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

Friday, April 25, 2008

McCain's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Very Bad Week

I hope somebody's taking notes on this week's travails for John McCain, because if this was October and anyone was paying attention, his entire staff would be fired and the RNC would be gamely talking about random downballot races and how "2012 looks to be an up year."

The week started with a front-page story about his legendary temper, with new stories revealed therein. Then McCain embarked on a "Forgotten Places" tour this week, traveling across the country to places that "conservatives don't normally appear." And now, we know why. In Alabama, he attracted a largely white crowd in the landmark of the civil rights movement, Selma, and praised a ferry that was constructed due to an earmark, after condemning the practice. He then departed for Youngstown, Ohio, where he offered a stirring defense of free trade at a plant which closed earlier in the decade. When asked about the "cheap dumping of foreign goods" on US shores, McCain replied "I can't turn that around," which ought to be comforting to unemployed steelworkers.

Then came multiple gaffes over the situation in New Orleans. First extremist pastor John Hagee, whose endorsement McCain enthusiastically sought, reiterated his belief that Hurricane Katrina occurred as a punishment for a planned gay pride parade in the Crescent City (why Mississippi had to bear the brunt of the storm as well is unclear). McCain had to answer for these charges while docking in New Orleans, and he responded like any adult politician would, by saying "it's nonsense" eight times. Hagee has since retracted the comment, but clearly it made things awkward on McCain's stroll through New Orleans.

Of course, McCain's ideas on New Orleans aren't much better than Hagee's justifications for the hurricane. And Newsweek actually committed some journalism on that front, reaching into recent history to remind everyone that while Bush was galavanting around the country partying and ignoring the fact that New Orleans was underwater, one of his party partners was McCain:

Not only that, but McCain's prescriptions for New Orleans leave much to be desired:

Today he took a walking tour of the Ninth Ward--perhaps the most visible symbol of the Bush administration's inaction in the wake of Katrina--passing a mix of rebuilt homes and vacant, blighted houses. After the tour, McCain addressed reporters in front of a restored church. "Never again will we allow such a mishandling of a natural disaster," he vowed. "Never again."

Yet on the issue of New Orleans, it's still unclear how different McCain and Bush actually are. Speaking about Katrina, McCain, like many other Republicans, has trashed the administration's handling of the storm and has vowed to prevent similar catastrophes. "We can never let anything like that happen again," McCain told reporters on board his Straight Talk Express earlier this week. Still, the senator, who has visited the Lower Ninth Ward twice since the storm, has yet to tread into the far trickier debate over what to do about New Orleans now, a fight that has dragged on and on with little progress since the waters washed part of the city away.

The senator won't present his own plans for recovery, at least not today. Asked earlier this week if he thought the Lower Ninth Ward should be rebuilt, McCain shrugged, considering the question for several seconds. "I really don't know," he finally said. "That's why I am going … We need to go back to have a conversation about what to do: rebuild it, tear it down, you know, whatever it is."

Democrats pounced on this errant statement that McCain would be open to tearing down the Ninth Ward, and despite his media constituency running interference for him, there's no question that saying this in the midst of a tour to forgotten places was just a cardinal sin. When he was confronted about it, he claimed that he never said it despite the fact that the quote was only three days old.

McCain is of course completely constricted by his new image as a tax-cutter while still trying to keep alive the flame of the old image as a budget hawk, which essentially means that he won't be able to pay for anything that he proposes. In fact, the Washington Post hit him again, for offering tax proposals that he once considered anathema, and offering no explanation for the sudden change of heart (we know that he's unable to keep the fragile Republican coalition together without claiming to be the second coming of Milton Friedman). This leads to an endless series of contradictions.

McCain ended the week by admitting the country is worse off than it was eight years ago, despite having said the opposite on multiple occasions and offering economic proposals that are identical to Bush's. The New York Times attacked him for offering multiple favors to a wealthy Arizona friend and contributor. Oh, and McCain reveled in private fundraisers throughout this tour of "Forgotten America" this week, including one in Alabama where he got an 80% discount from a municipality on rental space and used PRISON LABOR for the event.

The McCain campaign was charged $250 to use two rooms in the hall, which normally would book for $1,200 on a weeknight. The campaign also was given free labor from Homewood City Jail inmates to set up tables and chairs for the event, avoiding a $100 set-up fee, but did pay a standard $50 cleaning fee.

He also said he would do anything he could to stop the North Carolina GOP from running their stream-of-consciousness "OBAMA WRIGHT GOD DAMNS AMERICA SCARY BLACK ZOMG!!1!" ad, which resulted in the ad running anyway. And while the media certainly gave a ridiculous amount of coverage to this ad as they will any anti-Democratic attack ad, I think the real story is McCain's impotence - not that he's trying hard, or at all, to stop the ad, but the "I deplore their behavior" pose runs a little stale when nothing is done to stop it, and there will be diminishing returns to this trick as McCain spends all his time denouncing and rejecting yet doing nothing substantial to stop the smear campaigns. He's actually in a bind over that as well.

Hell of a week. One thing that is getting lost in this primary fight is that John McCain is a pretty terrible campaigner and general election candidate. The only thing going for him is media interference, but even they can't hide the contradictions and the gaffes and the essential conservatism he's boxed himself into.

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The Tailpipe Emissions Shell Game

The Bush Administration's Department of Transportation proposal to raise fuel economy rates faster than Congress mandated last fall comes with a catch - obliterating California's proposal to regulate tailpipe emissions. Think Progress has the relevant passage in the report.

(b) As a state regulation related to fuel economy standards, any state regulation regulating tailpipe
carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles is expressly preempted under 49 U.S.C. 32919.

(c) A state regulation regulating tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles, particularly a regulation that is not attribute-based and does not separately regulate passenger cars and light trucks, conflicts with:

1. The fuel economy standards in this Part
2. The judgments made by the agency in establishing those standards, and
3. The achievement of the objectives of the statute (49 U.S.C. Chapter 329)

This actually changes little in the near term. The EPA has already denied California a waiver to regulate their own emissions, a ruling that is under court appeal. And the Supreme Court has already ruled on the belief that gas mileage standards and greenhouse gas emissions are separate, and that the states may act to regulate the latter.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and a coalition of governors have acted swiftly:

NHTSA has no authority to preempt states from regulating greenhouse gases. Congress and two federal district courts have rejected NHTSA's claim to such authority. Furthermore, this attack completely undermines the cooperative federalism principles embodied in the Clean Air Act, and is an end run around 40 years of precedent under that law.

Our states intend to comment on the proposed rulemaking and, if necessary, will sue NHTSA, just as California and other states have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to ensure that states retain the right to reduce global climate change emissions...

It just adds to the extreme hackitude that has characterized this Administration's actions on global warming. We learned this week that over half of all EPA scientists have "experienced incidents of political interference in their work." Now the Department of Transportation gets added to the list.

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Global Crisis

The food shortage is getting on the radar screen. I guess when there are runs on rice bags at Wal-Mart and Costco, the notion that it's a global crisis becomes more finely realized.

"This steeply rising price of food — it has developed into a real global crisis," Ban said, adding that the World Food Program has made an urgent appeal for additional $755 million.

"The United Nations is very much concerned, as (are) all other members of the international community," Ban said. "We must take immediate action in a concerted way."

The world economy is built on so many bad deals for poor people and enrichment for multinationals that this was bound to happen. During the Depression political elites had to wrench power away from entrenched corporate interests to avert mass starvation. What will we see on the global level?

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pentagon Pundits Yield No Punditry

It's fairly embarrassing that Jon Stewart managed to beat most national news outlets in reporting recent stories about the Pentagon-aided pundits embedded in the major media. (I should note that USA Today had an op-ed on this today). Of course, this isn't the only story where there's been media silence; Helen Thomas had to pull an "at long last, have you no decency" on the White House press corps for their failure to question the executive branch about their top leaders directing and authorizing torture. Still, their refusal to investigate the pundit story is more revealing - because the media itself is culpable for this one. Here's Glenn Greenwald.

Media organizations simply ignore -- collectively blackout -- any stories that expose major corruption in their news reporting, as evidenced by the fact that no major network or cable news programs have ever meaningfully examined the fundamental failures of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. As Bill Moyers noted at the beginning of his truly superb documentary on the media-government collaboration concerning the invasion: "The story of how the media bought what the White House was selling has not been told in depth on television." Thus, one of the most significant political stories of this generation -- what Moyers described as "our press largely surrender[ing] its independence and skepticism to join with our Government in marching to war" -- has simply been rendered invisible by our largest media outlets. That scandal just does not exist, particularly on television.

This is happening because of the stunning level of media consolidation that we've seen over the past several decades. In past years there would be multiple newspapers in one town, all with their own sources and their own desire to beat the competition. Now Rupert Murdoch owns the majority of the papers in New York, the sources are largely all the same, and this is even more acute on broadcast media. It's a kind of unwritten pact between them all not to report on something like this and expose the official corruption that exists. And of course, the decimation of news bureaus nationwide means that there are fewer and fewer independent analysts within the media, meaning that they must outsource their commentary to Pentagon sources like this. We've seen more and more official sources used as news, more stories that read as Administration press releases. The media is extremely sensitive to their failure during the run-up to war, and they're not likely to give their critics any other chance to question them.

All of this is to say, don't expect a big mea culpa.

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Home Run In A Basketball Game

The spin from the Democratic nomination really is dizzying, and I'm glad I'm on a temporary semi-vacation and not watching it. Apparently there's a lot of renewed interest in the popular vote, with the Clinton campaign claiming their candidate is ahead (of course, to do that, they have to include Michigan, where Obama wasn't on the ballot, and exclude four caucus states which didn't release popular vote totals, three of which Obama won).

Which means that in Clinton and Jerome's world, Clinton is ahead in the popular vote only IF you exclude four caucus states, IF you include two unsanctioned states, and IF you "disenfranchise" every voter in Michigan who voted against Hillary Clinton.

That takes a new and particularly audacious level of chutzpah.

It takes a new level of chutzpah, considering that the popular vote, for the purposes of this nomination fight, doesn't mean anything. The nomination is decided by delegate counts. The delegates who attend Denver will not pledge the popular vote of their state but the delegates. And on the pledged delegate front, that ship has sailed.

Turning to the delegate math, if Clinton nets approximately 16 delegates out of Pennsylvania, she'll trail in the pledged battle by 150 delegates. With just 408 pledged delegates remaining, that means she'd need 68% of all pledged delegates left to overtake Obama. Now, if Obama and Clinton simply split the 187 delegates up for grabs on May 6 basically down the middle (which would be a rosy projection in Clinton's favor) and Obama's pledged delegate lead simply stayed at 150 and didn’t grow to 160 (the most likely outcome in two weeks), Clinton would need to win 85% of the then 221 remaining delegates up for grabs. 85%! As we mentioned on air last night, the battle for pledged delegates is over, Obama will win that metric and win it by some 100+ delegates.

And Clinton, by the way, is more likely to net 8-11 delegates from PA, if you look at the numbers.

That doesn't mean the race is over; but it does mean that the superdelegates would have to overturn the pledged delegates in order for Clinton to win. She might as well come out and say that. This popular vote thing is stupid. It's like saying, "I actually won that basketball game because you're not counting the two-run home run I hit." The popular vote doesn't play into the rules as decided on and agreed to by all parties before the primaries.

And for those who consider the weighting of delegates based on turnout in prior years in the states to be disenfranchising, it actually highlights the areas that a candidate needs to win in order to win a state. If you're the nominee and you win all over the place in Pennsylvania except for Philadelphia, where Democrats turn out, that's significant information. If you win all over California except Los Angeles and the Bay Area, that's notable. I don't buy the argument that losing a primary suggests that you can't win the general election, but if there's any metric that makes sense out of that, it's that the candidate who gains the most support in areas of Democratic strength will have an easier time of it in the general. And based on that, Obama is outperforming his numbers, given that he wins more delegates because he does well in high-turnout Democratic areas.

But again, that's not a metric that can credibly be used. The metric is delegates. Anything else is simply immaterial.

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How Congress Will Get Its Groove Back

This was inevitable, I'm just surprised it's coming out so early. After running the last eight years as a virtual dictatorship, and vesting virtually all power in the executive branch, Democrats - not Republicans, but DEMOCRATS - are signaling that an incoming Democratic President won't get a free hand, particularly on the issue where there's been the most discussion on the campaign trail - health care.

Congressional Democrats are backing away from healthcare reform promises made by their two presidential candidates, saying that even if their party controls the White House and Congress, sweeping change will be difficult.

It is still seven months before Election Day, but already senior Democrats are maneuvering to lower public expectations on the key policy issue [...]

For some senators, the promises made by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) outside of Washington may not match the political reality on Capitol Hill.

“We all know there is not enough money to do all this stuff,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a Finance Committee member and an Obama supporter, referring to the presidential candidates’ healthcare plans. “What they are doing is … laying out their ambitions.”

Except that it's actually costlier in terms of lives and lost productivity to not have a universal coverage standard. Also, when you leave insurance coverage to the vicissitudes of the market, you get situations like we're in now, where health insurers are losing customers because nobody can afford their crappy healthcare, and if they made it less crappy they wouldn't be able to afford the cost of treatment. So what there's not enough money to do, Jello Jay, is sustain a broken system.

But aside from the policy concerns, this is the key quote:

"I hear on the campaign trail, 'This is what I'm going to do,' as if there is not a Congress here with feelings and experience on this issue," Meek said. "I think it's important that everyone takes that into consideration and that this is not a kingdom, this is a democracy."

Oh really? This isn't a kingdom? Funny. I thought that considering the executive keeps us in an endless, unpopular occupation, spies on Americans without a warrant, commits torture and extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention, and is never held accountable for it by the federally elected legislature, I thought it WAS a kingdom, and the Congress was chosen just for show. I must have gotten that wrong.

Or rather, I got it right, but only during the times when there's a Democratic President pushing progressive solutions. When ending the war is on the table we "don't have the votes" and simply must give the President what he wants. When the subject is providing health care to every American as a right and not a privilege, Congress must be CONSULTED, CONSULTED I tell you, and we must worry about budget constraints and we must find the money! Look, we all know that the off-budget Iraq appropriations are far greater than the contribution to any universal health care plans would be as a down payments, and if it's done right the costs would decrease over time, due to preventive care and not having to cover emergency room fees with a hidden tax.

On top of it, this is just MISERABLE politics. You've set up this system where the executive gets a blank check for two terms, and now with a Democratic President you'd pull back on one of their highest policy priorities? This would lead to the inevitable landslide of "weak President" exposes and Adam Nagourney thumbsuckers, and Democrats in Congress would strut around like tough guys for having defied their leader. Republican leaders would need only snicker as Democrats do the heavy lifting for them. And by signaling this NOW, it undermines the Presidential campaign of the eventual nominee in a big way.

After all this, Congress is going to find its spine and reassert its priorities over HEALTH CARE. Jeebus. Sometimes I feel like these lawmakers don't deserve the majority. They clearly have no idea how to use it.

...I should say that on areas where the nominee and top Democrats agree, we're going to get changes in policy. We'll see SCHIP fully funded, and things like the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, which was successfully filibustered yesterday in Congress, will get through if we flip a couple Senate seats. But broadly speaking, Congress is signaling that the balance of power will shift over to them, after eight years of a unitary executive. Amusing how they finally found their assertive streak just in time for a Democratic President, isn't it?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hittin' the Road

So I'll be out in Palm Desert for the remainder of the week. I'll have WiFi and will check in, but probably not at the prodigious rate you've come to know and love.

I should also mention that the Blogiversary Week fundraiser is still running - the donate button is in the right-hand column. Thanks to all who participated so far.

Also, this is funny, in that way that poking your eyes with forks is funny.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, raised a lot of eyebrows Tuesday when he said that those who blame food price increases on the use of corn for fuel should also consider blaming the Chinese appetite. Grassley went so far as to rhetorically ask if it is legitimate to ask the Chinese to "go back and eat rice" as it is to ask the U.S. to change its policy on ethanol [...]

"If part of our problem is that the Chinese are going to eat meat -- and you've got to have corn and soybeans to feed the Chinese their meat -- then why isn't it just as legitimate for the Chinese to go back and eat rice as it is for us to change our policy on corn to ethanol?"

Um, the world food shortage is in large part because of a RICE shortage, Chuck.

I'll tell you, if Al Qaeda does end up collapsing because of their resistance to Web 2.0 tools, we're more than ready to have China replace them as public enemy #1, aren't we? Not that China is some benign force in the world - I've criticized them repeatedly - but the hauteur and subtle demonization at work here (and in Presidential speeches on the stump, too, particularly from Clinton and McCain) is palpable.

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The California Report

Here are some California-centric notes:

• The California School Employees Association made their endorsements for the June primary. In addition to Migden, they strike of an aversion to go out on a limb. They only endorsed one Congressional candidate in a Republican-held seat (Charlie Brown), and they opted out of a lot of contested primaries in the legislative seats as well. Manuel Perez did get the endorsement in the 80th AD, however (he is a school board member, so not a big shock).

• We don't get into a lot of rural issues on the site, probably because of the bias toward writers here in urban environments. But this salmon fishing ban is a big deal along the Mendocino coast. This actually goes back to the Klamath fish kill in the beginning of the decade and Darth Cheney's efforts to ensure that. I think there are going to be a lot of angry fishermen wanting answers this fall.

• I keep forgetting to write about the State Senate primary in my own backyard of SD-23, between Fran Pavley and Lloyd Levine. Here's some background on the race to succeed Sheila Kuehl. I actually attended an environmental forum with these two last week and found them both to be really solid, with different strengths. While Pavley is an astonishingly effective lawmaker - she probably has her name on more far-reaching climate change legislation than anyone in the entire country - Levine really seems to understand the nature of the fight in Sacramento and how best to bring about sweeping change. I'm not going to be disappointed on June 3, regardless of the winner. We're hoping to get both Pavley and Levine on a future Calitics Radio show.

• Here's a user-created video of our debate protest at ABC last week. We have our own video set for release as well.

• Adam Liptak in The New York Times today: "The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners."

Yet we must remain "tough on crime," even though rises and falls in the crime rate are not correlative to imprisoning people (Canada's rate goes up and down roughly at the same time ours does, without a corresponding increase in the prison population).

• John Yoo won't talk to the House Judiciary Committee but it's really not his fault, you see:

In a letter, Yoo's lawyer told Conyers he was "not authorized" by DOJ to discuss internal deliberations.

"We have been expressly advised by the Office of Legal Counsel of the United States Department of Justice that Professor Yoo is not authorized to discuss before your Committee any specific deliberative communications, including the substance of comments on opinions or policy questions, or the confidential predecisional advice, recommendations or other positions taken by individuals or entities of the Executive Branch," Yoo's lawyer, John C. Millian, wrote in a letter to Conyers.

As we all know, the executive branch can ignore subpoenas and prevent Congressional oversight. Why, Yoo wrote it in a memo! But he can't discuss it. Because the executive branch follows the law. That he wrote.

Round and round we go...

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Wherein I Hate On Democrats

Now, I think the fundamentals are still very positive for a Democratic victory in November, and probably a significant one. Just like how Barack Obama never really topped 45% in Pennsylvania in any poll, and that was where he ended up, John McCain has similarly not topped 45% in any poll, and that appears to be close to his ceiling.

However, Democrats have a lot of opportunities for self-inflicted wounds (outside of intra-party warfare that goes all the way to the convention), and in general they should stay away from those pitfalls. Let me enumerate:

• Apparently both Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton are pushing a bogus piece of science that suggests that autism is related to vaccinations. That not only is wrong, it has the potential to create a serious public health problem. Vaccinations save lives. They need to stop this silliness and not use their podium and their power to spout bad science. It's disheartening to those who believe science will make a comeback with a new President.

• Al Gore needs to move beyond praising legislators just for paying lip service to the fight against global warming. That's something you could afford to do 2 or 3 years ago. The consensus is further along now, and so is the sense of urgency. John McCain's climate proposals are woefully insufficient, the product of bad "bipartisanship" which posits that the midpoint of any two perspectives must be the best policy, when actually it would be a handout to corporate polluters and a walk away from solving the problem. Gore needs to do more than just pat people on the head, but advocate strongly in the policy arena.

• While Charles Gibson asked a B.S. question about capital gains taxes that relied on an artifact to make its point (it's a long story, but basically people hold back selling stock when they find out there would be a cut in the tax rate on capital gains, leading to a SHORT-TERM increase in revenue that doesn't sustain over the life of the cut), both Democrats kind of agreed with him because they don't think Americans can handle the truth about taxes.

This gets to a generalized problem in Democratic tax talk, which is that they're very unwilling to talk about taxes in terms of value. There are lots of government services which are actually a good deal for middle income families and should be sold as something that Americans would be wise to invest in. But rather than making a positive case around awesome stuff we're going to get, Democrats talk about taxes in complete isolation from the things that taxes buy, and begin with the premise that they're so odious and painful that they should only be levied on folks too rich to notice.

That is the gospel's truth, and reframing the tax argument as the dues you pay for civil society is so urgently needed or else we'll always wind up back here.

• I'd have to see the numbers, but Paul Krugman is arguing that Obama's comment about bitter voters turning to social issues to base their choices when economic issues should drive things may be true (I think black voters may get included in Larry Bartels' sample and skew it). There's an affluent, aspirational, exurban community that is much more motivated by social issues because they have the luxury to do so. However, those are the voters feeling most squeezed by the housing crisis, so we can actually put this to the test in November.

• Democratic silence in the Congress over the bailout of large investment banks is quite disturbing. This is corporate welfare at its most brazen.

It is remarkable that only a right-winger like Will seems upset about the Fed giving taxpayers' money to the very richest people in the country with no strings attached. This makes the battles over programs like the State Children's Health Insurance Program look like silly charades. If the government can cough up uncounted billions for the country's richest people when they get themselves in trouble due to their own stupidity, with no questions asked, isn't absurd that we must have a huge fight over getting $7 billion a year to extend health insurance to kids?

• Finally, whoever said this is not paying enough attention:

There is much speculation that the Democrats will run Mr. Lieberman out of their caucus (he now sits with Democrats and votes with them on most issues not related to the war) if they widen their margin in the Senate after the November elections. But Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader, has pledged that he would not disown Mr. Lieberman under those circumstances and said he considered him a good friend.

A member of the Senate Democratic leadership, who insisted on not being identified, said: “The bloggers want us to get rid of him. It ain’t happening.” He added: “We need every vote. He’s with us on everything but the war.”

That's not true, actually. He's been dead weight on the Government Affairs committee, and on an array of national security issues he votes with Republicans. And he's endorsed the opposing candidate for President, which is really the last straw and grounds for dismissal. It's disqualifying.

Democrats broadly need to get better on all of these things. It's still a long road.

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Can't Wait To See The Saem Clip On Television For Two Weeks

John McCain's endorser John Hagee, not a bunch of years ago but yesterday:

HAGEE: Yes. The topic of that day was cursing and blessing. … What happened in New Orleans looked like the curse of God, in time if New Orleans recovers and becomes the pristine city it can become it may in time be called a blessing. But at this time it’s called a curse [...]

PRAGER: Right, but in the case, did NPR get, is this quote correct though that in the case of New Orleans you do feel it was sin?

HAGEE: In the case of New Orleans, their plan to have that homosexual rally was sin. But it never happened. The rally never happened.

PRAGER: No, I understand.

HAGEE: It was scheduled that Monday.

PRAGER: No, I’m only trying to understand that in the case of New Orleans, you do feel that God’s hand was in it because of a sinful city?

HAGEE: That it was a city that was planning a sinful conduct, yes.

It's important to note that this is right smack in the center of religious right discourse. It's not all that far from normal. The people John McCain is trying to appeal to with the Hagee endorsement believe this stuff. And McCain continues to be happy to have the endorsement.

On the key demographic of controversial pastors, I think McCain is pulling ahead. Yet the double standard on this is so glaring.

By a twist of fate, McCain's visiting New Orleans tomorrow. Will the question be asked?

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This Week In Nielsen Ratings Imitating Life


President Bush's guest appearance in support of an Iraq War veteran on Monday night's "Deal or No Deal" didn't bring much luck to the contestant -- or the show.

The NBC game show matched its lowest Monday rating ever despite the much-publicized visit by the commander-in-chief.

Bush is not just hated, but hated on a historical level, with the highest disapproval rating since the start of modern polling. He is destroying the GOP from within; look at the race down in Mississippi last night, where Democrats positioned themselves to take a seat that's R+10.

What's funny is that Bush said on this Deal or No Deal appearance that "I'm just happy to be on anything that's highly-rated."

Not anymore, dinkus.

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Commander Petraeus

So Gen. David "A Man Called" Petraeus is slated to become the commander of CENTCOM. It's somewhat unusual for military leaders to take over their bosses' job, I'm told. This is from an email from a national security expert:

Part of the reason the military moves officers around is that so no one person can promote their personal agenda, but rather this is "checked and balanced" by the fact that someone else has to come in after you and look at things with a fresh set of eyes. From that perspective, it is very unusual that the theater commander would become the Combatant Commander.

We know that Petraeus has a self-interest in staying in Iraq to "finish the fight," whatever that fight is. You can see a scenario where he would focus on Iraq to the exclusion of the other global security trouble spots that would be under his command, and that this would color his advice to the commander-in-chief. In the short term, we know that Admiral Fallon was dumped in part because of alleged indifference over an attack on Iran, the country that comes up most often in Petraeus' reports to Congress about meddlers in Iraq. Draw your own conclusions.

Ilan Goldenberg adds this:

Third, there was speculation that Petraeus was going to move off to SACEUR right around January. This guarantees that if there is a Democratic administration, Petraeus may end up playing a central role in helping design an exit strategy. Of course, in testimony last month he brought into question whether he'd actually be willing to do that. Which is huge, and must be asked again during the hearings.

I have absolutely no confidence that these confirmation hearings will be pulled off adequately. He's getting confirmed. Now we have to wonder whether this is another Bush Administration landmine, designed to cripple a Democratic President on the issue of national security by sowing discord among the top commanders.

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The First Salvo In The Next Nuremberg

A Daily Kos diarist and several other citizens were able to question John Ashcroft last night on the subject of torture. His denials were outright revealing and show the nervousness these people feel.

TOM: This story was made public by ABC a few weeks ago. It claims that you, Rice, Tenet and others met in the White House to discuss different methods of "enhanced interrogation," is that correct?

ASHCROFT: (angrily) Correct? Is what correct? Is it correct that this story ran on ABC? I don't know that. I don't know anything about it! Is it a real story? When was this story, huh? Huh?

TOM: Um, early April, April 9th, I think...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting) You think? You think? You don't even know! Next question!

TOM: The article says that you discussed "whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning"...

ASHCROFT: I said, next question!

So when confronted with the fact, Ashcroft deliberately misinterprets the question, asks an irrelevant technicality, (which the kid answered correctly, it was April 9, and uses the technicality to wiggle out of the question. Here the lack of follow-up on the ABC story is crucial, as Ashcroft is able to sow confusion about the story itself because it just hasn't been widely reported.


Another student asked if Ashcroft's position on torture violated the Geneva Conventions or other international laws:

ASHCROFT: No. No it doesn't violate the Geneva Conventions. As for other laws, well, the U.S. is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture. And that convention, well, when we join a treaty like that we send it to the Senate to be ratified, and when the Senate ratifies they often add qualifiers, reservations, to the treaty which affect what exactly we follow. Now, I don't have a copy of the convention in front of me...

ME: (holding up my copy) I do! (boisterous applause and whistling from the audience) Would you like to borrow it?

ASHCROFT: (after a pause) Uh, you keep a hold of it. Now, as I was saying, I don't have it with me but I'm pretty sure it defines torture as something that leaves lasting scars or physical damage...

A STUDENT FROM THE AUDIENCE: Liar! You liar! (the student is shushed by the audience)

ASHCROFT: So no, waterboarding does not violate international law.

Well, that's just not true. The UN human rights chief has said waterboarding should be prosecuted as torture. The definition of the UN Convention Against Torture is right here.

"severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession...."

And members of the UN Committee Against Torture have agreed that waterboarding falls under it.

Now, watch the sleight-of-hand here, remembering that Ashcroft brought up the UN Convention Against Torture in the first place.

ME: First off, Mr. Ashcroft, I'd like to apologize for the rudeness of some of my fellow students. It was uncalled for--we can disagree civilly, we don't need that. (round of applause from the audience, and Ashcroft smiles) I have here in my hand two documents. One of them, you know, is the text of the United Nations Convention against Torture, which, point of interest, says nothing about "lasting physical damage"...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting) Do you have the Senate reservations to it?

ME: No, I don't. Do you happen to know what they are?

ASHCROFT: (angrily) I don't have them memorized, no. I don't have time to go around memorizing random legal facts. I just don't want these people in the audience to go away saying, "He was wrong, she had the proof right in her hand!" Because that's not true. It's a lie. If you don't have the reservations, you don't have anything. Now, if you want to bring them another time, we can talk, but...

Well, actually, he WAS wrong, because he tried to claim that the UN Convention was strictly defined as physical harm, that being wrong, he retreated to the idea of reservations and qualifiers. I have those reservations right here (scroll down for "United States"), and here's the key line:

(1) (a) That with reference to article 1, the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

Waterboarding simulates drowning. That would fall under the intentional inflicting of suffering and the threat of imminent death.

So, you know, Ashcroft was wrong again.

Now watch Ashcroft try to muddy a clear precedent.

ME: Actually, Mr. Ashcroft, my question was about this other document. (laughter and applause) This other document is a section from the judgment of the Tokyo War Tribunal. After WWII, the Tokyo Tribunal was basically the Nuremberg Trials for Japan. Many Japanese leaders were put on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture. And among the tortures listed was the "water treatment," which we nowadays call waterboarding...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting) This is a speech, not a question. I don't mind, but it's not a question.

ME: It will be, sir, just give me a moment. The judgment describes this water treatment, and I quote, "the victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach." One man, Yukio Asano, was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor by the allies for waterboarding American troops to obtain information. Since Yukio Asano was trying to get information to help defend his country--exactly what you, Mr. Ashcroft, say is acceptible for Americans to do--do you believe that his sentence was unjust? (boisterous applause and shouts of "Good question!")

ASHCROFT: (angrily) Now, listen here. You're comparing apples and oranges, apples and oranges. We don't do anything like what you described.

ME: I'm sorry, I was under the impression that we still use the method of putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water down their throat...

ASHCROFT: (interrupting, red-faced, shouting) Pouring! Pouring! Did you hear what she said? "Putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water on them." That's not what you said before! Read that again, what you said before!

ME: Sir, other reports of the time say...

ASHCROFT: (shouting) Read what you said before! (cries of "Answer her fucking question!" from the audience) Read it!

ME: (firmly) Mr. Ashcroft, please answer the question.

ASHCROFT: (shouting) Read it back!

ME: "The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach."

ASHCROFT: (shouting) You hear that? You hear it? "Forced!" If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...does this college have an anatomy class? If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...

ME: (firmly and loudly) Mr. Ashcroft, do you believe that Yukio Asano's sentence was unjust? Answer the question. (pause)

ASHCROFT: (more restrained) It's not a fair question; there's no comparison. Next question! (loud chorus of boos from the audience)

Well, if Ashcroft thinks he can bully an international criminal court the way he tried to bully a few college students last night, he's going to come off looking just as foolish. Because Ashcroft had the foresight to say "History will not judge us kindly" during the Principals meetings on torture, some have made the effort to rehabilitate him to a degree. I think we can end that now. He's guilty and he knows it, that's why his arguments were so very shallow. A court of law would convict in a matter of minutes.

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The World Stands Down China And Zimbabwe

The latest word is the the Chinese ship full of arms for Robert Mugabe and his thugs may be headed back home.

A Chinese ship carrying weapons and ammunition for Zimbabwe's military may be headed back home, reports said, after repeated attempts to deliver its cargo were frustrated by a coalition of legal activists, union workers and human rights groups.

The region's resistance to the shipment, which drew praise from the United States on Tuesday, marks a dramatic turn from southern Africa's traditional embrace of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and its reverence for national sovereignty.

It also signals the strength of South Africa's mounting backlash against President Thabo Mbeki's traditionally deferential dealings with Mugabe. The resistance from union workers, almost all of whom are members of his African National Congress, was decisive in preventing the ship from unloading its cargo of bullets and mortars on schedule.

Over countries in the region stopped the ship as well. Since practically the whole African Union had a deferential attitude toward Mugabe in the recent past, this is a significant step. But nobody is arguing for intervention in any way other than a mediating role. And with the "recount" in the Presidential election going on hopelessly compromised, with ballot boxes opened and the like, the idea that this or any future election will be fair is a pipe dream.

This is also another case of China propping up a dictatorship when they're not oppressing entire peoples themselves. The US can begin to regain their moral authority by taking this stand, and their encouragement for African governments to deny the ship was a small step in that direction.

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Groundhog Day

I woke up thinking that last night was part of an extended, three week-long April Fool's Day joke, that there is no actual Hillary Clinton campaign, and that the whole thing was paid for by a consortium of cable news so they have something to talk about for the next two weeks.

Sadly, not the case.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rachel Maddow on Friedman Units

Rachel Maddow basically just namechecked Atrios on MSNBC and called the race a series of Friedman Units, where pundits and media types say "the next primary will be over!" and then nothing happens. This was the ultimate inconclusive result, the most annoying result, in Pennsylvania, 30-40 million to get a 10-point win with probably less than ten delegates in Clinton's favor. The media has a real desire to keep this thing going and hype up the "this is it!" nature of the next primary, and then nothing happens. I'm with Matt Yglesias - this has to end. There really isn't a whole lot more information that superdelegates are going to get. There's a saturation level that has been reached. We know the strengths and weaknesses of these candidates. We know what demographics they win against one another and what demos they lose. About half the Democrats in the country like Clinton and half like Obama. She's from the Northeast and he's from the Midwest, and they get a tilt in their favor in each of those regions. He can't knock her out because she's really good at campaigning, and she was swamped by him early because he's really good at campaigning. The level of competition is far higher here than it will be in the fall against John McCain, actually. So the superdelegates can make their choice. They could make it today.

And I agree with Stoller, we're going to be fine. Democrats forced a runoff, and came within a hair's breadth of winning, in a seat in the middle of Mississippi (MS-01) tonight, an R+10 seat. The "Clinton/Obama voters will vote for McCain if their guy doesn't win" polling is about as relevant in the middle of a hotly contested primary as a national Giuliani-Richardson head-to-head. There were high numbers for disafffected McCain supporters voting for Gore over Bush at the time. This is essentially a Parliamentary country among core party members, the kind who vote in primaries.

Obama lost the plot in the last several weeks, and Clinton capitalized with a fairly divisive campaign. He needs to get back on his feet in two favorable states. Obama has not lost a single state that shares a significant border with his home state of Illinois (Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri). His speech tonight was pretty much a replay of his 2004 DNC keynote, and he's trying to return to the themes on which he won early. If he wins those two states it will be very significant. But the superdelegates need to come out from under the rocks where they're hiding and end this.

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Too Close To Call

That is not the words Sen. Clinton wanted to see 30 minutes after the polls closed. Still no hard numbers, but the exit poll information is kind of interesting. Bowers:

Polls have closed. The first exit poll can be found here. Quick multiplication of the gender crosstabs produces Clinton 52%--48% Obama. The first exits are usually adjusted, however. I can already see a problem where the exits claim that Philadelphia and its suburbs where only 29% of the electorate. Yeah, right.

The Philly metro region was expected to be about 40-45%. And Obama took the Philly suburbs, according to that same exit poll, by 62%-38% (and took the city by 69%-31%). Wow. This could be the nailbiter that I never thought we'd see in Pennsylvania.

Could the vaunted D-Day family straw poll (and I checked on all of them, they were practically all for Clinton) be somehow off? we're moving into the "too early to call" territory, which means that there's a definitive lead for Clinton. Which we all knew, but Obama is doing better than expected. I don't think we'll see double digits tonight.

And the most key exit poll stat I noted was that 30% or so of the Clinton supporters who voted today thought that Obama would be the nominee. The voters are starting to get resigned to it. That's fairly key.

(the other thing is that the Philly metro area is fully 50% of the delegates, which means that the delegate counts could end up close to even. Hm.

...MSNBC just called it for Clinton with 3% of the vote in. That changed in a hurry. Now we'll have to see what the margin is. I'm headed to LA Drinking Liberally.


As polls close, here is one way to think about the margin of victory -- if Hillary Clinton wins.

She has no money.

More important than anything she'll do over the next few days, Clinton will try to use tonight's results to raise money through the net. (Notice the banner behind the stage at her victory party. It says for a reason.)

We cannot have a nominee who is broke between now and August. For Hillary Clinton to win she'll have to spend every cent running against Obama. That means not one thin dime spent against McCain until Labor Day. That's unacceptable.

Let's see what the numbers are. But it's telling that Terry McAuliffe mentioned in the first paragraph with MSNBC. They don't have a penny.

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Heavy Turnout

This blog has some good on-the-ground information in the Philadelphia area, and the reports around the state share one thing in common - the turnout is off the charts.

Pennsylvania is on its way to the record turnout that election officials have been predicting for weeks, according to poll workers from across the state.

Election officials were reporting extremely heavy voter activity in many of the state’s 67 counties throughout the morning, starting with long lines reported even before the polls opened at 7 a.m.

“Let’s just say it’s very busy,” said Joseph Passarella, the director of voter services for Montgomery County, sounding a little harried. “Our phones have been ringing since 6:15 this morning and have been ringing nonstop. We’ve never had a primary election this busy.”

Among the phone calls were people who wanted to vote in the primary but had not switched their registration to Democratic in time, Mr. Passarella said. Those people were told that they were not allowed to vote in the Democratic primary.

A slice of that may be the Rush-bots and their Operation Chaos, but really we're seeing a sea change in Pennsylvania. Montgomery and Bucks Counties are now majority Democratic, and elsewhere in the state the energy is very high. A voter group is trying to extend polling hours in Philadelphia. After all the nonsensical events of the past six weeks, I think we've pushed Pennsylvania far into the blue column in November. This is true for Iowa and New Hampshire as well. In the states where there was a real focus on retail campaigning, this extended primary had a huge and undeniable impact. In fact, the lack of one in Michigan and Florida was a good argument to hold new primaries.

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Record Setting!

Yes, it's a new record!

Sinking home values and the collapse of flimsy mortgages sent a record number of California homes into the foreclosure process in the first three months of this year, a real estate information service reported today.

Default notices -- the first stage of foreclosure -- were sent to owners of 110,000 California homes from January to March, about 1% of the homes in the state, according to La Jolla-based DataQuick Information Systems. Default notices were up 143% from the same quarter a year ago.

Most California homeowners in default are now eventually forfeiting their properties to lenders. Only about 32% of those receiving default notices prevent foreclosure by refinancing or selling their property to pay off their mortgages, DataQuick reported. A year ago, 52% of those in default were able to avoid foreclosure.

If you read between the lines here, the implication is that around 70,000 families are in the process of losing their homes. In the first quarter 47,000 additional families had their homes repossessed, which is a 400% year-over-year increase.

This is hundreds of thousands of people, and it's getting to be a significant percentage of the state's population. And the federal government is dragging their feet looking for a solution.

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The Simple Life

John McCain is extremely rich. Not just a little bit rich, but fabulously wealthy. This leads to awkward moments like this which are likely to be replayed throughout this "Forgotten Americans" tour.

Standing before a nearly shuttered factory pocked with broken windows, John McCain on Tuesday urged Americans to reject the "siren song of protectionism" and embrace a future of free trade.

He used his own recent political fortunes — a dramatic fade followed by an unexpected comeback to secure the Republican presidential nomination — to illustrate that depressed Rust Belt cities such as Youngstown can have bright futures.

"A person learns along the way that if you hold on — if you don't quit no matter what the odds — sometimes life will surprise you," McCain said in a speech at Youngstown State University after meeting the five remaining workers at Fabart, a steel-fabricating factory that had more than 100 employees a few years ago.

In other words, "keep working at luring your factory back home, look at me, I had a few less million to spend than Mitt Romney!"

It's really an out-of-touch statement, and the Ohio Democratic Party pounced on it:

The difference between Youngstown and McCain couldn't be starker:

• Youngstown is a working class city; John McCain is one of the richest members of the Senate.

• McCain's plans shred the safety net for Youngstown; McCain's safety net is a rich heiress wife worth $100 million.

"McCain's attempt to compare a poorly-managed campaign budget to the increasing demands on a family's budget shows the bubble McCain lives in," said Kelly.

You cannot analogize the continuing struggles in the manufacturing sector to a campaign fundraising deficit. Especially when you are, as I said fabulously wealthy. John Edwards would say throughout his campaign "We're all going to be fine, the American people won't be." McCain seems to be saying "We're all struggling together, you and I... never mind the beer distributor fortune."

Today we got a sense of how John McCain rewards his elite friends. The story dropped on the same day as the Pennsylvania primary so nobody's paying attention to it, but it's fairly devastating.

Donald R. Diamond, a wealthy Arizona real estate developer, was racing to snap up a stretch of virgin California coast freed by the closing of an Army base a decade ago when he turned to an old friend, Senator John McCain.

A letter from Senator John McCain may have helped Donald R. Diamond, a longtime friend, gain the rights to develop property at a former Army base. Mr. Diamond has raised more than $250,000 so far for Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign.
When Mr. Diamond wanted to buy land at the base, Fort Ord, Mr. McCain assigned an aide who set up a meeting at the Pentagon and later stepped in again to help speed up the sale, according to people involved and a deposition Mr. Diamond gave for a related lawsuit. When he appealed to a nearby city for the right to develop other property at the former base, Mr. Diamond submitted Mr. McCain’s endorsement as “a close personal friend.”

Writing to officials in the city, Seaside, Calif., the senator said, “You will find him as honorable and committed as I have.”

Courting local officials and potential partners, Mr. Diamond’s team promised that he could “help get through some of the red tape in dealing with the Department of the Army” because Mr. Diamond “has been very active with Senator McCain,” a partner said in a deposition.

We can keep talking about waffles and bowling and shots of Crown Royal, but in truth we have a Republican wedded to the issues of the wealthy, and Democrats discussing issues that affect workers. This is true this year as much as any primary in recent memory. And so we cannot lose sight of that.

See also Tom Frank on this issue.

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Hillary's Foreign Policy Hawkishness

The slight truism that there is a virtual policy consensus between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has morphed into a convenient excuse not to engage with the areas of difference, which in the foreign policy arena are considerable. After calling Barack Obama rash and naive to telegraph intentions with regard to Pakistan and Al Qaeda, Clinton now has completely telegraphed Iran policy and raised the spectre of a nuclear attack.

Clinton further displayed tough talk in an interview airing on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. ABC News' Chris Cuomo asked Clinton what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

This is an expansion of the idea that came up in the debate in a rare moment of non-trivia, that we should place a "nuclear umbrella" over Israel and the greater Middle East with respect to Iran. This is a classic model of deterrance of the kind that prevented a nuclear attack with the Soviet Union. But first off, it presumes that the enemy has nuclear weapons, which is quite a presumption when it comes to Iran. This gets more complicated based on the known issue that Israel has their own nuclear weapons and doesn't need American overwatch to defend themselves. Further, it is hypocritical of her to admit nuclear policy about Iran and charge that we should never admit such things when it comes to the Al Qaeda factions in the FATA regions in Pakistan. AND, Al Qaeda is at least broadly unpopular in the Islamic world (really, they are, check the polling). Calling for nuclear deterrance on a sovereign Islamic nation like Iran, which is not nearly as unpopular, just furthers the impression that the United States is interested in a clash of civilizations on a global scale.

Now, the Clinton camp is backtracking on this, but there's no denying that on substantive foreign policy issues, Clinton is more of a hawk than Obama. That's just undeniable. She has refused to apologize for her vote to go to war with Iraq, and her policy on Iran, while muddled by repeated denials from her staff, appears to rest on a concept of mutually assured destruction. These are belligerent stances that do not represent any kind of break with the recent past. Add in the fact that supporters like Michael O'Hanlon are calling for pretend diplomacy with Iran to prove that such negotiations are impossible and only military action can solve the problem, and you have a foreign policy vision that is disturbingly tilted to the right. Clearly Hillary Clinton has given up on the antiwar faction on the left (which represents 60-65% of the country, so you see what a spot she's in), and I think she's telling you WHO SHE IS by these statements.

These are not little policy differences. They are immense and speak to a difference in foreign policy mindset. It remains the main reason why I'm supporting Sen. Obama.

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Enough With the Handwringing

I haven't delved into the latest voter registration report from the California Secretary of State's office, which shows that Democrats are strengthening in the state while the rise of delcine-to-state voters is completely coming out of the hide of Republicans. By November it's clear that we'll have well over 7 million Democratic voters in California, and possibly under 5 million Republicans.

This isn't going away and can't be redistricted into balance. There is exactly one Congressional or legislative lawmaker in the ENTIRE Bay Area (Guy Houston in AD-15, and that seat will be strongly challenged in November). Pray tell how redistricting will somehow "remedy" that. Nationally, the trend toward Democrats is occurring in suburban and exurban districts. These are the only remaining Republican strongholds, and they're dissipating. With the sucky job picture in the state - worse than Pennsylvania or Ohio - and the rise in citizen activism to protest disaster capitalism, this wave is not likely to subside.

The Democratic leadership in Sacramento is trying to cement their legacy in vastly different ways, one with edge-tinkering and the other by demanding that the entire legislature works for change. The next two elections will use the current legislative district lines regardless of what happens with any redistricting initiative. This is the moment to capitalize on the trashed GOP brand in the state and across the nation, and capture a 2/3 majority and the governor's mansion, changing the vote threshold and allowing the legislature to actually govern.

This starts with the SD-12 recall, where Simon Salinas will run a strong campaign and needs to be supported. It's a referendum on the GOP. The fretting about some random initiative is pointless compared to getting a 2/3 majority today.

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We Can't Do Anything

Conservatives say that government is the problem, and then they go out and prove it. Today's examples include women's health:

For the first time since the Spanish influenza of 1918, life expectancy is falling for a significant number of American women.

In nearly 1,000 counties that together are home to about 12 percent of the nation's women, life expectancy is now shorter than it was in the early 1980s, according to a study published today.

The downward trend is evident in places in the Deep South, Appalachia, the lower Midwest and in one county in Maine. It is not limited to one race or ethnicity but it is more common in rural and low-income areas. The most dramatic change occurred in two areas in southwestern Virginia (Radford City and Pulaski County), where women's life expectancy has decreased by more than five years since 1983.

The trend appears to be driven by increases in death from diabetes, lung cancer, emphysema and kidney failure. It reflects the long-term consequences of smoking, a habit that women took up in large numbers decades after men did, and the slowing of the historic decline in heart disease deaths.

There's an effort to cast this as a consequence of personal responsibility, but the geographic locations here say to me it's a problem of access. There are plenty of low-income areas in the cities where people eat like crap and lead unhealthy lifestyles, but there are support systems for the poor that have been built up out of necessity over the years. Some of those heath facilities are melting away, but in the rural areas, they never had them to begin with.

The example of how these guys have no idea how to start from scratch can be seen in Iraq, five years after the initial invasion, where basic services STILL aren't up to snuff:

BAGHDAD — Even as American and Iraqi troops are fighting to establish control of the Sadr City section of this capital, the Iraqi government’s program to restore basic services like electricity, sewage and trash collection is lagging, jeopardizing the effort to win over the area’s wary residents.

For weeks, there have been reports that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is preparing to move ahead with a multimillion-dollar program to rebuild the southern swath of Sadr City, which is currently occupied by Iraqi and American troops.

But almost a month after American and Iraqi forces pushed into the area, there are no signs of reconstruction. Instead, the streets are filled with mounds of trash and bubbling pools of sewage. Many neighborhoods are still without electricity, and many residents are too afraid to brave the cross-fire to seek medical care. Iraqi public works officials, apparently fearful of the fighting, rarely seem to show up at work, and the Iraqi government insists the area is not safe enough for repairs to begin.

This isn't a situation where you can call for patience. We're talking about five years now. The Administration set up the economic and reconstruction model in Iraq as a kind of libertarian fantasy where the market spontaneously works; and the results were about what you'd expect.

By the way, when this laissez-faire attitude doesn't work, the immediate effort is to cover it up.

Yesterday marked the opening day of a class action lawsuit brought by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), arguing “that failure to provide care is manifesting itself in an epidemic of suicides” among veterans. The VA denies the charges, pointing to increased resources devoted to mental health.

Today, CBS News reports that the VA apparently concealed veteran suicide statistics, and fed the news organization faulty data for a story on the issue. The VA told CBS that there were 790 attempted suicides in all of 2007. Yet shortly after, the VA’s head of Mental Health, Dr. Ira Katz, wrote in an e-mail to the VA’s top media adviser that there were “about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities.”

The e-mail exchange shows that the VA hoped to keep the statistics out of CBS’s hands:

From: Katz, Ira R.
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 11:27 AM
To: Chasen, Ev
Subject: FW: Not for the CBS News Interview Request


Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see at our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?

From: Chasen, Ev
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 11:40 AM
To: Katz, Ira R.

I think this is something we should discuss among ourselves, before issuing a release. Is the fact that we’re stooping them good news, or is the sheer number bad news? […]

I'll tell you, I don't know that this is fixable until conservatism is seen as the exact cause of these failures and gets totally discredited.

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D-Day Family Straw Poll

If my family, most of whom is over 60, is any indication, Hillary's going to win in a landslide in Pennsylvania today. My parents are both voting for her (in Bucks County, which Obama needs), and I know my paternal grandmother (Northeast Philly) is following suit. Not sure about my aunt and uncle in Bucks, or my cousins or extended family (my younger cousin is a classic young woman who normally wouldn't vote, the kind Democrats need to capture). My mother's family is in Johnstown, and my 80 year-old grandmother has been telling me she's undecided, but I think she's been stringing me along.

They've all been getting dozens of robocalls and mailers (Obama sent my parents a DVD) and are probably happy for this to be over.

I think the secret weapon for Obama today are all of those college towns in the Lehigh Valley and the Northeast part of the state. If they are organized and will actually turn out, we could see a close race.

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Equal Pay For Equal Work

Today is Equal Pay Day. The idea is that it takes until April 22, 2008 for women to earn as much as men did in the calendar year of 2007. This is especially significant this year because the Congress is trying to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that essentially banned the opportunity for anyone to sue over pay discrimination.

Equal pay advocates are mobilizing to urge the Senate to pass the Fair Pay Restoration Act (S. 1843), also known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill would restore the ability of U.S. workers to sue for pay discrimination. The House passed the legislation in July 2007, and the Senate is expected to take it up next week.

If enacted, the act would reverse a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision dismissing a suit by Lilly Ledbetter, an employee for 19 years at a tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., who says she was paid less than her male counterparts.

The Supreme Court said she did not file her lawsuit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. within 180 days after the discrimination occurred, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court let the company off the hook by calculating the deadline from the day Goodyear made its original decision to pay her less than her male colleagues. The law had previously made it clear that the clock did not start until she received her last discriminatory paycheck. The bill would remove the 180-day limit.

Take action. Call 202-224-3121 or click here to send an e-mail urging your senator to vote for S. 1843.

The Supreme Court does not only judge abortion rights or gun laws or the death penalty. In many cases Supreme Court rulings have a distinct and serious economic impact, and with the corporatists and royalists George Bush has put on the Court we'll be feeling that legacy for some time. The Congress has an opportunity here to reverse one of their most horrible rulings, and tee it up for the next Democratic President to sign (George Bush certainly won't).

The ACLU has more.

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The Watchers

Let's be clear about the acts of torture planned and authorized out of the White House that The New York Times has editorialized about. Some of the details were laid out in the 2002 Haynes memo signed by Donald Rumsfeld.

These techniques were new to the military. Category I comprised two techniques, yelling and deception. Category II included 12 techniques, aiming at humiliation and sensory deprivation, including stress positions, such as standing for a maximum of four hours; isolation; deprivation of light and sound; hooding; removal of religious and all other comfort items; removal of clothing; forced grooming, such as shaving of facial hair; and the use of individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, to induce stress.

Finally came Category III. These methods were to be used for only a very small percentage of detainees - the most uncooperative (said to be fewer than 3%) and exceptionally resistant individuals - and required approval by the commanding general at Guantánamo. In this category were four techniques: the use of "mild, non-injurious physical contact", such as grabbing, poking and light pushing; the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences were imminent for him or his family; exposure to cold weather or water; and, finally, the use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation. This last technique came to be known as water-boarding, described on a chat show by the vice-president, Dick Cheney, as a "dunk in the water" and a "no-brainer" if it could save lives.

Many of these alone were a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. But rather than coming from a few bad apples at the various detention sites, there was a parallel process of improvisation and brainstorming happening at the highest levels. Before the activities were codified, the interrogators got to play Jack Bauer and draw up a wish list.

(Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo Diane) Beaver told me she arrived in Guantánamo in June 2002. In September that year there was a series of brainstorming meetings, some of which were led by Beaver, to gather possible new interrogation techniques. Ideas came from all over the place, she said. Discussion was wide-ranging [...]

Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, "he gave people lots of ideas." She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline - and to go further than they otherwise might [...]

The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: "You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas." A wan smile crossed Beaver's face. "And I said to myself, you know what, I don't have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached."

However, an authoritarian Administration was not going to let the sexually aroused grunts drive this policy. In fact, proxies to the highest-ranking officials in the executive branch went on a field trip to carry out their boss' desires.

Dunlavey told me that at the end of September a group of the most senior Washington lawyers visited Guantánamo, including David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, Gonzales and Haynes. "They brought ideas with them which had been given from sources in DC." When the new techniques were more or less finalised, Dunlavey needed them to be approved by Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, his staff judge advocate in Guantánamo. "We had talked and talked, brainstormed, then we drew up a list," he said. The list was passed on to Diane Beaver." [...]

Beaver confirmed what Dunlavey had told me, that a delegation of senior lawyers came down to Guantánamo well before the list of techniques was sent up to Washington. They talked to the intelligence people, they even watched some interrogations. The message from the visitors was that they should do "whatever needed to be done", meaning a green light from the very top - from the lawyers for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the CIA.

The interrogators were allowed some jollies in the idea formation phase, but once the rules were put in place, it was Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush - their top deputies, sitting around and WATCHING live interrogations, and demanding that the most strenuous techniques be employed, going around Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers, whose bitterness suggests he was a key source for the ABC story.

In his new book, Torture Team, Philippe Sands QC, a professor of law at University College London, reveals:

• Senior figures in the Bush administration pushed through previously outlawed measures with the help of unqualified and inexperienced military officials at Guantánamo.

• Myers believes he was a victim of "intrigue" by top lawyers at the department of justice, the office of the vice president, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld's defence department.

• Myers wrongly believed interrogation techniques had been taken from the army's field manual.

This is a familiar pattern of the power center in this Administration, Rumsfeld and Cheney, subverting the will of everyone else and implementing their agenda. In this case, Myers was flat-out lied to and told that the techniques were covered under the UCMJ.

And today there's a new allegation - prisoner drugging.

Adel al-Nusairi remembers his first six months at Guantanamo Bay as this: hours and hours of questions, but first, a needle.

"I'd fall asleep" after the shot, Nusairi, a former Saudi policeman captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002, recalled in an interview with his attorney at the military prison in Cuba, according to notes. After being roused, Nusairi eventually did talk, giving U.S. officials what he later described as a made-up confession to buy some peace.

"I was completely gone," he remembered. "I said, 'Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I'm a member of al-Qaeda, I will.' "

Nusairi, now free in Saudi Arabia, was unable to learn what drugs were injected before his interrogations. He is not alone in wondering: At least two dozen other former and current detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents.

I don't know if drugging was part of the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) program on which most of the tactics were based, the very program used to train American troops for what they expected to face if captured by a brutal enemy. I do know that these tactics resulted in an unknowable amount of murders, more of which are just coming to light.

Today’s documents reveal charges that Special Forces beat, burned, and doused eight prisoners with cold water before sending them into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in U.S. custody in March 2003. In late 2004, the military opened a criminal investigation into charges of torture at Gardez. Despite numerous witness statements describing the evidence of torture, the military’s investigation concluded that the charges of torture were unsupported. It also concluded that Naseer’s death was the result of a “stomach ailment,” even though no autopsy had been conducted in his case. Documents uncovered today also refer to sodomy committed by prison guards; the victims’ identities are redacted.

Here we see how this thing was both tightly controlled and yet uncontrolled at the same time. The White House offered a menu of techniques, but they also gave that "green light." A bunch of kids who relished the power to an almost sexual degree came up with their own plans and saw that they were basically unleashed and protected from prosecution. So we advance to drugging, sodomy, and murder.

I'm watching the President dancing with a mariarchi band on cable news right now, despite our knowing all this. There are those who are paying attention, however. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility are looking at the memos used to justify torture, and I imagine that will continue beyond the term of this President. Those who have been following the story see the potential for criminal indictments, and legal experts agree, at least in theory. This, by the way, is why it's going to be nearly impossible to close Guantanamo, because the human rights abuses there will find standing should detainees be allowed on US soil. Behind the scenes there is likely to be a furious effort to indemnify and immunize this President and his senior staff.

We need truth and reconciliation.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Quick Hits

So, life intervened today, as it sometimes does. My apologies and I must admit this is not the best way to kick off the fundraising week. But the link is over to your right, and I'd appreciate a donation.

Now, for some things that happened today that I had no time to write about:

• I'll give the Bush Administration some credit for helping to stop this Chinese ship full of armaments bound for Zimbabwe. They're implementing soft power to persuade African nations not to allow the ship to dock. It's a pretty clear-cut case but they have to be credited for this move.

• Cliff Schechter is dishing some more dirt about John McCain. It would be irresponsible not to speculate about all of this for the next six months.

• John Cusack's new film War Inc., which takes the outsourcing of the military to private contractors to its logical extreme, looks pretty darn good. He did a live chat at Crooks and Liars today.

• Republicans can't get anyone decent to run for Congress. And the scraps they end up with have baggage like looking the other way while employers on the Marianas Islands force their sweatshop workers into abortions. Bob Schaffer is a dead man walking in the Colorado Senate race.

• Turns out that the President violated federal law when he tried to restrict the eligibility requirements for S-CHIP. This is someone who is guilty of trying to keep sick children off the health insurance rolls. Even Mr. Burns looks at that and thinks "What a heartless bastard."



McCain Big Pimpin'

So, John McCain was apparently doin' some bigtime shopping at Barney's New York in Beverly Hills, but the $2,546.56 bill was credited back to the campaign just recently. And a spokesman says that the campaign's card was stolen.

Because credit card thieves usually run right to Barney's.

Sounds like somebody screwed up, used the wrong card and is trying to hide their lavish, elitist lifestyle.

Also, if the McCain campaign is so bad with money that they can't even handle their own credit cards, do we want him anywhere near the NATIONAL credit card?

(I expect a 10-minute discussion of this the next time Charlie Gibson or George Stephanopoulos interview St. McCain. After all, the people DECIDE on this stuff, right?)

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Annals Of Average-Looking CG Campaign Commercials

This is pretty awesome. I think it's a promo for "Call of Duty IV: Give the Wacked-Out Libertarians a Shot!"

Also, didn't Ron Paul already drop out of the race? Why is anyone donating money to air this thing in Philly?

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Last-Minute Ad Blogging

I think I'm with Kevin Drum on this one, the latest ad from Hillary Clinton shows a retrospective of American challenges over 60 years, bin Laden's in it for half a second, and we shouldn't be so afraid of that. Clinton is not associating Obama with bin Laden the way Gephardt associated Dean with bin Laden in 2004, she's saying that the next President has all kinds of challenges and she's better prepared to face them. You can accept or reject that categorical (I reject it), but it's not an off-limits argument.

In fact, in the fall I'd be happy for Democrats to use bin Laden imagery LIBERALLY in their ads, as part of the argument that the diversion of Iraq took us away from finishing the job when we had Al Qaeda on the run, and we've offered a policy of retreat from Al Qaeda ever since, and the terrorist group is stronger than ever with a safe haven in the FATA region in Pakistan. This "bin Laden/ooga booga" reflexivity from Democrats has to stop.

The Obama campaign's response to this ad reflects this to an extent, but then has that addition of whining about the "politics of fear," when in fact the first half of their statement is the right answer, and constantly raising the "politics of fear" angle has the impression of sour grapes.

"When Senator Clinton voted with President Bush to authorize the war in Iraq, she made a tragically bad decision that diverted our military from the terrorists who attacked us, and allowed Osama bin Laden to escape and regenerate his terrorist network. It's ironic that she would borrow the President's tactics in her own campaign and invoke bin Laden to score political points. We already have a President who plays the politics of fear, and we don't need another."

I would have left it at the first half, and even created an ad with exactly that script. It happens to be true.

(I do think this shows a concerted effort to reach undecideds on the part of the Clinton campaign, showing to me that the race in Pennsylvania is fairly close. Obama actually finally broke 45% in a poll overnight, and Survey USA moved this back to 6 points. The internals show that massive turnout in the Philly region could make this even closer. Obama is not predicting a win, which is pretty wily, and he's likely right. But I think he's done a good job of expectations management in what is a tough primary for him demographically.

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What If They Held A Rally And Nobody Came?

I guess that John McCain's "Forgotten Americans" rally in historic Selma, Alabama forgot to tell the Americans he was trying to reach that they were invited.

But as you take a look at the shot, which is just off to my left here, you can see that the audience in large measure is white middle-class voters. The African-American poor folk of Selma, Alabama and around here haven’t turned out.

Is there any question why they wouldn't be there? Outside of the fact that McCain voted against the MLK holiday in 1983, his vision for America offers nothing for the poor and actually presumes that they've had it pretty good in the Bush years.

McCain is also signaling, after all these years of being a deficit hawk, that he'll toe the familiar Republican line that deficits don't matter as much as tax cuts for the wealthy. And despite the campaign finance reform bona fides he's devised a system to get around contribution limits with a giant unaccountable slush fund. Shockingly, he's also failing to get traction with downscale voters, despite running a campaign suited to the aristocracy. Maybe all the black people in Selma were just busy today.

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