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

Saturday, March 17, 2007

We Found The Weapons of Mass Destruction

Four years later. Made with the stuff you put in pools.

BAGHDAD, March 17 — The American military command said today that two Iraqi police officers were killed on Friday and more than 350 people wounded or sickened in three suicide attacks in Anbar Province using trucks filled with chlorine gas.

Insurgents began combining explosives with chlorine gas and other chemicals earlier this year in an effort to sow more fear and havoc among the civilian population, military officials say. Before Friday, there had been at least three similar chlorine attacks since late January that sickened scores of Iraqis, and American military officials had warned that militants were likely to keep using the tactic.

This is just the beginning of cheap, homemade chemical weapons that elements of the insurgency will only improve upon. And this technique will be exporting through the underground of global terrorism.

A lot of Bush defenders say that we cannot leave Iraq because we will create a haven for terrorism.

We already have.

Labels: , ,


Abu G Nearing Cancellation

A Newsweek poll has 58% of Americans believing that "the ouster of the federal prosecutors was driven by political concerns. Those attitudes seem to reflect a broader view of the Bush administration’s approach. When asked if the administration has introduced politics into too many areas of government, 47 percent said they agree."

This fits neatly into a pattern of cronyism and corruption and politicization of everything, so it's an easy story for Americans to understand, despite the spinners on the right claiming that it's so confusing and relying on the contradictory assumptions that US Attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the President" AND that the President had nothing to do with their firing (he's the only one that can authorize them).

In a desperate attempt to save his job, Abu G has apologized to all 93 US Attorneys "not for the firings but for their execution, including for inaccurate public statements about poor job performance, according to people familiar with the afternoon conference call." Many have noted that, if he is apologizing for inaccurate public statements about poor job performance, he's essentially admitting that he lied to Congress, that his subordinates lied to Congress, and that the Administration spin that the firings were justified is actually not true. The whole alibi is that these federal prosecutors were fired for poor performance. If that's inaccurate, there's only one other explanation for the sackings: political considerations.

TPM has a nice timeline of events in the whole scandal, which I'm sure will be filled in by the looming document dump on Monday. Meanwhile, the President has that bunker mentality again, being the only figure in the government steadfastly refusing to fire Abu G; and also the only one who can do it.

And if you needed another reason why he should be fired, consider this:

NPR has learned that the Attorney General’s chief of staff resigned from his position this week, the Justice Department took steps to establish him as an attorney elsewhere in the building. Kyle Sampson stepped down on Monday after Justice officials said he was responsible for the attorney general giving incomplete information to Congress over the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. NPR’s Ari Shapiro reports:

SHAPIRO: According to Justice Department sources, after Kyle Sampson resigned as the attorney general’s chief of staff on Monday, he was going to work as a lawyer in the legislative section of the department’s environment division. The Justice Department started to set up a new office for Sampson in that section, and he only resigned from the department on Tuesday, when the scandal surrounding eight fired U.S. Attorneys continued to grow. On Tuesday afternoon, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sampson only remained in the department “as a technical matter.” A Justice official speaking on background said there were discussions about whether or not he would be detailed elsewhere as he was transitioning out and ultimately it was decided not to go that direction.

When is a firing not a firing? Man, the Justice Department can't seem to fire anybody correctly. It seems to me that Sampson is being kept on so he doesn't lash out and throw Gonzales under the bus, which he's already intimating as a kind of warning shot.

Oh yeah, and one of the lawyers who met with a Gonzales aide to complain about David Iglesias? Turns out he's on the short list to replace him. So there's Brownie-ism at work here too.

Labels: , , , ,


Blogging Gets Mad Respect

A pleasure to wake up to my morning paper and see a great big page-one story on Josh Marshall and the Talking Points Memo empire, specifically acknowledging their role in pushing the Purged Prosecutors story, as well as their role in previous stories (Social Security, Trent Lott's Strom Thurmond comments), and doing a fine job of covering the history of blogging and its place in the future of journalism and politics. McDermott dispatches with the "bloggers are pajama-wearing incivil dirty fucking hippies" myth in the space of two sentences, and shows a real engagement with the medium and the subject. Put it this way, it was better than the WaPo profile of Maryscott O'Connor last year, which sought to put her in the worst possible light to fulfill journalistic biases about blogging. You simply can't do that with Josh; he comes from the world of journalism, first of all, and he has succeeded in doing original reporting in a unique way, relying on the readership to advance a story in many cases.

My only quibble was this line:

Neither side in the blog-MSM debate seems to have great appreciation for what the other brings to the party.

That's wrong. I have a deep appreciation for the tradition of journalism. That's why I do this, because I see journalism, and it's near-fetishistic striving for fake "neutrality," (a topic McDermott addresses, to his credit) and susceptibility to spin, is really crushing its value. The power-holders have found a Trojan Horse into the system of journalism, enabling them to tailor their message to the public by relying on human foibles like vanity and sloth and the tendency to think your friends are being honest with you. Bloggers, at least on the left, are calling for a RETURN to the tradition of journalism, out of respect for the medium and its power to shape the American agenda.

I'm in the midst of a back-and-forth with a blogger on the right currently, and while he's now descended into calling me names and sayiing my arguments are bullshit without saying why, for a moment there he was conceding things and I was conceding things, and there was some actual analysis the likes of which you wouldn't see in a newspaper, simply because the medium doesn't lend itself to it. Print is most certainly not dead, but it does need to think about the way it's been doing business for the past 70 years and make sure it's living up to its responsibilities to challenge the powerful instead of merging with them. Ultimately I think this criticism makes BOTH sides of the journalism/blogger divide better.

Greg Sargent has more.

Blogging isn't just a challenge to journalism, it's a new kind of journalism which -- while it has tons and tons of work to do -- is starting to boast successes that are compelling practitioners of the older form to recognize its legitimacy.

More broadly -- and lest you dismiss this as overly self-hyping, keep in mind that this blog and its author had no significant role in the Attorney Purge coverage -- it's not outlandish to suppose that we'll look back at the Attorney Purge story as another key moment in the history of blogging. Perhaps we'll see it as a moment at which the perceptions of the blogosphere harbored by many professional journalists underwent another fundamental shift -- even a transformative one.

Labels: , , ,


Friday, March 16, 2007

What I've Been Doing Most Weekends

Lately I've been condo shopping. And I think I'm the only one left on the market now that the subprime market is crashing like a Ford hardtop in a 70s Burt Reynolds movie. Anecdotally speaking, everything on the market 6 weeks ago is still there. And these are nice places, small but completely remodeled, and close to the beach. The problem is that the death of subprime loans means that the entry level market is done, because the only way people were getting into it were by putting no money down and floating two mortgages with a junk loan. Well, that's biting everyone in the ass, and it's reaching a crisis point.

As many as 1.5 million more Americans may lose their homes, another 100,000 people in housing-related industries could be fired, and an estimated 100 additional subprime mortgage companies that lend money to people with bad or limited credit may go under, according to realtors, economists, analysts and a Federal Reserve governor. Financial stocks also could extend their declines over mortgage default worries.

The spring buying season, when more than half of all U.S. home sales are made, has been so disappointing that the National Association of Home Builders in Washington now expects purchases to fall for the sixth consecutive quarter after it predicted a gain just last month.

Ameriquest fired most of their staff today, after settling out of court for $325 million to pay back victims of their predatory lending practices. And they're just the first of many lenders to have their businesses completely torched. That's why stocks plummeted earlier this week; that and the growing realization that this housing market will get far worse before it gets better, and given that the housing boom contributed to most if not all economic growth the past few years, that means recession with a capital R.

This explanation of the crappy mortgage scams that brought us to this point is enough to make you sick.

Today's pop quiz involves some potentially exciting new products that mortgage bankers have come up with to make homeownership a reality for cash-strapped first-time buyers.

Here goes: Which of these products do you think makes sense?

(a) The "balloon mortgage," in which the borrower pays only interest for 10 years before a big lump-sum payment is due.

(b) The "liar loan," in which the borrower is asked merely to state his annual income, without presenting any documentation.

(c) The "option ARM" loan, in which the borrower can pay less than the agreed-upon interest and principal payment, simply by adding to the outstanding balance of the loan.

(d) The "piggyback loan," in which a combination of a first and second mortgage eliminates the need for any down payment.

(e) The "teaser loan," which qualifies a borrower for a loan based on an artificially low initial interest rate, even though he or she doesn't have sufficient income to make the monthly payments when the interest rate is reset in two years.

(f) The "stretch loan," in which the borrower has to commit more than 50 percent of gross income to make the monthly payments.

(g) All of the above.

If you answered (g), congratulations! Not only do you qualify for a job as a mortgage banker, but you may also have a future as a Wall Street investment banker and a bank regulator.

No, folks, I'm not making this up. Not only has the industry embraced these "innovations," but it has also begun to combine various features into a single loan and offer it to high-risk borrowers. One cheeky lender went so far as to advertise what it dubbed its "NINJA" loan -- NINJA standing for "No Income, No Job and No Assets."

Two years ago I was told by a lender that "Nobody gets a 30-year fixed anymore." Just two weeks ago a major bank tried to sucker me into an interest-only balloon mortgage. The lending market is simply designed to rip off the homebuyer, and even despite this crash that mentality continues to exist. And it also happens to be a core Republican idea pushed by such leading figures as Alan Greenspan back in the day, which makes sense since it only benefits banks and not working people:

"Innovation has brought about a multitude of new products, such as subprime loans and niche credit programs for immigrants. . . . With these advances in technology, lenders have taken advantage of credit-scoring models and other techniques for efficiently extending credit to a broader spectrum of consumers. . . .

Where once more-marginal applicants would simply have been denied credit, lenders are now able to quite efficiently judge the risk posed by individual applicants and to price that risk appropriately. These improvements have led to rapid growth in subprime mortgage lending . . . fostering constructive innovation that is both responsive to market demand and beneficial to consumers."

It's just another example of how these insane fiscal policies have chipped away at the American dream. We're going to have millions of families in fiscal crisis over the next few years because they were misled by banks and lying government officials spewing their sunny talk about how constructive and beneficial it was to leverage themselves to the hilt and put their entire financial future in jeopardy.

And this actually works in my favor (like I said, I'm the only one in the market and I can qualify for a traditional loan and put money down), but it makes me no less livid.

Labels: , , ,


The Courage of John McCain

Oh John, didn't see you there. What's that you say?

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Sit down, John.

When a man and a woman love each other very much, they have special time with one another. During this special time the man sticks his penis in the woman's vagina, and something nice and squishy comes out of the man. This is what makes the woman pregnant. If there's something covering the man's penis to hold the nice and squishy, the woman doesn't get pregnant.

This has been the conversation most American boys get when they're fucking 13 years old.

Labels: , ,


You Stay Classy, Republican Party

Glenn Beck, for whom the phrase "falling upwards" was invented, yesterday managed to, in one radio shift, call for the assassination of Jimmy Carter and say Hillary Clinton can't be elected because she's the "stereotypical bitch." Quite the exacta. Today, he claimed isn't a bitch but just sounded like one, which is an enormous difference that explains everything.

Then there's Fred Thompson, who has decided that a great way to kick off his Presidential run would be to make a play for the anti-Gandhi vote. Jon Swift does a good job applying the rapier wit to that, so I'll go no further.

Gandhi might be a hero to some people, but not to Fred Thompson. "When American's [sic] think of heroism, we think of the young American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, risking their lives to prevent another Adolph Hitler or Saddam Hussein." By opposing the war in Iraq liberals are, like Gandhi, on the side of Hitler.

Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush lines up with Thompson as well, bringing the number of those on the side of the British Empire against one guy who went on a hunger strike and became the world's greatest symbol of peace and nonviolence in history to, um, two.

I'm really not offended by a whole lot that a conservative can say, other than the fact that the likes of ABC and CNN will dutifully pay money to broadcast it, and the entire conservative movement will support a candidate who spouts it. The point, as made by Hughes for America, is that this is the face of the Republican Party in 2007. This is pretty much who they are and what they believe. It's worth not forgetting.

Labels: , , , ,


The Iraq Memorial

Since it's Iraq Day here, I thought I'd bring you The Iraq Memorial, a project of Brave New Films, set to coincide with the 4ht anniversary of the beginning of the war - that's right, it's longer than WWII now. This is an important piece for people to see and to understand the true cost of this conflict: the cost to their fellow Americans who are simply doing their job but are put in terrible, unwinnable circumstances. It's a fitting tribute.

By the way, Iraq is full-on rioting right now (and these are the group who's side we are taking in this Pentagon-acknowledged civil war, the ones chanting "No, no to America, no no to Israel" in the streets). Americans nationwide will be marching tomorrow. When the nation's political leaders will take a stand is anybody's guess.

Labels: , ,


And Another Thing on Iraq...

I think that many people (including what appears to the be the Democratic leadership) are mistaken on the terms of this debate. To put it simply, Congress is in the sole position of providing money for the war. The House is moving forward with a bill to provide that money. If the Republicans derail it, or the President vetoes it, no money is given. A bill must be passed for the appropriation to be complete.

So the White House has all the pressure on them, not the other way around. Sure, they can try to pressure the Congress into giving that money, claiming that they're de-funding the troops in the field, but the only one who would be de-funding in that scenario is the President himself, by use of the veto pen. We would in effect have a Mexican standoff, with the White House wanting to re-submit the bill without any restrictions on them, and the Congress wanting the bill they passed signed into law. I have little doubt that the Congress, given their mushiness already, wouldn't withstand the invented firestorm of criticism from the right-wing noise machine and give in. But they certainly don't have to. They can stand their ground and accuse the President of hurting the war effort by refusing to take money provided for the troops. The Democrats are doing a terrible job of explaining this to people, and the media certainly aren't going to help.

I also think that it's good to have a standalone bill on Iran, which Pelosi is now vowing. Of course, the bill on Iraq is larded up with all kinds of pork and spending projects in an effort to push them through. Can we have bills that are singleminded of purpose, please?

Labels: , , ,


The Courage of John McCain

So Ol' Get Off My Lawn McCain fired up the Straight Talk Express and invited reporters on board for a freewheelin' seat-of-your-pants discussion!


On Thursday, even as he promised a stream of the candid comments that distinguished him in 2000 — “Anything, anything you want to talk about,” he said — he steered clear of offering opinions on two of the biggest issues on the political landscape this week. He declined to say whether he agreed with the assertion by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that homosexuality is immoral, or whether he thought Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should be ousted for his handling of the firing of federal prosecutors.

McCain will talk about anything! Except the subjects that everyone is talking about.


Labels: ,


My Ridiculously Long Iraq Post

I have followed but not posted about the twisting and turning Iraq debate in the House and Senate, because I wanted to see exactly where it was headed first. After a lot of heated negotiation, the House Appropriations Committee yesterday pushed through the emergency supplemental bill which includes a timed withdrawa, beating back language stripping out any oversight on Iraq. Then in the Senate, we actually got debate on a similar bill, but cloture could not be invoked and in fact the bill lost outright on the cloture vote 50-48 (Mark Pryor and Ben Nelson crossed to join the Lieberman-Republican faction). The Senate will have the opportunity to attach something to the supplemental funding request when they get it from the House.

OK, so where are we? We have a bill in the House with a lot of flaws. Jack Murtha's original strategy was to demand readiness for our troops before they could be sent into the field, ensuring they were properly rested, trained and equipped. Now the President can sign a waiver and have the readiness ban lifted. There is an end date, but instead of that end date stopping the funding it essentially declares the war illegal, which will be challenged in court (and the commander-in-chief will have a credible argument to make there). The measure used to have language requiring the Congress to get Congressional approval for an attack on Iran. That language has been removed entirely to satisfy conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats. I understand full well that we have 62 Democratic members of Congress in districts that supported President Bush in 2004; I understand regional constraints. I also know that this war is deeply unpopular, and if Democrats don't do all they can to stop it they risk owning it. And removing the Iran language was just stupid and shortsighted, as John Nichols credibly argues:

Here's how the Speaker messed up:

The Democratic proposal for a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq included a provision that would have required President Bush to seek congressional approval before using military force in Iran. It was an entirely appropriate piece of the Iraq proposal, as the past experiences of U.S. involvement in southeast Asia and Latin America has well illustrated that when wars bleed across borders it becomes significantly more difficult to end them. Thus, fears about the prospect that Bush might attack Iran are legitimately related to the debate about how and when to end the occupation of Iraq.

Unfortunately, Pelosi is so desperate to advance her flawed spending legislation that she is willing to bargain with any Democrat about any part of the proposal [...]

One of the chief advocates for eliminating the Iran provision, Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley, said she wanted it out of the legislation because she wants to maintain the threat of U.S. military action as a tool in seeking to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "It would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran," explained Berkley.

The problem with Berkley's "reasoning" -- if it can be called that -- is this: Nothing in the provision that had been included in the spending bill would have prevented Bush from threatening Iran. Nothing in the provision would have prevented war with Iran. It merely reminded the president that, before launching such an attack, he would need to obey the Constitutional requirement that he seek a declaration of war.

By first including the provision and then removing it, Pelosi and her aides have given Bush more of an opening to claim that he does not require Congressional approval.

So in the interest of constraining the President, the House may have given him MORE of an opening to use unitlateral action without consulting the Congress. Furthermore, while practically all of the compromises were designed to stop progressive action on the bill, all of the deal-breakers seen as progressive policies, the House leadership will not even bother taking a whip count on it, calling Iraq legislation "a vote of conscience." While the bill is still likely to pass, it's absurd to take the most important piece of legislation they could pass all year and make no effort at party unity on it.

The real problem here, and maybe it heretical and unspeakable among partisan Democratic circles but it's no less true, is that the Democratic Party has not settled on a consistent foreign policy strategy. It's very easy to criticize this war in Iraq, as their government continues to miss benchmarks and the top general realizes we need more and more Americans to do their jobs for them. We still have a culture of dependency in Iraq, and the mission creep here rivals Vietnam, as more and more soldiers are thrown into the meat grinder (we've now seen 10,000 extra soldiers requested above the initial baseline of 21,500 for the surge). This illusory "progress" that the Administration conned the AP into believing is not grounded in reality; the fighting in Baghdad has moved to Diyala province, and security, along with any kind of political reconciliation, is still a pipe dream.

Yet despite all this evidence that our continued presence destabilizes the region, provides fodder for terrorist recruitment, and risks expanding a wider war, people like Hillary Clinton would still keep a reduced force in the country after 2009. I assume this is the dominant view of the Democratic foreign policy establishment. And their view does not have any particular way of looking at and thinking about the world, which means that everything gets done in a piecemeal and incoherent fashion. Here's that Tony Smith op-ed from WaPo I linked earlier:

Many Democrats, including senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, embraced the idea of muscular foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene to promote democracy or to defend key U.S. interests long before 9/11, and they have not changed course since. Even those who have shifted against the war have avoided doctrinal questions.

But without a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine, with its confidence in America's military preeminence and the global appeal of "free market democracy," the Democrats' midterm victory may not be repeated in November 2008. Or, if the Democrats do win in 2008, they could remain staked to a vision of a Pax Americana strikingly reminiscent of Bush's.

Consider a volume published last spring and edited by Will Marshall, president of the PPI (Progressive Policy Institute, actually an arm of the DLC) since 1989. The book, "With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty," contains essays by 19 liberal Democrats.

"Make no mistake," write Marshall and Jeremy Rosner in their introduction, "we are committed to preserving America's military preeminence. We recognize that a strong military undergirds U.S. global leadership." Recalling a Democratic "tradition of muscular liberalism," they insist that "Progressives and Democrats must not give up the promotion of democracy and human rights abroad just because President Bush has paid it lip service. Advancing democracy -- in practice, not just in rhetoric -- is fundamentally the Democrats' legacy, the Democrats' cause, and the Democrats' responsibility."

"For better or worse, whether you supported the war or not, it is all about Iraq now," writes (Kenneth) Pollack. The goal of this Democrat who helped bring us Iraq? "The end state that America's grand strategy toward the Middle East must envision is a new liberal order to replace a status quo marked by political repression, economic stagnation and cultural conflict." His problem with the Bush administration? "It has not made transformation its highest goal. . . . Iran and Syria's rogue regimes seem to be the only exceptions. The administration insists on democratic change there in a manner it eschews for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other allies. . . . The right grand strategy would make transformation of our friends and our foes alike our agenda's foremost issue."

This is not a fringe group. Many prominent Democrats are PPI stalwarts, including Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Evan Bayh, Thomas R. Carper and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, published a book last year, "The Plan: Big Ideas for America," co-authored by Bruce Reed, editor of the PPI's magazine Blueprint and president of the DLC.

Emanuel and Reed salute Marshall's "outstanding anthology" for its "refreshingly hardnosed and intelligent new approach . . . which breathes new life into the Democratic vision of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy." Not a word in their book appears hostile to the idea of invading Iraq. Instead, the authors fault Bush for allowing a "troop gap" to develop (they favor increasing the Army by 100,000 and expanding the Marines and Special Forces) and for failing to "enlist our allies in a common mission." The message once again is that Democrats could do it better.

In fact, these neoliberals are nearly indistinguishable from the better-known neoconservatives. The neocons' think tank, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), often salutes individuals within the PPI, and PPI members such as Marshall signed PNAC petitions endorsing the Iraq invasion. Weeks after "With All Our Might" appeared, the Weekly Standard, virtually the PNAC house organ, gave it a thumbs-up review. And why not? The PPI and PNAC are tweedledum and tweedledee.

The DLC way of thinking on foreign policy is still ascendent. And while progressive groups like MoveOn are working to make this particular Iraq bill better, they are not fundamentally calling into question the assumptions of permanent war, belligerence in the Middle East and undying fealty to Israel. These are still sacred cows in Washington. Nobody is saying what can't be said about Iraq, and in the larger sense about the war on terror.

A fourth and final near-certainty, which is in some ways the hardest for politicians to admit, is that America is losing or has already lost the Iraq war. The United States is the strongest nation in the history of the world and does not think of itself as coming in second in two-way contests. When it does so, it is slow to accept that it has been beaten. American political and military leaders were reluctant to acknowledge or utter that they had miscalculated and wasted tens of thousands of lives in Vietnam, many of them after failure and withdrawal were assured. Even today, American politicians tend not to describe Vietnam as a straightforward defeat. Something similar is happening in Iraq, where the most that leaders typically say is that we "risk" losing and must not do so.

Democrats avoid the truth about the tragedy in Iraq for fear of being labeled unpatriotic or unsupportive of the troops. Republicans avoid it for fear of being blamed for the disaster or losing defense and patriotism as cards to play against Democrats. Politicians on both sides believe that acknowledging the unpleasant truth will weaken them and undermine those still attempting to persevere on our behalf. But nations and individuals do not grow weaker by confronting the truth. They grow weaker by avoiding it and coming to believe their own evasions.

I believe that there is a possibility to come up with a real Democratic foreign policy, one that recognizes threats as they exist, does not overreact or fearmonger to please interest groups who view war as the elixir of life, and and uses the time-worn skills of diplomacy and internationalism to reach solutions with other countries, actually treating them as the equals they are. But nobody's really stepping up to the plate and showing that kind of leadership. The legacy of the Bush Administration is that the world is an increasingly dangerous place. Mimicking his foreign policy style (and make no mistake that's what the Democrats frequently do, whether they are bullied into it or sincerely believe it) will only make things worse. The institutional structures that exist, as Michael Hirsh says in this piece, are useful if they are worked properly. But in order to do so, the mindset in Washington among Democrats must completely change. More of the same will end our pre-eminence in the world.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Notes From The Headquarters of Karma

If Congress was the 1980s teen comedy, then this would be a fitting final scene for one of the movie's most atrocious villains:

Meanwhile, today on the Hill, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) was seen making a spectacle of herself when the unlucky lawmaker slipped and fell in what we’re told was vomit, in a bathroom in Cannon. (Some nice female dealing with the repercussions of Jason Roe’s going away party by chance?) “She made THE biggest scene in the hallway,” says a staffer who escaped the, um, regurgitation. “It’s literally all down her back.”

In a related story, Mean Jean did call the vomit a coward for wanting to pull out of Iraq. (Even though the vomit came from a decorated Marine!)

I don't think it's possible to describe schadenfreude any longer without referencing this event. Maybe it's time to call it Schmidtenfreude.

Labels: , ,


Friday Random Ten

This is a fine edition:

Call The Law - Outkast feat. Janelle Monae
Megacolon - Fischerspooner
The Anthem of Shibuya - Momus
What Sarah Said - Death Cab For Cutie
The Jury - Morphine
The Electric Version - The New Pornographers
Humming - Portishead
Violently Happy - Bjørk
I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet) - The White Stripes
Just A Friend - Biz Markie

I laughed out loud at #10. What a capper.

Labels: ,


"And Robert Novak, of all people..."

That was Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) this morning at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, where she and the rest of the panel heard the testimony of Valerie Plame, her first public words in four years since her outing as a spy.

Plame was very impressive in her opening statement (here it is). But the most interesting part of the testimony to me came under questioning from Rep. Elijah Cummings, where he revealed that (a) CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged that Plame was covert, (b) the CIA vetted Rep. Waxman's opening statement which included phrases like "Valerie Plame was covert" and "her position at the CIA was classified," and (c) Plame had been on secret missions outside the United States within the past three years. All of that was new information to me.

The blogosphere is acutely interested in the Plame case because it encapsulates everything that this Administration has done, which can be boiled down to: rewarding political friends, punishing political enemies. We see this again in the case of the Purged Prosecutors, but the CIA Leak Investigation was even more cut and dried. Valerie Plame was serving her country, working to keep America safe from WMD, and because her husband - not even her but her husband - criticized the White House and particularly the Vice President, her career was ruined. Her life's work was trashed. Her life and that of her colleagues were torn upside down. And in a very real way, lives were put into jeopardy. All to rebut criticism. And then the progenitors of this smear started lying about their role in it, which led us to Scooter Libby's conviction last week.

We now have a Congress that will not take this kind of thuggish behavior from the White House any longer. Rep. Stephen Lynch mentioned during testimony that he and his colleagues have been trying to get Plame to testify for four years. Only now, with the Democratic majority, has this been realized. And in every case where Democrats have gone searching for malfeasance so far in the 110th Congress, they've found it. And there's plenty to find:

We're sitting here listening to the Plame testimony in the House. And the exchange has just come to focus on the 2004 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Iraq intel report. If you've been a longtime reader of this site, you know that the Niger story was one I reported on extensively for almost two years. The fallout from the story has now spilled out in many directions, not least of which was the recent Libby conviction. But I do hope we can finally have review and scrutiny of that report. The section of the report dealing with Niger, Wilson and Plame is simply a tissue of lies. It's a shame on the Democrats who served on the committee who got gamed into approving it.

You can read through our archives for detailed discussions of the report's contents. But it is a deliberate construction of half-truths, flat out lies and intentional misdirection -- all quite conscious on the part of the authors -- meant to discredit Wilson and thus protect the president. Then-Chairman Roberts (R-KS) prostituted his office by working in concert with the White House to obstruct and misdirect the investigation he was supposedly in charge of leading. And of course the conclusions of the report have become socially acceptable lies repeated endlessly by virtually every Republican in Washington and every conservative editorialist, most recently David Brooks in the Times, but certainly by many others.

This is going to be a long 22 more months for the President and his staff, and it's all their own fault.

Labels: , , , ,


Thursday, March 15, 2007

California Blows Up The Primary Boxes

Well, the Governor signed the death warrant of the American primary system today, moving the state Presidential race up to February 5, which will trigger something like 23 other states to do the same. Can't cry, so I'll just laugh. Let me address a couple things.

John Edwards sent 70,000 DVDs to Democratic voters in Iowa for a very simple reason: he knows that you still have to win Iowa to win the nomination. This isn't reform, it's reform grafted onto the current system. It enhances the current system, nothing more. It will make Iowa decisive. There, I said it. If you want primary reform, this ain't it. A rotating regional system is simply the fairest and best way. Larry Sabato's been arguing for it forever. This is a brilliant article from about a month ago, from one of the most astute political minds in the country. He does a great job describing the problem, and actually offers one hell of a solution:

In an essay published in the Virginia Quarterly Review last summer (CLICK HERE), I outlined a new arrangement of four regional primaries held one a month from April to July, with the nominating conventions in August. This shorter, focused campaign season would be preceded by a few contests in small states held in March. How would the regions and small states be selected? On January 1 of the election year, a lottery would be held to choose the order of the regions, and a second lottery would pick two to four states among the twenty that have four or fewer electoral votes. Finally, those ping-pong-ball lottery machines can be put to wiser use than bestowing great wealth on people who can't handle it.

Think of the salutary results. In one stroke, we would eliminate the permanent campaign in a handful of unrepresentative states that currently, insistently, start off the presidential selection process. We would concentrate the elections in a five-month window that leads immediately to the conventions and the general election. We would allow the incumbent President to govern for three and a half years of his four-year term without would-be successors underfoot and second-guessing him daily on the campaign trail for two or more years preceding the general election. We would give every region an equal chance to go first--and every region would get that opportunity over time. And we would preserve the advantages of having small states lead off the process, without those small states always having to be Iowa and New Hampshire (and Nevada and South Carolina, if the Democrats' plans for '08 actually work out). Iowa and New Hampshire are wonderful, but their first-in-the-nation role is not a Constitutional right, and other small states would undoubtedly take service as the early "screening committees" just as seriously.

The cynical semi-circle of your spherical Crystal Ball believes that this sensible reform will happen on a set date: The Twelfth of Never. The idealistic glimmer in the Ball is a bit more optimistic, though for a depressing reason. The 2008 schedule may actually be seen for the disaster it is, as it unfolds next year, leading to a spasm of productive reformation prior to 2012. If this be called Hope, it springs eternal.

My hope is with Sabato. The parliamentary system in place in most other countries on Earth (including those in Iraq and Afghanistan) allows for a 4-6 week election cycle. That sounds about right. What this means is that we're in March the year before the first primary but it's the equivalent of July because of the expected end date. And then we'll have a nine-month long general, interminable and alienating.

I don't like the permanent campaign. While we salivate over Hillary this and Barack that, we're still in war with Iraq, going to war with Iran, and we have a Justice Department running a criminal enterprise in cahoots with the White House. The nation shouldn't stop governing for 22 months while we figure out who gets to govern it next.

P.S. You can't get any traction on real electoral reform like the National Popular Vote because people think the founders are divine saints who once trod the Earth's soil, who oh by the way came up with a system where the winner of the election doesn't always take office. Ezra Klein is right, we could all write a better Constitution right now, given the 250 years of accumulated history. It's ridiculous to keep in a current system for no reason other than it's the system we've always had.

Labels: , ,


And Gordon and Dana Make Three

Senator Smith and Rep. Rohrbacher (really?) become the latest to say it's time for my main man Abu G. to go, and Rohrbacher's statement makes a lot of sense (really?!?!?):

“Even for Republicans this is a warning sign … saying there needs to be a change,” said Rohrbacher. “Maybe the president should have an attorney general who is less a personal friend and more professional in his approach.”

I've no complimented Jonah Goldberg and Dana Rohrbacher in one week.

I will now plunge needles through my eyes.

There's another mini-scandal related to the Prosecutor Purge scandal, incidentally, and that is that many of the emails between the White House and the Justice Department were not using White House email addresses, which actually is a no-no:

One email, sent to Justice Department Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson from J. Scott Jennings, White House Deputy Political Director, uses an email account,, on a server owned by the Republican National Committee. This raises serious questions about whether the White House was trying to deliberately evade its responsibilities under the PRA, which directs the president to take all necessary steps to maintain presidential records to provide a full accounting of all activities during his tenure.

A number of other emails from Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove’s former assistant Susan Ralston to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff document Ms. Ralston’s use of three outside domains: (used for the headquarters of the Republican National Committee), and In many of these emails Ms. Ralston is communicating inside White House information to Mr. Abramoff in response to Mr. Abramoff’s efforts to broker deals for his clients and place specified individuals in positions within the administration.

CREW has learned that to fulfill its statutory obligations under the PRA, the White House email system automatically copies all messages created by staff and sends them to the White House Office of Records Management for archiving. It appears that the White House deliberately bypassed the automatic archiving function of its own email system that was designed to ensure compliance with the PRA.

If it's the Bush Administration, nothing can be done completely legally, so cut 'em some slack, jack!

Labels: , , , ,


Prosecutor Purge: Faster Than The Speed of Light

There's a lot going on in this story, and I'm slammed as could be, so let me summarize:

• The Senate Judiciary Committee will subpoena five DoJ officials and 6 of the fired USAs for more questioning on who knew what and when. In addition, they postponed a vote for a week on whether to compel Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and William Kelly (deputy White House Counsel) to testify.

• But that postponement on Rove may end with this bombshell:

New unreleased e-mails from top administration officials show the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by White House adviser Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than previously acknowledged by the White House....

White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters Tuesday that Miers had suggesting firing all 93 and that it was "her idea only." Snow said Miers' idea was quickly rejected by the Department of Justice.

However, Miers was Bush's staff secretary at that time in January 2005. She did not become White House counsel for another month, after Gonzales left to become attorney general.

The latest e-mails show that Gonzales and Rove both were involved in the discussion, and neither rejected it out of hand.

Let me again say that I think it would have been odd, but fine, to replace all 93 USAs at the start of the second term. It's the combination of (1) coming up with an enemies list of USAs who aren't sufficiently carrying out the political agenda of the White House, (2) slipping a provision into the Patriot Act that removes Senate confirmation of the positions, and (3) threatening the USAs to shut up about the firing or they'll be slandered, that is troubling. Also the fact that this White House and this Justice Department has lied about every piece of this scandal from the beginning. First it was a simple personnel reshuffle, and it was just the explanation that was mishandled. Then it was because the attorneys weren't prosecuting enough immigration cases (which wasn't true). Then it was nonsense to suggest that there was political pressure applied to the fired USAs, even though there was. Then it was because the attorneys weren't prosecuting enough voter-fraud cases, even though there's scant evidence of any actual voter fraud along these lines. Then Karl Rove wasn't involved. Then he was, but it was really all Harriet Miers' idea. Then... well, who cares what they say? They lie. and then they lie to cover up the other lie, and then the lies don't match up, so they have to lie again, and the truth comes out anyway.

How many more scandals before everybody figures this out?

• Chuck Schumer has five good questions:

1. In an email to the White House, Mr. Sampson refers to a “problem” with Carol Lam. What was this “problem” and was Lam’s firing motivated by her investigation into former Congressmen Randy Cunningham and Representative Jerry Lewis?

2. What was the involvement of the President and members of the White House staff on the removal of these eight U.S. Attorneys? (White House spokespeople have portrayed the White House as having only limited involvement in the plan to dismiss these U.S. attorneys. Yet the documents released to the Senate Judiciary Committee clearly show that the idea of removing a group of U.S. attorneys originated in early 2005 with Harriet E. Miers, then serving as the President’s Counsel.)

3. Who at the Department of Justice was responsible for inserting a line into the USA PATRIOT Act in March 2006 that allows the appointment of interim U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval? Did the President know of or approve this effort?

4. Was Karl Rove or Ms. Miers involved in lobbying for the appointment of Tim Griffin as U.S. Attorney in Arkansas?

5. When and why did U. S. Attorney David Iglesias become a target for removal? Was President Bush involved in that decision?

• Just so you know that I'm not neglecting my main man Abu G, Murray Waas has a piece on the soon-to-be former Attorney General that is devastating.

Shortly before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush last year on whether to shut down a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation, according to government records and interviews.

Bush personally intervened to sideline the Justice Department probe in April 2006 by taking the unusual step of denying investigators the security clearances necessary for their work.

Sources familiar with the halted inquiry said that if the probe had been allowed to continue, it would have examined Gonzales's role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general.

When you have an Attorney General who is a Presidential loyalist and the President's former lawyer, any possibility of independent law enforcement is eliminated. He's the Attorney General for one person instead of 300 million. I don't know if the Attorney General needs to be an elected position, but clearly they must serve the Constitution and the law instead of the needs of their President. This is why Abu G won't be Attorney General anymore.

John Conyers is all over this latest revelation.

You're up to date.

Labels: , , , , ,


McCain Madness

So you can go to and fill out an NCAA tournament bracket. The winner of the tournament pool will win free McCain swag.

Of course, four years ago McCain introduced legislation to ban gambling on amateur events, and said that "Gambling on amateur athletics is wrong."

But I'm sure people are filling out brackets just for fun. So it's OK.

This has been another installment of "The Courage of John McCain."

Labels: ,


Slammed Today

It's just not in the cards for bloggy goodness.

While I have a spare moment, let me give a tip o' the cap to former Sen. Alan Simpson for his exquisite article on gays int he military (I can't believe we're still having this conversation 16 years after it started. Everything old is new again). I wish I could excerpt it all, but here's a piece and you can go read the whole thing.

My thinking shifted when I read that the military was firing translators because they are gay. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 300 language experts have been fired under "don't ask, don't tell," including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. This when even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged the nation's "foreign language deficit" and how much our government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers. Is there a "straight" way to translate Arabic? Is there a "gay" Farsi? My God, we'd better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war.

It seems like gay isn't always so gay, as discharges drop during times of war when the military needs all of those able bodies. But turning one willing soldier away is ridiculous at a time when the Army is broken.

Labels: , ,


I Believe Everything Terrorists Say

The oddly-timed-to-throw-everyone-off-the-scandal-track multiple confessions from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has everybody on the right a-twitter. I'm reminded of the immortal words of David St. Hubbins.

“I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human, than someone who doesn't believe anything.”

At the risk of believing everything I read, I should mention that the 9-11 Commission Report showed KSM to be a braggart who wanted to call attention to himself as the most powerful terrorist in the world. So his confessing to every terrorist attack known to man, and a few that are unknown, must be taken with a couple grains of salt. OK, enough grains to fill the Great Salt Lake. I have no doubt that KSM is a terrorist, but he's not leaving US custody ever, so he has no reason to defend himself and a reason of self-aggrandizement among the terrorist community to lie.

UPDATE: Breaking! KSM fired the US Attorneys! He also shaved Britney Spears' head, captured the Lindbergh baby, sunk the Lusitania and invented the Segway. And CFBs. And he won the Zimbabwean election. And domesticated fire.

Labels: , ,


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Tuition Fees Are Too Low"

Remember that golden oldie from the Governor? Well, he and the regents are fixing that, so never let it be said that Arnold isn't doing the people's business:

Trustees of the California State University system this afternoon agreed to raise annual fees for undergraduate and graduate students by 10%.

The move means Cal State students will see basic fees rise $252 to $3,421. This does not include the cost of textbooks, housing or other expenses.

Meanwhile, the regents of the University of California, meeting today at UCLA, were considering a proposed 7% fee hike in that university system.

Under the UC proposal, student fees for state residents would rise about $495 to $7,347, including some individual campus costs but not including housing, books and other expenses.

In a time when billions more dollars are desperately needed to get our children proficient in seconday school, we're making it more burdensome for them to obtain higher education. If education is a jobs program, we're sabotaging our economic future with these exorbitent university costs.

Labels: , ,


2008: Everything But The Presidency

The progressive wave that began in 2006 shows no sign of cresting, thanks to GOP incompetence and corruption, plus some very good candidates on the Democratic side, helped along by the progressive movement.

Let's start in CA-04, where Charlie Brown, who narrowly lost last year to slimy corrupt John Doolittle, has already announced that he's running again. While a portion of Rep. Doolittle's money still go toward commissions for his wife, a portion of Charlie Brown's donations (donate here) go to veteran's groups that are trying to help their fallen comrades despite the tremendous obstacles put forth by the systemic hollowing out of care and treatment for military members. This Op-Ed written by Brown says it all:

Beneath the troubling revelations about the deplorable state of affairs at Walter Reed Army Medical Center lies something even uglier: A pattern of chronic neglect of veterans and their families by Washington politicians who will stand in front of any group of soldiers during an election year, but will stand behind none of them when it counts the most.

The Walter Reed scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. Skyrocketing rates of homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, suicide and divorce that have long plagued the veterans community- frequently the result of lasting psychological scars like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - are a national disgrace. And with more than a third of recently returning vets showing symptoms of PTSD, experts already predict that these disturbing trends will get worse in the decades to come [...]

As a Vietnam Veteran with a son who will soon deploy on his fourth rotation in Iraq, I would argue that the greatest possible threat to the morale of our troops and the security of our nation is elected officials who vote to make tax cuts for billionaires and oil companies, as well as their own pay raises, a higher priority than properly equipping our military, repairing outdated healthcare facilities for wounded soldiers, and ensuring the VA has the resources needed to meet the tsunami of aftercare needs that they will soon be facing.

In 1781, then General George Washington said: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they view veterans of previous wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." This statement is as true today as it was then.

I don't think Max Cleland will be running to get back his Senate seat in Georgia, but he laid into Dick Cheney the other day and it was gratifying to see.

Blitzer had Cleland watch a clip of Dick Cheney speaking today before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2007 Policy Conference when Cheney said this:

"When members of Congress speak not of victory, but of time limits -- when members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they're telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out."

Blitzer then asked Cleland what he would say to Cheney if he could "sit down with the vice president and have a direct, one-on-one meeting with him." Here's Cleland's response:

"Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War? If you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us, maybe you would have learned something about war. You can't keep troops on the ground forever. You gotta have a mission. You gotta have a purpose.

"You can't keep sending 'em back and back and back with no mission and no purpose. As a matter of fact, the real enemy is Al Qaeda, it's Al Qaeda stupid, it's not in Iraq."

Max Cleland is a pure American hero, who gave three limbs on the battlefield for his country, and the disrespect shown him in 2002, when he was compared to Osama bin Laden, is horrifying. In many ways it kickstarted the Fighting Dem movement you see today with candidates like Charlie Brown.

Elsewhere, the news is good. This incredible post highlights what Susan Collins will have to face in her Senate race in Maine (likely to be against Rep. Tom Allen).

She voted for the 2001/2005 tax cuts and voted for the 2003 $350 billion tax cut for the wealthy
She supports repealing the estate tax
She voted for the bankruptcy bill, voted against tax subsidies for the US jobs that go offshore
She voted to allow lobbyists to make some gifts to the Congress
She voted in favor of confirming Judge Samuel Alito knowing full well he is against Roe v. Wade
She voted ‘yes’ on the flag burning Constitutional amendment
She voted to authorize military force against the sovereign nation of Iraq
She voted in favor of the Military Commissions Bill (pro-torture and not a lick of peace in it)
She supports the Real ID Act and instead of fixing this Act to protect American’s privacy, she wants to move it ahead to ‘forget about it until later’
She voted in favor of diverting Homeland Security funds to low risk areas of America rather than to the high risk areas
She refused to subpoena the White House after Katrina, even when she had the power to do so as Chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
She had the NAACP investigated for speaking out against Bush back in 2004

Quite a record to run on. Especially in New England. Susan Collins is not nearly as well-regarded as Olympia Snowe. She's in trouble.

So is Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, who only polls at 46% against Al Franken in a potential 2008 matchup. This is very low for an incumbent at this stage of the game.

Then of course, there's the fallout in New Mexico from Iglesiasgate. Heather Wilson will have an opponent in Sen. Bingaman campaign aide Terry Brunner. And many are circling the sky, waiting to face disgraced Sen. Pete Domenici.

Unless more questions are raised about Domenici’s actions, in the obligatory Senate Ethics Committee inquiry or elsewhere, the conventional wisdom in New Mexico is that his deep well of public support should enable him to win another term, albeit against a much better-known and better-financed Democratic challenger than had been expected. But political consultants in both parties say odds are now starting to tilt more toward a Domenici retirement next year, when he will turn 76. A decision to exit voluntarily would probably deflate Democratic interest in mounting an aggressive ethics investigation.

But the situation appears much more problematic for Wilson, who has been groomed by her mentor, Domenici, to someday take his place in the Senate since she first won her Albuquerque House seat nine years ago. His coattails have now shortened considerably, and if he retires now, the timing couldn’t be worse for her. Even before her dealings with Iglesias came to light, she barely hung on last November — she ended up besting Madrid by just 861 votes — leaving her with little money in reserve and already labeled a top House Democratic takeover target once again in 2008.

“That’s impossible now, that can’t happen,” Democratic consultant Harry Pavlides of Albuquerque said about the notion that Domenici could succeed in handing his Senate seat to his protégé. Another political analyst in the state, Joe Monahan, said of Wilson: “One of the first political casualties here is her chance for the Senate seat.”

With many more Republicans having to defend seats in the Senate, and continuing scandals throughout Republican districts, the outlook is pretty bright for the Democrats at this point. But we're a long ways off.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


More Government Failures

Can anything decent come out of this Administration? Anything not half-assed and put together with spit and tape?

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco lashed out at the Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday for installing defective pumps at three major drainage canals just before the start of last summer's hurricane season.

"This could put a lot of our people in jeopardy," Blanco said. "It begs the question: Are we really safe?"

She called for a congressional investigation into how the Corps allowed it to happen.

Citing internal documents, The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Corps installed the 34 pumps last year in a rush to fix the city's flood defenses, despite warnings from one of its experts that the machinery was defective and likely to fail in a storm.

At the same time, the Corps, the White House and state officials were telling residents that it was safe to come back to New Orleans, which was devastated in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina breached the city's floodwalls.

But wait, look at the flooded school buses!

I often hear people say that the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina made them ashamed to be an American. But in truth it was only the most visceral of what has been a common circumstance in this Bush era. The functions of government are not seen as worthy of competence. Government is an enemy and not a tool. So why would anyone be surprised that the Army Corps of Engineers did a crappy job installing pumps in New Orleans, putting lives at potential risk? What's important to this White House is not that anything is done well, it's that it APPEARS like they're doing something.

This DKos diarist traces the failure of the pumps back to, you guessed it, privatization, and it's completely obvious because when there's no accountability for the work there's no incentive to do it properly. You get paid either way.

The company contracted to supply 34 new pumps was Moving Water Industries Corp. of Florida. The contract, for 26.6 million, was awarded after competitive bidding, according to the USACE.

But they weren't without connections.

MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps. Eller has donated about $128,000 to politicians, the vast majority of it to the Republican Party, since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Government is only implemented to reward rich friends rather than to help people. It's a signature of this Administration. And it won't change until the leadership changes.

Labels: , , ,


Out Come The Knives

You didn't think that a few brusque words from Alberto Gonzales saying "mistakes were made" and the White House trying to circle the wagons with dubious statements was going to work, did you?

Now John Sununu wants my main man Abu G. out. Boo yah ka shah.

Sen. John Sununu (news, bio, voting record) of New Hampshire on Wednesday became the first Republican in Congress to call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' dismissal, hours after President Bush expressed confidence in his embattled Cabinet officer.

"I think the president should replace him," Sununu said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Sununu joins Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and a host of others. But Sununu being a Republican, it has the potential to be a dam burst.

By the way, look at this up-is-down quote from Dan Bartlett:

“The White House did not play a specific role in the list of the seven U.S. attorneys,” said Dan Bartlett, Mr. Bush’s counselor, referring to a Justice Department roster of those to be dismissed. But he said the White House, through Ms. Miers’s office, ultimately “signed off on the list.”

We didn't play a specific role, we just specifically signed off on the list.

(shaking head to make jowls move)

What hinted in the above article, however, is that "there’s a serious estrangement between the White House and Alberto now," which, combined with the Sununu announcement, means that the Attorney General will have a short shelf life.

Josh Marshall takes another stab at explaining what this whole thing is about.

(former US Attorney Carol) Lam's firing has always been at the heart of this. I've had a lot of people ask me why we devoted so much virtual ink to this story so early. But the truth is that by rights Lam's dismissal should have sounded alarm bells for everyone on day one.

What people tend to overlook is that for most White Houses, a US attorney involved in such a politically charged and ground-breaking corruption probe would have been untouchable, even if she'd run her office like a madhouse and was offering free twinkies to every illegal who made it across the border. Indeed, when you view the whole context you see that the idea she was fired for immigration enforcement is just laughable on its face. No decision about her tenure could be made without the main issue being that investigation. It's like hearing that Pat Fitzgerald was fired as Plamegate prosecutor for poor deportment or because he was running up too many air miles flying back and forth from Chicago.

Lam's investigation (and allied ones her probe spawned) were uncovering a) serious criminal wrongdoing by major Republican power players on Capitol Hill, b) corruption at the CIA -- which reached back to the Hill, c) and as yet still largely hidden corrupt dealings at the heart of the intelligence operations in the Rumsfeld Pentagon.

Nothing matters unless the investigation gets to the heart of what happened there.

If it does get there, it'll be without Abu Gonzales to guide it.

Labels: , , , ,


Buying Groceries Is A Political Act

The 2003-2004 Southern California UFCW grocery worker's strike and lockout was a low point in the history of the labor movement in America. Grocery employees picketed the three major chain stores for 140 days, and despite public support, in the end they got almost nothing that they wanted, were forced to take on a burdensome two-tiered wage system (one for new employees and one for old ones), and scarcely impacted the bottom line of these huge conglomerates, who consequently turned the grocery worker job from a stable middle-class profession to the equivalent of flipping burgers. It was disgraceful and deeply troubling that the lives of tens of thousands of workers in California were turned upside down.

Now there's a chance to rectify it. And you can help.

First, a little history. In October of 2003, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) voted to strike at Von's, a major Southern California supermarket chain owned by Safeway, Inc. The other two big chains, Albertson's (aka Supervalu) and Ralph's (aka Kroger) locked out their workers within hours. It was an example of the collusion by the big chains that characterized the whole strike.

The main issue was the health benefits of the workers, paid entirely by the company; Von’s wanted the workers to pay 50% of health costs under a new contract. They also wanted to introduce a two-tier wage system... Beginning in early October, 70,000 members of the UFCW were on strike in the region.

Since the U.S. has no national health care system, health benefits are often one of the most important parts of employee compensation. The average wage of a southern California UFCW worker is less than $12 per hour, and most workers are guaranteed only 24 hours of work per week. Many workers hold the job mainly for the health benefits.

I remember most the expressions of public support during the strike and lockout. The chain stores were almost completely empty. Trader Joe's was a mob scene, walking in there was like walking into some postwar zone. The shelves were ransacked, people were breaking open boxes faster than the stockboys could take everything out. Indigenous people were selling crafts in the aisles, an attempted coup broke out in produce, people were spray-painting “Viva La Revolucion” on the organic broccoli. (OK, the rest of that didn't happen.)

The point was that Southern Californians were by and large not crossing the picket line and respecting the right of the workers to bargain for fair wages. This is especially salient because the employees were mostly bargaining for future workers, so that they could get better pay and benefits. I remember dressing my dog up for Halloween as a striking grocery worker (and if the picture was on this computer, you'd be seeing it right now). People really understood the issue and went out of their way to honor the strike. Supermarkets lost roughly $2.5 billion in revenue.

And that's when the chains started to play dirty.

On October 31, they pulled the pickets from Ralphs as a gesture of “good faith” to focus them on Von’s; the employers immediately announced that they would be sharing profits and losses during the strike – thus showing at least that the capitalists have class solidarity. The union went so far as to urge people to shop at Ralphs, where their own members were locked out. Even though the chains are all national, with total sales of $30 billion a year, the unions shyed away from any national strategy, sending a few “informational pickets” to outlets in northern California and elsewhere.

This ended up being a bad strategy because Ralph's traffic picked up and then they SHARED THE PROFITS with the other two chain stores, keeping all three afloat and able to sustain the revenue loss. Furthermore, Ralph's started illegally rehiring union workers under phony Social Security numbers to keep the business going. The company eventually had to pay a SEVENTY MILLION DOLLAR FINE for "conspiracy, using a false Social Security number, identity fraud, falsifying information sent to the SSA and IRS, and failing to make proper payments to employee welfare benefits plans." Criminal charges for the executives are still pending.

The strike wore on and finally was settled in February 2004, as public support waned and the union ran out of money for strike pay. It was a combination of factors that led to the awful contract they were forced to accept. They instituted a two-tiered system that offers lower pay and benefits to new workers coming into the system. And the health care benefits that the old workers retained were trimmed, which led to increased turnover in the business. This blog post offers a great summation of why this strike just didn't work as well as it could have.

A generation ago, this strike would have been a complete victory for the employees. They were able to close down their stores for several months. When those stores were regional, the employers would not have been able to sustain those kind of losses.

But the grocery industry is increasingly a national and multinational industry. The companies decided it was worth taking huge losses in one regional market if they were able to break the back of the union.

In fact, it's paid off handsomely.

The chain stores' main complaint was that Wal-Mart and other discounters were moving into the region, and they could not compete with stores that offer no benefits. Three years later, Wal-Mart and other non-union grocery stores are not a factor in the Southern California market at all.

The employers always point to Wal-Mart and Costco as major reasons they need to cut costs (and pay their grocery workers less), but Wal-Mart and Costco control less than 8% of the Southern California market, even less than they had in 2003 when the employers claimed that this competition was forcing them to reduce wages and benefits for their grocery workers.

Indeed, the three major chains have retained all of the market share they lost during the strike and then some, propelling them to record profits. Ralph's, Von's and Albertson's and their parent companies made between 2 and 3 billion dollars in profits last year. Their CEOs took home up to $9 million in compensation.

Meanwhile, under this two-tiered system, nearly half of all grocery workers at these three chains are making less than the people who work right next to them doing the same job every day. And practically nobody is receiving quality benefits. Rick Wartzman spelled it out in an article in the LA Times:

The reason: These are folks who joined the Pleasanton, Calif.-based supermarket giant after the 4 1/2 -month strike and lockout that ended in February 2004. And under the contract the United Food and Commercial Workers union signed with Safeway, Kroger Co.'s Ralphs chain and Albertsons (now owned by Supervalu Inc.), new employees can't get any health benefits for 12 to 18 months. Their families aren't eligible to be covered for 30 months.

Going without insurance for so long "is completely stressful," says Suzanne Demers, who went to work at Safeway's Vons market in Redondo Beach in July 2004 and earns $10.50 an hour training others, filling in at the Starbucks station and tackling a range of additional tasks. "You just hope and pray that you don't get sick." [...]

Right now, figures from the trust fund overseeing the health plan show that a mere fraction of lower-tier workers have been in the job long enough to qualify for coverage: just 3,312 out of 12,520 at Vons; 3,771 out of 11,474 at Albertsons; and 2,044 out of 8,438 at Ralphs.

And how long will most of these workers last before they, too, head for the exits?

This two-tiered system is churning employees of what used to be a potential career out of the business; it's become a low-wage service job. And it's getting worse with every upper-tier employee that leaves and every lower-tier employee that replaces them.

The last contract for UFCW employees in SoCal expired a week ago; they granted a two-week extension and negotiations continue. Stater Bros. and Gelson's, two regional chains in the area, have agreed to remove the two-tiered structure. But the big stores (the ones that can afford it) have not budged yet. In the meantime, there's a lot you can do to help.

The UFCW has a website at There's a petition over there that I ask all of you to sign.

By signing this petition, you are indicating your support for compensating grocery workers fairly, ensuring that they enjoy a share of the supermarkets' billions in profits, and ending the current two-tiered wage structure by endorsing equal treatment for equal work.

Full Petition Text:

I believe Southern California's grocery workers deserve respect, and I therefore stand with them in support of the following contract goals:

--Fair benefits and pensions for all employees

--Equal treatment for equal work

--Elimination of the two tier contract

Another way you can support the employees is by patronizing those stores which have stepped up to their responsibilities. There is a worker-friendly store finder on their site which you can use to find the stores in Southern California which have shown respect for their employees. If you're not in the area, I would suggest that Safeway/Von's, Albertson's/Supervalu, or Kroger/Ralph's are NOT stores that you need to reward with your business at this time, until this gets ironed out. This can only work as a national strategy, in my view, because a national corporation can sustain a regional strike, as they did the last time.

I would also suggest that any Democratic candidate looking to make some headway in California would do well to highlight this issue RIGHT NOW and make sure that these large grocery chains are being held to account.

Nobody wants another strike. But there is an opportunity to rectify the deep injustice to working people that was perpetrated in 2004, and to ensure basic fairness in the workplace. I hope all of you can help with this project.

Labels: , , , ,


Stop Hating America

Bob Geiger lists the 38 Senators, Republicans all, who voted against implementing the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission and protecting the country from nefariousness. It was far more important to them that TSA screeners don't get limited union protections than that all Americans get homeland security protections. Got it.

Those Republicans voted against this:

• Enhanced information sharing between different branches of government and between federal, state, county and local governments.

• Interoperable Communications-provides funding to ensure that different branches of first responders (i.e. firefighters and police) can communicate with each other. Their inability to do cost lives on 9/11.

• Cracks down on loopholes in visa waiver law that enable terrorist travel.

• Strengthens biosurveillance, private sector preparedness

• Enhanced disclosure

That'll make a hell of an ad in 2008. Won't it, Sens. Sununu, Chambliss, Domenici, McConnell, and Hagel? (yes, Chuck Hagel, shining light to bipartisans everywhere, hates working people and doesn't want America to be safe)

Labels: , , , , ,


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Shorter Right-Wing Blogosphere

"Rotation in office is the same as firing people for refusing to use their power to shield Republicans and indict Democrats."

Lemme 'splain. No, let Kyle Sampson 'splain, after all, he's the one that orchestrated this purge:

...once confirmed by the Senate and appointed,U.S. Attorneys serve for four years and then holdover indefinitely (at the pleasure of the President, of course). In recent memory, during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, Presidents Reagan and Clinton did not seek to remove and replace the U.S. Attorneys they had appointed whose terms had expired, but instead permitted those U.S. Attorneys to serve indefinitely under the holdover provision. (Underscoring in original.)

Clinton removed all the US Attorneys and replaced them with his own because that's kind of what you do when you're the President. He didn't keep on Dick Cheney as Secretary of Defense either. And I might add, Clinton got Senate confirmation for each and every one of those prosecutors.

Removing all of the attorneys at the close of the first term would have been unprecedented, but fine. Writing up an enemies list, and picking off those attorneys who aren't sufficiently perverting justice by using their offices as an arm of the Republican Party, that's a whole other kettle of fish.

(Incidentally, good for Jay Carney for admitting that he was completely wrong about this scandal from the beginning and that the blogosphere "was the engine on this story." Unlike the pundit class in Washington, we don't give the team who has systematically trashed the Constitution and destroyed any sense of justice and fairness in the political system the benefit of the doubt)

Labels: , , , ,


SoCal Report (Silent T)

A few things in the part of the state that gets sun which caught my eye:

• Full public financing of municipal elections will be on the agenda at tonight's Santa Monica City Council Meeting. Solidly progressive City Councilman Kevin McKeown raised this issue earlier in the year and couldn't get a second, but they ran a staff report, and both Common Cause and the League of Women Voters are pushing this hard. Just like everything else, we'll need to win the Clean Money battle from the bottom up.

• This complete crackup of the Minuteman Project is so hilariously predictable that it should be a reality show. I can't wait for the twists and turns and the backstabbing. You put a bunch of power-hungry authoritarians in the same group, who knew that they'd start fighting each other for control? Fascinatin'.

• You might want to think twice before eating in LA - the biggest produce wholesaler in the city, the 7th Street Market, was cited for multiple violations, including rat infestation. Never been, not going now.

• I wish I had the time to write the badly needed very long series of articles about the proposed LNG terminal off the coast of Malibu. This would be an environmental disaster for the coastline, yet the Governor has given tacit support to BHP Billiton to build it. This blog is a great resource for this story. Look at this part:

Environmental Protection Agency political appointees used non-existent analysis and misled the public when they reversed course and rejected tough smog rules for the proposed Cabrillo Port liquefied natural gas terminal off the Malibu coast, the chairman of the House Investigations Committee said Monday.

Rep. Henry Waxman also accused top EPA officials of refusing to hand over key documents detailing the 2005 decision by a White House political appointee to overrule regional EPA officials on a key decision about whether the Cabrillo Port proposal can go forward.

The news from Washington comes as BHP Billiton and its lobbying firm have hired another two close associates of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, to press the case behind the scenes for Cabrillo Port. That facility faces key licensing decisions next month, and could be operating on Malibu’s coastal horizon in three years.

It looks like Assemblyman Lloyd Levine has withdrawn his support for the LNG Terminal, which is key.

New op-ed columnists at the LA Times. Surprise, there are less now than there were - cost-cutting rulez! Also, somehow, Jonah Goldberg kept his slot (then again, I actually like his op-ed today), though Arianna Huffington, Adam Hochschild, Gustavo Arellano (Ask a Mexican!) and Sandra Tsing Loh come aboard as "contributing editors," which I think means they'll write op-eds but won't be paid as staff op-ed writers.

Labels: , , , , ,


Shorter America

When a former pro basketball player says that he hates gay people, it's a major problem. When the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the same thing, no big whoop.

Labels: , ,


Holding Out For A Hero

While Rudy Giuliani may have won the all-important Dennis Miller primary (I thought Hollywood was supposed to stay out of politics), the rank and file in the Republican Party is worried as hell.

After years of political dominance, Republican voters now view their party as divided and say they are not satisfied with the choice of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

In a survey that brought to life the party’s anxieties about keeping the White House, Republicans said they were concerned that their party had drifted from the principles of Ronald Reagan, its most popular figure of the past 50 years.

Forty percent of Republicans said they expected Democrats to take control of the White House next year, compared with 46 percent who said they believed a Republican would win. Just 12 percent of Democrats said they thought the opposing party would win the White House [...]

While nearly 6 in 10 Democratic voters in the poll said they were satisfied with the candidates now in the race for their party’s nomination, nearly 6 in 10 Republicans said they wanted more choices. Yet the poll found that a substantial number of Republicans did not know enough about their leading contenders — Senator John McCain of Arizona; Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York; and Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts — to offer an opinion of them.

“I think the Republican candidate has not appeared yet,” said Richard Gerrish, 69, a Republican from Greenacres, Fla. “The ones we have now will run out of steam. Someone will come along later that will do better.”

The Republicans are in a tough spot. Most of them don't think Rudy McRomney are sufficiently crazy enough for their tastes (how dare Mitt say he wouldn't have saved Terri Schiavo!), but they intuitively know that the real crazies in the race have no shot at winning a general election. They want a stealth candidate who's really crazy but doesn't let it show too much. In essence, they want George Bush circa 1999-2000 again. That's why they're holding out for a hero. Fred Thompson? Chuck Hagel? Newt Gingrich? Robert Kagan? Some computer generated compassionate conservative XQV-3000 model?

Meanwhile, 500 people show up in Oakland on a Sunday just to plan a rally for Barack Obama. And John Edwards gets out in front of every major story, this time being the first candidate to call on Abu "I Didn't Know" Gonzales to resign. He's also kicking ass in Iowa by meeting people and keeping his organization rock-solid. Richardson and Dodd have fine résumés. Even Hillary wouldn't be SO bad... well, OK, maybe scratch that.

Over here, we're fine with our candidates. The Republicans are looking for an oracle. I like where we stand.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Funniest Line Of The Day

It's a tie between the unintentional irony of Chuck Schumer:

Fourth, we were told that the White House was not really involved in the plan to fire U.S. attorneys. This, too, turns out to be false.

Harriet Miers was one of the masterminds of this plan, as demonstrated by numerous e-mails made public today.

Harriet Miers couldn't mastermind a game of Mastermind. She was doing her boss' bidding.

The other line of the day, as a corollary to above, is from Thers:

I think it's horrible how these lower-level flunkies keep ruining the administration's reputation through their reckless carrying out of orders.

Heh indeedy.

By the way, here's one of the more damning documents to be dumped today, detailing the attorneys who are "in the process of being pushed out," Sampson's words.

I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed -- it will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don't have replacements ready to roll immediately. In addition, I strongly recommend that, as a matter of policy, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments. [...] By not going the PAS route, we can give far less deference to home-State Senators and thereby get (1) are preferred person appointed and (2) do it far faster and more efficiently, at least cost to the White House.

Labels: , , , ,