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

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why We Won't Bomb Iran - Israel Will Do It For Us

The Times of London is reporting that Israel is planning to take out Iran's nuclear facilities - with a low-level NUCLEAR strike.

ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources.

This is strikingly similar to what Seymour Hersh suggested was being discussed by Washington last year, only with Israel doing the deed instead of the US. Perhaps Hersh's suggestion that the Joint Chiefs of Staff recoiled with horror at the very idea forced the White House to back off, and Israel took up the mantle. Or Israel is being used as a proxy, like they were in the bombing at Ossiraq.

But this is a VERY different animal. Here is Hersh's assessment of the potential fallout (literally) of using tactical nukes on an underground facility.

One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.

There is a Cold War precedent for targeting deep underground bunkers with nuclear weapons. In the early nineteen-eighties, the American intelligence community watched as the Soviet government began digging a huge underground complex outside Moscow. Analysts concluded that the underground facility was designed for “continuity of government”—for the political and military leadership to survive a nuclear war. (There are similar facilities, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, for the American leadership.) The Soviet facility still exists, and much of what the U.S. knows about it remains classified. “The ‘tell’ ”—the giveaway—“was the ventilator shafts, some of which were disguised,” the former senior intelligence official told me. At the time, he said, it was determined that “only nukes” could destroy the bunker. He added that some American intelligence analysts believe that the Russians helped the Iranians design their underground facility. “We see a similarity of design,” specifically in the ventilator shafts, he said [...]

But those who are familiar with the Soviet bunker, according to the former senior intelligence official, “say ‘No way.’ You’ve got to know what’s underneath—to know which ventilator feeds people, or diesel generators, or which are false. And there’s a lot that we don’t know.” The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”

Putting nuclear weapons into an underground facility where there is other nuclear material sounds like the stuff of insanity. Certainly, with Ehud Olmert's standing diminished in Israel, and having lost some stature in the Middle East as a result of the disastrous war with Lebanon this past summer, the hardliners may have gained enough power to actually make this happen. I would certainly hope not, but the Times article lays it out:

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

“As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished,” said one of the sources.

The plans, disclosed to The Sunday Times last week, have been prompted in part by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad’s assessment that Iran is on the verge of producing enough enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons within two years.

Israeli military commanders believe conventional strikes may no longer be enough to annihilate increasingly well-defended enrichment facilities. Several have been built beneath at least 70ft of concrete and rock. However, the nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene, senior sources said.

This is more likely to be a targeted leak to let Iran know that Israel means business. It's still unbelievably dangerous, because as we know, the learned behavior over the past several years is that for the "Axis of Evil," only deterrent to attack is acquiring nukes of their own. This will only speed up the process. And in addition, the Iranians have so much leverage, whether in Iraq or with their own oil reserves, that this would be madness. It does explain the presence of US warships near the Straits of Hormuz, however; to ensure smooth movement of oil tankers through to the West. And finally, there is no way, despite the protestations of self-interested scientists, that it can be known whether nuclear contamination and fallout from the strike could be contained.

According to the Times, this plan is very much in motion.

Israeli pilots have flown to Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets. Three possible routes have been mapped out, including one over Turkey.

Air force squadrons based at Hatzerim in the Negev desert and Tel Nof, south of Tel Aviv, have trained to use Israel’s tactical nuclear weapons on the mission. The preparations have been overseen by Major General Eliezer Shkedi, commander of the Israeli air force.

Sources close to the Pentagon said the United States was highly unlikely to give approval for tactical nuclear weapons to be used. One source said Israel would have to seek approval “after the event”, as it did when it crippled Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak with airstrikes in 1981.

This report seems incredibly legitimate, and would be debilitating to any effort to move the Middle East back from the brink of chaos upon which it now sits.


Dennis Miller - Loser

You didn't hear this from me, but my spies tell me that a couple weeks ago, Dennis Miller had his people call the producers of Fox' new right-wing Daily Show rip-off, asking them to dump the hosts and hire him.

They turned him down flat.

How crushing must that be? He's so irrelevant now that he can't even get on the pale imitation!


Senators Surgie and Surgier Speak

The spectacle of Joe Lieberman and John McCain doing their "Victory To Win!" forum at the American Enterprise Institute was quite disturbing. CorrenteWire has a full roundup here, and PoliticsTV took video of the MoveOn protest happening on the street below. But you really have to read the transcript to get a sense of the disingenuousness of their remarks. For instance, John McCain is now against the surge before he was for it.

There are two keys to any surge of U.S. troops. To be of value the surge must be substantial and it must be sustained -- it must be substantial and it must be sustained.

We will need a large number of troops. During our recent trip commanders on the ground spoke of a surge of three to five additional brigades in Baghdad and at least an additional brigade in Anbar province.

I believe these numbers are the minimum that's required -- a minimum [...]

The deployment also needs to be sustained. The presence of additional brigades should be tied to completion of their mission rather than to some arbitrary deadline.

The worst of all worlds would be a small, short surge of U.S. forces. We tried small surges in the past and they've been ineffective because our commanders lacked the forces necessary to hold territory after it was cleared. Violence which fell dramatically while U.S. forces were present spiked as soon as they were gone.

McCain's simply looking for some rhetorical high ground here. He has called for 20,000 additional troops in the recent past - which appears to be the exact number that Bush will call for in his escalation speech. By demanding that the surge is substantial and sustained - making it not a surge, but an escalation, by definition - McCain can continue to say that "if only they listened to me, we would have won the war." This is completely disingenuous. There aren't the troops for what McCain is proposing, and the Iraqi Prime Minister is moving forward with his own plan for security in Baghdad, absent US input. McCain knows this, but wants to be able to keep the position of the sage who knows what's best.

Then there's this bit of gobbledygook from Sen. Lieberman:

There are people who have spoken of this moment in our history as if it was the '30s. And there's some parallels, I fear, there. Some people say the war in Iraq is comparable to the Spanish Civil War; the war in Iraq to the larger war on Islamist terrorism, comparable to the Spanish Civil War to the Second World War; to the late '30s and the failure to grasp the growing threat of fascism in Europe until it was almost too late.

The painful irony of this moment in our history is that while, in some senses, it is comparable to the 1930s, it's also already 1942, because Pearl Harbor in this war has already happened on 9/11/01 and in the progeny of horrific terrorist attacks that have occurred throughout the world.

I think my analogy-meter just busted. Are we at war with fascist Spain or Tojo or Mussolini or who, now?

(Parenthetically, would it kill the LA Times not to list Lieberman a Democrat? He lost the Democratic nomination. He's an independent and should be noted as such. There is no bipartisan support for escalating this war. Period.)

These two lunatics, who continue to think that the military can solve all known problems in the world, don't want to admit their initial mistake of supporting the war (and considering that war to be simple to execute), so they'll let more Americans die for their vanity. They never address the fact that a political accomodation is the only solution to the problems in Iraq, yet the main players in the government don't want it. Maliki will not go after the militias. The Sunnis and the Shia are in civil war and will not merge to form a unity government by magic. Sistani won't throw the militias under the bus, either.

Bush's plan includes the troop surge, and then to put half the Iraqis to work digging a hole and the other half filling it back up. That ought to make them even better targets than they are now. Of course, a jobs plan is necessary and proper, but why is this the outcome of brainstorm three years after the fact. As Atrios says, why is this coming out as an idea NOW? Why weren't Iraqis involved in reconstruction and setting up the power lines and the schools and all the rest all along? Why were American contractors getting rich while the native Iraqis were unemployed and seething with rage?

The Congress, save McCain and Lieberman, is going to fight back against this, and hard. Senator Leahy's bill to stop war profiteering is great. And the Democrats may try to set a cap on troop levels in the country. But ultimately, the escalation strategy will go down in flames when the public expresses their outrage.

What Democrats in Congress will have to do (and already plan on doing) is use their bully pulpit to amplify the overwhelming public opposition to the war. Bush isn't up for reelection, so he doesn't give a damn about himself. But if he sees that in political terms the war could cost his party dearly in 2008, that may be the one thing that could pull him back from the precipice.

It's clear that lots of Republicans are already panicking about their 2008 chances, and it won't be long before most of the Republican senators up for reelection in 2008 are fervent war opponents, as well as any House Republican who won her or his reelection battle by single digits.

But it won't save them, just like it didn't save Lincoln Chafee.

This is the Republicans' war. They bought it. They broke it. They own it. And they will suffer the brunt of it.

And the more Bush and McCain escalate the war, the deeper the consequences will be.

And the best way for that public outrage to be amplified more and more is to have McCain and Lieberman keep speaking in public. Because everything they say offends the public. And the public will grow more and more indignant at this perspective.

It doesn't matter to Bush and his top aides whether or not Iraq is, for all intents and purposes, hopeless. They don't pay any downside costs of escalating, so they're willing to make American military personnel and American taxpayers bear any burden and pay any price for even the vaguest hope that this will in some way increase the odds of something they could plausibly label "success" happening.

That's a borderline-treasonous way of looking at things. Keep talking, guys. You'll have to bolt the doors at AEI and the White House.


Hero of the Sunnis

Saddam Hussein was a secular despot who only turned to religion late in his Presidency of Iraq, whenever he wanted to consolidate support against Western infidels. He really had no use for religion whatsoever, and he certainly was not well-liked by fellow Sunnis in the region like Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Militant Palestinians considered him a hero only because he paid suicide bombers. He was a pan-Arabist and a Baathist, not someone who would rouse factional support from Sunni Muslims. Therefore it's fascinating to see him treated as a martyr in this part of the world.

In the week since Saddam Hussein was hanged in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe.

On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Mr. Hussein has emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shiite executioners tormented and abused him.

“No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Friday and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. “They turned him into a martyr.”

Indeed, there were parades and paeans to Saddam in Morocco and Lebanon and Palestine. They're building a STATUE of him in Libya (remember Libya, the country seen as our great friend now after renouncing WMD?) and scheduling three days of mourning. And that interview with Egypt's President was extremely vitriolic, particularly toward the United States, as well as the Iraqi government's "conspiracy" to kill Saddam before the year is out.

Saddam must be looking from beyond the grave and chuckling at this. These nations and people who had no use for him are turning him into a celebrated figure because of a religion for which he had no utility. It'd be comical, if it wasn't so tragic and dangerous.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Health Care and the Haggle

Last night at Atrios' site was a post from Avedon Carol that I thought was a great way to understand the current health-care debate in California, and would provide a valuable lesson for Democrats in the state. I'd like to highlight it.

Many of us have been talking about the need for Democrats to start high before going to the bargaining table. This is not a radical new idea - everyone knows that when you dicker for a good price, you don't start with the "reasonable", "compromise" figure.

But Democrats seem to have lost the idea of haggling. If they want single-payer healthcare, they ask for single-payer healthcare. (Or worse, they do what the Clintons did and try to offer the insurance companies something, which kills the whole idea.) If they want a minimum wage of $7.25, they ask for a minimum wage of $7.25 [...]

I want single-payer to pass, but I think single-payer would sound much more reasonable if there were people out there demanding a fully-socialized healthcare program like Britain's NHS (as Nye Bevan designed it, not the anemic thing successive governments have been turning it into). Go all-out: Demand an NHS, and single-payer will sound nice and capitalist and moderate - as it is.

Avedon is absolutely correct. You don't give up the battle before it is even joined. If politics is the art of compromise, then compromising BEFORE you reach the bargaining table is a guarantee that you won't be able to get anything near wht you really want.

Especially when the opposition is ALREADY bargaining into your position, albeit with fits and starts.

The governor has proposed covering all children, including those in the state illegally by circumstance (the number of which seems to be either consequential or not, depending on who you ask). It's cheap to cover children and immoral not to. As a starting point, I'd take this plan over the Massachusetts Mandate plan any day of the week. But, what's important here is, as Kevin Drum notes,

Details are murky so far, but I don't think the mechanics of Schwarzenegger's plan is what's important anyway. What's important is that two of the Republican Party's highest-profile governors have now publicly endorsed the idea of universal health coverage for their states. In other words, some kind of universal, or semi-universal, healthcare has now been established as the rightmost bound of the healthcare debate.

Democrats should understand what this means: (a) universal healthcare is no longer some lefty fringe notion, and (b) the plans from Schwarzenegger and Massachussetts' Mitt Romney are now the starting point for any serious healthcare proposal. Any proposal coming out of a Democratic policy shop should be, at a minimum, considerably more ambitious than what's on offer from these two Republicans.

It's important to understand who's under pressure to deliver on health care. The public knows that we pay more for health care in America and receive less. They are almost unanimous in supporting governmental solutions to providing access to affordable health care. And the governor has made health care his signature issue for 2007. It was a big part of today's coronation, and it'll be a major part of next week's State of the State.

If health care reform doesn't happen in 2007, the governor will be blamed. Bottom line. And understanding this, he's already moving toward a position that Democrats in the legislature can accept, with universal coverage for children. In fact, this is to the LEFT of Don Perata's proposal which excluded illegals.

It's absurd, as Drum says, for Democrats to do anything but push for something far beyond an on-the-margin proposal out of the box. Yet this is exactly what Perata and Fabian Nuñez have done, claiming that they were putting something together that the governor could accept. This belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the art of the deal. If you believe that health care is a right and not a privilege, you start from the position of covering everybody in the state, and then compromise. As it stands now, the middle of this debate would include HSAs and partial employer mandates, and essentially a reaffirming of the private insurance system that's making everybody sick to their stomachs.

Business, which has a firm grip on the legislative joystick, hits the panic button at talk of single-payer healthcare or universal healthcare, and it hauls out its own boogeyman phrases, such as "job-killer" and "drag on the economy."

I'll tell you what's a drag on the economy. Healthcare insurance that's impossibly expensive, or impossible to get. If the United States wants a vital economy of personal enterprise and risk-taking, then it needs to guarantee health coverage, period. Americans are willing to take chances in business and careers, but not with their families' health, or their own.

Dan Luke is an Oregon insurance broker. He told me that he runs into this "all the time — people staying in jobs they don't like. People have dreams about going into business for themselves that they can't fulfill because they don't want to lose medical coverage, and they can't pay a lot of money for [individual policies] even if they are healthy."

I gave him a professional for instance: Say there's a man who wants to switch careers, start something on his own. He's 59, married, four kids, comes to you for health insurance. He smokes cigars. ("Mmmmm," I heard Luke say.) And he had heart-valve surgery almost 10 years ago.

Luke stopped me right there. The man would never get coverage. I didn't even get to ask Luke about the risk factors of riding motorcycles and skiing.

My "for instance" is Arnold Schwarzenegger. If the governor weren't a rich man, if he were just a guy with a bold idea who wanted to give it a shot, as Schwarzenegger did when he abandoned acting for governing, he couldn't get health insurance. He'd be stuck in his old job instead of bringing something new to the economy and to his life.

That should be the philosophy guiding any baseline proposal on fixing health care. Otherwise there's no need for the Democrats to come to the bargaining table at all. They might as well let the governor write the policy. It's time to figure out the haggle and try to get something the people want, rather than what they wrongly believe is politically possible.

UPDATE: I should add that I don't think the flip side - passing a universal health care bill that essentially replicates the NHS and sending it to the governor to veto - is a smart idea either. The ground has not been sufficiently prepped in the population for that. This is about negotiating tactics and strategy. Democrats should publicly adopt something akin to the proposal that passed the legislature last year, and start from that leaping-off point with the governor.


Briefly, on Impeachment

I don't support impeachment. I support investigations. But really, if those investigations reveal what is suspected, I support indictment and imprisonment.

As indictment is impossible with a sitting President in office, well... there you go. However, I want no possibility for pardon. And a VP made President would likely do so.

It almost appears, with the latest signing statement allowing him to open anybody's mail, the President is daring the Democrats to impeach so that he can use all the Clinton-era arguments against them and rally public support. It's as if the lesson learned from the Clinton wars was "make them impeach you."

It's not such a ridiculous argument.

We should all be happy that the newly-named House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is headed by someone who will stop at nothing to investigate and follow the evidence wherever it goes. He also happens to be my Congressman.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has created a new subcommittee that will tackle decisions made by the Bush administration regarding which government records should be made available to the public.

Waxman has not released his committee’s agenda for this year, and his panel has yet to organize formally, but his plan to create a subcommittee devoted to government transparency foreshadows what is expected to be a contentious debate with the administration over executive branch documents.

“We have legislative jurisdiction over [the Freedom of Information Act] and some of the other issues that relate to openness in government,” Waxman said yesterday.

Waxman is the kind of guy that attaches himself to an issue and refuses to let go. He will let the investigations play out in the interest of the country, in the interest of posterity, so that we never again put ourselves in a situation where we're fighting unnecessary wars based on shoddy evidence, where the chief executive can claim massive and expansive powers and ignore the other branches as if he were an emperor.

So, that's what I support.


Quick Hits

I'm just tired of this Democratic majority, when will it end? :) Some of this is 2008 stuff, some not.

• I like that Bill Richardson is going to Darfur and will attempt to get Sudan to agree on a peacekeeping force in the region (I thought they already agreed to it, though). Leaders should go ahead and lead first and run for President later.

• Elsewhere in Africa, Ethiopian forces are gearing up for the final battle with Islamist forces in Kismayo, where they are trapped. The news here is that US forces aren't only patrolling the coast with warships, they're helping the Kenyans at the border. They're also trying to disarm the whole population, with mixed results, especially in Mogadishu, where warlord activity is growing.

• Published reports are that Sen. Obama is in. I liked hearing him say that he told the President escalation would be a mistake. More than anyone on the Democratic side, he perhaps looks the most Presidential, believe it or not.

• Barney Frank called the neglect of New Orleans after Katrina as ethnic cleansing by inaction. I agree with Stoller.

After listening to Frank, I'm a lot less worried that the Democrats are going to fold to right-wing economic interests. Frank understands that political and economic elites have betrayed this country, and is going to reign them in. I wouldn't want to have someone as smart, experienced, and tough as Frank as my opponent, and I certainly wouldn't have needled his character, insulted his intelligence and offended his values for years. Which the Republicans have done. We have a friend in Frank.

David Sirota begs to differ with regard to Sen. Baucus. But I do think that there will be a scaling back of the giveaway of this country to special interests now, with the Democrats in power.

• Pursuant to that, I think this is pretty interesting, that the Democrats in Washington are looking to do the same move on Big Oil and alternative energy that we tried to do in California back in November.

House Democrats are crafting an energy package that would roll back billions of dollars worth of oil drilling incentives, raise billions more by boosting federal royalties paid by oil and gas companies for offshore production, and plow the money into new tax breaks for renewable energy sources, congressional sources said yesterday.

The mantle of "the party of alternative energy" is up for grabs. Democrats ought to grab it. Obviously, the need is urgent.

• Race is still a factor in this country, and if you don't believe it, go down to Louisiana and ask someone about these 7 cops convicted of shooting Katrina survivors on a bridge in the aftermath of the hurricane, and then ask them about this story.

The newly elected mayor of this southwest Louisiana town was found shot to death in a parking lot over the weekend three days before he was to become the town's first black mayor.

The body of Gerald Washington, 57, was found Saturday night in the parking lot of a former high school. He had been shot once in the chest, investigators said.

We're not that far away from the civil rights movement, and we should not kid ourselves that the nation is beyond race. It is very clear that something very fishy happened with this mayor-elect as well as the bridge shooting.

Kind of a hilarious move by Charlie Rangel, taking Dick Cheney's office in the Capitol away from him. More office shenanigans:

Someone came in and very carefully hand-stenciled that "BIGOT" lettering, making it seem like it was part of Rep. Goode's job description.

Fucking funny description of a blogger crashing Sen. Lieberman's gala "I'm Back, Baby!" celebration.

One dude has paid California $200 million dollars in tax amnesty, single-handedly keeping the state above revenue projections. It would be folly to think he's the only one out there. Far too many people who benefited from the promise of America don't want to pay for it.


Pajamas Media - Where Rumor Is Fact

In the wake of the Jamil Hussein cockup, I should have known better than to take a story pushed forward by the insaneosphere at face value. But for some reason, a link from the Insta-Cracker to this story had me thinking for a moment - just a moment.

A source close to Pajamas Media has learned that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has apparently succumbed to the cancer that hospitalized him last month, as exclusively reported by Pajamas Media, at age 67. He has been Iran’s most powerful figure since replacing Ayatollah Khomeini in the role of Supreme Leader in 1989.

The Supreme Leader of Iran dying would be a big story, one you would expect to get major coverage around the globe. Yet only Pajamas Media was reporting this last night. Could they have received the scoop of the century?


See, the entire article is based on "a source" - namely Michael Ledeen, who's been alone pushing this story for a while now. A story that is so thin on the facts, even JPod was mocking it. From the indispensable James Wolcott:

It was only a month earlier that Ledeen posted on NRO's Corner the following non-Lindsay Lohan-related inside poop:

The Case of the Dying Ayatollah [Michael Ledeen]

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is lying in a 'royal suite' in the spiffy Vanak hospital (that's its old name, which most Tehranis use) in Tehran. He wanted to leave today but the doctors would not permit it. I guess doctors have the last word, even in a dispute with the Supreme Leader. Heh. He arrived there late yesterday afternoon local time, after feeling cold, breaking out in a cold sweat, and losing feeling in his feet. The initial examination found low blood pressure and a slow pulse rate. They originally feared internal bleeding, but have tentatively concluded that he 'only' suffers from a weakened heart. On top of his cancer, that is.
More tomorrow, I hope. But note that this coronary crisis coincides with a very intense power struggle within the regime itself, leading up to the elections of the Guardian Council. In recent days, there was a very suspicious airplane crash that killed several top Revolutionary Guards officers, and the recent draft law in Parliament that would effectively reduce Ahmadinezhad's term by a full year.
Exciting times, eh what?
Posted at 5:10 PM

To his journalistic credit, fellow Cornerite John Podhoretz found something fishy in this item's medical precision given the murky circumstances.

A Cautionary Note [John Podhoretz]

The specificity of your account of Khamenei's condition, Michael, makes me wonder at its accuracy. How on earth would such specific details leak out so quickly when his illness is a state secret? One must always be cautious about such rumors.
Posted at 5:14 PM

A concerto of cautionary notes are necessary when dealing with Ledeen's disinformationalist tendencies and his oozy air of intimate acquaintance of knowledge ("I am told that this information has reached the president, and that it is part of the body of information he is digesting in order to formulate his strategy for Iraq") denied the rest of the peon press corps. But Pajamas Media went with the ayatollah cancer story anyway, went with it big, and as the hours ticked by even a few members of the dunciad that makes up most of PJM's commentariat began to notice that none of the other news agencies had picked up and confirmed Khamenei's death, not Fox, not the wire services, nope, not even Drudge.

I like that it took JPod FOUR MINUTES to call bullshit on Ledeen's rantings. Of course, Pajamas Media doesn't have such a detector. So they ran their story yesterday. And today Reuters reports there's no truth to the rumor.

Iran's U.N. ambassador denied on Friday reports circulating on the Internet that Tehran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had died.

"We checked last night and there is no truth to it," Javad Zarif, Iran's chief envoy to the United Nations, told Reuters about the reports, which first appeared on Web sites on Thursday.

This is my favorite line:

The Internet rumors were circulating among traders in energy and other financial markets, but had not moved prices.

Maybe those energy traders considered the source. And moved on with their day.

(UPDATE: UPI has joined Reuters in denying the PJ report.)

Pajamas is now furiously engaging in a backpedal, having changed their story this morning to reflect the fact that, you know, it isn't true.

UPDATE: Some sources, evidently including a family member, are reporting that Khamenei, in grave condition, was alive as recently as yesterday. Our source reported that he died today. More to come. It is the middle of the night in Iran.

MORE: Farideh Vafai - spokeswoman for Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former Shah of Iran - made the following comment to PJM Washington Editor Richard Miniter: “We cannot confirm this news. We have heard rumors but so far have no confirmation.” Ms. Vafai was reached at Pahlavi’s Secretariat in Falls Church, VA. [...]


The source still insists Khamenei is dead, but I cannot find any direct or indirect confirmation. To my knowledge only one person says Khamenei is dead. That said, the regime would have every reason to keep the fact secret, and Khamenei’s physical condition has certainly been grave. In addition to the reports of his emergency hospitalization, his message to the Islamic Community on the Eid festival was released, not publicly read, as he had always done in the past. He has made no public appearances for several days, and Persian web sites have declared—several days ago now—that he cannot carry out his responsibilities and will have to be replaced. The struggle for succession is well under way.

This is hilarious. Ledeen had one person to feed him some juicy information, contradicted by everybody else, and he's trying desperately to keep his reputation intact by stammering and stuttering. Pajamas Media, supposedly the savior of journalism, went to print with a major story based on hearsay from a single source.

Thanks for given citizen journalism such a good name.

In fact, they can't even get known fabricator Amir Taheri - the guy who made up the "Iran is forcing Jews to wear yellow stars" story - to go on the record supporting Ledeen.

“It is a rumor circulating in Tehran,” Amir Taheri told Richard Miniter, PJM Washington editor. “There is no way to know if it is true.”

Taheri was responding to a Pajamas Media post yesterday of a report … as yet unconfirmed… that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is dead [...]

On balance, Taheri was confident that Khamenei was suffering from cancer but skeptical that he had died.

More on Taheri from TBogg.

The reasons Ledeen would want to stir up a story about the Supreme Leader of Iran dying are likely to be manifold. He certainly wishes for regime change, and any excuse to whip up unrest in the country. By taking Ledeen's self-serving report as gospel and going live with it, Pajamas Media is committing all the sins they see in the so-called MSM: biased reporting, a lack of fact-checking, an inability to admit mistakes.

But then, why should we be surprised?


The Civility Brigade

As the Democrats take Congress, every pundit in the Beltway has waved the bloody shirt of bipartisanship, openly hoping that the 110th Congress will be marked with civility and comity instead of squabbling.

Here are some examples of such civility on the right.

Number 1.

A radio talk-show entertainer whose earlier statements that he "may" have to assassinate members of Congress if the wrong people were elected Nov. 7 now has set a timetable for those killings.

In a statement on his website, Hal Turner noted that a newspaper has reported that a bill granting amnesty to illegal aliens is expected to be enacted in January, when the Democratic Party takes control of the U.S. Senate and House.


Number 2.

That is bad news for us, and it is seriously bad news for millions of Iraqis.

Deja vu all over again.

And that is why this world will never be a better place until every last socialist on the surface of it has been exterminated. Just as any other disease, they need to be purged from the body of mankind. Because if they’re not, they’ll keep popping back up, and every time the Socialist death toll will rise.

It is time for the vile, hateful, diseased religion of Karl Marx and all of its pathological mutations to be laid to rest permanently.

Because if we don’t get rid of it, we’ll keep seeing history repeating itself.

100 million murdered by socialism ought to be enough.

It’s time for the cure.

At least Hannity didn't call for open murder and assassination of Democrats (yet), he just claimed Iraq had WMD but they were moved, absent any evidence.

This has been another episode of "Civility in Discourse on the Right." Noted without comment, because none is needed.


Saying The Right Thing on Iraq

The Democratic Leadership writes a letter.

January 5, 2007

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The start of the new Congress brings us opportunities to work together on the critical issues confronting our country. No issue is more important than finding an end to the war in Iraq. December was the deadliest month of the war in over two years, pushing U.S. fatality figures over the 3,000 mark.

The American people demonstrated in the November elections that they don’t believe your current Iraq policy will lead to success and that we need a change in direction for the sake of our troops and the Iraqi people. We understand that you are completing your post-election consultations on Iraq and are preparing to make a major address on your Iraq strategy to the American people next week.

Clearly this address presents you with another opportunity to make a long overdue course correction. Despite the fact that our troops have been pushed to the breaking point and, in many cases, have already served multiple tours in Iraq, news reports suggest that you believe the solution to the civil war in Iraq is to require additional sacrifices from our troops and are therefore prepared to proceed with a substantial U.S. troop increase.

Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. They, like us, believe there is no purely military solution in Iraq. There is only a political solution. Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain. And it would undermine our efforts to get the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq [...]

Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror. A renewed diplomatic strategy, both within the region and beyond, is also required to help the Iraqis agree to a sustainable political settlement . . In short, it is time to begin to move our forces out of Iraq and make the Iraqi political leadership aware that our commitment is not open ended, that we cannot resolve their sectarian problems, and that only they can find the political resolution required to stabilize Iraq.

Our troops and the American people have already sacrificed a great deal for the future of Iraq. After nearly four years of combat, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, and over $300 billion dollars, it is time to bring the war to a close. We, therefore, strongly encourage you to reject any plans that call for our getting our troops any deeper into Iraq. We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future but, like many of our senior military leaders, we do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success.

We appreciate you taking these views into consideration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

This is what I meant about getting on the record, and on the side of the American people. Reid and Pelosi are not alone. I thought this story with Joe Biden's comments was magnificent:

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president will "be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof," in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam.

"I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost," Biden said. "They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy -- literally, not figuratively." [...]

Biden expressed opposition to the president's plan for a "surge" of additional U.S. troops and said he has grave doubts about whether the Iraqi government has the will or the capacity to help implement a new approach. He said he hopes to use the hearings to "illuminate the alternatives available to this president" and to provide a platform for influencing Americans, especially Republican lawmakers.

"There is nothing a United States Senate can do to stop a president from conducting his war," Biden said. "The only thing that is going to change the president's mind, if he continues on a course that is counterproductive, is having his party walk away from his position."

Biden's being coy. There's not only plenty he can do to stop the war, he's doing it. He's about to hold four weeks' worth of hearings. And he can help Sen. Levin fence the money, as Murtha is doing in the House. So I think his comments were for the benefit of hanging Bush's war around his neck, and empowering the Republicans in Congress to talk their guy off the ledge or go down with him.

And you can add Sen. Feingold calling for redeployment, Jane Harman asking to put the war "on budget," and others to this list. I was afraid that Democrats wouldn't speak with a full voice on Iraq. They are. And they're prepared to pounce when Bush announces the escalation next week.


Personnel Moves

The deck chairs on the Titanic are getting quite a re-arranging this week. John Negroponte is moving to be Condi Rice's deputy at State, with retired Admiral Mike McConnell stepping into the Director of National Intelligence post. White House Counsel Harriet Miers is taking her love letters and going home, with a more strident foe of Congress expected to replace her. Zalmay Khalilzad is poised to become the highest-ranking Muslim in the government by becoming UN Ambassador, with career civil servant Ryan Crocker becoming US Ambassador to Iraq. And the top generals are being purged from Iraq, as they simply refused to give Bush the advice he wanted given.

Now, there are a lot of competing theories as to why this is all happening. Juan Cole thinks the adults are finally taking charge, Steve Benen thinks it's a lot of business to steal the thunder of the new Democratic Congress, and Dan Froomkin calls it "The Purge of the Unbelievers." I think all of them have a point, especially Froomkin.

Harriet Miers, a longtime companion of the president but never a true believer in Vice President Cheney's views of a nearly unrestrained executive branch, is out as White House counsel -- likely to be replaced by someone in the more ferocious model of Cheney chief of staff David S. Addington.

Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad, considered by Cheney to be too soft on the Sunnis, is kicked upstairs to the United Nations, to be replaced by Ryan Crocker, who presumably does not share his squeamishness.

John Negroponte, not alarmist enough about the Iranian nuclear threat in his role as Director of National Intelligence, is shifted over to the State Department, the Bush administration's safehouse for the insufficiently neocon. Cheney, who likes to pick his own intelligence, thank you, personally intervenes to get his old friend Mike McConnell to take Negroponte's job.

And George Casey and John Abizaid -- the generals who so loyally served as cheerleaders for the White House's "stay the course" approach during the mid-term election campaigns -- are jettisoned for having shown a little backbone in their opposition to Cheney and Bush's politically-motivated insistence on throwing more troops into the Iraqi conflagration.

In fact, it may be worse than that. Replacing Abizaid at CENTCOM is a Navy admiral and former flight officer, set to oversee a couple ground wars. If you factor in the Naval fleets off the coast of both Somalia and Iran right now, perhaps this makes sense. Maybe this is why Wes Clark is so steamed, expecting some sort of pre-emptive bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities.

Clearly the fact that Abizaid and Casey resisted the expected escalation in Iraq (albeit a small escalation, since we don't have the troops) hastened their departure. But you can't get rid of everyone and make Barney the dog head of the Joint Chiefs, which is what you'd have to do to stop the resistance. As the Washington Post puts it,

On deploying new U.S. troops in Iraq, Bush pledged to make sure that the mission is "clear and specific and can be accomplished."

But deep divisions remain between the White House on one side and the Joint Chiefs and congressional leaders on the other about whether a surge of up to 20,000 troops will turn around the deteriorating situation, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. military is increasingly resigned to the probability that Bush will deploy a relatively small number of additional troops -- between one and five brigades -- in part because he has few other dramatic options available to signal U.S. determination in Iraq, officials said. But the Joint Chiefs have not given up making the case that the potential dangers outweigh the benefits for several reasons, officials said.

There are already signs that a limited U.S. escalation, even when complemented by new political and economic steps, may not satisfy either supporters or critics of a surge. Pentagon officials and military experts say far more troops are needed to make a real difference, but the United States would have to remobilize reserves, extend current tours of duty and accelerate planned deployments just to come up with 20,000 troops, U.S. officials say. And such a surge would strap the military for other potential crises, they add.

This is all about buying time. In fact, all of the personnel changes can be seen in that light. The Administration wants to buy time in Iraq, so they change the generals and the diplomats to make it look like they're changing the policy. The Administration wants to buy time with Congress, so they rid themselves of Harriet Miers to get a fighter in there who will stonewall Congressional committees and ensure that official secrecy is maintained.

The effort to form a new legal team anticipates a spate of congressional demands for information on politically sensitive topics such as whether officials authorized the abuse of U.S. detainees, whether the administration turned a blind eye to profiteering by politically connected contractors in the Iraq war, how the White House responded to Hurricane Katrina, and whether senior officials complied with the law in ordering heightened domestic surveillance.

At the Justice Department, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel have been meeting with counterparts from other agencies to discuss potential points of conflict with Congress and to map out legal strategies for responding to demands for documents and testimony, according to several officials. The department has also held internal meetings on this topic in recent weeks with representatives from the FBI and from Justice's other major components, one official said.

"They face the question of, to what extent you cooperate or protect presidential prerogatives and withhold documents," said H. Christopher Bartolomucci, a former Bush White House lawyer. "Potentially, it could be a period of conflict with the Hill. . . . It's not necessarily going to be a bloodbath, but it's certainly possible."

The Administration wants to buy time with the impossible post of DNI that they created, where one man or woman is supposed to coordinate every single disparate and ego-driven intelligence agency but is given no purse strings to put any leverage on them, so they move out Negroponte (who hated the job) and moved in the new lackey.

Some intelligence experts believe that Mr. Gates is likely to be less territorial than Mr. Rumsfeld was about the Pentagon’s intelligence functions, and may even be eager to cede some of the Pentagon’s authority to the new intelligence chief. Others said that the job of corralling 16 sometimes dysfunctional intelligence agencies is an often thankless task, and one where it is difficult to have a noticeable impact. Mr. Negroponte is said by associates to have grown particularly weary of clashes with members of Congress.

“I think it’s pretty telling that both Bob Gates and John Negroponte prefer jobs trying to bail us out of Iraq to the job of trying to fix U.S. intelligence,” said Amy Zegart, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and an expert in intelligence overhaul.

In fact, the entire Administration machinery is dysfunctional in its design, yet unwilling to accept this dysfunction. So they change deck chairs.


The Bigger Man

This Keith Ellison is not only a whip-smart politician, but he's a real man.

Ellison asked another Democratic member to introduce him to Rep Virgil Goode, R-Virgina, who spoke out against Ellison in a letter to constituents last month. Ellison told CNN that he approached Goode on the House floor and the brief meeting went well.

"I shook his hand and shook mine. We greeted each other." Ellison asked Goode to grab a cup of coffee with him soon and Goode accepted.

Asked if he was felt singled out as the first Muslim member, Ellison said no and added, "By reaching out to Congressman Goode I'm not trying to be accepted, I'm trying to build bridges. In this world there are too many misunderstandings. I want to put a human face on things."

He doesn't show bitterness for being singled out for no other reason than his religion. He shows a desire for inclusiveness, to build up instead of tear down. In other words, he's a true American, and he reflects the American spirit.

It was a hell of a day for America yesterday, seeing a woman swear in a black Muslim, both of them elected by their constituents to help lead the country. That's progress.


Wrong About Everything

There's coverage all over the liberal blogosphere about the latest trick cigar to blow up in the face of the Michelle Malkins of the world. Jamil Hussein is a police officer who was tipping off the AP about various atrocities in Iraq. Malkin and the gang swore up and down that he didn't exist, writing story after story about it. Now the AP reports that Hussein is not only real, he's being arrested by the Interior Ministry for talking to them:

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The Interior Ministry acknowledged Thursday that an Iraqi police officer whose existence had been denied by the Iraqis and the U.S. military is in fact an active member of the force, and said he now faces arrest for speaking to the media.

Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, who had previously denied there was any such police employee as Capt. Jamil Hussein, said in an interview that Hussein is an officer assigned to the Khadra police station, as had been reported by The Associated Press.

The captain, whose full name is Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, was one of the sources for an AP story in late November about the burning and shooting of six people during a sectarian attack at a Sunni mosque.

Now, everyone's having a lot of fun with this. But it's important to try and understand the initial premise of the insaneosphere's attack. If Jamil Hussein didn't exist, their theory went, then that would somehow prove... that Iraq was a site of flowers and candy? This was a classic distraction strategy, using one infinitesimal event to cast doubt on the entire disastrous situation. It was tautological to the extreme. And they weren't even right about their infinitesimal event.

Not only that, but because of their insistence that Hussein reveal himself, he's now been arrested by the Ministry that likes to torture and kill their prisoners. So now they've possibly cost a man his life for the crime of daring to tell people what is going on in his country.

UPDATE: And Bradrocket from Sadly, No explains exactly how this will go among the crazies on the right:

The wingnutosphere never eats crow. First they’ll acknowledge that Hussein does exist, but then add that there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the AP’s report. The next thing that happens is they never answer those questions and move on. Lastly, they start leafing through every goddamn wire photo on the Internet to search for evidence of photoshopping or tampering of any kind. When they finally find something (or hell, even if don’t) they’ll start braying and shrieking about how the Iraq war is going just fine, and that journalists only report bad news because they hate the troops. This is how they play the game. They will never change because they have no souls.


Now That's Principle

One Congressman was brave enough to step forward and say "No! I deserve my junket to Scotland!"

Pelosi, D-Calif., will exert vast influence over the congressional agenda and stands second in the line of succession to the presidency. In her first step as speaker, she orchestrated bipartisan 430-1 passage of a measure banning lawmakers from accepting gifts and free trips from lobbyists and discounted trips on private planes. Rep. Dan Burton (news, bio, voting record), R-Ind., cast the sole "nay" vote.

At least somebody in Congress is fighting for the rest of us... the rest of us meaning those who want free trips to Spain and the Caribbean when they become legislators.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Eh, it's not like people get a lot of mail anymore, right?

George W. Bush is apparently the new Postmaster General:

President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

Of course, the whole Bush Presidency did hinge on that postal reform bill, so I guess it's justified.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Oh, never mind.

This happened during the winter recess, which to me shows that they knew how damaging to civil liberties this was. The difference, of course, is that the oversight committee chairs have a D next to their name.

"Despite the President's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.

I mean, is this the Soviet Union? Going through people's mail, now?

And if I hear "ticking time bomb" one more time, I'm-a gonna puke.

"In certain circumstances - such as with the proverbial 'ticking bomb' - the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches," she said.

Bush, however, cited "exigent circumstances" which could refer to an imminent danger or a longstanding state of emergency.

In perpetual war, every piece of mail is an imminent threat. As is every phone conversation. And every Muslim.


The Patrician Backlash

You know that, with Democrats championing the absurd notion that someone who works 40 hours a week should be able to afford food and clothing and shelter, that there would be courageous Americans who would step forward and stand up for those downtrodden souls who can't fight for themselves: employers.

So it is that the proud George Will writes today, giving voice to the patrician voiceless, boldly speaking for the Home Depot CEOs of the world and finally pressing forth with the sensible idea that people should be paid in bowls of rice, if at all.

Today, raising the federal minimum wage is a bad idea whose time has come, for two reasons, the first of which is that some Democrats have an evidently incurable disease -- New Deal Nostalgia. Witness Nancy Pelosi's "100 hours" agenda, a genuflection to FDR's 100 Days. Perhaps this nostalgia resonates with the 5 percent of Americans who remember the 1930 [...]

Most of the working poor earn more than the minimum wage, and most of the 0.6 percent (479,000 in 2005) of America's wage workers earning the minimum wage are not poor. Only one in five workers earning the federal minimum lives in families with earnings below the poverty line. Sixty percent work part time, and their average household income is well over $40,000. (The average and median household incomes are $63,344 and $46,326, respectively.)

Shorter George Will: They can work two or three jobs, what are they, lazy? Also, he's lying about the statistics, and ignorant of basic economic fact that when you provide acceptable wages, that money gets plowed back into the local community and helps the economy.

Then he uses this statistic to SUPPORT his claims?

Ronald Blackwell, the AFL-CIO's chief economist, tells the New York Times that state minimum-wage differences entice companies to shift jobs to lower-wage states. So: States' rights are bad, after all, at least concerning -- let's use liberalism's highest encomium -- diversity of economic policies.

But the minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities' prices. Washington, which has its hands full delivering the mail and defending the shores, should let the market do well what Washington does poorly. But that is a good idea whose time will never come again.

So there shouldn't be a federal minimum wage, because - minimum wage jobs like flipping burgers and cleaning toilets will move to Mexico? Will the burgers and toilets join them there?

This is ludicrous. Study after study show that raising wages do not impact local economies or local jobs. As Oliver Willis says so well, capitalism that is unregulated will race to the bottom, just as Will's own statistic about companies chasing lower state minimum wages proves.

The whole reason we've got minimum wage law and other labor laws is that left to their own designs businesses colluded with each other, fixed their prices, and paid their workers next to nothing in horrible life-threatening conditions (and some of those laborers were children).

Capitalism is great and it works, but without policing, rules, and enforcement it is the playground of devils - devoid of morality and a pariah on our society. We learned that lesson collectively already, we won't repeat it. America's past that.

Meanwhile, another bold soul has stepped forward for the patrician class: the LA Times editorial board. The target here is a living-wage law passed by the City Council for LAX-area hotels. That, of course, cannot stand.

Business groups rightly cried foul and have since collected twice the number of signatures needed to take the matter to voters. Assuming that the petition is verified by the city clerk, the council will have to decide whether to rescind the wage extension or submit it to the ballot, which could cost taxpayers anywhere from $100,000 (if it's part of another citywide election) to $6 million (if it's a one-off).

The council should stop throwing good money after bad policy and instead withdraw the law. The living-wage extension is an unwarranted and capricious government intrusion into private industry that could chase businesses out of Los Angeles while encouraging hotels to raise prices or lay off workers. It reinforces the growing notion that City Hall is not friendly toward employers.

Yeah, you're going to chase hotels away from an airport. Honestly, do media figures think we're idiots? There's money to be made at LAX whether you pay the maid six dollars or 10.50 an hour. If your profit margin is that low you shouldn't be in the hotel business. This is about perpetual growth, stockholder pressure, and greed. Pure, unadulterated greed that suggests "the good old days" were in the time of the Gilded Age. The people aren't going to stand for this anymore; 80% agree with increasing the minimum wage. The country has changed. The patricians might have to part with a buck or two. I think they can spare it.


2008 Matters

A semi-occasional series on the Presidential race, just 22 months away and counting!

• I don't know how long it'll take for the media to understand that their fascination with the Clintons does not match the population's. It'll probably take until January 2008 in Iowa. This inside-baseball piece about who worries Hillary, what's Hillary's strategy, what's Hillary EATING... I think this all has more importance to writers like Adam Nagourney than anybody else. To win, Hillary is going to need to inspire, and not just fascinate the overgrown children that make up the mainstream press corps.

• Speaking of eating, this was a significant shot across Hillary's bow in the article.

Mrs. Clinton has gone to great lengths to try to keep these meetings private. She and her aides have strongly asked Democrats not to report what has taken place there, from what she says to what she eats, and where (she had the lamb at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Washington, the Dover sole at the Four Seasons in New York).

Ezra Klein noticed this too. The Times writers leak out Hillary's food choices in the same sentence that they state Hillary doesn't want food choices mentioned. This is the first of what one imagines will be 20,000 leaks during her campaign. The Times will use the Clinton rules on her, turning molehills into mountains.

• While Hillary is running proxy campaigns against Obama in the mainstream press and getting attention among the navel-gazers, John Edwards is making podcasts and talking about social networking sites. Somebody's running a 1972 campaign, and someone's running a next-gen one. The podcast's pretty interesting, by the way.

• Pretty hilarious to see that hit piece on Obama's past drug use go out there, and to see Republicans try to jump on it, only to trip up when confronted with the reality of, ahem, the current President.

Fox News ran a segment on "Obama's Cocaine Confession." Their conversation took an unusual turn, however, when Fox reporter Kirian Chetry said President Bush had also admitted to using cocaine.

Obama "talks very candidly, as did our current president, who admitted to using cocaine, correct? [Others demur] Well, who wrote, somebody wrote in a book -- well, he admitted that he had an alcoholic, he had a drinking problem. Who was it who said they witnessed him using cocaine? It was somebody who wrote a book..."

As her colleagues tried to talk her down from the line of discussion, Chetry responded, "Okay, okay, fine, but there were questions about the current president and whether he used cocaine or not as a young guy, but there's something about turning your life around...that people can accept."

The whole "moral high dudgeon" thing is going to be hard to do with an admitted drunk driver in the White House. This shouldn't be an issue on either side if it isn't current.

• The Guiliani campaign memo thing is getting embarrassing. First they blamed McCain or Romney, then they said aides to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was responsible, then they went back on that. A Guiliani campaign might be as fun as the Bernard Kerik nomination for DHS head.

• Barack Obama wrote an op-ed today about lobbying and ethics reform, and I like this passage:

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that this message was intended for only one party or politician. The votes hadn't even been counted in November before we heard reports that corporations were already recruiting lobbyists with Democratic connections to carry their water in the next Congress.

That's why it's not enough to just change the players. We have to change the game.

He's also pushing an Office of Public Integrity, as he always has. I like the fact that he's gotten the message on the need to lead. In fact, many of the Democratic candidates - Edwards comes to mind - have come to the conclusion that leading first and politicking later is the way to the nomination.

• And then on the other hand, not leading but being led by the nose, this Vanity Fair piece on John McCain shows a man who will literally do anything to win the approval of his party. While the signature issue that shows his true nature, taking the debacle of Iraq and making it his own with his escalation plan, is backfiring among the public, on virtually every other issue, he's willing to take any position that get him support.

Matthews wants to know McCain's views on the prevalence of gay people in all walks of life, a subject whose predicate is the scandal involving Representative Mark Foley and his come-hither instant-messaging with congressional pages. "Should gay marriage be allowed?," Matthews asks.

"I think that gay marriage should be allowed, if there's a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that," McCain answers, searching in vain for the less loaded phrases he knows are out there somewhere, such as "commitment ceremony" or "civil union." "I don't have any problem with that, but I do believe in preserving the sanctity of the union between man and woman." It may not be clear just what McCain is trying to say, but it's easy to see how his words could be skewed in a direction that the Republican right might not like at all.

Fast-forward to the next commercial break, during which McCain and Matthews reposition themselves from the stage to the auditorium floor to take questions from the students. McCain's longtime political strategist, John Weaver, a lanky, laconic Texan, moves in to whisper some advice. The next question is about the pending federal farm bill, and McCain repeats his long-standing opposition to certain agricultural subsidies.

But then, out of nowhere, he adds, "Could I just mention one other thing? On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe if people want to have private ceremonies, that's fine. I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal." There: he said it, the right words for his right flank.

It's like he needed advice of conservative counsel to get his principles straight. Embarrassing. And that's not where it ends. This is my favorite part.

McCain had been asked how debate over the immigration bill was playing politically. "In the short term, it probably galvanizes our base," he said. "In the long term, if you alienate the Hispanics, you'll pay a heavy price." Then he added, unable to help himself, "By the way, I think the fence is least effective. But I'll build the goddamned fence if they want it."

The whole article is like that. McCain's acting like Zachary Taylor and saying different things to different people, hoping nobody has an Internet connection or a TV set so they'll be able to connect the dots. It's almost hard to watch McCain now. He's a shell of a man, a completely rudderless ship, blubbering to anyone who'll listen that he agrees with them, selling himself out completely out of a lust for power. I have to avert my eyes.


CA-36: Harman's Job Plans

In the Washington Post, Lois Romano gossips her way through a piece on the rivalry between Jane Harman and Nancy Pelosi, and Harman's residual anger over being passed over as chair of the House Intelligence Committee. But there's a little nugget in there:

She has lamented that Congress has lost its luster for her and that she is hoping for a job in a Democratic administration, according to a friend. "She's obsessed," the source said. "It's been hard for her not to take it personally, but it's over."

I don't know if this means that Harman won't seek re-election: she likely wants to be in some official position of power. But she'd leap at the chance to join a Democratic Administration and vacate her Congressional seat, setting up a special election. Progressives obviously have a strong infrastructure in this district: Marcy Winograd received nearly 40% of the vote in a primary challenge. Perhaps there won't be a need for any more primary fights.

It also begs the question of whether Harman is really the best choice for what would almost certainly be an intelligence-related post under a Democratic President.


Congratulations to Speaker Pelosi

This is an historic day, seeing a woman delivering an address as the Speaker of the House for the first time. Unlike Mcjoan I don't think the press is ignoring it, but it does deserve full recognition. And I like that the first issue she took up in her speech was the war in Iraq. It's somewhat smart to, as Steve Soto says, wait and see what the President says and then strike with hearings and votes and all the rest. I just didn't want to see the Democrats avoid Iraq, and it looks like they won't.

UPDATE: I should also give a hearty congratulations to Senator Webb, Senator Tester, Senator McCaskill, Representative Murphy, Representative McNerney, and all of the other great legislators we helped get elected back in November. It's really fun to see the change in Washington.


Chief Justice Hophead

It's fun what you can learn from declassified documents. Like the fact that in the 1980s, a sitting Associate Justice of the Supreme Court became so dependent on the painkiller Placidyl that he became completely delusional.

The FBI’s 1986 report on (William) Rehnquist’s drug dependence was not released at the time of his confirmation, though some Democratic senators wanted it made public. But it is in Rehnquist’s now-public file, and it contains new details about his behavior during his weeklong hospital stay in December 1981. One physician whose name is blocked out told the FBI that Rehnquist expressed “bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts. He imagined, for example, that there was a CIA plot against him.”

The doctor said Rehnquist “had also gone to the lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape.” The doctor said Rehnquist’s delirium was consistent with him suddenly stopping his apparent daily dose of 1400 milligrams of the drug — nearly three times higher than the 500-milligram maximum recommended by physicians. The doctor said, “Any physician who prescribed it was practicing very bad medicine, bordering on malpractice.”

Rehnquist was taking this painkiller, typically used as a short-term treatment, for over 10 years, and at doses three times that of what is recommended. He was so addicted that he had to be weaned off slowly, and for several weeks he spoke from the bench in a slurring speech, a symptom of the withdrawal. In fact, he was confirmed to the Supreme Court and served on it for a decade while having a drug addiction. It was out of public view that entire time, and never uttered during any confirmation hearings for Rehnquist to be an Associate or Chief Justice. In fact, these documents reveal that the FBI and the Department of Justice sought to discredit and intimidate witnesses in those hearings who wished to be critical of Rehnquist.

Obviously, this was a form of malpractice, to improperly dose Mr. Rehnquist to a level he could not possibly resist. But isn't this something the public might want to know about their leaders, those who are supposed sit in judgment on them? And maybe it would be instructive to examine Justice Rehnquist's record on sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders, or medical malpractice, and see how it lined up with his private behavior.

The question may not be "Who else in the government is whacked out on goofballs," but "Who isn't?"


Militia Are Part of the Iraqi Government

This is embarrassingly clear now, in the wake of the Saddam execution.

Iraqi officials claim Saddam Hussein's execution was infiltrated by outsiders bent on inflaming sectarian tensions.

Authorities are questioning a guard at the prison where the hanging took place. They are trying to find out who filmed the event on a cellphone, and leaked the video.

The footage of the former dictator being taunted by Shi'ites as he stood on the gallows has sparked outrage across the Arab world.

Iraq's National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie admits things did not go to plan.

Another Iraqi official says the hanging was supposed to be carried out by hangmen employed by the Interior Ministry, but that militias infiltrated the executioners' team.

Infiltrated? I don't know what's worse, that the government is that brittle that militia members can get into the most secure, most important function that they have undertaken, or that the government can't even admit that the Interior Ministry is full of militia members, despite all the evidence. Hell, Muqtada al-Sadr is holding Saddam's noose!

If everybody were honest with themselves, they'd admit that Iraq is ruled, at least nominally, by the Shiite militia. No wonder the Prime Minister wants to resign his post; negotiating between US interests and Shiite militia interests and "national unity" interests must be exasperating.


The Harriet Miers Era Ends

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

I guess that with a new Congress, and with hearings to be held and subpoenaes coming in, they need someone as White House counsel who, you know, understands what a subpoena is.



Smile! Today Democrats take Congress!

Today is a really fun day. We'll have the first female Speaker of the House in history. Democrats will have the majority in both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years. And they'll actually get to work right away, implementing new rules as part of the ambitious agenda for the first 100 hours. We know that agenda holds massive public support, and we know that the Democrats are committed to implementing all of it over the whiny objections of Republicans who are suddenly interested in bipartisanship after all these years. It appears that the Democrats will not heed this call because of the knowledge that a popular agenda trumps it.

That is a very good, and a very dangerous thing.

Unlike press reports and the opinions of many pundits, I don't believe that this 100-hour agenda is modest. People who can't pay their bills on the minimum wage they receive don't see raising their quality of life as modest. People who have to choose between paying the electric bill and paying for their prescription drugs don't see the ability to get the same drugs cheaper as modest. Students who will still be paying off their college education in their 40s don't see cutting predatory lending rates in half as modest. And on and on. The agenda is popular because it seeks to actually help people, a first in the decade.

But at the same time, I have to agree with Chris Bowers, and that at some point, the Democratic leadership must look at the items in the "most important" column, in addition to the "most popular" one.

When I look at the legislative topics of the first 100 hours, I see a laundry list of Dubai ports deals. All of these proposals--ethics reform, raising the minimum wage, stem cell research--are very popular, but they still tend to cut around the edges of the most important issue of our time. Certainly, raising the minimum wage is a lot more important than the Dubai port deal was, as is pretty much everything on the early Democratic agenda. However, after winning an election largely on promising change to, or at least oversight of, Iraq policy, there isn't a single thing in the first 100 hours that deals with Iraq. There doesn't even seem to be a push to immediately set up an oversight committee on any subject related to Iraq. Like national Democratic campaigns pre-Lamont, it is pretty much Iraq-free, and we have re-entered the Dubai Port deal press conference zone again.

Democrats cannot hope to govern like this indefinitely. Eventually, we will run out of Dubai port deals. Further, we will also lose our newfound ability to steer the national political conversation if we elide the big issues of the day--especially while Bush continues to talk Iraq. Still further, it will reify the negative national image of Democrats as gutless wonders. Worst of all, voters will feel betrayed by the new Congress, in that we failed to challenge, expose, stop or alter our course in Iraq in any significant way.

Democrats spent years of timidity, afraid to speak out on issues for fear of being blasted by their opponents. We cannot allow this learned helplessness to continue in the majority the way it did in the minority. Every politician loves to advocate a popular issue; that's inevitable. And the 100-hour agenda has real impact and meaning to people's lives. But at some point, it's impossible to avoid the unnecessary occupation elephant in the room.

I completely agree with Bowers that people learn about the political parties by their actions. If they only pay attention to what's popular and not what's most vital, people will absolutely understand that the party has no intestinal fortitude to challenge the Republicans. It's crystal clear that voters sent Democrats into the majority to provide a check on the President and runaway Republican government. To anyone paying attention, that means Iraq. And once again, only the Senator from Wisconsin fully understands this:

Tomorrow U.S. Senator Russ Feingold will again introduce legislation to establish a timetable to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq. The legislation builds on Feingold’s effort in the last Congress to end the military mission in Iraq in order to focus attention and resources on our top national security priority: defeating global terrorist networks. Feingold’s legislation would require the administration to submit a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq within six months. The bill would allow a minimal number of U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for targeted counter-terrorism activities, training of Iraqi security forces, and the protection of U.S. infrastructure and personnel.

“The American people sent a strong message in November to fix the administration’s failed Iraq policy, the same message I have heard from Wisconsinites at my listening sessions,” Feingold said. “So far, the administration has ignored that message and is considering sending more troops to Iraq – something that would run counter to our national security and the wishes of the American people. Congress can’t afford to make the same mistake. We must redeploy our troops from Iraq so that we can focus on serious threats to our security – in Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere – that have only grown while this Administration has been distracted in Iraq.”

Is that really so hard?

It's obvious that the options for affecting the policy in Iraq are narrow. But there comes a time when you have to unequivocally let the public know what side you're on. You have to allow them to tell the white hats from the black hats. I believe there will be hearings, and there will be public statements of disapproval for escalation. But that's not quite enough. A focus-grouped, poll-tested set of bills can be a benefit by gaining momentum and showing the public that things are getting done. Sometime before the State of the Union, however, Democrats will have a moment. They will have the floor and be able to state their objection to an escalation policy. They must get on the record so that everybody knows it.

This is where we come in. We have to ensure our representatives that it's OK to be forcefully on the side of the American people and against this policy. They have to hear from us about the priorities facing the nation. MoveOn is doing a photo petition project, where thousands of pictures from constituents, holding messages like "Out of Iraq" and "Health Care For All," will be hand-delivered to members of Congress. This is important work. We can support the 100-hour agenda, but ensuring that Congress then gets down to working on the big issues, the important issues that they know the country faces.

UPDATE: Now this is what I'm taling about, but I wish it wasn't the work of free-lancers like Murtha or Feingold, and that the party could speak with one voice.

In an interview with Arianna Huffington, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), the chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Committee, said he intends to block funding for any escalation plan. An excerpt:

When we asked about the likelihood of the president sending additional troops to Iraq, Murtha was adamant. “The only way you can have a troop surge,” he told us, “is to extend the tours of people whose tours have already been extended, or to send back people who have just gotten back home.” He explained at length how our military forces are already stretched to the breaking point, with our strategic reserve so depleted we are unprepared to face any additional threats to the country. So does that mean there will be no surge? Murtha offered us a “with Bush anything is possible” look, then said: “Money is the only way we can stop it for sure.”…

He says he wants to “fence the funding,” denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq “as soon as we can.”


Didja Know

...that the US Navy is patrolling the coast of Somalia right now? Don't you think that'd be something that would hit the American press instead of just the BBC?

US naval forces have deployed off the Somali coast to prevent leaders of defeated Islamist militias escaping.

Kenya has also significantly tightened border security to stop an influx of fleeing fighters, as aid agencies called for help for genuine refugees.

Uganda's president is travelling to Ethiopia to discuss forming an African force to stabilise the country.

The State Department confirmed this, so it isn't hearsay.

I'm not necessarily against this, I just wish I could live in this country and know about our various instances of gunboat diplomacy. And between patrolling the coast and sealing the Kenyan border, and martial law in the capital, the number of guns in and around Somalia right now speak to a potentially violent end here. The window of opportunity for the implementation of peacekeeping forces and an actual governmental solution is narrowing with each passing day.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Governor Gala

Arnold Schwarzenegger will be in a familiar position on his inauguration day, surrounded by fawning admirers and the super-rich, who will join forces to put on a garish ball in his honor. Of course, there's a little conflict of interest over who's actually paying for it.

Donna Summer will sing at the black-tie gala. Tony award-winner Jennifer Holliday will croon at the swearing-in ceremony. A 20-foot-long fresh-water aquarium will grace the Capitol lawn. And construction firms, insurance companies, developers and other private donors — most with business in the governor's office — will pick up the tab of at least $1.4 million for a lavish party to kick off Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's second term.

Schwarzenegger's inaugural committee Friday announced the plans for next Friday's celebration, along with a list of donors. Campaign finance watchdogs have called the whole affair unseemly. Unlike other donations from special interests with business before the state, contributions to the inaugural committee are not subject to legal limits. Nine donors contributed at least $50,000 each to the event, which earned them the designation of "Gold Sponsor." Half the $1.4 million raised came in during the last two weeks.

Critics of the event say donors are less interested in funding a good party than being in the good graces of the governor when they need a favor.

"These donors aren't stupid," said Derek Cressman, an analyst with the Sacramento-based Poplar Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies the role of money in politics. "They are shrewd businesspeople who give money for sound business reasons. They give because they feel it will improve their bottom line by getting them access and goodwill with the governor's office…. I think it's inappropriate."

Aside from the new-money tastelessness of it all (and that goes for any of these inaugural balls, for my money, whether it's Nancy Pelosi or the Governor of Texas), this is a clear-cut case of conflict of interest and pay to play. I mean, they're not even trying to hide it. There are construction firms ponying up cash who want infrastructure bond projects; the Chamber of Commerce slapping down dollars so they get pro-business policies; and the lead sponsor, Chevron, maybe as a thank-you for the governor supporting their position on Prop. 87, the Big Oil tax-for-alternative energy research which went down in November.

Arnold isn't the only governor to do this, but he's got the biggest party (surprise, surprise), so he's the most obvious target of criticism. And it's well deserved. I mean, this guy's paying aides bonuses out of re-election fund money in what appears to me to be a violation of all known campaign finance laws. This is Hollywood economics - spread around the cash to friends, and everybody washes everybody's back. Only when it's going on in Sacramento, the citizens of the state get screwed.

To compound this unfortunate incident, practically every high-profile Democrat in California has signed on as a co-chair of this gala bought and paid for by special interests - including Gavin Newsom, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Fabian Nuñez, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Nancy Pelosi. Do they even know what kind of system they're endorsing here? Sadly, I think they do.

NOW do you see why I'm running as a delegate for the state party?