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

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dream Stealer

The Governor of California vetoed SB1, legislation which would have allowed students who are children of undocumented immigrants to apply for financial aid and have the same opportunity at contributing to the American dream as their counterparts. These are young men and women who did not make the decision to come to this country, yet represent out best hope to continue as a strong nation by contributing to our economy and our historic diversity. They consider themselves Americans and Californians and wish to use their talents and skills to benefit this country and this state. The Governor said no.

And get this, he blamed it on the high cost of college (yeah, who's responsible for THAT?).

At a time when segments of California public higher education, the Universirt of California and the California State University, are raising fees on all students attending college in order to maintain the quality of education provided, it would not be prudent to place additional strain on the General Fund to accord the new benefit of providing state subsidized financial aid to students without lawful immigration status.

That expense will pay itself back 10 times over in the future. But now the dream of a college education for these students becomes ever more remote. This used to be a different kind of country.

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Wiretapping Updates: Bush Sought Powers BEFORE 9/11

Right before the Congress makes updates to the FISA law and determines whether or not to give retroactive immunity to telecom companies who assisted in the efforts to wiretap Americans without a warrant, there's a lot of information coming out about just how pervasive Bush Administration surveillance has become, and how long they have sought these expansive surveillance powers.

We learned about Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio's contentions that his company was targeted by the NSA for refusing to participate in the wiretapping program back on Thursday. Today we learn more from the Washington Post:

A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

Details about the alleged NSA program have been redacted from the documents, but Nacchio's lawyer said last year that the NSA had approached the company about participating in a warrantless surveillance program to gather information about Americans' phone records.

That's really the key statement. All along we have heard that the warrantless wiretapping program was necessary to protect America from the kind of terrorist attacks that we saw on September 11. But months prior, in February 2001, the NSA was approaching telecoms to get them to cooperate on spying. This is only a month or so after Bush's inauguration. And we know that terrorism was nowhere close to being on their minds at that time. So the question must be asked, why would the NSA need these phone records back in February if the goal was not protection from terrorism.

There are a couple possible answers, based on recent news. First, we recently learned that Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama sought information from NSA intercepts on a Clinton-era CIA nominee back in the late 90s. This was in George Tenet's book and was virtually ignored until this week:

[Former CIA Director George] Tenet also wrote that, “National Security Agency officials told us that [Republican Senator Richard] Shelby staffers had been asking whether there was derogatory information in their communications intercepts on [Clinton CIA-nominee Anthony] Lake.”

But the NSA refused Shelby’s entreaties, two sources said, and there was no derogatory information in the FBI’s files.

Shelby also demanded, and got, the FBI’s raw files on Lake.

And Washington Democrats wonder why we’re suspicious of unregulated NSA/FBI wiretaps and other surveillance?

There's credible evidence that Republicans were interested in obtaining evidence on political enemies through wiretaps, but they were stymied in the Clinton years. The transfer of power offered an opportunity. And that opportunity has been realized. Today, news comes that a law firm in Vermont which has been representing detainees at Guantanamo has had their phones bugged.

A law firm that represents clients at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan is warning its Vermont clients that it believes the federal government has been monitoring its phones and computer system.

In a letter sent to clients of the St. Johnsbury firm of Gensburg, Atwell & Broderick, the three attorneys said they can’t guarantee their communications were confidential.

“Although our investigation is not complete, we are quite confident that it is the United States government that has been doing the phone tapping and computer hacking,” said the letter, dated Oct. 2.

The firm claims "hard evidence" that the government is tapping the calls. Verizon is the service provider, and a service technician did find "crossed lines" and disabled security software on all of their computers. Here's the key quote:

Sleigh said that under current federal law, he felt the U.S. Government could argue it was entitled to tap Gensburg’s phone and computer without a warrant.

This is precisely why the upcoming vote on surveillance is so important. Contrary to the stupidity of traditional media pundits, there are real concerns about spying on Americans without warrants, happening right now, with the legal protections conferred in the awful FISA bill passed back in August. What the Bush Administration seeks is the ability to eavesdrop on any phone call it wants, at any time, even if American citizens are caught up in that net, and they have wanted to do this since before 9/11.

Read what they write about government surveillance and the only argument one finds, literally, is that our Leaders need more power because they want to protect us. The very notion that such power should not be vested without oversight and safeguards is, to them, considered unserious, because we are talking here about officials who are good and responsible and would never abuse their power. That is why Congress in August all but gutted the Fourth Amendment and vested the Bush administration with the power of warrantless eavesdropping with barely a peep of protest from our Beltway elite. To the contrary, when they speak about it at all, they do so by warning Democrats not to impede these "important" protections.

The very real reason to be skeptical of these efforts is the lessons of history, when we saw warrantless surveillance without oversight abused and used to spy on political enemies. Which is why the Congress must hold the line in rejecting so-called "basket warrants," which allow the government to spy without a direct target, and rejecting retroactive immunity for those companies which illegally provided the means for the Bush Administration to spy on Americans. Dick Durbin today said he would not allow blanket immunity without knowing the scope of the program. What we're starting to learn is enough. There should be no immunity for breaking the law.

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Burma Update

The military junta ruling Burma with an iron fist has found the last few activists not already in custody. Meanwhile, the junta claims that they found weapons in monasteries, which gives new meaning to the word "planted evidence." They're now trying to curry favor by offering food aid to the monks (the ones that are still alive, that is). And while peace talks have been scheduled with Aung Sun Suu Kyi, all kinds of preconditions have been placed on top of them, which Suu Kyi has rejected.

This is a desperate situation, with a country that is clearly violating international law and human rights conventions. China allowed a Security Council resolution condemning Burma to pass through, but is still actively trading with them. Real economic isolation is the first step to ending this madness.

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The Week Obama Started Campaigning

The big meta story of the week in the Democratic Presidential race, until Al Gore came along and swamped everything (so much for the Nobel putting the focus on global warming. Sorry, Al.), was about the sharper edges to Barack Obama's attacks on the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. The problem is that he has to spell out "I will be more aggressive," playing pundit instead of candidate, which makes the whole thing feel calculated and plays into Hillary's narrative that she's inevitable and any attacks on her are the work of a desperate and flagging campaign. It's smug and obnoxious, but we have a front-running society, and particularly in 2008, people have a congenital need to pick the nominee in the primaries.

And in many ways, Obama did this to himself.

The most remarkable political triumph of this campaign was the Clinton campaign effectively defining Barack Obama's "new politics" as "not attacking Hillary Clinton by name." Obama, of course, could have defined the new politics however he wanted, from a focus on transformative policy to a willingness to call out the DC establishment. Instead, he let the Clinton camp define his message in a way advantageous to them. And given that his campaign has not been particularly bold on policy, he's been left with neither the rhetorical room nor the substantive beliefs with which to tackle the frontrunner. It was real incompetence on the part of Obama's handlers, and it's called into question his skills and, yes, ruthlessness, as a campaigner.

It's not entirely fair to Obama, but he did kind of sail through the early primary season, trying to stay above the fray, and the history of the Democratic nomination shows that you can't do that. You have to engage, especially when going against something as accomplished and savvy as the Clinton machine. Obama's getting to that, but it may be too late. He's right to take a look at the Iran vote.

ON THE FIFTH anniversary of the Senate's vote to authorize an open-ended war in Iraq, we should resolve to never repeat the terrible mistake of launching a misguided war. But unfortunately, the Senate risked doing exactly that when it recently opened the door to an extension and escalation of the ongoing war in Iraq to include military action against Iran.

The amendment, offered by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl, directly links the ongoing war in Iraq -- including our troop presence -- to checking the threat from Iran. The amendment opens with 17 findings that highlight Iranian influence within Iraq. It then states that we have to "transition(s) and structure" our "military presence in Iraq" to counter the threat from Iran, and states that it is "a critical national interest of the United States" to prevent the Iranian government from exerting influence inside Iraq.

Why is this so dangerous? The Bush administration could use language like this to justify a continued troop presence in Iraq as long as it perceives a threat from Iran. Even worse, the Bush administration could use the language in Lieberman-Kyl to justify an attack on Iran as a part of the ongoing war in Iraq.

That's exactly right. And Clinton did vote for it. Obama is hampered by the fact that he didn't vote at all on the resolution, and it's hard to show leadership and duck the vote at the same time. The two camps had duelling memos. Clinton rightly discusses Obama missing the vote and wrongly claims that it's a desperate political move; Obama rightly asserts his right to draw contrast and that not one vote has been cast, so this is not a coronation, but wrongly dismisses criticism of the missed vote.

So, the moral of the story is that candidates are allowed to criticize one another and there's nothing dishonest about it; and candidates make a big mistake allowing others to define their candidacy. That was a classic rookie mistake by Obama. But at the end, these are elites talking to elites about elites. Which is why I support Sen. Edwards, who actually talks about things other than process.

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Everyone's A Phony

If this keeps up, Rush Limbaugh is going to be a modern-day Holden Caulfield, muttering to himself about phonies as he walks the streets.

The Marines want out of Iraq:

The Marine Corps is pressing to remove its forces from Iraq and to send marines instead to Afghanistan, to take over the leading role in combat there, according to senior military and Pentagon officials.

The idea by the Marine Corps commandant would effectively leave the Iraq war in the hands of the Army while giving the Marines a prominent new role in Afghanistan, under overall NATO command.

(This sounds to me like the various units of the Armed Forces not wanting to associate themselves with the mess of Iraq.)

And then there's Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, slamming the Administration and the war:

In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, the former top American commander called the Bush administration’s handling of the war incompetent and warned that the United States was “living a nightmare with no end in sight.” (he got that from the movie -ed.) [...]

“After more than fours years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve victory in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism,” Mr. Sanchez said, at a gathering here of military reporters and editors.

General Sanchez is the most senior in a string of retired generals to harshly criticize the administration’s conduct of the war. Asked following his remarks why he waited nearly a year after his retirement to outline his views, he responded that that it was not the place of active duty officers to challenge lawful orders from civilian authorities. General Sanchez, who is said to be considering a book, promised further public statements criticizing officials by name.

“There was been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” he said, adding later in his remarks that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

It's true, about active duty officers being unable to speak out. But when you see one retired general after another condemning the invasion and occupation of Iraq, when you see some generals retiring JUST to condemn the invasion and occupation of Iraq, you can be pretty sure that the commanders don't find the policy popular. In this way, they mirror the American people.

Or, to Rush, the phony Americans.

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The Nuñez Camp Pushes Back

Fabian Nuñez' spokesman came back from his Tuscan villa (I'm not making that up), and they all realized that they had to go after this growing story hard and push it back, so over the past two days they did. And they've regained their footing, so to speak.

But that's an argument about how he's handling the story. That has nothing to do about the essential veracity of it, or whether it's wholly necessary for the Speaker to accept every single invitation from a European who asks him to show up at their event, or whether it's respectful to say "I don't live differently from middle class Americans" when he has a giant loft downtown and a house in Sacto with over $8,000 a month mortgages between them, etc. The question is whether or not the trips are ethical and whether or not they are necessary.

Politically speaking, the facts are extremely simple. There's a major ballot measure on term limits coming up, and those opposed to it know they don't have as much money, and they can't win unless they go hard negative, so they did. Perata's got a rap sheet a mile long, so they had to knock the other guy that stood to benefit, a squeaky clean guy, off his perch. Only he wasn't all that clean before and he really isn't now. Now they're blowing it all out of proportion, demanding that the Speaker's wife release her list of clients and tax forms and really stupid stuff.

But initially, this didn't start as a smear campaign. People bothered to read public disclosure forms. And what they saw didn't make them particularly happy about how their government works. Now, the Speaker has offered that changes in California's campaign finance laws might be in order. 'Course, he's been saying we need redistricting for approximately the last 4 years in a row.

Here's the key quote:

"I think in the end what people need to understand is this: Every campaign expenditure that I have made either has a governmental purpose attached to it or a political purpose attached to it."

How's that different from "I think what people need to understand is that we do not torture"? There's no explanation beyond an assertion. And there's an explicit refusal to detail various expenditures beyond saying they have a purpose.

I see no reason to trust either side of this debate right now. I have little use for insider pols flattered by Europeans so much that they have to run over there every other week. "Trade missions" is a euphemism. They're junkets. Everyone knows it and they won't say it.

And by the way, the only one playing the race card in this whole thing is Fabian Nuñez:

Núñez also apologizes for saying the Times "tries to destroy important people including Hispanics," in an interview to air Sunday morning on "News Conference."

The largest criticism I've seen about this story has been on Latino blogs. It's absurd to suggest that this is about someone being Hispanic. It's about someone taking what he's given. I'm sure he sees nothing wrong with that because he believes it furthers the interests of California. I think it furthers the interests of Fabian Nuñez.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

People really aren't paying attention to how Bernie Kerik will factor in the nomination fight. Romney can easily dip into his own pockets and put out an array of ads on this.

Bernard Kerik's legal nightmare is about to get worse, with federal prosecutors expected to file charges against the former police commissioner that will likely include allegations of bribery, tax fraud and obstruction of justice, the Daily News has learned.

The indictment, expected next month, could prove to be an embarrassing obstacle for Kerik's former mentor Rudy Giuliani, who is cruising at the top of the polls heading into the presidential primary gauntlet.

The bribery allegations against Kerik stem from a secret meeting at a bar in Tribeca, according to two sources familiar with the federal probe.

Kerik's lawyers recently agreed to waive the statute of limitations on the tax charges until Nov. 17, which will allow them to make one last plea to try to ease the pain.

As this is a Justice Department probe, there's always the possibility that this thing gets politicized and the lawyers plead down to a slap on the wrist. But things appear to actually be going in the opposite direction. If judgment about aides and associates is a campaign issue... well, then nobody will get the nomination, because they've all got problems in that department. But it's really damaging, especially with Republicans tarnished as fostering a culture of corruption. It doesn't make it look like the nominee is any different.

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Breaking The Establishment Grip

This week, we learned that the Democratic leadership considers their strongest base of supporters nothing more than pests.

Though opposed to the war herself, Pelosi has for months been a target of an antiwar movement that believes she hasn't done enough. Cindy Sheehan has announced a symbolic challenge to Pelosi in California's 8th Congressional District. And the speaker is seething.

"We have to make responsible decisions in the Congress that are not driven by the dissatisfaction of anybody who wants the war to end tomorrow," Pelosi told the gathering at the Sofitel, arranged by the Christian Science Monitor. Though crediting activists for their "passion," Pelosi called it "a waste of time" for them to target Democrats. "They are advocates," she said. "We are leaders."

In other words, don't question your leaders.

The leaders also ran to the New York Times to plead their case, which they happily lapped up as it plays into a narrative of Dems divided that the other side has been pushing since approximately 1856. They call Pelosi's style "responsible leadership." There's nothing responsible with giving the President a blank check for war and carte blanche to spy on Americans.

I've actually been more forgiving than most bloggers about what the Congress has done, there's actually an impressive list of accomplishments on lobbying reform, education, the minimum wage, and instituting the 9/11 Commission recommendations. But the tone, the whole "shut up and respect your elders" as a means to silence citizens who the Congress is supposed to be working for, is beyond the pale. And then there's this.

District 4 spans Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Dist. 4) is running for his ninth term in the Feb. 12 primary and is also facing off against Fort Washington attorney Donna Edwards, who lost to Wynn by just three points last year [...]

Meanwhile, Wynn campaign manager Lori Sherwood said Wynn raised about $160,000 in the last quarter, and has $400,000 still on hand.

She said the campaign plans to bank over $1 million, and that a fundraiser scheduled next month in Montgomery County with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should help them rake in the dough. Sherwood said the details of that event are still being worked out.

Al Wynn has sold out this party over and over again, and in the last primary against Donna Edwards, his thugs beat up her supporters at a debate. Yet he's an incumbent, so powerful forces will stick together, I guess. Edwards is a true progressive that would actually help her further her goals. But as I said, incumbents stick together.

The establishment refuses to stay out of these primary battles which are good for democracy. Well, fine. We'll just outraise Nancy's little fundraiser and make the whole thing backfire. At some point this will turn around. But it's a long fight.

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The Conscience of Paul Krugman

It's propitious that Times Select took down its paywall just in time for the release of Paul Krugman's new book, The Conscience of a Liberal. It's not only spurred me to buy it, it's allowed me to get a new appreciation for him, and he's been on a roll lately. He launched a new blog which has quickly become a must-read, and his last two columns have been first-rate. The first debunked the oft-repeated argument from the right that Bush isn't a "true" conservative, showing how he displays the same fealty to tax cuts, disinterest in government and fiscal irresponsibility that the modern conservative movement shares. And today's column, about the Swiftboating of Graeme Frost, is really just a gem.

You might be tempted to say that bloggers make unfounded accusations all the time. But we’re not talking about some obscure fringe. The charge was led by Michelle Malkin, who according to Technorati has the most-trafficked right-wing blog on the Internet, and in addition to blogging has a nationally syndicated column, writes for National Review and is a frequent guest on Fox News.

The attack on Graeme’s family was also quickly picked up by Rush Limbaugh, who is so important a player in the right-wing universe that he has had multiple exclusive interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney.

And G.O.P. politicians were eager to join in the smear. The New York Times reported that Republicans in Congress “were gearing up to use Graeme as evidence that Democrats have overexpanded the health program to include families wealthy enough to afford private insurance” but had “backed off” as the case fell apart.

In fact, however, Republicans had already made their first move: an e-mail message from the office of Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, sent to reporters and obtained by the Web site Think Progress, repeated the smears against the Frosts and asked: “Could the Dems really have done that bad of a job vetting this family?”

And the attempt to spin the media worked, to some extent: despite reporting that has thoroughly debunked the smears, a CNN report yesterday suggested that the Democrats had made “a tactical error in holding up Graeme as their poster child,” and closely echoed the language of the e-mail from Mr. McConnell’s office.

Read the whole thing. Krugman expertly lays out the argument that this is how the right actually operates these days, that they are an attack machine instead of a political party. And he winds it around to how the episode demonstrates the crisis in modern health care, where a family that works hard and plays by the rules cannot survive the system. And he proudly speaks first principles, that "American children who need medical care should get it, period."

I can't wait to see what Krugman will do with this latest report, showing evidence of something he often discusses: the rise of a new Gilded Age.

The richest one percent of Americans earned a postwar record of 21.2 percent of all income in 2005, up from 19 percent a year earlier, reflecting a widening income disparity among different classes in the nation, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing new Internal Revenue Service data.

The data showed that the fortunes of the bottom 50 percent of Americans are worsening, with that group earning 12.8 percent of all income in 2005, down from 13.4 percent the year before, the paper said.

It said that while the IRS data goes back only to 1986, academic research suggests that the last time wealthy Americans had such a high percentage of the national income pie was in the 1920s.

Krugman is important because he has the most valuable op-ed real estate in the country, and he uses it, not to blabber about haircuts, not to tell us what taxi drivers in other countries think, not to prattle on with conservative talking points. He uses it to tell the truth. He'll be out in L.A. on Bill Maher's show tonight and next week for a book signing, and I'll be proud to shake his hand there.

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Friday Random Ten

This of course means that I'm going to have to stop listening to the new Radiohead album for a minute, which is disconcerting.

Badhead - Blur
The Sound Of Failure - The Flaming Lips
Everyday People - Sly & The Family Stone
Lightness - Death Cab For Cutie
Brimful Of Asha - Cornershop
Romance - Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
Interesting Drug - Morrissey
Cinémania - Stereo Total
Blimps Go 90 - Guided By Voices
Dust My Broom - B.B.King

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Watching The Detectives

The CIA doesn't exactly have a sterling reputation these days. While being shielded from real scrutiny and prosecution by the White House, the revelations on secret prisons, illegal kidnappings and renditions, and torture have damaged the credibility of the nation's chief intelligence agency. Obviously there's only one recourse in this case; investigate the inspector general.

CIA Director Michael V. Hayden has mounted a highly unusual challenge to the agency's chief watchdog, ordering an internal investigation of an inspector general who has issued a series of scathing reports sharply critical of top CIA officials, according to government officials familiar with the matter.

The move has prompted concerns that Hayden is seeking to rein in an inspector general who has used the office to bring harsh scrutiny of CIA figures including former Director George J. Tenet and undercover operatives running secret overseas prison sites.

This is obviously an attempt to intimidate the IG into backing off with the oversight. And the group heading the investigation is working directly out of Hayden's office. The New York Times has more.

I don't know what more you can say about it, this is the standard operating procedure of federal agencies in the Bush era; avoid accountability, threaten opponents, rule by fear.

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They Give A Nobel Prize For Being Fat?

Congreats to Al Gore, co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. I'm trying to figure out what he DIDN'T win this year, I think the Young Authors Foundation award was a little over the top.

The right will probably question whether he was eligible for the Nobel, prompting Michelle Malkin to visit his house and peek in the windows.

As all of these accolades raise the profile of the fight against global warming, I'm thrilled for the victory. As they all feed speculation about a run for the White House, I greet them with a twinge of dread. Although, I must say, the Draft Gore movement is pretty much the only thing interesting happening on the Web in this year's Presidential race, so I welcome that too. The cult of Gore reminds me of the time I went to Macworld, though, and every movement of Steve Jobs predicted some other product release.

UPDATE: The real joy here is seeing the right go apeshit about this.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Where We're At With The GOP

I'm extremely sympathetic to Kevin Drum's take on The Right's Field.

The Christian Right seems to be gearing up for a full-scale war against Rudy Giuliani, and it's hard to believe he can win the nomination in the face of this onslaught. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, still has his whole Mormon problem, and it doesn't seem to be going away. Meanwhile, John McCain is launguishing in nowheresville, Fred Thompson is impressing no one (and he's already been blackballed by James Dobson anyway), and no one else is a serious contender. It's really hard to see how anyone wins this thing.

In fact, even though I guess I don't really believe this, it sure seems as the Republican Party is heading for a brokered convention this year. A battered, bloody, and bruised brokered convention. It's the prediction that never comes true, but who knows? Maybe dark horse Mike Huckabee will win on the 27th ballot?

Let's fill in the blanks here. The hard-core theocrats are making it a solemn vow to deny Giuliani the nomination.

It will be a powerful warning to those in a position of influence that, if the GOP turns against unborn children, a significant portion of its base will not vote for Republican candidates.

Nobody's been impressed by Freddie Thompson, despite the fact that he didn't drool on himself during the last debate will probably give him a boost.

I think I raised more money than John McCain last quarter.

And Mitt Romney wants to check with lawyers before determining whether to attack another country, an answer palatable to approximately no one (even though Rudy pretty much said the same thing only in a more lawyerly way).

So the scenario behind a brokered convention is this: Romney stays on top in Iowa and uses the bounce to win New Hampshire. But he can't make a dent in the South, where Thompson cleans up, presumably. And Giuliani comes in with the big states like New York and California and Florida. Only California is not winner-take-all but district-by-district, diluting that victory. And any primary that allows independents could be a boost for McCain or Paul. And McCain won Michigan last time, which is early. And I still think Paul in New Hampshire has the possibility of messing everything up.

I don't totally see it happening. But it's kind of out there as a possibility.

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CA-41: Lewis Aide Subpoenaed

That was quick. The new US Attorney for the Los Angeles region, Thomas O'Brien, was just sworn in a week or so ago. He's apparently making the Jerry Lewis investigation a priority:

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has issued a subpoena for a House Appropriations Committee staffer as part of the ongoing probe of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the powerful panel.

Greg Lankler, a staffer on the House Appropriations Committee's Defense subcommittee, was recently subpoenaed by a federal grand jury looking into Lewis, according to House insiders.

The subpoena is for both documents and testimony, although it is unclear at this point whether Lankler will cooperate. The matter has been forwarded to the House general counsel's office, which is still studying the subpoena.

There hasn't been a subpoena in this case, which involves Lewis' moving millions of dollars' worth of earmarks to his friend, the ex-Congressman and lobbyist Bill Lowery, in over a year. Investigators on the case have been running out of money. So it is a bit of a surprise that this subpoena would emerge. The big difference in recent weeks is the confirmation of Thomas O'Brien.

Draw your own conclusions.

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Enhanced-ly Interrogated To Death

Burma has taken to using Bush Administration tactics to "get actionable intelligence" out of people.

A Myanmar opposition leader who was arrested during last month's mass protests against the junta died due to torture during interrogation, an activist group said on Wednesday.

In Washington, the United States threatened new sanctions against Myanmar after media reports of the death of Win Shwe.

Maybe they call it "enhanced interrogation techniques," too.

The fact is that societies who use torture aren't actually using it to obtain information. It's easier to get genuine information through a battle of wits or earning trust or a variety of legal means. Torturers employ it to dispose of enemies and intimidate anyone else from speaking out. And apologists in this country will refuse to admit that we are headed right down the same path.

Bret Stephens performs the favorite conservative trick of defending the use of torture by defining methods of torture which he favors as "not torture":

"For the record, count me as one who does not object to the interrogation to which KSM was reportedly subjected, including waterboarding. This is not because I take the use of waterboarding lightly (although I have a hard time concluding that a technique, however terrifying, to which CIA officers are willing to subject themselves experimentally can properly be counted as torture). It's because I take the threat posed by KSM seriously."

Waterboarding is torture. It was devised by torturers as a method of torture. CIA officers subject themselves to this torture as part of their training to withstand torture. Bret Stephens supports torture.

So does the US government, though it's sacrilege to admit it if you're Jimmy Carter.

And another thing. I'm sick and tired of politicians like Hillary Clinton trying to play it both ways, rejecting torture while giving a wink and a nod to defining what torture really is. Obama and Edwards have been crystal clear. Hillary is keeping her options open ever so slightly, though in the full context of her remarks it kinda sorta sounds like she's taking a bright line. The fact is that waterboarding is torture, we pretty much know that the United States has been waterboarding, and you can safely come out and say that we're torturing, and that this makes us no better than the junta in Burma or despots around the world. Hillary is trying to somehow appease wingnuts and hold fast to a notion of amassing executive power by defaulting to "we don't know exactly what's been going on." Obama is right to attack her over this.

Barack Obama thinks that America's policy on torture needs to be a lot more explicit than the winks and nods she has seemed to put forth on this important issue.

It's about drawing lines in the sand and being unequivocal. Torture is wrong. Those who engage in it or oversee it should face the fullest extent of the law.

A Roman Catholic priest accused of collaborating with the Argentine military dictatorship more than two decades ago was convicted Tuesday of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison.

(Christian Federico) Von Wernich was accused of passing on to authorities sensitive information gleaned from prisoners and others who trusted him as a priest. He also was the confessor of a provincial police chief who was notorious for overseeing the arrest, torture and killing of suspects considered "subversive."

The prosecution said Von Wernich abused his clerical status by offering spiritual comfort to prisoners, then informing on them to the police. The prisoners later were tortured and killed.

There are some things that aren't negotiable.

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Dept. of Mickey Kaus is a Shmuck

Somehow I drifted over to Kausfiles, where he's flagging a National Enquirer story about John Edwards (somehow I don't think he pays attention to the half-dozen "Laura Bush moves out of the White House/Condi sleeping with George" stories they've run with recently). But this is even more ridiculous.

Mickey's Assignment Desk--Baracktrackers: 2,000 words on Dem policy bigshots who went with Obama when he looked like the coming thing--and are now desperately trying to somehow get back in Hillary's good graces. Foreign policy types are usually the most obvious about this sort of thing. ... Bonus: Point out that this is the type of political judgment the experts are supposed to get right. Making the mistake of betting on Obama--assuming he doesn't, you know, win--isn't all that different from making the mistake of betting on Chalabi.

Let me get this straight; making a choice for President is the same as BELIEVING THE LIES OF A KNOWN FABRICATOR that results in the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history. Also making a choice for President is somehow an exercise in "political judgment" and not conviction or shared interests on policy.

Also, should Obama win and the so-called "Baracktrackers" (evidence) be proven right, which is entirely possible considering, you know, not one American has cast a ballot yet, will somebody write a 2,000 word piece on how Mickey Kaus looked foolish again by jumping the gun? (Define foolish-ed. Not enough room on the Internet.)

...the subtext of this, of course, is Kaus trying to squirm out of his support for the Iraq war, so he relates that specific error in foreign policy judgment to potentially backing the wrong horse in a Presidential contest where there are about 1,000 additional factors at play. That's the height of condescension and self-regard.

UPDATE: FWIW, Kaus emails me to say:

I didn't support the Iraq War. I waffled and then Bob Wright convinced me it was better to hold off, though I came down against it on legal grounds, not because I thought it would be as big a mess as it's become.

I can't precisely find anything to corroborate this, although this makes it sound like he thought it would be "politically better for Bush to attack next winter," which is of course a ringing antiwar stance. But I'll take his word for it. Also, this is a devastating rebuttal to comparing FP experts who decided to back Obama to hawks who decided to believe the lies of Chalabi.

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Your Modern Conservative Movement

Mitch McConnell's office was actively pushing out the Grame Frost smear to reporters. They were sending emails that said things like "Could the Dems really have done that bad of a job vetting this family?" Things which end up in broadcasts like when a CNN reporter says “the Democrats didn’t do as much of a vetting as they could have done.”

This is your modern conservative movement, folks. There is no difference between mouth-frothing bloggers, wingnut welfare queens like Michelle Malkin, the right-wing radio movement of Rush and Hannity, and the Senate Minority leader. They're all taking their cues from the same source, preferring to smear a 12 year-old and his family rather than discuss the real problem of rising health care costs. Tony Snow was making $168,000 a year and he couldn't afford to stay in his job after a recurrence of his cancer. The wingnut noise machine is answering its own question here. "How can a middle class family not afford health insurance?" EXACTLY.

The Frost family bears a heavy burden, and much sadness. But they are not bankrupt, and were not incapable of procuring care for their injured children. That's because the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which extends health insurance to low-income children, covered the costs. The program worked exactly as promised, providing high quality medical care for children of limited means in their time of need [...]

The Frost family's situation highlights our health care system's moral injustices, economic failing, and simple absurdities. The employer-based nature of our system makes it far harder to procure health insurance outside of a corporate job, and makes it almost impossible for the self-employed to afford coverage. The burden of health costs weigh heavily on small businesses, and force some to fold. The vicissitudes of the individual market, and the freedom insurers are granted to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, means it would be impossible for the Frosts to procure insurance now that their children have severe health problems -- indeed, three private insurers had previously rejected their applications outright.

And this was a family that was doing everything right. Both parents work. They own their own home. They care for three children, two of them now with serious health problems. They've gotten their son into a good private school on scholarship. But, like millions of other Americans, they've found that doing everything right doesn't mean you can afford health insurance.

All the right did was draw attention to the crisis in the American health care system. And exposed their rotten souls, besides.

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Straight Talk Express

I would say that John McCain's health-care proposal does have a couple moderately diverting ideas, like allowing interstate competition among health insurers (although how letting Blue Cross of Maryland compete with Blue Cross of California will lower costs ss beyond me) and allowing for the safe importation of prescription drugs. But while these cost-cutting measures are OK as far as they go, they do nothing to help cover the uninsured who aren't going to be helped by tax incentives since they don't make enough money. McCain only encourages insurer to spend less on administrative costs and more on actual health care; he only encourages hospitals to be more efficient; he only encourages people to buy coverage, adding to the risk pool. The measures he proposes are half-measures, but there's a very good reason for that. He is playing to the base:

Polls suggest that health care is the No. 2 issue for voters after the war in Iraq. Asked what particular health issue the presidential candidates should address, voters give roughly equal weight to costs and covering the uninsured as their main concerns.

Among Republican voters, however, costs emerge on top. Half of Republicans said they would like to see candidates focus most on reducing health-care costs, compared with 16% who express most interest in covering the uninsured, according to an August tracking poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

So the uninsured (which is a major contributing factor to the cost spiral, for a lot of reasons) can go screw, because Republicans by and large couldn't care less about them.

That's straight talk.

(It should be added that the centerpiece of McCain's proposal that addresses the uninsured is to give Americans a refundable tax credit to buy insurance, which is exactly George Bush's proposal that went nowhere in the Congress, mainly because a tax credit doesn't mean anything to someone who qualifies for the EITC, unless you want to refund their sales tax)

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On The Problem From Hell

Yesterday the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks circa WWI. They've passed it in the past, but this time it may actually come up for a vote on the House floor. Normally I think these sense of the Congress resolutions are silly, but this is a powerful statement of solidarity with the Armenians, and could really impact future foreign policy, suggesting that the victims of genocide will no longer be consigned to the dustbin of history. On the other hand, Turkey is a NATO ally and helping connect supply lines in Iraq, and angering them may severely affect troops in the field.

In a rare and uncharacteristically strong condemnation, President Abdullah Gul criticized the vote by the House Foreign Relations Committee and warned that the decision could work against the United States.

“Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once more dismissed calls for common sense, and made an attempt to sacrifice big issues for minor domestic political games,” Mr. Gul said in a statement to the semi-official Anatolian News Agency. “This is not a type of attitude that works to the benefit of, and suits, representatives of a great power like the Unites States of America. This unacceptable decision of the committee, like similar ones in the past, has no validity and is not worthy of the respect of the Turkish people.”

The House decision prompted reaction on the streets of Turkey’s capital, Ankara, where the youth branch of the extreme leftist Workers’ Party laid a black wreath at the entrance to the United States Embassy and spray-painted the Turkish flag onto an Embassy wall. The group held Turkish flags, posters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and banners reading, “Armenian genocide is an imperialistic lie,” the Anatolian agency reported. The protesters called for the closing of the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, which American troops use to supply the military in central Iraq. “The U.S. once more showed that it is not our strategic ally but an enemy,” the Workers’ Party branch said in a statement.

There are no lies being told here; what happened to the Armenians was unquestionably a genocide. Even those who voted against the resolution would agree with that. It is a very hard situation, however, to balance this principled call with endangering American lives. Turkey could raise a lot of havoc in Iraq, and they're already inclined to do so through cross-border raids into Kurdistan.

The tinfoil hatted part of me wonders if this is a deliberate provocation to force the US out of an even more volatile Iraq. I really don't think so, but it lingers in the back of my mind. I would, however, say that there's no conspiracy about allowing the Armenian people their just recognition.

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Nunez-gate: Skelton Weighs In

The grand poohbah of the Sacto press corps, taking his whacks.

Memo to editor:

Water is a huge issue right now in the California Legislature. So to broaden my perspective, I propose traveling to Italy to study the ancient Roman aqueduct.

It's even older than the state water project. Both are outdated, and I could put this all into context for our readers.

There's a convenient hotel in Rome at the top of the Spanish Steps where I can stay for $730 a night.

Best, Your stir-crazy Sacramento columnist.

He goes on like that for a while. If money is the mother's milk of politics, money scandals are the mother's milk of political columnists.

Skelton also makes the point that none of this would happen with public financing, but he dismisses is as an unrealizable goal, at least for now, because anything that reduces the amount of spending on political activities will be met with fear and loathing by the political establishment. He invokes the golden rule: "If you can't explain it, don't do it." And then, at the end of the column, in comes Fabian to explain:

After my deadline -- after I'd written this column -- Nuñez called to explain.

He "became a hit around the world" after his global warming bill passed last year, the speaker said, and received many foreign invitations. "The dollar is pretty darn weak in Europe these days" and that runs up expenses, he added. He also buys lots of gifts for dignitaries, staffers and other legislators.

Nuñez defended paying for all this with political money rather than tax dollars. "My conscience wouldn't allow me to do that, so I use my campaign funds. That's between me and the people who contribute."

But what about the wine trip? The French organized it.

"I know this stuff doesn't look good. But it's legitimate. I did not do anything wrong."

He didn't say he was pretty much middle class in this one, so the explanations are getting better. But just because you "became a hit" doesn't mean you actually have to show up around the world. In some ways, this explanation is far worse, actually. It's almost an admission that these activities had nothing to do with California government business.

Note also the plea to his own conscience, that he had to protect the taxpayers from paying for these trips and instead hit up corporate donors who will in turn impact legislation that will bankrupt the taxpayers many times over.

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Blackwater Updates

A lot going on in the Blackwater case:

• The State Department is operating as an arm of a private corporation.

Nearly four weeks after the deadly shootings at a central Baghdad square involving the Blackwater USA private security firm, American military officials and Iraqi investigators say the F.B.I. and State Department are refusing to share information with them on their investigation into the killings.

The American military has not been allowed to speak to Blackwater employees who were in Nisour Square that day, nor have military officials been shown the Blackwater vehicle that the company and State Department officials have said was disabled during the events of Sept. 16 just west of the heavily fortified Green Zone, according to a senior American military officer [...]

However, Iraqi investigators say the F.B.I. and State Department have not provided information about the investigation to their Iraqi counterparts, despite repeated requests. A senior Iraqi investigator said that American military officers had also interviewed Iraqi witnesses, collected evidence from Nisour Square and talked to Iraqi investigators.

“We haven’t received any information from the Americans about their own two investigations,” the senior Iraqi investigator said. “F.B.I. investigators have asked us to help them and share our information, as they have started a third investigation.”

The vehicle is actually still sitting there in Baghdad. No forensic work has been done on it, no evidence has been collected. This is why I was skeptical of that press release masquerading as a news item that the State Department was about to drop Blackwater. Nonsense.

• The UN suggests that Blackwater has committed war crimes.

[Ivana Vuco, senior human rights officer] told a news conference that private security contractors were still subject to international humanitarian law and that meant there were specific consequences for any breach.

"Investigations as to whether or not crimes against humanity, war crimes, are being committed and obviously the consequences of that is something that we will be paying attention to and advocating for," she told a news conference.

This is almost the least of the human rights worries in Iraq, what with 4 million refugees and the like. But war criminals must not be allowed to avoid prosecution.

• And to that end, family members of those slain in Nissour Square are suing Blackwater in US court, under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is filing a lawsuit today under the Alien Tort Claims Act on behalf of the families of three of the Iraqis killed, as well as another Iraqi who was injured, when Blackwater guards shot dead 17 Iraqis and injured many more [...]

SUSAN BURKE, CCR: We were approached by the families of three gentlemen who were shot and killed, as well as a gentleman who was very seriously injured. They came to us because they know of our work representing the torture victims at Abu Ghraib, and they asked us whether it would be possible to try to get some form of justice, some form of accountability, against this rogue corporation.

So we put together a lawsuit that is being filed this morning in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of the families of three gentlemen who were killed: Mr. Atban, Mr. Abbass and Mr. Ibraheem The three gentlemen, amongst them, had fourteen children, including one, Mr. Atban, had a newborn baby daughter. So, needless to say, we are very interested in holding this company accountable and in pursuing the lawsuit vigorously.

Later in that interview, Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater, explained that the legislation which passed the House this week, which would put Blackwater under US law, is "problematic" because it legitimizes their use as a private sector alternative to the military. Not sure if I agree, but it's an interesting perspective.

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Michelle Malkin: Welfare Queen

Our Lady Of The Internment Camps may want to read this post to understand that she is being subsidized by the federal government for her health care, even today.

After ranting about S-CHIP and other government medical programs being socialism or whatever, she crows how wise her government-funded MSA (Medical Savings Account) account was as a 'choice'. Whether the government directly sends funds to insurance companies, or the taxpayer gets a tax deduction to fund a MSA, the government is still paying part or all of the cost. Somehow she can't quite admit to sucking on the same mammary gland as those she denounces.

I will be immediately going over to her house and looking to see if her kitchen surfaces are granite-topped. She's stealin' from hardworking taxpayers like you and me!

(MSAs, by the way, are pretty much health savings accounts, which are tax shelters for those with the available cash to put into a fund for health care. In other words, they're welfare for rich people.)

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Lawyer Up!

Abu G is a lawyer himself, but of course if I was Abu G, I wouldn't trust the imminent investigation to someone like me.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has hired a high-powered Washington lawyer to represent him in investigations of mismanagement of the Justice Department. George Terwilliger, a white-collar crime defense attorney and the second-ranking Justice official in the early 1990s, was on the White House's short list last month to replace Gonzales.

Investigators are look into allegations that Gonzales lied to lawmakers and illegally allowed politics to influence hiring and firing at the department.

Terwilliger said Gonzales, a close friend of the president's and a former Texas Supreme Court justice, maintains he did nothing wrong or illegal, and that hiring an attorney should not signal any guilt.

It shouldn't exactly signal innocence, either. Unless Abu G is going into real estate and needs some probate advice.

Some have wondered if this has anything to do with the latest revelations in the Don Siegelman case, but they appear to have more to do with Karl Rove (who's probably lawyered to the gills, too, if anyone would bother to check):

A Republican lawyer claims she was told that Karl Rove — while serving as President Bush's top political adviser — had intervened in the Justice Department's prosecution of Alabama's most prominent Democrat. Longtime Alabama G.O.P. activist Dana Jill Simpson first made the allegation in June, but has now provided new details in a lengthy sworn statement to the House Judiciary Committee. The Committee is expected to hold public hearings on the Alabama case next week as part of its investigation of possible political interference by the Bush Administration in the activities of the Department of Justice.

Simpson said in June that she heard a close associate of Rove say that the White House political adviser "had spoken with the Department of Justice" about "pursuing" Don Siegelman, a former Democratic governor of Alabama, with help from two of Alabama's U.S. attorneys. Siegelman was later indicted on 32 counts of corruption, convicted on seven of them, and is currently serving an 88-month sentence in Federal prison.

If Simpson's version of events is accurate, it would show direct political involvement by the White House in federal prosecutions — a charge leveled by Administration critics in connection with the U.S. attorney scandal that led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But her account is disputed; those who she alleges told her about Rove's involvement during a G.O.P. campaign conference call claim that no such conversation took place. Rove himself has not responded to Simpson's allegations, which are clearly based on second-hand information, and the White House has refused to comment while Siegelman's case remains on appeal.

"No partisan gunslinger," in the words of Novakula. I do see how the Siegelman case is part of a pattern, and could bring down anyone in the Justice Department, including the, you know, HEAD of the Justice Department at the time.

Of course, the real problem with Justice may not be subject to conviction. It's the kind of thinking like this displayed by the head of the Civil Rights Division, claiming that voter ID laws actually discriminate against white people:

It's probably true that among those who don't [have photo ID], it's primarily elderly persons. And that's a shame. You know, creating problems for elderly persons just is not good under any circumstance. Of course...that also ties in to the racial aspect, because our society is such that minorities don't become elderly. The way white people do. They die first.

That's not only misleading, and contrary to statistical analysis, as Krugman notes ("Blacks’ low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood"), it's downright racist. From the head of the CIVIL RIGHTS division.

That's kind of the problem.

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So CNN is taking to blaming the Democrats for not "properly vetting" Graeme Frost and his family. Um, if they had "vetted" them, they would see that the Frosts are a perfect example of a family that needs S-CHIP because of skyrocketing health costs and a catastrophic accident. This is the equivalent of "she was dressed provocatively and asking for it." What the hell is John Roberts (the idiot reporter, not the Chief Justice) talking about?

I actually thought that the media was figuring this one out, that the conservative movement (not just "bloggers") crossed way over the line on this one. Apparently not.

Would it make any difference if Mitch McConnell's staff was behind the smear? Apparently not, since that was known before CNN aired their "story."

Manley cited an e-mail sent to reporters by a Senate Republican leadership aide, summing up recent blog traffic about the boy’s family. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to comment on Manley’s charge that GOP aides were complicit in spreading disparaging information about Frosts.

I know, CNN could devote a resource or two to tracking down this angle. They could maybe investigate if the Senate Minority Leader took part in a campaign to hunt down a 12 year-old boy. That would be "journalism" instead of pontificating from an air-conditioned studio.


UPDATE: Malkin loses it. She can't take the fact that she has an archive, and that people found out that she couldn't find affordable health insurance in Maryland 3 years ago (the Frosts are also from Maryland). She's also mad that anyone would ask to debate her about SCHIP, because that would "distract from the issue." Debating the issue would distract from the issue. Fascinatin'! She is a pathetic creature.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Digital Age

OK, downloading and paying for the new Radiohead album In Rainbows was about the most painless experience you could ever hope to have. They released the album today only on their website, and offered it to listeners with a name-your-own-price format. You could pay as little as 0.45 pounds (about a buck) or more. I thought this was such an innovative effort, the open-source version of medieval patronage, that I gave them $20 and had no problem doing it. I want Radiohead to keep making music and I want them to be successful, not to mention that I want to show the music industry that this is clearly the future and they'd better wake up to it.

The album also happens to be terrific, a major improvement over Hail To The Thief, upon a first listen.

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Wake Me Up When It Happens

This article makes it sound like "Ooh, Condi's ever so close to cutting off Blackwater, just one more screw-up and they're out the door!" but I wouldn't be so sure. First of all, this is just a review. And after all, the federal government just gave a multibillion dollar "narcoterrorism" contract to Blackwater, just yesterday. Doesn't sound like a relationship on the outs.

(However, it could be that other areas of the government are compensating for Blackwater's eventual loss in Iraq.)

By the way, notice the mission creep there. The war on drugs now equals the war on terror! Fabulous! Now all the great strides we've made in BOTH those wars can be combined!

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LAPD: "Our Bad"

You don't see this kind of a report from a government agency every day.

In a scathing self-critique, the LAPD on Tuesday blamed the May 1 MacArthur Park melee involving officers, immigration protesters and journalists on a series of fateful decisions by police commanders that escalated hostilities and resulted in a widespread breakdown in discipline and behavior by officers.

The findings, contained in a long-awaited report by top police officials, come as Police Chief William J. Bratton announced that at least 26 officers participating in the incident are under internal investigation and could face discipline for using excessive force.

The report is the latest effort by Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to quell widespread outcry over the incident, in which TV news footage showed officers swinging batons and firing less-than-lethal rounds at journalists as well as immigration rights protesters gathered at the park for an afternoon rally.

The melee left 246 journalists and protesters as well as 18 officers with injuries, and more than 250 legal claims have been filed against the city. Los Angeles County prosecutors and the FBI are continuing to investigate the case.

The LAPD is far more given to whitewash than this. You actually have to hand it to both Bratton and Villaraigosa so far for talking this straight. Now comes the hard part. There has to be real disciplinary action taken against those who decided to take up arms against the protesters. Individual officers must be held accountable. Some of the higher-ups, like Deputy Chief Lee Carter, were demoted (he eventually resigned). And Bratton has accepted responsibility, saying "I, as chief of police, regret deeply that this occurred on my watch." But that statement has to have some force behind it.

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Not One Dollar, Not One Dime

We're now up to 87 Congresscritters that will not vote for any funding for the Iraq occupation other than for a fully funded redeployment, including deep South members like Artur Davis (D-AL) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS). That's only 25% of the House, but out in the country, the numbers for de-funding are much higher.

Asked what Congress should do with President Bush's pending Iraq supplemental request, the poll found that 70 percent of respondents want Congress to either vote against the President's request or require that funds can only be used for my plan to protect troops and bring them home. And by a two to one margin, respondents favored requiring that funds be spent on redeployment instead of providing the administration funds without conditions.

The polling memo is at Rep. Barbara Lee's One Voice PAC site.

We know that no supplemental will be coming out of the House until next year, so this is an opportunity for the Out Of Iraq caucus to get from 87 to 218 and force the hand of the leadership. The purse strings are really the only way to truly end this war, and it's going to be a long road which will not end with the election of the next President, as we know. So electing more and better Democrats to the House, and growing this movement over the next weeks and months, is crucial.

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Don't Mourn, Nothing Died Yet

I know Matt Stoller wants to believe the worst about the coming debate on the FISA bill, but you'd think he'd at least notice that the House Judiciary Committee just rejected retroactive immunity for telecom companies who participated in illegal warrantless surveillance, by a 21-14 vote.

Critics say the program was illegal. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group, sued telephone company AT&T Inc last year and accused it of illegally allowing the government to monitor phone calls and e-mails.

The White House maintains Bush acted within his authority in ordering the program.

Bush said the new bill "must grant liability protection to companies who are facing multibillion dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend our nation following the 9/11 attacks."

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said the liability issue should be a court matter. "Let the courts decide whether these companies, or some of them, were acting patriotically with nobility and legally, or if they were breaking the law."

Bush can howl all he wants, but Nadler is right. The hope here is that he gets to make such a case in conference committee and fight the potential Senate inclusion of immunity. Steny Hoyer is a snake and needs to be watched, but stalwarts like John Conyers are fighting the good fight on this bill.

To those who would claim that this bill is weak on terrorism, I would say that protecting the civil rights and liberties of Americans does not show our weakness, but our strength. What the terrorists fear most is our constitution and our values, and that is what this bill protects.

To those who say that the bill is too weak on civil liberties, I say that if you trust an independent court and have faith in congressional oversight, those liberties will not be jeopardized. That is the premise our democracy was founded on, and that is exactly what this bill does.

I am concerned, along with the ACLU, about these "basket warrants" that aren't directed at anybody, which would seem to open the door to all kinds of abuse. But there is oversight over them, in the form of a quadrennial review.

Republicans are committed to stringing this out until the day before the August bill expires, and then playing the fear card to force the Democrats into submission. That may work, but the best defense would be a good offense, and the Progressive Caucus is mulling that one over.

According to House Dem aides, House liberals appear to be leaning in the direction of supporting the legislation -- though nothing is at all certain. Earlier today, an aide says, an internal count of House members showed very strong opposition among liberals to the bill unveiled today. But later in the day, some liberals appeared to be privately concluding that many of their demands -- which they unveiled amid last week's revolt in hopes of influencing the process -- had been met, this aide says.

Indeed, one key House liberal who'd taken a stand against earlier manifestations of the measure -- Jerrold Nadler -- announced today that he would support the bill. In a statement his office claimed the bill "reinforces the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in regards to electronic surveillance programs," and "requires that FISA warrants are required when targeting domestic communications," though it doesn't require them for foreign ones.

Still, things are in flux, and the aide cautions that a key sticking point for liberals remains -- the measure's embrace of "basket" wiretapping. House liberals are meeting behind closed doors as we speak to debate what their stance should be on the legislation. The House liberals' efforts are being coordinated by Bill Goold, an aide to Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA), one of the key House libs behind last week's mini-revolt.

I'm hoping for some amendments on the basket warrants issue. At issue also is the privacy of Americans making foreign communications. But on balance, I've yet to see evidence that this is a craven sellout. We should be encouraging it in the right direction, not lamenting a capitulation before one exists.

UPDATE: Jerrold Nadler's full comments from the Judiciary Committee.

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GOP Economic Debate Proves GOP Debaters Know Nothing About Economics

Matt covered a little of this, but it was truly astonishing to see the Republican nominees so completely out of touch on the economy yesterday. Steven Pearlstein offers the definitive takedown in The Washington Post:

...for two hours yesterday, the nine white men who would be president were each peddling the Big Lie that the only way to ensure economic growth is by cutting all the taxes ever created -- and when you're finished with that, cutting them some more.

Two hours, nine candidates, each one vowing to slash federal spending, but only one (Mitt Romney) able to mention a program whose funding he would cut (some advanced technology program).

Two hours, nine candidates and not one with anything to offer to millions of Americans now facing foreclosure on their houses in what is shaping up as the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression.

Two hours, nine candidates, each acknowledging that something needs to be done to rein in entitlement spending, but only one (Fred Thompson) willing to offer a concrete suggestion for doing it (indexing Social Security benefits to increases in cost of living, not wages).

Two hours, nine candidates, and lots of debate about whether globalization has been good or bad, but only one (John McCain) with anything fresh to offer to workers who are the losers from free trade (wage insurance for displaced older workers).

Two hours, nine candidates, every one professing his support for the right of workers to form a union, but not one willing to acknowledge that that right no longer exists because of rampant employer intimidation.

Two hours, nine candidates, but only one (Mike Huckabee) willing to draw the connection between growing disenchantment with the economy, widening income inequality and the obscene pay packages of chief executives and hedge fund managers.

The truth is that this has become a major problem for the GOP. Just like nobody believes the President when it comes to Iraq, nobody believes the party when it comes to all their happy talk on the economy. Fred Thompson was the worst offender at the debate, calling the economy "the greatest story never told." Americans, who pay their own bills and look at their own finances, don't agree (h/t Steve Benen):

A growing number of people say the economy is the nation’s top problem, with the less educated among the most worried, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed Tuesday.

Yet even with a credit crunch and soft housing market, economic angst remains well behind war and domestic issues among the public’s chief concerns, according to survey results.

Given an open-ended opportunity to name the major problem facing the U.S., 15 percent volunteered the economy. That was six percentage points more than named it when the AP-Ipsos poll last asked the question in July.

“They talk about a big surge in Iraq; well, there hasn’t been a big surge over here,” said Sadruddin El-Amin, 55, a truck driver in Hanahan, S.C., who named the economy as the top problem. “The job market isn’t getting any better, not for the working class.”

Since the only economic solution any of these guys can think of is tax breaks, and we couldn't possibly have had more tax breaks than we have over the past 6 years, the well is dry on ideas. So they have to spin this idea that the economy is robust, which it is - for hedge fund managers and the ultra-rich. But more and more people are falling behind, and magic tax cuts aren't helping. So all they have left is to either lie about how good things are, or scare the public into thinking that spending is freakishly out of control (like claiming that the Medicare prescription drug benefit costs $60 TRILLION more than it actually does).

The problem is, there are no answers. Just empty platitudes. Such is the GOP circa 2007.

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Lieberman: "Oversight? Nah, Don't Care."

Yesterday security guards with an Australian-run firm killed two women in Baghdad by opening fire on their car after they failed to pull over. It was another example of the precarious situation in Iraq posed by out-of-control private military contractors who are not under any legal controls. This is outraging the Iraqi population and severely endangering US troops. Fortunately, the Congress, through investigative oversight, is doing something about this.

Wait, I misspoke, I meant HALF the Congress. The House is doing the oversight. In the Senate, those oversight responsibilities go to the chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee. He's a guy named Lieberman.

The day news broke that the Iraqi government was revoking the license of Blackwater USA over a questionable Baghdad shootout that killed 17 civilians, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) announced plans for hearings to probe the State Department’s reliance on private security contractors.

On that same day — Sept. 17 — Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) announced two firefighting grants for the towns of Bolton and Willington in his home state.

Though the two committees have similar investigative powers and mandates to uncover waste, fraud and abuse of government funds, Waxman has held eight hearings on Iraq and contracting abuses this year, while Lieberman has held only one on reconstruction challenges in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

And though Waxman rarely has missed an opportunity to fire off angry letters to the administration over potential waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct among government contractors, Lieberman — along with his predecessor and current ranking member, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — has shown relatively little interest in tackling those issues.

Subscription is required on the Roll Call article, but Steve Benen has more. Lieberman says that fraud and abuse and corruption make him angry, but spending any time investigating it isn't a priority.

Remind me again why this guy has any seniority at all? He didn't run as a Democrat, he has undermined the caucus on foreign policy issues, and now he is actively operating as a shield for the White House on the Senate's chief investigative committee. This is a man refusing to do his job as Chairman. And contrary to popular belief, he is no longer needed to keep the Senate under Democratic control; the rules under which the 110th Senate were set up do not allow for a party switch.

At a time of massive fraud in Iraq, Lieberman has emasculated the Government Affairs Committee. The Senate has literally no ability to investigate the sins of Blackwater and Halliburton and all the other profit-taking abuses in Iraq under Joementum's "leadership." He should be thrown off the committee immediately, if not sooner. It's disgraceful that this is tolerated by the Senate Democrats.

UPDATE: Yesterday the House passed The War Profiteering Prevention Act by the staggering vote of 375-3. Maybe the bill, which makes war profiteering a felony and confers jurisdiction to US courts, got such overwhelming support because the House has actually HEARD testimony about these abuses, while the Senate has sit on their hands, thanks to Holy Joe.

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Shades Of Rosie Ruiz

A former Presidential candidate in Mexico, Roberto Madrazo, ran the Berlin Marathon in a time an hour shorter than his previous best. German race officials outfit each competitor with a tracking chip that charts them every few kilometers. Madrazo didn't show up for two checkpoints and then suddenly was at the front of the pack. He was disqualified from the race today.

To repeat, this is a guy who was almost President of Mexico, caught cheating in a marathon.

Stick that in your memory banks the next time you wonder why powerful political figures so often commit dishonest actions.

They're VAIN.

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Ideology Vs. Progress, Take 4

Returning to health care for a moment, there's a big debate over whether to engage in an incremental approach to health care that would be universal, or to go for broke with a single-payer system. Again, single-payer is probably the best opportunity to keep down costs and cover everyone successfully. But I tend to agree with Paul Krugman on this issue:

The generic Demoplan, which basically follows the template laid down by John Edwards, involves four moving pieces: community rating, requiring that insurance companies offer insurance to everyone at the same rate regardless of medical history; a mandate, requiring that everyone have insurance; subsidies to help lower-income people pay for insurance; and public-private competition, in which people have the option of buying into a plan run by the government.

The alternative would be single-payer, aka Medicare for all: a payroll tax on everyone, and a government insurance program for everyone. Wouldn’t that be simpler, easier to administer, and more efficient?

Yes, it would. I myself described the Schwarzenegger plan in California, which contains all these elements except the public-private competition, as a “Rube Goldberg device — a complicated, indirect way of achieving what a single-payer system would accomplish simply and directly. “

But there are very good political reasons for going with the Demoplan: basically, it looks like something that could actually happen early in the next administration, while enacting a single-payer plan like the Conyers plan or the PNHP plan, excellent though those plans are, might take a very long time.

The public-private competition in the Demoplan is crucial, by the way, because it means that the Demoplan isn’t locked into the inefficiency of the private insurance system – it could evolve into single-payer over time.

I agree that the public option is what sways me in the direction of getting this achievable system in place. (By the way, Arnold's plan does not have community rating in the sense that it does not spell out the baseline floor for care, or the ceiling for costs). And it's also why it's ridiculous to suggest that Hillary Clinton's plan is the same as Mitt Romney's. First of all, Romney doesn't have a plan. The MassCare option was the result of the state Legislature, and Romney's official plan contains none of the MassCare parts, and essentially offers grants to states that do what they want, as well as giving tax breaks that ultimately favor the rich. The Massaschusetts plan also did not have the cost controls of the Clinton plan (which is why costs have exploded in the first year), nor did it have a public option in competition with private insurers. That's a key difference.

I do worry about how you enforce an individual mandate - do people that don't buy health insurance go to jail? Get fined? But the positives of a mandate-and-subsidize, private-vs.-public plan are significant, and people shouldn't be quite so ideologically rigid when discussing this issue.

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Going To War With The Peacemakers

So, this week David Petraeus stepped up to the war machine Wurlitzer and belted out some anti-Iran rhetoric, calling it the biggest threat to American security and outright calling the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq a terrorist. Of course, it's unclear why we should believe him at all, considering that one of his own advisors is calling his testimony on casualties in Iraq potentially misleading. Not to mention the fact that nobody has been arming Iraqi militants more than the US government. But on a macro level, the notion that Iran is sowing chaos inside Iraq is damaged by this latest revelation, from AJ Rossmiller:

But leaving aside the hypocrisy, on the *very same day,* news came out that Iran had helped broker a peace deal between the two major Shia militias, the Badr Corps of SIIC (formerly SCIRI) and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SIIC, who is reportedly undergoing treatment for cancer in Iran, met with Sadr, a frequent rival for Shia following and control in Baghdad and oil-rich Basra province, to bury the hatchet. The plan reportedly has three primary elements: stopping the fighting between Iraqis, urging media to engender a spirit of friendship and forgiveness, and establishing commissions in each of Iraq's 18 provinces to oversee the peace initiative. The agreement was "in the spirit of" Ramadan, the Muslim holy month in which gestures of forgiveness and mercy are often made.

And again, they worked out the agreement in Iran. Not with U.S. officials (with whom Sadr refuses to deal), not with Saudi Arabia, not the UN. Iran. So when Petraeus says (quoting the CNN article, not the General directly) that, "sectarian fighting among militias fueled by Iran could be the biggest long-term challenge for Iraq," well, exactly what sectarian fighting among militias is he referring to? Why are these statement always so vague, so imprecise? *Which* militias? *Where* is Iran fueling fighting? I'm open to being convinced, but the dichotomy of Petraeus accusing Iran of fueling sectarian infighting at precisely the same time two major militia groups are agreeing to a peace accord in Iran doesn't bode well for his case.

And by the way, the news of that peace deal isn't all good, it's clearly an effort to band together against the US backing of anti-government Sunni groups, and will focus the country even more toward civil war. But Iran is making actual efforts to broker peace. Less can be said of St. Petraeus.

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"These Are Not The Final Numbers"

Remember, the Governor said that he had a plan to fix the state's health care system in October, 2006.  He said he'd tell everyone about it after the election.  ONE YEAR LATER, Schwarzenegger announced at a big press conference yesterday that the bill is almost ready.  It's not a bill being carried to the Legislature by anyone, at least not yet, although I expect the leadership will bring it along just to have something to negotiate against.  But this is a complete waste of time and energy, to wait 12 months to present something that has no earthly hope of passing.  And paying for it, in part, by privatizing the lottery, which is a long-term money-loser for California.

I mean, this is ridiculous:

Every time he was asked about the numbers, he revealed that this proposal is still a ways from being fully cooked, starting with this response to a question about the financing of the bill--where the money comes from: "This is our proposal. We think that's the best way to go. But this is not final because it is still being negotiated. A lot of this stuff is still being negotiated."

Counting on money from the Feds seems tricky to me, given the veto of SCHIP by President Bush. That will leave a gaping hole as far as children's coverage, and paying for it, are concerned.

When asked about affordability and what Californians at different income levels would have to pay out of pocket, he said: "Well first of all, the numbers that I have given you--this is our proposal. So these are not the final numbers. Because like I said, with the numbers, those things are still being discussed--what the numbers should be." Maybe we should be happy that the exact shape and form of affordability, a key part of the bill, are not yet written in stone. With an individual mandate, that seems to me to be an area to really scrutinize.

There's a summary of the plan, which ISN'T THE FINAL PLAN SO DON'T CRITICIZE IT, at the link.  It seems to me that the deal here is to try and avoid all specifics so there can be absolutely no discussion about the biggest domestic issue facing the state and the nation, so Arnold can evade all responsibility for whatever transpires until the moment he signs a bill, at which point it's entirely because of his leadership.

That's post-partisan, baby.

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Sick Thugs

I have to return to the story of Grame Frost, the latest target of Republican smear merchants, who, it should be mentioned, is a sick 12 year-old boy who was in a coma not so long ago. This entire escapade has exposed the right-wing for the heartless, soulless slime that they are. They are so consumed with playing "gotcha" that they fly by the facts, and display a real anger that anyone should be helped by the government whatsoever. At every level the argument breaks down. And I am confounded by understanding what the endgame is here. Is "exposing" the fact that a middle-class small businessman can't afford quality health care, and are drowned under the weight of a major medical catastrophe, really forwarding their argument that the government shouldn't get involved?

So they resort to other arguments. They say that kids shoudn't be used as political "human shields". As if personalized stories have never been part of the political process (and yet nobody on the Democratic side went to this girl's house to see if she was "really" upset):

They say that they're just "asking questions," not stalking and intimidating. Then, after it being thoroughly proven that the Frosts can't afford health care, they outright state that there's no such thing as poor people ("Are there even a thousand really poor people in all of America? Really poor."), and the person they use to do that - wait for it - was on disability in the Canadian healthcare system. It's useless arguing with these people. They've been whipped up into a frenzy where reason no longer matters, where dignity no longer matters, where life is all about "exposing" people, no matter the cost. Michelle Malkin once wrote a post called When The Left Invades Our Privacy (hypocrisy, anyone?). If I thought it would matter, I would write one called When The Right Invades Our Souls.

This has now made The New York Times, by the way.

So when Democrats enlisted 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who along with a younger sister relied on the program for treatment of severe brain injuries suffered in a car crash, to give the response to Mr. Bush’s weekly radio address on Sept. 29, Republican opponents quickly accused them of exploiting the boy to score political points.

Then, they wasted little time in going after him to score their own.

In recent days, Graeme and his family have been attacked by conservative bloggers and other critics of the Democrats’ plan to expand the insurance program, known as S-chip. They scrutinized the family’s income and assets — even alleged the counters in their kitchen to be granite — and declared that the Frosts did not seem needy enough for government benefits. [...]

The critics accused Graeme’s father, Halsey, a self-employed woodworker, of choosing not to provide insurance for his family of six, even though he owned his own business. They pointed out that Graeme attends an expensive private school. And they asserted that the family’s home had undergone extensive remodeling, and that its market value could exceed $400,000.

One critic, in an e-mail message to Graeme’s mother, Bonnie, warned: “Lie down with dogs, and expect to get fleas.” As it turns out, the Frosts say, Graeme attends the private school on scholarship. The business that the critics said Mr. Frost owned was dissolved in 1999. The family’s home, in the modest Butchers Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, was bought for $55,000 in 1990 and is now worth about $260,000, according to public records. And, for the record, the Frosts say, their kitchen counters are concrete.

Certainly the Frosts are not destitute. They also own a commercial property, valued at about $160,000, that provides rental income. Mr. Frost works intermittently in woodworking and as a welder, while Mrs. Frost has a part-time job at a firm that provides services to publishers of medical journals. Her job does not provide health coverage.

Under the Maryland child health program, a family of six must earn less than $55,220 a year for children to qualify. The program does not require applicants to list their assets, which do not affect eligibility.

In a telephone interview, the Frosts said they had recently been rejected by three private insurance companies because of pre-existing medical conditions. “We stood up in the first place because S-chip really helped our family and we wanted to help other families,” Mrs. Frost said.

“We work hard, we’re honest, we pay our taxes,” Mr. Frost said, adding, “There are hard-working families that really need affordable health insurance.”

I'm glad the Times wrote about this abomination. This is the face of the modern conservative movement; smear merchants who look at hardworking Americans stuck in our broken healthcare system and sniff "they're too rich to get help." I, for one, would gladly pay my tax dollars to even allow the richest wingnut blogger to get psychiatric help.

UPDATE: Ezra makes a challenge.

"It’s militant leftist bloggers," writes Malkin, "who wouldn’t know a good-faith argument if it bit them in the lip." Let's have a good faith argument. I will debate Michelle Malkin anytime, anywhere, in any forum (save HotAir TV, which she controls), on the particulars of S-CHIP. We can set the debate at a think tank, on BloggingHeads, over IM. Hell, we can set up the podiums in the shrubbery outside my house, since that seems to be the sort of venue she naturally seeks out. And then if Malkin wants an argument, she can have one. We'll talk S-CHIP and nothing but -- nothing of the Frosts, or Congress, or her blog.

My sense has been that Malkin doesn't want an argument. Rather, she wants to feed her readers the steady stream of outrage that keeps her traffic numbers up. But I realized tonight that I could be wrong, and I shouldn't assume Malkin doesn't want a real argument unless I actually ask her.

I expect the answer to be "no." She won't even allow comments on her side, let alone actually sit in a room and rely on trivialities like facts and figures.

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