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

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stupidest article of the Bush era

There have been a lot of incidents of appallingly bad journalism over the past eight years: those relentlessly focused on trivialities, stories inventing fake scandals out of whole cloth, the ones amplifying Bush lies and cheerleading for war. Yet for some reason, this story by Dan Eggen and Paul Kane in Sunday's Washington Post strikes me as the most unbelievable, factually incorrect and just plain stupidest article of the Bush era.


Recent Political Wins Smell of Compromise

Lately, President Employs a Little-Used Tool

I don't know if you're aware of it, but getting full immunity for lawbreaking, expanded unchecked surveillance powers, and no-strings funding for endless war in Iraq is the result of compromise!

The Very Serious Journalists at the Post told me so.

The decider has become the compromiser.

President Bush has racked up a series of significant political victories in recent weeks, on surveillance reform, war funding and an international agreement on global warming, but only after engaging in the kind of conciliation with opponents that his administration has often avoided.

This must be the kind of conciliation where you threaten to veto everything unless you get exactly what you want and then the other side gives it to you. That is, after all, the best kind of conciliation.

Two weeks ago, for example, Bush signed a $162 billion spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he hailed as a product of bipartisan cooperation. But the final legislation was far more expensive than Bush had said he would accept, and it included expanded G.I. Bill college benefits and other provisions that he had opposed.

The compromise, you see, was Bush accepting MORE money for war than he wanted. He wanted $100 billion and received $162 billion. There are absolutely no strings on this money, not even the fake "benchmarks" that were imposed last year. The domestic priorities attached to the bill are absolutely no different from last year, when the Democrats inserted minimum wage increases to the war funding bill. So this compromising compromiser got everything he wanted for an endless war where dozens of Iraqis and Americans continue to die every day.

A new surveillance bill signed into law Thursday also marked a significant victory for Bush, largely because the White House won legal immunity for telecommunications firms that helped in eavesdropping after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Yet even there, the compromise legislation included reforms that the administration had initially opposed, including language making clear that the measure is the exclusive legal authority for government spying. The changes allowed the bill to easily overcome opposition from Democratic leaders and civil liberties groups.

This is a bill that the President's lackeys in Congress have admitted gives them more than they ever expected to receive, a better deal that they managed to squeeze out of the Republican-led 109th Congress of Denny Hastert and Bill Frist. Take a look at this detailed flowchart to understand that this new law allows for mass untargeted surveillance of every piece of data between foreign and US recipients, without any requirement of probable cause, without even supplying a phone number or email address attached to the surveillance, and with the added bonus of hiding the lawbreaking warrantless wiretapping program approved by the President and immunizing their criminal activity.

This was a "compromise."

Then there's this whopper:

Bush's conciliatory mood extended to the Group of Eight summit last week in Japan, where the United States for the first time joined the other major industrialized countries in agreeing to try to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Although environmental groups said the deal lacked vital specifics, it marked a long journey for a U.S. president who came to office questioning the science of climate change.

Just TODAY, the White House announced they would defy a Supreme Court ruling and refuse to regulate greenhouse gases through the EPA, disavowing the agency's own reports:

To defer compliance with the Supreme Court's demand, the White House has walked a tortured policy path, editing its officials' congressional testimony, refusing to read documents prepared by career employees and approved by top appointees, requesting changes in computer models to lower estimates of the benefits of curbing carbon dioxide, and pushing narrowly drafted legislation on fuel-economy standards that officials said was meant to sap public interest in wider regulatory action.

The decision to solicit further comment overrides the EPA's written recommendation from December. Officials said a few senior White House officials were unwilling to allow the EPA to state officially that global warming harms human welfare. Doing so would legally trigger sweeping regulatory requirements under the 45-year-old Clean Air Act, one of the pillars of U.S. environmental protection, and would cost utilities, automakers and others billions of dollars while also bringing economic benefits, EPA's analyses found.

And the G8 pledge does nothing, it has no targets, provides no numbers, and would not bind any member nation to any policy. Furthermore, does this sound like some conciliatory figure?

President George Bush signed off with a defiant farewell over his refusal to accept global climate change targets at his last G8 summit.

As he prepared to fly out from Japan, he told his fellow leaders: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

It is almost impossible to believe that any journalistic enterprise could come up with such dreck on their news pages, attributing these massive rationalizations and misinterpretations as fact. But this is the Beltway mindset, that "bipartisanship" is supremely valued and always just, and if the dirty hippies are mad about it then Washington must have done its job properly. So they literally just make shit up to feed the narrative of Bush as some transactional compromising figure instead of pushing a radical agenda based on supreme executive power. This is the same guy threatening to veto this:

The House approved a homeless veterans housing bill overwhelmingly Wednesday, even though White House advisers warned they'd urge President Bush to veto it.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, authorizes spending $200 million on housing and services for veterans, requires 20,000 rental vouchers a year for low-income housing for veterans and authorizes $1 million for grants to nonprofit groups to provide housing and services for veterans.

The bill, which passed 412-9, also creates a job in the Department of Housing and Urban Development for someone to coordinate with Veterans Affairs on homelessness and make regular reports to Congress on the issue.

He wants to veto a bill designed to house homeless veterans. Yet the Very Serious Journalists of Washington wants to tell me that there's some great change here. They would love to see that so they can put their relentless cheerleading for this deeply unpopular oaf behind them, so they can believe the system worked, and so everyone can go have cocktails at the bar safe in the knowledge that the betters in the Beltway are doing the glorious and bipartisan work of the people.

The truth is that there has been a hostile takeover at all levels of government that is undermining the very fabric of the nation. But the Very Serious Journalists don't want you to peek behind the curtain. If I didn't know better, I'd think the writers of this fable were Mr. and Mrs. Aesop.

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Surfing With Floaties

John McCain is aware of the Internets, but only dimly:

He said, ruefully, that he had not mastered how to use the Internet and relied on his wife and aides like Mark Salter, a senior adviser, and Brooke Buchanan, his press secretary, to get him online to read newspapers (though he prefers reading those the old-fashioned way) and political Web sites and blogs.

“They go on for me,” he said. “I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.”

Asked which blogs he read, he said: “Brooke and Mark show me Drudge, obviously. Everybody watches, for better or for worse, Drudge. Sometimes I look at Politico. Sometimes RealPolitics.” (it's RealClearPolitics -ed.)

At that point, Mrs. McCain, who had been intensely engaged with her BlackBerry, looked up and chastised her husband. “Meghan’s blog!” she said, reminding him of their daughter’s blog on his campaign Web site. “Meghan’s blog,” he said sheepishly.

Getting online requires a double-click on the browser application. I don't necessarily need a President to be able to install the DSL system or a universal broadband card, but the double-click seems to me like a pre-requisite.

Also interesting - in Washington, Drudge rules even the computer illiterate's world. As well as mini-Drudge.

I apologize in advance for demeaning McCain's peerless, impeccable service to our country.

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A Brief Election Roundup

Here's a few things I saw in some of the downballot races that interest me in this election:

• CA-04: Charlie Brown, a patriot in the strictest sense of the term, has been running his campaign for Congress based on some simple directives - to help those in need, to work in their own community, and to lead before ever getting to Washington. This week, in the wake of the California wildfires, he has provided supplies and relief to evacuees in Butte County, one of the hardest-hit areas.

• VA-05: This kind of volunteerism and early leadership is something we're also seeing in the campaign of Tom Perriello, who's facing Rep. Virgil Goode in the general election. This is about service, but it's also about raising the bar for activism as an outgrowth of a political campaign.

Early on, Perriello set aside 10 percent of the time and resources of his campaign staff to work on local projects. Larry Campbell, assistant pastor at Bible Way Cathedral in Danville, Va., says he was surprised that Perriello's campaign wanted more than a photo op when they visited his food bank.

"I've had many political candidates come through, but I've never had any work along with us in the area of social-action changes," he says, citing ongoing help from Perriello volunteers. "Most candidates who are running for national office have more programs just getting people out voting for them, but to give back to the community is a heavy statement for social change."

• TX-Sen: The DSCC is hammering John Cornyn for only changing his vote to halt Medicare cuts after the bill was assured of passage. He already lost the Texas branch of the AMA's support over this vote. His opponent, Rick Noriega, is going to need a lot of cash to catch up to Cornyn, but he has raised $1M online, making him the "largest (non-presidential) online fundraiser with ActBlue since its inception." Unfortunately, Texas is such a big state that you probably need LOTS more than Noriega has been able to raise to run a solid challenge.

• CO-Sen: Bob Schaffer, the Republican vying for this open seat, can't stop stepping in scandal. The latest is that he helped negotiate a lucrative oil deal in Iraqi Kurdistan, against the wishes of the State Department, and it's causing major problems for Iraqi efforts to negotiate a hydrocarbon law. Tied to Big Oil and putting personal benefit over country; quite a feat! Mark Udall is the Democrat here.

• MN-Sen: I thought Al Franken's latest ad was pretty good, and represented some outside-the-box thinking:

"In Washington, they debate whether former members of Congress should wait one year or two years before they become registered lobbyists. How about never? I'm Al Franken, in Washington I'll fight for a new law to prevent members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists."

It's a sharp message, picking up on anti-Washington sentiment. What's more, it's not off the typical shelf of "Democratic issues" we hear over and over again.

• AK-Sen: In other ad news, Mark Begich's latest uses the culture of corruption which has consumed Alaska politics and contrasts it with his personal integrity.

Begich says how he's made all his finances public, so the people can know what he's up to. "But it's not that way in Washington, DC," Begich says. "It's time to end the secret deals for special interests, and the special favors for elected officials."

There's nowhere that will work better than Alaska.

• GA-12: The primary between John Barrow and Regina Thomas is this Tuesday. Blue America has been running ads in the district, and Barrow is peeved.

Howie Klein of Los Angeles, a retired music industry executive and one of Blue America's founders, said the PAC got behind Thomas because of Barrow's votes supporting the war in Iraq, President Bush's signature tax cuts and a recent bill to protect telecommunications companies that help the government eavesdrop on American phone and computer lines.

"He's in a Democratic district and he's still voting worse than anyone else," Klein said. "If we can somehow harm to his chances of being elected, there is a state senator who seems very progressive and intelligent who could do the job." [...]

Barrow responded with a statement saying his support for an increase in the minimum wage and opposition to cutting veterans benefits and privatizing Social Security, among other issues, have put him at odds with Bush plenty.

"Apparently the only way to persuade some people that I'm not a rubber stamp for George Bush is to become a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi," the Democratic House speaker, Barrow said. "And I refuse to be a rubber stamp for anyone."

Attacking liberals and dismissing Democrats seems to be an awkward strategy for a primary, but he is the incumbent and Thomas hasn't raised much of her own money. Frankly if we can make this competitive it'll be a win.

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Quick, Find Someone To Blame!

This idea that Chuck Schumer is to blame for IndyMac's bank failure is totally ludicrous, as Hubris Sonic at GNB adequately explains.

Its fairly easy these days to google up all the news stories available about this sort of thing and google finance can put that information in context for you.

Clearly Schumer's statements had little or no effect. This bank was in freefall well before his statement on 6/26. There was a bit of a sell off, small compared to what had come before now, and nothing compared to when the bank itself announced it would issue no new loans, and fire half it's staff on 7/8. On the same day S&P changes their rating to complete JUNK.

On top of all this, while I know the market is sensitive and information flies around quickly, the idea that a letter from some Senator to regulators would send individual customers all across the country scurrying to their banks is completely dubious. It failed because... it failed. Its executives failed, the regulatory system failed, and this entire financial market is on the verge of failure. Nobody was checking to see if the folks receiving the loans could pay them. Chuck Schumer had nothing to do with it.

But of course, the party of personal responsibility wants to find a scapegoat, and hopefully a prominent Democrat, to justify even more profit-taking and risk socialization.

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Brave New World

At some level I suppose it's futile to expect Nero to do something other than fiddling, but it's the manner in which they went about this that's so frustrating. Feeling unsatisfied by directly contravening federal Congressional statutes, the Bushes have moved on to contravening judicial mandates. And since nobody in Washington is demanding anything approaching accountability, they'll get away with it.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce today that it will seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming to human health and welfare -- a matter that federal climate experts and international scientists have repeatedly said should be urgently addressed.

The Supreme Court, in a decision 15 months ago that startled the government, ordered the EPA to decide whether human health and welfare are being harmed by greenhouse gas pollution from cars, power plants and other sources, or to provide a good explanation for not doing so. But the administration has opted to postpone action instead, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

To defer compliance with the Supreme Court's demand, the White House has walked a tortured policy path, editing its officials' congressional testimony, refusing to read documents prepared by career employees and approved by top appointees, requesting changes in computer models to lower estimates of the benefits of curbing carbon dioxide, and pushing narrowly drafted legislation on fuel-economy standards that officials said was meant to sap public interest in wider regulatory action.

The decision to solicit further comment overrides the EPA's written recommendation from December. Officials said a few senior White House officials were unwilling to allow the EPA to state officially that global warming harms human welfare. Doing so would legally trigger sweeping regulatory requirements under the 45-year-old Clean Air Act, one of the pillars of U.S. environmental protection, and would cost utilities, automakers and others billions of dollars while also bringing economic benefits, EPA's analyses found.

Short version: The EPA lost a case in court, the Supreme Court ordered a decision on regulating greenhouse gases as a pollutant, the EPA rendered one, the White House decided not to open the email, and now they're going to punt on the whole thing. So goodbye from the world's biggest polluter.

The radical nature of the Cheneyite project in Washington has revealed giant flaws in the modern rendition of the Constitutional system. What we've now seen is that the structure of democracy in America has to this point been held by a broad gentleman's agreement. If laws aren't followed by the branch meant to execute the laws, everything breaks down. If court orders mean nothing, if federal statutes can be appended by someone other than the legislature, we are living in a spinning chaos.

This isn't that new - Andrew Jackson's famous quote about Chief Justice John Marshall's ruling on removing Cherokees from their land in Georgia, "John Marshall has made his
decision, now let him enforce it," comes to mind - but there's an audacity to the current project that does suggest that somuch of this government's practices are faith-based. Many of us believe in the law and the rules and the expected conduct based on following them, and this sliver of conservative thought just doesn't. They find it perfectly acceptable to disavow their own reports and rewrite their own rules and create their own reality. It's only because of the stunning lack of success of this project that there's even a chance to discredit it.

But this all comes back to accountability. Nobody tries to pull this off if they aren't confident they'll suffer no consequences. I think one of the more revealing essays of the week comes from Tim Noah at Slate, discussing this new Serious Bipartisan Commission report from Village elders about war powers, which is pretty much not needed if Article I, Section 8 were ever consulted in a rigorous manner. The document that James Baker and Warren Christopher provided this week would eliminate what little accountability is provided in the 1973 War Powers Act, eliminating the sunset provision for military action by the executive without Congressional approval after 30 days. But this is precisely what Congress desires. Noah writes:

Congress doesn't want to streamline its role in declaring war, because, for all its bluster (not to mention its constitutional responsibility), Congress doesn't want to be held politically accountable for the results. I first became aware of this phenomenon 21 summers ago while covering a House debate on the use of Navy convoys to escort 11 Kuwaiti oil tankers through the Persian Gulf. Iraq and Iran were at war, and although the United States didn't officially take sides, this military action reflected our government's quiet tilt toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq...

Anyway, on that August afternoon in 1987 the House was debating whether to invoke the War Powers Resolution, a 1973 law meant to require congressional approval of any executive action that introduced the armed forces into hostilities, or into a situation in which hostilities seemed pretty goddamned likely, as appeared to be the case here. (Happily, the Navy escort occurred without incident.) What amazed and shocked me, and moved me to write up the debate for the New Republic, was the unembarrassed manner in which members of Congress declared as their paramount interest the absence of any legislative fingerprints on whatever might result from allowing (or not allowing) the Navy convoys to enter an area of violent conflict. In fact, it was pretty much taken as a given that the War Powers Resolution would not be invoked, not because the president was not complying with it (no president ever has) but because doing so would require Congress to either approve or revoke Reagan's decision. Here is how I described the House debate 14 years later in this column (I can't seem to locate the original New Republic piece); I should point out that the first two speakers were members of Reagan's own party:

"This resolution puts congressional fingerprints on our course of action," complained Rep. Toby Roth. "Does this put the fingerprints and the handprints of the Congress on that policy?" asked Rep. Donald Lukens. No, assured Rep. Pat Schroeder: It was "a teeny-weeny first step" that "doesn't commit the Congress in any way." Only then could the resolution pass.

The Baker-Christopher proposal, then, is an empty exercise in high-mindedness for its own sake. Congress has all the war-making power it needs, and considerably more than it wants. The latter problem can't be solved legislatively. Cowardice, opportunism, and indecision inhabit a realm beyond the reach of law, and you'd think that two experienced hands like Baker and Christopher would understand that better than most.

Oh, they understand it all right. They're counting on it. And so do the Cheneyites who mapped out this plan for an unfettered unitary executive. It may have lost in unimportant areas like "court" and "public opinion," but inside the Beltway it is victorious and shining.

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Forget The Narrative

When I saw Newsweek's poll showing Obama with a huge 15-point lead in June, I thought it was an outlier. They've come back to Earth with a more modest 3-point lead, but instead of this being about Obama's epic crash or shift to the center, as some would suggest, the answer is massive sampling bias:


231 Republicans sampled, 23%, 36% with "lean Republican" included
324 Democrats sampled, 38%, 55% with "lean Democratic" included
307 Independents sampled, 35%


315 Republicans sampled, 28%, 42% with leaners
324 Democrats sampled, 35%, 47% with leaners
357 Independents sampled, 33%

Imagine that, when you poll the same number of Democrats, but 84 more Republicans (increasing their number by about 25%) and 50 more Independents, McBombBomb does better.

I think the first Newsweek Poll was pretty much overstating bullshit; and the second is almost a mirror image of bullshit.

One of the things I hope for which will never happen is that this whole country gets out of the narrative business to explain political action. If a poll confirms your personal suspicions it doesn't mean that the whole country agrees with you. If the opposite occurs, it doesn't mean the whole country disagrees with you. It means that polls have substantial variables, and people have idiosyncratic reasons for choosing candidates. I'd like it to be neat and say that x=y but this is simply too big a country for that. It's irresponsible to cherry-pick polls to satisfy your own pre-ordained narratives, and while this is how traditional media works, it's depressing to see the same in the blogosphere.

There has been a lot of big talk about Obama's lurch to the right or how lefty bloggers and civil liberties advocates are in hysterics or how Obama is not a liberal or a progressive and when he fails we shouldn't be blamed (which sounds like "Conservatism never fails, it's just never been tried" to me). There's merit in all of these and gross oversimplification in all of these, but ultimately this last paragraph from Digby's piece is right:

The question for all progressives remains what it always has been, in my view, from before and during the primary season and beyond. To the extent the American two party system allows, assuming we can get the most liberal politician available elected to the white house, what do we plan to do to make him actually govern progressively? I don't think our movement has thought enough about that and I think it's the only question worth asking.

Yes, this is the point. Obama is good on a lot of things and not so good on others. Understanding the impact of the judiciary on women's lives or the need for mass transit or the importance of bilingual education is far, far beyond what any national politician has emphasized in the past several decades. On the other hand, there have been very troubling positions, like FISA and mealy-mouthed rhetoric on abortion. He signaled his centrist intentions in very clumsy ways but I think he'll start signaling the other way pretty soon (in fact he already has). The point is how progressives can work together as a movement to ensure governance that is more than tinkering around the edges. Honestly that's where a lot of this is going to start. But I believe we are starting to build coalitions and institutions that are working toward this goal. The Get FISA Right group and the Accountability NOW PAC are two such examples. Also, what's being done by Obama supporters in a self-starting manner on the ground is far more important than an oversampled poll, and it's eventually what's going to allow for a pressure point on a Democratic President. Because the grassroots organizing being done by people empowered to do it themselves will not flame out after the election. It's built to last, and it's easily transferable from candidates to issues.

At the same time, we have to understand that the cauldron of politics ends up overheating everything, producing overreactions to the slightest data, and it's beneficial to step back and assess these things in a more calm manner.

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Feinstein's Epic FAIL

As bad a week as it's been for John McCain, it's been a TERRIBLE week for Dianne Feinstein. She watched in the Senate Judiciary Committee as Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who she voted to confirm, put on as bad a performance as Alberto Gonzales ever did, covering for the Administration's criminal actions, from torture to politicization of the Justice Department. Then, of course, there was the FISA vote, where she bowed to President Bush and voted to participate in a coverup. Despite this public statement just two weeks before the vote:

I believe the court should not grant immunity without looking into the legality of the companies' actions. So if there is an amendment that does support this, I would intend to vote for it.

When it came down to voting on precisely that amendment, she weaseled her way out of it.

Amendment Number: S.Amdt. 5059 to H.R. 6304 (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978)

Statement of Purpose: To limit retroactive immunity for providing assistance to the United States to instances in which a Federal court determines the assistance was provided in connection with an intelligence activity that was constitutional.

Feinstein (D-CA), Nay

And of course, she voted against stripping immunity, for cloture, and for the final bill.

Then there's this water bond which is more of a true compromise for DiFi, but still includes funds for building dams, and ignores unspent water funds from a 2006 bond issue. So the idea is to borrow on top of the borrowing.

Courage Campaign is considering whether or not to push censure, but CREDO Action isn't waiting to voice their displeasure. From an email:

On July 9th, sixty-nine senators voted to gut the Bill of Rights. They voted to hand President Bush the power to spy on Americans without warrants, and to grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms who allegedly helped him break the law in the past.

No wonder the Associated Press headline following the bill's passage read, "Senate bows to Bush."

So why does a president with the lowest approval ratings since the advent of polling have the power to eviscerate the Constitution?

Because Sen. Feinstein gave it to him.

We can't undo what our senators have done. But we can tell them that we can't believe they'd rather protect President Bush and his law-breaking cronies than the civil liberties of all Americans.

Click here to tell Sen. Feinstein that you are watching, that you are disappointed, and that you won't sit idly by while our Congress destroys our Constitution.

After you sign the petition, please be sure to tell a few friends.

It's really the establishment mindset, afraid of being labeled weak and then bowing to the opposition party's demands, and not recognizing the irony, that must be stopped. And there's no greater symbol of that mindset than DiFi

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Tony Snow

has lost his battle with colon cancer. He was 53. We didn't agree at all politically, but by all accounts he was a nice man. When he resigned last year you could tell this was going to be a tough situation, and now we know. RIP.

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Friday, July 11, 2008


Doesn't winning feel good?

After watching Republican opposition to a Medicare bill crumble in the Senate this week, emboldened Democrats are considering whether to force a new vote on expanding a children’s health insurance program.

Lawmakers, aides and lobbyists say House Democratic leaders may schedule a vote in September on an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a priority for Democrats since they took over Congress last year.

It's called "daring your opponent to make bad votes." SCHIP is a great political issue and an important policy, so having GOP lawmakers in threatened seats vote on it over and over again is a very good idea. And with the HCAN coalition and a possible jumping of the fence to Democrats by doctors, we have the outside muscle to get this done.

People don't really remember the SCHIP vote from last year. It's time to remind them.

(Unfortunately, eventually Democrats figure this stuff out on domestic policy; if it has to do with foreign policy they run scared. Which is completely sad, and harms their chances of taking back the White House.)

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The 2nd-Largest Bank Closure In US History Is All In Your Head

It's a mental failure.

IndyMac Bank's assets were seized by federal regulators on Friday after succumbing to the pressures of tighter credit, tumbling home prices and rising foreclosures.

The Office of Thrift Supervision said it transferred IndyMac's operations to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) because it did not think the lender could meet its depositors' demands.

IndyMac customers with funds in the bank were limited to taking out money via automated teller machines over the weekend, debit card transactions or checks, regulators said.

It's all psychosomatic! John McCain told me so!

I felt better after talking to the bubbly Crist, who's like human Prozac. "How can you not be optimistic about Florida?" he asked. "Is there a more beautiful place on the planet?" He then recounted a story that probably won't help him in the GOP Veepstakes: "John McCain told me, 'It's tough in those Rust Belt states. You really feel a bit of depression in people's outlook. But when you get to Florida, people feel great.'"

He didn't use the magic words "bitter" and "cling," and also he's not a Democrat, so this won't be a real story.

Getting back to the IndyMac takeover, combine that with the imminent failures of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and you're looking at the makings of a real crisis. Like run-on-the-bank kind of stuff. Freddie and Fannie account for half of the nation's mortgages and are indeed too big to fail, so ensuring that less homeowners foreclose on them is paramount. Good day for the Senate to pass foreclosure legislation. The Congress has been asleep on this for too long.

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Protecting Expert Bloggers

David Appell thinks the blogosphere sucks because sometimes bloggers have opinions about which they are not complete experts. Horrors! While there is no substitute for experience, this is probably a pretty common lament of those self-described "experts" who are horrified that the rabble is thinking on their own rather than feeding on expert information like birds. Chris Bowers deals with this nicely, but I would add that there are plenty of bloggers who ARE experts in their respective fields, be it the numbers of politics, the environment, health care, foreign policy, Iraq, what have you, and who do offer insight that you would only find in obscure academic journals, and they can make it accessible and edifying, and help those of us dilettantes with working out these issues. For instance, without someone like Pam Spaulding, who gets a nice profile from her local newspaper in Raleigh, I would lose a crucial perspective on LGBT issues and would find it more difficult to work out my own opinions on that subject, which is virtually uncovered in major media.

Another one of these experts is the science blogger PZ Myers, who has roiled professional outrage specialist William Donohue of the Catholic League by calling a Eucharist a cracker. No, really.

Here's a story that will destroy your hopes for a reasonable humanity.

"Webster Cook says he smuggled a Eucharist, a small bread wafer that to Catholics symbolic of the Body of Christ after a priest blesses it, out of mass, didn't eat it as he was supposed to do, but instead walked with it."

This isn't the stupid part yet. He walked off with a cracker that was put in his mouth, and people in the church fought with him to get it back. It is just a cracker! [...]

Would you believe this isn't hyperbole? People around the world are actually extremely angry about this — Webster Cook has been sent death threats over his cracker.

He then asked his readers to send him a Eucharist wafer so he could do rude things with it on YouTube, which I think is where Donohue's head exploded. They're now trying to bully Myers and are demanding that he be fired. He needs some help:

So far today, I have received 39 pieces of personal hate mail of varying degrees of literacy, all because I was rude to a cracker. Four of them have included death threats, a personal one day record. Thirty-four of them have demanded that I be fired. Twenty-five of them have told me to desecrate a copy of the Koran, instead, or in some similar way offend Muslims, because — in a multiplicity of ironic cluelessness — apparently only some religious icons must be protected, and I would only offend Catholics because they are all so nice that none of them would wish me harm. I even have one email that says I should be fired, that the author would like to kill me, and that I only criticize because Catholics are so gentle and kind.

Oh, and of course, the university president's office has also received lots of mail demanding my immediate ouster (keep in mind, though…Catholics are no threat to anyone at all.) I don't know how much, but since Donohue published the president's email address and not mine, I imagine it's much greater than what I've seen. Those lovely Dark Age fanatics at the Catholic League have started a write-in campaign to start up an inquisition.

So no poll-crashing today. Instead, I would appreciate it if you would write a short note to President Robert Bruininks in support (he's going to hate me for this). I have to ask for a few constraints, though: only do so if you are willing to sign a real name to it — most of the complaint mail I'm getting uses fake names, making it much less persuasive — and that, unlike the religious screeds I'm seeing, you take the time to proofread and send him something that at least looks like a high school graduate wrote it, which will put you way above the level of the hate mail. Be polite and rational, too!

You can email him at: bruin001-at-umn-dot-edu. Myers is a really good science blogger who has the gift of lucidity, and he doesn't deserve this kind of harassment.

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We Win One

This is a significant victory for those of us who desire a free and open Internet:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that he would recommend that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, be punished for violating agency principles that guarantee customers open access to the Internet.

The potentially precedent-setting move stems from a complaint that Comcast had blocked Internet traffic among users of a certain type of file-sharing software that allowed them to exchange large amounts of data.

“The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers access to the Internet,” the commission chairman, Kevin J. Martin, told The Associated Press late Thursday. “We found that Comcast’s actions in this instance violated our principles.”

That's George Bush's FCC Commissioner, just so you remember.

At the Save the Internet blog Tim Karr calls this a win for organized people over organized money. Clearly Comcast tried everything they could to prevent accountability on this, including stacking open FCC meetings with sleeping seat warmers. Ultimately, common sense and the principle of net neutrality prevailed.

But it needs to go beyond principle or even precedent and become codified into law. Virtually every Democratic Senate challenger supports the concept of net neutrality and legislation like the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, so we'll have more votes in the Senate for this after November. For now, let's leverage this victory.

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The Health Care Reform Moment

Paul Krugman has a really good column today about the consequences of the Democrats' victory on stopping Medicare cuts (Bush has vowed to veto, but the votes will in all likelihood be there to override) by halting the creeping privatization of the system. More than anything it was a tactical victory:

This year, the Democratic leadership decided, instead, to link the “doctor fix” to the fight against privatization and offered a bill that maintains doctors’ payments while reining in those expensive private fee-for-service plans. Last month, the Senate took up this bill — but Democrats failed by one vote to override a Republican filibuster. And that seemed to be that: soon after that vote, Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley had another bipartisan fudge all ready to go.

But then Democratic leaders decided to play brinkmanship. They let the doctors’ cuts stand for the Fourth of July holiday, daring Republicans to threaten the basic medical care of millions of Americans rather than give up subsidies to insurance companies. Over the recess period, there was an intense lobbying war between insurance companies and doctors.

And when the Senate came back in session, it turned out that the doctors — and the Democrats — had won: Senator Kennedy was there to cast the extra vote needed to break the filibuster, a number of Republicans switched sides and the bill passed with a veto-proof majority.

If the Democrats can win victories like this now, they should be able to put a definitive end to the privatization of Medicare next year, when they’re virtually certain to have a larger Congressional majority and will probably hold the White House.

More than that, however, advocates of universal health care, like Health Care for America Now, the new group headlined by Elizabeth Edwards, have to be very encouraged by this week’s events.

Absolutely, especially considering that HCAN will be in the exact attack dog position that the AMA was over the Fourth of July holiday. The AMA ran ads in Republican districts and broke them down to finally change their vote. As Ezra Klein notes, if physicians can be brought into a coalition on health care reform, that could be a tremendous asset.

Now there's been a lot of controversy to the launch of HCAN, particuarly from single-payer advocates who think that HCAN will perpetuate the for-profit insurance industry. Now, what they actually favor is a public option being given the ability to compete with private insurance, making gradual the transition to a national health care plan, along with strict regulation on insurers so they have to compete on price and quality. But overall, I think that these single-payer evangelists misunderstand HCAN's role, which is to relentlessly push back on insurance companies and wayward legislators rather than any kind of policy role. And the AMA/Medicare Advantage situation shows how that can work to reform the system in a progressive direction.

I thought Ezra's other post about the bind single-payer advocates are in was particularly good.

On the one hand, there will never be the political will for single payer without effective and determined advocacy. So single payer supporters need to engage in that advocacy, and point out problems in competing proposals. On the other hand, barring a seismic political shift, single payer isn't passing the US Senate any time soon, and so dogmatically insisting that the only way forward is single payer is basically dogmatically insisting that there won't be health reform because you'll oppose achievable compromises. At times, this attitude has killed health care reform, as when Democrats refused Nixon's proposal in the 70s -- a proposal far more radical than anything being offered today. So it's tricky. The policy is possible, and simply requires political will. The will is absent and requires advocacy. But the advocacy, if conducted too dogmatically, can stand in the way of reforms that would help the 47 million uninsured and get us a step closer to single payer.

I think that the goal ought to be single payer, but anything that helps 47 million people get health care is positive. And both Physicians for a National Health Care Plan and HCAN have roles to play in that goal, if they could only work together. But you have to acknowledge that tension.

UPDATE: Jon Cohn has more on the burgeoning coalition of Democrats and doctors.

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Baruch Chabadobama

It's not the fact that 12 percent of Americans still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim that concerns me. It's the fact that 1 percent believe him to be Jewish.

“Now, thinking about Barack Obama’s religious beliefs… Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is? Is he Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or something else?”

Christian 57%
Muslim 12%
Jewish 1%
Something else 2%
Don’t know - Heard different things 10%
Don’t know - Haven’t heard enough 15%
Refused 3%

Maybe that 1% consists of Sammy Davis Jr. and Rod Carew's friends, but when you see poll numbers like this, you really start to wonder about America, public education, newspapers, reading skills, and pretty much everything else.

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McCain And Women

John W. McCain is holding a women's-only town hall event today in Wisconsin. He talked about how he's committed to "equal pay for equal work" but he sung a different tune just a few months ago.

In fact, McCain seems committed to just the opposite. In April, he skipped the vote on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would have rectified the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear “that made it much harder for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims.”

In fact, on that very same day, McCain said that if he had been in the Senate, he would have voted against it because the bill “opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems.” He also dismissed the importance of equal pay, saying that women simply need “education and training“:

“They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else,” McCain said. “And it’s hard for them to leave their families when they don’t have somebody to take care of them.

The issue is not “education and training.” When denied equal pay by her supervisor, Lilly Ledbetter was doing the exact same job as her male counterparts and received numerous performance-based awards.

McCain is confused about his position on women's issues because it seems he doesn't pay that much attention to them. Earlier this week Carly Fiorina, one of his most accomplished surrogate liars, brought up how many insurance plans cover Viagra but not birth control. McCain, of course, voted against legislation that would have mandated birth control to be part of insurance coverage. When he was asked for comment, deer in headlights felt sorry for him.

Q: Earlier this week Carly Fiorina was meeting with a bunch of reporters and talked about it being unfair that insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control. And -

McCain: I certainly do not want to discuss that issue. (uneasy laughter)

Q: But apparently you’ve voted against (McCain laughter continues)

McCain: I don’t know what I voted -

Q: Voted against coverage of birth control, forcing health insurance companies to cover birth control in the past. Is that still your position?

McCain: I’ll look at my voting record on it, but I have, uh, (5 second pause) , I don’t recall the vote right now. But I’ll be glad to look at it and get back to you as to why, I don’t -

Q: I guess her statement was that it was unfair that health insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control. Do you have an opinion on that?

McCain: (after 8 second pause) I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote, I’ve cast thousands of votes in the Senate. I will respond to - it’s a, it’s a (nervous)

Here's video, if you can see it:

McCain has no interest in these issues whatsoever. His personal treatment of women mirrors his policy treatment of them. This was on Page 1 of the LA Times today, above the fold, and it just shows what a retrograde, selfish human being McCain has been for the bulk of his life:

In his 2002 memoir, "Worth the Fighting For," McCain wrote that he had separated from Carol before he began dating Hensley.

"I spent as much time with Cindy in Washington and Arizona as our jobs would allow," McCain wrote. "I was separated from Carol, but our divorce would not become final until February of 1980."

An examination of court documents tells a different story. McCain did not sue his wife for divorce until Feb. 19, 1980, and he wrote in his court petition that he and his wife had "cohabited" until Jan. 7 of that year -- or for the first nine months of his relationship with Hensley.

Although McCain suggested in his autobiography that months passed between his divorce and remarriage, the divorce was granted April 2, 1980, and he wed Hensley in a private ceremony five weeks later. McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife.

His wife was disfigured in a car accident while McCain was a POW and when he returned, he traded her in for a newer, younger, prettier model. Bottom line. There's divorce based on irreconcilable differences and there's this completely different circumstance.

If you want another cynical creep in the White House who will do nothing for women's issues, McCain is definitely your man.

UPDATE: For contrast, you can find the Obama campaign's report about the impact of his economic plan on working women here. It's a PDF.

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Friday Random Ten

For those of you playing at home, it goes like this: You take your iPod, set it to shuffle, and write down the first 10 songs that come out. No cheating. If you have a landmine like John Tesh's live album in your player and it comes up, that's ON THE LIST.

I actually just rearranged some songs in my iPod, streamlined it and removed dupes and loaded some new tracks, so let's see what comes out:

Shamemaker - Ween (coolest song ever, sung in a thick Philly accent)
Looks - Mike Doughty
Call The Law - Outkast feat. Janelle Monae
It's Oh So Quiet - Bjork
Drive Slow - Kanye West feat. Paul Wall & GLC
Groove Holmes - The Beaastie Boys
Ain't Got No Home - The Band
Whispering Whip - Robert Pollard
Milk & Honey - Beck
Guns Of Brixton - Nouvelle Vague

Bonus Track:
So Says I - The Shins

Well, the same crap I had in before came up. But never fear, new music is on its way!

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Financial Mess Gets Messier

I am not what you would call an economist, but I'm pretty sure this is a horrible sign:

Alarmed by the growing financial stress at the nation’s two largest mortgage finance companies, senior Bush administration officials are considering a plan to have the government take over one or both of the companies and place them in a conservatorship if their problems worsen, people briefed about the plan said on Thursday.

The companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have been hit hard by the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Their shares are plummeting and their borrowing costs are rising as investors worry that the companies will suffer losses far larger than the $11 billion they have already lost in recent months. Now, as housing prices decline further and foreclosures grow, the markets are worried that Fannie and Freddie themselves may default on their debt.

Under a conservatorship, the shares of Fannie and Freddie would be worth little or nothing, and any losses on mortgages they own or guarantee — which could be staggering — would be paid by taxpayers.

Shares of Fannie and Freddie have already lost half their value today.

The problem here is that we're looking at another bailout of financial services. And so the taxpayer bears the risk of mortgage speculation caused by investors. They got rich for years but won't have to give that money back. Socialize the risk, privatize the profit.

Bonddad has more on Fannie and Freddie, which are sort of public and sort of not, and now will be completely public in this bailout scenario.

Amazingly enough, after the financial sector's deregulated Nirvana fucked up the economy for years, if not decades, to come, now the government wants more regulation. It's similar to how now, budget hawks want to tackle the deficit, after Republicans busted it, just in time to constrain a possible Democratic President.

Now all of this isn't to say that the Peterson foundation's basic idea "live within your means" isn't a good one. Many of us here in the blogosphere have been screaming this from the rooftops for years. (Welcome to the party, lads. Pass the ammo. And where were you the last 6 1/2 years. Hmmmm?) They're absolutely right that debt services charges are an awful thing to spend money on. But somehow the problem for folks like Peterson is never the precipitous decline in capital gains taxes, or corporate tax rates, or estate taxes; nor is it spending too much on the military, the huge bleeding ulcer of Iraq, or the massive tax cuts for the rich. Somehow it's people who need healthcare or old folks getting Social Security checks. Somehow there's never a billion dollars to say 'well, one way to fix medical costs is single payor, and every health care expert who isn't paid not to know, knows it" but there is a billion bucks to go after "entitlements". Somehow there isn't a billion bucks to go after the fat cats who benefit from bloated Pentagon budgets which don't make the US one whit safer.

And somehow there wasn't a billion bucks to stop Bush and the Republican Congress from going on a drunken warmongering spending and tax cutting binge, but now that there's a possibility that Democrats might be in charge, fiscal responsibility is important again. Spending money on tax cuts for the rich and for unproductive foolish wars is one thing—but the very idea that it should be spent on old folks and sick people, well, that won't do.

I really want off of this treadmill...

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Rove If You Want To, Rove Around The World

Well, Karl Rove didn't show up for his Congressional hearing yesterday, defying a subpoena; word is that he left the country on a scheduled trip he never bothered to mention to the House Judiciary Committee. The Democrats are most angry and I think they're going to break out the "stern letter" pen for a round of extremely stern letters.

In today's "hearing" (for which no one showed up to be heard), subcommittee chair Linda Sanchez ruled Rove's assertion of the privilege to be without merit, which could be the first step toward holding him in contempt of Congress. Of course, Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers have both been held in contempt, and we already know what happened there: the Bush "administration" has instructed the US Attorney not to prosecute the case. And this is actually Rove's second subpoena. The Senate Judiciary Committee issued the first one a year ago, but Rove never showed for that one, either. The Committee then voted to hold Rove in contempt in December of last year, but there has never been a vote before the full Senate, which would be required to refer the charges to the same US Attorney who wouldn't prosecute Miers and Bolten.

But Rove's claim could perhaps add another layer of ridiculousness to these proceedings. He claims executive privilege, but the White House says nothing. So who's right? Has he been instructed to assert this newly invented kind of immunity/ privilege or not? Well, let's hold hearings to find out whether the White House told him to do it. Only the White House surely won't testify, no doubt claiming... executive privilege. And Double Secret Immunity, too, no doubt.

So, he did not claim executive privilege, but he said he didn't have to show up because his duties as a Presidential aide were privileged. Which means that his official duties included politicizing the Justice Department and railroading Democrats in invented prosecutions, because that was the subject of the hearing.

It's pretty clear that the Democrats aren't going to do a hell of a lot about this. Even if they knuckled down and offered inherent contempt, they only have until the end of September before adjourning. The only possibility is this legislation that would prevent "future Karl Roves."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has primary jurisdiction over the executive branch, is considering legislation to eliminate Karl Rove-type advisers in future administrations.

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hints broadly that such a bill could ban the use of federal funds to finance such a politically partisan office.

"Why should we be using taxpayer dollars to have a person solely in charge of politics in the White House?" Waxman said in an interview. "Can you imagine the reaction if each member of Congress had a campaign person paid for with taxpayer dollars?"

Sadly, this is as close we can get to accountability. Stopping a future event. That'll show Karl!

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Days Like This I Feel Good To Be Away From A Television Set

Ezra Klein writes:

The big political story of the day is that Jesse Jackson was in range of a live mic while complaining about Barack Obama to a friend.

Can that possibly be true in the nation of Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson? In a time of war, terrorism and economic crisis? On a day when core Constitutional rights were weakened by the signing of a bill which virtually eliminates the Fourth Amendment? And even if you go with the media you have, in the midst of a week when John McCain reveals he doesn't know anything about Social Security, and his top economic adviser calls the entire country a bunch of whiners for not being able to afford food and gas...

...can the BIG POLITICAL STORY OF THE DAY possibly be a guy caught on a live mic?

Isn't everybody ashamed of themselves yet?

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McCain's Horrible Week

Hey, good for Barack Obama:

If you can't see it, Obama replays Phil Gramm's "nation of whiners" comment, adds in McCain's "psychological benefits" for his energy policies comment, and concludes, "America already has one Dr. Phil." Which is one Dr. Phil too many, but he's too polite to say that.

If you haven't noticed, McCain is having a week as a candidate that makes Walter Mondale look like FDR.

This is the week that should have effectively ended John McCain's efforts to become the next president of the United States. But you wouldn't know it if you watched any of the mainstream media outlets or followed political reporting in the major newspapers.

During this past week: McCain called the most import entitlement program in the U.S. a disgrace, his top economic adviser called the American people whiners, McCain released an economic plan that no one thought was serious, he flip flopped on Iraq, joked about the deaths of Iranian citizens, and denied making comments that he clearly made -- TWICE. All this and it is not even Friday! Yet watching and reading the mainstream press you would think McCain was having a pretty decent political week, I mean at least Jesse Jackson didn't say anything about him.

Go read that whole article. But let me add to it. He emailed around a YouTube of him bashing his top economic adviser Phil Gramm and saying "He doesn't speak for me," at PRECISELY THE TIME Gramm was speaking for him at the Wall Street Journal's editorial board. He said that he didn't know the significance of the Iranian threat after spending half his campaign talking up that very threat. And then there's this, the kind of story that would utterly define any Democrat immediately as an unprincipled liar for the length of the campaign.

Asked what’s the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of Pittsburgh , McCain, chuckled, "the Steelers. I was a mediocre high school athlete but I loved and adored the sports but the Steelers really made a huge impression on me particularly in my early years."

And then McCain told a rather moving story about his time as a P.O.W. "When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the pressures, physical pressures on me, I named the starting lineup, defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron mates."

"Did you really?" asked the reporter.

"Yes," McCain said.

"In your POW camp?" asked the reporter.

"Yes," McCain said.

"Could you do it today?" asked the reporter.

"No, unfortunately," McCain said.

Here's one reason he likely couldn't do it today -- the Steelers aren't the team whose defensive line McCain named for his Vietnamese tormentors. The Green Bay Packers are. At least according to every previous time McCain has told this story.

In McCain's best-selling 1999 memoir "Faith of My Fathers," McCain writes:

"Once my condition had stabilized, my interrogators resumed their work. Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate. Eventually, I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant. Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line, and said they were members of my squadron. When asked to identify future targets, I simply recited the names of a number of North Vietnamese cities that had already been bombed."

In 2005, A&E ran a movie version of "Faith of My Fathers."

And McCain discussed that precise clip on CNN.

The actor playing McCain, asked to name the men in his squadron, says: "Starr; Greg; McGee; Davis ; Adderly; Brown; Ringo; Wood."

Cut back to real life. The CNN anchor asks McCain: "For those who don't know the story, were those NFL football players?"

"That was the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, the first Super Bowl champions, yes," McCain responded. But it's -- it was the best I could think of at the time."

The movie actually shows this act of defiance twice.

INTERROGATOR: The names of your squadron...

MCCAIN: Starr, Gregg...McGee, Davis...Adderley, Brown, Ringo, Wood.

INTERROGATOR: Ten points, McCain.

MCCAIN: Ray Nitschke, our C.O.

OK, that would actually end a Democrat's career, permanently. I remember all the jokes about Cheese Whiz and Lambert Field with John Kerry, and Al Gore inventing the Internet or being the model for Love Story. This is far worse, actually, considering it's PART OF HIS ARGUMENT AGAINST TORTURE.

Explaining why he thinks torture can result in erroneous information, McCain wrote in Newsweek in 2005, "In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear--whether it is true or false--if he believes it will relieve his suffering. I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse."

I understand that the media really like BBQ, and loves to sit in the front of the plane. But if they took the rib-colored glasses off for a second, they'd see that this guy is maybe the worst Presidential candidate of my lifetime. And they'd bother to report a little truth about his evasions, lies, and missteps.

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"Giant Step Toward Fascism"

That lawsuit I mentioned the ACLU was planning in the wake of the FISA bill (now law.. pardon me while I cringe) has been made official.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a landmark lawsuit today to stop the government from conducting surveillance under a new wiretapping law that gives the Bush administration virtually unchecked power to intercept Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls. The case was filed on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations whose ability to perform their work - which relies on confidential communications - will be greatly compromised by the new law.

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, passed by Congress on Wednesday and signed by President Bush today, not only legalizes the secret warrantless surveillance program the president approved in late 2001, it gives the government new spying powers, including the power to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans' international communications.

"Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval is an abuse of government power - and that's exactly what this law allows. The ACLU will not sit by and let this evisceration of the Fourth Amendment go unchallenged," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "Electronic surveillance must be conducted in a constitutional manner that affords the greatest possible protection for individual privacy and free speech rights. The new wiretapping law fails to provide fundamental safeguards that the Constitution unambiguously requires."

In today's legal challenge, the ACLU argues that the new spying law violates Americans' rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The new law permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it's conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is journalist Chris Hedges, who today doesn't hold back at all in explaining this new law:

During a conference call Thursday, Hedges recounted his work in foreign countries like the former Yugoslavia and El Salvador where his phone was bugged and government agents regularly followed him to prevent critics from speaking out. Now the same thing is beginning to happen here, he said.

"I have little doubt the passing of this FISA law essentially brings that type of surveillance system and the effectiveness of that system to the United States," he said.

According to the ACLU, the Democratic-controlled Congress has handed Bush a gift-wrapped grant of new domestic spying authority. The group says its lawsuit is perhaps the last chance to sustain Americans' confidence that a government snoop isn't listening in on every one of their international calls.

"This lawsuit is the ACLU at its best," said journalist and author Naomi Klein, another plaintiff in the suit. "It's defending the law even when the lawmakers won't." [...]

Hedges didn't know for sure that he was being monitored, but he couldn't say for sure that he wasn't. The chilling effect of surveillance he had become so familiar with while reporting in foreign countries had now scuttled his work at home.

"With that gone we take a giant step toward fascism," Hedges said during the call.

Absolutely. And yet the Establishment just wants to bury the bodies and move on. Kudos to the ACLU for at least trying to halt this maddening descent.

The 23,000-plus supporters of Barack Obama who pleaded with him - organizing through his own website - to get FISA right, to no avail, have not quit fighting either. Get FISA Right is their new home, and their mission is to hold those who voted accountable and push a progressive agenda on a future President Obama. This self-starting organizing group is going to be a powerful asset moving forward.

I don't like taking a crapshoot on a conservative judiciary to hold the tenuous strings of the 4th Amendment together, but those who are fighting for our Constitutional rights should be praised.

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WSJ Misleading About Democratic Plans On Energy

When I read this Wall Street Journal article about the Democrats possibly caving on oil exploration, my immediate thought was "I give up!" But there appears to be much ado about nothing here, and when you consider the source of Murdoch's new toy, you have to be skeptical.

Much of the headline is made out of this quote by Dick Durbin:

"Sen. Durbin said any compromise on drilling, however, would be contingent at a minimum on a requirement that oil and gas companies sitting on existing acreage either produce oil on those areas within a specified period or return the leases to the government."

This is pretty much what the Democrats have been saying on this issue all along. It's perfectly consistent with the "Use It Or Lose It" plan, and the Obama campaign's dismissal of this as another stunt by a party addicted to oil. Nancy Pelosi went even further in a news conference today.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday shut the door on expanding oil and gas drilling beyond areas that have already been approved for energy exploration, drawing a clear distinction from her counterparts in charge of the Senate.
“This call for drilling in areas that are protected is a hoax, it’s an absolute hoax on the part of the Republicans and this administration” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. “It’s a decoy to punt your attention away from the fact that their policies have produced $4-a-gallon gasoline.”

There may be some Bush Dogs with loose lips talking to the WSJ, with the media all too happy to sow discord, but from the standpoint of the leadership, I don't think they're backing off of their pledge... for now.

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I May Throw Up

The right is all up in arms that Barack Obama dared to suggest that Americans might want to learn more than one language. George Bush then tried to prove him right with this Great Moment in Presidential Pride:

“Amigo! Amigo!” Mr. Bush called out cheerily in Spanish when he spotted the Italian prime minister. “How you doing, Silvio? Good to see you!” Later, the president wondered about his former Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin. “Did Putin come to see you since I saw you?” he asked Mr. Berlusconi. (He had not.)

He then left the G8 summit with these parting words:

President George Bush signed off with a defiant farewell over his refusal to accept global climate change targets at his last G8 summit.

As he prepared to fly out from Japan, he told his fellow leaders: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

He then flew off and happily signed the FISA bill that Congress stooped so low to provide him.

This is another shitty day.

Oh, and what Driftglass said.

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McCain's Bitter-gate

By now you may have heard that McCain's top economic adviser, former Senator Phil Gramm, thinks that all of you pathetic "hard-working people" who don't appreciate the value of concentrating money in the hands of the super-rich are just a bunch of whiners.

In an interview with the Washington Times, Phil Gramm, a former Texas senator who is now vice chairman of UBS, the giant Swiss bank, said he expects Mr. McCain to inherit a sluggish economy if he wins the presidency, weighed down above all by the conviction of many Americans that economic conditions are the worst in two or three decades and that America is in decline.

"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession," he said, noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the publicity over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and credit problems and record oil prices. "We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet."

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners," he said. "You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline" despite a major export boom that is the primary reason that growth continues in the economy, he said.

As S,N notes, this is the "let them eat cake" Antionette-ism that has been at the heart of the Republican Party since the Gilded Age. Their entire project is to view the federal Treasury as a bank holding the money for their wealthy contributors until they decide to dole it out to them. So they construct policies that benefit the top one-half of 1%. When you hear about The Wrecking Crew, this is their objective.

Fantastic misgovernment is not an accident; nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. [...] Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. [...] The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. [...] There is so much money in conservatism these days that Karl Rove rightly boasts, "We can now go to students at Harvard and say, 'There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.'" [...]

Like Bush and Reagan before him, John McCain is a self-proclaimed outsider, but should he win in November he will merely bring us more of the same: an executive branch fed by, if not actually made up of, lobbyists and other angry, righteous profiteers.

The McCain campaign, already rocked by the candidate calling the Social Security system as a concept a disgrace (and trying to backpedal furiously to little effect), has no idea what to do with this latest example of letting the economic royalist slip show. At first, and let us not forget this, they stood by the remarks.

The McCain campaign is working hard to distance itself from statements made by economic adviser Phil Gramm describing the current economic downturn as a "mental recession" and saying America had "sort of become a nation of whiners."

But in an initial statement published by Politico and then, seemingly, removed from its site, a McCain campaign aide actually stood by Gramm's remarks, saying the interview as a whole was merely meant as a preview of the Senator's economic agenda.

"Mr. Gramm was simply saying that we are laying out the economic plan this week," the piece quoted a "McCain official" as saying. "The plan is comprehensive, providing immediate near-term relief for Americans hurting today as well as longer-term solutions to get our economy back on track, secure our energy future and deliver jobs, prosperity and opportunity for the next generation. We're laying out that plan this week with an emphasis on the critical importance of job creation, and it's been a great success so far."

And Sen. Obama took McCain to task for these comments.

"One of Senator McCain’s top economic advisors may think that when people are struggling with lost jobs, stagnant wages, and the rising costs of everything from gas to groceries, it’s merely a ‘mental recession’. And Senator McCain may think it’s sufficient to offer energy proposals that he admits will have mainly ‘psychological’ benefits. But the American people know that our economic problems aren’t just in their heads. They don’t need psychological relief -- they need real relief -- and that’s what Barack Obama will provide as President," Obama spokesman Bill Burton writes.

I seem to remember a very large scandal played off of one Obama quote at a private fundraiser, about how "bitter" rural voters cling to God and guns. Gee, here we have the top economic adviser to the Republican nominee saying that any American facing the real costs of failed conservative economic policies, struggling to pay for gas or health care or food, trying to keep their job in an era of stagnant wages and rising costs, trying to keep their home in the midst of crisis, is a "whiner." The media might want to look up from their barbecue and cornbread and pay attention. This is a major Kinsley-esque gaffe, which is what happens when someone tells the truth about their objectives. McCain and his fellow travelers don't care about the economic problems of 99% of America.

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Why The Perata/CDP Scandal Threatens The Budget Fight

(Air America readers take note: I also cover California politics at my site and Calitics, the progressive website for the Golden State. Forgive my parochial interests today)

As many have noticed, the Leadership has moved on the offense in the budget fight. They're not negotiating with themselves, instead staking out a fairly strong position for changing the revenue model and rejecting a stop-gap, borrow-and-spend, cuts-only approach. Media wags, who normally act like two year-olds and talk about "working together" as if this would solve the problems in Sacramento, are responding to the aggressive approach. George Skelton writes today about how California voters "can't handle the truth," how they want unlimited services without paying for them, and how they need to face reality. He also specifically cited the 2/3 requirement as crippling the state. Dan Walters says it's about time for a "budget cage-match," the ideological battle to once and for all address the structural deficit and budgeting-by-catastrophe that has become commonplace.

Yet at the same time, the California Democratic Party hands $250,000 to the Senate President Pro Tem to pay for his legal bills, causing oodles of outrage. Over the last two days I've been given a lot of reasons for this. "The money was earmarked for Perata," they say. Perata has his own campaign account already and he's perfectly capable of raising his own cash. If people want to hide their donations by legally laundering them through the CDP, that's nothing the state party should involve itself with. There ought to be transparency. "He's being railroaded," they say. That's certainly possible in an era of Bush league justice, but nobody is making that case credibly, just talking about how long the investigation has dragged on.

And then there's this excuse. "If the Senate leader is indicted, that will hurt downticket races." But the appearance of impropriety in the CDP legally laundering contributions and paying for Perata's legal defense fund is doing the EXACT same thing, and at a crucial time. The LAT op-ed that Bob mentioned is just the beginning.

Furthermore, I have no idea why Sen. Perata is still the leader. Sen. Steinberg, who did a $10 fundraiser in Sacramento a couple days ago and who I feel represents a breath of fresh air, is perfectly capable of carrying out the duties, and having someone this tainted as the face of the budget fight is incredibly damaging. It won't be long before the press connects this story and the budget story, and then all the mostly laudable efforts to cast a stark difference between Democrats and Republicans on the budget will be compromised. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the caucus has not demanded immediate leadership elections. I believe Steinberg is scheduled to take over on August 11, when we'll already be down the road in budget negotiations. It is the height of stupidity to thrust someone into the leadership at that late date. He should have been in there a month ago.

At the least, Perata can return the money and throw himself fully into this budget fight as a means of preserving what's left of his legacy. The CDP can return to its core mission of electing Democrats, and if it has to give back this $250K to donors, so be it. But at a time when the momentum is on Democrats' side and the budget fight is going to consume all the oxygen for the next couple months, allowing a distraction like this is a huge mistake.

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The Great Debate

John McCain's surrogates are having a very hard time figuring out whether or not Barack Obama is a patriot. It's a pity they can't settle on an answer. On one hand, Charlie Black was recently forced to concede that Obama's a patriot. But Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney say no, because he's popular in Europe. In that case, hang Jerry Lewis for treason! I think REM had a hit over there too, put them on the Terrorist Watch List!

This comes out of the great outrage of Obama suggesting that bilingual education might be a positive for American children. The scoundrel! He wants to educate youth! Doesn't he know what America's all about?

I'm going to outsource further commentary on this to Alex Knapp.

Frankly, all this seems to be is a pathetic attempt to feed the ‘Barack Obama is Unamerican’ narrative. A narrative that, I might add, has the result of making Americans sound like ignorant hillbillies. ‘He’s got a funny name!’ ‘He likes food that tastes good instead of crap that’s fried in lard!’ ‘He likes foreigners!’ ‘He wants to speak other languages!’ ‘He’s educated!’ ‘He played basketball instead of football!’ Embarrassing, really.

Your modern conservative movement: embarrassing. No wonder even some of its elected officials think it would be a good step to lose a lot of elections and "clean house."

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Obama Wants To Overhaul The Bankruptcy Bill

There's obviously a lot of noise about Barack Obama's "shift to the center" inside the blogosphere, and today it bubbles up into the mainstream. The LA Times thinks that most Democrats don't care (based on nothing but anecdotes from insiders), while the Washington Post thinks his ideology is problematic, saying that liberals are calling him a centrist and Republicans are calling him a liberal, so who knows???

I think these kind of thumbsucker pieces offer little in the way of identifiable information. Then again, so does the blogosphere, increasingly. That herd mentality we've all noticed in the traditional media has definitely migrated over, and the narrative has definitely hardened. There is perhaps no bigger critic of Obama's vote on the FISA bill than I. I have been indirectly and, often, directly warned that I'm wasting energy and hurting efforts to elect him. At the same time, I can't believe that this wasn't a far bigger story, particularly in the blogosphere.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proposed overhauling bankruptcy laws on Tuesday to ease the impact on people unable to pay their bills because of medical expenses or military service.

Obama, an Illinois senator, took aim at a 2005 overhaul of bankruptcy laws, which was strongly supported by credit card companies and other consumer lenders, that made it tougher for people facing personal bankruptcy to discharge debt.

"I'll reform our bankruptcy laws to give Americans who find themselves trapped in debt a second chance," Obama said at a town hall event in Powder Springs, Georgia, outside of Atlanta.

"While Americans should pay what they owe and we should be fair to those creditors who were fair to their borrowers, we also have to do more for the struggling families who need help the most," he added [...]

In addition, he would make it easier for people over 62 to keep their homes if they are facing bankruptcy and give some relief to people burdened by bills because of a natural disaster.

OK, I don't know if any of you remember, but the 2005 bankruptcy bill was kind of a big deal. Much like FISA, it had no public constituency, was written largely by lobbyists (this time in the credit card and banking industries), and it was an unnecessary ripping of the social safety net at a time when rising health care costs were bankrupting increasing numbers of people. Now, with the mortgage crisis and higher prices on commodities, that number is increasing. Personal bankruptcy filings were up 30% in the first six months of 2007. Paul Krugman called it the beginnings of the debt peonage society, a major advance in the privatization of risk that has contributed to the stratification of income inequality. Free Republic was against it at the time. So was Glenn Reynolds. Joe Biden received the moniker (D-MBNA) for his efforts shepherding through the bill, and it's why he was hated throughout the blogosphere from 2005-2008. This was one of the major betrayals of the last decade, and it loomed large in the creation of the larger blogosphere.

Now Barack Obama becomes one of the only Senators ever to even talk about reforming the bill, and... CRICKETS?


FISA is terribly important, because core Constitutional rights cannot be trampled upon in a supposedly free society. But the heinous bankruptcy bill is also important, and while not diminishing the importance of the 4th Amendment, it's more visceral to people's lives. People who are finding it impossible to pay their bills, whether because of a catastrophic health issue (1/2 of all personal bankruptcies) or a bad mortgage or an extended stop-loss in Iraq, have almost no recourse but to climb on an endless treadmill of payments to their creditors. We have locked in place a permanent underclass of people working for their debt. Now we have a Presidential candidate making the repeal of this nonsense a plank of his agenda.

I don't know if I'd go as far as Nathan Newman and call Obama a populist, but he makes a pretty compelling argument.

We've been seeing in the blogs and otherwise a lot of beating up on Obama for "moving to the center", which is odd statement about a candidate who in the last few weeks has:

• Come out against the California gay marriage amendment
• Promoted details of a tax plan which would taxes for the working poor and middle class by thousands of dollars each, while massively increasing taxes on the wealthy
• Condemned bad trade deals, enough to raise the ire of the news pages of the Wall Street Journal (which under Murdoch are morphing into as rightwing as the old editorial pages) which characterized his stance as "likely to rile allies."
• And just yesterday called for overhaul of the 2005 bankruptcy bill and denounced McCain for his support of the bill and the banking industry "at the expense of hardworking Americans.''

This is all pretty straight up populist positioning, something I argued Obama should have done more of in the primary earlier, which might have shortened that race considerably, something I think David Sirota would probably agree on in thinking about the economic anger rising across the country.

You can absolutely say that this is Obama's fault, that he is offering conflicting messages and not doing the necessary outreach to reassure his supporters. Of course, he did directly address those who see a "move to the center" in his recent statements, and while I didn't like the entirety of his remarks, he did self-identify as a progressive.

I think there's a lot of merit to the dissent against some of his recent moves, particularly on FISA and his rhetorical sellout to the far right by bringing up mental illness and late-term abortion practices. But there has to be a balance. There's a tunnel vision in the blogs right now, a real sense that everyone is wedded to the "betrayal" narrative with respect to Obama. I can understand why, in this age of Democratic betrayal, people would think that. But if you can recognize those places where Obama has fallen down, you can also recognize those where he stood up, in fact taller than any leading Democrat, on an issue that was part of the progressive core not but three years ago.

I'm not going to like everything Obama does (if he's truly abandoning coordinated campaigns, that's a problem, although I've heard there's less there than meets the eye), and I won't stop putting pressure on him to enact a progressive agenda that meets with my values. But I'm also not going to refuse to acknowledge those places where Obama is being bold, and I'm going to reward him for that. It's this little thing called intellectual honesty that I can't seem to get away from.

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