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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Someone Explain This To Me

We have a series of failed wars that are going to cost $2.4 trillion dollars in the future. We have a growing health care crisis with no end in sight unless the government gets involved in at least a partial way to effect a solution. We have a continuation of natural disasters that could be managed if heartless governments would managed to spend one nickel on fire prevention. Not to mention that we have an ongoing catastrophe in the nation's housing markets that are going to shrink revenue practically everywhere.

In this environment, Charlie Rangel and the Democrats have proposed a revenue-neutral tax plan?

I appreciate some of the elements to it, like eliminating the AMT (which was close to hitting the middle class) and reducing the corporate tax rate in exchange for closing up some loopholes, but let's face facts. We're in need of some major revenue, and notably, polling has shown that people are willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for increased services.

This plan is going nowhere as long as George Bush is President, but it provides a blueprint for future efforts under a potential Democratic Administration. People have to wake up and understand that taxes are the price you pay for a free society, and that in a time of looming recession, America is worth paying for. That's fiscally responsible. Spending can be cut back in some places, but ultimately, to get the change we really need, it's going to take more revenue. Democrats have to be able to make the sale so we can get back to some sanity in government.

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Dirty Tricks Initiative - Giuliani Campaign In Trouble?

A top official of the effort to steal up to 20 electoral votes in California sent out an email to supporters of the Rudy Giuliani campaign asking them to sign petitions to get the measure on the ballot. This could be a violation of federal election law, which prohibits coordination between Presidential campaigns and separate ballot issues. Top of the Ticket has the latest.

The missive, obtained by The Times' Dan Morain, is addressed, "Hello Fellow Rudy Supporter!" Its author, Tony Andrade, is a Republican activist who helped draft the electoral college initiative. Previously, he was among those who helped place the ultimately successful recall of Gov. Gray Davis on the ballot in 2003 [...]

Chris Lehane, a Democratic activist who is organizing the campaign to block the measure, said of the Andrade e-mail: “It sounds like something that the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice will be very interested in seeing.”

Maria Comella, spokeswoman for Giuliani’s White House bid, previously has stressed that neither he nor his campaign has had anything to do with pushing the ballot initiative.

It's unclear how Andrade would have gotten a list of Giuliani supporters in California without some form of coordination. The initiative's new backers, most of them connected to Giuliani in one way or another, are running from this as fast as possible.

Veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who is overseeing the attempt to put the initiative before voters, distanced himself from Andrade’s note.

“None of us has anything to do with any [presidential] campaign; we understand the law very, very well,” Rollins said. Pledging to try to “make sure that [the e-mail] gets stomped,” Rollins added, “We need to be very sensitive to the fact that people have speculated that this is part of the Giuliani campaign.”

The email included a link to the petition and asks signers to get 10 other people to sign it as well. A campaign confident in their ability to get the necessary signatures wouldn't rely on an email ask, and they certainly wouldn't come this close to violating election law.

This is not the first time that a link has been uncovered between the Giuliani campaign and the dirty tricks initiative. In fact, almost every connection we've seen has gone in this fashion. You'll remember that the first incarnation of the measure was derailed when a murky donation from a shell group in Missouri was eventually traced to Paul Singer, Giuliani's northeast finance director.

These are serious charges, and the Federal Election Commission needs to address them immediately. Steve Benen has more.

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Looming Recession Update: California Housing Edition

Statewide foreclosures in California hit the 24,000 mark in the third quarter of 2007 for the first time ever. In fact, it beat the previous record by 39%. Nationally, there are almost 18 million vacant homes, and the homeownership rate, often touted by the Bush Administration as proof of economic success, fell for the fourth straight quarter. What's really concerning are the foreclosures in upper-income areas:

In four Newport Beach-area ZIP Codes, for example, there were 11 foreclosures in the third quarter, up from just three in the same period last year. There were seven foreclosures in Bel-Air, and none a year ago.

"It's definitely increasing," said Joyce Essex, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent based in Beverly Hills who specializes in selling foreclosed homes.

Essex said most of her properties were in the San Fernando Valley and South Los Angeles, but about 10% of her listings are now in a more affluent part of town.

"It's working its way to the Westside. The Westside is always last to get hit," Essex said of the foreclosure wave, based on her experience in the 1990s downturn.

The mortgage crisis is finally catching up to those who live hand-to-mouth on a higher level. The millions who used home equity loans to finance their lifestyle, pulling money out of their properties over and over again, now have no ability to continue the scheme. And this is just the beginning. Millions of variable-rate mortgages will reset to a higher rate, in some cases doubling the payment, in the next 2 years. That will mean more foreclosures, a sapping of housing wealth, and a real impact on state finances:

More than $23.6 billion in California housing wealth will evaporate if real estate prices continue to decline and foreclosures on subprime home loans soar, according to a new congressional report that indicates the fallout from the national mortgage crisis is worsening.

In addition, over the next two years, the state will lose nearly $111 million in tax revenue from the forecast repossession of 191,000 homes and the spillover effect on neighboring property values, said the study, released Thursday by the Senate Joint Economic Committee.

"State by state, the economic costs from the subprime debacle are shockingly high," committee Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "From New York to California, we are headed for billions in lost wealth, property values and tax revenues."

And that's actually a very optimistic scenario, plus it focuses only on tax revenues and not residual effects. In a country where two-thirds of all economic activity is consumer spending, housing jitters will redound through the entire economy, with families cutting spending because they can no longer rely on their houses for retirement security. And this isn't temporary.

"It took Southern California 10 years to recover (from the last housing downturn), and it took the Bay Area six or seven years," said Cynthia Kroll, senior regional economist at the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at UC Berkeley. "That's a very realistic expectation."

This was all very predictable. Everyone knew that subprime mortgages were a risky asset on which to rest the entire economy. But it was easy money, particularly for those financial institutions making cash in mortgage-backed securities, so they allowed it.

There is pending legislation in the House Financial Services Committee that would help protect consumers against predatory lending, and other bills would allow Fannie Mae to buy a bunch of mortgages and give homeowners a chance to stay in their homes. Hopefully, the market has gotten so bad that legislation like this will have a chance to pass. Otherwise, California and the nation will have a very tough road ahead, impacting the ability to improve people's lives in education, health care, and practically everything government does.

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The Third-Party Question

Everybody's trying to read tea leaves, wondering if there would be an evangelical third-party run if the nominally pro-choice Rudy Giuliani were to take the Republican nomination. The latest signals are conflicting. Sam Brownback, whose support is so wide and deep that he just dropped out of the race in the middle of October, proclaimed himself much more confortable with Giuliani's views on abortion and particularly the appointing of "strict constructionist judges," which is code. The backlash from various sources suggests that Brownback's view is kind of unpopular, which is obvious, considering he's no longer in the race.

"There's obviously something more going on here than fidelity to the pro-life cause," said (Jim) Bopp, a legendary pro-life activist and lawyer who is an important voice for Romney because he vouches for his conservatism. "Brownback is angling for some personal political benefit by cozying up to Giuliani."


"I'll believe he supports Giuliani when I see it," FRC veep (Charmaine) Yoest says. "For the pro-life movement as a whole, life is a deal-breaker. There would be no better way to demoralize the GOP base than to nominate Giuliani. It would be a disaster for the Republicans party."

Whether this is all talk, or presumptive of action, is the $64,000 question. I think at this point, it's clear that there would be a third-party effort against Giuliani. The real question is whether or not it will be sanctioned by the larger groups of social conservatives, or whether it will be just from the fringe. The latter is manageable; the Constitution Party runs a wacko candidate every year who gets a handful of meaningless votes. The former would really close Republican hopes in 2008. I don't think anyone can be confident about which way things will go.

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Fire Update

While many of the fires are starting to be contained, or at least are blazing away from population centers, the real issue is the Santiago Fire, which is approaching the Silverado Canyon residential areas, forcing some to evacuate for the second time in a week.

Even as thousands of residents joyously returned to neighborhoods throughout the region, 100-foot-tall flames from the Santiago fire burned into the eastern end of Silverado Canyon [...]

"It's an extremely active fire in Silverado Canyon right now," Rich Phelps, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, said of the community, which was spared in several previous fires. "Things are pretty rough."

Exhausted and on edge, some of the evacuees who gathered in a nearby strip mall wept when authorities couldn't reassure them about whether they could stop the latest threat.

"It's sickening. We thought yesterday we had dodged the bullet. We heard the fire was 50% contained and away from Silverado Canyon," said Ray Verdugo, 55. "Now we're hearing that within the hour it could rip through here and take our homes."

Nine fires continued to burn Friday night, at the end of a weeklong siege that has included nearly three dozen separate blazes. The total acreage burned topped 500,000, only 12,000 acres more than had been reported a day earlier but more than double the size of all of New York City's five boroughs. The number of homes reported destroyed increased from 1,775 to 1,889. The death toll remained at seven.

This is the area we're going to have to watch today. And it's also the hometown of our friend and Congressional candidate Ron Shepston, who at last count was volunteering with firefighting efforts, in a amazing expression of leadership, battling to save the homes there. Best of luck to him, and let's hope he stays safe. Check in with us if you can.

Meanwhile, in Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino Counties, the problem is air quality. You might want to stay indoors today.

UPDATE: As much as people want to make their stereotypical comparisons between this and the Hurricane Katrina efforts, there were significant problems here. Bureaucratic red tape hampered firefighting efforts from the sky, and all of the evacuations were forced by a lack of equipment for battling the blazes. It's ignorant to even suggest a similarity; dead bodies in waterlogged streets is no comparison to an inviting Qualcomm Stadium parking lot.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Light A Candle

Paul Wellstone died five years ago this week when his plane went down during a tough election campaign in Minnesota. Wellstone was the greatest friend the American worker ever had in the US Senate; if you watch him in action, you're astonished that this guy managed to show up in the world's greatest deliberative body, compared to who we have there now. He was unlike any politician I've ever known, and I can only imagine the hero he would have been had he lasted beyond the beginning of the Internet age.

In fact, my friend Paul Hogarth ran the initial "Draft Wellstone for President" campaign online in 2000, and says he still hears from early adopters who connected through that site. The man was just an amazing grassroots organizer and represented something so dangerous to the conservative movement that they through everything they had at him in 2002 (and after he died, concocting that disgusting, bogus story about partisanship at his funeral). Had he survived to see Election Day, he would have beat them. And I'm convinced he could have been President someday.

Democrats in the Senate put together this amazing tribute video that gives just a glimpse of Wellstone's passion, his intelligence, his charisma, and his humanity. We miss him now as much as ever.

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I Confess...

I put the figurative noose around David Horowitz' head. I conjured it up metaphorically, and before I knew it, he had imaginarily hung himself. I throw myself upon the mercy of the fake court.

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Burma Update

While the ruling government in party continues to pay lip service to international demands by meeting with opposition leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi (and simultaneously rounding others up and keeping them under house arrest), Congress is trying to do something tangible that may put an end to the suffering of the Burmese people.

Lawmakers are advancing efforts to curtail energy giant Chevron's activities in Myanmar, which are said to provide significant financial support for the ruling military junta. The regime is responsible for recent violence against democracy activists.

Chevron is part of a multi-billion-dollar consortium that extracts and transports natural gas from the country, which has suffered weeks of violence by government troops against Buddhist monks, students and other pro-democracy activists, according to experts and human rights groups.

Much of the ruling junta's financial support comes from the royalties and other revenue paid by Chevron and the other members of the gas operation. The group paid more than $2 billion to the Myanmar government last year, according to the group Human Rights Watch.

U.S. sanctions largely prohibit investment in Myanmar by U.S. companies. Chevron's investment pre-dated the U.S. sanctions, and was grandfathered in by the ban. It is the only major U.S. company remaining in Myanmar.

That is absolutely shameful, and there should be activists in front of every Chevron station in America demanding that they get out of Burma and stop propping up a cruel dictatorship. I've been critical of Chevron for a long time, and their donation to my state party continues to rankle me. At the very least, organizations that have any affiliation from Chevron should be denouncing them on a daily basis.

The Congress is doing their part.

On Tuesday, the House Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill by its chairman, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., that would bar the firm from paying taxes to the government of Myanmar, or write off expenses relating to the project from its U.S. tax bill.

The legislation now moves to two other committees for approval, before it is voted on by the full House.

A similar Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is awaiting action in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That bill would make the earlier ban apply to Chevron's operation, and force the company to divest.

When the President made that big dog-and-pony announcement last week about new sanctions against Burma, none of them included sanctioning Chevron for doing business in the country. In case you weren't aware where his loyalties lay.

But he's out on an island when it comes to a Congressional bill. He can't have talked up democracy promotion and condemned Burma for this long only to veto a bill aimed at furthering precisely those goals. Or can he? It'd be the "freedom agenda" vs. the Supertanker Condoleezza Rice.

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A Man And His Moment

It must be noted that Chris Dodd in polling at under 1% in California and many other states, so viability is obviously an issue, but I think people have to take notice at a speech like this, if they ever manage to find it (certainly not on their local or even national news; they only show Congressional speeches when someone makes a "gaffe.").

Mr. President, for six years, this President has demonstrated time and time again that he doesn’t respect the role of Congress nor does he respect the rule of law.

Every six years as United States Senators we take the oath office to uphold the Constitution. Our colleagues on the House side take that oath every two years. That is important.

For six years this President has used scare tactics to prevent the Congress from reining in his abuse of authority. A case and point is the current direction this body appears to be headed as we prepare to reform and extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [...]

Each of these policies share two things in common.

First, they have weakened our ability to prosecute the global war on terrorism – if for no other reason than they have made it harder, if not impossible, to build the international support and cooperation we need to fight it.

And second, each has only been possible because Congress has not been able to stop this President’s unprecedented expansion of executive power, although some in this body have tried.

Whether or not these policies were explicitly authorized is beside the point. In every instance, Congress has been unable to hold this Administration to account for violating the rule of law and our Constitution. In each instance, Republicans in the Congress have prevented this body from telling this Administration that “a state of war is not a blank check.”

And those aren’t my words, Mr. President – those are the words of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who was nominated by Ronald Reagan.

And today, it appears that we are prepared to consider the proposed renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – a law that in whatever form it eventually takes will almost certainly permit the Bush Administration to broadly eavesdrop on American citizens.

Legislation, as currently drafted, that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that helped this Administration violate the civil liberties of Americans and the law of this country.

Mr. President while it may be true that the proposed legislation is an improvement on existing law, it remains fundamentally flawed because it fails to protect the privacy rights of Americans or hold the Executive or the private sector accountable if they choose to ignore the law.

That is why I will not stand on the floor of the United States Senate and be silent about the direction we are headed.

It is time to say “no more.”

No more trampling our Constitution.

No more excusing those who violate the rule of law.

These are our principles.

They have been around at least since the Magna Carta.

They are enduring.

What they are not is temporary. And what we do not do in a time where our country is at risk is abandon them.

It's a great speech and it really needs to be heard by every American, many of whom have a vague sense of this, but have not seen anyone in the Congress standing up for them and expressing their beliefs. Dodd is really rising to the importance of the moment, and I would hope that everyone marching in protests tomorrow, or grumbling around water coolers, or just disassociating from politics altogether can take the time to seek this out and recognize that there is a champion fighting for our interests in the Senate, and he needs your support.

It really just takes one man to say these things for the whole hollow shell of this Administration to come undone. But it has to be amplified. There's this great article in The Nation about the power of the right-wing email chains. These emails with baseless lies about Democrats get forwarded around to millions of fellow travelers, and there's no accountability on them, nor any idea where they even came from. There are a few similar kinds of email forwards on the left, but not nearly with the same reach. Let's send around Chris Dodd's speech. It has the benefit of being true.

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How's That Cruz Bustamante Pick Look Right About Now?

The greatest concern in the post-wildfire landscape of California is the insurance situation. Obviously there are going to be thousands of claims, and how the insurance companies handle them will deserve great scrutiny. John Garamendi, the former Insurance Commissioner and current Lieutenant Governor who has been all over the media this week (building a profile for an attempted 2010 Governor's run - hint hint), has talked a lot about the insurance industry's desire to limit payouts to their customers after the 2003 Cedar Fire.

LT. GOV. GARAMENDI: The first commandment of the insurance industry is, "Thou shalt pay as little, as late, as possible." And then you get the reward. You go to financial heaven if you can carry out that commandment.

BRANCACCIO: California lieutenant governor John Garamendi, a democrat, served twice as the state's insurance commissioner. A total of eight years battling with the industry over the many ways he says it tries to avoid high payouts where there's been a total loss.

LT. GOV. GARAMENDI: I'm telling you, the insurance industry, prior to the fire and probably even to this day, is purposely misleading their customers.

Garamendi was actually pretty relentless in forcing insurers to honor their commitments. Now we have a Republican in the Insurance Commissioner's position. While Sara Nichols wants Steve Poizner to honor his supposed environmental credentials, I'm worried that he will let too many insurers off the hook. Plus, with fires wrecking the landscape around homes and making them more vulnerable to mudslides, the ability of those homeowners to get insurance for those potential disasters is a major concern.

All of this is mad possible by the revolving-door manner in which top Democrats have shuffled statewide positions in recent years, leaving us with maybe the worst Democratic candidate possible for Insurance Commissioner in 2006, Cruz Bustamante. He was crushed, not only because Poizner outspent him, but because he was a horrible, ethically compromised candidate. But Insurance Commissioner was available to him, so that's were he went. This musical chairs in these top seats ends up having a major impact in times like this.

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I Did Not See This One Coming

Fred Thompson has almost sane views on executive power:

Thompson agreed that he didn't share the views of Vice President Cheney when it comes to the supremacy of the executive branch.

"No, I think the constitution in times of war, especially, is very definitive about that," he said. "The president is the commander in chief, but the Congress has the power of the budget. The power of the purse. So everything has to go through that prism. So it’s divided power in the constitution. Our founding fathers divided that up. Divided it up at the federal level, the idea being that things like Watergate should be made very difficult to happen. So no one branch of the government can misuse power."

Thompson described checks and balances as "a constant tug and pull. Controversy and differences of opinion over legitimate national security concerns is not a bad thing. Every branch needs to stand up for itself. And I saw that as, in effect, an attorney for the executive branch, and then as a legislator."

Now, there's less than meets the eye here. Later in the interview, he says he agrees with the Bush Administration on "issues of surveillance," which after all was what Watergate was about. Plus, he tries hard to frame Congress' power as solely through the funding mechanism, while saying vaguely that "All the executive authority rests in the president." In Thompson's view, if the Congress disagrees with something the executive does, they can refuse to fund it. Of course, this isn't Congress' only power, they write the laws and have the explicit power to declare war. But Thompson tries to elide that basic Constitutional reading.

What this does show is that, even in the case of a so-called "skeptic" of unitary executive theory, the next President is going to have a big toolbox of new powers and isn't going to be too concerned about giving them away. That holds whether the President is a Republican or a Democrat. And so it's up to the Congress to assert themselves - in ways other than just through funding - to ensure that the balance of power is tilted back toward equilibrium.

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McCain Copyright Infringement Update

After getting a cease and desist letter from Fox News to stop running an ad using footage from their debate, John McCain's team has recut the ad. Nothing will stop McCain in his battle to root out and expose dirty fucking hippies!

Vote McCain - take a stand against tie dye!

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How Would This Stop War With Iran?

Wouldn't the Bushies LOVE to see oil over $90 a barrel?

A U.S. military strike against Iran would have dire consequences in petroleum markets, say a variety of oil industry experts, many of whom think the prospect of pandemonium in those markets makes U.S. military action unlikely despite escalating economic sanctions imposed by the Bush administration.

The small amount of excess oil production capacity worldwide would provide an insufficient cushion if armed conflict disrupted supplies, oil experts say, and petroleum prices would skyrocket. Moreover, a wounded or angry Iran could easily retaliate against oil facilities from southern Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz.

Oil prices closed at a record $90.46 a barrel in New York yesterday as the Bush administration tightened U.S. financial sanctions on Iran over its alleged support for terrorism and issued new warnings about Tehran's nuclear program. Tension between Turkey and Kurds in northern Iraq, and fresh doubts about OPEC output levels also helped drive the price of oil up $3.36 a barrel, or 3.8 percent.

This would be terrible for everyone except the people who sell the oil. QED.

UPDATE: This is a ridiculous piece by the WaPo editorial board. It looks at yesterday's harsh sanctions through the Orwellian "when we're talking about war, we're really talking about peace" prism. How many times to you have to be suckered by this Administration before you wake up? Man, the WaPo is not covering itself in glory today.

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Friday Random Ten

I just want to say that I expected a camera with this iPod Touch, but didn't get it, and everyone needs to wire up every stretch of this country with WiFi to make this purchase worthwhile.

OK, now to the music...

Sol (Batucada) - Kinky
Dirty Knife - Neko Case
The Jessica Numbers - The New Pornographers
Smooth Folk Singer - Momus
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps - Cake
Make-up - Elefant
Foxey Lady - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Politik - Coldplay (OK, that's embarrassing. But Politik is a pretty good song)
Super Sex - Morphine
On A Plain - Nirvana

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The Most Trusted Name In Fake News

This is really unbelievable.

FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing [...]

Johnson stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before saying he would take a few questions. The first questions were about the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.

He was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case, he appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked an oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by the president. He once again explained smoothly [...]

Very smooth, very professional. But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.

Asked about this, Widomski said: "We had been getting mobbed with phone calls from reporters, and this was thrown together at the last minute."

It's hard to even snarkily comment on this. We know that most press conferences like this are jokes, but this one was an actual joke - a new low in propaganda, literally a Potemkin press conference. And we're the ones that laughed at Baghdad Bob.

I just don't have a lot to say. Is it worse that they did this, or that the cable nets RAN it, when they had to know that there weren't any actual reporters there.

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Raise Your Hand If You Haven't Been Subpoenad In The John Doolittle Case

Today's selection: The chief administrative officer of the House.

The top administrative officer in the House has been subpoenaed for e-mails related to the ongoing criminal investigation of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), according to a notification read on the House floor Thursday.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued the subpoena to Daniel P. Beard, the chief administrative officer of the House, whose office oversees electronic communications for members of Congress and their staff.

"The subpoena was issued in connection with the Justice Department investigation of Congressman Doolittle and seeks material from e-mail backup tapes maintained by the CAO," according to a notification of the subpoena.

It's almost a game now; will there be more people subpeonad than will vote for him in the Republican primary?

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Where'd This Come From

I'll believe it when I see it, but the Senate is certainly talking like they're going to reject Michael Mukasey until they get the right answer on torture.

Judge Michael Mukasey's nomination for attorney general ran into trouble Thursday when two top Senate Democrats said their votes hinge on whether he will say on the record that an interrogation technique that simulates drowning is torture.

"It's fair to say my vote would depend on him answering that question," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told reporters late Thursday.

"This to me is the seminal issue," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, another member of Leahy's panel. Asked if his vote depends on whether Mukasey equates waterboarding with torture, Durbin answered, "It does."

Leahy has refused to set a date for a vote on Mukasey's nomination until he clarifies his answer to that question.

Of course, a normal Administration would set Mukasey aside and put forth a compromise candidate, but whoever the White House dug up post-Mukasey would probably be worse.

But remember, the McCain torture amendment passed the Senate 90-9. There's a fair bit of consensus on the issue, outside of the Bush Administration and the nutjobs running for President. And Mukasey's answers about a President's right to virtually unchecked executive power ought not to inspire confidence in members of the legislative branch. Indeed, Republicans like Arlen Specter are making noises about voting no, although you can set your watch in Washington by the number of times he "expressed deep concern" and then votes the wrong way anyway.

If Democrats want to make torture a defining issue, I couldn't argue with it. Digby has a fabulous post on the subject the other day, saying that the failure of leadership at the top of the Republican Party has led to a dangerous backsliding on the question throughout the country, and some leadership in the other direction would be welcome.

If you believe that anything the US does is by definition "good" then you might agree that whether or not this act is torture "depends on who's doing it", I suppose. But the technique is exactly the same down through the ages, so there is no way that it depends on "how it's done."

The administration and the Republicans running for president refuse to admit that this practice is immoral and illegal. So does the president's nominee for Attorney General, a man who is currently a judge and someone that anyone could point to as being among the most elite, establishment legal thinkers. You can't really blame all those "Law and Order" fans for publicly going ballistic that their show would even tepidly imply as it did that such practices may be wrong. Their leaders certainly don't seem to think so. Whatever taboo there once was has been completely removed.

Unless the Democrats force Americans to come to terms with their own shame. I refuse to believe that we're too far gone to stuff this right back in the hellish box from whence it came. It just involves people standing up and saying, strongly and clearly, NO. This is not the country I believe in. This is not where I was born. This is not part of me.

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Drumbeat To Iran Update

The series of events on Iran in the last week are deeply troubling. Today the Bush Administration levied new sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force, accusing them of "proliferating weapons of mass destruction." As the Times article says, "this is the first time that the United States has taken such steps against the armed forces of any sovereign government." Combine this with Vice President Fourthbranch's speech warning of "serious consequences" should Iran pursue a nuclear program, and you can see the phrases being recycled from fall 2002. And then, the supplemental war spending bill includes a major line item for massive bunker buster bombs, the type of which would be used to get at underground nuclear facilities in Iran.

What's worrisome here is not only the horrible mistake it would be to bomb Iran, but that it is a classic distraction scenario , keeping people's minds off of the occupation of Iraq. Whether this threat is followed through or not, the Iraq adventure gets far less scrutiny. And indeed, Republicans view the Iran saber-rattling as good for their election chances.

The whole idea of the attack makes more sense as an attempt to revive the political dynamics that worked so well for the Republicans in 2002 and 2004, when they turned public anxiety about Islamist terrorism to their advantage, while dividing the Democrats and throwing them on the defensive and off their own issues. An attack on Iran could do the same.

We can already see how the politics might play out. On Sept. 26, the Senate adopted a resolution presented by Joseph Lieberman and Jon Kyl declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization. The vote was 76-22, with Democrats splitting almost exactly down the middle (Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid were among the supporters). The resolution passed only because its sponsors took out two paragraphs approving a military response, but Democrats split over the suspicion that the resolution might be used to justify one.

(As a side note, we are already seeing Democrats snipe amongst themselves on this and even starting new organizations as a result, while the Republicans are united in demonizing Iran and playing the fear card for electoral advantage. There's no doubt they think this helps them, although I'm not certain that we're in the same political environment as in 2002 or 2004.)

I think it's far more instructive to take a look at what's happening inside Iran to see if this aggressive strategy is working. Late last week Ali Larijani, the top nuclear negotiator, resigned. Commentators in the United States believed this to be evidence that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was taking over the nuclear negotiations and installing his man in the post. But others see it differently:

As ever, the Tehran political scientist Kaveh L. Afrasiabi offered an intriguing explanation in Asia Times — one that reads the political significance of the change quite differently. He suggests that the move obviously reveals a state of open political warfare between the president and Larijani, but that Larijani continues to enjoy the confidence of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In fact, when nuclear talks with EU chief Javier Solana resume on Tuesday with Jalili in Larijani’s old role, Larijani will still be present, according to Iranian officials, “as the representative of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution.”

If so, then far from throwing his weight behind Ahmadinejad, the Supreme Leader may instead be empowering the opponents of the president who are making clear that they can’t work under him. Ahmadinejad was reportedly enraged that President Vladimir Putin presented Russia’s new offer not only to the president, but also went over his head and presented it directly to Supreme Leader Khamenei. (Ahmadinejad has since denied that an offer was made, which seems a little ridiculous since not only Larijani, but the Supreme Leader himself had acknowledged that Russia had indeed made a proposal which Iran would study and respond to.)

Afrasiabi sees the developments as signaling a widening split over handling the nuclear issue: “Various commentators, especially in Europe and the United States, have been quick in interpreting Larijani’s resignation as a ‘bad omen’ reflecting a triumph for hardliners led by Ahmadinejad,” he writes. “But that is simplistic and ignores a more complex reality in the Iran’s state affairs. The quest for greater centralization of nuclear decision-making has met a contradictory response in, on the one hand, the move for more direct input by Khamenei, and, on the other hand, a parallel effort by Ahmadinejad to gain greater control of decision-making.”

Indeed, Larijani did attend the most recent negotiation with the UN, and while Ahmadinejad attempted to negotiate through the media and say that "Iran will not retreat one iota," 180 MPs in Iran signed a letter praising Larijani and denouncing Ahmadinejad's handpicked successor. There is a lot of uneasiness in Tehran over an impending attack, and this is clearly not provoking regime change, but insulating and hardening the Supreme Leader and his inner circle, as they crack down on dissent and centralize the decision-making process, probably elbowing out Ahmadinejad instead of allowing him to set policy. The mullahs control Iran, and this saber-rattling is only making them tighten their grip.

Never mind the fact that the "threat" posed by Iran is beyond minimal, even to Israel:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel, Haaretz magazine reveals in an article on Livni to be published Friday.

Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears. Last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said similar things about Iran.

The Bushies must be on another planet if they think the public is going to swallow this nonsense that Iran is a growing and gathering threat that must be bombed without delay or the Revolutionary Guard is going to take over the country and force our women into hijabs. But what's the most depressing is the knowledge that these madmen might be able to get away with it.

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Hey Barack, Where's The Leadership?

I haven't been paying too much attention to this Barack Obama/Donnie McClurkin flare-up, but from what I know Obama is just digging his own grave. McClurkin, a black preacher who is viciously anti-gay, is part of a gospel concert organized by the Obama folks in South Carolina (I guess with little vetting). Outrage began on the blogs and then the Human Rights Campaign condemned his campaign. Obama's people were reluctant to drop McClurkin from the event, tried to build grassroots support to shut the HRC up, and finally decided to have an openly gay minister open the gospel sessions. Thing is, the minister is white, which is making many unhappy.

This move is sure to piss off almost everybody, except HRC [the Human Rights Campaign], who apparently brokered the deal. Obama won't win any new black votes by getting a white gay guy to speak at a black event. Especially when there are plenty of black straight people, black gay people, families of black gay people, and friends of black gay people who could have been chosen to speak.

I have been following the reaction in the black gay community, and many but not all of the commenters are outraged by the decision. It was bad enough that McClurkin was invited in the first place, but it only adds insult to injury to ignore the longstanding concerns of the black gay community by not talking to people in the black gay community themselves. And if someone had to be invited, why not invite someone in the black gay community? Or why not invite a black mother of a gay or lesbian child? Or a local black pastor who supports the full inclusion of gays and lesbians?

The worst of it was this letter explaining his position, written by supporters.

Pastor McClurkin believes and has stated things about sexual orientation that are deeply hurtful and offensive to many Americans, most especially to gay Americans. This cannot and should not be denied.

At the same time, a great many African Americans share Pastor McClurkin's beliefs. This also cannot be ignored.

I see, the new purpose of a leader is to acknowledge injustice and allow it to fester instead of fighting it.

This is indicative of the entire Obama campaign. He has a good speechwriter, but he is hardly a leader. Martin Luther King wouldn't have said "Hey, you can't ignore that black people hate gay people, that's just how things are." He would have worked to change it, not through accomodation.

Those of us who don't want to re-run the 90s for various reasons by keeping the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynasty intact need to find a way to merge Obama's campaign dollars, Edwards' rhetoric, Richardson's view on residual forces and Dodd's courage into some uber-candidate as we head into Iowa. But really, all Obama is good for right now is his cash. This is just deplorable.

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As I Was Saying About Ron Paul

I've been banging the drum for Ron Paul in New Hampshire for a couple months, saying that he's perfectly matched for the state and could really shake up the Republican race there. This latest poll shows that he has some momentum:

10/15-10/21, 498 Reps, 4.5 MoE, no trendlines
Romney: 32.4
Giuliani: 21.8
McCain: 15.2
Paul: 7.4
No information on other results

Paul's in front of Huckabee and Thompson without spending very much money or doing very much campaigning. I remain convinced that he could double this number in New Hampshire, which would have huge implications for the rest of the race.

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Fun With Copyright Laws

OK, this one is hilarious.

So John McCain's writers came up with a decent line for last week's Republican debate, basically calling Hillary Clinton a dirty hippie, and the crowd ate it up. Deciding to press their luck, McCain turned the debate clip into a TV ad, using 19 seconds of footage from the debate (and a really bad 60s knock-off music cue).

One thing though. Fox News would like a word...

Fox News Channel confirms that it has ordered the campaign of Senator John McCain to cancel its new ad featuring a clip of him at last Sunday’s debate, which was sponsored by Fox News. The news network prohibits candidates from using debate clips in their political advertisements [...]

...the spot prominently features the Fox News logo in the corner of the screen. Of course, campaigns use debate clips from time to time to the anger of the networks, and they do not tend to mind the extra publicity these clips bring to their ads. But Fox News officials say they are taking this matter seriously.

Based on what I know about these matters (and I've dealt with a fair bit of this), Fox probably has a case that McCain can't use their logos and footage in a commercial spot promoting his campaign. Their lawyers certainly think so. Normally, the networks don't mind the free publicity. But most networks aren't run by Rudy Giuliani's former media consultant.

It's entirely possible, of course, that Fox News tried to call the campaign HQ to tell them not to run the ad, but McCain didn't have the cash to keep the phones running. And he'll probably need to pass the hat for the $500 needed to pay an editor to blur out the logos.

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Guess Who's Back... Back Again

The House just took another stab at S-CHIP legislation, and passed it out with 265 votes. The veto override got 273, so that sounds like a step backwards. I don't think so. Ten Democrats didn't vote, and all of them can be expected to vote yes. 43 Republicans voted with the Democrats, which is I think one more than before. The point is the cosmetic changes to the bill did little to get Republicans on board. But they had to vote against kids' health care, again, and take a stand on an issue where Democrats are favored by a 2:1 margin.

Democratic ideas for fixing the healthcare system to cover the uninsured enjoy more support among Americans than proposals coming from Republicans, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows [...]

Two of the main proposals advanced by Democrats received majority support in the poll.

Sixty-two percent said they supported requiring large employers to help pay for coverage whereas 31% opposed it. And 51% said they favored a mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, much as drivers are required to carry auto coverage; 39% disagreed.

Tax breaks to make insurance more affordable -- a leading Republican idea -- more closely divided the public, with 44% backing that approach and 45% opposing it.

In one of the most politically significant results, the poll finds that independents and moderates were generally lining up with Democrats in the healthcare debate.

A lot of California Republicans didn't vote today, as many were back home in their districts surveying fire damage. If they bothered to talk to anyone in the state, they would know that the Healthy Families program (as S-CHIP is known in California) is about to go broke and requires "emergency measures" to stay afloat. On November 17, the money will dry up, and the options are severely limited. As many as 830,000 kids could become disenrolled if the program is forced to shut down.

That's what's really at stake in this debate. It's a political issue, but a personal one as well. More often than not, the political IS personal. What our representatives decide has a major impact on how we live. They need to do right by children.

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WH Offers Surveillance Docs To Senate Judiciary

This is both good news and bad news. The White House earlier demanded that no Congressional committee would see any relevant documents about warrantless surveillance until they agreed to grant immunity to the telecoms. Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter refused to mark up the bill without seeing the documents, and would not agree to the automatic immunity grant as a reward for seeing them. The White House backed down, and will provide the documents - but only to Leahy and Specter.

The White House has offered leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee access to legal documents related to the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program, senators said Thursday.

But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said while the White House had offered the documents to both him and the panel’s ranking Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, he was pushing for the entire committee to receive access to the documents. But he also said he would take advantage of the offer and review the documents.

Now, this is good news because the White House is on the defensive, and offering things beyond their initial demands - which the Congress could do all the time on any issue if they just held firm. In a few days, if Leahy rejects passing out the bill from committee without all of the members seeing the documents, the White House will back down.

This is bad news because the Intelligence Committee had the chance to review the documents and they still kept telecom immunity in the bill. They in part honored the deal in exchange for the documents, but few of them articulated actual problems with the program once they saw the documents, with the notable exception of Russ Feingold. The other problem is that everyone who you would worry about caving on this bill has connected telecom immunity to the lack of knowledge of the program. Steny Hoyer made a nice speech yesterday on the importance of restoring Constitutional government, wherein he said that the Congress would not give immunity to the telecoms without knowing what they did. In other words, you can reasonably assume that once he gets to know what they did, he may be fine with allowing them to have broken the law. Specter has framed the issue in this way as well.

So this slight concession by the White House means that this is happening faster than we imagined. That's Harry Reid's takeaway:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the White House’s offer a “breakthrough.

“We’re going to get something done, and we need to do it before the end of this year,” Reid said.

Reid is making this all about "getting something done," rather than the relative merits of the bill. That's extremely worrisome.

All of this means that the urgency to contact everyone on the Judiciary Committee and tell them there must not be telecom immunity in the bill just got greater. Of course, there are members of the Intelligence Committee who are also on the Judiciary Committee, and we already know how they voted over there. Dianne Feinstein and Sheldon Whitehouse, I'm looking in your direction. Meaning that honoring the hold is just as important.

UPDATE: Chris Dodd's campaign has a citizen-generated whip count of members of the Judiciary Committee.

UPDATE II: Let it be known that the SJC has been asking for these docs for almost two years, with absolutely no success. Now, when tied to a bill that the WH really really wants, they relent partially, and what Leahy should learn is that they'll relent even more if he remains adamant about not reporting out the bill. This shows that the WH is desperate to move this thing forward with immunity. Now, whether that's just to protect some telecom buddies or that they've done something unspeakbly bad that we don't even know about yet, is the question.

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I Think "Fires" And "Warming" Correlate

You can talk all you want about the terrible California wildfires not being the cause of global warming, but saying instead that the conditions that allowed the fires to sustain themselves and grow have an antecedent in the changing climate is a distinction without a difference. We just went through a series of major fires in Greece a couple months ago. Their Mediterrenean climate and the California climate, particularly in the mountains and the foothills where the fire is raging, are largely the same. In both cases, the desert conditions on the outer edge are moving up into these more habitable areas, creating the optimal conditions for the fires to spread.

And we're going to see a lot more of this in the coming years.

PARIS, Oct. 25 — The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage to the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report being issued today by the United Nations.

Climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the threats putting humanity at risk, according to the United Nations Environment Program in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.

“The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns,” Achim Steiner, the executive director of the Environment Program, said in a telephone interview. Efficient use of resources and reducing waste now are “among the greatest challenges at the beginning in of 21st century,” he said.

Through innovation and proper sustainability we can combat this growing concern on all fronts. What we need are the political guts from all countries on the globe to enact what needs to be enacted. This week the head of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, was muzzled in testimony to the Senate Environmental Committee, with the White House heavily editing her comments about climate change and public health. We have a White House that, when it isn't asleep at the switch about the environment, is actively seeking to stop any prospects for combating the environmental challenges we face.

Let me mention one good thing this government has done: they levied the largest fine in the history of the Clean Air Act against British Petroleum for manipulating prices and a refinery explosion. But this was a plea bargain, and if the money collected doesn't go into research and development for sustainable resources, the effect is negligible. There is no doubt that the climate crisis is real, and requires specific steps to solve it. We need leadership willing to do the job.

UPDATE: This is not leadership:

Rancho Bernardo residents began their journey back home with a surprise today.

They were stuck in traffic for two to three hours sitting in their cars at a standstill because of President Bush's visit to their community.

Police and the CHP had blocked off Interstate 15 ramps to West Bernardo Drive, which leads to the recovery center that was opened yesterday. Cars lined up for miles on the freeway.

"I'm glad he's coming but it's unfortunate to keep us all waiting," said Joy Fleming, who lives in North Oaks.

Fed up with waiting, Barbara Gandre said she needed to drive her 87-year-old mother home to pick up medication for her 89-year-old husband.

Her mother just recovered from pneumonia in September and the family did not have masks to wear over their faces. They sat in their car with the windows rolled down because they only had a quarter tank of gas left.

"I cannot run the air conditioning or I'll run out of gas," Gandre said. "I am sick of this," she said.

If I never see another photo-op again, I don't think I'd miss them.

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Authoritarian Narcissist

I don't think that Giuliani's sudden love for the Red Sox controversy is going to go away; he probably just lost New York and maybe New Jersey if he makes the general election, and New Hampshire Red Sox fans really don't want some Yankee fan's support.

But that's about the least important piece of news on Rudy there is. What people are slowly coming to understand is that he's surrounded himself with the most crazed bunch of lunatics he could possibly find to set his Middle East policy.

Mr. Giuliani’s team includes Norman Podhoretz, a prominent neoconservative who advocates bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible”; Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, who has called for profiling Muslims at airports and scrutinizing American Muslims in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps; and Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has written in favor of revoking the United States’ ban on assassination.

The campaign says that the foreign policy team, which also includes scholars and experts with different policy approaches, is meant to give Mr. Giuliani a variety of perspectives.

Yes, all the way from "Bomb Iran" to "BOOOOOOMMMMMBBBBB Iran!"

We're finally starting to see some real scrutiny of the rogue's gallery with whom Giuliani has associated. Norman Podhoretz prays for an attack on Iran daily, and while the advisors aren't running for President, there appears to be little difference between Rudy's views and theirs. (Not to mention that Rudy has the heroin kingpin vote all locked up, and they openly talk about how he made deals with "guys like me.")

And we know how this will play out: imperial adventures, more massive military projection throughout the world, unilateralism, more contempt for allies, and more moral relativism on fundamental principles of civilized societies, allowing for the worst kinds of abuses as long as he maintains power.

“I wanted to ask you two questions,’’ she said. “One, do you think waterboarding is torture? And two, do you think the president can order something like waterboarding even though it’s against U.S. and international law?’’

Mr. Giuliani responded: “Okay. First of all, I don’t believe the attorney general designate in any way was unclear on torture. I think Democrats said that; I don’t think he was.’’

Ms. Gustitus said: “He said he didn’t know if waterboarding is torture.”

Mr. Giuliani said: “Well, I’m not sure it is either. I’m not sure it is either. It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it. I think the way it’s been defined in the media, it shouldn’t be done. The way in which they have described it, particularly in the liberal media. So I would say, if that’s the description of it, then I can agree, that it shouldn’t be done. But I have to see what the real description of it is. Because I’ve learned something being in public life as long as I have. And I hate to shock anybody with this, but the newspapers don’t always describe it accurately.”

That's just transparently false. The technique of waterboarding as used by the Khmer Rouge and other totalitarian societies is extremely clear. You can talk about "fine lines" and determining what "aggressive questioning" is and joke about how sleep deprivation doesn't fall into a banned category, but it's all fully untrue. There are very specific statutes regarding torture, human rights courts around the world have included both torture and abnormal sleep deprivation, and Giuliani is simply trying to change the definition.

Rudy Giuliani is an authoritarian narcissist, the worst combination of Bush/Cheney contempt for dissent or any countervailing power, combined with absolutely no conscience that would check himself personally. He would be, as many have put it, George Bush on steroids.

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Defending The Constitution Is In The Job Description

Steny Hoyer made a nice speech yesterday on the importance of restoring Constitutional government. I don't think there's as much civic engagement and understanding of our system of government as there should be in the country. But even the least engaged American can understand the point of Federalist #47.

As our fourth President James Madison, wrote in Federalist Paper Number 47 more than 200 years ago: ’The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’

Now, the Republicans can yell and scream about how the President just has to have massive unchecked power or the terrorists will kill us in our beds, and they can lie their fool heads off about the purpose of that massive unchecked power, but the basic concept that one man, particularly a deeply unpopular man, should have a bunch of massive unchecked power, is a concept that most Americans reject. All the Democrats have to do is whittle the argument down to that. And then you won't have any real resistance to disallowing AT&T and Verizon to get away with breaking the law.

The liberal blogosphere is engaged in an effort to force Harry Reid to honor Chris Dodd's hold on the FISA unless the provision granting retroactive immunity is stripped out. Sign the petition here. For once, the Democrats have to transfer their strength on domestic issues to issues of protecting and defending the Constitution.

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Fred: "I Have Staffers?"

The departure of more staffers hasn't got Fred Thompson down one bit. In fact, from the looks of this article, he didn't know they were on staff in the first place.

Republican Fred Thompson played down a staff member's departure and a New Hampshire supporter's defection Wednesday, saying it's not up to him to know what's going on at every level of his presidential campaign.

"This is a campaign with a lot of different moving parts and a lot of things going on simultaneously," Thompson said in an interview with The Associated Press [...]

"You know, the campaign can address that. I can't really address who's doing — and who was doing — exactly what at every level of this campaign," Thompson said after speaking to about 300 people at a restaurant in South Carolina. "They're the ones who know what's going on on a daily basis. ... I'll let the experts speak on that."

The CAMPAIGN can address that? Aren't you the campaign? Aren't you supposed to know what's going on, at least a little bit? Shouldn't you be the expert?

Meanwhile, Thompson managed to round up enough experts to write his first policy statement yesterday. Guess what, it's about those damn illegals. Reports have it that Fred doesn't know how many illegal immigrants are in the country and it's not his job to know and anyway he didn't write the policy so leave him alone while he eats yogurt.

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Just Makes Me Sad

I agree that it really is sad that we have to create an American anti-torture act to police American interrogators and ensure that they stop torturing. The world of early 2001 would literally not be able to conceive of the need for such a law.

We urge you to join us in cosponsoring “The American Anti-Torture Act of 2007” to ensure a uniform, minimum standard for interrogations of detainees by the U.S. government. The American Anti-Torture Act ensures that individuals in U.S. custody are not tortured, a core standard already embodied in the Army Field Manual. In doing so, it reasserts basic American values as a basis for government action.

Congress took an essential step toward prohibiting torture by American personnel with the adoption of the McCain Amendment, the first part of which requires the Department of Defense to adhere to the Army Field Manual when interrogating detainees[1]. The Amendment had overwhelming bipartisan support. It was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress, winning the votes of 46 Republicans and 44 Democrats in the Senate and 107 Republicans and 200 Democrats in the House. The American Anti-Torture Act simply extends this first part of the McCain Amendment to all U.S. agencies.

The American Anti-Torture Act would thus ensure a single, uniform, baseline standard for all interrogations conducted on persons in the custody of, or under the effective control of, the U.S. Government. The bill would clarify that interrogation techniques that are prohibited for use by the military’s own field manual on interrogations are similarly prohibited if used by the CIA or other government agencies. Like the McCain Amendment, the bill would not apply to individuals in custody under a criminal or immigration law of the United States.

This is obviously in response to the revelations that the 2004 McCain Amendment was essentially nullified by both signing statement and legal opinion inside the Office of Legal Counsel.

It still blows my mind that this needs to be said. Torture doesn't work. It creates false confessions and other dubious intelligence, puts our own troops at risk, becomes a recruiting point for Al Qaeda, and eliminates our moral authority around the world.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shit And Fan Coming Together At The State Department

We've had our first post-Blackwater resignation, from the top security chief.

The State Department's security chief announced his resignation on Wednesday in the wake of last month's deadly Blackwater USA shooting incident in Baghdad and growing questions about the use of private contractors in Iraq.

Richard Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, announced his decision to resign at a weekly staff meeting, according to an internal informational e-mail sent to colleagues.

It's obviously going to get much worse for the State Department, as Iraq has formally removed the cloak of immunity protecting private military contractors from prosecution for their actions. This was a holdover from the Coalition Provisional Authority days, and now it's no longer operative. As a result, the contractors could leave whether or not State wants them to stay.

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association -- otherwise known as the private-security lobby -- took a cautious approach, saying he wanted to reserve judgment until the State Department and the Pentagon made its views known. But he pointed out that most contractors -- not just security contractors, but contractors involved in reconstruction, as well -- hire Iraqis to do significant amounts of grunt work, which westerners supervise. "If you say anyone not Iraqi is now under Iraqi law -- such as it is -- you'll lose a lot of oversight and management capabilities," Brooks says. That's because he expects his member organizations on the ground in Iraq to either shed their American staff or experience difficulty recruiting Americans to go to Iraq in the future. "It would be enormously risky to stay. Individual contractors would have to take a hard look" at remaining in Iraq.

The State Department has claimed that there's no alternative to using private military contractors to guard diplomats. Not only is that a crock of shit, it's about to be tested. Because Blackwater isn't going to expose themselves to prosecution.

Meanwhile, Blackwater is reduced to sending out emails to supporters begging them to astroturf the Congress:

The Blackwater family is comprised of dedicated and active service providers that work vigorously to support the American nation. In this tumultuous political climate, Blackwater Worldwide has taken center stage, our services and ethics aggressively challenged with misinformation and fabrications. Letters, e-mails and calls to your elected Congressional representatives can and will create a positive impact by influencing the manner in which they gather and present information.

While we can’t ask that each supporter do everything, Blackwater asks that everyone does something. Contact your lawmakers and tell them to stand by the truth. Correspondence should be polite and professional. We don’t support generating negative messages. Tell the Blackwater story and encourage your representatives to seek the truth instead of reading negative propaganda and drawing the wrong conclusions.

Suggested themes:
- Cost efficiency of Blackwater – saving the US taxpayer millions of dollars so that the US Government doesn’t have to take troops from their missions or send more into harms way
- Professional population of service veterans and mature law enforcement personnel
- Sacrifice in lives lost by Blackwater saving US diplomats without one single protectee harmed

Sad and hilarious.

UPDATE: Condi Rice does not recall.

Rice did not apologize in the hearing and avoided directly answering a question from Massachusetts Democrat Rep. William Delahunt who asked if she knew (Maher) Arar was tortured in Syria.

"You are aware of the fact that he was tortured?" Delahunt asked.

"I am aware of claims that were made," she responded.

But when asked if the United States had received any diplomatic assurances from Syria that Arar would not be tortured, Rice said her memory of the events had faded and she would have to respond later to the question.

Is the State Department MORE embarrassing than the Justice Department, or less? Discuss.

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Presidentials on the California Wildfires

Gov. Richardson, Sen. Dodd, and Sen. Edwards have offered both statements and resources for those suffering in our state this week.

John Edwards: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the more than 300,000 families who have been forced to flee their homes to escape the wildfires spreading across southern California. Those affected by this tragedy should take comfort in the fact that their fellow Americans are standing with them and will do whatever it takes to fight the fires and rebuild the homes and businesses that were destroyed."

Edwards is calling on his One Corps volunteers to assist in local projects in and around San Diego. You can sign up here.

Bill Richardson: "Today, we all extend our sympathies and prayers to those devastated by the wildfires in California. Millions of Americans are impacted by this natural disaster.

Neighbors should help neighbors in their time of need. As Governor of New Mexico, I ordered two fire crews (strike teams, with 5 engines and 21 crew members each) to California. As a candidate for President, I donated to the American Red Cross and I encourage you to do so as well, click here to do so.

But as someone who believes the war in Iraq is a complete disaster and that we need to get our troops out now (, I look at the natural disaster in California and feel compelled to also ask President Bush and every candidate who thinks it is okay for our troops to remain in Iraq until 2013 or longer - where is our National Guard?

It is a sad irony that yesterday, the very day I sent fire crews to California, 300 more New Mexico National Guard members were sent to Iraq. Just when we need them most at home, more of our brave men and women, true public servants, are sent away to a war we cannot win."

Chris Dodd: "As you know, Governor Schwarzenegger has had to ask other states for help because so many of California's National Guard, who provide critical support to the citizens while you are fighting the fires, were deployed to Iraq. In a Dodd Administration, never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq. Never again will our first responders be left without the support they need because our President failed to do what it took to keep our communities safe. That is why in 2008, nothing will be more important than leadership that can get results that make us stronger and more secure. That's the first responsibility of an American President."

And, he's asking for volunteers at California

How are the Republicans handling this, you ask? In case you were wondering:

Rudy Giuliani: Nothing.
John McCain: Nothing.
Mitt Romney: Nothing.
Fred Thompson: Nothing.
Mike Huckabee: Nothing. A 30-minute interview with Glenn Beck on his front page.
Duncan Hunter: It's his frickin' district and it's hard to find anything outside of this news article.
Tom Tancredo: Nothing.
Ron Paul: Nothing. And he's doing a "Hollywood fundraiser" tonight.

They just don't care.

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Hope There Are Some Heroes On The Federal Election Commission

Apparently getting Doritos to sponsor your candidacy, even if it's a joke candidacy, could get you in legal trouble.

If his campaign plays out the way he's indicated that it will, Comedy Central and Colbert's sponsor, Doritos, could be violating federal laws that bar corporations from backing political campaigns, election law experts say.

"How serious can you get about running as a joke?" said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks campaign finances. "The Federal Election Commission doesn't have a great sense of humor."

Federal law bars corporations from contributing to candidates, either through donations or in-kind contributions such as free use of goods or services.

Media organizations are permitted to feature presidential candidates in covering campaigns.

But no precedent exists for a television network promoting and fostering a candidacy of one of its own talk-show hosts, said Lawrence M. Noble, a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission. And comedian Pat Paulsen's 1968 candidacy predated current campaign finance regulations.

"The real problem comes in the fact that he actually has his own show, talking about his campaign, paid for by a network," Noble said. "These are the kind of things on slow days you'd debate until the late afternoon at the FEC, but there are serious questions that come up. In theory, he could end up having some campaign finance problems." [...]

On Thursday's program, he held up what he said was a letter from a Washington election lawyer, and made the legal framework part of his schtick.

"In accepting corporate money, I promise to respect federal election laws the same way I respect the must-shower-before-swimming law at the Y," Colbert said. "As a candidate, I am under no obligation to promote the zesty, robust taste of Doritos brand tortilla chips, regardless of how great a snack they may be for lunchtime, munch time, anytime."

He also said that, because of election laws, Doritos would technically be sponsoring not his candidacy but his program's coverage of his candidacy.

"It's illegal for my crunch money here to pay for the campaign, but it is legal for it to pay for my show, and the show can report on my campaign," he said. "Host: 'Eat them.' Candidate: 'I just happen to like 'em.' "

Maybe the good thing about a Colbert candidacy is that it will shed a light on our farcical campaign finance laws. This is obviously a promotional stunt, and something has to allow for that in the new-media age. At the same time, since Colbert so easily cleared the loophole allowing virtually unlimited corporate donations, maybe that should tell the FEC something, too.

In other news, Colbert's already polling at 13% in a three-horse race with Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. I thought that terrible Robin Williams film "Man of the Year" was fiction; maybe not.

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Fiddling With Themselves While Rome Burns

The insaneosphere is consumed by a fire - no, not the one that could cause a major blackout in San Diego. No, this fire concerns Scott Thomas Beauchamp, whose writings for The New Republic about life in Iraq have been "discredited" even though nobody discredited them. Drudge (no link) claims to have new information proving that Beauchamp's stories were false. Except they don't prove anything.

I would tell you what I thought of the leaked documents if the links at Drudge worked. From Kevin’s snippet, it appears that the latest transcript show that Beauchamp basically told everyone to piss off, that he just wanted everything to go away. Or, precisely what anyone with a brain would have predicted he would do (note the date I wrote that- 10 September) once the nutters had the brass jumping down his throat.

And then Drudge pulled everything back. And the "confession" isn't a confession, even according to The Cornerites.

Baghdad Diarist [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

We're hearing from The New Republic that the Drudge story isn't the damning evidence it suggests to be ... stay tuned.

UPDATE: An editor there e-mails: "Go to the story and click on the link that he claims is to Beauchamp’s confession. It’s not there. The only Beauchamp document is one were he acknowledged receiving some other memo. Nothing even close to a confession there." At the moment I can't access any of the documents that are flagged in that "Developing" story....

Hey guys, a substantial portion of the West Coast is on fire. Want to keep it together? Do a little prioritizing, maybe? Or do you want to have to clean the umpteenth egg from your face?

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Thank You, Dianne Feinstein

For giving a bigot and a homophobe a lifetime appointment and a federal pension.

Senate Republicans scored a key victory Wednesday with the confirmation of Leslie Southwick to the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

A united GOP conference convinced enough Democrats to cross party lines to first clear a procedural hurdle and then succeed in the confirmation vote. Southwick has been arguably the most contentious judicial nominee of the 110th Congress up to this point, amid strong opposition from Democratic leaders and liberal groups. Senators had invoked cloture in a 62-35 vote and, minutes later, confirmed Southwick on a 59-38 vote.

So three cowardly Dems pulled the Lieberman and changed their vote from "yes" to "no" after cloture, so they can go home to their states and claim that they opposed Southwick. Which won't matter a lot to the defendants in the 5th Circuit, who will endure the judge's politically motivated opinions for decades.

Dianne Feinstein is the most responsible Senator for this travesty, having voted Southwick out of committee after getting sweet-talked by Trent Lott. Howie Klein has more.

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

Pakistan is still dangerous, but today I'm shifting the most dangerous trouble spot to: northern Kurdistan! Congratulations, Kurdistan.

Turkey has commenced bombing on what they term "rebel positions" just inside Turkey. Obviously, the concern is that these bombing runs will migrate over to Iraq, which would widen the war. According to this report that's already happening:

On Sunday, Turkish helicopter gunships penetrated into Iraqi territory and troops have shelled suspected Kurdish rebel positions across the border in Iraq, a government official said Wednesday.

U.S.-made Cobra and Super Cobra attack helicopters chased Kurdish rebels three miles into Iraqi territory on Sunday but returned to their bases in Turkey after a rebel ambush killed 12 soldiers near the border, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He also said Turkish artillery units shelled rebel positions as recently as Tuesday night but did not say which areas were targeted.

The Iraqi government is vowing to help stop the PKK rebels from their incursions into Turkish territory, although realistically they have almost no ability to do so. Kurdistan is an independent country in everything but name. Plus there are still some faint strains of national identity that make Iraqis reluctant to target their own people.

Which makes this story all the more dangerous:

THE Bush Administration is considering air strikes, including cruise missiles, against the Kurdish rebel group PKK in northern Iraq.

The move would be an attempt to stave off a Turkish invasion of that country to fight the rebels [...]

"It's not 'Kumbaya' time any more - just talking about trilateral talks is not going to be enough," the official said.

"Something has to be done."

I want to know how it's going to look to Iraqi civilians to have Americans launching cruise missiles inside Kurdistan, which given the military and intelligence community's penchant for getting things wrong could easily hit population centers of civilians. How is that furthering the goal of bringing peace and stability to Iraq?

Maybe that would be the kind of incident that would have the Iraqis move to limit military involvement in their own country, at which point you would see a civil war between the Iraqi government and the American occupiers. The point is that continuing to use bombs as a stand-in for diplomacy will have severely negative consequences for the effort to extract ourselves honorably from this quagmire.

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Obama Joins The Chorus

Looks like Barack Obama has strengthened his opposition to any bill which allows for retroactive immunity of telecom companies for their lawbreaking efforts to allow the Bush Administration to spy on Americans..

"To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."

As Digby notes, this isn't really that hard. The Bush Administration has pretty much everything they need at their disposal to surveil on suspected terrorists, and they don't even have to get the warrant until AFTER the surveillance begins. Their goal is to eliminate the FISA court and to end any Congressional or judicial oversight of their activities. That shoud simply not be allowed, certainly not by a Democratic Congress.

If they cannot fold firm on this, I really don't know what else they can do. This is Constitutional democracy at stake.

UPDATE: Chris Dodd has some thoughts:

The way I see it, there are three ways to get this provision stripped from the final bill:

1.) The first step would be to make sure the idea doesn't make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- where it will be considered shortly.

If we can get it stripped there, it will have to be offered as an amendment to the overall bill where it will be a lot easier to get 41 votes against retroactive immunity than 41 to sustain my filibuster if necessary.

Take a moment and call up members of the committee, let me know what they said, and join others in tracking our progress in stopping the provision right there.

The other two ways:

2.) If retroactive immunity does make it out of committee, Senate leadership can honor the hold I've placed on any legislation that includes retroactive immunity.

3.) If leadership does not honor my hold, I remain committed to filibustering, and working to get the 41 votes necessary to maintain it.

This has the potential to be a long fight -- so let's build a solid foundation for our effort today by asking members of the Judiciary Committee to vote against any FISA bill that includes retroactive amnesty.

I'd like to see a little more spine, frankly, on these issues. People tell us they want to lead, but a little leadership right now would certainly be welcomed on these questions.

I don't want to, but I'm not afraid to do this alone.

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On DREAMs, Intimidation, and Nativist Jerks

The federal version of the DREAM Act comes up for vote today in the US Senate. The bill would set on a path to legal status those children of immigrants who enlist in the military or enroll in college. Yesterday, college students who would benefit from this program were on Capitol Hill, lobbying Congress for passage. Tom Tancredo, noted jerk, called for the arrest of the students.

Democrats were planning to hold a press conference today featuring three college students whose parents came to the United States illegally in order to promote the DREAM Act. But the event was postponed after anti-immigrant Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) called on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to arrest the three students:

“I call on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to detain any illegal aliens at this press conference,” said Tancredo, who claims to have alerted federal authorities about the well publicized press confrence. “Just because these illegal aliens are being used for political gain doesn’t mean they get immunity from the law. If we can’t enforce our laws inside the building where American laws are made, where can we enforce them?”

They eventually held the press conference anyway and nobody was arrested. Tancredo is not only being callous here, he's being ignorant. One of the students has permanent residency status, and another cannot be deported because she exists in a kind of legal limbo. Her name is Tam Tran.

Tam Tran, whose Vietnamese parents came illegally to the US from Germany, has lived in the US since she was ten, is a UCLA graduate who wants to pursue a PhD at USC, but can't because she can't afford further schooling without federal student loans. The government can't deport her family back to Vietnam because her father was persecuted by the communist government there, but the German government won't take them back either. Tran said today she is in "permanent legal limbo."

The last time Tran spoke out in support of the DREAM Act, in an article in USA Today on October 8, her family was detained by the ICE.

Just three days after the article appeared, federal officers entered her home in the middle of the night and forcibly arrested her family. Tran’s family was detained on a “years-old deportation order,” even though they have been in regular communication with immigration officials for almost 20 years since arriving in the United States.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the immigration subcommitee, equated the family’s arrest to “witness intimidation” and accused Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials of targeting the Tran family because Tam “testified before Lofgren’s panel earlier this spring.” Earlier this week, USA Today spoke with Lofgren about the Tran family’s arrest:

“Would she and her family have been arrested if she hadn’t spoken out?” Lofgren said of Tran, who was not at home for the raid but has been asked to report to Immigration and Customs officials next week. “I don’t think so.“

This is shocking behavior for the ICE to undertake, and not only does it show the price for dissent in Bush's America, but it shows how convoluted our immigration system is in the absence of a comprehensive solution. You can punish immigrants, who have no political power, or you can punish companies who hire the undocumented, who have loads of political power. In this case, the solution is clear; allow students who have known no other home to contribute to the country in which they were raised. Brian has the numbers; light 'em up.

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