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

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth

Live Earth has a blog. And I have to say, the Sundance Channel's coverage has been absolutely stunning. No annoying hosts, no fluff, just songs from everywhere on the globe, mixed up with original short films about the climate crisis. Really fine work.

At one level, this is a carefully constructed bit of agitprop. But nothing gets done in this world without a committed group of people willing to shout it from the rooftops. Music in the 20th and 21st centuries has always been an excellent tool, as a rallying cry, as a means for social justice (and in this case, environmental justice). Al Gore has put together something in the biggest way possible, leveraging his notoreity and his power to send a wake-up call to the world. While Melissa Etheridge is essentially conducting a campaign commercial for him right now, to be honest the Presidency would be a come-down. He's far more valuable outside the tent.

Oh yeah, and Nunatuk rocks. Seriously, they f'in rock.

Sign the Live Earth Pledge. Incidentally, there's a very conservative bent to it, with its focus on personal responsibility.

UPDATE: Everything you want to know about Nunatuk at this site from the British Antarctic Survey. I'm dying for an .mp3.

UPDATE II: Gore gave an interview while in transit between two legs of the concert (DC and NYC), and there's some good things in there. I guess Live Earth has been criticized for not giving enough of a specific action item, although I think the Live Earth Pledge is fairly specific (restore a Kyoto-like regulatory apparatus, personal responsibility to lower carbon output, no more power plants that aren't green, etc.). But Gore rightly says that this is about a new movement.

Gore turned back criticism that the concert series lacked immediate goals beyond generally raising awareness about climate change. The concerts are just the first step in a three-year public relations campaign, he said.

"I've been trying to deliver this message for 30 years, and I know that it doesn't take in just one delivery," he said. "You've got to keep going."

The concerts will be followed by a global advertising campaign, with a particular focus on the United States.

"The planet doesn't have a PR agent," he said. "But now it will, because the Alliance for Climate Protection is going to use the modern techniques of messaging to get the scientific evidence in front of people all over the world."

Repetition of message is as key to social movements as it is to political success. Gore's message is strong, and he's the perfect person to deliver it.

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The CA Legislature Must Keep The Pressure On

Frank Russo predictably delivered with great coverage of yesterday's Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing into political pressure from the Governor's Office on the California Air Resources Board. Just keep scrolling. The most shocking piece of news that Russo highlights, which was also in a couple news articles on the subject, was that the Administration flack sent to give the Governor's side of the story, Dan Skopec, ISN'T EVEN PART OF THE ADMINISTRATION ANYMORE.

Skopec no longer works for the Schwarzenegger Administration as of a week ago, and has started his own firm, "Climate & Energy Consulting" on Sacramento's K Street Mall, to serve clients he described as "emerging technologies companies that will take advantage of the changes in energy that will result from climate policies." Despite repeated questions from committee members, he refused to reveal who in the Administration had asked him to testify, who he had spoken to about the hearing, who had prepped him, and what he was told. Although he repeatedly testified about actions of the Schwarzenegger Administration using the word "we", he later apologized for the use of that word which he is accustomed to use. He later admitted that he was not speaking for the Schwarzenegger Administration, but was basically there as a private citizen.

They sent a lobbyist to defend the Governor. The hay that can be made from that decision is pretty clear. And this part could be even more damning:

Dr. Sawyer (the former CARB chief), in his testimony, complimented Catherine Witherspoon for resigning from her position as the Executive Officer of CARB since she serves in that position at the pleasure of the board itself. Despite the desire of Susan Kennedy, Schwarzenegger's Chief of Staff, to have her fired, this could not be accomplished directly by the Governor. Sawyer said he had been ordered to place this on the agenda and met with a subcommittee of the board only to find out that there was a consensus of fellow board members not to do so. It was feared that had Witherspoon remained in the position that individual board members would be removed until there was a majority willing to fire her.

Does this remind one of the Saturday massacre involving U.S. Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal of the Nixon Administration?

Schwarzenegger is taking a beating in both the local and national press, as well he should. This reflects nothing more than an abuse of power.

I would like everyone reading this who lives in California to call their Assemblymember. They need to know that they will be supported in this effort to rein in the Schwarzenegger Administration and ensure that oversight is undertaken and the laws of the state are met. That includes subpoenas for top Schwarzenegger Administration officials if need be. The Senate also needs to hear from you; they will be meeting next week in the Rules Committee to confirm the new chair of the Board, Mary Nichols. That needs to be a legitimate confirmation hearing with tough questions about Nichols' independence and how she will implement the Global Warmings Solution Act. This is not a small issue; as I write, I'm watching the Live Earth concerts and seeing millions of people begging for action on climate change. Now, here we have one of the only legitimate pieces of legislation in this country addressing the issue, and it's being undermined by a Governor who wants to talk big on the environment while supporting his corporate buddies behind the scenes.

These are the Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee, who are particularly important.

Loni Hancock - Chair
Dem-14 (916) 319-2014
Julia Brownley
Dem-41 (916) 319-2041
Felipe Fuentes
Dem-39 (916) 319-2039
John Laird
Dem-27 (916) 319-2027
Lori Saldaña
Dem-76 (916) 319-2076

Here are the points of contact for the Senate Rules Committee:

Senator Don Perata (Chair)
(510) 286-1333.
Senator Gilbert Cedillo
Senator Alex Padilla
(818) 901-5588

It helps, of course, if you are a constituent (Asm. Brownley will be getting plenty of calls from me). But even if you're not, this is an important enough issue, one that speaks to the very structure of democracy in this state, that you should make a call. And ALL of your representatives ought to know that you're paying close attention to this issue and that you want results which are consistent with the law and the need to take a real and not a symbolic step in the fight against global warming.

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The Trial

In a scenario only Kafka could write, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ordered a dismissal of the ACLU lawsuit against the President's warrantless wiretapping program, which a federal judge earlier ruled unconstitutional, because of lack of standing.

So, the appeals court is saying that, because the plaintiffs could not show that they were subject to surveillance, they could not bring suit. When the plaintiffs tried to determine from the government if their were being spied upon, the government claimed official secrecy. So you can't sue for having your civil rights violated through spying unless you KNOW that the government is spying on you. Which defeats the purpose of SPYING.

The government through the Congress can still investigate the spying program, but the President can cite executive privilege. And it doesn't seem like they can, as Jonathan Turley suggested, investigate it as a crime, since it's a crime without standing.

This is a casualty of the national security state, as official secrecy has been built out (and the courts have become very deferential), and what the courts are really saying here is that any program conducted in secret is by default legal, because nobody can prove that it exists. Is this how we want our American principles and ideals to be carried forward? If this ruling stands, the American experiment is actually over. It provides a blueprint for any successive Administration to perform any action that impinges on the rights and liberties of citizens: just don't tell anybody about it.

The ACLU has vowed to continue the fight, and they make a couple good points in the service of futility:

"We are deeply disappointed by today's decision that insulates the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance of their telephone calls and e-mails. As a result of today's decision, the Bush administration has been left free to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Congress adopted almost 30 years ago to prevent the executive branch from engaging in precisely this kind of unchecked surveillance.

"It is important to emphasize that the court today did not uphold the legality of the government's warrantless surveillance activity. Indeed, the only judge to discuss the merits clearly and unequivocally declared that the warrantless surveillance was unlawful.

"We are currently reviewing all of our legal options, including taking this challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime it is now more important than ever for Congress to engage in meaningful oversight."

Which is all true, but the recent Extreme Makeover: Federalist Society Edition of the Supremes means that this argument of standing is likely to hold water with them, and so it doesn't matter if the judiciary doesn't uphold the legality of the wiretapping progam. It's certainly not ILLEGAL if it's unable to be stopped.

And, I would add that, as Glenn Greenwald says, the appeals court decision was legally sound.

But the fact that the decision's result is so unfair does not mean, unfortunately, that it was wrongly decided. The role of the judge is to apply the law as it exists, and a judge is not free -- nor should we want them to be free -- to disregard binding legal doctrine whenever the judge decides that doing so is necessary to avoid unfair results. In a society that exists under the rule of law, the solution to bad laws and bad legal doctrines is to change those laws democratically, not to empower judges unilaterally to disregard the law in order to produce (what the individual judge perceives to be) better results.

As technical-seeming as it is, "standing" is a critically important constitutional limitation on the power of the judiciary. Independently, whether one believes in the merits of this doctrine or not, it is a requirement that must be fulfilled before the Constitution permits a court to rule on any matter. And there is good reason for that.

Courts are not omnipotent, free-floating bodies that exist in order to resolve all disputes. If courts had the power to resolve every abstract political and legal dispute, courts themselves would be omnipotent, or at least supreme. The Constitution thus limits the power of courts by narrowing the circumstances in which courts are empowered to act ("The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases . . . [and] to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party"). Rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court over the years has interpreted that provision to require (roughly speaking) direct and unique injury by the party who is suing, and the Sixth Circuit judges were required to apply that doctrine.

This is essentially a crack in the Constitutional system that the Bush Administration has managed to exploit because of the accumulated buildup of the national security state and the continuing reverence for official secrecy. The Bush Administration never tries to make an argument that their spying program is legal, just that nobody has a right to challenge it. They understand that other branches of government will constrain themselves to the powers granted to them by the Constitution, even if they won't.

Here's the solution, as expressed by Greenwald:

There are ways for Congress to act here in order to enable or even compel a court to rule on the legality of the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. Regardless of one's views on the legality of this program, obtaining a judicial ruling is urgently necessary. It should require little mental energy to contemplate the dangers of allowing our government leaders to spy on us (or take other actions against us) in secret and then simultaneously block any and all processes to determine whether they have broken the law.

Exactly. And Congress needs to act as quickly as possible. The powers of the executive have been constantly expanding over 230 years, and it's time for that process to stop.

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Just Horrible

105 dead in a car bombing near Kirkuk, which is part of an entirely different civil war in Iraq, between Kurds who want the oil-rich city for themselves, and the Shiites who want it for themselves. Meanwhile we're trying to arm Shiite government factions and Sunni tribes at the same time, which is only ensuring that all sides in conflict will be well-armed as they continue to go to war with one another.

This needs to end yesterday, and it's going to take more than talk from a few Republicans trying to save their jobs.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Fred Thompson, Abortion Rights Lobbyist

H/t to Kevin Drum for alerting me to this candidacy-ending story about Fred Thompson's former work as an insider Washington lobbyist. Like most lobbyists, he was a hired gun, and if the money was green, he didn't give a crap what he was shilling. Including one or two causes that are going to hurt him in a Republican primary.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred D. Thompson, who is campaigning for president as a "pro-life" Republican, accepted a lobbying assignment from a family-planning group to persuade the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction, according to a 1991 document and five people familiar with the matter [...]

His task was to urge the administration of President George H.W. Bush to withdraw or relax a rule that barred abortion counseling at clinics that receive federal money, according to the records and the five people who worked on the matter.

The abortion "gag rule" was a major political flashpoint at the time. Thompson's lobbying would clash directly with the anti-abortion movement that he is now trying to rally behind his campaign for president.

It's always interesting to see how a Presidential campaign reacts to their first major hit to their candidacy. You might remember that Rudy Giuliani responded to the first major criticism of his campaign, from firefighters who questioned his commitment to them obefore, during and after 9/11, by assembling a made-up front group called "Firefighters for Rudy" that was essentially one person and a fax machine. For Thompson, his tactic is to essentially do a version of the Monty Python Argument Sketch:

Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo adamantly denied that Thompson worked for the family planning group. "Fred Thompson did not lobby for this group, period," he said in an e-mail.

In a telephone interview, he added: "There's no documents to prove it, there's no billing records, and Thompson says he has no recollection of it, says it didn't happen." In a separate interview, John Sununu, the White House official whom Thompson was hired to contact, said he had no memory of any lobbying and doubted it took place.

Well that sounds air-tight. Guess the LA Times got this one wrong. Nothing to see h-

But Judith DeSarno, who was president of the family planning association in 1991, said Thompson lobbied for the group for several months.

Minutes of the board's meeting of Sept. 14, 1991, a copy of which DeSarno gave to The Times, say: "Judy [DeSarno] reported that the Association had hired Fred Thompson, Esq., as counsel to aid us in discussions with the Administration'' on the abortion-counseling rule.

Former Rep. Michael Barnes of Maryland, a colleague at the lobbying and law firm where Thompson worked, said DeSarno had asked him to recommend someone for the lobbying work, and that he had suggested that she hire Thompson. He said it was "absolutely bizarre" for Thompson to deny that he lobbied against the abortion counseling rule.

"I talked to him while he was doing it, and I talked to [DeSarno] about the fact that she was very pleased with the work that he was doing for her organization," said Barnes, a Democrat. "I have strong, total recollection of that. This is not something I dreamed up or she dreamed up. This is fact."

DeSarno said Thompson reported to her, after being hired, that he had held multiple conversations about the abortion "gag rule" with Sununu, who was then the White House chief of staff and the president's point man on the abortion rule.

Er... Thompson, we have a problem.

Man: Is this the right room for an argument?
Mr Vibrating: I've told you once.
Man: No you haven't.
Mr Vibrating: Yes I have.
Man: When?
Mr Vibrating: Just now!
Man: No you didn't.
Mr Vibrating: Yes I did!
Man: Didn't.
Mr Vibrating: Did.
Man: Didn't.
Mr Vibrating: I'm telling you I did!
Man: You did not!
Mr Vibrating: I'm sorry, is this a five minute argument, or the full half hour?

DeSarno recounts entire conversations and idiosyncratic stories like Thompson re-enacting scenes from movies to her. That Sununu denies any conversation gives Thompson two options: either Sununu and him are lying, or Thompson was in the habit, as a lobbyist, of taking money from organizations and pretending to lobby for them while sitting on his ass. I wouldn't be surprised by either.

This is a long and well-sourced article that will be a major blow to Thompson's efforts to cast himself as the rock-ribbed conservative to the crowd who will decide the GOP nomination. And the way in which Thompson is reacting to the story, by denying it ever happened, doesn't bode well for his campaign will react in the crucible of 21st-century politics.

Suddenly, he doesn't scare me so much.

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CARBgate Hearing - Republicans chicken out, Democrats hold firm

The first couple reports about today's Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing into the politicization of the California Air Resources Board are starting to dribble out. The SacBee described a set of angry lawmakers sking pointed questions and threatening that their probe into how the Governor is trying to manipulate the board into adopting his favored implementation of anti-global warming laws would continue.

Assembly Democrats said Friday they will continue investigating whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger exerted "illegal and improper pressure" on the California Air Resources Board after they were dissatisfied with answers given by two lower-level representatives of the governor at a Capitol hearing.

The higher-ups sought for questioning, Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, did not arrive, even though handy seat cards were placed at the table awaiting their presence. Dan Skopec, the functionary who the Schwarzenegger Administration sent to testify, apparently grumbled and gainsayed his way through the hearing, much to the dismay of committee Democrats. Matt Jones at CMR writes:

Skopec, who, in a former life, carried the water of Rep. Doug Ose (the former Sacramento area Congressman who defended the energy generators), was a disaster. He called the testimony of CARB officials "fiction," and then refused to answer committee questions about the Governor's staff review of his testimony. He also provoked the committee by calling the hearing political theater -- not a wise move for someone who later said he may soon be a lobbyist before the legislature.

Skopec's comments drew scorn from Assemblymember Jared Huffman of Marin County, who compared the Schwarzenegger Administration's micromanagement of the Air Board to Karl Rove in the White House. LA Assemblymember Mike Feuer also lit into Skopec for failing to fully answer questions. Other members of the panel -- including Santa Barbara Assemblymember Pedro Nava, Sacramento's Dave Jones, and Mark DeSaulnier of Contra Costa County -- also asked pointed questions and drew incomplete answers from the Administration officials.

Jones also mentioned that not one Republican on the committee even bothered to show up at the hearing. They want no part of this controversy, probably because they don't believe in such a thing as global warming to begin with.

The testimony of the two former members of the Air Resources Board, Robert Sawyer and Catherine Witherspoon, seemed to me to be fairly damaging.

Schwarzenegger fired Sawyer last month, and Witherspoon resigned Monday because she said the Governor's Office had tried to control the air board to the benefit of polluters. In particular, Witherspoon said Schwarzenegger deputy chief of staff Dan Dunmoyer had routinely called her to question whether ARB policies would unduly hurt businesses in California.

Sawyer said the governor's office has undermined the traditional independence of the air board, which has the reputation of being an apolitical, science-based body.

"The governor's staff has the task of conveying policy directions from the governor to the Air Resources Board," Sawyer said. "However, Gov. Schwarzenegger, your staff has interjected itself in a manner that has compromised the independence and integrity of the board."

You know, it doesn't matter whether or not legislators want the Governor's support on healthcare reform, or the term limits initiative. This cuts to the very heart of how the branches of government in California function. The Assembly is standing up right now, so far, because they feel the presence would have no meaning if they pass laws that the Governor then can simply circumnavigate to arrive at his preferred solution. In addition, the Assembly is not being permitted to conduct oversight with the actual executive staff involved in the incident. If Dan Dunmoyer was calling CARB members and pressuring them to back off tough regulatory stances, then he must be brought before the committee to answer for that. It's quite simple.

As for next steps, Loni Hancock, who's an excellent progressive voice in the Assembly, is mulling over a variety of options.

Afterward, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the committee chair, left open the possibility of seeking a subpoena of Kennedy and Dunmoyer to force them to answer committee questions. She also said lawmakers may pursue bills that enable air board appointees to serve for fixed terms rather than at the pleasure of the governor, giving board members more independence. Another possibility is to give state lawmakers appointment powers.

I don't see how the Governor would sign bills taking away his authority, so to me, the subpoena route seems the only one that's viable. Democrats are also starting to fight this one in the court of public opinion, which to someone like the ego-driven Schwarzenegger is the only court that matters.

This should get very, very interesting. Stay tuned...

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Hail To The Victors

You really need to watch David Shuster, subbing for Tweety on Hardball, just annihilate neoconservative fraud Fouad Ajami, who had the gall to liken Scooter Libby to a fallen soldier serving in Iraq who needed to be rescued. Shuster actually reported on the Plame case, he was actually in the courthouse, and unlike these idiot made-for-TV pundits and hosts he actually has a command of the facts of the case. So he absolutely wasn't going to let Ajami get away with nonsense like "Libby didn't leak anything to anybody" for a second. It's a hell of a moment, seeing a host dispense with the "he said/she said" game that characterizes our modern media, and actually enter the fray and referee on the side of truth and honesty.

And he's a Michigan man, too. Mike Wallace also came from the U-M. And Carole Simpson. Yeah, and Jon Chait too, but we don't get EVERYTHING right. (Actually, I don't mind Chait, except for his mindless establishment "hate the hippies" vibe and the fact that he accepts a paycheck from Marty Peretz every two weeks. Actually, I'd like to see Shuster take on Peretz, who also doesn't know a goddamn thing about the Plame case, and has decided that Republican prosecutors and Republican federal judges are somehow rabidly partisan Bush haters.)

Go Blue.

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Obviously it's hard to win a war when you have to kill everybody TWICE...

Remember how the #3 man at Al Qaeda has been killed like 20 times? And remember how we learned that military stats about deaths in Iraq doesn't count those who die from car bombs?

Well, keep that in mind when you consider more evidence that the military isn't being completely straight about casualty figures:

The U.S. command in Baghdad this week ballyhooed the killing of a key al Qaeda leader but later admitted that the military had declared him dead a year ago.

A military spokesman acknowledged the mistake after it was called to his attention by The Examiner. He said public affairs officers will be more careful in announcing significant kills.

Of course, the liberal media didn't entertain the possibility that the al Qaeda leader regenerated himself. Oh, no, it has to be the MILITARY'S fault, doesn't it?

I hate to offer these analogies, but if a newspaper double-counted a soldier's death in Iraq, wouldn't every Little Green Footballs/Ace of Spades/Confederate Yankee/Dan Reihl/other random warblogger use such an oversight as proof that we were winning the war and that the press is actively rooting for our destruction?

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Doolittle: I'm an America-hating peacenik!

The rallying cry for John Doolittle these days appears to be: "What do we want? Some vague and undefined drawdown of US troops from Iraq at some point in the not-as-yet-determined future. When do we want it? Now!"

Rep. John Doolittle, a conservative California congressman, today joined others in his party rapidly deserting the president on the Iraq war.

At a town hall meeting in Rocklin and then in a meeting with the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee he questioned whether the conflict was worth the loss of more American lives. He said U.S. troops should be pulled back from the front lines "as soon as possible" and the fighting turned over to Iraqi forces.

A longtime supporter of the war, Doolittle called the situation in Iraq a "quagmire" on Thursday. "We've got to get off the front lines as soon as possible," Doolittle said at Rocklin City Hall, the Bee reported. "And in my mind that means something like the end of the year. We just can't continue to tolerate these kinds of losses.

"I don't want to keep having our people dying on the front lines. I am increasingly convinced that we never are going to succeed in actually ending people dying (in Iraq). I think it's going to be a constant conflict ... and if that is going to happen ... it needs to be the Iraqis dying and not the Americans."

First of all, the Iraqis are dying, in enormous numbers. Second, it's wholly unsurprising that the Republicans coming out of the woodwork now to condemn the occupation of Iraq happen to be the same ones worried about their re-election prospects. Third, Doolittle doesn't say that he would endorse or vote for any Democratic plan to actually end our involvement in Iraq or draw down American troops, so this talk is about as useful as an old guy in a bar in Roseville jabbering about Iraq.

What Doolittle will probably end up signing onto is this horrible bill calling for the implementation of the results of the Iraq Study Group, which sets up so many conditions and unreachable goals before any withdrawal can be ordered that it has the effect of keeping troops in Iraq forever. Plus, it's a nonbinding "sense of the Congress" resolution. If Doolittle is serious about ending the occupation, there are plenty of bills he can co-sponsor. It's not about talk, but action.

Howie Klein at Down With Tyranny has more.

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Absolutely and Completely Frightening

It's getting cursory play in the US media, but the siege of the Red Mosque in Pakistan, which for months has been overtaken by radical pro-Taliban Islamists, is cause for a great deal of alarm. Pakistan's status as an "ally" in the war on terror is debatable even in its nominal form; the radical movements in the country are stronger than the so-called "moderate" governmental forces. This public showdown of the two has the distinct possibility of being yet another spark that would cause the ouster of General Musharraf and the possibility of total anarchy in the nuclear-armed nation, which would be instantly the greatest threat to global security. Today, there was another assassination attempt on Musharraf:

Gunman fired on a plane carrying President Gen. Pervez Musharraf today as the government’s siege of a radical mosque in the center of Islamabad continued for a fourth day.

Security officials recovered three large guns from a nearby rooftop in a congested area of Rawalpindi, the site of two previous attempts on Mr. Musharraf’s life.

“Two antiaircraft guns were found which were not fired,” a government statement said. “However, shots were fired from a 7.62 sub-machine gun with telescope.”

There are ongoing negotiations between the student radicals in the mosque and the government, but at least 19 people have died so far, and this incident is fairly unprecedented for Islamabad, which is why I think it may lead to greater violence. There was an amusing moment when one of the chief clerics of the mosque was arrested while trying to leave the scene in a burqa. There's a chance that tensions could dissipate, as many other students are leaving the compound. But anytime there's fighting on the streets in Pakistan, it's a problem, because that country is a house of cards that could fall at any moment.

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CARBgate Update: Schwarzenegger Taking A Hit Nationally

I wouldn't have expected the national media to pick up on the story of the Governor's actions not matching his rhetoric when it comes to the environment, but the New York Times actually found some room for it in today's paper.  They even highlight the governing-by-magazine-cover that has become a staple of this Administration.

In September, Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, signed into law a landmark emissions-reduction measure and then drove a green bus during his easy, breezy re-election campaign. Since then, he has announced that he will buy offsets for his own personal carbon emissions, threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over air quality and appeared on the cover of Newsweek spinning a globe on his finger [...]

But the Governator’s eco-friendly reputation may have taken a dent over the last week in a messy battle over the leadership of the California Air Resources Board, a science-geared agency that has traditionally operated with considerable autonomy, even though its 11 members are political appointees. Its most visible mandate is the nuts and bolts of putting the emissions law, known as AB 32, into effect [...]

“We have schizophrenia here,” said James Marston, a lobbyist for Environmental Defense who worked on passing the emissions law. “Even while we were doing AB 32, the Schwarzenegger administration was a little schizophrenic." [...]

“There’s an obvious difference to what he’s been saying and what his administration and other appointees have been doing,” said Don Perata, a Democrat who is president pro tempore of the State Senate. “There’s some real knuckle draggers over there.”

The replacement of the fired Robert Sawyer on the board with environmental stalwart Mary Nichols certainly reflects an effort by the Governor to stop the bleeding.  But the Democrats in the Assembly are holding a hearing on the Sawyer and Catherine Witherspoon resignations today, and when our man in Sacramento Frank Russo has any information we'll bring it to you. 

Meanwhile, two top aides to Schwarzenegger, Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, were asked to testify in the hearing, and the Governor refused their participation.  So committee Chair Loni Hancock is talking about subpoenas:

Assembly Democrats said they may need to subpoena two of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's aides, who are expected to rebuff an invitation to testify at an oversight hearing today on why two officials were forced from the state's air resources board.

Berkeley Assemblywoman Loni Hancock sent letters to Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, asking them to testify at the Natural Resources hearing she heads. Her committee is looking into accusations that the administration interfered with the board's implementation of AB 32, the landmark law to curb greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020.

"If we don't get the answers we hope and expect, the committee will explore the option of a subpoena," said Steve Maviglio, deputy chief of staff for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles.

Schwarzenegger's aides had not replied to Hancock by Thursday, though a spokesman said they will send a representative of the administration to the hearing but not the two staff members.

Dan Walters thinks that this could be some kabuki theater, which would be interesting, because clearly there is a real conflict over implementation of the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, and clearly neither side wants to give an inch.  The Governor has the upper hand because the Air Resources Board, which is tasked with implementation, is entirely appointed by him.  But the Legislature can undertake meaningful oversight like they are today, and use Schwarzenegger's fascination with his own self-image as a lever to get the required solution.  This bit, incidentally, from Walters' story, was remarkably reminiscent of another chief executive:

Núñez [...] said he had wanted Kennedy and Dunmoyer to appear before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee today -- asking first orally and then, late Tuesday, in the form of letters to the two gubernatorial aides. [...]

Later, Schwarzenegger's press secretary, Aaron McLear, said such an appearance "would be unprecedented," which doesn't square with the historical facts. Kennedy, who was then a high-ranking aide to Schwarzenegger's predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis, testified before a legislative committee delving into a scandal involving a software contract with Oracle Corp. five years ago. In fact, the circumstances were somewhat similar, with critics alleging that Kennedy had interceded with a state agency for political reasons.

A press flack calling appearances before legislative committees "unprecedented" when the same person sought to testify has HERSELF appeared in the past?  Knock me over with a feather.

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The Sad Downfall of John McCain

Ron Paul, a fringe candidate with no chance of victory in the Republican primary, indeed someone who probably is getting as much money from liberals and libertarians as anyone, has more money in the bank than Mr. Straight Talk Maverick. Maybe that's because Ron Paul is actually a maverick instead of a silly old pander-bear.

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I Miss You More Than Michael Bay Missed The Point With Pearl Harbor

I've pretty much given up on the action genre as a whole, so I was able to dismiss Matthew Yglesias' stirring defense of Michael Bay pretty easily (by the way, that commercial he cites, where the couple fantasize about a life together and then suddenly realize the mundanity and reality of it, is based on a passage Peter DeVries wrote 20 years earlier). But I have to say that this may be the all-time comment for the record books:

The really amazing thing about that ad is that you can figure out where the characters are in relation to each other -- they're in an elevator together, the boy's on the left, the girl's on the right. That spatial coherence in itself sets this off from any of Bay's feature-length work.

Bay is not just the world's worst action director, he's actually setting back the accumulated history of cinema about 100 years. D.W. Griffith was the first one to determine film grammar, including cross cutting and screen direction continuity and insert shots and point of view. Bay is actually unspooling that. It's like giving Thomas Edison a $200 million-dollar budget.

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Stop Fourthbranch, But Not With This Video

Brave New Films has a new video. Impeachment is a tough call politically, but a no-brainer in terms of restoring law and justice to the country. I don't know if this video makes a strong case, however:

Not sure that a 4-minute video gives you the depth you need. What Cheney says on chat shows is not an impeachable offense. Going to Langley and pressuring CIA agents to play down disagreement, that's closer. So is his role in the Office of Special Plans intelligence chop shop at DoD. The other thing is that all of these manipulations in the first two articles of impeachment were quite transparent, and anyone paying attention would have seen right through them. And the third article, saber-rattling against Iran, is simply not impeachable at all. Cheney has violated so many rules of the office, but practically none of them are on display in this video. Thumbs down.

UPDATE: 54% is not nearly a big enough poll number needed for impeachment actually to succeed. Try 80%, which would be sufficient for skittish Republicans to jump ship. Sorry, but them's the breaks in this day and age. The drumbeat would have to be far louder than merely a partisan number.

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Friday Random Ten

This is just the thing to revive those holiday-week traffic numbers. Everyone wants to know what I listened to on the way to work!

Bring Me Down - Kanye West feat. Brandy
Hollywood Divorce - Outkast feat. Lil' Wayne & Snoop Dogg (why don't other genres "feature" additional artists? How about "Green Day feat. The Grateful Dead" or "Ornette Coleman feat. Gavin from Bush"?)
Negative Creep - Nirvana
Sure Thing - St. Germain
The Ugly Vision - Guided By Voices
Daddy's Car - The Cardigans
Milk - Kings of Leon
When The War Came - The Decemberists
Littlest Things - Lily Allen
At Last - Neko Case

My iPod finally found my music from this decade! Huzzah!

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Senate Blocking Missile Defense

Democrats in the Senate appear ready to join the House in eliminating funding for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

The Senate appears ready to join the House in cutting from the defence budget the millions Mr Bush requested to fund US missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. The president would have to use his veto to go ahead but that would put the whole defence budget in peril.

The Senate move would add to the lengthy list of obstacles that have built up to Mr Bush's plan. A consequence would be to end the stand-off with Moscow, which views the missile system as a threat. Speaking on Monday at the Bush family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, reiterated his opposition to placing the missile system so close to Russia. There is also opposition within Poland and the Czech Republic.

It's exceedingly smart not to piece out the missile defense funding in a separate bill, but to cut funding within the defense budget and force the highly unlikely scenario of Bush vetoing the entire appropriation.

Missile defense doesn't work and it's completely provocative, already straining relations with another nuclear power (Russia) who views it as a threat. It's also being pushed as a direct challenge to Iran, and in fact, Bush aides in the Armed Services Committee hyped the threat of Iran in order to keep the funding in the bill, and on thos score the Democrats came up strong:

The Bush administration, in evidence to a committee hearing, argued that it would be dangerous to delay because Iran may be further forward in developing its alleged nuclear weapon programme than the rest of the world realises. But the committee's conclusion, reported in the Washington Post yesterday, said: "There is uncertainty about whether Iran will have such long-range missiles, or nuclear warheads that could work on such missiles, by 2015."

Could have been stronger, but this suggests that the Democrats won't be bullied by threats about Iran into loosening purse strings. Walter Pincus has more in the aforementioned WaPo article.

As Big Tent Democrat mentioned today, spending power is an excellent way for the Legislative branch to provide a check on the Executive or even the Fourth branch. In this case, Democrats are also being responsible by stopping a program that is increasing tensions with Russia and plainly attempting to force a confrontation with Iran. So to anyone who says that it doesn't matter who's in control of Congress, let this be exhibit A.

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Today in Libby Spin

So I thought I'd accumulate some of the most egregious Scooter Libby commutation spin and turn it into a big long post.

Tony Snow actually took to the venerable USA Today op-ed page, and in between the brightly-colored graphs served up a melange of rationalizations and justifications:

The Constitution gives the president the power to grant clemency in a wide range of cases, at his discretion, with no restrictions. In the final hours of the Clinton administration, this unfettered authority was embodied in a mad rush to push through pardons with dizzying haste — 141 grants on Clinton's final day in office, part of 211 in the final nine weeks.

In contrast, no president in recent history has made more careful use of the pardoning power than George W. Bush: The president believes pardons and commutations should reflect a genuine determination to strengthen the rule of law and increase public faith in government.

We're allowed, and anyway Clinton abused it too, but we abused the clemency power in such a way that RESPECTED the rule of law. That's just bogus. In one account of the deliberations over the commutation, Bush's team appeared to be re-trying the case by weighing the evidence. There can be no greater disrespect of the independent judiciary than this. And we can go over all of the times in Texas when Bush didn't lift a finger to help those convicts who were mentally retarded, or those whose lawyers slept through their trials.

As for the "Clinton did it" part, there was more of this today.

The White House on Thursday made fun of former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for criticizing President Bush's decision to erase the prison sentence of former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

"I don't know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it," presidential spokesman Tony Snow said [...]

In the closing hours of his presidency, Clinton pardoned 140 people, including fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Marc Rich was REPRESENTED by Scooter Libby, and Libby made a cool couple million defending him, money that in part went to his fine today. If you have a problem with the pardoning of Marc Rich, go ask Scooter Libby if he was guilty as sin.

In addition, nobody that Bill Clinton pardoned had the goods on him. In other words, he wasn't continuing to obstruct justice by commuting a sentence, as Al Gore says best:

Former Vice President Al Gore said he found the Bush decision "disappointing" and said he did not think it was comparable to Clinton's pardons.

"It's different because in this case the person involved is charged with activities that involved knowledge of what his superiors in the White House did," Gore said on NBC's "Today" show Thursday.

You can also go back and look at Bush I's pardons of everyone connected to the Iran-Contra Affair, all of whom ALSO had information on the President himself, and realize that this is a family tradition of backscratching in exchange for silence.

In a twist on the "Clinton did it" sub-genre, radio talker Neal Boortz outright lied and claimed that Clinton was also convicted of perjury just like Libby (and as such deserved no jail time, right?):

BOORTZ: But in the case of Scooter Libby, Scooter Libby and Bill Clinton got sentenced and convicted for exactly the same crime. Can you -- now tell me, why is there so much outrage on the left that Scooter Libby isn't going to have to serve a 30-month jail term, and not a bit of outrage on the left that Bill Clinton didn't even get a 30-month jail term.

CALLER: I don't remember Bill Clinton actually being convicted for perjury.

BOORTZ: I'm sorry, he was.

CALLER: He was exonerated by a Republican Senate if I remember correctly.

The caller was, um, right.

Alan Dershowitz, one of the lawyers who filed a brief on Libby's behalf that Judge Walton famously said "wouldn't pass the muster of a first-year law student," predictably got angry at the judge for failing to recognize his brilliance:


The trial judge too acted politically, when he imposed the harshly excessive sentence on Libby, virtually provoking the president into commuting it.

As several readers who commented on Dershowitz's brief pointed out, not only was the judge who sentenced Libby--and denied him bail pending appeal--a Republican nominee, but so were two of the three Appeals Court judges who sustained that decision [...]

The Dershowitz Rule: Those who disagree with Alan Dershowitz are political.

Rudy Giuliani didn't really try to spin the White House's decision, simply calling it "reasonable", despite railing against at least one particular perjury sentencing when he was a federal prosecutor:

The United States Attorney in Manhattan, Rudolph W. Giuliani, declared yesterday that the one-year prison sentence that a Queens judge received for perjury was "somewhat shocking."

"A sentence of one year seemed to me to be very lenient," Mr. Giuliani said, when asked to comment on the sentence imposed Wednesday on Justice Francis X. Smith, the former Queens administrative judge.

And finally, there's in-over-his-head "I didn't think we'd have any tough questions over Fourth of July break" deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel, who first couldn't argue his way out of the most obvious spin-puncturing question:

Q Scott, why, if the President thought the sentence was excessive, why didn't he simply reduce it? Why do away with the entire sentence?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I think the President thought that the penalty -- the fine, the probation, the felony charge -- were all very significant penalties. And so that's why -- I'm not going to get into a gaming out of whether zero to 30 and somewhere in there was -- is the right place, but the President thought that the fine was excessive -- or the jail time was excessive, and that's why he commuted the sentence.

Q Even one day would have been considered excessive?

MR. STANZEL: The President commuted the entire sentence.

Q So a single day in jail for lying and obstructing justice, in a federal case, is excessive?

MR. STANZEL: The President believed that 30 months, the sentence that was given -- one day wasn't given, 30 months was.

Q Right, but it's not the 30 months that he thought was excessive, it was the entire sentence.

MR. STANZEL: It was the --

Q -- any time in jail.

It reminds me of that Kids in the Hall episode where the customer is haggling with the sales clerk, and the sales clerk keeps saying "$500" and the customer thinks about it, and goes, "No dollars." The all-or-nothing aspect of this makes plain that this was a makedly political act.

Then there's this gem.

Q Scott, is Scooter Libby getting more than equal justice under the law? Is he getting special treatment?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by "equal justice under the law."

Epitaph for an Administration. They don't know what "equal justice under the law means.

FOOTNOTE: I will add that at least one Republican didn't check his "law and order" bona fides at the door when it comes to this case.

So far, however, only one congressional Republican from Florida, Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, has publicly broken with party leaders and the president, saying Bush's decision was wrong. Most of the others have just kept mum.

"Mr. Libby was tried by a jury of his peers and was convicted of a felony, " Bilirakis said in a statement. "The fact that Mr. Libby committed this crime while serving as a public official makes it all the more egregious. Excessive or not, Mr. Libby's sentence should be respected."

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Tales of Journalism

Here's one of those stupid stories that strives vainly for balance, this time when talking about the health care issue and the 2008 race. It acts like Republicans have come out just as boldly for various health care proposals as the Democrats, and then uses some sleight-of-hand to try and make that seem true. In actuality, the only evidence for this on the Republican side in the article is that Giuliani "plans to produce a major proposal in the next month" which will offer the same failed policies George Bush has offered to the delight of approximately no one, and Romney created a program in Massachusetts based on an individual mandate, which he is now running away from as fast as he can. That's it. The Democrats in the race have actually produced detailed proposals, about which you can quibble, but you cannot deny their existence. And what you can certainly not do is claim that both sides are similarly committed to the issue:


Joe Biden
Would "expand health insurance for children and relieve families and businesses of the burden of expensive catastrophic cases."

Hillary Rodham Clinton
"America is ready for universal health care."

Chris Dodd
Would "ensure universal affordable quality coverage by creating a Health Care General Fund (HCGF) to serve all Americans. Then, require employers to either cover their employees or contribute to the fund."

John Edwards
Offers a detailed plan for "universal health care through shared responsibility."

Mike Gravel
"a universal health-care voucher program in which the federal government would issue annual health care vouchers to Americans based on their projected needs."

Dennis Kucinich
Supports "a plan for a universal single payer, not for profit healthcare system.

Barack Obama
Gives a plan for "providing affordable, comprehensive and portable health coverage for every American" and "modernizing the U.S. health care system."

Bill Richardson
Would "open up existing sources of affordable, portable coverage to more Americans."


Sam Brownback
Advocates "increased consumer choice, consumer control and real competition."

Jim Gilmore
Healthcare isn't listed on "The Issues" portion of his site.

Rudy Giuliani
Healthcare isn't listed on the "On the Issues" portion of his site.

Mike Huckabee
The site doesn't have an "issues" component.

Duncan Hunter
Doesn't list healthcare under "Issues."

John McCain
Doesn't list healthcare under "On the Issues."

Ron Paul
Doesn't list healthcare under "Issues."

Mitt Romney
Recommends "extending health insurance to all Americans, not through a government program or new taxes, but through market reforms."

Tom Tancredo
Says "tort reform and immigration enforcement would save the system billions."

Tommy Thompson
Would place "the uninsured in state-by-state insurable pools, allowing private insurers to bid on their coverage."

Give me a break, New York Times. The only thing happening here is that a national conversation is beginning on health care in this country and the Republicans are ducking the issue. When they do manage to get cornered, they advocate for the exact same "let the private market's invisible hand fix it" approach that has given us 45 million uninsured and insurance companies with a profit motive to let people die. The overriding concern for any conservative talking about health care is to keep the broken system the way it is, and out on the wingnut frontier they'll yell about tort reform (meaningless in terms of cost control) and dirty immigrants using up all our health care (not true) and even equate universal health care with terrorism if that'll scare enough people into accepting the status quo.

This article is an affront to the New York Times' readers. The mere suggestion that "presidential candidates in both parties are promising to overhaul" the health care system is absolute tripe.

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Domenici Off The Reservation

I think what we're going to see is some resolution in the Senate pass to adopt all the Iraq Study Group recommendations (Democrats should swiftly couple it with their already-passed bill to adopt the 9-11 Commission recommendations). That'll be as far as Republicans go in breaking with the President. Still, that's a somewhat significant shift, and Pete Domenici kicked the ball down that road today:

In a speech earlier today in Albuquerque, Domenici announced his support for legislation currently championed by Senators Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to make the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group into the official U.S. policy — in other words, Domenici now supports a gradual pulldown of the American presence in Iraq, and a renewed effort at reaching out to other regional players in the Middle East like Iran and Syria.

"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation, and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward," Domenici said. "I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."

The bill calls for redeploying a large portion of American forces out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008, except for those numbers deemed necessary for protecting U.S. infrastructure, training Iraq forces, and conducting special operations. So while a significant number of Americans would no doubt remain, they would not be charged with everyday constabulary duties and other aspects of nation-building.

We don't need a residual force in Iraq, and I don't know how the "special operations" would be any different than what most combat forces are doing right now (certainly the Bush Administration will justify things that way if pressed). This remains significant, because the way Congress ends a war is by chipping away bit by bit. This would stop the surge, no strings attached, instead of Robert Gates' crazy "surge-for-permanent-bases" deal. It would put the majority opinion of the legislative branch on the side of drawing down involvement in the Middle East instead of moving on to the next war like Joe "Iran has declared war on us" Lieberman. A smart Democratic majority would pounce on this and keep pushing, with more and more votes designed to weaken Republican support which is already buckling at the knees. Domenici is up for re-election in 2008, and so obviously him and other Republicans can be reversed, if not in a meaningful way then by degrees. They have to keep the pressure on.

UPDATE: That said, I do agree that Domenici's statement means nothing unless he's prepared to do something about it; that is, put his vote where his mouth is. Dick Lugar kind of failed that test. At least Domenici is signing on to a specific bill.

UPDATE II: Great statement by Harry Reid, essentially telling Domenici and others that talk is cheap and they'll have to back up their words:

"Senator Domenici is correct to assess that the Administration's war strategy is misguided. But we will not see a much-needed change of course in Iraq until Republicans like Senators Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich are willing to stand up to President Bush and his stubborn clinging to a failed policy – and more importantly, back up their words with action. Beginning with the Defense Authorization bill next week, Republicans will have the opportunity to not just say the right things on Iraq, but vote the right way too so that we can bring the responsible end to this war that the American people demand and deserve.

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Like Electing Limbaugh

Ezra Klein did the perfect call-out of Fred Thompson yesterday.

It's important to note that Fred Thompson isn't going to be just any Republican. He's going to be a hack Republican. This is not a guy like Romney or Giuliani who's had a period of substantial executive experience, and so, whatever their panders, actually possess some independent idea of how policy works. Thompson is a movement conservative with no particular policy specialties and a deep involvement in the oh-so-substantial world of conservative talk radio. It'll be like electing Limbaugh.

I think this is perfectly sound. Thompson has swallowed whole the conservative noise machine rhetoric of the past decade; indeed, he's PART of the conservative noise machine, with his ABC Radio commentaries (which he is STILL doing while essentially running for President as well, something that sounds perfectly reasonable and fair). That rhetoric bears absolutely no resemblance to the truth, nor to the rigors of public policy, which isn't seen as capable of producing anything positive anyway. He's not even really concerned with writing or understanding legislation, so he'll outsource it to industry, or some unitary vice-executive that worms his way into the inner circle. There would be little or no difference in electing Thompson than there would be in electing Bush.

I mean, you remember this style vs. substance argument from 2000, right?

red Thompson's easygoing, no-nonsense style is clearly his strength and undoubtedly has helped him soar in presidential polls. It may only get him so far.

Sooner or later, the all-but-declared candidate will have to answer the question: What else do you offer? [...]

Top candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain mix it up daily, taking questions from voters and fleshing out their presidential agendas.

Not Thompson.

His stump speech consists of broad conservative themes, talk of bipartisanship and commentary on issues of the day, but it largely lacks any vision for the future of the country. He deflects questions on what a Thompson presidency would look like and demurs when pressed for specific proposals for how to fix the nation's ills. He opines on hot topics, from taxes to terrorism, in online columns and on his Web site, usually without being challenged. His campaign-trail time is minimal, largely limited to giving speeches at state GOP events.

There's little difference between any of this and the kind of themes in Bush's pre-campaign hackography A Charge To Keep. Bush didn't write that one, it's likely, and I don't think Thompson has any handle on what he's saying either. And on one of the few times we know of where he did exercise independent judgment, it was to spy for Nixon during Watergate, which he admits:

The day before Senate Watergate Committee minority counsel Fred Thompson made the inquiry that launched him into the national spotlight -- asking an aide to President Nixon whether there was a White House taping system -- he telephoned Nixon's lawyer.

Thompson tipped off the White House that the committee knew about the taping system and would be making the information public. In his all-but-forgotten Watergate memoir, "At That Point in Time," Thompson said he acted with "no authority" in divulging the committee's knowledge of the tapes, which provided the evidence that led to Nixon's resignation. It was one of many Thompson leaks to the Nixon team, according to a former investigator for Democrats on the committee, Scott Armstrong , who remains upset at Thompson's actions.

The article is a doozy. Thompson says that he was so brainwashed and blinded by party that he was convinced of Nixon's innocence, but just in case, he spilled information to the White House every step of the way without authority from the Judiciary Committee. He was a friggin' MOLE for Richard Nixon. And he's running for President 30 years later.

With that kind of judgment, and considering that no public figure has taken a more high-profile or public stand in defending convicted felon Scooter Libby, do you really want 4 or 8 more years of party over justice and country in the White House? thing I forgot to add to this is that I do think the American public is ready to reject style in favor of substance, for once, and that competence will win out (although perhaps not over change, and if someone like Obama can exude competence AND change, he'll be tough to beat). This is essentially what liberals are ALWAYS hoping, but the disaster of the past 6 years does suggest that all hat and no cattle will be shown the door.

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The maniacs who now rule us were looking for an enemy prior to 9/11 when Al Qaeda fell into their lap. They wanted to force a showdown with China, a nuclear power. Some might remember that the only foreign policy crisis prior to 9/11 was the downed spy plane that got caught surveilling the Chinese coast, a mistake that Bush made a complete hash of. Turns out that this surveillance was part of a concerted effort to confront China, one that Gary Hart told James Fallows about in the context of the Hart-Rudman commission report on terrorism in 2001, which was completely on the money, by the way.

Early in 2001, the commission presented a report to the incoming G.W. Bush administration warning that terrorism would be the nation's greatest national security problem, and saying that unless the United States took proper protective measures a terrorist attack was likely within its borders. Neither the president nor the vice president nor any other senior official from the new administration took time to meet with the commission members or hear about their findings.

At the first meeting, one Republican woman on the commission said that the overwhelming threat was from China. Sooner or later the U.S. would end up in a military showdown with the Chinese Communists. There was no avoiding it, and we would only make ourselves weaker by waiting. No one else spoke up in support.

The same thing happened at the second meeting -- discussion from other commissioners about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, anarchy of failed states, etc, and then this one woman warning about the looming Chinese menace. And the third meeting too. Perhaps more.

Finally, in frustration, this woman left the commission.

"Her name was Lynne Cheney," Hart said. "I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today." Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office. (My impression is that Chinese leaders know this too, which is why there are relatively few complaints from China about the Iraq war. They know that it got the U.S. off China's back!)

The maniacs who now rule don't care who we're fighting, as long as we're fighting SOMEBODY. War with China would have been the greatest disaster the world has ever known, possibly a world-ending disaster, and it would have been completely unnecessary. Now we have China meeting with top campaign aides for the future President, maybe because they don't want the next one to harbor the same ideas of needless confrontation. We should be confronting China economically, cutting off trade deals if they continue to sell us tainted meat or toothpaste with antifreeze in it. But military confrontation? When they make all our steel needed for weaponry?

We are ruled by elites who feast on blood, who must have an enemy to sow fear in the populace. They're certifiably insane.

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Accuracy Watch

It somewhat annoys me that Michael Moore is practically the only filmmaker or political writer that elicits a spate of fact-checking stories. How come there's never a "Actually, everything Sean Hannity says is bullshit" expose on CNN or in a magazine? But Moore apparently passed the test, although the word "mostly" had to be squeezed into the assessment of SiCKO as "accurate" for the sake of balance.

Moore covers a lot of ground. Our team investigated some of the claims put forth in his film. We found that his numbers were mostly right, but his arguments could use a little more context. As we dug deep to uncover the numbers, we found surprisingly few inaccuracies in the film. In fact, most pundits or health-care experts we spoke to spent more time on errors of omission rather than disputing the actual claims in the film.

Sorry that a two-hour film didn't have the context that would normally be required of a 1,000-page research paper. How about somebody checks if CNN puts things in the proper context?

It's just truly infuriating to have to go through this "shockingly, Michael Moore isn't lying" nonsense every single time.

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Schwarzenegger: Lifestyle of the Rich And Entitled

The most sickening thing about Paul Pringle's excellent LAT story on Governor Schwarzenegger's little non-profit scam is that we're talking about a very rich man, one who prides himself on not drawing a salary for his public service, one who has boasted that he can't be bought. But yet he willingly sucks up all kinds of goodies and treats on the public dime. I'm going to excerpt Pringle's report on the flip, but first, a little story. Plenty of people I've talked to in Santa Monica have encountered Schwarzenegger, and I honestly can't say that even one reaction is a good one. Of particular note is the story of one employee at a Starbucks in a ritzy area of town, one that receives celebrity customers all the time. When Arnold came in and asked for a couple beverages, he scoffed at the notion that he would have to pay for them. "I'm the governor," he said. The employee told me that he was pretty much the only celebrity customer that's ever pulled that move. But it makes perfect sense in the context of this article:

California's larger-than-life governor is unabashed about living large, but keeping him in luxury sometimes depends on the same taxpayer subsidies granted to hand-to-mouth charities.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a millionaire many times over, bills much of his overseas travel to an obscure nonprofit group that can qualify its secret donors for full tax deductions, just as if they were giving to skid row shelters or the United Way.

So rich donors give in to a fund that Arnold uses to finance his lifestyle, and the donors can both hide their identity and receive a tax deduction, robbing the state coffers of tax revenue.

Nonprofit watchdogs say using charitable write-offs to pay for sumptuous travel is an abuse of tax codes.

"Wow, that's a problem," said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy. "Why should our tax dollars subsidize his lavish lifestyle?"

Making matters worse, Borochoff and others say, is that the nonprofit that finances Schwarzenegger's globe-trotting, the California State Protocol Foundation, could be a vehicle for interests that hope to curry favor with the governor.

By giving to the foundation, donors avoid having their identities made public, because charities are not governed by the disclosure rules that apply to campaign contributions. And they can donate unlimited amounts to the nonprofit, which is not subject to contribution ceilings the way campaign accounts are.

This is unbelievably wrong. A multi-millionaire governor, first of all, shouldn't be living large off of any kind of donation fund. Second of all, it shouldn't be a back door around campaign finance laws. And the nonprofit that runs this fund refuses to open their books and disclose their donor lists.

But this is all too typical. It's the same sense of entitlement that a rich man uses to demand free lattes at Starbucks.

Here's a fun anecdote about Schwarzenegger ripping off the Simon Weisenthal Center:

Schwarzenegger has tapped at least one other charity for some of his travel. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, celebrated for its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and far-flung Nazi-hunting efforts, paid more than $51,000 to help send the governor to Israel in 2004, a year when the charity ran a deficit, records show.

The trip carried a steep tab because of the private jet, said people familiar with Schwarzenegger's travel [...]

The governor could easily pick up outsized travel bills himself, and a spokesman said Schwarzenegger does pay for his private jet when he flies domestically on state business.

But trips abroad are something else.

The argument Arnold always makes against this is that a foundation bankrolling his travel means that the public sector doesn't have to. That's a load of garbage. We all finance this travel through bad legislation and payouts to the donors who pay into this slush fund in secret. In addition, by allowing these donors to write off their donations for hotel suites and Gulfstream Jets and caviar, taxpayers ARE footing the bill, at least in part.

All of this is to say that the Arnold of the "I can't be bought" days was never telling the truth. His outsized celebrity ego actually has instilled a sense that he shouldn't operate under the constraints of, you know, having to pay for stuff.

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We now return you to your regularly scheduled war

More bodies are showing up on the streets of Baghdad than did before the surge.

During the month of June, 453 unidentified corpses, some bound, blindfolded, and bearing signs of torture, were found in Baghdad, according to morgue data provided by a Health Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

In January, 321 corpses were discovered in the capital, a total that fell steadily until April but then rose sharply over the last two months, the statistics show.

Overall violence is said to be down, although that's a difficult number to trust, considering that the US military doesn't take car bombings into account when determining Iraqi casualties, and indeed doesn't count Iraqi deaths in any meaningful way. The Health Ministry number is a bit more reliable, but any time you see an estimate that's "according to the US military" it's very hard to accept it, given their metrics.

Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports about the Iraqi oil law, thought to be a top benchmark for reconciliation, by multinational corporations who want 70% of the oil revenues, anyway. The cabinet endorsed a draft, but they claimed it was a unanimous vote, when only 24 of the 37 cabinet ministers were present. Members of the largest Sunni bloc are boycotting the cabinet, so this law would mean nothing in terms of reconciliation. Plus, the Kurds, who have not been happy about this oil law since February, remain unhappy:

The top Kurdish energy official says no deal has been reached on an Iraq oil law, despite news reports the Parliament is to take up the bill.

"We are not aware of anything being passed by the Cabinet," said Kurdistan Regional Government Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami, speaking to United Press International via mobile phone [...]

A draft of the law approved by negotiators and the council of ministers in February and finalized in March, "is the only approved text," said Hawrami, the KRG's lead negotiator.

"Even the text of the March draft is not complete," he said. A revenue sharing law was approved and sent to the council of ministers earlier this month, though there may still be some complaints from Sunni politicians. It must still be passed on to Parliament.

What this really shows is that there's no functioning government, and no communication between the factions. And so this notion that all the Iraqi sects are going to get together and find the pony is a pipe dream.

UPDATE: The Sunnis in Parliament want no part of this law either.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Another day, another Republican lawbreaker (Ken Calvert this time)

Not even the holiday can stop the inexorable march of revelations in the GOP culture of corruption:

The Jurupa Community Services District violated state law when it sold 4 acres of public land to Rep. Ken Calvert and his investment partners without first offering it to other public agencies -- including the local park district that wanted it, the Riverside County grand jury concluded in a report released Tuesday.

The grand jury recommends that the water and sewer agency turn over the $1.2 million it pocketed from the sale, minus costs, to the Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District.

The grand jury was mainly concerned with the actions of the water and sewer agency and not Rep. Calvert. But Calvert was a willing participant in what a grand jury has now called a crime, and whether or not he will be legally culpable is a bit besides the point. The only associates to Republicans in this day and age are criminals. And the only way those criminals are vindicated is through Presidential clemency.

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Happy 2nd of July

We're all celebrating the wrong day. You know that, right? Maybe it's because I'm from Philadelphia, where this whole independence movement came from. Maybe it's because I've spent hours in Independence Hall, and at the City Tavern where the Founding Fathers set off to drink and celebrate after signage, and at the very house where Thomas Jefferson stayed that summer of 1776 and penned arguably the first blog post, with its confrontational and unseemly rhetoric that caused David Broder's ancestors to drop their teacups and retire to the fainting couch.

But I thought everybody knew that independence of this nation was agreed to by all parties on July 2nd.

Congress was called to order on July 1st at 9am and serious debate consumed most of that hot and humid Monday. Late in the day it was apparent that the delegates from Pennsylvania and South Carolina were not ready to pass the Lee resolution for Independence. Additionally the two delegates from Delaware were split so debate was postponed until the following day. On July 2, 1776 both Robert Morris and John Dickinson deliberately abstained by not attending the session and the remaining Pennsylvania delegation voted for independence. South Carolina leader's son, Arthur Middleton, chose to ignore his absent and ailing father's Tory wishes changing the colony's position to aye. Finally the great patriot Caesar Rodney with his face riddled with cancer rode all night through the rain and a lightening storm arriving in time to break the Delaware 1 to 1 deadlock by casting the third vote for independence. Thus all 12 colonies voted on July 2nd and adopted the resolution, introduced by Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, declaring independence from Great Britain:

"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.''

On July 2, 1776 the United Colonies of America officially became the United States of America.

John Adams, in one of his series of letters to his wife Abigail, wrote that July 2nd would be the founding date for posterity. He got the type of celebration right, but not the assumption that Americans would remember history:

"The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

Congress then made some minor edits to the document over the next couple of days, edits that angered Jefferson (one of them removing any reference to enslaving Africans, and another "conveying censures upon the people of England" for allowing this colonialism to continue), and the final changes were approved, and the declaration adopted, on July 4th. But the United States of America, this nation, was avowed and ordained on July 2nd, 1776.

And when you think about the two events that George W. Bush has managed to hold on those anniversaries, you get all the more disgusted with how far we have traveled from a collection of patriots who refused to be shackled by the tyranny of a king, to a President who accepts that regal mantle and governs not for a nation but for himself and his coterie.

Because on July 2, 2003, 227 years after the adoption of the Lee resolution for independence, the President of the United States committed the nation to an unrelenting parade of death that lasts to this day by stupidly issuing a dare and speaking for our troops in Iraq:

"There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on," Bush said. "We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation."

How cowardly and odious a statement. At least the men asserting independence on July 2nd were prepared to fight for it. This draft-dodger who never saw combat saw fit to make boasts from the comfort of the White House, while 19 and 20 year-olds, who weren't given the proper life-saving equipment, who weren't given sufficient body armor, who didn't have enough of their compatriots watching their back, were tasked with carrying out such a threat. They didn't have any mission except trying to save their own life, they were turned into targets by a foolish President who should have never sent them to the deserts of Mesopotamia in the first place. George Bush incited a riot that led to the needless deaths of over 4,000 Americans (counting contractors, who are in Iraq in greater numbers that troops, so they deserve to be counted).

And then four years later, on the 231st anniversary of the founding of this nation, the President of the United States, in what Keith Olbermann rightly called a crystallizing moment, obtrsucted justice into an investigation of the compromising of an intelligence asset by commuting the sentence of a political crony to ensure his silence. He did so while ignoring all of his own laws for executive clemency, as he has ignored Congressional statutes and executive orders in the past. He made the decision that one set of laws exists for the overwhelming majority of our citizens, and quite another for those who have information on his consistent lawbreaking, or just happen to be a friend of the family.

These two actions are among the many delineated in the Declaration of Independence as root causes for revolution, certainly in the case of obstructing justice and refusing to assent to laws. These were exactly the type of depredations that caused, even demanded, a group of colonists to take on the strongest Army the world had ever seen to that point, and cast aside the bonds of tyranny to establish their own entity, in the name of the basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And they said:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The commemoration of this audacious event, twice in the past four years, has been to act in the very opposite manner, to mirror not so much the likes of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson but King George hiimself. And the question is whether or not we will live up to our ideals and choose the proper role models in reaction to these events.

It is nearly July 4th, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a King who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them—or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them—we would force our independence, and regain our sacred freedoms.

We of this time—and our leaders in Congress, of both parties—must now live up to those standards which echo through our history: Pressure, negotiate, impeach—get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our Democracy, away from its helm.

For you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task. You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed. Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed, on August 9th, 1974.


And give us someone—anyone—about whom all of us might yet be able to quote John Wayne, and say, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.”

Happy 2nd of July.

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We're Cancelling the Needless Destruction of the Town's Houses

So it's the Fourth of July, a time of hot dogs, parades, waving flags, and ohmigodputoutthatsparkleryou'llkillusall!

A laser light show will replace traditional July Fourth fireworks in Burbank, Calif. Woodstock, Ga., canceled its fireworks and plans to shoot them off on Halloween.

Dozens of communities in drought-stricken areas are scrapping public fireworks displays and cracking down on backyard pyrotechnics to reduce the risk of fires.

"From a fire standpoint and a safety standpoint, it was an easy call," Burbank Fire Chief Tracy Pansini says. He recommended calling off fireworks at the Starlight Bowl because they're launched from a mountainside covered with vegetation that's "all dead." [...]

There have been a record number of fire danger warnings this year, Fire Marshal Dave Soumas says. The official fireworks always cause "little spot fires" that people don't see, he says. "Imagine how dry it is, and maybe we can't keep those contained."

His advice to anyone planning fireworks: "Have adult supervision and a hose or fire extinguisher in the area."

I never understood the appeal of fireworks, but the idea that many communities can't do them this year because half the country is in a state of drought is, well... I mean it's stupid to look out your window and be convinced of the impact of global warming, but here in Los Angeles we've had 3 inches of rain in the last 12 months.

Damn you Al Gore, why are you so fat!?!? Wait, what's that you say?

Our home — Earth — is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.

Without realizing the consequences of our actions, we have begun to put so much carbon dioxide into the thin shell of air surrounding our world that we have literally changed the heat balance between Earth and the Sun. If we don’t stop doing this pretty quickly, the average temperature will increase to levels humans have never known and put an end to the favorable climate balance on which our civilization depends.

How do YOU know that humans won't learn to love 150-degree winters? Have you ever sweated through a Christmas? Didn't think so. How ignorant.

This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue, one that affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left versus right; it is a question of right versus wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours.

Well, if you put it that way...

Next Saturday, on all seven continents, the Live Earth concert will ask for the attention of humankind to begin a three-year campaign to make everyone on our planet aware of how we can solve the climate crisis in time to avoid catastrophe. Individuals must be a part of the solution. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?”

Live Earth will offer an answer to this question by asking everyone who attends or listens to the concerts to sign a personal pledge to take specific steps to combat climate change.

Pledge... you mean like the pledge of allegiance? Hmmm...

1.To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;

2.To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become "carbon neutral;"

3.To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2;

4.To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;

5.To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;

6.To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and,

7.To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the 21st century.

OK, fine. As long as I get to see Kanye West.

(end humorless Al Gore-hating persona.)

Go sign the pledge so your kids can see fireworks on the Fourth of July.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Making It Up As They Go Along

We have elites running this country who are not only ruthlessly partisan and selfish, but also completely ignorant about the government they're running. Bush commuted Scooter Libby's jail sentence but not the 2 years' probation. Turns out that you can't serve probation in a federal case under the statute unless jail time has been served. So Bush inadvertently wiped out the probation as well. Only he said he didn't in his statments, so the judge doesn't know what to do and is hauling everyone back into court (h/t pontificator):

President Bush spared former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from prison, and his clemency order may wipe out Libby's 2-year probation as well, the trial judge told lawyers Tuesday.

A conviction remains on Scooter Libby's record, and he must still pay a $250,000 fine.

Strictly interpreted, the statute authorizing probation indicates that supervised release "should occur only after the defendant has already served a term of imprisonment," U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton wrote.

Walton ordered lawyers to weigh in with their arguments on the matter by Monday.

So now Judge Walton and Fitzgerald, in open court, get to question the ruling and how to proceed. And if Bush's lawyers file a friend of the court brief to get their way, they can be fully questioned by both the prosecutor and the judge. Walton must not be happy with this turn of events, as would anyone who's authority is usurped. So there'll be a showdown some time next week.

Even when they do incredible wrongs, they can't get it right.

If you want to cringe, you should also watch Bush's first public statement about the commutation. First of all, he looks drunk and incoherent. Second of all, this didn't happen until nearly 24 hours after the order and in response to a question. President Ford pardoned Nixon and went right on television to explain to the nation why. This guy hides behind a press release. Third, he says that he respects the verdict, just not enough to allow for any kind of sentence and not enough to actually know the statute.

Disgusting, hilarious and sad. All at once.

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