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

Saturday, June 06, 2009

VA-Gov: Crazy Squiggly Lines

I haven't been all that plugged in to either of the two gubernatorial races this year, in New Jersey or Virginia, but the primary for the latter is on Tuesday, and the poll numbers have really bounced around on the Democratic side. You basically have the 3 candidates, former state Sen. Creigh Deeds, former DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe, and House of Delegates member Brian Moran all within the margin of error and basically tied. McAuliffe surged about a month ago but has dropped like a stone, and Deeds was nowhere a month ago, started running a bunch of ads and now leads in some polls. Moran's always been right there and reportedly has the best ground game.

As Nate Silver says, the dynamic does resemble Iowa 2004:

This was the polling situation in the run-up to the 2004 Iowa Democratic Caucus, with the last data point representing the actual results. As you can see, while it was clear from the polling that Howard Dean was losing momentum and John Kerry and John Edwards were gaining it, the polling far underestimated the magnitude of the momentum, and Dean wound up losing to Kerry by 19 points.

These kind of dramatic late swings happen more often in primaries than in general elections, and more often in multi-candidate fields than in two-candidate ones. I don't want to say they're always dispositive, because I haven't studied the issue systematically enough. Of note is that at least one hot-off-the-presses poll (from SurveyUSA) still has McAuliffe ahead by 6 points. But overall, and particularly in consideration of the fact that is Terry McAluiffe, who started out with the biggest warchest and the most name recognition, it's hard to see what he's going to do to halt his slide [...]

My armchair assessment is that the probabilities here are something like Deeds 60-70%, McAuliffe 20-30%, and Moran 10-20%. Like Dean, McAuliffe wears his emotions on his sleeve, and if he were to lose, the concession speech should be something to watch.

Maybe he'll talk about running for Governor in other states and end with a YEEARGHHH!

Whoever wins, it will be difficult to beat the Republican, Attorney General Bob McDonell, simply because he has not been bruised by a primary and Virginia has had two Democrats in the Governor's mansion in a row. If the winner of this primary gathers enough momentum to win in November, then you really can color Virginia blue.

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Annual Announcement

This site, D-Day, has nothing to do with the historical event, D-Day. This is less of a problem than in past years, because Google fixed their algorithm slightly and now I'm the #7 search on "D-Day" rather than #1. Nonetheless, for those looking for information about the battle at Normandy Beach, check the other items on the Google search. It always makes for a fun traffic spike, but I really have nothing for you, except thanks to those who fought and died in that battle.

I'd offer personal recollections at this point, but members of my family were in Okinawa and Italy.

...D-Day is a contraction of my name.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Next week will be a slower week, as I'll be spending part of the time lounging in Palm Desert in 165-degree heat. I'll try to check in as much as possible though. Threw some more music on the old iPod, so let's see what we can see:

Fire - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Back 4 You - Jurassic 5
Like Someone In Love - Bjork
Get It Together - Jurassic 5
Boys Who Love Girls - The Rosebuds
Spoon - Cibo Matto
Accidents Will Happen - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Friday Night Saturday Morning - Nouvelle Vague
The Fruit Man - Ween
What Have I Done - DJ Shadow feat. Christina Carter

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FBI Comes In To Investigate The Tiller Murder

The FBI has taken on an investigation into the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

A federal investigation has been launched in connection with the fatal shooting of George Tiller, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today.

The department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for Kansas are investigating the case [...]

"The federal probe will consist of a thorough review of the evidence and an assessment of any potential violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act) or other federal statutes," according to a news release issued today by the Justice Department.

The FACE Act was enacted by Congress in 1994 to establish federal criminal penalties and civil remedies for violent, obstructionist or damaging conduct affecting reproductive health care providers and recipients.

Making this a federal crime just ups the ante, and increases the penalties, I believe. Plus it's a good symbolic show of support for the FACE Act. Maybe they can investigate incitement as part of that damaging conduct affecting reproductive health. Those who would put forward false equivalences need to understand the words of Mary Alice Carr:

O'Reilly is being incredibly disingenuous when he claims that he bears no responsibility for others' actions in the killing of Dr. George Tiller on Sunday. When you tell an audience of millions over and over again that someone is an executioner, you cannot feign surprise when someone executes that person.

You cannot claim to hold no responsibility for what other people do when you call for people to besiege Tiller's clinic, as O'Reilly did in January 2008. And this was after Tiller had been shot in both arms and after his clinic had been bombed.

O'Reilly knew that people wanted Tiller dead, and he knew full well that many of those people were avid viewers of his show. Still, he fanned the flames. Every time I appeared on his show, I received vitriolic and hate-filled e-mails. And if I received those messages directly, I can only imagine what type of feedback O'Reilly receives. He knows that his words incite violence.

That is why I made a personal pledge to no longer sit across from him after he called for people to converge on Tiller's clinic. I realized that appearing on the show with him would only legitimize his speech and that no good would come of my efforts.

And I'm glad that, in the wake of this tragedy, people are coming out with stories of how Dr. Tiller helped them. A sample.

To the Tiller family;
When I was 6, my mom was pregnant with a child she really wanted. The doctors told her, abut 4 or 5 months in, that if she carried the child to term, she had a 90 percent chance of not surviving. She of course, got an abortion, and I got my mom for an extra 14 years. Mom died when I was 20, and I have such gratitude for doctors like your husband who gave me my mom for those 14 extra, precious years. My heart goes out to you. May you find healing and may his memory live on in those that he loved and those that he saved.


In 2002 I found out I was carrying triplets. My husband did not want me to have them. The day of my appointment I was scared and not sure this was the right decision. They took me back and did an ultrasound. I asked if they all had heartbeats and the nurse said yes. I asked if I would have the chance to talk to the doctor and right away she went and got Dr Tiller. He came in and looked at my babies on the screen. Then he looked at me and said “God gave you these babies, it’s not my job to take them away.” He asked if I agreed and I immediately said yes. He told the nurse to take me to the counter and have them give me my money. You know that day was a turning point for me. I ended up having a great pregnancy and three healthy baby girls. I can never thank Dr. Tiller enough for sending me away that day.

Late-term abortions are 1% of all abortions total. But the examples here, the personal stories, build a picture of what those medical actions are all about. They're about medical necessity.

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So Republicans walk out of a closed intelligence briefing and directly into a waiting microphone, and Democrats are the ones who hate America?

Republicans ignited a firestorm of controversy on Thursday by revealing some of what they had been told at a closed-door Intelligence Committee hearing on the interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Democrats immediately blasted the GOP lawmakers for publicly discussing classified information, while Republicans said Democrats are trying to hide the truth that enhanced interrogation of detainees is effective.

GOP members on the Intelligence Committee on Thursday told The Hill in on-the-record interviews that they were informed that the controversial methods have led to information that prevented terrorist attacks.

When told of the GOP claims, Democrats strongly criticized the members who revealed information that was provided at the closed House Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing. Democrats on the panel said they could not respond substantively, pointing out that the hearing was closed [...]

“I am absolutely shocked that members of the Intelligence committee who attended a closed-door hearing … then walked out that hearing — early, by the way — and characterized anything that happened in that hearing,” said Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). “My understanding is that’s a violation of the rules. It may be more than that.”

The culprits are John Kline (R-MN) and Crazy Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), who has been pushing this propaganda for weeks and frankly cannot be trusted. In fact, it would be just like him to make a wild claim, knowing that Democrats cannot respond because they actually give a crap about things like the meaning of the word "classified."

As Marcy Wheeler notes, Kline's claim that "we did gather information that did disrupt terrorist plots," disassociated from which techniques elicited what information, means nothing, and thus the entire story is pretty bogus. As for Hoekstra:

It seems to me the story from these quotes ought to be:

The Ranking Member of HPSCI thinks people should immediately talk about the content of classified briefings
The Ranking Member of HPSCI treats hearsay--the comments of his members who attended a briefing--as proof
The Ranking Member of HPSCI is politicizing intelligence

But instead, Allen seems to have followed Hoekstra down the road of taking hearsay evidence as clear proof (it's not even clear that Allen asked Hoekstra who he had talked to about the briefing).

And all of those are par for the course for Republicans. They skillfully use both the classified nature of intelligence briefing and the gullibility of the media to push BS narratives.

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CA-10: Dan Choi Endorses Anthony Woods

The President is under fire from the LGBT community for slow-walking their issues and turning away from campaign promises. It's getting a little ugly, and the President risks a lot of goodwill for a community that worked hard to elect him, especially in the wake of several victories on marriage equality in the New England area and Iowa and the historic level of activism after the passage of Prop. 8.

Central to this debate is the issue of gays in the military and the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Obama keeps insisting that he wants to change the policy, and his nominee for Secretary of the Army, Republican John McHugh, reportedly supports this change as well, saying that he has "no interest as either a Member of Congress or as … secretary of the Army to exclude by some categorization a group of people otherwise qualified to serve.” A recent poll shows overwhelming support for allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military, even among conservatives.

But the President could end this policy today by putting a moratorium on implementing the policy of throwing out qualified Americans from serving in the Armed Forces. Two of those Americans, Iraq war vets Dan Choi and CA-10 candidate Anthony Woods, are teaming up, as Choi announces his endorsement of Woods.

“For 10 years, I have known Anthony Woods as a leader and an officer of the highest caliber,” said Choi. “From defending our nation abroad, to fighting for our highest ideals here at home, Anthony Woods exemplifies the real world perspective that is needed to bring about real change in Washington, and I am proud to support his candidacy for Congress.”

An Arab Linguist, Lieutenant in the New York Army National Guard, and West Point Classmate of Anthony Woods, Choi rose to national prominence earlier this year when he openly declared that he was gay on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.” The Army quickly launched discharge proceedings against Choi, who has vowed to fight his termination from the military under the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy,” and re-deploy with his unit.

Like Choi, Woods also served in Iraq, commanding 81 soldiers and earning both the Bronze Star and Army Commendation medal during two tours of duty. Woods was also discharged after challenging the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, and would be the first openly gay African American ever elected to the United States Congress [...]

Choi will join Woods at two events in Northern California this month---the first on June 26th in Davis, and the second on June 29th in San Francisco.

Obviously, Woods is more than a single issue candidate. But the imagery of someone replacing Ellen Tauscher, who is currently carrying the bill in the House to repeal the DADT policy, who was kicked out of the military using that policy, is undeniable, and can increase pressure on the President and Congress to finally do the sensible thing and remove that layer of discrimination in our armed services.

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The Fight Over Executive Power

House leaders and the President are extremely worried that they will not get their supplemental war funding bill passed through Congress, and are whipping support among Democratic holdouts. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of strange bedfellows.

First, a non-trivial part of the Progressive Caucus opposes any additional funding for Afghanistan, particularly given the vague, open-ended strategy put forward by the Administration. The current dynamic, where the US makes pretenses toward a counter-insurgency strategy and then steps up bombing campaigns to terrorize and inflame the local populations is anathema to a segment of the caucus.

Then, included in the bill are a tranche of money ($5 billion) for the IMF to use to lend to the developing world, an agreement that the President made at the latest G-20 summit. Almost all Republicans (and a few Democrats) oppose it and will oppose the entire supplemental as a result - because they support the troops.

Lastly and most important, attached to this bill is a truly heinous amendment written by Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham - but that's redundant - which would essentially rewrite the Freedom of Information Act and protect past abuses by keeping them secret.

It was one thing when President Obama reversed himself last month by announcing that he would appeal the Second Circuit's ruling that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compelled disclosure of various photographs of detainee abuse sought by the ACLU. Agree or disagree with Obama's decision, at least the basic legal framework of transparency was being respected, since Obama's actions amounted to nothing more than a request that the Supreme Court review whether the mandates of FOIA actually required disclosure in this case. But now -- obviously anticipating that the Government is likely to lose in court again (.pdf) -- Obama wants Congress to change FOIA by retroactively narrowing its disclosure requirements, prevent a legal ruling by the courts, and vest himself with brand new secrecy powers under the law which, just as a factual matter, not even George Bush sought for himself.

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman -- called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 -- that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." As long as the Defense Secretary certifies -- with no review possible -- that disclosure would "endanger" American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure. The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely. The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.

Plenty of House Democrats are angered by the inclusion of this highly pernicious amendment. While reports allege that Nouri al-Maliki was the driving force behind preventing the release of the photos, and that he claimed "Baghdad will burn" if they're released - quite at odds with the assertion by the President that the photos show "nothing sensational." But this is clearly a precedent too far, providing the President the sole discretion to suppress information above and beyond federal statutes. Barney Frank and another slice of House progressives will not support this amendment. And if they hold firm against the President, they can succeed.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. -- who initially opposed the package and is now trying to help Democratic leaders raise support for it -- said he recently told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that liberal Democrats would not likely support the package if it includes the Lieberman amendment.

"I made it clear to the administration that I believe that we can get liberals like myself who are against the war [to] vote for it because the IMF is so important, but not if the [Freedom of Information Act] exception is in it," Frank said.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., previously supported the supplemental but said she would not vote for the bill if it includes the amendment.

"There is no reason in the world for us to vote to suspend" FOIA, Slaughter said.

Nick Bauman has more, and views this fight as a first step for Congress to end the imperial presidency and the march toward official secrecy.

The photo suppression bill is an abomination that is reminiscent of the worst Bush-era excesses. It gives the executive branch the power to withhold an entire category of information from public scrutiny without any review. This law is Example A of the theory of the Presidency that says citizens should just trust the benevolent executive to do the right thing. Even in you oppose releasing some of the photos, I don't see why you would want to give the White House the power to unilaterally decide what's best. It says a lot about the Congress that members are willing to give Obama this kind of power. It says a lot about Obama that he supports this bill. Thank God for Barney Frank.

Jane Hamsher has an action item. To be clear, there's an easy way out of this - the President can ask the conference committee to strip the photo-suppression amendment, at which point passage would be fairly secure on a party-line vote.

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Patriot Store

I flagged this when it happened but never wrote about it because I wanted more information. Tula Connell from the AFL-CIO got it.

We heard Bill O'Reilly is having trouble finding American-made T-shirts to sell in his Patriot Store. We know he's heartbroken because, after all, what good is a Patriot Store if its products are made in El Salvador or Haiti? (Especially if you're selling red, white and blue "American Patriot" T-shirts, like the one on the left.)

We heard he can't find made-in-the-USA T-shirts because O'Reilly said so himself (h/t to D-Day). In his "Mailbag" segment on May 22, O'Reilly took the following question from Stewart Hollins in Rio Rancho, N.M.:

Mr. O, great looking mugs. Terrific bold and fresh shirts. Where are the items made?

And O' Reilly responded:

Mugs are made in the USA, Stewart. The shirts in Central America. We cannot get the volume of shirts we need made in America, sadly.

Yes, he's selling Central American shirts in his Patriot Store.

It's going to take a while to find out the conditions at the factory where these shirts are being made, but I hope they do. As Connell notes, plenty of manufacturers in America can handle Mr. Patriot Store's volume. There's no question that this is a cost issue, and the workers get left holding the bag on that.

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Unnatural Growth And Congressional Spine Stiffening

Not surprisingly, the Israeli hard-right government won't give an inch on settlement expansion, at least not for now. They've backed down to the "natural growth" dodge, which is a small victory because "natural growth" is such a transparently stupid concept - as if it's natural to build a new house for your son on someone else's land when he gets married. Gershom Gorenberg knocks this down pretty easily.

Barack Obama has not demanded that women in settlements stop having babies. Rather, he has insisted that Israel stop construction in settlements, in line with its commitments under the 2003 road map for peace -- in line, in fact, with American opposition to settlement building since 1967. Consistent with the road map, and with the 2001 report written by George Mitchell, now Obama's Middle East envoy, the president has rejected Israeli insistence that construction continue to allow for "natural growth" of the settler population.

The deliberate twisting of Obama's stance is aimed at both a domestic and American audience. And it has confused some otherwise astute observers. Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York and chair of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East, said in press statement on Tuesday that he supported a settlement freeze but not one that "calls on Israeli families not to grow [or] get married. Telling people not to have children is unthinkable and inhumane."

Don't worry, Mr. Ackerman: The president is not talking about universal contraception for Israeli settlers. If there's any logic behind the rhetoric of Schneller, Hershkowitz, et al., it's a claim that people have the natural right to have a larger home in the same community if they expand their families, and to have their grown children live down the street. Why should that be true? West Bank settlements aren't ancient communities in isolated valleys hundreds of miles from the nearest town. They are recently established bedroom communities, within commuting distance of Israeli cities -- where many settlers in fact work.

The settlement housing is heavily subsidized by the state, too.

It's just a way to keep growing the settlements while claiming not to grow them. And fortunately, Ackerman clarified himself today, affirming that settlement construction must stop.

In fact, even those Jewish Democrats previously offering unstinting support for Israel have felt more free to criticize on this particular issue, mindful that settlement growth represents a threat to peace in the region.

For the first time in America's decades of jousting with Israel over West Bank settlements, an American president seems to have succeeded in isolating the settlements issue and disconnecting it from other elements of support for Israel.

It is a disentanglement now seen most clearly in Congress, which in the past served as Israel's stronghold against administration pressure on the issue. But when Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu came to Capitol Hill for a May 18 meeting after being pressed by President Obama to freeze the expansion of West Bank settlements, he was "stunned," Netanyahu aides said, to hear what seemed like a well-coordinated attack against his stand on settlements. The criticism came from congressional leaders, key lawmakers dealing with foreign relations and even from a group of Jewish members.

They included Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee; California Democrat Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and California Rep. Henry Waxman, a senior Democrat.

The Jewish lawmakers among them believed "it was their responsibility to make him [Netanyahu] very, very aware of the concerns of the administration and Congress," said a congressional aide briefed on the meeting. The aide, who declined to be identified, stressed that despite the argument on settlement issues, members of Congress remained fully supportive of Israel on all other issues, including the need to deal with Iran and the concern over Hamas and Hezbollah's activity.

In their meetings, according to the congressional aide, lawmakers rejected Netanyahu's call for Palestinian reciprocity on terrorism as a precondition and kept pressing him on the need to stop building in settlements.

Good. More than anything, this represents the follow-through on Obama's speech to the Muslim world - a real change in US policy and pressing from a legitimate stance of an honest broker.

None of this means that Israel will budge, of course. Look at the ice to cut through.

I think at some point, not yet but at some point, the purse strings need to come into play.

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Grassroots Progressive Action on Repairing California

It's taken the proposed destruction of practically the entire social safety net in California for progressives both inside and outside the political system to fight back. I'm actually more heartened by the work done outside it. I expect Lenny Goldberg to come up with a great alternative budget calling for tax fairness, and end to corporate welfare and a government for all the people instead of the rich. I expect Jean Ross to do the same, as well as AFSCME. They're all good proposals, but this is what they are paid to do. What I don't expect, and what I haven't seen, is a citizen's movement to rival the institutional and advocacy machinery. The Fix the California Budget Facebook page is really one of the first such grassroots pushes I've seen in recent memory.

Californians deserve real solutions to the budget deficit. Responding to our economic crisis with an all-cuts budget will only make the state's problems worse. Deep cuts to vital programs undermine our economic recovery and President Obama’s investment in economic stimulus, disproportionately harm the most vulnerable Californians, and go against our core values.

More than 70 percent of voters sat out the May 19 special election because it is the Governor and Legislature’s job to fix the budget. Polls show the defeat of the initiatives was neither an endorsement of an all-cuts approach nor a rejection of raising revenues.

Under Governor Schwarzenegger, we have suffered $23 billion in spending cuts in the current budget year alone. Additional drastic cuts will irrevocably change the state we love. Californians support and deserve a state that provides for the common good and the needs of our residents, and we need to pursue realistic revenue solutions that will protect our shared priorities. Cuts are not the only option!

Our state needs courageous leadership. We will support those who stand against an all-cuts budget, speak out for fair ways of raising revenue, and work to deliver a budget that invests in our future and protects all the people of our state. True leaders get their strength from the people they represent. We pledge to be that strength, and mobilize to support a sensible budget solution.

The specific action items are to call your lawmaker and provide that counter-weight to the internal pressure to support the all-cuts approach. They reference the majority-vote fee increase as a legitimate option that must be put before the Governor in place of the worst cuts. County Democratic Chairs and local activists are actually driving the pressure from below, rather than having solutions imposed upon them.

This represents an opportunity. It doesn't mean we win this fight - we're going to lose more than we win at first. And in a way, this is the corporate "reform" community's worst nightmare - the Bay Area Council and California Forward would rather drive the reform process themselves and keep it within their own particular boundaries. But we can build a movement of a newly-roused core group of activists committed to setting California on the right path by restoring democracy, eliminating the conservative veto and reforming the broken system. This is a first step.

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Going To Hell In A Local Handbasket Rather Than An Express

The unemployment figures for may show a loss of 345,000 jobs and a 9.4% unemployment rate. You can plot this on a graph and make it look preferable to the previous six months of extreme losses, and it is. But Felix Salmon notes:

Remember the stress tests? The baseline scenario had unemployment in 2009 at 8.4%, rising to 8.9% under the more adverse scenario. Well, we’re only up to May, and already it’s at 9.4%.

To be clear, the adverse scenario in the stress test was supposed to be the worst things could possibly get. If we've blown past that, the banks will face more losses and write-downs than suggested by the adverse scenario. More people out of work means more foreclosures, less consumer spending, higher deficits, etc. This is but one of the ways where the banksters are making themselves out to be healthier than they are.

The revival may be short-lived. Analysts who have examined the quarterly profits and government tests say that accounting rule changes and rosy assumptions are making the institutions look healthier than they are.

The government probably wants to win time for the banks, keeping them alive as they struggle to earn their way out of the mess, says economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University in New York. The danger is that weak banks will remain reluctant to lend, hobbling President Barack Obama’s efforts to pull the economy out of recession.

Citigroup’s $1.6 billion in first-quarter profit would vanish if accounting were more stringent, says Martin Weiss of Weiss Research Inc. in Jupiter, Florida. “The big banks’ profits were totally bogus,” says Weiss, whose 38-year-old firm rates financial companies. “The new accounting rules, the stress tests: They’re all part of a major effort to put lipstick on a pig.”

Remember, the banks haggled over the stress tests, and basically won that argument. They lobbied for mark-to-fantasy accounting rules, and got them. That's because they still own the place.

The defeat of the bankruptcy proposal is a testament to the enduring influence of banks, even as the industry struggles financially and suffers from its role in the economic crisis.

It also shows that in the coming legislative battles that will shape the future of the economy, the financial industry — through a powerful and well-financed lobbying force — may have a far stronger hand to play than might seem evident.

Documents and interviews with lawmakers, lobbyists and administration officials show that the banks defeated the bankruptcy change — the industry picturesquely calls it the “cramdown” provision — by claiming that it would push up interest rates and slow the housing market’s recovery, even though academic studies have countered such claims.

The industry also steadfastly refused offers to negotiate over a weaker version. And it poured millions of dollars into lobbying: four of the industry’s top trade groups spent nearly as much on lobbying in the first three months of this year as they did in all of 2001.

But an industry strategy of dividing the Democrats had the most success.

Everything you need to know about the banksters' power is contained in the header midway through the article: "Surprising Ease."

As the article says, "Bankrupt homeowners do not have a political action committee or lobbyists." But surely lawmakers have an instinct for self-preservation. Because what I'm reading here is that the banks are in as big or bigger trouble now than they were six months ago, and just as powerful in extracting explicit guarantees from Congress and the White House that they'll be spared should they collapse. But as a result of that, we get a "recovery" that feels like a recession, a lost decade where we saunter along without economic growth. There will absolutely be a political price to pay for that. Obama and Democrats in Congress need an economic recovery. But covering for the banksters will delay one. There's a difference between being owned in order to sustain your political career and being owned to destroy it.

...Media Matters also mentions that the Times cites "academic studies" undermining bankster arguments on cramdown, but only after the debate is essentially over. Nice one.

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Bai Finds The Two Santa Clauses

Matt Bai, in his largely unremarkable and far from revelatory article about the Obama White House and the coming health care debate (Obama lets the legislature legislate! Sometimes he invites Senators to the White House!), does make an important point near the end. I've been talking a lot about how health care reform may crash on the rocks of having to pay for it, as enough members of Congress find fault with the multitude of options so that no consensus is reached. Bai recapitulates that nicely, and then makes a fine closing point:

THE NETTLESOME THING about leaving the details of the health care plan to Congress, though, is that this Congress, like most every other Congress, doesn’t appear inclined to pay for much of anything. And it is this part of the health care debate — where to find the money — that seems most likely to derail the process. Most discussions of America’s health care woes begin with talk of the uninsured — some 46 million of them at last count. How much a new health care system will cost depends primarily on how close to universal coverage you really want to get. On the high end of the scale, insuring every American might well cost as much as $1.5 trillion over the next decade at a time when deficits are gobbling up a greater share of the nation’s income than at any time since World War II.

The White House has focused mostly on new efficiencies in health care, insisting that lowering the costs of medical care could easily save $2 trillion in public money over the next decade. A coalition of providers, drug makers and insurance companies — no doubt looking for the best possible deal in health care legislation — helpfully vowed in a White House photo-op last month to institute changes that would lead to such savings, but their promise was maddeningly vague and utterly unenforceable (and in any event, the industry groups almost immediately distanced themselves from it). Short of realizing these projected savings, there are only so many ways to pay for health care — and, not surprisingly, congressmen and senators aren’t exactly lining up to embrace them. One way, as McCain proposed, is to rescind the tax exemption for some workers who receive health care benefits from their employers; Baucus is open to at least capping the exemption, but labor unions are adamantly opposed, and Rangel has publicly renounced it (though he and other House Democrats appear to be re-evaluating that stance). Another way is to slap new taxes on some of the products that cause health problems in the first place, like soft drinks, but industry lobbyists are already spending satchels of cash to head that off. Congress can always choose to slash Medicare benefits or the payments that doctors receive, but that idea generates about as much enthusiasm as you might find for putting George W. Bush’s face on the $5 bill.

In a larger sense, this may be the nagging flaw in Obama’s notion of the Congressional presidency, this strategy that leaves the lawmaking to Congress, even as it enables him to claim credit for one legislative success after another. Professional legislators can be great at devising complex language and finding creative ways to get a deal. What they are not especially good at — at least not in the current era — is making the difficult decisions that governing responsibly often requires. Left to their own devices, legislators rarely seem to ask the voters to sacrifice anything by way of taxes or entitlements or services, if only because voters don’t find the entreaties of legislators all that persuasive. And so, absent his own engagement, Obama’s vow to reverse our “collective failure to make hard choices,” as he put it in his inaugural address, may well be pushed aside for another day.

Bai's wrong about McCain, who wanted to eliminate the employer deduction entirely for all workers and replace it with a refundable tax credit to buy insurance. But overall he gets the dynamic right.

Obama actually has waded into this debate this week by announcing his support for using MedPAC to cut Medicare costs. But even that doesn't get you all the way to a deficit-neutral bill. And Bai is completely correct in arguing that Congress so often punts the tough decisions in the face of concerted lobbying efforts. He views it in the context of "sacrifice," which is the dead wrong way to sell it to the public, especially if he intends to mean that the best way to achieve health care reform is to inform the public that the government will take their Medicare away. But yes, he is basically laying out the Two Santa Claus Theory, the idea sold to the public by Republicans that Americans can have endlessly lower taxes and endlessly increased services with no parallel cost. That DOES have to change, and he's right that only a President can call on the American people to change their views on the matter. Democrats have refused to show leadership in this area for so long. Obama actually campaigned on it, at least in part. Health care reform probably hangs in the balance.

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Kabuki Inc.

There's this interesting dynamic where Senate Republicans are demurring from attacks on Sonia Sotomayor in public while urging their activists to keep them up behind the scenes. But the Raw Story has an even more interesting article up about who may really be behind the most extreme attacks:

Corporate interests posing as a grassroots conservative group are behind attacks on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, a RAW STORY investigation has found.

The Committee for Justice (CFJ), an astroturf group established by big business in July 2002 to create an appearance of popular support for President Bush’s judicial nominees, is now leading the effort to oppose the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court.

CFJ’s Executive Director Curt Levey has been sending out press releases and making media appearances to promote the theme that Sotomayor is racist and biased in her rulings, drawing his talking points largely from a speech in which she suggested that when it came to race and sex discrimination cases, it was possible that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences … would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

I knew Curt Levey was one of the instant bobbleheads from the conservative movement suddenly all over TV talking about Sotomayor. I didn't know his organization was a Big Business front group.

I'm wondering what they have to fear from Sotomayor, however. On this issue, her record doesn't appear to be all that different from the current construction of the Court, which is clearly tilted toward big business. Maybe it's just a reflexive partisan pose. But if there's something in Sotomayor's past that would actually make business tremble, I'd love to know what it is.

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Blue Dogs Desperate To Remain Relevant

Yesterday the Blue Dog Caucus sought headlines by trying to strangle the public option by putting enough conditions on it to render it useless.

Conservative House Democrats set strict conditions Thursday for any government-run insurance plan Congress creates as part of a health care overhaul, ruling out support for a plan that resembles Medicare — the option favored by many liberals.

The lines drawn by the Blue Dog Coalition, if adhered to by lawmakers crafting the health overhaul, would result in a government-run plan that works much like private insurance plans [...]

Among their requirements: The public plan must negotiate payment rates with providers; participation in the plan must be voluntary for both providers and patients; premiums and copayments under the plan must pay for its operations; and the plan must follow the same actuarial standards and regulations required of private insurers.

Some conservative health policy experts have questioned whether it makes sense for the government to create a public plan that essentially replicates plans offered by private insurers. A public plan would draw most of its cost-cutting power from its ability to dictate prices, like Medicare, these experts argue; without that ability, it might save the government and consumers little or no money.

I think this is the second fallback option for the forces seeking to destroy the public option. First they'll attach an unrealizable trigger to it, keeping it from implementation unless certain impossible conditions are met. The Blue Dogs support that too, it's at the bottom of their statement of principles. Failing that, they'll boil down the public option until it basically becomes a non-profit health insurer with all the same restrictions as private insurers. The lack of profit motive, less overhead and administrative costs would probably save consumers a little money, but the real money comes from the monopsony bargaining power of using government rates. As Matt Yglesias points out, this doesn't come close to being a fiscally conservative argument - a world where the public plan can use Medicare bargaining rates forces private insurers to compete on price and quality, lowering costs to the system, and therefore costs to the government. And the supposed fiscally conservative Blue Dogs are against that.

If all 51 Blue Dogs actually went to the mats over their twin concepts of strangling the public option, there would be concern. But as is common, their press release simply does not reflect the views of their members. Mike Michaud of Maine strongly supports a public insurance option and criticized the Blue Dog statement yesterday. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania said this:

Congressman Murphy stands with President Obama in supporting the inclusion of a public option in health care reform legislation. While the Congressman is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, he does not always agree with them on every issue. In this case, he does not believe that we should wait several years to see if our currently broken system gets worse before introducing a public option. Including a public plan as one of many choices in a health insurance exchange is a good way to introduce transparency and competition into the insurance market, curb sky-rocketing costs, and hold private insurance companies accountable so that we can finally accomplish comprehensive, genuine reform this year.

The Blue Dogs have a frayed coalition and very few options in the House of blocking strong reform. The action on this bill remains in the Senate, where 37 Senators are on the record in support of a public option, out of the 50 needed to pass it through budget reconciliation. So the Blue Dogs tossed some bait hoping to get media coverage, but in reality, they've got nothing.

If you have a Blue Dog for a representative, you should ask them outright, whether they support slow-walking a public health insurance option or attaching so many conditions to it that it doesn't do much of anything, or whether they support the President and the majority of the American people who want a choice of a not-for-profit alternative. You might remind them that 62% of all US bankruptcies are due to medical bills, that 47 million Americans have no health insurance, that the CEOs of major insurers make millions and millions of dollars while denying care and coverage, and I'm sure you can find a few other data points from your own personal experiences.

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Let's take a look at a couple reactions to the President's speech in Cairo. One, Senator James Inhofe:

Sen. Jim Inhofe said today that President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo was "un-American" because he referred to the war in Iraq as "a war of choice" and didn't criticize Iran for developing a nuclear program.

Inhofe, R-Tulsa, also criticized the president for suggesting that torture was conducted at the military prison in Guantanamo, saying, "There has never been a documented case of torture at Guantanamo."

"I just don't know whose side he's on,'' Inhofe said of the president.

Two, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran:

Speaking shortly before Obama delivered his address, in which he called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that "beautiful speeches" could not remove the hatred felt in the Muslim world against America.

"People of the Middle East, the Muslim region and North Africa -- people of these regions -- hate America from the bottom of their heart," Khamenei said at a gathering to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and Khamenei's predecessor as the predominantly Shiite Muslim country's supreme religious leader.

"For a long time, these people have witnessed aggressive actions by America, and that's why they hate them," Khamenei, 69, told a crowd of several thousand supporters in his televised speech. He attributed these feelings to "violence, military intervention, rights violations and discrimination" by the United States.

Is there much of a difference between these two statements? I actually agree with Khamenei on the point that sweet talk and speeches must match action in the Islamic world. But from the standpoint of tone, aren't these just two mullahs worried about keeping their grip on the world and the adversarial relationship that bolsters them? Just like Iranian mullahs, American mullahs need an enemy, to demonize and to criticize their domestic opponents for failing to take seriously. It's no accident that the most vociferous critics of the speech are the right wing in America and extremists in the Muslim world. They need each other.

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Like Father Like Daughter

Liz Cheney must have learned the fine art of lying your tail off from dear old dad.

MITCHELL: Can you clarify at all a dispute some or among former Bush administration middle east experts and officials as to whether there was a secret promise or an agreement with Israel that Israel could proceed with settlement expansion to accommodate population growth?

CHENEY: It is a very complicated issue and the Road Map does talk about settlements. … But there’s the issue of, in existing settlements, if a family has a baby, are you allowed to build another room in the house? … I think there’s no question that this White House has gone much further in saying to the Israelis, “you must absolutely stop all of it.” And without, in my view, being as demanding of the Palestinians in terms of the security side of this equation.

Sadly, no.

Given that she was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the Bush Administration, put there, many feel, to report back on the State Department to the Vice President, you'd think she'd know that.

However, Cheney did part ways with her father on the issue of the Iraq/Al Qaeda connection. She still thinks it exists, whereas Fourthbranch pretty much disavowed it earlier this week.

LIZ CHENEY: The issue is whether there's a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, which as he mentioned in that speech, George Tenet himself testified to, there's much evidence between the connection of Saddam and al Qaeda and Saddam and other terrorist organizations.

MITCHELL: Well, al Qaeda in Iraq, which was an offshoot, but didn't exist before the start of the war.

LIZ CHENEY: That's actually not true.

Right, well, um, you're wrong again.

If the best politicians are the best liars, Cheney's got quite a future.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Vaughn Walker Dismisses The FISA Lawsuits... Or Does He?

Looks like Vaughn Walker's hands were tied by the law.

A federal judge on Wednesday threw out more than three dozen lawsuits claiming that the nation’s major telecommunications companies had illegally assisted in the wiretapping without warrants program approved by President George W. Bush after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker of Federal District Court in Northern California said that although consumer and privacy groups raised important constitutional issues in their claims, Congress had left no doubt about its “unequivocal intention” when it passed a measure last summer giving immunity to phone carriers in the wiretapping program.

The ruling represents a major victory not only for AT&T and other carriers, which faced potential damages of billions of dollars if they lost the cases, but also for intelligence officials in Washington who had fought assertively in their defense. Officials from both the Bush and the Obama administrations maintained that the cooperation of the phone companies has been vital to national security and that penalizing them for their participation would jeopardize important surveillance operations.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy and civil liberties group, said they would appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

They'll lose in the Ninth Circuit as well, given that they are bound by precedent, and in the Supreme Court as currently constructed, I'd find it unlikely that they'd turn over Congressional law. Although, they probably should, given the violations to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and the Congress taking over the functions of the judiciary in terms of holding companies liable.

However, in a separate ruling, Walker did cause some hackles to be raised inside the Justice Department.

A federal judge yesterday declined to penalize Justice Department lawyers for flouting his orders in a sensitive electronic surveillance case where the Obama administration sided with its predecessors to the alarm of civil liberties groups.

But U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker did not give the government what it wanted, either. The San Francisco-based judge batted away fresh Justice Department attempts to appeal his rulings, which have been critical of President Obama's approach to protecting state secrets.

Instead, the judge directed attorneys for the administration and for a now-defunct Oregon charity to prepare court filings this summer about the legality of the government's warrantless eavesdropping program and the scope of the executive branch's authority.

Good for WaPo to focus on the full measure of Walker's rulings, which Marcy Wheeler discusses further. In addition, Wheeler notes that there's an additional case, Jewel, which sues Bush himself. While the Congress rules on holding the telecoms harmless, they did not do the same for the government.

Lest any further reassurance be necessary, the SSCI report states: “The committee does not intend for [section 802] to apply to, or in any way affect, pending or future suits against the Government as to the legality of the President’s program.”

The court agrees with the United States and the telecommunications company defendants on this point: plaintiffs retain a means of redressing the harms alleged in their complaints by proceeding against governmental actors and entities who are, after all, the primary actors in the alleged wiretapping activities. Indeed, the same plaintiffs who brought the Hepting v AT&T lawsuit (C 06-0672 VRW) are now actively prosecuting those claims in a separate suit filed in September 2008 against government defendants before the undersigned judge. Jewell v United States, C 08-4373 VRW, filed September 18, 2008. Jewell thus joins several other cases in this MDL which seek relief only against government defendants.

There's a lot going on with these lawsuits, and I would say that the Justice Department shouldn't close the file just yet.

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Immigration Reform This Year?

Not that Senate and House schedules aren't made to be broken, but that's certainly interesting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Thursday that he would like the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year, adding another huge project to Democrats' already packed schedule for 2009.

“As far as I’m concerned, we have three major issues we have to do this year, if at all possible: No. 1 is healthcare; No 2 is energy, global warming; No. 3 is immigration reform,” Reid said.

“It’s going to happen this session, but I want it this year, if at all possible.”

Reid met Thursday with leaders of Hispanic groups including the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He and those leaders promoted the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court at a press conference.

Reid stressed that he does not want to pass immigration “piecemeal” but, instead, as a comprehensive package.

We haven't heard a lot about this since the recession hit, but perhaps this recent poll has led Democrats to be bolder on the issue. It shows overwhelming support for immigration reform legislation, 64-21. And after comprehensive immigration reform is explained, it goes up to 86-14.

There are also political considerations. The Sotomayor nomination has turned off conservatives even more to the Republican Party. Getting immigration reform done under a Democratic Administration would put another nail in that coffin. Not to mention adding millions of new potential voters down the road. Plus, there's Harry Reid' re-election chances. Nevada Hispanics are 23% of the population. Perversely, that data point may move Reid toward the more progressive solution, so prove to the folks back home his sensitivity to the issue.

But aside from this, comprehensive immigration reform is the right thing to do. We should bring millions of residents out of the shadows and into the greater economy, where they can help produce and pay US taxes. Morally speaking, we should not keep people hidden in the underground economy. Practically, this is the only way to deal with the problem. We're not deporting 11 million people any time soon, and given how vital they are to the smooth functioning of the US economy, we would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Obviously this will be a long slog - conservatives would love to rile up their anti-immigrant base. But as we've seen with Sotomayor, they commit electoral suicide with every utterance. Let's get this done.

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Hate Radio In Sacramento

This is truly disgusting.

Two radio jocks on KRXQ, a Sacramento, CA, station engaged in a remarkable dialogue about transgender people, in which they advocated violence against transgender children.

Sample quotes:

"If my son, God forbid, if my son put on a pair of high heels, I would probably hit him with one of my shoes. I would throw a shoe at him. Because you know what? Boys don't wear high heels. And in my house, they definitely don't wear high heels."

"You know, my favorite part about hearing these stories about the kids in high school, who the entire high school caters around, lets the boy wear the dress. I look forward to when they go out into society and society beats them down. And they end up in therapy."

We don't have a lot of local media in California, and increasingly, a substantial segment of the population gets their ideas from talk radio outlets like this. And here's what they're hearing.

If Rob, Arnie, & Dawn in the Morning on KRXQ have one advertiser left within a week, something's wrong. GLAAD has an action item for this. According to the comments in this Huffington Post piece, Chipotle and Snapple have already dropped their ad support for the show. Contact the station's general manager here:

John Geary
Vice President & General Manager
(916) 339-4209

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Equal Justice

I'm getting to this late, but Jack Balkin (h/t Hilzoy) has some excellent questions about George Tiller's alleged murderer Scott Roeder:

"(1) Should the United States be able to hold Roeder without trial in order to prevent him from returning to society to kill more abortion providers? If we believe that Roeder and other domestic terrorists will plan further attacks on abortion providers and abortion clinics if we let them free, can we subject them to indefinite detention?

(2) The Obama Administration is currently considering a national security court to make decisions about the detention of suspected terrorists, with the power to order continued preventive detention. Should this court be able to hear cases involving U.S. citizens, whether they are Muslim or Christian? (...)

(4) One of the most important reasons for detaining terrorists (suspected or otherwise) is to obtain information about future terrorist attacks that may save lives and prevent future bombings. To procure this information, can the government dispense with the usual constitutional and legal safeguards against coercive interrogation? Should it be able to subject Roeder to enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and other methods, to determine whether Roeder knows of any other persons who are likely to commit violence against abortion clinics or against abortion providers in the future? Would your answer change if you believed that an attack on an abortion provider or a bombing of an abortion clinic was imminent?

(5) Terrorists and terrorist organizations need money and resources to operate effectively. Often the only way to stop them is to dry up their sources of financial and logistical support. Can the U.S. government freeze the assets of pro-life organizations and make it illegal to contribute money to a pro-life charity that it believes might funnel money or provide material support to persons like Roeder or to organizations that practice violence against abortion providers? Can the government arrest, detain, and seize the property of anti-abortion activists who helped Roeder in any way in the months leading up to his crime, for example by giving him rides or allowing him to stay in their homes?"

In fact, if you want to talk about ticking time bomb scenarios, Roeder would certainly be a subject for interrogation. He has been involved in pro-life movements for many years; he was arrested and convicted in 1996 for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic; he attempted to break and enter into Tiller's clinic in the weeks leading up to the murder (a federal crime under the FACE Act), and his name and license plate number were sent to the FBI; he had the phone number for Operation Rescue in his car, and Operation Rescue provided information about Tiller to Roeder before the shooting. In the wake of Tiller's murder, a pro-life activist published photos and personal information of other doctors who perform late-term abortions.

So on those grounds, considering there may be other individuals seeking to kill American doctors, considering that Roeder has multiple ties to the movement that would carry out those killings, it would only make sense to use the interrorgation techniques on Roeder that would help protect Americans. Right? Furthermore, everyone associated with these movements, all of the dangerous suspected domestic terrorists or those with ties to them, including the commentators who fanned the flames of hate, ought to be locked up without charges so that they don't hurt Americans. Right? Right?

Well, I don't believe the answer is yes. But apparently, on a bipartisan basis, our political leadership does believe that some individuals should be subject to indefinite detention in case they commit a crime in the future, and that the legal system is not equipped to handle them. And the overwhelming majority of at least one major political party believes that torture is justified if it saves American lives. As Hilzoy says:

Obviously, though, these tactics were never meant to be used against people like us. It's only other people -- scary, presumptively guilty other people -- whom we get to detain without trial, based on evidence that would not win a conviction in a normal court of law. Not people like us.

Personally, I think this would be a bad idea. But a lot of people seem to disagree. They seem to think it's fine to toss aside centuries of legal tradition, not to mention our civil liberties. What's really strange is that they claim that they are doing this because they love freedom.

Well said.

Maybe someone in the media could ask any member of either party about this.

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Bravely Bold Budget Cutters

The Republicans decided to step up to the plate and deliver their own ideas on the federal budget, offering $375 billion in potential cuts over five years. Wow, that's a serious effort at belt-tightening! Except, it's not.

Well, according to this document, $317 billion comes from every budget coward's favorite gimmick: an across-the-board spending cap that (a) they know perfectly well will never happen and (b) allows them to avoid mentioning any actual specific cuts. Another $45 billion comes from devoting returned TARP funds to deficit reduction — something that's going to happen over the next five years anyway. That leaves $13 billion in actual targeted cuts. For the arithmetic challenged among you, that's $2.6 billion per year out of a budget of about $3.5 trillion.

That's a reduction of 0.07%.

And those cuts that exist, of course, hit the most vulnerable members of society and valuable programs, including a program that hires crossing guards and builds safe bike paths for schoolchildren. But set that aside for just a second, and consider that Obama's $17 billion in cuts were met with derision in the media as an unserious proposal.

The GOP countered with $13 billion.

Will the media call them on it?

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California Plays "Block That Recovery"

The real tragedy of the proposed cuts in the state budget comes when you recognize that some of them would cancel out federal stimulus dollars. A perfect example would be the elimination of the welfare-to-work program Cal Works. In Los Angeles County, the stimulus funds a program through Cal Works that provides jobs. Without Cal Works, the program gets eliminated, and $200 million in federal dollars cease to flow to the state. And that's really just one example.

We see the same cross purposes when assessing social services programs for the elderly.

"Advocates for the elderly in California say recent budget cuts are dramatically affecting the ability of social service programs to keep up with demand" at a time when "the state's elderly population — and the incidents of elder abuse — are exploding," NPR reports. One example is Contra Costa County, where the Aging and Adult Services Program laid off two-thirds of the staff who "investigate abuse complaints of elderly and dependent adults." The county is now "turning over virtually all of its self-neglect cases to some other agency — often, the police." The Contra Costa situation is "so severe that the county grand jury recently concluded that Adult Protective Services no longer has the resources to carry out its legal mandate to investigate physical and financial abuse complaints." This comes at a time when complaints of elder abuse are on the rise. According to "national studies," only "1 in 5 elder abuse cases is reported" (Siler, 6/3).

Needless to say, this threatens the ability for Contra Costa county to qualify for stimulus funds to backfill those cuts, thanks to "maintenance of effort" rules. The Feds giveth, the state taketh away and taketh away what the Feds giveth. And that undermines the goals of the stimulus and damages economic recovery, given that we are the nation's largest state.

Some would say that the state's "runaway spending" brought this on, but Sen. Mark Leno argues persuasively against this, detailing the nature of the spending over the past decade and where that money has actually gone - tax cuts (the vehicle license fee), prisons, debt service, and the rapid cost growth in health care and fire protection. This is familiar to most of us but ought to be shared with those friends who don't know the facts. Same with this.

What truly brought this on is a dysfunctional process that requires serious structural reform.

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Irandecision '09

Iran may not have listened intently to the Obama Cairo speech. Because another political drama is playing out on their streets. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is up for re-election, and while he does not control the military arsenal or responsibility over much of the lawmaking in Iran - that's reserved for the Supreme Leader - the elections, which are more free than other parts of the Muslim world, represent a good way to sort of take the temperature of the Iranian people. And the results have been, to this point, quite remarkable:

I don't know whether you have been reading the various press accounts of the election campaign in Iran. I know that the candidates' list is fixed, but I can also see democratic spirit when it is bang in front of me. There appears to be a genuine fight for votes; and the images from the Mousavi rallies look more like Obama rallies than assemblies in a totalitarian state. Notice how young these people look, and how unafraid.

Now check out this video of a public clash between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi supporters in the streets of Tehran. It's vivid, electrifying stuff - not a sign of a brutal totalitarian regime. I know we have to be cautious and I know who holds the military power. But we should not be blind to change when it emerges. Ahmadinejad has discredited himself in the eyes of many Iranians. They are looking for change they can believe in. This is the target audience for Obama this Thursday. He needs to reach out to the democratic forces in that country and remind them that America is their ally.

Sullivan has some residual "Arab Spring" issues to deal with, but there's no question that the democratic impulse is robust in Iranian society right now. "Mousavi" is Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former Prime Minister and reformist candidate with the support of former reformist President Mohammed Khatami. Their debate the other night was pretty remarkable:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main rival in the June 12 election, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, held a remarkably frank debate Wednesday night that exposed deep differences among Iran's leaders and presented voters with two completely opposing views.

During the 90-minute debate, which was televised live, the candidates openly delved into topics in a way never seen in the Islamic republic, touching on foreign policy and corruption. In addition, Ahmadinejad raised questions about the academic credentials of Mousavi's wife, a former professor.

The candidates represent two factions in Iran's system of Shiite clerical government. In the debate, Ahmadinejad, in a beige suit and surrounded by stacks of papers, portrayed his opponent as a pawn of Iran's political elite, which he said was corrupt and weak in the face of Western pressure.

Mousavi, a painter and architect, said Ahmadinejad's controversial international and domestic policies were a danger to Iran's future. He accused the president of driving the country toward a "dictatorship" and acting as if he owned the truth. "You think you are higher than all," he told Ahmadinejad.

A large part of the debate centered on foreign policy. Mousavi said Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust had cost Iran much international standing. "Tell me, who are our friends in the region?" he asked the president. Mousavi said the country had became internationally isolated.

These are open debates that Iranians can access and engage with. It puts the lie to the conservative idea of Iran as a monolithic society of America-haters. And the results should be extremely interesting.

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Wired For Conservatism

E.J. Dionne is one of the first traditional media journalists, to my knowledge, to openly state that the media tilts to the right, in the context of how the chattering class leaps at any utterance from the Newt Gingrichs and Rush Limbaughs and Dick Cheneys of the world, and he explains how this distorts the debate in Washington and what people pick up in the cultural milieu.

If you doubt that there is a conservative inclination in the media, consider which arguments you hear regularly and which you don't. When Rush Limbaugh sneezes or Newt Gingrich tweets, their views ricochet from the Internet to cable television and into the traditional media. It is remarkable how successful they are in setting what passes for the news agenda.

The power of the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis means that Obama is regularly cast as somewhere on the far left end of a truncated political spectrum. He's the guy who nominates a "racist" to the Supreme Court (though Gingrich retreated from the word yesterday), wants to weaken America's defenses against terrorism and is proposing a massive government takeover of the private economy. Steve Forbes, writing for his magazine, recently went so far as to compare Obama's economic policies to those of Juan Peron's Argentina [...]

This was brought home at this week's annual conference of the Campaign for America's Future, a progressive group that supports Obama but worries about how close his economic advisers are to Wall Street, how long our troops will have to stay in Afghanistan and how much he will be willing to compromise to secure health-care reform.

In other words, they see Obama not as the parody created by the far right but as he actually is: a politician with progressive values but moderate instincts who has hewed to the middle of the road in dealing with the economic crisis, health care, Guantanamo and the war in Afghanistan.

Dionne goes on to describe a panel he witnessed Tuesday with Jared Polis, Donna Edwards and Raul Grijalva - three of the most progressive members of Congress, but three whose names aren't in the Village Rolodex, and whose views have almost no impact on the way the debates in Washington are presented to the public. That doesn't mean they don't have power and importance - their decision along with the Progressive Caucus to pool their power and force the public option into the health care debate was masterful - but it confuses the way Obama is presented, and the space to criticize him from the left. Edwards explained this very specifically:

Polis, Edwards and Grijalva also noted that proposals for a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system, which they support, have fallen off the political radar. Polis urged his activist audience to accept that reality for now and focus its energy on making sure that a government insurance option, known in policy circles as the "public plan," is part of the menu of choices offered by a reformed health-care system.

But Edwards noted that if the public plan, already a compromise from single-payer, is defined as the left's position in the health-care debate, the entire discussion gets skewed to the right. This makes it far more likely that any public option included in a final bill will be a pale version of the original idea.

Her point has broader application. For all the talk of a media love affair with Obama, there is a deep and largely unconscious conservative bias in the media's discussion of policy. The range of acceptable opinion runs from the moderate left to the far right and cuts off more vigorous progressive perspectives.

And actually, this SUITS Obama. If he wanted to pick his enemies, he's much rather have Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney than Jared Polis, Donna Edwards and Raul Grijalva. For one, the public has a fairly definitive opinion of those conservatives, at least relative to Obama, and the President wins those debates without saying a word. For another, Obama has no need to move from the moderate center if the Beltway criticism doesn't approach him from that perspective. His choice of advisers and policy options clearly put him in that moderate mainstream of the Democratic Party, and it's where he feels - has always felt - the most comfortable.

The media has an interest in defining the terms of the debate, indeed a self-interest, given the conglomerates that they are. When ABC News gives the same amount of space to Sean Hannity as they do to the Secretary of State, implicit in that editorial decision is the fact that Hannity has spent many years as part of the ABC Radio Network. When business stories betray a perspective more sympathetic to corporate America than the working class, the very fact of the corporate behemoths that populate modern media bear a lot on that decision. But these decisions also enable Obama to operate without equal pressure from all sides of the policy argument, essentially a free hand. This may keep conservatism alive, but it also co-opts the Democratic Administration by giving them the only pressure they consider important - pressure from the right.

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NY-Sen: More White House Maneuverings To Stop Primaries

Carolyn Maloney represents most of the east side of Manhattan and Queens in Congress. She's been really good on women's issues and gay rights, but as a member of the Financial Services Committee and a Congresswoman from Manhattan, she gets lots of cash from Wall Street interests. Nonetheless, she has a decent record on the middle class and just shepherded through the landmark Credit Card Bill Of Rights reform. She's good but not great on labor rights or foreign policy. A good rundown on her record is here.

She wants to run for Senate to primary Kirsten Gillibrand. Both women could put their credentials before the voters and let them decide. But the White House doesn't want that, and they're trying to keep Maloney out of the race.

Vice President Biden this week sat down with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) to urge her not to run for Senate.

Maloney has been making initial moves toward challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the 2010 Democratic primary, hiring public relations strategists and fundraisers in both Washington and New York.

It would be a primary national Democrats had hoped to avoid. Earlier this week, Biden sat down with Maloney in New York City and urged her not to run, according to a senior White House official.

"We've made it clear we're behind Sen. Gillibrand," the official said.

I intuitively understand why national Democrats want to avoid a primary. Money is finite and why have a bruising primary, etc. But that's just not democracy. The Senate appointments process, which should be abolished, allows a constituency of one to make a decision affecting millions. Senators should have to face the voters and earn the votes. I don't know who I would support in such a race - Gillibrand has been pretty decent since coming to the Senate - but the voters ought to decide. In the long run, it would be better for whoever wins to have their candidacies affirmed by the base of the party.

As for the White House, surely they have more to do than to stop Democrats from choosing their legislative representatives.

...Carolyn McCarthy, who's from Long Island and who people often confuse with Maloney, isn't running. So Maloney-Gillibrand would look to be a one-on-one race.

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Pawlenty Will Seat Franken - Unless He Doesn't Have To

Roll Call relies on some sources in the Coleman camp and concludes that the former Senator may give up the fight on appealing the election victory of Al Franken if the State Supreme Court comes down against him, because "Coleman anticipates that Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) would ultimately sign Franken's certification papers."

Maybe Coleman knows something I don't, and probably so. But it looks to me that Pawlenty has given himself plenty of outs.

Pawlenty appeared this afternoon on the Neil Cavuto show, and Cavuto observed that Pawlenty's decision to not run for a third term, which many people see as a possible lead-up to a presidential campaign in 2012, also frees him up to fight for Norm Coleman. Pawlenty denied that he would behave in such a manner -- but he did point out some possible circumstances that could hold things up further:

"So you could be signing a certificate that would turn that Senate seat over to the Democrat Al Franken?" Cavuto asked. "And that would probably not suit you well."

"Well, I hope not, but you know I have to follow the law," Pawlenty responded. "You know, Neil, if the Minnesota Supreme Court says, 'You sign the certificate' -- and there's not an appeal or some other contrary direction from a federal court -- you know, that's my duty." (emphasis mine)

In other words, he'll sign the certificate as long as Coleman doesn't appeal to federal courts. And there's no real time-sensitive limit on how long Pawlenty could wait for that appeal to transpire.

I just don't think it's a closed deal, and Democrats need to keep up the pressure to get Franken seated.

...Kevin Drum is pretty skeptical of the sourcing on Coleman's wavering.

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The More Things Change

I don't want to deny that the ensuing actions will be more important than these words. This sets the table for those actions, and can be very useful. But only if followed through correctly. I think the speech will be met with cautious praise, overall, but this passage in particular shows exactly what a minefield Obama is walking into.

Israelis on the far right, for example, blasted Mr. Obama for what they said was his casting of an equivalency between the Holocaust and the suffering of Palestinians in two concurrent paragraphs of his 55-minute long address.

“How dare Obama compare Arab refugee suffering to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust?” asked Aryeh Eldad, a parliamentarian from the rightist National Union Party, adding that Mr. Obama might understand the difference better when he visits the Buchenwald concentration camp in the coming days.

It was a mirror image of the reaction in Gaza, where Ahmed Youssef, the deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government, criticized the speech for not going far enough on Palestinian issues. “He points to the right of Israel to exist, but what about the refugees and their right of return?” Mr. Youssef said of Mr. Obama’s remarks, leaving out that Mr. Obama also said Palestine’s right to exist can’t be denied.

“As a legal specialist,” Mr. Youssef added, Mr. Obama “should know people are under occupation, and they can not recognize the state while they are under occupation, only afterwards. Why put pressure on Arabs and Muslims to recognize Israel while it is not recognizing our existence?”

I mean, there you have it. Of course, the goal for progress would be to allow voices other than the extremes of the Israelis and Palestinians to come forward. However, those are not currently the voices in power.

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The Speech

Barack Obama often gives these speeches in aggressively non-sound bite forms. The speech on race doesn't have one line that people recite over and over, nor does his DNC nomination speech, or his speeches in Europe, or his Inauguration speech. He would rather create an event, something that needs to be read or watched in full. This morning's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo was promoted intensely on Facebook and Twitter, and translated into multiple different languages. The intended audiences are overseas, and the ideas complex and not easily boiled down.

Today's speech starts as almost a historical lecture about the challenges between Muslim countries and the United States, and like many Obama speeches, he seeks common ground between the divides, and calls for a new beginning of mutual understanding and shared principles, focusing on what unites and not what divides. And he asks that the two sides listen to each other and be honest with one another.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do - to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

He addresses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israel/Palestine issue, the Iranian nuclear weapons crisis, democracy promotion, religious freedom and women's rights, doing the "on the one hand, on the other hand" shtick with almost all of them. Here's a good example, and a really keen take on the Israel/Palestine debate:

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

There was a lot of honesty in the speech. Obama asserted that "our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons" to a part of the world where women are less equal. He said that "no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other" and acknowledged American roles in past overthrows of Muslim governments, particularly in Iran. He said that "No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons," an oblique reference to Israel, and made a hedge on Iranian negotiations by admitting that they "should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."

The President, in other words, challenged the assumptions of both Americans and Egyptians, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Israelis, and sought common understanding through honesty and a new foundation for dialogue. Some will see the speech as essentially empty, as if a speech could end all oppression in the Muslim world. And I agree that actions matter, and words fall hollow if not backed up by them; in fact, the rhetoric makes things WORSE if the actions do not match. But I also agree with MJ Rosenberg, that speaking to Muslims and Arabs as equals does have an impact. Marc Lynch has a good take as well. Ultimately, Obama seeks to bring the greater Muslim world forward into a new conversation and marginalize those extremists who pervert religion with violence, and refuses to use ideology as a wedge between the divides. In that respect the speech is not as important as its buildup and the environment created around it. You can see by the Al Qaeda freakout in reaction - as well as conservatives - that they both hate the crackup of the Manichean relationship between the Western and Muslim worlds.

More coverage in NYT and WaPo, and even from Thomas Friedman, though I advise you to read what's inside the quotes from Obama and not the Moustache's turgid prose.

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