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

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Vote Your Conscience

With Hillary Clinton's announcement today, the 2008 field on the Democratic side is shaping up. You have a few frontrunners (Obama, Clinton, Edwards), some dark horses (Richardson, Dodd, Vilsack), and a few people in it for their own ego or an attempt to pull the converstion in a certain direction (Biden, Kucinich, Gravel). Clark may enter at some point, maybe a couple others.

I don't have a preference right now. But I think it's very important for everyone to understand that in 2008, electability is out the window. It simply should not come into play. The GOP brand is tanking, under the weight of a deeply unpopular President. The top choice for the GOP nomination is quickly becoming hated nationwide. McCain's support for the escalation in Iraq has led to his numbers going into free fall in all of the early primary states. A rcent LA Times poll showed that well over a third of all voters, including a substantial number of independents, were unlikely to support McCain once they discovered his cheerleading for escalation. He may well be dead in the water. Rudy Guiliani, were he to do the impossible and make it through the nominating process as a pro-gay, pro-choice conservative, would almost certainly inspire a third-party challenge. Romney doesn't know what he believes, the contradictions are so deep. Mike Huckabee is the leading choice, in my mind, to take the nomination right now, though others think it's Gingrich. Does anyone really believe the top Democrats wouldn't be favored going into that general election?

With the tragedy of Iraq looming large in the public consciousness, with more Republicans jumping ship on Iraq and putting the party line on the war into question, with even the new head of the RNC, Mel Martinez, stirring controversy for his lack of fealty to conservative issues, with the drip-drip-drip of Republican corruption (Bob Ney ended up getting more prison time than the defense OR the prosecution requested) sure to continue, and with the more damaging drip-drip-drip of Bush officials leaving the White House to tell of the dysfunction from the inside, the Republican brand is seriously damaged in the short term, and I honestly believe it's too soon to expect some kind of renewal to rise from the ashes. Sure, you can expect horrific smears of the leading Democratic candidates. (Obama attended a MADRASSAH? Please.) But this is not the stuff of rocket science; the Democrats are favored to take the White House.

Therefore, primary voters must understand this, and they must internalize the fact that ANYONE in the top or second tier that the Democrats pick will be in the driver's seat. It's time to vote our conscience, to forget whether someone WILL win and concern ourselves with what that person would do WHEN they win. That's a crucial difference. Electability didn't mean a damn thing in 2004. It deprived us of who would have been the better nominee. There is no need for that this time around. The best nominee ought to be the one who will do the finest job for the American people. You can take a flyer on the doctrinaire liberal, or believe in the fact that a black man or a white woman or a Hispanic can win the Preisdency. It's wonderfully freeing not to have to make your selection based on your warped and inadequate vision of what some swing voter in Ohio would think. Just vote your conscience. You'll feel better about it in the morning.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Where I Think Health Care in CA Is Going

Today Dan Weintraub did a story on how the "top three" health care reform proposals (Schwarzenegger, Perata, Nuñez) compare to one another. What's most interesting about this comparison is how little the Governor's proposal actually differs from the two Democratic leaders in the Legislature. In many ways, the Governor's plan is better, in many ways vice-versa. But what's most significant is how the only health care proposal to have passed the California legislature, SB 840, is not part of this comparison, despite the fact that Sheila Kuehl, my state senator and chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, fully plans to re-submit it for authorization. Kuehl's plan has been marginalized by the traditional California media, along with many others. But Kuehl herself is being very vocal about the limits of the Governor's plan, in both the LA Times and on the state blog The California Progress Report. Kuehl has been magnificent in talking about this issue, and in doing so, she is providing a very valuable service for the state, in moving the conversation toward a more progressive direction.

Kuehl's great piece in the California Progress Report is unsparing.

The Governor has consistently described his proposal as “universal healthcare", promised it would cover all of California’s children, and indicated that everyone---doctors, hospitals, businesses, insurance companies and consumers---would have “shared responsibility” in paying for the plan. The press has dutifully repeated his phrases, in almost every case without a modicum of analysis. The details of the proposal reveal quite a different picture.

The central basis of the Governor’s plan is simply to mandate that every Californian must, by law, carry health insurance. There is no requirement that it be affordable and no minimum coverage. This means that the requirement can be met by a bare-bones policy covering only catastrophic events, with a $5,000 deductible and up to $7500 in out of pocket expenses for all the things that aren’t covered by the policy.

This is not universal health insurance. Think for a moment about automobile insurance. Even before Prop 103 passed, limiting the amounts by which insurance companies could raise your auto insurance premiums to those approved by the Insurance Commissioner, we all had to have auto insurance. Would you call it Universal Auto Insurance? 25% of Californians don’t comply --- so many that we all have to carry Uninsured Motorist Insurance, in effect paying more for those who are uninsured, just as the Governor has suddenly discovered we do in the area of healthcare.

His proposal would simply continue this problem in the much more complicated and important area of health insurance, with no controls on raises in premiums and no requirement for comprehensive or even adequate coverage, so every Californian could be required to pay high premiums, high deductibles, high co-pays and high out of pocket expenses, for very little coverage.

In a conference call put together by the California Courage Campaign (now available online, and it's a good discussion, go listen), George Lakoff put it best: there's no cap on insurance company profit, and no cap on what individuals would pay, and no floor on the level of basic care. "Not much of a plan," he said. But this has been lost in both state and national coverage, with reporters on all sides of the political spectrum instead repeating glowing praise about how great it is that a Republican governor is proposing universal health care. Except he's not. This isn't health care for all, it's "crappy health care for all." And I don't think it's necessary to bend over backwards and say how positive it is that a Republican governor is talking about insuring all the citizens in his state. That Republicans haven't talked about such an obvious measure, an expression of basic human dignity, up until now is an indictment. You don't give somebody a reward for staying out of jail, that's what this rush to praise seems like to me.

What's important about Kuehl's article (and you really should read the whole thing if you want to understand what's really happening) is how it turns the whole issue on its head. If Perata, Nuñez and Schwarzenegger are the only ones participating in this debate, then there's nothing more than a haggle over details, with the same basic framework of a substandard plan in place. With Kuehl as a factor (and she most certainly is, as the chair of the relevant committee), the debate shifts leftward. She's the only one calling the Governor out on his plan.

Conservatives in the Legislature have focused fiercely on what they call an employer mandate. But the Governor’s plan requires only those California businesses that employ 10 or more to provide minimal coverage to their employees or to pay 4% of their payroll into a central government fund, which would then subsidize the purchase of private insurance by their employees. Only 20% of California businesses employ more than 10 people. Of these, 80% are already providing some health insurance to their employees, at a cost of 9-11% of payroll. In a way, this is an invitation to businesses to reduce what they pay for health insurance for their employees. 4% of the payrolls of businesses with more than 10 employees would not be sufficient to provide healthcare for their employees. With a limit on what the businesses pay, but no limits on what employees pay under the mandate, even more of the premiums, co-pays and costs would devolve on employees than they do now.

She attacks the governor's plan for not providing any sort of minimums for basic coverage (in fact, he wants to eliminate regulations that require certain minimum standards in insurance coverage). She hits it for having virtually no cost-containment measures (outside of asking everyone in the state to do push-ups). She hits it for not capping the cost of coverage to consumers who must buy it, and how this "hidden tax" whereby everyone pays more for insurance because of the uninsured will turn into a real tax, as higher-risk consumers are absorbed into insurance actuarial models. She looks at it from every possible angle and tells the truth about what it really does. And finally, she makes this vow:

The Governor’s proposal is seeking a legislative author. When one is found, a bill will be introduced, either in the Senate or the Assembly and will be heard by the Health Committee in that House, the fiscal committee, go for a Floor vote and start all over in the other House. There will be heavy negotiation between the Speaker of the Assembly, the President of the Senate and the Governor as to any legislation to be adopted in this session. At the same time, my single payer bill, SB 840, will be reintroduced and follow a similar, but parallel, track.

It's important that there's a second bill in the chain. Actually, according to Majority Leader of the Assembly Karen Bass, there are about 15 plans submitted by legislators so far. Additionally, there's the Health Care for America proposal from the Agenda for Shared Prosperity think tank (the short version: Medicare for all, with significant cost containment). Plus, the SEIU is putting together a major universal health care proposal and education campaign. It's important to note that much more work needs to be done in explaining the benefits of single-payer, universal health care to all citizens. Single-payer routinely gets drubbed at the polls, by 40 and 50 points. It's key to start a broad campaign, bringing people together to understand why single-payer is so significant. The various special interests who want to preserve the status quo are very coordinated and very rich. They'll go after even the most triangulating sell-out of a plan like the Governor's. So, the argument goes, you might as well offer as people-friendly a proposal as possible, since you're going to need a massive amount of public support to carry it through. But what's most important is that you need a lot of plans in the mix. There needs to be some flag planting on the single-payer, universal insurance front so that the negotiation can be pulled in that direction. SEIU has vowed to put their proposal on the state ballot in 2008 if it's not adopted in 2007. This may even happen IF A VERSION OF THE GOVERNOR'S PROPOSAL GOES THROUGH. That's how you do it. You force the Governor to look over his shoulder.

The Governor's plan got into more trouble this week when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that struck down Maryland's law requiring big employers like Wal-Mart to spend a minimum of 8% of its payroll on health benefits. A similar mechanism is in Schwarzenegger's plan, and the fact that it could be seen as an employer tax means that it could require a 2/3 vote of the legislature (so Republicans could essentially derail it). Incidentally, this is the same kind of tax which Schwarzenegger decried in Phil Angelides' proposals last year. When a Republican imposes a tax, it's not a tax, it's a fee, I guess.

The next nine months are going to be a very important time for the future of the country. California will most certainly set the debate for how health care is distributed and paid for. It's vital that the progressive voice has a place at this table, and we can support the efforts of both Sheila Kuehl and the SEIU by advocating their position and helping with their education campaigns.


CA Dems: Taking a Stand on Sentencing

We always like to talk about how a strong Democratic Party needs to be unwavering on specific issues to let the electorate understand the core concerns of the party and attract people to the brand. This is no less true in California, where the Democratic brand is somewhat invisible (better than the Republican brand, which is shot). This is a bold move on sentencing guidelines, and those who are supporting it are probably going to catch hell from the law-n-order crowd, but it's important to plant the flag for sane sentencing so that we don't turn massive percentages of the state into an unmanageable prison population.

Launching what promises to be one of the year's fiercest debates in the Capitol, the Senate's top Democrats on Thursday moved toward reforming California's byzantine criminal sentencing system.

Unveiling legislation to create a sentencing review commission, Senate leader Don Perata of Oakland and Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles said California should join 16 other states now revisiting the question of who goes to prison and for how long.

The lawmakers also urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to use his executive powers to create an interim working group that would begin collecting and analyzing sentencing data as early as February.

"We can't wait," Romero said, noting that prison overcrowding is so severe that federal judges may impose a cap on the inmate population, now at 172,000. "Public safety is not served with a broken corrections system."

Schwarzenegger has already proposed a sentencing commission, but asked them to spend their first year looking at parole guidelines, which would have no effect on the prison population in a time of crisis. He's constrained by a base that already hates him, who would view loosening sentencing restrictions as a final betrayal. Democrats have little to gain from this proposal other than moving the state forward. Surely it plays into the ridiculous stereotype conservatives hold of liberals as coddlers of criminals. But the fact remains that the present system is incredibly dangerous, and Democrats in the legislature are being the grownups here by trying to do something about it. Not just TALKING about it, like the Governor, but taking it out of the realm of politics and into a solutions-based environment. There's a rapidly approaching deadline where a federal judge will start capping the number of people in prison. If something bold like this isn't done, you're going to see inmates let out of prisons in droves, and that STILL won't solve the long-term structural problem. Republicans want to live in this fantasy world where they can one-up each other on being "tough on crime" as if there are no real-world consequences.

In California, many experts have urged an overhaul of the sentencing system, calling it chaotic, unwieldy and complex. The nonpartisan Little Hoover Commission, which is poised to release a report on sentencing reform, found that California has added more than 1,000 laws and sentence enhancements — lengthening prison terms — over the last 30 years. Most of the changes were made by the Legislature, though some came through ballot initiatives such as the three-strikes measure of 1994.

Some critics say the state's fixed-term sentencing system should be altered because it compels the release of inmates regardless of whether they are rehabilitated. Under such a system, there is no incentive for felons to change their lives, some scholars say.

Other experts say the biggest problem in California is a lack of uniformity, with felons convicted of the same crime receiving different sentences in different counties.

"The system we have now is a hodgepodge, and we need independent experts to help us put some sense into it," Perata said. "Whether the Legislature has the political will to do that is another question. I'm skeptical."

The reductio ad absurdum of this "tough on crime" pose is this shocking report from CPR about forced sterilization (you heard me right) in the prisons:

Given California's shameful history with the forced sterilizations of thousands of people during the 20th century, you would think that bureaucrats would think twice before suggesting that the sterilization of an imprisoned woman could ever be freely chosen. And you would be wrong.

"Doing what is medically necessary" is how the Gender Responsiveness Strategies Commission of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation termed its July 18 recommendation to consider providing, in the course of delivering a baby, "elective" sterilization of women who give birth in prison, "either post-partum or coinciding with cesarean section."

To describe a sterilization performed under such circumstances as voluntary is absurd. One's ability to consent to sterilization, or anything else, during pregnancy and labor is limited in any setting, not to mention in a coercive environment such as a prison. Moreover, Robert Sillen, whom U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed last year as federal receiver over California' s prison health-care system, has documented that a person dies each day in California prisons due to gross medical neglect. How, in such an environment, could we trust prison staff to ensure informed consent to such a procedure?

It's absolutely revolting, and it's what you get when you have this dehumanization of criminals, a lack of emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation, and a political environment where conservative frames on law enforcement are the only ones accepted as "serious."

As this crisis reaches a point of no return, it's not enough to just talk about blurring the lines on partisanship. You have to take a stand to do something about it. I have not been thrilled with the legislature's performance out of the gate on health care (save for the great Sheila Kuehl). Their response to this crisis has been solid, however, and taking stands like this will eventually resonate with the public as long as they're able to get out the message. I don't think the state's citizens are as conservative as law enforcement policy suggests. It's time to take back this issue, and call for sanity, call for determining consequences before action, and call for lifting up those who transgress, rather than trying to lock the problem away.


Global Warming Is A Full-Fledged Political Issue

It's been remarkable, the degree to which climate change and global warming have crossed the Rubicon from a supposed whacked-out concern of the far-left fringe into an urgent issue that warrants the attention of Congress. It took a former Vice President to push it into the mainstream, but it's now absolutely made official Washington take notice. The Speaker of the House created a special select Committee on climate change, chaired by Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Yesterday they passed an energy bill which cuts subsidies to Big Oil, which at least has the potential of creating higher gas prices (not because oil companies can't afford to spend their own money to drill for their product, but out of spite and a need for ever-greater profit margins), but they did it anyway, even with Michigan's John Dingell at the head of the Energy Committee. Global warming (as well as the need for energy independence) certainly played a part in that calculation.

Moreover, corporate America appears to be getting the message, understanding that if it's a big issue to their consumers, it needs to be a big issue to them. Exxon, at least rhetorically, has taken steps to cut ties to global warming skeptics, which is bigger than it sounds, because removing that impediment of questioning the science will allow the political will to effect change to be stronger. And then there's this total bombshell:

Ten major U.S. corporations are joining environmental groups to press President George W. Bush and Congress to address climate change more rapidly.

The coalition, including Alcoa Inc., General Electric Co., DuPont Co. and Duke Energy Corp., plans to publicize its recommendations on Monday, a day ahead of the president's annual State of the Union address, the Natural Resources Defense Council said.

The group, known as the United States Climate Action Partnership, also includes Caterpillar Inc., PG&E, the FPL Group, PNM Resources Inc., BP America Inc. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

"Caterpillar believes in the need for a market-based approach to the aggressive development of current and future clean technologies that reduce emissions and sustain the environment," Chief Executive Jim Owens said in a statement.

The group will call for a nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 percent to 30 percent over the next 15 years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

I could say something about polluters now demanding that the federal government clean up the mess they've been making for almost a century, but I'd rather just welcome them aboard. And I think they've finally internalized the fact that there's money to be made in fighting global warming. Alternative energy research will only grow as a sector in the coming years. Carbon capture and sequestration is a field that is completely untapped. And if capitalism is the reason for this change, so be it; there's no reason why people shouldn't be rewarded for helping bring solutions to the table.

There are now multiple plans to combat climate change out there as proposals for legislation. This is actually happening. Two years ago I would have been shocked to hear a word about this. There's news that the President will even mention climate change in the State of the Union, albeit in a kind of toothless way.

Bush will also likely address climate change in his annual speak to Congress next week. Sources familiar with White House plans on Tuesday said Bush will call for a massive increase in U.S. ethanol usage and tweak climate-change policy, but will stop short of pushing for mandatory emissions caps.

Again, like in the health care debate, I don't want to pat Republicans on the head for seeing something so obvious like signs that the world is heating up. But it's clear that merely saying the words "climate change" or "global warming" in the State of the Union will have a tremendous impact on keeping the momentum going for real policy shifts. Probably not in the next couple years, at least not at the executive level. But it's on the table for 2008, and in the minds of the voters as they hit the polls. That's remarkable, given where we were just a couple years ago. And it's a testament to how the progressive movement is becoming successful in pushing progressive policy issues into the mainstream.


This Guy Can Get A Fellowship

It's a tragedy in the extreme that someone this mentally damaged can hold a high-ranking position at a conservative think tank. What it really bespeaks is how little progressive money-holders understand the value of using money to push message. Dinesh D'Souza should be in a rubber room somwhere prattling on: this so-called "argument" about the cultural Left's repsonsibility for 9-11 has no more credibility than someone who thinks explosives were placed in Tower 6. But because of the substantial wingnut welfare system, where movement conservatives like Scaife and Mellon and Koch and Olin and Wyly fund these organizations, the publishing houses, the entire echo chamber of nutjob conservative thought, this guy has a job instead of holding a cup on a street corner.

To understand this, we need a little perspective. Radical Islam became a global force in 1979, when it captured its first major state, Iran. Before that, radical organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood were fighting losing battles to overthrow their local governments. This changed with the success of the Khomeini regime in Iran. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the first Muslim leader to describe the U.S. as the "Great Satan" and to counsel martyrdom and jihad against it. Iran continues to be a model for radical Muslims.

Khomeini's ascent to power was aided by Carter's policies. Carter came into office stressing his support for human rights. His advisors told him that he could not consistently support the shah of Iran, who had secret police and was widely accused of violating human rights. The administration began to withdraw its support and finally pulled the rug out from under the shah, forcing him to step down.

The result was Khomeini, whose regime was vastly more tyrannical than the shah's. The Khomeini revolution provided state sponsorship for Islamic radicalism and terrorism and paved the way for Osama bin Laden and 9/11.

Clinton's policies also helped to provoke 9/11. After the Cold War, leading Islamic radicals returned to their home countries. Bin Laden left Afghanistan and went back to Saudi Arabia; Ayman Zawahiri returned to Egypt. They focused on fighting their own rulers — what they termed the "near enemy" — in order to establish states under Islamic law. But in the mid- to late 1990s, these radicals shifted strategy. They decided to stop fighting the near enemy and to attack the "far enemy," the U.S.

This is gibberish. The Shah was not popular with his own people. The Clinton distortions here are well-documented. And D'Souza couldn't even stop there, not getting the joke from Colbert and claiming 9-11 was FDR's fault.

COLBERT: This book is a revelation to me. Okay, It’s called “The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.” Okay, I’ve been trying to figure this one out for a while. Walk me through it. How did the liberals plan 9/11? Go.

D’SOUZA: Well, first of all, the liberals convinced Jimmy Carter to withdraw American support for a valuable ally, the Shah of Iran. The United States pulled the Persian rug out from under the Shah, and who did we get — Khomeini? In trying to get back at the bad guy, we got the worst guy.

COLBERT: But Reagan got back at those bastards by selling them those Hawk missiles in the 80s, right? He showed them a thing or two about American muscle by giving them some –

D’SOUZA: Well, he also sent some, he sent missiles to Khadafi, which put him out of the terrorism trade. Here’s the second point. In the 1990s, the radical Muslims launched a bunch of attacks — the Khobar Towers, the embassies, the USS Cole. President Clinton did absolutely nothing, and bin Laden said, you know what, the United States is a bunch of cowards. That’s why, he says, he was emboldened to strike on 9/11.

COLBERT: But is all the responsibility Carter and Clinton’s? Doesn’t some of it lie at FDR’s doorstep? Doesn’t things like Social Security and Medicare and LBJ’s Great Society, doesn’t some of that send the wrong message to our enemies, that America cares about domestic issues and not just about foreign policy?

D’SOUZA: Indirectly, yes, here’s why.

COLBERT: I can’t wait. Can I guess? We never got to see him standing up, and, therefore, America doesn’t stand up for its principles?

D’SOUZA: No, FDR gave away Eastern Europe through Yalta, and then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Muslims had to fight back and that’s where bin Laden got his start.

Colbert got D'Souza to admit that he agrees with bin Laden's critiques of the culture of America. This man got a book published, got on a talk show, all the while spouting some of the most insane nonsense you'll ever hope to hear by anybody, left or right. But the right takes care of their own, supplying them with a fresh supply of grant money and book deals, and trying to make this depravity somehow sound sane.


Rabid Lambs

Black Sheep, the trailer.

Move over, Snakes on a Plane. This is Sheep on a Remote Island Nation. And considering that David Brooks considers bloggers to be rabid lambs, it's allegorical.

...adding, when are movie companies going to learn that completely outlandish ideas like this will get buzz on the Internets because they're hysterically bad, but that nobody actually wants to see something that sucks so much ass? How many combinations of animals killing people in various and sundry confined spaces are we going to get? I guess they're cheap to make and the opening weekend alone will recoup their costs.


Alberto Gonzales: Scarecrow or Tin Man?

(Blogger ate my initial post, this will be rushed and filled with misplaced anger)

Either the Attorney General doesn't have a heart, or a brain. Regardless, it was one hell of a revealing session in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, one of the most interesting hearings on the Hill in a long time. My busy schedule, and the over-the-shoulder tendencies of my producer, precluded me from discussing it yesterday. But it was a doozy.

First, Gonzales made the absurd claim that all of those White House speeches that claimed Democrats didn't want to eavesdrop on terrorists weren't about DEMOCRATS. No, no, they were about some other political party that Republicans were running against in 2006. The Blogger Party.

Feingold's first question - "do you know of any one in the country who opposed eavesdropping on terrorists?"

Gonzales: Sure - if you look at blogs today, there is a lot of concern about all types of eavesdropping, who don't want us eavesdropping at all.

Feingold: Do you know anyone in government who ever took that position?

Gonzales: No, but that is not what I said.

Feingold: It is a disgrace and disservice to your office and the President to have accused people on this Committee of opposing eavesdropping on terrorists.

Gonzales: I didn't have you in mind or anyone on the Committee when I referred to people who oppose eavesdropping on terrorists. Perish the thought.

Feingold: Oh, well it's nice that you didn't have us "in your mind" when making those accusations, but given that you and the President were running around the country accusing people of opposing eavesdropping on terrorists in the middle of an election, the fact that you didn't have Congressional Democrats in "mind" isn't significant. Your intent was to make people think that anyone who opposed the "TSP" did not want to eavesdrop on terrorists, even though that was false. No Democrats oppose eavesdropping on terrorists.

Gonzales: I wasn't referring to Democrats.

This is complete nonsense. There were ads made all over the country in 2006, with the support of the RNC, claiming that Democrats didn't want to eavesdrop on terrorists.

The notion that people in the White House weren't talking about Democrats in that ad, and in their many speeches before the election, but instead were referring to as-yet-unnamed bloggers, is both stupid and insulting. If we had that much power, that the White House would have to specifically do pushback on us, then we'd have 80% of the Congress by now.

Then, Gonzales claimed that he would never fire a US Attorney for political reasons, but refused to tell the Committee how many Attorneys had been purged asked to resign.

Then, Gonzales refused to allow Congress to see the order reached by the FISA court regarding the new way of treating NSA wiretapping, despite the fact that the judge in the case had no problem with Congress seeing it:

"Are you saying that you might object to the court giving us a decision that you publicly announced?" committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked. "Are we Alice in Wonderland here?"

Responding, Gonzales said "there is going to be information about operational details about how we're doing this that we want to keep confidential," he said.

They haven't even fully briefed the relevant committees. Listen to what Gonzales is saying here. Pressured by legislative oversight, the executive branch reaches a deal with the judiciary on wiretapping, claiming that they added every safeguard and condition the legislative branch wanted. BUT, they won't let them confirm that and finish the oversight job. It's practically Kafka-esque.

And finally, there's this unbelievable exchange, where Gonzales shows himself to be ignorant of Constitutional law, which for the nation's top law enforcement official is probably a bad place to be.

GONZALES: I will go back and look at it. The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. But it’s never been the case, and I’m not a Supreme —

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can’t take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn’t say, “Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas.” It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by —

SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.


The mind reels. So here's the deal: there's no right to habeas corpus in the Constitution. The government can't take it away unless under extreme circumstances, but it's not a right. It's a privilege, I guess. Or a grant. Or a lease.

Like I said, he's either without heart or without brain. Or, more likely, without a soul.


And The Straws They Are A-Grabbin'

Having failed to fell the savage beast that is Harry Reid, John Solomon puts another Democrat in his sights: John Edwards.

When former North Carolina senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards finally succeeded last month in selling his imposing Georgetown mansion for $5.2 million after it had languished on the market, the names of the buyers were not publicly disclosed.

At the time, Edwards's spokeswoman told reporters that the house had been sold to an unidentified corporation. In reality, the buyers were Paul and Terry Klaassen, according to several sources and confirmed by Edwards's spokeswoman yesterday.

The wealthy founders of the nation's largest assisted-living housing chain for seniors, the Klaassens are currently cooperating with a government inquiry in connection with accounting practices and stock options exercised by them and other company insiders. They are also the focus of legal complaints by some of the same labor unions whose support Edwards has been assiduously courting for his presidential bid.

Edwards sold his house! Edwards participates in capitalism! How can a Democrat do such a thing?

Also, the content of the article couldn't be more bogus. Edwards got at- or below-market value, selling to a couple who used an LLC to buy it (so saying that Edwards sold the house to a corporation is exactly correct), and as there was no secret deal made (sell me your house at near the going rate and I'll - let you continue to bash unions?), the whole premise of the article is muddled and incorrect.

The saddest part of all of this is that the writer, John Solomon, got a promotion from the AP to the Washington Post, due to his factually-challenged reporting on Harry Reid, and now he's graduated to factually-challenged reporting on John Edwards. Once again, the media rewards those who are consistently, persistently wrong.

But Edwards should look on the bright side. One, they didn't run a front-page article about his wardrobe. Two, the last guy to get in Solomon's crosshairs was "punished" by being promptly named Senate Majority Leader. That bodes well for the Presidential campaign. Before long a Solomon hit piece will be seen as an in-kind contribution.


Mission Accomplished

To get a sense of what the House of Representatives has done this month, you have to understand that for the past six years, this would have been a year's worth of initiatives. In the last couple days, not only did a bill pass cutting student loan rates in half (called a "first step' at making college more accessible), not only did they get a bill cutting corporate welfare to the oil companies through (which is seriously unprecedented, to defy a lobby that powerful), but even the Senate got into the act. After Republicans sought to block an ethics and lobbying reform bill, and got the attendant bad publicity for using their first fillibuster to preserve the culture of corruption, a compromise was reached and the final bill passed 96-2.

The ethics and lobbying legislation would:

_Bar lawmakers from accepting gifts and travel and lodging paid for by lobbyists.

_Extend from one to two years the time a former member must wait before he can engage in lobbying activities.

_Deny pensions to lawmakers convicted of serious crimes.

_Require more reporting by lobbyists on their activities.

_Require public disclosure of those home-state projects.

_Require senators hitching rides on private jets to pay full charter rates rather than the current practice of paying the far cheaper equivalent of a first class ticket.

_Require reporting by lobbyists who obtain small donations from clients and then "bundle" them into larger contributions to politicians.

_Prevent spouses of sitting members from lobbying the Senate.

I love that you can always find 2 Republicans AGAINST that kind of stuff. In this case, Tom Coburn and Orrin Hatch. Coburn, no doubt, thought the earmark stuff didn't go far enough. Hatch, I'm assuming, loves to play golf.

The deal was brokered when Harry Reid agreed to allow Republicans to bring up an amendment on a line-item veto in the mext bill (probably the minimum wage bill). I thought that the line-item

The Senate, on a 55-43 vote, approved an amendment pushed by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, to strip a provision requiring reporting of "grass-roots" lobbying.

Backers said it would shine light on special interest groups that use "hired guns" to organize mass mailings, phone-ins or e-mail campaigns. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition, argued that it was a free speech issue, discouraging people or groups from organizing petition drives.

The Senate also defeated, for the second straight year, a proposal to create an Office of Public Integrity to take over some of the investigative duties of the ethics committee. Supporters said the public, in the wake of scandals involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Mark Foley, suspected the ability of lawmakers to police themselves. The vote against the new office was 71-27.

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, part of a coalition of groups pressing for lobbying reform, said the groups were disappointed with the votes on grass-roots lobbying and the Office of Public Integrity. But he said the bill responded to the "deep concerns of the American people about corruption and ethics problems in Congress" and "will change the way business is done in the Senate." I thought that the line-item veto was ruled unconstitutional in 1998, but for some reason this keeps coming up over and over again. I'm dubious of anything giving MORE power to the executive at this point. The balance of power is already tipped to far in that direction.

So these are major pieces of legislation that have been passed, and while Congress is also focused on Iraq and climate change and oversight and a whole host of other things, they ended up keeping their promise. Showing a government that works is one of the greatest hurdles that the Democratic majority needed to overcome. This is a great way to start.


Meeting of the Giants

Colbert on O'Reilly.

O'Reilly on Colbert.

Absolute brilliance.

Actually the funniest part was O'Reilly trying to be funny.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Stoopid Netrootz

I had the pleasure of attending a dinner last night with, among many labor leaders and other bloggers, Matt Stoller of MyDD, who wrote the most provocative post on the Internet this week, although I don't think it needed to be.

Over the past nine years, a series of shocks to the country have radically changed the contours of our political debates. In the 2000 election, the Presidential debate involved sweater hues and snowmobiles, ‘lock boxes’ and ‘fuzzy math’. Virtually nothing in that election prepared any but the most cynical political observers for the massive security failures, electoral fraud, the creation of the beginnings of a police state, the loss of two wars one of which was sold under false pretenses, and the destruction of a major American city – all tragic events which have not only occurred on the watch of some very bad people without adverse consequence, but have all increased the power and wealth of those same people. America is a very different place in 2007 than it was in 1999.

This series of events has done something specific to a relatively apolitical white liberal class that had been somewhat absented from the public debate since the early 1970s. It made us angry, and has created a movement.

This argument (which I like to call "the most obvious argument in the world," a reflection of realities in the country today) shouldn't have caused the dismay that it did among certain facets of the blogosphere and particularly the intellectual class. Matt has a roundup here. But the one critique that really got everyone going was this one by Max Sawicky, who used the topic to deride anyone who's ever read a blog or written a comment.

The "Internet Left" is a mostly brainless vacuum cleaner of donations for the Democratic Party [...]

Think of how today's media characterizes "angry bloggers" and the netroots, and consider whether TIME Magazine-type descriptions of SDS or SNCC would have been accurate. In TIME Magazine, then and now, you do not read about class politics. You learn about Stokely Carmichael and Al Sharpton, not about Bill Fletcher or Adolph Reed. You hear about protectionism from the Buchanan right, never from the global justice left.

In TIME Magazineland, the latter 90s and "welfare reform" were triumphs of Clintonomics, not the targets of withering critiques.

The contemporary "Internet left" is not very left. It is vociferous, partisan, and alert to opportunities to nail Republicans and Joe Lieberman. And there's nothing wrong with that. But left? Please.

* The netroots criticized the Iraqi effort a) for not gaining the support of the U.N.; b) for not armoring the troops sufficiently; c) for not proving the existence of WMDs; d) for not proving connections to Al Queda; e) for not using enough troops. Can we presume that if George H.W. Bush had been there to get the support of the U.N. and prove Saddam had WMDs, an invasion would have been justified?

* The netroots have no political economy, except to join the blather about the unbalanced budget and the national debt. It did a fine job opposing Bush's Social Security privatization, but will it support Democratic efforts to fix a program that is not broke? By contrast, the direct action forces have been mobilizing against the emergent neo-liberal/free trade economic dogma for a decade.

* The 60s left read Marx, Trotsky, Luxembourg, Lukacs, Chomsky, Franz Fanon, Malcolm X, C.L.R. James, Ernest Mandel, Joan Robinson, Herbert Marcuse, Michael Harrington, Saul Alinsky. What does the netroots read? Don't Think of an Elephant?

The piece just oozes condescension, but instead of mocking that I want to address the two visceral points that sprung from me upon reading this drivel.

1. There's this notion that people on the Internet exist only on the Internet. The idea that there's this cultural and socio-political vaccuum, out of which sprung all these tabula rasa Democrats who never read a book of political philosophy or economic progressivism in their lives, is insulting and ludicrous. Chris Bowers takes a whack at this as well, and I'd like to do the same. I read Marx and Lacan and Barthes and Toril Moi and Chomsky and George W.S. Trow and reader-response criticism and Marxist-feminist critiques and "The Fair, The Pig, Authorship," and Tocqueville and Rousseau and Kant and Nietzsche and The Baffler, and I talked to Vietnam vets who came into our History lectures, and I subscribed to The Nation and Mother Jones, and I saw Manufacturing Consent and Medium Cool when I was 23. I did the vast majority of that in college, when you're supposed to. There is intellectual underpinnings to today's political debates, whether it's overt or not.

2. There's this other idea that if you engage in actually strategizing to impact change then you've poisoned the well, then you've sold out to the man, then you aren't part of the cultural elite who are REALLY down with the movement. Trying to win doesn't disqualify you from being on the "Left," whatever that means. It means that you actually try to win. If the late 60s are the apotheosis of the leftist movement in this country, then I want to thank all of those leftists for Nixon, Reagan, and the theories that brought us the supreme executive power of the Bush years. Today we apparently have this intellectually bankrupt movement, this nascent upstart, and in a few years, it's produced this "new middle".

...Democratic Congressional leaders say they are committed to governing from the center, and not just on bread-and-butter issues like raising the minimum wage or increasing aid for education. They also hope to bring that philosophy to bear on some of the most divisive social issues in politics, like abortion.

In their first days in session, Senate Democratic leaders reintroduced a bill that they said was indicative of their new approach: the Prevention First Act, which seeks to reduce the number of abortions by expanding access to birth control, family planning and sex education.

This is something that the elitist "New Left" was never interested in finding, preferring that their arguments be their own intellectual reward. It didn't help anybody who was suffering, didn't put food on a plate, didn't stop a war (no matter what the baby boomers would say). I think this is the mentality that allows progressive organizations, so many of which grew out of that time period, to get away with not paying volunteers for their service. "A true leftist doesn't NEED money for the cause,"

Sawicky tried to kiss and make up, but the truth was told the first time. Leftists of the late-60s, ivory tower stripe have nothing but contempt for success, or even striving for it. Call it jealousy, call it sublimated frustration. But it burns my ass that I somehow have to become a credentialed member of the Left in order to curry favor with these folks. The good works aren't good enough. Actually making the effort to move the country in a new direction, not good enough, either.

(and for the record, the current makeup of Congress is as close to the coalition that rioted the WTO in Seattle in 1999 as we've seen in generations, and it's already paying dividends by forcing trade agreements written with the neoliberal consensus in mind to be torn up. That's the result of a progressive movement which is giving people like Jose Bove what they desire instead of Rahm Emanuel. There's major work to be done, but it beats re-reading my thesis on the distribution of capital in 1840s Europe again.)


Covering His Bases

A week ago, Governor Schwarzenegger came out in support of President Bush's escalation plan in Iraq.

Yesterday the Governor called for the removal of military forces from Iraq by the end of the year.

Next week, in a series of speeches, he will be calling for negotiation with Iran and Syria, the bombing of Iran and Syria, fighting the Sunnis, fighting the Shiites, fighting the Kurds, supporting the Kurds, moving troops to Baghdad, and getting troops out of Baghdad.

Now that's post-partisan, baby.


Not The Why But The What

OK, so I was completely dubious about yesterday's development, as AG Alberto Gonzalez sent Sens. Leahy and Specter a letter saying that the NSA warrantless surveillance program was not re-authorized, and that in the future all applications for surveillance will be sent to the FISA court for approval. This reminded me a lot of the Jose Padilla case. Just when the court system was about to force the government to charge Padilla or set him free, they charged him with a completely different set of crimes, negating the judicial oversight in the case. It seems like there was similar pressure on the DoJ in this case. But, as Jack Balkin explains, process is not as important as conclusion.

The ACLU case challenging the legality of the TSP (Terrorist Surveillance Program) is, at least for now, scheduled to be argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in two weeks. And a decision in a related case is pending before Judge Lynch in the Southern District of New York. Does this development moot those cases? [UPDATE: DOJ has informed the court of appeals that it intends to file both classified and public papers soon "addressing the implications of this development on the litigation."]

Is the FISA court being asked to determine whether particular instances of surveillance satisfy FISA's substantive standards? (Presumably, but who knows?) To somehow do so on a category-wide basis, issuing generalized rather than case-specific orders? (That would be "innovative," that's for sure! Hard to see how the statute would allow it.) If so, why didn't this happen years ago? Might it have something to do with the prospect of a possible big government triple-loss on (i) state secrets privilege; (ii) FISA; and (iii) its article II arguments -- a development that DOJ would understandably be eager to avoid?

[UPDATE: Without knowing anything more about it, my sense is that this is probably a beneficial development, whatever its impetus might have been. I find it very difficult to imagine that the FISA court would roll over and approve an "innovative" legal theory if it were dubious -- especially not in this context, where DOJ has many incentives to get the FISA court on-board and where the congressional and public spotlight is shining so brightly. Without the New York Times, and Judge Taylor, and the 2006 election, this would never have happened. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and all . . . . Even though the public might never find out exactly what's up here, presumably Congress and the FISA court are now acting as some not-insignificant checks. And if so -- if the extreme and unilateral positions of the Executive are a thing of the past here, the system has worked.

This seems like a way for the Department of Justice and the President to live to fight another day on the unitary executive issue (perhaps they'd rather fight on signing statements?). Their legal arguments in this case were so substandard, and the rulings already issued went against them (Judge Taylor). Yes, it'd be great to see the previous instances of surveillance fully adjudicated. They do represent breaking the law, after all. But this is a major victory in the battle to establish a separation of powers again in this country.

And the National Review is freaking out, so that's always a good thing.

UPDATE: Wait a minute. It looks like they're trying to have FISA approve the whole program at once rather than approve individual warrants.

Ms. (Rep. Heather) Wilson, who has scrutinized the program for the last year, said she believed the new approach relied on a blanket, “programmatic” approval of the president’s surveillance program, rather than approval of individual warrants.

Administration officials “have convinced a single judge in a secret session, in a nonadversarial session, to issue a court order to cover the president’s terrorism surveillance program,” Ms. Wilson said in a telephone interview. She said Congress needed to investigate further to determine how the program is run.

Democrats have pledged to investigate the N.S.A. program and other counterterrorism programs they say may rely on excessive presidential authority.

As well they should. Breaking the law is still breaking the law, even if it's breaking the law in the past tense. And a blanket approval of the program in theory without looking at the individual warrants in practice would be fraught with problems. We'd be relying on the judgment of the President and the DoJ to make sure their warrants fit with what the FISA judge approved in broad outline. I don't have that level of trust.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Best Wishes

To Jane Hamsher, who will be undergoing surgery for breast cancer just a couple blocks from my house tomorrow. When this site was first starting out, Jane came by and expressed how much she liked it, and put me in her blogroll. There were days during the lean years where I was getting 30-40% of my inbound links from Firedoglake. I watched her go from a site at pretty much the same level as me, to a skyrocketing community (mainly during the Plamegate chronicles) that now is a cornerstone of the progressive blogosphere. I've been fortunate enough to meet her once or twice as well.

Best of luck on her surgery and recovery.


The Definition of a Backhanded Compliment

It's about time somebody stood up to all those whiners who want white people to apologize for slavery. But wait, he had a good comparison to make, too! The Viriginia lawmaker, Frank Hargrove, said white people apologizing for slavery would be the same as asking Jews to apologize for killing Jesus. And Christians don't do THAT every day! So get over it, black people! And Jews, we're watching you around our Messiahs, so don't think we don't remember!

By the way, as a Jew I would like to apologize for killing Christ, but the thing is, I only helped do so in an administrative capacity. I filed a few forms.

By the way, Hargrove had some racist company:

Journalists don’t know the meaning of a “holiday.” No matter whether it’s Christmas or Easter, there’s some lonely reporter pumping out copy for tomorrow’s newspaper. But roaming the halls of the Capitol, I’ve heard more than one disgruntled comment about Montana’s Legislature working on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday

“No one in the Negro caucus objected,” Senate Minority Leader Corey Stapleton joked.

(Uh, for those that don’t know, there are no black lawmakers in Montana.)

This reminds me of an absolutely true story about my first job in television. The production company got a contract for a show featuring the rise of black athletes, and the network executive came in and said to the owner and the editor-in-chief, "I'm sure you'll put one of your best black producers on the show." And the editor-in-chief said to the owner, "I guess this is Leon's big chance."

Leon was the janitor. They had no other black employees.

This ties into the whole "Is America ready for a black President" thread, I guess...


McCain Goes After Me

How out of touch can you be by tossing out the "MoveOn compared Bush to Hitler" canard? For all the bluster about "straight talk", John McCain is more in the Washington bubble than pretty much any candidate running for President (all right, maybe except for Biden). Only someone who has no idea what he's tlaking about would say this:

Danny Diaz, a McCain spokesperson, responded to MoveOn's ad by telling ABC News: "MoveOn.Org is an out-of-the-mainstream organization that has a long history of airing inflammatory material, even comparing the President to Hitler. It is not surprising that a liberal group opposed to military action after September 11th would attack Senator McCain's conservative values, as well as changing strategy and securing victory in Iraq." is 3 million people strong. Their members made 7 million phone calls to help the majority party get elected in November. The notion that MoveOn compared Bush to Hitler is wrong, on its face: a couple videos in an open contest did so, none of which ended up winning anything or being rated up by the membership. It's comment-diving of the worst stripe. Additionally, they did not oppose military action after September 11.

I'm extremely proud to be a part of an organization concerned with giving ordinary people a voice in our democracy. John McCain is offended by that because he, like his DC elite pundits, don't believe in democracy in the sense that they don't believe the rabble should have a voice, especially if those rabble disagree with them (disagreeing meaning not wanting to bomb our way out of every problem).


LIght Blogging Till Friday

Occasionally as an editor, I have the experience of a producer up in my grill every minute of the day, not letting me get a moment to... well, screw around on the blogs. With the exception of this moment, today is one of those days. And it'll be that way for another couple.

On an up note, I should have some very good stories once this is done.

On an uppier note, NSA wiretapping is now subject to court approval. If this is accurate, it's a stunning reversal. Glenn Greenwald says hold the Champale.

...there is no way to discern exactly what this new framework is between the administration and the FISA court because the only evidence describing it is Gonzales' letter, which is quite vague in a number of respects about exactly what has happened.

But ultimately, there are only two options -- (1) the administration is now complying fully and exclusively with FISA when eavesdropping, in which case all of its prior claims that it could not do so and still fight against The Terrorists are false, or (2) the administration has changed its eavesdropping program some, but it is still not fully complying with FISA, in which case nothing of significance has changed (at least on the lawbreaking issues) because the administration is still violating the law.

Haven't been able to dive into this much, obviously, so I'll reserve judgment.


Bumped Again

from my little BBC gig. I was about to talk about Barack Obama and if America is ready for a black President.

I think that a look at the two campaigns in 2006 most affected by race, the Ford-Corker Senate campaign in Tennessee, and the Webb-Allen Senate campaign in Virginia, are a key to this equation. Ford did respectably despite being black in Tennessee (although his campaign appeared to crater right at the time when the "Harold, call me" ad came out), and Allen lost despite being a racist in Virginia. The parts of the deep South where an African-American President wouldn't "play well" aren't exactly the swing states Obama would need to be victorious. If a Democrat wins in 2008, he/she will likely be the first President to win without gaining 5 seats or more in the South. I think Virginia, Missouri and Arkansas are in play no matter who the nominee is, as they are border states in the South. But it'd be very unlikely for a Democrat to win more than them (and putting Missouri in the South is charitable). I'm not sure Edwards would have a lock on North Carolina.

More than racial politics, I think Obama represents a change in generational politics, and that's what gives me some excitement about his candidacy. Young people favor him, and view him as a symbol of the future rather than the past. I've seen this up close when seeing him speak at USC a few months ago. He'd generate far more excitement than anybody else in the field among a group that's historically difficult to get to the polls. That, above any potential negative based on race, could tip the balance in his favor. I don't doubt that having Obama atop the ticket will cause ugliness, but the energy may offset that.

P.S. I find this article from Rupert Murdoch's British paper, that Obama has no good feeling among black activists, to be dubious. Here we have a few quotes taken out of context and a lot of sniping from a news reporter on another continent trying to gauge the sentiment of the black community. And it's a conservative paper doing a hit job on a leading Democratic candidate. Not buying it.


Fast and Furious News on Iraq

Lots of development today in Congress around plans to stop the escalation. Democrats are talking openly about planning to split Republicans over the war, and in fact, Chuck Hagel has signed on as a co-sponsor to the Biden-Levin proposal for a nonbinding "sense of the Senate" resolution. But there's more than that. Today Chris Dodd requiring new authorization from Congress for any additional troops in Iraq:

Washington, D.C. – Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, today announced legislation which would limit the President’s authority to escalate U.S. military involvement in Iraq absent a new Congressional authorization to do so. Specifically, the bill would prohibit U.S. combat forces being increased beyond current levels without advance approval by Congress. Sen. Dodd stated that the authority given by Congress in 2002 to intervene in Iraq never contemplated that U.S. troops would be engaged in a civil war in Iraq, and the President must now come back to Congress to seek authorization for this new and ill-conceived mission. Sen. Dodd’s bill would also cap the number of troops at the level of troops present on January 16, 2007. Any additional increase in troop levels beyond January 16th levels must be specifically authorized by Congress.

“The President seems determined to continue his failed policy in Iraq by escalating US military involvement there,” Dodd said. “The President no longer has the luxury of dismissing Congress. Congress is a co-equal branch of Government and the time for blank checks is over. Congress needs to act urgently on this matter before we send additional troops into harm’s way.”

This is a smart bill, in a way smarter than Sen. Kennedy's which focuses on funding. But that's still alive as well. And John Edwards will embarrass any 2008 candidates who don't sign on to any of these plans. And I hear that Maxine Waters has signaled that there will be a raft of anti-escalation bills on the House floor. I say vote on all of them. You'll see Republicans eyeing the exit door with each one, particularly the ones up in 2008.

Meanwhile, as eight Middle Eastern countries warn against outside interference in Iraq, presumably a warning to Iran, Saudi Arabia makes plans... to interfere in Iraq:

Saudi Arabia believes the Iraqi government is not up to the challenge and has told the United States that it is prepared to move its own forces into Iraq should the violence there degenerate into chaos, a senior U.S. official told NBC News on Tuesday.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal made no effort to mask his skepticism Tuesday about President Bush’s proposal to send 21,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq to stem sectarian fighting.

“We agree with the full objectives set by the new plan,” Saud said at a joint news conference in Riyadh with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is traveling in the region selling Bush’s plan. “We are hoping these objectives can be accomplished, but the means are not in our hands. They are in the hands of the Iraqis themselves.”

In fact, Saudi leaders are privately “deeply skeptical” that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could implement the U.S. plan, the senior U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, who is traveling with Rice.

Given that the practical effect of the escalation plan may be to destroy Sunni resistance and bring Iraq closer to Iran, I almost don't blame the Saudis. The US used to fight their battles for them. But they know they'll have to fight this one on their own.

UPDATE: I almost forgot the most important news, the official appeal for redress undertaken by active-duty and retired soldiers, 1,000 strong, opposing the war and calling for a limit to funding.

A group of more than 50 active-duty military officers will deliver a petition to Congress on Tuesday signed by about 1,000 troops calling for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. “Any troop increase over here will just produce more sitting ducks, more targets,” said Sergeant Ronn Cantu, who is serving in Iraq.

Under the 1988 Military Whistleblower Protection Act, active duty military, National Guard, and Reservists may communicate with any member of Congress without fear of reprisal, even if copies of the communication are sent to others.

Is that unprecedented? I can't remember it ever happening before.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe?

Actually, this movie has a slightly different title: Who Is Firing The Great US Attorneys of America? Actually, there's an easy answer to that.

Okay, so we already know that the White House has now taken the unprecedented step of firing at least four and likely seven US Attorneys in the middle of their terms of office -- at least some of whom are in the midst of corruption investigations of Bush administration officials and key Republican lawmakers. We also know that they're taking advantage of a handy provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows the White House to replace these fired USAs with appointees who don't need to be approved by the senate.

Here's the Patriot Act provision. Somebody ought to start checking the Patriot Act NOW to see if we can even get the President out of office in 2009.

This has now caught the eye of Congress, as well it should. DiFi gave a speech today on the Senate floor.

Basically, to paraphrase Ms. Feinstein if you aren't into the whole watching video thing, the Bush Administration is dumping US Attorneys who've been doing their job by investigating Republican malfeasance, and replacing them with loyal hacks, sidestepping Congressional oversight in the process.

Just when you think this Administration has run out of ways to hurt the country, they come up with something else. They are quite resourceful, you have to give them that.

It's ironic that this is the same day when the chief of staff to the Vice President began his trial for lying to a grand jury while under oath and obstructing justice. The prosecutor in the case is a US Attorney, and without him there wouldn't be this case, which will reveal more about how the White House (particularly the OVP) does its business than anything over the past six years. It's fitting that the Administration, then, picks this time to start picking off other potential meddling US Attorneys. It's a true scandal, a symbol of a Presidency that's desperately afraid of getting caught (at what, who knows?) and is systematically going about getting rid of the catchers.


Oh Yeah, and In Baghdad...

Over 100 dead in the capital in a variety of bombings and shootings. Four Americans killed in northern Iraq as well.

Meanwhile SecDef Robert Gates admits that the Administration is directly threatening Iran with its latest military moves.

Welcome to the suck.


Fitzmas! Martin Luther Fitz Day!

Or, actually, just the beginning of a long trial where Scooter Libby will try to stay out of jail by any means necessary.

The estimated six-week trial will pit current and former Bush administration officials against one another and, if Cheney is called as expected, will mark the first time that a sitting vice president has testified in a criminal case. It also will force the media into painful territory, with as many as 10 journalists called to testify for or against an official who was, for some of them, a confidential source.

Besides Cheney, the trial is likely to feature government and media luminaries including NBC's Tim Russert, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, columnist Robert D. Novak and Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward.

It's important to note that this trial has little to do with who leaked Valerie Plame's name and CIA status to reporters, but has everything to do with how Libby knowingly lied to the grand jury to cover up his role in the outing. That's the charge, and despite all the spin you'll hear from the right and from the defense, that's all the prosecutor has to prove. Clearly, the trial will wade into some other territory and shine a light on how the White House has operated over the past six years, especially in the run-up to war.

Libby goes on trial in U.S. District Court here today, charged with lying to a grand jury about the conversations he had with Russert and other reporters and, in the process, obstructing a federal investigation.

His defense is a novel one: that he was so preoccupied with life-or-death affairs of state that it affected his ability to accurately recall events for federal investigators.

Prosecutors have a simpler explanation: He lied.

The "faulty memory defense," as U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton has called it, is just one intriguing aspect of what promises to be one of the most remarkable trials in Washington in years [...]

But mainly, Libby is betting on what one lawyer calls his "busy man defense." Walton has said that Libby plans to use "a dizzying panoply" of information to make the point, including CIA-scrubbed summaries of classified information.

"The defendant anticipates using 'dots' on a PowerPoint presentation to show that during the time period critical to the indictment he was presented with several hundred other pieces of classified information," the judge said in an order last month. The defense is unusual because Libby is in essence admitting that he may not have told the truth, which lawyers said is a risky gambit in perjury cases, where defendants usually argue that what they said was technically true or that they were confused by the questions posed to them.

They said they could not recall another case where it had been tried in court, although it has been tried in the court of public opinion. In the 1980s, President Reagan denied trading weapons for hostages in the Iran-Contra affair, but later recanted when confronted with evidence that he did, citing a memory lapse.

Some experts said Libby runs the risk of appearing to believe he's above the law.

"A D.C. jury is quite likely to have its share of people with lower-level government jobs who don't take kindly to self-important claims that the press of business makes it unnecessary to focus on precisely what one says to government investigators and in the grand jury," said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Fordham Law School.

The first week will be concerned with the arduous task of trying to pick a jury. Unsurprisingly, the defense will quiz the jury on their politics, a sad reminder of where we've come over the years. It used to be that Democrats or Republicans could be trusted by the other side to understand where the truth is and reach a decision based on it. The defense obviously believes that they are so persecuted that only like-minded individuals represent a jury of their peers. That's a depressing moment for the country. I hope that all these politicians arguing for a "new kind of politics" understand that the "old kind" of partisan viciousness comes from moves like this, where citizens asked to do their civic duty in a jury trial must be questioned on their political leanings.

Firedoglake and Marcy Wheeler at The Next Hurrah, as well as others, will be covering this trial from the courtroom, and I'll be following along.


John McCain's Having a Bad Month

First off, he never expected that the White House would actually go through with his plan to add troops to the war zone in Baghdad. He was the first politician to call for an extra 20,000 troops. Then, when it seemed that the President would actually go through with it, he upped the ante to even more than that initial recommendation, giving himself some higher ground to say "they lost the war because they didn't listen to MEEEEE."

Mr. McCain embarked on a high-profile television tour announcing his support for Mr. Bush’s move. In an interview, he said he would have preferred that the White House send in even more troops, and noted that he had pressed this position on the White House, unsuccessfully until now, for more than two years.

McCain's desperately trying to remove himself from responsibility for this war, because he knows it means death for his Presidential chances. He wants to be the wise old man who wasn't listened to, not the wise old man whose advice the President took, and inevitably failed with.

Meanwhile the oppo research is starting to pile up on him.

Get out your flux capacitor and go back to 1990. Here is what John McCain had to say then, regarding using U.S. troops in the Gulf War. You could call it startling.

"If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood." [New York Times Aug 19, 1990]

Ahh, there's nothing so refeshing as the sweet melody of straight talk.

Ok, so let's break this down. During a war that was far from perfect, but where we had allies from around the world sending troops (inlcuding Syria and Egypt), was largely bankrolled by Japan and Saudi Arabia, was an actual response to Iraqi aggression and saw an American leader not stupid enough to go into Baghdad, Sir McCain thought that American casualties in Iraq were not acceptable, support at home among members of Congress and the people would erode and it would actually matter and perhaps most importantly, US ground troops should simply not be a part of the equation.

Quite an amazing transformation, isn't it (he was also in favor of pulling out of Beirut in 1983 and skeptical of using force in Somalia and Bosnia initially)? It couldn't have anything to do with electoral politics could it?

AND, the religious right is trying to put the ki-bosh on his nomination.

A prominent Christian leader whose radio and magazine outreaches are solidly in support of biblically-based marriages – and keeps in touch with millions of constituents daily – says he cannot consider Arizona Sen. John McCain a viable candidate for president.

"Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," said James Dobson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family as well as the Focus Action cultural action organization set up specifically to provide a platform for informing and rallying constituents [...]

"Dr. Dobson, would you be comfortable with someone like John McCain as the … conservative or Republican candidate for president?" Johnson asked.

"Well, let me say that I am not in the office. I'm in the little condo so I can speak for myself and not for Focus on the Family," Dobson said in rejecting McCain's leadership.

He noted that legislation he'd just been discussing on the program, regarding an attempt by Democrat leaders in Congress to create obstacles for ministries such as Focus to reach constituents with action messages about pending legislation, is being supported by McCain, too.

"That came from McCain, and the McCain Feingold Bill kept us from telling the truth right before elections … and there are a lot of other things. He's not in favor of traditional marriage, and I pray that we won't get stuck with him," Dobson said.

And the bad news just keeps on coming for McCain. He's yoked himself to a disastrous war, he's got major consistency problems on foreign policy, and his hardcore right flank hates him.

And this is the GOP front-runner for 2008.

I'm telling you, add two more years of George Bush into the mix and we won't even have to campaign. Vote your conscience, Democrats, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get someone in the White House who best represents common values.


The Irrelevance of the Washington Press Corps

Apparently, the organizers of the White House Correspondents Association Dinner are the only ones who remembered that Rich Little is still alive.

After a White House Correspondents Dinner marred by a speech that was actually, tragically funny, the WHCA has taken steps to ensure that never again will the C-SPAN-watching public accidentally crack a smile. This year’s dinner guest of honor: Rich Little.

Yeah, the impressionist known for his humorous takes on Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Johnny Carson, and hopefully some people who aren’t dead.

Well, at least I'll have a free Saturday night in February.

Let's think about this, shall we? Last year, the WHCA Dinner featured a brilliant bit of comic theater from Stephen Colbert, that brought more attention to that particular event than practically any other of the last 40 years. If the press corps picked a similarly iconoclastic figure, someone who would garner publicity in a "what do you think he'll say" kind of way, the country would be anticipating it for weeks. But instead, the reaction from a press corps who can't get the joke, can't see the humor in themselves, can't have someone come in and upset their hermetically sealed cocktail party, is to pick up Rich Little from the retirement home and bring him and his Reagan jokes out.

Will there be a live version of "Match Game" to go along with it?

More than anything, this shows how vapid, how out of touch, how completely irrelevant the DC media has become. And this dinner will return to its irrelevant place among DC social events, a shadow play where everybody forgets about the necessary adversarial stance between the press and the government, where the press forgets that they're advocates for the people, and everybody laughs at one another and has a grand old time. Shockingly, it didn't take the President asking "those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere" for the press corps to be offended. It took Stephen Colbert telling them who they were, calling the whole dinner and the whole way Washington works on the carpet.

And as a result, they go and get Rich Little. I hope Richard Cohen likes Jimmy Stewart impressions. Actually, I'm sure he does.


Obama's In

Apparently the new trick is to run as a post-partisan and a non-politician. Mike Huckabee pretty much hit the same themes of "let's move beyond petty partisanship" on The Daily Show last week.

I guess my question is, if everybody running for President is so post-partisan, even NEWT GINGRICH, then who are the people who have been polarizing the country since the Clinton impeachment, and the government shutdown, and before?

I don't want to say that these "new kind of politics" poses are COMPLETE bullshit, but let's say they're LARGELY bullshit.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Getting Swampy

I think I have an extra idea for Gov. Schwarzenegger's heath care plan - encourage people not to read Time's new blog as a means to keep the blood pressure low. Today, resident self-appointed serious pundit Joe Klein claims that Barack Obama "lost" the debate with John McCain on Face the Nation yesterday, not because of the argument he was making, but because of HOW he was making it. He wasn't as confident, I guess, or something. The idea that Klein can state clearly that John McCain was completely wrong on the substance of the argument and STILL can win the debate is something that can only be true in the world of the DC pundit. And a reader calls him on the carpet for it.

This, from a reader:

"Obama stumbles" is the title. Since when is HOW someone delivers a policy idea (in your opinion) more important that what the actual policy is? What kind of analysis is that? McCain was wrong in a presidential way, and that's impressive to you?

Sorry but, in the television age, if you can't sell a policy clearly, coherently and with confidence--especially a complicated policy--you're going to lose the argument. The very best politicians manage to blend style and substance, as is usually the case with Obama. (And wasn't the case with John Kerry, who was--ultimately, after a lot of hand-wringing--right about the war, but seemed uncertain and smarmy: for it before he was against it.)

The only reason Klein can claim that "In the television age, if you can't sell a policy clearly, coherently and with confidence, you're going to lose the argument" is because that's how pundits like KLEIN cover it. They make decisions about politicians based on the most superfluous, meaningless notions - fake ideas about "confidence" and "authenticity" and other nonsense that only people like you care about - and the end result can be seen with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And a good Klein piece of writing can't go a few paragraphs without a dig at John Kerry.

If you want to have a laugh, read the dozens of comments to that post - all negative except for one guy, who uses the royal "we" (as in "The implication being that Washington is a slimy, fetid place of doing business, and we intend to make fun of it/ be catty about it.") in such a way to cement that (s)he works there. And, being catty about politics when the consequences of politics are kids dying is, um, the problem. Not that I mind being catty - about Joke Line.


The Kabuki in the Iraq Plan

When the escalation plan was announced on Wednesday Juan Cole had this to say about one specific part of the plan: the notion that Irqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would allow US troops to go after the Madhi Army militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.

If part of the strategy is to assault the Mahdi Army frontally, that will cause enormous trouble in the Shiite south. I would suggest that PM Nuri al-Maliki's warning to the Mahdi Militia to disarm or face the US military is in fact code. He is telling the Sadrists to lie low while the US mops up the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Sadr's militia became relatively quiescent for a whole year after the Marines defeated it at Najaf in August, 2004. But since it is rooted in an enormous social movement, the militia is fairly easy to reconstitute after it goes into hiding.

I'm not surprised that Cole is, at least for the moment, correct, as the Sadr militia does appear to be keeping a lower profile as American reinforcements enter Baghdad.

Mahdi Army militia members have stopped wearing their black uniforms, hidden their weapons and abandoned their checkpoints in an apparent effort to lower their profile in Baghdad in advance of the arrival of U.S. reinforcements.

"We have explicit directions to keep a low profile . . . not to confront, not to be dragged into a fight and to calm things down," said one official who received the orders from the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr [...]

Militia members say al-Sadr ordered them to stand down shortly after President George Bush's announcement that the U.S. would send 17,500 more American troops to Baghdad to work alongside the Iraqi security forces.

The decision by al-Sadr to lower his force's profile in Baghdad will likely cut violence in the city and allow American forces to show quick results from their beefed up presence. But it is also unlikely in the long term to change the balance of power here. Mahdi Army militiamen say that while they remain undercover now, they are simply waiting for the security plan to end.

So, you have to wonder where this would all lead. The new US troops surge into Baghdad, and the Shiite militia groups have melted away. The troops need to justify their existence and go after any source of violence in the capital, so they start hitting Sunni insurgent groups. Maybe in the bargain, they pick off a few Sunnis who hold weapons to protect their families.

Some Sunnis worry that the new Baghdad security plan will clear the way for the Mahdi Army to finally cleanse Sunnis from Baghdad. In announcing the plan, President Bush said that U.S. forces would concentrate on defeating al-Qaida and the insurgency.

But Sunnis note that in most Sunni neighborhoods, local men unaffiliated with the insurgency also carry weapons to protect their families from militias and the Iraqi security forces, who they distrust and believe are heavily infiltrated by the Mahdi Army [...]

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite whose political backers include al-Sadr, has told legislators and advisors that security forces under the new plan will first go after the Sunni insurgency, which is responsible for most of the capital's car and roadside bombs that target Shiites and U.S. forces.

After that, he's said he'll move to quell militias, including the Mahdi Army, who are suspected in the killings of dozens of Sunnis.

So after Sunnis are cleansed from Baghdad, and the vast majority of the police is Shiite, and the vast majority of the Army is Shiite... you have to wonder exactly what the effect of the US surge would be. Is it to put their thumb on the scale in the civil war? Is it to push the 80% solution? Many seem to think so.

"The new security plan was crafted to get rid of the Sunnis and the resistance in Baghdad," said Sinan Abdullah, 30, a Sunni plastics trader in Zaiyouna. "Instead of dissolving the militias, the government starts with the Sunnis first. I have one sentence for Bush, 'You have dealt with the wrong people.'"

Fareed Zakaria seems to think so:

American forces have won every battle they have fought in Iraq. Having more troops and a new mission to secure whole neighborhoods is a good idea—better four years late than never. But the crucial question is, will military progress lead to political progress? That logic, at the heart of the president's new strategy, strikes me as highly dubious.

Administration officials have pointed to last week's fighting against Sunni insurgents in and around Baghdad's Haifa Street as a textbook example of the new strategy. Iraqi forces took the lead, American troops backed them up and the government did not put up any obstacles. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger concluded that the battle "looked like a successful test of unified [American-Iraqi] effort."

But did it? NEWSWEEK's Michael Hastings, embedded with an American advisory team that took part in the fighting, reports that no more than 24 hours after the battle began on Jan. 6, the brigade's Sunni commander, Gen. Razzak Hamza, was relieved of his command. The phone call to fire him came directly from the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite. Lt. Col. Steven Duke, commander of a U.S. advisory team working with the Iraqis, and a 20-year Army veteran, describes Hamza as "a true patriot [who] would go after the bad guys on either side." Hamza was replaced by a Shiite.

Joint operations against Shiite militias are far less likely, and not only because of political interference from the top. Groups like Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army don't generally start fire fights with the Americans or attack Iraqi forces. Their goals are different, quieter. Another U.S. adviser, Maj. Mark Brady, confirms reports that the Mahdi Army has been continuing to systematically take over Sunni neighborhoods, killing, terrorizing and forcing people out of their homes. "They're slowly moving across the river," he told Hastings, from predominantly Shiite eastern Baghdad into the predominantly Sunni west. If the 20,000 additional American troops being sent to the Iraqi capital focus primarily on Sunni insurgents, there's a chance the Shiite militias might get bolder. Colonel Duke puts it bluntly: "[The Mahdi Army] is sitting on the 50-yard line eating popcorn, watching us do their work for them."

With yet another botched hanging inflaming sectarian tensions, with Iraq's National Security Adviser saying that the Mahdi Army will not be dismantled, you begin to see a pattern here. The Iraqi government may be using this surge strategy as a means to fight their civil war with American strength. Maliki wants the American troops to focus on the Sunni insurgency, period. By the way, the Shiites we would be emboldening in this fight would then be the same Shiites who are closely aligned with Iran, who we claim are helping both sides in Iraq to enable some sort of "managed chaos" (which is ridiculous and dubiously sourced).

So there's going to continue to be a lot of Kabuki theater in the next few months. If the Mahdi Army blends into the population violence could die down. It may die down anyway, because historically January-March is a down time for violence anyway. So war supporters will claim that their strategy is winning the war. Meanwhile they'll be killing Sunnis, and pretty much only Sunnis, creating the very Shiite crescent they claim to be so afraid of. They of course won't be able to kill all the Sunnis, so this will create more angry Sunnis right behind them. Which means that we would only be moving the country FURTHER AWAY from a political solution in the name of restoring order. And we'd be doing Iran's bidding for them.