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

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Puppet Picked For Putin

They're "voting" in Russia tomorrow (some of the polling in the easternmost portions of the country has already begun) to anoint a successor to Vladimir Putin, and all relevant polls show that it's likely to be his former campaign manager Dmitry Medvedev. That's probably due at least in part to some helpful nudging by the party in power.

The Kremlin is planning to falsify the results of tomorrow's presidential election by compelling millions of public-sector workers to vote and by fraudulently boosting the official turnout, the Guardian has been told by independent sources.

Governors, regional officials and even headteachers have been instructed to deliver a landslide majority for Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's first deputy prime minister, whom President Vladimir Putin has endorsed as his successor.

Officials have been told they need to secure a 68-70% turnout in this weekend's poll, with about 72% voting for Medvedev. Independent analysts believe the real turnout will be much lower, with 25-50% of the electorate taking part.

The Kremlin is planning to bridge the gap through widespread fraud, diplomats and other independent sources have told the Guardian. Local election officials are preparing to stuff ballot boxes once polls have closed, they believe, with regional officials giving inflated tallies to Russia's central election commission.

It's clear that Russia has backslid massively on democracy over the last eight years, so the fact that this is a Potemkin village of a vote does not surprise. Medvedev was likely to win anyway (Putin isn't an unpopular leader, at least not in public), but a landslide would confer some sort of legitimacy, so it's being mandated.

Seeing both Clinton and Obama struggle with a question about Medvedev in the last debate, it's obvious that both of them could have answered it by saying "It doesn't matter who this guy is, Putin will remain in power, he's isolated himself from the democratic process, and George Bush looking into his soul and seeing a friend didn't exactly help."

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Jack Kingston Lapel Pin Watch

It's a tough matchup with Patrick McHenry, but Jack Kingston can be credibly said to be the biggest dumbfuck in Congress. For some reason he's also a regular on Bill Maher's show, and his most recent appearance has given us hours of hysterical laughter that will define him for the rest of his career.

See, he's all bent out of shape because Barack Obama refuses to wear an American flag lapel pin because it's a completely empty gesture devoid of meaning. To Kingston the role of Congress is to wear the proper pins and to make symbolic displays so everyone understands you're acting like a patriot. And Kingston then went on Dan Abrams' show to further the point. But he wasn't wearing a lapel pin on the show, while he was lambasting Obama for... not wearing a lapel pin. He didn't see the irony in this.

Now some activists in Georgia who are working for his Democratic opponent in the upcoming election are on a full-on lapel pin watch.

This is going to be a fun year once this primary is dispensed with.

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CA-03: Winning The Long-Term Battle

It may not happen this year, but CA-03 will be Democratic territory before too long.

Republican voter registration in California is on the decline, but nowhere is the effect more pronounced than in the Sacramento region's 3rd Congressional District.

Incumbent Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, now has the slimmest registration edge of any Republican-held congressional district in the state.

According to district registration figures updated before the Feb. 5 primary election by the secretary of state's office, the Republican advantage over Democratic registration has slipped below five percentage points, 41.6 percent to 36.9 percent. Before the 2006 general election, the GOP margin was almost 6.6 points.

This was made pretty clear when the percentage of Democratic turnout in the February 5 primary was 53.1%, also the largest of any Republican-held district in the state. There's something definitely happening in this district, most of which is located in Sacramento County. The demographics are shifting and Democrats have been very aggressive in registering new voters. Debra Bowen's focus on increasing registration led to thousands of new voters placed onto the rolls before the primary, and the residual effect of that is more Democrats. They of course need to be turned out. But it's clear that Lungren is paying attention to this development. After Bill Durston launched an effort to highlight Lungren's terrible environmental record (he has a 5% rating from the League of Conservation Voters), Lungren took a walk on the most recent environmental vote in the House - a vote to eliminate subsidies for oil companies and re-route those tax breaks to renewable energy companies. Lungren obviously feels some vulnerabilities on this, and he need look no further than at Richard Pombo. The LCV listed him as one of their "Dirty Dozen" in 2006, and that year, not only did Pombo end up losing, but 9 of the 13 "Dirty Dozen" (I guess it was a baker's dozen) lost as well.

If Bill Durston could secure some outside resources like that, this could be the sleeper Congressional race of 2008 in California. Keep an eye on this one.

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Only One Constituency

We really have to look at this FISA battle in a completely new way in the context of today's New York Times story (emphasis mine).

The warnings from President Bush and his senior aides have grown more urgent over the last few weeks, now that Congress has let a temporary wiretapping law expire. But there is little sign of anxiety among many intelligence and phone industry officials.

At the Pentagon and the military’s Central Command, senior officials gave no indication of any heightened concern about the lapsing of the law. In Congress, staff members with access to updated briefings said they had not been given any specific information about lost intelligence that might endanger national security. And in the telecommunications industry, executives said it was largely business as usual.

Indeed, for all the heated rhetoric in Washington about the government’s wiretapping powers, the debate over what a new surveillance law should look like has little to do with the present or the future and almost everything to do with the past.

We all knew that the intelligence leadership was fudging the truth about how they needed unlimited surveillance powers or else we'd all be strangled by Al Qaeda and the Symbionese Liberation Army while walking through Central Park. The FISA law, which has been revised over 50 times since its inception in 1978, is prefectly capable to handle any intelligence gathering of overseas threats while at least building in some basic judicial review to ensure compliance and civil liberties protections under the Fourth Amendment. What's been assumed is that the phone companies were demanding amnesty for going along with Bush Administration requests to circumvent FISA before and after 9/11. In the wake of this article, along with the news that Republicans are all grumbly that the telecoms aren't showering them with cash for helping their cause, you can only conclude that the phone companies really don't care whether they're getting amnesty or not. And they really shouldn't. The executive branch has proven pretty adept at shielding them from prosecution by invoking the state secrets privilege, and the courts have been extremely deferential in waiving cases due to lack of standing. Even if cases passed through the initial stages, it's simply unlikely that the phone companies would ever be successfully sued, and even more remote that they would have to offer financial restitution. They're simply not concerned about it.

So if the intelligence community doesn't care about this, and the phone company executives don't care about this, there's only one constituency for which this legislation is designed. And that's the Bush Administration itself. As Glenn Greenwald noted the other day, it's not like this is even well hidden.

In his Press Conference yesterday, Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush candidly explained why he was so eager to have Congress grant amnesty to telecoms:

"Allowing the lawsuits to proceed could aid our enemies, because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance." [...]

Bush is finally being candid about the real reason the administration is so desperate to have these surveillance lawsuits dismissed. It's because those lawsuits are the absolute last hope for ever learning what the administration did when they spied on Americans for years in violation of the law. Dismissal via amnesty would ensure that their spying behavior stays permanently concealed, buried forever, and as importantly, that no court ever rules on the legality of what they did. Isn't it striking how that implication of telecom amnesty is never discussed, and how little interest it generates among journalists -- whose role, theoretically, is to uncover secret government actions?

That's all this is about. The telecoms don't want the amnesty. The overriding goal is to shut down these lawsuits and, most important, eliminate the discovery phase so that the full extent of Administration lawbreaking is permanently hidden. This is about burying the evidence, as every single action by the White House since the Democratic takeover of Congress has been. Bush may have a soft spot in his heart for his corporate buddies, but he's really not interested in indemnifying them. He's interested in immunity for himself.

As the Democratic leadership in the Congress floats trial balloons about capitulating on this bill, it's important to keep this end goal in mind. Official Washington really doesn't want to reveal a lot of its secrets. Immunity has a certain pull for the Democrats as well, particularly those who were briefed about the program, even in part. They either made no objection or failed to ask the proper questions or in some way became complicit to this lawbreaking that has occurred for almost SEVEN YEARS now, and if the truth ever came out, my guess is that nobody would come out looking so noble.

I'm sure this is what's being discussed in back channels all over Washington. There aren't any lobbyists pushing for this, no citizens groups, no grassroots organizations. This is about the Village, mostly from inside the White House but really the entire structure of elites, trying to put up walls around itself. There is a powerful institutional urge to conceal.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Big Day In The Annals Of Contempt Of Congress

Just hours after Nancy Pelosi demanded that the Attorney General direct the US Attorney for DC to act on contempt citations for Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers, the Attorney General replied, "Yeah, I'm going to have to go with no."

Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Friday rejected referring the House's contempt citations against two of President Bush's top aides to a federal grand jury. Mukasey says they committed no crime.

Mukasey said White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former presidential counsel Harriet Miers were right in refusing to provide Congress White House documents or testify about the firings of federal prosecutors.

"The department will not bring the congressional contempt citations before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute Mr. Bolten or Ms. Miers," Mukasey wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It's a good thing we have someone so wise at the Justice Department to put his judgment in front of the letter of the law. Both Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer must be so proud of their little angel.

Pelosi responded swiftly, and in fine fashion:

“Anticipating this response from the Administration, the House has already provided authority for the Judiciary Committee to file a civil enforcement action in federal district court and the House shall do so promptly. The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.”

Of course, there is another way that doesn't tie up the case years into the future as it winds through the court system, and that's inherent contempt.

Under the inherent contempt power, the individual is brought before the House or Senate by the Sergeant-at-Arms, tried at the bar of the body, and can be imprisoned. The purpose of the imprisonment or other sanction may be either punitive or coercive. Thus, the witness can be imprisoned for a specified period of time as punishment, or for an indefinite period (but not, at least in the case of the House, beyond the adjournment of a session of the Congress) until he agrees to comply. The inherent contempt power has been recognized by the Supreme Court as inextricably related to Congress’s constitutionally-based power to investigate.

Extreme, to be sure. Which is exactly what is called for in this case. The Administration is thumbing its nose at the Congress. The Congress appeals to the legal system but the Administration also controls that through the Justice Department. This is a scandal about US Attorneys and a US Attorney who WASN'T on the firing list, i.e. a "loyal Bushie," is hardly to be expected to prosecute. If this eventually goes all the way to the Supreme Court, there are plenty of "loyal Bushies" on there as well. But as it's a "political question" that the courts will likely find the other branches to need to settle amongst themselves, that's not likely. Inherent contempt is the only process where Congress doesn't have to rely on another government branch. Quoting Kagro X:

Let's face it: if the "administration" simply refuses to budge, the Congress either has to fold its tent and go home, or enforce on its own authority the subpoena power the American people voted for. Given that we've reached this impasse -- and we knew it was coming -- over an investigation into the hyper-partisan and hyper-politicized nature of the U.S. Attorneys, inherent contempt proceedings would appear to be the first and most direct resort of Congress in enforcing its mandate.

It would also appear to be the last stop short of impeachment. And with that remedy currently "off the table," Congress needs to speak -- and speak soon -- about how it intends to protect its prerogatives.

So far, that answer has been "not at all." So it's really a stark choice: either move forward with inherent contempt, impeachment, or go home. I know the Democratic leadership has their fingers in their ears until next January, just trying to run out the clock on the Bush Administration. Thing is, Bush has the same idea; he wants to get away with his crimes, protect his secrets and immunize himself, his staff, and his corporate partners. The only people standing in the way are members of Congress, and they're standing like bowling pins, waiting for the next strike to send them flying.

Pelosi recognizes that the future of Congress as a co-equal branch is at stake, but refuses to play as close to the edge as the White House. You're not going to win that way, and in this case "winning" isn't just a political victory, but a victory for the relevance of American government. Not worth risking that to get an extra few more electoral votes.

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California Matters

Just a few things to get you through the weekend:

• If you're interested in helping Barack Obama but aren't flying to Ohio or Texas like Brian and Julia, the Obama campaign is urging supporters in California to make phone calls into Texas this weekend. MoveOn is also running Yes We Can parties on Saturday and Sunday.

• Let's not give the Governor a heap of credit just yet for accepting the Legislative Analyst's suggestions to close billions of dollars in tax loopholes. According to the Sacramento Bee he ran away from this proposal within a matter of hours.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told business leaders Thursday he supports a proposal by nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill to rescind $2.7 billion in tax credits, but he later softened that stance and said he doesn't necessarily support all of her recommendations.

The Governor will be in Columbus this weekend for the Arnold Classic, an annual bodybuilding and fitness event, so if you get a minute, Juls, you can go ask him about this yourself!

• Tired of being bashed with the facts over the past several weeks, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has come out swinging, defending his decision to deny the California waiver to regulate tailpipe emissions on the grounds that global warming is a global problem. Which means, of course, we need to do less to fight it. Also today the EPA turned over documents related to their decision, months after they were requested.

• On a somewhat different note, I'm interested in this protest by the environmental justice community against cap-and-trade solutions such as what is promised in California as unfair to low-income communities, which are disproportionately affected by polluting industries that would be able to buy their way into continuing to pollute those areas.

EJ groups, long overlooked in the more mainstream environmental movement, fear that climate legislation will once again disregard the concerns of the communities who are already most affected by the factories and refineries responsible for global warming. In a cap-and-trade system, poor communities, where polluting plants are most often sited, will still bear the brunt of impacts if industries are allowed to trade for rights to pollute there. Instead of this system, they're advocating a carbon tax, direct emissions reductions, and meaningful measures to move America to clean, renewable energy sources.

"[C]arbon trading is undemocratic because it allows entrenched polluters, market designers, and commodity traders to determine whether and where to reduce greenhouse gases and co-pollutant emissions without allowing impacted communities or governments to participate in those decisions," says the statement.

I think it's a powerful argument, and something the environmental movement has to seriously consider. If we're going to allow polluting industries to pollute, there will be an adverse affect. How do we deal with that?

• In yet another reason why we should not allow the continued consolidation of media, new LA Times owner Sam Zell has now taken to the airwaves, blaming the coming recession on... Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talking about the coming recession. Yeah, shut up already! This is the owner of the largest paper in California requesting what amounts to censorship, incidentally.

• Finally, a federal judge in San Francisco today lifted the injunction on the Wikileaks website, which allowed whistleblowers to post documents and anonymous information about government and corporate malfeasance. A win for the First Amendment and the public interest.

Add your own links in the comments.

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Friday Random Ten

An early-evening treat.

Crying - Bjork
Take The Power Back - Rage Against The Machine
The King And Caroline - Guided By Voices
One Day - Bjork
The Underdog - Spoon
Fake Empire - The National
Smile Like You Mean It - The Killers
Snowball In Hell - They Might Be Giants
Joga - Bjork (Wow, three Bjork songs)
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi - Radiohead

I'm in kind of a musical rut, haven't heard anything new that interests me in a few months. I need to hang out on Hype Machine more.

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Full-Spectrum Criminals

Blogger Nancy Nall nails White House official and Rove protege Tim Goeglein for plagiarism.

By the end of the day, he resigns.

A White House official who serves as President Bush's middleman with conservatives and Christian groups has resigned after admitting to plagiarism. Twenty columns he wrote for an Indiana newspaper were determined to have material copied from other sources without attribution.

Timothy Goeglein, who has worked for Bush since 2001, acknowledged that he lifted material from a Dartmouth College publication and presented it as his own work in a column about education for The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.

This is slightly more severe than borrowing lines in political speeches. Goeglein published as his own work an essay that he ripped off. If he received a financial benefit, and if the Dartmouth essay was copyrighted, it's actually a federal crime.

So you can add copyright violation to embezzlement, racketeering, invasion of privacy, shoplifting, voter intimidation and suppression, perjury, obstruction of justice, warrantless spying, torture, money laundering, solicitation, and the hundreds of other crimes perpetrated by Bush Administration and Republican officials. They really don't leave any stone unturned.

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Didn't Need This Response

Obama puts out a response ad to Hillary's "It's 3 AM" ad.

Fair enough, but I wish the response ad was simply "I won't run a campaign based on fear," as he said earlier. This "judgment" frame is nice and all, but it's just fearmongering from a different angle. When you combine this with Obama's right-wing dog-whistling to editorial boards like The Cincinnati Enquirer, it's hard to conclude anything other than that Obama is generally a cautious centrist who is unlikely to be a transformative progressive figure. My hopes lie with the fact that the movement Obama is generating and inspiring is quite a bit more liberal than he is, and that they will have the tools and the means to hold him accountable and push him in a more progressive direction once in office. Of course, that's going to be tested by the long general election campaign, where both sides will naturally move toward the middle in the hunt for votes.

UPDATE: None of this really reflects well on Clinton, of course, nor does their campaign being dumbfounded when asked to name one time when she has been tested in a crisis.

...also, I know this is a response ad, and a rapid response at that. All of that is well and good. Obama's team could have hit back in a different way.

UPDATE II: There's a YouTube of that conference call audio.

The point here is that nobody's really ready for these decisions. There is no Presidential training school. Judgment is a factor, experience is a factor, but you can't credibly say that one person will react better than another. I'd rather assess candidates on their policies, not this amorphous "Who will keep you safe" nonsense.

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Just heard Chuck Todd and Ron Brownstein, respectable establishment political figures and vote-counters, explain on Hardball how McCain would "park himself in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania" during a general election matchup against Obama, trying to capture downscale voters that Obama is apparently struggling with.

Riiight. Michigan, that state John McCain couldn't beat Mitt Romney in despite there being no competing Democratic race and with crossover voters allowed to participate. Michigan, where McCain said the jobs aren't ever coming back. Ohio, where NAFTA is reviled and where McCain tried to say that changing NAFTA would be bad because then Canada won't help us in Afghanistan, or something. An ardent free trader running in the Rust Belt. With the support of Mike "I just got my clock cleaned in Ohio by populist Sherrod Brown" DeWine. The guy who has admitted to not knowing anything about the economy. That guy,

It's possible that McCain COULD bank on a strategy of winning the Rust Belt, but of course George Bush campaigned pretty hard in Pennsylvania and Michigan in 2000 and 2004, so the idea that Republicans try to win there is nothing new. Why this seems like such a slam-dunk to the Chuck Todds of the world is probably because - well, because he's St. Maverick of McCain.

Later, Chris Matthews plays a clip of Barack Obama talking about how parents need to engage with their children ("make sure they do their homework, put away the video games, turn off the TV") and can't understand how a Democratic candidate would make such a "conservative" statement. Because personal responsibility is inherently conservative. Just ask every conservative who's been indicted and hauled off to jail how much they value personal responsibility; I mean, they all made guilty pleas for their corruption, right?

Ugh, journamalism.

UPDATE: Obama will not have a problem with voters worried about their economic security.

"We are not standing on the brink of recession because of forces beyond our control," Obama told a town hall forum in Austin. "This was not an inevitable part of the business cycle. It was a failure of leadership in Washington — a Washington where George Bush hands out billions of tax cuts to the wealthiest few for eight long years, and John McCain promises to make those same tax cuts permanent, embracing the central principle of the Bush economic program."

In remarks Obama aides suggested were a rebuke to McCain as well as Bush, Obama said more is needed than just "to change faces in the White House," but that the country "needs a change of leadership."

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Afghanistan Sets Record High For Record Highs

You could literally have written this article any year since the invasion of Afghanistan.

Opium poppy production in Afghanistan reached another record high last year and Kabul must do more to stop it, a US State Department report says.

The report says that the poppy cultivation helps Taleban insurgents obtain money and weapons.

The drug trade hinders progress towards economic stability and democracy, the report adds.

Afghan poppy production doubled in 2002. The crop set a record high in 2004. And in 2006. And in 2007.

This is what you get when you have a weak and ineffectual central government that only controls 30 percent of the country. Afghanistan is a narco-state. And additionally it's a frightening place to live for women. I remember when they pulled Laura Bush out to deliver these somber speeches about women's rights abuses under the Taliban and how we had a moral duty to act. What's she thinking now?

Grinding poverty and the escalating war is driving an increasing number of Afghan families to sell their daughters into forced marriages.

Girls as young as six are being married into a life of slavery and rape, often by multiple members of their new relatives. Banned from seeing their own parents or siblings, they are also prohibited from going to school. With little recognition of the illegality of the situation or any effective recourse, many of the victims are driven to self-immolation – burning themselves to death – or severe self-harm.

Six years after the US and Britain "freed" Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, a new report proves that life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases.

NATO is trying to gain a foothold in the tribal and Taliban-held areas. Women's rights is the furthest thing from their minds. 87 percent of women in Afghanistan have experienced domestic and gender-based violence. 60 percent are pushed into forced marriages. Illiteracy is at 88 percent. One out of every nine women die during childbirth.

This, mind you, is the WELL-MANAGED war. An opium factory where women have next to no rights and the Taliban has almost as much control as the government we installed.

UPDATE: Good news, the US and NATO have re-affirmed their commitment to Afghanistan! Now we can expect the same craptastic results that we've seen since October 2001!

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George Bush doesn't want anyone sitting around and taking pictures with tyrants:

Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, look at me, I’m now recognized by the President of the United States.

Except, of course, him. Bush has personally met with the leaders of human rights-abusing countries like Russia, China, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, the latter of whom likes to boil his political opponents alive. And he took pictures; they're at the link.

And not only has he taken pictures, he's openly supported such tyrants, even when it angers the population of that country.

The Bush administration’s continued backing of President Pervez Musharraf, despite the overwhelming rejection of his party by voters this month, is fueling a new level of frustration in Pakistan with the United States.

That support has rankled the public, politicians and journalists here, inciting deep anger at what is perceived as American meddling and the refusal of Washington to embrace the new, democratically elected government. John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, said Thursday during a Senate panel hearing that the United States would maintain its close ties to Mr. Musharraf.

Pakistanis say the Bush administration is grossly misjudging the political mood in Pakistan and squandering an opportunity to win support from the Pakistani public for its fight against terrorism. The opposition parties that won the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections say they are moderate and pro-American. By working with them, analysts say, Washington could gain a vital, new ally.

Bush obviously feels very at home with tyrants, especially those who don't listen to their citizens, crush dissent and pursue their own agendas. Curious, no?

I guess Bush is also opposed to his looking in the mirror.

...incidentally, nothing can help Barack Obama more than having this President make political attacks against him. If I were Obama I'd run an ad just showing Bush making the attacks over and over. You could be looking at a landslide if Mr. 19% keeps this up.

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They're Emboldening the Enemy!

Cut 'n' runners:

Turkey’s military announced it had withdrawn all of its troops from northern Iraq by Friday morning, bringing an eight-day ground offensive against Kurdish guerrillas to a close, just one day after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned Turkey to pull out its troops.

Why does Robert Gates want the terrorists to win?

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The Colbert Bump

There's now a statistical basis for it:

Democratic candidates who appear on “The Report” receive 44% more money than those who do not in the first month after their appearance. We no longer have to rely on the gut or Wikipedia — the evidence speaks for itself.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wouldn’t recommend anyone go on “The Colbert Report,” but these results show that Democrats who ignored her advice probably did themselves a favor. For Democrats, the “Colbert bump” is financially measurable, and it may be just what they need to keep control of the Congress in 2008.

This is so completely obvious. I remember going to the California Democratic Party convention last year and seeing Rep. Brad Sherman from a distance, and a young guy standing next to me said "Hey, isn't that the guy from The Colbert Report?" This raises visibility among informed people (yes, the Stewart/Colbert audiences are informed), and humanizes politicians. Everyone knows it's a joke and any Republicans trying to use Colbert appearances as attack lines will be laughed off the political stage. This is such a win-win.

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This story that John McCain is endorsing an end-time Rapturist and anti-Catholic is starting to get some traction.

Calling Pastor John Hagee a "bigot," the conservative Catholic League is calling for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to denounce/renounce/reject his endorsement Wednesday.

With a Youtube link to prove his point, Catholic League president Bill Donohue said Hagee "has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church. For example, he likes calling it 'The Great Whore,' an 'apostate church,' the 'anti-Christ,' and a 'false cult system.' ..."Senator Obama has repudiated the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, another bigot. McCain should follow suit and retract his embrace of Hagee."

Today Donohue noted that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee expressed disappointment that he hadn't received Hagee's backing.

"If Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama were fighting over the support of Louis Farrakhan, we'd say they're nuts," Donohue said. "So what are we to conclude about McCain's embrace of Hagee, and Huckabee's lament for not getting the bigot's endorsement?"

Glenn Greenwald did an interview with Bill Donohue yesterday. Donohue is a nutcase, but he can get press attention as well as anyone I've seen. This isn't likely to go away.

There are pictures of McCain with Hagee, video of McCain happily accepting Hagee's endorsement, and even today, McCain gave a weaselly "I don't endorse everything he says" comment:

"Well I think it's important to note that.pastor john Hagee ..who has supported and endorsed my candidacy supports what I stand for and believe in. When he endorses me, it does not mean that I embrace everything that he stands for and believes. And I am very proud of the Pastor John Hagee's spiritual leadership to thousands of people and I am proud of his commitment to the independence and the freedom of the state of Israel. That does not mean that I support or endorse or agree with some of the things that Pastor John Hagee might have said or positions that he may have taken on other issues. I don't have to agree with everyone who endorses my candidacy. They are supporting MY candidacy. I am not endorsing some of their positions."

Let's make this clear: Louis Farrakhan is well past his prime and yet his endorsement of Barack Obama sparked a continuing firestorm, despite the fact that Obama fully distanced himself from it. McCain is accepting Hagee's endorsement. This is a guy who believes in Armageddon and worse.

CUFI's politics, as compared to average political views of Jewish Americans, veer far to the right, lie along the extreme end of the theocratic spectrum and espouse an intransigent and radically bellicose approach to Mideast politics. CUFI is allied with the hard Israeli right and, most recently, has been organizing to block efforts by the current Olmert administration, writes journalist Bill Berkowitz, towards any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that would divide Jerusalem. CUFI's extremity goes beyond the politics of its allies in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party - one of CUFI's key founding executive board members, Jerry Falwell, once preached that "millions of Jews will be slaughtered", called Jews "spiritually blind" and stated, in 1999, that the coming 'anti-Christ' Falwell expected would be a Jew. CUFI regional director George Morrison has predicted "another Holocaust" and another regional director, Dr. Chuck Missler, currently sells an audio lecture series entitled "The Next Holocaust" and has said that Auschwitz was "just a prelude". In his 2006 book "Jerusalem Countdown", Pastor John Hagee's seemed to blame Jews for the [last] Holocaust (for disobeying God) and identify Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust as God's way of driving Jews to settle in Palestine. He has called also liberal Jews "poisoned". The core of the following assembled material I put together, last fall, for the benefit of a potential financial benefactor, to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who- as a Jewish-American -was torn between concern over the growing influence of Christian fundamentalism in the US military and loyalty to Jewish groups and institutions in his area which had received financial support from Christians United For Israel and its supporters.

John McCain's judgment is to welcome the support of someone this divisive and hateful. Let's remember this.

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Goalposts Moving

Hillary Clinton's campaign is very much talking about going on to Pennsylvania absent a blowout on March 4.

The Obama campaign and its allies are outspending us two to one in paid media and have sent more staff into the March 4 states. In fact, when all is totaled, Senator Obama and his allies have outspent Senator Clinton by a margin of $18.4 million to $9.2 million on advertising in the four states that are voting next Tuesday.

Senator Obama has campaigned hard in these states. He has spent time meeting editorial boards, courting endorsers, holding rallies, and - of course - making speeches.

If he cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there's a problem.

Should Senator Obama fail to score decisive victories with all of the resources and effort he is bringing to bear, the message will be clear:

Democrats, the majority of whom have favored Hillary in the primary contests held to date, have their doubts about Senator Obama and are having second thoughts about him as a prospective standard-bearer.

That's a somewhat spurious claim which cannot be sufficiently challenged, that she has won the "majority of Democrats." It's based on exit polls which have a substantial margin of error. Furthermore, this just treats Democrats like idiots, which they probably don't favor.

The Clinton campaign has been on all sides of this issue. They said it was a delegate fight. Then they said that only primary states mattered. Now it's that Obama has to win 15 states in a row to prove that Democrats aren't afraid of having him as the nominee.

The candidate is so much better than this lazy and insulting spin.

P.S. Does this mean that if Clinton only wins Rhode Island, where she's up comfortably, she'd move on to Pennsylvania because clearly Democrats are having second thoughts?

UPDATE: Here's that Clinton ad I was talking about before.

This is good news for John McCain, as his broke campaign can simply throw his "I approve this message" tag on the back end and use it throughout the fall.

Obama has responded by saying "I will never see the threat of terrorism as a way to scare up votes." Mark Penn's response? It's a positive ad!

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Murmurs of a Cave on FISA

I was just about to write a post about how the Democrats were getting some backbone. This week we've had Nancy Pelosi pursuing contempt of Congress citations for Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers strenuously, Democrats in the Senate holding firm on a proposal to reverse bankruptcy laws to protect homeowners subject to foreclosure, and House oversight investigators even forcing John Ashcroft to testify over no-bid contracts awarded to the US Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie. And in the face of a ridiculous series of attacks by the White House and right-wing groups over FISA, the Democrats appeared to be unafraid.


To break an impasse over legislation overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, House Democratic leaders are considering the option of taking up a Senate-passed FISA bill in stages, congressional sources said today. Under the plan, the House would vote separately on the first title of the bill, which authorizes surveillance activities, and then on the bill's second title, which grants retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration's warrantless electronic surveillance activities. The two would be recombined, assuming passage of both titles. In this way, Democratic leaders believe they can give an out to lawmakers opposed to the retroactive immunity provision. Republican leadership sources said their caucus would back such a plan because not only would it give Democratic leaders the out they need, it would provide a political win for the GOP. It remains to be seen if such a move will placate liberal Democrats who adamantly oppose giving in to the Bush administration on the immunity issue.

House Speaker Pelosi said that Democrats hope to have a solution worked out by March 8. But she also indicated that Democrats want language included in the bill that would clarify that FISA is the exclusive means under which the government can conduct electronic surveillance. The White House and some congressional Republicans have argued that the 2001 authorization of military force to launch the war on terrorism gave Bush the authority to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance. They also say the president has inherent constitutional authority to do what is necessary to protect the country. Senators have battled over whether to include so-called exclusivity language in their FISA bill. In the end, an amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that states FISA is the exclusive means for conducting electronic surveillance failed to win a needed 60 votes in a roll call that split mainly along party lines.

This has all the makings of a trial balloon, being floated to see what the membership and the outside issue groups think. The ACLU is, um, not pleased.

We vehemently oppose the Senate’s Title 1 that allows mass, untargeted surveillance of every communication coming into and going out of the United States . If the House is to take up the measure, we greatly hope that important safeguards are built back in far above and beyond “exclusivity.” There really is no benefit to declaring FISA the exclusive foreign intelligence surveillance law if it allows the AG and DNI to singlehandedly decide when tap innocent Americans on American soil.

This should be really simple. The telecoms knowingly broke the law. They shouldn't be taken off the hook for doing so. And FISA is perfectly fine to protect the country from terrorists while respecting civil liberties. The President is a reviled figure and his bleatings have produced little or no momentum in the public. There's simply no reason to do this.

Peter Sussman, a plaintiff in two of the lawsuits against phone companies, writes in the Sacramento Bee about how this deal would be un-American.

After Saddam Hussein was executed, President Bush reassured the world that the Iraqi dictator received "a fair trial – the kind of justice he denied victims of his brutal regime."

The Bush administration has similarly promoted "the rule of law" and "an independent judiciary" for countries such as Cuba, Burma and Iran.

Yet that same president is pressuring Congress to deny Americans our day in court before an independent judiciary by repealing the rules of law that guarantee the right to sue a private company for illegal infringements on our privacy rights.

Before Congress is sucked into this rhetorical swamp, consider that AT&T and other phone companies that buckled to secret administration demands for our records had a legal alternative: They could have insisted that the administration first obtain the court order that they – or their corporate attorneys – knew was necessary. That's what another large phone company apparently did, demonstrating more respect for the rule of law than AT&T apparently has. AT&T would have been legally obligated to respond to a valid warrant, saving "millions of lives" at that "very moment."

Instead, AT&T chose to violate federal and state law.

I and my fellow plaintiffs don't stand to win any money through our lawsuit, much less billions of dollars, but we do hope to assure governmental accountability, to open to public scrutiny the actions of corporations and government that have teamed up to deny citizens the rights guaranteed by law.

Your House member needs a phone call. There is no public constituency demanding that the phone companies get amnesty. The "rule of law," pro-Constitution constituency must rule the day.

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Changing The Rules Midstream

This is kind of the last straw:

The Texas Democratic Party warned Thursday that election night caucuses scheduled for next Tuesday could be delayed or disrupted after aides to Hillary Clinton threatened to sue over the party's complicated delegate selection process [...]

Democratic sources said both campaigns have made it clear that they might consider legal options over the complicated delegate selection process, which includes both a popular vote and evening caucuses. But the sources made it clear that the Clinton campaign in particular had warned of an impending lawsuit.

"Both campaigns have made it clear that they would go there if they had to, but I think the imminent threat is coming from one campaign,'' said one top Democratic official, referring to the Clinton campaign. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another Democratic official who was privvy to the discussions confirmed that Clinton representatives made veiled threats in a telephone call this week.

"Officials from Sen. Clinton's campaign at several times throughout the call raised the specter of 'challenging the process,' the official said. "The call consisted of representatives from both campaigns and the Democratic Party.''

First, Clinton surrogates sued to close all at-large caucuses in Nevada. They argued to seat Michigan and Florida delegates after all candidates boycotted the state. They have disparaged the caucus process itself. And now threatening to sue over the Texas process.

Whether or not these are legitimate claims and concerns is not germane. For the record, the way Texas chooses their delegates is screwy as hell. But in every single one of these cases, the processes were well-known for months and months to all parties before the voting. There was a time to raise objections and that was early last year. A serious candidate would have not only known about these things, they would have worked to change them to their advantage if they had a problem. I think the Nevada Democratic Party or the Texas Democratic Party would have given a lot of weight to what the putative front-runner had to say. Some might not have liked it, but they could have made this work for them, or made it work better for them. Or they could have taken the stance of the Obama campaign and WORKED WITHIN THE SYSTEM. Last March or April, the Clinton campaign could have easily made this one staffer's goal.

The result is that the Clinton campaign looks like they want to change the rules in the middle of the game, because they do. It does nothing for their likability, and in the end it won't matter. The Nevada courts threw out the case, the caucuses continue, Texas is not going to be bullied, and Michigan and Florida are only going to be seated if they aren't decisive (for the record I think they won't be). The Clinton campaign just looks small and petty.

(And I just saw the lowest kind of fearmongering ad, one that could easily be used by John McCain in November, being used by Clinton, about "what's going to happen if the phone rings at 3am, will your children be safe?" Thanks for that one, team.)

UPDATE: The "Texas two-step" has been in place since 1968. FWIW, both campaigns are denying any intention to sue.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our Prison Problem

This story in the New York Times today just broke my heart.

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

If you add in those on parole or probation, you're probably up to 1 in 50 Americans involved in the prison system.

The full report is here (PDF), and it's really an eye-opener. I cover prison policy issues fairly extensively at Calitics, as the Golden State has one of the worst, if not the worst, prison system in the entire country. Most people are familiar with the "three-strikes" sentencing law passed by the voters in 1994, but that was just the most extreme example of a thirty-year trend toward increasing sentencing laws; in fact, in those thirty years the state legislature passed over 1,000 laws increasing sentencing for all manner of crimes, and not ONE reducing sentencing. As a result, state prisons are woefully overcrowded, the nonviolent offenders who enter them don't get treatment or job placement or rehabilitation but essentially a college-level program in how to commit violent crime, and this facilitates the nation's worst recidivism rate. So incarcerating more and more citizens does not make the state safer; in fact, it has the opposite effect.

This is not a problem isolated to California, as the Pew report shows. It is, however, driven by the same factors.

In exploring such alternatives, lawmakers are learning that current prison growth is not driven primarily by a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the population at large. Rather, it flows principally from a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular “three-strikes” measures and other sentencing enhancements, keeping them there longer. Overlaying that picture in some states has been the habitual use of prison stays to punish those who break rules governing their probation or parole. In California, for example, such violators make up a large proportion of prison admissions, churning in and out of badly overloaded facilities. Nationally, more than half of released offenders are back in prison within three years, either for a new crime or for violating the terms of their release.

Nothing makes a local legislator smile more than being able to go back to his home district and tell them that he or she just passed a bill to protect their children. It's a bipartisan problem, this disease of having to be seen as "Tough on Crime." But the electoral benefits are just a segment of this desire to increase sentencing. The real issue is the rise of the prison-industrial complex, which at the state level is approaching the power of the military-industrial complex at the national level. For many towns in America, building a prison is tantamount to building a factory in the 1950s. Without a solid manufacturing base, having a stable industry that can create jobs, both in the prison and in the ancillary businesses catering to it (food and lodging for visitors and support services for families, for example), is very compelling. PBS did an episode of P.O.V. on this phenomenon of "prison towns" last year. This provides a boost to local economies, but at a cost.

Stories like these are increasingly common in rural America where, during the 1990s, a prison opened every 15 days. The United States now has the dubious distinction of incarcerating more people per capita than any other country in the world. Yet this astonishing jailing of America has been little noted because many of the prisons have opened in remote areas like Susanville. "Prison Town, USA" examines one of the country's biggest prison towns, a place where a new correctional economy encompasses not only prisoners, guards and their families, but the whole community.

Nestled in the picturesque foothills of the California Sierras, Susanville once thrived on logging, ranching and agriculture. Even today, the town offers a postcard image of small-town America under majestic peaks — if you keep the prisons out of the frame. Susanville, along with much of rural America, has seen its local agricultural economy go the way of the family farm. And like other communities that don't want to become ghost towns, Susanville decided to take a chance on the only industry that came calling — California's burgeoning prison system, hungry for space, new guards and low visibility.

And when sentencing laws eventually produce a fiscal burden on the state (the cost of housing prisoners has jumped from $10 billion in 1987 to $44 billion last year), there aren't many choices: cut education or health care or social services to compensate, or contract it out to private for-profit industry to reduce the expense. Of course, then those industries become reliant on "new customers" for their bottom line, and legislators are again pressured into increasing sentences, and the death spiral continues. There is a direct line between the campaign donations of the private prison industry and the states with the strictest sentencing laws.

The privatization of prison trend is finally on the wane, as lawmakers begin to understand that government actually can be more efficient if the remove the interest of filling the jails from the equation. There is actually another way to look at this issue, and the latest trend is starting in Red America.

Kansas and Texas are well on their way. Facing daunting projections of prison population growth, they have embraced a strategy that blends incentives for reduced recidivism with greater use of community supervision for lower-risk offenders. In addition, the two states increasingly are imposing sanctions other than prison for parole and probation violators whose infractions are considered “technical,” such as missing a counseling session. The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens.

This, incidentally, is why I think Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has been so effective. Getting the Kansas legislature to move in this direction must have been a monumental task.

We desperately need a more progressive prison policy that recognizes the actual intent of imprisonment, to rehabilitate and return the jailed back to society with a chance for advancement. Locking up the problem hasn't worked. Sentencing that focuses on treatment, and which pairs tougher sentences to actual risk, is far preferable. Chris Bowers calls this one of the untouchable symptoms that lawmakers have to this point been loath to challenge. But the cost has become too high to ignore. This is an area where a more transformational politics would be a godsend.

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Ladies And Gentlemen, Your Preznit

Two points from President Irrelevant's news conference today that may send whatever's sitting next to you hurling through the window, so make sure it's open.

Number one:

Maybe people didn't pay much attention to President Bush's presser today, but he did say this regarding the incursion of Iraq by Turkey:

"The Turks need to move quickly, achieve their objective, and get out."

Quite an astonishing statement, as we head into the sixth year of our own objective.

Of course, we're fighting for freem, and fighting the terrists, and you must want Al Qaeda to win.

Number two:

Responding to this reporter's questions at a White House news conference today, Mr. Bush said he had not heard about analysts' predictions of the potential for $4-a-gallon gas later this spring when refiners re-formulate fuel blends for summer driving.

This has kind of been all over the news. Those who actually fill their tanks on a regular basis know all about it, even if it hasn't punctured the bubble.

Just interesting that someone could be running the country and so detached from it - and from the consequences of his own policies - at the same time.

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Strains of Peace

This hope thing may be catching. Kofi Annan managed to broker a deal in Kenya between the two political factions after a disputed election erupted into violence. The two sides agreed to share power in a unity government. Let this put to rest the familiar bleating on the right about the fecklessness of the UN or its surrogates like Annan. Conflict resolution is, in fact, a positive development.

In a development that is perhaps MORE positive, 24 Senators on the Finance Committee have written to the Secretary of State, asking for a reassessment of US-Cuba policy.

Our current policy of isolation and estrangement has failed.  Cuba's political system is stable after five decades of American efforts to force change on the island.  New laws that tightened sanctions in 1992 and 1996 have had no effect. The administration's 2004 sanctions and its comprehensive plan to bring about transition in Cuba have failed in their objective.  The absence of Fidel Castro for 20 months has not led to a change in the system.

Instead, our current policy deprives the United States of influence in Cuba, including the opportunity to promote principles that advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.  By restricting the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba, we limit contact and communication on the part of families, civil society, and government.  Likewise, by restricting the ability of our farmers, ranchers, and businesses to trade with Cuba, the United States has made itself irrelevant in Cuba's growing economy, allowing Cuba to build economic partnerships elsewhere.

There is no magic U.S. policy that will transform Cuba.  But with Cuba facing a period of change, we have a new opportunity to seize.  Our policy based on sanctions, passivity, and waiting should end.  We need a new approach that defends human rights, is confident about the value of American engagement with Cubans, builds new economic bridges between America and Cuba, and seeks every possible avenue of increasing American influence.

We urge you to take a fresh look at our policy toward Cuba.  We should seize upon Castro's long-awaited and welcome departure to chart a new course that favors hope and engagement over isolation and estrangement.

I think that when you see a political campaign run the way that Barack Obama has run it, and how successful it has become, and how it's built such a movement for change, politicians, which generally follow the herd, TAKE NOTICE. Strong advocacy against the current Cuba policy makes perfect sense. We are not fighting the Cold War anymore, and constructive engagement has continually led to democratization. I'm not saying that the answer to all of our worries in the world is to send in the New York Philharmonic, but clearly isolating and alienating an island 90 miles from Florida for the last 50 years has done nothing. It's good to see a bipartisan commitment to fixing this error.

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Yacht Party Follies

Judy Lin at the SacBee took a look at the Yacht Party's bankrupt arguments about how we simply have to enable tax evasion or poor people are going to starve.

"The immigrant who sprays fiberglass on a boat will lose his job. The small-business owner who installs avionics on an airplane will lose his business," state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth of Temecula told GOP members during a Feb. 15 floor debate. "Those are the people who are going to be affected by this. It's not the rich."

You know, never does a day go by that the Yacht Party doesn't show its deep respect and concern for immigrants. Somehow, though, I have the sneaking suspicion that they're being, what do I call it, completely disingenuous. The Legislative Analyst has correctly described this as tax evasion, the Governor has correctly described this as tax evasion, even the TAX EVADERS have correctly described this as legalized tax evasion.

Chuck Lenert, 57, of Sacramento saved nearly $30,000 in taxes when he bought a used 58-foot Kha Shing motorboat near Victoria, Canada, three years ago. It came with a docking slip in Canada, he said, so it was cheaper to leave it there and pay an attorney $2,500 to ensure his tax status was in order with the state.

"I was just following the rules of the state of California, so why should I pay sales tax?" Lenert said. "I wasn't trying to do anything but follow the law."

For a year, Lenert, who sells hardware for a living, would travel every few weeks with his family and friends and take the $376,000 vessel, named Knots and Bolts, around the waters off Vancouver Island to catch crabs, salmon, oysters and shrimp. After a year, he moved the boat to Washington state.

"I would say that the 90-day guys are more cheaters," said Lenert, who has since brought the boat down to Sacramento. "I had a bona fide use."

Not that it should even be a question, but contrary to the Yacht Party's protestations, actually making yacht owners pay their sales tax would have no material effect on sales whatsoever.

The analyst's report found that a longer exemption period had little impact on manufacturers and sellers because their products sell nationwide.

Tim DeMartini, owner of DeMartini RV in Grass Valley, said the length of the exemption doesn't affect his business because two-thirds of his orders come from outside California. The average 40-foot big diesel, he said, sells for $150,000.

"It won't make that much difference to us," DeMartini said, adding that the impact might be greater for the buyer.

Due to this "conflicting" information, Yacht Party members are just so gosh darn confused about the issue that they'd rather just walk away from it, which has the added benefit of, you know, saving Commodore Ackerman's yacht tax.

"I haven't been able to conclude which argument makes the most sense," said Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, who abstained from the vote.

As for Dan Walters' predictable media "he said, she said" argument, I think there's a slight difference between yacht owners avoiding sales tax and income tax credits for children for working-class families. Call me nuts.

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The 5 Stages of McCain Grief

As McCain fantasy turns inexorably to McCain reality, media figures are truly struggling with how to deal with it. There's a definite 5-stages-of-grief feel to it. With denial and depression we have Joke Line, who knows that McCain's statements on Iraq are reductive and stupid, but can't imagine that, you know, he really believes that:

They'd be taking a country? Last time I checked, Iraq has a Shi'ite majority. McCain thinks the Shi'ites--the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps (and yes, the Iranians)--would allow a small group of Sunni extremists to take over? In fact, as noted above, the vast majority of indigenous Iraqi Sunnis aren't too thrilled about the AQI presence in their country, either. (The usual caveats apply: AQI is barbaric, dastardly and intent on violating the Qu'ran by engaging in the annihilation of innocents. We can't get rid of them fast enough.)

The sadness here is that McCain knows better. He knows the complexities of the world, and the region. But I suspect he's overplaying his Iraq hand in order to win favor with the wingnuts in his party. That is extremely unfortunate: As McCain should know better than anyone, it is extremely dishonorable for politicians to play bloody-shirt games when the nation is at war.

Giving us the bargaining is Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer, a McCain ally in the campaign finance reform fight who reacts to the obvious illegality in McCain's gaming the public financing system by trying to direct the issue elsewhere:

The shut down of the Federal Election Commission has taken center stage because there is no functioning agency to deal with the issue of whether bank loans taken out by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and the collateral provided for those bank loans, means that Senator McCain cannot withdraw from the presidential primary public financing system and is bound by its spending limits for the rest of his primary campaign.

The Washington Post has noted in an article (February 27, 2008), "the dispute centers on the most esoteric aspects of campaign finance law." It also involves interpretations of the loan agreement between McCain and the bank, and the question of what constitutes "collateral" for the loan.

The dispute, which could have enormous consequences for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, is further complicated by the fact that the complex legal questions involved here are being raised in the intense heat of the battle for the presidency.

The unprecedented legal issues involved in this dispute raise questions of both campaign finance and commercial banking law, and are issues that have to be resolved by the FEC and potentially the federal courts.

Democracy 21 does not have the answers to the legal questions that have been raised. There are novel and close questions.

In other words, McCain is a saint and somebody else can figure out if using the public system to get a bank loan and eliminate ballot access fees is, you know, a violation of the spirit of the law.

And producing acceptance is George Will. There's a bit of sleight-of-hand in the op-ed, with Will subtly blaming Barack Obama for holding up the FEC on the McCain matter when it's clearly the fault of Mitch McConnell packaging all these FEC commissioner's confirmations together. But generally this is solid.

First, the Times muddied, with unsubstantiated sexual innuendo about a female lobbyist, a story about McCain's flights on jets owned by corporations with business before the Senate Commerce Committee, and his meeting with a broadcaster (McCain at first denied it happened; the broadcaster insists it did, and McCain now agrees) who sought and received McCain's help in pressuring the Federal Communications Commission. Perhaps McCain did nothing corrupt, but he promiscuously accuses others of corruption, or the "appearance" thereof. And he insists that the appearance of corruption justifies laws criminalizing political behavior -- e.g., broadcasting an electioneering communication that "refers to" a federal candidate during the McCain-Feingold blackout period close to an election.

McCain should thank the Times also because its semi-steamy story distracted attention from an unsavory story about McCain's dexterity in gaming the system for taxpayer financing of campaigns. Last summer, when his mismanagement of his campaign left it destitute, he applied for public funding, which entails spending limits. He seemed to promise to use tax dollars as partial collateral for a bank loan [...]

In 2001, McCain, a situational ethicist regarding "big money" in politics, founded the Reform Institute to lobby for his agenda of campaign restrictions. It accepted large contributions, some of six figures, from corporations with business before the Commerce Committee (e.g., Echosphere, DISH Network, Cablevision Systems Corp., a charity funded by the head of Univision). The Reform Institute's leadership included Potter and two others who are senior advisers in McCain's campaign, Rick Davis and Carla Eudy.

Although his campaign is run by lobbyists; and although his dealings with lobbyists have generated what he, when judging the behavior of others, calls corrupt appearances; and although he has profited from his manipulation of the taxpayer-funding system that is celebrated by reformers -- still, he probably is innocent of insincerity. Such is his towering moral vanity, he seems sincerely to consider it theoretically impossible for him to commit the offenses of appearances that he incessantly ascribes to others.

It's still unclear exactly who will join Will in the acceptance stage. But they're clearly finding an answer for their grief at their soiled Maverick.

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Exclusive: Administration Claims Of Fighting Global Warming Mean Crap-All!

In a simply astonishing development, the recent Bush Administration offer of "binding" climate goals aren't actually sufficient in any way!

A senior European official has described America's latest offer on climate change as far too little, far too late.

The US climate chief James Connaughton told the BBC that President Bush was ready this year to sign up to an international long-term goal of huge emissions cuts by 2050.

He said the US was also prepared to agree to internationally-binding medium-term goals for its own greenhouse gas emissions [...]

But European climate experts are angry that the White House still refuses to set a date for halting its growth in emissions.

One government official said: "This is nowhere near enough. The rest of the world only cares about tangible US emissions reductions. Until they come up with firm figures for reductions, the rest is meaningless."

Really, you could bowl me over on this one. After all, it's not like the conservative movement still uses temporary weather changes as proof that global warming doesn't exist or anything. And it's not like politics influences decision-making on climate issues, leading to anti-scientific rulings at odds with federal regulators carried out by obstinate political hacks who view Congressional testimony as a test of their evasion skills:

The issue, remember, is that Johnson, despite the unanimous recommendations of his staff, blocked California's attempt to institute strict greenhouse gas limits on cars and trucks. But when asked by committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) if he remembered a key meeting in May of 2007, when staff briefed him on the decision, he said he did not -- and shot back "Do you remember what you were doing on Tuesday May the 1st of 2007?"

"If I saw my calendar, yes I would," Boxer responded.

And what discussions did he have with the White House about this issue? Asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for any information about such contacts, Johnson gave the same answer again and again: "I have routine contacts with various officials on a wide range of issues. . . . I value the ability to have candid discussions that are part of good government." As Johnson's last hearing showed, questioning the man is a bit like boxing an iceberg.

It really is just amazing that the White House would somehow deliver statements that don't reflect reality.

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More Half Truths on FISA

I guess Bush, in his morning press conference which I missed, kept calling FISA "Old FISA". I guess it belongs in Old Europe. I'm assuming Bush didn't mention that "Old FISA" has been revised 50 times since it was enacted in 1978, including several times after 9/11, and at the time Bush called those revisions "important to protect the country."

He also apparently said that "class action plaintiffs attorneys" (which I think is the wrong phrase) want to sue telecom companies and be rewarded with a "financial gravy train," and that's what's holding up FISA. Of course, if the telecoms didn't do anything wrong, they wouldn't be afraid of any lawsuits. Second, apparently the group that's hoping for a financial gravy train is Republicans.

With the House Democrats’ refusal to grant retroactive immunity to phone companies — stalling the rewrite of the warrantless wiretapping program — GOP leadership aides are grumbling that their party isn’t getting more political money from the telecommunications industry. […]

In a reflection of the sensitivity of the subject matter, and an apparent recognition that they would undermine their own messaging by appearing to be motivated by fundraising concerns, Republicans on and off Capitol Hill declined to comment on the record. […]

“There’s no question that from time to time staff, and maybe some Members, say to fellow travelers: ‘Are you giving us some air cover? Are you helping us help you?’”

Fear and profit-taking, fear and profit-taking, apply with liberal doses.

As a side note, I just saw the ridiculous Foundation for Defense of Democracies ad on CNN, which is basically the same version of that 24 ripoff that the House campaign committee threw together. This ad has also targeted freshman Democrats in the House, leading several Democratic board members of this group to resign their positions. The real question, of course, is why they were on the board of a GOP front group in the first place.

UPDATE: Reading this transcript of Bush this morning on FISA is really painful. The stupid, it burns!!!!

UPDATE II: I have a Style Guide update. Apparently I have been calling the Senate Intelligence Committee bill by the wrong name. It is actually The Protect AT&T Act.

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The Silly Season

The story so far:

CTV in Canada puts out a report saying that the Obama campaign warned the Canadian ambassador that his anti-NAFTA rhetoric was just that, rhetoric, and that he wasn't really opposed to it.

The Clintonsphere runs with it.

The Obama camp denies the report, leading many to call it a "non-denial denial."

Then a spokesman for the Canadian embassy completely denies the story.

Oh, but Hillary supporters are using the CTV story anyway.

Man, our elections have got to be shorter. This is just ridiculous.

(incidentally, I don't think that EITHER Clinton or Obama are going to suddenly become populist champions in the White House. I do think that it's good they're being pressured into this position, and that only one candidate, Obama, has built a movement that might actually hold him accountable on this score.)

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The Democratic Rules For John McCain

If we had a press that applied the same rules to John McCain that it has to Democrats as of late...

You'd hear every Democratic strategist on the talking head shows, and direct questions to the candidate himself, about how he is America's Worst Senator for Children. And sure, the number is a function of McCain missing so many votes - so what. That's basically how Sen. Obama's National Journal ratings were conceived, and as long as that is a fair data point, then so should this statistic from the Children's Defense Fund. "Sen. McCain, why are you considered America's Worst Senator for Children?"

We'd have constant questions asking McCain to renounce or reject or oppose or renouncereject or just say no to the support of John Hagee, a Biblical end-timer who believes that God caused Hurricane Katrina for its gay pride parades, that Muslims are programmed to kill nonbelievers, and that we must hasten the Rapture by invading every country in the Middle East. McCain should be asked about every single one of those statements and whether he explicitly supports them. I mean, I know Hagee's not black, but you'd think his rhetoric of hate would be held to the same standard as Louis Farrakhan. preference would be that all of these side issues be put in the proper context, and substantive reporting be prioritized. But you know, level playing field, and all that.

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On Hussein

In general, I have the same position on Barack Hussein Obama as Sean-Paul Kelley. It's a major stretch to make a middle name off-limits. So far I believe Obama is ignoring it and it's his supporters that are crying foul. But there is a way to not reflexively wince at the mention of a Muslim name, to call it an advantage, to call it part of the rich diversity that is America, to confront and shame the Republicans for trying to divide the country.

What's interesting is that it's Republican strategists like Karl Rove who are warning against using the Hussein middle name, saying that it would reflect badly on Republicans. Of course, that might just be something he wants to say in public. We all know that there are going to be two general election campaigns; the one on the surface, where everything is "above board" and carried out with "honor," and the sludge that McCain will have plausible deniability from. You're seeing this already with the RNC's "warning" to the Tennessee GOP over their scaremongering press release.

The Republican National Committee this afternoon scolded the Tennessee Republican Party over their use of "Barack Hussein Obama" in an official press release and warned the state party that they will be denounced by the national committee if they use the Democrat's middle name again, said a GOP official close to the RNC.

"The RNC has notified the Tennessee GOP that they do not support or agree with their approach," said this source, requesting anonymity to discuss the private conversation between a staffer in the national committee's political department and a top aide at the state party. "If they don't refrain from doing so again, they will be publicly repudiated by the Republican National Committee."

This source said the national committee did not ask the Tennessee party to retract their statement, but effectively put them on notice for the future.

Ooh, they're "on notice!" Did they put them on the "on notice" board? (By the way, Colbert shouldn't miss the opportunity to put the RNC on notice for stealing his on notice idea).

This is a toothless response that, if anything, calls attention to the various attacks in the first place. To me it wasn't the use of Hussein, it was the throwing of about 18 different things together, hoping that the intellectually lazy would put the pattern together for themselves. But the Tennessee GOP then corrected their own press release:

*Clarification: This release originally referenced a photo of Sen. Obama and incorrectly termed it to be “”Muslim” garb. It is, in fact, Somali tribal garb, hence, we have deleted the photo. Also, in order to diffuse attempts by Democrats and the Left to divert attention from the main point of this release - that Sen. Obama has surrounded himself with advisers and recieved endorsements from people who are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel - we have deleted the use of Barack Obama’s middle name.

Interesting, but of course the press release did its job. It put the 18 different smears out into the ether. They can't very well be taken back. I actually think Republicans want to make this about Obama's middle name, when it isn't. It's about making an attack based on nothing that Obama is anti-Israel. Removing the middle name is immaterial. I hope that the Obama campaign and its supporters get to the heart of this attack rather than nibbling around the edges at the trivialities.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Iraquagmire: Lucy Pulls The Football From Charlie Brown Again

For the second time in a month, the Iraqi presidency council has vetoed a law that was hailed as a great breakthrough by the Bush Administration, John McCain and the slew of neocon handlers. This familiar pattern plays on the failures of most of the traditional media to follow up on anything. There's a big news hit when the Iraqis pass a bill, like the de-Baathification law, or this recent one setting up provincial elections. Then the law is quietly submarined, but that story ends up on A-27, weeks after the initial story on A-1. The effect is to give people the false sense that there's any political movement whatsoever, pushing the "shut up we're winning" story right along to a public that can't be expected to do the legwork and know the difference. And here we go again.

The rejected bill, which sets out the political structure for Iraq's provincial governments and establishes a basis for elections in October, was only the second of 18 U.S.-set political benchmarks that the war-tore nation needs to reach.

Parliament considered it in a bundle with two other bills, a general amnesty and a budget, and approved it on Feb. 12 in what was welcomed in Washington as an example of good government, compromise and progress toward national unity.

Now the question is whether parliament is willing to revise the measure.

"It was a package deal. Now that package is broken," said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert at the International Crisis Group in Amman, Jordan.

This was the set of bills that led Huckleberry Graham to say that politics moves faster in Baghdad than in Washington. But now there's chaos. The complex way in which this compromise was brokered was the result of deals made by all the major stakeholders. If points in the October elections now have to change, that'll need to be balanced with changes in the other two laws, and the whole game of Jenga can come crashing down in a hurry.

And those elections really need to happen. In parts of the country where the Sunnis boycotted the initial elections, the representative is completely out of whack. The sticking point is whether the elections will produce strong provincial governors who cannot be removed by the Prime Minister at will. This is more than a technical difference. It's basically the difference between a weak federalist state and a strong central government. While the Presidency council claims the October 1 elections will go on as scheduled, that really is not a guarantee.

Meanwhile, in the other nightmare on the horizon, the Turkish incursion into Kurdistan, the Secretary of Defense has called for a rapid conclusion to the fighting (why is he giving the Turks timetables? The PKK will wait 'em out!), for fear of it destabilizing the region and provoking a peshmerga counterattack, which has already been authorized by Kurdish lawmakers. Turkey is currently vowing to pull out in a matter of days but again, there's no guarantee, especially considering that yesterday produced the strongest fighting yet, with 77 PKK members dead. Many experts are worried.

The United States is being skillfully handled by the Turks, who are dragging the U.S. into a policy disaster in Kurdistan. The Kurds have moved a lot of fighters and equipment quietly into the area, and are prepared to strike the Turks. Massoud [Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leader] has issued all the press comments he can to publicly warn that Kurdish patience is gone. The United States is either ignoring the signals or missing them…The Kurds can and will bloody the Turks badly in a fight.

I'm beyond believing what gets printed on page A-1 at the early stages of anything that happens in Iraq, and so should so. The media is carefully stage-managing a situation that is far more dire than they let on.

UPDATE: Here's why the provincial elections are so important: the current Shi'a provincial leaders in Anbar are thinning the patience of the Awakening groups. It's a matter of time before they do more than walk off the job, but retaliate:

U.S.-backed Sunni volunteer forces, which have played a vital role in reducing violence in Iraq, are increasingly frustrated with the American military and the Iraqi government over what they see as a lack of recognition of their growing political clout and insufficient U.S. support.

Since Feb. 8, thousands of fighters in restive Diyala province have left their posts in order to pressure the government and its American backers to replace the province's Shiite police chief. On Wednesday, their leaders warned that they would disband completely if their demands were not met. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, fighters have refused to man their checkpoints after U.S. soldiers killed several comrades in mid-February in circumstances that remain in dispute.

Some force leaders and ground commanders also reject a U.S.-initiated plan that they say offers too few Sunni fighters the opportunity to join Iraq's army and police, and warn that low salaries and late payments are pushing experienced members to quit.

First off, we're trying to pull off a balancing act that is nearly impossible, pleasing former insurgent and militia groups and the central government that wants no part of them at the same time. Second, insurgent groups are starting to infiltrate the Awakening groups as they grow more and more frustrated. Third, attacks on Concerned Local Citizens members are rising. Fourth, since the provincial leaders in places like Diyala are Shi'a, owing at least in part to the Sunni boycott of the previous elections, the Sunnis are being marginalized in their own home regions.

A restive mix, to be sure.

UPDATE II: Turkey is more committed to resisting troop timetables than the US.

Turkey has given no clear timeframe for ending its military operations against Kurdish PKK rebels in northern Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on Thursday after talks with Turkish officials.

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I suppose I have to say a word or two about William F. Buckley, though admittedly I have a better memory of Robin Williams' impression of him than the man himself (also, while Christopher Buckley's conservative writings leave me cold, his novel Thank You For Smoking was entertaining).

This is of course another case of the conservative whitewash. After death you cannot find anyone to say a bad word about the guy, even his adversaries, and the hagiography is amped up to ridiculous heights. While Rick Perlstein gave a moving tribute this morning, it seems to me that little is spoken about the man who believed AIDS patients should be tattooed, who opposed World War II, who was the greatest defender of Joseph McCarthy in America, and whose National Review was a cornerstone of opposition to the civil rights movement. Buckley, having spawned a conservative movement that left him behind, became almost sympathetic at the end of his life, and the conservatives praising him today weren't singing the same tune just a few short months ago.

"Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War I, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this "rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning." The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward". His wife nods and says, "Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

Of course, everyone who doesn't cotton to the agreed-to tenets of conservatism must be tossed aside, even the... founders of conservatism. But I don't hold that the enemy of my enemy is my friend in every case. I wish his family to have some peace, but I'm disinclined to raise a glass for the likes of William F. Buckley. Unless you can find me any instance of him raising said same glass for anyone below his station.

...I should also add that the main reason Buckley's passing makes me sad is that we don't have any public intellectuals anymore. I'm not one who thinks the culture has been "dumbed-down" necessarily, but the time where someone could be famous for having ideas has clearly passed. And that's ultimately not a good thing. To the extent that the blogosphere represents a return to that in a different venue is somewhat hopeful, but it's, you know, still the Internets. That Bill Buckley's intellectual ancedent is Jonah Goldberg should bring shrieks of horror to pretty much everyone.

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