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

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Well That Was Quick

So NBC News immediately reports that Obama will win by a substantial margin.

They're harping on the fact that voters "recoiled" at the racial politics displayed by the Clinton campaign. Have I missed something? Aren't those things a few weeks old? How did they play in South Carolina? Was there a whisper campaign? Is it just that this is the first state with a substantial black population?

A little distasteful, too, that David Gregory said they had to wade into the internal numbers to see if this was a "meaningful" victory. Uhh, why? Obama just won the biggest state that has voted by the biggest margin. Isn't that enough?

Like I've said, this just isn't that tough a primary. I think that the media turned it into a far bigger political football than it actually is.

UPDATE: Tim Russert basically just tipped the exit polls, calling it a "30 point" victory.

Specifically, he said "if the numbers match the exit polls and obama has a 30-point victory..."


UPDATE II: Obama really, really needed a big victory. He's actually not doing all that well in the February 5 states, and he needed a kick-start, something that could change the game a bit.

Meanwhile, what is up with Bill Clinton answering the charge of him and his wife "teaming up" on Obama by saying that Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice? Jackson won caucuses, which are vastly different. But that's besides the point. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

UPDATE III: So Bill Clinton just essentially gave the concession speech for his wife. That just looks TERRIBLE. Someone needs to put him in a box. He's making himself a target for the media, who loves to obsess on the Clenis.

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Friday Random Ten

One day late, sorry folks.

Cornman - Kinky
Storm Coming - Gnarls Barkley
Undertow - Tool
The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get - Morrissey
Slow Jamz - Kanye West feat. Twista & Jamie Foxx
I Walk The Line - Johnny Cash
George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People - KO
Radiation Vibe - Fountains Of Wayne
(I Wanna Be A) Dumbcharger - Guided By Voices
Making Plans For Nigel - Nouvelle Vague

Finally got the new Kanye West album. Not bad.

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Legacy Time

Typically a President would spend his last year touting his accomplishments and trying to cement some big ideas that he could ride into posterity. The Incredible Shrinking President we have now has no accomplishments to speak of and no new ideas to highlight. So he'll spend what is probably his last big moment in the national spotlight serving up reheated leftovers.

In a bow to political reality, President Bush's final State of the Union speech will skip bold proposals in favor of ones the country has heard before, a modest approach for a White House that prides itself on big ideas.

Bush's strategy reflects what he is up against: little time left in office, confrontational relations with a Democratic Congress and a diminishing role on the national stage. White House aides say there is not much point in unveiling grand ideas sure to go nowhere.

So don't expect anything Monday on the scale of overhauling Social Security or immigration policy, two earlier initiatives that died on Capitol Hill.

Dana Perino actually tried to spin this as a consequence of the Democratic "do-nothing Congress" and not the fact that Bush is a gambler down to his last two chips, dealt a 12 against an ace.

"I predict that after hearing the president's speech Monday night, Americans will be more convinced than ever that it's time for a change," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Hear hear to that. The Bush legacy is a pathetic stew of bad ideas and catastrophic outcomes.

Heck, even Peggy Noonan understands that Bush destroyed the Republican Party.

But this week, the most fitting and hilarious parable, the most apt description of the last seven years of Bush governance, came in the form of the revelation of the meaning of one of his favorite paintings:

But as governor, Bush wasn’t excited about his carpet; he was excited about a painting: “A Charge to Keep.” In 1995, he issued a memo to his Texas staff, describing the painting, by W.H.D. Koerner in 1916, which he kept on his office wall [...]

When one looks at the painting, you see a man on horseback — who actually looks a little like Bush — apparently leading a group of missionaries. It worked for Bush on a couple of levels: the title comes from one of the president’s favorite Methodist hymns, the man in the picture looks like him, and he related to the missionary work depicted in the painting [...]

In his new book, “The Bush Tragedy,” Jacob Weisberg explains:

"[Bush] came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.

Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled “The Slipper Tongue,” published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: 'Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.'"

Horse thief. Lynch mob evader.

Maybe he can work that into Monday's address.

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Stimulus Pushback

The Senate doesn't want to get rolled by the agreement on a stimulus package in the House. Their ideas are generally solid, on both sides of the aisle.

Shrugging off a personal plea from President Bush, senators from both parties said yesterday that they will push for significant additions to the $150 billion stimulus package hammered out Thursday by House leaders and the administration.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and other administration officials that he will try to add a tax break for corporations that quickly reinvest overseas profits in the United States. None of the officials offered opposition.

Collins said a bipartisan coalition of Northeastern and Midwestern senators will push to secure as much as $800 million in heating assistance for the poor, a provision that House Democratic leaders dropped in favor of securing payments for about 35 million families who earn too little to pay income tax.

Collins said she will push to restore about $12.5 billion in unemployment benefits and $5 billion in food-stamp extensions that House negotiators also eliminated, a call echoed by her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, who vowed to add funds next week in the Finance Committee. Snowe will be joined by another Republican on the committee, Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.).

"The number of long-term unemployed in this country is dramatically higher than during the last recession, and I hope that Congress will pass a stimulus package that responds to this pressing need for so many Americans," Snowe said.

In a conference call with Finance Committee members yesterday morning, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he hopes to provide checks to low-income retirees, who are left out of the House plan because they cannot show $3,000 in earned income.

Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.) called yesterday for hundreds of millions of dollars for mortgage counselors, while Republican Govs. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calif.) and Charlie Crist (Fla.) pushed for a temporary boost in the share of Medicaid financing assumed by the federal government.

I think this is more about the prerogatives of the Senate, but in general, moves like extending unemployment insurance and adding seniors to tax rebates would circuit money through the economy quickly, and increasing food stamp payments and low-income heating assistance would help those who really need it. They're the most obvious policies to achieve the goals of a stimulus.

Which is why they probably won't be adopted.

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Friday, January 25, 2008


While I don't think this primary will rip asunder the Democratic Party, and battles like the one I'm about to discuss are pretty much inside baseball, that doesn't make me dismiss this disturbing pattern on the part of the Clinton campaign to contest this race on their own terms rather than the terms set forth by party rules.

They discouraged student votes in Iowa. Their allies tried to shut down at-large caucuses in Nevada. There was at the very least some shadiness that went on in other Nevada caucuses (there was shadiness from Obama surrogates too, they just weren't as good at it). They stayed on the ballot in Michigan to try and gain an advantage. And now there's this thumb in the eye of DNC rules.

I hear all the time from people in Florida and Michigan that they want their voices heard in selecting the Democratic nominee.
I believe our nominee will need the enthusiastic support of Democrats in these states to win the general election, and so I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan. I know not all of my delegates will do so and I fully respect that decision. But I hope to be President of all 50 states and U.S. territories, and that we have all 50 states represented and counted at the Democratic convention.

I hope my fellow potential nominees will join me in this.

I will of course be following the no-campaigning pledge that I signed, and expect others will as well.

Look, the party set the rules a while back. There would be four early states, followed by whoever else after February 5. When Michigan and Florida broke the rules and moved up, their delegates were stripped. Period. The Clinton campaign had every opportunity to contest that. They didn't. They waited until a few days before the Florida primary to make this statement, and garner the goodwill of the Democratic establishment in Florida, including Bill Nelson, who's probably going to endorse her.

A well-connected Democratic strategist who asked not to be named did not think that Nelson's endorsement was part of a quid-pro-quo for Clinton's statement. But Nelson was quoted as recently as two weeks ago saying that his endorsement would depend on "how [the candidates] treat Florida."

An official with Nelson's office declined to confirm or deny the endorsement. They did, however, send a press release issued by the office in which the Senator criticized the stripping of his state's delegates. Nelson, the release read, is "happy to see that Clinton agrees with the principle at issue in his lawsuit - that every person has a right to vote, and have the vote count as intended."

I agree with Josh Marshall.

The Clinton camp is just pushing to seat these delegates now because the contingencies of the moment mean that the decision would favor Hillary. She was the only one whose name was on the ballot in Michigan, thus insuring her win. She has a wide lead in every Florida poll taken this month.

Even Michigan was a matter of her basically pulling a fast one on the other candidates by not taking her name off the ballot. Each of the major candidates signed a pledge not to "campaign or participate" in any primary or caucus prior to Feb. 5th except for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The other major candidates adopted what seems like the only reasonable interpretation of the pledge (see text here) and pulled their names from the ballot.

But then Hillary didn't, thus in essence guaranteeing her win in Michigan [...]

Perhaps there's some detail of this question that I'm not aware of. And if there is I'll revise my opinion accordingly. But based on what I know now this is pretty clear-cut.

Hillary can muscle for every advantage she wants. Good for her. She's a fighter. But everyone else should see this for what it is and say No.

The candidates didn't take their name off the ballot in Florida because state law would require them to drop out of the race by doing so. Big Tent Democrat trying to use this as a "gotcha" is frankly absurd. There's a very consistent pattern of Clinton pushing every advantage, regardless of the pre-arranged rules, in order to win what appears to be a protracted delegate fight. She is breaking the rules to change the rules. I don't think it'll hurt her with the Democratic rank-and-file, either, so in a sense it's ingenious. But I don't need to reward it.

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Straight Talk

There were several moments in last night's Republican debate that you may see in November. Mike Huckabee saying that Iraq hid their WMD in Jordan, a US ally, is an example. But for my money, this moment will be the most damaging, if John McCain becomes the nominee.

John McCain has said on numerous occasions that he doesn't have much understanding or even interest in economics. He's said it plenty of times in plenty of different settings over the years. Here it is in The Boston Globe. And The Wall Street Journal. And The Baltimore Sun. And Russert brings it up and he just lies about it.

I know that McCain is the media's fave and he's got Liebercrat support and all. But people are really hurting out there thanks to 30 years of Republican economic mismanagement, and I don't think they want any part of another stooge.

Meanwhile, this is supposed to be the most honest American to ever set foot in Washington outside of Abe Lincoln, someone so very scrupulous and just chiseled in stone. Only he's actually as much a political animal as anyone else. And puncturing that bubble of honesty would spell doom for McCain. This little white lie on the economy is not the first but it's perhaps the easiest to refute.

I know the media will jump on this grenade and call it "dirty politics" and maybe send Chris Matthews out there dressed up as Edward R. Murrow demanding a cease and desist, but they're going to have to work overtime to turn McCain into some kind of deep economic thinker.

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The Stimulus Fallout

Every newspaper I've read is calling the stimulus package deal reached between Democratic Congressional leaders and the Bush White House a glorious bit of bipartisan awesomeness. Except there's nothing awesome about it.

Specifically, the Democrats appear to have buckled in the face of the Bush administration’s ideological rigidity, dropping demands for provisions that would have helped those most in need. And those happen to be the same provisions that might actually have made the stimulus plan effective [...]

The goal of a stimulus plan should be to support overall spending, so as to avert or limit the depth of a recession. If the money the government lays out doesn’t get spent — if it just gets added to people’s bank accounts or used to pay off debts — the plan will have failed.

And sending checks to people in good financial shape does little or nothing to increase overall spending. People who have good incomes, good credit and secure employment make spending decisions based on their long-term earning power rather than the size of their latest paycheck. Give such people a few hundred extra dollars, and they’ll just put it in the bank.

And Krugman has the numbers to prove it. Close to two-thirds of these rebates go to the top two-fifths of American households, to people who don't need the money and who won't spend it. Democrats in the Senate are trying to change that, and Bush is chastising them, saying not to mess with his terrible plan. So we're headed for another humiliation, and a potential cave-in by Democrats, giving a fake "stimulus" that puts a lot of extra money needlessly into the pockets of rich people.

Meanwhile, it seems that the Dems should makemore of this.

The Bush administration will cut counterterrorism money for police, firefighters and rescue departments next year, but not by as much as it originally proposed.

Next month the White House will request $2.2 billion to help states and cities protect against terrorist attacks in 2009, and not $1.4 billion, an administration aide told Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., on Friday. That would be 10 percent more than the president requested for 2008, but 40 percent less than Congress gave the department this year.

This is called "keeping America safe."

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The FISA Flop?

There seems to be a split on what is actually going on in Washington with respect to FISA. The ACLU is claiming that Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller are reasserting the rights of the Congress, but Jane Hamsher's take seems more compelling to me.

The Democrats were ready to give George Bush everything that he wanted on FISA. They used Senate procedure to tank the Judiciary bill, paving the way for the Intelligence Committee bill (negotiated by Jay Rockefeller and the White House) with retroactive immunity for the telecoms. They were all lined up to vote for it save for a few meaningless tweaks; Dodd was going to filibuster but eventually that would end and Bush would get everything he wanted.

The Republicans decided that wasn't enough. They decided they would filibuster the "meaningless tweaks" just to humiliate the Democrats even further, then filed for cloture on the Intelligence Committee bill and scheduled the vote right before the State of the Union address. The Democrats either swallow the Intel bill whole or George Bush gets up there on Monday night and screams about how the Democrats are letting the terrorists win.

The Democrats are now lined up to block cloture on the very bill they were ready to pass yesterday. George Bush will publicly humiliate them for it in the SOTU, and with the Protect America Act ready to sunset on Friday February 1st, the Democrats will either find a way to extend it for another 30 days or give the Republicans everything they want anyway out of fear of being called soft on terrah.

I'd love the Democrats to prove Hamsher wrong. Harry Reid was certainly stringent in remarks to the National Press Club yesterday, saying that the President can either extend the law or "there won't be any wiretapping." And contrary to Jane's remarks, some of those amendments which would pass on a majority vote would have legitimate positive effects. Furthermore, if they wanted to cave anyway, why wouldn't they just fold and pass cloture Monday, which it doesn't look like they'll do?

But it is clear that the Cheney Administration wants a clean bill from the Senate. And while the Democrats appear to be talking tough now, we've seen that change on a dime. So there's ample reason for worry and it's why we have to keep calling our Senators.

UPDATE: Harry Reid writes emails:

Republicans seem to have forgotten that national security is one of the most important issues we address in the Senate. Yesterday, they proved the only thing they care about is politics.

They spent the day filibustering on the Senate floor, preventing Democrats from introducing any amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill. This means they are blocking an important amendment, which I support, that would make sure phone companies don't receive retroactive immunity.

At the end of the day, Senator McConnell decided he would try and stop debate entirely by filing for cloture. That means if Republicans get 60 votes on Monday, debate on this vital issue will be shut down.

Normally I wouldn't go this deep into Senate procedure, but if you care about your civil liberties and our national security, it is vital you tell your Senators to vote no on cloture Monday by visiting:

Looking at this situation makes me think the President and Republicans want to fail so they can run and cry to the media that Democrats are weak on national security. That line didn't work in 2006 and it won't work in 2008.

Closing the debate on this bill now is wrong.

Harry Reid is right. He's been wrong in this debate, and I've hammered him. But on this issue, he's right.

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Look For The Union Label

It's great that union membership rose in 2007 for the first time in 25 years, and for those of us in California, it's even better that our state made for almost all the gains. I think the "new union" effort by Andy Stern and the SEIU to expand their membership to cover service workers is a major piece of this puzzle.

A vibrant union movement and a vibrant progressive movement are directly connected. This is excellent news.

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An Evening With Debra Bowen In Downtown LA

Last night I was fortunate enough to be present at a small-group discussion with Secretary of State Debra Bowen hosted by the California League of Conservation Voters. Despite this being a hectic time for the Secretary of State (E-12, in her parlance), she took a couple hours to fill us in on efforts leading up to this year of three separate elections.

In the final two weeks for voters to be eligible for the February 5 primary, there was a surge of registration. At a "midnight registration drive" in Sacramento, over 1,500 citizens registered to vote in one day (sadly, registrars in places like Los Angeles County resisted efforts to do the same because it would be "inconvenient" for them to update their voter rolls). While she had no prediction on turnout in the primary, Bowen was confident that there will be a lot of excitement and potentially a good turnout. One drawback is the fact that decline-to-state voters have to opt-in to receive a ballot for the Democratic primary (they are shut out from the Republican primary). When I asked Bowen about this, she replied that counties are required to actually notify DTS voters of their rights, and that some precinct locations will have signage notifying them to that end, but that this is insufficient and her hands are tied by state law to some extent. The parties who want to welcome DTS voters into their primary have a big role to play in this. The Democratic Party, if they want to expand their base, should make a legitimate effort to let DTS voters know they can vote in the primary. It will have the effect of getting them in the habit of voting Democratic and give them a stake in the party. There are also legislative reforms, regarding mandatory signage inside the polling place, changes to the vote-by-mail process (nonpartisan voters must request a partisan ballot), that can be taken.

Bowen's great achievements since taking over the Secretary of State's office include an insistence on voter security, and outreach to young voters. On the security front, despite the howls of protest from county registrars, Bowen will be limiting precincts to one touch-screen voting machine (for disabled voters) and will be undergoing increased security and auditing procedures. A lot of these measures will be behind the scenes, like delivering voting equipment in tamper-proof bags so that evidence of changes to the equipment will be obvious. And the auditing procedures, with an open testing process, may delay voting results, but are crucial to maintain confidence in the vote. A court recently ruled in favor of Bowen and against San Diego County in implementing these changes, but she expects an appeal. As Bowen said, "Since cavemen put black stones on one side and white stones on the other, people have tried to affect election results." But she is doing whatever possible to make sure those efforts will be supremely difficult in California. None of her provisions so far are slam-dunks; it's hard to create something foolproof, considering that memory cards for many machines can fit in your pocket, and so many machines are hackable. But Bowen is making an excellent start.

Bowen was cool to this idea of voter fraud, which has been pushed by conservatives for years. She described that there has only been one documented case of voter fraud in recent history, and that it's a high-work, low-reward strategy for cheating. Efforts to stop this non-existent problem include voter ID laws, expected to get a boost with the Supreme Court likely to allow the one in Indiana to go forward, despite Constitutional concerns. While Bowen deflected many attempts to get voter ID laws enacted in California while on the Elections Committee in the Senate, she believed that such attempts would never pass this Legislature.

As far as reaching out to young voters, we all know about Bowen's use of MySpace and Facebook to keep young voters informed (and yes, she also reads Calitics). But one measure she talked about last night struck me. On February 5, over 140,000 California high school students will engage in a mock election, featuring a Presidential primary and three mock ballot initiatives: 1) should the vehicle license fee be ties to auto emissions, 2) should voting be mandatory, and 3) should government do more to stop bullying on social networking sites. This is an ingenious way to get people interested and excited in politics at an early age, and sounds like a model program.

We have a long way to go on national election reform; Bowen noted that only three Secretaries of State (her, and the two in Ohio and Minnesota) agree that there needs to be a federal standard for national elections. What we need to do is elect more competent professionals like Debra Bowen and keep pushing the debate in the direction of reform and voter confidence.

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This Is Not That Rough A Democratic Primary

In 1992, Bill Clinton started running negative ads against Paul Tsongas and Bob Kerrey in New Hampshire. The Republicans this year have been running negative ads since Iowa. Heck, even in 2004 Gephardt and Dean went nuclear on each other early. The history of Presidential primaries is not a game of patty-cake.

At one New York City debate late in the 1984 race, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart battered each other so relentlessly that Jesse Jackson almost needed to physically separate them. In an especially heated 1992 encounter, Bill Clinton appeared ready to lean over and deck Jerry Brown.

The nominating system, by its nature, encourages such ferocity. Because the leading contenders usually differ only modestly on issues, they are compelled to exaggerate their differences and to magnify any blemish they find in their opponent's character or career.

Yet the only negative ads in the Democratic primary so far ran for a day until both sides yanked them. By historical standards, this has been an unfailingly nice primary, and only recently have tempers flared. There have been some whispers from surrogates, some opposition research dropped into the papers, and some out-of-character behavior from a former President, but in general, that's politics, and it's not being played at a particularly cutthroat level. And Barack Obama seems to understand that this is a slap-fight compared to what we'll see in the fall from the Republicans.

At a morning press conference, though, Obama indicated that the race wasn’t as nasty as some may think, "I don't feel like the candidates are being blooded up," but then added on, "This is good practice for me, so ya know when I take on those Republicans I'll be accustomed to it."

The media is trying to push a narrative that this is the nastiest Democratic primary in history, and that it's causing an irreparable rift within the party that will never be patched up. They love the conflict and they're writing breathless articles about how the Clintons are "double-teaming" Obama and how everybody hates each other and the fate of the Democratic Party hangs in the balance.

I just don't buy it. The only thing nasty about this primary is the coverage of it, which has over-hyped every back-and-forth charge, and in particular over-hyped this so-called "rift." It's like the media heads into every campaign season as a tabula rasa, without the memory of any past performance in other primaries.

I know people get very emotional and the blogosphere reflects this emotion, but don't get suckered. Nobody's ruining the Democratic Party here. In my experience observing a caucus last week in Nevada, everyone was happy to vote for their candidate, and the high turnout was certainly being driven by a desire to return the White House to the Democrats. This idea of a rift is a game being played by the traditional media, who wants a storyline.

UPDATE: Let me just add on to this with an awesome story of a train ride, from Open Left.

So then the guy sitting behind me starts making phone calls on his cell. He's got a fairly loud and authoritative voice, so I can't help but overhear, and he's making call after call after call to tell various people that we've gotta find a way to beat McCain, just would be just awful, and going on and on about how much McCain sucks and that even having Hillary or Obama would be better than having McCain because he would just be horrible for the conservative movement because he just doesn't get the movement and he's always using liberal language to talk about things and how that's a terrible thing. And in one conversation with one person he was talking to, he was trying to talk him into coming out with a terrible story about McCain from five or six years ago, and he's like yeah, what he did to you was just incredible, and you should go public with that story, etc.

After a while I got up to go get something from the café cart, and it turns out the guy sitting behind me was Rick Santorum, which makes it all the more fun and all the more interesting.

The real rift in the primaries, which is in the conservative movement, is endlessly more fascinating than the media-hyped one in the Democratic Party.

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Help From His Special Friend

It is completely bizarre that Mitt Romney got help from Tim Russert at last night's debate, with Russert whispering what Ronald Reagan did as part of a Social Security restructuring in 1982 ("he raised taxes"):

Does Russert give Democrats a break on his tough questions? Does he give little hints to them?

What an embarrassment.

UPDATE: I guess there is no unanimity that this was Russert doing the whispering. IMO, it happened way too fast for it to be anybody else, and to me it sounds like Russert.

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Republicans Run Headlong Into The Brick Wall Of Iraq

I didn't see last night's Republican debate, but this was obviously the big takeaway:

Years and years later, they still want their lovely little war. They don't care if it bankrupts the country. They don't care if it lowers the standards of those serving in the Army, and fundamentally breaks our military. They don't care if they wage it at the expense of Afghanistan, which is getting worse. They don't care if we're still launching major offensives five years after we announced "mission accomplished," and how invariably these offensives yield nothing, as the insurgents just slip off to the next city over. They don't care if no benchmarks are met and we continue to flail around, at times getting so angry at a population that doesn't want us there that we willingly commit war crimes.

These Republicans just don't care. They want their lovely little war. And they want their President to get his lovely little bases, which would be unprecedented:

President Bush's plan to forge a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could commit the US military to defending Iraq's security would be the first time such a sweeping mutual defense compact has been enacted without congressional approval, according to legal specialists.

After World War II, for example - when the United States gave security commitments to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and NATO members - Presidents Truman and Eisenhower designated the agreements as treaties requiring Senate ratification. In 1985, when President Ronald Reagan guaranteed that the US military would defend the Marshall Islands and Micronesia if they were attacked, the compacts were put to a vote by both chambers of Congress.

By contrast, Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki have already agreed that a coming compact will include the United States providing "security assurances and commitments" to Iraq to deter any foreign invasion or internal terrorism by "outlaw groups." But a top White House official has also said that Bush does not intend to submit the deal to Congress.

This absolutely would tie the next President's hands, which is why Democrats are fighting it so much. Even Republicans are displeased by the lack of consultation with Congress. But of course this is the Bush plan. They want to enact a status of forces agreement, include permanent bases in the deal, leave office without having fully funded the war for fiscal year 2008, and dare the next President to pull the plug, knowing full well that the Iraqis have become completely dependent on the US military.

This war fetishism, along with the stumbling economy, is going to bring down the Republicans in the next election. But it's also going to set a trap for a Democratic President. It's all about Bush avoiding responsibility for a shameful legacy.

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Change Now

So Barbara Boxer is not sitting on her heels waiting for a new President, she's acting boldly to reverse Stephen Johnson's horrible EPA decision blocking California from regulating tailpipe emissions.

Senate environmental committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would overrule EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and instruct him to grant California's waiver.

Right out of the gate, it's got bipartisan support. Cosponsors include Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Joseph Lieberman (ID, CT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

It was fairly certain that litigation would reach the same result, or that a Democratic President would order the EPA to reverse the decision. But that would take quite a while, and in the interim, the climate deteriorates even further.

By the way, this Johnson character is a first-class nutter:

Shortly before Stephen L. Johnson was sworn in by President Bush as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he gave the president a towel symbolizing a New Testament passage in which Jesus washes his disciples' feet. The towel, given to graduates of Johnson's alma mater, a small evangelical college, symbolizes a life of Christian service.

Like the president, Johnson is a deeply religious man who says he relies on his faith in his work. Johnson prayed and spoke gratefully of early-morning prayer sessions held in his government office in a promotional video filmed there for an offshoot of a worldwide Christian ministry.

We'll see if Boxer can get what would be a needed 67 votes to overcome a Bush veto. But good for her for trying to accelerate the process.

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Mike, You're Stupid And Ugly And Nobody Likes You

Turns out that people who endlessly prattle on about how everyone should stop with the democracy and just allow a billionaire plutocrat to rule us aren't very well-liked by anyone.

Yes, someone who does not need voters, donors, or political parties and who will instead act entirely in the interest of media elites is the only person who can truly pull this country together. It is a good thing he doesn’t need voters, since they don’t like him very much [...]

Michael Bloomberg is less popular than the top three Democrats and the top three Republicans running for President right now. He even has lower overall favorables than Ron Paul. Fortunately, since he doesn’t think appealing to the voters is a worthy activity for elected officials, it actually seems like this low favorable rating was one of his goals.

Meanwhile, in his actual job, Bloomberg is preparing for massive budget cuts across city agencies, including $180 million out of the education budget, while keeping property tax cuts for the rich intact. He doesn't have any new ideas. Just the same tax-cut, spending-cut, callous conservatism, and no ask for sacrifice on the part of the taxpayers, no discussion that America is worth paying for.

He's just another stooge, and an unaccountable one at that.

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Looks Like We May Win A Round

Jay Rockefeller today announced on the Senate floor that he would not support cloture on the FISA bill without more amendments voted on. It looks to me like we have more than a showdown, we have a minor victory.

But it's important to understand what that victory means. It could be that the State of the Union is already written and the President doesn't want to take out all the attack lines:

The GOP hopes to use FISA as an electoral cudgel. Allow me to detail their groundwork: the Rove strategery for using national security for partisan political gain; planting this with Beltway press -- The Hill, Time, and Newsweek, for starters (who miss the fundamental point that telecom immunity is bribery to keep the Administration's lawbreaking secrets, undercutting the threat of economic sanction as hush money); trotting out Dick Cheney to sow the seeds of fearmongering; and the obstructionist GOP failure set-up just in time for the State of the Union.

Add in a press which does not comprehend the details, you have a recipe for confusion -- which is exactly the set-up for the SOTU that the Bush WH wants.

Except yesterday, the GOP overplayed their cocky, cowboy legislation act. From Sen. Russ Feingold:

"The conduct of Senate Republicans yesterday was shameless. After weeks of insisting that it is absolutely critical to finish the FISA legislation by February 1...they obstructed all efforts to actually work on the bill. Now they want to simply ram the deeply flawed Intelligence Committee bill through the Senate. They refused to allow amendments to be offered or voted on....

...Monday's cloture vote will be a test of whether the majority is willing to stand up to the administration and stand up for our rights."

Exactly right. The President can have his moment of national security-bashing on FISA, but the Congress cannot just give up their fundamental rights as an institution by failing to have substantive discussion and amendments to this bill. They must vote no on cloture, and everyone who voted to table the Judiciary Committee version of the bill must hear from their constituents. Furthermore, the public actually doesn't want the President to be able to spy on Americans without a warrant. Only Mr. "L'etat, c'est moi" and his band of followers believe that. This could backfire on Bush in a jiffy; nobody trusts him.

Bayh (202) 224-5623 (202) 228-1377
Carper (202) 224-2441 (202) 228-2190
Obama (202) 228-4260 (202) 224-2854
Inouye (202) 224-3934 (202) 224-6747
Johnson (202) 224-5842 (605) 332-2824
Landrieu (202)224-5824 (202) 224-9735
McCaskill (202) 224-6154 (202) 228-6326
Mikulski (202) 224-4654 (202) 224-8858
Nelson (FL) (202) 224-5274 (202) 228-2183
Clinton (202) 228-0282 (202) 224-4451
Nelson (NE) (202) 224-6551 (202) 228-0012
Pryor (202) 224-2353 (202) 228-0908
Salazar (202) 224-5852 (202) 228-5036
Specter (202) 224-4254 (202) 228-1229

We're still in this fight, and the deadline could be the Republicans', not the Democrats'.

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Auctioning Off The Governorship

Because having a governor with no political experience whatsoever is working out so well, the Republicans, who have no bench to speak of, may be tapping another unconventional candidate to be their standard-bearer in 2010.

As she prepares to depart from EBay after a decade at the helm, Chief Executive Meg Whitman appears to be investigating a new career -- in politics.

Whitman has talked with top Republicans about the possibility of a run for California governor in 2010, according to three operatives who have had discussions with her. Whitman is said to be asking detailed questions about the logistics of a run and the effect she could have as governor, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the conversations.

Whitman did not make herself available for comment. A source close to her said she had been talking with Republicans around the state and had become "fascinated" by politics in her work as a fundraiser for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and a former colleague of Whitman at the consulting firm Bain & Co.

As tempting as anyone close to Mitt "Who let the dogs out" Romney is to me as a chief executive, I'm thinking no.

But what's interesting here is that Whitman is not driving the discussion as much as Republican party leaders, who see nobody on the horizon that would put up much of a fight. There are a couple gazillionaires and Tom McClintock, who is more likely than any of them to win a primary. Has McClintock ever even voted for a budget? Have the others run a government bureaucracy?

I think Alan Keyes and Ted Nugent will be the next names up for speculation.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

A FISA Twist

Interesting. The Republicans are so invested in obstructionism and loath to give any amendment to FISA an upperdown vote that they are trying to block everything decent Democrats want to accomplish on this FISA bill. So Harry Reid has now set down 4:30 on Monday for a cloture vote on the bill, and has said that if the Republicans keep obstructing the amendments he'll recommend against that vote. I think that Reid may be able to get 41 Senators to go along with him on that (especially if Obama and Clinton come back for those votes, and they probably will). Essentially he's saying "allow amendments or you get no bill." Remember that there's a February 1 deadline or the "Protect America Act" expires. So Reid is trying to put Mitch McConnell back in a vice. We'll see if it works.

UPDATE: Given the numbers, it looks like we need three of the twelve Democrats who voted to table the Judiciary Committee version of the bill in order to stop cloture. You get this from the 60 that voted to table that, plus John McCain and Lindsay Graham, who didn't vote today. Here are the twelve:

Rockefeller, Bayh, Mikulski, Pryor, Salazar, McCaskill, Nelson (FL), Carper, Nelson (NE), Landrieu, Inouye, and Johnson

Obviously Jay Rockefeller isn't going to defy his telecom buddies on this one. So you need three out of eleven. That's going to be very tight. You have McCaskill and Bayh on this list, big backers of their respective Presidential candidates. And Bill Nelson has a compromise amendment with Feinstein that would be shut out completely.

The Republicans are trying to ram through a clean bill without any of the amendments that would be poison pills for the President. You'd think that they were running the Senate; that's because, for all intents and purposes, they are. Reid should either pull the bill from the floor because of the obstruction on amendments, or he should threaten committee assignments of those wayward Dems. Either way, those 11 Democrats need hundreds of thousands of constituent calls between now and Monday, telling them they will never get their vote again if they allow this travesty to pass.

UPDATE II: Just to be clear, this cloture vote wouldn't be on the whole bill, but would be a vote on how to vote. If the Republicans win, they're fairly assured of getting the Intelligence Committee bill passed amendment-free. If the Democrats win, they would need only a simple majority for amendments. Some of these amendments have Republican support, like Ron Wyden's amendment to stop wiretapping of persons abroad without a warrant. So they would pass. But they're all deal-killers for Bush, who would veto. Bush wants to make essentially every illegal thing he did legal. And the Repubs in Congress are doing his bidding, in a sneaky way, to try and hide just how lawless this is.

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Kucinich Announces Run For Re-Election

That's what his dropping out of the race means. He's in a somewhat tough primary fight in Ohio in March, and needs to go back to his district and work for re-election.

Kucinich was not as important to the debate in 2008 than in 2004. He did little to push the debate to the left; Edwards did the heavy lifting here. And he barely campaigned. He spent more time fighting to get into debates than actually talking to the voters and building the support necessary to get into the debates. And he never used the Internet to any degree to get his ideas validated, in the way that Ron Paul did.

I wish him luck in his re-election campaign.

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Radical Centrists

Uh-oh. Anyone who thinks that a positive agenda for the nation will simply be realized by the election of a Democratic President or even substantial gains to the majority in Congress needs to read this report by Ezra Klein from a health care conference today:

Mark Warner addressed the luncheon. Warner is a talented speaker, and fluent on health care [...] On the actual topic of reform, Warner promises, if he's elected, to find 9 or 10 other moderate Senators and form a "radical centrists" caucus. On the one hand, that sort of middle-of-the-road legislative work is important. On the other, you have to be clear about what you're trying to win. The deal needs to be in service of a policy. So hearing Warner start a compromise caucus before he's got something to fight for -- as compared to Ron Wyden, who's pulling in bipartisan sponsors around concrete legislation -- strikes me as a bit of a cart-before-the-horse problem.

As Klein notes, in this case, "centrism" is not being modeled around a particular policy or an issue but as a positive good in and of itself, making a virtue of being in the middle of whatever the two parties decide, and apparently not just on health care but on everything. This might cause David Broder to throw his Wheaties in the air in great joy, but it's just death for any kind of substantive progressive agenda. It's a roadblock. Our movement won't have to only fight off hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads from a conservative movement that will not give up in subverting progress, but from these moderate Democrats that are supposed to represent the winning margin for that progress.

However, there's a very bleak bit of daylight here. In his speech, Warner talked about how every country in the world gets the benefit of drug company R&D, while we pay for it, because we keep any kind of competition and bargaining out of the purchase of prescription drugs. Similiarly, prospective recruit for the "radical centrist" caucus Ken Salazar said at the same conference that "health care is a fundamental right."

This fetishism for moderation is disturbing, but it seems that, much like Rick Perlstein noted that conservatism and liberalism are not random governing philosophies but actual expressions of human nature, "centrism" also springs from some deep-seated urge to split the difference and make oneself look or feel somehow superior or above political gamesmanship in the process. So the goal for the progressive movement must be to shift the political center and force those predisposed to the badges of centrism and bipartisanship to move to the left to save their political skins. And indeed, we're doing some good work, albeit limited, on that score.

Digby has mentioned Eric Boehlert's excellent piece about the blogswarm that caught Tweety Matthews napping and forced him to apologize for his rampant sexism. This is not something the progressive movement would have been in the position to demand just a few years ago. And I would argue that the influence is far more acute with respect to the Republican Presidential nomination. Progressives have done an excellent job of very sharply defining all of the major candidates in a very negative fashion, to the extent that traditional media is using the exact same frames. I saw a few minutes of CNN with some talking heads discussing Fred Thompson's withdrawal from the race (by the way, the guy's timing is so bad, he apparently won the Louisiana caucus after he dropped out). Every talking head was talking about Thompson's laziness, his lack of campaigning, his aw-shucks dimness, in increasingly vicious ways. Here's a transcript.

BLITZER: It wasn't exactly a shocker today, Jack, that Fred Thompson announced he's dropping out of this race. But let's take a look at the political fallout.

Among the Republicans, who gains, who loses?

CAFFERTY: Well, if he hadn't announced it, I'm not sure anybody would have noticed.


CAFFERTY: I mean I -- you know, it's like he hasn't -- he's only been here what -- you know, he wasn't that interested in campaigning. I think he would have liked it if somebody would have said you can be president. But he didn't want to work to get the job. And I'm not sure it means a heck of a lot for anybody. Somebody said that he might be trying to position himself to be vice president. He'll deny that.

BORGER: ...So watch for Mitt Romney, who is also running as a social conservative, to go after those six or seven Thompson voters that are out there.


BORGER: And he'll try -- he'll try and get them.

TOOBIN: You know, Wolf, you have to go all the way back to Rudolph Giuliani to find a campaign that has been singularly as unsuccessful as Fred Thompson's has been.


BORGER: That far back?

TOOBIN: You know, I just don't think it will have any impact at all, his departure...

BLITZER: Well, it could have a...

TOOBIN: ...just as his arrival didn't.

BORGER: You know...

BLITZER: It could have an impact in new episodes of "Law and Order," though.

BORGER: It could. It could. But, you know, this was such an interesting candidacy. It was created by the Republican establishment in Washington, who felt that they needed a new horse. They needed someone else. So they created this. They took a guy who was television. They said let's turn him into a presidential candidate. He will clearly appeal to the American public. And it totally flopped [...]

TOOBIN: That was the ultimate problem.

CAFFERTY: Take a look at all the other ideas the Republican establishment in Washington has had for the last seven years.


CAFFERTY: It's no surprise to me the Fred Thompson thing didn't go anywhere.

BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people in that Republican establishment -- especially here in Washington, the beltway, you know, the Republican lobbyists...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...the so-called elite, when they were even thinking of getting him in, they said this is the new Ronald Reagan. He's an actor.


BLITZER: He's media-genic. He's powerful. And he's really going to turn things around.

(CROSSTALK) CAFFERTY: If you want to look at the definition of irrelevant, look up the Republican establishment in Washington, D.C.

BORGER: Right.

CAFFERTY: That's irrelevant.


TOOBIN: Fred Thompson definitely was the tallest candidate.

BORGER: Right.


BORGER: But, you know, it's so...

CAFFERTY: And the baldest.

BORGER:'s so arrogant, though, you know, to think that you can be anointed in Washington and you're pretty good on television and you look pretty good and you -- and you have great name recognition because you're in "Law and Order," and, gee, I can then become president.

And I think they talked him into it. And I think they said to him, you know, you don't have to work that hard.


BORGER: You can actually just get this job, get in late, let the public take a look at you. You're different. You're going to win. It didn't work out that way.

CAFFERTY: He bought that part about not having to work very hard. He liked that part.


CAFFERTY: You can sit in the trailer until it's time for your close-up, Fred.


It has the usual Village cattiness, but these are themes that progressives pushed from the moment Thompson entered the race. He's lazy, he's an actor who wants to play the role of the President, he was pushed upon people by the establishment. And this is true across the line: Romney's an insincere flip-flopper, Rudy's a homicidal maniac, Huckabee's a Jesus freak, McCain wants to bomb the whole world (this narrative took hold until McCain dropped off the map and we stopped pressuring him), etc.

Now, we're aided by a really terrible slate of candidates. But it's clear that progressives have shot these narratives into the media bloodstream. Initially, Thompson was the guy you could smell the Aqua Velva on, and Romney was a guy who has shoulders on which you can land a 747. I really think the movement is maturing and deserves a lot of credit.

However, these are media narratives. We have not been able to make the same arguments in terms of policy. And that's the danger of this "radical centrist" coalition. The need is to force them into accepting ideas, in the case of health care, like the safe reimportation of drugs from Canada, guaranteed issue from the insurance companies, a public option competing with insurers, etc., as reasonable, moderate ideas, so that the debate shifts leftward. Otherwise, we're going to get a fake reform that rewards the insurance companies by giving them a forced market, without any of the regulation or cost controls that will actually help people get affordable coverage. And on and on down the line.

It's important to highlight what Mark Warner is telegraphing here. This is what we'll be up against in the future, and it's why the office of the President is arguably less important than the health and maturity of the progressive movement to leverage change.

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I Wish I Knew How To Force John Gibson To Quit

I'm not easily offended, but I'm trying to find the "joke" in Fox News host John Gibson's remarks about the death of Heath Ledger:

Playing an audio clip of the iconic quote, “I wish I knew how to quit you” from Ledger’s gay romance movie Brokeback Mountain, Gibson disdainfully quipped, “Well, he found out how to quit you.” Laughing, Gibson then played another clip from Brokeback Mountain in which Ledger said, “We’re dead,” followed by his own, mocking “We’re dead” before playing the clip again.

When did John Gibson become a shock jock? And why is anyone still paying him?

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Duct Tape

Do check out Sean Siperstein at Warming Law's liveblog of today's events in the Senate Environment Committee, where Barbara Boxer and others made EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson squirm for quite a while this morning.

The background, including Boxer's finding that the EPA staff favored the granting to California of the waiver for them to regulate tailpipe emissions, is here and here. More on today's session is here and here, including the hilarious admission that the EPA used duct tape to redact documents about their decision-making process.

BOXER: Colleagues, this is the tape, this is the tape that was put over — finally the administration had a way to use duct tape. This administration, this is what they did to us. They put this white tape over the documents and staff had to stand here. It’s just unbelievable. […]

I mean what a waste of our time. This isn’t national security. This isn’t classified information, colleagues. This is information the people deserve to have. And this is not the way we should run the greatest government in the world. It does not befit us. So that’s why I’m worked up about it and think we have been treated in a very shabby way.

Even Lieberman was laying into Johnson on this one. What an embarrassment.

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The superior Judiciary Committee version of the FISA bill was defeated by a 60-34 count, with several Democrats voting in favor of the bill with amnesty (Sen. Feinstein voted against tabling the bill, significantly). The ACLU had this to say:

“It appears the Senate is buckling under pressure from the White House. The Judiciary Committee’s alternative included vastly improved privacy protections for Americans over both the Intelligence Committee bill and the Protect America Act. By rejecting the Senate Judiciary Committee’s language, the Senate has rejected the constitutionally superior bill.

“Under Democratic leadership, the Senate will now continue its debate on surveillance with a bill that resembles something from the administration’s playbook. Six months after being hoodwinked into passing the Protect America Act, Americans are still waiting for Congress to grow a spine.

“Instead of capitulating to the administration, senators should listen to their constituents who overwhelmingly oppose warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity. As the FISA debate moves forward, we urge the Senate to wake up and realize it is a co-equal branch of government."

As if the people mattered in a debate of their betters in Congress. Hah!

For shame to these Democrats who voted to make American law irrelevant:

Nelson (FL)
Nelson (NE)

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WGA Forgets Their Allies, Sows The Seeds Of Their Own Disaster

The WGA just ensured more American Idols far into the future.

WGA demands for reality TV and animation jurisdiction are officially off the table.

The WGA said so Tuesday in confirming its informal talks with studio chiefs, aimed at getting stalled contract negotiations back on track. Scribes may or may not end up accepting contract terms similar to the DGA's, but the move follows the directors' lead by first meeting informally with studio executives under the cover of a press blackout [...]

"In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations, we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation," the guild said. "Our organizing efforts to achieve guild representation in these genres for writers will continue. You will hear more about this in the next two weeks."

I saw this one coming a mile away.

I'm someone who would have benefited from expanding jurisdiction, someone who signed a card to have the WGA fight for jurisdiction, someone who's attended rallies and supported individual strikes in favor of jurisdiction. Once again the WGA is following the old-union model of getting whatever they can for their old membership instead of growing the membership. Prepare for plenty more reality shows, more than are on the air now, and a shrinking of the union writing jobs on television. And in a few years we'll all be back here again. The studios now have no incentive to put scripted, Guild-protected shows on the air. That's great.

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Dropping Like Flies Edition

This week's Republican to decide he's had enough is Rep. Jim Walsh, who represents a pretty blue district in NY-25 (the Syracuse area), where there is a great progressive candidate named Dan Maffei already in the wings (he lost by a mere two points last time). That flipped seat will improve the government in major ways, and while the change in the President is obviously of paramount importance, what's happening in the Congress will have positive ramifications well into the future. Getting Donna Edwards and Mark Pera into the House over some bad Bush Dog Democrats would also help. You can donate to them here. I'm in for twenty bucks.

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The Amnesty Debate

So here it is. Today the Senate is debating updates to the FISA bill. The Intelligence Committee version, which includes amnesty for the phone companies, will be the primary bill. The first vote will be to substitute the bill with the better Judiciary Committee version, which is amnesty-free; that will happen around 11am PT. This and all amendments apparently will only need 50 votes, and according to the Majority Leader, if the Republicans want a higher threshold through a filibuster, they're going to have to do a real one. So we're looking at 50-vote thresholds for everything.

However, Reid is still making it easier for amnesty to come out of the Senate, because such a filibuster demand cuts both ways.

At issue is the likely passage of a version of FISA that contains retroactive immunity over one that doesn't. Reid has said he supports the former, but legislatively, the path has been paved for the passage of the latter. In addition, there is debate over an amendment offered by Sen. Chris Dodd, to strip immunity from any FISA bill. If that fails -- and it seems likely -- Dodd has threatened to filibuster the whole bill. On Wednesday, Reid was interpreted as saying any such filibuster will be the standing and talking variety as opposed to an agreed-upon 60-vote minimum threshold. Feingold, who supports Dodd's stance, took slight issue with that approach.

"We should have a normal process were this is debated based on a majority vote in the senate," said the Wisconsin Democrat. "That's the way it should have been done and I regret that it's not being done that way. Of course, I support Senator Dodd. He and I were principally involved in making sure this didn't get jammed through before the holidays and I will be supporting him again. But this decision does make it harder."

And if you thought that the two vying for leadership of the party will offer anything more than lip service, think again.

He was also happy to have the support of both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton. The two Democratic frontrunners have said they oppose retroactive immunity. But, with the primary season heating up, it is unlikely they will offer anything more than rhetorical assurances.

"I'd love to have them back," said Feingold. "But it is not my job to tell them what to do on their campaigns. My understanding is that both of them have indicated support for what Senator Dodd and I are doing. So that's good. If we see real opportunity for a vote we can win, then yes. I would love to have them back."

Feingold's statement in support of the Judiciary Committee version of the bill is here. Reid is taking significant heat for his stance on the bill from back home. It's unclear whether or not this will change his thinking.

It doesn't look like any of the amendments have the votes to pass, even on a majority vote. The one that has a chance of passage is Dianne Feinstein's "good faith" amendment, which would allow the FISA court to do judicial review to see if the phone companies should be granted amnesty for lawbreaking. Upon closer inspection, this would be a tragic mistake.

It's bad enough that she wants a secret court, which average Americans like you and I don't have the right to access, to determine whether our basic legal rights and privacy protections are valid. What's worse is the underlying reasoning she is using. Feinstein believes that all the telecoms and the Bush administration have to show the FISA court would be that they acted in "good faith" - and voila, the telecoms are immune.

Although the first test asks whether the telecoms' assistance to the NSA "met the legal requirements," under Feinstein's amendment immunity could be granted if it passes the second test - "good faith" - even if the telecom in question did not pass the first test. As the senator explains (italics mine):

"If the FISA Court determines that the company did not provide assistance, or that the assistance provided met the legal requirements or was reasonable and in good faith, the immunity provision would apply."

So as long as the stupid ol' phone companies, who don't have access to lawyers or a copy of the Bill of Rights, apparently, were told that they were operating in "good faith" by the federal government, they'd be off the hook. And of course, that means that the government itself is off the hook, since the telecom lawsuits are really the only legitimate way to determine the breadth of the spying. A "good faith" alibi is no different than saying "I was just following orders." It should not meet the requirement of the American system of justice.

Feinstein's amendment sets a very, very bad precedent. It would allow lawbreaking by telecom companies merely because they followed a presidential order, regardless of whether the order was lawful. It denies Americans their fundamental legal rights to defend their rights in a public court. And it potentially would give Bush himself immunity, not just the telecoms.

Call your Senator and tell them that unless they advocate anarchy, they need to report out a bill that does not give immunity willy-nilly to any organization that is told by the executive branch to break the law. The numbers are here.

UPDATE: Apparently Jay Rockefeller considers the telecom agencies as "we," e.g. "We're going to win". Nice.

UPDATE II: This is not good news. The White House has relented and allowed any House Intelligence or Judiciary committee member to view the warrantless wiretapping documents including the legal underpinning for the President's program. This was seen as a prerequisite by those House committees to allowing amnesty to go forward. They're still not giving most House members or most Senators access to those documents. So it seems that the bargain is in the midst of being made. As long as these House committees get to see how the President broke the law, they'll give him amnesty for him and his telecom buddies for doing so.

UPDATE III: MoveOn would like you to make a call to our Presidential candidates and tell them they are needed back in Washington to lead.

Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both said they oppose this immunity bill4, but now is a time we need real leadership. Senators Obama and Clinton have enormous influence with Democrats right now—if they helped lead a filibuster against this bill, other Senators would take notice and the public would see Democrats showing principle and backbone.

Can you call Senator Barack Obama today? (Others will call Clinton.) Tell him we need his leadership to help block immunity for phone companies that helped Bush break the law. Here's the number to call: (866) 675-2008.

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It really does look like Mitt Romney is rising in every poll in Florida, which is likely a combination of Fred Thompson's exit from the race and a gap among conservatives, and John McCain having to leave the state to do a bunch of fundraisers. Either way, Romney's win in this head-to-head would be a real coup and put him firmly in front of the pack. I don't even think the media could spin it for McCain. Obviously tonight's debate will be crucial.

Oh, and this is good news for Rudy Giuliani.

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California Props All Going Down?

Propositions 93 and 94-97 face shaky polling in the final Field Poll. On Prop. 93, the term limits measure, 39% support and an identical 39% oppose, with 22% undecided. The support has decreased almost entirely because of Republicans. They used to favor Prop. 93, and as they've become more aware, they've switched to opposing it. Independents will be the crucial swing vote, and they too split evenly between favoring and opposing. Absentee voters are dead even, too, so neither side has a lot of votes banked.

What's really interesting is the question that says, "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is advocating a yes vote on the term limits reform initiative (does/did) Governor Schwarzenegger's support of Prop. 93 make you more inclined to vote yes, less inclined to vote yes or (have/had) no effect on your vote?" 11% say it makes them more inclined, 9% says less, and a whopping 63% say it has no effect. Wow. I was hinting that Arnold wouldn't much matter on this legislative question but now we have some data.

On the tribal gaming agreements, Props. 94-97, 42% support and 37% oppose. When the question is just asked "Do you favor more or less slot machines at Indian casinos," 42% support and 43% oppose. So the agreements are in trouble, too.

I do think it's still a toss-up. Democrats and perhaps indies are going to get a lot of mail in favor of the measure. But the rule of thumb is that an initiative needs to be more out in front right now. Same with 94-97.

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Deal Or No Deal

Looks like the Democrats and Republicans got together and decided on how much money to give away:

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders reached a tentative deal Thursday on tax rebates of $300 to $1,200 per household and business tax cuts to jolt the slumping economy.

Congressional officials close to the negotiations said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio reached agreement in principle in a telephone call Thursday morning [...]

Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to drop increases in food stamp and unemployment benefits during a Wednesday meeting in exchange for gaining rebates of at least $300 for almost everyone earning a paycheck, including low-income earners who make too little to pay income taxes.

Adding to unemployment insurance is typically the best way to get people spending money quickly and injecting cash into the economy. I know they're lucky duckies but it's true. So what has been dropped from this negotiation is exactly what can stimulate the economy. Krugman writes:

As I pointed out in an earlier post, economic theory — Milton Friedman’s theory! — suggests that if we want stimulus funds spent, they should go to people in temporary economic difficulty who are likely to be liquidity-constrained. But it appears that most of the measures that would do that — benefits to the unemployed, food stamps, aid to state and local governments — are being bargained away. Even the tax credit is apparently not fully refundable, so those who need it most, and are most likely to spend it, won’t get the full amount.

Furthermore, the dividing line on the rebate cuts right at the middle class in blue states that have a high cost of living.

Sigh. These guys can't even get giving away money right.

UPDATE: Apparently almost half of this stimulus package about $70 billion, goes to corporate tax breaks.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Edwards Steps Up

Apparently this was supposed to be part of his TV appearances tonight, but we do have a statement from John Edwards on tomorrow's FISA fight:

In Washington today, telecom lobbyists have launched a full-court press to win retroactive immunity for their illegal eavesdropping on American citizens. Granting retroactive immunity will let corporate law-breakers off the hook and hamstring efforts to learn the truth about Bush's illegal spying program.

"It's time for Senate Democrats to show a little backbone and stand up to George W. Bush and the corporate lobbyists. They should do everything in their power -- including joining Senator Dodd's efforts to filibuster this legislation -- to stop retroactive immunity. The Constitution should not be for sale at any price."

He tailored it to fit his "corporate greed" argument. And this is fine as far as it goes. But, as a former Senator, Edwards does have floor privileges. He could go to Washington tomorrow. All three of the candidates could walk in arm in arm, united against this giveaway to the phone companies.

I'm not hopeful that this will happen, but it's a neat little dream.

UPDATE: Courage Campaign has an action to call Sen. Feinstein. I've gone back and forth on her compromise amendments, but the fact that the plaintiffs would not be able to be represented in a review process in front of the FISA court clinches it for me. The regular court system ought to be sufficient to determine the law in this case. They should not have that taken away from them by Congress.

Of course, Bush would veto any bill with Feinstein's amendment in it, making it a poison pill, so it has the effect of a filibuster and a way to short-circuit the process. Sadly, I'm not sanguine that we're headed into anything but immunity territory. I'm be calling tomorrow and so should you.

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Obama Leads In Nairobi; How About Washington

Barack Obama has shown some abilities we didn't otherwise characterize in him before during this election cycle. He's shown that he has the capacity to fight back (we'll see how successful he is), the capacity to, scare Republicans shitless and the capacity to lead in a way many Presidents haven't on a global stage. At a time of continuing election violence in Kenya, Obama published an op-ed in a Kenyan newspaper, calling for calm.

While participating in our own presidential elections in America, I have closely followed the tragic events that unfolded after Kenya’s polls closed. My thoughts and prayers and those of my family have been with the more than 650 victims of the violence and their families, as well as the 250,000 Kenyans who have been displaced.

Clearly, Kenya has reached a defining moment. It is up to Kenyan leaders and the Kenyan population to turn away from the path of bloodshed, division, and repression, and to turn towards reconciliation, negotiation, and renewed commitment to democratic governance. There is no doubt that there were serious flaws in the process by which presidential votes were tabulated. There is also no doubt that actions taken by both sides in the aftermath of the election have deepened the stalemate.

But Kenya’s hard-won democracy and precious national unity can be salvaged. Now is the time for all parties to renounce violence. And now is the time for President Kibaki, Raila Odinga, and all of Kenya’s leaders, to calm tensions, to come together unconditionally, and to implement a political process that peacefully addresses the controversies that divide them and restores the Kenyan people’s confidence in their political system.

This will not get Obama one more vote in the United States, but it's the right thing for him to lend his credibility to trying to get some sense of order in Kenya.

However, there's a moment right now to lead right here at home. At this hour the Senate is debating a terrible update to the FISA law that would give amnesty to lawbreaking telecom companies. Chris Dodd has vowed a filibuster and needs the support of his colleagues. Barack Obama has South Carolina fairly salted away, and is looking to a big boost nationally to help him in the February 5 states. What better boost could he give to his campaign than to come to Washington and onto the Senate floor, to deliver a long speech on the virtues of civil liberties and the need to uphold the rule of law. The guy is a Constitutional scholar and a law professor, ferchrissake. He can get into this back and forth about candor and records and low-down politics, or he can show that he actually wants to lead. Furthermore, he can show a willingness to take the desires of the bottom-up progressive movement to heart.

I hear Sen. Edwards may be pushing in this direction tonight on Keith Olbermann's show. Obama should do the same, and with more than a press release. He needs to go to Washington and do his job. Clinton too.

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No Health Care Vote Today

Apparently Sen. Perata needs some more time to rearrange the chairs on the Senate Health Committee.

Sheila Kuehl, Chair of the California Senate Health Committee that is holding a hearing on AB X1 1, the Nunez-Schwarzenegger health coverage bill, has just announced that a vote on the bill by the committee will not take place until Monday. She announced that the delay in the vote on the bill was requested by Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, who is a coauthor of the bill [...]

The building is rife with rumors as to Senators being asked to step down from the committee or asking to be taken off of it, and other procedural moves to get the bill out of the committee. With vote postponed, that gives additional time to possibly amend the bill, change the committee membership, and for those on one side or the other of the issue to bombard their Senators with calls, emails, and visits. The outcome is unknown as well as whether Perata will take extraordinary measures to move the bill.

With the LAO report today giving little cover to those pushing the reform (if the average premium is $300 per person, as the LAO expects, the program is underfunded in the first year), and both Kuehl, Yee, and possibly Gloria McLeod wavering, obviously some serious efforts are being made to turn this ship around. The SF Chronicle had a very good article about this today.

Stay tuned. It should be a wild weekend in the Capitol.

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Huckabee Breaks Godwin's Law

It's a little useless to be pounding on Mike Huckabee, given that he's flat broke and is pulling out of Florida. But he's using a Southern strategy to pick up lots of Super Tuesday delegates (Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, West Virginia), and he's still a potential Vice Presidential candidate should McCain or Romney want to pick up evangelical support. So it's important to understand that yesterday he compared America to Nazi Germany.

In a speech to the Florida Renewal Project Monday night, which in an unprecedented move was live streamed on the American Family Association's Web site, Mike Huckabee compared America to Nazi Germany. He first implored the audience to renew their "commitment to Christ" and "to our nation, to its heritage, as well as to its future," adding "do we expect the seculars [sic] to do it? Do we expect the unbelievers to lead us, and if so, how will they lead us and where?" He then engaged in an extended description of his visit to the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem with his 11- year-old daughter, who asked, "why didn't somebody do something?" Huckabee, who has called abortion a "holocaust," then issued a dire warning:

... I pray that no father ever stands over the shoulder of his own daughter and after her witnessing the decline and the fall of a great nation, writes, and sees her write these words, "why didn't somebody do something?" You see, I believe the reason we're here is because we are the somebodies. And we're to do the something and if we don't, who will? And if we don't act now, when will it happen, and will it be too late? You leave this conference with this haunting question, and pray that no one would ever ask of you or of me, why didn't somebody do something.

It is beyond dangerous to give someone with this worldview even a slice of federal power.

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Michael Bloomberg, Sit Down And Shut Up

No amount of your billion dollars is going to make anyone want to vote for you.

Over on his blog, Greg Mitchell flags a new Gallup Poll that probes these questions in some detail. The poll, which surveyed roughly 2,000 adults, finds:

* A startling 84% of respondents think there's a candidate running who would make a "good president."

* Nearly three in four -- 72% -- say that the candidates are talking about issues they "really care about."

* A solid majority -- 58% -- feel that one or more candidates has come up with "good ideas for solving the country's problems," a finding that runs directly counter to Bloomberg's frequent and self-serving criticism of the other candidates.

Gallup's conclusion? "The American public does not appear to believe it is important or necessary for an independent candidate outside of the traditional two major parties to step into the race in order to save the nation." That couldn't be clearer. Are you there, Dean Broder?

To the extent that there's even minor daylight for a third-party run, it comes from the opposite pole of the Broders of the world. It would be fiscally populist and socially conservative (think Huckabee or Lou Dobbs), not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. That position is already filled. A Bloomberg third party would probably not even be so much as a spoiler.

It's not David Broder's country. Sorry.

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Kick Me While I'm Down, Why Don't You, Al

As if to tease all of us who have seen him mature into the nation's leading liberal, Al Gore has now sensibly come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

"Gay men and women ought to have the same rights as heterosexual men and women -- to make contracts, to have hospital visiting rights, to join together in marriage, and I don't understand why it is considered by some people to be a threat to heterosexual marriage," he says on the video, which appears on his Current TV network. "Shouldn't we be promoting the kind of faithfulness and loyalty to ones partner regardless of sexual orientation?"

Gore is allowed to do this, of course, because he's no longer in the political arena, and because of the weird constraints of political life that force you away from tough but sensible decisions. In a time with such a leadership deficit from the Democrats in the Congress, you almost get the sense that

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The Cave Is Half-Built

Things are accelerating in the FISA fight. Sen. Dodd has again threatened to filibuster the bill with telecom immunity, but Harry Reid, while nominally pushing for a short extension of existing law, is sticking the shiv in Dodd and anyone who wants to protect civil liberties.

Harry Reid -- who has (a) done more than any other individual to ensure that Bush's demands for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping powers will be met in full and (b) allowed the Republicans all year to block virtually every bill without having to bother to actually filibuster -- went to the Senate floor yesterday and, with the scripted assistance of Mitch McConnell and Pat Leahy, warned Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others that they would be selfishly wreaking havoc on the schedules of their fellow Senators (making them work over the weekend, ruining their planned "retreat," and even preventing them from going to Davos!) if they bothered everyone with their annoying, pointless little filibuster.

To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster. This is what Reid said:

"[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate."

Quite poetic that the one open filibuster Reid is forcing is against his fellow Democrats Dodd and Russ Feingold. These two noble men are pariahs inside the Senate for daring to try and stop telecom companies from getting full amnesty for breaking the law. By the way, the Intelligence Bill itself is pretty abominable, even if it had no telecom amnesty in it.

Meanwhile, the White House is sending out their attack demon out to booga-booga the Senate into compliance.

Actions by Congress sometimes have unexpected consequences. But a failure to enact a permanent FISA update with liability protectionswould have predictable and serious consequences. Our ability to monitor al Qaeda terrorists will begin to degrade –- and that, we simply cannot tolerate. So I’m confident that my colleagues on Capitol Hill will join together to make sure this nation has every tool it needs to fight and to win the war on terror.


This cause is bigger than the quarrels of party and the agendas of politicians. And if we in Washington, all of us, can only see our way clear to work together, then the outcome should not be in doubt. We will do our part to keep this nation safe. We will press on despite any difficulty. And we will prevail.

Dick Cheney, of course, is the most well-known purveyor of bipartisanship in Washington. If he wants everyone to just stop the partisan bickering and agree with him, of course Democrats should play ball, right?

It looks to me like Reid wants this bill done before the State of the Union address, for a variety of reasons. The pressure is rising on Sens. Clinton and Obama to come to Washington and highlight this issue. They're likely to be in Washington for the State of the Union on Monday, so getting this done before then is paramount. And of course, Reid doesn't want Bush to bash him in his speech and make the Democrats look - shock! - soft on terra.

This is such a depressing and familiar script. We have a couple lonely defenders of the Constitution, a conservative, establishment consensus committed to giving the President whatever he wants, and a public ignorant of what their government is doing. We have Democrats failing to lead, Republicans good at bullying and running interference for the President, and a practically foregone conclusion.

Where are the two Senators who are running to LEAD the country?

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Constitution Can Wait

The Congress is too busy giving away money to people they hope to have vote for them (not that it's wrong, but some long-term regulatory and policy shifts instead of handouts would be nice) to bother themselves with the rule of law.

House Democrats will postpone votes on criminal contempt citations against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, while congressional leaders work with President Bush on a bipartisan stimulus package to fend off an economic downturn, according to party leaders and leadership aides.

Senior Democrats have decided that holding a controversial vote on the contempt citations, which have already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, would “step on their message” of bipartisan unity in the midst of the stimulus package talks.

It's enough of a struggle to get Congress to walk, you don't expect them to chew gum at the same time, do you?

“Right now, we’re focused on working in a bipartisan fashion on [the] stimulus,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), indicating that the contempt vote is not expected for weeks, depending on how quickly the stimulus package moves.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said “no decision has been made” as to when a criminal contempt vote would be held by the House.

These citations were originally approved in the Judiciary Committee LAST JULY, by the way.

They will NEVER be voted upon, I think that much is clear. There will always be an excuse. And there will always be Blue Dogs unwilling to "look weak" by doing something strong. Democratic aides admit they don't even have the votes in the House to protect their own oversight responsibilities. And so a President will have set the precedent of extending executive privilege even further, and Congress will become even more irrelevant.

I liked it better when they were out of session, it was much easier on my stomach.

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