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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Debate Thread

by dday

Since I wasn't actually allowed to get into the spin room until I name-checked Hullabaloo (yes, Digby, I'm throwing your name all over town), I feel obligated to check in. I'm at the Kodak theater for tonight's big debate. I'm really just watching this in a big room on TV, so you're as equipped to deliver your thoughts as I am. Although, The Nation's Mark Cooper and HuffPo's Max Follmer are sitting in front of me, and Todd from MyDD and John Amato of Crooks and Liars on either side, so it's a somewhat bigger living room.

I'll check in where needed. This won't be a full liveblog.

...We are getting a live feed of Wolf Blitzer warming up the audience. He just said "I love politics." I expected him to say "I don't understand it, but I love it..."

Someone in the audience just asked him "Where's Anderson?" Har!

5:02Digby here, watching on television: here's a little observation. Californians are all still at work. Therefore, it's most likely they'll hear the gasbags' spin before they see the debate itself.

I have no idea what that will mean, but it's worth paying attention to.


...The crowd erupted upon their entrance. People are really, really excited that the Democratic Party will be making history this year. It's not so much the money or the "star status" that drove everyone else from the race, it's this concept of making history that is so attractive to Democrats.

...It's nice to see a debate about ideas in the Democratic Party, up from the wonkery and the white papers and onto everyone's television screens. Some say that Democrats get bogged down in the details. I think it's perfectly fine to explain this clearly in the primary stage and refine the message for the general.

...I have a feeling that the gasbags are going to be upset because there aren't any "fireworks." They should shut their pie hole. This is a solid spotlight for progressive ideas so far. A debate with discussions about universal health care, open government, transparency and sunlight as a way to offset the power of special interests? I'll take it.

5: 57 Digby here watching on television.

This has been interesting. Both candidates are taking pains to promote the Democratic party and calling their ideas explicitly "progressive." I've been wishing we heard more of this and I'm glad to see it. You don't get this kind of attention very often and it's good that they are using it for more than personal promotion.

...Boy, the liberal Hollywood stereotype isn't being too goosed tonight with these constant shots of Bradley Whitford and Diane Keaton and Rob Reiner and Pierce Brosnan, ay? It may just be that love of celebrity from the media class. If the right-wingers run with this, it should be mentioned that the Republican debate featured about 100 cutaways to Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Kelsey Grammar.

...I do like Obama's aggressiveness - against John McCain. He has hit McCain time and time again in this debate. There's this idea that he's not a fighter. Certainly, he's drawing a clear contrast with McCain tonight.

...Blitzer teases questions about "character!!!" coming up. Ooh, great, a bunch of hit jobs on deck! Can't wait!

7:16 Digby here

Watching MSNBC it's obvious that the media found all that icky policy talk was "like,ew" as Tucker would say. They were like totally bored with all those "tall weeds" on health care and junk.

Gene Robinson: They chose their words carefully and chose not to fight very much.

Keith Olbermann: And there seemed to me to be at least four or five invocations by each of them of Democratic unity, which is, uhm, against everything that we've been raised with in Washington.

I have a sneaking suspicion that people who watched this at home were just fine with all that tedious talk about things that actually matter in their lives.


Update: Finally MSNBC has some fresh thinkers on the air. Here's our pal John Amato, in a segment with Josh Marshall and Arianna. Good job.

The Long War

by digby

I'm taking a lot of criticism lately for fighting old wars and refusing to see that we are on the cusp of major change and that the Republicans are old news. I actually fervently hope that is correct. But if you want to know why I'm not so sanguine, and why I think progressives are just fighting one more bloody battle in a long political war, read Greenwald's post today.

All day long, in response to Mukasey's insistence that patent illegalities were legal, that Congress was basically powerless, and that the administration has no obligation to disclose anything to Congress (and will not), Senators would respond with impotent comments such as: "Well, I'd like to note my disagreement and ask you to re-consider" or "I'm disappointed with your answer and was hoping you would say something different" or "If that's your position, we'll be discussing this again at another point." They were supplicants pleading for some consideration, almost out of a sense of mercy, and both they and Mukasey knew it.

Mukasey can go and casually tell them to their faces that the President has the right to violate their laws and that Congress has no power to do anything about it. And nothing is going to happen. And everyone -- the Senators, Bush officials, the country -- knows that nothing is going to happen. There is nothing too extreme that Mukasey could say to those Senators that would prompt any consequences greater than some sighing and sorrowful expressions of disapproval.

Democrats may very well win the election. And they may have a large working majority. Hopefully they will get some good things done for the country. But if they do not run on and then act on these constitutional abuses, they will be used again the next time a Republican is in office (if not sooner) and we will have to fight this battle all over again, having lost a tremendous amount of territory in the meantime. What we will have lost in terms of morality and decency is uncountable.

This stuff should not be brushed aside. And my biggest worry is that neither Clinton, due to the structural and institutional loathing for her in the political establishment, or Obama, who is running as a uniter not a fighter and will have little political capital for "looking backwards," will make this a priority.

Here's why I take nothing at face value about these people:

Harper's Scott Horton, who was a law partner of Mukasey's and originally endorsed his confirmation -- on the grounds that he would be more likely than other potential nominees to exhibit independence (an assessment I shared) -- had this to say after watching the hearing yesterday:
Watching Mukasey was a painful experience. . . .The Senate Judiciary Committee put Michael Mukasey to the test yesterday. And he left the hearing room as an embarrassment to those who have known and worked with him over the last twenty years, and who mistakenly touted his independence and commitment to do the right thing, come what may.

Ask yourself what kind of political movement and party can induce a highly respected former federal judge to publicly destroy his reputation and his soul to justify torture? Are those the kind of people who give up?

I didn't know then, and I don't know now, why someone like Mukasey should ever get the benefit of the doubt. America gets screwed every. single. time. So everyone is going to have to excuse me for not being entirely caught up in all the primary hooplah and continuing to fight the last war instead. Watching that hearing yesterday it was pretty hard to conclude that the Republicans have surrendered.

But They Have Editors!

by dday

Looks like we're going to hear about this zombie lie for a long, long time. Jake Tapper ran an insipid article where he claimed that Bill Clinton said "We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren." I've heard Clinton at least twice say exactly the opposite in long speeches, about how economic growth practically DEPENDS on scaling back greenhouse gas emissions and building a green economy that can be an engine of growth. Turns out that he actually said this:

"And maybe America, and Europe, and Japan, and Canada -- the rich counties -- would say, 'OK, we just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.' We could do that.

But if we did that, you know as well as I do, China and India and Indonesia and Vietnam and Mexico and Brazil and the Ukraine, and all the other countries will never agree to stay poor to save the planet for our grandchildren. The only way we can do this is if we get back in the world's fight against global warming and prove it is good economics that we will create more jobs to build a sustainable economy that saves the planet for our children and grandchildren. It is the only way it will work."

This is perfectly consistent with what Clinton has been saying in speeches for years. But Jake Tapper falls asleep mid-speech, somebody taps his shoulder and he wakes up hearing a fragment and decides he has a news story he can run with. It's already at the top of Drudge.

You're going to hear about this for YEARS. The new false choice that conservatives will ask voters to make is between keeping the global warming status quo or losing your job. And predictably, when Tapper was called on this foolishness, he arrogantly refused to acknowledge the error. Because he's a very serious person who couldn't possible have made a mistake.

Instead of apologizing, Tapper is now defending his egregious post by insisting that addressing global warming will in fact slow the economy, whether Clinton said it or not:

"This is the much more important issue here. Any serious effort to reduce greenhouses gases will have an impact on the economy and, initially, that impact could be negative."

Actually, the important issue here is that most journalists not only have a misunderstanding of the issues, but are perpetually convinced of their own brilliance despite all efforts to the contrary. Admitting that they're wrong is like exposing themselves to kryptonite. And so journalistic standards brush up against arrogance and intransigence. The funny thing is that, despite claims that they are objective purveyors of the facts, it's ALL personal when it comes to these guys. They'd rather peddle a lie than be seen as wrong.


by digby

Small investment, big reward:

Reported today on Akhbar Alkhaleej newspaper [link updated]

An Iraqi MP preferred to remain anonymous told the newspaper that highly confidential negotiations took place by representatives from American oil companies, offering $5 million to each MP who votes in favor of the Oil and Gas law.

The amount that could be paid to pass the votes do not exceed $150 million dollars in the case of $5 million to each MP, pointing out that the Oil law requires 138 votes to pass, which the Americans want to guarantee in many ways, including vote-buying, intimidation and threats!

Focusing on the heads of parliamentary blocs and influential figures in the parliament to ensure the votes, the Americans guaranteed the Kurdish votes in advance but they are seeking enough votes to pass and approve the law as soon as possible.

Don't you love how we're spreadin' democracy 'n freedom? It's inspiring.

I wonder if they handed out hats that said "Corrupt Bastards Club" on them, just like they do in America's oil state.

Actually, this sum of money is quite substantial compared to the chump change they spend here to arrange for the United States to invade Iraq, but it still isn't much. This is a very cheap investment.

h/t tanbark

Obama At LA Trade Technical College

by dday

Hey all. Sitting here in the spin room at the Kodak Theater prior to tonight's Democratic debate. The place is kind of swamped with media, and I guess Blitzer's doing his live show just outside, so there are a lot of sign-holders afoot.

Earlier today I was down at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, a community college near downtown, to watch a townhall meeting with Senator Barack Obama. A lot of his Southern California supporters were on hand, including Assemblyman Ted Lieu, labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, Congressmen Xavier Becerra and Adam Schiff, LA City Councilmembers Yvonne Burke and Bill Rosendahl, and State Senators Dean Florez, Gil Cedillo, and Majority Leader Gloria Romero. I have as much respect for Senators Cedillo and Romero as anyone in the State Senate. They have been at the forefront of taking on tough issues; in the case of Sen Romero, prison and sentencing reform, and in the case of Sen. Cedillo, immigration measures like driver's licenses and the DREAM Act (which Obama said he would sign). It means a lot to me that they are on board Obama's campaign.

After a pre-program which included all Spanish-language music (LA Trade Tech is a heavily Latino and black college), the overarching them was one of unity. The very first thing Obama stressed in his opening remarks was the black-brown divide. There were several signs passed out by the campaign that said "Si se puede." And he again talked about how he abhored the divisive tone of the immigration debate, where we "let lawmakers turn us against each other." He talked about helping the struggles of the middle and lower classes as "the cause of my life" (a pull from John Edwards?), and told the crowd that "you are determined to make something of yourselves - you just need the government to provide a little help so you can realize your dreams." The podium carried the sign "Reclaiming the American Dream," which is new messaging AFAIK.

After remarks which covered health care, education reform, relief for homeowners caught in the mortgage crisis, and making college affordable, Sen. Obama took questions. The first was about the Iraq war and yielded familiar comments; the second, about homelessness, was a completely new topic to hear in this campaign. I think Obama's answer was key. (paraphrase):

"We must build more shelters, but we also need to look at how we prevent more homeless. A quarter of the homeless are veterans who come back from war with PTSD or brain trauma, they don't get the help they need, and they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. So we need to fix that. But we have an issue with mental health services generally in this country. I want to see mental health parity. Insurers need to cover mental health the same way they do physical health. Because depression can be as debilitating an illness as a broken arm, and probably more. It will save us money in the long run, because all types of services come into play when you deal with homelessness - police, EMT, the judicial system, our jails, etc. Another thing you're seeing is more homeless families on the street, because the government has gotten out of the affordable housing business. We need an affordable housing trust fund so that people of modest means can find a place to live in their communities."

I don't think you can read the response to that question and say that Obama is somehow a Reagan disciple. His State Senate district in Chicago faced these issues head-on. This is not typically a plank in someone's platform. Politicians don't often talk about homelessness for whatever reason. But he showed an understanding of the issue and it really appeared that he would take it seriously were he to become President.

Other questions included Darfur, making college affordable, immigration, K-12 and early childhood education (which Obama stressed as very important), and the economy. Another question that jumped out was about racial profiling. The questioner was very animated about it, and apparently there was a recent incident on campus. Obama said that he was the only candidate who's ever passed a racial profiling bill, which got the support of both parties in the Illinois State Senate. Police departments learned to work with the law and believed that it aided their performance and showed areas where they needed to improve.

Unfortunately, we don't have a political system, and certainly not a political media, that pays attention to these issues. But I do believe that this is how regular people want to make their choices. They get a load of crap tossed at them about superficial issues and there's a lot of clutter to cut through. But people have real questions and real values they want to see expressed in a President, certainly more than they're getting now. If the media listened for a change to what answers people were actually seeking, perhaps they would provide them.


by digby

Dave Neiwert is running a fundraiser this week and could use your support. As someone who does a yearly fundraiser myself, can I just say how important these things are to bloggers? This is mostly a labor of love, but love doesn't pay the bills. Neiwert's doing some important work at Orcinus, work that is going to be more and more relevant as the conservatives lose institutional power and begin, once more, to rely on their subversive elements to revitalize the movement. There is nobody who understands that aspect of conservatism better than Dave and his co-blogger Sara Robinson.

So, if you've got a couple of extra bucks, Orcinus is a good place to put them.


Losing Mittens

by digby

I can't tell you how odd it was to be watching the Romney people being worked over by the McCain fanboy club on MSNBC last night. It's a rare occasion when a Republican is as openly loathed as the average Democrat on these shows, but the press loathes Romney and they don't mind who knows it.

From last week:
CARLSON: See, everybody, obviously, in the press despises Mitt Romney.


CARLSON: No, I‘m not saying you. I‘m just saying, everybody --

STODDARD: I love when he—

CARLSON: You must be the only person who does. Every single person I know who works in the press just hates Mitt Romney, almost as an aesthetic matter, like ew.
(Typical Tucker to say "like ew" as if he were a seventh grade cheerleader. )And Tucker really, really loves St John the Flyboy, so perhaps he's not a good judge. But I don't think he's wrong. The press loves McCain and they loathe Mitt Romney.

And once again, I don't get it. Sure, I can see why people like McCain. He's got a good sense of humor (if a little bit jock/frat mean for my taste.) And he's sort of an irascible coot who seems like an actual living human being. Except for the bloodthirsty warmongering, abject hypocrisy wingnut thing, I might even like him myself.

Romney is a stiff personality and a typical Republican phony, but I can't figure out what it is about him that brings out such visceral loathing. He just seems like an average plastic pol to me, no worse than most.

But the press hates him and they are not going to give him an inch. Tucker told Romney's spokesman last night that he couldn't figure out why Romney would fight McCain on this timeline business. After all, even though McCain is obviously lying about this, he is seen as a strong leader and straight talker and Romney is seen as a flip-flopper. Doesn't it hurt Romney to be seen flip-flopping like this? The spokesman, who is quite good, was sort of gobsmacked but carried on bravely despite the fact that the eye-batting, guileless Tucker had just planted a disingenuous mudpie right in his face.

I'm not Romney fan, but he doesn't seem to me to be substantially worse that McCain or any other Republican. And no matter what, I don't believe that members of the press have the right to skew election coverage simply because they think a candidate is "ew." We can hope that the voters see through it, or pay no attention to it, and elect someone for their own reasons. But if one of the "ew" candidates gets the nomination they end up fighting an uphill battle that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with a bunch of spoiled little media brats who think they have veto power over who should win simply because they don't "like" them. There can be grave consequences:

MARSHALL (8/10/02): I think deep down most reporters just have contempt for Al Gore. I don’t even think it’s dislike. It’s more like a disdain and contempt.


MARSHALL: That’s a good question, and I’m not sure I have the answer for it entirely, or at least not one that you’d let me run on long enough to make clear here.

KURTZ: He’s never been successful in the courtship of the press.

MARSHALL: No, not at all, and this was, you know, a year-and-a-half before the election, I think you could say this. This wasn’t something that happened because he ran a bad campaign. If he did, it was something that predated it.

In some ways, Fox has more integrity than the mainstream press. They wink and nod about being fair and balanced, but everyone knows they aren't. They are a Republican party propaganda arm and as such you know exactly what to expect. It's ideological and partisan.

The rest of the news media, however, aren't advancing their partisan or ideological views (at least not consistently.) They seem to view politics through a personal psychological prism. Indeed, it's gotten so bad that Chris Matthews is now regularly featuring a body language expert to "interpret" for us what the candidates are "really" saying. Chris finds it fascinating how often these psychological profiles adhere to his impressions. Imagine that.

Their group think and feeding frenzy mentality is detrimental to our politics and our country, regardless of whether your preferred candidate is their idol this week. They damaged Al Gore enough that a Republican halfwit was in a position to steal the election. Last night, between the commentary about the "hallowed ground" of the Reagan library and the naturally ensuring worship of St. John McCain as the successor to the Great Man, we got a preview of what's to come in this cycle.

Here's a guy who did what they all wistfully seem to wish, looking back, that they had done. (You saw this yearning when they gushed over the codpiece, too.) By backing McCain they will be able to seize a little piece of his manly glory, and transfer all that Big Russ, greatest generation love right back on to themselves. Romney, on the other hand, is just like the guys they went to college with. Handsome, rich, boring. In fact, he's a lot like them. No wonder they hate him.

You'd think that after George W. Bush they would have taken a look at their role in where we are today, but there is absolutely no evidence that they have done that --- or are even capable of doing that. And whether we like it or not, they do have influence:

Luckily, the internet is creeping up. But I wonder how much of that "news" is coming from the CNN, MSNBC sites too, which feature all the usual suspects too.

Suicide Watch

by dday

We can now put a number on it, the next President is most likely to have 130,000 troops in Iraq on Inauguration Day.

Senior U.S. military commanders here say they want to freeze troop reductions starting this summer for at least a month, making it more likely that the next administration will inherit as many troops in Iraq as there were before President Bush announced a "surge" of forces a year ago.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will probably argue for what the military calls an operational "pause" at his next round of congressional testimony, expected in early April, another senior U.S. military official here said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and top military officers have said they would like to see continued withdrawals throughout this year, but Bush has indicated he is likely to be guided by Petraeus's views.

Bush trumpeted the success of his Iraq strategy during his State of the Union address this week. But if he agrees with Petraeus's expected recommendation, the administration will not be able to reduce troop levels much below what they were in early 2007, when Bush began to deploy additional forces.

It sounds like they'll get down to pre-surge levels and then go into a full-bore Friedman strategy until the end of Bush's term. Democrats in Congress have no strategy for any opposition, so they might as well be invisible. The risk, of course, is that a worn-down Army, which wants tours of duty to be reduced back to 12 months from the current 15, simply splinters. And that's not an abstract concept. It's revealed in this stunning article by Dana Preist.

Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who was waiting for the Army to decide whether to court-martial her for endangering another soldier and turning a gun on herself last year in Iraq, attempted to kill herself Monday evening. In so doing, the 25-year-old Army reservist joined a record number of soldiers who have committed or tried to commit suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I'm very disappointed with the Army," Whiteside wrote in a note before swallowing dozens of antidepressants and other pills. "Hopefully this will help other soldiers." She was taken to the emergency room early Tuesday. Whiteside, who is now in stable physical condition, learned yesterday that the charges against her had been dismissed.

There were 121 soldier suicides last year, and 2,100 cases of self-inflicted injury or attempted suicide. And this is bucking the historical trend.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe stress on the Army, caused in part by repeated and lengthened deployments. Historically, suicide rates tend to decrease when soldiers are in conflicts overseas, but that trend has reversed in recent years. From a suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001 -- the lowest rate on record -- the Army reached an all-time high of 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2006.

Last year, twice as many soldier suicides occurred in the United States than in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What's breaking is not necessarily revealed in Iraq but when these psychologically scarred men and women return home, without adequate medical care or mental health treatment at their service. It's as big a landmine as the next President will have to face; being handed an Army that is withered to the core, and then if he or she attempts to pull out of Iraq to save the military, being chastised by the neocon faction about hating the country and loving to lose, etc., etc.

Quite a tragedy.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It Depends On What The Definition Of Conscience Is

by digby

Remember this?

Whether they voted for Mukasey or not, Democrats widely want him to examine the interrogation tactic designed to make the subject think he is drowning, and answer definitively: Is it illegal torture?

"I do believe he will be a truly nonpolitical, nonpartisan attorney general; that he will make his views very clear; and that, once he has the opportunity to do the evaluation he believes he needs on waterboarding, he will be willing to come before the Judiciary Committee and express his views comprehensively and definitively," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, one of the six who voted with the majority for confirmation.

Well, here he is, testifying that, basically, that the ends justify the means:

TPM reports that this way:

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) said that he'd been getting the impression that Mukasey really thought about torture in relative terms, and wanted to know if that was so. Is it OK to waterboard someone if a nuclear weapon was hidden -- the Jack Bauer scenario -- but not OK to waterboard someone for more pedestrian information?

Mukasey responded that it was "not simply a relative issue," but there "is a statute where it is a relative issue," he added, citing the Detainee Treatment Act. That law engages the "shocks the conscience" standard, he explained, and you have to "balance the value of doing something against the cost of doing it."

What does "cost" mean, Biden wanted to know.

Mukasey said that was the wrong word. "I mean the heinousness of doing it, the cruelty of doing it, balanced against the value.... balanced against the information you might get." Information "that couldn't be used to save lives," he explained, would be of less value.

It's really hard for me to believe that someone who used to be a federal judge can blow that sophistry in a congressional hearing with a straight face. If you don't know what they know, then you can't know in advance if what they know might save lives, right?

I honestly don't know why everybody's so hung up on waterboarding specifically at this point. If this is their legal understanding, then they can use the rack, they can break arms and legs and they can pull teeth out with a pair of pliers. There is no logical difference between any of that and waterboarding if the only moral and legal guideline is that "it might be used to save lives."

I'd like to once again thank all those who voted to confirm Michael Mukasey and those who didn't bother to vote. It was an excellent demonstration of leadership. (My recollection is that many of the Democrats felt they had already "won" by forcing out Alberto Gonzales.) But maybe next time, we could just have a a little baseline that the Attorney General of the United States can't believe that torture can legally be used if it might save lives. I think that might be considered a basic qualification going forward.

Update: Kelli Arena says the good news is that this is a very cordial hearing, without the "apoplectic fits" one is accustomed to from this committee. I don't think Kelli has ever heard about the "banality of evil."

The Legitimate Change That Should Come From This Primary

by dday

I want to thank Senator Edwards for running a tremendous campaign. He moved the policy in a progressive direction and matured far more than in 2004. He was just up against two juggernauts and couldn't wedge himself into the media spotlight. (the media, by the way, picked the nominees. Again.)

I have been very dismissive of California's moving up their primary, and I've taken a lot of heat for that at Calitics. But Edwards dropping out and last night's events, I think, prove two things.

CHANGE THE PRIMARY SYSTEM. If 1-2% of all voters can whittle the field down to two candidates, and deliver a nominee on the Republican side, we have a serious problem and everyone knows it. My degradation of California moving up was a focus on the PROCESS, not some animus against California. The process sucks. It needs to be reformed in a big way. The fact that Florida broke the rules, moved up, delivered no delegates on the Dem side, but obviously succeeded since they PICKED THE REPUBLICAN NOMINEE, should tell you something. We need a spread-out process and maybe earlier conventions to end this bad front-loaded system. It's terrible for democracy.

INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING. So many Democrats threw their vote away by voting early for Edwards, and for other candidates who dropped out before the election in other states. We're moving toward a model not of election day but of election month, and in primaries where candidates drop out, those voters are disenfranchised. To the extent that voters have remorse, their vote should go to their second choice, which would be completely simple if we just used IRV. If they have no second choice they don't have to fill in those bubbles.

Or, if you prefer media-driven candidates foisted on the bulk of the country, then go ahead and keep this wonderful primary train going! Maybe within a few cycles we can vote for the nominee and the nominee four years hence on the same day! It'd make things so much easier.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Laying Landmines

by digby

Dday wrote about Bush pulling out his trusty pen earlier today and issuing yet another signing statement, this time saying the congress has no right to tell the president he can't build permanent bases in Iraq. A reader reminded me that Bush was a busy unitary boy today. He was also issuing executive orders about what the congress is and isn't allowed to appropriate money for:

As legislators and federal officials prepared to leave town for the Christmas recess last month, Congress hurriedly passed a massive 3,400-page spending bill to keep the government running for the next fiscal year. Tucked inside the report language of the omnibus bill, and not technically bound by the force of law, were nearly 9,000 congressional earmarks worth an estimated $7.5 billion.

Fiscal conservatives and government watchdogs immediately urged President Bush to remove funding for the pet projects, while some high-ranking lawmakers warned the White House to steer clear of the legislative branch's appropriations process. On Monday night, Bush offered a compromise to both constituencies and appeased neither.

The Congressional Research Service concluded in December that the president had the legal authority to eliminate all earmarks that appear in committee reports or managers statements.

But Brian Riedl, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, said the president may have feared that such a tactic would be viewed as "declaring war" on Congress and that compromise was his only option.


Meanwhile, avoiding a presidential veto for proposing too many earmarks may be as simple as appropriators sitting on their hands for a few extra months. The majority leaders in the House and Senate could delay passing spending bills -- possibly funding the government through a temporary continuing resolution -- if the they believe a Democrat will be occupying the White House in 2009. In that case, it would be up to the next president to decide whether to honor the executive order.

So this is a landmine set to explode in the next administration. (Expect a lot of these. What else does Bush have to do with his time right now?)

The truth is that a line-item veto has been found to be unconstitutional, and the only thing that allows him to do this is a technical loophole (which the article shows can be very easily circumvented.) This is for show.

It helps sell the astonishing hypocritical Republican line that the Democrats are creating earmarks at an unprecedented clip, which they are going to use in this campaign, but more importantly, against the next congress and administration. (Just because they couldn't plan for the occupation of Iraq doesn't mean they can't plan when it really matters to them.)

While Bush has chided Democrats for failing to reach his goals, some critics see a level of hypocrisy in the president's message. Lilly said Bush allowed earmarks to soar when Republicans controlled the Congress but discovered his sense of fiscal discipline only after Democrats took over last year.

"This president has the worst record of any president in history in terms of permitting an explosion of earmarks," Lilly said. "Very few people that have the record that he has would have the brass to try and pull this off. But I don't think he can ... It doesn't pass the laugh test."

Let's hope the Democrats aren't laughing. They'd better figure out a way to deal with this because if they don't they're going to be wearing earmarks around their necks once they have a majority and a Democratic president.

Here's the reaction in the press from earlier today:

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people expect there to be transparency in the process. They expect the people to be -- here in Washington to be wise about how they spend their money. And this executive order will go a long way toward sending that signal to the Congress and at the same time earning the trust of the American people. So, Mr. Director, thank you for your leadership on this issue. It's the right course of action to take and I am proud to have signed the executive order...

PHILLIPS: And hopefully protect the American taxpayers from government spending on wasteful earmarks.

No word on why he waited seven years to do it.

Silly Voters

by digby

Regardless of whether you like Clinton or Obama, does anyone think it's a good idea for MSNBC to be rude, snide and dismissive about more than a million and a half Democratic voters in Florida (more than double the turnout from 2004)? Isn't there a little unpleasant history of votes not counting down there?

Now I realize that there are no delegates being awarded and maybe there won't be at the convention either. There are people talking about holding a new caucus later in the process so they do a mulligan in the state. And I also know that many people think Clinton is running some sort of scam and that she'll unfairly try to seat her delegates and that it's inappropriate for her to have a rally in Florida to celebrate "winning" etc, etc. Fine. That's all party politics and it's not what I'm talking about. It will be worked out one way or the other.

My point is that actual human beings voted today. If it is inappropriate for Clinton to declare victory it's also damned inappropriate for every gasbag on television to say that all these votes are completely meaningless. They may not add to the delegate count, but they were cast in good faith by American citizens and they should be treated with respect by these jackasses.

I have no idea how it would have come out with a full presidential campaign in the state --- probably differently in a dozen different ways -- but that doesn't mean the media are allowed to act as if the people's vote isn't worth taking seriously, even as they explain why there are no delegates being awarded.

I understand why the Obama campaign is saying that it was only Clinton's name recognition that propelled her higher vote tally. They may certainly be right about that. This is politics and it's fair for them to make that charge. But the Florida Democratic party actually worked to get their people out to the polls even if there wasn't a presidential campaign down there and they deserve at least a little bit of credit for getting so many people out under those circumstances. It's not the news media's job to make a judgment about whether they were right to do so. I have been voting for presidential primary candidates for decades where there was no primary campaign run in my state and while my vote may not have been decisive, I don't recall the news media derisively characterizing the primary voters of California as being dupes and fools for bothering to cast a vote in a state that wasn't being contested.

The contempt these elites hold for the people of this country is unparalleled. They are smirking and laughing and practically rolling their eyes, even as they report that more than a million Florida citizens cast their votes today. Who do they think they are?

Update: Just to be clear: I am not commenting about any of the party machinations, merely that I don't think it's right for news organizations to be dismissive of actual voters. They were rude and obnoxious tonight, not just toward Clinton, which is a legitimate part of the business, but they also acted as if it didn't matter that a million and a half Democratic voters cast votes.

It's just not a good idea to let the media be the arbiters of when voters matter and when they don't. The party will settle this and it's unlikely that Clinton will benefit either from Michigan or Florida unless she wins many more delegates than Obama in other states. It just won't happen. Judging from the coverage it's also highly unlikely she will get any mileage from the "victory" either, so I think everyone can probably relax on that count. Clinton will get no benefit from this and I'm not arguing about this on her behalf. I would say exactly the same thing no matter who was involved. Even Republicans. I am a big believer in voters being respected from way back.

It's not a good idea to have MSNBC gasbags scoffing at any legally cast votes in this country for any reason. It's bad for our democracy --- they tend to be just a teensy bit untrustworthy and stupid when it comes to this stuff. CNN managed to do it quite well tonight, even with various partisans opining on the meaning of it all. MSNBC could have easily reported the thing straight, including that there were no delegates awarded and that there had been no campaign in the state. The alleged journalists and pundits didn't need to get derisive and snidely say things like "I don't even know what to call this thing the Democrats in Florida did today."

I say call it an election, explain what it means and then STFU.

The Plan

by digby

I have no idea if Bloomberg will get into the race, but it's quite obvious that he is seriously considering it. This article in this week's NY magazine is a fascinating profile of his top aide and the plans that are being laid if he decides to make the jump:

Sheekey was miserable during the first term, adrift without a real role, until Bloomberg put him in charge of the city’s end of the 2004 Republican convention. One fringe benefit was getting to know Mark McKinnon, the Democrat turned Republican political consultant who helped make George W. Bush president...

[I]f Bloomberg runs for president, the money he spent in 2005 will look like a wise, cheap investment in research. All political campaigns attempt to target persuadable voters, but Sheekey created a cutting-edge “microtargeting” data-mining system. Where the money really helped, however, was by providing the ability to conduct repeated, fine-tuned phone polling. “It was not done on conventional norms—race, ethnicity, Democrat, Republican,” says Doug Schoen, who did Bloomberg’s campaign polling in 2001 and 2005. “It was tied in to psychographic and demographic variables. We called every voter in New York City two or three times. It was all part of a multimonth, multistage communication effort that largely operated under the radar, worked out by Kevin and us almost a year in advance.”

Sheekey’s other pet project in 2005 was recruiting a huge volunteer army. He hired Patrick Brennan to put it together. Brennan, a 32-year-old former Brooklyn public-school teacher and the gregarious son of a legendary NYPD chief, had become a savvy field organizer for SEIU 1199, the labor union. The next year, when five Bloomberg staffers went to Connecticut to help Joe Lieberman fend off Ned Lamont, Brennan oversaw their efforts. “Bloomberg’s people essentially took over Lieberman’s campaign,” one of Sheekey’s associates says. The victorious Connecticut Senate race was a test of whether Bloomberg’s staff could quickly affect the outcome in a contest outside New York.


Brennan now works at the Parkside Group, a political consulting firm on Nassau Street. For most of the past year, he’s traveled the country researching ballot requirements in each state. In mid-December, Brennan met for three hours in an Austin hotel with a partner in a major ballot-access firm, a company with broad experience in gathering thousands of petition signatures in a hurry.

“The Bloomberg people came to the meetings exceedingly well prepared,” says the executive, who asked for anonymity because his company has yet to sign a contract with Bloomberg. “What’s impressive about Bloomberg’s plan is they know how to segment the states. They know exactly what they’ll be doing on day one and what they’ll be doing on the last day, the filing deadline, and every day in between.” Lawyers and accountants have been lined up to fight the inevitable legal challenges to the 1.9 million valid signatures needed nationwide; the signature drive is expected to cost between $11 million and $20 million. Brennan met a second time with a representative from the petition firm in mid-January, this time in his New York office. “We’re ready,” the ballot-access operative says. “All we need is to hear a two-letter word: Go...”

In both mayoral campaigns Sheekey subscribed to a nonviolent version of the Colin Powell doctrine: Use overwhelming force. So he’d most likely start big, with Bloomberg’s announcement; Sheekey has told acquaintances he’s picturing a rally in the Rose Bowl. Maybe it’s merely Sheekey having a laugh, maybe not. What’s completely serious are his plans for an unprecedented media blitz. “The way Kevin sees it,” a Bloomberg insider says, “the major-party nominees will pretty much be in place by early March. Yet just as people’s political appetites are peaking, the spending of the major-party candidates will crater. They need to regroup and raise money for the general. A well-financed independent could get in when interest is high and seek to define himself.” Bloomberg’s advertising—on TV, on radio, on Websites, in mailboxes—wouldn’t be a brief March blast, either. “It would be inescapable, all the way until November.”

It does seem they are thinking this through very thoroughly and laying the groundwork. Bloomberg is obviously an egomaniac. (Somebody points out that there's a reason he's splashed his name all over every single thing he's ever done.) While the article says all he cares about is whether he can "win," since such things are always risky, I would suspect that he can be talked into believing that he can. At the end it says this:

“The more he hears Jeb Bush or Arnold Schwarzenegger say, ‘You could be president,’ the more it sinks in.”

So Jeb Bush is telling him he could be president? I guess it's possible that the Bush family is leaving Republican politics (more likely being asked to leave.) There are a whole bunch of allegedly post-partisan Republicans mentioned in this piece --- Schwarzenneger, Powell, Mark McKinnon, Maria Shriver, Lieberman.

Apparently this idea of getting past all the bickering really is sweeping the political class. Last night the Democratic rebuttal to the SOTU was a (mild) scold of partisanship and both Obama and Clinton discuss their respective skills in terms of being able to "get things done" through bipartisan cooperation. The Republican candidates aren't doing this at the moment, but they are fighting for the heart of their base and so worry they will turn them off by being anything but true blue conservatives. But they will have to tack to the middle as well, which both front-runners McCain and Romney are well positioned to do. Mr Straight Talk already has a reputation for being a maverick (and he has post-partisan Lieberman already out there stumping for him) while Romney's very existence is a testament to partisan "flexibility."

So, from the looks of things we may very well have a race with three candidates who will try to out non-partisan each other. And perhaps that's what the people really do want. After all, it is unpleasant to be fighting all the time. Maybe people really are clamoring for the congress to just stop ceomplaining, start compromising and pass legislation that the president can sign.

Of course, we had that for seven years. The Democrats mewled ineffectually from the sidelines but they didn't actually "fight" anything, and the president advanced his agenda nearly unimpeded. The rational I recall at the time was "elections have consequences."

The country finally rejected everything the Republicans had so smoothly accomplished and elected a Democratic majority in 2006. And the Republicans have responded by completely obstructing any kind of Democratic agenda, protecting their unpopular president from having to make unpopular vetoes and projecting a new argument that everything is stymied because of "partisan bickering." In other words, the Republicans created the illusion of a bipartisan disease and are now touting a "cure" that will only benefit them. They're good at that sort of thing.

Bush is out there today setting land-mines for the next administration and taking credit for making a decision that supposedly hurts both parties. Mitch McConnell is decrying the bickering Democrats for failing to be properly bipartisan by refusing to give tax "rebates" to billionaires to stimulate the economy.

I'm not criticizing Obama, here, so all of you passionate partisans don't get your knickers twisted and waste your breath sending me angry emails. I'm saying that the Republicans issue calls for "bipartisanship" (and use them to their advantage) when they are out of power. I'm sure that if either Clinton or Obama win the presidency that both of them know very well that Republican politicians do not operate in good faith and that they must be dealt with appropriately.

(As a matter of fact, I very much like the idea of the Democrats campaigning on behalf of "a new American majority" as Kathleen Sebelius was saying last night. That's powerful. But when Sebelius discussed this last night she forgot to explicitly brand this as a new progressive majority and I think that's a lost opportunity. If you want people to identify with your big ideas, you have to give them a label to call themselves.)

The media are incredibly corrupt, silly and self-centered about virtually everything and once Democrats are in power, they will take the Republican party line across the board that "the country put the Democrats in charge to stop all the bickering and they failed to do it. Look at all the fighting!" Of course, they will be the ones doing it, but that will not matter.

The Bloomberg candidacy is potentially interesting for two reason. The first is that he advances the theme thatt he big problem in Washington is that the two parties are equally to blame for the failures of the last few years because they couldn't "get anything done." That is very untrue, as we all know, because the Republicans got a whole lot done, it's just that none of it was good. This is not good for Democrats because there will be far less likelihood that anyone will be able to hold the Republicans accountable, which I think is a necessary aspect of this campaign in order to set up the mandate properly. None of the Democrats are doing a very good job of that, and since they won't go out on that limb even in the primary, I am not very hopeful that they will do so in the general. So, there isn't going to be a mandate to open the book on the Bush administration's past transgressions and to do so will break the so-called bipartisan agreement to "get something done." That's disappointing.

The other reason his candidacy is potentially interesting is the fact that we don't know from whom he'll take votes. On the surface, all those post-partisan Republicans make it appear that he'll take more from disgruntled Republicans. But considering that he's a divorced, pro-choice New Yorker I'm not so sure that true. If John McCain is having trouble with conservatives, it seems to me that Bloomberg certainly would. So, he must be looking to court independents and hoping to peel off a few moderate members toward the center in both parties. Unity '08!

It seems to me that this would scramble the decks significantly for both parties, but would ultimately do nothing more than ensure that whoever wins of either party only gets a plurality rather than real working majority.

Third parties don't win presidential elections. But they affect them, by forcing their issues into the debate, splitting up the coalitions and denying a true majority. If Bloomberg gets in I think he's nearly guaranteed to ensure that the new president doesn't get a mandate for much of anything but the status quo. And that is likely the point. The aristocrats don't want anybody messing with the system.

I still think it's highly unlikely that he will do it. I seriously hope he doesn't. But it's not all good news for Democrats if he does. We're already going to have to deal with the bad faith Republicans cleverly managing the bipartisanship angle with the press, and likely succeeding. Not having a mandate will make it much harder to do what needs to be done.
Florida Watchin'

by dday

Most of the polls have closed in Florida (the Panhandle is in a different time zone, so they close at about 8pm ET). So far the Republican race is as close as can be, within about 13,000 votes or so between McCain and Romney at last count. The Democratic beauty contest will be called for Clinton at the top of the hour; the drama there is whether or not Clinton breaks 50% (she's at 52% as of 4:51pm PT).

Considering that the Republican race is this close, could events like this be decisive?

In northern Coral Springs, near the Sawgrass Expressway and Coral Ridge Drive, David Nirenberg arrived to vote as an independent. Nevertheless, he said poll workers insisted he choose a party ballot.

"He said to me, 'Are you Democrat or Republican?' I said, 'Neither, I am independent.' He said, 'Well, you have to pick one,''' Nirenberg said.

In Florida, only those who declare a party are allowed to cast a vote in that party's presidential primary.

Nirenberg said he tried to explain to the poll worker that he should not vote on a party ballot because of his "no party affiliation" status.

Nirenberg said a second poll worker was called over who agreed that independents should not use party ballots, but said they had received instructions to the contrary.

"He said, 'Ya know, that is kind of funny, but it was what we were told.' … I was shocked when they told me that." Nirenberg said he went ahead and voted for John McCain.

Maybe the primary wasn't as "closed" as we were led to believe. Also a number of voters were told that there wasn't a Democratic primary today.

There's a property tax measure on the ballot, and the exit polls seemed to favor the economy as the top issue, and both of those points seem to favor Romney. However, my gut tells me that McCain is going to pull this one out. And he really has to, because he's broke.

Digby or I will check in later...

Whatever Happened To "We Do Not Torture"?

by dday

John Negroponte, the King of All Salvadoran Death Squads, spills the beans and says the obvious.

Negroponte: I get concerned that we're too retrospective and tend to look in the rearview mirror too often at things that happened four or even six years ago. We've taken steps to address the issue of interrogations, for instance, and waterboarding has not been used in years. It wasn't used when I was director of national intelligence, nor even for a few years before that. We've also taken significant steps to improve Guantanamo. People will tell you now that it is a world-class detention facility. But if you want to highlight and accent the negative, you can resurface these issues constantly to keep them alive. I would rather focus on what we need to do going forward.

It's an interesting new legal argument. Not guilty by reason of "yeah, we're guilty, but we fixed it!" I'll have to consult the Court to see if that holds.

By the way, if you want to know how to responsibly engage in interrogation, you can give this a read.

Piro says no coercive interrogation techniques, like sleep deprivation, heat, cold, loud noises, or water boarding were ever used. "It's against FBI policy, first. And wouldn't have really benefited us with someone like Saddam," Piro says.

Why not?

"I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach," Piro explains.

"So how do you crack a guy like that?" Pelley asks.

"Time," Piro says.

(This interrogation eventually revealed that Saddam didn't have WMD, was wary of Osama bin Laden and viewed him as a threat. Clearly that was the WRONG kind of intelligence. Maybe they didn't do enough zip-bam Jack Bauer work on him so they got the wrong answers.)

Negroponte simply revealed what everyone already knew, and it's not like our country's been averse to coddling dictators and torturers for years. But there's something different in reading a public official say, in the most nonchalant matter possible, "Yeah, we tortured, so?" It's really wounding. It's one thing to know that your country has betrayed its supposed ideals. It's quite another to have that betrayal confirmed in the most putrid manner possible.

I have a bit more at my place.

Iraq 4-Ever

by dday

When Bush vetoed the Defense Authorization Bill because he was so concerned about this abstract issue of reparations for those who were tortured and killed at the hands of Saddam Hussein, I wondered if the real issue was a ban on permanent bases in Iraq, which was also in the bill. Well, it turns out that the Prez dusted off his signing statement pen to take care of that bit of unpleasantness:

Today, I have signed into law H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. The Act authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, for military construction, and for national security-related energy programs.

Provisions of the Act, including sections 841, 846, 1079, and 1222, purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the President's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as Commander in Chief. The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President.

These provisions include: 1) the establishment of a "Truman Commission" to look into war profiteering, 2) protection for contractors who become whistleblowers by disclosing information about profiteering and contracting abuse, 3) the need to share information with Congress (in particular the Armed Services Committee) about intelligence assessments, and finally:


No funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act may be obligated or expended for a purpose as follows:

(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.

(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.

In the end, this relates to the setting of a long-term "status of forces agreement" between the United States and Iraq. Obviously there will be some permanent long-term installations for troops associated with that. But I'm trying to figure out how this works. The President is nullifying restrictions on funds for permanent bases and control of oil. But Congress provides the funding. So it would be illegal to use Iraq funds in the appropriations process toward these ends, as long as they are expressly given other functions in those bills. Otherwise, it's an illegal appropriation. However, I suspect that there are enough loopholes in those funding bills that voiding this ban is enough for the executive to impose his will on the process.

Of course, that's only true for another year. So the Democratic candidates need to make statements about whether they would uphold or repudiate this signing statement and commit to a total ban on permanent bases in Iraq and control of Iraqi oil. We know that George Bush is never going to change in his megalomania. But we deserve to know whether this will spill over into the next Administration.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Pillaging Every Last Penny

by digby

The president must have dropped a page or two of his speech tonight because he didn't mention this at all:

While thousands of Mississippians who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina remain in FEMA trailers, the federal government on Friday approved a state plan to spend $600 million in grants earmarked for housing on a major expansion of the state-owned port — a project that could eventually include casino and resort facilities.


The money in question is part of $5.5 billion in HUD Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that Congress authorized for Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. Administered by the Mississippi Development Authority, about $3.4 billion was allocated to replace and repair some of the nearly 170,000 owner-occupied homes destroyed or damaged by the storm. Another $600 million was set aside for programs to replace public housing, help small landlords fix their units and foster construction of new low- and moderate-income housing.

When it became clear that homeowners, who had to meet specific criteria on damage and insurance, would not tap all of the grant money, Barbour instructed the state development agency to seek a waiver from HUD to redirect $600 million for work on the port.

Mississippi, with the highest poverty rate of any state by several measures, already had won HUD waivers of rules that require the funds to benefit low- and moderate-income residents. Critics see the waivers as a product of the unparalleled influence with the Bush administration enjoyed by Barbour, a former Reagan White House political director, Republican National Committee chairman and legendary fixer who continues to receive checks from the Washington lobbying shop that still bears his name.


After the storm, an update to the master plan found that Katrina had “accelerated redevelopment of port areas and opened new opportunities for the growth of the maritime and gaming markets.” The plan raises the prospect of new casino-resort development on port land as part of a public-private partnership, financed separately from the CDBG money.

It wasn't until early December, six months after the update was adopted by the port authority, that the state development authority sought a waiver from HUD to divert $600 million of the housing grant money to the port — more than double the net dollar damage reportedly sustained by the port from Katrina.


Barbour’s current position that part of the housing grant pool was always intended for the port is at odds with his March 2006 testimony before a Senate committee, in which he emphasized that the CDBG money was mostly committed to housing and sought new funds for the port. A year later, Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, did not mention port funding in testimony before Congress about the use of grant funds a few months before the new port master plan was adopted.


Port Executive Director Don Allee agreed to an interview with msnbc.com, then canceled it and did not schedule another despite repeated requests.

Cindy Singletary of Living Independence For Everyone, one of 50 nonprofit, religious and social advocacy groups that make up the Steps Coalition, sees the move to divert the housing funds as a bait-and-switch maneuver. “I have nothing against the port itself,” she said. “The main thing I’m against is the priority of it. … We have jobs on the coast. There’s ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere. But we don’t have homes, we don’t have apartments. … That, to me, should be the No. 1 priority for Mississippi.”

Sorry Cindy, this isn't about jobs and it isn't about building a port. It's about paying off Haley and his rich friends. There are priorities and then there are priorities. They'll be stealing from the taxpayers and the poor until the very last minute they're in office.

And then they're going to sit back and trash talk Democrats for trying to clean up their godforsaken mess as they count their ill gotten gains.

H/T to BB
Game Of Chicken

by digby

So the good news is that the Democrats more or less hung together today on cloture and successfully filibustered the lousy Senate Intelligence FISA bill. However, the outcome of all this is still uncertain.

Here's Greenwald:

The vote on the Motion for Cloture on the 30-day extension (i.e., to proceed to a vote on it) just failed -- 48-45 (again, 60 votes are needed). All Democrats (including Clinton and Obama) voted in favor of the Motion, but no Republicans did -- not a single one. Thus, at least as of today, there will be no 30-day extension of the PAA and it will expire on Friday.

Reid, however, indicated that it was certain that the House will vote in favor of an extension tomorrow, which means it will be sent to the Senate for another vote. It's possible, then, that the Senate will vote again later in the week on an extension, but it's hard to imagine any Republicans ever voting in favor of an extension since Bush has vowed to veto it.

By blocking an extension, Republicans just basically assured that the PAA -- which they spent the last seven months shrilly insisting was crucial if we are going to be Saved from The Terrorists -- will expire on Friday without any new bill in place. Since the House is going out of session after tomorrow, there is no way to get a new bill in place before Friday. The Republicans, at Bush's behest, just knowingly deprived the intelligence community of a tool they have long claimed is so vital. Is the media going to understand and be able to explain what the Republicans just did? Yes, that's a rhetorical question.

It now appears to be a game of chicken. Will the Republicans allow this law to expire, will they pass the extension and have the president veto it, or will they pass the extension, let it stand and then come back to fight this again next week? And, as Greenwald asks, will the media try or even be able to explain this to anyone?

It's a little weird that the Democrats had to filibuster a bill when they have a majority, but at least they were able to do it. I guess that's progress?

Forgive and Forget

by digby

In case anyone wonders why so many people don't respect Democrats, here's a perfect example. From K-Drum:

Former California governor Gray Davis, who was taken out to the woodshed and beaten bloody five years ago during our last fiscal crisis, takes to the pages of the LA Times today to make nice with the folks who were doing the beating:

So why is California suddenly faced with a $14-billion budget shortfall? Is it because the governor (or the Legislature) did something terribly wrong?

No, the governor of a nation-size state like California can affect the economy, but only on its margins. The reason this deficit is looming is because no one can repeal the business cycle....Believe me, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't want to close 48 parks, reduce education funding or release prisoners. Like all governors, however, he is required to bring expenditures in line with revenues.

For chrissake. No wonder Davis got so much sand kicked in his face back in 2003.

Look: I'll concede the obvious. California's last budget crisis was partly (though not entirely) the result of a Democratic legislature that refused to rein in spending and a Democratic governor who went along with it. And yes, the business cycle is responsible for a substantial drop in revenue this year, just as it was five years ago.

But absolving Schwarzenegger of blame for our latest budget crisis? Is this some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, or what? When Arnold came into office after demonizing Davis's attempt to be an adult by restoring the vehicle license fee to its 1998 level (it had been temporarily reduced thanks to good economic times during the dotcom boom), he immediately cut the VLF and then issued an enormous bond to make up the resulting shortfall. Today, the combination of the reduced VLF revenue plus payments on the bond is about $7 billion a year. Depending on whose numbers you believe, this accounts for somewhere between two-thirds and 90% of next year's projected deficit.

Are Arnold and the California GOP to blame for this? Who else? Nobody put a gun to their heads and forced them to respond to our last crisis with nothing but a toxic combination of demagoguery and tax-cut jihadism. They did it all on their own

I don't know why Kevin is so upset. This is SOP. It's what's known in Democratic establishment circles as "healing the wounds" and "putting the past behind us" to "get things done."

Republicans, on the other hand deal with crises by getting their rich friends to recall or impeach duly elected Democrats through lies and misrepresentations. That's how they "heal the wounds" and "put the past behind them" to "get things done."

It's what you might call a different theory of governance.

Stop The Insanity!

by dday

When, oh when will the partisan bickering end?

Testifying in Albany, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said today that Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s state budget unfairly shortchanges New York City out of millions in promised financial support for health care and education, among other things. If not reversed, he said, the broken promises could force the city to further squeeze taxpayers and deepen cuts in programs.

“This year, as we do every year, we’ve made budget decisions in the city based on the expectation, and even the expressed assurances, that Albany will honor its commitments to us,” Mr. Bloomberg said during his testimony at a joint legislative budget hearing in Albany.

I don't know who's right and who's wrong, and I don't care. I just want everyone to stop fighting so we can listen to the obscenely rich guy and move forward to wherever he wants us to go!

Doesn't Eliot Spitzer know his place?

The State Of Our Union

by dday

I'm going to miss tonight's State of the Union address, but I don't think I'll be missing much. It'll be the same propaganda on low taxes and "good progress" in Iraq that we've heard for years now, as well as churlish demands for more money for endless war ($70 billion worth) as well as a complete evisceration of the Fourth Amendment. Apparently he's also going to fight the war on earmarks, not the ones he casually slips into every bill imaginable, of course. The address is not a document about policy but purely about politics, and the lines of attack Republicans will use in November.

I know that Kathleen Sebelius will be delivering the Democratic rebuttal, but I have an idea for her. Rather than reading her prepared remarks, she should just open the New York Times and recite this story of the loss of American power in the age of Bush. It's a bit long but maybe she can summarize it in parts.

It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.

Why? Weren’t we supposed to reconnect with the United Nations and reaffirm to the world that America can, and should, lead it to collective security and prosperity? Indeed, improvements to America’s image may or may not occur, but either way, they mean little. Condoleezza Rice has said America has no “permanent enemies,” but it has no permanent friends either. Many saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the symbols of a global American imperialism; in fact, they were signs of imperial overstretch. Every expenditure has weakened America’s armed forces, and each assertion of power has awakened resistance in the form of terrorist networks, insurgent groups and “asymmetric” weapons like suicide bombers. America’s unipolar moment has inspired diplomatic and financial countermovements to block American bullying and construct an alternate world order. That new global order has arrived, and there is precious little Clinton or McCain or Obama could do to resist its growth.

It's a dark and pessimistic view, but one that the public deserves to hear in full. The European Union and China are not bogged down in multiple wars, they are not stricken by failed leadership on the economy, energy, and global warming. They do not have a dollar that is almost as useful as tissue paper. They are finding room to maneuver in a time of an America adrift, and they are not entirely likely to give up the advantage they are pressing. While we refocus to Afghanistan after seven years, China and Europe are moving forward. While we appear unable to get anything done on major issues, China and Europe are moving forward. Instead of nation-building, they are alliance-building. And we face serious risk of being left behind.

And Europe’s influence grows at America’s expense. While America fumbles at nation-building, Europe spends its money and political capital on locking peripheral countries into its orbit. Many poor regions of the world have realized that they want the European dream, not the American dream. Africa wants a real African Union like the E.U.; we offer no equivalent. Activists in the Middle East want parliamentary democracy like Europe’s, not American-style presidential strongman rule. Many of the foreign students we shunned after 9/11 are now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the U.S. We didn’t educate them, so we have no claims on their brains or loyalties as we have in decades past. More broadly, America controls legacy institutions few seem to want — like the International Monetary Fund — while Europe excels at building new and sophisticated ones modeled on itself. The U.S. has a hard time getting its way even when it dominates summit meetings — consider the ill-fated Free Trade Area of the Americas — let alone when it’s not even invited, as with the new East Asian Community, the region’s answer to America’s Apec [...]

Without firing a shot, China is doing on its southern and western peripheries what Europe is achieving to its east and south. Aided by a 35 million-strong ethnic Chinese diaspora well placed around East Asia’s rising economies, a Greater Chinese Co-Prosperity Sphere has emerged. Like Europeans, Asians are insulating themselves from America’s economic uncertainties. Under Japanese sponsorship, they plan to launch their own regional monetary fund, while China has slashed tariffs and increased loans to its Southeast Asian neighbors. Trade within the India-Japan-Australia triangle — of which China sits at the center — has surpassed trade across the Pacific.

We are in a very difficult spot and it's important for us to remember that a new Democratic President will get blamed for all of this. It's the Republican way. George Bush, however, has fundamentally changed our position in the world, and it's going to take a supreme effort to counteract that, probably over decades.

This is a dispiriting, yet must-read, article.

Rally 'Round The Flag

by dday

This may be a little thing, but signs that a war where Americans are still dying is intractable doesn't seem to me to be that little.

Officials in Iraq's mostly Sunni Muslim Anbar province are refusing to raise Iraq's new national flag, which the parliament approved earlier this week.

"The new flag is done for a foreign agenda and we won't raise it," said Ali Hatem al Suleiman, a leading member of the U.S.-backed Anbar Awakening Council, "If they want to force us to raise it, we will leave the yard for them to fight al Qaida."

Why have the Sunnis in Anbar turned against the Iraqi flag?

A slim minority of parliamentarians approved the new flag, which doesn't have Saddam Hussein's handwriting or the three stars that represented his Sunni-dominated Baath Party.

It was rushed through parliament before a pan-Arab parliament meeting that's planned for March in Irbil, in the Kurdish north, because the Kurdish Regional Government prohibits flying Iraq's Saddam-era flag. The Kurds consider that flag a symbol of Saddam's oppression.

Only 165 of the Iraqi parliament's 275 lawmakers were present Tuesday, and only 110 voted for the new red, white and black flag with "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") in Kufic script, the ancient calligraphy developed in Mesopotamia.

You have a "country" which can't even be united under something as symbolic as the same flag. Somehow the Administration still believes that steps are being taken toward reconciliation. And this is not just a Sunni-Shi'a thing:

Many Iraqis, including some lawmakers who rejected the flag, were angered at what they considered a change to the flag in order to please the Kurdish north and its president, Massoud Barzani.

"We don't want to handle the problem of the Kurdistan region by causing problems with other regions that might refuse the new flag," said Nassar al Rubaie, the head of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr's bloc in parliament, who voted against the new flag.

The country cannot be brought together under the same banner; at least, not in the fashion that has been attempted thus far.

Meanwhile, the over-under on sentences about Iraq in the State of the Union tonight is 3.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stepping Up

by digby

Firedoglake reports that both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama are going to be in the Senate tomorrow to vote no on cloture on the FISA bill. Ari Melber at The Nation explains what's going on:

President Bush is now daring Congress to defy his demand for more unchecked power to spy on Americans without warrants, vowing to veto temporary surveillance legislation and politicize his last State of the Union address for an attack on Democrats. Last week, Democratic leaders were considering a bill to grant a one-month extension of the administration's spying powers, a "compromise" tilted in Bush's favor, but Republican tactics have finally tried the patience of Majority Leader Harry Reid. He had been managing floor votes to advance the Republican bill and squash opposition from the majority of Democrats within his caucus, but that may change this week... read on

And he lays out what out two front runners might do about it:

And what, exactly, can they do? I see three major options:

1. Use their influence and political capital to recruit two more votes for the Leahy bill. That's all Leahy, Feingold and Dodd need to keep their fight alive under the current rules. Obama and Clinton were endorsed by a total of seven senators who voted the wrong way last week. As DFA explains, "if these presidential hopefuls bring along the support of these senators, they can sustain a planned filibuster [and] defeat any cloture vote."

2. Use their influence and political capital to press Reid to run the floor for the Leahy bill, instead of the Bush-Rockefeller bill. This is is tough for several reasons, but there's an opening now that Bush has essentially slapped Reid around and drawn some rhetorical pushback.

3. Rally the Democratic Congress to confront Bush's veto threat. Send the one-month bill to his desk and let this unpopular president remind the entire country of his irresponsible, cynical approach to governing. Maybe his approval ratings will drop into the teens like his Vice President. (I personally favor this third option the least, since it involves gamesmanship instead of a long-term policy, which Leahy's bill offers.)

Or they could channel Harry Reid, complaining about Bush while essentially allowing him to win again.

Will it be door number 1,2,3 or 4? The truth is that it's mostly a symbolic thing for the Monday leading up the SOTU, and that's not a bad thing. It's a hell of a lot better that they're taking a public stand on this than if they weren't. But the action is going to be on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and I will be shocked if either of them come off the road that long to participate. It's possible they'll exert some of their power and round up their endorsers, but it doesn't seem likely.

Still, on balance, this is better than I expected and maybe they can at least get the news media to pay attention to this issue with a couple of rousing speeches in defense of the rule of law. The gasbags can waste days talking about ephemeral, campaign trail dust-ups so maybe they can find a couple of minutes to talk about the constitution.

Rudy No Go

by digby

I've seen some spectacular political flameouts in my day, but this is one for the books:

Ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani took a further hit on Sunday, when a poll showed he dropped to fourth place ahead of Florida's Republican primary, which looked set to be a tight race between John McCain and Mitt Romney.

And, just days ahead of Tuesday's voting, McCain got a major boost with the endorsement of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who enjoys popularity levels of around 70 percent in the state.

The Arizona senator and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, both scored 30 percent of the vote in a Zogby poll out on Sunday.

Giuliani got only 13 percent, which placed him one percentage point behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Now we know from hard experience that it's possible that the polls are wrong, but there's really no reason to believe that Rudy is going to pull this out.

What happened? My suspicion is that his absurd braggadocio about everything 9/11 just finally became too much. He was a mayor. He wasn't Patton or Churchill and the only thing he did was wander around on the ground and hold press conferences, which was only meaningful by comparison to the president who ran around the first day like he didn't know what to do.

His "foreign policy" was completely nuts, even in by the standards of the Republican nut grove. He sounds like he's foaming at the mouth when he talks about "Islamofascism" and "staying on offense." There's just something a little bit crazy in his eyes that probably makes even right wingers worry that his aggressiveness might be a bit much. His domestic policy is even worse. He goes around saying stuff like "We’ve got to let them take the risk–do they want to be covered? Do they want health insurance? Because ultimately, if they don’t, well, then, they may not be taken care of."

Mostly, though, I think it's that he has virtually no appealing positive attributes. He's not funny, he's not compassionate, he's not somebody you'd want to have a beer with and with all of his gloating and bragging, he's just an unpleasant, creepy fellow. I honestly can't figure out why New Yorkers elected him except that he must have been better than the other guy.

It was always going to be hard for twice divorced, pro-choice serial adulterer from New York City to win the nomination. He would have had to have at least been a flamboyant war hero to make all that national security stuff scan. But he was a mayor, not a general, and everything that has come out of his mouthabout 9/11 and "staying on offense" sounds like nothing so much as some sad small man trying to puff himself up to look bigger than he is. New York City doesn't have an army and this guy tries to make it sound like he led the invasion of Normandy. He's ridiculous.

How much money has Rudy blown to get absolutely nowhere? The latest fundraising reports are due January 30th. But as of last September 30th he had spent 30 million dollars.

White Flag

by digby

clammyc over at Dkos discusses this mindblowing article in today's Boston Globe about what's going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As he wryly observes, it's not as exciting as watching Tweety and Blitzer slobber and squeal over every nuance of the candidates' canned talking points, but it is actually important. The article says:

Sometime in mid-December, as the winter winds howled across the snow-dusted hills of Pakistan's inhospitable border regions, 40 men representing Taliban groups all across Pakistan's northwest frontier came together to unify under a single banner and to choose a leader.

The banner was Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan, or the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, with a fighting force estimated at up to 40,000. And the leader was Baitullah Mehsud, the man Pakistan accuses of assassinating former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The move is an attempt to present a united front against the Pakistani Army, which has been fighting insurgents along the border with Afghanistan. It is also the latest sign of the rise of Mehsud, considered the deadliest of the Taliban mullahs or clerics in northwest Pakistan.

That's excellent news. Meanwhile, the Man Called Petraeus is doing another round of PR on television this morning explaining that troops are going to be in Iraq for years, although we know things are going very well because Iraqis "are shouldering more and more and more of the security burdens. And I think the most clear indicator of that, the clearest indicator, is the fact that their losses are about approaching three times our losses." Man, what a "metric."

clammyc points out, however, that even some in Cheneyland are getting a teensy bitconcerned:

And right on cue - only five years after neglecting Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the Taliban and the real al Qaeda, the Bush administration is starting to realize that "shit" and "fan" have been on a collision course for quite some time:

In a shift with profound implications, the Bush administration is attempting to re-energize its terrorism-fighting war efforts in Afghanistan, the original target of a post-Sept. 11 offensive. The U.S. also is refocusing on Pakistan, where a regenerating al-Qaida is posing fresh threats.

There is growing recognition that the United States risks further setbacks, if not deepening conflict or even defeat, in Afghanistan, and that success in that country hinges on stopping Pakistan from descending into disorder.

Privately, some senior U.S. military commanders say Pakistan's tribal areas are at the center of the fight against Islamic extremism; more so than Iraq, or even Afghanistan. These areas border on eastern Afghanistan and provide haven for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters to regroup, rearm and reorganize.

No kidding. (I know. It's enough to make your head explode, isn't it?)

Back in the day when we were all writing about Afghanistan and the Taliban that was common knowledge, conventional wisdom. John Kerry made a big deal in 2004 about Tora Bora and the wild absurdity of pulling the focus away from al Qaeda. People may have thought that was a political ploy but it wasn't. Iraq was a massive distraction and waste of time and money right in the middle of a damned serious problem with Islamic fundamentalism. There's a reason why Jim Webb called it the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory all the way back in '04. It was.

It's possible that this reconstituted Taliban are just a bunch of losers sitting in the mountains with big dreams. But if they actually did assassinated Bhutto (with the help of the Pakistan security services, which is likely) this is no joke. Pakistan is the most unstable nuclear armed country we've ever seen and the potential for catastrophe is actually quite real. The fact that we have the entire US military bogged down in a useless occupation, while the Republican candidates are running around muttering incoherently about staying there for a thousand years or waving the white flag of surrender to al Qaeda in Iraq is further testament to how delusional the GOP remains on this subject.

clammy continues:

[T]his month alone has seen major attacks and violence in Pakistan (other than the obvious being the Bhutto assassination), and there has been concern about NATO troops being defeated by the Taliban in Afghanistan for almost a year now.

On top of this, I was in Canada less than two weeks ago, and there were a number of stories each day about their troops being killed in Afghanistan. And in today’s Winnipeg Sun, there is this stark assessment:

So far, most NATO countries have been deaf to Canada's cries for help in the deadly Kandahar region where Manley says our troops are waging a losing battle without reinforcements.


The U.S. recently said it would deploy 3,200 more marines to Afghanistan on a temporary basis -- seven months in and out.

I’ll point out that the US is being so generous with their "renewed refocus" on Afghanistan that we are only sending 3,200 marines to Afghanistan on a temporary basis, haven’t come up with any kind of big picture strategy to deal with the mess that was made by ignoring the Taliban and al Qaeda for 5 years since cutting and running from Afghanistan.

There are so many lethal landmines the Bush administration has left laying around that it's hard to know where to take the first step. From the economy to Iraq to the environment to energy to the engorged new police state to terrorism, everything is in so much worse shape than it was before they took office that it's hard to know what to do first. But when it comes to national security, it doesn't seem to be any more obvious than this. Afghanistan and Pakistan are dangerous and unstable and one hopes that a new administration will be prepared to deal with it being even more dangerous and unstable than it is today. The Bush administration is highly to leave this mess even worse than it is today.

I can't help but be reminded of this once again:

The roots of the crisis go back to the blind bargain Washington made after 9/11 with the regime that had heretofore been the Taliban's main patron: ignoring Musharraf's despotism in return for his promises to crack down on al-Qaeda and cut the Taliban loose. Today, despite $10 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since 2001, that bargain is in tatters; the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda's senior leadership has set up another haven inside Pakistan's chaotic border regions.

The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office. Anne W. Patterson, the new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American "drugs and thugs"; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia. "They know nothing of Pakistan," a former senior U.S. diplomat said.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I'm told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

That's the Bush/Cheney legacy: whatever they touched turned to shit. And they did it all with the enthusiastic encouragement of nearly the entire political and media establishment.