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

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Now He Wants Compromise

Bush is playing the great conciliator today, claiming that he would be willing to increase spending for the S-CHIP program and reach a compromise.

The president on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would increase spending for the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years. Bush has called for a $5 billion increase. Several Republicans in both chambers have sided with Democratic lawmakers on the issue.

"If putting poor children first takes a little more than the 20 percent increase I have proposed in my budget for SCHIP, I am willing to work with leaders in Congress to find the additional money," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Too bad, dude. The bill passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress already represented a compromise. There's no need for any further compromise, especially when you continue lying about the program that was passed.

The president also said the bill moving through Congress needs to move adults off the program. However, his administration has approved waivers that allowed some states to cover adults.

"In fact, based on their own projections for this fiscal year, Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, Rhode Island and New Mexico will spend more SCHIP money on adults than they do on children," Bush said. "And that is not the purpose of the program."

The bill passed by Congress does call for gradually giving states less federal matching money when covering certain adults. It also says the administration cannot grant any new waivers to states that want to cover adults through SCHIP.

The president noted that his administration has added more than 2 million children to the SCHIP rolls since 2001.

(Majority Leader Steny) Hoyer often cited Republicans to make his point that the bill is bipartisan.

"As Senator Pat Roberts, a strong Republican from Kansas, recently said: 'I am not for excessive spending and strongly oppose the federalization of health care. And if the administration's concerns with this bill were accurate, I would support a veto.' But Senator Roberts added: 'Bluntly put, they are not.'"

The President doesn't add people to the S-CHIP rolls, either. State governors do, and in fact the President just authorized harsh new regulations that would strip millions from the benefit, more than have been added in recent years.

The bottom line is that the program is successful, targeted, and popular. And it's a testament to all three of these things that the only way to vote against it is to say things like this from nutjob Idaho Rep. Bill Sali (no, not the wide stance guy, the other one):

"This bill is very harmful. It takes money from hardworking Americans while opening the door to provide health insurance to undocumented foreign nationals, including gang members, drug cartel operatives and terrorists. Further, it taxes Idahoans to provide health insurance to people already covered by private insurance or those who can afford to get it."

If you fund S-CHIP, the terrorists win. And they get Vicodin prescriptions!

I guess Sali is talking about terrorists under the age of 18?

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The World Must Speak On Burma

There were small protests around the world today to call attention to the massacres and human rights atrocities in Burma that followed a government crackdown on pro-democracy reformers, including Buddhist monks. While the leader of the military junta has tentatively agreed to meet with reform leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he has only done so on the condition that she stop calling for popular resistance of his regime. This is a dodge, and an attempt to stave off additional sanctions in the world community. It should not be seriously considered.

What ought to be done is full economic isolation and a denial of all Burmese natural resources at market, and in particular, those multinational corporations still doing business with the military junta, like Chevron (they of the supertanker named after Condoleezza Rice), must cease immediately propping up the government with their payments of taxes in exchange for access to their resources.

Human rights activists urge the oil companies to take a principled stand.

"They need to strongly condemn what the government is doing and make their voices heard," said Arvind Ganesan, director of Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Being silent isn't constructive engagement."

Chevron, Total and other oil companies have poured billions in Myanmar's booming natural gas industry in recent years. Natural gas projects generated $2.16 billion in revenue for Myanmar's military regime in 2006, according to Human Rights Watch. Human rights groups say the revenue from taxes and fees on the gas pipelines have become the largest source of cash for Myanmar's generals and have helped to prop them up.

"Whenever you have billions of dollars in revenue that flow directly to a government that does not express any interest in looking out for the benefit for its people, it certainly helps them stay in power," said Ganesan.

No excuses. And activists in this country can put pressure on companies like Chevron to do the right thing. Longtime readers know that I called on the California Democratic Party to return corporate donations from Chevron. This would be one reason why. They should be isolated as Burma is isolated, until they change their behavior.

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Superficial AND Ignorant!

It's true that this story on the New York Times' blog, listing what lapel pins were worn by what Presidential candidates at particular debates, is maybe as vacuous as anything you'll see in a supposedly political story. But it's actually worse than that.

The NYT reporter couldn't figure out what Bill Richardson's lapel pin was, and put in an unanswered call to their HQ (if a media figure called me about a frackin' lapel pin, I wouldn't call back either). If you've spent two minutes in Iowa, you would know that it's a figure from Iowans for Sensible Priorities showing the percentage of the federal budget that goes to defense spending. I was only there for a weekend during the Harkin Steak Fry and you couldn't miss it. I have the magnet on my refrigerator now.

Not only is this NYT reporter bringing up a B.S. issue, they show themselves to be completely ignorant about what's being talked about in Iowa and throughout the nation. What, nobody at the New York Times has been to Iowa?

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Iraq Update

I haven't written a ton about Iraq lately, but I've collected a bunch of articles that I thought I'd bullet-point. None of them represent exactly good news.

• First, there's this Spanish version of the Downing Street Memo, a transcript of a conversation between Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, wherein Bush explained that America would be in Baghdad in March 2003 regardless of a new UN resolution (in fact, he said that the coalition would attack if anyone on the Security Council vetoed the resolution). We all know that war was an inevitability from January 2001, really, strengthened by the attacks on 9/11, but this is just another reminder. Publicly, Bush was saying he hadn't decided to go to war at this time, but it was a foregone conclusion, and obviously so to anyone who was paying attention then. Juan Cole has more.

• Enough with the past, however, the biggest problem facing the future of Iraq is the growing refugee crisis. We're talking about over four MILLION Iraqis being displaced from their homes, two million of them internally. And only 1,000 have been transferred to the United States. Meanwhile, Iraqi refugees make up 10% of the ENTIRE population of Jordan. This will destabilize the entire Middle East if we fail to act. And right now, we're failing miserably.

• A tale of two national security figures on Gen. Petraeus: chief lickspittle Michael O'Hanlon defends his college buddy (yeah, they went to graduate school together; somehow that doesn't get disclosed much) and says he is "convinced" that the Pentagon's statistics on Iraq deaths, which contradict Petraeus', are wrong. Meanwhile, Andrew Bacevich, who has left blood on the battlefields of Iraq in the form of his son, speaks the unspoken truth about the General's testimony.

In testifying before House and Senate committees about the current situation in Iraq, Petraeus told no outright lies. He made no blustery promises about “victory,” a word notably absent from his testimony [...] Yet the essence of his message was this: after four years of futile blundering, the United States has identified the makings of a successful strategy in Iraq. The new doctrine that Petraeus had devised and implemented—the concept of securing the population and thereby fostering conditions conducive to reconstruction and reconciliation—has produced limited but real progress. This gives Petraeus cause for hope that further efforts along these lines may yet enable the United States to create an Iraq that is stable, unified, and not a haven for terrorists. In so many words, Petraeus told Congress that senior U.S. commanders in Iraq had finally found the right roadmap. The way ahead may be long and difficult—indeed, it will be. But Petraeus and his key subordinates know where they are. They know where they need to go. And above all, at long last, they know how to get there.

Critics have questioned the data that Petraeus offered to substantiate his case [...] The critics make a good case. Yet let us ignore them. Let us assume instead that Petraeus genuinely believes that he has broken the code in Iraq and that things are improving. Let’s assume further that he is correct in that assessment.

What then should he have recommended to the Congress and the president? That is, if the commitment of a modest increment of additional forces —the 30,000 troops comprising the surge, now employed in accordance with sound counterinsurgency doctrine —has begun to turn things around, then what should the senior field commander be asking for next?

A single word suffices to answer that question: more. More time. More money. And above all, more troops.

It is one of the oldest principles of generalship: when you find an opportunity, exploit it. Where you gain success, reinforce it. When you have your opponent at a disadvantage, pile on. In a letter to the soldiers serving under his command, released just prior to the congressional hearings, Petraeus asserted that coalition forces had “achieved tactical momentum and wrestled the initiative from our enemies.” Does that reflect his actual view of the situation? If so, then surely the imperative of the moment is to redouble the current level of effort so as to preserve that initiative and to deny the enemy the slightest chance to adjust, adapt, or reconstitute.

Yet Petraeus has chosen to do just the opposite. Based on two or three months of (ostensibly) positive indicators, he has advised the president to ease the pressure, withdrawing the increment of troops that had (purportedly) enabled the coalition to seize the initiative in the first place.

This defies logic. It’s as if two weeks into the Wilderness Campaign, Grant had counseled Lincoln to reduce the size of the Army of the Potomac. Or as if once Allied forces had established the beachhead at Normandy, Eisenhower had started rotating divisions back stateside to ease the strain on the U.S. Army.

Petraeus can't advocate for a maximum effort because the public won't stand for it, but I would also add that it wouldn't appreciably change the situation in Iraq, and would not leave him an "out" to say that the troop levels and lack of American will (the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics) were the eventual causes of failure. But Bacevich is spot-on.

• As for what's actually going on in Iraq, well, it's fun stuff. The Sunnis are waging an assassination campaign. The US, at the same time, is trying to press its relationship with the Sunnis in al-Anbar by trying to recruit Sunnis into the Iraqi National Police, an effort decried by the leading Shiite bloc that has since been scrapped. You can look for yourself at this picture from MacLean's, the Time Magazine of Canada, and read the story about how Bush is reaching out to Saddam's former henchmen; the ruling Shiites understand this as well, and are rebelling against it. The Kurds are still freelancing on their own and intimating that they will break apart as an autonomous state, which the Turks consider a security risk and a threat. American snipers are being pressed to notch more kills, a throwback to Vietnam, where body counts stood in for victory. And also, American troops continue to die.

• If things were going so well in Iraq, the AP wouldn't have their footage confiscated by US troops.

Yesterday the AP reported that U.S. troops in Iraq confiscated an AP cameraman's videotape of the aftermath of a Baghdad bombing. A military spokesman, Lt. Colonel Scott Bleichwehl, explained that the troops were enforcing an Iraqi law prohibiting the photographing or videotaping the aftermath of acts of violence. That seemed strange -- U.S. troops enforcing Iraqi law?

So yesterday I asked U.S. military representatives in Baghdad about the confiscation, the alleged law, and the use of U.S. troops as law enforcement for a foreign country. A spokesman replied to me that he knew of no agreement or arrangement "that would compel [U.S. forces] to enforce Iraqi law." A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the matter at all -- even to confirm the existence of such an Iraqi media law -- and instead referred me back to the military.

The military is being extremely evasive about this. Clearly they're covering their own ass while trying to blame it on an Iraqi law.

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Iran Update

The President went on Arab satellite TV and denied that the US was about to attack Iran:

"I have said that if they suspend their nuclear program, we will be at the table," Bush said, according to a transcript of the interview the White House released on Friday. "But they have so far refused to do that."

Bush brushed off as "gossip" reports in the Arab press that he has issued orders to senior U.S. military officials to prepare for an attack on Iran at the end of January or in February.

"I would call that empty propaganda," Bush said. "Evidently, there's a lot of gossip in the parts of the country - world that try to scare people about me personally or my country or what we stand for. And that kind of gossip is just what it is. It's gossip. It's baseless gossip."

Somehow, I'm not getting the believing vibe off of him. On the one hand, it's true that, as the Iranian foreign minister said, that the US is too tied up in foreign entanglements to get involved in committing ground troops to Iran. It's also true that Iraq would be totally against any military strikes on its neighbor.

On the other hand, the neocons who are desperate to change the subject on Iraq don't care about the sensitivities of the Iraqis or the lack of manpower. They still believe in this fantasy that you can get in and out, make precision strikes that hit nuclear facilities and nothing else, provoke no radioactive accidents, and cause no retaliation. It's something less than a real-world view.

Robert Byrd is absolutely right, just as he was when he spoke in that empty chamber before the war with Iraq:

It is deeply troubling to see the U.S. Senate joining the chest-pounding and saber-rattling of the Bush administration. I am no apologist for the Iranian regime, anymore than I was for Saddam Hussein, but I fear that we may become entangled in another bloody quagmire. We have been down this path before. We have seen all too clearly where it leads.

The Senate has refused to learn the lessons of history. And just maybe, they just want the war as much as the neocons:

When I asked Hersh who wants to bomb Iran, he said, "Ironically there is a lot of pressure coming from Democrats. Hillary Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have all said we cannot have a nuclear-armed Iran. Clearly the pressure from Democrats is a reflection of - we might as well say it - Israeli and Jewish input." He added the obvious: "a lot of money comes to the Democratic campaigns" from Jewish contributors.

But while Democrats argue that we must "do something" about an Iranian nuclear threat, Hersh says the White House has concluded their own effort to convince Americans that Iran poses an imminent threat has "failed." Apparently the public that bought the story of WMD in Iraq is now singing the classic Who song, "Won't Get Fooled Again."

I don't know if the front-runners are at all committed to military action, but they are cautious to appear "sensible" to the foreign policy community, in other words completely un-sensible. And while Hillary has signed on to Jim Webb's bill blocking funding for military action against Iran, she also supported the Kyl-Lieberman bill giving Bush a back door to attack. And it concerns me greatly that Wes Clark is indrectly endorsing Kyl-Lieberman because he can't criticize the candidate he endorsed:

Last week, Hillary voted for a non-binding resolution that designates the odious Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization in order to strengthen our diplomatic hand. (emphasis mine) On Monday, she joined Senator Jim Webb in co-sponsoring a bill that would prohibit the use of funds for military action in Iran without specific authorization by Congress.

I support Hillary in both these votes. She is committed to ending the unilateralism of the Bush-Cheney administration. She is a strong supporter of direct nuclear talks with Iran, because she believes that direct dialogue with our adversaries is a sign of strength and confidence, and a prerequisite to achieving America's goals and objectives.

What the...

Is the guy who created really falling for the "strengthening our diplomatic hand" nonsense?

This concerns me more than ever that, as Byrd said, we are sleepwalking into another conflict.

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We're Talking About Lapel Pins?

The firestorm of controversy over Barack Obama's lapel pin, or lack thereof, kind of proves Obama's entire point.

“You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.

“Instead,” he said, “I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”

Good on him. This bumper-sticker patriotism is worse than annoying. It's debilitating. The idea is that you can advocate the most un-American policies imaginable, including secret detentions, torture, pre-emptive war, anything, but if you're wearing a flag on your suit, you're a patriot. You can support policies that deny troops the benefits they deserve, deny them the armor on the battlefield they need, but if you put a "support the troops" magnet on your car, you support the troops.

Life doesn't work that way. Patriotism takes work. It's not a slogan. It means pushing for your country to do the right thing. It means actually working to promote your values and ensuring that they are displayed on the national stage. It means accepting negative speech, it means fighting against unreasonable searches and seizures, it means defending the Constitutional rights of even the most downtrodden. Barack Obama is basically saying to the country, "Grow up. Democracy isn't as easy as wearing a sticker. Do something." Thank you.

Of course, it also goes without saying that the people most concerned with Barack Obama's lapel pin are rank hypocrites.

UPDATE: Paul Waldman:

This is a pretty clear conservative/progressive split. Conservatives are huge fans of symbolic patriotism -- flag lapel pins, flags on cars, full-throated singing of "God Bless the U.S.A." (aka "Proud to Be an American"), and so on -- public displays, in which one demonstrates to other people that one loves America.

Progressives, on the other hand, tend to favor substantive patriotism, which involves doing things to make one's country better. After all, if progressives really hated America, why would they even want to change it in ways that would make it conform more with their values? That would mean, from their perspective, making it better, something you wouldn't do if you just hated the country. I hate the Yankees, so if I figured out the perfect combination of trades that would lead to them winning the next five World Series, I'd be sure not to tell them.

This is the difference between thinking that patriotism means talking about how super-awesome America is, and that patriotism means doing things to make America great. There's nothing wrong with the former, if that's what moves you (and of course, there's nothing wrong with doing both simultaneously). But in practice, symbolic patriotism is all too often offered as a substitute for action. To take just one example, the conservative avers that we have "the best health care system in the world," even though that's plainly not true, and therefore we don't need to change it, while the progressive attempts to improve the health care system until it actually is the best in the world.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

It's On Like Donkey Kong

John Edwards saw an opening today and he took it.

In a scathing attack, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards went after front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Friday, calling her a "corporate Democrat," comparing top Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn to former Bush aide Karl Rove and assailing Penn's ties to Blackwater USA, the embattled private firm of military contractors accused by the Iraqi government of firing upon and killing 11 unarmed Iraqi civilians last month.

"Bush has been a perfect example of cronyism because Blackwater has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans and to President Bush," Edwards said in an interview with the Associated Press while campaigning in Iowa. "I also saw this morning that Sen. Clinton's primary adviser, Mark Penn, who is like her Karl Rove -- his firm is representing Blackwater."

Edwards said that he thinks "it is important for Iowa caucus-goers to understand the choices they have in this election. And it is the reason I continue to say we don't want to replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats. I think it is important for caucus-goers to see this choice."

The Clinton camp is going to call this dirty pool, but it's really not. It's completely fair game to note the public affairs of advisors to a Presidential campaign, particularly top advisors. And the face that Hillary Clinton's top advisor not only represents union-busting firms but also Blackwater USA is significant. The union folks who have declined hitting Clinton for this missed a huge opportunity, not to take her down, but to stop Burson-Marsteller's union-busting clients, or at least get B-M to drop them. John Edwards is not making the same mistake.

Mark Penn just became a HUGE issue in this campaign.

An official with a rival Democratic campaign added to Edwards' remarks, saying that "when people are asking themselves who can better change the way things are going, Penn is a massive liability. How can you fight for change when you've got someone fighting to keep things exactly as they are on health care, with subprime lenders, and even in Iraq?"

Penn has often come under fire for his company's clients, whose goals are often at odds with liberal politics. Burson has also represented oil and tobacco companies, and worked for corporations to impede union organizing events, about which labor leaders expressed "distress" in a letter to Clinton. Penn said he played no role in any of the anti-union activities. Burson has also represented Countrywide Financial, a subprime loan company also under fire.

Frankly this should have been an issue long before. But now it's exploding into the open at a time when the primary season is in full swing.

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Health Care Special Session Update - A Document Appears

So out of the "magic fax" in Sacramento where all bills without authors are created comes new "legislative language" on a compromise health care proposal, language that nobody has claimed as their own and that everyone is disavowing, but which looks mysteriously like the Governor's handiwork. You can take a look at this language yourself here.

We are disappointed that we seem to back to square one with something very similar to the Governor’s January proposal, with only a few of our comments and concerns raised over the course of the year addressed. While we would have preferred having the Governor’s language much earlier in the year, we do appreciate having the language to seriously respond and react to--if that is what it takes to move the conversation forward.

It's like when you work really hard on a document, but then the computer crashed, and you have to reboot and start again. It's frustrating, but the goal doesn't change.

This could have played out over the regular session if the governor would have distributed this and negotiated at that time. But as he jets off to China, this gets dropped in everyone's lap - and look what's in there:

• The elimination of quarterly complaint and greivance reporting for HMOs, which seems to remove an important oversight over insurers.

• The apparent increase in the permissible premium, for those making 150-200%FPL (federal poverty level), at a level that is still too high--5%, which does not include out-of-pocket costs.

• The lack of any standards for out-of-pocket costs in the subsidized pool. Given that one can drive the cost of a premium down by raising deductibles and cost-sharing, the limit of premiums provides small comfort.

• An exemption from the minimum level of coverage for any and all employer plans. The draft still has, as a placeholder, an unacceptable $5,000 deductible (and $10,000 out-of-pocket max) plan as a minimum level of coverage under the individual mandate... but that even that low minimum does not apply to individuals who take up employer-based coverage, meaning they could have coverage with very skimpy benefits, or no out-of-pocket maximum.

• A weak definition of the minimum Medical Loss Ratio (the amount spent on patient care rather than administration and profit), so that it applies to an insurers’ entire portfolio of business, meaning this rule would no longer provide assurance that any specific product is of good actuarial value. A limit that was product-by-product, or even market-by-market, would be more helpful to consumers.

• The Healthy Action benefit seems to be less than advertised as well, since it only requires an insurer to offer such a product, but does not include smoking cessation or obesity programs as a mandated benefit. With no requirement, the policy seems more likely to be a way for insurers to identify risk, rather than a viable new benefit for consumers. If this is truly a priority, it needs to be a mandated benefit.

• And most concerning, the guaranteed issue protections in the individual market seem hollow with the new details. Only a few high-deductible, low-benefit products will be guaranteed issue to begin with--so those with "pre-existing conditions" will only have access to the coverage in the market that is least suited to them. There would be little assurance that we would ever get to a second phase of having the full market guaranteed issue. Insurers will be able to use benefit design, marketing, and pricing to avoid those California customers that have health risks and needs. In particular, we believe older Californians will simply be priced out of the individual market, and the guaranteed access an illusion.

I can live with an individual mandate if it included guaranteed issue and significant cost controls, in addition to a baseline of coverage for the insured and a cap on prices. But this proposal seeks to eliminate practically all of those checks on the insurance companies while maintaining the individual mandate. This is nothing but a license to print money for the insurers.

Since nobody will claim this document, it's hard to know whether or not this is the result of any negotiation or if it's the Governor's response to AB8. Therefore, it's hard to know whether or not the end result will be something in the middle, or something pretty close to this orphan document. If the latter is the case, health reform should be torpedoed in the special session without delay. These terms are unacceptable.

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GOP Presidential Candidates To Bush: Not So Fast, We Hate Kids Too!

It's unanimous:

The four leading Republican presidential candidates have aligned themselves with President Bush’s veto on Wednesday of an expanded health insurance program for children, once again testing the political risk of appearing in lock step with a president who has low approval ratings and some critics of the veto within their party.

It is yet another issue — like the Iraq war, North Korea’s nuclear program and the management of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina — where the Republican contenders are treading delicately as they gauge how to position themselves with an unpopular president on contentious issues. While all four are defending the veto, some in full-throated language, the candidates are at the same time forgoing praise of Mr. Bush’s judgment on the issue or of his leadership in general.

But defending the veto is really all that counts, isn't it? Essentially, these candidates are impressed with the idea of denying health insurance coverage to children. They may have different reasons for doing so, they may be more or less direct about it, but they all endorse the policy. And that's because they all need to win votes from a conservative base that is fundamentally out of step with American values.

Every so often you'll hear some commentator swear that the GOP nominee will eventually distance himself from the President. Don't bet on it. If they really wanted to, S-CHIP would have been a perfect opportunity. It's not going to happen because the real problem with the Republican Party is not George W. Bush, it's what the Republican Party now stands for.

Here's a perfect example. This is right out of the Bizarro world:

“I don’t think the candidates can run with the president, and on the president’s positions, over the long haul because eventually they will trip you up,” said Rich Galen, a Republican consultant who is advising Fred D. Thompson, one of the leading candidates. Mr. Thompson has been strongly defending the veto.

There is too much at stake for these candidates to ever drop their love of Bush Republicanism, which is still pretty popular in conservative circles.

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AP: Bush Pretty Much Wrong About Everything

This is an exquisite article from the Associated Press, and the only thing I quibble with in it is part of the headline:

Bush leaving some problems to successors

If you replace "some" with "all," you'd pretty much catch the spirit of the article - and the truth about the Bush years, which have been remarkable in their resulting in NOT ONE decent policy, NOT ONE problem that hasn't grown worse, NOT ONE positive accomplishment.

Over and over, President Bush confidently promised to "solve problems, not pass them on to future presidents and future generations." As the clock runs out on his eight-year presidency, a tall stack of troubles remain and Bush's words ring hollow.

Iraq, budget deficits, the looming insolvency of Social Security and Medicare, high health and energy costs, a national immigration mess — the next president will inherit these problems in January 2009. With Bush's popularity at an all time low and relations with the Democratic-led Congress acrimonious, he has little or no chance of pulling off a surprise victory in his time left.

The focus of the Bush Presidency now is to plkay defense until January 2009. But what is the legacy that he's "protecting"?

• The economy is relatively sound and deficits are falling after peaking in 2004. But an entire presidency of red ink has ballooned the overall federal debt from $5.7 trillion when Bush became president to $8.9 trillion now. The Iraq war, including providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans, as well as expensive new programs like a Medicare prescription drug benefit threaten to drive deficits back up. Economists fear growing odds of a recession.

• The nation's health care spending, public and private, totaled $1.5 trillion when Bush took office. By the time he leaves, it is expected to be $2.6 trillion — a 75 percent increase. Meanwhile, the nation's number of uninsured has swelled, from 14 percent of the population in 2001 to 16 percent last year, or a total of 47 million people.

• Now in its fifth year, the Iraq war has claimed the lives of more than 3,800 members of the U.S. military and more than 73,000 Iraqi civilians, wounded over 28,000 U.S. military personnel, and cost nearly half a trillion dollars. Even if combat ends, Bush says the United States will need to provide military, economic and political support beyond his presidency and have "an enduring relationship" with Iraq.

It goes on and on that way. The author, Jennifer Loven, is devastating in her clarity. Though she does write that "No domestic terrorist attack has followed those of Sept. 11, 2001" (hello, anthrax?), she's right about Bush's war on terror making the terror threat greater, not less. When Bush was inaugurated, gas was A DOLLAR FORTY-FIVE A GALLON nationwide; now it's nearly twice that, after fighting a war that was "largely about oil," in the words of Alan Greenspan. The cost per barrel of oil has gone from $29 to $80. The immigration issue has had no changes, with more people in an underground economy living in constant fear and no solution in sight. There's more: Social Security and Medicare, education reform, democracy promotion, being a "uniter," not to mention that which Loven leaves out - our moral standing, torture, domestic spying, public faith in government, the Gulf Coast, Presidential records and official secrecy, the separation of powers and the very health of Constitutional democracy, etc., etc.

"It's hard to find something he has done that really has improved the situation a great deal," said Stephen J. Wayne, a Georgetown University presidential scholar [...]

"We're in a worse place than we were in 1999" before Bush became president, lamented Matthew Dowd, a former pollster and chief campaign strategist for Bush who has become disillusioned with his old boss.

We're in a worse place than we were in 1899, Matt. But thanks for your help in getting this guy elected! 'Preciate it!

And let's be clear: we're not talking about a situation where the President was blocked by a gridlocked Congress. He had almost unfettered control of every branch of government for the majority of his two terms in office, and arguably, even now. And yet he has failed in every single respect. All this while pumping up his own image as a problem solver ("That means I solve problems") and a decider.

I don't think America can take much more of this problem-solving.

This is a pretty rich quote, from the aforementioned Mr. Dowd:

Dowd said Bush has only to look at himself for why he didn't fulfill his promise. His unwillingness to admit mistakes and inattention to building relationships with lawmakers of both parties helped put success out of reach, Dowd said.

"Most of the responsibility — I don't want to use the word blame — is at his doorstep. It has to be," Dowd said. "In the end, he is the leader, elected twice, with Congress at times in his own party."

I want to use the word blame, and what's more, the voters do to. They blamed Bush by returning the Congress to the Democrats, and they're going to blame the Republican Party for letting someone this incompetent become their standard-bearer by electing a Democrat to the White House next November.

I will add one disturbing caveat. The President has not failed at everything. The one goal which he has completely succeeded at achieving is the extreme expansion of Presidential power. Of course, that was his top priority, or at least the top priority of his Fourthbranch sidekick. The problem is that Bush's success is our collective failure, and it's highly unlikely that we'll be able to roll that back in the near future. The only way we can do so is through repudiation, complete and total repudiation (not excluding indictment), so that future Presidents would never DARE to cite George W. Bush as a precedent for expanding their own power. The Amish concept of "shunning" would appear to fit.

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When Fully Briefed Does Not Mean Fully Briefed

We're in day two of the latest scandal on officially sanctioned CIA torture, and tensions are rising between the White House and Congress. Democrats on the Intelligence Committee are demanding to see the secret memos, and are going on about the Administration's methods to evade oversight. The White House responded by saying that the relevant people were fully briefed.

PERINO: I believe that the members that have been briefed are satisfied that the policy of the United States and the practices do not constitute torture.

QUESTION: But, Dana, what have they been briefed on? If they haven’t actually seen, like the 2005 legal opinions, they’ve just been briefed in general. You’re selecting what…

PERINO: What I can tell you, and I have been assured they have been fully briefed.

QUESTION: Fully briefed on the actual memos?


Except John Rockefeller is not fully satisfied, nor has he been fully briefed.

The Administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.

The reality is, the Administration refused to disclose the program to the full Committee for five years, and they have refused to turn over key legal documents since day one. As I have said from the beginning, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to determine whether the program is the best means for obtaining reliable information, whether it is fully supported by the law, and whether it is in the best interest of the United States.

Of course, the question is, Sen. Rockefeller, what are you going to do about it? The Administration line is that they do not torture and that they follow US law. This is a tautological argument, since they are explicitly redefining the US law that they follow. So what are you going to do to ensure that Congress can at least judge what they are doing and restore the rule of actual law, not law as the President sees fit?

This is spilling into the new Attorney General nomination, and it should.

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., demanded a copy of a third Justice Department memo justifying military interrogations of terror suspects held outside the United States.

In a letter to Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey, Levin wrote that two years ago he requested — and was denied — the March 14, 2003, legal opinion. Levin asked if Mukasey would agree to release the opinion if the Senate confirms him as attorney general, and cited what he described as a history of the Justice Department stonewalling Congress.

"Such failures and the repeated refusal of DoJ to provide Congress with such documents has prevented the Congress from fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to conduct oversight," Levin wrote.

There simply shouldn't be any move forward on the Mukasey nomination without the documents themselves, not just a promise to turn them over. The evasion of responsibility should end. Today.

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Welcome To The New World Order

Apparently, activists like Retired Col. Ann Wright and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink are being denied access to Canada because of their misdemeanor arrests for things like disorderly conduct during antiwar protests.

As Rick Perlstein notes, this is really something:

This is a horrifying development for human rights. This is a horrifying indication of the moral wasting visited upon the world by an American conservative movement invested with governing power. And, last but not least, this is a sad step backward for Canada's proud history history of refusing to be intimidated by the United States.

In one of the last issues of Lingua Franca, I wrote about a very fine little academic study entitled Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canda, by John Hagan. American officials were outraged when Canadians asserted their sovereign right not to turn back war resisters. But Canada refused to be bullied. Those days, apparently, are over: America says jump; Canada answers, "How high?"

I'm sure Bush-lite Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has something to do with this. It's pretty dispiriting.

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Good English

Yes, it's pathetic to see how the right wing protects and defends their movement conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, while Democrats let the progressive movement twist in the wind. But I want to highlight the first sentence of this missive from Eric Cantor, Chief Deputy Republican Whip in the House, in this NRCC email pitch (which I assume was proofread):

One failure after another, Washington Democrats have built a record of legislative failure.

One sandwich after another, Washington Democrats have eaten a lot of sandwiches.

Good Lord, are they all this dense?

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Blackwater: Military Hates Them, Hillary's Pollster Loves Them

The biggest argument you can make against Blackwater USA is that they harm the military effort in Iraq through their recklessness, which ends up boomeranging back on our troops. Now the military is agreeing with that assessment publicly:

U.S. military reports from the scene of the Sept. 16 shooting incident involving the security firm Blackwater USA indicate that its guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi civilians, according to a senior U.S. military official.

The reports came to light as an Interior Ministry official and five eyewitnesses described a second deadly shooting minutes after the incident in Nisoor Square. The same Blackwater security guards, after driving about 150 yards away from the square, fired into a crush of cars, killing one person and injuring two, the Iraqi official said.

The U.S. military reports appear to corroborate the Iraqi government's contention that Blackwater was at fault in the shooting incident in Nisoor Square, in which hospital records say at least 14 people were killed and 18 were wounded.

"It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said the U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them," he added, using a military abbreviation for the Iraqi police. The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official said.

Only the State Department's initial report has failed to corroborate this explanation of the attack, and that one was written by a Blackwater contractor.

Despite the initial report, the State Department is coming around to the reality that changes are needed to the private contractor security situation in Iraq. They are recommending major changes aimed at increasing oversight on security personnel, essentially guarding the guards. Boy, that's good value for our taxpayer money.

Of course, Blackwater isn't taking this news lying down. They're fighting back, particularly on the PR front, by hiring the powerful and connected firm Burson-Marsteller to do their crisis management. Burson-Marsteller, by the way, is run by Mark Penn, who is pretty much in charge of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Public relations giant Burson-Marsteller has vast experience steering companies through tough times. But there's a limit to how much it can help Blackwater USA, a new client that's been battered by negative publicity.

The State Department, which pays Blackwater hundreds of millions of dollars to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, has stringent rules barring the private security contractor from discussing with the media the details of its work, according to those familiar with the arrangement.

Under those limitations, it's difficult to repair a corporate image, said one official close to Blackwater [...]

Burson-Marsteller was brought aboard by the Washington law firms representing Blackwater — McDermott Will & Emery and Crowell & Moring.

One of the executives on the Blackwater account is Robert Tappan, a former State Department official. Tappan is a managing director of BKSH & Associates Worldwide, a Burson-Marsteller subsidiary.

The company claims that the relationship was temporary and has now ended. But if the braindead media wanted to push a story on Hillary, I don't think her laugh would be the one. How about the fact that her strategist is running a company that does business with the thuggish mercenary army that is destroying our reputation in Iraq single-handedly?

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Friday Random Ten

Good to have a full iPod again...

Yolanda Hayes - Fountains Of Wayne
Broken Levee Blues - DJ Shadow
The Night Starts Here - Stars (might be the best song of 2007)
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song - The Flaming Lips
I Think I Smell A Rat - The White Stripes
Realizer - The Crystal Method
Hiperboreal - Dandy del Sur
You Know It's Hard - The Crystal Method
Neighborhood #2 (Laika) - The Arcade Fire
Razz - Kings Of Leon

Now, the next step is to get some new music. But only legally, I don't need me a $222,000 fine. By the way, that's a completely ridiculous award to the music industry, who should know better than to alienate their fans. Furthermore, the prosecution claimed that ripping your own music onto your iPod should be considered stealing. No wonder that industry is losing money hand over fist.

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Steny Hoyer, America's Worst Majority Leader

Apparently Hoyer was about to knife the progressive movement - again - by putting forward an update to the FISA bill, negotiated without the input from most of the rank and file, that would have enshrined the extreme power grab from back in August into permanent law, and which may have yielded retroactive immunity for telecoms like AT&T who payed ball with the Bush Administration and illegally gave up reams of data. Well, the progressive allies in the House banded together, and Hoyer had to back down.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House Majority Leader, postponed a press conference announcing new reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after progressive lawmakers banded together and said they would fight any legislation that did not include a set of eight principles on wiretapping that preserve the "rule of law."

"What's most significant is that the Progressive Caucus came together and said to the leadership that all 72 of us require that these provisions be included," said Caroline Fredercikson, Legislative Director for the American Civil Liberties Union. "This changes the dynamic significantly."

That's a major victory. Considering that the NSA has already grabbed all sorts of new eavesdropping powers (in the name of protecting government networks from hackers), considering that new technologies are being developed to eavesdrop on Internet calls and push ads at the user, the last thing we need is an expansion of the national security state. The Progressive Caucus is saying they will not accept a bill that doesn't roll back the Administration's power grab and restore the FISA court to the oversight responsibility it deserves.

It's nice to feel that progressives at least have a little bit of leverage to stop the sellout. And especially at a time when secret memos are flying back and forth in the White House licensing all sorts of illegal activity, the last thing the Democratic Party should be doing is sanctioning it.

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

Pakistan apparently has a power sharing agreement in place between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf, but first Musharraf has to get legally elected President, which the Supreme Court is at least slowing down:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - On the eve of Pakistan's presidential vote, the country's highest court ruled Friday that no winner can be declared until it decides whether President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is an eligible candidate. Musharraf pushed toward an alliance with a former premier signing an amnesty clearing her of corruption charges [...]

His opponents in Saturday's presidential election are contesting whether he can run for office while still serving as army chief, claiming it is unconstitutional. They had asked the Supreme Court to delay the vote.

In a ruling Friday, presiding Justice Javed Iqbal said the vote by the national and provincial assemblies could take place on schedule. But he said the official results could only be announced after it had ruled on the petitions.

He said hearings will resume on Oct. 17 — meaning that even if Musharraf receives the most votes, as widely expected, he would have to wait at least 11 days before knowing whether he could take up office.

Meanwhile there was another suicide bombing in the country this week, with threats made about "hundreds" more between now and national parliamentary elections. This is a crucial time for Pakistan, and the conclusion is very unsettled. There will be popular resistance to another Musharraf Presidency from both pro-democracy forces and Islamists. That could presage a lot of violence. Just because the figureheads agree to share power doesn't mean the rest of the country does.

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Just A Hardworking Guy From The Labor Movement

Somehow I think the Speaker's Office won't be too happy with this LA Times profile.

SACRAMENTO -- As leader of the California Assembly, Speaker Fabian Nuñez has traveled the world in luxury, paying with campaign funds for visits to some of the finest hotels and restaurants and for purchases at high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton in Paris.

It is not clear how these activities have related to legislative business, as state law requires, because the Los Angeles Democrat refuses to provide details on tens of thousands of dollars in such expenditures.

The spending, listed in mandatory filings with the state, includes $47,412 on United, Lufthansa and Air France airlines this year; $8,745 at the exclusive Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain; $5,149 for a "meeting" at Cave L'Avant Garde, a wine seller in the Bordeaux region of France; a total of $2,562 for two "office expenses" at Vuitton, two years apart; and $1,795 for a "meeting" at Le Grand Colbert, a venerable Parisian restaurant.

Nuñez also spent $2,934 at Colosseum Travel in Rome, and paid $505 to the European airline Spanair.

Other expenses are closer to home: a $1,715 meeting at Asia de Cuba restaurant in West Hollywood; a $317 purchase at upscale Pavilion Salon Shoes in Sacramento; a $2,428 meeting at 58 Degrees and Holding, a Sacramento wine bar and bistro; and $800 spent at Dollar Rent a Car in Kihei, Hawaii.

The Speaker characterized these expenses as "not only justified but necessary for the decisions I need to make on a daily basis." And the evidence for that was... well, his say-so, having refused to supply the Times with any specifics. Fine by me, right, Isn't the word of a politician good enough? It does give pause, however, that Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata's expenses include no overseas travel for the last three years. But hey, they're in entirely different chambers of the same legislature, right?

Look, I've been to Asia de Cuba and managed to keep the check down to $250 or so, but I don't know how many were in Nuñez' party. Plus I was paying for it myself instead of out of my campaign kitty, so I guess I had more of a frugality incentive.

I will point out that this is an insulting and insensitive statement:

In the interview, Nuñez said he wouldn't need to use his $5.3-million "Friends of Fabian Nuñez" campaign account to offset travel costs if he were independently wealthy. The speaker's job pays $130,062 a year plus a tax-free $170 for expenses each day the Assembly is in session.

"There's not too big a difference," he said, "between how I live and how most middle-class people live."

What's the average salary of those who live in his district, which includes downtown LA, Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington Park? I don't think it's $130,000. That's an amazingly out-of-touch statement, especially in light of these revelations.

You can see a graphic of the expenditures here.

All I'll say is that I will not be nominating Speaker Nuñez for the Calitics ActBlue list, as he doesn't appear to need the money.

(and yes, the story is a term limits-related hit piece, but that doesn't exactly make it false)

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

NM-SEN: Replacing One Corrupt Republican With Another

Sen. Domenici retired today, and he claims that it was for medical reasons. Considering that Bush did a major fundraiser for him just a month or so ago, that's fairly credible.

After a medical exam last month revealed progression of an incurable brain disorder known as frontotemporal lobar degeneration, or FLTD, the 75-year-old senator discussed retirement with his family and concluded that he might not physically be able to serve a full seventh term.

"The progress of this disease is apparently erratic and unpredictable. It may well be that seven years from now, it will be stable," Domenici said. "On the other hand, it may also be that the disease will have incapacitated me. That's possible."

I wish him the best.

But here's the thing. Domenici was going to have a difficult re-election campaign, mainly because of the fallout from the US Attorney scandal, and the revelations that he personally called then-federal prosecutor David Iglesias to pressure him to bring indictments against state Democrats, to help discredit former Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who was running in a local House race. So who decides to step in to fill Domenici's shoes? The other public official who called Iglesias, and the woman who was RUNNING against Patricia Madrid!

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M) will run for the New Mexico Senate seat that is expected to open up officially later Thursday when Sen. Pete Domenici (R) declares that he will not seek reelection in 2008, according to a source familiar with Wilson’s decision.

Domenici has taken Wilson under his wing in recent years, and as he has gotten older, Wilson’s name has topped the list of potential heirs.

They really had no choice. There's no other statewide candidate who would even have half a chance in New Mexico, from what I've heard. But Wilson, who also took the lead among Republicans in criticizing the Janet Jackson "Nipplegate," is damaged goods statewide. And that's especially true if Steve Pearce, the certified winger US Congressman and pretty much the only other high-profile Republican there, were to primary her. The other benefit here is that Democrats would be favored to retake Wilson's House seat.

Meanwhile, the Democratic bench is plentiful. Don Wiviott was already running a self-financed campaign. And there's word that Rep. Tom Udall is seriously considering the seat. Obviously everyone's preference is for Bill Richardson to step in and run away with the race, but failing that, Udall's a good bet. If he runs, 3 cousins would be running for Senate on the same day; Mark Udall in CO, Tom Udall in NM, and Gordon Smith in OR.

Let's hear it for 2 out of 3!

This immediately becomes top-tier.

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Loyalty Is A One-Way Street

Under HLIC (head lapdog in charge) Tony Blair, Great Britain did absolutely everything that the Bush Administration wished, and covered for the disastrous policy in Iraq. Now that Gordon Brown is in charge, and he clearly doesn't share the same neocon ideology (and he wants to get elected at some point, so he's keeping his distance from Bush), British policies are changing. They're withdrawing from Iraq rapidly. And the White House is peeved, so they're lashing out, not at Brown's judgment, but the performance of their armed forces:

“There’s concern about Brown,” a senior White House foreign policy official told The Daily Telegraph. “But this is compensated by the fact that Paris and Berlin are much less of a headache. The need to hinge everything on London as the guarantor of European security has gone.”

The White House official added that Britain would always be “the cornerstone” of US policy towards Europe but there was “a lot of unhappiness” about how British forces had performed in Basra and an acceptance that Mr Brown would pull the remaining 4,500 troops out of Iraq next year.

“Operationally, British forces have performed poorly in Basra,” said the official. “Maybe it’s best that they leave. Now we will have a clear field in southern Iraq.”

I eagerly await the reoslution of censure in the British House of Parliament for the White House's slander of their fighting men and women. Of course, if you're Republican, it's OK to defame the troops (and it's doubly OK to censor any rebuttals to that slander). If you're a Democrat, it calls for immediate action (even if it's not actually slander).

It's pretty disgraceful for the US to drop their most loyal ally because they won't set the same course for the center of the sun. Indeed, the relations are now quite frosty.

There has been a notable reduction in contact between Downing Street and the White House since Mr Blair left and US officials have remarked on how few British ministers have visited Washington in recent months.

Mr Brown and Mr Bush are understood to have spoken twice by telephone in three months since they met at Camp David in June, whereas Mr Blair and Mr Bush held video-link conferences, often weekly.

....A British diplomatic source said: "In the White House there's a sense of enormous change from Blair. They used to be on the phone to Blair all the time and that's no longer the case because Brown clearly wants to be the unBlair."

Of course, this fits in with the Bush definition of ally: a country that agrees with me wholly and completely. Anyone else is an enemy. With us or agin' us.

UPDATE: Here's an example of how that plays out.

Bush is a classic insecure authoritarian who imposes humiliating tests of obedience on others in order to prove his superiority and their inferiority. In 1999, according to Draper, at a meeting of economic experts at the Texas governor's mansion, Bush interrupted Rove when he joined in the discussion, saying, "Karl, hang up my jacket." In front of other aides, Bush joked repeatedly that he would fire Rove. (Laura Bush's attitude toward Rove was pointedly disdainful. She nicknamed him "Pigpen," for wallowing in dirty politics. He was staff, not family -- certainly not people like them.) [...]

At a political strategy meeting in May 2004, when Matthew Dowd and Rove explained to him that he was not likely to win in a Reagan-like landslide, as Bush had imagined, he lashed out at Rove: "KARL!" Rove, according to Draper, was Bush's "favorite punching bag," and the president often threw futile and meaningless questions at him, and shouted, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."

Those around him have learned how to manipulate him through the art of flattery. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played Bush like a Stradivarius, exploiting his grandiosity. "Rumsfeld would later tell his lieutenants that if you wanted the president's support for an initiative, it was always best to frame it as a 'Big New Thing.'" Other aides played on Bush's self-conception as "the Decider." "To sell him on an idea," writes Draper, "aides were now learning, the best approach was to tell the president, This is going to be a really tough decision." But flattery always requires deference. Every morning, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, greets Bush with the same words: "Thank you for the privilege of serving today."

Apparently, Gordon Brown isn't whispering the right sweet nothings.

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Democrats Surrender on Defending the Constitution

Today's NYT article on Cheney, Addington, Gonzales, Bradbury and the secret policies of torture are really incredibly shocking and yet expected all at once, as The Editors say. What you have is essentially a second torture memo to replace the John Yoo memo invalidated by Congressional and legal action.

This new memo, signed by the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven G. Bradbury, endorsed "the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency." According to the Times report, this memo-- what I will call Torture Memo 2.0-- "for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."

The twisting of law by the Justice Department under Alberto Gonzales is far worse than Gonzales' misleading testimony in front of Congress about the U.S. Attorney scandal. That scandal dominated the headlines for weeks. This one deserves far more searching press scrutiny. Despite the fact that Congress repeatedly passed legislation stating that it was illegal for U.S. personnel to engage in torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the Justice Department repeatedly redefined the terms of these prohibitions so that the CIA could keep doing exactly what the Justice Department had authorized to do before. Gonzales treated all of these laws as if they made no difference at all, as if they were just pieces of paper.

Really, the Justice Department reacted to their law being tossed out by finding a new way around the law. Which is what makes Patrick Leahy's capitulation to the Administration with respect to confirmation hearings on Michael Mukasey all the more distressing.

Now, Mukasey had nothing to do with the Wild West show that was the DoJ under Abu G. But this Administration was clearly deeply involved. And this nomination should have extracted a price. At the very least, Leahy should have demanded the relevant documents and congressional testimony relating to the US Attorney scandal, all of which were under subpoena. With today's revelations, even more should have been demanded, all the way up to a special prosecutor to look into the disarray that was the Justice Department. But instead, all is forgiven.

In a letter to the nominee released yesterday, Leahy complained that "the White House has chosen not to clear the decks of past concerns," including Democratic demands for documents and testimony about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

"I had hoped that the White House would . . . work with us to fulfill longstanding requests for information so that we could all agree about what went so wrong at the Department of Justice and work together to restore it," Leahy wrote in the letter. "Instead, they have left you to answer the unanswered questions and left longstanding disputes unresolved."

The remarks indicated an end to Leahy's attempt to use the Mukasey nomination to pry loose sensitive information from the White House about the prosecutor firings, the government's warrantless surveillance program and other issues. Leahy's office has been in intensive negotiations with White House counsel Fred F. Fielding since President Bush named Mukasey as the nominee three weeks ago, but no agreement has been reached.

There's absolutely no reason for such comity. The Justice Department has been found to be repeatedly breaking the law on a variety of fronts, torture being notable only because it's the most recent. There simply aren't any other leverage points that the Democrats can use to get to the truth of the matter. And it's far better to have this information now, while these criminals are still in office, than to discover it over a period of decades. But Leahy caved in rather than face this showdown. He'll ask tough questions and send strongly worded letters, and in the end Mukasey will be confirmed and that will be that.

I don't know how many different times you have to say "stand up" before these guys get the message. Here's one way to stand up, from Chris Dodd.

"The law is crystal clear - torture is illegal. It is 'abhorrent' that the Bush Administration would publicly disavow torture, while its Office of Legal Counsel is secretly interpreting settled law to reach the opposite conclusion. It is imperative we understand the extent of this deception. The Office of Legal Counsel must release how many other secret opinions they have produced during the Bush Administration that justified violations of the Constitution, federal statutes, the laws of war, and international human rights.

"Congress's Constitutional authority is the power of the purse. And should the Justice Department not comply, I intend to use that authority by drafting legislation defunding the Office of Legal Counsel."

OLC is kind of an inside baseball deal - getting at the Attorney General nominee was the way to go. But the Democrats played toreador and let the bull charge through.

UPDATE: You should all sign this pledge.

We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal remedy, we do not tap people’s phones and emails without a court order, and above all we do not give any President unchecked power.

I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from assault by any President.

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Pressure on Blackwater

That bill to put private military contractors under the same accountability as any American citizen for their crimes? Passed the House with 389 votes. So much for that veto threat. The next move once this passes into law is to find that drunken PMC who killed the Iraq bodyguard and arrest him.

In addition, Nouri al-Maliki has reiterated his position that Blackwater must leave Iraq. Everyone who thinks that Iraq is a sovereign nation should take a look at this. The Iraqi government keeps telling Blackwater to leave, and the Americans make excuses, and... nothing happens. That's life in an occupied territory.

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At The Earliest Beginnings of Prison Reform

Today the Joint Economic Committee, composed of Senators Webb and Schumer along with New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, held a hearing on certainly the most underappreciated issue facing America - our prison crisis. Here's part of Rep. Maloney's statement:

The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world, with more than 2 million Americans currently in jails or prisons. Clearly, imprisonment benefits society and is an important public safety measure. But faced with an unprecedented increase in incarceration, we must ask ourselves whether we are striking the right balance between the costs and benefits of imprisonment.

Putting more resources into creating economic opportunities that provide alternatives to crime would pay dividends in reducing crime and incarceration, while also strengthening families and communities.

We all know that in the long run crime doesn’t pay, but it sure is costly. The average annual cost of incarceration for one federal prisoner exceeds $20,000 – far more than the average annual cost of $3,700 for a youth program, $6,000 for a job training program or the $13,000 for tuition at public universities.

There is no question that crime rates have dropped in the U.S. over the past decade. Researchers agree that the increase in incarceration rates have been driven by tougher sentences for repeat offenders and drug offenders, mandatory minimums, and a more punitive approach to post-release supervision, rather than an increase in crime.

These are precisely the problems that California faces, due to a complete failure of legislative leadership and a panoply of thousands of tougher sentencing laws. Today Dan Weintraub reports on the stirrings of a long-overdue reform of the system, before it's too late.

The Schwarzenegger administration, which has been cautious to a fault when it comes to prison reform, is tiptoeing back toward the idea of loosening restrictions on parolees who are good bets to stay out of trouble.

The program is starting with a trial run in Orange County, where ex-cons who are considered the lowest risks and then meet a series of benchmarks will be cut loose from state super- vision after six months instead of three years.

The idea is to give those parolees an incentive to get their lives back on stable ground shortly after they leave prison, which is when most felons return to a life of crime. Then, by letting them off parole early, the state figures it will be able to concentrate more resources on more-dangerous felons who need the most attention.

Parole reform is to prison reform as S-CHIP is to the broader health care issue. It's a baby step on the road to really making those tough decisions. But it's taken so long to get to this point, and change is being forced only through a crisis and a potential capping of the prison population, that I guess we have to be happy for what we get. There's going to be major pushback on this from the right (it's already happening on the Flush Report) so it's important that this under-the-radar issue gets attention and support.

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False Equivalence

The New York Times decides to wade into the growing Rudy Giuliani scandal regarding his campaign violating election law to fund the Dirty Tricks initiative, but they wanted to be all fair and balanced, so they framed it as some kind of Rudy vs. Hillary battle royale, calling it a "taste of '08" (apparently the primary season is over. The NYT said so!). Which I guess it is; the Democrats will marshal support legally while the Republicans will fight dirty:

Rudy versus Hillary, the West Coast edition — it’s on.

Supporters of Rudolph W. Giuliani and of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton are embroiled in their first major affray of the political season over a ballot initiative on presidential electoral votes some 2,500 miles from the pancake houses of Skaneateles, N.Y., and the fire stations of Queens.

Uh, no they're not. Rudy's people financed a bid to rig the Presidential election, and the ENTIRE DEMOCRATIC PARTY fought back. Clinton was not even the first to officially denounce it. That was Dodd, followed by Edwards. No Democrat in their right mind was backing away from this fight. By contrast, NO prominent Republican was affiliated with the initiative other than Rudy, and even he was doing it in a shady, back-channel way that is only now being revealed.

The weird thing about this article is that one senses Chris Lehane WANTS this to be set out this way, as if to push that Hillary Clinton's team was the sole defender of the Democratic Party. That may be a good clipping for him to use when he eventually joins the campaign, but it sells way short the combined efforts of the entire party apparatus, from the grassroots on up.

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Draft Anyone!

It's clear that the Republicans are going so crazy at the prospect of losing in 2008 that they're searching under every rock and in every nook and cranny for a new savior, a new great (extremely) white hope. Today's entry is General Peter Pace, for no other reason, apparently, than that he sufficiently hates the gay. This is from WorldNutDaily's Joseph Farah, who lets his slip show and admits that nothing is a more important quality in a President than abject, irrational hatred.

What Pace had said last March wasn’t exactly controversial in my eyes: “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.” […]

You know Pace speaks for the vast majority of Americas on this issue, but most today would be too intimidated by the forces of political correctness to say it so forcefully and unflinchingly. […]

And that’s why I wish a good man like Peter Pace would consider serving his country one more time — not in uniform, but as commander in chief.

Is it too late for 2008?

How about a draft Peter Pace movement?

I don’t know where he stands on the other major issues of the day, but he is clearly a man of courage and conviction. And that’s a good start.

The military fetish from the Republicans is getting to be a little much. Pace is at least the third general floated for the Republican ticket, joining Tommy Franks and David Petraeus. No mention of any additional quality or characteristic is given
(I mean besides gay-bashing); it's just that they were in the military (and presided over the greatest military catastrophe of several generations, although it's arguable whose fault that is). I should remind you that when Democrats run military veterans, returning war heroes, and even generals, they are slandered and defamed and even called phony soldiers.

This reeks of desperation more than anything else. And it does show that the political bench for Republicans is on fire, leading them to a military one.

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It's Going To Take A REALLY Wide Stance To Stay In The Senate Now

Denied. And obviously so, there are no do-overs in the criminal justice system, at least not ones based on "I didn't mean to say I was guilty," rather than changing evidence or what-not.

A Minnesota judge on Thursday rejected Sen. Larry Craig's bid to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport sex sting, a major setback in Craig's effort to clear his name and hang onto his Senate seat.

"Because the defendant's plea was accurate, voluntary and intelligent, and because the conviction is supported by the evidence ... the Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea is denied," Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter wrote.

Craig can appeal Porter's ruling, but it wasn't immediately clear if he would.

I don't think that's it. This guy is in an OJ-like state of denial, and he doesn't feel like he did anything wrong. Why would he leave the Senate?

I say to Sen. Craig, don't leave on these terms. Appeal it to the US Supreme Court! Stand defiantly in the well of the Senate and make your votes! Run for re-election! Nobody can stop you! (except for everybody in the Republican Party and the voters of Idaho)

UPDATE: Craig to world: I'm stayin'!

"I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively," Craig said in a written statement certain to disappoint fellow Republicans who have long urged him to step down.

The third-term lawmaker issued his statement not long after Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter relayed word he has selected a replacement for Craig in the event of a resignation.

"He is ready to act should we receive a letter of resignation," said Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman in Boise, in what seemed like a calculated signal that home-state Republicans want Craig to surrender the seat he has held for 17 years.

"Really, we're ready," Otter added. "Anytime you want to send that letter along, it's all set. I can have a new Senator there in 24 hours. You need a stamp? Is postage the problem? We can send you stamps! Just please, please leave!"

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Mitt Romney Living With His Largest Campaign Contributor!


Mitt Romney's campaign is announcing today his total raised for this quarter: $18 million. But the campaign also says that $8.5 million of this came out of Romney's own pockets -- so his actual tally raised is closer to $10 million.

As the great TBogg notes, this really is like someone sending themselves flowers at work to prove to everyone in the office how desirable they are. Romney's personal contributions to his campaign now exceed $15 million dollars, which is also the amount of money John McCain sees skipping over to him dressed in a slinky outfit in a nightly dream.

With all of this money and 10,000 ads already aired in the early states, you'd think Romney would be far further along than he is. But people are still seeing the badly programmed robot behind the money. And the flip-flopping charges aren't going away, like in this brilliantly-produced ad from (oddly enough) the Log Cabin Republicans.

The Romney campaign dismissed the ad as coming from Rudy. It's undeniably devastating no matter who the progenitor. Looks like Daddy Warbucks will have to write himself another check to combat it!

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The SCHIP Fight - Two Weeks And Counting

The date of October 18 has been set for a vote to override President Bush's veto of providing health care to children. Regardless of the outcome, this will become a defining issue on the most important domestic policy facing America in 2008.

Several officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing strategy, said Pelosi and Reid seemed set on sending Bush successor bills that are nearly identical with the one he just vetoed. The goal would be to force him — and his congressional allies — to repeatedly expose themselves to criticism that they were denying health care for kids.

Democracy Corps, which offers advice to Democrats, said its poll showed the public sides with Democrats by a margin of 60-35. The veto battle "gives Democrats a large advantage with independents, as well as mobilizing Democratic supporters. Indeed, the president has not won over Republican voters on this issue," said an accompanying memo.

House Republicans quietly distributed a survey by David Winston, who is close to Boehner, that came to a different conclusion. It said critics of the legislation can win the public debate if they say they favor "covering uninsured children without expanding government coverage to adults, illegal immigrants and those who already have insurance...." A copy of the poll was obtained by The Associated Press.

Boehner is lying, of course. The bill does not provide "government coverage" at all, and it's against federal law for S-CHIP funds to go to illegal immigrants. Hoouse Republicans simply have to lie to make their vote palatable. If they were honest, they would say what Bill Kristol said, supposedly in jest but not really.

On Fox News Sunday this morning, NPR’s Mara Liasson said that President Bush’s expected veto of an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which passed both the House and Senate on a strong bipartisan basis, will be seen as “a heartless blow against children.”

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who supports Bush’s veto, laughingly joked:

First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it’s a good idea. I’m happy that the President’s willing to do something bad for the kids.

He clearly is. The President has delivered 4 vetoes in his two terms. Two denied federal funds for stem cell research, upending efforts for medical breakthroughs, many for children. One denied a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, consigning 18 year-old soldiers to a war zone with no end in sight. And this one directly denies children health care. Bush's entire veto lifespan is about doing something bad for the kids. He is the leader of the party of death.

The Democrats have the right idea on this one, voting on it over and over again and forcing Republicans and the President to defend their anti-children stance. I wish they had the fortitude to do the same endless votes on Iraq, as Russ Feingold advocates. But they're not going to give up on children.

UPDATE: It's important to note that the group holding rallies in support of the Democratic position on S-CHIP and against the President's veto is You would think that, after being slapped in the face by the Democratic leadership, they would have no interest in helping out on this issue. But MoveOn puts the policy first. Democrats simply don't understand the allies they have in the country in the progressive movement.

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I'd Really Like To Believe The Hype.

When it was floated over the weekend that some Christian conservatives were thinking about a third-party effort should the socially moderate (but a warmonger to the extreme) Rudy Giuliani be nominated by the Republicans, I thought "GO THIRD-PARTY PEOPLE!" And Rasmussen has polled it, adding to my shouts of "GO THIRD-PARTY PEOPLE!"

If Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination and a third party campaign is backed by Christian conservative leaders, 27% of Republican voters say they’d vote for the third party option rather than Giuliani. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that a three-way race with Hillary Clinton would end up with the former First Lady getting 46% of the vote, Giuliani with 30% and the third-party option picking up 14%. In head-to-head match-ups with Clinton, Giuliani is much more competitive.

People do seem to be forgetting that there's enough money behind this Unity 08 nonsense that there is likely to already be a third-party candidate on the ballot that reflects a center-right perspective, that would almost certainly draw votes away from the Republicans. This would just make that more so. Judge Roy Moore would absolutely get 10-15% of the vote against two New Yawkahs, and could win Alabama. It would be a disaster for the GOP.

Which is why I think it's a lot of hype. Dobson and Robertson and those guys are political operatives first, and I could hardly see them willingly giving away the power they've accumulated over the Bush years.

UPDATE: I'm happy to be wrong about this, and according to SpongeDob, I am:

After two hours of deliberation, we voted on a resolution that can be summarized as follows: If neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life, we will join others in voting for a minor-party candidate. Those agreeing with the proposition were invited to stand. The result was almost unanimous.

There's a little wiggle room here, but not much. You almost want to see Rudy get the nomination, now.

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Von Spakovsky To Have Separate Vote

It's abhorrent that someone whose entire professional career has been devoted to suppressing minority votes would be given an opportunity to sit on the Federal Election Commission, but that's what's happening. However, it will be a separate vote, which is not really a separate vote. Instead of voting on all 4 new FEC Commissioners at once, Hans Von Spakovsky will get his own vote. But he's still tied to the other three.

The plan hatched Wednesday would allow von Spakovsky’s nomination to move to the floor separately with two hours of debate beforehand. If his nomination passes, as Democratic aides predict it would, the Senate would move to votes on the other three uncontested FEC nominees.

Von Spakovsky’s opponents agreed to the deal because it would allow senators to vote against his appointment while voting in favor of the other nominees.

If von Spakovsky’s nomination should fail, the Senate would not consider the other nominees.

“It’s all or nothing,” Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Wednesday afternoon.

So this is a bit of kabuki theater so that some Senators can go back to their states and say "See, I tried!" There's some Democrat from Nevada who's up for a vote, so Harry Reid wants him confirmed. And he'll allow a known vote suppressor on the Commission - in an election year! - in order to get it done.

But not so fast. Russ Feingold is having none of it:

A credible but non-Hill source told me that Feingold is going to object to McConnell's attempt to force von Spakovsky onto the FEC through this tactic. I don't know if the FEC will shut down if it doesn't have enough commissioners, but this is another back-against-the-wall surge strategy maneuver from the right-wing.

Feingold's standing his ground. Good for Russ. And Reid is not. Boo.

You can always count on Russ to do the right thing. He should put a hold on the whole process.

UPDATE: Apparently Barack Obama scuttled the deal.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Wednesday derailed a plan blessed by Senate leaders to vote on controversial Federal Election Commission White House nominee Hans von Spakovsky, a move giving Democrats time to breathe in the ongoing Senate stalemate on FEC nominees. ...

But a vote on the deal, which was expected to come to the floor as early as today, appeared to be off by mid-day Wednesday after Obama — and unconfirmed others — voiced concerns that von Spakovsky’s nomination was too controversial not to go through regular floor proceedings.

A Democratic aide said Senate offices continue to explore "concerns with Mr. von Spakovsky, if they rise to the level of other objections, as well as where the caucus lies."

That's leadership, right there, leading by example.

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The Prince of Blackwater

I caught a good bit of Blackwater CEO Erik Prince's testimony in the House the other day, as well as Blackwater author Jeremy Scahill's impressions of the hearing on Democracy Now. The story of Blackwater is really quite incredible. This is a company that was only formed in 1997, and ten years later has one billion dollars in contracts with the US government. Their ties to the Republican Party are numerous (Prince's sister is married to the heir to the Amway fortune and a former Rpeublican candidate for governor in Michigan), even though one GOP Congressman made the ridiculous claim that Prince once "supported the Green Party" (there was a good reason for that, it was a ratfucking effort to get a Green on the ballot to help Rick Santorum last year). And this company clearly has almost no laws holding back its personnel, who are more highly paid than our top generals. We are paying more in taxpayer dollars to fund armed mercenaries in Iraq than we are paying General Petraeus, and yet we have less legal control over their rules of engagement. This, of course, is because it's easier to deploy less actual soldiers and buy the rest, making it seem like the military commitment in Iraq is smaller.

In the hearing, Prince claimed that 122 Blackwater employees have been sent home from Iraq since the beginning of the mission. We know that one of them was shuttled out of the country after getting drunk and murdering a security guard for an Iraqi Vice President. As Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said, in this country he would have been prosecuted and put on trial, but Blackwater operates under different rules, so he just gets flown out of the country. What happened in the other 121 cases where personnel was flown home? Have any charges been filed against them? We know that there have been more shooting incidents than Prince was willing to admit.

Most of the more than 100 private security companies in Iraq open fire far more frequently than has been publicly acknowledged and rarely report such incidents to U.S. or Iraqi authorities, according to U.S. officials and current and former private security company employees.

Violence caused by private security guards in Iraq has come under scrutiny since a Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad involving employees of Blackwater USA. The company's chairman, Erik Prince, told a congressional committee Tuesday that Blackwater guards opened fire on 195 occasions during more than 16,000 missions in Iraq since 2005.

However, two former Blackwater security guards said they believed employees fired more often than the company has disclosed. One, a former Blackwater guard who spent nearly three years in Iraq, said his 20-man team averaged "four or five" shootings a week, or several times the rate of 1.4 incidents a week reported by the company. The underreporting of shooting incidents was routine in Iraq, according to this former guard.

"The thing is, even the good companies, how many bad incidents occurred where guys involved didn't say anything, because they didn't want to be questioned, or have any downtime today to have to go over what happened yesterday?" he said. "I'm sure there were some companies that just didn't report anything."

That's because the rules governing private military contractors were previously so murky, and the Congress was wholly disinterested in any oversight responsibilities. Well, things are changing. The House will pass a bill today "that would extend the criminal jurisdiction of U.S. courts to any federal contractor working alongside military operations." With PMCs immune from Iraqi prosecution, and unable to be prosecuted on American soil for work in Iraq, this was a sorely needed bill. But the White House is opposing it on the grounds that it could threaten national security. Considering that Blackwater's free hand to abuse and murder Iraqis is damaging our efforts in that country, I would argue that the opposite is true.

Another biill, passed almost unanimously in the House yesterday, would give inspectors general more autonomy and protection from retribution when investigating federal agencies. Of course, it's unclear just how far that will be able to go. After all, the guards acconpanying FBI investigators as they probe the September 16 Blackwater shooting incident that touched off this firestorm were supposed to be guards from... Blackwater. This has since changed.

The real problem here is that, when you outsource military operations to private companies with a profit motive, there becomes a lot of forward motion for engaging in military operations instead of diplomacy or detente. Companies like Blackwater exist to make money, and they can only make that money in a war zone. So the entire structure of contracting and the military-industrial complex is what has to be examined.

UPDATE: See also John Edwards on this.

''We must put the democracy back in our military and prevent a disaster like the continuation of the Iraq War from ever occurring again,'' Edwards says in remarks provided to The Associated Press. ''As commander in chief, I will transfer most security missions currently performed by contractors back to military command, where they belong.''

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