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

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Great Hope

Barack Obama kicked off his campaign for President today, and aside from the fact that his announcement video was kind of buggy for Mac users (it's working now), I'd say it was flawless. The 2008 campaign on the Democratic side will go down in history, with candidates that are black, female, and Hispanic. This is not a small point and it should be well-remembered. It looks more like America than at any time in history.

The text of Obama's speech is here, and it's worth reading. He's an excellent orator and his speech hits on common themes of hope and purpose and the need for a new generation to solve problems. As a member of that generation, who's seen what the baby boomers have done the last 15 years... makes sense to me. On the issues, he highlighted the war, denounced those who use wedge issues to divide us, and hit on all the forward-thinking issues I care about.

The knives are already starting to come out against Obama because those who would deny him see what he represents. This idiotic story by Mike Allen, slamming the Illinois Senator by typing a GOP oppo research verbatim, is a notable example.

The Politico: Barack Obama’s free ride is ending.... Obama’s about to endure a going-over that would make a proctologist blush. Why has he sometimes said his first name is Arabic, and other times Swahili?... [T]he long knives will be out for Obama.... Officials at the top of both parties calculate that Obama has risen too fast... “vapid platitudes” that could produce a “soufflé effect.”... “With a couple of pinpricks here and there, the whole thing could fall apart.”...

Even his name offers fodder for the critics. When he was growing up, his family, friends and teachers called him “Barry.” Then as a young man, he started insisting on “Barack,” explaining in a memoir published in 1995 that his grandfather was a Muslim and that it means “blessed” in Arabic. His dad, who was Kenyan, had gone by “Barry” -- probably trying to fit in when he came to the States, his son figured. On the campaign trail during his 2004 Senate race, Obama told reporters that “Barack” was Swahili for “blessed by God.” Whatever its origins, the exotic, multicultural name...

As Brad DeLong notes, the word Barack not only means "blessed" in both Swahili and Arabic, as those two languages are inextricably linked, but it means "blessed" in Hebrew...

And this "exotic, multicultural name" business... "Barack" is so exotic and multicultural that five million Americans are supposed to say it at sundown every Friday night... the same word b•r•k in a Hebrew rather than an Arabic accent: "baruch":

"Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melech ha'olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat." "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has made us holy by your commandments and told us to light the Sabbath lights."

Five minutes' acquaintance with Judaism would have taught Mike Allen that b•r•k is about as exotic as the synagogue down the street, wouldn't it? About as unusual in America as the last name of Bernard Baruch, advisor to Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

But Allen doesn't tell his readers any of this, does he?

Obama is also using the tools of the new generation to talk to a new generation.

Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois and apparent presidential hopeful, will be launching a social-networking feature on his site,, Saturday, according to a video message he released Friday.

In telling his supporters to be ready for an important Saturday morning announcement from Springfield, Ill., his exploratory committee headquarters, he invited people to join what sounds like a MySpace for his supporters.

He describes it as "a tool to organize your friends, neighbors and networks." Members will be able to build their own profile, form affinity groups, plan events, and, of course, donate money to his campaign. As if that's not enough, Obama wants his fans to chronicle their "campaign experiences" on their personal blogs.

This is pretty similar to what Zack Exley was saying in terms of an outside-the-box way to use new media.

I have not committed to a candidate for 2008, but I think it's great that Obama's in the race. There are at least 5 candidates I can think of who I could clearly see doing a great job in the Oval Office. That's a far cry from 2004. This party has come a long way.

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Plane Gate

I think the consensus coming out of this ridiculous Nancy Pelosi plane story is that she was unfairly smeared. What's troubling is how readily the media swallowed the hook, again, showing that the default position is still to buy the horseshit from the right.

I mean, Avedon Carol is absolutely right: Howard Kurtz writes a story about the controversy highlighting blogs that just started, perhaps specifically for the purpose of flogging the Pelosi story. How did he find them? Who brought them to his attention? He'll never say (and he's on Meet the Press this week, but don't expect to hear that discussion).

The rest of Kurtz' story is also a disaster:

Nancy Pelosi asked for a bigger (and far more expensive) plane because the one she was using couldn't make it to the West Coast without a refueling stop. Hastert didn't have that problem getting to Illinois.
Pelosi may be right on the substance, but the symbolism is awful. She insists she didn't ask for the plane, but if a military flight is needed, she wants a nonstop to San Francisco. The average voter will be left with an image of her flying around on a jumbo jet in the lap of luxury....

Pelosi has gone on the offensive, saying that Pentagon officials leaked the dispute for partisan reasons and that the negotiating was done not by her but by the House sergeant-at-arms. The flap made the network newscasts last night, although Tony Snow pointedly declined to pile on, calling the story "silly." wasn't just Pelosi who said that the "negotiating" was done by the House sergeant-at arms. The sergeant-at-arms himself attested to this! He did so in a statement yesterday -- and he did more than just say he was "negotiating"; he said he had requested the plane. I know Kurtz was in column mode here, but isn't this kind of critical information? Particularly in a column looking at media coverage of this tale? And if Kurtz is going to say that Pelosi "insists she didn't ask for a plane," how can he simultaneously state as fact that "Pelosi asked for a bigger (and far more expensive) plane"? Proof, please.

Here's the real question: Given the fact that Pelosi has been getting pummeled for days on this non-story, how could any self-respecting reporter or editor see the sergeant-at-arms' statement and not either make it the lede or feature it very prominently in his or her story? Wouldn't basic fairness dictate that?

Even Republicans acknowledge how stupid this story is. "“Next week, we are going to steal their mascot and short-sheet their beds,” said Jeff Flake (R-AZ). So some Republicans are AHEAD of the media on this one. But of course, the leadership of the GOP brought this one up. And Jack Murtha's going to let them have it:

Meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said on Thursday that he's planning hearings this spring on executive and congressional travel on military aircraft.

Murtha said he's requested from the Defense Department records on travel and logistics from the past two years. He asked the Defense Department to hand those over within a month.

Somehow I think this might turn out embarrassing for the Republic Party (h/t Rep. Weiner).

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How's Your Surge?

Somehow they'll blame the Democrats and the media for this one.

American officer, interviewed at the sprawling Camp Victory base at the Western edge of the capital, also acknowledge they are finding little in their initial searches of Baghdad neighborhoods - suggesting they either received faulty intelligence or that the massive publicity that preceded the operation gave militants time to slip away.

See, emm-ess-emm! Why did you air Bush's speech and give away troop movements!

Maybe it was the fact that the Prime Minister couldn't get any of his own troops there and the American troops simply aren't available except as a trickle at a time. And they're insufficient anyway.

I love how these whiny Republican Senators are trying to claim "a pox on both your houses" and get a do-over on their vote shutting down debate on the Iraq resolution. Sorry, guys and gals, that vote was recorded. We know where you stand. No trade-backs. And the House is giving every member 5 minutes to debate their vote, making you look even more foolish.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

McZabka Gets Zabka'd Again

Rep. Anthony Weiner sticks it to McHenry on the floor. I'm almost starting to feel sorry for this guy.

Republic Party. Hahahahahaha.

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I Come To Bury Rudy Giuliani, Not To Praise Him

By now you know that Rudy Giuliani is running for President; in fact, rumors are rampant that he will officially announce while speaking to the California Republican Party Convention tomorrow. He's also planning to hold 14 fundraisers in New York City alone over the next month, so he won't have any problem being competitive in the money primary.

Many liberal bloggers seem to believe that there's no way in 1,000 years Giuliani could ever win the Republican nomination, given the hard-core social conservative tilt of the electorate in the primaries. The WaPo article says it best.

But his support for abortion rights and gay rights puts him sharply at odds with the majority of his party, a situation that many GOP strategists think will present a substantial obstacle to his hopes of winning the nomination.

You can also look at statements by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council ("Giuliani is known for his impressive leadership in the wake of 9/11, but most pro-family Americans do not yet realize how far outside of the mainstream of conservative thought that Mayor Giuliani social views really are") and Terry Jeffery of Human Events ("Rudy will not win the Republican nomination because enough of the people who vote in Republican caucuses and primaries still respect life and marriage, and are not ready to give up on them — or on the Republican party as an agent for protecting them").

Personally, I think this is an attempt from those who don't like Rudy in the Republic Party to knock him off stride. Because he's clearly formidable. While we're still a long way out, his favorability ratings dwarf any other contender. And more than anything the GOP wants to retain power. I think Digby is making the right point, that the fundies will vote for whoever their leaders tell them to vote for, and they're all snake oil salesman and without morals anyway, so they'll advocate for whoever they think can win. Remember that the leaders of the social conservatives are actually all fiscal conservatives. The issues that they use are just the convenient ones to keep their base in line; what they want to perpetuate are right-wing economic structures. The only candidate, therefore, who's past disqualifies him to win the Republic nomination is Mike Huckabee, because he raised taxes in Arkansas.

The base, meanwhile, will vote with their tribe, and if the tribal elders say it's Giuliani, then it's Giuliani. Here's Digby.

If Dobson and his brethren decide it is in their best interests to back Rudy or McCain, they will do so. Expect a lot of posturing and pandering --- these are political animals and they play the game very well. But at the end of the day this decision has nothing to do with whether the Christian conservative base will flee the party or stay home. They can rationalize anything.

Rudy is a formidable candidate who will have to get past Dobson and McCain and pay homage to southern values in a way that southern conservatives understand that he's acknowledging their awesome power. (Look for some very thinly veiled racial appeals from Rudy --- he's got cred in that department.) But his manly-man authoritarian personality and image is where he makes them all swoon and he may very well finesse his former "liberal" positions.

Those who aren't paying as much attention only know Rudy as America's mayor and tough on crime. That'll play to the pants-pissing fear crowd. Democrats cannot rely on the Republican base to deep-six Giuliani. In fact, it would be dangerous to do so.

That's why it's important to define Rudy now, as the blogs have been doing with McCain recently, to great effect. And with Rudy, there's even more to pick from.

First of all, it's important to note that Rudy Giuliani's ascension to the top of the Presidential ladder is entirely predicated on his performance on one day while Mayor of New York City. His second term in New York was a mess, where he lashed out at things like public art shows, and showed a near-total disinterest in anything but law enforcement issues. And even on that score, the crime rate was falling for a few years under Mayor Dinkins, and continued to fall since Giuliani left office. So I don't know how much the "He cleaned up New York" frame should be attributed to him. In fact, not very much attributed to him after 9-11 rings true if you actually look at his record, not on social issues but on the issues that matter to people's lives.

The attack on the twin towers blew a hole in downtown Manhattan and in our collective memory. Osama bin Laden and company did a better P.R. job for Giuliani than spin ghouls Hill & Knowlton ever did for Dick Nixon. He made everyone but the most grouchy and resentful New Yorkers forget that before planes crashed into the World Trade Center, Rudy was a hyper-authoritarian narcissist with a lust for overkill verging on the sociopathic [...]

Before the planes hit, when he had too much power and not enough to do, Giuliani, like an old soldier who comes home and starts abusing his family in lieu of a real enemy, was pulling a Great Santini on New York, rooting around in our sock drawers with a Maglite, looking for vices to confiscate and sins to punish. By the mid-'90s, Mayor Rudy was abusing authority according to the whims of his own paranoid, hyper-defensive personality disorder in way that would have made Tiberius self-conscious.

As his second term wound down, New Yorkers knew what Rudy was, and they were sick of it. In 1999, they rejected his caudillo-style attempt to amend the city's (relatively new) term-limit law so he could serve another four years. By May 2000, with crime at historic lows, the city's economy still aglow, real estate prices soaring -- the kind of external factors that normally make politicians untouchable -- his approval rating had slid to a Bush-oid 37 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. In December 2001, when Giuliani finally stepped down -- after trying and failing to exploit his post 9/11 popularity by passing a special law that would've added three months to his reign) -- the New York Times interrupted its elegy for the Rudy years with a sober reminder. "The suppression of dissent," noted the Times, "or of anything that irked the mayor, became a familiar theme."

The Salon article is devastating. Giuliani hired William Bratton as police chief, watched him use innovative tactics to lower the crime rate, and when Bratton got all the glory for it, Rudy fired him. When New York magazine ran a gentle ad campaign calling themselves "Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for," Rudy tried to ban the ad from the subway system. In order to look tough on crime, Rudy had citizens handcuffed and jailed for smoking a joint, then set free, as if to particularly humiliate them.

Even Rudy's supporters know about his tendencies (Chris Matthews: "I think the country wants a boss like that, just a little bit of facism there"). He's primarily concerned with personal flattery and making himself rich from $100,000 speaking fees, even for CHARITY events.

But what certainly demands more scrutiny is this mythic status of an American hero because he did what anyone in a leadership position who isn't holding a children's book at the time ought to do: he held press conferences and pleaded for calm. The press conferences, of course, starred him, and he projected this image as if he literally saved the city, and a dazed and dazzled public willingly gave in to this fiction. Meanwhile, his decision-making before and after that fateful day was terrible. As Sisyphus Shrugged recounts in a series of 2002-era posts, Rudy made the decision, ignoring all other advice, to put the emergency response bunker under 7 WTC because he wanted it to be within walking distance of City Hall. At this time, the only other terrorist attack in recent New York history was at the World Trade Center, but no matter. There was another site picked out in Brooklyn (where Bloomberg put it later) but Rudy got his way. And that placement undoubtedly cost American lives.

FYI, a not inconsiderable portion of Mr. Giuliani's fires of hell were fed by the fuel supply for the city's emergency response bunker, which he insisted on locating in 7WTC in the face of universal insistence by the city's security consultants that it wasn't a good idea to locate an emergency response bunker in a terrorist target.

Of course, since the Motorola radios his administration insisted on buying for the firefighters through a no-bid contract, which were never field-tested, didn't work properly, a working communications center might not have gotten the message to the firefighters in the towers that they needed to evacuate.

(by the way, if you want to know why 7WTC blew up, Loose Change viewers, the bunker would be your answer.)

We're talking about over 100 firefighters who never heard the call for evacuation, and Rudy falsely testified to the 9-11 Commission on this fact. He claimed that the two sets of radio frequencies were due to the limits on technology at the time, when in fact these radios malfunctioned during the first WTC bombing and Giuliani failed to heed the calls to change them.

Barbara O'Brien, who's done some of the best work deconstructing this revisionist history, picks up the story from there:

The fact is that Giuliani did little to “lead” rescue or recovery efforts. While Rudy was prancing around on television, a hodge-podge of city agencies loosely — very loosely — coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management went to work deconstructing the remains of the World Trade Center with little input or direction from the Mayor.

Consider also that the World Trade Center was yards away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, Mayor Giuliani did not have to beg for help getting the debris cleared and electricity hooked up so that the financial district was up and running again as quickly as possible. New York’s business leadership saw to that

She also has a wide collection of examples of Rudy angering city residents, using law enforcement dishonestly and cruelly, presiding over the Amadou Diallo incident without reaching out to the black community, and dozens of other examples of a man literally out of control and drunk on his own power.

Glenn Greenwald sees this as Rudy's selling point to the Republic base:

Giuliani's talent for expressing prosecutor-like righteous anger towards "bad people" -- as well as his well-honed ability to communicate base-pleasing rhetoric towards Islamic extremists -- are underappreciated. I don't think any candidate will be able to compete with his ability to convey a genuine hard-line against Middle Eastern Muslims (see here for one representative maneuver), and that is the issue that -- admittedly with some exceptions -- dominates the Christian conservative agenda more than gay marriage and abortion (concerns which he can and will minimize by promising to appoint more Antonin Scalias and Sam Alitos to the Supreme Court, something he emphasized last night in a highly amicable interview with Sean Hannity) [...]

Rudy Giuliani is, I think, by the far the smartest and most politically talented candidate in the Republican field, a fact to which most residents of New York during his mayoralty - including those who dislike him -- would likely attest. In an overwhelmingly Democratic city, he won two elections, including a landslide for his second term. And he does have in his past many incidents which will uniquely appeal to Christian conservatives, such as the war he waged periodically on works of art and other cultural expressions which offended his religious sensibilities [...]

Giuliani is an "authoritarian narcissist" -- plagued by an unrestrained prosecutor's mentality -- who loves coercive government power (especially when vested in his hands) and hates dissent above all else. He would make George Bush look like an ardent lover of constitutional liberties. He is probably the absolute worst and most dangerous successor to George Bush under the circumstances, but his political talents and prospects for winning are being severely underestimated.

It is crucial that this information is brought to light immediately. Rudy Giuliani's weaknesses in the Presidential race are not his moderate views on social issues. His weaknesses, actually, are the fact that he's completely dismissive of civil liberties, uses the police state as a cudgel, makes horrible decisions based on little other than self-regard, and has a tendency to silence any and all dissent. He's not necessarily unelectable in the primaries, but he ought to be in the general. And raising awareness of these issues is absolutely crucial NOW before the press goes to sleep and uncritically anoints him as "America's Mayor" once again.

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We Torture

I mentioned in the last post that an investigation into prisoner abuse at Guantanamo - this one necessitated by a Marine Sergeant overhearing guards bragging about beating detainees - was a total whitewash.

In an affidavit filed to the Pentagon's inspector general, Cerveny — a member of a detainee's legal defense team — said a group of more than five men who identified themselves as guards had recounted hitting prisoners. The conversation allegedly took place at a bar inside the base.
"The evidence did not support any of the allegations of mistreatment or harassment," the Miami-based Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba, said in a statement.

Investigators conducted 20 interviews with "suspects and witnesses," the Southern Command said. Bassett did not interview any detainees, said Jose Ruiz, a Miami-based command spokesman.

"He talked to all the parties he felt he needed to get information about the allegations that were made," Ruiz said by telephone from Miami.

So here's how the legal system appears to work in the military:

There's an allegation that guards beat detainees.

You ask the guards, "Well, didja?"

They say, "Nope."

You say "Good enough for me!"

I can't believe that the military is still trying to maintain this fiction that there has been no systematic prisoner abuse during the war on terror. How many revelations do we need? If Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Abu Omar, Khalid el-Masri, Maher Arar, rendition, etc. weren't enough, here's another from an interrogator in Falluja.

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.

While I was appalled by the conduct of my friends and colleagues, I lacked the courage to challenge the status quo. That was a failure of character and in many ways made me complicit in what went on. I'm ashamed of that failure, but as time passes, and as the memories of what I saw in Iraq continue to infect my every thought, I'm becoming more ashamed of my silence.

This was policy. It was obviously policy and it remains policy, evidenced by the fact that the US refused to join an international treaty forbidding governments to hold prisoners in secret detention. And it's to our undying shame as a nation. We've lost our humanity while frightened by the threat of attack, and we've seen the value of terrorizing and use it for our own purposes. It fills me with disgust that my tax dollars have been used to perpetuate this abomination and blight on our souls.

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Some days it thrills me that I'm nowhere near a TV screen

This is one of those days, as Anna Nicole fever grips the cable news nets.

The death of Anna Nicole Smith yesterday was a feeding frenzy for the national media, and coverage of the war was drowned out: NBC’s Nightly News devoted 14 seconds to Iraq compared to 3 minutes and 13 seconds to Anna Nicole. CNN referenced Anna Nicole 522% more frequently than it did Iraq. MSNBC was even worse — 708% more references to Anna Nicole than Iraq.

You should go take a look at the video they have on Think Progress. My two favorite parts are when Joe Scarborough searchingly wonders why the news media is so focused on the Anna Nicole story (while his news show is, you know, focused on the Anna Nicole story), and when gruff but lovable coot Jack Cafferty asks Leslie Blitzer "Is Anna Nicole still dead?" and Wolf says "Yes, we'll have an update on that shortly."

Another US helicopter went down, the Administration couldn't give a straight answer to Jim Webb about whether or not they think they can attack Iran without Congressional authorization, a report detailed no prisoner abuse at Guantanamo despite never having visited the site or talked to any detainee, the prosecution rested its case in the first trial of a top executive branch official in over a century, a top official of the Iraqi Health Ministry was captured for opening up his portfolio to Shiite militias... and the news nets went Anna Nicole crazy. Just like they went Aqua Teen Hunger Force crazy last week. Without blogs and the Internet, this nation's belief in a well-informed citizenry would be dying on the vine. But still these small news directors feel they're giving the public what they want, so they spend hours upon hours on a marginal figure in American life. Anna Nicole Smith is not Gerald Ford. She's not Betty Friedan. She's not Milton Friedman. She's not Robert Stafford or William Proxmire or countless other people who have died in the last couple years.

And she's most certainly not the most important young lady to die in the past few days.

Unlike some women you might see on your newsstand this week, this woman liked simple things: According to one report, she "always enjoyed the water, including boating and scuba diving. She also liked yoga and music and spending time with family and friends."

This is what her aunt says about this unique woman that America mourns tonight:

"If you knew her, you loved her. She was a go-getter. She knew what she wanted in life and she was doing what she had to do to achieve that."

Her name is Jennifer M. Parcell. She was just 20 years old, and she graduated in 2004 from Fallston High School in near her hometown, Bel Air, Md.

A couple of years ago, Jennifer Parcell went to Parris Island and watched the Marine graduation services for her older brother, Joseph. She decided that she, too, wanted to join the Marines, and eventually both Jennifer Parcell and her brother were sent to Iraq, even serving at the same post for a time.

But then, they separated. Yesterday, Jennifer Parcell was supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province when she was killed in action. If we had more information about her death, we would provide it. But here at Attytood, we don't have the millions of dollars in resources or the extra manpower that they have at CNN, or MSNBC, or Fox News.

We wish we did, because then we could give the life and death of Jennifer Parcell the national attention that it truly deserves.

And not just Jennifer Parcell, but all 3,115 heroes who have died in this catastrophic war. You can't even say the names of these dead people on television without stirring controversy. But you can blather on about one dead woman for entire days because she took her clothes off and married a 90 year-old.

Some days it thrills me that I'm nowhere near a TV screen. Today's one of them. It's better for my hand that I don't punch it out.

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Lonely At The Top

I guess there's no fun in being post-partisan. According to the Sac Bee Tom McClintock will NOT ATTEND Gov. Schwarzenegger's address to the California Republican Party tonight, because he "is so dismayed by the governor's positions."

"Many Republicans supported him in 2006 based on the simple, unequivocal campaign promise he made not to raise taxes," McClintock said. "He broke that promise and proposed the second-largest tax increase in state history. I will never trust another word he says."

OK, this is the man who ran as the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, arguably the second-highest Constitutional office in the state. It's essentially Schwarzenegger's running mate. This is basically akin to Cheney just leaving the seat behind Bush empty at the State of the Union. (Dare to dream...)

This is just an extension of the disillusionment Republicans have had with Arnold. Not at the voting booth; the right held their nose and voted him back into office. But all of his signature achievements last year passed with hardly any Republican support in the legislature. Tonight he'll be talking in front of a party which increasingly feels abandoned by him, particularly on taxes. McClintock is in the dead center of Republican Party philosophy and he doesn't waver. He also has lost FOUR statewide races for various offices, and once for the US House. His vision of the Republican Party is incommensurate with majority opinion in this state. The CA Republican Party's idea of a moderate is someone who calls all prison inmates animals.

That's why there pretty much is no Republican Party in California, and in the post-post-partisan era, virtually nobody appears to be able to mount a statewide run (I mean, who? Steve Poizner and his $30 million?). The Democratic Party has its troubles as well, and the progressive movement is trying to fix that from the ground up. I have always submitted that the increase in "Decline to State" voters here has everything to do with the fact that you have two weak parties, and the one that steps up and starts engaging voters and addressing real needs of the people will have a tremendous opportunity to forge ahead.

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A new report from the Inspector General at the Pentagon is trying hard to split the baby, calling the Office of Special Plans, Douglas Feith's intelligence shop run out of the Defense Department, inappropriate but not illegal. This is mainly so news headlines can say "Prewar intelligence not illegal". Me, I agree with BooMan.

Well, no shit. It's not illegal to be fucking crazy, but it sure is inappropriate to hire crazy people to run the most powerful killing machine in the history of mankind. Thanks a lot for that clarification, Inspector General.

As for the legality of disseminating intelligence reports without dissenting views attached, that can get kind of tricky. Obviously it goes against all standard practice in the area of intelligence. It's a bad idea and should never, ever be done. And if it is done, no one should take the product seriously and they should go to the press and reveal that crazed bloodthirsty bastards have taken over a segment of the government and are going to get upwards of a million innocent people killed if someone doesn't stop them.

What the Office of Special Plans did, let's say, OUGHT to be illegal. Feith ran an off-the-books intelligence operation that was designed to collect particular bits of intelligence supporting the case for war. In other words, the conclusions were made first, then the intelligence was found to support it. In the process, Feith and his team twisted the facts to show that Iraq and Saddam were in league with Al Qaeda, which was false; allowed for no dissenting viewpoints on that assessment, though the consensus of the intelligence community was the opposite; and sent that assessment to the White House, where it was used to make the case for war.

What we have is an absolute hijacking of the intelligence process, a palace coup where ideologues reach foregone conclusions and do whatever it takes to implement their nefarious schemes. And this report can say all it wants, but at least one member of Congress thinks it is illegal:

“The IG has concluded that this office was engaged in intelligence activities. The Senate Intelligence Committee was never informed of these activities. Whether these actions were authorized or not, it appears that they were not in compliance with the law.

“In the coming days, I will carefully review all aspects of the report and will consult with Vice Chairman Bond to determine whether any additional action by the Senate Intelligence Committee is warranted."

Whether or not this violates the National Security Act of 1947 hangs on whether this was an intelligence assessment or simply criticism of the intelligence of the time. The report clearly calls it an assessment. Doug Feith should be in jail.

The summary judgments of this report should be available soon. And there's a hearing going on about this very issue in the Senate Armed Services Committee today. But it's extremely important that this is front-page news. Especially now, when we're seeing the same kind of intelligence-cooking with regard to Iran, and the same kind of uncritical thinking from the media.

SEVILLE, Spain - Serial numbers and markings on explosives used in Iraq provide “pretty good” evidence that Iran is providing either weapons or technology for militants there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates asserted Friday.

Ooooh. Seems pretty scary. Sounds factual. Authoritative, even. And the second paragraph…

Offering some of the first public details of evidence the military has collected, Gates said, “I think there’s some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found,” that point to Iran.

Supposition continues to be stated as fact by the Administration, and reported as fact in the press. That's more than inappropriate. It's criminal.

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Jonah Goldberg Day - the Aftermath

It happened yesterday, but this is a great example of how the conservative side of the blogosphere only tears down, while we on the left both tear down and build up (multitaskers).

Two years ago yesterday, Jonah Goldberg (who is who he is only because his mom is a super-rich publisher and he writes for all of those money-losing conservative mags, making him the recipient of both nepotism and welfare) made a bet with Juan Cole that went as follows:

Anyway, I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn't want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now). This way neither of us can hide behind clever word play or CV reading. If there's another reasonable wager Cole wants to offer which would measure our judgment, I'm all ears. Money where your mouth is, doc.

One caveat: Because I don't think it's right to bet on such serious matters for personal gain, if I win, I'll donate the money to the USO. He can give it to the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or whatever his favorite charity is.

Ha, ha, liberals are terrorists!

Well, yesterday the bill came due, and clearly Goldberg lost the bet. Iraq is in civil war, the constitution is doing nothing for security or political reconciliation and is a worthless document, and the majority of Americans and Iraqis believe the war was a mistake. Goldberg kind of admitted this, but claimed that because Cole never took the bet, as he found the notion of wagering on human lives revolting, he doesn't have to pay up.

As a matter of intellectual honesty, I'm perfectly willing to admit that, had Cole had the courage to accept the wager, he would have won and I would have made good on it. But, since he didn't, I won't be jumping through hoops for this crowd beyond this post.

It's intellectually honest to admit that he lost the bet, but dishonest not to admit that his judgment on Middle East matters, which was the entire point of his bet, pales in comparison to Juan Cole's. In fact, he's yet to admit that.

So Goldberg got a good thrashing in the blogosphere. But then Nitpicker made the best decision of this entire affair; he decided he'd get a group to COVER JONAH'S BET. And he did.

Here's the list of the people who've covered Jonah's bet:

David Rees
Matt Ortega
Charles Kuffner
Christopher Dumler
Sean-Paul Kelley
Jesus' General
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga
Adam Bonin
Tom Tomorrow
Ian Welsh
Stephanie Taylor
Taylor Marsh
Robin Marty
David Neiwert
Walter Ludwig

And there are others, some who asked not to be named and some who said they simply could not bring themselves to post "in honor of" Jonah. I'll post others as they come in, but it should suffice to say that far more than $1000 was raised.

It's a good cause and I hope you consider donating more to the USO. It really is a great boon to service members and their families.

So Goldberg comes out of this looking like a fool, a cheapskate, out of his depth on matters of foreign policy AND a petulant whiner, giving him the perfect resume to continue his career as an LA Times columnist. Meanwhile Nitpicker and the aforementioned bloggers look like people who are smart, classy and generous.

This is the entire division between right and left, at least on the blogs, in microcosm. I'm glad to be on the side I'm on.

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Friday Random Ten

Had to go back and get my iPod for this one.

Jacqueline - Franz Ferdinand
Loose Translation - The New Pornographers
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths
Lodi Dodi - Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick
It Makes No Difference - The Band
Different Names For The Same Thing - Death Cab For Cutie
You're The One For Me, Fatty - Morrissey
Almada - Clorofila
Hide Away, Folk Family - They Might Be Giants
The Tourist - Radiohead

You see "It Makes No Difference" next to "Different Names For The Same Thing" and you wonder if the iPod has a sense of humor.

Miho Hatori's at the Troubadour tonight, if you want a bonus #11.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Patrick McHenry as Billy Zabka

Patrick McHenry, the 31 year-old right-wing attack dog who's the front man for anything the Republic Party wants to put out that's outrageous, is kind of a fascinating figure. Whether it's ambition, or a true belief in wingnuttery, he's willing to put himself out in front as the alternately smug and persecuted face of the GOP. He reminds me a lot of Billy Zabka.



Zabka was the designated bad guy in 80s movies from The Karate Kid to Just One of the Guys to Back To School. He had the flipped-back preppy blond haircut, the smug look of self-satisfaction, and the attitude and style you love to hate. And he was willing to typecast himself into that role, so much so that once the 80s ended, so did his career.

That's McHenry. He doesn't mind being hated, doesn't mind making himself look ridiculous. In fact, this Washington Monthly article nails it perfectly:

No political movement can survive on talking points alone. It requires an endless succession of faces, flesh and bone, elected officials willing to impose their smiling mugs in front of the camera even when the talking points are ridiculous. In the nine months since he came to Washington, McHenry has cultivated a role as a kind of fraternity pledge for the House leadership, willing to do the dirty work on behalf of crusades that the rest of his caucus will no longer touch. He was still pumping Social-Security privatization this summer, months after the GOP leadership had given up on the bill. He was still attacking Terri Schiavo's husband after other Republicans, with an eye toward opinion polls, clammed up. And in June, he was summoned by the cable networks to defend Karl Rove after it began to appear likely that the president's chief strategist had identified Valerie Plame as a CIA agent while talking to reporters.

McHenry is perhaps the most successful and precocious of the endless string of those guys, the youngish Republican representatives who show up on cable television to defend the indefensible.

This has continued in the 110th Congress. He started by embarking on a two-day whine-a-thon about minority rights, which is embarrassing, given how the Republicans treated Congress like they were crowned emperor.

Then he was taken behind the woodshed by Barney Frank while trying to make a point about American Samoa (which has been amply covered on this site).

I would appropriate this to when Keith Gordon zings Zabka in Back To School:

Chas: [limping off the diving board] I have got a really bad cramp. I've been having really bad cramps all week.
Jason Melon: It's probably menstrual.
Chas: Screw you, Melon!

Then we saw McHenry claiming that contracting in Iraq is the Clinton Administration's fault at a Government Reform Committee hearing (I wish I could find video of this, but I covered it here), and calling the whole hearing a partisan show trial. Rep. Waxman responded by saying "You can't just look under every rock for partisanship, and I suggest the Congressman return under his rock." This pissed McHenry off more, and he made his little Zabka face when saying "I am offended that you would tell me to crawl under a rock!" You get the mentality here.

This is no different than when Zabka gets the business in this memorable scene:

Rick: [Rick gets on the table in the high school cafeteria to make an announcement] "Ah, excuse me, could I have your attention please!", your attention. Every day at lunch, we get a very special treat from a very special guy, a guy who has dedicated his life to building his body, pushing his muscles to the limits of human endurance,why you ask?, why?, well to be strong enough to lift tables and spill food, Greg Tolan!

[Everyone starts clapping]

Rick: Let's take a moment to find out a liitle bit about the man behind the mess,Greg, May I call you Greg?, Now tell us greg how you got into spilling food?, were a messy baby?, did you hate your strained peas?, Well you know how most psychologists tell us that guys get into bodybuilding to compensate for a lack of IQ, or a small weinie, which is it Greg?, well those of us in Greg's gym class certainly know the the answer to that one.

Greg Tolan: I'm going to beat the shit out of you Morehouse!

Rick: Isn't he great, muscles and a sense of humor, well let's thank Greg for the lunch time thrills and spills he's given us, OK EVERYBODY GET UP!, GRAB AN END OF YOUR TABLE!,

[the kids in the cafeteria go to an end of their table]

Rick: A trubute to you Greg, LIFT!

[Everybody in the cafeteria lift their table and spilling food]

Then TODAY, he got slammed by Rep. Bart Gordon and Rep. Barney Frank, who pretty much calls him a midget here, no?

I mean, by the end of that, can't you see McHenry going up to Frank and telling him "you win" like Zabka to Daniel-san at the end of the All-Valley Karate Tournament?

McHenry really is a fascinating figure. He seems to think he's going to be Majority Leader someday, and he apparently has cultivated some good inside sources. But he comes off perpetually looking like a clown, a square, an 80s teen movie villain come to life. I really want to check birth records to see if he's related to Zabka. The resemblance is uncanny.

Cheney: Sweep the leg.
[McHenry stares at him in shock]
Cheney: Do you have a problem with that?
McHenry: No, Sensei.
Cheney: No mercy.

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Quick Hits

Let's give you all the news you need to know (except the stuff I have more than a one-sentence thought about):

• Yesterday I praised Chris Dodd for his work on the Senate Banking Committee. He pops up in the Jeffrey Goldberg New Yorker piece on Joe Lieberman as well, and I need to praise him again for his leadership and sense of fairness.

Dodd justifies his endorsement of (Ned) Lamont as one of principle over friendship. “I’m the senior Democrat in the state,” he said. “What do I tell a twenty-year-old, what do I tell someone who wants to be a Democrat and join the process? ‘I’m sorry, the primary doesn’t count, it doesn’t make a difference’? It was painful. I didn’t like it. But I wasn’t going to turn around and tell people this doesn’t mean anything.”

What's stunning is that someone turns his back on the process, turns his back on the primary, and Goldberg asks the OTHER Democratic Senator in the state about his loyalty.

• Some potential good news, although in these cases the good news always seems to be tempered by the bad: the Treasury Department will put pressure on Sudan, and reports from the six-nation talks on North Korea are promising (makes you wonder why we're not talking to Iran, then).

A billion dollars is quite a lot for any one state to be short on monthly tax revenue, even a state as big as California. This is especially true when you have a budget deficit to begin with, and those projections are being used to try and balance it. The Governor often makes it seem like everything in the state is going great, but this sign (probably due to the slumping housing market) is ominous. Meanwhile, home buyers in Cali are going deeper into debt, taking out mortgages with no down payment and not being able to keep up.

But never mind, it's always sunny in the Golden State!

• Jim Webb on supporting the troops:

There have been allegations by those on the other side that we who take this position are not supporting the troops. I would submit that the best way to support the troops is for this administration to outline, and pursue, a comprehensive strategy that includes the diplomatic measures that will be essential to ending our involvement [...]

And with respect to the troops, I would caution any political leader who claims to speak on behalf of the political views of our men and women in uniform. Our military people are largely a mirror of our society, particularly in the ranks, and their political views are as diverse as our own. As one example, last year a survey of U.S. troops in Iraq indicated that more than 70 percent believed the United States should exit Iraq within a year. As I have said before, it is inverted logic to claim that we should continue to fight this war on behalf of the troops. The fact is that they are fighting this war on behalf of the political process. They deserve political leadership that is knowledgeable and that proceeds from an assumption that our national goals are equal to the sacrifices we are asking them to make.

The bumper-sticker support only serves personal political goals. Real support includes tangible things like armor and health care, and tactical things like a sense of mission and purpose.

• Haven't been following the Ehren Watada saga very much, but I see that they've called a mistrial. He was charged for refusing to ship out with his brigade to Iraq. It sounds like the mistrial came about for technical reasons.

• This was some hilarious stuff from Rep. Gary Ackerman:

“For some reason, the military seems more afraid of gay people than they are of terrorists, but they’re very brave with the terrorists…If the terrorists ever got hold of this information, they’d get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad…Considering the critical shortage of linguists in the armed forces, a platoon of Arabic-speaking lesbians may be just what the military needs.”

• Anna Nicole died. The state funeral will be held on CNN for the rest of the year.

Go Dianne:

A top Senate Democrat said Wednesday that she'd ask federal investigators to look into the voting machines that are at the heart of a disputed congressional race in Florida as the state's checkered voting record once again draws national scrutiny.

The call for a "top to bottom investigation" of the Sarasota County voting machines by the Government Accountability Office and the National Institute of Standards and Technology came from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who endorsed critics who say paperless machines are eroding voters' confidence in elections.

Fueling the push: More than 18,000 ballots in Sarasota County registered no vote for either congressional candidate to succeed one of the icons of Florida's first election debacle, former Rep. Katherine Harris.

She's on top of an issue where there's already a lot of momentum, but I appreciate her standing up for election reform.

• Much respect to John Amaechi for being the first NBA player to come out of the closet. The sports world is rife with homophobia, so this is not exactly the safe move. Hopefully this will someday be the kind of story that goes unreported.



Time To Stop This

Chris Bowers:

Both Democrats and the netroots won a big victory today when John Edwards refused to cave into the pressure of a right wing smear job [...]

Still, despite our victories, this is far from over. First, because he refused to cave to right-wing pressure and establishment campaign advice, Edwards will receive a significant amount of criticism. When this happens, we need to remember that he stood with us during this fight, and so we have to stand with him against the forthcoming attacks. This goes for everyone, whether or not you are an Edwards supporter. He didn't throw us under the bus, and so we can't let him get thrown under the bus, even--especially--if another Democratic campaign is trying to do the throwing.

Second, while Edwards did not cave into right-wing pressure, which was dutifully stenographed by the media, the power structure that allows Republicans to push any conceivable smear of Democrats and progressives into national focus is still fully operational. The current, bullshit attacks on Pelosi are a case in point. As such, it is time to turn our attention to how this story was reported on in the first place.

It is bitterly ironic that established news outlets are failed to provide context, do proper research, vet sources, and otherwise uphold basic standards of journalism on a story about bloggers. After all, bloggers often receive exactly the same criticisms from the established media. However, few people heard about William Donahue's long history of vicious religious intolerance--instead, they only heard that he was a Catholic who wanted Amanda and Melissa fired. Also, few people heard that John McCain's staff has been criticized for controversies far surpassing this--instead, most were given the impression that this was the first case of a blogger / campaign controversy. Others heard outright falsehoods about the story, such as the notion that Amanda tried to delete her past comments.

BlogPAC, to which I am a donor (little something called disclosure, media), has an email form for you to send the New York Times, AP, MSNBC, CNN, and the other news orgs. who willfully printed the words of William Donohue as if they were the Gospel, as if he's the arbiter of what constitutes moral behavior. I urge you to use the form and let these organizations know that we're not going to take this.

Matt Taibbi, one of my favorite writers working today (even if he speaks to my more cynical side), did a well-regarded article for AlterNet about punishing the right-wing smear merchants and liars. He was responding to the "Barack Obama studied at a madrassah" smear, and I don't know if it applies to this situation, but it's worth thinking about.

I know for sure that if I made a journalistic "mistake" of that magnitude, I'd be spending the rest of my life picking strawberries in the Siberian tundra. Most print journalists I know would expect the same thing; the legal ramifications alone of intentionally going to print with a story that missed by that much would guarantee that 80 cents out of every dollar you made for the next ten years would go to the victim of your libel. That's unless you're Tom Friedman and you can use congenital idiocy as a defense in court.

For some reason, however, we never see full-blown libel suits in high-level political journalism. Moreover, there appears to be a completely different standard for talk-radio and TV talk-show hosts, who are somehow allowed to lie and fuck up with impunity, and still remain employed. I get the feeling that as a society we have decided to give a collective pass to serial media swindlers like Sean Hannity simply because we never expect them to actually document the "facts" that come spewing in mass volumes out of their zoster-covered mouths every day. We actually expect them to pull most of their material out of their asses, and are mostly content to address the problem by pompously correcting their errata post-factum in whiny media-crit outlets like...well, like this one. Actual real punishment never seems to be forthcoming [...]

The lesson of all this -- and of the Iraq war, the Swift Boat controversy, and indeed the whole careers of swine like Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and the like -- is that unless you prevent the lie from coming out to begin with, it doesn't really matter what happens afterward. In the Internet age, and with no kind of regulation of the "facts" that are circulated on afternoon radio, once that genie is out of the bottle, he's staying out [...]

If the press is serious about saving itself as a social institution, it has to start policing its own business. We all have to encourage the likes of Barack Obama to hire the meanest lawyers on the planet and to file the hairiest lawsuits imaginable against the Hannitys, Gibsons, and Savages of the world. We have to impress upon the victims of these broadsides that choosing to ignore that style of libel is a betrayal of the public trust and an act of political cowardice that the rest of us end up paying for in spades. That's the ugly truth: Until one of those monsters goes down in a fireball of punitive litigation, we are all fucked. And it's not going to happen anytime soon.

Obama did appear to get the message by freezing Fox News out of any press availability. Edwards may have to do the same with any organization that continues to print blatant claptrap like the rantings of William Donohue, an anti-Semitic bigot who has the gall to lecture about decency.

Maybe it's by rewarding people like Congressman Anthony Weiner, who went on the floor of the House today and repeatedly used the phrase "Republic Party". Maybe it's contacting reporters directly (all their emails are public) and pitching stories to them the same way the right peddles their nonsense. We simply have to create an environment where those in the media who lie, or commit sins of omission, lose their place in the debate. There has to be an actual consequence for slander.

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Politicizing Justice

The US Justice Department is most certainly ordering US Attorneys to resign to make way for political hacks. How do I know this?

Former U.S. Attorney John McKay told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his resignation this month was ordered by the Bush administration, which gave him no explanation for the firing.

“I was ordered to resign as U.S. attorney on Dec. 7 by the Justice Department,” McKay, who had led the department’s Western Washington office, said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “I was given no explanation. I certainly was told of no performance issues.”

How do I know this?

A top Justice Department official said on Tuesday that one of several United States attorneys forced from their jobs last year was dismissed without a specific cause in order to give the job to a lawyer with close political ties to the White House.

One disputed case involves H. E. Cummins III, a United States attorney in Arkansas who was asked to step down last summer although his office had increased drug and firearms prosecutions and he had helped organize a multiagency counterterrorism council.

To temporarily replace Mr. Cummins, the Justice Department named J. Timothy Griffin, a former military and civilian prosecutor who was a political director for the Republican National Committee and who once worked as a deputy to Karl Rove, the senior White House political adviser.

At the hearing, Mr. McNulty was asked by Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, whether it was accurate to say that Mr. Cummins had not done anything wrong to justify his removal. Mr. McNulty replied, “I do not dispute that characterization.”

Had Mr. Cummins ever received a poor performance evaluation, Mr. Schumer asked.

Mr. McNulty answered, “I’m not aware of anything negative.”

So we have at least two cases where US Attorneys are being fired without cause. We also know that far more Democrats were being investigated by the Bush Justice Department, particularly at the local level, and the study that uncovered this information showed that the chances of this being a random occurrence are about 1 in 10,000.

The Democrats on the relevant committees appear to be all over this. It is unacceptable for the White House to be purging the US Attorneys across the country for purely political reasons.

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We're Training Them

The fact that insurgents are becoming so adept at shooting American helicopters out of the sky is a big problem, bigger than it's being made in the press. Ezra Klein:

We've spent the last few years training an unknown number of eager jihadists on the ins-and-outs of terrorism and urban warfare. We should've known better. It's commonly understood that the modern jihadist movement -- al-Qaeda included -- sprung out of the Afghanistan War, where thousands of radicals spent years learning how to fight and damage an army far stronger and far better equipped than themselves. In Irag, the insurgents have learned the same thing.

We're never going to kill every insurgent, and after we leave, the innocents we've shot and children we've maimed and humiliations we've meted out will ensure a long and enduring legacy of hatred. The chaos of Iraq's broken society will, of course, offer few good options to males between the ages of 16 and 24, so hungry terrorist groups should find it a fertile recruiting ground. And, unlike in the past, these recruits will have already spent years training against the finest army in the world. That, day, by day, they're becoming more effective, more able to shoot down copters and detonate tanks and snipe patrols, is a terrifying glimpse of what the world has to look forward to.

In fact, this turns that whole "flypaper strategy" nonsense on its head. Maybe WE'RE the ones caught in the flypaper, trapped in Iraq to try and stabilize the country while acting as targets for an increasingly lethal band of insurgents. The problem is the staying, therefore, because with each passing day we continue to make things worse for ourselves down the line. It's not only that we could save a half a trillion dollars be leaving, money that could be put into homeland defense and an energy independence plan to take us out of the region geopolitically, and health care for veterans (which is a national disgrace) and education and so on. It's that we're training and, indirectly, arming a group of fundamentalists that are going to be with us for a long time.

Like many of his colleagues, Abu Zaid was issued an Austrian-made Glock pistol when he joined the new U.S.-trained and equipped Iraqi police force.

But after narrowly escaping death twice, including being shot at near a polling station in Baghdad during national elections in December 2005, he decided to quit, he said.

"I sold my Glock pistol and my bullet-proof vest for $1,500 (763 pounds) so that I can feed my family until I find a safer job. They were mine to sell, after all I had risked my life and faced death," he told Reuters.

Anecdotal evidence, including interviews with arms dealers, suggests that Abu Zaid is just one of many policemen selling the highly prized pistol on the black market, already a shopper's delight for buyers with enough cash.

Everything from the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, the biggest-selling item, to rocket-propelled grenade launchers, sniper rifles and belt-fed medium machine guns are available, many looted from huge arms dumps immediately after the 2003 war.

So, we're training insurgents in guerrilla warfare tactics and how to compete against the best Army in the world. We're equipping a disinterested Iraqi Army with guns that then get sold on the black market and can be eventually used against us. And we learned last week that, when we do face and kill Sunni insurgents, we're just doing the Mahdi Army's dirty work for them. Kevin Drum gets this right:

Every day that we remain in Iraq we are almost certainly making things worse, both politically and militarily. The political situation will continue to deteriorate because any kind of compromise is fatally associated with doing the Americans' bidding. The military situation will continue to deteriorate as the insurgents take advantage of the war to become better trained and more lethal. (Remember the mujahedin in Afghanistan?) [...]

Iraq is not likely to have a happy ending no matter what we do, and that's hard to accept. But there's a huge downside to staying, namely that the ending is likely to be a lot less happy the longer we're there. It's time to stop digging ourselves into an ever deeper hole.

But we'll dig that hole, because we have a President that can't recognize failure and can't admit to himself when he's wrong.

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The Latest Right-Wing Smear

OK, so I hadn't really been paying attention to this "Nancy Pelosi wants a private jet" story until I read this story in my LA Times today. And it's totally ridiculous.

The story is: before 9-11 Speakers of the House were on their own as far as travel was concerned. Afterwards, concern about the line of Presidential succession demanded that the Speaker, whoever they were, needed to fly around in a military jet. So understand, this is not Pelosi's choice, but a mandate.

Denny Hastert would fly in a small military plane from DC to his district in Illinois. That plane WOULDN'T REACH PELOSI'S DISTRICT in San Francisco unless the weather was perfect. Otherwise it would have to stop to refuel. And the only military passenger plane that could make the trip nonstop is the supposedly lavish C-40 (it's actually not that lavish). Pelosi never specifically asked to use it. The Defense Department sent her a letter saying the C-40 would be available to her if one were ready. The House sergeant-at-arms was the one that recommended Pelosi use a plane that didn't require refueling as a matter of security.

Out of this comes a scandal? Wow, the media will literally reprint any crap a conservative says, won't they? Apparently Lou Dobbs has been running with this story for a week, even though it's false.

My favorite part of the Times article, though, was this.

Pelosi said Wednesday she would just as soon fly commercial, but security rules wouldn't allow it. Aides say she is so mindful of not misusing the powers of office that when she recently encountered a wild bird in her Georgetown condo, she called the super rather than the security detail downstairs. In fact, they noted, the speaker herself caught the bird in a brown bag.

She caught a bird! How's that for a "San Francisco liberal"! That's more combat experience than Dick Cheney ever had! And she didn't have to stock the condo with birds, unlike the hunting ranges where the Vice President spends his time.

So Pelosi today came out and said she'd fly commercial. She shouldn't have to play this game, but that's where we are in Washington. The smears and demands for punds of flesh never stop, and when Democrats fight back, the Republicans go into their persecuted martyrdom shtick. And the media is an all-too-willing accomplice, while conveniently forgetting the hypocrisy:

On Sunday, Oct. 1, Hastert’s team was scrambling to contain the escalating fallout from the Foley page scandal.

That day, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), then the chairman of the page board, had gotten an urgent phone call from Stokke. The Hastert team wanted Shimkus to return to Washington immediately from his home in southern Illinois in order to appear at a press conference on Monday with the Speaker, and they did not want to deal with commercial flight schedules.

So at 8 p.m. that day, Shimkus arrived at the military side of the Scott Air Force Base near Belleville to board the Speaker’s jet that had been dispatched for him.

The plane then headed to an airport near Aurora, Ill., to pick up Hastert, who had been weekending at his home in Plano, before flying on to Washington.

That Monday, Hastert and Shimkus headlined a press conference in the Capitol to talk about the Foley resignation.

So it's OK for the Republican Speaker of the House to send an Air Force plane to pick up a fellow Congressman to go have a press conference on how they didn't shield a colleague from jail for political reasons. But it's not OK for the Air Force to let a Democratic Speaker of the House know she has a menu of options for using the mandated form of travel.

It's enough to make you sick.

UPDATE: When Tony Snow says this...

"This is a silly story and I think it's been unfair to the speaker," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. know there's nothing there.

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On to Romney's Statement About Confederate Yankee

It took a little while, but the Edwards team got this one right.


Senator John Edwards:

“The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte’s and Melissa McEwen’s posts personally offended me. It’s not how I talk to people, and it’s not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it’s intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I’ve talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone’s faith, and I take them at their word. We’re beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can’t let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in.”

It's absurd that he even had to do this, but I'm glad he did. The notion that a candidate ought to be responsible for something a hireling wrote before (s)he was hired doesn't make sense to me. Maybe it's a question of judgment, but maybe it's a recognition that on a personal blog, the language is not going to be all sanitized for your protection. And certainly, there is a meta message of standing up to the right wing noise machine and not having them dictate your personnel choices. It's about time somebody told William Donohue and Michelle Malkin to shove it.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CA-30: Waxman Trying to Skate on Iraq

I watched a little of today's hearing on Iraq war profiteering and contracting. It's really nothing short of amazing. It's like watching the movie Iraq For Sale in Congressional hearing form. They're focusing on Blackwater Securities today, whose contract for Iraq couldn't even be found until today, and who were sending out truck drivers without proper equipment to save money, while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through overcharging the government. It's great to see these bastards nailed to the wall.

And the man who's putting this all together is my Congressman, Henry Waxman. He is nothing short of heroic for bringing the spotlight to this war profiteering in his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And he's a dogged investigator and questioner. He painted the picture in yesterday's session with Paul Bremer of the Federal Reserve packing 363 tons of cash in palettes onto military aircraft to be sent to Iraq to simply be passed out. Today, Waxman repeatedly asked a spokeswoman from the Army how many security contractors they have hired, and she dodged and dodged and finally had to answer that she didn't know the precise number. And finally, there was his brilliant smackdown of GOP attack dog Rep. Patrick McHenry, who spent the entire session trying to blame profiteering on the Clinton Administration and calling it a show trial: he said "I suggest the Congressman return under his rock."

Waxman deserves a lot of credit for his pursuit of lawbreaking and official corruption. And his reputation in this district is gold sterling. He was right there on the front page of the New York Times the other day. And he's a great, longtime champion for liberal values. He took on the cigarette companies. He wrote the Clean Air Act. And on and on.

However, it's important to note that Waxman voted for the war, is not part of the Out of Iraq caucus, and while he has finally come out against the escalation, is "on the fence" about de-funding the war and bringing the troops home.

He keeps this incredibly quiet. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this district that knows this. I was talking to a few friends about this very topic recently, and they looked at me like I was nuts. They actually couldn't believe it.

You have to dig, but you can find Waxman's statement about Iraq at his website.

On October 10, 2002, Rep. Waxman voted for resolution H.J.Res. 114, authorizing the use of military force to ensure Iraq's disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. He did so with the expectation that a strong bipartisan stand in Congress would pressure the United Nations to carry out its responsibilities to enforce its own resolutions and because he believed it was necessary to send a tough message for Saddam Hussein to understand he would have to comply.

On March 17, 2003, Rep. Waxman called for an investigation of the revelation that the President relied on false intelligence sources to present the case for war with Iraq to the American people and the United Nations. On June 26, 2003, he introduced H.R. 2625, which would establish an Independent Commission on Intelligence about Iraq - modeled after the September 11 Commission - to examine pre-war intelligence and the representations made by executive branch officials about Iraqi efforts to develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction.

In addition, Rep. Waxman has initiated an intensive investigation of the Bush Administration's process for awarding post-war contracts in Iraq to ensure fairness and accountability in U.S. funded projects for Iraq reconstruction. He remains deeply concerned about allegations that Halliburton, a company with close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney, has received special treatment from the Administration in the awarding of Defense Department contracts, including some related to Iraqi reconstruction.

Waxman's actions about intelligence - almost immediately after voting for the war - are noble. He also cosponsored legislation to ban permanent bases in Iraq or a "long-term or permanent" military presence. But he is not committed to stopping funding on this war, and he has been allowed to coast on his reputation and give no definitive answer on the conflict. This came to a head a couple weeks ago at the Palisades Democratic Club:

Addressing a crowd of 200 at a Palisades Democratic Club meeting in Los Angeles Sunday, Congressman Henry Waxman said he opposes the US occupation of Iraq but may continue to fund it because "I don't want to make any promises before I see what the (funding) proposal will be."

Greeted by grassroots Democrats holding a banner that read "Liberals do not fund occupation," Waxman acknowledged there were members of the audience who would like to see him support bills calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops, but said he was not sure bringing the troops home now was the answer [...]

Waxman, now Chair of the Government Reform Committee, told the standing-room only crowd he opposes the Bush troop escalation and wants to conduct vigorous investigations into the 8-billion US dollars missing in Iraq, but said he is not convinced it is time to use the power of the purse to end the war or even co-sponsor legislation that would bring the troops home within six months. Waxman said a civil war could develop when US troops leave Iraq. "But there already is a civil war,"
said one audience member, whose objection went unanswered.

And I have to add this, which gave me quite a bit of pause.

Asked if he would oppose US military use of Israel as a proxy to bomb or invade Iran, Waxman said he opposed a war against Iran, though added, "If you want to lose sleep, think of a nuclear-armed Iran." The Congressman said he favored economic sanctions over the use of force, referencing the enormous impact of world economic sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa.

There's more here and here.

Waxman, simply put, is trying to skate on this war, and furthermore is buying in to right-wing frames about Iran which do nothing but enable war hawks who would like nothing more but to come up with any pretext to attack Iran. In fact, now is the time to stop this drumbeat toward Iran in the US Congress.

Congress should not wait. It should hold hearings on Iran before the president orders a bombing attack on its nuclear facilities, or orders or supports a provocative act by the U.S. or an ally designed to get Iran to retaliate, and thus further raise war fever.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has warned the administration that it had better seek congressional authorization for any attack on Iran. But we need Senate and House hearings now to put the Bush administration on notice that, in the absence of an imminent military attack or a verified terrorist attack on the United States by Iran, Congress will not support a U.S. military strike on that country. Those hearings should aim toward passage of a law preventing the expenditure of any funds for a military attack on Iran unless Congress has either declared war with that country or has otherwise authorized military action under the War Powers Act.

The law should be attached to an appropriations bill, making it difficult for the president to veto. If he simply claims that he is not bound by the restriction even if he signs it into law, and then orders an attack on Iran without congressional authorization for it, Congress should file a lawsuit and begin impeachment proceedings.

Anyone that is throwing up belligerent and fearmongering rhetoric on Iran gives the President more leeway to do the same and manufacture a conflict. Waxman may have his reasons for doing so, all of them perfectly sincere. But starting another war in the Middle East right now would be the height of insanity and would continue to fuel hatred in that part of the world for generations.

There are going to be street actions soon around this issue, to both thank Rep. Waxman for what he's doing, but to pressure him to do the right thing on denying the appropriation of funds and bringing this war to an end. Waxman seems like he doesn't want to come to terms with this issue. He'd rather do what he's very good at doing, investigation and oversight. But this vote matters and it's a major priority. If liberal lions like Henry Waxman cannot represent the views of his district and the vast majority of the American people, then I don't know what it will take. I don't want to psycho-analyze Waman and try to understand why he's being so noncommital on this issue. I just want him to do the right thing.

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2008 Election Called

Wouldn't you say that everyone is getting a little ahead of themselves here? We're a year away from the first vote being cast, and name ID is driving the polls. Do you seriously believe that anyone is "unbeatable" at this point? While I don't cotton much to these Clinton conspiracies, they do seem to be pushing the inevitability meme pretty hard so that there isn't a primary fight. Well, it's not going to happen. Every candidate will have to prove themself on the trail.

I think this advice by Zack Exley wouldn't be bad for anyone wanting to stop the "Clinton juggernaut." A smart Internet strategy would go a long way to parity in the money primary, which is more important this year.

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Seriously, That's Unbelievable

Juan Cole recounts a conversation between a State Department Official and the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the Earth.

State Dept. Official: "Doug, after the smoke clears, what is the plan?"

Feith: "Think of Iraq as being like a computer. And think of Saddam as like a processor. We just take out the old processor, and put in a new one--Chalabi."

State Dept. Official: "Put in a new processor?"

Feith: "Yes! It will all be over in 6 weeks."

State Dept. Official: "You mean six months."

Feith: "No, six weeks. You'll see."

State Dept. Official: "Doug."

Feith: "Yes?"

State Dept. Official: "You're smoking crack, Doug."

Feith: "Oh, so you're disloyal to the President, are you?"

Submitted without comment.

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The Other Sick Congressman

Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) has lung cancer that has spread to his liver and he's going home for Hospice treatment. The tone of the article certainly makes it sound like he's going home for good. This is bad news and I hope for the best with his recovery.

It does occur to me, however, that the President's State of the Union Address was the first time I heard ANYTHING about the fact that Norwood was even sick, when Bush mentioned that Norwood wasn't in the Capitol that night. Contrast that with the bouts of hysteria that occasioned Sen. Tim Johnson's brain surgery, from which he is recovering nicely. I understand that Johnson's presence essentially gave the Democrats the majority in Congress, and Norwood's does not. Still, this is a near-total media blackout about a sitting Republican US Congressman's condition on the one hand, and something of a death watch about a sitting Democratic US Senator on the other.

I guess it's too much to ask to expect some consistency.

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Chris Dodd Is Making Sense

At first I was surprised by the report that Chris Dodd raised more money than any Democratic Presidential candidate in Q4 of last year, including Hillary Clinton. Then I realized that he's the incoming chair of the Senate Banking Committee, and the banking industry was trying to bribe him because they knew what his views were on predatory lending and the credit card business. But he is thankfully unbowed. He is going after the business-as-usual of stated income loans, subprime loans, discriminatory loans to minority borrowers, and all the rest. And he's already done work on reforming the credit card industry.

He really is a good Senator.

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Iraq's All Over But the Shouting (in the halls of the Senate)

So the Senate continues to refuse to debate the debate on Iraq, leaving Sen. Jon Tester to come up with this great quote:

On the Senate floor a few moments ago, Jon Tester said that he's traveled all around his home state of Montana, and "not a single person told me we should debate about whether or not to have a debate on Iraq."

The House has decided to take up their own resolution opposing the escalation, and you're starting to see headlines like Dems lay siege to war plans. This was a major tactical error by the Republicans. The public story is now about how they're afraid to even debate Iraq, and Administration officials are now being called on to answer that very question (and so far, SecDef Bob Gates said the debate will not hurt troop morale. Sooner or later this debate will come to a head, and with each passing day anger grows at those who try to shut it down. Additionally, nobody will forget that initial vote.

As the escalation begins (and with far less Iraqi troops showing up than expected), some in the traditional media are finally starting to figure out the horrible truth: that Iraq is already lost, and this "surge" is nothing more than an attempt to prolong the agony and make it another President's problem. Here's David Ignatius, not my favorite columnist in the world:

Somehow, after four years, the debate on Iraq is still animated by wishful thinking. The White House talks as if a surge of 20,000 troops is going to stop a civil war. Democrats argue that when America withdraws its troops, Iraqis will finally take responsibility for their own security. But we all need to face the likelihood that this story isn't going to have a happy ending.

That was the underlying message of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, released last week. It warned the administration that if the sectarian conflict continues, as it almost certainly will, "we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate." The current conflict isn't just a civil war, the analysts noted; it's worse -- with criminal gangs, al-Qaeda terrorists and Shiite internal feuding adding to the anarchic state of the country.

Ignatius wants to "plan for the worst," and lays out some steps to do so, which predictably highlight protecting the oil supply. Now he takes some shots at the non-existent "precipitous withdrawal" position, as the pundits are wont to do, but he does recognize that we've put ourselves into a position where there are no good options. I wish, however, he could understand what Josh Marshall is saying, and the fountains of truth available in this post (best of the year so far).

One can agree or disagree with whether or not we should 'disengage' or withdraw entirely. But (Edward, of the NYT) Luttwak hits on the key point that our current national debate seems to ignore entirely: Namely, that Iraq is in a state of civil war which we our combat forces are not in a position to stop. We cannot stop it. But our presence is dragging it out, arguably making it even more deadly by making it more protracted [...]

But getting our policy in order is also being stymied because the political opponents of the war aren't willing to say that, yes, the policy has failed. Not 'defeated'. To be 'defeated' you need to have some other party 'defeat' you. This is just a failure. But whichever it is, that bogey is being used by the White House to scare off the opposition. It's a failure. There's no recovering it. And the unspeakable reality -- truly unspeakable, apparently -- is that it's not that bad. Horrible for the Iraqis. Horrible for the American dead. Terrible for American prestige, power and honor. All that. But not the end of the world. The future of our civilization isn't at stake. And our physical safety isn't at stake. We'll go on. We are not the brave British standing behind Winston Churchill bucking us up with the confidence that "We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender ..." Those aren't the stakes here. Put it in those words and it's almost comical. President Bush wants us to believe that it is because it serves his grandiosity and direct political interests to believe that, to believe that his political interests -- where everything, history, legacy, etc. is on the line -- are the same as ours as a country. They're not.

There would be nothing but honor in admitting this failure, and not in racheting up the fear around the consequences of that failure. We've heard this all before. Every time somebody yells and screams their fool head off (somebody like a Joe Lieberman) that we'll all be wearing babushkas if we don't contain Communism in Vietnam, or that we'll all be made Dhimmis if we don't set up a unity government in Iraq - those people are essentially engaging in mental masturbation. The fastest way to votes is to scare the crap out of people, and so it continues. Marshall speaks Bibles of truth here, and it's verified by the fact that the sacrifices are so low to the nation.

When evaluating assertions of great importance, it's always useful to see whether people talking hysterically actually act in ways consistent with their rhetoric. I've said many times that I've never found the ethical questions surrounding abortion particularly troubling, for a central reason: I won't take the "pro-life" moral position seriously until its supporters do. The anti-choice lobby uses lots of language that suggests a moral issue with stakes large enough to override a woman's fundamental rights--"life," "killing babies," etc.--but this given that most American pro-lifers (among many other inconsistencies) think women should face fewer legal sanctions for obtaining an abortion than for spitting on the sidewalk, there's no reason to take their moral claims seriously [...] When high-stakes language is combined with small-stakes, obviously incommensurate policy objectives, there's no reason to take the former seriously.

This revelation will never reach those who are so far gone with war-fever or so cynical that they feel their path to political survival can only be traversed through fear. But it's absolutely true. The failure we have in Iraq is a moral tragedy and particularly devastating to the people in Iraq. Nobody's going to "follow us here." Nobody's going to pull a Max Cady and hang on the undercarriage of the chopper airlifted out of Baghdad and strike on the streets of America. Al Qaeda may speak in those terms, and call it a great victory, and call America a paper tiger, but it's high past time we stop constructing foreign policy based on what a bunch of fundamentalist nutcases say. Al Qaeda should not be listened to, but defeated by going after them at the source (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, where 9-11 hijackers may have had ties to the Saudi government, anyone?) and restoring our global credibility.

We have a President who is so determined to be vindicated by history that he wants to create epochal chaos (including moving this war into Iran against all reason and without the support of allies). His outsized view of his own importance in history should not be encouraged. The honorable thing to do is to leave this horrible situation we created, because we simply cannot improve it no matter how hard we try.

UPDATE: Garance at TAPPED added something I left out. This surge of 20,000 troops into a population of 6 million can't practically work. The lack of real courage to say "we have to sign up a million kids now and put them into Baghdad to calm it down" proves that this isn't the central front in the ideological struggle of our times.

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