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

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tax Cheats

Turns out that John and Cindy McCain are the same kind of irresponsible conservatives who are so unpatriotic they don't believe the country (and in this case, this state) is worth paying for.

When you're poor, it can be hard to pay the bills. When you're rich, it's hard to keep track of all the bills that need paying. It's a lesson Cindy McCain learned the hard way when NEWSWEEK raised questions about an overdue property-tax bill on a La Jolla, Calif., property owned by a trust that she oversees. Mrs. McCain is a beer heiress with an estimated $100 million fortune and, along with her husband, she owns at least seven properties, including condos in California and Arizona.

San Diego County officials, it turns out, have been sending out tax notices on the La Jolla property, an oceanfront condo, for four years without receiving a response. County records show the bills, which were mailed to a Phoenix address associated with Mrs. McCain's trust, were returned by the post office. According to a McCain campaign aide, who requested anonymity when discussing a private matter, an elderly aunt of Mrs. McCain's lives in the condo, and the bank that manages the trust has not been receiving tax bills on the property. Shortly after NEWSWEEK inquired about the matter, the McCain aide e-mailed a receipt dated Friday, June 27, confirming payment by the trust to San Diego County in the amount of $6,744.42. County officials say the trust still owes an additional $1,742 for this year, an amount that is overdue and will go into default July 1. Told of the outstanding $1,742, the aide said: "The trust has paid all bills shown owing as of today and will pay all other bills due."

Keep in mind, California Republicans want this type of tax-dodging for those who can most easily afford it to be the LAW. They think it's perfectly fine for wealthy yacht and private plane owners to avoid their taxes.

There's also the question of whether people, who are so ridiculously wealthy that they forget about properties where their relatives are living for four years, can be credibly seen to be at all in touch with the concerns of the average American.

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

Been a while since I did one of these. But this story on the Taliban regrouping in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan made me remember.

The Taliban has regrouped after its initial fall from power in Afghanistan and the pace of its attacks is likely to increase this year, according to a Pentagon report that offers a dim view of progress in the nearly seven-year-old war.

Noting that insurgent violence has climbed, the report said that despite U.S. and coalition efforts to capture and kill key leaders, the Taliban is likely to "maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008."

The Taliban, it said, has "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."

That's just awesome. And Iraq is the catalyst for this for a number of reasons - not only did we bug out when we had the chance to finish the Taliban and Al Qaeda off in the Tora Bora Mountains, but the sophistication of insurgency tactics inside the proving ground of Iraq has certainly migrated east. Suicide bombers were once very rare in Afghanistan and are now commonplace.

The Taliban has, in fact, started to move into the Pakistani city of Peshawar, leading military forces to finally combat them. When the Taliban sits in their mountain hideouts and plans attacks on Afghan targets, the Pakistanis do nothing. When they start to threaten their territory, suddenly it's a problem. I doubt there will be a lot of follow-through on this, though it's the first effort by the new Pakistani government to confront the Taliban instead of placating them.

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Great piece on Libertarian Presidential candidate Bob Barr, who's sick of the GOP Establishment and running on a platform of limited government. Barr has a built-in audience with the Ron Paul crowd, and if he taps into them he can cause a stir. I don't agree with him on a bunch of issues, but there are points of convergence on civil liberties, making us strange bedfellows. Bob Barr, of course, is strange bedfellows with the Bob Barr from Congress:

And some of its own members are asking how they ended up with Mr. Barr, who at the Libertarian Party convention in Denver last month squeaked by with the nomination only after six raucous rounds of votes.

“There certainly are still those,” Mr. Barr said, switching to the third person, “that may view Bob Barr as somewhat of a Johnny-come-lately.”

While libertarian philosophy generally bows to the rights of the individual — and against government intervention — Representative Barr voted for the USA Patriot Act; voted to authorize the war in Iraq in 2002; led the impeachment charge against President Bill Clinton in 1998; and introduced the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

So there's, you know, that. If Paul were running in this space, with his more consistent record, he'd get 5%. I don't know about Barr.

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Obama Moves To The Left

The news media has appeared to catch up with Obama's lurch to the right. There are process stories in the WaPo and the LAT, and on the second page, we get the dreaded headline "Obama tilts to center, McCain to right." Whatever. I loved the 90s.

And I am disappointed with the ferocity of Obama's shift. And I'm pleased with the backlash online, even if it is nipping at heels. There's Obama Letdown Watch and the No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right social networking group inside which now has over 1,600 members (I think the largest group on their site only has 3,000).

However, I do want to offer a bit of a silver lining on Obama, proof that he's not abandoning every single Democratic principle in order to get elected. For example, on an extremely important issue like union rights, he's stepped into a labor dispute and urged Tesco to begin talks with the UFCW for their new "Fresh & Easy" stores in California. Obama would sign the Employee Free Choice Act and would be an aggressive advocate of union membership. That alone would make this a more progressive country.

There are also reports that Obama's health care plan could move closer to Hillary Clinton's plan that the two argued over throughout the primary campaign. I always thought that Clinton would be able to get something for her trouble of running a 50-state campaign, and considering that health care policy will be decided largely in the Senate, she'll certainly have the opportunity to take the lead (which would, you know, be a first in her Senate career, not to dredge up old wounds). Clinton's domestic policy director has also signed on with Obama for America, and she was the architect of Clinton's health care policy, so that's a signal as well.

So Obama is tacking to the center, but also tacking to the left on some other issues. Like I said, not much of this matters right now, but the day after the election it will.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Glennzilla 1, KO 0

Digby notes this blog-war between Keith Olbermann and Glenn Greenwald over Obama and FISA. It's pretty instructive. Olbermann basically hangs his hat on one aside comment from John Dean because he's really really smart, and then constructs this entire behind-the-scenes universe where Obama isn't objecting to the FISA bill because it's sloppily written and he'll still be able to prosecute the telecoms for criminal violations, just not civil ones, and he's doing the right thing by hiding this from everybody in the hope that "Republicans don't see the loophole."

You know, the loophole that Olbermann's been touting on his show nightly for a week.

Greenwald kind of eviscerates him on the substantive facts (there is deliberate immunization on only the civil liability, and Bush could pardon anyone for criminal but not civil charges, and furthermore just making up a story about Obama that you want to be right isn't anything but a justification), and John Dean himself basically comes down on the side of Greenwald. But I would add the fact that Keith Olbermann is a newsman. A reporter. He doesn't actually have to guess what Obama's thinking about this - he could use the full weight of the resources granted to him by NBC News and ASK him. Or ask someone connected to the campaign. There's no need for him to spin a yarn about this absent the facts.

Further, there are plenty of smart people out there who can pinpoint why this FISA bill is crap outside of the immunity provisions - Julian Sanchez is one of the better ones. Dean HIMSELF said on Olbermann's show that it was a win for the telecoms.

DEAN: Well, I think, you've got to give one for the terrorists on our Fourth Amendment. They really did some damage today in this so-called compromise, contrary to what the speaker said that really does hurt the Constitution. So, it's very troubling and it's not a good day for civil liberties, particularly.

To hang your hat on one comment about one portion of this bill and then rationalize Obama's Perfect Secret Plan reminds me of how neocons would claim that Bush struck bin Laden with a Patriot missile, but he can't tell anybody because he wouldn't want to make him a martyr, and this was all reported in the Guardian but they changed the story on the website, yadda yadda yadda.

Sorry Keith, but you need to take the blinders off. If you wanted to argue, like this former attorney, that the Patriot Act is the real problem and if we're depending on FISA to save the Fourth Amendment that we've already lost it, fine. That's a colorable argument. But the fantasy of Valiant Obama finding all the bad guys and stopping them with his Super-Heat Vision is, you know, just that. A fantasy. And the sooner you recognize it the better.

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The Dumbest People Alive

The right's latest hissy fit is truly a stunner. I don't know how they found out about the Addington-Yoo hearing on torture, because it certainly didn't make the news, but somehow this exchange bubbled up to them:

ADDINGTON: As I indicated to the Chairman at the beginning of this thing, I'm not in a position to talk about particular techniques, whether they are or aren't used or could or couldn't be used, or their legal status. And the reasons I give for that, I think if you look at page 9, the President's speech of September 6, 2006, explains why he doesn't talk about particular techniques...

DELAHUNT: Oh I can understand why [the President] doesn’t talk about it.

ADDINGTON: Because you kind of communicate with al Qaeda. If you do — I can’t talk to you, al Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.

DELAHUNT: Right. Well, I’m sure they are watching, and I’m glad they finally have a chance to see you, Mr. Addington.

ADDINGTON: Yeah, I’m sure you’re pleased.

This joke about Addington's famous secrecy is now being held up by the arbiters of discourse on the right, the scared little piddlies, as some example of William Delahunt "inciting Al Qaeda to violence," if you can believe it.

Are these people 6 years old? What is the expected conversation in the caves of Tora Bora:

AL QAEDA #1: My friend, come quickly, check out C-SPAN!

AL QAEDA #2: The cable is working again?

AQ #1: Yes, Waziristan Time Warner came out this morning. Look, it's Addington!

AQ #2: Cheney's Cheney?

AQ #1: Yes, finally we know what he looks and sounds like! We must begin plans for the attack now. Death to America!

AQ #2: Wait... let's exercise caution. We haven't been egged on by a Democratic Senator yet.

(voice of Delahunt offscreen: "I’m sure they are watching, and I’m glad they finally have a chance to see you, Mr. Addington.")

AQ #1: Congressman Delahunt gave the signal!

AQ #2: Release the sleeper cell! Insh'allah!

What pathetic, pathetic people. It'd be nice if they focused on the part where John Yoo wouldn't admit that a President was not allowed to order a prisoner buried alive. But I guess I'm asking too much. Feigned outrage is more their specialty.

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The Low-CARB Diet

Building on Bob's report about the San Francisco Clean Energy Act, the California Air Resources Board has released its draft blueprint designed to fall in line with the mandate of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, by cutting emissions 30% by 2020.

The 75+ page plan includes a range of policy recommendations. Chief among them is increasing the state's renewable electricity standard. The plan also contains provisions for a regional cap-and-trade program that could work in harmony with other more specific policies to reduce pollution economywide. The plan also says CARB will consider a vehicle "feebate" program that would provide incentives to consumers to buy cleaner cars.

In addition, the proposal includes plans to reduce emissions from heavy-duty trucks with hybrid engine technology and better fuel economy. Like many of CARB's proposals, the heavy-duty truck provisions would improve public health by also reducing smog-forming pollution. The plan also advocates for a high-speed train system in California.

Jim Downing at the SacBee has more here.

There's no question that California needs to do what is within its control to act immediately. Climate change is already imperiling two-thirds of the state's unique plants, and Los Angeles is trying dubious ideas like seeding the clouds with silver iodide particles to force it to rain. The only sustainable solution is to demand mandatory emissions caps to fight a runaway climate.

Some of their ideas are top-notch. Robert in Monterey, as his High Speed Rail blog, notes that CARB endorsed HSR to reach their targets:

Transportation is one of the capped sectors of the economy - meaning we can no longer just fly around or drive around endlessly; there will be increasing limits and at the same time rising costs as the cost of the credit purchase is passed on to consumers. To achieve the required lower emissions, and to provide sustainable and cleaner forms of transportation CARB endorsed high speed rail as one of its recommendations.

Their explanation was not particularly detailed - basically an endorsement of the concept of HSR and a projection that it would save around 1 million metric tons of CO2 in 2020. That's around 22 billion pounds per year, close to the figure of 17.6 billion pounds that Quentin Kopp has been quoting.

I also really like the feebate idea that is part of the plan:

CARB also identified a feebate program as one avenue for reducing vehicle pollution. Such a program would establish one-time rebates and surcharges on new passenger cars and light trucks based on the amount of global warming pollution they emit. This program would deliver benefits on its own, but also would complement California's tailpipe standards if both were implemented. According to a University of Michigan study, implementing a clean car discount program would deliver an additional 21 percent reduction in global warming pollution beyond the tailpipe standards.

The worry, of course, is that by the time the lobbyists and special interests get through with these targets, they'll blow loopholes in them so wide that their impact will be meaningless. But since the hard target of a 30 percent reduction is state law, I think there will be more backbone to actually reach those targets. Builders and design specialists have already seen this coming and are producing innovative solutions to reduce emissions and save money. At its best, carbon reduction is both efficient and cleaner, so really nobody loses except giant polluters. They're going to use the state's budget problems to raise all kinds of fears about cost, but they're really separate issues. Plus, as the Bee article notes:

The air board's mission may already have been made easier by changes in the economy. Today's high energy prices are driving many of the sorts of emissions-cutting changes called for under the plan.

Sales of fuel-efficient cars are up, transit ridership is breaking records and businesses are investing in ways to save fuel and electricity.

Many have raised concerns about the cap and trade system, but CARB chair Mary Nichols is clearly invested in it, having presided over the most successful cap and trade system in history while in the Clinton Administration, the one that virtually eliminated acid rain. It may be insufficient to have a few states in the West implement a trading system, but some industries, like energy production, aren't likely to up and leave California - the market of 38 million people is too lucrative. Anyway this gives momentum and support for a national system.

What I would like to see is a progressive cap and trade setup, which recognizes that higher energy costs disproportionately impact the poor, and seeks to balance that. This is easier said than done:

Two things are worth noting. First, utility costs are a bigger problem than gasoline. On a percentage basis, the poor pay 7x as much for utilities as the well off, while they pay only 4x as much for gasoline. What's more, unlike gasoline, there are seldom any reasonable alternatives for utility expenditures.

Second, there are always tradeoffs. Using the money from permit auctions (or carbon taxes) to rebate other taxes is indeed progressive if the rebate is fairly flat, but only if you pay taxes in the first place — which many of the poor don't. For the very poorest, then, a tax rebate scheme would still be regressive: you'd essentially be hitting them with a big new energy tax without any offset at all. Conversely, a more targeted approach, like expanding funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, helps the poor more directly but removes the incentive to use less energy.

The answer, then, is almost certainly a bit of this and a bit of that. No single solution targets assistance to the poor ideally, but a basket of solutions (payroll tax rebates, energy assistance, more funding for mass transit, etc.) can do a pretty good job. It won't be perfect, but a well-designed program can make a cap-and-trade program pretty progressive.

Hopefully this will guide the CARB as they seek to work through the policy grinder and implement their reductions. Right now the board is considering auctioning off few permits and giving away the rest, gradually eliminating the giveaway over time. This kind of hair-splitting is wrong, and I hope they come to understand that.

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The Unity Thing

I guess I have to comment on the Obama-Clinton campaign event in Unity, NH. I'm not near a TV and I didn't see the show but I'm sure this is consuming the punditocracy today.

I don't have a lot to say about it other than the fact that this was going to be the obvious conclusion from the very beginning of the primary. Many teeth were gnashed by bloggers and pundits alike that somehow these two hate each other, that they'd never come together, that "the gloves are off" and it's war and blah blah fucking blah. It just wasn't true, and today kind of cinches that. The personality-driven politics practiced through the media demands conflict. It sells papers and puts eyeballs in front of the set. But the conflict is not between two centrist Democrats with almost identical policy platforms. That was a media creation.

That the blogosphere, in many respects, bought into this is pretty depressing but also inevitable. They by and large venerated Obama and vilified Clinton rather than exploring preferences. Every media-generated outrage was outrageous, every show of body language a sign. It was ludicrous. I'm glad that things are coming back to Earth now, although Obama's support of the FISA bill is not the best way for that realization to happen in my view.

As for the future, I hope that bloggers and blog readers understand, and I think they now do, that the movement is more important than any individual candidate, and that our job BEGINS the day after Election Day. Holding Obama accountable and making ourselves known is going to be a great challenge. It's very encouraging that some supporters are using Obama's own social networking tools to express their disappointment with his stance on FISA. They've created a group on called Senator Obama - Please Vote Against FISA that has over 800 members in just under a day. The comments people are leaving are impassioned and thoughtful. Others are creating events designed to get petitions signed at Unite For Change events this weekend to ask Obama to change his vote. If Obama truly wants to open up government and have change come from the bottom up, he'll listen to these voices.

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Discrimination We Can Believe In

John McCain doesn't like him the gay:

"I support the efforts of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman, just as we did in my home state of Arizona. I do not believe judges should be making these decisions."

I note the part where McCain says he doesn't believe judges should make these decisions. While Arizona did pass a gay marriage ban previously, the last time they tried to "reinforce" it (by also banning domestic partnership benefits) voters opposed it. And McCain cut ads in favor of that measure. So none of this is surprising.

But does this mean that McCain agrees with regular people who make decisions he opposes? Because that's what's going to happen with the newly-minted Prop. 8.

And how does McCain square this with Schwarzenegger's opposition to the ban? And his meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans? Did this come up?

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Wrong About Everything

Boy, the wingnuts really don't know what to do about this North Korea situation. It's really a foreign concept based on "diplomacy" and "incentives for compliance" and other fantasyland hippie stuff they must have come up with on the pot-smokers lawn in the Haight-Ashbury. Real men know that such multilateralism is excessively dangerous and will cause all of us to be blown to bits.

HEWITT: By the way, I -- I'm still trying to find two tickets to the Ohio State-USC game. And none of the USC people will give up their tickets to me. I'd pay fair price. They -- they know Ohio State's gonna slaughter the Trojans. They know that they're gonna slaughter the Trojans, and therefore they do not want me there at the bloodbath, since it's probably the last football game we'll ever get to see before the United States gets blown up by the Islamists under Obama.

But this foreign policy decision was made by the Dear Leader himself - W., with a big assist from envoy Christopher Hill - and they just don't know what to make of that. Leading to the most amusing 30 seconds of Sean Hannity's career.

HANNITY: North Korea has finally handed over a long awaited accounting of its nuclear program to Chinese officials, fulfilling a key step in the denuclearization process. Although North Korea’s declaration is six months later than their deadline, the news today brings a clear foreign policy victory for the Bush administration. But will the press report it that way? Joining us now for analysis, former ambassador to the U.N. and a Fox News contributor, John Bolton. What do you think this means?

BOLTON: I think it's actually a clear victory for North Korea. They gain enormous political legitimacy....In return, we get precious little. I think this is North Korea demonstrating again that they can out-negotiate the U.S. without raising a sweat.

HANNITY: Boy I tell you they've done it time and time again, and I'm sorta perplexed, Mr. Ambassador, to understand why we keep going back to the well knowing that they haven't kept the agreements in the past. Whatever happened to Reagan's "trust but verify"?

That's fair and balanced all from the same guy.

Not even Fourthbranch, the Barnacle himself, could outmaneuver the State Department on this one, and he's not happy:

WASHINGTON — Two days ago, during an off-the-record session with a group of foreign policy experts, Vice President Dick Cheney got a question he did not want to answer. “Mr. Vice President,” asked one of them, “I understand that on Wednesday or Thursday, we are going to de-list North Korea from the terrorism blacklist. Could you please set the context for this decision?”

Mr. Cheney froze, according to four participants at the Old Executive Office Building meeting. For more than 30 minutes he had been taking and answering questions, without missing a beat. But now, for several long seconds, he stared, unsmilingly, at his questioner, Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, a public policy institution. Finally, he spoke:

“I’m not going to be the one to announce this decision,” the other participants recalled Mr. Cheney saying, pointing at himself. “You need to address your interest in this to the State Department.” He then declared that he was done taking questions, and left the room.

The Barnacle froze because it's one of the few things that could be considered a foreign policy triumph in the history of the Bush Administration, and it happened because mindless warhawks like him were finally sidelined. Bush's North Korea policy began with a series of mishaps and belligerence, just as the neocons wished, and it led to Kim Jong-Il getting the bomb. Precisely when the State Department started guiding the policy and Christopher Hill was given leeway to negotiate in the six-party talks, the situation changes, leading to today's destruction of their nuclear facility at Yongbon. The world is still a more dangerous place because of all of the delays, and the DPRK still has about a dozen poorly-designed nuclear weapons as a result.

But the facts are that as soon as the neocon "my way or the highway" approach was abandoned, progress was made. And that's because the neocons have been wrong about every single foreign policy decision for well over 50 years, and their attitude with respect to North Korea made no dent in that unbroken record. I don't have to tell you the position John McCain has held on this issue since 1999, do I?

McCain repeated this trope throughout the speech, drawing on his personal history and adopting the rhetoric of moral seriousness about the consequences of committing American forces. But awareness of the consequences was, for McCain, no reason to avoid starting a war [...] In his view, efforts at conflict prevention are fundamentally misguided. He told the Kansas State audience that notwithstanding the Clinton administration's efforts, Korea's leaders "remain quite capable of launching in their country's death throes one final, glorious war. But now, they are much, much better armed." In short -- war is inevitable, so better to get it over with as soon as possible.

I hope I'm not surprising anyone by saying that on foreign policy, John McCain is basically to the right of George W. Bush.

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Friday Random Ten

I did this on the way to work on the bus (I am reducing my carbon footprint!), but forgot to post it until now:

Who Got The Booty? - Aw Yeah
The Idiot Kings - Soul Coughing
(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Frank Sinatra - Cake
Everything's Ruined - Fountains Of Wayne
Sugar Free Jazz - Soul Coughing
Sorry For Laughing - Nouvelle Vague
A Time To Be So Small - Interpol
Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day - Robert Pollard
Prince-S - Sebadoh

This looks like my playlist from 1997. I need some new music.

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A Piece Of Ordnance In Every Pot

We in the blogosphere have been so worked up about the FISA bill that we virtually ignored the fact that the Senate confirmed what the House began, passing an enormous spending bill to fund the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan well into the next Administration. There are also provisions for a new GI Bill, unemployment benefit extension for an additional 13 weeks, and a number of domestic spending initiatives (including midwest flooding relief).

Considering that the 110th Congress was elected with a mandate to end the war, it's a little surprising that practically nobody raised their voice in so much as anger to this continued funding. It could be learned helplessness, a resigned view that Congress wasn't going to use their procedural abilities to make any effort to stop the occupation of Iraq. Or it could be that the nation has been bullied into believing that "we're winning" and "the surge is working" while the media has simultaneously taken the details about Iraq off the TV screens and front pages, which makes it that much easier for the bullies.

It's not like people aren't still dying - they are, including 13 Americans this week and scores of Iraqis, at least 70 just yesterday. They're dying at a somewhat reduced rate, but political progress is not existent and the core factors causing the violence remain unchanged. Ethnic cleansing and paying off enemies to create heavily armed militias are the main contributing factors, and those aren't recipes for stability. Yet this is considered to be success. But let me give you an example of what that success looks like, what our tax dollars have bought, and keep in mind the Heller v. DC ruling when you read about it:

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said a U.S. airstrike killed four members of a family north of Baghdad early Wednesday. Iraqi and U.S. officials provided conflicting accounts of the incident.

Capt. Ahmed al-Azwawi, a police official in Samra, a village about seven miles south of Tikrit, said U.S. troops were conducting an operation in the area when a man fired shots in the air with an AK-47.

Azwawi said the man, who sold propane gas for a living, was afraid thieves were in the vicinity.

U.S. soldiers then retreated and called in an airstrike, Azwawi said, killing the man, his wife, and two of their children.

The kids were 6 and 8, and a separate report claims that two other kids were killed.

There's no secret, other than in the US media, that American forces are trying to secure Iraq through massive airstrikes, many of which result in trigger-happy responses anytime anyone fires a gun (and practically every adult male in Iraq owns an AK-47). The murdered families have relatives, and every incident like this engenders anger and distrust. The status of forces agreement sought by Bush calls explicitly for continued air superiority for the US military.

As usual, when America sees a war slipping away, they bomb the fuck out of the ground. And the bipartisan coalition of the United States government enthusiastically endorses and funds the slaughter. Let's be very clear - your representatives bought another year's worth of stories like the one above, with no gain in national security, a stretching of the US military to the very breaking point should anything else crop up, and no effort to manage or deal with the underlying root causes in the country we unnecessarily invaded.

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Mayor Villaraigosa's Good Week

I consider Antonio Villaraigosa's term as mayor to be generally a disappointment. Brought into office with a lot of hope and even more hype, Villaraigosa has certainly made his way around the city, the nation and the world, appearing at every event from the biggest gala to random neighborhood picnics, but he hasn't gotten a whole lot done other than commandeering the school board. It's as hard to govern Los Angeles as it has California, but the energy and enthusiasm Villaraigosa has for the job seems to be an end in itself, and it certainly isn't channeled into an agenda that can be at all considered progressive.

However, this has been a pretty good week for him. He started by presiding over his first same-sex marriage, which may have been a political calculation but still reflects his abiding belief in equality, so I applaud it. Then, he announced his support of a half-cent sales tax hike to fund mass transit. Big-city mayors are obviously sensitive to transit issues, but Villaraigosa is making sure they are prioritized. This could be a reaction to a Metro Board study that showed on-time rates to be among the worst in the nation. The Metro Board has hired ten more supervisors in response to that, and yesterday they drafted the proposal for the sales tax increase for the November ballot as part of a 25-year plan. If Villaraigosa, who sits on the Metro Board and appoints three other members, can make himself the poster child for expanded transit, and transform LA from a car city to a more vibrant transit culture, he will have left a positive legacy.

Finally, Villaraigosa's LAPD successfully fought a court challenge over its policy banning officers from "initiating contact with people for the sole purpose of learning their immigration status." It's a resource question but also one about the kind of city we want to be, one that is humane and respects the dignity of our people or one like an Eastern Bloc nation constantly asking everyone for their papers and engages in ethnic profiling. The LAPD now has the legal right to continue their policy.

The Mayor certainly has higher aspirations, and with some more weeks like this, he may actually deserve them.

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No-Choice Election Day!

They're going ahead with the vote in Zimbabwe despite unanimous international outcry, and turnout has so far been sluggish. NPR reported that Robert Mugabe's ruling party forces will soon be forcing people to vote under penalty of death, and that all people without the purple ink-stained finger will be assumed to be opposition supporters, and thereafter beaten or killed. Mugabe tried to make with the accommodationist talk:

On the campaign trail Thursday, Mugabe said he was "open to discussion" with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, but only after the vote. Mugabe had shown little interest in talks and his government had scoffed at Tsvangirai's call Wednesday to work together to form a transitional authority.

But the fact that he's threatened to kill opposition supporters makes me, shall we say, skeptical.

No country on Earth would be more perfect for Arthur Silber's stateless society project than Zimbabwe. They can't kill everyone for not voting.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

World Report

Quickly, let's turn off the TV and get some international news:

• In a striking GAO report, severe problems are seen with the foreign aid payments from the US to Pakistan. There is simply no accountability or proof that the funds are going to their proscribed ends of counterterrorism, and the program is scarred with massive fraud.

The Pentagon paid about $20 million for army road construction and $15 million to build bunkers in Pakistan, but there is no evidence that the roads or bunkers were ever constructed, the Government Accountability Office reported. Islamabad also billed Washington $200 million for an air defense radar system that may not have met a U.S. condition: that reimbursement cover combat or logistical costs supporting U.S. military operations against terrorism beyond what a country would spend on its own needs.

"It seems as though the Pakistani military went on a spending spree with American taxpayers' wallets and no one bothered to investigate the charges," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "How hard would it have been to confirm that a road we paid $15 million for was ever built? It is appalling that the Defense Department did not send any embassy officials working in Pakistan to verify these enormous costs." Washington should "stop pouring money into a black hole," Harkin said.

Our ally in the war on terror, ladies and gentlemen. Meanwhile Afghanistan is accusing Pakistani intelligence of playing a role in the assassination attempt of Hamid Karzai. Robbing the US Treasury blind WHILE providing material support for terrorism; that's awesome!

• If you read the headlines of news accounts, you'd know that rockets from Gaza broke the truce between Hamas and Israel. If you bothered to read the actual story, you'd see that Israel targeted and killed Islamic Jihad leaders in violation of the truce, and the rockets were in response. Hard to figure out which part of the scale the media has their thumbs on, isn't it?

• Bush must be getting real antsy about his precious status of forces agreement in Iraq, he's getting personally involved in the meetings. Speaking of Bush, this isn't really part of the world report, but since it involves him insulting an entire nation of people, I thought I'd mention it.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Madam President, it is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Oval Office. We have just had a very constructive dialogue. First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that -- in which there's a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House. (Laughter.)


PRESIDENT BUSH: And the chef is a great person and a really good cook, by the way, Madam President.

One of the real sources of relief after January 2009 will be less embarrassment at the thought of the elected leader of my country.

• Darfur is a true mess, worse off now than it was 18 months ago after a fragile cease-fire agreement, and attacks on villages in the region have begun anew. This is a failure of the international community.

I was going to add a bit about North Korea and Iran, but I think those deserve more attention than a digest format.

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Judging The Crazy

Two of the three potential Vice Presidential nominees shuttled to Chez BBQ last month for a powwow with John McCain were Mitt Romney and Bobby Jindal. They're both a real pair of winners. Today, Romney called nuclear nonproliferation a "liberal position."

This morning, failed Republican presidential candidate and former governor Mitt Romney was interviewed by CNN anchor John Roberts. During the interview, Mitt dutifully repeated the McCain campaign's latest anti-Obama smear, that he's "never been a part of a bipartisan group that came together to solve a controversial issue." [...]

When it was pointed out that Obama has worked with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana on the Lugar-Obama Nonproliferation legislation, signed into law by President Bush, and with Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, on increasing gas mileage efficiency requirements, this was Romey's actual response:

"Actually, on both cases, you’re talking about two liberal positions, non-proliferation as well as the gasoline mileage."

It is now considered liberal to want to reduce the potential of nuclear destruction. For context, four years ago George Bush and John Kerry agreed that nuclear proliferation was the greatest current threat to global security. Romney either doesn't know what non-proliferation means, or thinks that anything with the word "non" involves taking away the sweet sweet cash funnel to military contractors. Henry Frickin' Kissinger believes in nonproliferation, fercryinoutloud.

This position puts Romney on the radical left when compared to Bobby Jindal's latest bill-signing ceremony:

On the heels of today's SCOTUS decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana barring the death penalty for sex offenders, Gov. Bobby Jindal released a statement calling the ruling an "affront to the people of Louisiana" - and what's more, vowing to do whatever possible to amend the state’s laws in order to maintain the death penalty for child rape.

But that's not all he did.

Today, Gov. Jindal signed the "Sex Offender Chemical Castration Bill," authorizing the castration of convicted sex offenders. They get a choice: physical or chemical. Oh, and they don't just get castrated and leave - they still have to serve out their sentence.

Hammurabi would be proud. Would this hold for those offenders who committed forcible optical intercourse, too?

Good Lord these people are out of their skulls.

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Holding Pattern

Well, it looks like enough people pushed and pushed to get the FISA bill delayed through the recess on the 4th.

The Senate hit impasses over legislation aimed at helping struggling homeowners and a rewrite of spying laws, forcing Democratic leaders to push back consideration of those measures until next month.

Leaders had hoped to finish both measures this week, in addition to an emergency war-spending bill and a Medicare bill, before lawmakers return home by week's end. Both bills have wide support, but in each case, individual senators have refused to let the measures speed through the chamber. As a result, they were forced to lower the bar for this week's action.

Democrats also threatened to keep the Senate in session through the weekend if Republicans didn’t agree to move quickly with the Medicare bill.

Objections by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) will push back an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) until after lawmakers return in July, Democratic leaders said Thursday. Feingold is strongly opposed to language that would likely give telephone companies that participated in warrantless surveillance retroactive immunity from lawsuits.

"It doesn't look like it," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of taking up the FISA bill this week. "Sen. Feingold wants additional time and would like to postpone it until after the Fourth of July."

Durbin said: "We can't leave until we finish Medicare and the supplemental."

Looks to me like Jon Ensign and Jim DeMint called Harry Reid's bluff on the housing bill, so he pushed both of them back till after the break. Incidentally, the housing bill would give $15 billion in tax breaks to lenders like Countrywide, and parts of the bill may have actually been written by Bank of America, so I'm not exactly weeping for that delay either.

As I've been saying, it's completely unclear to me whether this is anything but a delay, and if the opportunity is given to pass the FISA bill before the recess, I'm sure the Senate will take it. When you have 80 votes in favor, it's going to be pretty hard to stop it. I would hope that Sen. Feingold and Sen. Dodd could be as annoying as Tom Coburn in holding up a bill, but that seems to only work for conservatives (100 freakin' bills with bipartisan support are being held up by Coburn, but Feingold and Dodd aren't able to stop one).

However, the delay does provide an opportunity to rally support for accountability. The Wall Street Journal today reports on the money-bomb for the Constitution being planned:

Liberal activists and supporters of the Texas Republican and former presidential candidate plan to join forces Thursday and begin a "money bomb" protest of lawmakers who support telecom immunity in the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act. During a "money bomb," grassroots activists donate money during a short period of time -- usually a day -- to create buzz and raise money for their candidate.

The effort is timed to coincide with a planned Senate vote on the bill. Libertarians and liberal activists have blasted Democratic lawmakers, including presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, for supporting the legislation [...]

"There's entrenched power in Washington that protects itself and there are people on both sides who don't feel like they're having their rights protected," says Jane Hamsher, one of the organizers behind the effort and founder of the popular Democratic blog Firedoglake. "It's really about right and left coming together to fight the entrenched power and take their power away."

Damn straight. And I expect a host of angry constituents when the entrenched Senators come back to their states.

UPDATE: Feingold's statement:

"I'm pleased we were able to delay a vote on FISA until after the July 4th holiday instead of having it jammed through. I hope that over the July 4th holiday, Senators will take a closer look at this deeply flawed legislation and understand how it threatens the civil liberties of the American people. It is possible to defend this country from terrorists while also protecting the rights and freedoms that define our nation."

And Dodd:

“I’m pleased that consideration of the FISA Amendments Act has been delayed until after the 4th of July recess. I urge my colleagues to take this time to listen to their constituents and consider the dangerous precedent that would be set by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.

“When and if FISA does come back to the Senate floor, I will offer my amendment to strip the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. I implore my colleagues to support the rule of law and join me in voting against retroactive immunity.”

UPDATE II: The contours of this are coming into shape. As emptywheel notes, there's been a unanimous consent agreement to hold votes on all amendments and the final bill on July 8. A UC agreement means no filibuster (UPDATE: Sen. Reid's office is saying that there will be another cloture vote, so there's a slim opportunity to filibuster), so we’d need 51 no votes on the bill to stop it, or 51 yes votes on the amendment to strip immunity.

I'm trying to figure out if any of those other amendments have the likelihood of passing, because that would at least send the bill to a conference committee. And maybe one of the amendments is a poison pill. Apparently Jeff Bingaman has an amendment for a stay on immunity until the Inspector General review about the wiretapping activities is completed. Here he is talking about it:


Getting from 15 to 51 in 12 days is, in a word, unlikely. But getting to 51 on staying the immunity provision is somewhat more likely; it's at least closer to a compromise. However, the bar has been set to 60 on that amendment.

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Fourthbranch Strikes Again

David Addington today to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN):

"Perhaps the best that can be said is that the vice president belongs to neither the executive [branch of government] nor the legislature, but is attached by the constitution to the latter."

The best part was when Cohen said "So he's like a barnacle?" And Addington got all uppity and said "The Constitution is not a barnacle, Congressman!" which showed that, despite the bravado, Addington is a crucially stupid man.

As long as the Constitution is just a piece of paper anyway, I say that everybody gets to be their own branch of government, provided they're attached to the whole in some fashion. I'm going to be attached to the Gretchen Mol branch, rowrr!

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Go North, Young Man

There's no reason for Obama not to visit Anchorage during the summer. Considering that John McCain doesn't work weekends he wouldn't even lose any time on the campaign trail relative to his opponent. And 41% of the population of Alaska lives in or around Anchorage. It's also about an hour from there to Fairbanks, another decent-sized population center. And the help this would give our down-ballot federal candidates like Mark Begich and Ethan Berkowitz would be unmatched.

On a personal level I'm perturbed with Obama, but on a political level he's not only doing what needs to be done to win, but to build a lasting Democratic majority. I'm confident he'll go to Alaska.

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CA-04: Much Ado About Doolittle

I don't know if people still have some notion that Tom McClintock is a good general election candidate, having never won a contested general election race, but this John Doolittle affair should completely put an end to that.

The story goes that on June 16, McClintock appeared to signal that he would be meeting with the disgraced Congressman to talk about campaigning in tandem during the fall election.

"We're talking about doing a couple of events and we're putting them together," said Doolittle spokesman Dan Blankeburg....Stan Devereux, a spokesman for McClintock, confirmed that the campaign had set up a meeting to discuss Doolittle's support for McClintock."

The very next day, June 17, a McClintock spokesman denied any desire for an endorsement or joint campaign event.

"If you're running as an outsider why would you want anyone's endorsement?" asked John Feliz, a McClintock consultant, when asked if the campaign would be receiving Doolittle's stamp of approval." June 17, 2008, PolitickerCA.

Then on June 18, McClintock's spokesman contradicted his consultant:

McClintock spokesman Stan Devereux told Election Central that the ongoing investigations against Doolittle would not render him a political liability: "Doolittle is still the congressman for the area, has served the district well."

McClintock himself contradicted his own spokesman on June 20:

"I don't have any plans to meet with Doolittle next week and I don't have any plans to campaign with Doolittle," McClintock said by phone from Sacramento."

Two days later, on June 22, there was news in the El Dorado Mt. Democrat of an imminent meeting:

Fourth Congressional District Republican nominee Tom McClintock will meet with Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, next week to discuss his campaign, a Doolittle spokesman said Wednesday...he (McClintock) said, ...'I certainly do welcome the intimate knowledge Doolittle has with the district...' ...The meeting is planned for June 27."

And yesterday, June 25, McClintock told Roll Call that he killed the meeting.

State Sen. Tom McClintock (R), running for the 4th district seat being vacated by Rep. John Doolittle (R), said Tuesday that he personally killed a meeting between him and the Congressman.

This is the work of a schizophrenic, not a disciplined campaigner. Truthfully, the McClintock team probably wants Doolittle's help but doesn't want anyone to know about it, but there are ways to go about that which look less... pathetic than this. Word is that McClintock has already pissed off local reporters with this behavior of saying different things at different times.

Charlie Brown is going to have a field day with this guy.

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God Save This Blessed Court

It's getting so I try not to read anything with "Supreme Court" in the headline on the last week of June, because that's when all the most controversial cases come down, and given the current makeup of the Court it means "pound progressives into the cement" week in America.

The Court did rule that the death penalty shouldn't apply to child rapists, which, while a horrible crime, is not proportional to state-sanctioned murder. Sen. Obama short-circuited the inevitable Kitty Dukakis question by saying he disagreed with the ruling, but the fact that he did so on state's rights grounds is alarming. I don't know if Justice Kennedy made a well-argued case here, but I don't believe in the death penalty as a deterrent (I don't think rapists and murderers are all that rational) or as a properly applied system of jurisprudence (look at all the problems with cases at the state level) so anything that blocks its expansion is generally fine with me. I wish we had a court that would throw the whole practice out as cruel and unusual punishment and recognize that life in prison without possibility of parole is a pretty stiff punishment.

The other decisions were varying degrees of horrible. The Court stepped into the Exxon Valdez civil case in an activist fashion and lowered the damages to citizens affected by the oil spill. It's outrageous that the shattered lives on the Alaskan coast are worth $15,000, according to the law. And moreover, it shows corporations that they can appeal and appeal and appeal and they will eventually get their way in the highest court, where fealty to corporations is really the order of the day.

Today, in a 5-4 decision the Court overturned the Millionaire's Amendment which ruled as part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that candidates facing a rich, self-funded challenger can raise above the contribution limits if their opponent pumps millions into the race. The ruling also waives several disclosure requirements on the part of the self-funder. What is key here, a signal that this Court will rule against any and all public financing laws, is that Congress cannot seek to "level the playing field."

The argument that a candidate’s speech may be restricted in order to "level electoral opportunities" has ominous implications because it would permit Congress to arrogate the voters’ authority to evaluate the strengths of candidates competing for office. See Bellotti, supra, at 791–792 ("[T]he people in our democracy are entrusted with the responsibility for judging and evaluating the relative merits of conflicting arguments" and "may consider, in making their judgment, the source and credibility of the advocate"). Different candidates have different strengths. Some are wealthy; others have wealthy supporters who are willing to make large contributions. Some are celebrities; some have the benefit of a well-known family name. Leveling electoral opportunities means making and implementing judgments about which strengths should be permitted to contribute to the outcome of an election. The Constitution, however, confers upon voters, not Congress, the power to choose the Members of the House of Representatives, Art. I, §2, and it is a dangerous business for Congress to use the election laws to influence the voters’ choices.

This sounds reasonable enough, but it could be the wormhole to end public financing and eliminate contribution limits. Considering that we're in the age of the Internet where the low-dollar revolution has taught that there need not be a reliance on big corporate money, that could be OK. But not if limits start getting removed. McCain-Feingold was reinforced by a 2003 ruling, so hopefully it'll remain robust. I'm worried that this will challenge "fair fight" funds in use in public money states like Arizona and Maine, where the publicly financed candidate gets extra money if a privately funded challenger spends above certain thresholds.

Finally, there's the Second Amendment case of the DC handgun ban, and in another 5-4 ruling the Court asserted an individual right to gun ownership and struck down the DC law. This is really the end of the gun issue as a political football; the 2nd Amendment has been defined. I don't know if it was defined correctly, but even such Constitutional scholars as Russ Feingold assert an individual right to bear arms. Here's Sen. Obama on the issue:

“I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe. Today’s ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country.

“As President, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun show loophole and improving our background check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Today's decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe.

Actually, that kind of strikes the right balance to me. What I do find striking is that not long ago, Justice Scalia assured us that the Court's ruling in Boumediene would "surely cause more Americans to be killed," yet he doesn't see the same consequence of allowing firearms in everyone's hands. Overall, we have a Court that bounces back between activism and restraint when it suits their ideological needs. It reinforces the need for a Democratic President to retain our core values and not continue on this path of a hard-right agenda in the highest Court in the land.

UPDATE: According to Phillip Carter, the ruling in Heller is pretty restrained, and most current forms of gun control wouldn't fall under it, outside of total bans.

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Big Picture On Torture

There's quite a remarkable hearing going on today in a House subcommittee. David Addington and John Yoo are voluntarily testifying about the torture practices of the Bush Administration. Thanks to time zones, I didn't get to tune in until the end of the first round of questioning, but I'm getting the feel of it from reports by Spencer Ackerman and at the liveblog on Daily Kos.

It seems like both of them are being evasive but for completely different reasons. Addington ought to be held in contempt of Congress for just plain contemptuousness. As Scott Horton noted on Pacifica's coverage, he clearly believes himself to be smarter than all the Representatives in the room, and he has no problem bullying them around the way he reportedly bullies everyone in the executive branch. He also doesn't mind lying about his role in designing torture tactics after a personal trip to Guantanamo. He essentially said, according to Horton, that the world is very dangerous and the threat is not yet over, implying that Congress had better back down with all the questioning and recognize that absolutely anything can be done in the name of protecting the country. Here's an example:

Addington, naturally, is being legalistic and careful. Can president violate statutes during wartime? "As a general proposition, no, ... but facts matter for a lawyer." Which facts would justify the president violating such a statute? Addington says he won't answer. He's combative, and good. Could self-defense be such a case? "I haven't expressed an opinion... I haven't researched the statute." Says on FISA, "there is a serious constitutional question that Congress might... try to block the president's power."

The President's power, that is, to allow prisoners to be sodomized with a broomstick. The President's power to murder prisoners in US custody. The President's power to hide prisoners from the Red Cross in violation of international law. The President's power, and the power of those around them, to commit war crimes. For your protection. In your name.

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Now Yoo, on the other hand, seems afraid for his life and livelihood. He is trying not to answer any question too fully, is stretching out every answer to run out the clock on the questioners, is debating the meaning of words like "implemented," and is consulting with two lawyers on practically every question. He's trying to explain away the Convention Against Torture and generally throw up enough mud to resist any real answer. He's constantly citing Justice Department guidelines that restrict his testimony, too. Over and over he makes the claim that he was simply a lawyer providing legal advice. Of course, at the Nuremberg trials the precedent was set that lawyers whose advice was used to commit war crimes are culpable in those activities. If the policy is to go to the very limit, and the lawyer sets the limit, then he is creating the policy. Yoo can't wiggle off the hook... at least in an international court of law. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 gave some debatable measure of immunity to most of this crowd for their crimes.

The subcommittee is being very thorough and not taking a lot of bullshit. As the facts about physical and psychological abuse slowly come to light, not only at Abu Ghraib but across all US detention sites, and as we learn more about those who directed the policies that led to this torture, abuse and murder, the policymakers have become more unbridled in investigating these crimes. The grilling of William Haynes - almost made a federal judge for life - at the Senate Armed Services Committee last week showed an unusually strident Carl Levin and his compatriots angered by Haynes' activities. After the Supreme Court asserted in Boumediene that prisoners captured at Guantanamo have the ability to challenge their crimes, we've seen the DC appeals court overrule the Administration on their designation of "enemy combatants," where other prisoners have begun to use their habeas rights to challenge their detentions. The Bush-Cheney policies on interrogation and torture have been discredited by the law and by Congress, and the notion of a "few bad apples" has been totally rejected. As Jerrold Nadler said today:

"It does not go too far to say the reputation of our nation as the leading exponent of human rights and human dignity have been besmirched by this administration [...] I know I speak for many of colleagues when I say that the more we find out about what was done and how it was justified, the more appalled we have become."

None of this, of course, matters to Addington and Yoo, who instead value their radical agenda of executive power and aren't too concerned about the courts and the Congress' opinion. In fact, they're already winning this battle where it counts.

A new poll of citizens’ attitudes about torture in 19 nations finds Americans among the most accepting of the practice. Although a slight majority say torture should be universally prohibited, 44 percent think torture of terrorist suspects should be allowed, and more than one in 10 think torture should generally be allowed.

The findings of the poll put the United States alongside countries like Russia, Egypt and the Ukraine and lagging far behind allies like Great Britain, Spain and France in how its citizens view torture.

The poll found 53 percent of Americans believed all torture should be prohibited; the average in all 19 countries polled was 57 percent.

The Jack Bauer-ization of the torture question, the mainstreaming of cruel and unusual punishment, the ability for the right to demagogue this issue for six years, means that so much of this bipartisan condemnation is coming a little too late. It's nice to hear, but Addington's bullying view has ruled the day for so long that I don't know if we can even get back to a sense of normalcy.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 200 former government officials, retired generals and religious leaders plans to issue a statement on Wednesday calling for a presidential order to outlaw some interrogation and detention practices used by the Bush administration over the last six years.

The executive order they seek would commit the government to using only interrogation methods that the United States would find acceptable if used by another country against American soldiers or civilians.

It would also outlaw secret detentions, used since 2001 by the Central Intelligence Agency, and prohibit the transfer of prisoners to countries that use torture or cruel treatment. The C.I.A. has allowed terrorism suspects to be taken to such countries.

Among the signers is George P. Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan. “It’s a good time to step back, take a deep breath and set a standard,” Mr. Shultz said in an interview.

That would have been a good time in October 2001, before war fever made everybody in Washington a little crazy, and the White House was allowed to take the policies they always wanted to implement off the shelf, using the SERE program designed for our soldiers to resist enemy torture and reverse-engineering it to torture others. We knew in 2001 that torture was ineffective, counter-productive, prone to generating bad intelligence, and would create more terrorists than it would stop terrorist attacks. It's not some grand display of honor to speak out about it now. It's actually more like cowardice.

I appreciate the work of this subcommittee, and after this embarrassment of a President's term ends I would hope that there is a grand inquest into these high crimes. But don't bet on it. And the court of public opinion, the space has already been given to the fearmongers and jingoists to connect torture with saving American lives. The truth, of course, is the opposite.

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My Obama Indifference

The HuffPo writes about Obama and the netroots. They might as well have made it about Obama and liberals who are paying attention.

The worst part of all of this is that he doesn't need to do it. Like all cautious centrists, they have a fundamental belief that the country is conservative and that Democrats must portray conservative values in order to win. It's simply not true anymore; that's a vision of the world as it existed at a brief time in 2001 and 2002. 80% of the country thinks we're moving in the wrong direction. No Democrat gains by offering the same direction.

I think it'll be marginally easier to get decent small-bore legislation passed in an Obama Administration, but that's about it. I think he's pragmatic, and if pushed he will move in the direction of those doing the pushing. The opportunity moment is that he is concerned with increasing the Democratic majority in Congress, which means we can use that to elect progressives committed to a different agenda and toss out the insidious Blue Dogs.

The best thing I've read on this is this piece by Kathy G, who lives in his old State Senate district and so has watched Obama up close for a long time. I do think Obama eventually listens to his constituents if enough pressure is applied, so the recognition has to be that the real work begins the day AFTER the election, not before.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

OR-Sen, AK-Sen: Glimmers of Hope

I mentioned Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley in the last post, and I have a very good feeling about him. Not just from the standpoint of him being possibly one of the few reliable progressives we can elect to the Senate (Tom Allen and Tom Udall and maybe Mark Begich being the others, IMO) - but Gordon Smith, the fake moderate Republican who every election year tries to wipe away the memory of his past far-right votes, is clearly frightened enough about his chances that he's running ads tying himself to Barack Obama.

It's pretty clear how popular Obama is in Oregon once you see that ad - no wonder they're not really competing up there for now. Obama, for his part, responded in this fashion.

"Barack Obama has a long record of bipartisan accomplishment and we appreciate that it is respected by his Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate. But in this race, Oregonians should know that Barack Obama supports Jeff Merkley for Senate. Merkley will help Obama bring about the fundamental change we need in Washington," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.

I am not particularly happy with Obama for his FISA el foldo, but he is paying attention to electing Democrats across the country, which gives us an opportunity to try and change the balance between reactionaries, conservatives and actual progressives in the Congress.

As for the aforementioned Mark Begich, I thought this was a strong statement in the wake of the Supreme Court stepping in (activist judges!) to limit the damage awards to Exxon in the Valdez spill:

“The thousands of Alaskans whose lives were devastated by this disaster are hurt, once again, by this ruling," Begich said. "What we’re seeing today is another example of how Washington is out of touch with real people. The justices have sided with corporate America rather than with Alaska families who have suffered for nearly 20 years.”

Begich added that while the livelihoods of thousands of Alaska fishermen and others were destroyed by the spill, Sen. Ted Stevens has continued to work to serve the interests of big business, rather than put pressure on Exxon to settle the lawsuit or drop its appeals.

“Sen. Stevens continues to show he works hard for special interests, but where has he been when it comes to doing what’s right for Alaskans?” Begich said.

This is yet another shitty day for the country, but there are a few candidates with integrity and a commitment to serve the people. You just have to search for them.

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Down, Down, Down

They actually went ahead and called a vote on the motion to proceed to a debate on the FISA bill.

It passed 80-15.

There are now 30 hours of debate available on FISA and I'm sure Sen. Dodd and Sen. Feingold are going to use every scrap of that, but realistically, I don't see how we stop this freight train. Delay is the only option.

From the "better Democrats" front, two Senate candidates weigh in on FISA. Jeff Merkley:

The bill will force federal district courts to immediately dismiss any cases against telecommunications companies that participated in illegal surveillance. This is unacceptable. The Constitution of the United States was violated. Over several years telecommunications companies turned over the records of millions of innocent Americans to the federal government without proper oversight and without a warrant.

The Bush Administration disregarded the Fourth Amendment when it authorized this surveillance and now Congress may provide the Administration and these companies a free pass. This is a mistake. The Senate is set to vote on the FISA bill this week. For the sake of our constitution and the foundation of our democracy, I urge all Senators to unite in opposition to this bill.

And Rick Noriega.

On Christmas Day in 2004, when I was deployed to Afghanistan, a group of buddies and I drove down to Jalalabad road to get to an outpost so that we could wake up our children and our families on that Christmas Day through
the internet.

As we approached that outpost, we encountered what we thought was perhaps a near-ambush. When we got on the computers to wake up our families on that Christmas Day, I suspect that the government probably listened in on my and Melissa's conversation because it was communication between two countries. And I know that whoever did, probably didn't notice a little change in my voice or the tone. But Melissa knew - she understood.

I went to Afghanistan and fought for this country, and to protect the Constitution of the United States, and I believe it's wrong that there's sweeping amnesty to those who have violated privacy laws that are protected by the Constitution.

That's great, but of course we have a Senate afflicted with DC disease and weighed down with telecom cash.

As I said, I'm not hopeful. 30 hours may just be enough if the other bills are foregrounded to delay this. But that's about it, and it may be delaying the inevitable.

UPDATE: Here are the 15 who stood up for the Constitution today.

Biden (D-DE)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Dodd (D-CT)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Wyden (D-OR) Obama on that list, he was campaigning. But it wouldn't have mattered anyway. He's el foldo on this issue.

"The bill has changed. So I don't think the security threats have changed, I think the security threats are similar. My view on FISA has always been that the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people."

A few weasel words from there, but Obama is totally cool with the precedent of the government giving a slip of paper to a corporation allowing them to break the law. He's cool with the premise of "we were just following orders" that was shot down at Nuremberg being revived. He's cool with if the President does it, then it isn't illegal. He's cool with a bunch of the other really dangerous aspects of the bill, including the vacuuming up of every communication that leaves or enters the United States without even the caveat that they be related to terrorism. He's cool with a national surveillance state.

Just plain cool with it.

Change I can't believe in.

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Turnabout, Fair Play, Etc.

Over the last week, this very odd circumstance has occurred where Barack Obama is universally chastised for rejecting public money in the general election, yet John McCain is not touched for accepting public money to gain ballot access and get favorable loans, then dropping out of the system without a ruling from the FEC and spending unlimited amounts in the primary.

Part of this was a total ignorance of campaign finance laws from the punditocracy, but also the silence from the top of the opposing organization. The DNC has filed a number of lawsuits, but Team Obama had yet to break the silence over McCain's illegalities and gaming the public financing system.

Until today.

David Plouffe brought a prop to his briefing with reporter: a copy of John McCain's signature on a state election document in which he attested that he'd be taking public financing.

"John McCain is spending tens of millions of dollars, we believe, unlawfully,' he said, waving the document.

They are raising this issue at precisely the right time. Yesterday five FEC nominees were confirmed by the Senate by a voice vote, allowing them to reach a quorum and act on election matters. Until now, the DNC lawsuits subject to consideration by the FEC were pretty much moot because there was, in effect, no FEC. But that has changed, and the Obama camp leaped on this to push back on these context-free charges of duplicity with respect to campaign finance.

When McCain stated in election documents that he will be taking public money, the normal fee for appearing on the primary ballot is waived. That is a material benefit from the public system despite his spending well above those limits. In addition, there is the matter of the campaign loan, which vowed to stay in the public system as a kind of collateral to ensure repayment. The point is that McCain has double-dipped; he benefited from public money without being held to any limits. And he "withdrew" from the system simply by saying "I withdraw" and without receiving a ruling from the FEC, which they are now in a position to give.

This isn't likely to stop the media from droning on about how callous and cruel Obama is for taking money from the public instead of participating in public financing, but is may move the drone in another direction. McCain's asset of being a reformer has already taken a number of hits this campaign season, but this would be one on a clear issue where McCain believes he has the better of the argument. He doesn't; he's a symbol of why the system is broken, and why Obama's parallel public financing system makes a hell of a lot more sense.

...note that McCain actually faces $25,000 in fines and 5 years in prison for what he's doing right now, if it were adjudicated effectively.

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Ideas Hatched In A Bar Are The Best Ideas

I guess this was in the Huffington Post a couple months ago, but I had missed it. Today the New York Times brings the news about a group of satirists in San Francisco with an inspired idea and a dream:

From the Department of Damned-With-Faint-Praise, a group going by the regal-sounding name of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco is planning to ask voters here to change the name of a prize-winning water treatment plant on the shoreline to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

The plan, naturally hatched in a bar, would place a vote on the November ballot to provide “an appropriate honor for a truly unique president.”

Supporters say that they have plenty of signatures to qualify the initiative and that the renaming would fit in a long and proud American tradition of poking political figures in the eye.

There's really no more fitting honor for America's worst President. I would fund this initiative.

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McCain vs. Obama on The Economy

I don't think I'm breaking any news by claiming that the United States is either on the verge of a recession or deeply embedded inside one. Ian Welsh says that this could be a replay of the Japanese "Bright Depression," where a real-estate bubble's popping led to a long period of slow to no growth, and a virutal stasis in the financial system, with the rich getting richer and the poor remaining poor. This is the type of "soft landing" that people like John McCain's economic team would die for. They want to massively cut taxes on the super-wealthy, and when pressed, simply cannot explain how to avoid deficits given that tax imbalance.

SCARBOROUGH: You’re saying we can afford, just a yes or no, we can afford to extend George W. Bush’s tax cuts?


SCARBOROUGH: Ok. But in 2001, when Sen. McCain voted against George Bush’s tax cuts, he said we couldn’t afford it because it would create a deficit. In 2001, we had a 155 billion dollar surplus. This year, in 2008, when he now supports the tax cuts, as you know, we are moving towards a 300 billion dollar deficit. How can we afford tax cuts in 2008 with 300 billion dollar deficit that John McCain said we couldn’t afford in 2001 when we had 155 billion dollar surplus?

The reason Holtz-Eakin refused to explain how McCain would “balance the budget” while extending and enhancing the Bush tax cuts is simple: He can’t do it.

It's a cliche, but McCain really does represent more of the same. He'll continue to bail out those who can most afford the risk and leave those at the edges of society without a safety. To those without power or connections, McCain says let them have eBay, which is not the basis for a sound and responsible economy.

On the other hand, Barack Obama moves the debate back into the mainstream. He wants to renew American competitiveness through a variety of innovations and reforms, leveling the playing field for global trade, making massive investments in renewable energy. He's put education at the top of this agenda, and that's a refreshing change considering that it's focused on giving young people the opportunity to learn through tax credits and financial aid, instead of this treadmill of "measurement" and "accountability" that seeks only to turn our kids into robots more concerned with filling in a bubble than thinking independently. This all points to a new strategy for the global economy that has a different set of values than the failed conservative ideas of the past. But Obama needs to go further.

What America needs is a clear strategy to sustain its middle class in a global economy that has just integrated over 2 billion workers in China, India and the former Soviet Union. Neither the Bush administration nor Arizona Sen. John McCain shows any sign of having ever thought seriously about this fundamental challenge to U.S. security. McCain seems satisfied to prate about the benefits of free trade, and accuse Obama of believing America can't compete.

This week in Flint, Mich., Obama called for the U.S. to develop its own national economic strategy, and began by putting forth elements of a "competitiveness agenda" for the U.S. He vowed to raise taxes on the wealthy, capture some of the money now being squandered in Iraq, and invest in a concerted drive for energy independence, seeking leadership in the green industries of the future; in education and training, from pre-school to affordable college; in a world-class modern infrastructure from broadband to fast trains; in research and development to keep the U.S. the world leader in science and invention. While conservatives were grousing about "tax and spend," sensible observers might be more worried about whether his commitments were commensurate with the size of the challenge. ($10 billion a year in an investment bank for infrastructure won't build many bridges, much less seed modern transit.) [...]

How can America benefit from the expanded trade and opportunity of a global economy, while avoiding a race to the bottom that erodes the American middle class that is the pride and the foundation of our democracy? How do we balance our relationship with China, even while engaging that country to join in the effort to address global warming? These are far more fundamental challenges to our security than the threat posed by the scattered extremists of al Qaeda.

While McCain is simply out of touch, Obama has put forth essential elements of a different course. He's called for the U.S. to get serious about developing a national strategy for the new global economy. But that can't be done without a much more candid debate about the big gorilla in the room —China, whose communist governors are happily lending us the rope to hang ourselves with.

It's very clear that the McCain strategy on the economy is to lie about Obama's plans, using a willing media that doesn't know the difference when it comes to facts and figures to muddy the waters. McCain's minions will say, and the media will repeat, that that Obama wants to raise taxes on 21 million small businesses. In actuality, the number is less by a factor of 42, only those who make over $250,000. McCain's minions will say, and the media will repeat, that individual taxes will increase if you have an IRA or a 401(k). Retirement investment income are taxed at regular rates when distributed, not capital gains. That's the whole point of retirement accounts! McCain's minions will say, and the media will repeat, that Obama wants to raise payroll taxes on the middle class, neglecting the "donut hole" that ensures nothing will change for those making less than $250,000 a year.

They have to lie because they have no vision for the future. Obama may find that his vision is unsuited to the Herculean task. But I believe that, under his Administration, for the first time in eight years reality will be a factor in the decision-making.

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Feingold and Schumer on FISA

Russ Feingold gave a great speech today about the FISA bill and providing amnesty for illegal actions.

This legislation has been billed as a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. We are asked to support it because it is a supposedly reasonable accommodation of opposing views. Let me respond as clearly as possible: This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation.

This bill will effectively and unjustifiably grant immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program – a program that more than 70 members of this body still know virtually nothing about. And this bill will grant the Bush Administration – the same administration that developed and operated this illegal program for more than five years – expansive new authorities to spy on Americans’ international communications.

If you don’t believe me, here is what Senator Bond had to say about the bill: “I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped to get.” And House Minority Whip Roy Blunt said this: “The lawsuits will be dismissed.”

There is simply no question that Democrats who had previously stood strong against immunity and in support of civil liberties were on the losing end of this backroom deal [...]

And Mr. President, we have other alternatives. We have options. We do not have to pass this law in the midst of a presidential election year, while George Bush remains President, in the worst possible political climate for constructive legislating in this area. If the concern is that orders issued under the PAA could expire as early as August, we could extend the PAA for another six months, nine months, even a year. We could put a one-year sunset on this bill, rather than having it sunset in the next presidential election year when partisan politics will once again be at their worst. Or we could extend the effect of any current PAA orders for six months or a year. All of these options would address any immediate national security concerns.

He minced no words. Vacuuming up the communications between persons in the US and the rest of the world, NOT EVEN RELATED TO TERRORISM, is unjustifiable. And setting the precedent that the right piece of paper from the government allows a corporation to break the law is horrific. It was a great speech. If the Senate were actually a debating society, Feingold would be the leader of it.

Chuck Schumer may do the right thing on this bill as well.

Chuck Schumer's spokesman tells us that he's going to oppose the current version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legislation, which immunizes telcom companies for past implementation of Bush's requests and expands the government's capacity to surveil without court approval.

If Schumer backs an effort to remove the immunity provisions, that could be a big deal. Obama has come out against those provisions, but Schumer is a strategic signal caller in the Senate. The key question: Will Schumer support a filibuster on removing immunity from the bill?

At the end of the day, that's the key question. We aren't going to have the votes to do much beyond delay. But as Atrios notes, just one Senator can block legislation all by himself - unless it's something that the White House desperately wants. All Sen. Reid has to do is follow the same rules with the Dodd-Feingold filibuster that he does with respect to Republican obstructionism.

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