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

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Carolina In My Mind

As someone who contributes to a state progressive blogosphere, it's heartening to see some of my counterparts across the country doing so well. I wish that California had leaders who understood the power of the progressive movement the way that North Carolina doews, for example. This report by Matt Stoller is really something that's nice to see.

I don't know what they put in the water in NC, but the state establishment here is the most blogger-friendly in the country. The party headquarters is a beautiful and historic building, and the party chairman, Jerry Meek, has read and commented on blogs for years. He's a grassroots organizer at heart, and has terrific relations with everyone in North Carolina Democratic politics. He's pushing county parties to have websites, and to connect with members over email. It's not just Jerry - Congressman Brad Miller actually blogs on a fairly regular basis, commenting all over the place (including here) with useful and interesting comments.

Both Jerry and Congressman Miller recognize blogging for what it is and why it's important. It's not just another broadcast medium, it's a public space for activists to congregate and do the work of politics. It's not the only place for that to happen, but it's the most public, visible, and open place.

The work of places like Blue NC and other blogs in the Tar Heel State could be very significant in 2008, not only in the Presidential election but in the Senate race against Elizabeth Dole. CQ Politics has put out their first set of Senate ratings, and I was surprised to see Dole listed as "Republican Favored," a soft rating in the same territory as obvious targets like John Sununu in New Hampshire and Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

I guess it makes some sense. Dole did a miserable job in a leadership position last cycle as head of the NRSC, getting completely swept out, losing six seats and the Senate. Her legislative record is undistinguished, and her voting record lines right up with the right wing of the party. A recent poll in the state showed that Democratic Governor Mike Easley would beat Dole in a head-to-head matchup. Easley has said he doesn't want to run, but such a poll could be enticing. And if John Edwards is the nominee, the coattails in the state may help.

Plus, North Carolina appears to be trending purple. Heath Shuler picked up a seat in 2006, and Larry Kissell came within a couple hundred votes of doing the same (he's running again). The Raleigh-Durham area and the Research Triangle is becoming more affluent and more sophisticated, and that's the Democratic heart of the state. And with Bush ruining the Republican brand, North Carolina is becoming a target state in the future. We're not going to flip the whole South at once, but states like Arkansas and Virginia and North Carolina have shown movement over the past few years. Chipping away at that Republican base while consolidating gains in the Midwest and on the coasts, and aggressively going after the Mountain West, is a very good plan moving forward. The 50-state strategy is working, and progressive blogospheres are providing valuable support. I hope that California can catch up to the great work being done in places like North Carolina.



Los Angeles is a tough place for public protests or rallies of any type because it's so spread out and there is no central location. Usually everything ends up being done downtown, and I believe in fighting for peace and justice, but I don't want to have to get on the 10 Freeway to do it.

I have been to quite a few rallies and protests, many of them against the war, so eventually my willingness to be heard outweighs my distaste for traffic. And I'm glad that there was a big street action in DC today. But I have to agree with John Aravosis' take, that the message out of these events is always so cluttered, with everybody coming in with their pet idea, their pet theory about how the world really works, instead of coming together with one common goal, in this case to extricate ourselves from this failed occupation in Iraq. This always seems to happen, as some conspiracists always seem to take over the agenda at these things. For the record ANSWER is not an organization I'm comfortable aligning myself with.

Most people in this country want to find a way out of Iraq. Bringing Israel or Mumia Abu-Jamal or 9-11 conspiracies or anything else does not further that goal.


Karl Rover, Come Over (to the courthouse)

The Libby trial is living up to expectations:

White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect that top officials—including deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor Dan Bartlett-may be forced to provide potentially awkward testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial of Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Both Rove and Bartlett have already received trial subpoenas from Libby’s defense lawyers, according to lawyers close to the case who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. While that is no guarantee they will be called, the odds increased this week after Libby’s lawyer, Ted Wells, laid out a defense resting on the idea that his client, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, had been made a “scapegoat” to protect Rove.

Honestly, I think this is why you've seen so many stories this week of the top guys blowing their stack, whether it's Cheney yelling at Blitzer, or Bush's "I'm the decision-maker," or his telling Nancy Pelosi that the Iraq plan will work "because it's got to work, dammit!"

PELOSI: He's tried this two times — it's failed twice. I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?'

BUSH: Because I told them it had to.

PELOSI: Why didn't you tell them that the other two times?

They're scared to death and they're taking it out by yelling and screaming. Remember, Watergate was a simple burglary, it didn't begin with anything that would appear anywhere but on the police blotter in the back of the paper.


But Kerry's French

I'm watching a little of Hillary Clinton's town hall meeting (she's not at all a bad campaigner, by the way), and she's talking about her support for universal health care, like Obama in broad, vague terms. Her specific proposal was to expand the CHIP program and cover all children.

This is noble, sensible, and largely seen as centrist. It was also one of John Kerry's proposals in 2004, and he introduced it as legislation just a few weeks into the 109th Congress. Not sure if Hillary was a cosponsor of that, but it certainly didn't get a fair hearing in the Senate.

Because John Kerry isn't a serious person, I guess.

Similarly, there's only one person in the 2008 Democratic field who actually voted against the war in Iraq, and that's Dennis Kucinich. Obama spoke out against it in the Illinois Senate, but only Kucinich voted against it, and not only that, but he took the lead in mobilizing 120-plus other Representatives to vote against it.

But he's not a serious person, either.

I'm not saying I'm a full-fledged supporter of Kerry, or Kucinich, or whatever. It's a real strange time in America where being "serious" is more important than being right. And where that "seriousness" is decided by about a hundred unelected elitists in Washington.


Saturday Boston Terrier Blogging

An old video of Stella tormenting another dog, which really ought to be her job, as she's pretty good at it.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Laying the Groundwork for Single-Payer Health Care

Frank Russo has a very interesting post up about a poll commissioned by the Public Policy Institute in California, which appears to show that people very much want a major change in how we distribute and finance health care - and are willing to pay for it.

• The message is loud and clear that Californians, both those who vote and those who do not, want action and a change from how health insurance is provided.

• There is overwhelming support for "universal coverage", and a split of opinion on including all children in the state, regardless of their parent's immigration status.

• There also is strong support for the shorthand description of the plans being advanced by Governor Schwarzenegger and the competing plans of the Democratic leadership of an approach with "costs shared by employers, health care providers, and individuals."

• However, by a two-to-one margin, most prefer "a universal health insurance program, in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by the taxpayers" nationally to "the current health insurance system in the United States, in which most people get their health insurance from private employers, but some people have no insurance." The preference here is a descriptor of what is known as "single payer."

(I should remind everyone that right before the election, the head of the PPIC had the gall to say that health care wasn't an issue in the gubernatorial race because most voters have insurance and are "generally satisfied with the kind of healthcare coverage that they're getting personally." Except, not. But of course, nobody wanted to talk about issues back then, when there was a horse race to be dissected.)

There is incredibly strong support for change on health care. Like many polls, this shows support in the abstract, but traditionally, when it comes down to details and the entrenched interests like the insurance cos. and HMOs beat on any proposal for a while, they get clobbered at the polls. But the support in the abstract is a road map to success for a genuine progressive solution to the growing health care crisis.

Right now the Democratic legislative leaders are giving up the game before it has been played. They claim that Arnold will not sign a single-payer bill, and so they're being "pragmatic." That's true, in the way that surrendering from a fight you can win is pragmatic. Perata and Nunez don't seem to care about the overwhelming public support that single-payer has the ability to have. The way this will turn around is by a massive education and lobbying campaign to show the legislature exactly what people want. This is similar to what Randy Bayne is saying about the poll:

Medicare is a single-payer system. So, whether they know it or not, or want to admit it or not, most people really do want a single-payer health care system [...]

The message seems to be, "we really don't care how you do it, just reform the damn thing." Unfortunately, reform for reform sake may worsen the situation by escalating the cost of health care and further limiting access. The only reform proposal that guarantees access to comprehensive, affordable health care is single-payer.

And just for the anti-tax for any reason crowd, most people polled, "63 percent of all adults and 59 percent of likely voters say they favor the U.S. government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens even if it means raising taxes.".

What all this tells me is that a better job needs to be done educating people about what single-payer is, is not, and how the simplicity with which it works. Reform is wanted. Universal – true universal health care – is wanted. And the topper – we're actually willing to chip in a little to get it.

An education campaign, that Medicare for All or Kuehl's plan won't cause long lines or prevent you from seeing certain doctors, is crucial. Otherwise, progressives (and apparently, the vast majority of Californians) won't have a say in this debate. And that education campaign is not just saying "I believe in universal health care." That debate, IMO, is largely over. If this is the best that the other side's got, arguing that the problem is too much regulation and that people have too much insurance, then the debate is truly over. Digby doesn't seem to think so, and he praised Barack Obama's rhetorical effort yesterday to move the debate forward.

This is important. Universal Health Care, the concept, is far from settled, but Obama is just seizing the issue and saying that it is. And he's doing it with inspirational rhetoric that makes you feel as if it's an inexorable tide of progress, daring those who would try to stop it.

We are a long way from any plans and frankly I don't particularly want to hear about them yet in detail. I just want to know if the Democrats are prepared to say that they believe in universal health care. If they don't believe that then I want to hear why. That's the bright line that Obama is drawing and I think it's pretty smart.

That's simply not true, and as a Californian I'm shocked to hear Digby say otherwise. Right here in this state, we have a "universal" plan on the table, which is an individual mandate to buy "crappy health care for all." It has no floor for basic coverage, it perpetuates the employer-based system by forcing them to provide health care or pay a tax (employer-based health care is a mistake that must be corrected), and is a windfall for the private insurance industry. Oh, and Schwarzy wants to cut the public health budget to do it. The competing plans by our idiot leaders in the legislature aren't much better. The PPIC released a poll yesterday showing that Californians want something far more progressive, but they aren't aware that there is another option. It's SB 840, authored by Sheila Kuehl, Digby's own state senator, and it's in dire need of some amplification and support to push the debate in a more progressive direction.

If we simply stop at "I'm for universal health care," we enable these inadequate plans by people like Schwarzenegger, and the public will accept it because it LOOKS LIKE he's doing something to deal with health care, and change is what people want, at any cost. This will be decided in this legislative session, without a doubt, and it will then serve as a model for the nation. I don't want the whole country getting stuck with the crappy plan currently being shoved down our throats in the Golden State.

A bill was introduced in the US House today providing for single-payer. Corporate America is trying to determine how to fix health care. Here in California the leader of the State Senate went up on the air with ads promoting his Schwarzenegger-lite plan. The signal-to-noise ratio is very high right now, with everyone offering these competing plans. But that doesn't mean that we should keep the argument in the abstract.

Do I think that you could ever get Arnold to sign a single-payer bill? Probably not, but you can make it hard for him not to, and make the potential veto pay with a yearlong campaign for a single-payer solution on the 2008 ballot, starting with ads the day he vetoes it. Actually, starting with ads TODAY.

They're not playing a political game in Sacramento right now. Whether or not the Governor is willing to sign a bill today isn't important. He won't have to sign anything until October. That's nine months to rally the public, an eternity in politics. AND, all of the pressure is on him to deliver on his post-partisan promises.

Senate Health Committee Chair Sheila Kuehl has been somewhat visible with her single-payer plan (SB 840), and I'm told that SEIU will be stepping in shortly. This can be a defining moment for the grassroots and netroots, a 2-year effort to work together and get a real health care system in this state. But it has to get started, so people don't fear the boogeyman of "government-run health care."


Democrat Party

I wouldn't go as far as this blogger, but it's a slur, a calculated and obvious slur, and for some reason no leading Democratic politician ever says a word about it. Howard Dean? Harry Reid? Somebody?


Back On The Cheney Gang

What we have witnessed this week could very well be the end of the political career of Richard B. Cheney. I think there's a very good possibility he will be asked to step down, though I doubt he would do so unless he was indicted. This is a watershed week in American history, when the full extent of the lawbreaking and dirty tactics of this Administration are just now coming to light.

It actually started late last week, when Lawrence Wilkerson revealed that in 2003 Iran, then under the Presidency of reformer Mohammed Khatami, came to the United States with a deal to help get Iraq under control, and to stop their financing of Hezbollah and Hamas. Dick Cheney squashed it, though the State Department showed interest. Dick Cheney, at the time, had taken over the entire foreign policy apparatus and arrogated its power unto himself. And this failure to talk with Iran indirectly led to the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a bolstering of the hardline stance in the country.

Then the Libby trial kicked off this week, and yesterday's testimony showed the lengths to which Cheney was personally involved in the discrediting of Amb. Joseph Wilson.

In the first such account from Vice President Dick Cheney's inner circle, a former aide testified Thursday that Cheney personally directed the effort to discredit an administration critic by having calls made to reporters in 2003.

Cheney dictated detailed "talking points" for his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and others on how they could impugn the critic's credibility, said Catherine J. Martin, who was the vice president's top press aide at the time.

For the purposes of the trial, Martin detailed that she told Libby about Plame a month before Libby claimed to the grand jury that he heard from reporters. For the purposes of Dick Cheney's career, it's devastating. At the time, the insurgency was just taking root, and the WMD claims were looking more and more to have been exaggerated. In this environment, what mattered to Cheney was not how to deal with postwar Iraq or how to ensure the intelligence services don't get it so wrong again, but how to silence a critic. And it was extremely hands-on, not a general "get my side of the story out" but hand-written details about how he wanted Wilson rebutted. This is a portrait of a Vice President run totally amok, lying his head off and plotting revenge for anyone who called him on it. And, as Dana Milbank noted (I bashed him yesterday, but this is good stuff today), Cheney used the media as a weapon in his propaganda war:

Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.

This delicious morsel about the "Meet the Press" host and the vice president was part of the extensive dish Cathie Martin served up yesterday when the former Cheney communications director took the stand in the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Flashed on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Option 1: "MTP-VP," she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under "pro," she wrote: "control message."

"I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used," Martin testified. "It's our best format."

Ten bucks that Russert comes out pounding whoever he's got on this week, taking it out on them. But the truth hurts.

Add to all of this Cheney's CNN freakout the other day, and then this astounding report from the new chair of the House Intelligence Committee:

Vice President Dick Cheney exerted “constant” pressure on the Republican former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to stall an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence on Iraq, the panel’s Democratic chairman charged Thursday.

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia … said that it was “not hearsay” that Cheney, a leading proponent of invading Iraq, pushed Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to drag out the probe of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.

“It was just constant,” Rockefeller said of Cheney’s alleged interference. He added that he knew that the vice president attended regular policy meetings in which he conveyed White House directions to Republican senators.

Republicans “just had to go along with the administration,” he said.

Cheney was running roughshod over his critics, top-level staffers in the Cabinet, the Senate... everyone. He took as much power as he could and dared anyone to stop him. The result is that now all of these examples are coming to the surface, and Cheney is completely on the defensive. He can't even get through a simple softie interview with Leslie Blitzer without blowing his stack. And he's about to have to take the stand in the Libby case. That will be the moment to end all moments.

This feels very Spiro T. Agnew circa 1973 to me. I really think there's an outside chance that the Vice President would be forced to resign. I can't imagine who would leap to his defense at this point.


Hagelian Dialectic

Yes, Chuck Hagel has talked a good game on Iraq. He also was among the 28 Senators who yesterday voted to abolish the federal minimum wage.

If it was Hagel v. Biden, I'd have a tough choice to make. But it's not going to be. And there are more issues than just Iraq, on which I have far too many differences of opinion to endorse him.

But if he wants to go third-party, I'm all for it...


You Can Do It

So today we had The Decider II: The Decidining.

President Bush, on a collision course with Congress over Iraq, said Friday "I'm the decision-maker" about sending more troops to the war. He challenged skeptical lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup.

"I've picked the plan that I think is most likely to succeed," Bush said in an Oval Office meeting with senior military advisers.

The worst thing about all of this is the extent to which so many Democrats have internalized this bullying tactic. They have forgotten history, and the fact that Congress is both a co-equal branch of government and the ultimate arbiter on when and where this country goes to war.

Digby brought me to this great article by Rick Perlstein that lays out the history of what really happened regarding the de-funding of the war in Vietnam.

Let's start at the very beginning. Representatives and senators had been criticizing the creep, creep, creep of America's escalating military involvement in Indochina at least since 1963. The hammer really started coming down, though, in February 1966 -- when, a year after Lyndon Johnson began the first bombing runs over North Vietnam, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman J. William Fulbright of Arkansas called hearings questioning the entire underlying logic of the war. Americans had been doing that in the streets for some time by then. Shortly after the Senate passed the president's 1965 $700 million military appropriation for Vietnam 88 to 3, the antiwar movement staged its first big Washington demonstration -- with about 20,000 young people on the Mall. But the collective reaction of the guardians of polite opinion was a sneer. "Holiday From Exams," the New York Times headed its dispatch.

By contrast, when Sen. Fulbright began his hearings, they stood up and took notice. All three networks covered the hearings live over six days. Thus did Americans learn from hippies like World War II hero Gen. James Gavin and George Kennan, architect of the Cold War doctrine of "containment" -- who said, "If we were not already involved as we are today in Vietnam, I would know of no reason why we should wish to become so involved, and I could think of several reasons why we should wish not to," and that victory could come only "at the cost of a degree of damage to civilian life and civilian suffering ... for which I would not like to see this country responsible."

President Johnson did not sit by idly. He directed the FBI to monitor the proceedings to find where they were echoing the so-called Communist line -- and had agents study wiretaps of the Soviet Embassy for evidence of friendly congressional contact. He also may have had words with the top network brass. CBS, for one, cut away from Kennan's testimony to return to regularly scheduled programming ("I Love Lucy" and "Andy Griffith Show" reruns). The execs defended themselves, claiming the hearings served to "obfuscate" and "confuse" the issues.

First lesson: Forthright questioning of a mistaken war by prominent legislators can utterly transform the public debate, pushing it in directions no one thought it was prepared to go.

Second lesson: Congress horning in on war powers scares the bejesus out of presidents.

Nixon was even worse than Johnson. Tricky Dick spent two elections saying he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam but showed no intention of doing so, only escalation. And he clinched it with the Cambodia bombing campaign and subsequent invasion in 1970.

Another lesson: Presidents, arrogant men, lie. And yet the media, loath to undermine the authority of the commander in chief, trusts them. Today's congressional war critics have to be ready for that. They have to do what Congress immediately did next, in 1970: It grasped the nettle, at the president's moment of maximum vulnerability, and turned public opinion radically against the war, and threw the president far, far back on his heels.

Immediately after the Cambodian invasion Senate doves rolled out three coordinated bills. (Each had bipartisan sponsorship; those were different days.) John Sherman Cooper, R-Ken., and Frank Church, D-Idaho, proposed banning funds for extending the war into Cambodia and Laos. Another bipartisan coalition drafted a repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the congressional authorization for war that had passed 98 to 2 in 1964. George McGovern, D-S.D., and Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., were in charge of the granddaddy of them all: an amendment requiring the president to either go to Congress for a declaration of war or end the war, by Dec. 31, 1970. Walter Shapiro wrote that a "skittish" Congress made sure its antiwar legislation had "loopholes" to permit the president to take action to protect U.S. troops in the field" -- which means no genuine congressional exit mandate at all. But McGovern-Hatfield had no such "loopholes." (Of course, McGovern Hatfield didn't pass, and thus wasn't subject to the arduous political negotiating process that might have added them.) It was four sentences long, and said: Without a declaration of war, Congress would appropriate no money for Vietnam other than "to pay costs relating to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces, to the termination of United States military operations ... to the arrangement for exchanges of prisoners of war," and to "food and other non-military supplies and services" for the Vietnamese.

Radical stuff. Far more radical than today's timid congressional critics are interested in going. But what today's timid congressmen must understand is that the dare paid off handsomely. With McGovern-Hatfield holding down the left flank, the moderate-seeming Cooper-Church passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee almost immediately. Was the president on the defensive? And how. His people rushed out a substitute "to make clear that the Senate wants us out of Cambodia as soon as possible." Two of the most hawkish and powerful Southern Democrats, Fritz Hollings and Eugene Talmadge, announced they were sick of handing blank checks to the president. A tide had turned, decisively. By the time Cooper-Church passed the Senate overwhelmingly on June 30, the troops were gone from Cambodia -- an experiment in expanding the war that the president didn't dare repeat. Congress stopped that surge. It did it by striking fast -- and hard -- when the iron was hottest. In so doing, it moved the ball of public opinion very far down the field. By August, a strong plurality of Americans supported the McGovern-Hatfield "end the war" bill, 44 to 35 percent.

There is, here, another crucial lesson for today: Grass-roots activism works. The Democratic presidential front-runner back then, Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, afraid of being branded a radical, had originally proposed instead a nonbinding sense-of-the-Senate resolution recommending "effort" toward the withdrawal of American forces within 18 months. He found himself caught up in a swarm: the greatest popular lobbying campaign ever. Haverford College, which was not atypical, saw 90 percent of its student body and 57 percent of its faculty come to Washington to demonstrate for McGovern-Hatfield. A half-hour TV special in which congressmen argued for the bill was underwritten by 60,000 separate 50-cent contributions. The proposal received the largest volume of mail in Senate history. Muskie withdrew his own bill, and became the 19th cosponsor of McGovern-Hatfield.

There's a lot of revisionist history about Vietnam. One is that the crazy McGovernite doves destroyed the Democratic Party. Not true, the Democrats picked up seats in Congress in 1972. The other is that Democrats kept the United States from victory in Vietnam. Also, absolute garbage. Republicans had a coordinated strategy to blame the loss on the Democrats, as sure as they have the same strategy to blame Iraq on them, somehow.

You know that whatever the facts, the right will blame "liberals" and "Democrats" for losing Iraq; that's as inevitable as the fact that we've already lost Iraq -- and as inevitable as an arrogant president playing into Democratic hands by expanding the engagement (he already is). What would be inexcusable is if wobbly Democrats managed to maneuver themselves timidly into a corner that made them only the right-wing's scapegoats -- and not the champions that truly made their stand to end the war.

In 2008, the Republicans are going to have to run either amidst an electorate convinced that Republicans will be staying the course or amidst an electorate they've managed to bamboozle into believing "peace is at hand." If they manage the latter, they'll have a good chance of winning the election. But the only way they can do that is if Democrats can't claim credit for ending it first. I hope to be able to watch the Democrats truly try to end the war; it will be glorious. Because even if they start losing votes in Congress, the president and the party that enables him can only become politically weaker by the day.

Russ Feingold is stepping up (again). He's essentially holding Rick Perlstein's Salon article as a Congressional hearing, called "Exercising Congress’s Constitutional Power to End a War.” That some Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, don't seem to think it's possible is an indictment of the current governmental system. Senators shouldn't need this kind of history lesson, but they do.

“Congress holds the power of the purse and if the President continues to advance his failed Iraq policy, we have the responsibility to use that power to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq,” Feingold said. “This hearing will help inform my colleagues and the public about Congress’s power to end a war and how that power has been used in the past. I will soon be introducing legislation to use the power of the purse to end what is clearly one of the greatest mistakes in the history of our nation’s foreign policy.”

I massively support Feingold's efforts as well as John Kerry's But there aren't enough Senators yet willing to take bold action to put an end to our involvement in Iraq. I fear that we're losing a moment of opportunity.

UPDATE: Steny must have been on Salon:

“Democrats may push a new bill authorizing the use of force in Iraq — replacing the 2002 bill that allowed the Bush administration to proceed with the war,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said today. The House will soon address ways to “affect the policy and strategy being pursued in Iraq,” possibly including “a revised authorization for the use of military force in Iraq that more accurately reflects the mission of our troops on the ground,” he said.

Toss this President back on his heels, boys and girls.


Primary Woes

This rush to move up the states in the Presidential primaries is shortsighted, though inevitable. With such a calendar in place, whoever wins the primary right before Super Tuesday (CA, NJ, IL, FL) will win the election. Or whoever has the momentum. Without a doubt.

Think about it. There's a definite and measurable bump you getting out of winning Iowa and New Hampshire, it's in the range of 10 points or so. You have to then turn around in one week and compete in almost every large media market in the country, barnstorming from coast to coast. Do you really think anyone's going to get some kind of good sense about the candidates from that week? Hell no, whoever has the big mo' and the media imprimatur will carry the day. You think you're going to be able to mobilize a grassroots GOTV in four of the largest states in the country within one week after spending all your time and effort and money in the first four states on the calendar? And once you sweep Super Tuesday, the entire ballgame is over. So by February 6 we have a nominee. 9 months out. That worked WONDERS with John Kerry.

This may be in California's interest but it's completely contrary to the national interest. Wouldn't you rather want to learn about these candidates over months and months, ensuring that the best man or woman wins the day? Wasn't California at its apex of power when it went last in 68 and 72, when primary season was allowed to play itself out?

You're endorsing a process that will ensure that we get a well-funded, well-known candidate that has proven they can win Iowa. Some people think that you have to raise gobs of money for the general anyway, so this is good practice. I think this is a horrible, horrible idea.

Dan Conley is absolutely right.

Every four years, the wise men and women of the Democratic Party think about the facile Presidential nomination process they just went through and come up with a plan to make it better. And every four years, the end result is exactly the same:

* Iowa and New Hampshire go first
* Then everyone rushes to go next, leading to a multistate pileup

And never does any candidate -- after Iowa and New Hampshire -- have the time or ability to do anything but hop from one airport to another and run as many TV spots as they can afford. Democratic primary voters look at the Iowa and New Hampshire results and think, oh well, he (or she) looks as good as anyone else ... if you're not going to give me time to think about it, then let's just get it over with.

The worst idea of this campaign has just hit our doorsteps -- moving up the California and Florida primaries to a week after New Hampshire. If you ever wanted a plan for ensuring that only the richest candidates had a shot at winning the nomination and that no issues would be discussed in any depth whatsoever, this would be the perfect end result.

If we're going to run campaigns this way, we might as well have every state hold a national primary and get it all over with on one day. Because this is ridiculous.

And just remember that, for the Democrats in California, this will make two people in this state inordinately rich and powerful.

1) Garry South
2) Phil Angelides

There was a reason every Presidential candidate flocked to Angelides' side last fall, despite the polls. They wanted his donor list and his volunteer base. And South's one of the consultants who will be the recipient of the one-way flow of progressive movement money (that's a very important article from Chris Bowers, by the way. Consultants are getting rich from small-donor dollars while bloggers and movement activists starve, almost literally).

If this move would make CA go first, that's one thing. Lining it up right behind IA and NH doesn't fix anything. In fact, it just makes things worse. Iowa will still end up picking the nominee. In fact, that'll be more true if everyone moves up to Feb. What you need is a full reordering of the entire primary system. I'd like to see four or six regional primaries, rotated every cycle, spread about a month or so apart. That'd make sense. Frontloading makes no sense at all. It was making sense to me to add Nevada and South Carolina and dribble everything out. But they packed them in too tight. Jack Balkin at Balkinization called it the unintended consequence of federalism. Every individual state has the desire to make themselves relevant, but the nation suffers.

The money primary thing to me is secondary. It's the continuing to empower IA and NH though you claim to want the opposite. Unless you believe that some candidate will camp out in CA and skip Iowa (how'd that work out for Clark?) and be able to pull that off, losing out on all that free media from winning the early states.

Enjoy your primary.


You Go Ted

The liberal lion in winter: (h/t Crooks and Liars)

This is how you deal with Republican filibusters. You shame the hell out of them. You let them know what the campaign commercials will look like. Raising the minimum wage has 80% support in the country. It's suicide for these corporate suckups to do this. About a million business tax breaks have been enacted. You can't give ONE raise to the working poor?


The Laziest Propagandists

So Fox News, a channel that makes a living out of smearing the Clinton Administration, didn't want to pay actors and lighting crews and cameramen and editors to do it, so they've decided to just rip off Disney to do it:

NEW YORK — In a move that could rekindle a heated political debate, Fox News said Thursday that it planned to broadcast footage from ABC's controversial miniseries "The Path to 9/11" that was edited out of the docudrama amid criticism that it inaccurately portrayed the Clinton administration's response to the terrorism threat.

The outtakes, scheduled to air Sunday, depict then-national security advisor Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger refusing to approve a CIA request to attack Osama bin Laden, an event that Berger and the Sept. 11 commission say did not occur.

Now, if Disney/ABC provided the tapes for Fox News to use, that would be sort of evidence of some vast right-wing conspiracy or something. But in this case, Fox actually did what pirate DVD makers do: they bootlegged it.

Fox News obtained the outtakes by taping a public talk that Cyrus Nowrasteh, writer and producer of "The Path to 9/11," gave to a World Affairs Council chapter last Friday at Cal State Channel Islands. Nowrasteh discussed making the docudrama and played several minutes edited out of the movie.

Fox News had learned of his appearance from an article in a Ventura County paper, and it received permission from the World Affairs Council to record the event, "Hannity's America" producer John Finley said. The council is a nonprofit educational group.

"We saw an opportunity and sent a crew out there," Finley said.

Kind of like some 18 year-old kid sees the opportunity and brings a Handicam into the matinee screening of "The Departed," and three days later you can buy a copy on the streets of Beijing for a buck and a half.

Meanwhile, it's not like this stuff is even exclusive, although it is illegal.

An early version of the miniseries that ABC distributed to television critics is readily available on and other websites.

Fox News does not have ABC's permission to broadcast the unaired footage, but an attorney for the network said officials there believed that the newsworthiness of the material put it under the fair-use exception to the copyright statute.

It's newsworthy to run footage that's four months old that you couldn't get through normal channels, so you STOLE it? How about the "24" finale online then, the one that my friend in their post-production department gave me? It's newsworthy, right? I'll only put up the very, very end, so it's fair use, yeah?

Fox News: not only dishonest on the air, but dishonest and lazy off the air. They could have made their own bullshit film ripping apart the Clintons: I'm sure they'd get an audience. But that would, you know, cost money.


The Return of the Random Ten

For the next three months, I'll be doing a commute that allows for exactly 10 songs to be played off my iPod, so it's time to ramp up another series of the Random Ten (h/t TBogg):

Thom Yorke - Atoms For Peace
The Flaming Lips - Vein Of Stars
Guided By Voices - The Ugly Vision
Beck - Guess I'm Doing Fine
The White Stripes - The Denial Twist
The Beastie Boys - Body Movin'
Beck - Que Onda Guero
Junkie XL (featuring Robert Smith) - Perfect Blue Sky
Dilated Peoples - Neighborhood Watch
Doves - There Goes The Fear Again

In the comments, please tell me what music I should buy. I want the new Shins, and The Good, The Bad, and The Queen. Any others?


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tom Cruise Leaked Valerie Plame's Name... No Other Explanation

It's a little disturbing how often Tom Cruise's name has come up in the CIA Leak Investigation. First he met with Richard Armitage only a couple hours after the former deputy Secretary of State leaked Plame's identity to Bob Woodward.

Then, just yesterday, we learned that Scooter Libby ALSO met with the Thetan-5, and his then-squeeze Penelope, around the time of the Wilson op-ed, meeting to talk about the treatment of Scientologists in Germany. And Libby was "very excited about it."

Clearly, Cruise is implicated. Deeply. But why? What was going on in 2003? Why did Cruise talk to Tim Russert and Matt Cooper? Why was he on that AF1 flight to Africa with Ari Fleischer? Was jumping on the couch on Oprah a signal that he was throwing Plame under the couch? Was he doing research for The Last Samurai (2003) by asking Libby about his novel, where the brothers of a dead samurai has sex with the samurai's daughter?

I want the truth! (you can't handle the truth)

...OK, in actual Libby trial news, Cathie Martin's testimony was devastating today. She basically said that Libby lied about when he heard that Plame worked for the CIA, which is pretty much the charges in the case. As always, Firedoglake is the best place to go for minute-by-minute descriptions of testimony. And there's a nice profile of Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel) in The Ann Arbor News today.


Heh Heh, Kerry's Boring

In John Kerry's Senate speech where he eventually announced that he would not contest for the Democratic nomination next year, he actually laid out the importance of stopping the Iraq war now before it expands across the Middle East.

The fact is, what happens here in the next 2 years may irrevocably shape or terribly distort the administration of whichever candidate is next elected President. Decisions are being taken and put into effect today and in the days to come that may leave to the next President a wider war, a war even more painful, more difficult, more prolonged than the war we already have.

Iraq, if we Senators force a change of course, may yet bring stability and an exit with American security intact or it may bring our efforts in the region to a failure that we will all recognize as a catastrophe.

I don't want the next President to find that he or she has inherited a nation still divided and a policy destined to end as Vietnam did, in a bitter or sad legacy. I intend to devote all my efforts and energies over the next 2 years, not to the race for the Presidency for myself but for doing whatever I can to ensure that the next President can take the oath with a reasonable prospect of success for him or her--for the United States. And I intend to speak the truth as I find it without regard for political correctness or partisan advantage, to advise my colleagues and my fellow citizens to the best of my ability and judgment, and to support every action the Senate may reasonably and constitutionally take to guide and direct the ship of state.

Dana Milbank called this part of the speech "long-winded and meandering" in his column today:

Kerry later went to the Senate floor to announce that he would not run for president in 2008 but meandered through the better part of half an hour before getting to the point.

God forbid a reporter actually LISTEN to a speech. "Get to the point, you blowhard! Blah blah blah, we're going to attack Iran, blah blah blah. I've got a deadline! Are you running or not?"

These things MATTER, dude. Your horse-race process story can wait. The President is ignoring everybody's counsel and pushing a policy destined for failure for no other reason than "because it has to work." He held to this plan even though the Prime Minister of Iraq didn't want it. He did it even though the plan relies on an Iraqi army who openly laugh at our troops who are taking the lead and doing their job for them.
And he continued to make threatening noises toward Iran in the process. We're going to end up in multiple wars and completely isolated on the global stage if this madman isn't checked, and one of the few people who, with backbone and principle, is trying to do something about it, THIS is the guy you offer up for mockery.

The failure to listen and challenge White House spin, the failure to look at anything except through the lens of politics, is what got us here in the first place. The media continues to fail to learn their lesson. And more people die, and the world is less safe, in the process.

[UPDATE] Here's the thing. I don't hate Dana Milbank, he's generally one of the better reporters in Wahsington, but his columns all too frequently have this Maureen Dowd-like quality to boil everything down to process and how people sound and look and a bunch of other crap that does nothing but alienate Americans from their leaders. This can be seen in pretty much all the assembled output of Joke Line, who loves him some Jim Webb because he drinks beer like a manly man, but hates John Kerry because he's effete and drinks Chablis. Policies don't appear to matter to these people, they instead treat politics like a high-school dance where they decide who they like based on what barrette is in their hair. Well, this has to stop. It's corrosive and severely damages the ability to have a well-informed citizenry.


...And You Shall Be Known By Your Trail of Votes

Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel have led the political debate in this country over the past week, sounding very principled and very American in their contention that we must end this shameful policy of escalation in Iraq. But when both of them had a chance to vote on it, yesterday in the Foreign Relations Committee, on Sen. Dodd's bill requiring Congressional authorization for escalation, both of them voted No.

I'm sure they had their own reasons to do so, perhaps because the troops are already in place, perhaps because they're opposed in principle but don't want to stop the troops from going without a change in strategy. But the point is that as nice as words are, as important as rhetoric is to frame the debate, votes MATTER. And it's something to remember going into 2008. There's one Senator who's actually willing to use the Congressional duties as written in the Constitution to stop this war, and that's Senator Feingold. Then there are people like Chuck Hagel, who talk a great game but whose vote doesn't seem to match the rhetoric. Although he voted for the nonbinding resolution yesterday, he voted against anything with actual import. And, he voted for the war in 2002.

Yesterday in the Senate, Republicans not only blocked a clean minimum wage bill from passage, but they tried to attach an amendment ELIMINATING the federal minimum wage altogether, leaving the power entirely to the states, and they got 28 votes for it.

(Colorado Sen. Wayne) Allard hid the repeal behind the “state flexibility” mask, claiming states should be allowed to set their own rates, without a federal floor, because of different costs of living and differing economies. The amendment would nullify the federal minimum wage standard in the 45 states that have their own minimum wage law, and allow the five states that don’t—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee—to opt-out of any federal minimum wage increase by passing a minimum wage law providing at least $5.15 an hour.

Those voting to completely repeal the minimum wage include 2008 contenders Sam Brownback and John "Straight Talk Express" McCain, and people up for re-election like John Cornyn, Thad Cochran, Lindsay Graham and John Sununu. The commercials should be cut any day now. These votes MATTER in politics. They need to be recalled when these people come back asking for YOUR vote.

It's not just about vision and rhetoric and framing. It's about where you stand at the end of the day. And there's no better barometer of that than your voting record.


2008 Stuff

Like I said yesterday, I don't think it's enough to just be "for universal health care," which is basically what Barack Obama said today. He'll probably have to nail this down by the time we get to Iowa, however, so I'm somewhere in the middle between Atrios saying this doesn't matter and Ezra Klein saying it does. Obama's going to have to get specific sooner or later, particularly on what kind of foreign policy course he'd like to chart for America. I can't see him winning with vagueness. Maybe you could get away with that in 2000 or 2004, but the competition in 2008 is too fierce. And, if Al Gore jumps into the race, which is not as far-fetched as people suggest, then it's even fiercer.

For the record, though I haven't forgotten his debate pushing NAFTA in 1994 against Ross Perot, I would love to see Al Gore enter the race and win. I think Hillary Clinton is skillfully but dishonestly pushing an inevitability meme through the media, talking up the importance of big money (not that it's not, but her people are deliberately doing this to push everyone else out of the race), saying that she's "winning the netroots primary" when nothing could be further from the truth, etc. I agree with Matt Stoller:

Ironically, though she is popular among some base voters and most progressive elites, few activists, bloggers, or local politicians actually want Hillary as the nominee. Local politicians are desperately afraid she will hurt downticket candidates all over the country. Progressives know she hasn't dealt with Iraq, and will cripple the Democratic Party badly as Iraq gets worse in 2007 and 2008. And political junkies know that she has done very little that is substantive in the Senate except grant Bush the power to go to war and pander on flag-burning and video games. Politically, Hillary has passed out enough favors and kept every group atomized and fearful enough to make her seem both unpalatable and inevitable. That is why her camp is claiming that they are in the netroots primary, when they are simply not.

I believe her tending to an elite audience and ignoring the concerns of various activists explains the loathing of Hillary Clinton within a certain piece of the progressive base. I've noted before how one slice of primary voters is pretty similar to the netroots. This loathing isn't based on the right-wing slime machine, though often progressives unwittingly slip into discussions about things like 'electability'. It's a loathing that is more 'gut', more about conflicting identities. Chris has noted this with his excellent series of about a year ago on class stratification between the activist class and the elites. Hillary Clinton is an establishment elitist, and we are opposed to this institutional baggage.

I think Hillary needs to get the benefit of the doubt when she is slimed unfairly in the media, but her media sources are doing some very sneaky things as well, and primary voters need to know that. In a way it's just politics as usual, but the progressive movement is built around turning that on its end.

I don't know how much sense this made, but there you are.


Messy Aftermath in CDP Delegate Elections

This Capitol Weekly article notes some continuing controversy in the CDP delegate elections held nearly two weeks ago, particularly in AD 51, which appeared to be a backroom battle between former rivals for the Assemblyman position:

Democratic activist Tim Goodrich sent a complaint to party chairman Art Torres and secretary Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer on Sunday. It alleges six different improprieties in a delegate election held in Hawthorne on January 14. This includes charges of improper voting and unethical use of power by the presiding officer of the election. Goodrich was one of seven candidates on a "Democrats for Progress" slate; he said he lost by four votes.

"We decided to contest this election so this fraudulent activity doesn't
happen again and to send a message that the people want fair elections
within the CDP," Goodrich said.

The Democrats of Progress slate was led by Price's opponent in the primary, Steve Bradford. Bradford was nearly able to win the party endorsement in last year's state primary; Price went on the win the primary by a mere 113 votes.
Bradford was elected as a delegate. So were two other members of his slate, Alexis Beamon and Sheila Mickelson. But Price's slate swept the other nine slots, essentially ensuring he will keep the party endorsement when he runs for re-election in 2008.

Goodrich's complaint makes several allegations: that voters' eligibility was not properly verified before people cast their secret ballot, that Price led a Martin Luther King Jr. Day barbecue in a park next to the polling place and did not invite people associated with the Progress slate in order to stack the election, and that election presiding officer Pablo Catano improperly used his role in a successful effort to get elected to represent the district on the state party Election Board.

I don't know about the stacking, but I can attest that there was no verification that I saw of anyone's eligibility in the 41st AD election. The E-Board portion of the race was confusing as well, because you had to wait to see who won the delegate elections before you could vote on that, but nobody wanted to do that, so most people voted for E-Board early. It didn't matter in the 41st, but this ended up being highly confusing, and I think there could be an IRV (instant runoff voting) element added to the elections, where you rank your 12 votes on the ballot from 1-12 for E-Board, or something.

There was more.

Meanwhile, two separate complaints were filed with the CDP over the delegate election in AD 42. This district is represented by freshman Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, but the complainants said that Feuer was not present and did not appear to do anything to affect the election.

One, signed by four delegate candidates and one voter, alleged that convener Andrew Lachman illegally used the voter rolls to send out a mailer promoting executive-board candidacy. Lachman lost by 11 votes.

The other complaint was filed by voter Mona Pastor. She said when she showed up for the meeting at the Beverly Hills Public Library, a poll worker advised her to vote for Andrew.

"Thankfully it didn't affect the outcome, but the poll workers need to be taught the basic rules of running an election," Pastor said.

Lachman denied the allegations, saying he stepped aside from running the meeting, as the rules called for. As for the mailer, he said it went to only 160 people from a list he compiled himself.

"I'm active in six or seven Democratic clubs," Lachman said. "I've gotten to know a lot of people."

I know Andrew occasionally posts online, and the complainants are members of the Progressive Slate on which I also ran. I'm not going to pass judgment, as I have no idea what happened. I just thought it was interesting, and it brings up the point of having someone involved in the election also running the election and setting the rules. I don't know how this could be avoided in the future, but it should be.

There was a surge in interest in the CDP elections this year and in 2005, and the CDP tried to codify the rules somewhat. But some more needs to be done, I would say, to ensure transparency and fairness.


Hitting Back

I don't know if it's playing to the base for support, or genuine anger at being personally smeared, but no matter, it's good to see Barack Obama call out Fox News and its hosts by name over the whole "he's a Muslim in sheep's clothing who attended a madrassah" ridiculousness.

In the past week, many of you have read a now thoroughly-debunked story by Insight Magazine, owned by the Washington Times, which cites unnamed sources close to a political campaign that claim Senator Obama was enrolled for “at least four years” in an Indonesian “Madrassa”. The article says the “sources” believe the Madrassa was “espousing Wahhabism,” a form of radical Islam.

Insight Magazine published these allegations without a single named source, and without doing any independent reporting to confirm or deny the allegations. Fox News quickly parroted the charges, and Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy went so far as to ask, “Why didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised — spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father — as a Muslim and was educated in a Madrassa?”

All of the claims about Senator Obama raised in the Insight Magazine piece were thoroughly debunked by CNN, which, instead of relying on unnamed sources, sent a reporter to Obama’s former school in Jakarta to check the facts.

If Doocy or the staff at Fox and Friends had taken [time] to check their facts, or simply made a call to his office, they would have learned that Senator Obama was not educated in a Madrassa, was not raised as a Muslim, and was not raised by his father – an atheist Obama met once in his life before he died.

Later in the day, Fox News host John Gibson again discussed the Insight Magazine story without any attempt to independently confirm the charges.

The using the actual names is what I liked. The propagandists were put front and center for all to see. And Obama did it within a couple days of the attack. I think all the potential candidates that you must fight Swift-Boating immediately and vigorously. At least Obama appears to have learned the lesson.


You Choose

We can have deficits until the end of time, or we can balance the budget - as long as everyone pays their fair share.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 — The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted on Wednesday that the federal budget deficit would shrink again this year and could actually swing into a surplus in 2012 — but only if President Bush’s tax cuts expire in 2010.

The agency predicted that the deficit for 2007 would decline to about $200 billion. It would be the third big annual decline in a row, and it would come even though spending on the war in Iraq is expected to remain high this year.

The decline of the deficit comes on the heels of unexpectedly large increases in tax revenue over the last two years and slower-than-expected increases in spending on Medicare.

You cannot keep these massive tax breaks that reward wealth instead of work and expect to balance the budget. And the budget deficit is almost besides the point. The real number that nobody wants to talk about, the words that don't appear in the Times article, is the national debt, which projects to a $28,000 birth tax on every man, woman and child in this country. The debt is $8.6 trillion dollars today, and the debt ceiling has been raised three times since 2003. It's unsustainable and impossible to reconcile. We need to start paying it down before China or some other lending nation decides "You know what, we're not going to let you continue to borrow money from us until you pay some of it back," which would cause an economic collapse.

Also, this projection doesn't include the upcoming supplemental funding for Iraq and the war on terror. The way they fiddle with numbers at the White House would make Enron blush.


Some Thoughts on the Libby Trial

There's some great early analysis of the Scooter Libby case all over the place, in the New York Times, at Nation writer David Corn's site, and of course, on the blogs at Firedoglake.

I'm not going to be able to add anything more substantive. I will say that my initial thoughts are that when you see the intensity with which the OVP and the White House went after Joseph Wilson, even before his op-ed came out, when you see Libby pulling CIA officers out of meetings with George Tenet just to pump them for information (this came out yesterday in the trial), when you see are this focus paid to just one critic among many, you see the paranoid style of politics that has been at work in the executive branch the past six years. They were so consumed with this one chink in the WMD story because, IMO, they knew that the whole thing was untrue, and they wanted to delay that reaction in the public as long as humanly possible. It's the "methinks he doth protest too much" argument I'm making: the force of the pushback proves the initial point. They wouldn't go after someone who was as insignificant as the defense is trying to state, saying that Libby was very busy and he couldn't keep every conversation he had straight. That simply doesn't fly. There are documents, there are notes, there are meetings and phone records and on and on. All about Joseph Wilson and his wife. Anyway, it also came out yesterday that one of the important meetings Libby had on his schedule around this time was a meeting with TOM CRUISE and Penelope Cruz to discuss the treatment of Scientologists in Germany. Real important stuff.

And documents released yesterday in the trial show that Wilson was, in fact, absolutely correct about his trip to Niger:

So what did Joe learn? Here's the reader's digest version (you can read the full report for yourself below).

Former Prime Minister Mayaki told Joe he had rebuffed an effort in June of 1999 to arrange a meeting with the Iraqis he supported the U.S. sanction. He said, "if there had been any rogue state during his tenure, he would have seen the contract."
Former Minister of Enerty Manga said, "there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the mid-1980s". He went on to tell Ambassador Wilson that the uranium was tightly controlled and accounted for from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships.
There is nothing in this report to support the notion that Iraq had succeeded evading UN sanctions and purchased large quantities of yellowcake uranium. NOTHING! You can also see for yourself how the Republicans on the SSCI tried to mislead the American people in the July 2004 report. After you read the following report could you brief the President of the United States that Iraq had acquired yellowcake uranium and had restarted its nuclear program? No way in hell!

That's why Cheney and Libby were so intent on trying to shut up Joe Wilson. He told the truth.

The truth is exactly what needed to be tossed aside at that time. So they claimed Wilson was sent on a junket by his wife. And they outed a CIA agent working on WMD proliferation in, among other places, Iran. And when questioned about it, Scooter Libby had the knee-jerk reaction of covering it up. That's why he's on trial, and that's why I am confident he will be convicted.


The California Report

Calitics is doing a blog roundup now for the state, to which you can subscribe and even receive via email. It's a great way to keep informed about what's happening throughout the state. But if you don't want to do that, I've collected a few stories I wanted to share.

• I believe that the Supreme Court decision striking down components of California sentencing law is the first step to restoring some sanity in the state's criminal justice system. Judges were free-lancing and adding years to sentences seemingly at random, maybe to curry favor with campaign donors for future runs at elected judgeships (just a guess). Democrats need to capitalize on this by following through with their plan to appoint an independent commission with the ability to change sentencing guidelines.

• Speaking of Calitics, this was a great discussion between Brian Leubitz and Mike Lawson of The Liberal OC about the dynamics of the Ellen Tauscher v. Netroots battle happening in Northern California. I knew the arguments (she's too moderate for her district, she holds the grassroots in contempt), but it was good to see them all in one place. Honestly, I think sometimes people are searching for things to find wrong with Tauscher, but Brian lays out the case reasonably and coherently.

• This new progressive organization called They Work For Us is targeting moderate Democrats in deep blue districts who are insufficiently liberal, and one of the top targets on their list is the aforementioned Ellen Tauscher.

• Surprise, surprise: when you lose an election, and you're a Republican, you can walk into the lovin' arms of K Street and make loads of dirty money as a lobbyist. The latest example? California's own Richard Pombo, who is "in talks with Pac/West Communications, an Oregon-based PR and lobbying firm that has a roster of timber and energy clients."

• Everyone jumping on the bandwagon about this early Presidential primary in 2008 ought to take into account that it will cost the state around $90 million dollars to pull it off, and the local registrars don't have the money budgeted for an extra election (primaries for local and statewide offices will remain in June). So if you want to make a nearly-broken election system worse, go for it! Power to the people! Maybe if the Governor wants it so much, he can raise the revenue for it. Or privatize it! Give away naming rights! "Welcome to the 2008 Tostitos California Presidential Primary!"

• If News Corp. really does buy the LA Times then I really am cancelling my subscription. I've threatened to like 12 times, but this one will be binding.

• Good news, California homeowners, loan defaults are at an 8-year high! I'm perpetually looking to buy a place, and the market is just getting soft enough that I might this year, but one thing I have learned from the housing bubble is that a nice, solid, 30-year fixed mortgage is nothing to shake a stick at.

• Finally, I know LA Times blogger Robert Salladay hates me (and this'll set off his dog whistle, since he seems to link to me whenever I write his name), but I must give him credit for pointing out this bullying, misogynistic meme that Assemblywoman Sally Leiber isn't allowed to push legislation affecting children because... she doesn't have children and she has a bunch of cats and she's a weird old hag. I don't really agree with her nanny-state anti-spanking legislation, because I find it totally unenforceable unless you outfit every kid under 4 with a Fisher Price walkie-talkie set to the local police department. But to attack her personally is irrelevant and demeaning.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Insaneosphere's Pledge To Make Themselves Irrelevant

Hugh Hewitt has a brilliantly self-destructive idea.

If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution. Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.

He even set up a website for it. And since conservative bloggers are like fireflies to a porchlight (in more ways than one), there are now 4,000 signatories to it.

I'd think this was a bigger deal, but in truth, this will cost the NRSC approximately 50 dollars. These bastards don't contribute time or money. They leave that to the Scaifes and the fundies who get the cash from the jelly jar.

But it's hilarious in terms of the worldview of these clowns. The progressive blogosphere has grown up around rewarding good behavior, by running our own candidates against those who the Beltway denotes the presumed victor. The conservative blogosphere can only think in terms of punishing bad behavior. They're not going to find their own "rightroots" candidates (that concept failed so miserably because they simply found a bunch of people the NRCC and the NRSC picked for them anyway). They're going to hurt the party and try to make it bleed (though, as I said, it'll probably be a pinprick).

This is the conservative worldview. They believe that people only respond to punishment and intimidation. The fact that they have absolutely no leverage? Who cares? Works for the Bush Administration, works for the Bush defenders.


It's Not Enough To Say "I'm for Universal Health Care"

Last night we were treated to a health care "plan" that would reward those who have shitty health insurance, punish the middle-class union workers who've bargained for better health insurance, and keep the private insurance industry afloat in the process. Ruth Marcus thinks that this actual reading of the evidence of the plan is unfair.

If George W. Bush proposes something, it must be bad. Such is the knee-jerk state of partisan suspiciousness that when the president actually endorses a tax increase -- a tax increase that would primarily hit the well-off, no less -- Democrats still howl.

....Listening to Democratic reaction to Bush's new health insurance proposal, you get the sense that if Bush picked a plank right out of the Democratic platform -- if he introduced Hillarycare itself -- and stuck it in his State of the Union address, Democrats would churn out press releases denouncing it.

Kevin Drum and Jonathan Cohn do away with this nonsense so easily that it's not worth taking an extra swipe, showing that Bush's plan is actually an attempt to preserve the health insurance industry and allow it to offer less and less services to their customers. But there is an important issue in here that needs to be addressed, that I seem to keep coming back to in this health care debate.

Republicans who say the words "universal health care" do have the effect of pushing the debate in a more progressive direction, and setting out universal coverage as the desired goal. But IT'S NOT ENOUGH for them to be lionized for doing something that human dignity and a basic belief in humanity demands. Catherine Siepp of the National Review makes this mistake, and throws in a nose-thumbing at all Democrats for good measure.

But for some reason, the only politicians pushing expanded access to health care right now are Republicans: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who’s just left his post to become a (mean old) Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

The name's Wyden, Ron Wyden. And Ted Kennedy. And John Edwards. And Barack Obama. And Ed Rendell, who's moving forward with his own health care plan in Pennsylvania, which (while marginally similar to Schwarzenegger's in California) actually addresses cost-containment and quality of care, frankly the only issues that are going to make health care more affordable and more desirable.

So if you agree that the broad cross-section of the public, and the broad cross-section of the political spectrum want universal care (though the Democrats have been waiting for the Republicans to get there since 1994), it behooves you to actually take a look at the plans, and not give them a free pass because they kinda sorta seem like they want to help people. Which is how Mitt Romney got so much praise for getting a plan through in Massachusetts that actually will slowly begin to bankrupt the uninsured:

Uninsured residents will have to shell out a quite a bit more than originally expected to get mandated health-care coverage, according to the group charged with introducing the coverage.
Monthly premiums to meet the state's minimum coverage under last year's universal health-care law would cost $380 on average and could cost up to $580 for a 56-year-old.

The plans are meant for roughly 200,000 uninsured Massachusetts residents who aren't eligible for publicly subsidized insurance programs, said Bob Carey, director of planning and development at the Health Care Connector Authority. The group sent out requests for proposals to health insurance companies asking for the cost if they provided 60 percent of the benefits from an above-average health insurance plan. The cost ended up $100 higher than expected.

"This is bad news," said member Jon Gruber. "We used to think it was going to cost $260."

So it's not enough to come up with some magical way to insure everybody. Content matters, and some fundamental principles must be preserved. I believe health care is a right and not a privilege for those who can afford it. I believe in the importance of covering all children regardless of any other factor because it's cheap, it promotes wellness throughout life, and it can prevent diseases which are more serious in children than adults. I believe that trying to partner with the private insurance industry is like making a deal with the devil, and that the only market-oriented solutions that make any sense include things like guaranteed issue and community rating, so nobody is discriminated against for health care based on who they are. I believe in baseline minimums for basic care that are far above what is typically considered in these plans. I believe that forcing a marketplace through an individual mandate that doesn't include a "Medicare for All" option does nothing but subsidize for-profit industry. I believe that health care with a huge deductible and giant co-payments is not health care. And I believe that single-payer is the best way to keep down costs and keep the system efficient, and that anyone who studies the issue will come to the same conclusion. Failing that I like Jacob Hacker's solution from the Agenda for Shared Priorities.

A far better alternative was recently proposed by Yale Professor Jacob Hacker and the Economic Policy Institute. Employers would either have to provide good insurance, or pay a tax of six percent of payroll. People without insurance could buy into a public program much like Medicare, on a sliding scale. That same program would enroll people whose employers elected to pay the tax instead of providing insurance.

Hacker estimates about half of all Americans would soon be in the universal pool. Over time, the superior efficiencies of the public program would attract more people. The private health insurance industry, as a superfluous and inefficient middleman, would gradually dwindle. We'd eventually get universal and public coverage without the fragmentation.

Of course, the people who brought us HMOs will fiercely oppose it, but that's not necessarily bad. Harry and Louise, the stars of the insurance industry commercials that helped kill the Clinton plan, have a lot less credibility these days. Reformers seeking universal coverage should recognize that the private insurance industry is less a credible partner than the prime obstacle.

For the Beltway punditocracy, their bretheren in the states, and people who don't pay a lot of attention, having a health care plan means that you are a beneficent soul trying to improve people's lives. I don't begrudge motives, but it's not enough just to be FOR the general principle. You have to support something that'll actually work.

UPDATE: Wouldn't you know it, Ezra Klein wrote an almost identical piece, albeit from a slightly different perspective, at TAPPED. It's very much worth a read.


"You're Out of Line"

How Dick Cheney can say this about somebody else is beyond me, but especially given the circumstances:

Q We're out of time, but a couple of issues I want to raise with you. Your daughter Mary, she's pregnant. All of us are happy. She's going to have a baby. You're going to have another grandchild. Some of the -- some critics, though, are suggesting, for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family:

"Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father, doesn't mean it's best for the child."

Do you want to respond to that?


Q She's obviously a good daughter --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm delighted -- I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf, and obviously think the world of both of my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

Q I think all of us appreciate --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think you're out of -- I think you're out of line with that question.

Q -- your daughter. We like your daughters. Believe me, I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was just a question that's come up and it's a responsible, fair question.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I just fundamentally disagree with your perspective.

Having already been bashed over the head by Lynne Cheney, Blitzer was about as delicate as you can be with that question. There is a controversy from the right over Mary Cheney's baby, and the Vice President is a public figure. I wonder if he thinks that people like James Dobson are "out of line" commenting about his family, and the tragedy of one of them experiencing the happiness of motherhood. How come it's never the fundies on the right that get called out for this behavior, but those who ask about it? This was a moment for Cheney to tell Focus on the Family that his personal life is personal, but that would damage the fragile relationship between the neocons, the corporate cons, and the theocons. No, instead generate mock outrage at merely being asked about it.

Cheney also said things were going really well in Iraq, but he's said that before. The news is how embarrassed he is to have a gay daughter, and how impotent he is telling the religious right to butt out of his life. The whole interview is here.


First 100 Hours, Meet the Second 1000 Days

That's what it takes to get the same amount of work done in the Senate. With legislative filibusters it takes 60 votes to move anything forward. That's just a fact of life. And Republicans in the Senate still hate poor people enough to deny them the most basic of living standards.

Democrats' promise of a quick increase in the minimum wage ran aground Wednesday in the Senate, where lawmakers are insisting it include new tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses that rely on low-pay workers.

On a 54-43 vote, Democrats lost an effort to advance a House-passed bill that would lift the pay floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour without any accompanying tax cut. Opponents of the tax cut needed 60 votes to prevail.

The vote sent a message to House Democrats and liberals in the Senate that only a hybrid tax and minimum wage package could succeed in the Senate. But any tax breaks in the bill would put the Senate on a collision course with the House, which is required by the Constitution to initiate tax measures.

Every Democratic Senator present voted for the bill. (Tim Johnson and Tom Carper were not there.) Even Lieberman did the right thing. But the Republicans held mostly firm (5 defections) in demanding that businesses exact their pound of flesh so that poor people can make an honest day's pay. It's disgusting.

But that's the way the Senate works. And to those 43 who voted NO, they should understand that the campaign commercials are already being cut, and they will be portrayed as heartless for holding up poor people to steal cash for their rich contributors.

...adding, the tax package that Republicans want to add, as I read it, is not horrible. It's the symbolism of not being able to give those most needy in the society even one thing without it being tied to the wealthy and powerful.


Burnt Cedar

Among the many off notes in the President's speech, particularly the unpaid advertisement for children's toys, this one struck me as the most off:

In the last two years, we have seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East - and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution ... drove out the Syrian occupiers ... and chose new leaders in free elections.

I know Bush likes to say that he doesn't read the papers, but surely his speechwriters do?

Hezbollah and its allies paralyzed Lebanon today, sending out thousands of demonstrators who seized control of major roads, brawled with government supporters and smothered the capital in the acrid smoke of burning tires.

Scores of people were wounded in clashes that erupted among feuding Christian groups and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims around the country.

The Hezbollah-led opposition had called for a general strike and the roadblocks gave people little choice but to stay home. The only road to Beirut's airport, symbolically important as the sole vein between this restive nation and the outside world, was impassable — clogged with heaps of sand, garbage and roaring fires. Many flights were canceled and passengers were stranded at the airport.

By nightfall, the capital was still locked down by opposition checkpoints. Hezbollah leaders have said that today would mark the beginning of a steady escalation; it was unclear whether they planned to lift the roadblocks overnight or whether the paralysis would continue.

The tense seizure of the country's roads took many Lebanese by surprise and marked an escalation in Hezbollah's campaign to overthrow the U.S.-backed government.

At least three people died in the clashes. This happened THE DAY BEFORE the President talked in such glowing terms about all those Lebanese hotties calling for freedom in 2005. Since then, the country was devastated by an Israeli bombing campaign supported at least tacitly by the United States, and Hezbollah is now stronger than ever, more organized than the government in the aftermath of the war and more organized today:

Security forces gave free rein to the protests. While young men barricaded neighborhoods and manned extralegal checkpoints, soldiers and police stood by watching. Security forces in riot gear lined some streets and armored personnel carriers crunched over the rubble. Still, to the delight of some Lebanese and the disgust of others, police and troops didn't interfere.

"They are on our side," crowed Kamal Yehiya, a 20-year-old Hezbollah supporter [...]

Like most events that involve Hezbollah, the demonstrations were carefully organized. Trucks loaded with tires for burning were parked along the roadsides. At every intersection, older men with walkie-talkies supervised the younger demonstrators. Young men on mopeds buzzed from one corner to the next, passing along news and instructions.

You'd have to be on Limbaugh-strength OxyContin to point to Lebanon as an example of the transformative power of democracy. Just ask this Lebanese citizen:

"This is not democracy," sputtered Noha Qaisi, a 48-year-old housewife whose sunglasses were shoved up into her highlighted hair. "My kids are saying they're suffocating from all the smoke inside."

But that's just the blazing fires of freedom, right? Burning the idea of liberty into the minds, and onto the arms and necks, of all who pass its flame.

UPDATE: Juan Cole gives even more context:

Note, too, that the "Cedar Revolution" government was joined by the Lebanese Hizbullah. It was a national unity government. The US ambassador in Lebanon encouraged this development. What destabilized that government was the brutal Israeli war on Lebanon of last summer. Bush collaborated in that war and even worked against the early cease-fire called for by the Seniora government. Bush can't pretend to be a friend of the Lebanese government and yet approve publicly of a sanguinary war on it by Olmert. Bush puts all the blame for instability in Lebanon on Syria, which is implausible.


More Republicans in Disarray

Or, just a Republican with his head on straight. Chuck Hagel:

Part of the problem that we have, I think, is because we didn't -- we didn't involve the Congress in this when we should have.

And I'm to blame. Every senator who's been here the last four years has to take some responsibility for that.

But I will not sit here in this Congress of the United States at this important time for our country and in the world and not have something to say about this. And maybe I'll be wrong. And maybe I have no political future. I don't care about that.

But I don't ever want to look back and have the regret that I didn't have the courage and I didn't do what I could to at least project something [...]

I don't know how many United States senators believe we have a coherent strategy in Iraq. I don't think we've ever had a coherent strategy.

In fact, I would even challenge the administration today to show us the plan that the president talked about the other night. There is no plan.

I happen to know Pentagon planners were on their way to the Central Com over the weekend. They haven't even team B'ed this plan.

And my dear friend Dick Lugar talks about coherence of strategy. There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives.

These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad are not beans. They're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder. We better be as sure as you can be.

And I want every one of you, every one of us, 100 senators to look in that camera, and you tell your people back home what you think. Don't hide anymore; none of us.

It figures that the strongest voices over the past few days on Iraq - Webb, Hagel - are veterans.

Hagel also spills the beans today that the White House wanted to wage war on the entire Middle East at the same time in the beginning.

HAGEL: [F]inally, begrudgingly, [the White House] sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region.

GQ: It wasn’t specific to Iraq?

HAGEL: Oh no. It said the whole region! They could go into Greece or anywhere. Is central Asia in the region? I suppose! Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything. It was literally anything. No boundaries. No restrictions.

GQ: They expected Congress to let them start a war anywhere in the Middle East?

HAGEL: Yes. Yes. Wide open. We had to rewrite it. Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I stripped the language that the White House had set up and put our language in it.

By the way, Hagel signed on to the Biden nonbinding resolution, which passed the Foreign Relations Committee today, and which I support as a cog in a "kitchen sink" strategy. It can't be an end but a means to it.