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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Welcome To Your Police State

The FBI knows who you are, knows your face, your fingerprints, your palm prints, all of your biometrics.

The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. Critics say that such government initiatives should not proceed without proof that the technology really can pick a criminal out of a crowd.

The use of biometric data is increasing throughout the government. For the past two years, the Defense Department has been storing in a database images of fingerprints, irises and faces of more than 1.5 million Iraqi and Afghan detainees, Iraqi citizens and foreigners who need access to U.S. military bases. The Pentagon also collects DNA samples from some Iraqi detainees, which are stored separately.

And if they don't get you from an iris scan, they'll treat you like a Gitmo detainee for the crime of trying to shop in New York City:

Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York. We were going to shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. We made ourselves comfortable on first class, drank white wine and looked forward to go shopping, eat good food and enjoy life. When we landed at JFK airport the traditional clearance process began.

We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued.

I was photographed and fingerprinted. I was asked questions which I felt had nothing to do with the issue at hand. I was forbidden to contact anyone to advise of my predicament and although I was invited at the outset to contact the Icelandic consul or embassy, that invitation was later withdrawn. I don't know why [...]

What turned out was something else. I was taken to another office exactly like the one where I had been before and once again along wait ensued. In all, it turned out to be 5 hours. At this office all my things were taken from me. I succeeded in sending a single sms to worried relatives and friends when I was granted a bathroom break. After that the cell phone was taken from me. After I had been sitting for 5 hours I was told that they were now waiting for guards who would take me to a place where I could rest and eat. Then I was placed in a cubicle which looked like an operating room. Attached to the walls were 4 steel plates, probably intended to serve as bed and a toilet.

I was exhausted, tired and hungry. I didn't understand the officials' conduct, for they were treating me like a very dangerous criminal. Soon thereafter I was removed from the cubicle and two armed guards placed me up against a wall. A chain was fastened around my waist and I was handcuffed to the chain. Then my legs were placed in chains. I asked for permission to make a telephone call but they refused. So secured, I was taken from the airport terminal in full sight of everybody. I have seldom felt so bad, so humiliated and all because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law.

On top of this you have the mainstreaming of Selma-era tactics, where peaceful protest and dissent, in this case the rejection of razing public housing in New Orleans, is repelled with tasers and mace, and it causes barely a ripple.

CNN showed the footage of the melee on a loop while Kyra interviewed reporters and local officials blathering on as she does above, never commenting on the fact that police were spraying people directly in the face with mace and tasering the crowd while protesters writhed on the ground screaming in pain, attended to by their friends and then being picked up and carried off camera.

We've become very comfortable with a police state in the years since 9/11. In the civil rights era, practices like this were what CAUSED change, at least in part. Now they scarcely carry anything beyond a shrug. "Don't tase me bro" was the quote of the year. Torture is actually being debated in civil society. We are dangerously close to losing ourselves altogether.

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The Ron Paul Blind Spot

Glenn Greenwald was initially a conservative. He fully admitted that in his first book. Now his views are generally associated with the left, but his takes on civil liberties and a generally non-interventionist foreign policy have a place in the Libertarian Party as well. Given that I fully understand his appreciation of Ron Paul, who as I've said is attracting so much attention because he is the only one out there offering a real critique of US foreign policy, not just as it relates to Iraq but in totality (Edwards and Obama have actually done this to an extent as well, but they're not highlighting it in the same way).

But his long screeds against anyone who dares to bring up the more unseemly parts of Paul's platform is kind of bizarre. You don't just get to pick pieces of somebody's policies when you elect somebody, and Paul comes with the paleoconservative foreign policy views AND the destruction of Medicare, the Education Department, Social Security, and practically every other social program AND the frankly weird belief in the building of a NAFTA Superhighway AND the desire to nullify birthright citizenship AND the strong anti-abortion record (which kind of upsets the whole "individual freedom" thing) AND the free coinage and abolition of the Federal Reserve AND the openly racist statements that appeal to white supremacists AND the Defense of Marriage Act. It's a whole ball of wax. And while I think nobody discounts the importance of Paul's voice in the debate, making points that would otherwise go ignored about Iraq and foreign policy forced into the national debate, these other troubling aspects of his candidacy are not off-limits.

Ezra Klein responded to Greenwald here. I really don't think they disagree all that much. But Greenwald is, I have to say, being fairly petulant. And Dana Goldstein has more.

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Welcome Digbyites!

And thanks to my pal Digby for sending y'all over, and putting me over the top of 100,000 unique visitors, a long-sought milestone. We who tend the smaller gardens of the blogosphere are always grateful for a nudge from the big boys and girls.

Two things: you came from Hullabaloo, so you all know what a sharp commentator of the political scene and a boon to the progressive community she is. Her annual pledge drive was on as of a few days ago, so let me reiterate that she deserves your support.

And number 2: if you're in the Southern California area and want to watch the Iowa caucus returns with people of like minds, our LA chapter of Drinking Liberally is going to have a special event that night, January 3, in Santa Monica at the Nocturnal Bar (2101 Lincoln, cross street is Grant, a couple minutes off the 10 Freeway). I'll have more on this later, and if you'd like the updates, sign up for the email list at the Drinking Liberally site.

Thanks for visiting!

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Torture Tape Update

So after belligerently trying to shut down the House Intelligence Committee investigation over the detroyed torture tapes, and faced with imminent subpoenas which would have bipartisan support, the CIA and the Justice Department relented, offering documents and allowing the CIA's top lawyer, John Rizzo, to testify to the committee. Whether or not they'll allow Jose Rodriguez, who is the prime subject for a committee subpoena, to testify is an open question. It's a minor victory for the separation of powers, but I stress minor. And so far, based not only on the documents given to the committee but also testimony from Michael Hayden, it looks like Abu Gonzales and John Bellinger advised against destroying the tapes, adding to other accounts that Harriet Miers advised against destruction as well. Only one lawyer known to have been present at the discussions is left out: David Addington, Cheney's lawyer. It was obvious that Addington would be the figure most likely to argue for their destruction, seeing as he's bathed in the light of Fourthbranch and believes himself to be not bound by any laws, a Javier Bardem-in-No Country For Old Men kind of person, if you will.

Additionally, a CIA lawyer has put to rest Hayden's ridiculous concern that the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of the agents involved. There are ample ways to blur out faces or obscure identities, he said, plus they were in the hands of the CIA the entire time, and "If a tape is not safe in the CIA, we’re in trouble."

The 9/11 Commission is weighing in as well, claiming that the tapes were withheld from them prior to their destruction. This is almost the harmonic convergence of Bush Administration secrecy, because so many different groups, including Congress, independent panels like the 9/11 Commission with the force of law, and even the courts have been stonewalled. In the case of the 9/11 panel, the administrators are looking to see whether the CIA violated federal law.

A seven-page memorandum prepared by Philip D. Zelikow, the panel’s former executive director, concluded that “further investigation is needed” to determine whether the C.I.A.’s withholding of the tapes from the commission violated federal law.

In interviews this week, the two chairmen of the commission, Lee H. Hamilton and Thomas H. Kean, said their reading of the report had convinced them that the agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry.

What may not pan out is the court case that some thought would pry open more documents into further view.

A federal judge appeared reluctant Friday to investigate the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes while the Justice Department is conducting its own inquiry.

U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy is considering whether to delve into the matter and, if so, how deeply. The Bush administration is urging him to back off while it investigates.

"Why should the court not permit the Department of Justice to do just that?" Kennedy asked at a court hearing.

Can I answer that? Because they're hopelessly partisan and implicated in the investigation at the highest levels?

It's very unclear where all of this is going. My goal would be to see Addington forced out of the shadows.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Shame On Us For Hyping A Story!

That shit from Chris Matthews today was seriously unbelievable. He Olbermanned it up by calling the beginning segment an "opening comment." Then he excoriated the media over this so-called debunking of Rudy Giuliani's Shag Fund story, which doesn't actually debunk any of the numerous problems people have with the it. The Times piece says he did pay for trips to the Hamptons with taxpayer money. He did prepay for hundreds of thousands of travel dollars on an American Express card. He did bill close to $300,000 in travel to obscure agencies. That's in the debunking! And it said nothing about things like giving Judi security detail before she was his wife, or having the cops walk her dog. The headline of the story says "Rudy Moved Money Around? Yes." Somehow, though, that was good enough for Matthews to rent his garments and deplore the giving of bad information to the electorate.

And he did it as if he hovers over the media somehow but isn't part of it. This is his stock in trade. He's CONSTANTLY overhyping stories, and I've never seen him offer such a grave retraction as he did today, not for any of the crap stories he's highlighted about Hillary (cleavage and body language garbage), Obama (A Muslim, which he was apparently the first media figure to highlight), Edwards (the haircut), or saying that Gore invented the Internet, which he STILL SAYS to this day even though it's 100% untrue.

It was almost as good as earlier in the week, when he was talking to John Edwards about a part in his stump speech where he takes on the media, and says "Well, that's not about me. I think of myself as anti-establishment."

We could only wish. Then you wouldn't have a voice.

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Playing Out The String

The bottom line of this article is that there will be 100,000 or more troops in Iraq on Election Day 2008, there will still be a moral tragedy of a prison at Guantanamo, Osama bin Laden will still be at large, Iraq will still be a breeding ground for lawless contractors who allow their employees to rape and imprison, the fundamental problems of Sunni/Shiite distrust and a lack of a political solution will persist, and all of these messes will be dumped on the next President. In that sense, Robert Gates is doing exactly the job he's been asked to do by the President. Mukasey too.

UPDATE: Just let me flesh out this link a little more. Abdulaziz al-Hakim is saying that the neighborhood patrols set up as part of the "Anbar Awakening" must be under federal control. This is the last thing the Sunni former insurgents in those patrols want. The key quote is when Hakim says “Weapons should only be in the hands of the government.” Keep in mind that this is supposed to be the tangible success of the surge. It's actually heading inexorably toward confrontation. Also in the article is a UNICEF report that two million Iraqi children have suffered from "humanitarian ills" in 2007, with 60% unable to access potable water. Also there's an imminent battle for northern Iraq that'll explode at any time, with open pledges of violence by both Kurds and Sunnis. The middle of next year, in the heart of election season, could be a nightmare.

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Impeachment - 9 Years Ago This Week

In December of 1998, the House of Representatives, through a bill authored by serial adulterer Henry Hyde, during a lame-duck session of Congress where Speaker and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich (who started up with a mistress while his wife was in the hospital with cancer) had to hand over his gavel to Ray LaHood, during a floor debate marred by the resignation of potential House Speaker candidate and serial adulterer Bob Livingston, voted to impeach the President of the United States for only the second time in American history. The count was 228-206 on the perjury charge, and 221-212 on obstruction of justice (two other counts failed). Being the anniversary week, C-SPAN decided to air large portions of the House debate.

I couldn't stop watching.

You actually can read the transcripts here, but believe me when I tell you that the phony sanctimony from the Republicans is striking. I've never heard so many renderings of history, deep intoning about the Constitution and reverance for the rule of law come out in such a stream of pabulum in my life. Set against the background of the current Administration, which has lied us into war, spied on American citizens, tortured and indefinitely detained suspects without trial in secret sites all over the world, subverted the will of the people through deliberate deception, and brought this country to its knees, all in full view of many of these same lawmakers, the experience of watching them speak is almost otherworldly.

What the Republicans were actually doing is throwing a hissy fit. They saw in the Lewinsky case an opportunity to whine and cry and get a media predisposed to hating Bill Clinton on their side. After all, he came in and trashed the place, and it wasn't his place. So they would use every rhetorical means at their disposal to make the impeachment about these abstract concepts of justice that they
regularly ignore these days, so that they could mask the fact that they were trying to remove a President over a blow job, and among those voting to sustain that were Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Randy "Duke" Cunningham and the entire cast of sexual and moral deviants.

The media, not recognizing that the public largely didn't care about Clinton's infidelity as much as they cared about his policies, played the scandal to the hilt, using sensationalism for ratings glory, but also trying to cast a member out of their Village they prized so much, because the Clintons weren't part of their gang. The endless series of blonde female prosecutors filled the cable nets, pundits of the kind of Chris Matthews sat around looking grim, and the High Broderists moaned about the "crisis" in Washington, which was the only place in the country there was a crisis, of course.

The Democrats didn't actually look laudatory in this debate. Their greatest scorn was over the fact that they were denied a vote on censure, which they felt was the appropriate action (this was true of the nascent online progressive movement as well; began as Censure and Move On in an attempt to get the Congress to do just that). If a critique of this stunning power grab from the Republicans were made, it was that they weren't allowing a different kind of condemnation. There was really only one speech that stood out from all the rest, at least among the few hours that I saw. It was made by Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., then a two-term Representative from the Second District of Illinois. He still serves today and I wish he would engage with the online progressive community more. In this speech, he essentially lays out the core strategy of Republicans that exists to this very day, their intention to hijack government and basically destroy it, creating an oligarchy where the politicians serve their rich masters and leave little more than crumbs for the bulk of society. I'm going to cite the text in full, because I think it's important enough that it ought to be seen:

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JESSE JACKSON, JR. (D-IL): Republican say the underlying issue is not about sex, it's about perjury. The Democrats say the underlying issue is about sex -- a private consensual relationship -- and the president lied about it, possibly committing perjury in the process. But since lying about sex is not an act involved using his official position against the state, as Nixon did, Democrats say Clinton's sins do not reach the constitutional standard for impeachment.

That is the essence of the arguments we've heard presented by members of Congress and the Judiciary Committee, but underlying the pending Clinton impeachment is neither sex nor lying nor perjury, but American history itself. Essentially the same economic and political forces that drove the presidential impeachment process against Andrew Johnson in 1868 are driving the impeachment process 130 years later.

There has been a role reversal. The Republicans of 1998 were the Democrats of 1868, but the underlying issue is essentially the same -- reconstruction. The first reconstruction was at issue in 1868. The second reconstruction is at issue in 1998.

It couldn't possibly be about the standard. Congress determined that Mr. Nixon's failure to pay taxes and his lying about failure to pay those taxes did not meet the constitutional standard, while felonious. Mr. Clinton's actions, while potentially felonious, does not reach the constitutional standard. So we look to history for the answer.

People keep asking me every time I step outside of this Congress, "Why does the African-American community keep sticking with Bill Clinton?" When legal slavery ended, this why: there were nine million people in the old Confederacy, which was led by the Democratic Party. Then the Democratic Party was defined in exclusive terms: slaveholders protected by states rights governments.

Four million people -- southerners -- were uneducated and untrained former slaves who wanted to be brought into the mainstream of America. That did include poor and working class whites who wanted to be brought in.

The identification of Lincoln and the Republican Party with ending slavery led Southern Democrats to refer to Lincoln as the "black president" and the Republican Party as the "black Republican Party." Former Democratic Confederates upheld and resisted the big, centralized Republican federal government and wanted to get the government off of their states' backs so they get all -- get right back to their old states rights ways.

Senator Andrew Johnson was a Tennessee Democrat who had refused to join his Southern Democratic confederates and stayed with the northern Unionists. Lincoln, concerned about preserving and reunifying the union, the nation, following the war, he led and appointed that Democrat to become vice president.

When Lincoln was killed, President Johnson focused on putting the Union back together, but not on building a more perfect union for all Americans, and unlike Lincoln and the Republicans, he was willing to preserve the union by leaving some Americans behind, sacrificing the rights and interests of the former slaves.

This is why, as a result, those northern angry Republicans investigated a vulnerable Johnson who, not unlike Bill Clinton, had personal foibles, to try to come up with an excuse to impeach him. It was a partisan attack by Republicans on a Democratic president in order to preserve undertaking the Republicans' first reconstructive economic program [...]

JACKSON: Today's conservative-based Republican target is not Bill Clinton, it's second reconstruction, especially the liberalism of Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson, but also ultimately including the big government economic programs of FDR.

Let us not be confused. Today Republicans are impeaching Social Security, they are impeaching affirmative action, they are impeaching women's right to choose, Medicare, Medicaid, Supreme Court justices who believe in equal protection under the law for all Americans.

Something deeper in history is happening than sex, lying about sex and perjury. In 1868, it was about reconstruction and in 1998, it's still about reconstruction.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Still today, Republicans are attempting the same goals with different instruments. They mean to filibuster, they mean to write into law through signing statements, they mean to write executive orders, they mean to impeach, in the sense of the term meaning discredit, the New Deal, the women's right to choose, universal health care, equal protection and civil rights, meaningful steps to mitigate the effects of global warming, any effort to curtail runaway defense spending and endless war, strong public education, global trade standards with respect for labor, the environment and human rights, indeed any progress in society at any level except the very very top.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton was a catalyzing event for the progressive movement. It showed the power of the Republican noise machine to push their agenda to the most extreme lengths. It was never all that clear that they expected removal from office, but it smeared the Clinton name just enough to hurt Al Gore so their candidate could steal the 2000 Election. So in a sense everything springs from this one action, and all of the most rotten elements of the media, the Republican hypocrites and the desiccated Democratic response are on full display.

But as evidenced in Rep. Jackson's speech, there were a few honest men in that wilderness. And if we continue to build and grow the progressive movement there will be more honest men, as the rot is cut out of the Democratic Party, as the backbone to stand up to Republican thievery becomes firmer, as the media gets called to account by a relentless blogosphere. The consequences of passivity are great. The consequences of active participation in taking back the government are real. And this is what we must do.

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Friday Random Ten

Kind of a lazy Friday here. I'm kind of obsessed with reaching 100,000 unique visitors before the end of the year, but it appears I'm going to come up short absent a major spurt during the holidays. Sigh. Well, maybe my ground-breaking expose on music preferences of Southern California-area media professionals will pack in some opinion leaders! Or not.

Xplosion - Outkast
Perfect Day - Lou Reed
Wandering Star - Portishead
Lies - Glen Hansard
Cellphone's Dead - Beck
Do You Want To - Franz Ferdinand
How I Could Just Kill A Man (live) - Rage Against the Machine
Blue Orchid - The White Stripes
Guess I'm Doing Fine - Beck
Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down - Interpol

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Touchy, Touchy

John McCain, who has delusions of Kerry-dom dancing in his head (not entirely delusional with this sorry Republican field, though somebody oughta tell him that John Keery lost), is pushing back dramatically against a rumor of a New York Times story promoted by Drudge. If this doesn't show how Matt Drudge rules the world of the political class, I don't know what does. Drudge, whose 15 minutes of fame actually ended in 1998 but nobody told the media, who artificially inflates his own Web stats to deceive his advertisers, has a pathetic amount of reach into the general population. But because his reach into the desks of the Russert-ites is large, and because McCain is essentially running a media campaign based on getting free coverage, any chink in his armor among that class would torpedo him. So he has to push back vigorously against an Internet rumor.

"It is unfortunate that rumor and gossip enter into political campaigns. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving this country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the important issues facing our country.

"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics. John McCain is the most experienced and prepared to lead as commander and chief, and he will continue to run a positive campaign on the issues."

Somebody protesting too much? Well how about the fact that he's not only lobbying the editor of the NYT to deep-six the story, but he's hired Bill Clinton's old lawyer:

The Arizona Republican has hired a prominent Washington criminal attorney, Robert Bennett, to deal with the matter. "What is being done to John McCain is an outrage," Bennett said in an interview.

This doesn't pass the smell test. You don't hire a lawyer to rebut a rumor. You hire a lawyer because you're in legal trouble. So this story must not only be damaging, but reveal some criminal liability that would spark an FBI investigation. There's no other way to read it.

You actually don't need a new article to portray John McCain as a complete hypocrite on federal spending. His views on war, not just supporting the Iraq war but all war, provides billions of dollars to his buddies in the defense industry in Arizona. War is good for business in his home state. So his supporters benefit from the bloated defense budget more than practically any other state. So spare me the talk of St. McCain the king of porkbusting.

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I Sang On "Rapper's Delight" With The Sugar Hill Gang

Man, this Mitt Romney thing is getting worse and worse:

Romney has repeated the story of his father marching with King in some of his most prominent presidential campaign appearances, including the "Tonight" show with Jay Leno in May, his address on faith and politics Dec. 6 in Texas, and on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday, when he was questioned about the Mormon Church's ban on full participation by black members. He said that he had cried in his car in 1978 when he heard the ban had ended, and added, "My father marched with Martin Luther King."

Mitt Romney went a step further in a 1978 interview with the Boston Herald. Talking about the Mormon Church and racial discrimination, he said: "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit."

Yesterday, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom acknowledged that was not true. "Mitt Romney did not march with Martin Luther King," he said in an e-mail statement to the Globe.

But only if you mean "march with Martin Luther King" in the sense of being on the same street with Martin Luther King at the same time. And that's pretty abstract.

I was going to do a series of other things Mitt Romney has done "for the cause of his brothers and sisters" in his life, but TBogg beat me to it:

August 23, 1963: Convinces Martin Luther King to conclude his "I Have A Dream" speech with "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!", instead of "I'm going to Disneyland!".

December 14, 1966: Tells Ron Karenga that Kwanzaa sounds "less gay" than "First Fruits Festival".

October 16, 1968: Offers Tommie Smith John Carlos his black socks to wear on their fists on the medal stand at the Olympics.

July 14, 1970; Plays congas on The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

November 19, 1970: Nails Angela Davis. Nine months later, Tagg Romney is born.

June 13, 1982: Convinces Michael Jackson that he thinks he would look "really swell" as a white woman.

March 3, 1991: Forgets that he is Rodney King's designated driver and King is forced to drive himself home.

March 9, 1997: Kills Biggie Smalls for "disrespecting" him.

May 13, 2005: Double-dog dares Michael Vick to top strapping a dog to the top of a station wagon.

Not the first time I wished I wrote something that TBogg wrote.

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The Prison Bubble Bursts

Arnold Schwarzenegger, recognizing that you don't build prisons as quickly as one of his movie sets, understanding that the upcoming 3-judge panel decision on the prison crisis was bound to be punitive, is planning to dismiss 12% of the prison population.

In what may be the largest early release of inmates in U.S. history, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration is proposing to open the prison gates next year for some 22,000 low-risk offenders.

According to details of a budget proposal made available to The Bee, the administration will ask the Legislature to authorize the release of certain non-serious, nonviolent, non-sex offenders who are in the final 20 months of their terms.

The proposal would cut the prison population by 22,159 inmates and save the cash-strapped state an estimated $256 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and more than $780 million through June 30, 2010. The proposal also calls for a reduction of more than 4,000 prison jobs, most of them involving correctional officers.

This seems to be as much about saving money as resolving the crisis. Still, it's a ballsy move. Except it reveals the distasteful options that result when you let a problem go this long without doing anything.

Instead of releasing 22,000 prisoners who have had rehabilitation and treatment and education and the skills needed to rotate back into civil society, the Governor wants to release 22,000 prisoners who went in for nonviolent offenses, but who got caught up in a crowded system, completely lacking in the treatment services they needed, and who essentially were matriculating in Crime College. A system as bad as California's turns nonviolent offenders violent. It doesn't equip them for the real world. And that can be witnessed by the nation's largest recidivism rate.

This is the problem that has little in the way of good solutions. Skimming off the top is something you can do, but its consequences are real, and the Tough on Crime folks will seize upon every offense made by these prisoners, and demonize Schwarzenegger as "Governor Pardon" (by the way, this is the END of his aspirations for higher office, this proves he's not interested because this is such campaign fodder). The best solution is a long-term one that doesn't scoop out the nonviolent offenders, but fundamentally changes the sentencing guidelines so the clog becomes reduced, and taking advantage of less crowded prisons in the interim to implement real rehabilitation and treatment programs that can reverse this disappointing recidivism trend.

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Kids Are Way Smarter Than People Think

Allow me to prove that:

Who is your favorite author?” Aleya Deatsch, 7, of West Des Moines asked Mr. Huckabee in one of those posing-like-a-shopping-mall-Santa moments.

Mr. Huckabee paused, then said his favorite author was Dr. Seuss.

In an interview afterward with the news media, Aleya said she was somewhat surprised. She thought the candidate would be reading at a higher level.

“My favorite author is C. S. Lewis,” she said.

And that's why, when you hear one of these idiot moralists railing on about how we have to censor something or ban something, "because of the children," it's actually "because of the parents."

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Murder By Spreadsheet

This is a disgusting story. On December 10, 17-year-old Nataline Sarkysian was at the top of the list for a liver transplant. CIGNA, her insurer, denied the operation, suggesting that the treatment was experimental. For 10 days her family struggled, begging to get CIGNA to change their position on denial of care. UCLA had a liver ready and waiting for her for over a week. A fierce campaign begun by the CNA and the netroots came to a head yesterday, and CIGNA finally changed their mind and allowed the operation to go forward. It showed the power of individuals to create change.

But it was too late. Nataline died yesterday.

But don't worry, we're all going to get everyone covered by these same companies!

The sad truth is that insurance companies value profit over treatment. And they always will. And no amount of regulation will ever change that. As SiCKO revealed, the problem isn't just who doesn't have coverage, the problem is who DOES.

This is revolting. I'm beyond sickened, and CIGNA should have its license to do business in California revoked. The Insurance Commissioner should hear from all of us.

Nyceve has more.

UPDATE: Ouch, the family got Mark Geragos to represent them. And he's asking to pursue criminal MURDER charges against CIGNA.

I hate to be crassly political, but this is the end of health care reform in California. And it's entirely the fault of these criminally negligent insurers who put profit over people. They deserve to be legislated out of existence.

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The Golden Dukes

I'd been somehow ignoring TPM's awards show for the most corrupt Republican officials, but here are the nominees and it's a hoot. Well worth 5 minutes or so of your time. The sheer breadth of Bush Administration and Republican scandals is astounding. And I think there are a lot missing, they actually had to weed some of the garden variety corruption out to end up with this tight list. My favorite so far (somehow I missed this one):

A late, Friday of the deadline nomination for the Outstanding Achievement in Corruption-based Chutzpah section. As outlined by the Guardian (, Ginger Cruz, an deputy at the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and a wiccan has gone beyond earthly realms in her bid for a Golden Duke. Besides, and I quote, a "sustained patterns of inappropriate behavior", she threatened to "put hexes on employees". Add in a dash of "inappropriate sexual remarks" and "access(ing) without authorization employee e-mail messages stored on computers maintained by the U.S. Army", and you've got a lovely little Bush employee disaster in the works. Outstanding work Ginger!

Oh, did I mention there's an investigation of overspending and mismanagement on top of it?

But there are dozens more just as mind-blowing. Enjoy, you'll thank me later.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Secession... Now THERE'S An Idea...

So Russell Means, the Native American activist, and a small band of his followers "seceded" from the United States and withdrew from all US treaties. Only they can't actually do that. It's questionable whether or not they represent the entire Lakota nation.

But what a precedent. Where do I sign up?

More here.

(this is not to make light of the plight of indigenous people in the United States, they have every right to seek their independence, particularly from a country that only allows them to get ahead if they become casino bosses.)

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Good Thing That State Of Emergency Has Been Lifted

Since the terrorist threat in Pakistan is obviously in its last throes.

More than 30 people were killed on Friday in a suspected suicide bombing at a mosque in northwest Pakistan, where a former interior minister was offering Muslim Eid festival prayers, police said.

Former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, who belonged to President Pervez Musharraf's government, was at the mosque at the time of the attack but it was unclear if he was the target. He said he escaped unharmed but his son was injured.

"More than 30 people have been killed in the blast," Feroz Shah, a senior police official at Charsadda district, in North West Frontier Province, told Reuters. "We still don't have an exact figure."

Militant Islam was never the reason for the imposition of martial law, and nothing has been done to decrease that threat in any meaningful way during that martial law. And in the meantime, while the government lost all credibility inside the population due to the hijacking of any vestige of democracy, they're also dealing with their very own Abu Ghraib:

Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, apparently trying to avoid acknowledging an elaborate secret detention system, have quietly set free nearly 100 men suspected of links to terrorism, few of whom were charged, human rights groups and lawyers here say.

Those released, they say, are some of the nearly 500 Pakistanis presumed to have disappeared into the hands of the Pakistani intelligence agencies cooperating with Washington’s fight against terrorism since 2001.

No official reason has been given for the releases, but as pressure has mounted to bring the cases into the courts, the government has decided to jettison some suspects and spare itself the embarrassment of having to reveal that people have been held on flimsy evidence in the secret system, its opponents say [...]

In one case, a suspect tied to, but not charged with the 2002 killing of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist, was dumped on a garbage heap, so thin and ill he died 20 days later. He, like one other detainee, was arrested in South Africa several years ago and released in Pakistan this year.

You think that's not driving the militant strain? You think that's not a recruiting tool?

One of the positive steps Congress took before breaking for the holidays was to restrict military aid to Pakistan and condition it to the restoration of democratic institutions. If we can't control our government at home, maybe at least we can stop funding one that's imitating it.

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D-Trip Commits To 3 CA House Campaigns

This is big news. Roll Call's articles require subscription, but I'll link to DKos diarist (and friend of Calitics) RandySF's description. Basically Chris Van Hollen is announcing that the DCCC, the campaign arm for House Democrats, will be targeting 40 seats to start in the 2008 election, 31 of them held by Republican incumbents and 9 of them open seats. The amazing thing is that 3 of those seats are here in California. On the top 40 list for the D-Trip are:

CA-04 (John Doolittle)
CA-26 (David Dreier)
CA-50 (Brian Bilbray)

What this means is that the DCCC will support financially challengers to those seats, and encourage Democratic donors to do the same. Now, the D-Trip has a mixed record in getting involved in Congressional races. In 2006 some of the seats they contested most strongly were lost at the expense of some strong progressive challengers who were beat by a mere handful of votes, and could have used the money. But looking at the list, I perceive a shift from Rahm Emanuel's style to Chris Van Hollen. I think Van Hollen is rewarding strong candidates who have a chance to win. Netroots-endorsed candidates like Linda Stender, Darcy Burner, Gary Trauner, Dan Maffei, Eric Massa and Larry Kissell are on the list. So I am hopeful that this is not the case of a push to get a bunch of Bush Dogs into office.

What this also shows is the faith in California to have some competitive targets in 2008. The partisan gerrymander is supposed to negate any attempt at flipping seats out here, but times have changed. John Doolittle is so ethically compromised that his idea of good news these days is believing his case will be delayed by a year while they fight a subpoena in the courts. David Dreier is completely out of touch with his district, and Brian Bilbray doesn't even live there. So we will see some opportunities in California in 2008. And this is great news for Charlie Brown, Russ Warner and Nick Leibham, as they have been validated as national players. I hope that they remain true to their beliefs and run these races their way, however, and not the way the national consultants tell them.

Not to toot my own horn, but these have consistently been the top three pickup opportunities in my Congressional roundups. :)

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Hit Me With A Stick

Apparently, the President said this today at his year-end press conference:

Commenting on Lebanese elections, Bush said, “Majority plus one ought to determine who the president is.”

Except if it's 2000, and you lose by a half a million votes.

Or maybe it was a plaintive cry for help. "I shouldn't even have this job! It's too damn tough! Al Gore, save me!"

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The Fetishization of Earmarks

So we hear a ton about earmarks. The President had steam coming out of his ears today, saying he's going to have his budget director look at "erasing wasteful spending" (I guess he found a line-item veto in his stocking this year). And Tom Coburn is rightly raising hell about how Don "Road To Nowhere" Young managed to get an earmark into the 2005 highway bill after it was voted on by both houses of Congress.

An Oklahoma senator who has been a strident critic of the "earmark favor factory" has asked for an investigation into how money was earmarked for a study of a highway interchange next to environmentally sensitive land in Florida.

The $10 million earmark was slipped into the 2005 highway spending bill, a $286.4 billion behemoth overseen by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, then chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has asked for an investigative panel with subpoena power to determine who placed the so-called Coconut Road study into the highway bill [...]

The earmark first drew the attention of Florida road planners when they learned they'd received $10 million for the study even though it wasn't one of their transportation priorities. They'd originally sought an earmark that would direct $10 million for the widening of Interstate 75 in Lee County, Fla.

An enrollment clerk changed language in the earmark after Congress had already voted on it, erasing I-75 and adding the words "Coconut Road" as it was being cleaned up to be sent to President Bush for signing.

And again, I agree with Coburn that we must investigate these extra-Constitutional means to add spending into a bill that nobody ever voted on (even though a later bill would fix the glitch and divert the money away from Coconut Road, a bill which Coburn is holding up until he can get an investigative panel). But I highlighted the amount in the bill: ten million dollars. A lot of money, to be sure, but the federal budget is in the trillions. Canceling one improper ten million-dollar earmark isn't going to get us out of our budget mess.

I'll tell you what would: reducing the obscene defense budget.

Last week, both houses of Congress approved the conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585. The bill includes $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy. The bill also authorizes $189.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This funding is NOT counted as part of the $506.9 billion.

Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation has an itemized description of what's in the budget.

The amount of Cold War lard is truly astonishing, especially given the fact that the military itself is hollering from the hilltops that it can't be responsible for all of our national security needs and that today's problems just don't have military (read "Cold War weapons systems") answers.

Keep in mind, today's defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the "Reagan Era" buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average.

And none of it would have stopped 19 men with boxcutters from getting on to commercial aircraft, nor will any of it get the Sunnis and Shiites to reconcile in Iraq, nor will it help lift hundreds of millions out of the crushing poverty that enables many of them to turn to radical Islam.

The defense budget is a joke. Somehow we're demagogued into believing that we must give as much money to defense contractors as possible, lest we be seen as soft on national security. That's a front for massive amounts of corporate welfare which would go a long way to balancing our budget, far longer than the spare earmark for a road.

But you'll never hear any of these so-called "pork-busters" talk about that. They'll rage against all kinds of federal spending, some of it very noble, as long as it's inserted into a bill in a particular way. Defense earmarks, which is where these two pieces of spending come together, totaled $12 billion dollars in 2005. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the total defense budget. Outdated weapons systems, useless missile defense programs, and the like are the way to fiscal responsibility, not Coconut Road.

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It's Still A Failed Occupation

Under the radar, I think there's a congealing narrative, in the unbiased section of the print media at least, about how things are going in Iraq. Violence is becoming less spectacularly bad, but this has not translated into political success. And this isn't coming from anybody's opinion, but the Pentagon's own report.

Despite significant security gains in much of Iraq, nothing has changed within Iraq's political leadership to guarantee sustainable peace, a Pentagon report released Tuesday found.

The congressionally mandated quarterly report suggests that the drop in violence won't hold unless Iraq's central government passes key legislation, improves the way it manages its security forces and finds a way to reconcile the country's competing sects. It said none of those steps has been taken.

"Although security gains, local accommodation and progress against the flow of foreign fighters and lethal aid into Iraq have had a substantial effect, more needs to be done to foster national, 'top-down' reconciliation to sustain the gains," the report said.

If the Democrats hadn't given up on trying to change Iraq policy, they would be on every show highlighting this document. These Pentagon reports were the only concession from the original Iraq capitulation in May. If you're getting them, and they fit with what you've been saying for months, you might as well use it, no?

I mean, you have a report here saying that the US military is the "de-facto low-level government of the Iraq state." This is pulling us deeper into Iraq, not helping us get out. And the violence will continue until we raise the boot of occupation off of the necks of the Iraqis. That violence, by the way, is not falling as dramatically as it's being described in the media.

As long as basic services aren't being improved, as long as the local government is hopelessly corrupt, and as long as sectarianism still rules political decision-making, we're not going to see any difference in the fundamental dynamic of Iraq.

Three years after the massive US assault on Falluja, the city's mayor has accused Iraq's central government of starving the city of resources.

Mayor Sa'ad Awad says Shia officials still consider the former insurgent stronghold a haven for Sunni militants.

Support was particularly lacking for the city's 2,000-strong police force, he added, as it takes on a bigger role.

It may not be playing out in violent attacks (probably because of the blast walls), but there is still fierce combat for power between Shia and Sunni, which eventually will result, it's inevitable, in armed combat between well-stocked militias. And the Turkey-Kurdistan problem looks to be really teetering on disaster.

Juan Cole is suspicious about the timing of the recent Turkish raids on Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq, which came just as Condoleezza Rice was flying to Kirkuk to meet with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani — a meeting that was angrily cancelled after Barzani learned about the raids:

....Look, it is absolutely impossible that Condi plans out a trip to Kirkuk and a meeting with Barzani with full knowledge that while she is there, Turkey will send 500 Turkish soldiers into northern Iraq to occupy the villages of Kaya Retch Binwak, Janarok and Gelly Resh. Or even that when she set out on her trip, she knew that Turkey was planning to bomb Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday, killing 3, wounding 8, and displacing 300 Kurdish villagers...

It's hard to think this is about anything but Turkey being a malefactor, which is exactly what we don't need.

The media has a MAJOR incentive not to recognize anything about Iraq anymore. But this is a point where the nation is really being lost, and the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for not calling attention to it.

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It's Irresponsible Not To Speculate

Look, I've only met Mickey Kaus once. He was not trying to sodomize a goat at the time. Is that evidence that he doesn't sodomize goats on a regular basis? I think we have to ask the question.

Also, I hear his carpeting is pregnant with a Presidential love-child. Sure, it's just something written on the Internet. But it HAS to be part of any conversation we have about Kaus at any time ever.

I mean, there are goats in America, there's carpeting in America. Mickey Kaus LIVES in America. Do I have to connect all the dots here?

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It Depends On What Your Definition of "Together" Is

Yesterday, the Boston Phoenix investigated this claim from Mitt Romney that his father "walked together with Martin Luther King" in favor of civil rights. Turns out he, um, didn't. Here's the Romney campaign's explanation:

A spokesperson for Mitt Romney now tells the Boston Phoenix that George W. Romney and Martin Luther King Jr. marched together in June, 1963 -- although possibly not on the same day or in the same city.

Romney, according to one piece of written source material provided by the campaign, made a “surprise” appearance at a small march in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in late June -- several days after King led a much larger march in Detroit. Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom suggests that these two were part of the same “series” of events, co-sponsored by King and the NAACP, and is thus consistent with Romney’s claim that “I saw my father march with Martin Luther King.”

“The record is convincing and clear – George Romney marched with Martin Luther King and other civil rights demonstrators,” Fehrnstrom wrote in an email.

Yes, it's perfectly clear: George Romney knew how to walk, Martin Luther King walked in the state of Michigan once: that means they were best friends!

Now, when Al Gore made statements that were clumsy, they were taken completely out of context and put into the worst possible light to make him appear like a "serial exaggerator." Yet here we have Romney, and really not just him on the Republican side, lying over and over again, changing their stories, endlessly parsing their own statements.

So will we seem the same media narrative placed on them?

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Oh, Obama: Barack Suggests Schwarzenegger For His Cabinet?

I think this may end up being less of a problem in the Feb. 5 primary than people may think. Low-information Democrats probably think this sounds like a decent idea.

ABC's Sunlen Miller Reports: Barack Obama has often said he'd consider putting Repbulicans in his cabinet and even bandied about names like Sens. Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel. He's a added a new name to the list of possible Republicans cabinet members - Arnold Schwarzenegger [...]

"What (he’s) doing on climate change in California is very important and significant. There are things I don't agree with him on, but he's taken leadership on a very difficult issue and we haven't seen that kind of leadership in Washington," Obama said of the California governor.

Honestly, until I see a full transcript, I wouldn't say definitively that Obama actually suggested Arnold for his cabinet. It sounds like, from the story, that he said he'd likely have Republicans in his cabinet (remember, even George Bush had a Democratic Secretary of Transportation, California's own Norman Mineta), and here are a few Republicans he respects.

Of course, Obama doesn't live here, and doesn't see, for example, Schwarzenegger's attempts to slow-walk the global warming law to favor business. Or his irresponsible borrow and spend policies and refusal to address the structural budget problem. Or his desire to bust unions. Or his cuts to care for mentally ill homeless people. Or... well, I could go on.

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Your 2007 Congress - A Wrap-Up

We have an instant-gratification society. When the Democrats took the Congress in 2006, a lot of people thought that gold would start coming out of the faucets and every problem wrought by six years of Bushism would be miraculously overturned. The problem is that these same people weren't paying attention to the office of the Presidency over the past century. By accruing enormous amounts of executive power, and with the bonds of party so strong, it's impossible for any party to fully implement their agenda with any kind of speed from just the legislative branch.

Nevertheless, we have seen a Congress that's done far better in their first year implementing their legislative agenda than the last example of divided government, the 1995 Gingrich "revolution".

Let me add to that the passage of the first meaningful gun control legislation in 15 years, and the recent efforts to block Bush's recess appointments by leaving the Senate in pro forma sessions. Plus, they got around Bush's budget obstructionism and actually allowed it to reflect Democratic priorities to some extent (though why a Democratic Congress is honoring the Mexico City rule of denying international funding for family planning is shocking).

However, why I ultimately have to give Congress a failing grade is their inability to move forward on the big issues, and more importantly, their inability to hold the Republicans accountable for their epic obstructionism. On one level, they aren't using the Congressional instruments at their disposal; they don't have to pass any money for Iraq, which would put the onus on Bush to change course if he wants funding. They could force an actual filibuster on these major issues and let everyone see out in the open what the Republicans are committed to doing, which is nothing less than shutting down the government. And they could negotiate from a position of strength, asking for far more from the President in exchange for the bills he desires. They could also invoke the Hastert rule and stop movement on key bills without the support of a majority of the majority.

Unable to garner enough votes from their own party, House Democratic leaders had to turn to Republicans to win passage of a $555 billion domestic spending bill after the Senate appended $70 billion to it for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war funding passed 272 to 142, with Democrats voting 141 to 78 against it.

The Democratic leaders again had to appeal to Republicans to win passage of a measure to stave off the growth of the alternative minimum tax, because fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats were in open revolt and refused to go along. The Blue Dogs insisted that the Senate offset the bill's cost with tax increases on hedge-fund and private-equity managers.

Needing two-thirds of the House to pass under fast-track rules, the tax measure was approved 352 to 64, with all 64 "no" votes coming from Democrats standing by their pledge not to support any tax cut or mandatory spending increase that would expand the national debt.

The AMT patch is a tragedy. Adding $50 billion to the national debt with no offsets is a crime. As is giving any billions more for a failed occupation in Iraq. And this tendency to value the concerns of George Bush over the concerns of the rank and file of the party is what's pissing everyone off.

The military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open. Bush's warrantless surveillance program was actually codified and expanded on the Democrats' watch. Lawmakers were unable to eliminate the use of harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA.

Democratic leaders also could not overcome the president's vetoes on an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, despite winning over large numbers of Republicans. Policies that liberals thought would be swept aside under the Democratic majority remain untouched, including a prohibition on U.S. funding for international family-planning organizations that offer abortions.

And this is all extremely disappointing. Particularly SCHIP, it's already a campaign issue, there's no need to further string that out with votes, it should have been part of the war funding deal. Instead, it'll be funded at the status quo.

But it's important to recognize the historical anomaly of what the Republicans are doing. Here's another chart:

Republicans have set the record for filibusters in a Congressional session in HALF the time. There is no analogue to this. And you would think that would get the attention of the traditional media, but it seems like almost nothing can unless Jamie Lynn Spears is involved.

Democrats have to do a better job, though, of highlighting this obstructionism, of placing the blame on the Republicans for subverting the will of the people, of making individual legislators pay the price. I'm confident that they will.

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Seems Like The Worst Move In The World, But That's Just Me

Mitt Romney, seeing his personal fortune ground into a second-place finish in Iowa, is going where no Republican has dared to go in this race: he's praising President Bush.

ABC News’ John Berman Reports: Standing on the banks of the chilly Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa, Mitt Romney gave a great big political bear-hug to President Bush. Praising the president’s foreign policy, Romney said, “I believe that our president has acted in good faith, and in an effort to protect his country, and do everything in his power to keep America safe.”

Bush has been without majority public support for 35 months straight, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released in December, with only 33 percent approving of the president’s job performance. So, why would a candidate show so much love for a president so low in public opinion polls?

Good question. But Romney doesn't have a choice. He's being torched by Huckabee in Iowa, and nobody's talking to the bitter-enders, the Bush=R0XX0R crowd, so he's drawing a distinction with the guy who claimed Bush had an arrogant bunker mentality.

Of course, once the election's over, if Romney winds up with the nomination, he has this recent record of cozying up to the most unpopular President in American history. But changing his position at the drop of a hat has never been a problem for him before.

P.S. How does he wriggle out of claiming his dad marched with MLK even though there's no record of it at all?

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We Be Jammin'

A new book out by Allen Raymond, one of the ringleaders of the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming case, has led to new scrutiny, and it's about time. This case really does encapsulate the whole Bush Administration: vote fraud, lawbreaking, ruthless partisanship, perversion of justice for political ends, and the arrogant belief that Republicans are above the law.

A former GOP political operative who ran an illegal election-day scheme to jam the phone lines of New Hampshire Democrats during the state's tight 2002 U.S. Senate election said in a new book and an interview that he believes the scandal reaches higher into the Republican Party.

Allen Raymond of Bethesda, Md., whose book Simon & Schuster will publish next month, also accused the Republican Party of trying to hang all the blame for a scandal on him as part of an "old-school cover-up."

Raymond really sounds like a guy who's been reformed by having the Republicans dump the whole scandal on him. He's an insider who is blowing the whistle on the illegal tactics they use to get their people elected.

Raymond said those who've tried to make him the fall guy for the New Hampshire scheme failed to recognize that e-mails, phone records and other evidence documented the complicity of a top state GOP official and the Republican National Committee's northeast regional director [...]

"Any tactic that didn't pass the smell test would never see the light of day without, — at the very least, the approval of an RNC attorney," he wrote.

Paul Twomey, a lawyer for the New Hampshire Democratic party, said that phone records obtained in the civil suit showed that Tobin made 22 calls to the White House political office in the 24 hours before and after the jamming.

John Sununu ended up winning this race by only 19,000 votes (ironically, we could see a rematch between him and Jeanne Shaheen next November). Obviously the phone-jamming had an impact. And today McClatchy writes that the Justice Department interfered to slow down the case so it wouldn't coincide with the 2004 elections.

While there were guilty pleas in the New Hampshire investigation prior to the 2004 presidential election, involvement of the national GOP wasn't confirmed. A Manchester, N.H., policeman quickly traced the jamming to Republican political operatives in 2003 and forwarded the evidence to the Justice Department for what ordinarily would be a straightforward case.

However, the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told McClatchy that senior Justice Department officials slowed the inquiry. The official didn't know whether top department officials ordered the delays or what motivated those decisions.

The official said that Terry O'Donnell, a former Pentagon general counsel who was representing Tobin, was in contact with senior department officials before Tobin was indicted.

In October, the House Judiciary Committee opened an investigation to determine whether partisan politics undermined the federal probe.

The official said that department officials rejected prosecutor Todd Hinnen's push to bring criminal charges against the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Weeks before the 2004 election, Hinnen's supervisors directed him to ask a judge to halt action temporarily in a Democratic Party civil suit against the GOP so that it wouldn't hurt the investigation, although Hinnen had expressed no concerns that it would, the official said.

Read that whole thing, it's a window into how the Bush Justice Department has always operated.

Republicans have won elections in the past in part because they are more willing to push the boundaries of the law and stop and nothing to get their people elected. We need eternal vigilance and continued investigations to bring them to heel.

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Let The Lawsuits Commence

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown went right to work Tuesday, preparing to sue the federal government "at the earliest possible moment" for the EPA's denial of a waiver to let California implement Fran Pavley's AB1493, the law regulating auto tailpipe emissions that was to begin with model year 2009. The regulations, which sought to control greenhouse gases and not just boost auto efficiency standards, would have had the effect of an increase in MPG to roughly 43, far above the 35MPG by 2020 just mandated in the federal energy bill. Indeed, the EPA in its decision noted the passage of the energy bill as a reason to deny California's request, claiming that there should be one standard and that the new bill pre-empted California's authority. So much for state's rights conservatives.

The lawsuit is about as close as you can get to a slam dunk. The case law is already enormously in favor of California. They have been granted every waiver they've ever requested from the EPA since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1963, and the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" of the state's topography, climate, and number of cars on the road has always been specifically cited. That hasn't changed. In addition, federal lawsuits in California and Vermont have upheld the standards set out in AB1493 as fully legal. And just this year, the Roberts Supreme Court has ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that the federal government can regulate greenhouse gas emissions, writng that:

“Judged by any standard, U.S. motor-vehicle emissions make a meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Sadly, it's true that the Bush Administration probably has the ability to put up enough of a fight in the courts to make implementation virtually impossible so long as he remains in office. And so this is likely to come down to a decision for the next President to make. So you would think that the media, knowing this, knowing the potential of global warming to impact all of our lives, would bother to ask a question about it. But so far in 2007, out of 2275 questions asked of the Presidential candidates on the Sunday chat shows, 3 mentioned global warming. Here's a news peg, Russert, Stephanopoulos, Blitzer, Wallace and Schieffer. Have at it!

The New York Times has more on this.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Who's Bailing Who?

In case you were wondering, yes, we're still in the midst of a major housing crisis. Home sales are down in Southern California by 43%, for example. And foreclosure rates may be starting to stabilize, but that still means that many are losing their homes, plus the rate resets scheduled for next year could transform that trend real quick.

A lot of economists, the Treasury Department, and George Bush himself are making a lot of noise about saving people's homes. But that's not even close to what this is about. This is about bailing out banks who made a lot of horrible decisions and don't want to pay for them.

That's not the first thing you'd think when you hear this quote from St. Greenspan:

GREENSPAN: Well, I think it's important to recognize that there are a very large number of people who are in very major stress and having great difficulty in paying off their mortgages and even when they've tried exceptionally hard.

But when you think of how you come to grips with this, it's important to help those people outside -- without affecting the mortgage rates and without affecting the structure of markets. Cash is available and we should use that in larger amounts, as is
necessary, to solve the problems of the stress of this...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Cash from the government?

GREENSPAN: Cash from the government, yes. In other words, if you're going to do that, it's far less damaging to the economy to create a short-term fiscal problem, which we would, than to try to fix the prices of homes or interest rates. If you do that, it'll drag this process out indefinitely.

This is not at all what it seems, however. Companies like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley are taking billions of dollars in "write-downs," which basically means a total loss on a portion of their securities. Practically all of those bad securities are due to mortgages that have been defaulted on. The banking industry is in serious crisis and looking for a handout. And while they're getting it from the Federal Reserve, to the tune of $20 billion in short-term loans, and also in foreign investment (Morgan Stanley got a $5 billion dollar stake from China today), it's far more palatable to make it look like a bailout for John and Jane Doe than for Mr. $100 million dollar bonus CEO. When it would have meant something to take action, before the thousands upon thousands of foreclosures, the Fed and the Bush Administration stood mute.

Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve governor who died in September, warned nearly seven years ago that a fast-growing new breed of lenders was luring many people into risky mortgages they could not afford.

But when Mr. Gramlich privately urged Fed examiners to investigate mortgage lenders affiliated with national banks, he was rebuffed by Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman.

In 2001, a senior Treasury official, Sheila C. Bair, tried to persuade subprime lenders to adopt a code of “best practices” and to let outside monitors verify their compliance. None of the lenders would agree to the monitors, and many rejected the code itself. Even those who did adopt those practices, Ms. Bair recalled recently, soon let them slip.

And leaders of a housing advocacy group in California, meeting with Mr. Greenspan in 2004, warned that deception was increasing and unscrupulous practices were spreading.

John C. Gamboa and Robert L. Gnaizda of the Greenlining Institute implored Mr. Greenspan to use his bully pulpit and press for a voluntary code of conduct.

“He never gave us a good reason, but he didn’t want to do it,” Mr. Gnaizda said last week. “He just wasn’t interested.”

Of course he wasn't interested. It didn't affect him or his fellow shareholders. But as soon as it did, suddenly the financial aid packages just HAD to kick in. For the good of the people, you see.

I suspect there will be a bailout of "Big Shitpile," laundered through the false "good intentions" of cash payments to homeowners. What that bailout won't go is give any incentive to the banks or the lenders to be careful ever again. Because they can always count on that yummy corporate welfare to bail them out.

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History's Greatest Monster Oughta Pack 'Em In

It never ceases to amaze me how Republicans can keep recycling the same old warhorses, no matter what kind of criminal indictments or universal disapprobation they receive from the outside world. John McCain traveled today with Henry Kissinger. Now, Kissinger is a Beltway elder of the highest order, and so this would raise nary an eyebrow in DC. But over in the rational universe, Henry Kissinger is a war criminal. Whether it's the overturning of the Allende government in Chile and the installation of Augusto Pinochet, the illegal bombing of Cambodia that led directly to the rise of Pol Pot, or countless other crimes undertaken by the national security apparatus of this government while Kissinger was holding sway over it, the documented cases of kidnapping, murder and violent overthrowing of sovereign governments ought to be enough to earn him the shame of a nation. But he keeps bopping along, giving wooden speeches in support of candidates - and nobody finds this odd in the least.

The media is dying to write the "Comeback McCain" story, and in New Hampshire he appears to be doing well. But this appearance will never be reported as a misstep. It's because Kissinger is a Village elder, and the DC establishment would never cast one of their own to the wolves.

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John Edwards Can Re-Spin The Earth And Control The Fourth Dimension! BREAKING!!!

We're two weeks out from the Iowa caucuses (and if you're in Southern California, I'll have info on the it place to be on caucus night soon), and between the endless horse race media coverage, most of it wrong, and the somewhat crazy hero-worship lionization of candidates throughout the blogosphere, particularly in diaries on the big community sites (Kos, MyDD), I haven't had much to add. I do follow the Republican candidates with interest because they're all so impossibly flawed that I can't imagine any of them winning, which is just fascinating to me.

But obviously, I'll be voting for a Democrat, so let me try and make up for my lack of writing about the primary here. From the beginning of this race, the candidate that has intrigued me most is John Edwards. He seems to be maintaining his traction in Iowa, depending upon what poll you read, and he is absolutely right to excoriate the media for losing all attention to him in the months leading up to the caucuses, in favor of their preferred story about the Hillary/Obama race. I confess to not guilt but certainly a twinge of awkwardness in going for the only viable white guy in the race, and I do hope that Edwards at least does his part to make the general election still historic by choosing someone like Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas as his running mate. I had a running joke that, as a comedian, I can't do a Hillary impression, and the Obama one wouldn't come off too well either, so I was starting a PAC called White Male Comedians for Edwards. In truth I believe that any of the Democratic candidates will be running on a platform far to the left of Bill Clinton, and that they're all electable against the sorry field of the GOP. But with me, there is a stronger connection to Edwards.

See, I am also the son of a millworker. My dad started in the textile factories of Philadelphia at the age of 15. I remember going around with him, when he graduated into the sales arena, to those mills. They were dusty and dingy and so hot that the employees would work with their shirts off. It was honest but often grueling work. And in the subsequent years after I was born, it was a job that vanished from the streets of Philadelphia. When I was born there were close to a hundred textile mills, mainly sweater mills, in Philly. Today there are none. The entire industry was moved offshore, given away to the developing world as an opportunity for them to advance themselves in a low-skill trade. This was done through systematically lowering trade barriers and in the name of neoliberal free trade, and it started in the 1970s lest anybody think it was ushered in by Reagan. But the truth is that it didn't lift up the developing world, it didn't create an economic engine globally, it didn't help American workers move into the jobs of the 21st century. It created a bunch of nations scrambling to turn their wage force into a permanent underclass, and instituted the same dichotomy at home, through menial service-sector jobs. And it did little for "world peace," which was the putative reason given to my father for the transformation, when he lobbied Congress on the issue in 1979.

This chart from the Congressional Budget Office shows that, while the roots of this growing inequality are long and deep, the age of George W. Bush has stratified it even more.

The top one-fifth of the country has seen their incomes rise 16%, while the rest have close to a 3% increase. The top 10%: up 20.9%. The top 5%? 27.7%. And the top 1%? A 43.5% increase.

There is a disconnect between the economy of the rich and the economy of the rest of the nation, between those who understand the nation's economic health by watching the stock market, and those who understand by watching the streets. And nobody but John Edwards on the Democratic side taps into that disconnect, gives voice to a frustration and anxiousness that the American working class has felt for some time. Some have claimed that Edwards' anti-corporate rhetoric is a sharp change from 2004. It's not. He talked about the two Americas on the stump all the time four years ago. What he now understands is that there is more of a sense of desperation, that these times must be matched with a rhetorical force that is uncompromising against special interests and lobbyists and those who attempt to run Washington through the endless placement of dollars at the feet of politicians. This is a simple, grounded message that makes media types, who don't live in the world of his target audience, naturally uncomfortable. And it's most certainly the message in John Edwards' soul, regardless of the sniffs about a lack of authenticity. It's fair to look at his Senate record and claim that he did not stand boldly for change when an elected official. But Ezra Klein looks deeper and sees someone who's commitment is far more clear.

Reminded of (Lauch, the man who he beat in his Senate run) Faircloth's attacks on trial lawyers, Edwards' longtime pollster Harrison Hickman laughs. "We were very much like Br'er Rabbit: glad to be thrown into that brier patch. It lets Edwards talk about the kinds of people he represented, families and children who'd been injured in egregious ways. The challenge would always have been, in a debate: Name one of my clients who didn't deserve the award they got."

It is a failure of political reporting that those legal cases are rarely evaluated as anything but potential attack ads. The stories, people, and corporations Edwards came into contact with amounted to a searing, visceral course in old-style populism.

Think of it this way: Hillary Clinton's caution and political savvy are obvious products of an adult life spent entirely in politics, the last 15 years or so on the national stage. Barack Obama's broad appeal and talent for consensus building are not unexpected traits in a former community organizer. So what does spending decades confronting the grievous, heartbreaking damage done to individuals and families by powerful, profit-driven corporations do to a man?

"Every single day," says Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, "what he saw were good people, in great need, who were being mistreated by big corporations -- corporations that knew that they had done wrong, and often insurance companies that were taking a calculated risk going to trial. … If you took that person, a person who chose that as his life, you would end up with the politics that he's talking about today."

In 2003, when John Edwards wanted to present himself to the electorate, he, like every other world-leader wannabe, wrote a book. But his Four Trials, unlike most campaign tracts, doesn't say a word about his experience in the Senate or his plans for the country. Instead, it recounts a quartet of trials Edwards fought: two against corporations, two against doctors. More to the point, it introduces four clients whom Edwards fought for: ordinary individuals who display heroic endurance in the face of profoundly unfair events. At the close of one wrenching trial, Edwards turns to the jury and says, "What you have been doing for the last seven weeks is you have been watching what happens when absolute corporate indifference collides with absolute innocence. That's what this case is. That is what this case is about. And that is why you are here."

I don't think Edwards is a deity. The "One Corps" volunteer aspect of his campaign - the call to build a movement rather than build around a leader - never really materialized. And it's an open question whether as President he could leverage the bully pulpit and progressive movement power to get real change past those corporate gatekeepers, who would unite to sabotage him. But you would absolutely know where he stood. With Clinton you get the feeling that she is committed to incremental steps within the system. Obama hasn't shown the willingness to fight to a large degree. When given the chance, Edwards has stood against corporate power, and with a mandate he'd have a lot of energy he could harness. Chris Bowers thinks there's an absence of left-wing power in the primary, and he may be right. But I don't think any of the top candidates would give an ear to the broader progressive movement in the way that Edwards would. Sometimes it's not about the perfect candidate so much as the candidate who you think will be available to your concerns. I think America would have a progressive partner in the White House with John Edwards.

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Hopes Of A Waiver Waiving Away

Barbara Boxer and Henry Waxman are expecting defeat in the fight to get the EPA to grant a waiver to the state so it can implement Fran Pavley's landmark tailpipe emissions law.

In a gathering with reporters Tuesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she has "very little hope" that the EPA will grant the waiver, which would open the door to California and more than a dozen other states imposing emission standards more stringent than federal requirements [...]

Asked whether she thought the decision would be made by the EPA or at the White House, Boxer said: "If you look at everything done on the environment, a lot of this leads back to the vice president's office."

"Politics is alive and well in relation to this waiver," said Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

It's difficult to understate how abnormal this would be. The EPA has never denied a waiver to California allowing them to regulate their own emissions.

The EPA Administrator, Stephen Johnson, has claimed there will be a decision on the waiver by the end of the year, but he's ducking requests for meetings with Boxer, and ignoring letters from Waxman. The handwriting is on the wall. I don't know if the lawsuit prepared by the state demanded that a decision be made on the waiver or that the waiver be granted. Either way, expect some legal recourse as a result of the expected denial. And expect little movement on implementation of a law central to California's efforts to curb emissions until the swearing in of a new President.

UPDATE: They denied the waiver.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday slapped down California's bid for first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs, denying a request for a waiver that would have allowed those restrictions to take effect.

"The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution _ not a confusing patchwork of state rules _ to reduce America's climate footprint from vehicles," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said in a statement.

Expect a flurry of lawsuits.

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His Work Is Done

Once every candidate started to sound as over-the-top crazy on immigration as he has, Tom Tancredo decided that there was no longer any need for him, and tomorrow he'll drop out of the race.

But it should give pause to these Republicans who think smugly that a fierce anti-immigrant line will lead them to victory in November, that Tancredo never got out of the blocks. If his message is so important, and he's so pure on what is considered the signature issue, how come he never had a chance? How come his message was so easily co-opted by candidates who are riddled with differing positions on immigration in the past? Maybe these so-called smart Republicans are only talking to themselves on this issue.

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My Moment of Grudging Acknowledgment of the Democratic Majority

We wouldn't see the phasing out of the incandescent light bulb under a Republican Congress.

We wouldn't see a lot of interest in reversing the cruel injustice whereby the Pentagon was asking for bonuses back from wounded soldiers.

We wouldn't see strong oversight of incidents that shock the conscience, like what seems to be a culture of rape in Iraq inside KBR/Halliburton.

And we wouldn't see the overwhelming rejection of state secrecy in a Congressional bill to revamp and reform the Freedom of Information Act.

They've done a tactically poor job, they haven't held the Republicans accountable for their obstructionism, and their continued funding of the disaster in Iraq is a moral crime. But there is at least SOME difference between the parties.

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Christmas Ads: Almost As Bad As Scary Halloween Emails

Look, we know it's Christmas, OK, Presidential candidates? Maybe if there's a potential advertising opportunity that seems so obvious to your staff, it might be too obvious to actually do it, capiche?

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Disrespecting The Dodd

Harry Reid is guessing that getting the FISA debate outside of primary season will lower the progressive volume against telecom amnesty. He's wrong.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he would seek to extend a controversial interim wiretapping law through February to avoid the early presidential primary season.

Reid said Senate Democrats might have a better chance of resolving internal disputes and moving a rewrite of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) once the early primaries have concluded [...]

“By sometime early in February, the presidential nomination will likely be pretty well determined on the Democratic side, at least,” Reid said. “So I think, for all those reasons, it would be a good idea to extend it.”

This is a slap in the face to Chris Dodd, with the implication that he's only whipping up support against amnesty to further his Presidential aspirations. Look, Dodd's not going to be President and I think he knows that; unfortunately, this country doesn't appear to base its Presidential vote on leadership. If he doesn't have to ping-pong back and forth from Iowa he could focus MORE on the amnesty issue. And he'll be joined with other allies who were on the campaign trail this time.

We're not going to shut up about this. What's really going on is an attempt to give the White House 30 more days to intimidate Congress into giving in. But they can't intimidate 300 million people. And those paying attention to this debate don't believe that allowing phone companies to break the law protects our security. And anyone who heard this statement should be shocked:

“The civil libertarians among us would rather defend the constitution than protect our nation’s security.”

Sen. Sessions apparently doesn't know that he made an oath to defend the Constitution. It's practically his only job. And no matter what the Washington elites say, we're going to hold him to it.

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Imagine That!

The California Democratic primary race tightens at the same time that the national primary race tightens!

Could it be because there is no California primary race?

California's polls, just like the national polls, will be completely meaningless absent early-state data.

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