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

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reporting the Real News

In a week with more historic votes on Iraq (in Washington and in Baghdad), with a potential free trade "deal" that looks like a possible betrayal, with wildfires burning up most of Southern California, &c., apparently it's crucial for the L.A. Times to devote a big chunk of its editorial page today to what characters Marvel will spin off into movies now that all of its top-tier heroes are used up. Written by, I believe, the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

On a similar topic, here's what they've got John Stossel going all in-depth on over at ABC:

Can a Penny Dropped From a Building Kill a Pedestrian Below?

John Stossel Tackles the Killer Penny Myth

After that he's going to "tackle" the Jolt-Cola-and-pop-rocks scenario that has folks staying awake at night. Then he'll actually make bread while convening a circus and hand the bread out to people.

Sigh. A media, a media, my kingdom for a halfway decent media.

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I've Been Remiss

No discussion of Ken Calvert is complete without discussing his 1993 arrest for getting caught with a hooker. Think Progress helpfully provides the police report.

I observed a male subject in the driver seat…As I made my way to the driver door, a female immediately sat up straight in the front passenger seat. It appeared as if her head was originally laying in the driver’s lap. … I noticed that the male subject was placing his penis into his unzipped dress slacks, and was trying to hide it with his untucked dress shirt.

As the male subject covered up crotch area with his left hand and shirt, he started his vehicle and placed it into drive and proceeded to leave. I ordered him three times to turn off the vehicle, and he finally stopped and complied…The male identified himself as Kenneth Stanton Calvert ... Calvert continued to cover his unzipped pants with his hands and stated “We’re just talking, that’s all. Nothing else."

"We're just talking about my penis! What's the problem? We're just having a candid discussion about my unencumbered Johnson! Maybe you aren't adult enough to talk about your Roger with a young lady, but I can assure you, I can!"

For the record, I'm not sure prostitution should be illegal, it's the excuse that cracks me up.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Conservative Corrupt-o-Fighting!

Earlier today I wrote that Ken Calvert got John Doolittle's "token corrupt Californian" seat on the House Appropriations Committee. What I didn't know is that this has raised the ire... of the right?

I care a lot about the House of Representatives, I care a lot about our members and once someone is ethically challenged and gets in trouble it effects all of us. … I appreciate the high ethical standards that [Boehner] has set … but I believe the bar was lowered today when our conference chose to vote Ken Calvert onto the Appropriations Committee.

That was Ray LaHood of Illinois, going after one of his colleagues in the media. And it doesn't stop there. RedState has declared war on Calvert. Minority Leader John Boehner is getting a lot of heat from organized phone campaigns.

Wow. Do they not know that half their delegation is just as corrupt? (Incidentally, Calvert's going to be moving up in my next House target list. Do we have a candidate?)

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Right now I have a relative in a rehab facility trying to get clean. He's been using since he was 14 years old and it's going to be a difficult road ahead for him. His drug of choice was one of the most powerful addictive substances this nation has seen in the past few decades, and it wasn't made in a field in Colombia or Nicaragua or Afghanistan. It was processed in a lab and placed into a small white pillbox.

He was hooked on OxyContin.

Yesterday Purdue Frederick Co., makers of the painkiller, finally admitted in federal court, after years of obfuscation and lies, that they intentionally deceived the public and hid the warnings about the addictive properties of OxyContin. They settled with a $635 million dollar lump-sum payment (They made nearly $10 billion in sales off of OxyContin this decade, so it's money well spent).

"Even in the face of warnings from health-care professionals, the media and members of its own sales force . . . Purdue continued to push a fraudulent marketing campaign," U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee said.

The drugmaker knew as early as 1995 that health professionals feared the addictive potential of OxyContin, an opium derivative, but looked the other way, according to court papers. From 1996 to 2001, Purdue claimed that the "miracle drug" was safer than rival medications despite repeated studies that suggested patients had developed a risk of abuse and had serious trouble withdrawing from OxyContin. Purdue collected $2.8 billion through sales of OxyContin during that time, court papers said.

In one instance, supervisors decided against sharing information about difficult OxyContin withdrawal out of fear that it would "add to the current negative press," according to documents presented in an Abingdon, Va., courtroom yesterday.

"Purdue put its desire to sell OxyContin above the interests of the public," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Peter D. Keisler said.

The makers claimed for years that their pill was time-released, and could therefore never be manipulated to create an overwhelming high. Turns out you could bite down on the capsule and crush it in about two seconds, freeing the drug and eliminating the time-release method. The drug became an epidemic, particularly in the Southeast. Doctor's offices and pharmacies were being robbed with regularity. Corrupt physicians were writing prescriptions for kickbacks. Hundreds of users died and tens of thousands more became hopelessly addicted.

And there's another thing you should know, maybe the next time you go down to your primary election polling place and take a look at the candidates for the Republican nomination.

Since 2002, Purdue has been a client of Giuliani Partners, the consulting firm headed by former New York City mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani. Giuliani, who was one of Purdue's lawyers in the case through his law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, met with government lawyers more than half a dozen times and helped strike an agreement in principle to settle the case in October, people involved in the case said.

That's right. Rudy Giuliani has been defending these scumbags for 5 long years, stalling and stonewalling and trying to minimize the penalty for ruining untold numbers of lives. In addition, Giuliani was using his political contacts to try and get DEA tointervene on behalf of his client:

Drug Enforcement Administration officials tell the Blotter on Giuliani personally met with the head of the DEA when the DEA's drug diversion office began a criminal investigation into the company.

According to the book "Painkiller," by New York Times reporter Barry Meier, both Giuliani and his then-partner Bernard Kerik "were in direct contact with Asa Hutchinson, the administrator of DEA."

Hutchinson told the Blotter on today that Giuliani asked for a meeting, "and we gave him a meeting." Hutchinson says he was aware the company was under investigation at the time, and "any time a company is under investigation I like to give them a chance to make their case."

Kerik told New York Magazine at the time that Giuliani had raised $15,000 in donations for a "traveling museum operated by the DEA."

Some officials told ABC News there were questions inside the agency of whether the donations were an attempt to influence the DEA.

Ya think?

Giuliani successfully slowed this investigation for five years, while Purdue Frederick continued to profit off of addiction. This is no different than defending Pablo Escobar IMO. And by the way, this is supposed to be Mr. Law and Order hardass Rudy Giuliani? Oxy is a magnet for lawlessness. Like many drugs, it's progressively more difficult to maintain the same high, and so it becomes a more and more expensive habit. My relative was stealing from his roommates, falling behind on rent, all to get one more pill - a pill that Mr. Giuliani kept well within his reach.

Rudy Giuliani can rot in hell for the pain and suffering he has caused thousands of families, including my own. I will never forgive these craven actions on behalf of big Pharma, underwriter to the Republican Party.

More here. By the way, I've read Barry Meier's book, and it's shocking what this company Purdue Frederick did to get out of being held accountable. That Giuliani was a part of it makes it all the more gut-wrenching.

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Gonzales The Stone Golem

My guess is that Monica Goodling's testimony will bring the US Attorney scandal right back to the front pages. There are certainly enough threads that deserve to be pulled out there. There's the continued absence of any explanation for how those fired attorneys ended up on a target list. (my favorite part of yesterday's Abu G hearing was when Wexler was grilling him on this question, and Abu G says "You'd know that better than I would," and Wexler asks "Are you the Attorney General? Do you run the Justice Department?" Priceless.) There's the emergence of a 9th fired prosecutor, Todd Graves in Missouri. There's the continuing revelations that this all goes back to electing Republicans in 2006 (sorry, but you F'ed up so bad not even a bunch of lawyers could fix it for you):

Only weeks before last year's pivotal midterm elections, the White House urged the Justice Department to pursue voter-fraud allegations against Democrats in three battleground states, a high-ranking Justice official has told congressional investigators.

In two instances in October 2006, President Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, or his deputies passed the allegations on to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

Sampson tapped Gonzales aide Matthew Friedrich, who'd just left his post as chief of staff of the criminal division. In the first case, Friedrich agreed to find out whether Justice officials knew of "rampant" voter fraud or "lax" enforcement in parts of New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and report back.

So there's a lot going on, and Goodling may advertently or inadvertently plug some holes and reveal some more. What's clear is that talking to Alberto Gonzales is like talking to a stone wall, and it's something of a practiced art:

Alberto Gonzales is in his happy place. He enters the hearing room in the Rayburn Building for his testimony before the House judiciary committee smiling the smile of a man who sleeps well each night, in the warm glow of the president's love. Gone is the testy, defensive Gonzales who testified last month before the Senate. Today's attorney general breezes into the chamber with the certain knowledge that having bottomed out in April, he has nothing left to prove. His only role in this scandal is as decoy: He's the guy who runs out in front of the hunters and draws their fire so nobody pays any attention to what's happening at the White House.

Gonzales seems to have made his peace with this. No more angry outbursts, no bitter attempts at self-justification. Instead, the AG answers some questions with a giggle and most others with the same old catchphrases we've heard so often: He has consistently failed to investigate any wrongdoing at the Justice Department out of "deference to the integrity of the ongoing investigations." The decisions about which U.S. attorneys made Kyle Sampson's magic list were the "consensus recommendations of the senior leadership of the department." Over and again, ever in identical language, Gonzales "accepts full responsibility for the decision" just as he insists that he played only a "limited role" in the decision-making. The fact that the attorney general can't even be bothered to pull out a thesaurus after all these weeks—even if only to create the illusion that these nonanswers come from him as opposed to a list of pre-approved talking points—reveals just how little he cares about what Congress and the public think of him anymore.

Many have made this point recently, that it used to be that when a cabinet official failed this badly, he'd simply have to resign to protect the President. But the unwritten rules simply don't apply to the Bush Administration. They're quaint traditions which are made to be broken. Like I've said, Gonzales is nothing but a firewall. He should be shunned at this point. There are others, like Goodling, and Brad Schlozman (testifying next Tuesday, I think), who can shed some more light on the situation and get at the ultimate source of this politicization.

UPDATE: Shorter LA Times - "US Attorneys don't actually DO anything, what did you think that they were in charge or something? Honest! Unnamed sources told us so!"

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Cry Me A River

I'm going to try not to engage in a bit of schadenfruede when I present this story.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. posted its worst monthly same-store sales results in at least 28 years, tallying a 3.5% decline in April due to this year's early Easter as well as generally challenging economic conditions for consumers.

Wal-Mart's 3.5% drop in the four-week period ending May 4 at U.S. stores fell below its earlier forecast of "flat" sales to a 2% decline. In a recorded phone message Thursday, Wal-Mart blamed bad weather last month in most U.S. regions and the early Easter on April 8, which pushed many Easter sales into March.

The truth is that there's not really much growth available for Wal-Mart in the United States. Communities that don't want them have learned how to organize and block their entry. And they can't add market share in the small towns they've obliterated (which are losing population to boot). So their sales figures are sort of doomed.

None of this is to say that they aren't making money, just less money than before. The cruel irony is that this isn't good enough for boards of directors and greedy corporate execs... like the ones who work at Wal-Mart. Live by perpetual growth, die by perpetual growth.

And incidentally, all retail sales figures are down as the economy slows, perhaps due to those $3.50 a gallon gas prices. Again, the greed is getting the better of this economy. Maybe that's why these trade deals have increased importance, so additional markets can be forced open and labor costs can plunge even lower.

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Second Verse, Same As The First

You may remember that John Doolittle stepped down from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee because of the ongoing scandal into his ties with convicted felon Jack Abramoff.

The GOP leadership, sensing that there's an almost unlimited well of corrupt California Republicans who can replace Doolittle, decided to call up one from the minors.

Yesterday, the House Republican Steering Committee voted to seat Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) on the Appropriations Committee, “filling the vacancy left by embattled Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA),” who is under investigation by the FBI for his longstanding ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Named one of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress,” Calvert has a history of abusing his power just as much as Doolittle.

This is part of the Law of Conservation of Conservative Californians - corrupt GOP Congressmen from this state can neither be created or destroyed, always remaining in equilibrium. Until we retire them.

Made huge personal profits off his own earmark. Calvert pushed through an earmark to secure over $9 million for freeway and commercial development near property he owned in California. After the development of the area, Calvert sold his property for a 79 percent profit.

Personal firm received commission from earmark. “In another deal, a group of investors bought property a few blocks from the site of a proposed interchange, for $975,000. Within six months, after the earmark for the interchange was appropriated, the parcel of land sold for $1.45 million. Rep. Calvert’s firm received a commission on the sale.”

Rewarded K Street firm under investigation with pork projects. The Copeland Lowery lobbying firm is currently “enmeshed in a federal investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA).” “Rep. Calvert has helped pass through at least 13 earmarks sought by Copeland Lowery in 2005, adding up to over $91 million.” The lobbying firm has been Calvert’s largest campaign contributor.

Traveled to Saudi Arabia with convicted Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) in 2004. They were accompanied by Thomas Kontogiannis, an alleged co-conspirator in the Cunningham controversy.

And Calvert is rewarded for this sterling record by getting his hands closer to the earmark cookie jar, on Appropriations. I'm guessing he won't be able to help himself.

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1.8 Million Jobs

The last time that our corporate Dem minders patted us on the head and told us that they had everything worked out while they got together with lobbyists and the business community to sell American jobs down the river was when China entered the WTO. This was supposed to open up new markets and be a goldmine for the US economy. And it was - for the very rich. For anyone that works for a living it was a nightmare.

Contrary to the predictions of its supporters, China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) has failed to reduce its trade surplus with the United States or increase overall U.S. employment. The rise in the U.S. trade deficit with China between 1997 and 2006 has displaced production that could have supported 2,166,000 U.S. jobs. Most of these jobs (1.8 million) have been lost since China entered the WTO in 2001. Between 1997 and 2001, growing trade deficits displaced an average of 101,000 jobs per year, or slightly more than the total employment in Manchester, New Hampshire. Since China entered the WTO in 2001, job losses increased to an average of 441,000 per year—more than the total employment in greater Dayton, Ohio. Between 2001 and 2006, jobs were displaced in every state and the District of Columbia. Nearly three-quarters of the jobs displaced were in manufacturing industries. Simply put, the promised benefits of trade liberalization with China have been unfulfilled.

On the same day that George Bush and the Democrats make a "deal" on trade policy, the Census Bureau announced a six-month high in the trade deficit, with exports outpacing imports by $64 billion. We don't make anything in this country anymore, and that's a national security issue as much as it is an economic one. The power of multinational corporations to write our trade policy has gotten completely out of control, and the public knows it. That's why so many populists and fair traders won last November. And yet corporate Dems continue to sell out the American worker.

There is no way that this latest trade deal should be allowed to pass without enforceable labor, environmental and human rights standards. We barely have any jobs left to hemhorrage.

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Don't You Know How We Do Things Here?

Charles Grassley is one of those fossils who appears to have been grown in the Senate chamber and will likely return to the primordial soup there as well. He has this sense of entitlement that is endemic to a class of Senators that are probably still pissed off that they have to be elected directly. Grassley's all pissed off at Barack Obama for asking constituents of his to participate in their democracy. Such practices should be verboten.

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama stepped up his pressure on Republican Sen. Charles Grassley on Thursday, arguing voters should urge the Iowa lawmaker to help override President Bush's veto of a bill that would set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq [...]

"It isn't personal," Obama told about 300 people at a town hall meeting at Simpson College. "I respect him greatly. But I said then and I say now that he needs to hear from you and people across Iowa who understand that it's time to change course." [...]

Grassley has rejected the suggestion that he can be pressured on the issue, saying Obama, an Illinois senator, is violating traditions of the institution by traveling to another state and publicly applying pressure to a colleague. He has labeled that step "not senatorial" and said he had no intention of voting to override the veto.

Obama said he has not overstepped his grounds, saying those senatorial traditions pale before the magnitude of the war.

"This isn't about Washington etiquette, it's about bringing our troops home," said Obama. "This is how real change happens in America. This isn't symbolic, this is real."

Grassley exemplifies exactly the kind of clubby insiderism that has brought us such maladies as the Washington Consensus and the military-industrial complex. Senators of Grassley's era, pompous as all get out, truly believe they own their seats and that they should never be questioned by anyone, friend or foe.

You can say what you will about Obama (and I have), but he doesn't believe in that DC circle jerk. In fact, everywhere he's gone, he's asked citizens who believe in ending the occupation of Iraq to petition their Senators for redress of grievances (you know, like it says in the First Amendment). This isn't even about Grassley. Obama's done this in Louisiana and Virginia and Iowa and elsewhere.

If you want to relieve the pressure, stop continuing to be a rubber stamp for the failed policies of George W. Bush. But don't give me this crap about "senatorial tradition" when all Obama's asking is for citizens to make a phone call. This comes from the same GOP that saw Bill Frist go to the Minority Leader's state in 2004 and campaign on behalf of John Thune against Tom Daschle. I guess it's only un-senatorial if a Democrat does it. They really are the Baby Party.

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I'll say this for Richard Perle, in the words of Dabney Coleman in Dragnet, he has balls as big as church bells.

In this op-ed defending himself and attacking George Tenet, Perle claims he didn't tell the President to go after Saddam right after 9-11, and as proof he cites a letter he wrote 10 days after 9-11 that said:

"any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

My head just spun off it's neck, pardon me while I retrieve it.

Is it worse that Perle might actually believe that he didn't advise the President to attack Saddam Hussein, he only advised the President to "remove Saddam Hussein from power"; or is it worse that Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post editorial staff took a look at that logic and said, "Looks good to me, fire up the printing press!"

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Friday Random Ten

Down to a 7-song commute (Save the Planet!), so I'm sitting in the car hitting the "next" button for a few minutes to come up with...

One Line - PJ Harvey
Obstacle 1 - Interpol
NYC - Interpol (!)
1972 - Josh Rouse
I've Got A Match - They Might Be Giants
Love on the Rocks - Neil Diamond
Regulate - Warren G (I think Neil Diamond is opening for Warren G this summer)
Jerk Baby Jerk - The Jerky Boys (it's a novelty song)
Great Spot - Kinky
Roland - Interpol (!)

Wow, three Interpol songs off the same album. They have a new one coming out soon, by the way. Also, I recommend the new Bjork and the new Kings of Leon.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sellout on Trade?

What a busy day. Gonzales testifies all day in the House, a series of Iraq votes and now this very scary prospect of a "deal" on trade agreements which at first glance does not seem friendly to progressives and populists.

The Bush administration and the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, breaking a partisan impasse that had dragged on for months, were expected to reach agreement late Thursday on the rights of workers overseas to join labor unions. Both sides predicted that the agreement would clear the way for U.S. congressional approval of several pending trade agreements.

Democrats said the accord would be a major victory in their campaign to ensure that trade deals provided for the rights of workers to organize and that trading partner countries banned child labor and slave labor [...]

Trade specialists say that approval of these deals, with labor guarantees, could provide a template for future trade accords winning approval in Congress, where sentiment against trade deals in general is high. Many Democrats elected as part of the party's sweep last autumn ran by promising to block future trade deals.

Despite the endorsement of Rangel and Pelosi, many Democrats say that half or more of the Democrats in Congress may vote against the deal. But the agreement is expected to pass with strong backing among Republicans, whose leaders will urge them to vote with President George W. Bush on the matter.

The Bush administration hopes that this agreement paves the way for a much broader deal to extend Bush's authority to negotiate future trade accords and get a quick up-or-down vote on them.

That authority, known as "fast track" trade negotiating authority, expires June 30.

A very large portion of the Democratic rank and file in the Congress, particularly a number of so-called "moderates," ran on a progressive populist trade policy that demands that American jobs aren't shipped overseas to the lowest bidder. This is an issue where an old-school fair-trader from a textile family and Lou Dobbs are in absolute agreement. Unless you have global labor, human rights and environmental standards, you cannot give multinational corporations this kind of power. And by the way, with "fast track," essentially a line-item veto for trade, the President can strip out all of the agreements made in this "deal" anyway. The fact that no details have been released, the fact that the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition was instrumental in the deal, the fact that the most slavish corporatists love the deal, all of this is extremely troubling. The trade policy of this country has destroyed the middle class and threatened our economic security.

The good news is that the fair trade Democrats are unhappy with the process, and appear to be willing to fight for it. I think that populist Democratic Senators like Jon Tester, Jim Webb and Sherrod Brown should simply put a Senatorial hold on any legislation of this kind until the Democratic leadership listens to the majority of their membership on this.

Stay tuned.

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Rudy Gives Up

After a few days of being completely unable to defend his contradictory positions, Rudy Giuliani has said "To hell with it" and will run as a pro-choice Republican.

After months of conflicting signals on abortion, Rudolph W. Giuliani is planning to offer a forthright affirmation of his support for abortion rights in public forums, television appearances and interviews in the coming days, despite the potential for bad consequences among some conservative voters already wary of his views, aides said yesterday.

At the same time, Mr. Giuliani’s campaign — seeking to accomplish the unusual task of persuading Republicans to nominate an abortion rights supporter — is eyeing a path to the nomination that would try to de-emphasize the early states in which abortion opponents wield a great deal of influence. Instead they would focus on the so-called mega-primary of Feb. 5, in which voters in states like California, New York and New Jersey are likely to be more receptive to Mr. Giuliani’s social views than voters in Iowa and South Carolina.

Tactically, he probably has a better chance just being honest than trying to reconcile being "personally pro-life" and funding Planned Parenthood. Of course, this completely changes the nature of the Republican race. His STATED STRATEGY is to wait until New York and California on Feb. 5 to make his move. Nobody's going to be able to do that (plus, California's Republicans are as wingnutty as they come, so that's just a dumb strategy). And while Rudy will probably get plaudits from the punditocracy for this "bold, courageous move," he's not exactly Mr. Straight Talk.

Sports fans grew accustomed to seeing Giuliani, in Yankee jacket and cap, within camera view of the team's dugout at every one of the 40 postseason home games the Yankees played while he was mayor. His devotion reached such heights that at the 1995 Inner Circle press dinner, he played himself handing the city over to George Steinbrenner in a lampoon version of the Broadway musical Damn Yankees, succumbing to a scantily clad Lola who importuned him on behalf of the Boss to the tune of "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)." Mike Bloomberg understood years later that the song was no joke; he nixed Rudy's stadium deal in his first weeks in office.

It is only now, however, as Giuliani campaigns for president, that we are beginning to learn that this relationship went even deeper. Giuliani has been seen on the campaign trail wearing a World Series ring, a valuable prize we never knew he had. Indeed, the Yankees have told the Voice that he has four rings, one for every world championship the Yankees won while he was mayor. Voice calls to other cities whose teams won the Series in the past decade have determined that Giuliani is the only mayor with a ring, much less four. If it sounds innocent, wait for the price tag. These are certainly no Canal Street cubic zirconia knockoffs.

He has 4 $200,000 rings on his fingers, and he tried to fund new stadiums for the guys who gave them to him. This is a guy who's a reformer fighting corruption in government?

Not only that, the latest is that his campaign is so hell-bent on pushing estate tax elimination that they're scouring Iowa for nonexistent family farmers to be used as props, and then cutting them loose when they don't make enough money.

A lot of people think Giuliani's pretty much done; he's in the lead now, but his vulnerabilities will be too much to overcome. I'm still going with the GOP nominee being "none of the above." And he'd (because a "none of the above" Republican would be a white male) have a better chance in November '08 than anyone else in the field.

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That's a huge number for withdrawing from Iraq, and it includes two Presidential candidates (Kucinich and Paul), the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader (!), my Congressman (thank you Rep. Waxman), and 169 Democrats in total. The Out of Iraq Caucus just got their biggest vote yet, and we just have to keep trying.

I would like to know why Rep. McNerney voted against the amendment. I expected some defections, but not that one.

AP story here. The important vote is coming up, when the Republicans make a motion to recommit and try to hand over yet another blank check to the President.

UPDATE: The motion to recommit failed, and David Obey's "short leash" bill passed 221-205 (and it would have been 223 if Brady and Fattah weren't campaigning to be the mayor of Philly). So that would give Bush money to continue the war for two months, then he would have to return to the Congress to prove progress to get the balance. It hs an uncertain future in the Senate and Bush has vowed to veto.

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Delahunt on Posada Carriles

I do want to add that the best non-US Attorney questioning today was William Delahunt's queries about Luis Posada Carriles, who you might know as the international terrorist that a judge set free yesterday because of the incompetence of the prosecution's case against him (which had nothing to do with terrorism, it was an immigration case). There is documented proof that Carriles helped blow up an airplane, bombed apartment complexes, and attempted to assassinate a foreign leader. The difference, of course, is that this terrorist was trying to bomb Havana and kill Fidel Castro, and that the CIA trained and supported him. The DoJ has never attempted to label him a terrorist for fear that they would anger anti-Castro Cubans. Emptywheel gives the rundown of Delahunt's excellent questioning:

As Delahunt pointed out to Gonzales, under the PATRIOT Act the Attorney General retains sole discretion for naming someone a terrorist. Gonzales has sole discretion whether we start treating Posada with the same seriousness with which we treat young men from New Jersey caught training with paint ball guns to attack Fort Dix. Delahunt went further, too, reading the disgust voiced by the judge who dismissed the charges:

In addition to engaging in fraud, deceit and trickery, this Court finds the Government's tactics in this case are so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice. As a result, this Court is left with no choice but to dismiss the indictment.

While he didn't say it specifically, Delahunt seemed to suggest deliberate negligence on the part of the government in drawing its case against Posada.

Delahunt used the oversight hearing as an opportunity to confront Gonzales about why he hadn't considered naming Posada a terrorist. Presumably, Gonzales will be forced to provide an answer to Delahunt in writing. But at least in that hearing, Gonzales made his typical evasions, refusing to commit because of factors that he wouldn't really describe.

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Nutter Rising

It is pretty amazing that the 5th most-visible candidate out of 5 is lapping the field in the Philadelphia mayor's race. And Chris Bowers has a great piece about what it means that a progressive reformer candidate like Michael Nutter can become such a force. Give it a read.

I think it's a telling sign that a Swiftboat-like anti-Nutter group has ties to the current Mayor. They don't want him messing with the status quo. I think that's the prime mover for reform Democrats.

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"Who Put Him On The List?"

Robert Wexler gave a bravura performance in the House Judiciary Committee just now (and Tennessee's Steve Cohen is doing a great follow-up job). This entire US Attorney scandal comes down to one question that nobody can answer, and Wexler asked it over and over. Who put these US Attorneys on the target list to be fired? The Attorney General claims he didn't do it. No deputy or top official in the Justice Department did it. According to Abu G, the President or Vice President didn't do it - though Cohen made the great point that "Harriet Miers asked about whether to fire all 93, why should we be surprised if the White House decided to fire 8?"

So who did it? Who made this target list? Nobody seems to be owning up to it.

Gonzales has a cute answer for this, claiming that out of respect for the integrity for this investigation, he hasn't asked anybody who might have this information. Like I said, a cute answer, but it's information you would think the Attorney General would know BEFORE he would fire 9 US Attorneys. Essentially he's saying that he accepted the recommendations on federal prosecutors without knowing who made the recommendations or why. And Wexler hammered him.

Ultimately, that's what this entire thing is about. And there's a simple answer to the question, an answer that David Iglesias said just today.

In an interview with the Albuquerque Tribune today, ousted U.S. attorney David Iglesias states, “I think all roads lead to Rove. I think that’s why the president is circling some pretty major wagons around him to keep him from testifying under oath, which subjects him to criminal prosecution.”

Meanwhile, it's come out today that the Administration withheld emails about Rove's role with respect to the US Attorney for Arkansas Bud Cummins, and the installation of Rove oppo research guy Tim Griffin in that position.

The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin's appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove's role in supporting Griffin.

In one of the letters that Sampson drafted, dated February 23, 2007, the Justice Department told four Senate Democrats it was not aware of any role played by senior White House adviser Rove in attempting to name Griffin to the U.S. attorney post. A month later, the Justice Department apologized in writing to the Senate Democrats for the earlier letter, saying it had been inaccurate in denying that Rove had played a role.

The question that they won't answer is about Karl Rove. Scooter Libby was his firewall, and now it's Alberto Gonzales.

UPDATE: It is clear from the statements of Chairman Conyers that there is one central question in this entire scandal that remains unanswered: who generated the list of US Attorneys to be fired, and why? And it's clear that Conyers will not quit probing this scandal until he gets a satisfactory answer to that question. Referring to Republican derision that the scandal is based on mere "bread crumbs" and conjecture, Conyers said in his closing statement, "The bread crumbs seem to be leading to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

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Schwarzenegger's "Kick-The-Can" Budgeting

The state of California is not generating the revenue that they expected. This is clear and it's been known for some time. The original budget that the Governor proposed, based on those sunny estimates, is obsolete. In order to balance the budget, spending will have to decrease or revenue increased. We know what choice the Republican will make.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is likely to call for state spending cuts beyond those he proposed in January when he presents a revised budget to the Legislature next week, administration officials said Tuesday [...]

In January, Schwarzenegger outlined a $103 billion general-fund budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year and proposed balancing it by withholding cost-of-living increases for welfare recipients, cutting welfare payments to children whose parents fail to comply with work requirements, and reducing aid to the homeless, among other things.

The cuts to welfare will remain in the budget the Republican governor is slated to unveil on Monday, Palmer said. That could set up a showdown with Democratic lawmakers, who have made it clear they oppose reducing the social safety net for children.

But don't worry, there's a Plan B; privatizing the lottery!

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is poised to call for privatizing the state lottery, a move that would bring California a cash infusion of as much as $37 billion to help solve pressing budget problems but also could sacrifice a major revenue source for decades to come.

....It comes at a time when the state is facing only a modest budget deficit for the coming fiscal year — about $1 billion. But billions more in bond payments will be due soon after.

This is "kick-the-can-down-the-road" budgeting, and it's no different than George Bush trying to run out the clock on Iraq so that the next executive has to clean up the mess. It's irresponsible to put so much of a debt burden on future generations. We're looking at hundreds of billions of dollars in debt for decades and decades, in bond issues and the loss of revenue for short-term gain. Kevin Drum thunders on this, and he's absolutely correct:

Once again, Arnold "We Have To Stop This Crazy Deficit Spending" Schwarzenegger is desperately trying to figure out a way to increase our deficit spending so that he can continue to pretend that he hasn't raised taxes. That's all this is about.

He's already done this once with his deficit bonds, which will have to be repaid out of increased taxes eventually, and now, in order to make sure that "eventually" is sometime after he leaves office, he wants to raid the lottery to tide himself over. The result, of course, will be lower revenue in the future and therefore higher taxes. But not on his watch.

Schwarzenegger may have a sunnier persona than George Bush, but the cynicism on offer here is even worse than Bush's. Arnold knows perfectly well he's raising taxes. He's just hoping the rest of us are greedy enough to allow ourselves to be convinced otherwise.

We're going to have three and a half more years of this nonsense, of this focus on short-term glitz at the expense of long-term security. We are getting played, and I would like to see some of our Democratic leaders in this state make this point forcefully.

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The Iraqi Out of Iraq Caucus

I remember hearing that we are in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government. Someone ought to tell that to the Iraqis.

On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition.

It's a hugely significant development. Lawmakers demanding an end to the occupation now have the upper hand in the Iraqi legislature for the first time; previous attempts at a similar resolution fell just short of the 138 votes needed to pass (there are 275 members of the Iraqi parliament, but many have fled the country's civil conflict, and at times it's been difficult to arrive at a quorum).

Reached by phone in Baghdad on Tuesday, Al-Rubaie said that he would present the petition, which is nonbinding, to the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and demand that a binding measure be put to a vote. Under Iraqi law, the speaker must present a resolution that's called for by a majority of lawmakers, but there are significant loopholes and what will happen next is unclear.

Given this, the debate in this country over benchmarks and timelines and withdrawals is almost completely irrelevant. The Iraqis don't want us in Iraq. We are refusing to leave, and that would be an ilegal occupation in a sovereign nation. As much as we'd like to, we don't own the Iraqi government. They're going to pass their own laws and go on their own vacation. If we believe in anything about Iraq, it's that democracy should be allowed to flourish in that country. Well, it's flourishing, all right. The bottom line is that US troops are illegally occupying the nation of Iraq. Congress has an opportunity to end that occupation.

By the way, you have to wear flak jackets in the Green Zone these days, inclluding INDOORS. We're greeted as liberators!

UPDATE: Look at that, Commander Guy wants benchmarks! Of course, his idea is benchmarks is that you tell the Iraqi government concrete steps they need to make, and if they don't reach them we shrug our shoulders and go "What can you do?" Benchmarks as defined by Bush are meaningless.

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Two Votes on Iraq

It looks like the Progressive Caucus is going to get a vote on the fully funded withdrawal of troops and contractors from Iraq without delay. At the conclusion of that vote, if it doesn't pass, David Obey's "short-leash" bill will get a vote, giving the President a set amount of money but requiring a report on progress in Iraq within 60 days to release half of that money. The President has announced that he would veto the short-leash bill; I would assume he would also veto a fully funded withdrawal.

So, that's where we're at. The President wants a "compromise" defined as "giving absolutely everything I want." The Congress is trying to serve their constituents. There is a complete impasse there.

I am happy to see a vote come up for a fully funded withdrawal. It's important to get everyone on the record. I don't know how many votes it'll get, but I would hope that my Congressman supports it.

The Democrats, for the moment, appear to be standing strong.

UPDATE: Just called my Congressman, Henry Waxman. I asked if he would support the McGovern amendment for a fully funded withdrawal. The aide said that Rep. Waxman has been in committee and he doesn't know. He said he "supports withdrawal," but the answer was noncommital. I encouraged him to support the McGovern amendment.

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They Don't Think It's That Wrong

Here's why House Republicans don't think there's anything wrong with politicizing the Justice Department: they have no problem politicizing the Justice Department DURING AN OVERSIGHT HEARING.

Apparently deaf to the improper tone of the request in the context of a hearing on the firings of the U.S. attorneys, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) encouraged Alberto Gonzales to hurry up and indict Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). The Jefferson case has dragged on for nearly two years and is awaiting the decision of an appeals court on the FBI's seizure of evidence from Jefferson's congressional office.

Cronyism and politicization is the MO of Republicanism in the 21st century.


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The End of the Poodle

Does this mean the end of the Clinton Era or the end of the Bush era?

Tony Blair said Thursday he would step down as prime minister on June 27, closing a decade of power in which he fostered peace in Northern Ireland and followed the United States to a war in Iraq that cost him much of his popularity.

In a somber farewell, Blair made way for Treasury chief Gordon Brown to take the top post. The British leader looked overcome with emotion, struggling to retain his trademark broad grin as loud cheers rang out.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, it was right, Blair said, to "stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally, and I did so out of belief."

"Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right," Blair told party workers and supporters at Trimdon Labour Club in his Sedgefield constituency in northern England. "I may have been wrong, but that's your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

You really need to watch The Queen to see Blair's sleazy cozying up to power in action. He's a firefly to power, and his lasting legacy is going along with whoever is the most powerful person in the room. He combined the most destructive elements of Third Way-neoliberalism with the imperialist ends of neoconservatism. He's a neo's neo. And he will not be remembered well.

At least he had the sense to walk away at some point. Unlike the Attorney General, you know.

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Gonzales Gets a Friendly Crowd

People seem to forget that the House is more extreme than the Senate. That's changed from the days when Senators were appointed, but it still holds. And wingnuts like Dan Lungren and Elton Gallegly are either patting Abu G on the back or moving on to the illegal immigrant brown menace. Zoe Lofgren had a good line of argument about Todd Graves and Bradley Schlozman, but this House Judiciary hearing will be an alternating good cop/bad cop show.

Meanwhile here's the story out of Seattle.

"I think there will be a criminal case that will come out of this," McKay said during his meeting with Times journalists. "This is going to get worse, not better."...

McKay said he believes obstruction-of-justice charges will be filed if investigators conclude that the dismissal of any of the eight prosecutors was motivated by an attempt to influence ongoing public-corruption or voter-fraud investigations....

McKay said he began to have concerns about politics entering the Justice Department in early 2005, when Gonzales addressed all of the country's U.S. attorneys in Scottsdale, Ariz., shortly after he took over as attorney general.
"His first speech to us was a 'you work for the White House' speech," McKay recalled. " 'I work for the White House, you work for the White House.' "

McKay said he thought at the time, "He couldn't have meant that speech," given the traditional independence of U.S. Attorneys. "It turns out he did."

And here's the story out of Missouri.

Eleven months before seven US Attorneys were fired on December 7th, 2006, former Kansas City US Attorney Todd Graves received a call from an official at the Executive Office for the U.S. Attorney telling him he was fired. Graves announced his resignation less than two months later on March 10.

Justice Department officials would later tell Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) that Graves had been dismissed for "performance" issues, according to Wednesday article in the Kansas City Star. But that's not what Graves was told at the time. According to a source with detailed knowledge of the conversation, Graves was told that his removal was not based on his performance as a prosecutor, but that it was simply time to let someone else have a chance at the job.

This hearing will essentially be a rerun of "I don't remember, I don't recall." It's almost pointless to watch.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sounds Like A Prefect Time To Cave

The President is getting dressed down by members of his own party, told to his face that he has no credibility on the war, and being brought around to realizing that he must accept some sort of compromise position on the war before he completely obliterates the Republican Party. So then why is this possibly happening at the same time?

It's time to replace some conservative Democrats in Washington, DC. I just heard from an impeccable source that there is serious concern on the Hill that conservative Democrats in the House will vote with the Republicans to strip any and all restrictions from the Iraq supplemental tomorrow, effectively giving Bush all the money he wants with no restrictions and no effort to hold either him or the Iraq government accountable for anything. I.e., they will vote to continue this war along the same disastrous course because they're too afraid to challenge George Bush and his failed leadership.

Let me reiterate: This isn't some idle rumor. The concerns are coming from Hill sources themselves...

Please call your member of Congress and raise unholy hell. Tell them that they'd better vote against giving Bush a blank check when the Iraq supplemental comes up for a vote tomorrow. You can call now and leave a message on their machines. You can find your rep via the House Web site, use the zip code box in the upper left hand corner to find your rep.

As I said last week, these guys want to give up and get this over with. They feel like they've made their symbolic point and now there's no good reason to stop Bush's war. I can give you over 3,300 good reasons. The only political downside to come out of Iraq would be to give in to Bush. And politics shouldn't have anything to do with extricating this country from policing a civil war that seemingly has no end.

I'll be working the phones tomorrow. It'll be a big day: Gonzales testimony, the Iraq bill, a possible habeas corpus restoration rider in the defense authorization mark-up. Don't touch that browser.

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Free Paris

Because it's important, dammit.

(and I'm trying to get Google hits)

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Terrorist Released By American Justice System

If I were Michelle Malkin, I'd be all "where is the MSM outrage???!1!?? Dhimmis!!11!" about the fact that a known international terrorist responsible for airplane bombings and the deaths of hundreds has been released by the U.S. criminal justice system. But of course, he's the wrong KIND of terrorist.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone threw out immigration charges against Posada Carriles, and ordered his electronic tracking bracelet removed. He had been free on bail, pending an immigration trial that was scheduled to begin this week.

According to CNN, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security are “reviewing Cardone’s decision”, and it is not clear at this point whether or not the judge’s ruling will be appealed.

What is clear, beyond all reasonable doubt, is that Posada Carriles is an international terrorist who was trained and financed by the U.S. government. Whether he was operating as a freelancer, or at the behest of his CIA handlers when he carried out his terrorist acts is completely beside the point. Documents from the U.S. government make it clear that the man plotted the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, and he has admitted being involved in hotel bombings in Havana. In fact, he’s quite proud of his curriculum vitae as a terrorist.

The Cuban airliner bombing happened with the knowledge of the CIA, and it occurred when a guy named George Bush was CIA Director. You might know him as the President's father.

By the way, why were these immigration charges tossed out?

Cardone threw out the interview with immigration authorities that was the basis of the charges against Posada. The interview was poorly translated for him, she found, and "No effective communication existed between defendant and the interviewers."

"In light of the fact that the indictment in this case is based upon statements made during the naturalization interview, this court finds that the interpretation is so inaccurate as to render it unreliable as evidence of defendant's actual statements," she wrote.

In addition, Cardone condemned what she called government manipulation in the case, noting that Posada's naturalization interview was unusual in that it stretched eight hours over two days, as opposed to the usual maximum of 30 minutes.

Cardone called the interview a "pretext for a criminal investigation."

Although "warnings" were provided to Posada at the beginning of the interview, she wrote, they were read to him in English without any translation, and his attorney continually was told that if Posada exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, it would result in termination of the interview.

"More importantly," she wrote, "defendant did not receive an explanation of the true import of the government's inquiry."

Wow, it was so mismanaged, it was almost like the Justice Department wanted to see him set free...

(not to mention the fact that the judge had no choice but to toss the case out of respect for the - wait for it - great writ of habeas corpus)

It's incredible that we hear so much in this country about the need to capture terrorists, and yet when a terrorist is bombing places we want bombed - trying to kill Castro, for example - we will allow him to go free. The hypocrisy is sickening.

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Madison Avenue Comes To The Political Arena

These new ads from Bill Richardson are definitely not your grandpa's camapign ads, and when you're in the second tier and looking to break out, I think they're a great strategy.

I think the fact that Richardson opens the second ad with "I cut taxes" kind of misreads the Democratic primary electorate and their concerns (I could be wrong). But regardless of my support for Richardson, these represent a sea change in political advertising that I think is long overdue. In the age of TiVo you'd better have something that can cut through the clutter, something that can generate an audience online, and that means it has to be entertaining. It doesn't have to be funny (though that helps) but it has to hold the public's interest. The same old spots with a litany of accomplishments accompanied by moving text that says the same accomplishment just isn't going to cut it. Political ads have to be creative if they're going to get ahead of the curve. We saw a little of this in 2006, and in 2008 there's going to be even more. Ultimately I don't think ads are THAT important anymore, unless they get people talking the way something like this may do. Expect a small bump for Richardson from these.

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The Age of Accountability

This is what sadly passes for accountability in the age of Bush - an official resigning two days before the Administration has to face a Congressional committee.

I guess that's as close as we're going to get to "I'm sorry."

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What's The Matter With Georgia?

OK, so yesterday I saw this quote from the GOP front-runner for the June special election for US Congress in Georgia's 10th District to replace the late Charlie Norwood, a guy named Jim Whitehead:

"Iraq has not been a big thing in our district."

Wha-wha-what now?

Then today, there's this from Georgia's Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss.

As the Pentagon notified some 35,000 soldiers to prepare for a fall deployment to Iraq, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said Tuesday he found "truly amazing" progress during a trip to the country this weekend [...]

"Every time I go over there the improvements in the conditions are truly amazing," Chambliss said in a noon conference call with reporters after his fifth visit to the country. "It's very encouraging to me to see the progress."

People on the same trip said the exact opposite.

Chambliss traveled to Iraq with several other members of Congress as part of an Intelligence Committee fact-finding tour. His comments contrasted with those of another Republican in the delegation, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who said in a weekend interview that she found little to be cheerful about.

"The good news is mixed; the bad news is downright troubling," Snowe said.

Have they checked the water in Georgia for melamine?

UPDATE: Here's a good rundown of the possibilities for Democrat Jim Marlow to win the GA-10 seat next month. He's going against three Republicans, so the potential does exist for a split vote.

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Do You Trust Circuit City With Your Security?

Yesterday I wrote about the Fort Dix Six, and how their super-duper terrorist plot (which involved ambushing a heavily fortified military facility with six people) was foiled by a New Jersey store clerk. I wrote about how this "hero" and other service-sector workers of this kind are consistently disrespected by the American economy. Well, now we know a little more about that store clerk, which confirmed everything I said.

He worked at Circuit Freakin' City.

A Circuit City spokeswoman has confirmed an employee at the electronics chain's Mount Laurel store tipped off police about a video showing men firing assault weapons and screaming about jihad.

Spokeswoman Jackie Foreman said the store is not releasing the name of the employee. Foreman said the employee still works for the company, but she would not say where.

Well, if the clerk worked at Circuit City, we know that he or she doesn't make a lot of money. Otherwise they would have been fired.

Circuit City fired 3,400 employees in stores across the country yesterday, saying they were making too much money and would be replaced by new hires willing to work for less.

The company said the dismissals had nothing to do with performance but were part of a larger effort to improve the bottom line. The firings represent about 9 percent of the company's in-store workforce of 40,000.

"Retail is very competitive and store operations just have to contain their costs," said Jim Babb, a Circuit City spokesman. "We deeply regret the negative impact that was had on these folks. It was no fault of theirs."

The company gave the dismissed workers severance pay and told them that after 10 weeks they were free to apply for any openings. Employees reached by a reporter said they were notified yesterday morning and told to leave immediately.

Store clerks that were targeted for this dismissal were making as little as $11.59 an hour. Even that was too steep a price for Circuit City to bear. So they cut all their "highly paid" workers loose and kept the ones who didn't tax them as much. Including this alert person who allegedly thwarted a terrorist plot. We know that the employee still works there - was he or she fired, and hired back at a lower salary, or was he or she making too little for the company to care? It's unclear, but we know now that this employee to whom the FBI is indebted doesn't make much more than 10 bucks an hour. And so everything I put in my original post holds:

That would put our sales clerk right on the edge of the poverty line.

We know that the statewide average rent in New Jersey is almost $1100/month, and 53% of all New Jerseyites couldn't afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment, for example. So if this average sales clerk has a family, he's cramped, especially if he has children.

We know that 14% of the state's citizens don't have health insurance, and that this number disproportionately affects those in the income bracket as our average store clerk. Even if the clerk does have insurance, the quality of care is among the nation's costliest while simultaneously being among the nation's poorest. And without health care, it just gets that much more expensive.

Getting sick anywhere can be an expensive proposition for those lacking health insurance, but nowhere is it more expensive than in New Jersey, a new study has found.

The state's hospitals, on average, charge uninsured patients or those who pay out of pocket more than four times what insurance companies and Medicare end up paying for the same care, according to the study published today in the journal Health Affairs.

For example, a patient without insurance would be billed $456 for the same services a New Jersey hospital charged insurance companies $100, according to the study by John Hopkins researchers, which used 2004 billing data.

That gap was the greatest of any state, and overwhelmingly affected the working poor and other low-income residents, the study concluded.

We have this very fragile open society where we all put our safety and trust in the hands of people who are consistently disrespected by the modern economy. If this attempted dubbing by the Fort Dix Six happened AFTER Circuit City decided to fire everyone who was making too much money, when morale in the stores was likely to be non-existent, would this clerk have been as perceptive? Would they have cared at all? Would they just be trying to get through the day?

Why do we deny a living wage and basic dignity to people who could credibly be called "heroes"? If I was a smart labor union organizer, I'd be asking that question. Publicly.

By the way, this store clerk may not have a job with Circuit City for very long, considering that nobody wants to go to a store with an untrained sales staff and management that hates their workers, and if it keeps up there may not be a Circuit City anymore.

Eric Savitz (Barron's) submits: Circuit City (CC) shares got clobbered this morning following its surprisingly poor May quarter earnings forecast announced after the close late yesterday. The Street is not happy about the news, understandably; analysts at Credit Suisse and Citigroup downgraded the shares [...]

The one thing that seemed most disturbing in Circuit City’s outlook was the very weak sales of large screen TVs in April. “We believe consumer expectations for TV pricing were set at an extremely low level in the last two months of 2006,” says Pacific Crest’s Andy Hargreaves, who keeps his Outperform rating on the stock. “Since then, TV pricing has stabilized, which has likely driven many consumers to delay purchases until another round of price cuts.”

Given the specific weakness in April, maybe there is another explanation: the company’s March 28 restructuring plan, which called for the layoffs of 3,400 of its highest paid sales associates. Fire your best sales people, and then sales disappoints…ya think maybe that wasn’t such a good idea?

Heh indeedy.

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President Bush: Determined to End This War

Because he won't sign anything that puts even the least restriction on his power.

President Bush would veto a bill drafted by House Democratic leaders that would fund the Iraq war only into the summer months, his spokesman said Wednesday.

And the Pentagon said the funding plan would be "massively disruptive."

The Democrats' proposal would pay for the war through July, then give Congress the option of cutting off money after that if conditions do not improve. Bush requested more than $90 billion to fund the war through September.

"There are restrictions on funding and there are also some of the spending items that were mentioned in the first veto message that are still in the bill," White House press secretary Tony Snow said on Air Force One traveling with Bush.

Asked directly if Bush would veto the House bill in its current form, Snow said, "Yes."

Look, of course the Pentagon would say that putting some check on the nonstop flow of money would be disruptive. They've been riding the money train for decades without anyone daring to stop them. And the President feels the same way. They want this war to go on forever. They will not change one thing and compromise one iota. Anyone that believes different is fooling themselves. Therefore, we can keep going down this road, and the President through his stubbornness can end this war all by himself. Until then, they'd better find some more room on that Iraq War memorial for more casualties, because that's going to be the only result of this intransigence. All we're seeing is continued violence (even in areas that were so-called success stories), and illusions of progress defined as "everything hasn't completely fallen apart just yet."

The President will end this war because he's too much of a spoiled brat to accept anything but total fealty. King George uber alles. If the Democrats cave in to this guy, it'd be madness.

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Pressuring Ahnold on Prisons

It's well-known that Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata wasn't particularly happy with the sellout prison construction bill that the Governor signed last week. It's also well-known that none of the "reforms" in that prison bill will do anything to lower the prison overcrowding rate before the fast-approaching deadline for the state to appear before a judge and prove that the situation has changed. So Perata is using some old-fashioned arm-twisting to get some real reforms in the corrections system.

The Senate Democratic leader is urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to use his administrative power to change parole rules to ease severe prison crowding, possibly by as many as 8,100 inmates.

Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, said Republican opposition kept parole reform out of a $7.8 billion plan to ease overcrowding through a building program and transferring some prisoners to other states.

Perata said speculation at the Capitol that the bill signed by the Republican governor last week includes an unwritten “side deal” to have Schwarzenegger bypass the Legislature and administratively enact parole changes is inaccurate.

“I wouldn't call it a deal,” Perata said of talks with the governor. “What we said is we couldn't put it in the bill because the Republicans wouldn't support it.

“We said further that if you don't do something with parole, you can't make any of this work,” said Perata. “So you've got the ability to do it. It's up to you to do it.”

Of course, I'd rather they tried to put this in the bill, dared the Republicans to block it, and then run on the consequences. But clearly, Perata is trying to leverage the judicial deadline (which is the only reason anything got done on a prison bill in the first place) to bring about a saner policy. I don't like that the Democratic leadership appeared to cave on this policy and gave the Governor most of what he wanted; I personally think that, without real reform, they'll have to do the same damn thing five years from now. But at least Perata is trying to use the deadline to his advantage, after it was used to his detriment previously.

Perhaps Perata could get Mike Jimenez of the CCPOA, who's disinclined to the Governor's plan, to join him in calling for parole reform. And he should go further and introduce Sen. Romero's legislation for an independent sentencing commission. But this is making the best of a bad situation.

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Oh, He's Done

Rudy G, getting all belligerent on the radio.

When Ingraham ended the segment with a standard line about his returning again, a clearly agitated Giuliani responded: "I would love to come back, but you're going to have to ask me about the war on terror and what we do about the economy, which is after all what most citizens ask me about."

"Well, conservatives are citizens, too, Mayor Giuliani!" Ingraham responded. "We're citizens, too."

Why do these people (Imus, Giuliani) get in trouble for a comment, and think the smart thing to do is go directly to the most adversarial media appearance, when they know that they're loose cannons and there's a great potential to make the problem worse? Rudy Giuliani hates criticism. Why would his handlers open him to it, strategically speaking?

If Rudy makes it to Iowa without physically shoving a conservative, consider me surprised.

By the way, Fred Thompson was once pro-choice, too. This Republican field is the comedy gift that keeps on giving...

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Let's See What Ellen Tauscher Is Made Of

Ellen Tauscher sits on the House Armed Services Committee. Today they may attempt to put a rider in the defense authorization bill that would restore the great writ of habeas corpus, which allows detainees to petition the courts to understand why they are being held. This time-honored tradition of civilization, dating back to 1215 and the Magna Carta, was shamefully stripped out by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Matt Stoller is urging everyone to contact members of the panel to ask them to support the restoration of habeas corpus. If you have a free moment today, call Ellen Tauscher at 202-225-1880 and ask her to defend the Constitution by making it whole again. We cannot be credibly considered any kind of moral leader in the world if we detain people indefinitely without telling them why they are charged.

The full list of members of Congress to call is here. But I would pay particular attention to Congresswoman Tauscher, who claims to be in line with the concerns of her district, who claims to be a progressive. The progressive position is not to torture and not to store people away in secret prisons without end.

UPDATE: Tauscher "vows to support habeas corpus" and "will be an original co-sponsor of Skelton's bill, which is expected to be introduced next week."  This is good news.

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Schlozman News

Yes, I'm thrilled that someone named "Schlozman" is in the news so I get to keep writing Schlozman. But the news on him is actually intensifying, as well.

It appears that Todd Graves, the US Attorney in Missouri that Schlozman replaced, was actually fired by DoJ, and that Missouri Senator Kit Bond may have set the whole thing in motion.

An aide to Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) urged the White House to replace the U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo., months before Todd P. Graves's name was included on a Justice Department list of federal prosecutors the Bush administration was thinking of pushing out of their jobs.

A spokeswoman for Bond said yesterday that the senator's former counsel, Jack Bartling, contacted the White House counsel's office in the spring of 2005, without Bond's permission. According to the spokeswoman, Bartling said that Graves's replacement "would be favored," because the prosecutor's wife and brother-in-law had stirred ethics complaints in Missouri [...]

Last night, Graves issued a statement that said: "This would be humorous if we were not talking about the United States Department of Justice. First, you tell me that DOJ staffers were making secret hit lists and my name was on one of them. Then, you tell me that a staffer for Missouri's senior senator had a hit list so secret that not even the senator knew about it."

Josh Marshall points to another story from the Kansas City Star that Bond got re-acquainted with the Graves case in early 2006, around the same time that Graves' name appears on a target list created by Kyle Sampson.

Senator Bond … upon (Graves’) request personally called the White House to gain Todd extra time to wrap up case work before his departure.

A person in Bond’s office who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the discussions said the White House rejected Bond’s efforts on Graves’ behalf because of “performance” concerns. E-mails from the Justice Department and the White House have used similar language in discussing the other U.S. attorneys who were fired.

It looks like Bond may have been looking out for Graves back in 2005 and didn't want him to get caught up in these ethics scandals, and then in early 2006, Bond tried to get the Justice Department to allow him to stay a little longer so he could finish his pending cases. And the DoJ said no, he had to leave. What cases were they trying to get Graves off of?

Of course, we know what happened next. Graves was replaced with Bradley Schlozman, using the Patriot Act provision that allowed him to escape Senate confirmation, and he went on to push bogus voter fraud cases furiously and generally misuse his office. The House Judiciary Committee has taken notice of that; Schlozman will testify May 15.

It also appears that Schlozman's discriminatory hiring policy was infectious, and he actually began a legacy at the DoJ:

When he was counsel to a House subcommittee in 2005, Jay Apperson resigned after writing a letter to a federal judge in his boss's name, demanding a tougher sentence for a drug courier. As an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia in the 1990s, he infuriated fellow prosecutors when he facetiously suggested a White History Month to complement Black History Month.

Yet when Apperson was looking for a job recently, four senior Justice Department officials urged Jeffrey A. Taylor, the top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, to hire him. Taylor did, and allowed him to skip the rigorous vetting process that the vast majority of career federal prosecutors face.

It used to be that you couldn't hire someone that partisan for a career prosecutor job. But the rules didn't apply to this Justice Department.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fire in Griffith Park

I blame Vince Vaughn's character in Made. Actually, the rumor is that it started on the same par-3 golf course that is featured in Swingers.

It's been ridiculously hot and dry here since Sunday, making the firefighters' job even worse. The smoke cloud was enormous this afternoon.

If the Observatory has to shut down, after just opening back up from a five-year hiatus... all right, I might not be that pissed, because I went opening weekend to see it, but still, the irony would be cruel.

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They're Going For It

Russ Feingold will attempt to cut funding for the war.

In a statement just sent to The BRAD BLOG, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says he is prepared to up the ante in the fight with the White House in light of Bush's spending bill veto, and will be proposing that war funding be cut off by a date certain.

Feingold adds that his proposed legislation has a number of co-sponsors already on board in the Senate. His statement just in to The BRAD BLOG:

“With brave Americans fighting and dying for a failed policy in Iraq, members of Congress shouldn’t delay action to end this misguided war for weeks or even months just for the sake of political comfort. That is why, when the Senate takes up the Iraq supplemental, I plan to offer the Feingold-Reid bill as an amendment to force the President to safely redeploy our troops by March 31, 2008 at which point funding for the war would be cut off.”

There are 10 Senators signed on to Feingold-Reid. It's a long shot to get to 60. But the continued pressure attacks the Iraq issue from all angles. At least some in Congress are not content to just wait until September. The House bill appears to fund the war to July, and then ask for an additional vote. I'd rather just give them everything they need until a date certain and then stop it - stop funding this unnecessary escalation and occupation.

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Pelosi Smeared Again

I don't do enough on this site to defend Speaker Pelosi from these ridiculous media hit jobs. It deserves wider attention because it falls into a predictable pattern. The nutjobs in the House Republican Caucus put out some kind of non-factual press release, a still-unsuspecting-after-all-these-years news organization dutifully types it up, Drudge and the right-wing noise machine links to it, and by the time the charges are completely discredited, the media schoolchildren and Republican outrage-bots have moved on to the next thing. The entire idea is to "get it out there," to plant a seed of malfeasance in the mind of the voter despite the complete disregard for the facts. This has happened at least four times that I can think of, in just the first four months-plus of the Pelosi Speakership. And I'm sick of it.

In this instance, the right is claiming that Pelosi inserted Port of San Francisco waterfront improvements into a water redevelopment bill passed by the House last month. (Ever wonder why they always catch these things long after they've voted on them? It's like they don't care about the legislation, just having an issue. Hmmm...) They claim that the improvements would benefit Pelosi's husband's rental properties.

Except the properties are a mile away from where the improvements are to be built, and the Port of San Francisco requested the improvements. This was confirmed within five minutes by Greg Sargent. But the writers and editors at the AP let that slip by, and just uncritically printed the "controversy" that was made up out of whole cloth without any factual basis.

You can add this to the Speaker requesting a phat jet so her Entourage (including Turtle) can party on the way to DC, her lowering the minimum wage in American Samoa to benefit Starkist Tuna, her going to Syria and undercutting American foreign policy, etc etc. None of these allegations where even close to being true, and all of them folded under scrutiny. Of course, that wasn't the point. The point was to get Suzanne Malveaux to call Pelosi "the most controversial Speaker yet!" The point was to make sure the low-information voter has this vague sense from Rush and Fox News headlines that Pelosi is some corrupt politician who's robbing the federal treasury for perks for her friends and allies. And this is done so that, when GOP Congressman have their houses raided and some actual tales of corruption come out, the Republicans can stamp their little feet and scream "Pelosi too!!!"

We're way too forgiving of this tactic. It's because we have actual respect for the truth. But the Republican operatives who keep feeding the AP this obvious bullshit have none. And what's more, they count on the fact that once-proud news organizations like the AP are too lazy to know the difference between reality and lies, and they'll print virtually anything as long as they can put it in the familiar "he said/she said" context, keeping them one step away from reporting the story. There's no value placed on objectivity anymore, which isn't just going to each side for a quote. There are incontrovertible facts here, and that ought to go into the decision to run with a trumped-up "story," especially when delivered by political operatives. I'm fuming at this incident, and while certainly Speaker Pelosi can take care of herself, she needs to know that the progressive movement, at least out here in California, has her back and will not let this stand.

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The Greatest American Hero

So today we added the Fort Dix Six to the lexicon, a band of terrorists so ruthless, so cunning, so methodical, so assured of success, that they taped themselves shooting guns in the woods and handed them over for dubbing to a retail store. Now, let's put aside the fact that this terrorist cell appears to be about as good at terrorism as the group in Miami who used to smoke pot and talk about waging a full ground war against the US, but didn't have enough cash for boots. And let's put side that the US Attorney in the case, Chris Christie, has come under scrutiny for politicizing his office to investigate Democrats. Let's put aside all skepticism about the timing of the announcement or the ability of the plotters to pull anything off or how the whole episode shows that effective law enforcement is the key to protecting America.

Let's talk about the unsung hero of this story. Let's talk about the clerks.

We don't know a whole lot about the store clerk who tipped off the FBI that there was some supicious activity on a video received from a customer. I guess we know that it wasn't Kevin Smith. But other than that, little. I've seen him or her alternately described as a "shopkeeper" all the way to a "cashier." The name is being withheld, and it will probably remain that way. Here's a representative sample of the information that has been gleaned.

Weiss saluted the unidentified New Jersey store clerk who noticed the suspicious video as the "unsung hero" of the case. "That's why we're here today _ because of the courage and heroism of that individual," the FBI agent said.

So we can't talk with a great deal of specificity about this particular sales clerk, dubbed a hero by the FBI. What we can do is discuss the average store clerk in New Jersey, and how this economy is tilted against them, how they must struggle to keep up in the service sector jobs which in much of the country are the consolation prizes for globalization.

What do we know about how much a clerk in New Jersey makes? Well, consulting, we learn that the median salary for that job is $37,280 dollars a year. Of course, that is weighted with union cashier/clerk jobs like grocery workers, for example. We know that nonunion workers in the service sector in New Jersey make roughly 60% of their union counterparts. Most cashiers and clerks are nonunion. In addition, experience plays a major factor; those on the job 20 years or more make much more than the norm, which are those in the job between 1-4 years. So I'm more inclined to believe that the average wage for a store clerk in New Jersey is closer to what this Bureau of Labor Statistics study computes:


That would put our sales clerk right on the edge of the poverty line.

We know that the statewide average rent in New Jersey is almost $1100/month, and 53% of all New Jerseyites couldn't afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment, for example. So if this average sales clerk has a family, he's cramped, especially if he has children.

We know that 14% of the state's citizens don't have health insurance, and that this number disproportionately affects those in the income bracket as our average store clerk. Even if the clerk does have insurance, the quality of care is among the nation's costliest while simultaneously being among the nation's poorest. And without health care, it just gets that much more expensive.

Getting sick anywhere can be an expensive proposition for those lacking health insurance, but nowhere is it more expensive than in New Jersey, a new study has found.

The state's hospitals, on average, charge uninsured patients or those who pay out of pocket more than four times what insurance companies and Medicare end up paying for the same care, according to the study published today in the journal Health Affairs.

For example, a patient without insurance would be billed $456 for the same services a New Jersey hospital charged insurance companies $100, according to the study by John Hopkins researchers, which used 2004 billing data.

That gap was the greatest of any state, and overwhelmingly affected the working poor and other low-income residents, the study concluded.

Just like our sales clerk!

And if he ever has a catastrophic medical event happen to him or his family, forget about declaring bankruptcy.

Now, New Jersey is a fairly liberal state, but the problems I'm describing are systemic, and they result from the value placed on chasing jobs abroad instead of keeping them at home, from the value placed on free enterprise in health care rather than the moral imperative of ensuring all of our citizens can get well, from the value placed on tax breaks for businesses instead of providing everyone in this country with a living wage and the opportunity for their families to get ahead. I could have picked any state in the union. It just so happens that this unidentified sales clerk was called a "hero" by the FBI.

Is this how we treat heroes in America?

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It's Getting Hot In Herre

Rudy Giuliani probably would have been able to keep this out of the papers in a general election environment, but when you have Republican ratfuckers circling around in the other campaigns, there was no way.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani in his campaign appearances this year has stated that he personally abhors abortion, even though he supports keeping a legal right to choose. But records show that in the '90s he contributed money at least six times to Planned Parenthood, one of the country's leading abortion rights groups and its top provider of abortions.

Federal tax returns made public by the former New York mayor show that he and his then-wife, Donna Hanover, made personal donations to national, state and city chapters of Planned Parenthood totaling $900 in 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999.

The returns have been on the public record for years, but the detail about Giuliani's support for Planned Parenthood -- along with e-mailed copies of the returns -- was provided to The Politico by aides to a rival campaign, who insisted on not being identified.

I've already heard three conservative commentators, referencing Giuliani's statement that he "hates" abortion, explain that "I wouldn't give money to fund something that I hate."

This is only the beginning. The Republican nomination is very up for grabs, which means it's going to get 40 kinds of ugly. That didn't happen in 2000 because Bush was the only one with the money and the mean streak to cut the hearts out of his rivals. You can bet that everybody will do it this year, because victory is so up for grabs. The winner of the Republican nomination will almost certainly be damaged goods. And how couldn't they be? They're a collection of unprincipled pander bears who will do anything to get elected and run away from their record.

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Blaming the Victims

In 2005, you saw the Bush Administration blaming Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana for her performance during Hurricane Katrina, while at the same time they were criminally negligent in providing federal assistance. Now they're trying the same thing in Kansas.

The White House fought back Tuesday against criticism from Kansas’ governor that National Guard deployments to Iraq are slowing the response to last week’s devastating tornado.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the fault was Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’.

In a spat reminiscent of White House finger-pointing at Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco after the federal government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, Snow rapped Sebelius for not following procedure to find gaps and then asking the federal government to fill them.

“If you don’t request it, you’re not going to get it,” he said.

That's one of those, whaddyacallit, um... damn lies. And Sebelius has a lot of support in Kansas, so I don't think this one's going to work.

* Dec. 30, 2005: Sebelius writes to Rumsfeld requesting new equipment. “The Guard was critical to responding to recent blizzards and floods in Kansas, yet its ability to respond to similar situations is being diminished by a lack of equipment,” wrote Sebelius. Included with her letter was a list of equipment Kansas had lost to the Iraq war. [Kansas City Star, 1/21/06; Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]

* Jan. 23, 2006: Sebelius personally urges Bush to increase National Guard funding. In an one-hour motorcade ride in Kansas with Bush, Sebelius expressed concern about “a reduction of National Guard troop strength in its next budget.” Bush assured her he was “dealing” with the shortages. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 1/24/06; Kansas City Star, 3/11/06]

* June 28, 2006: Sebelius sends Army Secretary list of equipment lost in war. In a meeting with Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, Sebelius told Harvey that the state had lost about $140 million in National Guard equipment to the Iraq war. Her office then sent him a list of the lost equipment. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]

* Sept. 5, 2006: Sebelius lobbies for replacement of National Guard equipment sent to Iraq. “Kansas’ congressional delegation, Sebelius and governors from around the country have been lobbying the Pentagon for increased funding to replace National Guard equipment that has been left in Iraq or damaged beyond repair after repeated use in war.” [AP, 9/5/06]

* Feb. 27, 2007: Sebelius pushes White House and Congress for more funding. “Now the Guard needs Washington’s help,” Sebelius said in press conference on Capitol Hill. “The President and Congress need to step up to the plate and give our Guard members the support they deserve.” [Press Release, 2/27/07]

Apparently this wasn't filed in triplicate on the proper T&S report, that's Snow's excuse for blatantly stretching the truth.

This is extremely simple. National Guard equipment belongs in the states, and doesn't need to be asked for. When disaster strikes, and it strikes unpredictably because it's a disaster, that equipment is needed immediately. It's not a situation that you can remedy with a formal request. The states need their own disaster preparedness program immediately. It's thuddingly stupid to suggest that a Governor didn't ask for anything so it's her fault for not being able to clean up after a natural disaster.

Mahablog has more.

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