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

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Mess In Zimbabwe

The opposition party Movement for Democratic Change is now vowing to boycott a runoff vote:

The 50 members of the opposition's National Executive Committee voted unanimously that they believed their presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the March 29 vote by the clear majority needed for a first-round victory, said party spokesman Nelson Chamisa. A second round of voting, he said, would only encourage Mugabe to redouble efforts to rig the results and intimidate opposition supporters.

"We have resolved that we will not participate," Chamisa said. "There won't be any runoff. We have won."

Chamisa declined to say how Tsvangirai intended to assume the presidency in a country with no history of peaceful transfers of power.

There's going to be a civil war in Zimbabwe. I think that's perfectly clear. The ruling party led by Robert Mugabe has already begun the crackdown, banning political rallies and arresting MDC Presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai's lawyer, along with about 1,000 of his supporters. The State Department is making vague calls for a peaceable solution, but they are not beginning from the assumption that a brutal war is inevitable, and Mugabe's forces are perfectly willing to disappear or kill every rival.

Right now there aren't many places, not even Iraq, more needing of the world's attention than Zimbabwe.

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The Stupid Season

OK, I've had it. I guess Barack Obama is not allowed to describe the world as it is, for that way lies gaffe.

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

And now all the pious politicians from wealthy families and cushy Senate jobs and all the goat blowers in the commentariat have to condemn such awful remarks and self-righteously make common cause with those "real Americans in the heartland" who Obama apparently slandered.

Give me a break. It's a gaffe to say, rightly, that politicians and media types descend on small-town America and eat their local foods and talk very earnestly about their economies every four years, and then never come back, and never address their issues? Did it ever occur to anyone that Barack Obama's entire political life has been in service to representing poor people in government? That those are his constituents? Even, horrors, those Midwesterners in the heartland?

And it's a gaffe, now, to say that Republicans have used social issues and scapegoats to stand in for their own failures on the economy, especially in rural communities? Isn't this painfully obvious by now? Those who are describing Obama as elitist need to go look up the definition of "empathy."

I mean, this is bullshit. And Hillary Clinton and John McCain and every very rich media type who now tries to connect this back to some made-up view of Barack Obama as an elitist, which is really just a layering over of every Democrat as an elitist, needs to with all due respect shut their fucking mouths. The manufacturing base of this country has been hollowed, agribusiness has crushed family farms, industries are flying overseas with each passing day, and if someone attempts to explain that process and the expected reaction to it they're an elitist? Actually, the elitists are the puffed-up failed sportscasters that fail to read the context of any campaign remarks, and the idiot consultants who think they can pull one over on "the rubes" by casting a commonplace argument as the words of someone "who doesn't share your values". I guess the elitist is the one who offers legislation to rein in CEO compensation packages. That absolutely sounds like something an elitist would do.

Just shut up, and don't assume that every rural voter is as sensitive and aggrieved as you all clearly are. You don't know them, don't understand them, and certainly shouldn't presume to speak for them.

I'd continue, but it would probably me a mass of sputtering and different variations on the word "fuck," so I'm going to let Senator Obama have the last word.

"I was in San Francisco talking to a group at a fundraiser and somebody asked how're you going to get votes in Pennsylvania? What's going on there? We hear that's its hard for some working class people to get behind you're campaign. I said, "Well look, they're frustrated and for good reason. Because for the last 25 years they've seen jobs shipped overseas. They've seen their economies collapse. They have lost their jobs. They have lost their pensions. They have lost their healthcare.

"And for 25, 30 years Democrats and Republicans have come before them and said we're going to make your community better. We're going to make it right and nothing ever happens. And of course they're bitter. Of course they're frustrated. You would be too. In fact many of you are. Because the same thing has happened here in Indiana. The same thing happened across the border in Decatur. The same thing has happened all across the country. Nobody is looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you. And so people end up- they don't vote on economic issues because they don't expect anybody's going to help them. So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington. So I made this statement-- so, here's what rich. Senator Clinton says 'No, I don't think that people are bitter in Pennsylvania. You know, I think Barack's being condescending.' John McCain says, 'Oh, how could he say that? How could he say people are bitter? You know, he's obviously out of touch with people.'

"Out of touch? Out of touch? I mean, John McCain—it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he's saying I'm out of touch? Senator Clinton voted for a credit card-sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial services companies, and she says I'm out of touch? No, I'm in touch. I know exactly what's going on. I know what's going on in Pennsylvania. I know what's going on in Indiana. I know what's going on in Illinois. People are fed-up. They're angry and they're frustrated and they're bitter. And they want to see a change in Washington and that's why I'm running for President of the United States of America."

This is a very honest, Thomas Frank-like argument that shows an understanding of working America's concerns, and the next media idiot that challenges it and starts to say how "regular people" will respond to this needs to be asked "When's the last time you ever talked to a so-called 'regular person'? When's the last time you ever looked at a price tag in a store? Shut your god-damn mouth!"

UPDATE: Fuck Ben Smith. Obama did NOT say that there's something wrong with clinging to faith or clinging to guns. That's what you think he said because in all likelihood that's what you believe. Obama is saying that people losing their jobs and struggling to get by look for answers, and when they're presented with no economic answers but a whole passel of moral ones, that's where they'll gravitiate. It's pretty clear.

UPDATE II: More from that elitist:

Ordinary citizens can have an enormous influence on what happens in Washington. The problem is that they're just not organized right now. And so those who are organized, the corporations, the special interests, the big lobbies, they have a disproportionate influence, and part of what hopefully this campaign is about is to tilt the scales in favor of ordinary people.

Did he say that from a marble veranda eating finger sandwiches? Pompous windbag!

UPDATE III: Unbelievable. The AP headline goes: Obama Concedes Remarks Were Ill Chosen. In other words, he gives a four-minute, fully-rendered argument with one throw-away line saying "I didn't say it as well as I should have," and the headline is... that throwaway line.

Our entire media can be safely dumped into the sea.

UPDATE IV: Shorter Evan Bayh: I'm going to let you know that I know exactly what Obama meant and then deliberately distort it so that my candidate looks better.

One of Clinton's staunchest supporters, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., acknowledged there was some truth in Obama's remarks. But Republicans would use them against him anyway, Bayh said.

"We do have economic hard times, and that does lead to a frustration and some justifiable anger, it's true," Bayh told reporters after introducing Clinton in Indianapolis. "But I think you're on dangerous ground when you morph that into suggesting that people's cultural values whether it's religion or hunting and fishing or concern about trade are premised solely upon those kinds of anxieties and don't have a legitimate foundation independent of that."

But nobody said that people's cultural values are premised SOLELY upon those anxieties. He said that people VOTE on those cultural values because corporatist Democrats like you haven't lifted a goddamn finger for them in 30 years, and the only way Democrats win is if they return to being the party of the people. I'm not surprised you didn't get it.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Shorter Bush

Yeah, we torture, what are you gonna do about it?

President Bush says he knew his top national security advisors discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.

"Well, we started to connect the dots, in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And, yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."


In his interview with ABC News, Bush said the ABC report about the Principals' involvement was not so "startling."

As emptywheel notes, this is no different from Fourthbranch Cheney telling Martha Raddatz "So" when she mentioned that 2/3 of Americans disagree with fighting in Iraq. The utter contempt from this Administration, for the opinion of Americans or the law, comes from a belief that they will never be held accountable for their crimes. And it's a well-earned belief, borne from the experience of a lapdog Congress, Republican and Democrat, that has never bothered to so much as lightly challenge the President and his cadre on these issues. It's taken this long for John Conyers to hold a hearing. And in 2006, the Military Commissions Act essentially gave them immunity from US prosecution. Of course that wouldn't affect the international courts.

We're going to have to struggle just to get all the relevant information. The White House will throw up stonewalls and barriers and the media is too busy talking about pizza and orange juice to give a damn. There's a Pentagon review of the FBI's involvement in interrogations that has been delayed because they're too busy redacting all of it.

This is OUR problem. All of us, actually. We enabled this and we consented to this. We thought that we could just win an election and move on. We don't even want to think about this guy occupying the White House. But he's there. And he's a war criminal. An entire branch of the government is populated with them.

This is a spot that won't come out.

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Schwarzenegger To Fight Initiative On Gay Marriage Ban?


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says if an initiative to ban gay marriage qualifies for the November ballot, he's prepared to fight it.

California's governor was in San Diego today speaking at the annual convention of the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's largest gay Republican group.

Schwarzenegger said he was confident that a ban would never pass in California but called the effort "a waste of time" -- joking that he wished activists would focus on allowing naturalized citizens to run for president instead.

Notice of course who he was speaking to.

Now, Arnold has vetoed bills legalizing gay marriage on two occasions. And each time he has retreated to referencing a prior "defense of marriage" initiative passed in 2000, and saying that "the people have spoken" on this matter. Now, however, he'd like the people to speak in a different way, I guess.

Wonder what's going on here...

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In Defense Of Yoo

The Dean of the Boalt School of Law, Christopher Edley, Jr., has written a brief defending his decision not to fire war criminal John Yoo, as he has been prodded to do by the National Lawyers Guild, among others. The most craven part is when Edley makes up the reason that Yoo didn't actually do the torturing himself, or something:

As critical as I am of his analyses, no argument about what he did or didn't facilitate, or about his special obligations as an attorney, makes his conduct morally equivalent to that of his nominal clients, Secretary Rumsfeld, et al., or comparable to the conduct of interrogators distant in time, rank and place. Yes, it does matter that Yoo was an adviser, but President Bush and his national security appointees were the deciders.

I guess this Law School Dean has taken the word "accessory" out of all the books. This is the reverse Nuremberg defense, and I agree with Marcy Wheeler:

In the same way those who facilitated torture still cling to the inadequate claim that they were just following bad orders, Edley here gives Yoo the excuse that he was just providing advice, that his advice is distanced from the outcome of that advice because someone else ultimately exercises the key moral decision. Furthermore, I think this argument allows Edley to ignore what appears to have gone on here--Yoo appears not to have conducted real analysis, but rather he appears to have delivered shoddy opinions that gave Bush and Rummy and Tenet and Cheney the green light to do what they had decided to do before they sought his advice. Yoo, in a sense, willingly took on the role of decider here, because by providing such utilitarian opinions, he freed Bush and Rummy and Tenet and Cheney of the requirement that they risk their own moral authority to implement plans they claim were correct. Yoo leant them his own moral authority, and in doing so allowed them to escape the moral and legal consequences of their own decisions.

So, yeah, Bush and Rummy and Tenet and Cheney are in the wrong here. But so is Yoo, because he has tried and has thus far succeeded in placing them in a position where all of them can commit moral wrongs without owning those actions.

Exactly. And add Edley now to that list.

...Let me again say that John Yoo is making a public appearance on the 14th of April, next Monday, at the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley, and you should go and tell him how you feel, because this guy shouldn't be allowed to walk the earth without hearing from citizens disgusted with how he debased this country.

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Street Money

This story about Barack Obama refusing to give out "walking around money" to ward leaders in Philadelphia misses the point. There's all of this fist-clenching over whether Obama's refusal to dispense the street money is going to hurt his campaign without a recognition that this Presidential primary is big enough that Obama's campaign is not relying on the internal Philly machine to get out the vote. In fact, in a high-information primary like this such a strategy would never work. I don't think pressure from a ward leader would get a significant amount of Philadelphians out to vote for a preferred candidate; the turnout will be high so there won't be a lot of stragglers to find, anyway. Ward leaders didn't elect Bob Brady, who runs the entire city, against Michael Nutter in the mayoral primary. This is a 20th-century model on 21st-century politics, and making this into some kind of make-or-break decision for the Obama campaign is silly. The article even mentions Brady:

Before the 2002 state elections, a reporter watched two practitioners of the street-money arts in action: Campbell and U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, a ward leader and chair of Philadelphia's Democratic committee.

Brady was sitting in his campaign office with two of his political lieutenants. He reached into a desk drawer at one point and pulled out a $50 bill -- street money. Brady tore it in two and gave each man a half. Then the men made a bet: Whoever pulled in the most Democratic votes that day from his precincts would get both halves.

I would have thought it'd be notable to mention that Brady got 15% of the primary vote in 2007, in a local election you'd think would be tailor-made for the dispensation of street money. Don't act like 2008 Philly is like a scene out of "Gangs of New York." It's not.

Also, it's not like Obama isn't going to spend any money on GOTV otherwise. There are plenty of paid staffers that he's brought in, as well as robocalls and direct mail and vans to get people to the polls. The article makes it into a holier-than-thou kind of situation when he probably just wants to control his money and his message. What's wrong with that?

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Why Is Bill Clinton Talking Again?

As tough a few days that Hillary Clinton had over those remarks on her trip to Bosnia, it had basically subsided. She apologized, she made a few jokes about it on Jay Leno, and the campaign moved on. Why the heck would he bring it up again, on two occasions, in speeches in Indiana? Just shut your mouth, give a nice little speech on the issues, which is exactly what he did at the California Democratic Party convention a couple weeks ago (with me in attendance). There's no reason to rehash the Tuzla speech, especially because he lied over and over in talking about it.


Bill Clinton has many of the facts wrong.

His wife didn't make the sniper fire claim "one time late at night when she was exhausted." She actually told the story several times, including during prepared remarks on foreign policy delivered the morning of March 17.

It's also not true that she "immediately apologized for it." Clinton has never apologized for the comments and only acknowledged that she "misspoke" a week after the March 17 speech when video of her peaceful tarmac reception emerged.

It's also not true that she was the "first first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to go into a combat zone" — a claim that Hillary Clinton has also made when talking about the trip. Pat Nixon traveled to Saigon during the Vietnam war and Barbara Bush went to Saudi Arabia two months before the launching of Desert Storm.

The trip also was not in 1995, but 1996.

Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer responded to the former president's remarks Friday by saying, "Senator Clinton appreciates her husband standing up for her, but this was her mistake and she takes responsibility for it."

She's also told her husband to quit talking about it.

Hillary Clinton is wise beyond her years.

At one level it shouldn't matter much what Bill Clinton says, but surely he knows the warped media environment in which we live. Why would he step in it?

Mr. President, you're doing it wrong.

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Stop Talking About Pizza And Orange Juice

I actually saw this on Hardball yesterday and decided not to post on it because I wanted to erase it from my memory. But Media Matters brought it back to my brain.

MATTHEWS: Did you see him there?

SHUSTER: -- but that's --

MATTHEWS: He's not that good at that -- handshaking in a diner.


MATTHEWS: Barack doesn't seem to know how to do that right.

SHUSTER: -- he doesn't do that well. But then you see him in front of 15,000 people in some of these college towns, and that's why, Chris, we've seen Chelsea Clinton and Bill Clinton in Bloomington and South Bend and Terre Haute. I mean --

MATTHEWS: What's so hard about doing a diner? I don't get it. Why doesn't he go in there and say, "Did you see the papers today? What do you think about that team? How did we do last night?" Just some regular connection?

SHUSTER: Well, here's the other thing that we saw on the tape, Chris, is that, when Obama went in, he was offered coffee, and he said, "I'll have orange juice."


SHUSTER: He did.

And it's just one of those sort of weird things. You know, when the owner of the diner says, "Here, have some coffee," you say, "Yes, thank you," and, "Oh, can I also please have some orange juice, in addition to this?" You don't just say, "No, I'll take orange juice," and then turn away and start shaking hands. That's what happens [unintelligible] --

MATTHEWS: You don't ask for a substitute on the menu.

SHUSTER: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: David, what a regular guy. You could do this. Anyway, thank you, David Shuster. I mean, go to the diners.

After that, Matthews went to a stunned Bob Casey and asked him about why Obama just can't connect in diners. I thought he was going to turn off-camera and say "Did he just ask me that question?"

Now, this isn't limited to Democrats, actually, here's a recent report about how McCain couldn't fold his pizza in half like a real New Yorker. The difference is that those quick hits on Republicans don't usually make that metaphorical leap to turn some random event about bowling or orange juice into a symbolic manifestation of the candidate and Democrats in general. I mean, if this did hit Hardball, someone would say that everyone knows McCain's a real man and he just isn't used to New York's way of chowing down on pizza but he made a game attempt and isn't it great that he tried? What a guy!

Which really doesn't matter to me, they shouldn't be spending 5 seconds commentating on campaign trail events like they're in the skybox watching the Patriots and the Giants. But when it comes to a Democrat in a similar situation, they plug whatever "gaffe" they've decided on into the overall narrative. That's because the conservative noise machine has been browbeating the media for years and years and basically setting up the themes. Democrats are weak, they're effete, they don't "play in Peoria," they can't connect with reg'lar folks. So this puts the media types on the lookout for this garbage, and then eager to take the slightest of opportunities to play them up into some reflection of character. It's a typical game, and it's easier than using your brain. It's also a lot cheaper. Sending out a tracker to film Obama on the road beats doing a hard analysis of policy positions. One requires researchers and a need to probably locate and film experts, and come up with graphics and fact-check - but a tracker just points and shoots, and you don't even need a microphone because the tea-leaf readers are just going to show the visuals and talk over them anyway. It's both vapid and cost-effective, and that's why it's so ubiquitous.

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Friday Random Ten

So for the uninitiated, I do this thing called the Random Ten on Fridays, blatantly stolen from the great TBogg. You basically set your iPod to random shuffle and transcribe what comes up; no cheating, no stacking the deck. That stray Peaches & Herb song gets counted.

So here goes:

Bastard Wants To Hit Me - They Might Be Giants
I'm Slowly Turning Into You - The White Stripes
False Alarm - KT Tunstall
40' - Franz Ferdinand
Find Another Girl - The Hives
Ocean - Sebadoh
Focus On Sight - Thievery Corporation
Digital Love - Daft Punk
The New Year - Death Cab For Cutie
Across The Universe - Rufus Wainwright

Hope your Friday is as eclectic as mine. Put your own random tens in the comments!

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Sadr, Badr, Big Difference, Right?

This could be the start of something big.

BAGHDAD - Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has blamed the United States and the Iraqi government for the death of a senior aide in the holy city of Najaf.

The cleric's office issued a statement in which al-Sadr promises he won't "forget this precious blood" but he urges his followers to "be patient."

Friday's statement comes hours after Riyadh al-Nouri was gunned down as he drove home after attending prayers. Al-Nouri was the director of al-Sadr's office in Najaf.

You can only anger the head of the most powerful populist movement in Iraq so many times. Sadr is being cautious because he has morphed into something of a statesman (at least that appears to be the perception in Iraq) over the last couple years, and taking the high road works for him. Eventually he won't have to; and he can say he was "dragged" into the conflict. This is the movement that routed the Iraqi security forces in Basra. It is dormant only in the way that a sleeping giant is dormant.

Of course, stateside we get a very Manichean view of things, where Sadr is the enemy and the Maliki forces are on the side of the righteous. Matt Duss and Brian Katulis demolish that argument.

Speaking before Congress, General Petraeus said, "Iran has fueled the violence in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support to the special groups," referring to Shiite splinter groups allegedly receiving support from Iran. According to the general, the recent clashes between Shiite groups stretching from Basra in the south all the way to Baghdad "highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming, and directing the so-called special groups."

Conservatives such as Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, have latched on to this incomplete description of the ongoing intra-Shiite struggles in Iraq as the latest reason why our over-stretched military forces must remain in Iraq [...]

These depictions ignore an inconvenient truth: The leaders in Iraq's current government are closely aligned with Tehran and represent some of Iran's closest allies in Iraq. This is perhaps best illustrated by the warm welcome Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received in his visit to Iraq last month, which punctures the myth that the current battle is between a unified Iraqi government and fringe groups receiving support from Iran.

There is little doubt about who is Iran's primary proxy in Iraq: the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. This leading Shiite faction, now a key member of the ruling coalition in Iraq's government, was founded in the early 1980s by exiled Iraqi clerical activists in Iran, with the blessing and support of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The Quds Force, a special branch of the ayatollah's Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, created and trained the supreme council's armed wing, the Badr Corps, for the express purpose of eventually serving as an arm of the Quds Force in Iraq. The supreme council was among the Iraqi exile parties with which the U.S. worked in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, even though it maintained close ties to Iran. And the Iraqi Shiite faction continues to receive Iranian funds.

And now, the Badr forces essentially make up the backbone of the Iraqi police and Army. We once again have armed, trained and supported bad actors who will not remain loyal because we paid them off. Amazing how the concept of blowback remains so foreign to this Administration. Or rather, remains so foreign with respect to Iraq; in Afghanistan we're starting to figure this one out.

NATO commanders in Afghanistan have decided to end local police training, fearing that cops in remote areas -– most of whom once fought for tribal warlords –- might one day turn their weapons against Kabul and the U.S.-led coalition.

The change in policy perhaps signals a shift in Western attitudes towards the growing ranks of sanctioned tribal armies that perform routine security functions in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The “Sons of Iraq” militia groups, in particular, are a key facet of the U.S. strategy for preventing extremists from taking root in vulnerable Sunni communities.

But some military officers have questioned the long-term wisdom of arming sectarian groups whose allegiances are notoriously fickle.

Of course, we're still arming sectarian groups inside Iraq, in fact on both sides of the sectarian divide, with the Badr Brigades inside the security forces and the "Sons of Iraq" Sunni Awakening groups outside. We are sustaining and furthering an eventual inter-sectarian civil war.

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Justice, Bush-Style

Fresh off Eric Lichtblau's reporting on warrantless wiretapping and his new book on justice in the age of Bush (here's a great intereview with him, by the way), he has another article showing the nexus between the Justice Department and corporate power.

In a major shift of policy, the Justice Department, once known for taking down giant corporations, including the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, has put off prosecuting more than 50 companies suspected of wrongdoing over the last three years.

Instead, many companies, from boutique outfits to immense corporations like American Express, have avoided the cost and stigma of defending themselves against criminal charges with a so-called deferred prosecution agreement, which allows the government to collect fines and appoint an outside monitor to impose internal reforms without going through a trial. In many cases, the name of the monitor and the details of the agreement are kept secret.

Deferred prosecutions have become a favorite tool of the Bush administration. But some legal experts now wonder if the policy shift has led companies, in particular financial institutions now under investigation for their roles in the subprime mortgage debacle, to test the limits of corporate anti-fraud laws.

"Deferred prosecutions" is such a symbol of the Bush era, an anodyne term standing in for a much more sinister outcome. "Vanished prosecutions" is more like it. If you wonder why corporations are taking such heavy risks and edging the line of legality, like the lending industry in the mortgage mess, you can look simply to the twin engines of deregulation and deferred prosecutions. It adds up to a total lack of accountability, and a concomitant lack of responsibility. Of course, this aids those members of the White House inner circle who leave to go raid the public treasury in corporate America:

Deferred prosecution agreements, or D.P.A.’s, have become controversial because of a medical supply company’s agreement to pay up to $52 million to the consulting firm of John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, as an outside monitor to avoid criminal prosecution. That agreement has prompted Congressional inquiries and calls for stricter guidelines [...]

At a Congressional hearing last month, Mr. Ashcroft defended the agreements, saying that they avoided “destroying entire corporations” through criminal indictments. “Prosecutors understand that a corporate indictment can be a corporate death sentence,” he said. “A deferred prosecution can avoid the catastrophic collateral consequences and costs that are associated with corporate conviction.”

Yeah, that's the point. That's kind of what keeps corporations from engaging in criminal acts; the possibility of being destroyed. A world without that possibility is a world without rules.

By contrast, the real criminals from the Bush Administration's perspective, you know, Democrats, will be prosecuted for the thinnest of reasons.

Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh, has long been the subject of questions about partisan prosecutions. But in 2006, Buchanan raised more than a few eyebrows when she went after former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, indicting him on multiple counts of various federal crimes, including theft from an organization that receives federal funds.

What, exactly, did Wecht do? Apparently, his transgressions included the improper use of the coroner’s fax machine for private work. Of course, there was no evidence “of a bribe or kickback” and no evidence that Wecht traded on a conflict of interest.

But Wecht’s a Democrat, and for a U.S. Attorney anxious to impress her superiors in the Bush administration, apparently that was enough.

Fortunately, the remaining vestiges of an independent judiciary worked in this case, which closed this week with a hung jury. Even the jury foreman had to admit that the case was politically motivated.

Wec's attorneys, among them former attorney general Dick Thornburgh, have charged that U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan pursued the case out of political motivations.

Today, the jury foreman, speaking to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was even more explicit: "[A]s the case went on my thoughts were this was being politically driven."

If Wecht had only thought to incorporate himself, he could have spared years of trials and legal fees and gooten off with a "deferred prosecution."

UPDATE: And now we have FBI agents contacting jurors in the Wecht case, just nicely asking why they didn't convict, in advance of a potential second trial, where jurors in that one would surely get the message that if they vote the wrong way FBI agents will be dispatched to their house. Classy. Wait, did I say classy, I meant STASI.

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McCain's civil rights problem

John McCain is on a mission to court black voters, although it helps when you know where they actually live (South Philadelphia is largely Italian, with growing numbers of Asians and Hispanics). What would help more is if you didn't vote against the 1990 Civil Rights Act. Or really anything called the "Civil Rights Act," black people may tend to get touchy about that.

In 1990, McCain was one of the deciding votes in helping then-President George H.W. Bush sustain a veto against the relatively benign Civil Rights Act of 1990 [...]

The act was a response to a series of controversial Supreme Court decisions made the year before. In those decisions, the court overturned a 1971 ruling that required employers to prove a "business necessity" for screening out minorities and women in its hiring practices. That burden of proof, the 1989 court said, should instead be placed on the plaintiff who alleged that his or her client had been unlawfully screened.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate, deeming this unjust, passed bills that would restore the old law. But the Bush administration objected, insisting that a reversion to the old way would amount to forcing employers to have hiring quotas. It was a controversial and somewhat dubious claim, one that the New York Times editorial page called "an unjustified charge." After all, the system had worked fine from 1971 through 1989. Nevertheless, the president vetoed the legislation.

When a motion to override the veto came to the Senate floor, there was question as to whether it would receive the 67 votes needed to pass. The environment was so charged that white supremacist David Duke watched from one section of the Senate gallery while civil rights leader Jesse Jackson stood briefly at the chamber's other end.

Ultimately, the vote fell one short: 66 to 34. Prominent Republican Senators like John H Chaffe, John Danforth, Pete Domenici, and Arlen Specter, all chose to override the veto. McCain - who had earlier voted for a watered down version of the bill, one that didn't reverse the court's decision - backed the president.

Incredibly, he's still defending his vote by saying that "I've never believed in quotas." Of course, the bill would not provide quotas so that seems like a classic Chewbacca defense.

McCain wants to play the nice guy on race, but it doesn't match up with his past. I don't think he's a racist but he certainly listens to those who would rather make things smoother for business than exhibit any sort of racial sensitivity. That's not going to, how do you say, play well.

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Annals of Los Angeles Times Journalism

I know that the traditional press is experiencing budget cuts and staff shortages, but there's never a good reason to use Debbie Schlussel, the low-rent Ann Coulter, as a source. However, Peter Wallsten of the LA Times did just that yesterday in a smear of Barack Obama. Schlussel is someone who blamed Pakistanis for the Virginia Tech massacre. She's a fearmonger of the rankest kind who is so unhappy about her position in the sewers of the pro-hate insaneosphere that she routinely emails cable news outlets daily reminding them of her availability. She should not be within 100 yards of anything that makes its way into respectable newsprint. And yet she was a source for this terrible Wallsten article.

The evidence Wallsten presents is scant and hardly alarming: Obama said nice things about Rashid Khalidi at a going away party for the respected Palestinian scholar, who moved from the University of Chicago to the Columbia University; he attended a speech by the late Palestinian expert Edward Said in 1998; he occasionally made statements supportive of Palestinians to Palestinian activists he knew in Chicago.

Yet the implicit tone of Wallsten's article suggests that Obama is not to be trusted on matters relating to Israel. Left aside is the fact that one can be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel (at least in Chicago). Or the fact that the majority of Israelis support a two-state solution to the conflict, the same position held by Obama. MJ Rosenberg brilliantly parodied the gist of the Times' article in a blog post at Talking Points Memo today: "LA Times Today: Obama Not To Be Trusted, Doesn't Hate Arabs!!"

I used to work for Sen. Carl Levin, a Jew and a strong supporter of Israel, who is a close friend of the Arab community (in part, because he represents more Arab Americans than any other senator). I've seen Carl at Palestinian dinners (last year I saw him at one with Condi Rice). In fact, Joe Lieberman, not exactly an enemy of the State of Israel, has always gone out of his way to keep an open door to Arab-Americans, Palestinians and others.

In other words, this article is utterly bogus. Yes, Obama has empathy for Palestinians, just as he has empathy for Israelis. The man is naturally empathetic which will help repair some of the damage inflicted to our country's image by the current xenophobic administration.

If Arab-Americans and Palestinians trust Obama and think he plays fair, he will have considerably more leverage with them than either of the other two candidates who are not perceived that way. As Congressmen Bob Wexler and Steve Rothman, both Obama supporters, like to say, an American President who can speak to and be heard by Arabs can do a much better job in helping Israel and the Palestinians achieve peace and security than a President who is considered utterly unsympathetic to their concerns.

This is something to pay attention to and not dismiss, because the "Obama is an anti-Semite rhetoric has been amped up as we approach the general election. It's foul nonsense, and Peter Wallsten, along with the LA Times' editorial staff, ought to know better. Of course, they believe people off the street who tell them that P. Diddy killed Tupac, so I guess this isn't all that surprising or unbefitting of their editorial standards.

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Uncomfortable Words vs. Stress Positions and Waterboarding... Hmm...

So Fourthbranch Cheney went there:

"I thought the controversy over Rev. Wright was remarkable," Cheney said. “I thought some of the things he said were absolutely appalling. And, you know, I haven't gotten into the business of trying to judge how Sen. Obama dealt with it, or didn't deal with it, but I really, I think -- like most Americans -- I was stunned at what the Reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his website.’"

Really, some of the things Wright said were appalling?


OK. Can we talk about some of the thing you did, then?

Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned [...]

Between 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department issued several memos from its Office of Legal Counsel that justified using the interrogation tactics, including ones that critics call torture.

"If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you'd see a correlation," the former intelligence official said. Those who attended the dozens of meetings agreed that "there'd need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics" before using them on al-Qaida detainees, the former official said [...]

The former intelligence official described Cheney and the top national security officials as deeply immersed in developing the CIA's interrogation program during months of discussions over which methods should be used and when.

At times, CIA officers would demonstrate some of the tactics, or at least detail how they worked, to make sure the small group of "principals" fully understood what the al-Qaida detainees would undergo. The principals eventually authorized physical abuse such as slaps and pushes, sleep deprivation, or waterboarding. This technique involves strapping a person down and pouring water over his cloth-covered face to create the sensation of drowning.

I don't think Jeremiah Wright has cornered the market on things that should make us APPALLED. In fact, I think Fourthbranch has far more real estate on that street.

By the way, the AP article makes it seem like Bush was blissfully ignorant of the whole "signing off on torture inside the White House" thing, except there are actual documents signed by Bush authorizing the practices. Here's a PDF of one of them. Not one of them is insulated from this horror.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The California Report

I have a focus on California politics, as you may know. Here are some links that I've picked up along the way this week:

• Assemblymember and former Banking Committee Chair Ted Lieu had a good piece yesterday on the foreclosure crisis and how continuing a laissez-faire attitude toward a deregulated lending industry is a recipe for even more disaster. AB 1830 is the vehicle to crack down on irresponsible lenders and ban risky loans.

• Steve Wiegand writes about the circuitous route the Governor has taken this year, first toward fiscal austerity, then toward revenue enhancement, and everywhere in between. Schwarzenegger is completely squeezed, knowing his legacy and reputation is on the line and at his wit's end over how to bridge the chasm between Republican intransigence and a way forward for California.

• The California Labor Fed has released its endorsements for legislative races. Not a lot of surprises here, nor a lot of variance from the CDP endorsements, although Carole Migden and Bob Blumenfield didn't see their endorsements vacated on the convention floor. The Labor Fed can endorse multiple candidates in one race, which allows them to wiggle out of some of the more contested primaries (in AD-14 they actually had a TRIPLE endorsement). The Labor Fed does bring member education, and in some cases money and volunteers, so it's not a little thing.

• Wired's Autopia looks at LA's future in mobility. In a word, I would call the report frustrating. It's basically going to take forever until the city truly has the transit system it deserves; right now, just 7% of the city uses mass transit.

• Mayor Villaraigosa takes a strong stand against ICE raids.

"I am concerned that ICE enforcement actions are creating an impression that this region is somehow less hospitable to these critical businesses than other regions," Villaraigosa wrote in a March 27 letter to Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security [...]

In his letter, Villaraigosa said ICE has targeted "established, responsible employers" in industries that have a "significant reliance on workforces that include undocumented immigrants."

"In these industries, including most areas of manufacturing, even the most scrupulous and responsible employers have no choice but to rely on workers whose documentation, while facially valid, may raise questions about their lawful presence," he wrote. He said ICE should spend its limited resources targeting employers who exploit wage and hour laws.

"At a time when we are facing an economic downturn and gang violence at epidemic levels, the federal government should focus its resources on deporting criminal gang members rather than targeting legitimate businesses," said Matt Szabo, the mayor's spokesman.

In general I agree with worksite rules enforcement, but the issue does seem to be out of proportion and balance. It's selective.

• This is a really interesting and refreshingly honest article by Brad Plumer on the SEIU/UHW situation.

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Darcy Burner: Progressive Leader

I was happy to co-host an event last night for Darcy Burner (WA-08), a future leader in the Democratic Party. My friend occams hatchet wrote up a great capsule summary of the event.

Darcy was the featured guest at the event; two other netroots congressional candidates, Ron Shepston of CA-42 and Mary Pallant of CA-24, also attended.

Darcy told the story of how she came to be involved in politics: In 2003, around the time her son was born, her brother was being shipped off to Iraq. Darcy thought about the state of the country and the state of the world, and realized that no matter what choices she might make for her son as he grew up, unless a dramatic change took place in the direction the nation was heading - well, she did not like her choices.

So, as she likes to say, she did what any responsible American parent would do: she decided to run for Congress.

She started with zero name recognition, but ran a textbook campaign and almost toppled Republican incumbent Reichert.

Although Darcy came up short in her 2006 bid - but only by a little; five voters per precinct, to be exact, as she will remind you - she put a very big scare into the Republican Party. So much of a scare, in fact, that George Bush and Karl Rove both have visited Darcy's district in an effort to raise money for Reichert. (She also will remind you, with a smile, that when an online counter-fundraiser was held last fall to offset the Bush $1,000-a-plate event for Reichert, 3200 donors contributed $123,000, outraising the president himself.)

This year Darcy show a lack of leadership in the Congress over the issue of the war. People kept asking her on the campaign trail how she would end the war, and she grew tired of waiting for the leadership to give her something she can use. So she took the matter on personally, joining with military and counterterrorism officials and creating The Responsible Plan To End The War In Iraq, which doesn't just call for a full withdrawal of all military forces and a diplomatic, economic and humanitarian surge to manage that withdrawal, but calls to end the failed structures that got us into the war in the first place, things like Constitutional reform, and green energy, and ending media consolidation, and restoring the balance of power between the executive and the legislative branch.

So far 54 Congressional challengers have signed on to this plan, giving it a value that is measurable. If dozens of freshman Congressmembers enter Washington with a mandate to end the war, that has a rare power. Which is amazing. But the real takeaway of the night is the fact that Darcy handmade the button that I was given as one of the co-hosts of the event. She told me that she needed a bunch of buttons for visibility during her initial campaign run and decided that it would be cheaper to buy what you need to make buttons instead of buying the buttons themselves. It's a little thing, but it shows initiative and a commitment to get things done. And it was charming. She's as far removed from an everyday politician as anyone I've ever come across. And maybe that's why she's such a natural leader; there's no artifice and no cringing fear about the consequences.

After a day where there was a lot of sturm und drang among the grassroots in California, particularly because of the Democratic campaigns purging delegate slates for upcoming elections, I was reminded of these two amazing events I got to participate in this week, both with Tim Goodrich and last night with Darcy Burner. The grassroots is strong when we are all working together for incredible candidates who can bring about progressive change. And that's what I saw last night.

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CO-SEN: Bob Schaffer's Excellent Adventure

A few days ago, wingnut Senate candidate Bob Schaffer suggested that a sensible guest-worker program could be modeled along the lines of the Marianas Islands.

He did not appear to be kidding. Apparently the words "Jack Abramoff," "slavery" and "forced abortions" have escaped him.

Or maybe this 1999 fact-finding trip just slipped his mind.

Just before boarding a plane to the Mariana Islands in 1999, then-Congressman Bob Schaffer announced he was embarking on a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom of repeated allegations of labor abuse in the American protectorate.

"I plan to walk right into those factories and living quarters to see for myself what conditions exist," Schaffer said in a news release in August of that year.

What he didn't say was that the trip was partly arranged by the firm of now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented textile factory owners fighting congressional efforts to reform labor and immigration laws on the islands and who was being handsomely paid to keep the islands' cherished exemptions.

Schaffer and his wife stayed for free at a palm-studded beach resort and, besides factories, also toured historical sites and met with clients of Preston-

Gates, Abramoff's firm, according to a copy of the trip's agenda archived in Schaffer's congressional papers.

He left believing that allegations of widespread abuse were largely unfounded -- blaming them on Big Labor's efforts to shut down a booming textile industry allowed to use the "Made in USA" label but dependent on tens of thousands of imported workers.

There's an extremely unfortunate photo of Schaffer parasailing while turning a blind eye to the abhorrent conditions in the factories on the island.

It was already going to be tough for Schaffer against Rep. Mark Udall. This is going to be the symbol of the campaign.

And to add insult to injury, today the Senate passed a bill to reform the immigration laws on the Marianas Islands that Schaffer said were so wonderful. It passed 91-4.

Talk about out of touch.

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Yoo's Law: And Why We Cannot Be Silent

As I wrote earlier today, the revelation that top-level officials in the White House actually debated what interrogation techniques to use on high-value targets, including torture, just sickens the stomach. In this context, it's clear that torture lawyer John Yoo was writing a document that was already written - a justification for the most heinous of crimes. That the Administration had to dip all the way down into the mid-level of the Justice Department, bypassing even the Attorney General, shows how difficult it was to find a cad willing to cover up their misdeeds, someone willing to disgrace the office and disgrace himself.

Yoo was a pawn bit none of this absolves him from blame. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers would like a word with him. Attorneys for Ali al-Marri, a so-called "enemy combatant" at Guantanamo, are using the memo to make the legal argument that his detention was actually illegal, since the memo was eventually withdrawn after al-Marri was captured and detained based on its legal theories. The "footnote" contained in the memo, that a previous memo waived the Fourth Amendment with respect to "domestic military operations," is causing Administration officials all sorts of grief on Capitol Hill. (That worm Mukasey, by the way, wouldn't say whether or not the Fourth Amendment waiver memo has been withdrawn.)

And now the National Lawyers Guild has called on Yoo to be disbarred and removed from the Boalt Hall School of Law, and for the Congress to repeal that part of the Military Commissions Act which gives him essentially legal immunity for his crimes.

In a memorandum written the same month George W. Bush invaded Iraq, Boalt Hall law professor John Yoo said the Department of Justice would construe US criminal laws not to apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants. According to Yoo, the federal statutes against torture, assault, maiming and stalking do not apply to the military in the conduct of the war.

"John Yoo's complicity in establishing the policy that led to the torture of prisoners constitutes a war crime under the US War Crimes Act," said National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn.

Congress should repeal the provision of the Military Commissions Act that would give Yoo immunity from prosecution for torture committed from September 11, 2001 to December 30, 2005. John Yoo should be disbarred and he should not be retained as a professor of law at one of the country's premier law schools. John Yoo should be dismissed from Boalt Hall and tried as a war criminal.

For those who want a "variety of views" to be expressed in the academic sphere, I think the National Lawyers Guild has a broader perspective about the First Amendment and freedom of expression.

There are things we can do at home as well. First, Mark Ridley-Thomas' resolution on torture must be passed, and used as a means to discover more about how medical professionals served this lawbreaking and who was involved all the way to the top of the chain of command.

As we recently commemorated the non-violent life and legacy of Dr. King, we cannot ignore the immorality of war that, he said, ravages our economy and “mutilates our conscience.”

Nowhere is that “mutilated conscience” more evident than in the alarming issue of health professionals involved in torture in the Iraq War [...]

Reports from the International Red Cross, The New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, military records, and first-person accounts, provide overwhelming evidence that military physicians and psychologists have directly participated in the development and cover-up of torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.

Medical professionals are reported to have advised interrogators as to whether particular prisoners were fit enough to survive physical maltreatment, informed interrogators about prisoners’ phobias and other psychological vulnerabilities that could be exploited during questioning, failed to report incidents of alleged torture, force-fed prisoners who were on hunger strikes, and altered the death certificates of prisoners who died [...]

As professional licensure and codes of ethics are regulated by states, California has the obligation to notify members of laws concerning torture that may result in their prosecution.

This week, I will put to a vote Senate Joint Resolution 19 on the floor of the Senate that states that the U.S. Department of Defense has “failed to oversee the ethical conduct of California-licensed health professionals related to torture.” [...]

Torture is much more than a political issue. It is an ethical, moral and spiritual issue that has not only become a shame, but it is an evil in our midst.

Dr. King would not remain silent on an issue of such moral importance. Nor will I. Dr. King repeatedly warned us that, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”

And perhaps most important, on April 14 at the Bancroft Hotel, Yoo will make a public appearance in an event with Georgetown Law Professor David Cole and others. Perhaps citizens who stand against the torture and murder of human beings in service to a failed theory of extreme executive power ought to stop by and let him know how you feel.

April 14, Bancroft Hotel. Be there.

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Why Does Bush Hate The Troops?

Last year Jim Webb and others offered the dwell time amendment to the defense appropriations bill and the emergency supplemental, calling for the Defense Department to allow a soldier as much time at home as he has in the field. The Administration called it craven, Republicans termed it a "slow-bleed" strategy and everybody questioned everybody's patriotism.

Bush just agreed to it today.

President Bush plans to announce today that he will cut Army combat tours in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months, returning rotations to where they were before last year's troop buildup in an effort to alleviate the tremendous stress on the military, administration officials said.

The move is in response to intense pressure from service commanders who have expressed anxiety about the toll of long deployments on their soldiers and, more broadly, about the U.S. military's ability to confront unanticipated threats. Bush will announce the decision during a national speech, in which aides said he will also embrace Army Gen. David H. Petraeus's plan to indefinitely suspend a drawdown of forces.

They can suspend the drawdown, or pause, as per the current parlance, but without the 15-month tours they cannot draw back up if needed. And so the President is basically acknowledging the endgame in Iraq. And don't let him tell you that troop decisions will be made based on conditions on the ground. He just consigned the US to a smaller force in Iraq regardless of the conditions.

Now, John McCain's refusal to rule out pre-emptive war means that he would have to increase tours of duty back to 15 months and/or dramatically increase the size of the Army, and the only way to do that is through a draft. The logical outcome of McCain's foreign policy is the end of the all-volunteer Army. So, let the buyer beware.

With respect to Iraq, this really does spell the end and I think Bush must have been given the message that it's basically over. When you see someone like Kenneth Pollack basically admit that a responsible withdrawal is demanded, you know that there's actually this sea change that very few people are noticing out in the field. The frustration on the faces of Congressmembers during the Petraeus/Crocker hearings showed that they've basically had it. Every step forward is accompanied by two steps back, and in the process we are losing lives and diverting resources from the real national security challenges. You're going to see this manifest itself first in the pullback of money from the war. Here's some more of the Post article.

Democrats moved to press Bush on another front, linking the sagging U.S. economy to escalating war costs. On a day when oil hit $112 a barrel for the first time, lawmakers said that energy-rich Iraq should be footing more of its own bills. "We've put about $45 billion into Iraq's reconstruction . . . and they have not spent their own resources," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). "They have got to have some skin in the game."

Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) met yesterday to craft a bipartisan bill to make Iraq take on a greater share of the financial burden. Under their plan, any future U.S. money for reconstruction would take the form of a loan to be repaid, and Baghdad would have to pay for fuel used by U.S. troops and for the training of its own security forces, and make payments to the predominantly Sunni fighters in the Awakening movement taking on al-Qaeda.

"It's time, in fact long past time, the Iraqis start bearing a larger portion of the costs for this war," Collins said. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) echoed the sentiment. "Doesn't it just make sense that record-high gas prices pay for the reconstruction of Iraq, rather than the American taxpayer?" he asked.

This issue is resonant and I think it will click with voters. So money will come out, the troops will remain for another year because nobody in the Congress has the balls to fully fund withdrawal and nothing else. However, dwell time will return to balance (albeit with a waiting period just long enough to keep up the pace of deployments until Bush leaves office), the money burden will shift more and more to the Iraqis, and there will absolutely be an accountability moment on the war in November, with responsible withdrawal on the table. And the people are on the side of getting out. If Republicans want to bet on the electorate's resolve to stay inside Iraq with no endgame strategy and no plan for even defining success, go ahead. We're see you at the Inaugural ball - before we go inside.

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D-Day On The Radio

I'll be on the BBC's World Have Your Say programme (British spelling) in the next hour or so talking about the Beijing Olympics controversy and whether or not the President should boycott the opening ceremonies. You can listen live at the link.

This story about yesterday's ridiculous torch relay in San Francisco is pretty good, too.

...that came off badly. I was hearing myself in an echo and that kind of screwed me up. I got out the major points, but I would add that the caller from Seattle talking about how China's human rights record has markedly improved recently must have been on a trip since March 10 and the Tibet crackdown. The truth is that the Olympics are really the only chokepoint for China, they clearly see it as their coming-out party on the world stage, and therefore to squander that opportunity for reform would be foolish. And that means offering carrots and sticks, and right now boycotting the opening ceremonies is a stick.

...They had me on agains for the African version. So a Bushman of the Kalihari was hearing me, I guess.

One recurrent theme from those who thought world leaders should go to China was that a) they should engage China instead of isolating them, and b) the Olympics are not political. Not only is that a complete contradiction, but the Games most certainly are political. The Olympic torch relay was created as a propaganda event by the Nazis in 1936. It's hard to think of an Olympics that DIDN'T have political overtones ('68, '72, '80, '84, '88, '96...). China is taking the opportunity to have a coming-out party on the world stage and whitewash their record, and other world leaders should not legitimize that.

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The Horror

We all knew this, but the level of specificity is striking.

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

Having finally seen The Road To Guantanamo the other night, about three British nationals of Pakistani origin who were picked up in Afghanistan and sent to Gitmo for years despite being innocent of any crimes, this is particularly acute. The idea that these monsters were up in the White House decided how many times a CIA agent could slap somebody is grotesque. These men and women - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Ashcroft, Rice, and yes even that nice Mr. Colin Powell - should never be able to leave the United States again without the threat of indictment. And by the way, that whole Rice for VP clamor?

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

Yes, please Mr. McCain, make Condi your running mate so I can follow her around in an orange jumpsuit on the campaign trail.

These people are scum and their willing subordinates Jay Bybee and John Yoo simply fed them what they needed to have retroactively - justification for their crimes, a "Golden Shield," as they called it. That doesn't make Bybee or Yoo blameless, but it puts it into perspective. The lot of them should be up at Nuremberg standing for their lawbreaking. And guess what, they knew it.

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

The present isn't judging you kindly. Historians are already calling this President the worst ever. But it's really worse than that. This is a high-level crime syndicate being run out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. History won't just not judge this kindly. History will weep, and scream, and recoil.

Those of us who don't call for immediate indictments, not impeachment but something that ends in jail time, fail to live up to their duties as citizens.

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Prospects in the House

The other day I wrote about possibilities for Democratic gains in the US Senate. Today it's time to look at the House. Obviously it'd be a stretch to plot out all 435 races as opposed to the more manageable 35 in the Senate. But there are some trends that look extremely encouraging for Democrats.

The first place to look is at the fact that over 30 House Republicans have retired this cycle, which is over 15% of their entire delegation. This is not the stuff of coincidences; it's borne out of a belief by these Republicans that they have no shot at regaining the majority and would rather not stick around in the minority. Thus, many of the seats that the Republicans are "targeting" this year happen to be open seats abandoned by Republicans. As a case in point, brownsox takes a look at the 10 latest members of the NRCC's "Regain Our Majority Program."

ROMP 2008 has recently released the third instalment in its list of candidates favored for assistance, the first update to their list in calendar year 2008. I found it rather instructive as to GOP priorities, and I've posted it below:

Rep. Michelle Bachmann, MN-06
Rep. Vito Fossella, NY-13
Rep. Sam Graves, MO-06
Rep. Ric Keller, FL-08
Anne Northup, KY-03
Erik Paulsen, MN-03
Rep. Bill Sali, ID-01
Rep. Jean Schmidt, OH-02
Rep. Tim Walberg, MI-07
Darren White, NM-01

Notice that this ROMP program, ostensibly focused on regaining the Republican majority, seems disproportionately tilted towards protecting incumbent Republican Reps. In fact, out of these 10 districts where the elephants hope to ROMP, exactly one is currently held by a Democrat, John Yarmuth of Kentucky's 3rd District.

I find this to be a novel and fascinating method of Regaining Their Majority; by not targeting Democratic-held seats. I wish them the best of luck with this; I'm sure it's going to work out just splendidly. Keep avoiding the Dem-held seats, and they oughta have that ol' majority back in no time flat.

I noticed something similiar in this Wall Street Journal article hyping 17 Iraq war vets running as Republicans. Only the large majority of them are running in Republican open seats, or challenging incumbents in primaries! This is not the path to winning a majority.

By contrast, Democrats are targeting those Republican open seats as well as races where they came up just short in 2006, like Larry Kissell in NC-08 and Darcy Burner in WA-08. The DCCC has listed 59 seats they're taking a look at this cycle, and there are probably several others in addition to that. Add to this that the D-Trip has a huge financial advantage, and they'll be able to spread the field in a big way. Overall, the prospects are pretty bright for gaining additional seats. In fact, some of that might happen right away, in special elections in LA-06 and MS-01. That's right, in Republican-leaning seats in Louisiana and Mississippi, Democrats are dead even in polling. If we take either of them, it could be a big year.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

For What Noble Cause

Three years on from Cindy Sheehan, we're still asking the same questions.

And if I will, when Mr. Burton asks for a definition of what is failure, we get a litany of items. But when Mr. Ackerman asks what’s the definition of victory, we get little. Please tell us, general, what is winning?

This isn't a question that Petraeus or Crocker should have to answer. It's a question for George Bush and Dick Cheney and John McCain. It's the fundamental question that lies at the heart of this occupation. And the only answer they've had so far is to just wait six more months.

We never get a serious assessment of the consequences of staying, just wait and trust us and give us some more time. There is no strategy for the endgame in Iraq except for procrastination. And in the interim, Americans and Iraqis die while the policymakers in the White House muddle through.

We can talk about how the idea of progress in political reconciliation becomes less clear when you actually look at the laws passed and how they're implemented. We can talk about how the mess in Basra proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iran's power was greatly strengthened by the war and occupation. And we can talk about how these ridiculous analogies and parallels mean nothing when you look at the facts. But the real question is very simple. Why are we in Iraq, and what does winning mean? This is what Barack Obama asked yesterday. It's what Hillary Clinton asked yesterday. It's what Robert Wexler asked today. Saying that Iraq is in the national interest is meaningless and not enough. Saying that Iraq can be a peaceful and democratic republic as a result of a surge that hasn't realized its goals is completely pie-in-the-sky. But there needs to be a direct answer. And the person who can provide one will be given the keys to the White House.

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Security Van Relay Today In San Francisco

The phalanx of security around this Olympic torch relay in San Francisco is ridiculous. You probably can't even see the runners unless you're in a helicopter. Mayor Newsom truncated the relay from 8 miles to 3 just a few hours before the parade started. And they keep changing the route with each passing corner, as if they're making it up on the fly. Not sure why Newsom should have bothered at all. Hundreds of security forces forming a human chain - must be proud, eh, San Francisco?

There are some live photos of the protest here, including a bus driver coming perilously close to running over protesters.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has vowed to skip the opening ceremonies in Beijing. The will of the people is being democratically expressed.

Here's a live feed of the relay.

...There's also a liveblog at Daily Kos. Apparently the protesters got fairly close to the relay a couple minutes ago, halting it for a stretch.

A friend emails:

i just stood out on embarcadero for over an hour while the cops told us "it's coming, it's coming right along here." meanwhile the torch was already headed at its ponderous pace down van ness. fucking pissed.

Yes, the route apparently keeps changing. Apparently the protesters got fairly close to the relay a couple minutes ago, halting it for a short while. It's kind of a cat-and-mouse game right now. The torch isn't going anywhere near the scheduled finish line at Justin Herman Plaza, that's pretty clear. It's around Crissy Field right now, headed west toward the GG Bridge. And I guess there's an amphibious vehicle out in front of the relay runners. That torch may be getting wet.

UPDATE: AP: "Closing ceremony for torch relay will take place at an undisclosed location." Will Dick Cheney be lighting the torch with his eyes, then?

It's a good thing that the people of San Francisco were honored with the ability to have this ceremony hidden from them.

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World Food Crisis Update

Last week I tried to call some attention to the looming world food crisis that is resulting from soaring prices on staples like rice and wheat. This week we've seen a continuation of that alarm as the crisis has spread.

Rice climbed to a record for a fourth day as the Philippines, the biggest importer, announced plans to buy 1 million tons and some of the world's largest exporters cut sales to ensure they can feed their own people.

Rice, the staple food for half the world, rose as much as 2.9 percent to $21.60 per 100 pounds in Chicago, before paring gains. The price has doubled in the past year. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo announced two rice tenders today and pledged to crack down on hoarding. Anyone found guilty of "stealing rice from the people'' will be jailed, she said.

"We're in for a tough time,'' Roland Jansen, chief executive officer of Pfaffikon, Switzerland-based Mother Earth Investments AG, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television from Zurich today. Unless prices decline, "you will have huge problems of daily nutrition for half the planet.'' Mother Earth holds about 4 percent of its $100 million funds in the grain.

This is basically a preview of the resource wars that will result if we continue to ignore the disastrous effects of climate change. Wealthy or resource-rich nations will simply pull their goods from the world market and retrench to benefit their own citizens, and as a result resource-poor nations will have little recourse. When you see wheat harvests becoming a more prized commodity than heroin harvests in Afghanistan, you know that there's a major problem out there. The impact on global security is great, as nations without access to adequate food supplies will create civil unrest and perhaps even the toppling of many regimes. And it should be of particular concern where in the world these sparks of violence and rioting would occur. Already we're seeing incidents in places like Egypt, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Cameroon (40 died in riots in February), Uzbekistan, Yemen and Indonesia. But consider that nearly half of the 160 million in Pakistan are "food insecure" and risk malnutrition and starvation from rising prices. We've seen that grinding poverty can be a magnet for extremism and fundamentalism. This is a national security crisis as well as a moral one.

Another example of geopolitical concerns of world hunger is in Zimbabwe, a country with 10,000% inflation and almost totally reliant on world food aid. In the midst of a political crisis where longtime dictator Robert Mugabe has apparently lost national elections but won't give up his position, violence has spread, in particular with respect to seizing farms.

Militant ruling party supporters invaded white-owned farms Monday, a day after President Robert Mugabe urged Zimbabweans to defend seized land, fanning fears he would stage a violent crackdown to retain power [...]

Invasions that began Sunday worsened with intruders entering at least 23 farms in southern Masvingo province and northern Centenary, said Trevor Gifford, president of the Commercial Farmers Union.

“In Masvingo where the police have been very cooperative, every time they remove invaders, within five, six hours they’re reinvading,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s very apparent that this is being coordinated from higher up the chain of command.”

Workers were being rounded up on the farms and forced to chant anthems in support of the ruling party, he said, and many of the farm owners had fled out of concern about their safety.

“The farmers are being told that everything on the farm is the property of those invading,” he said.

The farms are the chokepoint to maintain power in Zimbabwe. Before the election there were reports of needing a membership card from the ruling party to receive food aid. Seizing the farms is a continuation of that process. And so the food crisis sustains a brutal dictatorship.

African heads of state are meeting about Zimbabwe right now. But before long, they're going to have their own problems resulting from hunger. This is perhaps the biggest threat to global security we've seen in quite a while.

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So Tom Tancredo just got his shot to ask questions in the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Petraeus and Crocker, and as he came on I thought to myself, "Now how is he going to fit 'illegal immigration' into this?"

Turns out the way he does it is by asking Gen. Petraeus to comment about reports of MS-13 gang signs in Iraq. The MS-13 reference is a dogwhistle; they are a Salvadoran gang whose presence in the United States is commonly used by anti-immigrant sources as an example of the perils of the Mexican menace.

Petraeus said he never heard anything about that.

You almost have to admire the single-mindedness of someone like Tancredo. It's almost a parlor game to try and come up with a House hearing where he WOULDN'T reference immigration. Fortunately, we won't have to play that game much longer; he's leaving office at the end of his term.

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NYT Provides The Tweety Chronicles

So the big New York Times magazine article on Tweety Bird Matthews dropped, and Digby thinks it's so relentlessly damning of him that she almost felt sorry for him. She thinks that the system is as much the problem as any one personality, and it's wrong to focus on Matthews at the expense of a Russert or the parade of establishment talking heads that don't simply land on Hardball, and those figures are no more noble.

I suppose that's true, but that's no reason not to note the preening self-regard of Matthews, the extent of the puffery, the cocoon of self-importance around him. I think that ANYTHING taking him down a notch is a small victory for democracy. Why let someone who thinks like this go unchallenged?

As we approached the airport gate, Matthews mentioned that he and his wife, Kathleen, have been contemplating a trip to Damascus. It’s something they have wanted to do for a long time. But he worries that he might make an inviting target for a kidnapper. “I can imagine getting some big-name media figure would be a big propaganda catch for them,” Matthews said. “You can imagine what the neocons would say if I were kidnapped. They’d be like, ‘See, Matthews, terrorism isn’t so funny now, is it?’ ” [...]

“Did you see me on the ‘Today’ show?” Matthews asked when I called him one afternoon in early March. “I quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald. I think I’m the only guy around who quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald on the ‘Today’ show.”

I mean, anyone who sees himself as Nixon - in a good way! - kind of has to be stopped at all costs.

Matthews has berated Russert to several people at NBC and has told friends and associates that Russert is like John F. Kennedy while he is more like Richard Nixon. Kennedy was the golden boy while Nixon was the scrapper for whom nothing came easily. It’s an imperfect comparison, certainly (Matthews is Irish Catholic, for starters, and Russert is not charismatic by any classic Kennedyesque definition), but it does offer a glimpse into how Matthews perceives himself, especially in relation to Russert. It’s also worth noting that Nixon was obsessed with Kennedy, and Kennedy could be dismissive and disparaging of Nixon.

The thing is, of course, that all this is bombast. He talks himself into these beliefs of prominence, while underneath there is this undercurrent of sadness, of a recognition that his life is incomplete without being given a proper perch. The resentments of practically every other anchor at MSNBC is very obvious. In this sense, Matthews is something of a tragic figure and I understand why you would almost pity him.

Regardless, Matthews has an attuned sense of pecking order — at MSNBC, at NBC, in Washington and in life. This is no great rarity among the fragile egos of TV or, for that matter, in the status-fixated world of politics. But Matthews is especially frontal about it. In an interview with Playboy a few years ago, he volunteered that he had made the list of the Top 50 journalists in D.C. in The Washingtonian magazine. “I’m like 36th, and Tim Russert is No. 1,” Matthews told Playboy. “I would argue for a higher position for myself.”

He wanted to feel part of the “first team,” he added. “You can be on the second team at 25 or 36. But at some point you say: No, this is my opportunity, my life. I want to be on the first team.”

So, yes, it is pitying. But this guy does have importance, even if it's in the little Village world, and discrediting his shtick is in my view crucial. In many ways, you've seen the shift since the firestorm over his anti-Hillary comments and the "Tweety Effect" in New Hampshire, which eventually forced him to apologize on the air. There appears to be no question that NBC is pretty unhappy with the negative attention, and the constant drumbeat against his rampant sexism is a cause of that. Matthews may just be a cog in the wheel but I'd say he's a fairly prominent cog, and so taking down this DC establishment piece by piece and trying to return to a media that informs the citizenry is a long-term project, and Matthews is a good place to start, anyway.

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Good On Nancy Pelosi

She'll see your forcing a fast-track vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and raise you a blockage.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will change its rules so as to skirt a requirement that it vote on a free trade agreement with Colombia.

Pelosi says the House will vote on the rules change policy Thursday, effectively putting off a vote on a free trade agreement that is a key priority of the Bush administration.

"The president took his action. I will take mine tomorrow," Pelosi said.

The best part of this is maybe the Speaker recognizing that she has a hand to play and power to wield, making the unitary executive not all that unitary.

It's ridiculous that we're even having to deal with a free trade agreement at a time when the US economy is falling apart. But this particular free trade agreement, with a country where trade unionists are routinely killed, is particularly offensive. Colombia has a complete disregard for basic worker rights, and rewarding that with access to US markets would be absurd.

But as I said, it's Pelosi standing up for the legitimacy of Congress as a co-equal branch that makes this a heartening development.

Pelosi insisted that the House's right to determine its own procedures overrides any requirements that Congress take up a measure within a prescribed time period.

She said she is interested in taking up the agreement in an atmosphere that is "as unemotional as possible," but "that is not possible if the president of the United States is going to usurp the discretion of the speaker of the House to bring" legislation to the floor.

We all want Congress to act in a more oppositional manner. They're starting to get the message. Reward good behavior.

...asking John Yoo to have a chat works in this regard, too.

UPDATE: Then again, perhaps not. CongressDaily reports:

House Democratic leaders are seriously considering delaying a vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement until after the November elections, thereby providing needed cover for vulnerable rank-and-file members, according to senior Democratic leadership sources.

That would be fairly revolting. The situation is fluid...

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Rob Andrews Ate His Wheaties

I'm following the Petraeus/Crocker hearings, and some of the liveblogging at Democracy Arsenal and The Washington Independent. So far, it's basically a rerun of yesterday. But Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) took a very strong line of questioning on the issue of political reconciliation that I thought was noteworthy. He was the first member of Congress that I've seen specifically state that the de-Baathification law as implemented bars top Baath Party members from key posts like the Defense and Interior Ministries, and doesn't do much de-Baathifying at all. Ryan Crocker tried to wiggle out of it by saying these were only top-level members being barred, but Andrews countered that those are precisely the kind of people, with actual expertise and knowledge, that you need back in the government. Crocker meekly said that the law "was done in the spirit of reconciliation," but the implementation shows that to be completely false. Andrews added that there had been no movement on an oil law, and that provincial elections haven't actually been fully passed as well. In fact the political progress is meager, and some of the laws which are being pointed to as "progress" actually harm reconciliation. In a particularly strong moment, Andrews said "The world didn't begin in September... as far as the American people are concerned this has been going on since April 2003," and it's not acceptable to have such little progress over those five years.

It should be noted that Andrews, who hasn't been entirely progressive on the war, is challenging Frank Lautenberg for the US Senate in New Jersey, and surely is trying to present his progressive bona fides by giving these tough questions on the war. But the points need to be made, that the "political reconciliation" being floated by the Administration and their spinners is the result of a bait-and-switch, where the initial progress on lawmaking is foregrounded and the eventual breakdown or negative consequences is backgrounded.

UPDATE: I should also mention Ellen Tauscher's question to Gen. Petraeus, asking him what he would do if his new commander-in-chief advocated for withdrawal, and he couldn't bring himself to say he would comply with those orders! He does "believe in civilian control of the military," in teh abstract however, so at least that's SOMETHING.

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