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

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What Digby Said

I briefly considered heading to Saddleback Church to take a look at this Rick Warren forum with Sens. Obama and Clinton, but thought better of it. Typically in these things they just stick you in a room to watch TV anyway, so it's not much of a difference. Also I expected that this would be the result, aptly stated by my pal Digby.

The Saddleback congregation applauded Obama very nicely. But as I hear this California evangelical audience cheering McCain far more wildly for everything from offshore drilling to gay marriage to taxes, while applauding every tired old stump line like it's the first time he's said them, I really have to wonder whether this "outreach" is really going to add up to anything.

Absolutely. California fundies are far to the right of your normal fundies. And so when McCain says he has a 25-year pro-life record and he favors a Constitutional amendment for gay marriage, that's the ballgame. In addition, they are with him on taxes and spending and offshore drilling and how "wars of aggression are not acceptable" unless we wage them and all the other gimmicks that conservatives have fallen for since the 1960s. This is tribal and it doesn't matter who has the D next to his name.

What I do think is that the 3-minute segment on those social issues might be pretty good to use to a mainstream audience, as evidence of McCain's very readical conservative vision.

UPDATE: Jesse said everything I wanted to say. However, one addition: I think the "when does a baby get human rights" question will be a new toy for the media to play with. David Gregory already used it twice this morning.

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Losing On Drilling

So we're going to lose on this drilling thing. Well, maybe. Despite the fact that additional drilling as a means to lower gas prices makes no logical sense, the problem is that the moratorium on offshore areas needs to be reaffirmed annually by Congress. It usually gets rolled over in a continuing resolution to keep the government working. But the Republicans have signaled their intention to block any effort to reinstitute the ban, and it's likely they have the votes, at least in the Senate, to do that. Plus, Speaker Pelosi is already announcing that there will be a bill with drilling. There is, however, a catch.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday when the U.S. Congress returns next month from its summer recess, Democrats will offer legislation that could give oil companies drilling access to more offshore areas.

In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Pelosi of California said expanding drilling areas would be part of a broader bill which addresses other energy issues [...]

Pelosi said the legislation would require oil companies to pay billions of dollars in drilling royalties, which would be invested in clean energy resources.

Democrats also want to release supplies from the U.S. emergency oil stockpile to help lower gasoline prices, increase drilling in an Alaskan oil reserve that is already open to exploration and require utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind energy.

In addition, Pelosi said, the legislation would seek to rein in excessive energy market speculation that many U.S. lawmakers blame for running up crude oil and gasoline prices.

"This comprehensive Democratic approach will ensure energy independence which is essential to our national security, will create millions of good paying jobs here at home in a new green economy, and will take major steps forward in addressing the global climate crisis," Pelosi said.

The gambit here is that Republicans will never back removing subsidies for oil companies, being then seen as frauds, but I don't even see that in this iteration of the bill. Of course, the bipartisan "Gang of 10" bill does include that aspect.

Even then, I don't see how Republicans suffer any more than normal from being in bed with Big Oil. They've won the opening round of the debate, and Democrats are negotiating with themselves. Meteor Blades explains the reality here:

There is a widespread – though far from universal view – that accepting the Gang's approach is the politically astute, expedient and smart thing to do. Undercut the GOP advantage on the drilling issue by yielding to the inevitable, as some have put it, and thereby inoculate Democrats on Election Day. A cheap bargain, the argumnet goes, because companies will never drill anyway or the new President can reverse the deal come January.

Thus, on the cusp of a new administration, after 27 years of lousy energy policies that have brought us to our current situation, there is a scurry to pass a cobbled-together energy policy – still not completely written – with just a couple of weeks of discussion. One final victory for a lame-duck administration run by oil men and their pals whose secret energy meetings on government time we are still not privy to. Odds are there will not be a reversal of this policy once passed.

Just one of the areas that deserves far more debate is, surprise, oil and gas leasing. When leases on private land pay royalties of 12% to 25%, why should taxpayers only receive 12% to 16%? What about decades of royalty underpayments on taxpayer-owned land and Indian tribal land and allotments? What about the 68 million acres already being leased but not being drilled? Why grant more oil-shale leases when the five current demonstration leases are years from producing commercially viable oil from a source whose promise of bonanza has failed three times in the past 120 years, bankrupting dozens of companies and soaking up hundreds of millions of dollars in government subsidies? [...]

As unlikely as is finding 60 votes in the Senate and 218 in the House to renew the ban, it's nothing compared with getting the 67 Senate votes and 290 House votes required to override a Bush veto. And if the ban is attached to a continuing resolution, then the question arises: Who wins the battle over drilling vs. everything else the government does?

No Social Security checks go out, Veterans' Administration hospitals start turning people away, and, of course, gas prices remain near $4. With three weeks to sort it all out, right in the middle of a watershed election campaign, who would really "pay a terrible price in November"?

The smart money says we're headed for another lame energy policy, not a far-sighted, planet-friendly, grandchildren-friendly, well-integrated, comprehensive package of proposals but a mish-mash of contradictory elements that nudges us into a different lane of the disastrous road we've been hurtling down since we took our first sip of Saudi crude six decades ago.

I think that's the most likely scenario. And it's not like you're going to get an honest rendering of this debate from a media, when their convention coverage is owned by Exxon Mobil, for example.

I think at this point I prefer the "praise the Lord" approach to the problem over anything Congress does. After all, prices have gone down 35 cents in the past month - prayer works!

(That's the other thing, nobody seems to be focusing on the fact that prices are way down, and it's because demand is down, no thanks to the politicians. If policies were put in place to encourage lower demand - investments in transit, telecommuting, flex hours, smarter urban planning - prices would go down vastly more than the "drill and hope" scenario. Why has not one Democrat made that argument in public?)

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The Dead Zone(s)

I am really going to miss sushi.

In the latest sign of trouble in the planet's chemistry, the number of oxygen-starved "dead zones" in coastal waters around the world has roughly doubled every decade since the 1960s, killing fish, crabs and massive amounts of marine life at the base of the food chain, according to a study released yesterday.

"These zones are popping up all over," said Robert Diaz, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who led the study, published online by the journal Science.

Diaz and co-author Rutger Rosenberg of the University of Goteborg in Sweden counted more than 400 dead zones globally, ranging from expansive ones in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to small ones that episodically appear in river estuaries. Collectively, they cover about 95,000 square miles.

This could just be "Big Ocean" wanting a massive subsidy, but it's probably the result of hundreds of years of negligence. The oceans have been man's waste pit for centuries. Only now what we're dumping in them is having a decidedly harmful effect.

Low oxygen, known as hypoxia, is in significant measure a downstream effect of chemical fertilizers used in agriculture. Air pollution, including smog from automobiles, is another factor. The nitrogen from the fertilizer and the pollution feeds the growth of algae in coastal waters, particularly during summer.

The result is feast-then-famine: The algae eventually die and sink to the bottom, where the organic matter decays in a process that robs the bottom waters of oxygen. The ensuing die-off of marine life cuts down on the productivity of commercial fisheries. The "biomass" missing because of depleted oxygen in the Chesapeake Bay, Diaz estimated, is enough to feed half the number of crabs that are commercially harvested in a typical year.

Al Gore's insistence on climate change has actually narrowed the environmental debate. There are dozens of other problems, though many of them will residually come down as we start to use less carbon-based energy. The thing is that we actually can do something about this if we simply don't dump a bunch of crap into the ocean. Dead zones have disappeared in places where attention has been paid to them.

Unless we all adopt a taste for jellyfish, we'd better start applying these successes globally.

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Worm Turning

It's one thing for Barack Obama to crush John McCain in July fundraising, $51 million to $27 million. That's expected. What's unexpected is that the DNC outraised the RNC. That's actually astounding. Especially considering that the DNC no longer takes lobbyist or PAC contributions. So they've ceded that entire group to the Republicans, and historically the RNC is a money-raising machine. But the DNC did it, edging the RNC by $27.7 to $26 million, for the first time in four years.

Good for Howard Dean and the DNC.

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California Budget - Still No Sign Of Land

There are budget votes scheduled for Sunday, but given that the Republican effort to impose an unworkable spending cap died in committee yesterday, it'd be hard to see how this all gets resolved in a matter of days. Clearly the GOP's ACA 19 overreached to the extreme, throwing in practically every goodie on their wish list and expecting the majority Democrats to roll over. This time, they didn't.

They are holding out for a strict formula written into the state Constitution that would limit how much spending can grow in a year. They unveiled their plan, ACA 19, written by Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis, at a legislative hearing Friday. Democrats spent much of the 3 1/2 -hour meeting tearing it down, saying it would strangle government.

"It seems to me the objective of this proposal is clearly to promote less government," said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Alameda). "I don't think your proposal allows any practical flexibility to deal with real-life crises." [...]

An analysis by the California Budget Project, which advocates for low-income Californians in the budget process, concluded that the GOP plan would make it impossible for the state to keep funding schools at the current levels approved by voters through Proposition 98.

The nonprofit further said the GOP plan would "ratchet down the state's ability to support public services" as government spending failed to keep pace with the state economy.

Republican lawmakers argued that the naysayers were basing their criticism of the spending cap on unrealistic revenue scenarios. Democrats responded that the entire GOP plan is unrealistic. And so it went. The plan was ultimately rejected by the Democrats who control the committee.

This just doesn't sound like two sides reaching an endgame, but of course stranger things have happened in Sacramento. Plus there are deadlines for the state ballot that hit in a matter of days.

The worry here is that, as Frank Russo notes (and he's a must-read in these times), the lobbyists who hold much control over what happens in the state will use the chaos to carve out some treats for their industries.

A prime example (pun intended) is California’s response to the subprime mortgage mess, where our state is experiencing one of the highest rate of mortgage foreclosures—something that has kicked our economy in the gut—and has exacerbated the fiscal problems we have with our budget.

Even Halper of the Los Angeles Times exposed in an article yesterday that the Schwarzenegger Administration at the bidding of the powerful banking industry in California is trying in closed door meetings, with the connivance of legislative Republicans, to hold the budget up and extract hundreds of millions for their friends. The article starts off:

“One reason California still has no state budget is a closed-door dispute over a tax proposal that could be a multimillion-dollar boon to banks that engage in subprime lending.

“The proposal, according to legislative sources and industry lobbyists involved in the private budget talks, was brought to the table by the Schwarzenegger administration at the urging of lenders and other corporate interests. The proponents argued that it would help offset costs to businesses that could result from other tax changes under consideration. “

Essentially this would happen by refunding tax hikes to those companies who did poorly in 2008, i.e. subprime lenders. It's complicated but the beneficiaries are clear. High-tech industries are trying to repeal some worker rights as part of a deal. In the waning hours there's going to be a lot of opportunity for mischief. And then there's Schwarzenegger's blue pencil to deal with.

It almost makes you think it's a GOOD thing there's no budget yet.

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Don't Mention The $3 Trillion Dollar Elephant In The Room

John McCain's campaign is going back to the traditional Republican well of painting their opponent as a tax-raising nutcase. That's typical. When pressed about his own calls for tax increases, McCain hews to Republican orthodoxy:

McCain has called for a bipartisan effort to fix Social Security and infuriated some conservatives by saying that everything, including increasing payroll taxes, could be on the table. He said today that "you know I'm opposed to tax increases" when Isaacson asked him about it. "I think I can convince people on the other side of the table that we do not need tax increases.''

When Isaacson said the proposal would have to be on the table to be negotiated off the table, McCain drew a smattering of laughter when he said "I have to be against tax increases, as you know.''

Forced to put party before country. That's straight talk you can believe in!

However, McCain's leaving something out. In fact, as Obama advisors Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee write in the Wall Street Journal, while McCain would continue to massively cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations and starve the federal treasury, mounting up deficits like no President before him, his health care plan includes a tax increase ranging into the trillions of dollars.

But Sen. McCain's plan does include one new proposal that would result in higher taxes on the middle class. As even Sen. McCain's advisers have acknowledged, his health-care plan would impose a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years on workers. Sen. McCain's plan will count the health care you get from your employer as if it were taxable cash income. Even after accounting for Sen. McCain's proposed health-care tax credits, this plan would eventually leave tens of millions of middle-class families paying higher taxes. In addition, as the Congressional Budget Office has shown, this kind of plan would push people into higher tax brackets and increase the taxes people pay as their compensation rises, raising marginal tax rates by even more than if we let the entire Bush tax-cut plan expire tomorrow.

You'd think that'd be something you'd want to put front and center if you're the Obama campaign.

As for their tax plans, contrary to McCain's ads, Obama would cut taxes for about 95% of workers and let the Bush cuts for the wealthy expire.

Overall, Sen. Obama's middle-class tax cuts are larger than his partial rollbacks for families earning over $250,000, making the proposal as a whole a net tax cut and reducing revenues to less than 18.2% of GDP -- the level of taxes that prevailed under President Reagan [...]

Sen. Obama believes a focus on the middle class is appropriate in the wake of the first economic expansion on record where the typical family's income fell by almost $1,000. The Obama plan would cut taxes for 95% of workers and their families with a tax cut of $500 for workers or $1,000 for working couples. In addition, Sen. Obama is proposing tax cuts for low- and middle-income seniors, homeowners, the uninsured, and families sending a child to college or looking to save and accumulate wealth.

You can see the whole plan here. I agree with Matt Yglesias here - Obama ought to know, as he makes the argument earlier in the piece, that the Clinton-era rates of taxation still allowed for robust job growth. He's actually cutting revenues relative to the 1990s, at a time when our infrastructure is crumbling, our health care needs are soaring, and local and municipal governments are terribly constrained. I understand the impulse to say "we're cutting taxes too!" but I think Obama goes too far here and if he continues to get boxed in by anti-tax rhetoric he'll have a devil of a time implemented the programs he wants.

Then again, just making corporations PAY taxes would be an incredible boost. Why aren't progressives arguing for an alternative corporate minimum tax?

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More Pinocchio McCain

More Pinocchio McCain

by dday

This is the kind of ticky-tack nonsense that defined the 2000 election.

Walter Isaacson asked John McCain about McCain's inexplicable love for ABBA. McCain played the POW card:

“If there is anything I am lacking in, I’ve got to tell you, it is taste in music and art and other great things in life,” McCain joked. “I’ve got to say that a lot of my taste in music stopped about the time I impacted a surface-to-air missile with my own airplane and never caught up again.”

What? McCain was shot down in 1967. ABBA began making music in 1972.

That would be a two-week story on Al Gore, with much chortling to be had by all.

Not to mention the all-timer, a combination of lying and pandering that went down the memory hole so fast you couldn't even see it:

While visiting Pittsburgh, John McCain said that while he was captured, he really loved the Steelers! The 1967 Steelers were 4-9-1. (thanks to Scarce)

"When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information… I named the starting lineup, defensive line, of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates!” — Sen. John McCain

McCain also said the same thing about the 1967 Green Bay Packers. McCain was a POW from late 1967 to early 1973 [...]

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.

It would be irresponsible not to speculate that the accumulation of these lies and exaggerations bespeaks a craven personality that cannot be trusted as a world leader.

Cokie, take note. the way, John McCain is extremely reluctant to talk about his POW status. Discuss. the interest of being fair and balanced, I will note that Obama did take his shirt off at the beach. This was the actual subject of a McCain campaign attack yesterday. It's true, shirtless at the beach - he's just not like you and me.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Random Ten

Forgot to get this up earlier:

Soma - The Strokes
Truthfully - Jacksonknife (couldn't tell you anything about this band and don't know how it got on the iPod. Decent song, though)
First of the Gang To Die - Morrissey
Under The Milky Way - The Church
Quick And To The Pointless - Queens Of The Stone Age
Fair Touching - Guided By Voices
I - Pizzicato Five
Jeez Louise - Grandaddy
Exeter, Rhose Island - Jennifer O'Connor
Quiet Town - Josh Rouse

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McCain Less Classy Than Righty Bloggers

At The Next Right, Jon Henke offers a rare bit of truth about the discredited Jerome Corsi:

The continued tolerance and prominence of Jerome Corsi - his books, columns and appearances - is just embarrassing. It is embarrassing for the Right, embarrassing for Republicans, embarrassing for conservatives and libertarians, embarrassing for all of us.

It's not just that he's frequently, remarkably wrong - something pretty well documented and acknowledged by both the Left and (while less enthusiastically) the Right. (and the Obama campaign (PDF), of course) Both the Obama campaign and Hugh Hewitt acknowledge that Jerome Corsi is "fringe".

Bad as his gross errors are, though, it's not just that. It's also about who Jerome Corsi is.

Jerome Corsi is a smear artist (e.g., he has claimed that "Hillary Rodham Clinton is a lesbian and Muslims worship Satan").
Jerome Corsi has advocated the hysterical, deceptive North American Union conspiracy theory.
Jerome Corsi associates with white supremacists.
Jerome Corsi is guilty of plagiarism.
Jerome Corsi is a 9/11 Truther.

On the other hand, the standard bearer of the Republican Party, the man that Republicans nominated to be President of the United States, responded thusly:

A reporter tried to ask McCain about a new anti-Obama book, to which McCain responded cryptically "gotta keep your sense of humor."

McCain staffer Brooke Buchanan then stretched her arms in front of her boss, saying “we’re not doing that,” and escorted reporters to the door.

Yeah, lighten up and take it, Obama!

Somehow, after reading that exchange I'd be more comfortable with the blogger running for President.

By the way, Corsi is now teaming up with Floyd Brown, and once they have video, this has the potential to explode. Corsi may be discredited, but that doesn't matter to the media.

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SD-15: Independent to challenge Maldonado

Despite Don Perata's extreme efforts to keep Democrats off the ballot to face his BFF Abel Maldonado in a plurality-Democratic district, Jim Fitzgerald has succeeded in getting enough petitions to mount a challenge on the November ballot. This is from his press release:

Independent Candidate, Jim Fitzgerald, is building support to unseat Abel Maldonado on November’s Ballot.

“I am running for office to bring independent thinking and change to Sacramento. Our state is still operating without an approved budget. The price of gas is out of control. Schools should not pay the price for wasteful government spending. These are just a few of the issues that are important to me and the citizens of our district.” (Independent Candidate Jim Fitzgerald)

Fitzgerald is not a career politician beholden to any party. He is an ordinary citizen who wants to breakup the gridlock in the State Senate divided on party lines.

Fitzgerald has worked for UPS for over 30 years ending his career as an account manager. He had personal dealings daily with small businesses throughout the Central Coast. Working from the ground floor up, he knows what it is like to work long days in order to support a family. Fitzgerald is not a professional politician but rather a hard working individual who will give back to the very people he is supposed to be representing.

Now, Fitzgerald is an independent candidate, not a Democrat. But his issue positions certainly lean Democratic. His main proposal on his website concerns modernizing the government fleet to make every state-issued car a hybrid or electric vehicle.

This is obviously longer than a longshot, but I appreciate Fitzgerald's efforts if only to force Don Perata to make good on his word to walk precincts for his good buddy Abel in the fall. That'll be a good use of time for the guy who just got $250,000 for his legal defense fund from the CDP.

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CA-37: Richardson declared a "public nuisance" to Dems who don't like being constantly embarrassed

Can you believe this?

First Rep. Laura Richardson was having problems making house payments, defaulting six times over eight years.

Then after a bank foreclosed on her Sacramento house and sold it at auction in May, the Long Beach Democrat made such a stink that Washington Mutual, in an unusual move, grabbed it back and returned it to her.

This week, in the latest chapter in the housing saga, the Code Enforcement Department in Sacramento declared her home a "public nuisance."

The city has threatened to fine her as much as $5,000 a month if she doesn't fix it up.

Neighbors in the upper-middle-class neighborhood complain that the sprinklers are never turned on and the grass and plants are dead or dying. The gate is broken, and windows are covered with brown paper.

"I would call it an eyesore," said Peter Thomsen, a retired bank executive who lives nearby.

I think "embarrassing" is the best word for it. Laura Richardson has no need or use for a home in Sacramento anymore, and in her letter to supporters trying to give an alibi for her recent conduct, she says that she isn't rich and doesn't have a second income to afford her lifestyle. Then why the useless home in Sac'to that's become decrepit?

If this was the only thing wrong with Richardson, it'd be enough, frankly. But the fact that she voted to sink the Fourth Amendment and provide amnesty for lawbreaking to the telecoms in the FISA bill means that her votes are as embarrassing as her home upkeep. It's really unacceptable to have her as a representative of this state, honestly.

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The Biggest Crisis Ending In A Cease-Fire In The History Of The World

I think when this is all said and done, the conflict between Russia and Georgia, now reaching an endgame, will be, as Kevin Drum notes, a blip on the radar screen. South Ossetia and Abkhazia were already breakaway republics, Georgia got a full head and attacked one of them, Russia made them pay for such foolishness, and the whole scene ends with Mikhail Saakashvili blubbering on camera. And it's shameful how John McCain seized on it for his own ends and to paint himself as the only true patriot in the entire world.

By the way, this golden beacon of democracy, Saakashvili, isn't so golden:

Saakashvili's recent statements demonstrate how well he has learned to push America's buttons, probably with the help of his government's lobbyists in Washington. In several interviews and articles, including an op-ed in yesterday's Post, he has compared the recent Russian attack on Georgia to the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. He has also invoked former president Ronald Reagan and tried to frame the war as a Russian assault on Western values. "We are attacked because we wanted to be free," he said on CNN.

But the situation inside Georgia belies Saakashvili's rhetorical commitment to freedom. Most glaring was his handling of opposition protests last fall. The State Department's 2007 Human Rights Report, released just a few months ago, found "serious problems" with Georgia's human rights record and notes "excessive use of force to disperse demonstrations"; "impunity of police officers"; and declining respect for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and political participation. Ana Dolidze, a democracy advocate and former chair of Georgia's Young Lawyers Association, has described in detail how Saakashvili acted quickly after entering office to empower the executive branch at the expense of parliament and to strengthen the government by "stifling political expression, pressuring influential media and targeting vocal critics and opposition leaders" -- including by using law enforcement agencies. Saakashvili is far from the morally pure democrat he would have the West believe he is.

Meanwhile, this deal with Poland on missile defense, supposedly as a result of Russia's belligerence, is the real destabilizing event going on in Eastern Europe this week. We are needlessly pushing this useless defense system to antagonize Russia and endanger many lives.

And finally, we can't even get humanitarian assistance right:

President Bush Wednesday promised that U.S. naval forces would deliver humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia before his administration had received approval from Turkey, which controls naval access to the Black Sea, or the Pentagon had planned a seaborne operation, U.S. officials said Thursday.

As of late Thursday, Ankara, a NATO ally, hadn't cleared any U.S. naval vessels to steam to Georgia through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, the narrow straits that connect the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, the officials said. Under the 1936 Montreaux Convention, countries must notify Turkey before sending warships through the straits.


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The Return Of Malachi

It's one thing for disgraced Jack Abramoff buddy Ralph Reed to resurface at all in a Presidential election. It's another thing for him to headline a fundraiser for the Republican nominee. It's quite another for that nominee to be John McCain, who as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigated Reed and Abramoff's bilking of tribes out of millions of dollars through fake Indian gaming ballot initiatives.

McCain's campaign said Tuesday that Reed has no official role in the presidential campaign. But that didn't stop Democrats from castigating Reed's participation in Monday's fund-raiser at the Marriott Marquis.

"John McCain's decision to cozy up to one of the central figures in the Republican culture of corruption shows how far he is willing to go to win," said Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. "Despite all of his rhetoric about reform, McCain's willingness to accept money raised by tainted Abramoff cronies like Ralph Reed shows that McCain simply cannot be trusted to bring change to Washington politics."

The Georgia Democratic Party was even more blunt. "John McCain says he takes the high road, and then he comes to Atlanta and chows down on shrimp cocktail with an unindicted co-conspirator," party spokesman Martin Matheny said.

Reed is tied into all the disgraceful scandals of the Abramoff years, from the Indian gaming deals to forced slavery and sexual assault on the Marianas Islands:

In August 1999, political organizer Ralph Reed's firm sent out a mailer to Alabama conservative Christians asking them to call then-Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.) and tell him to vote against legislation that would have made the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands subject to federal wage and worker safety laws....

"The radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas Islands," the mailer from Reed's firm said. The Chinese workers, it added, "are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ" while on the islands, and many "are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand."

A year earlier, the Department of the Interior -- which oversees federal policy toward the U.S. territory -- presented a very different picture of life for Chinese workers on the islands. An Interior report found that Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.

This is sad, but typical of a campaign fueled by lobbyist money and weighed down with multiple ties to Abramoff.

When Senator John McCain led a Senate investigation three years ago of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who later pleaded guilty to fraud charges, Mr. Abramoff’s old firm turned to a former McCain campaign adviser for help.

The firm, Greenberg Traurig, which had quickly cut its ties to Mr. Abramoff, hired Randy Scheunemann, who had been the McCain campaign’s foreign policy adviser in 2000 — and is again this year — for advice on handling the Senate investigation.

“After Greenberg Traurig severed ties to Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Scheunemann advised the law firm on how best to cooperate with the Senate investigation,” said Brian Rogers, a spokesman for the McCain campaign. “The record reflects that the law firm cooperated.”

(by the way, McCain basically let Abramoff off with a warning in his part of the investigation. He also never called his good buddy Reed to testify.)

My Congressman Henry Waxman today called on McCain to return any money Reed aided in raising for him. Waxman also noted this:

One reporter asked Waxman about the tens of thousands of documents McCain assembled in the course of his investigation but refuses to release to the public.

Waxman told us that John McCain has documents that even the House Oversight Committee couldn't get.

The House Abramoff probe also has a tie-in to the missing email scandal. Waxman's committee found that Abramoff was exchanging a lot of email with White House staffers, and not just through government accounts (as required by law).

In fact, the subpoenaed emails were the first indication that White House officials were doing public business over private email accounts, Waxman explained.

This is a complete racket. I'm glad that the Obama campaign is hammering McCain over his lobbyist ties, but the Abramoff-Reed nexus is the big kahuna. They should go deeper.

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Gore Redux

If Ceci Connolly has a spare moment from whatever she's doing right now, she could certainly write up this and start an enduring narrative that lasts until November.

This week, 16 months into his campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) released his first policy paper on technology. Over at the Wonk Room, former Clinton administration privacy counselor Peter Swire notes that the paper gives McCain credit for "creating” the “Do Not Call” list. But the Federal Trade Commission chairman announced the list two years earlier:

McCAIN: 2003 – McCain led in creating the FTC’s ‘Do-Not-Call’ telemarketing registry to allow consumers to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls. And, when the law was challenged in court, McCain led the effort to ensure that it was upheld.

REALITY: FTC Chairman Tim Muris announced in October 2001 that the FTC was going to do the Do Not Call list. Yet somehow McCain magically caused the Do Not Call list in 2003. And, given the independent agency status of the FTC, it is a stretch to say that ‘McCain led the effort to ensure that it was upheld.

Not quite as sexy as "inventing the Internet," but the difference here is McCain actually put this down in writing, eliminating the need to misinterpret a quote.

This isn't even the first of these exaggerations TODAY.

My friends, we have reached a crisis, the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War. This is an act of aggression.

First serious crisis, ay? If I didn't know better, I'd say that McCain had forgotten the lessons of 9/11.

Obviously, this newfound meme of McCain's consistent exaggerations will hit a nerve with the chattering class. George Stephanopoulos will hold a roundtable on Sunday to discuss "McCain's honesty problem." Cokie Roberts will lament that "McCain isn't straight enough," and investigative reporters will be dispatched throughout the country to look into every one of McCain's prior statements. Children at area high schools where McCain has spoken will be grilled about their recollections. David Broder will use the word "Pinocchio," and that'll just open the floodgates. Howard Kurtz will opine on whether the media is being too lenient in the face of these obvious falsehoods. Chris Matthews will shout, "I mean, isn't this getting ridiculous?... Isn't it getting to be delusionary?" McCain will patiently try to clarify his comments but the media will have none of it. The soundbites will be clipped to make McCain look even worse. The pundits will snicker and former rivals like Mike Huckabee will say "I don't know why he feels that he has to exaggerate and make some of this stuff up." Newspaper editorials will openly wonder whether McCain is deliberately trying to sabotage his own campaign. The New York Times will flat-out call him "crazy."

This is part of my new book, "Election on Bizarro Earth." It am not good!

(reference piece)

...just if you're looking for some substance, McCain's tech policy is abominable, basically a giveaway to telecoms to sell off the Internet.

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Tomorrow In the OC: Obama, McCain, Rick Warren

Southern California actually becomes the center of the Presidential universe tomorrow afternoon, as Rick Warren's Saddleback Church hosts John McCain and Barack Obama at a forum. The candidates will not answer questions at the same time (though both will briefly appear on stage together), but they will have an hour a piece to share their views.

It's likely that both fans and critics will be watching closely when Warren plays host to the two presidential contenders at his church complex in Lake Forest, home to 22,000 weekend worshipers.

The presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees won't debate during the Civil Forum on the Presidency. But they will make a brief joint appearance, their first of the campaign, and Warren will interview each separately about the Constitution, poverty, AIDS, human rights and other subjects.

"America has a choice. It's not between a stud and a dud this year," Warren said. "Both of these men care about America. My job is to let them share their views."

Warren may represent the softer face of evangelicals, but he still holds beliefs that hew strongly to the family values conservatism you would expect. In fact, he says that he would have trouble voting for an adulterer. I wonder which of the two Presidential candidates he's obliquely referring to?

WARREN: John Edwards and others like him (emphasis added) have lost the trust of America because they lied, and fundamentally beneath every affair it’s dishonesty, its deceit, its deception. They’re lying to God. They’re lying to themselves. They’re lying to their wives and they’re lying to the public. How do you trust someone who’s constantly lying? You can’t. That’s why it is a myth to say their personal life doesn’t matter. It does matter -- all of leadership is built on credibility.

TAPPER: Would you have compunctions about voting for someone who had cheated on his wife?

WARREN: Absolutely I would. Absolutely I would. Because if you can’t keep your faith to your most sacred vow – “’til death do us part” -- how in the world can I trust you to lead my family? My government? My nation?...Absolutely I would. I think people first need to ask forgiveness and then earn trust back over time. Can trust be re-earned? Absolutely but it takes time.

I got my credential request in a little too late, but I am going to head down to survey the scene and give some kind of report.

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Looking The Part

It's amazing that all it takes for the media to swoon over John McCain is for him to huff and puff while Russia goes ahead and does whatever it wants anyway.

For the last several days, Senator Barack Obama has seemed to fade from the scene while on his secluded vacation here, as his opponent, Senator John McCain, has seized nearly every opportunity to display his foreign policy credentials on the dominant issue of the week: the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Only once, at the beginning of the week, did Mr. Obama discuss the fighting in public, when he emerged from his beachfront rental home to condemn Russia’s escalation, in a way that seemed timed for the evening television news. He took no questions whose answers might demonstrate command of the issue.

Mr. McCain and his surrogates, however, have discussed the situation nearly every day on the campaign trail, often taking a hard line against Russia to the point of his declaring the other day, “We are all Georgians.”

First - Honolulu is a major city, and not secluded in any way. Second, McCain has "displayed" his foreign policy credentials in ways that are ignorant:

My friends, we have reached a crisis, the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War. This is an act of aggression.


Standing behind a lectern in Michigan this week, with two trusted senators ready to do his bidding, John McCain seemed to forget for a moment that he was only running for president.

Asked about his tough rhetoric on the ongoing conflict in Georgia, McCain began: "If I may be so bold, there was another president . . ."

He caught himself and started again: "At one time, there was a president named Ronald Reagan who spoke very strongly about America's advocacy for democracy and freedom."

And thuddingly stupid, not to mention dangerous, involving himself in a foreign conflict where one of his staffers is a registered lobbyist for one side, talking to the Georgian President several times a day, which obviously sends mixed messages, and advocating what amounts to war with nuclear-armed Russia.

But none of that, of course, matters. I understand fully the optics of this. Whether McCain is cynically using the conflict to make himself look Presidential or not, the contrast between the two candidates when you have the sound off is pretty glaring. If Obama comes back tomorrow at the Saddleback Church event in Orange County (the first joint event of the campaign) and looks the part a little bit then this could blow over. However, there is a contrast here that the right will be sure to exploit. And it certainly gives reporters the shakes to see bravely bold McCain strongly calling for the mass deaths of their sons and daughters. That makes him "serious."

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Thursday, August 14, 2008


The Obama campaign has pretty much figured out that the current media landscape is going to give credence to the same set of prevaricators and liars that they allowed to shape the election in 2004. There's no internal debate over whether or not to give something like Jerome Corsi's book oxygen - it's the media world we live in that he will appear all over cable news (not just the right-wing outlets) and in everyone's newspapers. The reason given by the media is always that "it's a best-seller," but that's a system the conservative movement has been gaming for years, and frequently after the boom cycle of early publicity to get their wingnuts onto the teevee the books get remaindered and available for purchase for a penny.

So instead of hoping that these smears go away, the campaign and its allies are fighting back. Chief among them is Media Matters, and Paul Waldman was brilliant with Corsi on Larry King's show last night.

They've also unearthed Corsi's latest media appearance, on a pro-white radio show. I'm guessing that wasn't a hard booking for him to nail down.

In an appearance on the August 13 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, after Media Matters for America Senior Fellow Paul Waldman noted that Jerome Corsi, author of The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, had "put up on right-wing Web sites a whole series of bigoted and hateful posts," Corsi replied that "you haven't mentioned all my apologies for those statements." But notwithstanding Corsi's apologies for his comments, Corsi is reportedly scheduled to appear with host James Edwards on the August 17 edition of The Political Cesspool Radio Show, which, according to its "Statement of Principles," "represent[s] a philosophy that is pro-White" and which "heartily endorse[s] and accept[s] as our own, the founding tenets of the Council of Conservative Citizens [CCC]." According to a Fall 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, " 'The Political Cesspool' in the past two years has become the primary radio nexus of hate in America." Corsi previously appeared on the July 20 edition of the show, in which he promoted The Obama Nation and criticized Sen. Barack Obama.

There's also a concerted pushback inside the campaign as well, consisting of mau-mauing the media in the same way that conservatives ensure their message is heard.

Obama advisers say that whenever they hear that Corsi has been booked for an appearance on a network program, they are quickly contacting the program's producers to rebut the book's charges in phone conversations and giving them a whole run-down of past Corsi quotes that are controversial.

Obama aides also vow to insist that the producers allow them to have on a campaign surrogate to attack the charges, and are expecting to recruit more campaign surrogates, well plied with talking points, to push back against the book.

They've put out a 40-page document outlining all the falsehoods in the book. And they're using a viral email strategy to push the facts along.

There's no question that Obama's team is better prepared for this than John Kerry's was, but of course that's a low bar. What's notable is how a few of the media fish aren't totally biting at this one. They're giving Corsi publicity, sure, but they are feeling the pressure to present the other side. And Joe Klein, who has been eating his Wheaties lately, is making his disgust known and connecting it directly to the McCain campaign.

I know that people like me are supposed to try to be fair...and balanced. (The Fox mockery of our sappy professional standards seems more brutally appropriate with each passing year.) In the past, I would achieve a semblance--or an illusion--of balance by criticizing Democrats for not responding effectively when right-wing sludge merchants poisoned our national elections with their filth and lies. And it is true, as John Kerry knows, that a more effective response--and a bolder campaign--might have neutralized the Swiftboat assault four years ago. It is also true that Corsi's book this time is far less effective than his Swiftboat venture, since it doesn't come equipped with veterans willing to defile their service by telling lies to camera.

But there is no excuse for what the McCain campaign is doing on the "putting America first" front. There is no way to balance it, or explain it other than as evidence of a severe character defect on the part of the candidate who allows it to be used. There is a straight up argument to be had in this election: Mcain has a vastly different view from Obama about foreign policy, taxation, health care, government name it. He has lots of experience; it is always shocking to remember that this time four years ago, Barack Obama was still in the Illinois State Legislature. Apparently, though, McCain isn't confident that conservative policies and personal experience can win, given the ruinous state of the nation after eight years of Bush. So he has made a fateful decision: he has personally impugned Obama's patriotism and allows his surrogates to continue to do that. By doing so, he has allied himself with those who smeared him, his wife, his daughter Bridget, in 2000. Those tactics won George Bush a primary--and a nomination. But they proved a form of slow-acting spiritual poison, rotting the core of the Bush presidency. We'll see if the public decides to acquiesce in sleaze in 2008, and what sort of presidency--what sort of country--that will produce.

It still has a hint of that Village aroma, but the words "character defect" are pretty strong.

We'll see how this progresses, and if the coverage changes when the inevitable TV campaign gets matched to the book, but for now, it's actually important that we all keep on top of this. The right is extremely good at character assassination, and the only way to counteract it is to punch right back and expose them.

* BTW, Corsi has some other beliefs that I'll bet you won't see on your average cable news hour..., the AP punked WorldNetDaily:

Corsi writes for World Net Daily, a conservative Web site whose lead headline Thursday was "Astonishing photo claims: Dead Bigfoot stored on ice.

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Wal-Mart Nailed

Kudos to the coalition filing an FEC complaint against Wal-Mart for coercing their employees. At best this ends up with a pittance of a fine, but anything that puts their illegal practices in a national spotlight is positive. Plus, the intimidation that Wal-Mart is engaged in with respect to the Presidential election is the same intimidation they routinely engage in during union elections. They threaten to shut down stores, fire union activists, tell employees that their jobs are at stake, and generally do whatever they can to keep unions out. Coordinating with low-level managers on what Presidential candidate to vote for is a symptom of the same disease.

Speaking of which, what's with George McGovern sucking up to the corporate crowd and rejecting the Employee Free Choice Act? I know that labor torpedoed him in the 1972 elections, but surely he understands the importance of unions as an anti-poverty instrument. Apparently, this is nothing new for him; he's been tied in to anti-union lobbyists for a number of years now. Sad.

UPDATE: American Rights At Work has a full report.

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California Legislature - The Drive For 2/3

The California Target Book released its August "hot sheet" listing potential competitive seats throughout the state legislature. Well, two can play at this game. Here are the competitive seats as I see them and a little precis about them:

State Senate

1. SD-19. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) v. Tony Strickland (R). Sadly, thanks to Don Perata's bungling and undermining this is likely to be the only competitive race out of the 20 up for election in the state Senate. The good news is that it would be an absolute sea change to replace Tom McClintock with a true progressive like Hannah-Beth Jackson. With Ventura County's registration flipping to Democrats over the past year, Ronald Reagan country is no longer solidly red. Hannah-Beth has been actively courting voters at community events (there's a BBQ in honor of the "Gap" firefighters on Sunday) and she's wrapped up lots of endorsements. With this being the only competitive race, expect it to be costly, as both sides throw millions into capturing the seat. A win here would put us one seat away from a 2/3 majority in the Senate.

State Assembly

1. AD-80. Manuel Perez (D) v. Gary Jeandron (R). Perez appears to have the right profile for this plurality-Democratic seat currently held by the termed-out Bonnie Garcia. The most recent poll showed him with a double-digit lead, and he's consolidating his support by earning the endorsements of the local Stonewall Democratic Club and his primary rival Greg Pettis. This race is looking strong, and hopefully the raising of performance among Hispanic voters will aid Julie Bornstein in her CA-45 race against Mary Bono.

2. AD-78. Marty Block (D) vs. John McCann (R). Block, a Board of Trustees member at San Diego Community College and former dean at San Diego State University, also has a favorable registration advantage in his race against Chula Vista Councilmember John McCann. This should be a case of party ID sweeping in a lawmaker in a progressive wave thanks to increased turnout for the Presidential election. Block needs to do his part, of course, in making the case that the 2/3 majority is vital for responsible governance.

3. AD-15. Joan Buchanan (D) v. Abram Wilson (R). After a bruising primary, San Ramon Mayor Wilson has barely survived to defend the seat held by Guy Houston against San Ramon Valley school board member Buchanan, who did not have a competitive primary. She has outraised Wilson by almost 2 to 1 so far in the race and the registration numbers are about even. I think we have a real chance here.

4. AD-30. Fran Florez (D) v. Danny Gilmore (R). This is currently a Democratic seat held by Yacht Dog Nicole Parra, who has practically endorsed the Republican Gilmore for the seat. That's unhelpful, but in a Democratic year Gilmore has an uphill climb. The California Faculty Association has targeted Gilmore in their ads that campaign on the budget, and voters in the Central Valley are fleeing the GOP in droves. Gilmore has a shot, but I think Florez is in a comfortable position.

5. AD-10. Alyson Huber (D) vs. Jack Sieglock (R). Huber, about to hold her campaign kick-off this weekend, is in a district that is rapidly changing. Registration has shifted over 3% in just two years. This is a race in the Sacramento area that Randy Bayne covers intently, and he's fairly high on Huber. Jack Sieglock is your basic Republican rubber stamp that puts "conservative Republican" in his title, and I'm not certain the district is still organized that way. This race is also seeing ads from the California Faculty Association.

6: AD-26. John Eisenhut (D) v. William Berryhill (R). This is Greg Aghazarian's old seat, also in northern California in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. Stanislaus recently flipped to Democrats, and Eisenhut, a local almond farmer, fits the profile of the district pretty well. Berryhill, whose brother Tom is in the Assembly, is also a farmer, and is banking on the Berryhill name ID to win. There's a good synopsis of the race here. Democrats actually have the registration edge in this district.

7. AD-36. Linda Jones (D) v. Steve Knight (R). Linda is a teacher, school board member and former vocational nurse. This is an outside shot, but I'm told that the Palmdale-area seat is turning around and may accept a Democrat this time around.

8. AD-59. Donald Williamson (D) v. Anthony Adams (R). Adams is actually an incumbent, making this a more difficult battle. But Bill Postmus' explosion in San Bernardino county has soured the reputation of Republicans in the district, and Williamson, the San Bernardino County assessor, has a decent profile in the district. This is certainly on the far outside edge of being competitive.

9. AD-37. Ferial Masry (D) v. Audra Strickland (R). This is another Republican incumbent, and it's in the same relative district as SD-19 - in fact, the Republicans in both races are Stricklands. So maybe there will be a residual effect to Hannah-Beth Jackson's efforts. Masry, an Arab-American, has been getting good press in the district and definitely has an outside chance.

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The Cult Of The Amateur

The best political ads this season are coming from YouTubers - no question about it. Here are two examples, neither of which shift gears in the middle to give you bland slogans like "securing America's future" or "better jobs". They have a target and they attack it, beautifully.

Unfit to Lead, hard-hitting but entirely true:

And The Public vs. McCain, which puts the election into simple numerical truths.

For his part, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds kind of replied to this ad with the hilariously lame statement “In the Senate, Barack Obama has voted in lockstep with President George W. Bush nearly half the time.”.

Yeah, uh, dude, "in lockstep" and "almost half the time" doesn't exactly match. This is also a replay of calling John Kerry a radical liberal AND a flip-flopper. You can't have both. Obama either is "in lockstep" with Bush or a socialist radical. Take your pick of broad-brush misstatements.

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Georgia, Georgia, No Peace I Find

Well, I guess the rumors of a cease-fire in the Caucasus were very overstated, as the Russians have held their positions, warned the United States not to get involved, and basically redrew the map:

Russia's foreign minister declared Thursday that the world "can forget about" Georgia's territorial integrity, and officials said Russia targeted military infrastructure and equipment — including radars and patrol boats at a Black Sea naval base and oil hub.

...the comments from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to come as a challenge to the United States, where President Bush has called for Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia."

"One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told reporters.

And that, as they say, is that. The US has astonishingly little leverage in this conflict, considering their sustained support for Georgia and inability to be seen as an honest broker, as well as a reluctance to get into a shooting war with Russia. It ought to give the whole nation pause as to the effectiveness of the cowboy diplomacy of the Bush years, which John McCain wants to further and even enhance.

It's EASIER for someone like McCain to put on his combat boots and strut about and make belligerent statements against the Russians. It's a war that neoconservatives understand and find more potential in as an electoral tool than talking about Iraq and Afghanistan.

And it's hard not to recognize that sad figure in the Max Boots and John McCains and Bill Bennetts and all the rest with their sustaining roots planted firmly at AEI HQ. After all, what happened to the long twilight struggle against radical Islam? So yesterday, I guess. Or can we do both simultaneously, even though the Russians are themselves up against hostile Islamic groups on their southern periphery?

Watching the Bennetts and the Krauthammers get all jazzed up about Georgia as the new Afghanistan, with all the painfully awkward nostalgia and excitement of an 80s era Gilligan's Island reunion flick is entertaining. But much less so when you realize these jokers might be running the government in six months.

Meanwhile, McCain can't even keep his own words straight on the conflict when they're not completely fed by Randy Scheunemann.

In effect, this is a local conflict where Russia is settling a Near Abroad dispute in their sphere of influence, and the degree to which we have to have a policy on that, especially when Georgia kicked off this conflict by indiscriminately firing on the South Ossetians, is dubious. I agree with Matt Yglesias:

The reality, however, is that Russia has no actual ability to move from Tblisi to Kiev. Georgia is tiny, poor, and geographically located so as to make it difficult for the West to provide it with any practical support. Ukraine has 10 times Georgia's population, 20 times its economic output, and extensive land borders with countries firmly in the Western orbit. The practical impossibility of conquering Ukraine, not American threats, is what will keep the Russians out of Kiev. Meanwhile, it turns out that, contrary to the fears of the hysterics, Russia isn't even going to Tblisi today, much less Ukraine tomorrow or Estonia the day after that. Vladimir Putin, unlike the leader of the United States, is apparently shrewd enough to recognize that military occupations of foreign territories have high costs and scarce benefits.

But while Russia's punishment of Georgia may not have major consequences for America or for world security, a hysterical American response just might. Most obviously, if we were to take things like John McCain's Aug. 12 proclamation that "we are all Georgians" seriously, we would be in the midst of a shooting war with Russia and literally risking the end of human civilization in a nuclear exchange.

By all accounts, McCain just wants to engage in some irresponsible posturing rather than to follow through on the implications of his words, but even excessive posturing and loose talk of a new Cold War with Russia would have real costs. Specifically, both McCain and Barack Obama have recognized that an agreement with Russia related to nuclear-weapons reductions is key to revitalizing the global nonproliferation regime. Russia can't conquer Ukraine or Estonia, but it can play a key role in helping or hindering American efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. And unlike the status of South Ossetia, nuclear proliferation is actually important to the United States. Having frittered away the past seven years on a foreign policy driven by hubris, the United States can ill-afford to misplace its priorities. With the active phase of the war over, we need to move beyond it as quickly as possible to more important issues, not indulge baroque fantasies of renewed great-power conflict.

Exactly. Humanitarian assistance to an ally is fine, but the talk of World War III is very dangerous.

Peter at Duck of Minerva has more.

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Senate Campaign Report

Let's see what's happening in the races to move into that august body.

• VA - Mark Warner, who's all but assured of beating Jim Gilmore to become the next Senator from Virginia, will be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in two weeks. There are two virtual locks for pickups on the Democratic side this year - Warner, a centrist, and Tom Udall, a progressive from New Mexico. Picking the former to deliver the keynote isn't exactly surprising, but it's a little depressing.

• MN - I really liked this YouTube debate - a real YouTube debate, where the questions and answers come from Web video - between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. I thought Franken made some excellent points and the issues were handled with an appropriate amount of seriousness. But this election in Minnesota has been more about silliness than seriousness, with allegations of improper payments of taxes and untoward language in jokes among the smears being lobbed at Franken. Now Coleman is getting a taste of this, as his sweetheart lease at a lobbyist friend's house in DC is being questioned.

Sen. Norm Coleman didn't have a lease for the first year he rented a garden-level bedroom in an upper-bracket Capitol Hill row house owned by a longtime friend and Republican operative.

In addition, Coleman didn't make a payment for utilities for the living space until last month, under a verbal agreement he had with his landlord -- St. Paul businessman Jeff Larson -- to settle up after a year in residence, Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said.

Coleman's Washington living arrangements, first reported in a National Journal article in June, have been a target of criticism by DFL officials and DFL election opponent Al Franken.

I'd rather stay on the issues in a perfect world, but when you're slimed like this you have to fight back. Good for Al Franken.

• AK - You know things are going bad for Ted Stevens when the governore who appointed him to the seat thinks his career is over.

• OR - Gordon Smith, in his time-honored tradition of painting himself as a moderate despite voting strongly with Republicans for the last six years, has dropped his state co-chairmanship for John McCain's election campaign. Very convenient, coming at a time when Smith is featuring Barack Obama and John Kerry in TV ads.

By the way, I've been remiss in mentioning that I had the chance to meet Jeff Merkley, Smith's opponent in Oregon, at an event last week. Merkley's an impressive guy - a former exchange student in the poorest parts of Ghana, a nuclear freeze activist who eventually worked in the Defense Department, the Democratic leader in the Oregon House who led them back into the majority and worked hard to pass a solid progressive agenda. Merkley and his family will have no health care after January - his wife went part-time during the election campaign and lost her coverage, and Merkley's coverage with the state will run out after he is replaced in the state House. This is someone who's really running for health care, and I found him to be intelligent, engaging and progressive on the issues. Oregon is really the tipping point - it will make the difference between a potential 5-seat Democratic pickup and something much larger.

• NC - The DSCC is pouring money into this race, attacking Elizabeth Dole in her battle against State Sen. Kay Hagan. I confess to not being Hagan's biggest fan, but Dole is a rubber stamp and a terrible legislator.

• NJ - The Republicans are bugging out of this race, pitting Sen. Frank Lautenberg against Dick Zimmer. Practically every year, Republicans pour money into New Jersey and come out with nothing. They appear to have learned their lesson. Republicans literally have only one pickup opportunity this cycle, in Louisiana.

...Senate Guru is always the best source for Senate campaign news.

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Happy Anniversary

Following on Digby's post about seniors being the lagging demographic for Obama in this election (and really the only one - the myths of his struggles with Hispanics, women and the white working class have all been debunked for the most part), Democrats are marking the 73rd anniversary of one of the most successful government programs ever created - one that has lifted the elderly out of poverty to a historic degree - and one that John McCain and the conservative movement want to destroy. The DNC put together a Web video featuring Franklin Roosevelt's grandson, and it's pretty solid.

The public is very much with us on this, and highlighting McCain's "Social Security is a disgrace" comment makes sense. Obama put out the same message in a statement today.

On this anniversary of Social Security, let’s reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that Social Security remains a safety net that seniors can count on today, tomorrow, and always. It is impossible to fully measure Social Security’s value for its recipients, as well as for those who look after and love them. Nearly 13 million seniors depend on it each month to keep from falling into poverty, and millions more depend on survivor and disability benefits to protect their retirement.

As President, I will protect Social Security for today’s seniors and future generations. That means strengthening Social Security’s solvency while protecting middle class families from benefit cuts, tax increases or increases in the retirement age. It means treating Social Security not as a political football or describing it as an “absolute disgrace,” but instead honoring it as the cornerstone of the social compact in this country. And it means opposing efforts to privatize Social Security, as I did when President Bush proposed risky private accounts a few years ago. Privatization is wrong and tears at the fabric of Social Security – the very idea of mutual responsibility – by subjecting a secure, earned retirement to the whims of the market. The Bush privatization plan that Senator McCain now embraces would tell millions of elderly Americans that they’re on their own, putting them at risk of falling into poverty. That’s not what this country is about.

It’s time to reclaim the idea that in this country, we’re all in it together. That is America’s very promise – and Social Security’s very guarantee. And it requires a President who will change the ways of Washington, protect the people’s interests, and bring Americans together to meet the great challenges of our time. That is exactly the sort of leadership I intend to offer.

Now, during the primary Obama highlighted Social Security and framed it as a looming problem, which was unfortunate and frankly wrong, but it's important to note that his solution has always been progressive, by raising the cap on payroll taxes above $250,000. And, the Democratic platform steered and adopted by the Obama campaign specifically includes this statement:

We recognize that Social Security is not in crisis and we should do everything we can to strengthen this vital program, including asking those making over $250,000 to pay a bit more.

McCain and conservatives reject Social Security because it shows the promise of good government solutions to impact people's lives in a positive way. They want to enrich fund managers and corporate board rooms by plunking savings into a volatile stock market. The AFL-CIO is hitting this pretty hard as well, dropping a mailer that specifically cites McCain's wealth and concludes "If John McCain lost his social security, he'd get by just fine... would you?" The mailer specifically targets union retirees in Rust Belt state, and the labor federation's goal is to reach a million union retirees in the next few weeks.

The point is that I think Democrats recognize this as a problem and are using the extreme views of McCain on Social Security to paint him as unacceptable. The Village has been conditioned into viewing Social Security and all entitlements as a scourge, but we've one this one already and we can do it again, and in the process Obama can pick up the support of seniors who view him as on their side. This new Olympics ad continues that theme:

There's also this ad contrasting McCain's chipper comments about the economy in recent months with the testimony of ordinary Americans who are struggling and worried.

Obviously policy arguments like this are often swamped by whether or not one's vacation spots are elitist, but a populist message in this time, and more important, putting the focus on McCain and his failed conservative vision, is going to have some effect. And a little fearmongering on Social Security is completely in bounds.

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Less Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update?

This is very relieving if true.

Faced with desertions by his political supporters and the neutrality of the Pakistani military, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, an important ally of the United States, is expected to resign in the next few days rather than face impeachment charges, Pakistani politicians and Western diplomats said Thursday.

His departure from office would be likely to unleash new instability in the country as the two main parties in the civilian government jockeyed for the division of power.

Yeah, I don't agree with that. The instability would have come if Musharraf tried to hold on to power despite overwhelming opposition against him. But clearly he didn't have the support of the military he once held (like in the successful 1999 coup), and so this was his only solution.

Significantly, US and British diplomats have been urging Musharraf to quit in recent days, perhaps understanding that there was no chance of him keeping power with all the forces aligned against him.

Anything that avoids a coup or civil war in Pakistan is a good thing. This is an unstable country with nuclear weapons - a constitutional crisis would be extremely worrying. Ultimately, this shows the bankruptcy of US-Pakistan relations in the Bush era. As Joe Biden is fond of saying, we didn't have a Pakistan policy, we had a Musharraf policy, and it stirred resentment among the public and led to this backlash. The US tried to engineer a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto that left Bhutto dead and Musharraf disgraced. The new coalition government is going to have its struggles, but it will certainly better reflect the will of the Pakistani people more than American interests. And in the end, I would argue that would be a POSITIVE development for the United States. This would be a more honest partner for peace and democracy than a dictator like Musharraf, who was enabling terrorists and extremists in the border region anyway. Our lack of thumbs on the scale will aid us in the fight in Afghanistan, too, which is turning grisly.

SAYDEBAD, Afghanistan -- Not far from here, just off the highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, three American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were ambushed and killed seven weeks ago.

The soldiers -- two of them members of the National Guard from New York -- died as their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades. At least one was dragged off and chopped to pieces, according to Afghan and Western officials. The body was so badly mutilated that at first the military announced that it had found the remains of two men, not one, in a nearby field.

Horrifying, but the answer is full engagement with Pakistan's new government, promoting an actual semblance of a democracy, instead of holding on for dear life to a double-dealing dictator. A stable Pakistan is the eventual key to a stable Afghanistan where low-level development and an end to the narco-terrorist state can flourish.

This is ultimately good news, though I'm sure the spin in the Western media will be otherwise.

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Fighting For The Franchise In Ohio

In 2004, Ohio's election system was run by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R-Crazytown). We know how that turned out. In 2006 Democrat Jennifer Brunner was elected, and we're already seeing the positives of that.

Ohio has created a window in the election calendar that would allow residents instant gratification — register one minute, vote the next. It's also given the campaigns of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain a chance to bank thousands of first-time voters during that Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 window.

The move will benefit Obama, who enjoys a 2-to-1 lead over McCain among 18- to 34-year-olds, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last month. If Obama's campaign were able to tap into college campuses with one-stop voting, it would add thousands of votes to his tally in a state where, in 2004, John Kerry lost to President Bush by only about 118,000 votes, putting Bush over the top in the electoral count.

Actually, the move will benefit America. Increased participation in the political process is a universally desired result, and same-day registration has been shown to increase turnout significantly. The same with early voting. And the same with permanent absentee balloting (a new feature in Ohio this year). Making the process easier benefits the country by allowing the widest possible range of voices to be heard.

Of course, Republicans don't want more voters, so they're trying to muddy the waters and raise fears of non-existent voter fraud.

In Ohio, Republicans are clearly not pleased with same-day registration and voting and have not ruled out a lawsuit against Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's office.

"You have to wonder, when they look at what they consider a loophole with such excitement," said Jason Mauk, the Ohio Republican Party's executive director. "That would suggest manipulating the process, and I think opens the door to suspicion."

What's hilarious is that state lawmakers created this early voting window in 2006. When the governor was a Republican. And he signed it into law. So it's not a loophole.

Republicans want to open the door to suspicion as a pretext to suppressing the vote. Amazingly, they're engaging in the same tactics at veterans homes.

WHAT is the secretary of Veterans Affairs thinking? On May 5, the department led by James B. Peake issued a directive that bans nonpartisan voter registration drives at federally financed nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and shelters for homeless veterans. As a result, too many of our most patriotic American citizens — our injured and ill military veterans — may not be able to vote this November.

I have witnessed the enforcement of this policy. On June 30, I visited the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven, Conn., to distribute information on the state’s new voting machines and to register veterans to vote. I was not allowed inside the hospital.

Outside on the sidewalk, I met Martin O’Nieal, a 92-year-old man who lost a leg while fighting the Nazis in the mountains of Northern Italy during the harsh winter of 1944. Mr. O’Nieal has been a resident of the hospital since 2007. He wanted to vote last year, but he told me that there was no information about how to register to vote at the hospital and the nurses could not answer his questions about how or where to cast a ballot.

I carry around hundreds of blank voter registration cards in the trunk of my car for just such occasions, so I was able to register Mr. O’Nieal in November. I also registered a few more veterans — whoever I could find outside on the hospital’s sidewalk.

There are thousands of veterans of wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan who are isolated behind the walls of V.A. hospitals and nursing homes across the country. We have an obligation to make sure that every veteran has the opportunity to make his or her voice heard at the ballot box.

Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, and I wrote to Secretary Peake in July to request that elections officials be let inside the department’s facilities to conduct voter education and registration. Our request was denied.

It's not such an incredible story, when you look at both candidates' record on veteran's funding issues (Obama is far better), and when you learn that troops deployed abroad have given money to Obama by a 6:1 margin.

This really is the electoral battleground: whether the organization of the Obama campaign can overcome the institutional barriers to participation thrown up by Republicans.

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Lou Dobbs Spontaneous Forehead Vein Pop Watch

This is going to make the xenophobic right crazy:

The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.

The main reason for the accelerating change is significantly higher birthrates among immigrants. Another factor is the influx of foreigners, rising from about 1.3 million annually today to more than 2 million a year by midcentury, according to projections based on current immigration policies.

“No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change,” said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington.

We're losing our unique special-ness! We're going from majority immigrant from Europe to majority immigrant from South America, Mexico, Asia and Africa! Somebody alert the citizen militia!

The story comes from an angle that anyone brown, regardless of how long they've been in the country, whether it's a new immigrant or the ancestor of Crispus Attucks, is somehow the "other". It should be noted that NATIVE AMERICANS make up part of that list. The fact is that the current proportion of foreign-born Americans is lower than the historic high level reached in 1910. That period had its share of know-nothings and anti-immigrants, and Irish and the Italians weren't considered white. Times changed, and today Irish-Americans like Dobbs and Pat Buchanan are among the loudest xenophobes. These things have a habit of changing over time.

There's a Twilight Zone in there somewhere, with Dobbs transported to the "Gangs of New York"-era Lower East Side to experience racism first-hand...

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Swift-Boating Jerome Corsi

Apparently, Jerome Corsi's latest set of smear email forwards put into book form The Obama Nation is going to debut at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. But we all know how the right games the system, giving away millions of copies through conservative book clubs and buying up copies from bookstores before reducing them to pulp, just to give the books (and the lies inside them) the stature and the credibility. What matters is how the media reacts to it. Well, so far, they appear to be giving the book the treatment it deserves.

This NYT article is appropriately skeptical, calling many of the book's claims "unsubstantiated, misleading or inaccurate." Media Matters, which has led the charge against the book, has gotten a good amount of success as a counterpoint to Corsi's lies. Last night, Paul Waldman appeared on Larry King Live to debate Corsi, and he did a spectacular job.

It wasn't too long ago that there wouldn't be anyone offering pushback on one of these conservative smear artists. Media Matters' emergence is extremely important to the progressive movement. They've forced themselves into the conversation. These pieces of infrastructure are invaluable. Unlike 2004, this year the smears are not going unchallenged in the traditional media.

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FBI: Federal Botching of the Ivins case

Anyone who was paying attention knew it was going this way:

Federal investigators probing the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks recovered samples of human hair from a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., but the strands did not match the lead suspect in the case, according to sources briefed on the probe.

FBI agents and U.S. Postal Service inspectors analyzed the data in an effort to place Fort Detrick, Md., scientist Bruce E. Ivins at the mailbox from which bacteria-laden letters were sent to Senate offices and media organizations, the sources said.

First of all, this gaping hole in the case, the lack of any physical evidence putting Ivins at the crime scene, has been obvious from the moment the FBI closed the case. In fact, they're STILL looking for additional evidence, which should tell you something about how secure they are in their determination that Ivins acted alone. They're basing the entire case on the remote belief that Ivins checked out of his lab with just enough time to spare to drive 4 hours to Princeton for pretty much no reason and mail the letters. Except the postmark on the letters reflects the day after it would according to the FBI's own timeline. (The FBI doesn't even talk about the other letters mailed; presumably they have no evidence tying Ivins to those locations, either). And now this - the hair samples don't match. That's really only one of the many questions remaining in the case. The FBI has checked Ivins's car, his house, his locker, and his safety deposit box and found no traces of anthrax spores. The evidence of the particular strain of anthrax could have been in the hands of up to 100 people, and anyway the DNA testing does not point to any individual. There is just nothing in what the FBI has presented that is in any way conclusive - in fact, more pieces point AWAY from Ivins than toward him. Meryl Nass has the definitive rundown of the Swiss cheese-sized holes in the case.

Congress is holding preliminary hearings, which is a start.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it will call FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to appear at an oversight hearing Sept. 17, when he is likely to be asked about the strength of the government's case against Ivins. A spokeswoman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a vocal FBI critic, said he would demand more information about how authorities narrowed their search.

The House Judiciary panel, meanwhile, is negotiating to hold a separate oversight hearing in September with bureau officials, in a session that could mark the first public occasion in which Mueller faces questions about the FBI's handling of the anthrax case.

But it's not enough. The scope of any investigation must be broadened and it would be best if it occurred in the hands of an independent body with subpoena power charged with digging down to the truth. It must be said - if the FBI is not outright lying, they're certainly trying to cover up their years of mistakes and increasingly intimidating and bullying behavior as they sought a suspect on which to pin the attacks. This is what has become of accountability in Washington, and so a stand must be taken right here. It is unacceptable to let this pass. People died, others were sickened, and the tragedy was turned around and used to sow fear in the public and set us on a course toward unnecessary war. The attacks had a specific political and media target. It's not good enough for the puzzle to end without a full accounting.

This is especially unnerving because the FBI, the same entity that has consistently screwed up this case for half a dozen years, is about to get a whole bunch of new powers.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey confirmed plans Wednesday to loosen post-Watergate restrictions on the FBI's national security and criminal investigations, saying the changes were necessary to improve the bureau's ability to detect terrorists.

Mukasey said he expected criticism of the new rules because "they expressly authorize the FBI to engage in intelligence collection inside the United States." However, he said the criticism would be misplaced because the bureau has long had authority to do so [...]

In addition, agents assigned to national security investigations will be given more latitude to conduct surveillance based on a tip. Also, agents will be permitted to search more databases than allowed previously in criminal cases. As it stands now, agents who get a tip about a possible organized crime figure cannot use certain databases that they are allowed to access in national security cases, such as those containing information about state-issued drivers' licenses [...]

Michael German, a former veteran FBI agent who is now policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if Mukasey moves ahead with the new rules as he describes them, he'll be weakening restrictions originally put in place after the Watergate scandal to rein in the FBI's domestic Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. At the time, the FBI spied on American political leaders and organizations deemed to be subversive throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s.

If this anthrax case is a test case for how the FBI handles a sensitive domestic terrorism investigation, their powers shouldn't be increased, they should be removed, and the J. Edgar Hoover Building shuttered. Only a full investigation will lead to the proper and necessary rollback. This agency as it's currently constructed cannot be trusted to even keep a minimal standard of competency, let alone be trusted with any role in handling national security cases.

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