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

Saturday, July 14, 2007

McCain Won't Get A Disease From Those Filthy Iraqis

ABC's blog does mention that John McCain said yesterday that only contracting a fatal disease would keep him out of the New Hampshire primary. However, they didn't add his later comments, which I saw live on CNN. It's close to a Macaca moment:

QUESTION: Senator McCain, are there any circumstances under which you could imagine yourself not still being a presidential candidate when the New Hampshire primary fell?

MCCAIN: Contracting a fatal disease.

QUESTION: Anything short of that?

MCCAIN: Not that I know of. But, you never know. You never know, I might. I was in Iraq. You never know.

Yeah, because those Iraqis are just walking germ factories, aren't they?

There's no way that can be taken out of context. McCain said that he might contract a fatal disease because he was in Iraq. This is his idea of humor. Hey John, most people in Iraq aren't dying of fatal diseases, they're dying from suicide bombs and air strikes and being kidnapped and executed "El Salvador death squad" style. And to the extent that there are outbreaks of cholera and other diseases, it's because the Tigris River has become a floating cemetery and the water supply has turned into poison.

McCain's in bad enough shape as it is. He doesn't have to compound it by insulting the Iraqi people and highlighting how horrible the situation is there, one that he created and still supports.

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CDP: E-Board Meeting Friday Night

Back at our hotel in Sacramento with hekebolos after the first day of the executive board meeting of the CDP.  I spent most of my time in the Progressive Caucus, and since Donald Lathbury of the California Majority Report had his laptop with him and I didn't, I'll outsource the running commentary to him.

I will say that the caucus was once again the most well-attended, most organized group in the CDP, and I sense that people there are growing more confident in their ability to make real change happen within the party.  There have been setbacks, no doubt, but they continue on.

I will say something about the net neutrality debate tomorrow.  Brad Parker from PDA (Progressive Democrats of America), as I mentioned, will be debating Jim Gordon, chair of the Labor Caucus and a member of CWA (Communications Workers of America), tomorrow morning.  I'll be liveblogging.  But the outcome of that debate, while entertaining, is irrelevant to what will happen tomorrow.  There will be two resolutions in the Resolutions Committee - one by Brad Parker, and one by Jim Gordon.  I haven't seen the text of either, but I can safely assume that Parker's supports the principle of a free and open Internet without discriminating against any content provider, no matter how big or small, while Gordon's talks about "building out broadband access" and implicitly endorses the telecoms getting additional revenue streams by forcing content providers to pay them for high-speed access.  As Parker put it today, "broadband for the haves, and dial-up for the never-wills" is what the telecoms want.

So this will play out tomorow in resolutions, and Brian will have the inside scoop, I assume.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth Edwards will address the general session at 9:30 am tomorrow.

And on an unrelated note, our hotel is hosting the largest anime convention in Sacramento.  I'm the only one here without an oversized sword and a lion costume.  Hekebolos has his on right now.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Free the iPhone

I had the opportunity to play around with a friend's iPhone, and I have to say, it's pretty awesome. It's also the future of digital communication, with multiple devices merged into one box. Therefore, it is absolutely ridiculous that AT&T has an exclusive license to deliver their wireless service through it. It's like Comcast having an exclusive license for a Sony flat-panel TV. And much to my surprise, Congress has actually spoken up about this.

Bipartisan members of Congress spoke out today to free the iPhone and other next generation hand-held computers from the grip of phone incumbents like AT&T and Verizon.

During the hearing of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, representatives from both sides of the aisle called for a more open wireless system where new innovations aren't held hostage to the competition-killing carriers that control the network [...]

In what's been dubbed the "iPhone hearing" Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and "Chip" Pickering (R-Miss.) called for a different system - where wholesalers could compete and new applications and devices could be connected regardless of carrier.

"The iPhone highlights both the promise and the problems with the wireless industry today," Rep. Markey said holding up before other members his newly acquired iPhone. "On the one hand, it demonstrates the sheer brilliance and wizardry of wireless engineering. On the other hand, the advent of the iPhone raises questions about the fact that a consumer can't use this phone with other wireless carriers."

That Chip Pickering, a conservative Republican from Mississippi, jumped aboard this train is astonishing. This is the beginnings of making the telecom market much more open and free, to increase competition and to move this country onto a much better footing with regard to connectivity. We are one of the worst developed nations in broadband access and wireless connectivity in the world, and it's because we have this old guard system of delivering access that rewards big business at the expense of consumers and cripples innovation. The choice is between the telecom's wishes of putting gates up on the Internet where you only get proper access (as a consumer or as a Web content developer) if you pay more money; or the consumer's deep wish that the Internet and wireless networks are neutral, open and free.

Markey and Pickering spoke about the current dilemma in America's wireless system. The iPhone is shackled to AT&T and won't work on any other network. The reason? We have allowed carriers to exert almost complete gatekeeper control over all devices, services and content in the wireless sector.

This has left the U.S. generations behind other nations, a failure that prompted New York Times blogger David Pogue to call American carriers "calcified, conservative and way behind their European and Asian counterparts."

Here's Ben Scott from FreePress on the iPhone hearing (the rumor I heard is that the hearing came about because John Dingell got his iPhone and realized he was locked in to AT&T and he got super-pissed):

FreePress has also set up Free the iPhone, a website with action items to change this horrible, weird policy that only exists in the wireless market and not with any other consumer electronic device. You can sign the petition.

This is just one part of a fight over net neutrality and who controls communications in America in the 21st century. It's incredibly important.

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Friday Random Ten

I'm about to get on the road for the CDP E-Board meeting, but I'll go ahead and get this up.

I Want To Be The Boy - The White Stripes
Ana Ng - They Might Be Giants
Big Bang Baby - Stone Temple Pilots (shut up, it's a damn good song)
Morris Brown - Outkast
The New Year - Death Cab For Cutie
Funky Tamazola - Clorofila
Kaleidoscope - Jill Cunniff
4 - Aphex Twin
Troglodyten - Stereo Total
Hello - Poe

Maybe 1 or 2 more posts before I go.

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CA House Races Roundup - July 2007

With 16 months to go before Election Day, some Democratic challengers are getting a little more visible in their efforts to unseat Republican incumbents. I see good news at the very top of the target list, and elsewhere we're still waiting to see who will run. Let's focus on the top 10 races where a Republican is currently serving, knowing that we are still going to have a fight in CA-11 to re-elect Jerry McNerney (although that probably won't be against Guy Houston, who may be on trial for fraud at the time).

So let's take a look at the top 10 challenges. I'm going to rank them in order of most possible pickup, including their number from the last roundup. I'm also adding the "Boxer number." Basically, seeing how Boxer fared in her 2004 re-election against Bill Jones in a particular district is a decent indicator of how partisan it is. If I put "57," that means Boxer received 57% of the vote. Anything over 50, obviously, is good.

1) CA-04 (Doolittle). Last month: 1. Boxer number: 40. Everyone that Rep. John Doolittle has ever known or worked with is currently talking to the FBI. The sense is that it's just a matter of time. His newfound antiwar stance didn't translate into a vote for responsible redeployment yesterday; it was all talk. Charlie Brown (who has a spiffy new website) has released a comprehensive national security plan that is a good read. I have not seen him release any full Q2 fundraising numbers just yet, but given that he's one of only two spotlighted candidates on Blue Majority, I'm sure they'll be solid. We do know that he raised over $45,000 on ActBlue with almost 1,000 contributors. That's significant.

2) CA-26 (Dreier). Last month: 2. Boxer number: 48. The more I hear about this race, the more I like it. I think this should be the number one target for Southern California progressives. Dreier is lashed to Bush (and in his case Giuliani) like everybody else in the California caucus; but he's got a swing district and a real challenger. Russ Warner, who ran last time, announced that he raised around $100,000 in the 2nd quarter, and has over $150,000 cash on hand. According to the press release, "Warner has more money on hand at this early stage of the campaign than all but one Democratic nominee has ever raised and spent against David Dreier in the entire general election since he was first elected to Congress in 1980." This account of Warner shows that he is getting local coverage, and the fact that he has the endorsement of Hilda Solis is a major coup. That his son is serving a tour in Iraq right now adds an emotional appeal.

There is at least one other challenger who's raising money at a decent clip. Hoyt Hilsman also has $150,000 CoH after having loaned his campaign $100,000 personally. Hilsman is an author and a professor.

3) CA-24 (Gallegly). Last month: 3. Boxer number: 47. It's still retirement watch for Elton Gallegly. He has $800,000 in the bank, which would presume a run. But he had $1.1 million in the bank two years ago, when he retired and then clumsily returned to the race. We know at least 3 people are mounting a run against him; 2006 opponent Jill Martinez, 2004 opponent Brett Wagner, and my friend and fellow delegate Mary Pallant. Richard Francis, a prominent lawyer, has also made a little noise about running. So the sharks are circling and waiting to see what Gallegly will do.

4) CA-50 (Bilbray). Last month: 5. Boxer number: 48. The fact that there are three legitimate challengers to Brian Bilbray shows that there is some Democratic activism within the district. Our San Diego correspondent Lucas O'Connor has given us this account of Michael Wray's efforts at outreach to Democrats. John Lee Evans and Nick Leibham are also making the rounds in the district. As for Brian Bilbray, we do know that he hates brown people and he bottles his own beer. I don't know if he's committed a firing offense, though certainly there's a pro-Bush voting record opponents can highlight.

5) CA-41 (Lewis). Last month: 3. Boxer number: 43. There's also a retirement watch of sorts here, as we all wait and see if Robert Novak's report that Lewis won't seek re-election is true. We also learned this week that Lewis is dedicated to helping his constituents in Washington, DC, where he requested a $500,000 earmark for a Metro station that would be three blocks from his Capitol-area home. That could be turned into a defining issue in an election. There are rumblings that it would be best for Republicans to urge Lewis to retire, so of course they won't do it. There is still no word on whether attorney Tim Prince will jump into this race, at least that I've heard.

6) CA-44 (Calvert). Last month: 8. Boxer number: 45. The next of the "corruption boys" of the GOP, Calvert is in trouble over a recent grand jury ruling that showed a city government agency illegally sold him and other investors a four-acre parcel of land a few years back. He doesn't seem deterred by it, and really the grand jury ruled against the government agency and not him. This is absolutely a district where we should run someone strong. A recent report showed that Riverside County is poised to become the second-largest in the state, behind only Los Angeles County. Democrats need visibility there in a big way. Defenders of Wildlife is running ads against Calvert, so they obviously see some vulnerabilities there.

7) CA-42 (Miller). Last month: 6. Boxer number: 41. Gary Miller rounds out the GOP corruption boys. It's such a Republican seat that just making him spend money will be a win. Not much to report this month.

8) CA-45 (Bono). Last month: 8. Boxer number: 49. I would love to have more to say about this race, but sadly, I don't. She is apparently one of Washington's most eligible bachelorettes. That's all I've got for ya.

9) CA-25 (McKeon). Last month: 9. Boxer number: 45. McKeon, the ranking Democrat on the Education and Labor Committee, railed against the recent passage of an increase in the Pell Grant to make college more affordable for our best an brightest. Yeah, because that would be terrible. I would love to see someone challenge this guy.

10) CA-52 (open seat). Last month: 10. Boxer number: 44. Despite it being an open seat, I still don't expect to see anyone beating Duncan Hunter's son while he's serving in Iraq.

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The Reformation of Al Qaeda

While Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is just an old group experimenting with a new brand, the actual Al Qaeda seems to be resurgent.

A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts says that al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001.

A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the document _ titled "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West" _ called it a stark appraisal. The analysis will be part of a broader meeting at the White House on Thursday about an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate [...]

The findings suggests that the network that launched the most devastating terror attack on U.S. soil has been able to regroup despite nearly six years of bombings, war and other tactics aimed at dismantling it.

At his news conference Thursday, President Bush acknowledged the report's existence and al-Qaida's continuing threat to the United States. He said, however, that the report refers only to al-Qaida's strength in 2001, not prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The group was at its strongest throughout most of that year, with well-established training camps in Afghanistan, recruitment networks and command structures.

This all seems to be coinciding with Pakistan's peace treaty with the Taliban, giving them safe passage in the mountains on the border with Afghanistan, which we ENCOURAGED. Now there's no functional difference between Al Qaeda of 2001, with its safe harbor within Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda of 2007, with its safe harbor at the border. Heck, we even stopped a planned attack against Al Qaeda chiefs in 2005 because it would have upset Pakistan and put Musharraf at risk. So by making a distinction between terrorists and the countries who harbor them, not the opposite as was claimed after September 11, we've actually created the same conditions for allowing Al Qaeda to flourish, actually more so, because were in the midst of an occupation in a big chunk of the Muslim world, and most Muslims, including the Iraqis, want us out.

So Bush and "Gut Feeling" Chertoff may want to deny this, but Al Qaeda is just as strong, and the counterterrorism options they've taken since 9/11 have proved a failure, the pivoting to Iraq just being the most egregious. And while 160,000 troops and billions of dollars are sent over there, at home our security is perilous:

Undercover Congressional investigators set up a bogus company and obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March that would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a so-called dirty bomb.

The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, demonstrated once again that the security measures put in place since the 2001 terrorist attacks to prevent radioactive materials from getting into the wrong hands are insufficient, according to a G.A.O. report, which is scheduled to be released at a Senate hearing Thursday.

Because this government would rather contract out governmental functions and make them unaccountable. This is all a function of the conservative worldview of "government is the problem" and should therefore not be funded. That this extends to homeland security should be shocking.

I don't know if we're going to be attacked again, but I do understand that the level of chatter is eerily similar to the summer of 2001. And I do know that, if there is another attack, and the National Guard troops and equipment needed to cope with it are in Iraq, and if Osama bin Laden is responsible after he was cornered almost 6 years ago and shouldn't be alive today, that the person to blame for such an attack being successful lives in the White House.

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0/18=Passing Grade

Ir's amazing that you can just lie on a report about Iraq, and not even lie well, and Republicans will just buy it:

Stemming a revolt among Senate Republicans, President Bush appeared Thursday to win two more months for his "surge" strategy in Iraq after arguing that U.S. forces had made some progress and needed time to make the country more secure.

Issuing a report to Congress on the war, Bush acknowledged that Iraqi leaders had made little headway in resolving the political conflicts that have paralyzed the government and fueled sectarian violence.

But he appealed to nervous Republicans to stand firm, arguing that lawmakers should not impose their judgments on the commander in chief.

"I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding the troops," Bush said at a White House news conference.

Leading Republicans said they remained skeptical that the buildup of 30,000 troops would work, but they appeared to have accepted the president's plea to wait until a more comprehensive Pentagon assessment is released Sept. 15 before trying to force any change in course.

"In deference to the president … I think it's important that we wait until all the facts are in in September," said John W. Warner (R-Va.), former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman. Warner is working on a proposal that would call on the president to make plans to remove U.S. troops from most combat operations.

Unless there are significant improvements in Iraq in the next two months, lawmakers say, the president will almost certainly face a mutiny within his party's ranks.

RIIIIGHT. Because they're so known for exercising independent judgment.

Do these Republicans not know that this President has said "we're making good progress" consistently for four years, and if that was always true Iraq would have sent a manned spaceflight to Mars last week? Here's a refresher:

In this era of extreme partisanship, expecting the other side to get the message is simply a fool's errand. The GOP only needs 34 votes to sustain vetoes and keep the country at war, and defectors are not forthcoming. To that end, I think there's reason for concern and reason for optimism.

On the one hand, Thers is absolutely right in this brilliant post that this stalemate is a function of a Constitution that cannot move quickly against a committed actor.

It is traditional in Unhinged Liberal Blogger Rants to declare that the administration has shredded, torn, violated, peed on, pooped on, showed contempt towards, blew their nose on, and otherwise disregarded the Constitution. As an Unhinged Liberal Blogger who specializes in invective and ranting, I have certainly said so myself.

But I think this emphasis may be misplaced. The modern GOP (and that’s where the trouble lies, with the party as a whole) has not so much violated the Constitution as they have exploited it. Take the war funding resolution mess, or indeed any attempt thus far by the Democratic Senate in particular to keep the Bushites from doing whatever the hell they want in Iraq, no matter how crazy or destructive. It is not a violation of the Constitution that is shielding the regime from having to face the music here — it is a perfectly constitutional mechanism, the filibuster [...]

The real problem is not that the GOP is breaking the Constitution (or at least this is not always the problem), but that the Constitution is itself flawed. That much should be obvious in a moment like now, when a president who enjoys remarkably little public support (pdf) can carry on a war that nobody much cares for, either (the lunatic fringe that is the Right Wankosphere excluded). I mean, I have to think that if we had a European parliamentary system Bush would have cratered no later than last year and tanked a no confidence vote — and the new government could have begun withdrawing troops. In our system, there is just not much that can be done. Likewise, impeachment, while, yes, richly justified, just cannot happen because of American institutional realities. Our Constitution is just not set up to cope expeditiously with the modern GOP, for whom party loyalty at any cost counts for everything. This weakness was never so glaring as when the Republicans held the White House, House, and Senate: a GOP Congress was just never going to check or balance a Republican White House.

I'm sure a lot of excellent medical books were written in the 18th century as well, but if we still followed them, we'd be prying leeches off the dead. The Constitution was amended many times until we had some collective dose of Reaganism and decided this was the best country and the best document and every word should be followed as if we were still wearing powdered wigs and signing things with quills. It's American exceptionalism that's at the heart of this problem, a belief that we've created the best society in the history of the world and that therefore nothing should ever be changed in it. We may have done the former but it doesn't presuppose the latter.

Now, the GOOD news is that every four years we get to act like something resembling a Parliamentary democracy, and despite the tons of money and deceptive advertising and robocalls and all the rest, when you screw up a brand this much, you're going to crash, which is why I think the Republican nomination for President is actually a $100 million dollar waste of time.

(Thomas) Jefferson believed that the Federalists had overplayed their hand—that they had manipulated threats from abroad to seize for themselves vastly greater powers than the Constitution permitted them. He also believed that their demonization and mistreatment of the political opposition was an abuse of the powers of office and an assault upon the body politick. Adams had used the power of criminal prosecution to destroy the reputations of dozens of opposition political leaders, and to throw many of them behind bars. (snip)

Jefferson was severely critical of Adams’s conduct of the presidency, and most historical judgment has been with him. He termed Adams’s tactics as “divide and conquer.” “This is not new,” he wrote to John Taylor, “it is the old practice of despots; to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order. And those who have once got an ascendancy and possessed themselves of all the resources of the nation, their revenues and offices, have immense means for retaining their advantage.

Jefferson had a different vision of America. He believed that America must be a land that tolerates different views, even differing views of external (and internal) threats. And it was the responsibility of the different parties to watch the proceedings of the other party and make them known to the people.

We have been through a six year reign of witches. They have used the same sort of hysterical rhetoric and fear that Adams used. And as each successive public opinion poll tells us, the spell is wearing off, and a time for accounting is coming.

Jefferson had the right formula to counter their misdeeds. In involved civil courage, standing for the principles that the Constitution enshrined and returning the Federalists’ verbal assaults in kind. Silence and inaction are not acceptable answers. Patriots stand their ground and raise their voices.

It's cold comfort for those dying and suffering for the futile plans of this man right now, and it's going to take an incredible amount of work to reverse this course. But the reign of witches is definitely coming to an end; not as fast as we'd all like, but soon enough to save the Republic.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Press A Little Slow On The Uptake

I suppose it's good news that the traditional media is starting to understand the fact that this insistent use by the White House of the phrase "Al Qaeda" to describe every single enemy in Iraq is an explicit attempt to link the occupation of Iraq to the events of 9/11. McClatchy was predictably the first to figure this out, on Tuesday. And now the Grey Lady gives us the same story, albeit with the framing device of "Critics assert" that this is what's happening, instead of, you know, this is actually what's happening.

In rebuffing calls to bring troops home from Iraq, President Bush on Thursday employed a stark and ominous defense. “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq,” he said, “were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.”

It is an argument Mr. Bush has been making with frequency in the past few months, as the challenges to the continuation of the war have grown. On Thursday alone, he referred at least 30 times to Al Qaeda or its presence in Iraq.

But his references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership.

There is no question that the group is one of the most dangerous in Iraq. But Mr. Bush’s critics argue that he has overstated the Qaeda connection in an attempt to exploit the same kinds of post-Sept. 11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the first place.

It's a pretty good story, and I particularly liked this paragraph, which puts it bluntly.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist before the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sunni group thrived as a magnet for recruiting and a force for violence largely because of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which brought an American occupying force of more than 100,000 troops to the heart of the Middle East, and led to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

AQI is an Iraqi group that uses the name Al Qaeda but is a Baathist and Sunni militant HOME-GROWN phenomenon. Good for the NYT for pointing this out. And in the broader context of Al Qaeda's resurgence (more on that tomorrow), it's an important point.

Here's the thing, though. Glenn Greenwald had this story on June 23. The traditional media is just getting around to it? It's not like Greenwald had unlimited resources and a wizard-like knowledge of Mesopotamia. He was just paying attention. And so he scooped the press by three weeks.

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Thompson Owns Up To Lobbying For Abortion Rights

I seem to recall a lot of Republican apologists claiming that the LA Times had a vendetta against Fred Thompson and their story about his past as an abortion rights lobbyist was bunk. And I remember Thompson's first reaction to the story, in which he 100% denied it and claimed he did no such lobbying.

That statement has, shall we say, evolved:

Fred Thompson has effectively admitted in an interview with Sean Hannity that he did lobby in behalf of a pro-abortion rights group.

Hannity served up a chest-high, 25 mph softball:

"They have attacked you, they have attacked your family, and now, they come out in the Los Angeles Times with a piece that says you lobbied for abortion rights. You say that's absolutely not true." [...]

All Thompson had to do was say to Hannity, "You're damned right." Instead, he answered as follows:

"You need to separate a lawyer who is advocating a position from the position itself." Hmm. Then: "They will probably come at me, in 35 years of law practice, with some people, I represented criminal defendants. I was a prosecutor. I had a general practice. So that in and of itself doesn't mean anything anyway."

The story has changed because Thompson must surely know that this abortion rights group has primary evidence linking him to their cause. And so now it's gone from "I didn't do that" to "who cares, lawyers represent lots of people." So now we know about Thompson's character; when questioned, he'll deny, and when presented with the evidence, he'll justify and dodge. And I don't think that answer, one based in moral relativism entirely, will be good enough for the antiabortion right.

Mitt Romney is the front-runner for the Republican nomination right now, in my mind. Excuse me while I burst out laughing.

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The Iraq Progress Report

There are two big stories today that I've been monitoring. The second, I'll leave for a later post. But the first is the release of the first progress report from the Bush Administration about progress on political benchmarks set by Congress for the Iraqi government. The report is middling, even from the White House's perspective:

Iraq has achieved only limited military and political progress toward a democratic society, the Bush administration said Thursday in a report that became prelude to a House vote on ordering a U.S. troop withdrawal by spring.

''The security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging'' the report concluded. The economic picture is uneven, it said, and the government has not yet enacted vital political reconciliation legislation [...]

Describing a document produced by his administration at Congress' insistence, he said there was satisfactory progress by the Iraqi government toward meeting eight of 18 so-called benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on eight more and mixed results on the others.

Not much of daylight there. But you'll be completely shocked to know that the truth is even more ghastly. The National Security Network did a review of the benchmarks that the Bush Administration said showed progress, and, um, they didn't. The NSN report is a thorough point-by-point deconstruction of the entire document. A sample:

Benchmark (viii)

Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

Response: Establishing committees has had little impact on Baghdad’s population which still lacks access to many basic services like water and electricity.

In late May and early June, Baghdad suffered severe power and water shortages of up to 23 hours per day. Baghdad’s water pumping stations require electricity and currently, more than 8 of the 12 supply lines are down. With average highs topping 110˚F in July and August the situation has the potential to get even worse. Meanwhile, Baghdadis are forced to find their own water supply. Neighborhood co-ops are purchasing and running their own fuel-driven generators. Those who can afford to try and dig wells in their backyard, an expensive operation which also seriously affects the water table. [NSN Staff Interviews. Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 6/8/07]

Baghdad is still averaging only 5.6 hours of electricity per day. This number represents only 20% of prewar production levels. The Bush Administration’s Coalition Provisional Authority initially targeted 6,000 megawatts per day by June of 2004 and made the creation of a stable Iraqi electrical and water infrastructure a top priority. Iraq is still 40% below those levels. The average amount of electricity generated nationally in May (The last full month of reporting) was only 3,722 megawatts, a 6% drop-off from prewar levels. This, despite an effort to distribute electricity more equitably on a national level. [Brookings Institution, 7/9/07]

Not enough potable water exists in Iraq. According to the International Red Cross, “both the quantity and quality of drinking water in Iraq remain insufficient despite limited improvement…water is often contaminated, owing to the poor repair of sewage and water-supply networks and the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, which are the main source of drinking water.” [Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, 4/30/07]

That's really good stuff, and I advise you to read the whole thing. My favorite is where the Administration assessed that the Iraqis had made satisfactory progress on political rights for minority parties, and the one-line rejoinder is "The Sunnis - one of the largest and most important minority groups – are currently boycotting the government."

It's expected that the Bush Administration would fudge the numbers, but the fact that they could only fudge them to show mixed results shows you how desperate the situation is in Iraq. A country where bank robbers could steal $300 million dollars and it's not even that big a story; a country where people can be killed in the Green Zone, which may be one of the most heavily fortified places on Earth; when the only legitimate change in strategy accompanying the escalation, placing troops in fortified outposts closer to the population, is totally backfiring; you have an incomparable, intractable mess on your hands, and no spinning can change that.

Barack Obama came out of the gate with a damning rebuke:

Does this White House think that we don't know how to turn on our televisions? Don't tell us we're making progress in Iraq when the last three months have been some of the deadliest since this war began for our brave troops who have sacrificed so much. And don't tell us it's progress when the Iraqi leadership has done nothing – nothing – to take the political steps necessary to end their civil war. This war has only fueled the terrorist threat whose strength is now at pre-9/11 levels. It should never have been authorized, never have been waged, and it must end now.

That's very strong, and Obama can afford to be, because the American people have figured this out. We're all waiting for a report whose conclusions we already know, to borrow a phrase, and the public doesn't feel there's any need to wait longer than the four-plus years that we already have.

The question of course is, what is the Congress prepared to do about it? I think pretty much nothing. Republicans are clearly going to continue to obstruct because the White House has signaled that nothing different is happening. And while this report is welcome from a political standpoint, to use as a club to bash Republicans, it is meaningless from the standpoint of being enforceable, because the benchmarks are all waivable, as per the capitulation funding bill passed by Congress before Memorial Day. Todat, the President exercised a waiver option he should have never had:

“Economic development funds are critical to helping Iraq make this political progress. Today, I’m exercising the waiver authority granted me by Congress to release a substantial portion of those funds.”

Harry Reid has signaled that the "Pretend to Adopt the Pretend Withdrawal from the Iraq Study Bill" amendment has, in his words, less teeth than a toothless tiger. So Republicans are unlikely to vote for anything enforceable, and the Democratic leadership is unlikely to authorize a vote on anything unenforceable. The House will likely pass their version of Reed-Levin today (which calls for a withdrawal in 120 days), but the Senate will continue to gum up the works. What's the game plan?

Mimi Katz offered the best one I've seen:

So what should the Senate do next? It is time for Harry Reid to take off the gloves. When conservative Southern Dems and their allies filibustered civil rights legislation in the 1960s, they had real filibusters. A Senator got the floor and refused to give it up, talking forever, yielding to colleagues when they needed a bathroom break. Cots were set up, and the debate went on for days and nights. Sometimes Senators talked about why the bill was bad, but sometimes they read the telephone book or otherwise wasted time. No one who wanted a vote could get the floor to call for a vote. In those days a petition to cut off debate (cloture motion) required 66 votes. Eventually LBJ was able to twist arms after the Kennedy Assosination, and the logjam was broken for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The rules were changed to require only 60 votes for cloture. But to get anything done, now once the minority party (or sometimes even just one Senator) signals an intent to filibuster, a cloture vote is held, and that is it.

What Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to do now is to call GOP Minority leader Mitch McConnell's bluff and require the GOP to actually filibuster. Bring up Webb-Hagel again, or do it with Levin-Reed. But make them filibuster. Make it plain to the Senators that there will be no August recess until the Defense bill is done, and if the GOP doesn't want to face losing an upperdown vote, they can filibuster for the whole country to see. The TV stations will love the theater, and the GOP will look as stupid as they did when they staged Bill Frist's talk-a-thon on judges when the Dems wouldn't allow up or down votes.

That's the kind of creative thinking this moment demands if anything is to be done about ending our occupation of Iraq. A general strike in the population is another idea. Let's bring this economy to a standstill.

UPDATE: The House passed a redeployment bill 223-201, getting yes votes from just four Republicans (Ron Paul, who has voted for something like this in the past, didn't vote). That's what we're up against.

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Dog Whistle

President Bush called his decision to commute the sentence of Scooter Libby "fair and balanced" today for a very specific reason. He wanted to let the base know that their best interests were at heart, and that he'll be extremely likely to pardon Libby on his way out the door. This language of "fair and balanced" is extremely evocative and everyone knew what he was talking about. He was saying it was a fair decision in the way that Fox News is a fair network. He's admitting that the fix was in and giving a wink to his pals by letting them know that they would be protected too. It was the verbal equivalent of his smirk, and as far as I'm concerned it's a direct admission of obstruction of justice, or at least as direct as you're going to get with him.

One way to counteract this is to say to the President that, as long as he's being fair and balanced, he must immediately sequester himself in a room and take a look at all of these other federal sentences of similiar value, and decide if they need to be commuted as well. It's the only fair and balanced thing to do. And this should be said with a mocking tone, along the order of OJ looking for the real killers. "The President is holed up right now with the list of all federal perjury felons, scrupulously weighing the evidence like Solon and determining who must stay in jail and who must leave. Such wisdom and such essential fairness! We may need another President to step in while Bush undergoes this Herculean undertaking... oh wait, we've got someone handling that.

I would hand-deliver petitions for redress from hundreds of perjury felons to the White House in the interest of fairness and balance. I would convene "mock grand juries" on the Capitol steps and lie to them with impunity, since the President is honor-bound to study and commute my sentence. I would put up a graphic of the two sides of the balance sheet with respect to Libby: "On the one hand, he lied to a federal grand jury and FBI investigators and obstructed an investigation into outing a CIA covert operative which reached up to the OVP and possibly the President himself. On the other hand, he's a friend."

Let's tie this "fair and balanced" theme right around the President's neck. It's already seen in liberal and even independent circles as not so much a phrase but a punchline. Time to roll it out. We can play dog-whistle politics too.

UPDATE: The usage of "fair and balanced" to give this dog whistle was so clumsy and obvious that many liberals may shrug it off, much like Catherine Tremell in Basic Instinct writes a book about a murderer who uses ice picks, so how could she possibly be doing the same kind of murdering. Only an idiot would be so blatantly obvious!

As I was saying....

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Let's Play Some More Hardball

Harriet Miers didn't show up to her scheduled hearing today, the House Judiciary Committee ruled the move out of order, and now contempt proceedings can proceed. The House apparently can call for their own counsel to initiate contempt charges and not just wait for the US Attorney.

I hope they're prepared to go all the way. The right certainly is. (I'm not going to excerpt any of Digby's work, just go over there and rad it because it's a great summation of what I was getting at yesterday when asking if Bush was trying to initiate impeachment proceedings against himself. The Republicans are playing an entirely different game, and the Democrats have to be prepared to do it as well.)

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Holy Crap

I had been trying to understand if this latest Republican lawmaker to become embroiled in a sex scandal was offering to perform for money or offering money to receive services. Apparently he was OFFERING MONEY TO PERFORM.

Titusville police were at Veteran’s Memorial Park on East Broad Street on a burglary detail when they noticed an unshaven man acting suspicious, going in and out of the restroom three times, said Lt. Todd Hutchinson.

An undercover officer decided to go into one of the bathroom stalls, Hutchinson said. Moments later, Allen knocked on the stall door and offered to perform oral sex on the officer for $20, according to the police spokesman.

So wait. I get $20 AND I get sucked off? How am I losing here? (If I was a gay man and enjoyed rather large gay closeted Republicans performing oral sex on me, that is.)

This guy was so closeted that he doesn't even understand the ECONOMICS of undercover bathroom sex. As Bradrocket sez:

You know, I always find it funny that somebody would have to offer someone money in order to give them oral sex. I mean, most people will take oral sex for free. Anyone who has to pay money just to give it must be the least talented person ever.

Go there, too, for the picture, which is priceless. Did I mention that this guy is a McCain supporter? (Maybe he was doing some badly-needed fundraising.)

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So Soon?

The International Association of Fire Fighters' video about Rudy Giuliani's tenure in New York City and his disrespect of firefighters, Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend, was released on the Internet yesterday, and it's pretty devastating.

I'm not sure why this would start off with a union boss' comments instead of the firefighters themselves (even though the IAFF is a fairly nonpartisan union), and I really don't understand why this is coming out now, 5 months before the first votes in Iowa and 16 months before the general election. The Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry filled a news gap in August of 2004, very close to the Presidential cycle, and its momentum, driven by the press, carried through to Election Day. There's no way you can achieve that 16 months out. I respect the firefighters union for trying to educate the public about Rudy's record (his lying to the 9/11 Commission and blaming the firefighters for ignoring the evacuation order, when they never got it, is particularly despicable). They should have waited, though, for maximum impact. Although, there is I suppose a merit to defining him early. I mean, if this becomes the measure of Rudy, it's something:

"Rudy has used the horrible events of September 11 to create a persona that is an elaborate fabrication," says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. "He is nothing more than a shameless self-promoter."

The fact that a Rudy Presidency would essentially be a third Bush term, with the likes of Norman Podhoretz arguing and praying for the bombing of Iran from inside the White House, is also a significant frame that I'd like to see explored.

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CDP E-Board Follies

Just a quick note: I will be attending this weekend's California Democratic Party Executive Board meeting at the Radisson Hotel in Sacramento and posting occasional updates on the proceedings on Calitics. The main issue that everyone seems to be talking about is the process for picking delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in the state, whether those delegate caucuses will be held before the California primary (as is typically the case) or afterwards. Frankly, I think it's an inside baseball kind of deal, and while both sides have passionate arguments in favor of or against it, I'm a bit unmoved by them (Pre-primary advocates want a more diverse slate of delegates going to the convention to impact the platform, I believe, to which I say, how many people actually read and ingest and make decisions based on the party platform, and is that number in triple digits or not?). But I'll be up there to let you know about them.

The two things I want to see, and will report back about, are the Progressive Caucus on Friday night at 8pm, and a debate on Saturday morning at 8:30am about net neutrality, between Brad Parker of Progressive Democrats of America, and Jim Gordon, the chair of the Labor Caucus (and a member of Communications Workers of America, who are resistant to the principle of net neutrality, to put it mildly). That should be very fun. The agenda for the meeting is here, in case anyone is in Sacramento and would like to attend (apparently observer passes will be available on-site for a nominal fee, I think $15).

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The Emergency Room Nutjob Talking Point

So I guess this wingnut idea that "we have universal health care in this country, anyone can just go to an emergency room!" is making the rounds again, this time out of the mouth of the President, no less.

Echidne of the Snakes, writing at TAPPED, knocks down this nonsense:

Except that emergency rooms are not conveniently located in neighborhoods all over the country, emergency rooms are not well suited for the provision of primary care and tend to charge rather heftily for those services, emergency room care fails to provide the kind of continuous care that is really needed and the real intended customers of emergency care (people with emergencies) will have longer waiting times than necessary if the same places are also used for primary care.

Neither are emergency rooms going to provide preventive care or prenatal care for the poor, for example, and it is highly unlikely that the care the poor receive in emergency rooms is timed correctly from the point of view of best health outcomes. I suspect that people wait until they just can't take the pain any longer before going to an ER. This means that illnesses are more advanced and treatment less likely to succeed than if primary care was provided in the communities of the poor.

I had a Republican use this line of attack on me 4 years ago. It’s a standard wingnut talking point. It doesn’t quite square with “brown people are stealing our health care!!1!!” but who expects logic nowadays?

The fact is that reliance on ERs because no other treatment is available to tens of millions of people has crippled the system, particularly in low-income areas (see King-Harbor Medical Center, lady dying on the floor while orderlies mopped up the blood around her edition) and has sent costs soaring that are absorbed by everyone who pays taxes and for health insurance. It’s a universal system, just the worst one you could possibly devise.

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Sharks Are Circling Around Vitter

Wow, I figured that the "It's OK If You're A Republican" rule would apply to David Vitter, but now that the revelations are expanding, Republican lawmakers in Louisiana are calling for Vitter's head, and even casting around for a replacement (and trying to force the Democratic governor to appoint a Republican one).

Lots of people commit adultery; most of them are running for the Republican nomination for President. Why is Vitter's adultery somehow meriting a resignation?

Could it have anything to do with diapers?

UPDATE: With Vitter in Giuliani's stable, McCain supporters have taken to soliciting sex in a men's room to catch up in the all-important sex scandal race. "We cannot afford a sex scandal gap!" exclaimed Gen. Buck Turgidson McCain, probably on his cell phone in the Capitol cloakroom when he was illegally engaging in campaign activities on Senate grounds.

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Depending on Civic Illiteracy

People know what impeachment is. They probably didn't before 1998, but someone was shining the President's Willie and even Access Hollywood covered it, so impeachment got tossed into the cultural lexicon (in completely the wrong way, of course; it means something vague like "when meanies want to get rid of the President because they don't like him").

What people know little about is the machinery of the Congress, the whole business of cloture votes and filibusters and open rules and motions to recommit. They have no idea that the Republicans are systematically gumming up the works and Democratic leaders aren't doing a good enough job of informing the public, nor is liberal talk radio focused on it, and even if they were it's not a big enough megaphone and nobody involved in it is having illicit sex (except David Vitter). So the President can make wild, simple claims like "Congress isn't passing their spending bills on time" when last year's Republican Congress didn't pass a SINGLE spending bill. Republicans have a faith in the essential ignorance of the American citizen, and so they think they can obstruct with impunity:

I wonder how many Americans understand that you can’t pass legislation in America with 50% of the votes in Congress? How many of them understand that, outside of budget resolutions, you need 60 votes in the Senate? That a filibuster isn’t a matter of Jimmy Stewart talking himself ragged for hours on end, but of merely declaring an intention to filibuster? And that this is done for all but the most routine matters? With the result that the 60-vote minimum is no longer reserved for occasional high-profile issues, but has been institutionalized for virtually all legislation of any consequence?

I figure maybe 2%.

As Steve Benen says, the GOP thinks it can play this gambit, obstructing every effort at progress (on Iraq and on everything else) and then blaming the Democrats for not getting their agenda passed. The only time this could break down is if the Democrats or their allies do a better job of explaining this tactic in broad terms. 9/11 families writing a letter is a good start (although it should be a press conference):

Dear 9/11 Families and Friends,

The bill implementing many of the remaining 9/11 Commissions recommendations is stalled because Senate Republicans have blocked an important ‘next step’. It is called a conference, where the House and Senate hammer out their differences on bills and is therefore a cornerstone of our democratic legislative process.

The bill in question, (S.4), is called Improving America’s Security Act. When enacted, it will improve security on the home front. It is long overdue for passage and as a consequence, American lives remain at risk.

Please voice your strong opposition to this partisan stall tactic. Call, email or fax Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. Tell him to stop blocking the Conference on S.4. Tell him to let the bill move forward!

I just heard the President in his sham press conference lament about how hard it is for the Iraqis to pass legislation. At the same time he's yelling at Democrats for not getting laws passed. This is ridiculous and the obstructionism must be exposed.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Warner Watch

One thing I didn't notice before: John Warner voted for Sen. Webb's readiness bill. At one level, this may be just comity with a fellow Virginian's bill. But at another level, this could be a significant crack in the armor. If nothing major is done this time around, obviously these kinds of bills and ideas will be coming back around in September. Sen. Warner, who I always considered the key Senator in the GOP on these issues, has now stated his willingness to vote for - not just talk about - meaningful policy around Iraq. This certainly puts him in a better class than Sens. Lugar and Voinovich and Domenici, who are all talk. Or maybe they're waiting to vote for that supa-awsom "Pretend To Adopt The Pretend Hard Deadlines of the Iraq Study Group" bill and nothing else.

Warner was extremely quiet about this vote, so any Republican looking for political cover wouldn't have known that they could hide behind his vote. He just went out and did it. Didn't make a big speech or a conference call to reporters. Just voted to support the troops. Which is exactly what this quite narrow bill was. To hear it from Sen. Webb:

A clear majority of the Senate—56 Members – sent a strong message today in favor of ensuring responsible deployment cycles for our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I regret that we did not reach the 60-vote margin that would have allowed this amendment to prevail. It was offered in the spirit of bipartisanship. It was offered with the intention of protecting the well-being of our troops.

“A Republican filibuster kept this amendment from passing by an up-or-down vote. Americans are tired of this kind of posturing. The troops and their families don’t want to hear about political, procedural maneuvers. What they really care about are results. They are looking for concrete actions that will protect the well-being of our men and women in uniform.

“The question on this amendment is not whether you support this war or whether you do not. It is not whether you want to wait until July or September to see where one particular set of bench marks or summaries might be taking us. The question is this: more than four years into ground operations in Iraq, we owe stability, and a reasonable cycle of deployment, to the men and women who are carrying our nation’s burden. That is the question. And that was the purpose of this amendment.”

The admakers are going to have a field day damning those who voted against this (Sen. Cornyn, I'm looking at you). John Warner's up this cycle and he maybe doesn't want the popular Webb campaigning against him and maybe that's all this is about. But at some point, Warner will have to go public. He did so today, in a small way.

P.S. My prediction is still that this Pretend to Adopt the ISG Report amendment from Ken Salazar and Pete Domenici will end up passing, even though, if the President were to take the unusual step of actually listening to Congress and following through on the amendment's goals, would be the worst possible situation.

Many would like to reduce the U.S. commitment to something like half of today's troop presence there. But it is much harder to find a mission for the remaining 60,000 to 80,000 soldiers that makes any sense militarily....

The more we shift out of combat missions and into training, the harder we make the trainers' job and the more exposed they become. It is unrealistic to expect that we can pull back to some safe yet productive mission of training but not fighting -- this would be neither safe nor productive.

If the surge is unacceptable, the better option is to cut our losses and withdraw altogether. In fact, the substantive case for either extreme -- surge or outright withdrawal -- is stronger than for any policy between. The surge is a long-shot gamble. But middle-ground options leave us with the worst of both worlds: continuing casualties but even less chance of stability in exchange. Moderation and centrism are normally the right instincts in American politics, and many lawmakers in both parties desperately want to find a workable middle ground on Iraq. But while the politics are right, the military logic is not.

David Broder just threw up in his mouth.

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Is Bush Trying To Provoke Impeachment?

I read somebody on the blogs today who wrote that Bush may actually be daring the Democrats to begin impeachment hearings, either to get the "impeachment bounce" in the polls that Bill Clinton got, or to start a rallying cry among the conservative base that "the Democrats will stop at nothing to gain power" so that they'll come back to the fold in 2008, or because he knows there'll never be 67 Senators willing to remove him from office, or just to derail the Dems' domestic initiatives. That would be one of the more earnestly Machiavellian schemes ever concocted, but when you look at today's evidence, you really have to wonder.

Today the President ordered a former staff member to rebuke a Congressional subpoena and not testify in an investigation. Advising someone to assert executive privilege is one thing; this is quite another. For one, it's illegal:

It's not just worse, it's a felony under federal criminal law. See for yourself.

18 U.S.C. Sec. 1505 : ... Whoever corruptly ... influences, obstructs, or impedes ... the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress ... [s]hall be fined under this title, [or] imprisoned not more than 5 years ... or both.

18 U.S.C. Sec. 1515(b): As used in section 1505, the term "corruptly" means acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including ... withholding, [or] concealing ... information.

The President is obstructing a legitimate investigation here. And that's not all, he's having Fredo and the Justice Department write memos saying that they can completely ignore Congress:

In a broadly worded legal opinion, the Justice Department has concluded that President Bush's former top lawyer, and possibly other senior White House officials, can ignore subpoenas from Congress to testify about the U.S. attorneys affair.

The three-page opinion raises questions about whether the Justice Department would prosecute senior administration officials if Congress voted to hold them in contempt for not cooperating with the investigation into the firing last year of eight top prosecutors [...]

Under the law, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia decides whether to pursue contempt of Congress cases. While that official can exercise independent judgment, some legal experts said it might be hard to ignore the opinion from the legal counsel office, whose decisions are often viewed as controlling throughout the federal government.

Others said that, as an alternative, lawmakers might seek the appointment of an independent special counsel to investigate any contempt charges.

Do so. Today. What the President and his aides are saying here is that Congress doesn't exist. So strongly worded letters aren't going to cut it, Reps. Conyers and Sanchez:

"We are aware of absolutely no court decision that supports the notion that a former White House official has the option of refusing to even appear in response to a Congressional subpoena," Conyers and Sanchez wrote to George Manning, Miers' lawyer. "A refusal to appear ... could subject Ms. Miers to contempt proceedings." [...]

Some legal experts said they disagreed with the sweeping privilege that the administration was claiming.

"The privilege does not entitle you to refuse to appear. The privilege entitles you to refuse to answer questions when you appear if those questions call for privileged information," said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University law school. "No one can claim the privilege entitles you to ignore the body that subpoenas you."

Now, looking back at the events of today, coupled with the Libby commutation, and it's clear that Bush is giving the finger to Congress on an almost hourly basis. Like I said, it would be absolutely Machiavellian to provoke impeachment, but Karl Rove is the one in charge of the political optics, and he's bugged his own office before. Planting the "ruthlessly partisan" label on the Democrats, and digging up all kinds of "we swear we won't impeach" quotes, would be delicious business for him. In the meantime, Fourthbranch gets to run the show unimpeded.

Now it could just be that Bush is holding fast to the position of "if the President does it, then it's not illegal." And I believe in restoring the law and using whatever means necessary to do it. But I really do think people have to take a look at this. One thing that the Democrats have shown that they can do is walk into a trap. Is one being set?

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What A Leader

John Boehner, last seen crying on the House floor for no good reason, thinks that OTHER people are wimps:

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) called for comity Wednesday during a meeting of the Republican Conference after House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) referred to Senate colleagues who have begun to favor a change in course in Iraq as "wimps."

Wilson declined to comment directly on what Boehner had said during the closed-door meeting, but she noted that "Senator [Richard] Lugar’s (R-Ind.) speech was one of the more thoughtful speeches [she had heard] in the Senate in a long time."

The lawmaker added that the war and the thoughts of her colleagues about the conflict "should always be taken seriously."

See, some things are more important than American kids dying. Like not being a wimp.

Fucking 6th-graders run our country.

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Bang The Gavel

There were a couple Congressional hearings today of import, both of which deal essentially with the view of executive power and how this White House has consistently acted above the law.

First, White House political director and Rove protege Sara Taylor had a quiet day of testimony where she refused to answer the most pressing questions about the President's involvement in the firing of 8 US Attorneys late last year. By the way, the GOP talking point on this is always that US Attorneys "serve at the pleasure of the President," so how could Bush NOT be involved?

A former senior White House aide told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that she never spoke or met with President Bush about plans to fire a group of U.S. attorneys last year.

Sara M. Taylor, who left her job as the White House political director two months ago, also testified that she had no knowledge that Bush was involved in the dismissals at all.

"I did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys," Taylor said. "I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed."

In addition, if Bush was not involved in the firings at all, how can you claim executive privilege in refusing to talk about the firings? The whole basis for the claim is that a President must be able to receive candid advice from aides without it being disclosed to Congress and the public. Um, she's saying that she NEVER GAVE HIM ANY ADVICE on this matter!

I suppose executive privilege now means "anybody talking to the President, or anyone in the executive branch, or anyone related to anyone in the executive branch, and everyone they had sex with, and so on, and so on." It's the Pert Shampoo commercial theory of executive power.

Oh yeah, and when Taylor did manage to answer, she apparently revealed that she doesn't know shit about anything, as if we needed a reminder. Another former aide, Harriet Miers, is supposed to appear tomorrow, but Bush just ordered her not appear (I guess because she's not done memorizing the phrase "I don't recall").
The White House is turning the GOP into the Know-Nothing Party, in the literal sense of the term. And this in large part is because they all feel there will be no forthcoming sanctions on them, so why not act above the law and thumb their noses at investigators? Bush has a pardon pen and he's not afraid to use it.

Speaking of which, the House is holding a hearing today on the commuted sentence of Scooter Libby and Presidential clemency power. Joe Wilson gave a stirring address to kick off the hearing:

President Bush promised that if any member of the White House staff were engaged in this matter, it would be a firing offense. However, the trial of Scooter Libby has proved conclusively that Karl Rove was involved, and although he escaped indictment, he still works at the White House. We also know as a result of evidence introduced in the trial that President Bush himself selectively declassified national security material to attempt to support the false rationale for war. The President’s broken promise and his own involvement in this unseemly smear campaign reveal a chief executive willing to subvert the rule of law and system of justice that has undergirded this great republic of ours for over 200 years.

Make no mistake, the President’s actions last week cast a pall of suspicion over his office and Vice President Cheney. Mr. Libby was convicted of, among other crimes, obstruction of justice – a legal term used to describe a cover-up. The Justice Department’s Special Counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, has said repeatedly that Mr. Libby’s blatant lying had been the equivalent of “throwing sand in the eyes of the umpire”, thereby ensuring that the umpire, the system of justice, cannot ascertain the whole truth. As a result, Fitzgerald has said, “a cloud remains over the Vice President.” In commuting Mr. Libby’s sentence, the President has removed any incentive for Mr. Libby to cooperate with the prosecutor. The obstruction of justice is ongoing and now the President has emerged as its greatest protector. The President’s explanation for his commutation that Mr. Libby’s sentence was excessive turns out to be yet another falsehood because the sentence was quite normal, as Special Counsel Fitzgerald noted. The President, at the very least, owes the American people a full and honest explanation of his actions and those of other senior administration officials in this matter, including, but not limited to the Vice President [...]

I would like the committee members and all Americans to think about this matter in this way: If senior American officials take time from their busy schedules to meet with a foreign military attaché for the purpose of compromising the identity of a CIA covert officer, what would we call that? Although that scenario is hypothetical, the end result is no different from what happened in this case – the betrayal of our national security.

There's a good thread on the hearing at Daily Kos.

UYPDATE: Brilliant:

"I took an oath the president, and I take that oath very seriously," Sara Taylor said in answer to a question early in the hearing.

And right after a break, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked her if she was sure about that. "Did you mean, perhaps, you took an oath to the Constitution?" Leahy asked. It was a telling exchange.

"I know that the president refers to the government being his government -- it's not," Leahy reminded her.

They really don't know anything about this country.

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Welcome Aboard, Olympia Snowe

She signed on to Reed-Levin, which would mandate a redeployment within 120 days. So that's one more than we got for essentially the same bill in May, and it puts a lot of pressure on fellow Maine Republican Susan Collins, who's up for election mext year, to do the same. Collins did vote with Snowe and 5 other wayward Republicans on Sen. Webb's readiness bill, which was unfortunately filibustered. But 56 votes is a lot, and suggests that momentum is moving in the right direction. I don't know how much longer Republicans can continue to be the President's body armor.

This bit at the end of the story is hilarious:

Bush said Tuesday he would veto any legislation setting a deadline on troop withdrawals. He also said he would not rethink his military strategy until at least September, when the top military commander delivers a progress report on the troop buildup.

"That's what the American people expect. They expect for military people to come back and tell us how the military operations are going," Bush said. "And that's the way I'm going to play it as commander in chief."

He means that's what he tells himself the American people expect. The American people ACTUALLY expect us to get the hell out of there, like, today. Bush just wants a parade where Iraqis wave purple fingers and American flags and erect a statue to him (isn't that what Saddam demanded?).

People ask what we're doing in Iraq. And you can answer in a hundred ways and in a thousand shades of literalism to metaphor. But at some level we're in Iraq because President Bush wanted a parade. It's not hard to imagine how he must have imagined it. A withdrawal of most American troops from a staunchly allied pro-American Iraq. Waving flags. Heartfelt thanks and vindication for the president who had the guts and character to see it through.

And that's why we stay. Because somehow if he just keeps at it someday he might get his parade. Or rather if he just keeps us there forever he doesn't have to really deal wtih what a disaster he's created and fundamentally what a failure he is.

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State Legislature Attempts to Eliminate All Local Campaign Funding Limits

Even though Loni Hancock's Clean Money bill, allowing for a pilot program to attempt public financing for state elections, was turned into a two-year bill, meaning it won't be eligible for passage until 2008, I was under the impression that campaign finance reform was making some progress in the state legislature. And while this shocker legislation is more about the state exerting control on local municipalities more than anything else, it certainly puts a damper on public financing efforts, as it would virtually eliminate any local limits on contributions.

Legislation that opponents said would eviscerate local governments' ability to limit the size of campaign contributions was approved Tuesday by a state Senate committee.

The bill, backed by a powerful coalition that includes the Democratic and Republican parties, labor unions and the National Rifle Association, cleared the Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee on a 3-0 vote.

Special interests and the state parties want to dictate what they can spend on campaigns at the local level, and they want to disallow any reasonable attempts by the local governments to limit their influence. This is really a blow against federalism in the context of the state vs. the local governments, and I find it distasteful. If Santa Monica wants to experiment with Clean Money, or limit campaign contributions, why should the state disallow it? Assemblyman Martin Garrick, the Republican sponsor of the legislation, is using truly devious logic to push this forward:

Garrick said the measure was merely an attempt to clarify current law and avoid a "patchwork of laws" preventing political parties and other statewide organizations from communicating with their members about which candidates the groups support and oppose.

"What I am assuring is that members of a membership organization like the California Teachers Association or the League of Conservation Voters can afford to freely communicate . . . with their members," he said.

But Ned Wigglesworth, a lobbyist for California Common Cause, said the bill would open up an "enormous loophole" by preventing cities and counties from capping campaign donations that are arranged by candidates and used to pay for mailers sent by political parties to their members.

"It's about local control over local elections," he said. "Without such safeguards, local contribution limits would be rendered worthless."

This would be devastating. It may even allow organizations to avoid reporting requirements. What the hell are we doing here?

Ron Calderon, Mod Squad member in good standing, chaired the committee that passed the bill. Your state senator ought to hear from you on this one. It would be a major step backward in the goal to remove the influence of big money in state politics.

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There's a Surgeon General Still?

I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable about national political events. But Richard Carmona's powerful testimony yesterday about politicization in the Surgeon General's office was the first time I ever heard his name. Apparently he was Surgeon General for four years. Who knew?

The point I'm making is that under the Bush Administration, all of the power in an isolated executive branch is vested in just a couple people. The Cabinet secretaries do next to nothing, the federal agency heads do next to nothing, and the only time they make any noise or get any press is when they explain how they're prevented from doing anything.

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name.

“I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said.

The Special Olympics is one of the nation’s premier charitable organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long been deeply involved in it.

These organs of the executive branch actually used to play a major role in shaping policy and providing a spotlight on issues. Now they're press release conduits from the White House Press Office. The systematic destruction of the executive branch is an often-unremarked-upon, yet major element of the Bush Administration's crimes against the state.

As for the politicization of the top public health official, I mean look, you have a President who doesn't want to deliver health care to CHILDREN. You're surprised by this why?

(By the way, the failure to deliver on SCHIP is a moral failure. Democrats should force Republican bastards to deny children medical care. I'm sure it'd do wonders for their public image.)

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Slaying Giants

I had heard that the increasingly pathetic John McCain had given a speech on the Senate floor talking about all the progress and the ponies to be found in Iraq, but I didn't know that he took on the greatest force in liberal politics today:

"I've seen this movie before from the liberal left in America, who share no responsibility for what happened in Cambodia when we said no," said McCain, whose campaign has lost support partly because of his advocacy of the war. He singled out Mike Gravel, a Vietnam War-era senator from Alaska who strongly opposed that mission and is waging a long-shot antiwar candidacy for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

Biden jumped in. "Give me a break! Quoting Gravel as the voice of the left?" he exclaimed.

When the only person you can manage to pick on is Mike Gravel, you're, in a word, irrelevant.

By the way, Gravel released a statement in response:

Incidentally, what McCain is babbling about with regard to Cambodia is that the Senate cut off funds for troops there in 1970... because, you know, we weren't at war with Cambodia at the time. Also, we ended up bombing the crap out of them the next year. And we installed a puppet government led by Prince Lon Nol in 1970, one that proved completely unpopular and led to the Khmer Rouge's rise. In other words, it was our meddling in foreign affairs that CAUSED the Cambodian genocide, not our isolation. And who ended up invading Cambodia and stopping the violence? COMMUNIST VIETNAM.

This is a familiar right-wing lament, that our leaving Vietnam caused millions of dead. It's the stabbed-in-the-back routine. I'm completely unsurprised that John "What you gonna do about it, Mike Gravel" McCain is employing it. Pathetic.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

FEAR Unit - Feeling Its Way Into Action

Michael Chertoff's got a feeling:

Fearing complacency among the American people over possible terror threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in Chicago Tuesday that the nation faces a heightened chance of an attack this summer.

"I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk," Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board in an unusually blunt and frank assessment of America's terror threat level.

"Summertime seems to be appealing to them," he said of al-Qaeda. "We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities."

Still, Chertoff said there are not enough indications of an imminent plot to raise the current threat levels nationwide. And he indicated that his remarks were based on "a gut feeling" formed by past seasonal patterns of terrorist attacks, recent al-Qaeda statements, and intelligence he did not disclose.

Apparently the Department of Homeland Security runs on mood rings. Feelings are how they operate, and gut feelings are how they're going to save us all.

If you want to see these feelings in poll form, the number is 29% and it's next to President Bush.

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The Boy Can't Help It

Who Senator David Vitter chooses to sleep with is between him, his wife, his call girl and his God. And I'm quite certain that if you did a "we swear we won't tell" poll of the US Senate, just as if you did the same poll with people in another position of power, say, captains of industry, the odds are that 60-70% are sleeping around. Let He without sin cast the first stone and all that.

But there are two facts at work here. One is that prostitution is against the law, in Washington as well as in Louisiana.

U.S. Senator David Vitter visited a Canal Street brothel several times beginning in the mid-1990s, paying $300 per hour for services at the bordello after he met the madam at a fishing rodeo that included prostitutes and other politicians, according to Jeanette Maier, the "Canal Street Madam" whose operation was shut down by a federal investigators in 2001.

I don't particularly believe that it ought to be against the law, but the fact remains that it is. And one would think that anyone who solemnly swears to uphold the laws of the nation would bother to follow them, though given the Republicans in this Congress I suppose I am asking way too much.

The other point is that David Vitter has made his entire political career on being a person of high moral fiber and committed to family values. He never valued families, not in any meaningful way, like by offering them better health care or more economic opportunity or a better education for their kids. He went before the voters and said "vote for me because I'm a good person and I'm not morally depraved like these sicko liberals." As much as any Republican, he went after President Clinton during the impeachment brouhaha, claiming that his moral depravity alone made him a candidate for impeachment. His campaign ads for 2004 don't go three seconds without the word "family" making an appearance. He's someone who believes stopping the right for gays to marry is the most important issue we face in America, and let he has no problem destroying his own marriage. So that is the proper context in which to view someone who is paying for sex every chance he can get, an action he would certainly call "morally depraved" if an election opponent of his was found to be engaging in it.

I will conclude with remarks which may be counter-intuitive to everything before it, yet they ring extremely true to me, and I think it's something that progressives need to understand about the Christian conservative movement (although I would say that their marginalization will continue in the wake of revelations about Vitter, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, etc.) many more examples - beyond politicians like Gingrich, Livingston, Giuliani, and Limbaugh; beyond clergy like Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard - do conservative Christians need before they wake up to the truth: that their leaders' pledges of fealty to the concept of "traditional marriage" are meaningless? And that these leaders, as a body, are worthless, only out for themselves?

The answer is: they will never "wake up." The answer is that conservative Christianity is a culture radically different from that of secular (or even religious) liberalism, and that to understand the political meaning of events like this for its members you have to understand that culture's rules. Most importantly, you must understand its rules about sin and redemption. Which are, at heart, an argument about human nature. "True social conservatives" don't reject their sinners - because we are all sinners. They call upon them to repent. Which suggests an entirely different political dynamic than the one native to the secular (or even religious) liberal mindset.

Ted Haggard, pastor of the massive New Life Church in Colorado Springs and leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, provides the best case study. If you believe, as Haggard does, as do all his followers, and their religious tradition going back to time immemorial, that Satan is real, forever laying siege to the faithful, forever providing us tests of our faith, forever reminding us of mandkind's inherently sinful nature--well, then, the kind of leader they will most respect would be the kind of person who feels that reality most intensely, and is able to communicate it most convincingly.

In fact, that kind of person may well be a gay man. He feels, and fights, the presence of Satan daily. He may even, one day, fall to His temptations. If he does, that does not mean he is a "hypocrite." It means he is human - all too human! - according to this worldview [...]

Secular (and even religious) liberals will laugh and scoff, and call the whole sordid right-wing ritual a "free pass to sin".

And this will be a reasonable conclusion. It is true that this whole worldview contains within it a profound possibility of what economists call moral hazard - a perverse incentive built into a system that hastens the possibility of bad instead of good outcomes (by way of example, conservatives identify welfare payments as moral hazard: if you pay people who do not work, you give them an incentive not to work). The cynical - I would certainly count Gingrich among them - can exploit it to aggrandize their power.

But I have to insist that this worldview is not inherently about whitewashing accountability. At its best, the theology of sin and redemption is real - for those to whom Satan is real - and a real spur to moral living, to community-building, to humility, to compassion to grace. It can be a genuine and mature worldview - one that recognizes that people are both good and evil, both autonomous and compulsive, loving and hateful.

This is something that secularists may not believe, but can readily grasp and understand. Indeed, none of us are perfect, and will succumb to selfish or base desires every now and again. Of course, most of us then don't go on to LEGISLATE desire, to deny people the opportunity to make choices. The other obvious point is that David Vitter has never felt redemption for a political enemy in his entire life. He worships at a church of Republicanism as much as at a real church. So while it's important to consider the notion of temptation and sin when considering these affairs, it's just as important to recongnize that there's a vast majority of Americans who don't have such dissonance between their actions and their advocacy.

Which is to say, Larry Flynt rules.

UPDATE: I totally agree with this and this. Prostitution is the most victimless crime there is; the only victims really seem to be the girls who are subject to more violence and exploitation by virtue of the criminal code. The fact that someone writing the laws has no compunction against using the service should be a testament to that. It's a throwback to Puritan moralism that thinks sex is icky and we should criminalize it and lock it in a closet. The problem is that David Vitter thinks the same thing.

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Let's Play Hardball

Dick Durbin's Senate Committee refuses to fund Fourthbranch's office until he complies with the rules of the executive branch.

The Habeas Corpus Restoration Act is going to the floor of the Senate with 25 cosponsors.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the latest evidence of him lying to Congress.

The House will vote on an Iraq bill calling for redeployment within 120 days of passage.

I think they got the message. We'll see a stronger Democratic Party for the rest of this Presidency.

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The Ship Be Sinkin'

Terry Nelson and John Weaver, the brain trust of Team McCain, are gone. So are three others.

Did I ever take that bet with my commenter Hooper, who said that McCain would "definitely be the next President"? I'll let him off the hook and say I didn't.

Nelson and Weaver seemed to be spending money like drunken sailors with little to show for it. Say what you want about his "low fundraising totals," they're more than Howard Dean ever raised at this comparable stage. $20 million or so is a lot of money. How $18 million went out the door is the... $18 million-dollar question.

McCain was tased by Bush on the way in (at the 2000 South Carolina primary) and on the way out (by holding fast to his failed Iraq policy). He was a terrible campaigner whose only constituency was the media. Expect a spate of stories about the "proud warrior" who just couldn't put the country through him losing and fell on his sword. The truth is somewhat different.

(In case you're wondering, yes I think he'll be out of the race faster than you can say "Phil Gramm")

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