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

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Death To America! No no no, VIOLENT Death To America!

Kevin Drum is right, the fact that Nouri al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr are both trying to prove who the most anti-American Iraqi politician is makes it, shall we say, difficult to continue having a presence in Iraq.

"All the politicians are trying to prove that they care more about Iraqis than they do about Americans -- otherwise they know the people and the voters will not support them," said Ala Maaki, a senior lawmaker with Iraqi's largest Sunni political party. "I think we could see al-Maliki and Moqtada Sadr trying to one-up the other today and see who can take the strongest stand against the Americans."

All of this would vanish if we simply, you know, left Iraq, instead of demanding permanent bases.

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The Final Nail In The 4th Amendment's Coffin

Here it comes:

A bipartisan group of congressional negotiators neared a deal yesterday on controversial wiretapping legislation that could be unveiled as early as next week, according to Capitol Hill sources and civil liberties advocates monitoring the talks.

Lawmakers have been wrangling for months over how to extend warrantless surveillance that Bush administration officials consider central to national security. Agreement has proved elusive because of privacy concerns as well as questions about telecommunications companies seeking immunity from lawsuits over their role in helping the government monitor phone calls and e-mail after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks [...]

A key element of the new plan would give U.S. district courts the chance to evaluate whether telecommunications companies deserve retroactive protection from lawsuits. A previous proposal floated by Republicans would have put the question to the secret FISA court that approves warrants.

CQ Politics has more. It looks to me like district courts won't be evaluating whether the telecoms broke the law, but whether they got a permission slip to do so. If the courts are only ruling on the proper filing of documents, then it's not a ruling at all. The ACLU writes:

“This FISA deal looks like the unconstitutional Senate bill in sheep’s clothing. Whatever silk purse Hoyer tries to make of Bond's sow's ear and no matter how they try to sell it, the end result of all this negotiating will be exactly what the administration has wanted from the beginning — FISA rewritten to delete court oversight of surveillance and immunity for its pals at the telephone companies.”

“From the language we’ve seen, we’re back at square one, looking at a bill just like the old Senate bill that lacks meaningful judicial involvement. The Fourth Amendment requires prior and individual court review before the government digs into our private conversations. It is clear the next vote will be on a bill that fails this test — by permitting the government to conduct mass untargeted surveillance, sometimes without prior court review, and sometimes with prior court review — and then only when the government unilaterally decides that it is willing and able to answer to the judicial branch.”

“It is also clear that the deal is intentionally designed to grant immunity to companies that facilitated illegal wiretapping. If the only role for the court — be it District or a FISA court — is to determine whether the companies received a request from the Administration, and not to determine whether those requests were legal, it’s a sham review. The president has publicly acknowledged that the companies were repeatedly sent authorizations to turn over Americans phone calls and emails. It is absolutely guaranteed that current and future cases will never determine whether this administration and its friends in the telecom industry broke the law.”

A travesty. A lot of people are wondering what Steny Hoyer's game is - is it the telecom money, is he trying to hide the conduct of his colleagues who failed to raise objections after being informed about illegal spying, is he afraid of Republicans beating him up as in league with the terrorists. Actually, I just think it's who he is. He has an arrogant belief that Americans don't deserve the kind of privacy protections they've historically been afforded, and that their Washington minders know best. The money is helpful, the GOP bashing makes him fearful, but ultimately, that's what it comes down to.

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Let's Loop Back To Failed War #1

Meanwhile, in that other, forgotten war:

About 870 prisoners escaped during a Taliban bomb and rocket attack on the main prison in southern Afghanistan that knocked down the front gate and demolished a prison floor, Afghan officials said Saturday.

The police chief of Kandahar province, Sayed Agha Saqib, said 390 Taliban prisoners were among those who fled the prison during the attack late Friday.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force put the number of escapees slightly higher, at around 1,100, according to spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco. He conceded that the assault was a success.

If the Taliban is able to pull off mass-scale operations like this, and now has hundreds of fighters willing to do more, shouldn't this be a signal that Afghanistan needs dire attention, and not by browbeating NATO partners but a legitimate commitment. The Taliban almost assassinated Hamid Karzai a couple months back, and now this. They bombed out a wall with a truck at the front gate, had a suicide bomber blow himself up at the back wall, and then rockets fired from INSIDE the prison courtyard, all at the same time. They reportedly had minibuses waiting for the escapees.

Heckuva job.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

The California Report

As we head into this weekend's e-board meetings for the CDP, here's a few things I've noticed around the Web-o-sphere:

• It's a few days old, but I should mention that AB583, Loni Hancock's Clean Money bill for California elections, was amended. The latest is that it will be placed on the June 2010 ballot to enact a pilot program that would provide voluntary public financing in the 2014 Secretary of State's race. The original plan was to make the 2010 Governor's race clean money, along with a selected Assembly and Senate race. While shifting this to the lower-cost Secretary of State's race increases chances of passage, it basically puts off any chance at clean money for another four years. So it's bittersweet, to me.

• This Alex Kozinski situation has gotten a lot of noise on political blogs. Kozinski, the chief judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, was presumably caught with pornographic materials he stored on a public website, and now he's offering himself up for investigation. But the truth might be more sinister. As Lawrence Lessig explains, Kozinski may have been the victim of a smear campaign by a lone nut who accessed material that was private but unsecure. Worth a read.

• At the moment there are ten initiatives which have qualified for the November ballot; the latest would float $5 billion in bonds to subsidize purchases of clean-energy vehicles and research into renewables. I'm a bit worried that such a long ballot with an what will probably be record turnout is going to bring lots and lots of low-information voters to the polls making decisions on the state's future armed with little in the way of facts. In other words, just another California election.

• On Tuesday, all couples in the state will be permitted to marry regardless of gender. In anticipation, the New York Times ran an interesting article about marriage and gender relationships. Very interesting stuff.

• Fabian Nuñez endorsed Kevin Johnson in his runoff race for Sacramento Mayor. That race will happen in November. No word on Johnson's position on the allegations that refs gave the 2002 Western Conference Finals to the Lakers over the Kings, which may be a salient issue in Sac-town.

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Ma Bell Returns

When the iPhone came out I said I'll wait a year or so until they release a new version that has better features and is substantially cheaper, and maybe, just maybe, is available with any cellular carrier instead of just AT&T. Sure enough, they released one this week that has expanded features, is indeed cheaper (although the more expensive service contract cancels out almost entirely the cost of the phone), but is still locked to AT&T. And according to Tim Wu, that's not changing.

If my iPhone were a motorcycle, she'd be a chopper. I'm the owner of an unlocked, jail-broken iPhone 1.3 that runs on the T-Mobile network, fortified with third-party apps (like Tap Tap Revolution), adorned with Death Star wall paper, and running a natty customized interface named "Manhattan." Sure, not everything works perfectly (recently, the clock went off by an hour or so, for no apparent reason). But that's part of the fun of iPhone-modding, a vibrant scene that resembles the Apple II culture of the 1980s.

Unfortunately, for me at least, it may all be coming to an end. After Monday's iPhone 2.0 debut, it's just a matter of time before I trade in my chopper phone for Apple's new 3G phone—and swallow that AT&T contract.

That may sound like trading a dune buggy for a Toyota Corolla. But like most such decisions, there is a depressing inevitability to the whole thing. As an ever-uncooler Steve Jobs (clad in atrocious jeans) made clear on Monday, the new iPhone pounds the hell out of the old one. Apple has rigged the thing with a better battery, GPS capabilities, and, most importantly, download speeds faster than the rate at which a man passes a kidney stone (at least if you live in a city, as David Pogue points out). I'm nostalgic but I'm not stupid—the new phone will be too handy not to have. But as Jobs neglected to mention, getting your hands on a new iPhone will mean signing, at the moment of purchase, a two-year AT&T contract. Tough news for the free iPhone movement.

The fact that someone like me is switching to AT&T is a sign of the times in the telephone world. The wireless industry was once and is still sometimes called a "poster child for competition." That kind of talk needs to end. Today, the industry is more like an old divorced couple; the bickering spouses are AT&T and Verizon, the two halves of the old Bell empire. (To its credit, the Bell company, in internal memos, proposed a wireless phone in 1915 and then spent 70 or so years deciding how to deploy it without hurting its wired-phone business.) While you can't blame this on the iPhone, nearly every non-Bell phone company is, in the long tradition of such firms, dying or being purchased. Sprint Nextel lost an astonishing $29.5 billion in a single quarter last year—a loss of nearly double the annual revenue of Google. Alltel, one of the last independents, is being bought by Verizon. The exception is T-Mobile, which, while healthy, simply doesn't have the spectrum to play with the bigs. By the end of this year, we may find that the wireless world, in industry structure at least, will be pretty close to where it was at the beginning of the 1990s, before "deregulation."

That's quite a shame. Wireless freedom is connected to the net neutrality movement, and the apparent loss of it is quite a shame. It's like if Zenith and RCA televisions would only work on DirecTV. I don't know how to pry open this monopolistic practice short of Congressional action.

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Revising and Extending on Russert

To answer my previous question about whether the press was covering the Iowa floods, I guess they've gone into 24-hour dead celebrity mode. And it's a journalist, the big Kahuna, Tim Russert, so it's likely to last a while.

There's a usual period of respect for the dead, and I'm happy to honor that. But forgive me for linking to a few things, just for the sake of background, that may pierce the gauze of today's hagiography.

Daily Howler, June 28, 2004
Daily Howler, June 30, 2004
Howard Kurtz interview with Russert
Nicholas Lemann New Yorker profile
Bill Moyers' "Buying the War," interview transcript with Russert
Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch, January 26, 2007
Matthew Yglesias, "Journalism as Sadism," November 11, 2007

Had to get it off my chest.

...let me also link Russert's final Web chat, from earlier this morning, which includes something that I wish the entire media practiced a little more.

Msnbc: Given the way people use the Internet, do you wonder if there are going to be some things said or done during the course of this campaign that will be very unsettling?

Russert: That’s what we have to be conscious of and vigilant against, particularly at the end of the campaign as things are put out there. We’ve already had a few fake videos with different words dubbed in and people say, “This must be true because I saw it on the Internet.”

What we hope to do in this campaign is recognize there are big differences on big issues between John McCain and Barack Obama – the war in Iraq, Iran, Social Security, taxes. You don’t need to get into this other stuff. If it does surface, then I think the mainstream media has an obligation not to just instinctively put it out there without vetting it. Or, if it is something that is manufactured as a virus, report on that – who did it and why. But sometimes it’s very hard to trace it back to its original source.

Looking at the end of that chat, he notes that he was scheduled to have Joe Biden and Lindsay Graham on this week. And immediately what I thought was, "Darn, that would have been a good Meet The Press." So as much as I was exasperated with him, as much as he caused me agata on numerous occasions, I'm going to miss Tim Russert on Sunday mornings.

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Midwest Katrina?

I'm cooped up in a TV-free office, but is this getting the attention it deserves?

Hospital patients in wheelchairs and on stretchers were evacuated in the middle of the night as the biggest flood Cedar Rapids has ever seen swamped more than 400 blocks Friday and all but cut off the supply of clean drinking water in the city of 120,000.

As many as 10,000 townspeople driven from their homes by the rain-swollen Cedar River took shelter at schools and hotels or moved in with relatives.

About 100 miles to the west, the Des Moines River threatened to spill over the levees into downtown Des Moines, prompting officials in Iowa's biggest city to urge people in low-lying areas to clear out by Friday evening. The river was expected to crest a couple of hours later.

"We are perilously close to topping the levees," said Bill Stowe, public works director in the Iowa capital, population 190,000. He added: "It's time to step out of harm's way."

Only two deaths have been reported so far, but without clean drinking water in Cedar Rapids and the potential for topped levees in Des Moines the situation is, pardon the pun, fluid. There's a local report at this blog and also Iowa Independent. I was out in Des Moines last September and made some friends there, so I hope they're OK.

More broadly, I have to agree with Matt Stoller here. Storms and disruptive weather events like this are catalyzing. They actually do shape opinion if organizations bother to make the proper connections. In this case, the main environmental groups are not.

None of these stories mention climate change, yet, as Joe Romm points out, extreme downpours are exactly what the NOAA found is increasingly common in the last fifty years, with "a 20 percent increase in "very heavy rain events", and these fit with global warming prediction models. Romm goes on to point out that "2007 saw the second most extreme precipitation over the United States in the historical record, according to NCDC's Climate Extremes Index."

So one would think the press would cover global warming in the context of extreme weather. Of course journalists don't. But is this a media problem? Yes, but it's not just a media problem. I looked at the home pages and press pages of the Sierra Club, NRDC, Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, and Al Gore's We Can Solve It. The Sierra Club is asking for higher mileage standards on cars, NRDC is discussing lead and growing support for action on global warming, the League of Conservation Voters brags about its recent endorsement of Gabrielle Giffords, Environmental Defense asks for lower gas prices, and We Can Solve It puts its new ad front and center.

So yes, the media isn't tying the Iowa floods to global warming. But then, neither are the major environmental groups. As these extreme weather events become more common due to global warming, there will be more competition to tie these events to climate change policy action, a sort of Shock Doctrine in reverse. One interesting irony is that Iowa is ground zero for these floods, and it was in Iowa where none of the major environmental groups backed a candidate - Ed Fallon - calling for a moratorium on coal versus conservative Democrat Leonard Boswell that wants to continue tax breaks for oil companies. Gore, of course, endorsed Boswell, and he and Tipper maxed out to him.

You shouldn't expect people to put two and two together if the leading voices remain silent.

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Those Pesky Hundreds Of Lobbyists

John W. McCain thought his little lobbyist problem was over when he solemnly announced new standards of conduct for his staff, asked for and received the resignations of a few employees, and jutted out his jaw so that everyone in his media base could see how forthright and scrupulous he was. Surely his barbecue buddies would decide that this was no longer an issue, and any further talk of lobbyists would be off-limits from this point forward.

Except it's not going away. For as I said at the time, for McCain to truly wash his hands of lobbyists he'd have to fire his entire campaign staff, not a few aides on the margins. If he didn't, the ties would remain, like his employment of 7 lobbyists for Airbus, which looks bad in the light of his intervening to get Airbus a lucrative Pentagon contract. One of them, Susan Nelson, is McCain's national finance director, and apparently a lobbying shop was still paying her while she was affiliated with the campaign.

Then there's his chief economic advisor Carly Fiorina, who while the CEO of Hewlett-Packard traded with Iran in violation of an international boycott.

Then there's the big one involving Rick Davis, his campaign manager:

John McCain's presidential campaign is blasting a New York Times report that his campaign manager once worked for a Kremlin-backed politician, and that McCain likely knew of his efforts.

The McCain campaign is strongly denying the paper's reporting that in 2005, a White House National Security Council staffer called John McCain's Senate office to complain that Rick Davis, at the time a GOP lobbyist, was "undercutting American policy on Ukraine" by lobbying for a Kremlin-backed politician, Viktor Yanukovich, the paper reported.

The Bush White House -- and McCain  opposed Yanukovich, whom the United States and others had accused of election fraud, and benefiting from violence and intimidation towards journalists [...]

The story also raises the possibility that Davis may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1938 anti-espionage law requiring all agents of foreign powers to register with the U.S. government and disclose their activities. Davis never filed -- though according to the campaign, of course, he had no reason to do so.

The Times report is a doozy, alleging that Davis worked for Yanukovich without registering as a lobbyist, and that McCain knew about this since 2005. This is leading some reform-minded Democrats to propose a law requiring fuller disclosure of lobbyists who argue for foreign clients. It's a great way to wedge McCain, and Sen. Obama has already signed on to close the loophole that keeps such activities in the dark.

Under current law, Washington lobbyists can hide their dealings with foreign businesses and governments. This bill will close that loophole and establish a new standard for disclosure.

Barack is taking this important stand against powerful interests, but he can't change Washington without our help.

Sign our petition to stand with Barack on Lobbying reform:

While Barack Obama is working to change the culture in Washington, John McCain has turned a blind eye to the lobbyist loophole.

He has to -- his Senior staff includes lobbyists who have used the loophole to hide their foreign clients, and McCain's fundraising strategy relies on huge checks from Washington Lobbyists and special interest PACs.

Barack's campaign is different. He has never accepted contributions from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs, so Barack is only accountable to ordinary people like me and you.

I don't know about all that, but clearly McCain is accountable to a much higher power. Lobbyists have managed his policy on issues like FISA and more, and they're completely entangled in his camapign apparatus. He deserves to be slammed for this.

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Town Halls

I was happy when both McCain and Obama turned down ABC's effort to hijack the proposed set of town hall meetings and weigh them down with more obtrusive and pointless distractions. However, McCain apparently didn't deny that effort because he wanted to keep control of the questions in the hands of the people, but because he wanted to keep control of the people in the audience.

"I reported at the top of this hour that the campaign had told us at fox news that the audience would be made up of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. We have now received a clarification from the campaign and I feel I should pass it along to you. The McCain Campaign distributed tickets to supporters, mayor Bloomberg, who of course is a registered republican, and other independent groups."

(Good for Shepard Smith for actually speaking up, by the way)

Not so much town halls, as fully scripted campaign events. No wonder Obama turned down the attempt to get involved in such nonsense.

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Quite shocking. To all of us news junkies, whatever our thoughts of the man and the type of journalism he ushered in he was kind of a totemic figure in American politics.

R.I.P. and my best to his family.

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How L.A. Metro Wasted An Hour Of My Life

I'm heartened by the fact that there's a sharp and pronounced move toward mass transit nationwide (the ridership levels are the highest since 1957) in the wake of $4 gasoline. So heartened, in fact, that I wanted to join the movement. My current commute to work is a straight line, rare in Los Angeles, where I could conceivably take Santa Monica Boulevard all the way from my house to the office. I calculated the options for bus service, and figured I could save $2 a day and a gallon of gas worth of carbon emissions (L.A. buses are, for the most part, clean-air vehicles) without an appreciable increase in my commute time. I went on the Metro website and located the proper bus route, and made out this morning to catch my ride.

It never showed up. The bus route initially offered on the site was inaccurate, and a separate bus didn't pick up at the stop offered. There was no corroborating information at the bus stop, and after about a half-hour I just walked home and got in the car.

I believe I've remedied the situation and now see a way clear to using the proper transit system. But the arduousness of the task is the real point. At a time when gridlock is literally making Angelenos insane, and the reduction of just a tiny percentage of cars on the road would alleviate it, at a time when gas is so expensive that violence is breaking out as gas pumps and fuel thieves are resorting to siphoning gas out of engines, the structure of mass transit in the nation's second-largest city is a total embarrassment. I'm fortunate enough to be able to afford the high cost of gasoline and don't need to use public transit; furthermore, I am able to stagger my schedule and the commute is not even that taxing. But I want to ride clean, out of a sense of social responsibility and simple peace of mind. Somehow the entire Northeast corridor can be lined with all sorts of rail systems and we can't get a bus to stop every few blocks on a major artery serving multiple communities (Santa Monica, West LA, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Hollywood, Los Feliz). The city of Los Angeles actually has more density per mile than Portland, Oregon, which has an excellent public transit system. There's no ingenuity put into transit, or resources for that matter, and the overlapping jurisdictions of public officials just dissolve any policy prescription into a squabble among supervisors and city councilmen and the like. They don't even bother to update the signs; guess it's too costly.

On the other hand, there's a freeway in Marina del Rey that's 2 miles long. It's probably the most unused freeway in America. But it had a federal stamp of approval and was an accomplishment local pols could point to, so up it goes.

What character remains in L.A. is being crushed by endless parades of cars and the honking of horns. The society has become hyper-local out of necessity (and actually the best transit systems, like the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, serve a small, local area). But that could all change so easily, with a little personal responsibility and a bus that runs on time.

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Social Security Privatization Is Back - Thanks To McCain

There's no question that Barack Obama is going to meet some resistance among older voters. I see it in my own family. And if this race were strictly personality-driven, I would expect that resistance to continue. But considering the fact that John McCain believes completely in Social Security privatization and gambling on the stock market with our seniors' future, I can't imagine how this resistance will hold.

Sen. John McCain didn't get the memo about the Republican charade to pretend their Social Security plans shouldn't be called "privatization".

Last Thursday, at the Loeb First Amendment Award Dinner in New Hamphire (aired on C-Span's "Road To The White House '08"), there was this exchange with an audience member:

Q: Will privatizing Social Security be a priority for you going forward? [...]

McCAIN: ...Without privatization, I don't see how you can possibly, over time, make sure that young Americans are able to receive Social Security benefits.

That was back in 2004, before Democrats successfully beat back Bush's efforts. McCain's on the trail now saying he won't privatize the program, but he's calling for younger workers to invest in "personal accounts," which is exactly the same thing.

Barack Obama is all over St. Maverick today on this, and it's a winning position for any Democrat.

"He said he supports private accounts for Social Security - in his words, 'along the lines that President Bush proposed,'" Obama will say in Philadelphia, according to pre-released excerpts. "Yesterday he tried to deny that he ever took that position, leaving us wondering if he had a change of heart or a change of politics."

McCain's starting to have a pretty serious flip-flopper problem. He's tried to shift on private accounts, he's completely incoherent on illegal wiretapping, he's gone around the bend on the estate tax, and as Steve Benen has amply demonstrated, this is just part of an ever-expanding list.

McCain's core principles include endless military action and occupation. On other issues, he'll say whatever he can to get elected.

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Friday Random Ten

A little more on my morning in a moment. First, the phat traxxx:

Fools Gold - Stone Roses
Last Call - Kanye West
Girl/Boy Song - Aphex Twin
Prevenge - They Might Be Giants
I Like You - Morrissey
The Runner - Kings Of Leon
Beautiful Feeling - PJ Harvey
The New Workout Plan - Kanye West
Living In America - Black 47
Disappointed - Morrissey

Bonus Track: Scarecrow - Beck

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Dead End

That's how Nouri al-Maliki is characterizing talks with the United States on a security arrangement, anyway.

Iraq's prime minister said Friday that talks with the U.S. on proposals for a long-term security pact have reached an impasse over objections that Iraq's sovereignty is at stake, but held out hope that negotiators could still reach a compromise plan.

In his strongest comments yet on the debate, Nouri al-Maliki echoed concern by Iraqi lawmakers that the U.S. proposals would give Washington too much political and military leverage on Iraqi affairs.

"The first drafts presented left us at a dead end and deadlock," he told reporters in Amman, Jordan. "So, we left these first drafts and the negotiations will continue with new ideas until the sides reach a formula that preserves Iraq's sovereignty."

According to Patrick Cockburn, US negotiators have come back with some new compromises, including less permanent bases (I'm sorry, permanently rented bases). But if opposition like this from Sistani continues, there isn't going to be any deal.

An aide to Iraq's pre-eminent Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged negotiators to protect the national interest during a Friday sermon in the holy city of Karbala.

"Iraq's sovereignty and economy must be protected," Ahmed al-Safi told worshippers. "The Iraqi negotiators must be up to the responsibility and should have a unified point of view."

The neocons are trying to project power across the region by planting a flag in the heart of the Middle East. Whether it's for economic reasons or just to dominate, it's an aggressive move.

Maliki is in an impossible spot. His countrymen are wary of the proposal, yet his personal security and his grip on power is being secured by the US military. His decision may ultimately chart the way forward in Iraq.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Military Declares War On Obama, VoteVets

The close relationship between top officials in various branches of the military and Veterans Administration has been disturbing for some time now. If two unrelated events today are any indication, they're about to reach the breaking point.

First off, the Army's public affairs unit is broadcasting pathetic Obama smears from milbloggers, contravening direct orders from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stay out of partisan politics:

The Army's public affairs office publishes a daily roundup of Army-related news called "Stand To" -- named for the set of procedures combat units do just prior to dawn, when they go to full alert for a possible enemy attack. The daily wrapup contains links to mainstream media articles, Army press releases, foreign media stories and blogs. It's similar to the Defense Department's Early Bird -- but much briefer, and obviously more focused on the Army.

Tuesday's edition contained an entry under "WHAT'S BEING SAID IN BLOGS" that struck me as unusual -- both for its headline and its patent political bias:

Obama: World peace thru surrender (KDIHH)

This is coming from a military address, and they're broadcasting partisan political statements. It's the digital equivalent of showing up to a partisan event in full uniform, as far as I'm concerned.

This appears like yet another example of the unusually cozy relationship which has developed over the last generation or so between the military and the right wing of American politics -- an unhealthy development, to say the least.

Last time I checked, soldiers and civilian officials didn't swear an oath to either political party or to their current president. Rather, they swear their fidelity to the Constitution, and the ideals it embodies, including the subordination of the military to civil authority. Adm. Mullen is right: As we enter a contentious election year, where issues of national security are likely to dominate the debate, the military needs to stay on the sidelines.

But they are not staying on the sidelines, and the next example shows that their partisanship is having real-life consequences, more concerned with making a political point than saving a veteran's life.

The VA rejected an Afghanistan veteran's disability claim for PTSD last month, citing his membership in as a reason for the denial.

Staff Sergeant Will King retired from the Army in late 2003, after serving in both the first Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan. As one of the first troops into the Afghan theater after 9/11, Will had been awarded a Bronze Star after participating in fierce fighting in the Shah-e-Kot Valley in March 2002 [...]

As the months turned to years after his retirement, however, Will started having problems as the Iraq War dragged on. Depressed and unable to sleep, he thought it might be PTSD. Because, as those who study PTSD know, this is perfectly normal: The symptoms of PTSD frequently have a delayed onset that can take months or years to fully materialize. That's why, in April 2007, Will filed a claim with the VA for combat-related PTSD. The VA eventually agreed with Will and diagnosed him with mild PTSD. But Will felt like his condition was worse than that. And to boot, he thought it was getting worse. So Will appealed, and filed another disability claim with the VA in November 2007: He felt his symptoms were serious enough to warrant an increase in his disability rating from "mild" to "moderate."*

Unfortunately for Will, the VA denied his claim six months later, in May 2008. And while I won't challenge the VA's ultimate decision (I'm not a doctor), I find it repulsive that they cited Will's membership in as a reason to deny his claim [...]

Faced with the fact that Will was unemployed, occasionally suicidal, and failing out of school, the VA had to come up with a reason to deny Will's claim that his PTSD was worthy of a higher disability rating. To do that, they minimized (his) "troubles." Then, they brought up his membership in

"you are currently involved with"

"you are currently involved with a veteran's advocacy group and have traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with and lobby members of Congress on behalf of this organization"

The VA then used his membership with to tell Will:

"you are actively involved and able to control and manage your symptoms sufficiently to engage in activities required by your involvement."

This soldier is not even a high-profile member of VoteVets, just someone who spent 2 days with them in Washington several months ago. I don't know what's more troubling - that the VA KNOWS who shows up to political rallies (must be that new panopticon they've been testing), or that they're willing to use participation in an organization as the reason for denying care to the sick. We send these soldiers off to war to supposedly defend Constitutional freedoms, and then when the soldier upon returning home tries to exercise one, namely the freedom of speech, he is denied treatment.

The mission creep of multiple branches of the military from a nonpartisan force which carries out orders to a partisan arm of the Republican National Committee endangers democracy. It has no place in the culture or organization of the military, and it must be denounced whenever it rouses itself. This is completely outrageous.

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99 Percent of the Ground Versus 1 Percent

Even Republican operatives in North Carolina has figured out that the same old name-calling and unrestrained anger at the godless libruls just won't work in a time when failed conservative policies are so very apparent.

When U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., dismissed his Democratic opponent last month as "Nancy Pelosi's chosen recruit" who had "pockets stuffed with cash from Washington liberals," one of the loudest groans came from a fellow North Carolina Republican.

“This shouting Liberal! Liberal! Liberal! stuff is not going to work this year,” Lee Teague, the GOP chairman in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, e-mailed a reporter.

“McHenry and a lot of other Republicans in Washington need to get a clue,” he added later.

It won't work because conservatism has moved to such a dark and radical corner of the political map that they've ceded all the territory to the Democrats. Unless you believe in endless war, no taxes for the obscenely wealthy and the denial of Constitutional values, you're a liberal. Which is why the name ID among the electorate is so, well, liberal.

This is an opportunity and also a problem. In a fine post Chris Bowers lays out what we're fighting for with a new President and a Congress committed to change. The list is far more ideologically narrow than you'd expect.

H.R. 1591, U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007. Withdrawing between 100,000 to 120,000 of the 160,000 American military troops in Iraq.

Webb amendment to HR 1585: To specify minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Employee Free Choice Act of 2007. Making it easier to join a union.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Another worker's right's bill.

District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act : A bill to provide the District of Columbia a voting seat and the State of Utah an additional seat in the House of Representatives.

Rush Holt's verified voting bill. A verified paper trail for every vote cast in America.

Specter amendment to HR 1585: To restore habeas corpus for those detained by the United States.

H.R. 976, Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007. Expanding children's health care.

Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act : A bill to amend part D of title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for fair prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.

Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007. Increasing stem cell research.

Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act. Increased investment in renewable energy.

Harkin amendment to the Farm Bill. Not sure what this is, but it probably will pass when we get six more votes in the Senate.

Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. A centrist global warming bill that doesn't do much to stop global warming, from what I have heard.

Some of these are great, but for the most part it's a set of moderate goals. This would remove some but not all troops from Iraq; would expand health care and drug access but not overhaul a broken system; would take action on the climate but not in the way that's desperately needed; would establish a paper trail without a paper ballot. Restoring habeas, allowing equal representation in DC, getting increased union membership, and increasing stem cell research funding are great, and we ought to do them, but this is a pretty lukewarm set of proposals. Now, Dean Baker is right - Obama has to tread lightly on the economy to get elected, and that's understandable. The proof will come with what he does with a melange of progressive and centrist advice. However, even getting a tepid stew of center-left proposals is so far removed from what John McCain is offering, I can't yet get that worked up about it. After the election is another idea. But the disparity here is so great. Look at this chart of the differences between Obama and McCain's tax proposals:

Under John W. McCain, you're looking at massive tax cuts for the rich and a completely regressive tax structure. The rest of his ideas fall along the same ideological lines.

If we're fortunate enough to win this election, we will certainly have those battles on making the wave of centrist legislation that does pass as progressive as possible. Our work will have just begun, not ended. But the comparative study just shows there's no contest right now.

UPDATE: I recognize that it's hard to run on tax disparity since there are so many Republican hacks out there willing to lie about it. So let me make my argument with a more blunt instrument.

RUSSERT: The fact is you are different than George Bush.

SEN. McCAIN: No. No. I-the fact is that I'm different but the fact is that I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed. And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush.

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Also, Chris Dodd Is Considering Suspending His Preisdential Bid

Back when I was producing, I did an interview with Steve Grogan, formerly of the New England Patriots, and the talk turned to the 1986 Super Bowl, when Chicago crushed the Pats 46-10. He recounted a story about Raymond Berry, the deadpan coach of the Patriots. The last two points of the Super Bowl came on a safety, when Henry Waechter sacked Grogan in the end zone. Grogan came off the field and approached Berry, saying "If you want me to keep throwing the ball, Coach, I'll do it, just tell me the game plan."

"No," said Berry, "just run out the clock. I think that last safety clinched it."

Grogan stared at him for a second in a bit of disbelief, then noticed Berry cracking a knowing smile.

That's what I thought of when I read the story that Ron Paul has decided to end his Presidential campaign. I guess those last 45 primaries clinched it.

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The Organization Gap

The difference between the way the Obama campaign and the McCain campaign is approaching the general election couldn't be more stark, and for once, we have the professional operation.

Obama is locking down cooperation with the DNC, moving its operations to Chicago, and involving itself in coordination with the state parties, ensuring a very smooth and cohesive message in the general election as opposed to having everybody fight with one another, the way it was in 2004:

You may recall that the DNC chair in 2004 was one Terry McAuliffe, and in his book, McAuliffe wrote about the back-stage infighting between the DNC and Kerry camps. McAuliffe said that Kerry's aides had wanted to oust him; that relations were chilly throughout the campaign; and that the Kerry camp muzzled him when he wanted to assail George W. Bush's military record.

By contrast, upon securing the nomination, Obama very quickly put out a statement showering praise on Howard Dean; is now moving to put staff in all 50-states, in concert with Dean's approach; and is quite literally moving swaths of the DNC to Chicago to create a unified organization with the sort of party-wide message discipline that has eluded Dems in the past.

This is streamlined, cost-efficient and offers massive potential for a cross-platform message, with the grassroots and the top-level campaign on the same page.

And then there's McCain's operation. Gerson's op-ed has the usual conservative crap, but I almost can't believe this part.

The style and approach of general election campaigns are often conditioned by the method of victory in the primaries. The Obama team ends the season like a battle-worn Army division -- organized, relentless and skilled at fundraising, registering voters and getting them to the polls. Members of the McCain team feel more like survivors of a near-death experience -- convinced that the virtues of their candidate and the blessings of the political gods matter more than the money, phone banks and door-knocking of traditional politics.

This worries some Republican strategists. One recently described the McCain campaign to me as the political equivalent of a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movie: Every morning a few guys get together and say, "Let's put on a show!" McCain's state campaign organizations, coalition outreach and get-out-the-vote efforts are weak or nonexistent. But McCain campaign officials are convinced that they will win -- if they win -- in a different manner from that of the methodical Bush campaigns of 2000 and 2004. McCain will either catch fire, or he won't -- and traditional efforts to boost turnout, in this view, are not likely to make the difference. Given its history, the McCain campaign is understandably proud of its stripped-down, seat-of-the-pants, insurgent style. But it may eventually be useful to have a serious campaign organization in, say, Colorado.

He literally has no national campaign apparatus. It's the ultimate in arrogance, a reflection of the man who is dismissive of his opponent as unable to step on the same stage as him. He really thinks his personality and war service will just set everyone running toward him, without having to work at it whatsoever. His predecessor at least had the sense to get out of the way and let Karl Rove run the campaign operation. McCain is the C+ student who blows off the test and goes out to drink in the parking lot.

He's going to try and skate on his reputation and hope his BBQ-stained friends in the media get him into the White House. Organization is for sissies.

This guy's gonna get clobbered.

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The World's Worst Government

What's happening right now in Zimbabwe is heartbreaking, as the world watches a dream die in slow motion. The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested twice today, which is a recurrent pattern. His party is barred from holding political rallies weeks before Tsvangirai faces ruling party leader Robert Mugabe in an election. The #2 at the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been charged with treason and could face the death penalty.

Meanwhile, American food aid in the impoverished nation is being seized by the military.

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwean authorities confiscated a truck loaded with 20 tons of American food aid for poor schoolchildren and ordered that the wheat and pinto beans aboard be handed out to supporters of President Robert Mugabe at a political rally instead, the American ambassador said Wednesday.

“This government will stop at nothing, even starving the most defenseless people in the country — young children — to realize their political ambitions,” said the ambassador, James D. McGee, in an interview.

The government ordered all humanitarian aid groups to suspend their operations last week, charging that some of them were giving out food as bribes to win votes for the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, in a June 27 presidential runoff against Mr. Mugabe.

This is repugnant and I'd like to see just one American legislator speak out about this. John Kerry's wife is FROM Zimbabwe, for crying out loud. I don't know how the MDC deals with the helplessness of it all.

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Royalists Vote Down Food Money For The Poor


Yesterday the House came very close to passing a bill extending unemployment insurance for 13 weeks. Under suspended rules they needed a 2/3 majority to advance the bill, and they came up 9 votes short. They might as well have gone for the 2/3 vote right away, because Bush is likely to veto the bill.

Bush claims unemployment is not high enough and the economy not bad enough to justify extending UI for workers who can’t find new jobs. Yet the total number of long-term unemployed is higher than it was the last two times Congress enacted federal extension programs (October 1991 and February 2002). In addition, joblessness is growing. May saw the biggest one-month jump in the unemployment rate in more than 20 years.

Right now, some 1.55 million workers have used up their benefits without finding work and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates about 3.5 million unemployed workers will exhaust their benefits this year.

You can't come up with a more effective economic stimulus than extending benefits for long-term unemployed Americans who need it the most. That money gets directly injected back into the economy and makes far more sense than giving random $600 checks to everyone. It's targeting with a laser and not a cannonball.

The Democrats are going to try this one again. It's so mind-bendingly simple that there's probably no way that Bush comes to his senses and signs it.

UPDATE: This just passed the House under normal rules (meaning it needed just a majority vote). The count was 274-137. Yesterday was 279-144, so a handful of Republicans took a walk today. Roll call isn't up yet...

...My bad, 274-137 is exactly a 2/3 majority, so they got this through under suspension of the rules. The roll call is up, and sure enough, all CA Republicans voted against it again. Challengers, feel free to blast your opponents.

UPDATE II: Watch Charlie Rangel open up a can of whoop-ass on David Dreier.

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Party Like It's 2001

Where'd all this anti-China rhetoric on the far right come from all of a sudden? First a couple of GoOPers claim that their computers were hacked by the Chinese, and now Fourthbranch Cheney is working everyone up with claims that the Chinese are drilling oil off the Cuban coast - which is not true.

To gin up support for off-shore drilling, the Right has an ace up its rhetorical sleeve: the Chinese in Cuba. Here's Vice President Cheney.

"[O]il is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. We're not doing it. The Chinese are in cooperation with the Cuban government... Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply. Yet Congress has said... no to drilling off Florida.''

"Even the communists" is a nice flourish. Mix the red scare with the yellow scare and get Uncle Dick's own Orange Scare. Guaranteed to freak out Americans concerned about their energy security [...]

Problem is, that's all false. Like, completely false. China is not currently drilling off the shores of Cuba; in fact, it doesn't even have a off shore drilling contract. What is does have is a permit to drill on Cuban land. "China is not drilling in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters, period,'' Jorge Piñon, an energy expert at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, told the Miami Herald. In fact, it is not yet drilling on Cuban land, either.

Even former RNC Chair Mel Martinez shot back against this particular rumor.

Yet no one can prove that the Chinese are drilling anywhere off Cuba's shoreline. The China-Cuba connection is "akin to urban legend," said Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida who opposes drilling off the coast of his state but who backs exploration in ANWR.

This is what's known as a "zombie lie." Now that's it's out in the ether, Republicans will assert it over and over again without proof, to both prove that more drilling and exploration is needed and to stoke xenophobic fears about the Chinese. When George Bush was coming into office the PNAC crowd began a deliberate search for a new enemy, and until 9/11 China was seen as the consensus choice.

That's what this is about. Republicans have to have a foreign enemy to channel their energies. I guess the Iranians and Al Qaeda aren't that special anymore.

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The End Of Guantanamo, The Beginning Of Justice

The whole point of the Guantanamo prison was to create a space not on US soil that the Administration could make the case was not subject to the auspices of US law. As emptywheel notes, that is now inoperative. The SCOTUS ruling stating that prisoners at Gitmo have habeas rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention eliminates any need for the Guantanamo prison.

The deciding issues for Gitmo are that the US has control over the territory of the Gitmo base, as well as complete control of the detainees. The ruling, Gutierrez said, left open that Habeas would apply to detainees held elsewhere, but does not do that explicitly. The CCR attorneys on the call did say that the ruling prevented the government from creating "law-free zones" in which they rule, but without the rule of law.

There's still a lot that's up in the air, like where these habeas hearings would be heard and how the government will react (maybe by starting massive usage of military commissions to charge prisoners), but the ruling on Guantanamo is clear. It's unnnecessary.

Sadly, that revelation comes too late for most of those held there.

Over two-thirds of the detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison are suffering from or at risk of mental problems because they are kept isolated in small cells with little light or fresh air, according to Human Rights Watch.

In a report entitled "Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo," the group says 185 of the 270 detainees at the U.S. military prison for terrorism suspects are housed in facilities similar to "supermax" prisons.

They spend 22 hours alone in cramped cells, have very limited contact with other human beings and are given little more than the Koran to occupy themselves, said the report, which is based interviews with government officials and attorneys.

Detainees held in this manner include many that have not been charged with crimes and have already been cleared for release or transfer, according to the report.

There's also a report out today of an inmate at Guantanamo being tortured with a knife.

The U.S. government has photographic evidence that a Guantanamo Bay inmate was tortured with a knife after being taken to Morocco by U.S. forces, a British human rights group said Tuesday.

Reprieve said their client, Binyam Mohamed, had his genitals slashed repeatedly with a doctor's scalpel while in custody in Morocco after he was flown there from Pakistan by American officials in 2002. It also said his U.S. captors later took pictures of the abuse to show authorities that his wounds were healing.

It's really not enough to mount a campaign to end future practice of torture in the next Administration, although that is of course important. There needs to be continued investigations into how this started and who was responsible, and those responsible absolutely must be brought to justice. John Ashcroft, John Yoo, William Haynes, David Addington and Doug Feith all will be sitting before Congressional committees in the next few weeks. Whether it's through the appointment of a special counsel in an Obama Administration, or tracking down anyone involved with authorizing torture when they go abroad and can be charged under international war crimes statutes, justice must out. A truth and reconciliation commission is the best method, but whatever the case, those who betrayed American values and shamed themselves through their actions cannot be allowed to drift free, only to crop up in some successive Republican Administration. As Richard Clarke put it:

I just don't think we can let these people back into polite society and give them jobs on university boards and corporate boards and just let - - pretend that nothing ever happened when there are 4,000 American dead and 25,000 Americans grievously wounded. And they will carry those wounds and suffer all the rest of their lives.

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The Vise-Grip Made Manifest

For all the talk of the two or three Democrats in the House who have refused to endorse Obama, has anyone taken notice of the couple dozen Congressional Republicans who haven't backed McCain? The Hill has:

Republican members who have not endorsed or publicly backed McCain include Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Reps. Jones, Peterson, John Doolittle (Calif.), Randy Forbes (Va.), Wayne Gilchrest (Md.), Virgil Goode (Va.), Tim Murphy (Pa.), Ron Paul (Texas), Ted Poe (Texas), Todd Tiahrt (Kan.), Dave Weldon (Fla.) and Frank Wolf (Va.). [Wolf contacted The Hill following publication of the article to correct his staff’s error. His staff had said he has “yet to endorse McCain” and did not return follow-up phone calls this week].

Throughout his career in the House and Senate, McCain has been at odds with his party on a range of issues, including campaign finance reform, earmarks, immigration, healthcare, taxes and energy.

Some Senate Republicans were especially irked with McCain’s role in the “Gang of 14” deal on judicial nominations.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who has been sharply critical of McCain on immigration, told The Hill in February, “I don’t like McCain. I don’t like him at all.”

What's amusing here is that McCain is getting the cold shoulder from both Republican moderates AND the hard right, which is a powerful indicator of his vise-like problem courting both factions at once. That's why his policy prescriptions often sound incoherent, such as his calling for increases and decreases in military spending at the same time. He's trying to play both sides at once, and it's just alienating everybody.

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Fighting Smears

Because the fundamentals are so impossible for Republicans to overcome this year, and because John McCain doesn't put a thrill in anybody's heart, the only hope for his campaign is to make the election relentlessly and unceasingly negative. He basically signaled as much today.

GOP presidential contender John McCain says he can't control every attack ad aimed at Democrat Barack Obama and fully expects he'll face a similar barrage, sounding the bell for a raucous general election brawl.

"I can't be a referee of every spot run on television," McCain told the Herald in an exclusive interview. "I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, but we all know there are groups who want to attack me."

The Arizona senator's hands-off posture on attack ads by now-infamous tax-free and unaccountable political groups called 527s marks a softening of his view on the negative campaign tactic -- and opens the door to a no-holds-barred five-month scramble.

He's just throwing up his hands. There's nothing that the leader of the GOP can do, you see. It's just very saddening to him. Tsk-tsk-tsk.

Almost immediately, we've had another foray into the low road, with Fox News labeling Michelle Obama as "Obama's Baby Mama" (which is basically a ghetto term for unwed mother). By November, an attack like that is going to look like patty-cakes.

The Obama campaign is finally coming around to notice that this is a major problem, and not from the Fox Newses of the world, necessarily, but from the under-the-radar attacks that bubble up from blog comments and forwarded emails. They've inaugurated Fight The Smears, a website similar in tone to Hillary Clinton's "Fact Hub," which is designed to debunk false information that lurks throughout the Internet. The best part of it are the tools to allow users to forward the truth on to friends and neighbors through email or social media. We've already got one smear knocked down today, and I don't know if Obama's website contributed to this or not, but it makes a mockery of the whole "Obama's not a real American, show us the birth certificate!" trash that's been floating out there. Turns out he was born in Honolulu, and his name is indeed Barack Hussein Obama (why would any politician in this day and age change it to THAT), just as has been publicly known for his entire career.

This is going to be an effort for every progressive right on up to the election. It's going to be exhausting but those are the rules of the game.

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SCOTUS Throws A Life Preserver To The Rule Of Law

I gotta say, I didn't expect this to happen:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

The justices handed the Bush administration its third setback at the high court since 2004 over its treatment of prisoners who are being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The vote was 5-4, with the court's liberal justices in the majority.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

If it weren't for Anthony Kennedy or any of the more liberal justices, of course, that would no longer be true. Which is yet another reason why this election is so vital. Check out this quote from the Chief Justice. It reads like a comment at RedState:

In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts criticized his colleagues for striking down what he called "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants."

This action that has now been ruled invalid, the decision that Guantanamo detainees had no legal rights under the Constitution or Geneva, was the original sin that led to all the other abuses. And it won't surprise anyone to learn that it was "the stupidest fucking guy on the planet" Doug Feith's idea. In his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, which is excerpted in this much-discussed Vanity Fair article, Philippe Sands talks to Feith, who's proud of his achievement of getting the Administration to agree that detainees had no rights:

He was keen to talk about his role as the architect of President Bush's decision of February 7, 2002. He didn't buy the argument that the decision had the effect of casting the detainees into a great legal black hole. On the contrary, the President's decision was actually a strike for the Geneva Conventions and for international law. "This was something I played a major role in," he said with pride [...]

In late January 2002 Feith and (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard) Myers went to meet Rumsfeld to talk about Geneva. Before they got to Rumsfeld's office, Myers turned to him. With fire in his eyes he said: "We have to support the Geneva Conventions... if Rumsfeld doesn't go along with this, I'm going to contradict them in front of the President." Feith was amazed. It was an unusually tough statement, and the reference to the Secretary as "Rumsfeld" was uncharacteristic. As they approached Rumsfeld's office he was at the door, not wanting to let them into the room as he had other matters to attend to. Myers was grilled by Rumsfeld, who asked questions but didn't adopt any position. Rumsfeld was "more of a lawyer than most lawyers when it comes to precision and question," a stickler for the law who constantly invoked the Constitution and statutes, Feith reported.

As Rumsfeld fired his bullets at Myers, Feith described how he jumped protectively in front of Myers. He paused and looked me straight in the eye. "I gave a little speech - I remember - I don't often remember what I said in meetings - but this I remembered. This was an interesting moment." This was how he put it.

"There is no country in the world that has a larger interest in promoting the respect for the Geneva Conventions as law than the United States, and there is no institution in the US government that has a stronger interest than the Prentagon." And then I said something else that was kind of interesting to them. "Obeying the Geneva Conventions is not optional. The U.S. Constitution says there are two things that are the supreme law of the land - statutes and treaties." He said, "Yeah." And I said, "The Geneva Conventions are a treaty in force. It is as much part of the supreme law of the United States as a statute." [...]

I was impressed, but how had they gone from that discussion to the decision that none of the detainees had any rights under the rules reflected in Geneva? Feith seemed surprised by my question and went on to explain [...] In his view, Geneva didn't apply to Al Qaeda fighters, because they weren't part of a state and so couldn't claim rights under a treaty that was only binding on states. Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva's own terms Taliban fighters weren't entitled to POW status because they hadn't worn uniforms or insignia [...] He referred again to the incentive system that was built into the Geneva Conventions, providing the greatest protection to non-combatants and the least protection to "fighters who don't obey the rules." "If we promiscuously hand out POW status to fighters who don't obey the rules," Feith offered, "you are undermining the incentive system that was wisely built into the Geneva Conventions." This was at least arguable, I thought. But what should have been left was the safety net provided by Common Article 3, including the prohibition on abusive interrogation. But that too went: none of the detainees could rely on Common Article 3 since its provision only applied to "armed conflicts onot of an international charter."

This was the legal argument that the SCOTUS rejected today. It's simple to do, since Common Article 3 was backed up by customary law, every judgment of international courts and tribunals, and the official commentary to Geneva. Feith spun this as a protection of Geneva, when it in fact was a destruction.

Because Feith's argument rested on defending Geneva, the senior officers were confused with the ruling, and more so the soliders carrying out the dictates. As Sands says in the book, "with confusion comes uncertainty, and with uncertainty comes a greater likelihood of abuse." And this original sin created intentional confusion. If the detainees had no legal rights, there was no restriction on doing whatever necessary in interrogation to extract intelligence.

Sands, by the way, appeared on Capitol Hill this week to discuss his findings in the book, but Republicans attempted to use a rare objection to unanimous consent to force the Senate into recess and shut down the hearing. They didn't even want these words to come out. Unfortunately for them, they couldn't shut down the court.

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The Civil War Acceleration Program

Oh goody, let's pay and arm more Iraqis with sectarian viewpoints and little interest in reconciliation.

Young men armed and paid by the U.S. military took to the streets of the Iraqi capital's Sadr City area for the first time Wednesday to guard their neighborhoods, part of a new strategy designed to recruit former Shiite militiamen to American-created security groups, U.S. officials said [...]

Toting AK-47 assault rifles for a $300-a-month salary, the young men are viewed by U.S. officials as the best way to address a dearth of security forces in Sadr City, the site of bitter clashes this spring between U.S. forces and militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The officials hope the initiative will lead some militia supporters away from violence by paying them to protect the area.

But even officers helping to create the program acknowledge there is risk in supplying weapons to men who may have recently encouraged violence against U.S. troops. "Are these guys all going to be lily-white angels? No," said Maj. Byron Sarchet, information operations officer for the brigade responsible for Sadr City. "We need to tread lightly."

There's something unsettling about an armed Shiite, likely to be a Mahdi Army sympathizer or even a member, maintaining order through the barrel of a gun saying "We are here to protect our neighborhood and make sure the militias don't take control." Uh, that would be the DEFINITION of a militia member. And setting this up so that young unemployed Shiites have loyalty only to their paycheck portends disaster. It also is another way in which Bush is trying to force a permanent presence in Iraq. If we stop paying these patrols, chaos will ensue. So we must stay, and keep paying.

Here's a taste of how this could blow up in our faces:

Not all Iraqis agree. Lt. Col. Yehiye Rasul Abdullah, commander of the Iraqi army battalion in Jamila, recoiled at the idea of working with supporters of Mahdi Army fighters who killed his soldiers.

"Those who have contributed to the spilling of Iraqi blood, we will never accept them," he said after coming to check on the guards.

So when the Iraqis do send the US military packing, what is going to become of all these heavily armed foes of the government and the government security forces who hold them in contempt?

It's like we're shaking up a bunch of soda bottles and just waiting for them to explode.

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No Sympathy For The...

Digby called W. a bad boyfriend for firing Karl Rove in the middle of a church so he couldn't make a scene. It's just awful hard for me to work up any sadness for ol' Turdblossom, especially after I read this. While you read this, try to remember that hundreds of people in New Orleans were dying at the time.

If Bush had not seen what was taking place by Tuesday, Karl Rove had. The first evidence of Rove's involvement in the Katrina disaster occurred on Tuesday afternoon. "Rove understood what a nightmare this was for the president," Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana says, "so he went into high gear on the spin thing they're so good at in the White House. Rove had David Vitter, the Republican senator from Louisiana. I was at a press conference and David Vitter walked up to the mike and said, 'I just got off the phone with Karl Rove.' I looked at the governor and she looked at me, like, 'Why is David Vitter on the phone with Karl Rove?' I mean, he could have been talking to generals, the president himself, but Rove is just a political hatchet man."

Despite his expertise being politics, the administration had made Rove a central player in the handling of the disaster. "A light switch in the White House didn't get turned on without going through Rove," says Adam Sharp, an aide to Landrieu. "It was clear that Rove was the point person for the White House on this disaster." [...]

Instead of supplying relief to the city, Rove had devised a scheme whereby he could blame the failure of government to take action on someone besides Bush. "They looked around," Landrieu says, "and they found a Democratic governor and an African American Democratic mayor who had never held office before in his life before he was mayor of New Orleans -- someone they knew they could manipulate. Ray Nagin had never held public office and here he was the mayor of New Orleans and it was going underwater."

In short, Rove was going to blame Blanco for the failure of the response in Louisiana, and to do that he was going to use Nagin. He had already set the plan in motion on Tuesday with Nagin, who, even though he was a Democrat, was so close to the Republican Party that some members of the African American community in New Orleans called him "Ray Reagan." In 2000, Nagin had actually contributed $2,000 to Bush's campaign when he ran for president.

Rove knew of Nagin's ties to the Republican Party, so more than likely Nagin could be convinced to level his criticism at Blanco and to support Bush when he could. Here was Rove's strategy: Praise Haley Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi; praise Michael Brown and FEMA; blame Blanco, the Democrat. It was not a stretch for Nagin. He and Blanco so disliked each other that in Blanco's last race Nagin had endorsed her opponent.

Americans drowning in the middle of a major city and Rove was concerned primarily with finding the right Democrat to blame.

Fired him in the church? He should have used the conveniently placed cross and some nails.

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What Future For Journalism?

There was an extremely disturbing editorial in yesterday's Washington Post by Harold Meyerson, who used to be the executive editor of the LA Weekly, and thus understands the journalism scene here in Southern California. What is being done to the flagship newspaper, the LA Times, by real estate magnate Sam Zell, is nothing short of a dismantling of the biggest print outlet in the state and one of the biggest in the country. Zell was not the only owner willing to buy the Times last year; in fact, Eli Broad and Ron Burkle wanted to purchase it, spin it off from the Tribune Company, and return local ownership to the Southland. Instead, the Chicagoan Zell made the deal, and he's taking apart the newspaper bit by bit. It's a familiar story we've seen as the print journalism industry struggles through a disruptive time, and its top managers are responding in all the wrong ways.

During his first year in journalism, Zell has visited the city rooms and Washington bureaus of a number of Trib publications to deliver obscenity-laced warnings and threats to employees that whatever it was they were doing, it wasn't working. There was too much coverage of world and national affairs, he told Times writers and editors; readers don't want that stuff. Last week, the company decreed that its 12 papers would have to cut by 500 the number of pages they devoted every week to news, features and editorials, until the ratio of pages devoted to copy and pages devoted to advertising was a nice, even 1 to 1. At the Times, that would mean eliminating 82 pages a week.

As the company prepares to shed more reporters, it has measured writers' performances by the number of column inches of stories they ground out. It found, said one Zell executive, that the level of pages per reporter at one of Zell's smaller papers, the Hartford Courant (about 300), greatly exceeded that at the Times (about 50). As one of the handful of major national papers, however, the Times employs the kind of investigative and expert beat reporters not found at most smaller papers. I could name a number of Times writers who labored for months on stories that went on to win Pulitzers and other prizes, and whose column-inch production, accordingly, was relatively light. Doing so, I fear, would only put their necks on Zell's chopping block. So let me instead note that if The Post's Dana Priest and Anne Hull, who spent months uncovering the scandalous conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and whose reporting not only won a Pulitzer but caused a shake-up in the Army's treatment of wounded veterans, had been subjected to the Zellometer productivity index, they'd be prime candidates for termination.

Which is precisely, unfortunately, what's been happening at the Times. Voluntarily or not, large numbers of highly talented editors and reporters have left. The editorial staff is about two-thirds its size in the late 1990s, with further deep cuts in the offing. A paper that is both an axiom and an ornament of Los Angeles life, that helps set the political, business and artistic agenda for one of America's two great world metropolises, is being shrunk and, if Zell continues to get his way, dumbed down.

This is really hideous, and ultimately this will reduce even further the level of coverage on our state and its politics at this crucial juncture, in the midst of a housing crisis, a widening budget gap, and soaring energy prices. There are numerous problems here - bringing a businessman unused to the rigors of journalism in to run a newspaper, the effective elimination of the concept of the public interest, the commercialization of that which informs a citizenry, and all the rest. Conglomerates which control what news is disseminated and how it is presented not only interfere with the truth (really, read that Ruth Rosen article about her time on SF Chronicle editorial board in the run-up to war), but they have little ability to even manage the situation by their own narrow standards and turn a profit. Again and again we see major cuts to newsroom staffs, reductions in space for news, shrinking column inches, and the only result is that readers are turned off to the product and they drop their subscriptions.

We in the blogosphere slam the news media early and often, but we actually can't do what we do without them. And the electorate can't make the decisions in their political and personal lives that lead to progress when their sources of information are being chopped one column inch at a time. Sam Zell is a cancer on the body politic.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Meet The Devious, Corrupt, Scheming Face Of Voter Fraud

Meet The Devious, Corrupt, Scheming Face Of Voter Fraud

by dday

It's a 97 year-old woman who has voted in every election since 1932.

Whew! Did we ever dodge a bullet forcing this lady to admit she didn't have a birth certificate. Fraudster! Sure, she claims they weren't issued in Kentucky in 1910 where she was born, as if we can believe a known cheat.

Her and the other 40,000 whose voter registration cards have been rejected in Arizona can just sit on the sidelines while the real Americans vote this November. Our democracy is on the verge of collapse from this terrible scourge of voter fraud. I mean, nobody can find any instances of it, but that's why it's so dangerous!

If we let all the 97 year-olds vote for President, the terrorists will have already won.

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Outside Groups Give Good Video

I don't think we have to worry about a dearth of creativity and passion from pro-Democratic groups this cycle. Here's a sample.

First: Brave New Films reveals the truth about John McCain's views on women's health issues.

Next, MoveOn employs John Cusack to spell out the differences (or lack thereof) between McCain and George Bush.

And finally, my favorite of the lot, no explanation necessary.

In addition to all the other advantages, there's a serious creativity gap between the two parties, and in this, the second YouTube election, that's going to be significant.

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The McCain-Bush-Cheney Agenda

The media has made much of John McCain's problems with evangelicals and hard-core conservatives. That's true - they are depressed. But McCain's biggest problem is that any attempt to reassure them will rebound with an immediate loss of support among moderates and independents.

Well, here's the death blow. John McCain is on the record loving himself some George Bush and Dick Cheney.

On Bush, from Meet the Press in 2005:

MR. RUSSERT: You have a 59 percent approval with Democrats; 59 with Independents; and just 56 with Republicans. And what people point to--and this is an article in your hometown paper, the Arizona Republic, "At Odds With Bush. John McCain repeatedly has taken maverick positions that have put him at odds with President Bush's administration, and rankled his party's right wing. Among McCain's stances that differ from those of Bush: tax cuts...War...Domestic spending...Campaign-finance reform...Medicare...Drug importation...Stem-cell research...Environment...Patients' rights...Judicial appointments...2004 campaign," and particularly the rhetoric about John Kerry. The fact is you are different than George Bush.

SEN. McCAIN: No. No. I--the fact is that I'm different but the fact is that I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed. And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush. So have we had some disagreements on some issues, the bulk--particularly domestic issues? Yes. But I will argue my conservative record voting with anyone's, and I will also submit that my support for President Bush has been active and very impassioned on issues that are important to the American people. And I'm particularly talking about the war on terror, the war in Iraq, national security, national defense, support of men and women in the military, fiscal discipline, a number of other issues. So I strongly disagree with any assertion that I've been more at odds with the president of the United States than I have been in agreement with him.

On Cheney, from his biographer Stephen Hayes:

In an interview he gave to the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes in 2006 for Hayes’ biography, “Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President,” McCain said: “I will strongly assert to you that he has been of enormous help to this president of the United States.”

Going further, McCain even told Hayes in comments heretofore unpublished that he’d consider Cheney for an administration post.

Asked whether he’d be interested in Cheney had the vice president not already have served under Bush for two terms, McCain said: “I don’t know if I would want him as vice president. He and I have the same strengths. But to serve in other capacities? Hell, yeah.”

The video of the MTP quote shouldn't be too hard to find. The text of the Cheney quote is even more striking - McCain would use Fourthbranch in his Administration in any number of capacities. Would he be running energy policy? Would he use him and David Addington as Constitutional consultants? Would he give him a mask and let him run some interrogations?

Whatever the case, McCain can be sunk by his own words. He has lashed himself to the Bush-Cheney legacy and it's time to tie those bonds in double knots.

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We Can't Wait for Energy Solutions

The Senate GOP's deep-sixing of two bills designed to slap a windfall profits tax on oil companies and restore tax credits for renewable energy production and conservation is par for the obstructionist course. But as a human being who would like to see life sustained on this planet, I really find it unforgivable. We have two oilmen running the executive branch, and so change on energy issues will probably have to wait until they leave, but the time is extremely short. Thirteen major science academies explain what needs to be done.

On climate, the academies urged the world, led by industrialized countries, to undertake a “transition to a low-carbon society” and also aggressively move to limit impacts from changes in climate that are already under way and impossible to stop. Among other steps, the academies recommended that countries move more aggressively to speed the adoption of new energy technologies and encourage changes in behavior that curb energy appetites and greenhouse-gas emissions. Their menu of recommendations included investing more to improve solar and nuclear energy technologies.

They also recommended prompt investment in projects aimed at capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide from power plants on a large scale — something that many energy experts say has to happen because coal will continue being used as a fuel for decades.

The statements were written by the scientific academies of Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and the United States.

This is not part of a set of options, this is what needs to happen starting tomorrow. We're already seeing the effects of increased temperatures and radical climate change. In my home state of California we're in the midst of a drought affecting over 30 million people. You can argue about what strategies are successful or irrelevant given today's technology, but the truth is that all of them must be attempted simultaneously if we're going to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Yet instead of investing immediately in a new energy future and encouraging lifestyle choices that reduce carbon emissions, we nickel and dime renewable energy companies so they cannot function. We clear-cut the Amazon rainforest, known as the world's lungs because of all the carbon dioxide sucked up in the flora. We build more suburbs based on a model of cheap gas instead of moving directly to smarter, denser development strategies. We cannot wait around and be happy that the next President will pay more attention to this issue than George Bush. It's simply too big and too urgent.

Following Senator John McCain's May 12 speech on global warming, many hastily praised the Republican presidential candidate for breaking ranks with President Bush and his own party's orthodoxy by calling for mandatory greenhouse gas reductions. But we should not be so quick to give McCain kudos. While McCain represents an improvement over eight long years of denial and inaction by the Bush administration, being better than the current president is not good enough. In fact, McCain's record and recent proposals raise real questions about his commitment to the bold measures we need to combat global warming [...]

The world's leading climate scientists are absolutely clear climate change is real and the time for action is now. Barack Obama has made bold and comprehensive proposals that will deliver the deep emission reductions scientists say are essential. Although McCain once introduced legislation, his current positions on energy, renewables and a cap and trade program are simply outdated; they have not kept pace with the times.

The obstructionism, the giveaways to lobbyists and special interests, the half-measures justified by "this is the best we can do...", all of this has convinced me that technology and a cultural shift - along with continued high gas prices - is the only way we're going to get out of this self-created mess. I just fear that it won't be soon enough.

UPDATE: Well this is completely unhelpful.

Ten Democratic senators echoed polluters in a letter sent to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) about her filibustered climate change legislation last Friday. The senators, nine of whom supported cloture to end debate and vote on amendments, wrote,

"We commend your leadership in attempting to address one of the most significant threats to this and future generations; however, we cannot support final passage of the Boxer Substitute in its final form." Their letter continues:

To that point we have laid out the following principles and concerns that must be considered and fully addressed in any final legislation.

The senators' letter uses practically the same talking points and specific policy demands as the industry polluters who fought to kill the legislation, in particular the industry lobbying groups American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Sen. Boxer's version of Lieberman-Warner attempted to satisfy these kinds of demands as well as progressive principles espoused by other senators. But the fossil industry and its advocates don't seek compromise — they want complete obeisance. Nine of these senators (Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was consistent in his opposition) want to have it both ways, casting a vote for cloture while undermining the bill by stating their opposition to it. This letter is really nothing more than an exercise in political cowardice. Senators Stabenow, Levin, Pryor, Lincoln, Bayh, Rockefeller, Jim Webb, McCaskill, and Ben Nelson should be ashamed.

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