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

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This Is How It's Done

Yes, it's only, and the media would probably not dare have such an effective liberal spokesman on the broadcast airwaves. But David Waldman (nee Kagro X) really destroys his fellow combatants talking about torture here, and all of these "Democratic strategists" are welcome to pick up his point of view as a model:

These simply are facts. The United States tortured detainees to extract false confessions about an Iraq/Al Qaeda link. The Washington Post tries to obscure those facts by allowing anonymous intelligence officials, probably holdovers from the Bush Administration, offer their one-sided view of things without rebuttal, acknowledging that Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were questioned about Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda but claiming that waterboarding did not accompany that questioning. There's no way to disprove their statements but plenty of people who contradict them. And so instead of giving room for only anonymous sources repeating Bush-era spin, we need a full investigation of every facet of United States detention and torture policy from 2001 to the present to determine if we subjected prisoners to illegal tactics to make a case or justify a case for war. We're no longer talking about those idiotic ticking time bomb scenarios.

Jane Hamsher created a Facebook page for Kagro. You can join it. This entire Nancy Pelosi/CIA brouhaha is designed to intimidate Democrats into stopping any investigation into what the Cheney regime really did. Since Pelosi has gone on record supporting a Truth Commission, that threat ought not to work. But the media is certainly giving it the college try. We must have investigations and prosecutions where necessary, especially given the latest revelations connecting torture to Iraq and the lies that led to war.

Postscript: Batocchio has something you should see.

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The End Of Conventional Warfare

You may not hear a lot about it, but one of the longest civil wars in world history may come to an end this weekend, as the government of Sri Lanka claims to have defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels on the battlefield. However, the rebel leaders remain at large. The government has control of the coastline, confining the rebels to a small patch of land. The best part of this is that civilians who were caught in the middle of the conflict have poured across the front lines and appear to be out of danger. Small comfort to the 7,000 civilians who have died this year.

It seems like the fatal mistake for the Tamil Tigers came when they engaged the government in conventional warfare. Having lost, they will probably just revert back to the expected guerrilla tactics. The future of modern warfare will go pretty much like this, and I don't know that counter-insurgency has proved so successful that we have figured out a remedy here.

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Rove Meets The Special Prosecutor - Again

Karl Rove had a three and a half hour visit with Nora Dannehy yesterday.

Former Bush administration official Karl Rove was interviewed Friday at the office of his attorney about why nine U.S. attorneys were fired in 2006.

After the meeting, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, issued a statement: "Mr. Rove was interviewed by prosecutors today and answered all of their questions. He intends to fully cooperate with the investigation."

Rove had no comment for reporters outside Luskin's Georgetown office in northwest Washington, saying only, "Have a nice weekend."

Congress held hearings on the firings amid allegations that the prosecutors were sacked for political reasons. All were political appointees who served at the pleasure of the president, and the Bush Justice Department denied any impropriety.

A Justice Department report last year found that some of the firings were influenced by political considerations. Rove and other Bush officials refused to be interviewed for that investigation, and the Bush administration maintained that it acted properly.

I know that there are so many loose ends from the Bush Administration, but the US Attorneys probe and the perversion of the Justice Department into an adjunct of the Republican National Committee remains important. I expected Dannehy to pretty much have wrapped up by now, so the fact that she's still talking to the principals is reassuring.

Dannehy appeared to have focused in on the firing of David Iglesias, which was the most nakedly political and which includes elements of obstruction of justice. Iglesias was approached by then-Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) about a corruption case in New Mexico, and pressured to hurry up the investigation. When Iglesias refused, Domenici hung up, and later discussed firing Iglesias with White House officials. And after the 2006 elections, that's precisely what happened. Rove, Domenici and even George W. Bush are exposed by this one.

The focus on torture has obscured these additional instances of lawbreaking during the Bush Administration. It was truly a breathtaking time.

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Obama has a nice-guy personality that he presents to the world, but his political instincts have always been pretty hard-core. He won his initial State Senate race by forcing everyone else off the ballot after getting their official signatures disqualified. That's what I'm reminded of by today's move sending Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to Beijing as the US Ambassador to China. Aside from being qualified for the job by spending a lot of time in Asia and speaking fluent Mandarin, Huntsman is a rising young star in the Republican Party mentioned often as a potential 2012 Presidential candidate. Just a couple weeks ago, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe labeled Huntsman the biggest threat to Obama in 2012. So the President up and co-opted him.

Huntsman may be playing a long game, getting the imprimatur of a popular President and setting up for a future run way down the road. But I tend to reject the idea that the GOP primary voters would nominate anyone who took a job in the Obama Administration. At any rate, in the short-term, Obama just neutralized the guy his campaign manager saw as the toughest opponent to his re-election.

I wish he would use this kind of strategy against the ConservaDems...

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Hey, have a good weekend there! So my laptop finally died, chaining me to my desktop this week. I will be making quick work of the Apple website before long. To the music:

Portland Oregon - Loretta Lynn & Jack White
40' - Franz Ferdinand
In Your Dreams - Outkast
Walter Reed - Michael Penn
Hunter - Bjork
Partymådchen Gefoltert - Stereo Total
Trying Your Luck - The Strokes (why do they keep coming up?)
Rollin' Back - My Morning Jacket
The World's Address - They Might Be Giants
Pluto - Bjork

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The Cognitive Dissonance, It Burns

Here are just three unrelated, and yet somehow related, stories, that make me wonder how any Republican can keep all these ideas in their head without it exploding.

• The fiscally responsible House GOP, always railing against how President Obama is spending "the people's money," is funding their re-branding effort with taxpayer dollars by using Eric Cantor's House account.

• Bill O'Reilly, who has made a cottage industry out of ambushing liberals by directing reporters to accost them on the street, actually recorded a video where he decries the loss of privacy from public figures. Really.

• And in the most insane example, Rush Limbaugh tries to explain the "quest for power" by a group other than him, in this case the Democratic Party, by referring to his own drug addiction, assuming of course that every single person in the party has exactly the same obsessions as, well, him.

I really don't even know what to say about that one.

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More Billions For Afghanistan

In other news taking the stars out of my eyes, the House overwhelmingly approved a $97 billion dollar supplemental appropriation, mainly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little debate and much less fanfare. 51 Democrats and 9 Republicans defied the Bush Obama Administration on this, while others approved it but did argue that they had little patience for the policy and wouldn't agree to an open-ended commitment.

Chief among them is Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., author of the House legislation as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. But for now he's giving Obama a chance to demonstrate greater progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"This is a bill that I have very little confidence in," Obey said. "I think we have a responsibility to give a new president — who did not get us into this mess — the best possible opportunity to get out of it."

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is opposing the infusion of war funds. He's not impressed with Obama's plans on Afghanistan.

"Sometimes great presidents make mistakes, and sometimes great presidents make even great mistakes. I hope that doesn't happen here," McGovern said. "As the mission has grown bigger, the policy has grown even more vague."

We really haven't heard a clearly articulated policy in Afghanistan. The ostensible goal is to root out Al Qaeda camps, but the President's own top generals admit that they are no longer in Afghanistan. Furthermore, safe havens for terrorists could realistically be in a mosque in Newark or London or Brazil as easily as anywhere else.

Obama wants to avoid a failed state in Afghanistan. Yet his tactics of relentless bombing, exactly what he vowed to AVOID by adding new troops, only leads in the direction toward a loss of confidence in the central government, and an opportunity for the Taliban. We supposedly have a new general and a new strategy based on counter-insurgency and winning hearts and minds, yet airstrikes do the exact opposite, inflaming and angering local populations. And furthermore, this new general seems to have a nasty habit of lying to people to protect his own skin.

I just don't see the strategy beyond just Bush-plus in Afghanistan. The White House is giving it attention, and trying to implement a more regional strategy, but it makes sense to question the premises here.

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"All Now About Her"

Adam Nagourney, amazingly taking the position of questioning the Democrat in a debate:

I don't know why Nancy Pelosi wants to get involved in a fight with the CIA that is all now about her, questions about her credibility.

Here's the media drill. The CIA puts out a bogus list of assertions. Nancy Pelosi questions them, along with practically everyone else who was briefed. And the story becomes about Nancy Pelosi rather than the discredited assertions of the CIA. And of course all of this misdirects the key new information about torture, that the Vice President has been charged by top officials of desiring to torture detainees to extract false confessions about a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda and justify the invasion of Iraq.

Multiple news accounts this morning report that Pelosi’s credibility is in question after yesterday’s press conference, in which she accused the CIA of lying about what they told members of Congress about the agency’s use of torture. This theme was sounded by MSNBC, WaPo’s Dan Balz, the New York Times write-up, and many others.

That’s as it should be. But I challenge you to find a news account that stated with equal prominence that the CIA’s credibility is also in question.

Let’s briefly recap. Three senior Democrats — Pelosi, Bob Graham, and Jay Rockefeller — have all publicly claimed that the CIA didn’t brief them about the use of torture in the manner the agency has claimed. Meanwhile, the CIA itself has conceded that its own accounting may not be accurate.

Yet key facts that cast doubt on the CIA’s claims have been buried or completely omitted from multiple news reports. The Times’s first mention of Graham’s claims came today, five days after he first made them, and they were buried in the 22nd paragraph of the paper’s write-up. Neither The Time nor The Post have even mentioned Rockefeller’s claims once. The networks have refused across the board to mention the CIA’s own unwillingness to vouch for the accuracy of its information.

Even Leon Panetta's response to Pelosi today fails to stand behind their documents, hedging his bets by saying that "it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened." And Pelosi, for her part, wants to evaluate all the evidence, another fact left out of the news reports.

Everybody's talking about Nancy Pelosi's press conference yesterday. I'm listening to Republicans on cable yapping about this contradiction or that contradiction. But what I've seen very little attention to is the fact that Pelosi had an answer that really answers all the questions, a plenary answer you might say: she supports a Truth Commission [...]

That says it all. She wants it all investigated. The whole point of this storm about Pelosi is that her critics want her to be embarrassed and stop supporting a Truth Commission or any sort of examination of what happened. But she's not. She still says there should be an investigation. Her critics still want the book closed. That says it all. She'll have to stand or fall with the results of an actual investigation. Her opponents on this are simply risible hypocrites.

And who are her opponents? The media swarm, which is chasing the soccer ball of the latest conflict rather than exercising any judgment about the relative merits of all the claims or the additional circumstances.

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FL-Sen: Crist Goes To Crazy Base Land

Charlie Crist grabbed the endorsement of the NRSC, and this incensed the insaneosphere on the right, with RedState calling for a boycott of the Senate Republican campaign arm. If the NRSC had any clout over the poltical establishment in Florida, it might be a serious endorsement. But clearly, Crist doesn't think their money and influence will be enough to help him win the primary, because he just went out and signed the Grover Norquist pledge.

In the latest development in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is facing a more conservative opponent in the GOP primary, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, both candidates have signed the anti-tax pledge of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

In a possible move by Crist to appeal to right-wing voters and activists -- a demographic that might oppose him because of his support for the stimulus bill -- his campaign announced yesterday that he was the first candidate to sign the pledge. Rubio then signed up hours later.

He only needs to do this because Rubio would otherwise attack him hard from the right. But clearly, Crist's willingness to go as far right as possible to win the primary will only hurt him, in the same way that it hurt John McCain, in a general election in Florida. State lawmaker Dan Gelber is the progressive alternative here, and he has a primary of his own against Rep. Kendrick Meek. I'm sure both of them love watching Crist turn into a fundie neocon economic royalist right before their eyes.

Meanwhile, as Howie Klein notes, the NRSC didn't bother to offer the same support for Missouri's Roy Blunt, a member of the House leadership, declining to choose him over his primary opponents. Maybe that's because Robin Carnahan looks ready to beat all comers, and Blunt has enough corruption problems of his own to spook the national GOP.

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Inside Governor Hoover's Budget Revise

When you go beyond the headlines, there are several interesting elements of the Governor's May Revise - which by the way, was illegally delivered, under the February budget agreement, but hey, what's the law, right?

We know some of the major portions of the Governor's plan - cutting education, thousands of state employee layoffs, lots of borrowing (something like 40% of the gap through revenue anticipation warrants), selling public landmarks, etc. First of all, with respect to selling off public property, easier said than done.

Case in point: the governor's plan a while back to sell EdFund, the state's student loan guarantee fund. It was projected to bring in $1 billion, but still hasn't been sold (and was last valued at 50% of its original estimate). I mention that because in this proposal, the governor suggests $1 billion for selling off part of the State Compensation Insurance Fund. Maybe it's an easier deal than EdFund (and others in the past), but...

Some other interesting pieces:

• Despite the fact that Schwarzenegger adamantly insisted there will be not tax or fee increases as part of any solution, there in fact are new fee increases included. The Governor seeks higher fees, but significantly, those fees would hit some of the most vulnerable citizens in the state. For example, he raises fees for residents living in veterans homes throughout the state, adding $2.8 million dollars. What's important here is that he betrays his own rhetoric by raising some fees inside his own revised plan.

• While the budget deficit exists because of an historic drop in revenue during this Great Recession, instead of temporarily cutting various services, the Governor's revised budget would cut them permanently, particularly in programs like Medi-Cal, In-Home Supportive Services, SSI/SSP, regional centers, Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants. This despite, once again, the Governor reconciled his raid of local governments by saying that "hopefully the economy comes back." But even if it did, the permanent cuts to programs serving the most vulnerable elements of society would remain. The vast majority of those cuts would be implemented regardless of the outcome of the May 19 ballot measures.

• Never one to let an opportunity in crisis to slip by, the Governor would also allow the first new offshore drilling off the California coastline in 40 years, putting a major dent in any possible depiction of Schwarzenegger as some kind of environmentalist. Despite not being able to tax the severance of oil from California land, the Governor would lease new offshore drilling sites to bring in $100 million from the state. And this would nullify a ruling by the State Lands Commission that denied further oil leases. As recently as last summer, Schwarzenegger vowed not to allow new drilling off the California shore.

You won't read much of this fine print in the discussion of the budget, or the glorifying media profiles of the "Governator." But it's important, because every aspect of this reveals him as a cheap fraud.

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Adventures In File Naming

Not that Steny Hoyer and Eric Cantor had to remove doubt that, with respect to Middle East issues, they are shills for the hard-right Israel lobby. But this is a helpful reminder:

Speaking of Iran and that region, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent out a “Dear Colleague” e-mail Tuesday asking for signatures “to the attached letter to President Obama regarding the Middle East peace process.”

The letter says the usual stuff, emphasizing that Washington “must be both a trusted mediator and a devoted friend to Israel” and noting: “Israel will be taking the greatest risks in any peace agreement.”

Curiously, when we opened the attachment, we noticed it was named “AIPAC Letter Hoyer Cantor May 2009.pdf.”

Seems as though someone forgot to change the name or something.

The letter's substance is no better than the title, by the way. On a bipartisan basis, this Congress remains in hock to a far-right ideology that rejects peace and prefers expanding settlements and ruthless occupation exhibited by the Netanyahu government. Simply put, the letter is designed to undercut the Obama Administration's efforts at peace.

Waiting for the "J Street Dear Colleague Letter May 2009.pdf." It may be a long wait.

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Good Questions

That you rarely see in our traditional media during this debate over torture.

1. If torture was so crucial to keep America safe, why did the Bush White House stop doing it in 2004 once the Abu Ghraib photos appeared and top officials feared culpability? Further, if we haven't employed these tactics in five years, how could the President be endangering the country by declining to employ them?

2. If torture can be justified under various legal theories and the need to protect the country, why would the man who promulgated those theories and signed legal opinions justifying them refuse to speak publicly to Congress or even privately to the Office of Professional Responsibility to try and exonerate himself?

3. Why is Nancy Pelosi's word being questioned on the timing and extent of various briefings, but not the word of the CIA, who are professional liars who have been exposed as lying to Congress on multiple occasions? (In fairness, that link came from a media member, but it's still rare.)

I wish we had a media to ask these questions, but instead, they chase the soccer ball and pursue irrelevant storylines, as long as they help Republicans and hurt Democrats.

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CA-32: Cedillo Jumps The Shark On LA Radio

This Gil Cedillo is really a miserable little person. Over at Nuestra Voice you can hear him with LA radio DJ Mario Solis Marich answering questions about that ridiculous attack mailer on Emanuel Pleitez using Facebook photos to build a narrative of Pleitez as a scary drunken gang-lover who parties with white women. In the transcript, you'll notice Cedillo's immediate reaction to bringing up Pleitez' name:

SOLIS MARICH: There was some controversy over the past 2 weeks when your campaign decided to do a negative attack piece on newcomer Emanuel Pleitez. Many people who observe campaigns including myself took that as a sign that the young candidate was really eating into your base.

CEDILLO: Well, one we're not sure we'd call it negative unless he calls it negative, the fact that he posted these photos on his Facebook.

Two, we recognize what his roll is in this campaign, to suppress the vote and to try to take away votes and we think the electorate has the right to know all the information, information that he's made public, about the candidates. We put the record out there and let people decide if they want to elect someone who has 25 years of effective leadership or if they want to elect somebody who they may not have full confidence in.

So in other words, anyone who participates in a campaign to try and get elected is automatically "suppressing votes," presumably votes from Gil Cedillo. The backstory here is that Parke Skelton, Judy Chu's campaign manager, and Eric Hacopian, Pleitez' top strategist, have worked together on other campaigns, which is to be expected from two Democratic consultants in LA. Off of that thin reed Cedillo spins a wide-ranging conspiracy theory that Emanuel Pleitez swooped into the race to suppress votes from the naturally chosen "one" candidate who is supposed to win the seat. Now, if you were of a conspiratorial nature, you could say the exact same thing about Betty Tom Chu, the Republican Monterey Park City Councilwoman who entered the race late and will undoubtedly cause some ballot confusion given the closeness of names between her and Judy Chu. But it's this sense of entitlement on the part of Cedillo, this idea that he deserves that Congressional seat and no Hispanic should dare "suppress the vote" by, you know, running against him, that stands out here. This is typical sleazeball identity politics, the idea that any Hispanic must vote for a Hispanic, and multiple Hispanics in the field dilute the strength of the vote, and they should line up and wait their turn behind the self-anointed savior.

Now, here's the rest of the interview, where Cedillo becomes increasingly ridiculous:

SOLIS MARICH: So, you don't think that using pictures of a person at a party where they were basically doing what many people of all different ages do, enjoying themselves...

CEDILLO: Dancing on tables and using gang signs that he published on his Facebook, we think, first of all, one, we do not romanticize gangs or gang violence. He and I grew up in the same neighborhood...

SOLIS MARICH: Senator, let me just correct something, before you go down that path, maybe your staff hasn't told you but he was actually...the quote unqute gang signs...he was actually at a Voto Latino event...

CEDILLO: I know where he was, I know where he was.

SOLIS MARICH: ...and he was standing next to a very very respected actress and Latina activist Rosario Dawson who was actually with him making the same signs. So, are you accusing Rosario Dawson of using gang signs?

CEDILLO: I'm saying that that's inappropriate, I find it inappropriate...

SOLIS MARICH: For both him and Rosario Dawson?

CEDILLO: Yes. I find it inappropriate, I find it offensive. I don't romanticize that one bit...

Solis Marich doesn't get it out, but the "gang sign" made by Pleitez and Dawson stands for Voto Latino. According to Cedillo, any hand gesture made in a photograph automatically romanticizes gangs. I'll bet he doesn't bring a sign language interpreter along for his speeches!

The dreaded dialogue continues:

SOLIS MARICH: So do you think Voto Latino should apologize?

CEDILLO: No. No, I support Voto Latino, I've raised money for them, I know their executive director, I know their executive director is not pleased with this or with Emanuel, but as I said, I don't romanticize that, I don't think people who know this experience do and I think that's for voters to decide.

SOLIS MARICH: So, you don't think it was inappropriate, Senator Cedillo, to use that photo but not also tell people that while he was doing that that's Rosario Dawson, and he's not at a gang event, he's actually at an event designed to encourage young Latino voters.

CEDILLO: No. No I don't.

SOLIS MARICH: So you stand behind that mailer 100%?

CEDILLO: Yeah, no, absolutely. Let me be really clear, OK? I do not romanticize gang activity...

SOLIS MARICH: Are you accusing him of being in a gang?

CEDILLO: No. Let me tell you, I don't romanticize gang activity, I don't understand this fetish, or romanticizing or promoting that type of activity or emulating it in any circumstance or any environment, period.

SOLIS MARICH: So before we move on, just one final question, so you believe Rosario Dawson and Emanuel Pleitez were romanticizing gang activity at an event that was designed to encourage Latino voters?

CEDILLO: I believe that conduct does that, yes.

You hear that, Voto Latino? Your efforts to register 35,000 voters in battleground states and produce videos that 5 million Americans watched during the campaign are USELESS when compared to the hand gesture you make signifying your organization, which kills children in drive-by shootings.

Calitics had the right idea when they suggested that CA-32 voters elect anyone but Gil Cedillo to replace Hilda Solis. He makes that decision easier and easier with each passing day.

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Dawn Johnsen A Pawn In The Student Loan Privatization Game?

We now have a clear picture of why Dawn Johnsen has not been confirmed to head up the Obama Administration's Office of Legal Counsel. Key legal questions on Administration policies are being left unchallenged by a true civil libertarian because a couple Democrats refuse to allow an up or down vote.

Here are the numbers as they stand right now:

Votes Against Johnsen: 37 Republicans

Votes for Johnsen: 57 Democrats plus Indiana Republican Richard Lugar

Undecideds: Republicans Olypmia Snowe and Susan Collins and Democrats Arlen Specter and Ben Nelson

Reid frames the issue by saying he needs a couple Republicans to cross the line before he has the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. But as the numbers show, it's just as much an issue of Reid not being able to muster the entire Democratic caucus in support of Johnsen.

Specter has been noncommital on whether he would vote for cloture. But Ben Nelson is basically opposed entirely and that's holding the whole thing up. During the Bush years, Nelson very willingly supported almost all of Bush's most controversial judicial and executive branch appointments, while fighting harder against the President of his own party. I agree with Christy Hardin Smith that Nelson is fishing:

And the latest from Nelson's press secretary? Johnsen worked for NARAL.

No. You are kidding me --a pro-choice president in a pro-choice country nominated a pro-choice attorney to an office where she won't even be dealing with abortion issues. And that's objectionable.

It's a mystery.

And then? I did a little digging. I think Ben Nelson is fishing:

Nelson is perhaps the Senate's fiercest protector of subsidies for student lending institutions, which, not coincidentally, are an engine of job growth in Nebraska. He has vowed to block any effort to reduce those subsidies. And given that Democrats have 58 members and generally need 60 to break a GOP filibuster, he can enforce his will on his colleagues....Multiple congressional sources say that congressional Democrats have decided to use reconciliation to go after student-lending subsidies, specifically to get around Nelson.

Nelson is holding up Obama Administration appointments so he can save his student loan middleman and increase the burden on students. Now that's cynical.

But as Christy notes, there's a way around this, especially for a popular President. Yes, Reid could just wait for the extra vote of Al Franken and make Nelson, at least in this case, irrelevant. But the President could also loudly suggest to the people of Nebraska that their Senator is vindictively withholding the ability of his White House to do their job because Ben Nelson wants to punish students some more. And that might generate some opposition inside Nebraska, particularly the Omaha area where Obama WON. Unless we are to conclude that Obama would rather not waste political capital on having a strong civil liberties voice at the Office of Legal Counsel.

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Torture/Iraq Link Settling In

Joe Conason has strung together the mounting evidence that the Bush Administration employed torture techniques to help justify their invasion and occupation of Iraq better than anyone else I've seen. For the raw facts, read this Zachary Roth piece as a primer. For the more literary version that you should send around to everybody you know, Conason's your man. Here's an excerpt:

The single most pertinent question that Dick Cheney is never asked -- at least not by the admiring interviewers he has encountered so far -- is whether he, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush used torture to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq. As he tours television studios, radio stations and conservative think tanks, the former vice-president hopes to persuade America that only waterboarding kept us safe for seven years.

Yet evidence is mounting that under Cheney’s direction, "enhanced interrogation" was not used exclusively to prevent imminent acts of terror or collect actionable intelligence -- the aims that he constantly emphasizes -- but to invent evidence that would link al-Qaida with Saddam Hussein and connect the late Iraqi dictator to the 9/11 attacks.

Read the whole thing. It's short, and it incorporates all the evidence we have up until today about how Cheney and the Administration used torture to lie us into war. You can take a look at Charles Duelfer's sit-down with Rachel Maddow last night as well. Duelfer claims that Cheney asked him to waterboard a senior Iraqi intelligence official to get him to confirm an Iraq/Al Qaeda link. While this was after the invasion itself, this was also the time when the WMDs could not be found and the White House was casting around for some retrospective justification for the war.

Meanwhile, we learned today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was asked about Iraq/Al Qaeda links after being captured in March 2003.

Some of the first questions asked of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed upon his capture and during the time during which he was waterboarded were about possible connections between al Qaeda and Iraq, according to a review of several reports on U.S. intelligence operations.

The mastermind of the September 11 attacks was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and according to Office of Legal Counsel memos released last month, was waterboarded 183 times that same month.

The substance of the intelligence that was being sought from him has been an object of some speculation, with several defenders of the interrogation practice arguing that the goal was to prevent an impending attack on America. But a line buried on page 353 of the July 2004 Select Committee on Intelligence report on pre-Iraq war intelligence strongly suggests that the interrogation was just as centered on a possible Iraq-al-Qaeda link as terrorist activity.

"CTC [Counter Terrorist Center] noted that the questions regarding al-Qaida's ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented to senior al-Qaida operational planner Khalid Shaikh Muhammad following his capture."

This is from primary sources, directly out of the 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report signed off on by the REPUBLICAN majority.

Up until this point, we have lacked the political will to really investigate the Bush-Cheney torture regime. These revelations about the nexus of torture and Iraq changes that dynamic tremendously. The political will must now be renewed, from the bottom up. And at this point, without moral clarity, particularly in light of this torture/Iraq link, we lose all of our moral authority well into the future.

As has been the case for years, Democratic leaders, operating within the Washington bubble, misconstrue the concerns of the netroots and often privately dismiss them as the rantings of immature outsiders and political neophytes.

But as always, the progressive community, a far more efficient thinking machine than a handful of strategists and advisers, is looking ahead and raising a unified alarm. The message is this: anything less than absolute moral clarity from Democrats, who now control the levers of power, will enshrine Bush's abuses and undermine the rule of law for generations to come.

Setting aside all the campaign slogans about hope and change, what Obama really signifies is a razor sharp break from Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rice, Rumsfeld, Addington, Libby, Bybee et al. After eight years of damage to the fabric of our Constitution and our nation, the entire point of a new face, a smart, youthful, inspiring Democratic president is to completely and totally reject the Bush years, to reject the lawless behavior, the Orwellian rationales, the blatant disregard of the Constitution.

Neglecting to do so, and leaving any doubt about where Democrats stand on these issues, is profoundly detrimental to the country.

We tortured to justify the war in Iraq. If we let that go, how much more torture? How many more wars?

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The Military Commissions Would Be The Problem

They've hinted at this for weeks, and obviously the civil liberties and human rights communities didn't offer enough pushback, so the President is going ahead with modified military commissions to try suspected terrorists, the same commissions he decried as a candidate.

The Obama administration will announce plans Friday to revive the Bush-era military commission system for prosecuting accused terrorists, current and former officials said, reversing a presidential campaign pledge to rely instead on federal courts and the traditional military justice system [...]

White House officials insisted that Obama was not overturning a campaign vow. The president "never promised to abolish" military commissions, an administration official said. However, during his campaign Obama repeatedly called for change.

"It's time to better protect the American people and our values by bringing swift and sure justice to terrorists through our courts and our Uniform Code of Military Justice," Obama said in one such statement on the subject last August.

The administration still intends to prosecute some Guantanamo Bay detainees in federal courts, as Obama had pledged. But officials have concluded that a small number of detainees can be tried only in the military commissions, said a U.S. official familiar with the changes, speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of Friday's announcement [...]

The administration contends its revisions would improve the system by banning the use of any evidence obtained through coercion and will restrict the use of hearsay evidence.

The rule changes will also give detainees more latitude in choosing lawyers to represent them, according to the U.S. official, who described them on condition of anonymity because of Friday's announcement.

But those changes are widely viewed as cosmetic by critics both in and out of government.

No military judge has allowed evidence obtained through coercion or torture anyway. And these few safeguards did not form the basis of objections from civil liberties groups, as Glennzilla notes today. The problem was taking these cases out of the standard criminal justice system or the Uniform Code of Military Justice and creating a new system outside standard law that during the Bush Administration was correctly seen as nothing but a kangaroo court. If you argue that we need military commissions, you basically argue that the legal system is somehow insufficient to try terror suspects, despite the fact that prosecutors have obtained dozens of convictions for those suspected of terrorism in the past. It creates an authoritarian system that the President can determine to direct at certain suspects but not others. It weakens our legal system overall, by suggesting that it cannot properly try certain sensitive cases. And it would call into question any convictions gained through the process because of their existence outside the normal legal channels, seemingly for arbitrary reasons. Therefore it is not the specifics of the commissions that constitute the problem, but the very fact of the commissions themselves.

If we can use a court-martial system, we should. The message to the Islamic world would be much more powerful if we use the same system to try suspects of terrorism that we use to try our own members of the military. Obama's own deputy Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, explains:

In stating that the rules governing courts martial do not apply to commissions, the administration has placed itself in stark contrast to other administrations. Even in the midst of the Vietnam war, with thousands of dead, President Nixon's Defense Department examined the commissions option and concluded that "the specific protections of the Bill of Rights, unless made inapplicable to military trials by the Constitution itself, have been held applicable to courts-martial. Both logic and precedent indicate that a lesser standard for military commissions would not be constitutionally permissible."

Sen. Kerry's views closely resemble those of President Nixon's Defense Department, whereas (as I have said elsewhere in Slate) President Bush's closely resemble those of King George III. . . .

The danger with these commissions comes not only in their threat to our Constitution, and our standing in the world as a beacon of fairness, but also in their challenge to the perception of military justice. Our nation—whomever the next president may turn out to be—should admit it made a mistake and return to using our powerful and fair system of courts martial—a system that would generate swifter convictions of terrorists. As our nation's great Chief Justice John Marshall put it in 1803, ours is a "government of laws, and not of men."

You either believe in American law or you don't. The President has made his decision.

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Lies My Insurance Lobby Told Me

I know I'm heartened by the news that Democrats plan to develop a plan to communicate on health care. Who thought of that, give him or her a cookie! To think, political parties can create a "message" that they can "argue" to the "public." It's really heady stuff.

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, said many Democrats felt “unease that we did not have a strategy” to answer the criticism coming from Republican members of Congress and Republican consultants like Frank I. Luntz, an expert on the language of politics.

Senate Democrats met for more than an hour at the Capitol with David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, and Jim Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff.

“Axelrod came to reassure us that they do have a strategy,” Mr. Bayh said.

Wouldn't want to make Evan Bayh nervous that there wasn't a structure in place for him to defy. Oh, and the Luntz talking points are 16 years old, so if you were caught flat-footed by them you're not much of a politician.

Incidentally, the details of the Democratic messaging on this give me a little pause. Max Baucus explained that “You can choose your own doctor, you can choose your own health plan. There’s total choice here. I do not want to say this defensively, but this is not a big government plan.” If you're saying "I do not want to say this defensively," then you're saying it defensively.

The overall message is one of "shared responsibility," which just doesn't sound all that consumer-friendly. Especially when the "sharing" part of the responsibility has already started to collapse.

Hospitals and insurance companies said Thursday that President Obama had substantially overstated their promise earlier this week to reduce the growth of health spending.

Mr. Obama invited health industry leaders to the White House on Monday to trumpet their cost-control commitments. But three days later, confusion swirled in Washington as the companies’ trade associations raced to tamp down angst among members around the country […]

Health care leaders who attended the meeting have a different interpretation. They say they agreed to slow health spending in a more gradual way and did not pledge specific year-by-year cuts.

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding that has caused a lot of consternation among our members,” said Richard J. Umbdenstock, the president of the American Hospital Association. “I’ve spent the better part of the last three days trying to deal with it.”

These are out and out lies coming from the industry. We have their pledge in writing, calling for a reduction of 1.5 percentage points to the annual growth of health care. Now they're trying to hedge that the 1.5% would be achieved eventually. You knew they would backtrack, I guess I'm surprised it happened within five days, but since $2 trillion dollars in savings equals $2 trillion dollars in their profits, this idea that they would patriotically put the good of the country ahead of their bottom line was always suspect.

So I have another "message" for David Axelrod, Max Baucus and the gang. How about this: "the insurance companies are thieves, they don't deserve the benefit of the doubt, and we need to both enforce their proposed savings and institute a public health care plan to compete with them on price and quality of service."

Has the benefit of being true.

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Sausage Making On Employee Free Choice

Yesterday Arlen Specter announced that a compromise was in the works for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Sen. Arlen Specter said Thursday the "prospects are pretty good" for a compromise on legislation making it easier for workers to form unions.

Specter had come out against the bill in March, disappointing labor leaders. They had hoped he would be the crucial 60th vote needed to overcome an expected GOP filibuster of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Pennsylvania senator has since switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, and he said he's been meeting with labor leaders and fellow senators in hopes of coming up with a compromise he could support.

President Barack Obama also said Thursday that he hoped a compromise could be worked out that would "get enough votes to pass the bill."

The good news here is that Specter realizes he needs to protect his left flank, lest he receive a primary challenge. American Rights at Work released an ad hammering him this week, and the unions have made it pretty clear that they will condition their support for Specter based on his record.

The bad news is that we have no idea what form this compromise will take. Specter has signaled that he opposes both the majority sign-up and the 120-day arbitration portions of the bill. The second part doesn't get mentioned much, but it's just as important, as Harold Meyerson noted in the Washington Post:

If our nation was governed by business's version of democratic choice, we would hold elections to determine the winner, but nearly half the time the incumbent would remain in power even if he lost.

In its campaign to derail the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), business has fearlessly depicted itself as the defender of elections and the secret ballot as well as the foe of the dread "card check" -- the process, championed by unions and included within EFCA, that would allow workers to sign union affiliation cards rather than compelling them to go through a ratification election in which harassment and firings of workers are all too common.

But the kind of democratic choice that business favors is choice without consequence -- a position made clear by its opposition to the other key component of EFCA: binding arbitration between company and union if they've been unable to agree on a contract within 120 days of a union winning the election. A study of first-contract negotiations by John-Paul Ferguson and Thomas A. Kochan of MIT's Sloan School of Management makes clear why such arbitration is needed. After surveying 22,000 unionization campaigns between 1999 and 2004, the authors found that even after a majority of workers voted for a union, they actually reached a contractual agreement with management (which is currently under no legal obligation to come to an agreement) only 56 percent of the time.

Heads, management wins. Tails, the employees lose.

Specter and others have proposed modifications to both majority sign-up and 120-day arbitration. There's Dianne Feinstein's "vote-by-mail" sign-up, where workers send in cards to the National Labor Relations Board and get their union when half of the workplace sends them in. And Specter has promoted a "last best offer" arbitration, with mediation after each side sends in their proposal.

We'll see if these are amenable to the unions. My hope is that everyone understands that the current system is irreparably broken, and we need something to change the ability of employers to fight tooth and nail against unionization, even after the workplace makes their will known through a hard-fought election. In the end, this is about worker rights.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Torture vs. A Rapper: Not Equivalent

A "Sista Souljah" moment, which has fascinated the DC chattering class for decades but hasn't really even happened since 1992, equals rhetorically distancing from a divisive figure to earn moderate love. It does not equal defying a court order and using warped logic to argue against transparency in the most authoritarian way possible. Obama doesn't need to use "optics" at this point. He already has all the support he needs. His generals came and whined to him that releasing detainee abuse photos would hurt the troops, and he agreed.

Meanwhile, this is the second time Ray Odierno has basically rolled Barack Obama. In the end, I'll bet this decision has more to do with the military throwing their weight around than anything. And as Tom Ricks said, ultimately there's only one commander in chief. know what Ray Odierno could worry himself about a little more? Making sure his soldiers get enough water so they don't have to steal it. I know it doesn't rise to the level of photographs, but it seems important, at least to me.

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The Billion-Dollar Backstop

You can browse the Calitics live feed of the Governor's May "this is not a revise" Revise, if you're a glutton for punishment. Basically, Arnold used a taxpayer-funded press conference to scare the public into voting for his ballot measures, vowing to fill a $21 billion dollar budget gap with a mess of cuts, some borrowing, and no new revenues, in taxes or fees, suggesting that the majority-vote fee increase idea would get a veto. He's including cuts that would spur the loss of stimulus funds, with the caveat that he would sweet-talk the Obama Administration to allow the funds to go through despite the cuts. He's floating a raid of state and local governments. Essentially he's lined up fully with the right wing of the Yacht Party to drown the state and make it impossible to climb out of this recession.

So, with that, a bit of more promising news. The state's Congressional delegation will fight for a federal backstop for California's bonds. Well, at least the Democrats in the delegation.

"California faces a tremendous budget deficit and cash flow crisis, which requires immediate attention," said Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento. "There is no panacea for addressing California's budget issues at the federal level. However, it's time for the federal government to step in and temporarily guarantee bonds until the economy improves."

Matsui is working on a bill with Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Proponents say they're not asking Washington for a bailout, merely trying to lower the state's borrowing costs by having the federal government back its loans.

Critics say it would be a drastic mistake that would jeopardize the federal government's AAA credit rating, noting that California ranks as the worst credit risk among the 50 states.

"That's never been d, and I think it's never been done for good reason," said Republican Rep. Dan Lungren of Gold River.

He said the federal government can't afford to back bonds for every state, adding: "If California does it, other states are going to be standing in line, with New York right behind them."

Does Dan Lungren have a functioning brain? A federal backstop would cost the government $0.00 dollars. The guarantee would lower borrowing rates. The chances of the state defaulting on these loans is about 0.000001%. California has never done so in its history, as much as the Yacht Party would like it to happen (then they'd get the REAL reform, is I believe how it goes). Ultimately this would save the state $1 billion dollars in interest on these loans. The federal government has spent $700 billion on the same financial firms trying to gouge the state on these bonds. I think it's a fair trade.

Not that $1 billion is more than a drop in the bucket in the overall picture of things, but I figure you need a little sugar with your rainstorm...

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Media Follows The Soccer Ball

Lynn Woolsey just released a statement that is so eminently sensible I'm sure nobody will even bother to read it:

"The interrogation policies undertaken and authorized by President Bush and those in his administration have trampled on the most fundamental values of our nation. As a country, we have a responsibility to investigate which administration officials authorized the use of torture, hold those responsible accountable, and then move forward.

"These were policies developed, undertaken, and executed by members of the Bush administration. They should be the ones answering the questions.

"Attempts to derail this process by creating a smokescreen around which Members of Congress were told what, and when, ignores the profound responsibility that those of us in Congress have to get to the bottom of the Bush administration’s detainee policy."

I've said it a thousand times. Who cares who was briefed and when? I assume the Republicans are trying some game of chicken to force the Democrats to deep-six any investigations due to their culpability. Well, Nancy Pelosi called for an independent commission today. So the bluff has been called.

Now, for their next trick, conservatives can justify waterboarding prisoners to get them to make false confessions about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

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More From Populist Obama

I don't know if it's residual anger over the bondholder revolt or what, but the President does seem to be formulating some legitimate steps to regulate the financial industry. First off, he wants to deal with derivatives:

In its first detailed effort to overhaul financial regulations, the Obama administration on Wednesday sought new authority over the complex financial instruments, known as derivatives, that were a major cause of the financial crisis and have gone largely unregulated for decades.

The administration asked Congress to move quickly on legislation that would allow federal oversight of many kinds of exotic instruments, including credit-default swaps, the insurance contracts that caused the near-collapse of the American International Group.

The Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, said the measure should require swaps and other types of derivatives to be traded on exchanges or clearinghouses and backed by capital reserves, much like the capital cushions that banks must set aside in case a borrower defaults on a loan. Taken together, the rules would probably make it more expensive for issuers, dealers and buyers alike to participate in the derivatives markets.

As it is now, there are $70 trillion dollars exposed in the derivatives market, more than all the money in the world. Without the need to back up the exchange with capital ratios, these things happen. Traditionally, regulations like this hold for a few years until the Big Money Boyz figure out a way to get around them. But this would essentially stop dead the shadow banking system, a major element of the crisis.

And then we have the Big Kahuna: CEO compensation, and a real effort to limit executive pay:

Obama Administration officials are contemplating a major overhaul of the compensation practices in the financial services industry, moving beyond banks to include more loosely regulated hedge funds and private equity firms.

Federal policymakers have been discussing ways to ensure that pay is more closely linked to performance.

Among the ideas under consideration are incorporating compensation as a “safety and soundness” concern on official bank examinations as well as expanding the existing regulatory powers of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Reserve to obtain more information.

Obviously the issue with regulation is who the regulators are. We had plenty of regulations on the books that could have mitigated the financial crisis, but the regulators looked the other way. I mean, the NY Fed apparently knew about the AIG bonuses when Tim Geithner was at the helm. So while I appreciate the attempt, I have to see some teeth out of the oversight before I believe it will solve the problem.

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Credit Card Reform Takes Shape

The President held a town hall meeting today in New Mexico, and they got "populist Obama," the one looking out for consumers and concerned about credit card companies jacking up their interest rates.

You should not have to worry that when you sign up for a credit card, you're signing away all your rights. You shouldn't need a magnifying glass or a law degree to read the fine print that sometimes don't even appear to be written in English -- or Spanish. (Applause.) And frankly, when you're trying to navigate your way through this economy, you shouldn't feel like you're getting ripped off by "any time, any reason" rate hikes, and payment deadlines that seem to move around every month. That happen to anybody? You think you're supposed to pay it this day, and suddenly -- and it's never on the end of the month where you're paying all the rest of your bills, right? It's like on the 19th. (Laughter.) All kinds of harsh penalties and fees that you never knew about.

Enough is enough. It's time for strong, reliable protections for our consumers. It's time for reform -- (applause) -- it's time for reform that's built on transparency and accountability and mutual responsibility -- values fundamental to the new foundation we seek to build for our economy.

I actually think, judging from the support in Congress and the outcry from consumers, that some form of this actually gets done on the President's timetable, with a law signed by Memorial Day. Tom Coburn tossed in what he thought would be a poison pill about carrying concealed weapons in national parks, but since the NRA has essentially silenced gun control advocates in Washington that pill tastes like a blueberry pie, even to Democrats. And I don't know if it'll make it through conference. Interest rates won't be capped, and some of the provisions will be a bit weaker than the initial bill, but basically something along the guidelines of the Federal Reserve will pass. And that's because the credit card companies are just the most contemptible companies in America, and they pushed it too far.

The exploration into cardholders’ minds hit a breakthrough in 2002, when J. P. Martin, a math-loving executive at Canadian Tire, decided to analyze almost every piece of information his company had collected from credit-card transactions the previous year. Canadian Tire’s stores sold electronics, sporting equipment, kitchen supplies and automotive goods and issued a credit card that could be used almost anywhere. Martin could often see precisely what cardholders were purchasing, and he discovered that the brands we buy are the windows into our souls — or at least into our willingness to make good on our debts. His data indicated, for instance, that people who bought cheap, generic automotive oil were much more likely to miss a credit-card payment than someone who got the expensive, name-brand stuff. People who bought carbon-monoxide monitors for their homes or those little felt pads that stop chair legs from scratching the floor almost never missed payments. Anyone who purchased a chrome-skull car accessory or a “Mega Thruster Exhaust System” was pretty likely to miss paying his bill eventually.

....Testing indicated that Martin’s predictions, when paired with other commonly used data like cardholders’ credit histories and incomes, were often much more precise than what the industry traditionally used to forecast cardholder riskiness....Data-driven psychologists are now in high demand, and the industry is using them not only to screen out risky debtors but also to determine which cardholders need a phone call to persuade them to mail in a check. Most of the major credit-card companies have set up systems to comb through cardholders’ data for signs that someone is going to stop making payments. Are cardholders suddenly logging in at 1 in the morning? It might signal sleeplessness due to anxiety. Are they using their cards for groceries? It might mean they are trying to conserve their cash.


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New Hampshire Makes It Six

John Lynch's statement on the gay marriage bill in New Hampshire merely asks for some fundie cover, and considering that similar language was used in other states that passed marriage equality, I think nobody will find it objectionable. We're going to see gay marriage legal in every state in New England except Rhode Island.

The speed with which a lot of this has happened is pretty striking. Eventually, once every state finally allows marriage equality, people will look to this time as when the floodgates burst open.

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Meg Whitman: Maths Iz Hard: UPDATE Arnold Enjoyes Meg Math

UPDATED at the top, as the Governor lays off 5,000 state workers, the perfect thing to get California working again. He's basically borrowing from the Whitman playbook here. See below for why that's crazy.

It's a long way until the 2010 Governor's race, but I think Calitics needs to do our part in pointing out that Meg Whitman is frequently full of crap. She's seized on this idea that California's problems can merely be solved by firing all the state employees. Now, first of all, California has the second-lowest rate of state employees per capita in the entire nation, a conveniently forgotten fact by eMeg and the rest of the swinging corporate raiders in the Yacht Party. Next, as Josh Richman explains:

“We haven’t looked hard enough at where we can cut. We can lay off 20,000 to 30,000 state employees while prioritizing public safety and teachers,” Whitman told the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. “We shouldn’t have to lay off teachers, we need to lay off bureaucrats.”

Fact is, “cut the bloated bureaucracy” has been a GOP rallying cry for decades, and yet whenever the study, the audit or the blue-ribbon commission report comes back, we’re suddently talking about far less “waste, fraud and abuse” than they’d implied. Is there some fat to cut? Sure. Should we? Probably. Will it fix this deficit? Not even close.

The budget deficit now looks to be about $21.3 billion; it would be about $15 billion if voters approved Propositions 1C, 1D and 1E next week, but that almost certainly ain’t gonna happen. And $21 billion isn’t 30,000 jobs, as George Skelton so eloquently put it back in February:

According to the state budget document, there is the equivalent of 205,000 full-time jobs controlled by the governor. There actually are more workers than that because some are part-time. Do the math based on 16 months, since that’s now the time frame of the projected deficit, assuming a balanced-budget package could be implemented by March 1.

You could lay off all those state workers — rid yourself of their pay and benefits — and save only $24.4 billion.

Meanwhile, you would have dumped 160,000 convicted felons onto the streets because all the prisons were closed after the guards and wardens were fired. There’d be no Highway Patrol because all the officers were canned. State parks would be closed because there were no fee-collectors or rangers.

Truth is the savings wouldn’t even add up to $24.4 billion because some of those employees are paid out of small special funds that are self-sustaining.

If these people were in an empty trash bin, they'd still clamor to "cut the waste."

Let me again commend Chris Kelly's Meg Whitman week on the Huffington Post, he's doing an oppo research job that should practically ensure him a spot on any number of campaign staffs. I particularly like the part detailing the $1.78 million she stole from Goldman Sachs, which for all I know might make her a folk hero.

Next year oughta be fun. the way, I'm not letting other Yacht Party gubernatorial hopefuls off the hook either, like Tom Campbell. He predictably dissembles about California's low per-pupil spending on K-12 education, making the same debunked "hey, the schools have plenty of money" claim that Dan Walters likes to peddle. Allow me to introduce them both to Julia Rosen circa April 2008, which by the way is before the even deeper cuts to schools made in the February budget agreement.

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Green Shoots, Leaves?

More dour news from the economy, on retail sales and new jobless claims. I concur with John Cole:

I guess we can throw “Sure, we are losing jobs but at least the rate of job losses slowed” out the window. Anyone who uses the phrase “green shoots” should be viewed as a lunatic.

And with 800 Chrysler dealerships about to shutter, more bankruptcies (Wow, Clear Channel, really?) on the way, and CRE loans threatening to take down regional banks as part of a second foreclosure wave, I think the new move from the political leadership needs to be from optimism to pessimism. If we continue to live in a rosy stress test world, we'll end up unprepared for the potential dangers to come. Complacency will sink us - contemporary reports in 1930 featured a lot of hopeful happy talk, too:

I will say that I think the greatest objective economic risk at this point is policymaker over-optimism. We need the European Central bank to continue loosening monetary policy, and it wouldn’t hurt if some of the world’s lesser central banks followed suit. We could use more stimulus in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world. We need corporate executives to understand the main risk to their interests to be coming from a lack of adequate economic recovery efforts rather than from losing small-bore political arguments with congressional Democrats. We need smart growth policy in terms of tax reform and trade. We need, in short, policymakers to continue to be worried. If they’re worried, and if they act on those worries, then more likely than not things won’t stay too bad for too long. But if they feel confident, then we might really be in trouble.

Unfortunately, the policy world has a hard time steering a middle ground between an atmosphere of panic, which is counterproductive, and an atmosphere of overconfidence, which is also counterproductive.

Leave the green shoots at the door and talk straight to the American people. And yes, we need a second stimulus bad.

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My New TV Show

I'm calling it "That Jew.

Arkansas state Sen. Kim Hendren, who is currently the only announced Republican candidate for U.S. Senator against Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln in 2010, has apologized for referring to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as "that Jew," at a county Republican meeting last week.

"I don't use a teleprompter and occasionally I put my foot in my month," Hendren told Arkansas blogger Jason Tolbert.

"At the meeting I was attempting to explain that unlike Sen. Schumer, I believe in traditional values, like we used to see on 'The Andy Griffith Show,'" he explained. "I made the mistake of referring to Sen. Schumer as 'that Jew' and I should not have put it that way as this took away from what I was trying to say."

Great apology. "I was simply trying to explain that, unlike dirty Jews, I believe in values! I don't believe in soaking my matzos in the blood of Christian babies, unlike whatever it is those fellers do in Jew York! Is there a problem with that?"

The thing is, I don't even like Blanche Lincoln. But the Republicans make it so hard for me to focus on the big picture...

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Cave-Ins Upon Cave-Ins

I'm fairly livid at my party right now. First we had the President withholding the release of prisoner abuse photos. Then the Department of Homeland Security responded to conservative whiners and pulled the report on right-wing extremism, which I'm sure will be a great comfort to everyone during the next Ruby Ridge or Pittsburgh cop shooter. And then...

A bill by Senate Democrats would fund the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it would block the transfer of any of the detainees to the United States.

The move is aimed at sidestepping a political minefield that President Obama has confronted in his promise to close the military prison during his first year in office. Lawmakers of both parties have bristled at the notion of bringing Guantanamo terrorism suspects to detention facilities in the United States [...]

The administration has yet to produce a plan for dealing with the approximately 240 Guantanamo detainees, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said that between 50 and 100 would end up in U.S. facilities.

The $96.7-billion measure headed for a House vote today contains no funds to transfer the Guantanamo detainees, though the Pentagon retains the ability to seek informal approval to move funds from other accounts.

So they appropriate money to close Gitmo, but not transfer the prisoners. That floating island of plastic must be looking pretty good right about now.

I think the main reason here is that the White House has not presented a formal plan for transfer. But we all know what this looks like - Democrats caved to the patently ridiculous charge that dangerous terrorists will be let loose in America to shop at Wal-Mart and play in your corporate softball game, instead of leaving the prisoners among the nice tropical breezes of Guantanamo. I thought the era of paying attention to ridiculous wingnut hissy fits had ended, but clearly not in Washington. They're still acting like the good neutered puppies Grover Norquist always wanted them to be.

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

I'm surprised this didn't get more attention yesterday:

The U.S. military has begun flying armed Predator drones inside Pakistan and has given Pakistani officers significant control over targets, flight routes and decisions to launch attacks under a new joint operation, according to U.S. officials familiar with the program.

The project was begun in recent weeks to bolster Pakistan's ability and willingness to disrupt the militant groups that are posing a growing threat to the government in Islamabad and fueling violence in Afghanistan.

I mean, this basically confirms that we've crept the Afghanistan war into Pakistan, right? We're not talking about covert CIA missions, but the US military. And US officials acknowledged it today.

Now the President has a war of his own. In addition to his own humanitarian crisis.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has called for a massive aid operation to help those displaced in north-west Pakistan.

He said that in the past two weeks, the UN had registered more than 800,000 Pakistanis fleeing fighting between the army and the Taleban.

Without help, he warned, they could contribute to the instability [...]

He said: "If you are not able to cope with the challenges posed by such an overwhelming number of people displaced, in communities that have not the economic capacity to absorb them, and if the very serious humanitarian response is not organised, this population will become a huge factor of destabilisation."

Wow, the stars go out of your eyes quickly in the face of all this death and suffering, don't they?

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Schwarzenegger's Slip Shows

As the special election swirls the bowl, I think one of the enduring memories I will have is the late-campaign decision on the part of the Governor to ignore the current budget deficit. That's right, ignore.

In the final sprint to Tuesday's election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has warned day after day of teacher layoffs, fire-station shutdowns and other dire consequences if voters fail to pass budget measures that would produce almost $6 billion to ease California's fiscal crisis.

Yet Schwarzenegger and his allies have abandoned TV advertising -- the main vehicle for reaching voters statewide -- on the three measures that would generate that money: Propositions 1C, 1D and 1E.

Instead, they are running TV ads solely for Propositions 1A and 1B, measures that would do nothing to slow California's slide toward insolvency this summer, but in future years could help the budget's bottom line and Schwarzenegger's political image.

It's really all you need to know about this special election - at a time when the Governor is flailing madly, casting about for things to sell like someone rummaging through his things for a garage sale, and threatening all sorts of cuts and mass prisoner release and 100 other options for closing the current budget gap, his campaign committee pushes the only measure on the ballot that would do NOTHING to close the current budget gap. He just wants his long-sought spending cap and unilateral executive authority to make budget cuts. It's all, as said above, about image.

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They Lie For A Living

Nancy Pelosi came out and said it today. It was a bit much when these right wingers kept lauding torture as this awsom program keeping Americans safe, and at the same time pointing the finger and yelling "Nancy knew!" as if there was something wrong with it. Ultimately, it doesn't matter even a little bit who knew what and when. The action is illegal and ought to be prosecuted. But today Pelosi confirmed that the CIA and the Bush Administration lied repeatedly to Congress.

PELOSI: The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002, in my capacity as ranking member of the intelligence committee. I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed. [...]

We also now know that techniques including waterboarding had already been employed and that those briefing me had given me inaccurate and incomplete information. At the same time the Bush administration…was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq [...]

PELOSI: So on the subject of what’s happening in Iraq, when it’s talking about the techniques used by the intelligence community on those they’re interrogating, at every step of the way, the administration was misleading the Congress. And that is the issue. And that is why we need a truth commission to look into the issue.

REPORTER: So Madame Speaker, just to be clear, you’re accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002?

PELOSI: Yes. Misleading the Congress of the United States.

It goes without saying that, at the time of this briefing, the CIA was ALREADY waterboarding prisoners.

And we know they've been lying about the rest of it. Bob Graham, then the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, received no information about waterboarding, and in fact received less info than the House Intelligence Committee leaders, probably because ranking member Richard Shelby was leaking like a sieve at that time. Jay Rockefeller, later the ranking member on Senate Intel, stated outright that the CIA document listing briefings and attendees is wrong, that he didn't attend a briefing which the document has him attending. We know that Rockefeller is probably telling the truth since the CIA won't vouch for anything in the document.

As I've said, the CIA's job description requires their agents to lie. Why anyone would trust anything put out by them is beyond me. The CIA basically is blame-shifting here and Nancy Pelosi threw it right back in their face today.

This is precisely why those of us seeking accountability and justice have called for a full investigation so we can learn from what happened as well as ensure it never happens again by actually prosecuting those responsible. Anything less practically ensures we have this conversation again and again down the road.

(And that secret DiFi Intelligence Committee panel does not fill the bill here. We need transparency.)

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Still All About Iraq

Among the many inanities from Huckleberry Graham yesterday was his claim that "one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work." You know what has survived for longer than that? Syphillis. Should we incubate that for use on prisoners?

But I'll agree with Huckleberry to an extent. Torture does work in its primary function: to extract false confessions. That's why Dark Sith Cheney was so keen on using torture prior to the run-up to war in Iraq.

*Two U.S. intelligence officers confirm that Vice President Cheney’s office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.

*The former chief of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, in charge of interrogations, tells The Daily Beast that he considered the request reprehensible.

*Much of the information in the report of the 9/11 Commission was provided through more than 30 sessions of torture of detainees.

Lawrence Wilkerson essentially confirmed this today.

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just "committed suicide" in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi....)

Pity that al-Libi just up and committed suicide like that, ay?

Over and over again, we have seen Iraq as the white whale to the Bush Administration, as their sole focus through much of the first term appeared to be laying down the basis for invasion and occupation. Everything flows from this original sin. And we can now say with a good degree of surety that the torture programs rose from a desire to link Iraq with 9/11 and Al Qaeda. if you want to know why Dick Cheney has been on the teevee more than American Idol lately, throwing up roadblocks and confusion and assorted nonsense, it's because he doesn't want this fact, which apparently came from his office, revealed.

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That Incredible Hearing

That torture hearing yesterday with former FBI agent Ali Soufan and Bush State Department official Philip Zelikow and others was truly amazing. Here are just a few of the things we learned:

• During questioning, Russ Feingold stated that he has seen the classified documents "proving" torture worked of which Fourthbranch Cheney often speaks, and nothing he saw "indicates that the torture techniques authorized by the last administration were necessary, or that they were the best way to get information out of detainees."

• Ali Soufan, who sat behind a curtain, making for a hearing that looked like the Monty Python sketch about the talk show featuring a tree and a Chesterfield, testified that the torture techniques were slow and unreliable, that lawful techniques were able to pry key information from Abu Zubaydah within an hour, and that waterboarding wasn't approved until after it was used, according to the timeline put forward by the CIA about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla. Either the CIA is lying about the intelligence information they got from KSM and Padilla, or they broke the law and then retroactively sought clearance for it.

• Soufan also called false information in some of the Bradbury torture memos supposedly proving the value of torture.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who’s presiding over the hearing, read aloud a key passage in the May 30th, 2005 torture memo that credited “enhanced techniques” with getting Abu Zubaydah to reveal “detailed information regarding Al Qaeda’s organizational structure, key operatives, and modus operandi.”

The passage Whitehouse read also said the techniques had gotten the suspect to identify Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the September 11th mastermind.

Whitehouse then asked Soufan if, based on what he witnessed, he knew that statement “not to be true.”

“Yes, sir,” Soufan replied.

• During cross-examination, Lindsey Graham cited the debunked ABC News report claiming that Abu Zubaydah was only waterboarded once, a claim that even ABC News has distanced themselves from. He also called the law "a nicety we could not afford."

• Zelikow, who offered an alternative viewpoint to the Bush Administration on torture in a memo the White House tried to destroy, said that his memo has been found, and will soon be declassified.

And there was more, like the browbeating Graham gave a law professor. I believe Sheldon Whitehouse, who put this hearing together, is building a fact pattern. He wants these things public, so that the drumbeat for real investigations and real accountability will grow. And we have to help him in that regard.

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The Choice On The Court

It looks like Obama has narrowed his options for the high court to an even half-dozen:

Among the finalists are federal appeals court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak by the White House.

Women make up all but one of the top candidates currently being given serious scrutiny, the sources said.

Also on the list, a source said, was California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno. The 60-year-old Los Angeles, California, native was not among the early favorites mentioned by legal analysts and the media. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs previously hinted some of the names under consideration were under the political radar.

Moreno's a bit of a surprise. We don't have a political media here in California, so I honestly couldn't tell you much about him. He's the only Democrat on the California Supreme Court, and he has voted with the forces of equality in the Prop. 8 fight.

I'm glad Sotomayor remains, despite the 5th grade lunchroom gossip tossed around about her in official Washington. Napolitano would surprise me, but Granholm wouldn't, considering that Obama has been offering the Governor bailout, seeing that recessionary times are bad ones for the chief executives of states (especially Michigan). I do wish that Pam Karlan would still be in contention, simply because she seems smart as a whip.

But I guess intelligence and forthrightness is too hippie-ish.

...Rick Hasen thinks Diane Wood will get the nod due in part to her U. of Chicago roots.

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