supply side of this problem, which is the only place the flow of illegal immigration can effectively be managed and controlled.

I couldn't agree more. Making criminals out of the children of those who come escaping poverty and seeking a better life ends up hurting the wrong people. The criminals are the agribusinesses and meatpacking corporations and fat cats who exploit cheap labor, skirt payroll taxes, drive down wages for everybody nationwide, and increase job insecurity. But they're not wearing orange jumpsuits in a dusty field enclosed with barbed wire in the middle of Texas. Children are.

And so this is Christmas. Silent night, holy night.

For shame.


Lying Joe

So on the day of the primary election in Connecticut back in August, the Lieberman campaign came out with a bombshell. Their website was hacked, and they were claiming that bloggers associated with the Lamont campaign were the culprits. Rather than go over that entire rigamarole, which I covered at the time, why don't you have a look at this excerpt from "Blog Wars," an upcoming movie on the blogosphere and the Lamont-Lieberman race.

Well, now it's been revealed that the Lamont campaign has been totally cleared of any wrongdoing relating to that bogus charge.

The U.S. attorney's office and state attorney general have cleared former U.S. Senate candidate Ned Lamont and his supporters of any role in the crash of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman's campaign Web site hours before last summer's Democratic primary.

"The investigation has revealed no evidence the problems the Web site experienced were the result of criminal conduct," said Tom Carson, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor [...]

Dan Geary, who developed Lieberman's site, had classified the problem as a denial-of-service attack, which is characterized by attempts to prevent access to a site by overwhelming it.

The Web site crash received media scrutiny, fueled by comments from Lieberman and his staff who implied it had been hacked by Lamont's supporters.

A Lieberman campaign spokeswoman, Marion Steinfels, had called it a "coordinated effort to wreck our Web site and make us incapable of communicating with each other and our voters."

Isn't lying about the reporting of a crime, in fact, a crime?

While this isn't really anything special, it speaks to the fundamental dishonesty and the persecution complex that Lieberman has. He just quit the centrist coalition in the Senate, in favor of building a new one that serves, essentially, to sip cocktails and tell each other how great they are. In fact, that's all that matters to Lieberman, that everyone knows that he is the persecuted but triumphant god who ascends to the "bipartisan" throne that defines bipartisan as "anyone who agrees with me". He apparently created an entire ad attacking Markos Moulitsas, an activist who has committed the horrible crime of trying to get Democrats elected.

Some of my fellow activists in the state are trying very hard to make Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher (CA-10) the next Lieberman. Impossible - there's NOBODY like Joementum when it comes to arrogance, false victimhood, dishonesty, and condescension.


California: Prisons and Politics

Jennifer Warren writes in the LA Times today about two former prison officials who claim that the corrections officer's union and the governor conspired to stymie any efforts to fix California's condition-critical prison system. The officials claim that Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy was tasked with handling the labor contract between the prison guards and the state, and that top Schwarzenegger aides were willing to give the union whatever they desired in order to support them in the gubernatorial election (which they did not; they endorsed Angelides, but did not run the barrage of ads that were initially expected). The union was repotedly given veto power over the nominations to top posts in the corrections department (Union officials deny this). These paragraphs are indicative of the general tenor:

Beyond such events, (former Corrections secretary Jeanne) Woodford said she thought her agenda for the department — one that included reform of the parole system, more education and drug treatment programs for inmates, and a fresh look at who goes to prison and for how long — clearly was not popular with Schwarzenegger aides consumed with his reelection.

In April, Woodford said, she laid out her plan for sentencing reform and other changes to the governor, recalling that he responded, "That sounds reasonable." But, according to Woodford's testimony, Kennedy and Aguiar told him, "Governor, it's an election year."

Now, it should be noted that these two officials were testifying in federal court which is functioning as a kind of oversight hearing. Why this is happening in the judicial rather than the legislative branch is unclear. But certainly, Woodford and Roderick Hickman have a very good reaason to shift blame for the current problem: they're implicated in it up to their eyeballs. They were the corrections secretaries for the last few years. So I'm thoroughly unconvinced that the Governor was the only thing stopping that wonderful reform agenda that these two were oh-so-willing to implement.

But if you want to understand exactly what Arnold's plan is for getting out of this mess, it is clear that it bears no resemblance to the kinds of reform needed, and it will be a financial windfall for the corrections officers. He wants to build his way out of the mess:

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing to roll out a plan next year that will call for about $10 billion in construction for prisons, jails and medical facilities, and include support for a sentencing commission, according to sources familiar with the proposal.

Sources said the breakdown on funding would allocate about $4.4 billion to prisons and re-entry institutions, $4.4 billion for county jail and juvenile beds and $1 billion for medical facilities to satisfy court monitors in two federal cases overseeing health care and treatment of the mentally ill.”

I'll cite Doug Paul Davis' take on this, as it aligns with my own.

We spend around $6 billion per year just on correctional facilities. Do we need improved prison facilities? By all means. But this is a question about budget priorities and the distribution of very scarce resources. The governor is threatening to cut money to the poor while additional money is going to correctional facilities.

The thing about correctional facilities is that they are a black hole. When you put money into education, you are making an investment--you are putting money into educating our youth now, so that they can be more productive. When you put money into health care, you are making an investment--you allow people to get medical treatment which allows them to live better and more productively. When you put money into prisons, you are throwing it into a black hole. It bandages the problem of having too many inmates, but it does nothing to prevent people from ending up in prison to begin with.

Prevention and saner sentencing (so the existing prisons aren't clogged with nonviolent offenders) are the formulae for reform. The Governor's proposal is a formula for an increasingly incarcerated society, where the focus is not rehabilitation and treatment but where to stash people. You cannot build your way out of the current problem. It's not possible.

As a tangent, the much-maligned (by me) LA Times editorial board deserves kudos for speaking straight on the death penalty and the Governor's reaction to Judge Fogel's verdict ruling the current lethal injection procedure inconstitutional.

That focus on propping up the death penalty is one problem with the governor's response to Fogel's decision. Another is that Schwarzenegger seems unwilling to entertain the possibility that what is really inappropriate about a civilized state's embrace of capital punishment — by lethal injection or any other means — is not the infliction of pain but the extinguishing of human life.

Contrary to Fogel's assertion in his opinion that the propriety of capital punishment is a matter for the Legislature, there was a time when judges took a broad view of whether the death penalty in its totality — and not just in a few botched executions — amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state death penalty laws then on the books. In a much-quoted opinion, Justice Potter Stewart said that capital punishment was imposed "wantonly and freakishly," adding that "these death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual." The same is true, we believe, of the selective, even capricious imposition of the death penalty at the present time, whether or not the chemical cocktail administered to a prisoner is mixed in a way that minimizes pain. Tinkering with the machinery of lethal injection is only the beginning.

That's the kind of clear-eyed reason I don't expect from the editorial page. This adds fuel to the Courage Campaign's belief that California, and in the larger sense America, is coming around on the idea of what's cruel and unusual. I would add this into the proposal for building more prisons, which is heartless in the sense that it provides not for hope but for fear, and makes a society more terrifying rather than more purposeful and inclusive.


Quick Hits

One of these and I'm off to Trader Joe's:

Sandy Berger is a moron. While he was cleared of withholding material from the 9-11 Commission two years ago, he apparently did hide NSA papers under a construction trailer in the middle of Washington. That's pathological and stupid. He did plead guilty to removing documents last year.

Berger should never be allowed to hold any kind of public office in a Democratic executive branch again, nor should he be allowed to represent the Democratic Party in any public forum. That should be the standard of conduct to which our Party should hold its officials and mouthpieces. That would be the opposite of the Elliot Abrams/Otto Reich standard of the current Administration.

• It's "The Year of Perpetual Outrage" according to Michelle Malkin. Wait, isn't it "The Lifetime of Perpetual Outrage" at her site? The irony is so thick here it's impenetrable.

• Hey, they're setting records in Baghdad! Not the good kind, however. The "spiral of carnage that appears unrelenting and impossible to stop" kind.

Great article at HuffPo by Dave Johnson and James Boyce on the differences between Democrats and Republicans: the "Product Party" versus the "Marketing Party." Democrats need to make this belief a reality by producing come January, and we need to hold their feet to the fire.

• About a week old, but Truthdig interviews Dennis Kucinich on why he's running for President. It's a shame we have a country where an intelligent, principled, serious person like this is unelectable. And he understands that Iraq comes first, before anything else.

• Speaking of Sandy Berger, this sounds suspiciously like the controversial Berger scene in The Path to 9/11, only with a twist:

French soldiers in Afghanistan had Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in their crosshairs -- twice -- but did not receive the order from their US commander to open fire, a French documentary reported.

The filmed report, by journalists Eric de Lavarene and Emmanuel Razavi, asserts that the French troops had bin Laden in their rifle scopes in 2003 and then again six months later in 2004.

Four French soldiers assigned to a 200-strong special forces unit in Afghanistan under US military control all confirmed -- "at different times and in different places" -- that they could have killed bin Laden but that the order to shoot was not forthcoming, the report claims.

The documentary, entitled "Bin Laden: Failings of a Manhunt" and set to be shown on French cable television channel Planete at an unspecified date, relies on the accounts given by the four soldiers.

This will never be seen in America because it has nothing to do with Bill Clinton.

• More from the Onward Christian Soldiers front, from Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina.

"Stability in Iraq ultimately depends on spreading the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace on earth, good will towards men. Everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the Savior."

Good thing this doesn't make it look like a clash of civilizations or a Crusade or forced conversion or anything.

• Here's something Robin Hayes would like: Jesus for King of Poland! Our Savior humbly asks members of Parliament for their vote.

A group of Polish members of parliament have submitted a bill seeking to proclaim Jesus Christ king of their overwhelmingly Catholic country.

Forty-six deputies - 10% of the lower house - signed the bill, which was tabled earlier this week, reports say.

Some Polish clerics however have criticised the move as unnecessary.

If the bill becomes law, Jesus will follow the path of the Virgin Mary, who was declared honorary queen of Poland by King John Casimir 350 years ago.

I nominate John the Baptist for Minister of Health.


The Shame of Haditha

You'll of course recall that when John Murtha spoke out about the massacre of 24 Iraqis in Haditha, saying that Marines killed civilians "in cold blood" and deliberately covered it up, he caught all kinds of hell from the wingnutosphere, including claims of treason and calls for official censure. The investigation wasn't over!, they said. How dare he shame the Marines!, they said.

Well, here's a big surprise. Murtha was right. The first Marine to be charged in the massacre is accused of 13 counts of murder.

A Marine Corps squad leader was charged Thursday with 13 counts of murder in the killings of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year, his attorney said, and other Marines are expected to be charged.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich was charged with 12 counts of murdering individuals, plus one count of murdering six people by ordering Marines under his command to "shoot first and ask questions later" when they entered a house, according to charging sheets released by defense attorney Neal Puckett.

Puckett said his client is not guilty and acted lawfully.

In a way, this incident is a textbook example of the fog of war - how frustration and anger and a lack of mission can turn quickly into madness. We know that repeat tours of duty increases the chances of PTSD and mental breakdown. We know that this war has become one where the enemy is unclear and troops are increasingly unable to determine friend from foe. We know that these Marines in particular were under a lot of stress and near the end of their rope at the time of the incident. And so this tragedy occurred, an outburst of violence as a reaction to a bomb blast, and then there was a systematic attempt to cover it up.

No statements were given by the Marines following the Haditha killings, which were investigated months later, after a Time magazine story picked holes in the Marine Corps' account that 15 Iraqis died in a roadside bomb blast and Marines killed eight insurgents in an ensuing firefight. Later reports put the number of dead Iraqis at 24.

None of the bodies was exhumed, and collecting forensic evidence in a war zone is tough. In the Hamdania case, the victim was disinterred and analyzed by U.S. pathologists.

The case will rest on motive, with the Marines claiming that they followed the rules of engagement, which allows for clearing houses and using fragmentation grenades in self-defense, while the prosecution argues that no such condition exists.

Murtha put this out into the open originally, I believe, so that the Pentagon would be unable to cover it up even further. In my view, the entire system of disclosure in these cases needs to be on trial. The Marines who murdered Iraqis If Marines are found not only to have killed Iraqis but to have done so illegally (I don't even think the defense is claiming that Iraqis weren't killed at the hands of these Marines), they must be made responsible for their actions, but SO MUST THE HIGHER-UPS who institutionalized a culture of cover-ups, and put forward a policy that results in tragedies like this. Anyone who remembers My Lai knows that this is nothing new. And the idea that because there has been an indictment, the Pentagon has learned their lesson, is frankly ridiculous.

UPDATE: CNN is now reporting that three Marines have been charged so far in this incident.

...adding, there are absolutely situations where Marines must use weapons to defend themselves, and that's what the court will determine. They will also determine whether there was a deliberate effort to lie about the incident itself. I believe the two are related.

Rep. Murtha spoke out because he knew there was a cover-up at the highest level, and he felt compelled to raise awareness. If anything, this was an attempt to SAVE American lives. If the true costs of war are hidden from the public, it essentially consigns the troops to more adventures abroad. There is a responsibility on the part of lawmakers to give the full picture of war, IMO.


Self-Sustaining Vehicles

Why aren't we encouraging and supporting the technology which may already be there?

Researchers are hoping to avoid the need for a hydrogen infrastructure by producing hydrogen onboard from water. While fuel cell vehicles create electricity from hydrogen, this new twist electrolyzes water to produce hydrogen only as needed.

HyPower Fuel's H2 Reactor (H2R) can generate sufficient hydrogen to power a Volkswagen GTi, according to the company. The hydrogen would be burned in a conventional internal combustion engine, which gets around the safety challenge of storing hydrogen in a tank.

According to the company the H2R is "2 to 2.5 times more efficient" than competing methods of hydrogen electrolysis. The claim by one customer that "We no longer have any black smoke emissions coming from the smokestack on our engines.... " seems too good to believe.

Of course, it'll only get better as researchers continue to work on the problem. Cars that create hydrogen from water is a killer app. Especially if they can use ocean water.

Meanwhile, plug-in hybrids, which are often derided because they would strain electrical capacity, could easily be incorporated into the existing grid.

If all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil to electrons, idle capacity in the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. A new study for the Department of Energy finds that "off-peak" electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 84 percent of the country's 220 million vehicles if they were plug-in hybrid electrics.

Researchers at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also evaluated the impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, on foreign oil imports, the environment, electric utilities and the consumer.

"This is the first review of what the impacts would be of very high market penetrations of PHEVs, said Eric Lightner, of DOE's Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability. "It's important to have this baseline knowledge as consumers are looking for more efficient vehicles, automakers are evaluating the market for PHEVs and battery manufacturers are working to improve battery life and performance."

Current batteries for these cars can easily store the energy for driving the national average commute - about 33 miles round trip a day, so the study presumes that drivers would charge up overnight when demand for electricity is much lower.

The solution to the energy problem lies in diversification. We can't let ourselves be lulled into a situation again where we are relying on one natural resource - petroleum - for all of our transportation. We need plug-ins, fuel cell vehicles, self-sustaining hydrogen cars, all of them. The technology is almost there. The political will is sorely lacking. They need a good shove.


Give To Digby, You Bastards

There's an unquestioned #1 in the blogosphere, in my mind, and that's Digby. I'm constantly surprised and entertained by his insight. He is as fine a writer as you'll find in the blogosphere. He's asking for money and I hope you'll take a look and support him.

And publishers, if you're looking for your next book, take a gander over there.


More Signing Statements

Congress passed a law allowing a deal brokered by the President and India to go through, where the US would allow nuclear technology to be sold to India. Rather than rubber stamp it, this deal was subject to a number of restrictions and fierce debate in the House and Senate. They worked for nearly a year to reach a compromise. The major insertion was to control the transfer of any restricted material through the Nuclear Suppliers Group. But there were quite a few others.

This took a long time and was the kind of deliberative policy creation that was sorely lacking from the 109th Congress. And the President eliminated all of it with the stroke of a pen.

Section 103 of the Act purports to establish U.S. policy with respect to various international affairs matters. My approval of the Act does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy as U.S. foreign policy. Given the Constitution's commitment to the presidency of the authority to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs, the executive branch shall construe such policy statements as advisory. Also, if section 104(d)(2) of the Act were construed to prohibit the executive branch from transferring or approving the transfer of an item to India contrary to Nuclear Suppliers Group transfer guidelines that may be in effect at the time of such future transfer, a serious question would exist as to whether the provision unconstitutionally delegated legislative power to an international body. In order to avoid this constitutional question, the executive branch shall construe section 104(d)(2) as advisory. The executive branch will give sections 103 and 104(d)(2) the due weight that comity between the legislative and executive branches should require, to the extent consistent with U.S. foreign policy.

The executive branch shall construe provisions of the Act that mandate, regulate, or prohibit submission of information to the Congress, an international organization, or the public, such as sections 104, 109, 261, 271, 272, 273, 274, and 275, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to protect and control information that could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties.

Shorter signing statement: I'll do whatever I want.

This is becoming epidemic. We have a President who rewrites laws at his whim. This is a Constitutional crisis, and should be a major part of the 2008 election debate. We should not elect a new President who doesn't denounce this use of signing statements and pledge to never use them in this manner. And as for the current resident, there needs to be a judicial reckoning on the constitutionality of such actions.


The Fallacy of "Opportunities"

The Bush Administration is trying to assert itself by claiming that it will work with Democrats on legislation. Sounds like the husband from The Burning Bed coming back to Farrah Fawcett and saying "I'll be good, baby, come on, you know you love me..."

These "opportunities" for compromise, according to the White House, include the one program uniformly rejected by every single Democrat in 2005:

Signaling a new flexibility on issues in the wake of the Democrats' wins, Bush said he is willing to discuss Democratic ideas for solving the Social Security problem, including tax increases. "I don't see how you can move forward without people feeling comfortable about putting ideas on the table," Bush said when asked about the prospect of tax increases to keep Social Security solvent. "I have made it clear that I have a way forward that can do it [without raising taxes] and I want to hear other people's opinions." [...]

Two years ago, when the president began pressing to restructure Social Security, he set the most important terms of the debate: Private accounts had to be part of the solution, and new taxes could not. But since Democrats wrested control of both chambers of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections, Bush now faces a vastly altered political landscape [...]

Administration officials have said the White House is willing to listen to other ideas, including personal savings accounts that do not involve diverting Social Security payroll taxes, as well as higher payroll taxes to help cover the expected growth in the program's costs. Still, Bush emphasized that young workers should be allowed to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts, a proposal that went nowhere in Congress last year.

This looks to me to be a trap. Conservatives who have given up on Bush and looking to 2008 would like nothing more than to hang "they raised taxes" on this Democratic Congress. They're already whipping up fears about this possibility. While I feel payroll taxes should be collected above that $90,000 threshold (one of the craziest tax laws I've ever seen, literally keeping rich people's money protected), it's unquestionable that conservatives would use such an outcome as the reason for a potential 2007 recession, which is increasingly likely (incidentally, economic growth is already being revised downward for the third quarter). "Democrats raised your taxes, and look what happened," the story would go, even though that increasing the payroll ceiling would not add taxes to the vast majority of Americans.

Furthermore, there is no need to make this deal, considering how disastrous private accounts would be to the Social Security system (it'd dismantle it).

Just as the Democrats were able to stay resolute during the last debate over Social Security, so too must they say no to any entreaty from the Bush administration that could lead to private accounts. And just as the Netroots maintained a robust effort to keep Democrats in Congress in line during the last Social Security debate, so too must we be on guard during the 110th Congress to ensure that the program, one of the most successful in American, if not human history, is not gutted to please conservative ideologues.

Frankly, I see little reason for Social Security to be a top priority of the coming Congress -- at least in its first months. If, however, Democratic leaders decide to move forward with an attempt to plug the long-term deficit in Social Security (the trust fund could run out in 30 to 40 years) then they should craft a plan largely on their own without the input of the White House because the lesson learned from previous Congresses is that the Bush administration is willing to renege on any deal and screw any Democrat if they believe it will advance their policies and thus their political strength. While this might make it more difficult to pass reforms with George W. Bush in office, the legislation crafted during the 110th Congress can always serve as guidlines for legislation to be passed in a future Congress dealing with another President -- Democrat or even possibly Republican (though hopefully not) -- who is not as obsessed with partially privatizing the program.

Exactly. Social Security is not going bankrupt in two years. Bush can talk and fearmonger all he wants, but privatizing the system ought to be verboten. You want to talk after that, we'll negotiate - Bush-style (agree to my demands and we'll talk).

Similarly, Bush's rhetoric on "supporting a minimum wage hike" should be ignored, and he should be forced to veto legislation that would give the poorest Americans an opportunity to scrape by a little more easily.

President Bush for the first time endorsed a specific plan for raising the federal minimum wage yesterday, as he embraced Democratic calls to boost it by $2.10, to $7.25 an hour, over two years.

The president's backing greatly enhances the prospects for congressional approval next year of the first hike in the federal minimum wage since 1997. He stressed, however, that it should be accompanied by tax breaks and regulatory relief that would cushion the blow for small businesses.

"I believe we should do it in a way that does not punish the millions of small businesses that are creating most of the new jobs in our country," Bush said during a news conference. "So I support pairing it with targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing."

There is absolutely no need for that. One of the last acts of Congress was to give massive tax breaks to business for R&D, et al. Raising the minimum wage for the first time in a decade enjoys 70% public support and shouldn't need to be tied to anything else. It's abominable that you can pay somebody nearly two times as much below the poverty line and have it be legal. Economic activity is strengthened by increasing the minimum wage, not reduced. It puts more money back into the local community.

Go ahead and veto that bill. Or let the Senate try to filibuster. I can't wait for the ads in 2008 if you do. There won't be a Republican party anymore.

If the Bush Administration's idea of "opportunities" are to try and make deals on legislation that doesn't need any, then I don't think we'll see a lot of cooperation in the coming year.


FL-13: And Away We Go

Well, it looks like Christine Jennings is taking her fight for a new election in the 13th District straight to the House.

The Democrat who narrowly lost to a Republican in the race to replace Rep. Katherine Harris asked Congress on Wednesday for an investigation.

The state has declared that Democrat Christine Jennings lost to Republican Vern Buchanan by 369 votes. But 18,000 Sarasota County electronic ballots did not record a choice in the race, and Jennings contends that the number is abnormally high and that the machines lost the votes.

She filed with the House clerk an official contest of the election results in Florida's 13th Congressional District.

She said she will ask Congress to consider ordering a revote if her legal challenge in Florida fails. She is seeking to obtain the programming code for the touch-screen voting machines to determine whether a bug or malicious programming could have lost votes. The state has found no evidence of malfunction.

The company that makes the machines, Electronic Systems & Software Inc., is fighting the effort, saying its programming is a trade secret.

"It's not about me. It's about a revote," Jennings said by telephone from Washington. "I am not trying in any way to tell Congress what they should do. I am simply doing this for the integrity of our voting system."

This is well within the law, as the House Administration Committee is the ultimate arbiter of all federal elections. Meanwhile the Jennings team was in court yesterday, where ES&S is trying as hard as they can to keep the source code out of any expert hands. The judge is likely to make a decision tomorrow.

I guess the Democratic House is going to seat Vern Buchanan, and then deal with the election as it winds its way through the courts. Voting rights advocates need to keep the pressure on and make sure this doesn't go away. This could easily have happened anywhere there is electronic voting, and it could have affected the balance of power in Congress. We cannot sustain this broken system.


World Report

There are more countries across the oceans which protect us completely and totally besides just Iraq. And the chaos and unrest in these other nations has at least some connection to the preoccupation we have with that country. Consider these events:

• Palestine is basically headed to civil war, and while a ceasefire was reached on Tuesday, I don't think you're going to see it last very long. In a way, the Palestinians need a more unified government, as the divided one was doing nothing but causing suffering among the people. The hard line that the West was holding against Hamas, to the extent that they were holding the leader at the border as he attempted to smuggle in $35 million from abroad. Is this hard line successful in measuring Hamas' tone or preparing Palestine as a partner for peace? Is anyone asking this question? The Baker-Hamilton commission did mention the Arab-Israeli conflict as crucial to bringing peace and stability to the broader Middle East. Does anyone remember that?

• Somalia, the most extreme Islamist nation that nobody knows about, has been left to Europe to handle. And Europe's doing as fine a job as they did in forcing Iran to curtail its nuclear program:

Heavy fighting broke out near the base of the transitional government of Somalia today, just as European diplomats were shuttling between rival leaders in yet another effort to avert an all-out war.

According to United Nations officials, the Islamist clerics who control Mogadishu, Somalia’s battle-scarred seaside capital, launched an offensive on two fronts against the transitional government’s forces.

Using pick-up trucks bristling with anti-aircraft guns, the Islamists struck at dawn and blasted their way into two towns near the inland city of Baidoa, the temporary headquarters of the transitional government. By midday, though, the tides had turned and the transitional government’s troops — with the help of the Ethiopian Army — had reclaimed some of their territory.

You're going to see a holy war in Somalia, with Ethiopia and perhaps 3 or 4 more countries pulled in. We literally haven't thought about this country since 1993. It's the most likely to harbor terrorists on the entire planet. Well, except for...

Pakistan, our great ally, where the city of Quetta has pretty much been turned into Walt Disney's Taliban-land:

At a time when the Taliban is making its strongest push in years to regain influence and territory across the border in Afghanistan, this mountain-ringed provincial capital has become an increasingly brazen hub of activity by the Islamist militia.

Quetta serves as a place of rest and refuge for Taliban fighters between battles, a funneling point for cash and armaments, a fertile recruiting ground and a sometime meeting point for the group's fugitive leaders, say aid workers, local officials, diplomats and others.

"Everybody is here," said Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a Quetta-based member of Pakistan's National Assembly, describing the routine comings and goings of senior Taliban commanders in Quetta, the capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan [...]

Residents described nerve-racking random encounters with Taliban convoys bristling with weaponry and hearing volleys of automatic-weapons fire echoing from within some walled-off madrasas. Taliban recruitment videos sell briskly in stalls tucked between the gun emporiums and carpet shops of Quetta's raucous main market.

"For the Taliban, this is considered to be a safe haven," said Syed Ali Shah, a journalist who writes for the Baluchistan Times. "They come here, they regroup and retrain."

There are open madrassahs in Quetta, and an open border to the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. Somehow, the Pakistani government is claiming that they've captured hundreds of Taliban militants there. And we sit idly by and let them get away with that obvious lie.

• Finally, we talk big about spreading democracy and freedom, yet there are entire swaths of the world where people are not free and American support is nonexistent. In Turkmenistan, one of the most authoritarian and plumb crazy dictators in the world, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself the "Turkmenbashi" or father of the Turkmen, died suddenly yesterday. There is no line of succession, no civil society, little in the way of public facilities for education and healthcare, and an incredible amount of uncertainty. By the way, Turkmenistan corders both Iran and Afghanistan. And they have as much oil reserves as pretty much any country on Earth.

And Russia's making a not-so-subtle play for it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for power in Turkmenistan to be transferred "in the framework of the law" to ensure stability in the region.

"We hope that a new leadership will act to benefit co-operation with Russia and to benefit the region as a whole," he said.

I think that speaks for itself.

It's obvious to me that our preoccupation in Iraq renders us moot on the world stage, unable to impact the real problems in other countries and ensure that our national security interests are defended and protected.

UPDATE: More on the Turkmenbashi from David Wallechinsky, who writes Parade Magazine's annual "10 Worst Dictators." This guy was a piece of work.

Here is a man who renamed the month of January after himself and April after his mother, banned lip-synching, car radios, ballet, opera and the playing of recorded music at weddings, and shut down all national parks, rural libraries and the Academy of Science. His face appears on all of Turkmenistan's bank notes and on all television broadcasts at all times. He also had his own lines of cologne, tea and vodka (with his picture on each bottle and box, naturally). Niyazov, who called himself "Turkmenbashi" ("Father of the Turkmen"), ordered doctors to stop taking the Hippocratic Oath and swear allegiance to him instead. He wrote a book, Rukhnama, that is required reading at every level of the educational system. Government employees had to memorize excerpts of Rukhnama verbatim or risk losing their jobs. On March 20, 2006, Niyazov announced on national television that "Anyone who reads the Rukhnama three times will find spiritual wealth, will become more intelligent, will recognize the divine being and will go straight to Heaven."