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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Our Pal The Dictator

Pakistan is our ally.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended Pakistan's constitution and deployed troops in the capital Saturday, declaring that rising Islamic extremism had forced him to take emergency measures. He also replaced the nation's chief justice and blacked out the independent media that refused to support him.

Authorities began rounding up opposition politicians, cut phone lines in Islamabad and took all but state television off air despite calls from Washington and other Western allies not to take authoritarian measures [...]

In a televised address, Musharraf, looking somber and composed and wearing a black tunic rather than his usual military fatigues, said Pakistan was at a "dangerous" juncture.

"The extremism has even spread to Islamabad, and the extremists are taking the writ of the government in their own hands, and even worse they are imposing their obsolete ideas on moderates," he said.

Musharraf's order allows courts to function but suspends some fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, including freedom of speech. It also allows authorities to detain people without informing them of the charges.

Musharraf replaced the chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry — who had emerged as the main check on his power — before a crucial Supreme Court ruling on his future as president. His emergency order accused some judges of "working at cross purposes with the executive" and "weakening the government's resolve" to fight terrorism.

Sound familiar? Jeez, I think Bush was taking notes.

Let's review the 6 years of Pakistan being a "strong ally in the war on terror," which the Pentagon actually had the gall to reiterate today. Since 9-11 they:

• Reluctantly dropped diplomatic ties with the Taliban

• Signed a peace treaty with Al Qaeda

• Banished the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

• Reacted to their top nuclear scientist selling nuclear secrets to rogue states by putting him "under house arrest" in an expansive villa (and they don't even watch him anymore)

• Declared martial law

The spate of terrorist attacks in the NW region, which have spread south to areas around the capital, were a pretext. Musharraf waited until Bhutto was out of the country, and just before the ruling on whether or not he could continue to serve as President, to declare the state of emergency.

You ought not be surprised that Musharraf is close to Vice President Cheney.

I remember Jon Stewart having this thug on his show and giving him tea and yukking it up. That won't be good for posterity.

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Off To The Empower Change Summit

I'll be checking in periodically (Wi-Fi permitted) from UCLA at the Empower Change Summit, an event sponsored by the American Democracy Institute, a new-ish organization dedicated to youth engagement. We know that the youth vote turned out in record numbers in the past two elections, and their activism and empowerment is crucial to creating a truly progressive society. Today's event includes a bunch of workshops and speakers, including a keynote from former President Bill Clinton. I'm in as media, so hopefully I can realize my dream of yelling out at the press conference "Mr. President, Mr. President!" and being called on, and continuing to yell "Mr. President, Mr. President!"

Anyway, both hekebolos and I will be there, so we'll let you know what's going on.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Rudy 2008: A More Untrue America

The fallout from Rudy G's demonstrably untrue statement about prostate cancer survival rates continues. Ezra Klein:

You'll notice the shot at the Europeans in his ad. His statistics are, as the maligned Brits would say, bollocks. In America, mortality from prostate cancer is 15.8 per 100,000 males. In Britain, it's 17.8 per 100,000. What America does have is a radically more aggressive screening program, which doesn't seem to lower mortality much, but radically increases our diagnostic rate.

As the Journal of the National Cancer Institute wrote [PDF]: "similarity of mortality rates between the two populations supports the hypothesis that risk of fatal prostate cancer among British men does not differ from that among US white men. More intensive screening procedures, such as prostate-specific antigen testing, in the United States is the most likely explanation for the widening gap in incidence." In other words, we diagnose a lot of cancers that aren't lethal or are slow-moving enough to not require treatment. Saying, from that data, that we've got twice the survival rate is like saying we have a lower death rate from car crashes because we record more near-misses in the statistics.

Joe Conason:

Giuliani was serving as mayor and participating in a city of New York health plan when his doctor informed him that his prostate biopsy had come up positive. The coverage he enjoyed -- which resembles the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan -- permits all city employees, from trash haulers and subway clerks up to the mayor himself, to select from a variety of insurance providers, and it is not much different from the reform proposals adopted by his nemesis Hillary Clinton.

In the spring of 2000, when Giuliani learned that he had cancer and abruptly dropped out of the Senate race against Sen. Clinton, he was enrolled as a member of GHI, one of the two gigantic HMO groups that provide care for most city workers (the other is known as HIP). He underwent surgery and radiation at Mount Sinai Hospital, a prestigious institution that participates in the GHI plan, which means that his costs were largely underwritten by city taxpayers.

So does that qualify as "socialized medicine"?

Eugene Robinson:

I see two possibilities. One is that he believed what he wanted to believe -- that this huge supposed disparity in cancer outcomes fits so neatly into his worldview that it just had to be right. Hmmm, isn't cherry-picked data -- about weapons of mass destruction, not cancer survival rates -- the reason we have nearly 160,000 troops bogged down in Iraq?

The other possibility is that Giuliani didn't really care whether the figures made any sense or not. He invokes the specter of "Hillarycare" -- shorthand for any health-care reform that Hillary Clinton might propose -- almost as often as he reminds audiences of Sept. 11. Here was another weapon to use against his nemesis.

Paul Krugman:

Why isn’t Mr. Giuliani’s behavior here considered not just a case of bad policy analysis but a character issue?
For better or (mostly) for worse, political reporting is dominated by the search for the supposedly revealing incident, in which the candidate says or does something that reveals his true character. And this incident surely seems to fit the bill...

By rights, then, Mr. Giuliani’s false claims about prostate cancer — which he has, by the way, continued to repeat, along with some fresh false claims about breast cancer — should be a major political scandal...

The fact is that the prostate affair is part of a pattern: Mr. Giuliani has a habit of saying things, on issues that range from health care to national security, that are demonstrably untrue. And the American people have a right to know that.

About those breast cancer claims - you can read about them here. It's another case of our aggressive screening processes delivering a result pretty much exactly that of Canada, which has also raised public awareness on early screening.

A New Hampshire health care group is now demanding that the ad be taken down because of its falsehoods. The faulty statistics, from a right-wing journal, were taken from a study by the Commonwealth Fund, and they're disputing the stats.

But the Commonwealth Fund said the figures didn’t come from its reports. They can’t accurately be calculated from the seven-year-old report Gratzer references, said Dr. Stephen Schoenbaum, executive vice president for programs at the Commonwealth Fund.

“The figures that they’re working on (are) not correctly derived,” he said. “They’re also old numbers. The numbers are possibly changing.”

This, of course, is par for the course for a candidate who thinks his foreign policy experience as a mayor is greater than the longtime chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This has reached a pathological point. Rudy Giuliani is unfit for office simply because he'll decide that Russia is the 51st state, or his new wife is Morgan Fairchild, or he has the power to change the White House into a spaceship with his eyes. This is a disease. I may start a fund for his rehabilitation. Hopefully he still has that public health care so he can afford it.

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DiFi Hearts Torture

Make no mistake, at this point, a vote for Judge Mukasey is a vote for torture.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California say the will support Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. Both are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

They did the old Friday-afternoon get-out-of-Dodge news dump on it, too. Guess DiFi learned a lot on that Air Force One ride with George.

Michael Mukasey has refused to explain whether waterboarding is torture. Allowing him to be the nation's highest law enforcement official means sanctioning that opinion at the highest levels. Worse, Mukasey's views on executive power - believing that the President has unenumerated powers in wartime - sanction official lawbreaking at the highest levels, and emasculate Congress in their attempts to do anything about it. DiFi just eliminated her need to show up at the office.

UPDATE: A bit more here.

In announcing her support for Mukasey, Feinstein, D-Calif., said "first and foremost, Michael Mukasey is not Alberto Gonzales," referring to the former attorney general who resigned in September after months of questions about his honesty.


Wow, the standards of government have gone completely into the toilet.

UPDATE II: John Dean:

Nixon’s Attorney General had been removed (and was later prosecuted for lying to Congress) – a situation not unlike Alberto Gonzales’s leaving the job under such a cloud. Nixon was under deep suspicion of covering up the true facts relating to the bungled break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate, not to mention widespread rumors that he had engaged in abuses of power and corrupt campaign practices. Today, Bush is under even deeper suspicion for activities far more serious than anything Nixon engaged in for there is evidence Bush has abused the laws of war, violated treaties, and ordered (or approved) the use of torture and political renditions, which are war crimes.

Since Judge Mukasey’s situation is not unlike that facing Elliot Richardson when he was appointed Attorney General during Watergate, why should not the Senate Judiciary Committee similarly make it a quid pro quo for his confirmation that he appoint a special prosecutor to investigate war crimes? Richardson was only confirmed when he agreed to appoint a special prosecutor, which, of course, he did. And when Nixon fired that prosecutor, Archibald Cox, it lead to his impeachment.

Before the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee completely cave-in to Bush, at minimum they should demand that Judge Mukasey appoint a special prosecutor to investigate if war crimes have been committed. If Mukasey refuses he should be rejected. This, indeed, should be a pre-condition to anyone filling the post of Attorney General under Bush.

If the Democrats in the Senate refuse to demand any such requirement, it will be act that should send chills down the spine of every thinking American.

This group of Senators couldn't hold the jockstraps of their 70s counterparts, that's the bottom line. I've been saying this ever since Mukasey was nominated. They should have exacted a price for confirmation. Instead, it's another in a long line of caves.

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Tough Guy Bush, Now With Kung-Fu Grip

He got out the veto pen again.

An increasingly confrontational President Bush on Friday vetoed a bill authorizing hundreds of popular water projects even though lawmakers can count enough votes to override him.

Bush brushed aside significant objections from Capitol Hill, even from Republicans, in thwarting legislation that provides money for projects like repairing hurricane damage, restoring wetlands and preventing flooding in communities across the nation.

This level of opposition virtually assured that Bush would have a veto overridden for the first time in his presidency. He has used the veto very sparingly for most of the time he has been in office, but has made more use of it recently.

Because it took a Democratic Congress for him to realize that he's supposed to be fiscally responsible, right?

By the way, these are badly needed projects, and I can't wait to see Mr. Pissypants when the Congress overrides him and vacates the veto. That's going to be fun.

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Mukasey Update: Leahy's Out

The Chairman will vote no, saying "I like Michael Mukasey. I wish that I could support his nomination. But I cannot." There are 5 undecided votes out there on the Judiciary Committee (which is really the only place to bottle up the confirmation): Herb Kohl, Chuck Schumer, Ben Cardin, Dianne Feinstein, and believe it or not, Russ Feingold.

He may be the best nominee we can get from this administration in this respect. But I am concerned about his views on executive power, and I am weighing whether his answers to questions in that area adequately demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law.

Feingold has a history of giving wide deference to Presidential nominees; they have to really cross the line for him to vote no. He voted to confirm John Ashcroft and John Roberts, but not Alberto Gonzales. Frankly I don't see that Mukasey really separated himself from Gonzales on the key issues of torture and executive power. We'll see what Feingold thinks. But he should understand that at this point, confirming Mukasey is tantamount to sanctioning his views on these issues. "Best we can get" or not (and according to the President, you won't be getting anyone after Mukasey), that will have far-reaching effects.

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It's On

It may be late in the game, but the two main challengers to Hillary Clinton are making effective pitches, and they're calling foul on the tactics that have allowed her to rise to the top. This idea that people are "ganging up" on Hillary, and trying to make that sound like "picking on a girl," is pernicious. Any front-runner would get the same scrutiny. And Obama is not falling for it.

"I am assuming and I hope that Sen. Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else. And I think that that's why she's running for President.

"When we had a debate back in Iowa awhile back, we spent I think the first 15 minutes of the debate hitting me on various foreign policy issues. And I didn't come out and say: 'Look, I'm being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage'. I assumed it was because there were real policy differences there [...]

"I don't think that people doubt that Senator Clinton is tough. She's used to playing in national politics. And in fact that is one of the things that she has suggested is why she should be elected -- because she's been playing in this rough-and-tumble stage.

"So it doesn't make sense for her, after having run that way for eight months, the first time that people start challenging her point of view, that suddenly she backs off and says: 'Don't pick on me. That is not obviously how we would expect her to operate if she were President."

You can't straddle both sides of the fence. You're either tough to too brittle to be attacked, not both. This is more a problem with the campaign than the candidate, but clearly they're trying to get a "get out of scrutiny free" card from their opponents, and it's silly.

John Edwards put together a devastating YouTube on "The Politics of Parsing".

This is something every politician does, but in Hillary it's particularly acute, and it's the difference between advocating strongly for issues you care about, or doing the negotiation that's part of politics in your head before you even reach the bargaining table, which is the weakest tactic imaginable.

Things are definitely heating up on the Democratic side, but the question is whether or not Brand Clinton is too far out in front for it to matter.

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Friday Random Ten

May be light posting the rest of the day, I've got a lot on my plate.

So Fresh, So Clean - Outkast
Spoonman - Soundgarden
Seein Thangs - DJ Shadow feat. David Banner
Shut Up - Black Eyed Peas
Sabotage - The Beastie Boys
I Can't Win - The Strokes
Within You Without You - The Beatles
The National Anthem - Radiohead
The Move - The Beastie Boys
A Soldier's Tale - The Good, The Bad & The Queen

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Too Busy Flying To Check The Toys

Earlier this week, Nancy Nord, head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, was begging Congress not to give her agency more money to conduct product safety tests. It's clear now that she was just trying to save the government a nickel or two. She clearly has all the money she needs from the industries she's supposed to regulate:

The chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and her predecessor have taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate, according to internal records obtained by The Washington Post. Some of the trips were sponsored by lobbying groups and lawyers representing the makers of products linked to consumer hazards.

The records document nearly 30 trips since 2002 by the agency's acting chairman, Nancy Nord, and the previous chairman, Hal Stratton, that were paid for in full or in part by trade associations or manufacturers of products ranging from space heaters to disinfectants. The airfares, hotels and meals totaled nearly $60,000, and the destinations included China, Spain, San Francisco, New Orleans and a golf resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Notable among the trips -- commonly described by officials as "gift travel" -- was an 11-day visit to China and Hong Kong in 2004 by Stratton, then chairman. The $11,000 trip was paid for by the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, an industry group based in an office suite in Bethesda whose only laboratories are in Asia.

The CPSC says that at the time, the group had no pending regulatory requests. But since then the fireworks group has urged the commission to adopt its safety standards, an idea that is still pending, according to an organization newsletter.

This is e.coli conservatism - a government where the regulatory agencies have been co-opted by Big Business and serve to resist all efforts to do their work, in exchange for perks like "gift travel". Corporations need only make a small investment to reap rewards hundreds of times larger.

Sadly, I don't expect Nord's resignation.

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The Problem Is What's Legal

The latest Fabian Nuñez story concerns charities:

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez used a small charity as a conduit to funnel almost $300,000 from companies and organizations with business in the Capitol to events that helped him politically.

By giving to the charity, the donors whom Nuñez solicited earned tax deductions for which they would not have qualified had they given directly to Nuñez's campaign accounts. They were also able to donate more than the $7,200 maximum allowed under California's campaign fundraising rules.

Those donors include Zenith Insurance Co., AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc., the California Hospital Assn., the state prison guards union, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Blue Cross of California -- all groups with high stakes in legislation.

The money was used for events including "Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez's Toy Drive," "Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez's Soccerfest 2006," "Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez's Inaugural Legislative Youth Conference" and airplane flights for 50 children from Nuñez's district for "Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez's Sacramento Student Summit," according to state documents.

It's murky whether or not this constitutes a violation of federal tax laws or state ethics laws. If he's soliciting the donation and then directing how it's used, maybe. And apparently the charity itself was shut down for failing to file tax returns a couple years ago.

I would submit that the legality question is completely irrelevant.

Here's the problem. Power is almost entirely centralized in the leadership in the California Legislature. If you are a business in the health care industry, and you want to impact policy, there's only one member of the legislature that means anything to you - Fabian Nuñez. And so you will use a variety of techniques to try to gain access and influence over the process. If they can be so specifically directed, it's inevitable that stories like this will permeate. The problem is what's LEGAL. It's a structural problem that invites corruption or the appearance of corruption.

The Founders decentralized power so there would be competition between the various branches. Spreading out the number of powerful actors lessens the chance of access-buying. The Founders foresaw political parties and factions and were violently opposed to them, and I would guess that this kind of artificial centralization was precisely the reason. This has been a longtime problem in both national and California politics, made worse here by all the bottlenecks created in the legislature, which make certain parts of the calendar completely confusing and ripe for control by individual actors.

I'm not sure what the answer is to weaken the power of the legislative leadership, but unless you do, you're going to keep seeing stories like this. The target for special interests is so inviting and so focused. They're obviously accountable to their membership, with leadership elections every two years

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Waa Waa Waa

I guess I didn't notice this yesterday, or it wasn't fully reported, but apparently Bush said that if Michael Mukasey isn't confirmed by the Senate, there won't be an Attorney General for the last 15 months of his term. Which is fitting, because the law means pretty much nothing to these guys.

"If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would set a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general," Bush said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"That would guarantee that America would have no attorney general during this time of war," the president said.

This is a familiar tactic, where Bush does things and then blames it on the Democrats. His veto of Iraq funding with a timeline meant that Democrats were blocking the funding. His stopping the SCHIP bill meant that Democrats were playing politics with children's health. And now, his refusal to bring up a new nominee means that Democrats are "allowing" the position of Attorney General to go unfilled.

That's crazy. But it absolutely show you where his priorities lay. Bush cannot allow anyone who specifically cites waterboarding as torture to be the nation's top law enforcement official. To me, that means he personally authorized the technique, and he would be subject to future prosecution in that case. I agree with emptywheel that I'm OK with this issue being framed as one about torture:

You see, events thus far have made it very important for Bush to get Mukasey approved. While David Addington may have thought it in Bush's best interest to push Mukasey to adopt the party line, they're now at the place where, if Mukasey is rejected, it will be because of Bush's torture policy. (Frankly, this is unfortunate from a principled perspective, since it means that the Senators don't care about the unitary executive more generally, but it works to our advantage politically.) The press has spun the rising tension to be entirely about the issue of torture, which makes it inconceivable that, if Mukasey is rejected, the narrative will be anything but torture. Which will shine a bright light on the torture policy itself, and some Soccer Moms who might otherwise be ignorant that men are being tortured in their names may just discover that their government is doing reprehensible things.

Mukasey's other answers on executive power are actually worse, and grounds for dismissal, but it's on torture where Bush could get frogmarched. That's why he's pushing so hard. And there are a few Senators - Feinstein and Schumer seem the most likely on the Judiciary Committee - who make succumb to the pressure. We'll see on Tuesday.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Uh, Issa's Breaking the Law, Too

Bill Cavala knows what he's talking about.

In a story printed in today’s Sacramento Bee, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa is said to be “sending out letters to the same voters who signed the recall position in 2003”.

But that’s against the law. California Elections Code 18650 states clearly that, “No one shall knowingly or willfully permit the list of signatures on an initiative, referendum, or recall petition to be used for ANY PURPOSE other than qualification of the initiative, referendum or recall”. [Emphasis added] Violation of this section is a misdemeanor.

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you expect a Member of Congress to know the law? Well, maybe we can’t expect a Republican Member of Congress to obey the law??

Somebody alert Jerry Brown. Darrell Issa is breaking the law, and look what the result could be:

While the violation involving the use of the data is only a misdemeanor, providing the signatures, database, and anything else owned by the Recall Committee is an "in kind contribution"-- an unreported contribution. The Recall committee needs to approve it in order to provide this asset to the "California Counts" committee that is trying to qualify the Electoral College scheme on the ballot. Such a use could be in violation of the trust provisions that govern ballot measure expenditures (felonies). And the unreported contribution and the person controlling the committee could be prosecuted under the criminal misdemeanor provisions of the political reform act. (Where the penalty is loss of office) (emphasis mine)

I don't think that you could remove someone from federal office at the state level, right? But dare to dream. Would that be some sweet justice for the architect of the California recall, or what?

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Lieberman-Warner: A Bad Deal

Today the Senate Environment Committee began the process of creating groundbreaking global warming legislation that would result in a cap-and-trade system for polluters in the United States. It passed the first markup stage on a series of 4-3 votes. However, I'm sad to report that this is not a positive development. In fact this bill would be a massive giveaway to corporate polluters, allowing them to receive emissions credits instead of buying them at auction. And that's only the beginning of the bill known as, and this should be a tip-off, Lieberman-Warner:

"The Lieberman-Warner bill will reward corporate polluters by handing them pollution permits worth almost half a trillion dollars," said Friends of the Earth's Erich Pica, one of the authors of the analysis. "And that's just one part of this bill. The bill also includes hundreds of billions of dollars of other mind-boggling giveaways. The levels of pollution-rewarding giveaways in this bill are truly obscene."

In particular, Friends of the Earth's analysis found that the bill:

* Provides the coal industry and other fossil fuel industries pollution permits worth $436 billion over the life of the legislation; 58 percent of this amount goes to coal
* Returns revenue raised through auctions directly to polluters -- for example, an additional $324 billion would subsidize the coal industry's efforts to develop carbon capture and storage mechanisms
* Directs another $522 billion of auction revenue to low or zero-emissions technologies, which could result in handouts to the nuclear power, big hydro and coal industries, which are not clean (these funds could also be directed toward important clean technologies, such as wind and solar -- the legislation is not specific)

Lieberman knows what he's doing in dealmaking in the Senate, however, and he locked up enough support to get the bill through today's markup, going toe-to-toe with America's most unsung Senator, the great Bernie Sanders, who explains his opposition in this blog post:

On most issues, Congress goes through the time-honored tradition of working out compromises which both sides can end up accepting. I want to see all the kids in America have health care. Other members think the Children’s Health Insurance Program should not be expanded. We compromise on 4 million more children in the program. I think a program should be expanded by $100 million. You think it should be expanded by $50 million. We compromise at $75 million. That’s the way business is done here and in other democratic societies and there is nothing wrong with that. We live in a country where people have different political views and in almost every instance members of the Senate compromise to reach an agreement.

Today, however, we have a qualitatively different situation. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. The issue is not what I want versus what Senator Lieberman or Senator Warner or Senator Inhofe may want – and the need to work out an agreement that we can all accept. That’s not the dynamic we face today. The issue today is one of physics and chemistry and what the best scientists in the world believe is happening to our planet because of greenhouse gas emissions. The issue is what we can do, as a nation, along with the international community, to reverse global warming and to save this planet from a catastrophic and irreversible damage which could impact billions of people.

In other words, we are not in a debate now between Bernie Sanders and anyone else. It’s not a debate between what I want or what you want. We are in a debate between science and public policy. And the views that I am bringing forth, to the best of my ability, are the views of the most knowledgeable scientists in America and the world: the people who, among other achievements, have just received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Half-measures aren't going to work, especially when they are also giving away for free what could bring in massive revenue to create that Apollo program for energy that we so desperately need. John Edwards has come out against the bill because it's not commensurate to what is needed. Here's what Brian Beutler thinks is happening next:

Now that it's made it through the subcommittee, though, the Lieberman-Warner bill will face the tougher challenge of passing through the full committee.

With the exception of maybe Lamar Alexander of Tennessee -- and that's an extremely large maybe -- it's likely that John Warner will remain the only Republican "aye" when America's Climate Security Act comes to a committee vote in weeks ahead.

So where does that leave things?

Well, Lieberman may have decided not to allow Bernie Sanders to play a constructive role in this process. But what he did do is bring Frank Lautenberg in on a big amendment package -- announced at the beginning of the hearing as a "substitute amendment" -- the details of which remain largely unknown. What is known is that Lautenberg voted to move America's Climate Security Act forward today.

The question, then, is whether or not Lautenberg will make a bid for for more -- whether his support is permanent or temporary. If he's thrown his lot in with Lieberman and Warner, then the bill has a decent shot of making it to the full floor of the Senate.

Sounds like Lautenberg needs to be pressured - and he's up for re-election next year. If he can turn, then Sanders can have a major place at the table in changing this bill's intent. And frankly, the chairwoman, Senator Boxer, needs to step up on this as well. I don't want to hear about "a good first step" when it comes to saving the planet.

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Meanies Trying To Help Kids

The Senate just passed a revised SCHIP bill and has enough votes to override Bush's veto - and there are rumors of a compromise in the works:

In a situation of bewildering political complexity, Republicans dictated the decision to pass the legislation speedily. It appeared their goal was to short-circuit attempts by supporters of the bill to reach a compromise that could attract enough votes in the House to override Bush's veto.

Attempts by Reid to delay final passage of the bill until next week or longer drew objections from the GOP.

"I believe a deal is within reach," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a participant in meetings with two senior Senate Republicans, Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and several members of the House GOP.

Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who supported Bush's first veto and is involved in the discussions, said "we are pretty close" to an agreement but that several issues remain. For example, she said, the two sides had narrowed their differences on the issue of insuring maximum coverage of poor children before those in slightly higher-income families can be brought into the program.

Of course, now Bush is objecting to the financing mechanism, though I'm sure he won't be coming up with one on his own that he can live with. So the President has responded to public outcry and damagin his party for a generation by retreating FURTHER away from the program. You can only conclude that he doesn't want it to go forward. But these negotiations may leave him no choice.

Of course, this could all have been resolved earlier if the Democrats weren't such mean meanie meanheads.

The latest rationale: They voted against it because Democratic leaders were nasty to them. That's what angry House GOPers have now told Dem leaders in a private meeting on the Hill:

In a closed-door meeting before the last vote on the children’s health care bill, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer appealed for the support of about 30 wavering Republican lawmakers. What he got instead was a tongue-lashing, participants said.

The GOP lawmakers, all of whom had expressed interest in a bipartisan deal on the SCHIP legislation, were furious that the Democratic leader from Maryland had not reached out to them in a more serious way early on. They also criticized him and Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois for failing to stop his allies outside Congress from running attack ads in their districts, while they were discussing a bipartisan deal.

They really are the Baby Party. Can you imagine Tom DeLay wasting one moment of his time on the FEELINGS of Democrats before ramming through one of his middle-of-the-night corporate giveaways? And these same House Republicans decrying the partisanship over the bill were the ones... being partisan about it, during the debate:

If GOPers were really interested in reaching an understanding with Dems, they had a funny way of showing it. Over a month ago, for instance, Keller accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of "playing politics" while risking the health of "6 million children." He blasted the Dems' SCHIP plan as "socialized medicine" funded by a "gigantic tax increase."

Another Republican who claimed to want to compromise with Dems on SCHIP, Rep. Tom Price, was similarly caustic in his hits on Dems early on, blasting the Dems' SCHIP plan a month ago as having "nothing to do with our nation’s neediest children and everything to do with political posturing."

And these gentle souls are now complaining that they didn't support SCHIP because Dems were mean to them?

It's a tremendus bit of projection, isn't it? The Republicans are out of ideas other than blocking things like children's health, so they'll fall back on that "sure winner," whining about partisanship. They are DEFINED by partisanship. And so their criticism falls on deaf ears.

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Rudy To Face 9/11 Emergency Radio Investigation

The New York City Council has responded to legitimate questions over emergency radios used on 9/11 that resulted in the unnecessary deaths of dozens of firefighters, and has vowed an investigation.

Eric Gioia is basically the Henry Waxman of New York City, the chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee. Here's what he needs to investigate:

Why was nothing done to improve FDNY radio performance for seven years after a clear need was demonstrated in the 1993 World Trade Center attack?

When new radios were finally ordered, why did the city award a contract to Motorola without a competitive bidding process?

Once Motorola was given the contract, why did its cost jump from $1.4 million to $14 million?
Why were these new radios never field tested?

These are serious questions about preparedness and emergency management that must be a part of a fuller picture of anyone who believes he should be President of the United States. Bottom line.

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I Think Crime's Getting Tough On Them

I was rendered almost ill by John Edwards' stance in the debate against the decriminalization of marijuana because "it would send the wrong signal to young people." Chris Dodd made a strong response that cut to the heart of our failed prison policy.

DODD: Can I respond, I mean just why I think it ought to be? We’re locking up too many people in our system here today. We’ve got mandatory minimum sentences that are filling our jails with people who don’t belong there. My idea is to decriminalize this, reduce that problem here. We’ve gone from 800,000 to 2 million people in our penal institutions in this country. We’ve go to get a lot smarter about this issue than we are, and as president, I’d try and achieve that.

This, of course, is most acute in California, where we're waiting for the other shoe to drop on a federal court order that could potentially force the release of thousands of prisoners due to overcrowding. State Sen. Gloria Romero held her ground and didn't allow the usual spate of tougher sentencing bills to pass the Legislature this year. So once again, George and Sharon Runner will go to the ballot with a punitive measure designed to make themselves look tough while further battering a crippled prison system.

A year after bringing to California Jessica's Law, the crackdown on sex offenders, the husband-and-wife team of state Sen. George Runner and Assemblywoman Sharon Runner announced Monday a new initiative that would target gang members for tougher prosecution and dedicate nearly $1 billion annually to enforcement and intervention.

The Republican legislators from Lancaster hope to collect enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2008 ballot, and they have the backing of the father of the state's three-strikes law as well as law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

The Legislature has already rejected this bill, and it would again constrain the state budget with another walled-off mandate while doing nothing to address the major crisis in overcrowding. It's feel-good nonsense for "tough-on-crime" advocates.

By the way, let's see how the last initiative the Runners promoted, Jessica's Law, is working out:

Hundreds of California sex offenders who face tough new restrictions on where they can live are declaring themselves homeless, making it difficult for the state to track them.

Jessica's Law, approved by 70 percent of California voters a year ago, bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children gather. That leaves few places where offenders can live legally.

Some who have had trouble finding a place to live are avoiding re-arrest by reporting that they are homeless - falsely, in some cases.

Experts say it is hard to monitor sex offenders when they lie about their address or are living day-to-day in cheap hotels, homeless shelters or on the street. It also means they may not be getting the treatment they need.

"We could potentially be making the world more dangerous rather than less dangerous," said therapist Gerry Blasingame, past chairman of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending.

I agree with all of that except the word "potentially." We felt good about "getting tough" on sex offenders, and now we have them living under bridges and untrackable. How do you think "getting tough" on gang violence is going to work out?

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The Colbert Bump... Off The Ballot

No joy for the heroes.

"Stephen Colbert’s satirical run for the presidency has run into its first roadblock -- his bid to be on the ballot in the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary was rejected on Thursday," The Politico reports.

"The Democrats had to decide whether they considered Colbert to be a bona fide Democrat who is nationally viable and has spent time campaigning in the state."

The ballot-inistas and the vote-stapo may be trying to keep the runaway Colbert train down, but if he FEELS he's on the ballot, then he's on the ballot! That's truthiness, and it smells like victory to me.

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Leader Of The Baby Party

On top of the petulance, he's factually wrong.

When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground, and less time responding to the demands of bloggers and Code Pink protesters. doesn't have any bloggers. They don't have a blog, you cultural illiterate.

The President of the United States has been reduced to whining. Stomping his little feet like a kid with her parents who wants to go home from the mall. The comments from earlier in the day were even worse, whining that the Senate needs to confirm Waterboard Mukasey and that they're being all mean and stuff asking him questions:

I then remind the audience that a key member of the national security team -- a key member of the team that works to protect the American people is the Attorney General. I've submitted a highly competent, smart, independent nominee in Judge Mukasey to the Senate. I am disappointed that the process is taking so long to get his name to the floor.

I believe that the questions he's been asked are unfair; he's not been read into a program -- he has been asked to give opinions of a program or techniques of a program on which he has not been briefed. I will make the case -- and I strongly believe this is true -- that Judge Mukasey is not being treated fairly. He's made the rounds on Capitol Hill, he's answered questions, he's been to hearings. I do thank the Senate for setting up what I hope will be a opportunity to move him out of Judiciary Committee to the floor on Tuesday. It is time to get his nomination to the floor so the Senate can vote him up or down [...]

Q Judge Mukasey is experienced in terrorism trials, he's been around. Why is it wrong for him -- or why will you not let him say whether he thinks that waterboarding is illegal torture?

THE PRESIDENT: He has not been read in -- first of all, let me put this in perspective. The Congress did pass a law, the Detainee Detention Act [sic]*, that I signed into law. The techniques we use informed that law and members of the Senate and House -- select members of the Senate and House, both parties, have been briefed on the law.

Secondly, he doesn't know whether we use that technique or not. And thirdly, it doesn't make any sense to tell an enemy what we're doing. One of the fundamental questions that the American people have got to know is that in order to protect America, if we capture somebody who may have data about whether or not he's going to -- he is ordering an attack or there's an impending attack or there's a threat, we need to know that.
And the techniques we use by highly trained professionals are within the law. That's what's important for America to know.

If he doesn't know what you use, tell him. Furthermore, you can give him a bunch of articles which clearly show that waterboarding has been practiced by the US government. But it's irrelevant to why Mukasey can't answer the question; waterboarding is a centuries-old method, used in the Spanish Inquisition, and its illegality doesn't depend upon whether or not the US does it. Except, of course, it does, because this is all about keeping Bush's ass out of jail.

In adamantly refusing to declare waterboarding illegal, Michael B. Mukasey, the nominee for attorney general, is steering clear of a potential legal quagmire for the Bush administration: criminal prosecution or lawsuits against Central Intelligence Agency officers who used the harsh interrogation practice and those who authorized it, legal experts said Wednesday.

The biggest problem for Mr. Mukasey remains his refusal to take a clear legal position on the interrogation technique. Fear of opening the door to criminal or civil liability for torture or abuse, whether in an American court or in courts overseas, appeared to loom large in Mr. Mukasey’s calculations as he parried questions from the committee this week. Some legal experts suggested that liability could go all the way to President Bush if he explicitly authorized waterboarding [...]

Jack L. Goldsmith, who served in the Justice Department in 2003 and 2004, wrote in his recent memoir, “The Terror Presidency,” that the possibility of future prosecution for aggressive actions against terrorism was a constant worry inside the Bush administration.

“I witnessed top officials and bureaucrats in the White House and throughout the administration openly worrying that investigators, acting with the benefit of hindsight in a different political environment, would impose criminal penalties on heat-of-battle judgment calls,” Mr. Goldsmith wrote.

President Pissypants needs an Attorney General who will look the other way on his lawbreaking. That's the end of the story.

These guys can't prosecute a terror case to save their lives, are reconstructing other terror cases because all the evidence is inadmissable, and is only prosecuting them to begin with to try and save their party's fortunes in 2008. How dare Bush claim that the DEMOCRATS are the ones politicizing terror. They're both politicizing it, and using it.

UPDATE: In a typically thorough post, emptywheel notes that what's more troubling is Mukasey's answers on contempt of Congress, also designed to protect Bush Administration officials from prosecution, but for the US Attorney purge.

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Worst. Special Session. Ever.

George Skelton has the gory details of the legislative special session on health care and water. A lot of legislative games, two-thirds barriers, and obstrictionism. Welcome to ungovernable California. The back end is the key set of paragraphs.

Schwarzenegger is pushing for a compromise on the February ballot, but Republican lawmakers are ambivalent at best. "Too many legislators think they're getting jammed," Senate GOP leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine told me. "When we try to rush things, the legislation isn't well thought out. We've got plenty of time next year to make the November ballot."

But the governor believes a November ballot is risky because of a worsening budget deficit that might sour voters on more borrowing.

And Democrats are anxious to produce something -- anything -- that will impress the electorate before a February vote on making term limits more flexible.

None of this is about governance. Just power.

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CAP Study Agrees: We're Losing The Plot On Iraq

Yesterday, I wrote in They've Already Won The Iran Debate that the insistent focus on an imminent attack on Iran has taken the focus entirely off the failed mission in Iraq, endangering the ability to extract us from that catastrophe. Today both Ilan Goldenberg at Democracy Arsenal and a major report from the Center of American Progress both agree with that analysis, that progressives are guilty of "strategic drift" in Iraq, which will severely impact the effort to salvage any solution and get our troops out of the middle of civil war.

The CAP study, from John Podesta, Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb, is really brilliant in its simplicity. It argues that the most important security concern facing the United States is in Iraq, not Iran, no matter how much the Bush Administration would like it to be otherwise. And allowing the national conversation to drift away from Iraq has wide-reaching impacts for the future.

Strategic drift moves us further away from the goal of a unified and stable Iraq. President Bush claims that the current strategy is having some success, but toward what end? The president argued that the surge would give the political breathing space needed to achieve a unified, peaceful Iraq. But this success, which Bush claims comes from a reduction of casualties in certain areas of Iraq, has been accompanied by massive sectarian cleansing. The surge has not achieved progress; it has impeded progress toward the stated strategic objective of national reconciliation [...]

Strategic drift weakens our security. Strategic drift poses the greatest threat to American national security. An open-ended commitment of U.S. troops in Iraq is weakening America’s security in four key ways:

It undermines the fight against global terrorists.
It continues to weaken U.S. military readiness.
It risks getting U.S. troops caught in the crossfire of Iraq’s civil wars.
It spends billions more on a strategy whose tactics do not add up to a realistic endgame.

The problem here is that the Bush Administration is (a) crazy enough to strike Iran without real cause, and (b) desirous of changing the conversation to anything other than Iraq. Since (b) is also a goal of Republican presidential candidates and politicians trying to hold on to what little power they have left, they have an incentive to keep drifing from Iraq. Same with the "serious foreign policy community" and DC elites who were wrong about the war in the beginning and want to bury their mistakes. But CAP argues that progressives are doing the same thing:

Progressives are frustrated because the president and his allies in Congress have obstructed their oversight of the administration’s Iraq policy. But they now risk drifting themselves into offering only a vague and muddled vision. Progressives must provide a clear alternative to counter the Bush policy of strategic drift—one that takes back control of America’s security interests [...] Progressives should start with a firm statement that America will undertake a strategic phased redeployment of its troops in a defined period of time. America’s interests, not Iraqi’s divided political leaders, will determine America’s timetable for redeployment.

This new approach should put key U.S. interests at the forefront—preserving Iraq’s unity as a functioning state that is not threatening to or threatened by its neighbors and does not have terrorist safe havens.

They cite three key elements for a solution: stop training and arming Iraqi forces for their coming civil war, call for an emergency political solution to the conflict through a surge of diplomacy, and engage regional players to ensure stability and stop the spread of the conflict. This can happen today, there's no need to wait for a new President, obviously through the funding mechanism.

The reason that we have lost control of the Iraq debate is that we have allowed our focus to drift. This is what Ilan Goldenberg highlights in his assessment of the CAP study.

Dems, progressives and the media have taken the bate (sic) on Iran. The reality is that we have 168,000 troops in Iraq not Iran. I think war with Iran is relatively unlikely. But if it were to happen it would be a catastrophe preciscly because we have 168,000 troops in Iraq and that is where the Iranians would inflict their damage. In the last two months the only big stories out of Iraq are Blackwater, Turkish border and Iran. People seem to forget that there has been no progress on the political front and there is still no articulation of what the "bottom up" strategy is. There is no plan for taking the various groups that the United States is now training and bringing them together instead of having them eventually just go at each other in a bloodier civil war.

There is a blueprint for effectiveness, but we have to maintain a laser-like focus on Iraq as the defining security problem facing the country. Talk of body counts and casualties, and specifically Iran, muddles the debate. Bush is engaged in tactics that cannot possibly meet his goals. He and the Republicans are using Iran threats and fearmongering as a cover to re-create a 2002-like national mood. If we don't offer a clear alternative, there will be brutal consequences all over the globe. In the end, this all goes back to standing up to Bush and making him defend his failed war in Iraq, instead of letting him drift off to Iran without accountability. We need to speak with one voice.

Progressives have drifted away from clear calls for redeployment and toward academic proposals and vague positions about what to do.

Last month’s Senate vote on a resolution suggesting a “soft partition” model of Iraq is yet another sign of muddle and drift. The “soft partition” plan envisions a decentralized Iraq built on three autonomous regions. It has been rejected by a majority of Iraqi leaders, opposed by a strong majority of the Iraqi people, and strongly criticized by powers neighboring Iraq because it is both impractical and academic and cannot be implemented without the support of Iraq’s leaders.

Other progressives have slipped toward advocating proposals that focus on tactical measures such as training Iraq’s security forces or addressing the spillover effects of Iraq’s internal conflicts on the region. None of these proposals cut to the heart of the national security threats posed by strategic drift—that the open-ended commitment of U.S. troops to Iraq is making Americans less safe and not resolving Iraq’s internal conflicts.

Pledging to continue training Iraq’s security forces without questioning whether our actions amount to essentially arming up different sides in Iraq’s internal conflicts risks further inflaming an already unstable Middle East. Talking vaguely about a political solution or accommodation among Iraq’s leaders without fully committing to a new strategy that helps Iraq’s leaders resolve their power-sharing disputes imperils tactical gains made in 2007.

I urge you to read the entire CAP report. For a while now they have been articulating the most sensible, least-bad option to the Iraq mess. They have not given in to the fearmongering about what might happen if we leave, or the false premises about Iraq being the central front in the war on terror. They have hones this argument smartly, and what they are advocating is right: return the focus to Iraq so that we can break through this failed policy before it's too late.

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I Can't Come Up With Another Romney Flip-Flop Headline

The man has literally outlasted my ability to write witty rejoinders. This time it's about immigration:

Romney boasted of cracking down on illegal immigrants as governor and denounced an immigration bill that the Arizona senator introduced with Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 2005 [...]

"McCain-Kennedy isn't the answer," Romney said in a well-received speech to conservatives in Washington this month, describing it as an amnesty plan that would reward people for breaking the law and cost taxpayers millions to provide them benefits.

But that is markedly different from how Romney once characterized McCain's bill, elements of which are receiving new attention in Congress and from President Bush. Indeed, Romney's past comments on illegal immigration suggest his views have hardened as he has ramped up his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

In a November 2005 interview with the Globe, Romney described immigration proposals by McCain and others as "quite different" from amnesty, because they required illegal immigrants to register with the government, work for years, pay taxes, not take public benefits, and pay a fine before applying for citizenship.

"That's very different than amnesty, where you literally say, 'OK, everybody here gets to stay,' " Romney said in the interview. "It's saying you could work your way into becoming a legal resident of the country by working here without taking benefits and then applying and then paying a fine."

Romney did not specifically endorse McCain's bill, saying he had not yet formulated a full position on immigration. But he did speak approvingly of efforts by McCain and Bush to solve the nation's immigration crisis, calling them "reasonable proposals."

The Boston Globe actually has audio of Romney's prior remarks, which are only two years old, at the link.

We are experiencing a near-critical snark shortage about Romney's changing positions. Everything that can be written has been written. I'm really getting uncomfortable about it. There could be almost a year more of this!

I guess Romney's promoting recycling by forcing us to recycle old "Romney is a Flip-Flopper" headlines.

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Revising And Extending My Remarks On Hillary Clinton

I was a bit surprised to see so many people focusing on the substantive question that tripped up Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's debate, and not what the episode revealed about her political character. To reiterate, I think Eliot Spitzer is a great leader, and what he is doing on the driver's license issue, particularly by beating back the hate speech of the likes of Lou Dobbs, is admirable. There are illegal drivers on the roads because we don't have a functioning public transit system in America. The driver's license should not be the main form of ID in America, it should simply allow you to operate a motor vehicle. If you have unlicensed drivers all over the roads, there are going to be serious public safety issues. That's all this issue is about, and it's not a federal one, furthermore.

I initially thought Clinton nailed the issue and was far better than Chris Dodd, who frankly sounded clueless about it. But her eventual response, marked by a backtrack to "I understand but I do not endorse," trying to be on all sides of it, was revelatory. It was status quo, all-things-to-all-people, value-challenged Democratic politics. I reject that. Apparently Clinton tried to clean up her response yesterday, but even that wasn't crystal clear.

So here's the statement that Camp Hillary gave to The Times today in response to questions about where she stands on the issue:

"Senator Clinton supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure to deal with the crisis caused by this administration’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform," her campaign said.

It's almost too obvious to point out, but this just isn't an expression of support for Spitzer's proposed policies in any way. It even falls short of overt support for Spitzer in general -- it says she supports governors "like" Spitzer who are faced with policy conundrums of this sort. This is basically a clearer way of saying what she said yesterday -- Spitzer is trying to solve a problem that needs to be solved, and she supports the idea of trying to do something about it with policies similar to these.

The AFSCME endorsement kind of blunted the impact of this waffling, although John Edwards nabbing the New Hampshire SEIU may prove more important. The point is less about the contentious issue of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants - one that State Senator Gil Cedillo has been nobly pushing out here in California for years - it's about Hillary Clinton's judgment. She is far too constrained by political expediency, and would rather dance around a tough issue than lead on it and bring people to her position. That's not the kind of leadership I really want to see in the White House.

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Headed For A Writer's Strike

I like to say that I work in the last big manufacturing industry left in America - entertainment production. That manufacturing may be grinding to a halt soon.

With the clock running out on the contract between Hollywood’s writers and producers Wednesday, negotiators made little progress toward a new deal, and both sides prepared for a strike that could begin as early as Friday.

Representatives of the two unions — the Writers Guild of America East and the Writers Guild of America West — met with bargainers for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Wednesday morning after a federal mediator helped jump-start the stalled talks.

But the two sides broke off talks Wednesday night, allowing the contract to expire at midnight. Writers had presented freshly drawn proposals that left their principal demands intact, according to a guild leader, and producers made no immediate move to accommodate them.

There really has been no progress throughout the talks. Writers want a greater share of DVD residuals (they didn't see that revenue stream coming during the last contract), a deal on new media payments like digital downloads, and an expansion of collective bargaining to cover reality and nonfiction shows.

This could have a ripple effect throughout the industry, with productions shutting down. They've front-loaded a lot of their programming and endeavored to shoot as much as possible in anticipation of the strike. It's pretty clear that's what's going to happen. Next year, the Director's Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild have contracts that end in June, which would really cripple the industry. It appears that the studios would rather placate them and play hardball with the writers, as contract talks with directors are already ongoing.

There is unfortunately no cross-union partnership in Hollywood, in fact there's quite a bit of animosity between some of them. We are probably looking at a protracted walkout, without the other unions coming to their aid. And in a city where one out of every three employees in the industry are out of work on any given day, it's hard to incentivize mass action and non-union solidarity. You can be easily replaced.

Stay tuned...

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Such A Success, Nobody Wants To Go There

At what point does this cross over into forced labor?

Uneasy U.S. diplomats yesterday challenged senior State Department officials in unusually blunt terms over a decision to order some of them to serve at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad or risk losing their jobs.

At a town hall meeting in the department's main auditorium attended by hundreds of Foreign Service officers, some of them criticized fundamental aspects of State's personnel policies in Iraq. They took issue with the size of the embassy -- the biggest in U.S. history -- and the inadequate training they received before being sent to serve in a war zone. One woman said she returned from a tour in Basra with post-traumatic stress disorder only to find that the State Department would not authorize medical treatment.

Yesterday's internal dissension came amid rising public doubts about diplomatic progress in Iraq and congressional inquiries into the department's spending on the embassy and its management of private security contractors. Some participants asked how diplomacy could be practiced when the embassy itself, inside the fortified Green Zone, is under frequent fire and officials can travel outside only under heavy guard.

Service in Iraq is "a potential death sentence," said one man who identified himself as a 46-year Foreign Service veteran. "Any other embassy in the world would be closed by now," he said to sustained applause.

What the... don't these diplomats know that we've turned the corner and they're in the last throes?

Let's be clear, these public officials, who know a bit more about the situation on the ground than the layman, are resisting attempts to be deployed to the GREEN ZONE, ostensibly the most secure area in all of Iraq. Now, it could be because they're just afraid of being caught in Blackwater's crossfire, but now that the military will be taking control of convoys, that should be less of a problem. So maybe it's just that these State Department employees know what the GAO has determined:

The U.S. and Iraqi governments have failed to take advantage of a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq, according to a report issued Tuesday by a U.S. watchdog agency, which warned that prospects were waning "for achieving current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq."

Iraqi leaders have not passed legislation to foster reconciliation among Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, and sectarian groups still retain control of ministries and divide Iraqi security forces, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

Moreover, the Bush administration's efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq are plagued by weak planning, a lack of coordination with the Iraqi government and among U.S. agencies, and an absence of detailed information on "the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq," it said.

"U.S. efforts lack strategies with clear purpose, scope, roles and performance measures," the report said.

All of this "progress" could go up in a moment, because it's not sustained by any structural changes. It's a play-out-the-clock strategy. And when the clock runs out, these people forced to deploy to Iraq will be among the most vulnerable.

That's why I agree with Juan Cole: it's time to close the US Embassy.

Now is that time for all Americans to stand up for the diplomats who serve this country ably and courageously throughout the world, for decades on end. Foreign service officers risk disease and death, and many of them see their marriages destroyed when spouses decline to follow them to a series of remote places. They are the ones who represent America abroad, who know languages and cultures and do their best to convince the world that we're basically a good people [...]

The guerrillas in Iraq constantly target the Green Zone and US diplomatic personnel there with mortar and rocket fire. State Department personnel sleep in trailers that are completely unprotected from such incoming fire. At several points in the past year, they have been forbidden to go outside without protective gear (as if outside were more dangerous). The Bush administration has consistently lied about the danger they are in and tried to cover up these severe security precautions.

The US embassy in Iraq should be closed. It is not safe for the personnel there. Some sort of rump mission of hardy volunteers could be maintained. But kidnapping our most capable diplomats and putting them in front of a fire squad is morally wrong and is administratively stupid, since many of these intrepid individuals will simply resign. (You cannot easily get good life insurance that covers death from war, and most State spouses cannot have careers because of the two-year rotations to various foreign capitals, and their families are in danger of being reduced to dire poverty if they are killed) [...]

The Democrats have been facing the dilemma that they are blocked from doing much about Iraq. This is something they can do. Cut off funding for the embassy and force most of the diplomats home. This is the way to start ending the war.



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I've Based My Campaign On Lying, I Can't Stop Now

A couple days ago, I looked at Rudy Giuliani's lies in his health care advertising. I wasn't the only one who noticed. The statistics he used were just completely off the mark. And this is not the first instance with Rudy where serial exaggeration has taken place.

When asked about this, the Giuliani campaign basically said, "We're going to keep on lying."

Asked if Mr. Giuliani would continue to repeat the statistic, and if the advertisement would continue to run, [Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for Giuliani] responded by e-mail: “Yes. We will.”

As Steve Benen notes, this is happening because Giuliani knows he can get away with it. Fact-checking on policy is simply no longer something the media primarily concerns themselves with. Sure, they'll follow haircut expenses deep into the weeds, and they'll track whether candidates prefer the Yankees or the Red Sox, but on issues that actually affect people's lives, they will likely do a he said/she said article and move on. And Giuliani has calculated that won't make as much of a dent in the public consciousness as his ad with the faulty statistics. To quote Greg Sargent:

Memo to media: Rudy and his campaign think you’re a bunch of chumps. They have nothing but complete contempt for the truth and for everything that purportedly led you all to become journalists. Maybe it’s time to get serious about what this guy is up to.

This should be seen as a gaffe. The Giuliani campaign blatantly lied about the signature domestic policy issue facing the nation. That should be part of the narrative moving forward.

UPDATE: Hey, I found something else Rudy's lying about: his strength in blue states!

As it turns out, a poll released Monday showed Giuliani losing California to Hillary Clinton by a 55%-39% margin. And as for his home state of New York — it's even worse, with Hillary beating Rudy by an astonishing 64%-30% margin in a poll released on Tuesday.

How do you know Rudy's lying, he's moving his lips, blah blah blah.

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Nonpartisan Advice

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft has written to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy asking him to grant retroactive immunity to the telecom industry. He works for the telecom industry.

Two former Attorneys General and a former FBI director wrote in the Wall Street Journal urging retroactive immunity for the telecom industry. They are all telecom lawyers.

I would like to know what people who AREN'T being paid by the telecom industry think.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

They've Already Won The Iran Debate

We're having a debate about Iran in this country, a debate between reason and utter insanity. It's clear that the Cheney Administration has found the next Hitler in the guy who controls the traffic signals in Tehran; and they will be relentless in fostering a climate of fear in the American pschye, designed to turn them into a quivering mass who will submit to their father-protectors. Whether or not this is the work of the mentally ill is besides the point. The point is this:

Every day we talk about Iran is one less day we're talking about Iraq.

This has been a classic distraction strategy from the very beginning. I mean, yes, we all know that the Administration is crazy enough to unilaterally strike Iran and bomb what they perceive to be an imminent nuclear threat. So sure, you have to counsel patience, you have to ask for direct talks, as Chuck Hagel did today, or you cede the debate to the neocons in the White House and their enablers in the Senate, and end up with a situation where the public is on board with an attack on Iran, beyond all reason. But all of that energy expended on rebutting the Iran claims doesn't go to ending this tragic occupation in Iraq, which, contrary to wingnut belief, has not magically turned the corner. Indeed, there has been no movement whatsoever on the political front, with the country due to lapse into a warlord state where local gangs fight for power at the local level. But none of these cases are being made, crowded out by the drumbeat to Iran.

Did you even know that the Democrats are considering dropping another $50 billion on Iraq before they go home for the recess? There's no way to organize around that when it barely registers a peep. I don't know if Bush wants to attack Iran or not. What I do know is that it is a great way for him to tie everyone up in knots around the question, so that he can say that Congress wasted its time trying to stop the occupation without repercussions. I think the strategy to fearmonger around Iran is less about scaring the Iranians and more about scaring the Democrats and the American people. Scaring them into silence.

Because the truth is that what we're witnessing is the collapse of Bush's foreign policy, although you wouldn't know it. Throughout the world, from an increasingly violent Pakistan, where every public official is a target, to a Turkey on the verge of an invasion of Kurdistan, to Somalia, which has become so restive that the prime minister has quit, to Afghanistan, where our airstrikes are angering the population and our poppy eradication tests are driving citizens into the arms of the Taliban, to Egypt, which has decided on the exact same program as Iran on nuclear energy, which could escalate proliferation in the Middle East by exacerbating Sunni-Shiite tensions (why is it OK for Egypt to get civilian nuclear energy and not Iran, you can hear people say).

None of this is being discussed in any serious fashion because everyone has gone code red on Iran. This is by design, because it's precisely the moment where the Bush foreign policy is at its lowest ebb.

The Bush administration once imagined that its presence in Afghanistan and Iraq would be anchored by friendly neighbors, Turkey to the west and Pakistan to the east. Last week, as the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to deteriorate, the anchors themselves also came loose [...]

After Sept. 11, when the Bush administration launched its global “war on terror,” the United States enjoyed some clear assets in fighting the al-Qaida terrorist network. In the Middle East, the United States had the support of secular Turkey, a NATO member. The long relationship of the powerful Pakistani military with that of the United States enabled Bush to turn the military dictator Musharraf against the Taliban, which Pakistan had earlier sponsored. Shiite Iran announced that it would provide help to the United States in its war on the hyper-Sunni Taliban regime. Baathist Syria and Iraq, secular Arab nationalist regimes, were potential bulwarks against Sunni radicalism in the Levant.

Like a drunken millionaire gambling away a fortune at a Las Vegas casino, the Bush administration squandered all the assets it began with by invading Iraq and unleashing chaos in the Gulf. The secular Baath Party in Iraq was replaced by Shiite fundamentalists, Sunni Salafi fundamentalists and Kurdish separatists. The pressure the Bush administration put on the Pakistani military government to combat Muslim militants in that country weakened the legitimacy of Musharraf, whom the Pakistani public increasingly viewed as an oppressive American puppet. Iraqi Kurdistan’s willingness to give safe haven to the PKK alienated Turkey from both the new Iraqi government and its American patrons. Search-and-destroy missions in Afghanistan have predictably turned increasing numbers of Pushtun villagers against the United States, NATO and Karzai. The thunder of the bomb in Karachi and the Turkish shells in Iraqi Kurdistan may well be the sound of Bush losing his “war on terror.”

And we're all talking about this potential war in Iran. It's a brilliant, brilliant maneuver.

I don't know what really can be done about this; it would be folly not to take Bush seriously about anything megalomaniacal. But let's be clear that saber-rattling on Iran serves multiple goals, not the least of which is wriggling out of the failed foreign policy choices that will define this Presidency far into the future.

SORT OF RELATED: I love how the US giving Turkey intelligence on the PKK guerrillas in Kurdistan is supposed to solve everything. News flash: we don't have good intel in Iraq. We rely on tips. If we had good intel we wouldn't see 100 bombing attacks a day. This isn't going to help anything.

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Mukasey's Going to Be Confirmed

Absent a filibuster. No Republican will cross the White House on this one; even the guy who was tortured doesn't care that the Attorney General of the United States won't call obvious torture techniques torture. That's Straight Talk (TM)!

I know that Mukasey can't actually say the truth here because he would implicate Administration officials in war crimes if what he defines as torture turns out to be what they did. But that means that this White House can't have an Attorney General, then, essentially. Because they're looking for their own immunity as surely as they're looking for immunity for the telecoms. Being an Attorney General in this Administration is being an accessory to lawbreaking, and being OK with it. Maybe what he should have done is take the fifth and invoke his right not to incriminate himself.

I still have to maintain that voting to confirm Mukasey is voting to sanction the worst abuses of the Administration, including torture. In the end, our finest Senators will not do that, but enough of them will to let this guy into the Justice Department. The worst thing you can say about that is that it will probably improve the department from the last resident of the office.

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Freddie Goes Deep Into The Wingnut Well

When demagoguing on illegals doesn't work, when holding forth on the scourge of the Soviet Union fails to inspire, when fearmongering on Iran can't gain any traction, there's always pretending the UN will take your guns away.

Says Thompson, "Last year, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights declared that international human rights law requires all nations to adopt strict gun control laws. These "minimum" provisions are much more restrictive than any of those on the books anywhere in the U.S. and would almost certainly violate the Second Amendment of our Constitution."

Except, that's not true.

As you can see, these are pretty broad directives. And as you can see, no country is required to do anything. In fact, the only UN body that can require something of a member state is the Security Council, on which the United States has a veto.

He also claims that the UN has denied "the existence of any human right to self-defense," which is so not true that it's in Article 51 of the original UN charter of 1945.

This whole "The UN is about to take your guns" away is pretty far down the significant rung of made-up fears from the lunatic fringe, right down there with the NAFTA Superhighway and the fluoridation of water. It's pretty deep in the wingnut id. Freddie can't figure out how else to prove to the fundies that he's one of them, so he has to pretend these lies are the truth, because that's all he's got.

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First Rule Of Politics

You pay off your closeted gay sex bills first:

A Republican state legislator from southwest Washington had sex with a man he met at an erotic video store and then told police he had been targeted in an extortion attempt, according to police documents released Tuesday.

State Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, who on Monday declared, "I have not had sex with a guy," told police he was the victim in an extortion attempt by Cody Castagna at the posh Davenport Tower hotel on Oct. 26, search warrant documents said.

Castagna, 26, of nearby Medical Lake, told police that Curtis, 48, agreed to pay him $1,000 for sex, then reneged on the promise. Police reports also said witnesses told them Curtis dressed in women's lingerie at the erotic store, and records showed Curtis purchased two gay pornographic films from the hotel to watch with Castagna.

One thing about these gay Republicans that recurs again and again is just terrible MONEY MANAGEMENT. First there was the guy who offered $20 AND the blow job (dude, it's the other way around), and now this guy pulls the old bait-and-switch, as well as offering to wildly overpay for gay sex, I would imagine. I mean, if blowjobs are in the $20 range, can the price possibly go up 50 fold for the full Monty?

Oh, and in case you're wondering - he's self-loathing.

In 2005 and 2006, Curtis voted against a bill that granted civil rights protections to gays and lesbians.

In 2007, Curtis voted against a bill that created domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

Really, at this point, it would be easier, for counting purposes, to label the anti-gay Republicans who AREN'T gay.

UPDATE: He's resigned now. To spend more time with his lingerie.

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The Colonel's Secret Email Recipe

This Col. Steven Boylan/Glenn Greenwald scandal is insane. Greenwald got an unsolicited email from Boylan, who's St. Petraeus' top PR guy in Iraq, basically has a habit of writing threatening, belligerent emails to liberal bloggers and journallists who write things that run counter to his and his boss' agenda. There's a persistent pattern of this: Kevin Drum, Noah Schachtman at Wired, Greg Mitchell from Editor & Publisher. So Boylan's email to Greenwals fits that pattern. Only Boylan adamantly denies writing it. This despite Greenwald sending authenticated emails and this "disputed" one to computer experts who have basically attributed those emails to the same source. And ever AFTER this has all come out, Boylan is sending replies off to various commenters at Greenwald's place. The walls are closing in on this guy, and it's clear he's lying about the provenance of the initial email. I have no idea why he wouldn't just fess up and get it over with. Salon's Fahad Manjoo has plenty more.

Is the military's top spokesman in Iraq a loose cannon who routinely fires off angry, impetuous e-mails to bloggers who criticize the war and the spin surrounding it? Or is Col. Steven Boylan, instead, an innocent victim -- an online wallflower whose identity has been hijacked by a pro-war hacker who has managed to break into the most well-fortified space on the planet in order to taunt lefty critics? Neither scenario paints a comforting picture of the situation in Iraq -- and even though the e-mails in question are coming from military servers in Iraq, the military seems strangely uninterested in solving the mystery of who is writing them [...]

On Tuesday, I spoke to several e-mail experts who have compared the disputed Boylan message with other letters the colonel has sent. The experts tell a clear story: If the message is a fake, as Boylan claims, it is a very well-done fake. Experts say that anyone who forged the e-mail to Greenwald would have had to find a way to get into the military's network, either physically (by having access to Boylan's computer, say) or through some kind of hack.

Every e-mail message includes a trail showing how it was routed through the Internet to get from the sender's computer to the receiver's -- this information is included in what's called an e-mail's "header." Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher and Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly provided Salon with e-mail correspondence they've had with Boylan. Headers on those messages, as well as headers on other messages that Boylan has sent to Greenwald and a Salon editor, match the header of the disputed e-mail -- they all show Boylan's messages coming through the military's computers in Iraq.

It's enough to make you sad for Boylan... until you realize what's going on here.

The overarching point here is that the US military is becoming increasingly a political organization, using PR flacks to run interference against anyone who questions their policies. That's a danger for democracy, to be sure. Boylan has written columns for far-right mags like Human Events while employed giving the supposedly full picture in Iraq. This guy is a right-wing hack who got caught; but he's been at this a while, and I don't think the American taxpayer should be paying this guy to jump into blog comments and give a right-wing spin on things, which he believes is actually his job. He's a partisan operative:

In the fall of 2004, campaign reporters for the Los Angeles Times found Michelle Boylan and three Boylan children manning a Bush-Cheney phone bank in Wisconsin. "We're here because we think it's important to keep President Bush in office," Michelle Boylan told the Times.

Hell, I'm as partisan as the next guy. But this has now become embedded into the highest levels of the military, and honestly it colors almost everything they say with suspicion.

Let's give Greenwald the last word:

In his email with the reader who has asked that her name not be used, Boylan wrote: "I have my serious doubts that any of what has been said is real and I have no reason to engage Mr. Greenwald," and further wrote that "errors" in the email "indicates (sic) that whoever sent it if in fact it was really ever sent and I have my doubts, does not completely know my career timeline." He is, rather unmistakably, suggesting here that I fabricated the email.

I'll just note initially that this is exactly the kind of behavior that we have seen repeatedly over the last six years from political officials in the Bush administration -- lashing out at people who bring wrongdoing to light. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill left the administration and revealed embarrassing information about how Bush officials were planning an attack on Iraq before 9/11, and suddenly, Bush officials began whispering to reporters that he had committed crimes by removing classified documents which he used to write his book. Joe Wilson wrote an Op-Ed debunking falsehoods in the State of the Union address and suddenly he is the target of a vicious White House demonization campaign as well as a principal subject of a GOP-issued Senate Intelligence Committee report.

This is really bad, and the military needs to respond quickly.

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Horrible Numbers For Re-Animated Dirty Tricks

While the turnout model for a June non-Presidential primary is unknown, this should cheer people who don't want to see California's electoral votes stolen by an unbalanced dirty trick.

When voters are read the title and summary of the proposed initiative, a solid majority opposes the measure - 53 percent would vote NO if the election were held today and only one out of five voters (22%) support the initiative while a quarter of the electorate (25%) is currently undecided. This is one of the lowest levels of support we have ever seen in our polling for a statewide initiative in California.

It doesn't sound like this is a tilted poll designed to get a certain result. It sounds like the months of harping on this both through the netroots and in the media are having an impact. They may yet get this dud on the ballot, but we'll crush it on Election Day.

Of course, we wouldn't even be talking about this if it weren't for the splitting of the primary races allowing for a low-turnout election in the middle of the summer to be an inviting target for Republican dirty tricksters. The real reason for moving up the Presidential primary was not just to keep up with the Joneses and "make California heard" in the Presidential process - if that was the goal they're failing miserably - was to ensure that termed-out lawmakers could serve again in the Legislature, by putting the term limits change on the February ballot in time for them all to run again in June. And now that initiative is starting to falter. So the Legislature created the conditions for any number of pernicious Republican ballot measures because they wanted to stay in power - and now they may not even accomplish that.

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