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Friday, February 29, 2008


by dday

George Bush doesn't want anyone sitting around and taking pictures with tyrants:

Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, look at me, I’m now recognized by the President of the United States.

Except, of course, him. Bush has personally met with the leaders of human rights-abusing countries like Russia, China, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, the latter of whom likes to boil his political opponents alive. And there are all kinds of pictures.

And not only has Bush taken pictures, he's openly supported such tyrants, even when it angers the population of that country.

The Bush administration’s continued backing of President Pervez Musharraf, despite the overwhelming rejection of his party by voters this month, is fueling a new level of frustration in Pakistan with the United States.

That support has rankled the public, politicians and journalists here, inciting deep anger at what is perceived as American meddling and the refusal of Washington to embrace the new, democratically elected government. John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, said Thursday during a Senate panel hearing that the United States would maintain its close ties to Mr. Musharraf.

Pakistanis say the Bush administration is grossly misjudging the political mood in Pakistan and squandering an opportunity to win support from the Pakistani public for its fight against terrorism. The opposition parties that won the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections say they are moderate and pro-American. By working with them, analysts say, Washington could gain a vital, new ally.

Bush obviously feels very at home with tyrants, especially those who don't listen to their citizens, crush dissent and pursue their own agendas. Curious, no?

I guess Bush is also opposed to his looking in the mirror.

...incidentally, nothing can help Barack Obama more than having this President make political attacks against him. If I were Obama I'd run an ad just showing Bush making the attacks over and over. You could be looking at a landslide if Mr. 19% keeps this up.

Murmurs of Another Cave?

by dday

I was just about to write a post about how the Democrats were getting some backbone. This week we've had Nancy Pelosi pursuing contempt of Congress citations for Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers strenuously, Democrats in the Senate holding firm on a proposal to reverse bankruptcy laws to protect homeowners subject to foreclosure, and House oversight investigators even forcing John Ashcroft to testify over no-bid contracts awarded to the US Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie. And in the face of a ridiculous series of attacks by the White House and right-wing groups over FISA, the Democrats appeared to be unafraid.


To break an impasse over legislation overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, House Democratic leaders are considering the option of taking up a Senate-passed FISA bill in stages, congressional sources said today. Under the plan, the House would vote separately on the first title of the bill, which authorizes surveillance activities, and then on the bill's second title, which grants retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration's warrantless electronic surveillance activities. The two would be recombined, assuming passage of both titles. In this way, Democratic leaders believe they can give an out to lawmakers opposed to the retroactive immunity provision. Republican leadership sources said their caucus would back such a plan because not only would it give Democratic leaders the out they need, it would provide a political win for the GOP. It remains to be seen if such a move will placate liberal Democrats who adamantly oppose giving in to the Bush administration on the immunity issue.

House Speaker Pelosi said that Democrats hope to have a solution worked out by March 8. But she also indicated that Democrats want language included in the bill that would clarify that FISA is the exclusive means under which the government can conduct electronic surveillance. The White House and some congressional Republicans have argued that the 2001 authorization of military force to launch the war on terrorism gave Bush the authority to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance. They also say the president has inherent constitutional authority to do what is necessary to protect the country. Senators have battled over whether to include so-called exclusivity language in their FISA bill. In the end, an amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that states FISA is the exclusive means for conducting electronic surveillance failed to win a needed 60 votes in a roll call that split mainly along party lines.

This has all the makings of a trial balloon, being floated to see what the membership and the outside issue groups think. The ACLU is, um, not pleased.

We vehemently oppose the Senate’s Title 1 that allows mass, untargeted surveillance of every communication coming into and going out of the United States . If the House is to take up the measure, we greatly hope that important safeguards are built back in far above and beyond “exclusivity.” There really is no benefit to declaring FISA the exclusive foreign intelligence surveillance law if it allows the AG and DNI to singlehandedly decide when tap innocent Americans on American soil.

This should be really simple. The telecoms knowingly broke the law. They shouldn't be taken off the hook for doing so. And FISA is perfectly fine to protect the country from terrorists while respecting civil liberties. The President is a reviled figure and his bleatings have produced little or no momentum in the public. There's simply no reason to do this.

Peter Sussman, a plaintiff in two of the lawsuits against phone companies, writes in the Sacramento Bee about how this deal would be un-American.

After Saddam Hussein was executed, President Bush reassured the world that the Iraqi dictator received "a fair trial – the kind of justice he denied victims of his brutal regime."

The Bush administration has similarly promoted "the rule of law" and "an independent judiciary" for countries such as Cuba, Burma and Iran.

Yet that same president is pressuring Congress to deny Americans our day in court before an independent judiciary by repealing the rules of law that guarantee the right to sue a private company for illegal infringements on our privacy rights [...]

Before Congress is sucked into this rhetorical swamp, consider that AT&T and other phone companies that buckled to secret administration demands for our records had a legal alternative: They could have insisted that the administration first obtain the court order that they – or their corporate attorneys – knew was necessary. That's what another large phone company apparently did, demonstrating more respect for the rule of law than AT&T apparently has. AT&T would have been legally obligated to respond to a valid warrant, saving "millions of lives" at that "very moment."

Instead, AT&T chose to violate federal and state law.

I and my fellow plaintiffs don't stand to win any money through our lawsuit, much less billions of dollars, but we do hope to assure governmental accountability, to open to public scrutiny the actions of corporations and government that have teamed up to deny citizens the rights guaranteed by law.

Your House member needs a phone call. There is no public constituency demanding that the phone companies get amnesty. The "rule of law," pro-Constitution constituency must rule the day.

They Weren't Raised To Be Writers

by digby

Via Atrios, I see that Rove's Christian right liaison is a plagiarist. But we shouldn't be surprised:

Goeglein recalled a dinner party that he and his wife recently attended in Northwest. Out of the six couples around the table, Goeglein and his wife were the only Republicans.

As is inevitably the case, he said, the conversation soon turned to the couples' children -- most 5 or 6 years old -- and aspirations for their future occupations. One parent said editor; another, publisher; a third wanted the child to go into education.

"I was intrigued by the question, and the answers of every one of our Democratic friends," Goeglein said. Not one parent, he said, gave an answer that would be more typical of Republicans. "Our party, in the way it is constituted, we think of medicine, we think of law, we think of business. We don't think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet," he explained.

In their party, "the way it's constituted," they believes that stealing other people's work leaves time for more important, useful, pursuits. Like gaming the system, rigging the game and pillaging the treasury. Being all prissy about silly pursuits like writing and editing and publishing is for girly-men, not heroic Randian businessmen and deeply religious party hacks. It would be more embarrassing for a real Republican to write his own words than be caught stealing another's.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our Prison Problem

by dday

This story in the New York Times today just broke my heart.

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

If you add in those on parole or probation, you're probably up to 1 in 50 Americans involved in the prison system.

The full Pew report is here (PDF), and it's really an eye-opener. I cover prison policy issues fairly extensively at Calitics, as the Golden State has one of the worst, if not the worst, prison system in the entire country. Most people are familiar with the heinous "three-strikes" sentencing law passed by voters in 1994 (one of the great victories of ALEC, the conservative movement's legislative arm that is designed to push these kinds of policies through the states), but that was just the most extreme example of a thirty-year trend toward increasing sentencing laws; in fact, in those thirty years the state legislature passed over 1,000 laws increasing sentencing for all manner of crimes, and not ONE reducing sentencing. As a result, state prisons are woefully overcrowded, the nonviolent offenders who enter them don't get treatment or job placement or rehabilitation but essentially a college-level program in how to commit violent crime, and this facilitates the nation's worst recidivism rate. So incarcerating more and more citizens does not make anyone safer; in fact, it has the opposite effect.

This is not a problem isolated to California, as the Pew report shows. It is, however, driven by the same factors.

In exploring such alternatives, lawmakers are learning that current prison growth is not driven primarily by a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the population at large. Rather, it flows principally from a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular “three-strikes” measures and other sentencing enhancements, keeping them there longer. Overlaying that picture in some states has been the habitual use of prison stays to punish those who break rules governing their probation or parole. In California, for example, such violators make up a large proportion of prison admissions, churning in and out of badly overloaded facilities. Nationally, more than half of released offenders are back in prison within three years, either for a new crime or for violating the terms of their release.

Nothing makes a local legislator smile more than being able to go back to his home district and tell them that he or she just passed a bill to protect their children. It's a bipartisan problem, this disease of having to be seen as "Tough on Crime." But the electoral benefits are just a segment of this. The real issue is the rise of the prison-industrial complex, which at the state level is approaching the power of the military-industrial complex at the national level. For many towns in America, building a prison is tantamount to building a factory in the 1950s. Without a solid manufacturing base, having a stable industry that can create jobs, both inside the prison and in the ancillary businesses catering to it (food and lodging for visitors and support services for families, for example), is very compelling. PBS did an episode of P.O.V. on this phenomenon of "prison towns" last year. This provides a boost to local economies, but at a cost.

Stories like these are increasingly common in rural America where, during the 1990s, a prison opened every 15 days. The United States now has the dubious distinction of incarcerating more people per capita than any other country in the world. Yet this astonishing jailing of America has been little noted because many of the prisons have opened in remote areas like Susanville. "Prison Town, USA" examines one of the country's biggest prison towns, a place where a new correctional economy encompasses not only prisoners, guards and their families, but the whole community.

Nestled in the picturesque foothills of the California Sierras, Susanville once thrived on logging, ranching and agriculture. Even today, the town offers a postcard image of small-town America under majestic peaks — if you keep the prisons out of the frame. Susanville, along with much of rural America, has seen its local agricultural economy go the way of the family farm. And like other communities that don't want to become ghost towns, Susanville decided to take a chance on the only industry that came calling — California's burgeoning prison system, hungry for space, new guards and low visibility.

And when sentencing laws eventually produce an overwhelming fiscal burden on the state (the cost of housing prisoners has jumped from $10 billion in 1987 to $44 billion last year), there aren't many choices: cut education or health care or social services to compensate, or contract the job out to private for-profit industry to reduce the expense. Of course, then those industries become reliant on "new customers" for their bottom line, and legislators are again pressured into increasing sentences, and the death spiral continues. There is a direct line between the campaign donations of the private prison industry and the states with the strictest sentencing laws.

The prison privatization trend is finally on the wane, as lawmakers begin to understand that government actually can be more efficient if the remove the interest of filling the jails from the equation. (Although, just last year Governor Schwarzenegger produced a video attempting to entice inmates into moving into private facilities to help reduce overcrowding. It was eventually ruled unconstitutional.)

There are actually other ways to look at this issue, and the latest trend is starting in Red America.

Kansas and Texas are well on their way. Facing daunting projections of prison population growth, they have embraced a strategy that blends incentives for reduced recidivism with greater use of community supervision for lower-risk offenders. In addition, the two states increasingly are imposing sanctions other than prison for parole and probation violators whose infractions are considered “technical,” such as missing a counseling session. The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens.

This, incidentally, is one area in which Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, has been so effective. Getting the Kansas legislature to move in this direction must have been a monumental task.

We desperately need a more progressive prison policy that recognizes the actual intention of imprisonment, to rehabilitate and return the jailed back to society with opportunities for advancement. Locking the problem offenders away for longer and longer hasn't worked. Sentencing that focuses on treatment, and which pairs tougher sentences to actual risk, is far preferable. Chris Bowers calls this one of the untouchable symptoms that lawmakers have to this point been loath to challenge. But the cost has become too high to ignore. I think it's an area where a more transformational politics would be a godsend.

Transformative Politics

by digby

I have a new post up at The Big Con today about what transformative politics really are --- and how the political establishment will try to stop it.

William Buckley And The Tattooing Of AIDS Patients: A Correction

by tristero

Yesterday, in reminding folks that William Buckley had once called for the tattooing of AIDS sufferers, I mentioned that I heard he had changed his mind after hearing that his pal Roy Cohn was dying of AIDS.

Well, if "the father of modern conservatism" had decided that it was just a little too reminiscent of The Final Solution to suggest that the unhealthy be tatooed, then Buckley reverted to his first instinct towards the end of his life (ht, RP in comments):
The objective is to identify the carrier, and to warn his victim. Someone, 20 years ago, suggested a discreet tattoo the site of which would alert the prospective partner to the danger of proceeding as had been planned. But the author of the idea was treated as though he had been schooled in Buchenwald, and the idea was not widely considered, but maybe it is up now for reconsideration.
A discreet tattoo. A discreet tattoo.

My God.

The Democratic Rules

by dday

If we had a press that applied the same rules to John McCain that it has to Democrats as of late...

You'd hear every Democratic strategist on the talking head shows, and direct questions to the candidate himself, about how he is America's Worst Senator for Children. And sure, the number is a function of McCain missing so many votes - so what. That's basically how Sen. Obama's National Journal ratings were conceived, and as long as that is a fair data point, then so should this statistic from the Children's Defense Fund. "Sen. McCain, why are you considered America's Worst Senator for Children?"

We'd have constant questions asking McCain to renounce or reject or oppose or renouncereject or just say no to the support of John Hagee, a Biblical end-timer who believes that God caused Hurricane Katrina for its gay pride parades, that Muslims are programmed to kill nonbelievers, and that we must hasten the Rapture by invading every country in the Middle East. McCain should be asked about every single one of those statements and whether he explicitly supports them. I mean, I know Hagee's not black, but you'd think his rhetoric of hate would be held to the same standard as Louis Farrakhan.

...my preference would actually be that all of these petty side issues be put in the proper context, and substantive reporting be prioritized. But you know, level playing field, and all that.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Stellar GOP Field

by dday

Yes, they've come up with another fantastic list of candidates for the 2008 election, fresh off of such 2006 luminaries as Mistress Strangler Don Sherwood, Frequent Frat Party Guest John Sweeney, and of course, Maf54. So who's stepping up to the plate this year?

First off, we've got Stormin' Norman Coleman, our favorite Brooklyn-born Senator from Minnesota, whose campaign sent out a form letter to the editor criticizing his potential opponent, our favorite Minnesota-born New York-born, Minnesota-bred challenger Al Franken. Problem was, his supporters sent it to multiple newspapers without changing the text whatsoever, leading the campaign to have to apologize for astroturfing.

A new entry for the GOP, a rising star if you will, is former University of Missouri running back Brock Olivo, who is running in the 9th District in Missouri. And hey, he's got some qualifications:

"Not only was I football player, but I also was in social studies class, and I have a passion for how this country works," Olivo said.

I actually have more of a problem with "not only was I a football player," as if that should be part of the reason to elect him, but you know, not the WHOLE THING.

And then there's the potential candidate in South Dakota's Senate race, whose story is so deranged that it takes a whole column in The Hill to explain it:

Folks often joke about the blood-sucking parasites that infect politics, but the gibes about politicians and lobbyists are usually just that — jokes. Yet the charge gets uncomfortably close to being literal when discussing former South Dakota lieutenant governor and potential Senate candidate Steve Kirby.

Following the sale of his prominent Sioux Falls family’s surety bond company, Kirby branched out into more exotic business terrain when he founded Bluestern Venture Capital in 1992. Among Bluestern’s portfolio companies was a Massachusetts-based biotech firm called Collagenesis — a company whose business model couldn’t have been more foreign to the stolid world of South Dakota surety bonding.

Collagenesis specialized in processing donated skin off cadavers into cosmetic surgery products, and was subject to a blistering five-part investigative series by the Orange County Register beginning on April 17, 2000. “Burn victims lie waiting in hospitals as nurses scour the country for skin to cover their wounds, even though skin is in plentiful supply for plastic surgeons,” read the lede of the Register report. “The skin they need to save their lives is being used instead for procedures that could wait: supporting bladders, erasing laugh lines and enlarging penises.”

Suffice it to say that penis enlargement represented a slight departure from the Kirby family’s traditional business of bonding hard-working Sioux Falls mason contractors.

That's almost fictional, given its metaphorical possibilities: a Republican literally profiting off the skins of the dead.

These are the best and the brightest, people. And somehow John Boehner thinks it surprising that his comrades can't get off their dead asses and raise money for this gang.

Cokie's Law

by digby

Chris Matthews today:

John McCain runs afoul of right wing radio hosts. Again. As has been the case throughout this election season, going to war with the right. Is he gonna come down in the middle like Harry Truman? It may be the smart move for him to have some enemies on the right as well as the left.

It may be the brilliant, triangulization of John McCain.

Hmmm. From C&L:

Yesterday one of the big stories was when walkie-talkie Bill Cunningham voraciously attacked Barack Obama warming up a crowd for John McCain. He was so over the top that supposedly the McMaverick campaign told John about his performance and after the crowd left—McCain apologized to Obama. Cunningham was so incensed over being repudiated by McCain that he pulled the Limbaugh trick of saying he’s now supporting Hillary Clinton.

Cunningham: His people told me to give the faithful red meat. Give them red—raw—meat.

A reader reminded me of something I'd written back when this campaign was in its paleolithic era many millennia ago, about the way the right wing works this stuff:

Karl Rove is smiling this morning. Wolf Blitzer just used a clip from Rove's appearance on C-SPAN last week in which he said that Barack Obama looked weak because he failed to confront Hillary Clinton on the fact that she and her husband could release all their records with a phone call and they refuse.

We've been over this. He's a liar and he's simply tickling an ear worm they developed four years ago when they accused John Kerry of not "releasing his records." The claim is bullshit, and FactCheck.org has the explanation right here. The whole phony issue (which Tim Russert happily ran with on the previous debate) is a manufactured GOP smear featured prominently on the RNC website.

But notice how Rove does it. He not only makes the Clintons look they're hiding something, he does it by claiming that Obama is weak. It's a twofer.

In this case, McCain not only gets these insults against both Democratic candidates aired over and over again, he makes himself look good for "repudiating" it. It's "out there" which is the best of all possible worlds.

Those of us who've been following the mores of the Village for a while will also recognize this gambit as an example of "Cokie's Law."

"At this point," said Roberts, "it doesn't much matter whether she said it or not because it's become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about."

The media have been playing those insults of Obama and Clinton over and over again on a loop --- along with that straight talking flyboy angrily dismissing the comments. The media gave him high marks for his integrity, as usual. Today, they are calling it a brilliant "triangulization" strategy. Talk about a win-win-win for McCain.

Matthews: I think McCain can pick up three votes for very vote he loses on the right, because I think you're right, the right will vote and I also think those suburbs are looking for a candidate still. That's why we keep hearing about Bloomberg.

Right. When the GOP has failed on a massive level in every possible way and all indications are that Democrats are on the verge of winning the presidency and expanding their congressional majority with a popular policy agenda, it's really an expression of a deep national yearning for maverick Republican leadership and Democratic bipartisanship.

Update: From the comments comes an apt analogy, which I missed. Cunningham is this season's Sistah Soljah.

Update II: Another one from the comments, by Joe:

Yeah, so the "twofer" triangulated by McCain produces a really, really grotesque effect: McCain is transformed into the "true" postracial, principled candidate, while Obama is smeared as "the black" or "the Muslim" candidate (see AP article linked to at TPM) and Clinton is smeared as the unprincipled, win-at-all-costs candidate. Both Democrats smeared, regardless of who wins the nomination, and McCain clean as an _Irish_ (Russertian) whistle.


Say What You Want About William F. Buckley...

by tristero

but his ideas were more repugnant than a bad case of halitosis:
Everyone detected with AIDS should be tatooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.
I understand that, after hearing that a friend of his, the odious Roy Cohn, had contracted AIDS, he changed his mind. Fair enough, but most of us sober up and think better of our most repellent ideas before publishing them in the first place.

Spectacularly rotten judment combined with a gratuitously violent nastiness. Those are William F. Buckley's most influential bequests to the conservative movement. And every day they do homage to these character traits, and indeed, to his entire enormous legacy of pretentious snobbery, bigotry, homophobia, and stupidity.

I would tell you what I really think of Buckley but I thought I would go easy today.

The Russert-ization Of The 2008 Race

by dday

The Tennessee GOP does an almost verbatim imitation of the Very Serious Journalist from Buffalo (he's a regular guy, y'all, he's from Buffalo!).


NASHVILLE, TN - The Tennessee Republican Party today joins a growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States.

“It’s time to set the record straight about Barack Obama and where he really stands on vital issues such as national security and the security of Israel,” said Robin Smith, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. “Voters need to know about two items that surfaced today which strongly suggest that an Obama presidency will view Israel as a problem rather than a partner for peace in the Middle East.

On Sunday, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan on Sunday likened Obama to a new messiah, calling him “the hope of the entire world.” That’s the same Louis Farrakhan who has a history of making openly anti-Semitic statements, calling Judaism a “gutter religion,” and suggesting that crack cocaine might have been a CIA plot to enslave blacks.

Farrakhan, addressing 20,000 people at the annual Savior’s Day celebration in Chicago, praised the Democrat presidential candidate, calling Obama “The hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better.”

He also compared Obama to the founder of Islam, remarking that both had a white mother and black father, according to the Associated Press. “A black man with a white mother became a savior to us,” Farrakhan said. “A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall.”

Obama, (pictured dressed in Muslim attire in a 2006 visit to Africa) has on the campaign trail pledged to rapidly remove American soldiers from Iraq regardless of the resulting instability and the creation of opening that would be filled by Islamic extremists, like Al Qaeda, in Iraq’s government and military.

Obama has pledged to hold a Muslim Summit to determine Middle East policy with the very leaders that have as their goal to remove Israel from the map, referenced Jews to be “dogs” and “pigs,” among other vile references.

(Dressed in Muslim attire, ay? That's a new one. At least they're honest about what they're trying to do.)

There are additional smears, but the key one from which it all springs is the one legitimized and mainstreamed by Tim Russert in a public forum last night. Beyond the snickers over whether "renounced" or "rejected" is the proper term of opposition, the reality is that Tim Russert last night made anti-Semitic smearing of a Presidential candidate fair game.

Read the chair of the TN GOP's response to the outcry over their press release:

Smith said today that [...] the state GOP will continue to use Obama's middle name. That's no different than saying "Hillary Rodham Clinton" or "Richard Milhouse Nixon," she said.

"John McCain has to be elected. Robin Smith doesn't," she said. "We have a duty to inform the Republican base."

She said Farrakhan is known for "hateful, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel statements" and when the Nation of Islam leader "essentially endorsed" Obama, "it called out for our statement."

"A duty to inform." "It called out for our statement." There is no material difference between this defense and what Tim Russert would say if challenged on his choice of questioning. The circle is now complete. Not only is Russert a mouthpiece for the GOP, but GOP mouthpieces are mouthpieces for Tim Russert.

The only proper course of action is for Tim Russert to resign, without delay, for setting back journalism to somewhere in the William Randolph Hearst era.

...I'm seeing CNN right now reporting on "what Obama's pastor said" and "Jewish-American concerns," complete with pictures of Farrakhan and scary supporters dressed in robes. Actually, the only concerns are from the GOP, worrying about what new ways to pitch this story to the media so they'll cover it for the next nine months. Actually, I guess they're not too worried at all.

UPDATE: As Glenn Greenwald notes this "Obama Muslim black anti-Semite crazy Hamas" stream-of-consciousness pattern recognition smear is picking up traction, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens, the ones on the front lines of the situation (except for Hugh Hewitt, who once broadcast his radio show from New York City, so he's basically a soldier for America), want their country to hold direct talks with the Hamas government. This is a smear made by a far-right faction that presumes they speak for all Jewry. And as a Jewish American, I find it abhorrent.

Modern Branding

by digby

Here's a very interesting interview on the subject of the Obama campaign's masterful branding. I'd noticed the consistency of the fonts and the logos, but I didn't realize what the campaign was trying to convey with them and had no idea just how sophisticated it all was:

[W]atching Obamamania over the past few weeks, I've become convinced that there's something more subtle at work, too. It's not just the message and the man and the speeches that are swaying Democratic voters--though they are. It's the way the campaign has folded the man and the message and the speeches into a systemic branding effort. Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, slogans and web design, Obama is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand.* And for folks who don't necessarily need Democratic social programs--upscale voters, young people--I suspect that the novel comfort of that brand affiliation contributes (however subconsciously) to his appeal.

Seeking expert opinion, I tested my hypothesis on leading graphic designer and critic Michael Bieruit, who was kind enough to dissect Obama's unprecedented branding campaign--and show me how it's helping his candidacy. Excerpts:


What do you see as the "philosophical implications," to use a highfalutin phrase, of Obama's design choices?

There are a couple of levels. There's the close-in parlor game you can play about what all these typefaces actually mean. Gotham was a typeface designed originally for GQ magazine, so it's a sleek, purposefully not fancy, very straightforward, plainspoken font, but done with a great deal of elegance and taste--and drawn from very American sources, by the way. Unlike other sans serif typefaces, it's not German, it's not French, it's not Swiss. It's very American. The serif font that he often uses to write Obama is delicate and nuanced and almost, not feminine exactly, but it's very literary-looking. It looks very conversational and pleasant, as opposed to strident and yelling. It's a persuasive-looking font, I would say. But that's putting these things on couches and pretending they have personalities

The Republicans have been better than Democrats for years at branding and marketing. I'm sure you all recognize this:

But it looks like the Dems have finally caught up. They are taking a different tack, as they should have been doing all along, and appealing to more modern images and styles.

Marketing rules our culture, politics included. I don't know if it will work to win over enough of the public to get "market share" --- advertisers and marketers never do until they put it to the test. But the Democrats are finally playing in the same arena, and combined with a charismatic candidate, this could go a long way.

The Real Superdelegates

by digby

Greg Sargent comments on Dowd's latest atrocity:

I wanted to flag a line in the column that perfectly encapsulates top-shelf pundit elitism at its finest. Referring to Hillary's new strategy of bashing the press coverage, Dowd writes:

Beating on the press is the lamest thing you can do. It is only because of the utter open-mindedness of the press that Hillary can lose 11 contests in a row and still be treated as a contender.

Right, so according to Dowd, the only reason we're still conducting this presidential race is because she and her fellow media cohorts are benevolently holding off on crowning Obama the winner. That's just so lovely and generous of them, isn't it?

Yes. It's very kind of our press to allow Clinton to stay in the race when the pledged delegate count is currently Obama 1193 and Clinton 1038. It's clearly a rout.

The truth is that the race, at this moment, is still close, as you can see from those numbers. In fact, judging by those numbers alone, you would have to say that the Democratic Party is seriously divided. However, we also know that Obama has won all the recent contests and that momentum is on his side and that unless something unexpected happens he is very likely to win.

But we have a little mechanism here in the United States designed to clear this up once and for all, and it isn't begging for the press for guidance about who we are allowed to vote for. It's called an election and as Sargent points out in his post, we're going to have a couple of them next Tuesday which may be decisive. (On the other hand, in the unlikely event that Clinton does stop this momentum, then perhaps it will take a few more to decide.) If people object to superdelegates deciding who our nominees should be I would certainly think they'd object to Maureen Dowd and the kewl kids, of all people, doing it. Do they really have our best interests at heart?

As an aside, is it just me or has Dowd's preening self-regard recently made a shift into Norma Desmond territory?


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How Do We Defeat Tim Russert?

by digby

The country wants change. They want Washington to stop all the partisan bickering and they want a different tone. They want their government to be serious and deal with real problems.

Can someone please explain to me how that can possibly happen until something is done about the reprehensible political press? From tax returns to Farrakhan to footage shown by "mistake" to the endless, trivial, gotcha bullshit, this debate spectacle tonight was a classic demonstration of what people really hate about politics. It isn't actually the candidates who can at least on occasion be substantive and serious. The problem is Tim Russert and all his petty, shallow acolytes who spend all their time reading Drudge and breathlessly reporting every tabloid tidbit and sexy rumor and seeking out minor inconsistencies from years past in lieu of doing any real work.

Judging by their silly questions tonight, Russert and Williams obviously know nothing about health care policy, Iraq, Islamic terrorism, economics, global trade or any other subject that requires more than five minutes study to come up with some gotcha question or a stupid Jack Bauer fantasy. It's embarrassing.

These people guide the way citizens perceive politics even if the citizens don't know it. It's hard for me to see how anything can truly change until this is dealt with.

Honor and Integrity

by digby

When a radio gasbag introduced him today by babbling incoherently about the "Clinton News Network" and repeating the words Barack "Hussein" Obama over and over again, St John McCain stepped up:

Any comment that was disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate. And I have never done that in any of my campaigns and I have a long record. And I absolutely repudiate such comments. I will take responsibility. It will never happen again.

It is so wonderful to see an honorable campaign that refuses to allow anyone to be derisive toward a rival:

At the campaign event on Monday, the woman asked McCain, "How do we beat the bitch?"

McCain laughed along with the crowd as he said, "May I give the translation?"

"That's an excellent question," he added. "I respect Senator Clinton. I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democratic Party."

McCain said Wednesday he's sure the New York senator understands.

"Senator Clinton and I have a very good relationship," he said. "She understands I've always treated her with respect, and I'm sure that's been the reaction of her campaign."


"I can't dictate what other people say _ that's not my business," he said. "Nor is it an appropriate role for me to play in a gathering at a restaurant, and if anybody thinks that I should, then I think they have the wrong idea of what gatherings are all about.

The man who introduced him today also said this, which I thought was really neat. (Got a big cheer too.)

How about Condoleeza Rice and Madeline Albright, who looks like death warmed over. I think there's a big difference between Condi and Madeline.

I'm sure McCain repudiates that one too. After all, an honorable man like him would never countenance such despicable language:

Earlier this month, at a Republican Senate fund-raiser, McCain told a downright nasty joke making fun of Janet Reno, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.

The fact that McCain had made the tasteless joke was reported in major newspapers, as was the vain attempt by his press secretary to initially deny what McCain had done. But in several major newspapers, the joke itself was kept a secret. When McCain subsequently apologized to President Clinton, the Washington Post, in its personality section, noted the apology but said the joke "was too vicious to print."

The Los Angeles Times, in its Life & Style section, provided an oblique rendering of the joke that did not fully convey its ugliness. When Maureen Dowd penned a column in the New York Times about the joke, she wrote that McCain "is so revered by the press that his disgusting jape was largely nudged under the rug." But Dowd chose not to relay the joke, either.

The joke did appear in McCain's hometown paper, the Arizona Republic, and the Associated Press did report the joke in full, so everyone in the press had access to McCain's words. But by censoring themselves, the Post, the Times and others helped McCain deflect flak and preserved his status as a Republican presidential contender.

Salon feels its readers deserve the unadulterated truth. Though no tape of McCain's quip has yet emerged, this is what he reportedly said:

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."

That was eight years ago but more recently, he's shown his chivalrous nature once again.

McCain made the reference to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton after touring USC Upstate’s nursing school and seeing a training mannequin.

“I was very glad to meet the dummy, named ‘Hillary,’” McCain said to laughter. “Is that the name?”

Actually, the dummy, or human simulator, doesn’t have a name.

That's how he shows respect to his rivals. You can't help but be impressed.

The press certainly is:

Chris Matthews: Wasn't it impressive that McCain did stand up today and take down this warm up character that had made these comments?

Margaret Carlson: Yeah well, that is the kind of guy McCain is. He is a straight talker. So you have to give him a lot of credit for that. These surrogates though, you have to remember there were a couple of surrogates for Senator Clinton, Robert Johnson the head of BET, her co-chair in New Hampshire who brought up things about Obama that were derogatory and then they, Johnson apologized and Shaheen resigned.

These things happen and the question is whether people decide that you had a hand in it, you tacitly approved it, you want it out there, you're using these people to get it out there or not. And I think in the McCain case we think he didn't want to do that.

With a history like his, you can certainly understand why he would get the benefit of the doubt from the press corps. He always has.

When Pressure Isn't Pressure

by dday

Hilarious, so the Republican Whiny Caucus (i.e. the entire Republican Party) tried to force a vote on the Senate telecom amnesty bill today, but were beaten back by a 212-198 vote. I don't know if this is out of some principled opposition to amnesty in the Democratic caucus (probably not) or a desire to use the recognized rules of order, but once again we see that the Democrats have yet to turn to their normal state of jelly.

There are ongoing negotiations on the future FISA bill:

Instead, Democrats have begun conferencing both House passed and Senate passed versions of the FISA update—although the House version does not contain retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies, a key sticking point.

Republicans have boycotted the talks, instead insisting the House vote on the Senate bill, which received 68 votes in the Senate and would likely have the blessing of the White House. House Democratic leaders have insisted they will not be bullied into accepting the Senate bill, despite the heated rhetoric coming from the White House and congressional Republicans on the issue.

The real question is why Republicans should be at any conference committee talks in the first place. They have no minds of their own, they simply follow the White House's directives, so why should they be burdened with showing up at the conference at all? In fact, about 150 or so of them might as well go home and direct the White House political director to vote by proxy for them, since they never deviate from that strategy anyway. Seriously, let's just get life-sized cut-outs and use marionette wires so they can depress the buttons on that little machine that tabulates their votes.

These Republicans have nothing to add to any serious debate. They take their marching orders and that's it. The Democrats ought to learn that a committee negotiation can proceed just fine without them, and in the future decline to invite them.

Meanwhile, the Spine Caucus is growing:

U.S. Rep. John Salazar’s office said he has been under no pressure in Colorado’s 3rd District to a vote on a measure that would update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“Coloradans have been very supportive of Rep. Salazar for standing in favor of stronger civil liberty protections under FISA, and he believes they deserve their privacy rights to be protected by their member of Congress,” said his Washington, D.C., spokesman, Eric Wortman.

Salazar’s district includes most of the Western Slope and southern Colorado.

Salazar is a Bush Dog, one of those Democrats who voted against the party on the Protect America Act and on Iraq. And he's not feeling pressure. I know there are some attack ads out there from a right-wing group, but they don't appear to be having the intended effect. This is a background issue, and try as the Whiny Caucus might to scaremonger, it's not working. Of course it remains to be seen what comes out of the conference committee and whether or not it's something that's passable on the basis of civil liberties. There still exists the potential for a massive sellout. But it really looks like the man behind the curtain has been exposed.

... see too this op-ed from top Democrats denouncing White House scare tactics, signed by even Jello Jay Rockefeller!

Free Don Siegelman

by dday

This is awesome:

He has a real allergy to the truth, doesn't he? What an awkward reaction.

There's a lot of power in simple confrontations like this.

UPDATE: Dana Jill Simpson basically says tell it to the judge:

Yesterday we brought you Karl Rove's expansive denial of Republican lawyer Dana Jill Simpson's testimony to Congress and comments to 60 Minutes.

Simpson responded last night on MSNBC's Dan Abrams show: "Since Karl Rove has said that and he feels so good saying that, what I want him to do is go and swear before the United States Congress and swear what he's saying is true."

Simpson also responded to accusations from the Alabama Republican Party that Simpson had never worked for the party and no one had ever heard of her. She said that phone records would show conversations with party officials in Alabama and Washington, D.C. in 2002 and 2006.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Siegelman Story Reaches The Light Of Day

by dday

CBS' story on the Don Siegelman case last night was fine for a 9-minute television expose, but of course it isn't possible to take in all of the contours in that length of time. Scott Horton, who has doggedly followed this case for Harper's, and who was interviewed for the story, explains in greater detail.

...the show was dominated by one of 52 former attorneys general from 40 of the 50 states who have called for a Congressional probe of the conduct of the Siegelman case, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. He leveled a series of blistering accusations at the Bush Administration’s Justice Department. With the Alabama G.O.P. this evening issuing a near-hysterical statement in which it characterizes the CBS broadcast—before its transmission—as an anti-Republican attack piece, it was notable that Woods, like the piece’s other star witness, is a Republican. Not just any Republican, either. Grant Woods is co-chair of the McCain for President leadership committee, and a lifelong friend and advisor to the presumptive 2008 G.O.P. presidential candidate. Woods is also godfather to one of the McCain children.

Attorney General Woods has this to say about the Bush Justice Department’s prosecution of Siegelman: “I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square. This was a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of.”

In other words, not being able to beat Siegelman at the polls, Woods believes that his own party corruptly used the criminal justice process to take out an adversary. This is an extraordinary, heavy accusation. Not something that a senior Republican would raise easily about his own party. And the facts back the accusation up, beginning to end.

The nub of the case is that Siegelman allowed HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to remain on an oversight board on which he had already served, and in return Scrushy gave money to a noble effort to improve education in the state of Alabama, an effort Siegelman approved of. That's literally the reason that Siegelman is in a jail cell right now. This is the kind of thing that, were it actually considered bribery, would put every politician in America in jail. The case hung on evidence that Siegelman walked out of a meeting with Scrushy with the check, a baseless lie spouted by a convicted criminal on Siegelman's staff, and the Justice Department KNEW it was a lie and yet continued the case. 60 Minutes tried to talk with the accuser, a man named Nick Bailey, but the DoJ refused to authorize the interview (he's in a federal prison).

The prosecutors nabbed him and then told him he could get a light sentence if he worked with them to nail Siegelman, their real target. This very process is a perversion of the justice system, which as former U.S. Attorney Jones very properly says, requires that prosecutors investigate crimes and not people. But it gets still worse. Bailey testifies that he saw a check change hands at a meeting at which Scrushy’s appointment to the oversight board was decided. This is the evidence that landed Siegelman in prison. And it was false. And the prosecutors knew that it was false.

Horton also notes that CBS has plenty more on this case:

CBS conducted dozens of interviews and has much more that it hasn’t shown. The additional footage concerns the Canary team—husband Billy who advised the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidates against Siegelman, and wife Leura Canary, whose prosecution of Siegelman was essential to the G.O.P.’s efforts to secure the Montgomery statehouse. And they have much more on the inexplicable conduct of federal Judge Mark Fuller, appointed by George W. Bush, a former member of the Alabama G.O.P.’s Executive Committee, and a man who publicly stated that Siegelman had a grudge against him—but who refused to recuse himself from the case.

Apparently, half of the segment mysteriously dropped off the air on one station covering a healthy portion of Alabama, for what they claimed were "techincal" difficulties (no, really, the press release did read "techincal". I'm supposed to say something like "this is Alabama, after all," right?). This station is owned by Republican Party backers. Ho-hum.

I don't know if the 60 Minutes piece will act as a defibrillator, to bring the Siegelman story back to life. I sincerely hope it does. Karl Rove deserves to go down for illegitimizing the cause of justice in this country. Siegelman's lawyers have called for a special prosecutor, as have the Alabama Democratic Party.

UPDATE: Here's the state of justice in America.

It has been 20 months since Siegelman’s trial ended and no trial transcript has been produced by Fuller's court. This is in violation of the rules of criminal procedure which require a transcript within 30 days of sentencing. Siegelman can't appeal his conviction with out an official trial transcript.

The Attorney General, by the way, has said he would rather let the case go through the normal appeals process rather than open an investigation.

Kafka would be proud.

The Curtain Is Pulled Back

by dday

Once the culture of fear yielded no results, no frightened and cowed Democrats scurrying for cover, the White House literally had no idea what to do.

A day after warning that potentially critical terrorism intelligence was being lost because Congress had not finished work on a controversial espionage law, the U.S. attorney general and the national intelligence director said Saturday that the government was receiving the information -- at least temporarily.

On Friday evening, Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell had said in an unusually blunt letter to Congress that the nation "is now more vulnerable to terrorist attack and other foreign threats" because lawmakers had not yet acted on the administration's proposal for the wiretapping law.

But within hours of sending that letter, administration officials told lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees that they had prevailed upon all of the telecommunications companies to continue cooperating with the government's requests for information while negotiations with Congress continue.

A statement describing the change was released Saturday.

They're playing with a deck that's out of aces. The only thing they have is fear. When it doesn't work, they try to scare even more, but the obviousness of the lie forces an unprecedented backtrack.

All of this says to me that the next President needs to open up the books on the Bush Administration, and that we cannot as a nation be truly healed until that happens. The intelligence leadership has been caught in an enormous lie, making false claims about lost surveillance gathering for purely political reasons. This cannot possibly be an isolated incident. Of coure, we KNOW it's not an isolated incident. And indeed, many of the employees in the civil service who directed these lies and misstatements, not those at the top but the functionaries, will still be working in their same posts under a potential Democratic Administration. It needs to be extremely clear from the very beginning that they must be rooted out, expunged and turned over to the legal system for a determination. It should be a key part of the Democratic nominee's platform. Only then can we truly "turn the page," as our front-runner is likely to say.

In the interim, it has to be clearly stated: the Bush Administration overtly and admittedly lied about lost intelligence to bully the House into expanding executive power. This is a memorable episode.

What William Kristol Tosses Aside

by tristero

Kristol types:
But Obama chose to present his flag-pin removal as a principled gesture. “You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

Leave aside the claim that “speaking out on issues” constitutes true patriotism.
Never, not for a single moment, Mr. Kristol.

Did you notice, dear reader, that Kristol's paraphrase was a distortion of the quote? Obama didn't say, as Kristol asserts, that, in general, speaking out on issues constitutes true patriotism. Obama's remarks addressed a very particular context, namely the awfully disturbing morph of American solidarity post 9/11 into unthinking support of the awfully stupid idea to pre-emptively invade a foreign country.

Bet on it: William Kristol knew he distorted Obama's quote. But, being an awfully cynical, and awfully well paid, advocate of political stupidity, he did so anyway. Why? Read on, dear friends.

A few paragraphs down, Kristol intones:
Barack Obama is an awfully talented politician.
Get it? Under the same rules of interpretive reading which Kristol uses to distort Obama's meaning of "true patriotism" - ie, lifting from context, and rearranging syntax - Kristol just called Obama "awful." And don't think that wasn't the intended meaning, dear friends. If he meant to say that Obama was a "really talented politician," he would have said exactly that. Instead, Kristol was making a funny - har de har har - slipping a pejorative into a description of Obama by punning on the ambiguous meaning of "awfully," either meaning "terribly" or the more obsolete, but still used, "astonishingly."*

Oh, Kristol well knew that Obama meant "true patriotism is speaking out on issues" within a specific context. Still unconvinced? Here's the silly zinger Kristol uses in conclusion:
[McCain's] patriotism has consisted of deeds more challenging than “speaking out on issues.”
And there you have it, Kristol's money shot, the ejaculation - actually, more like a squirt than anything so exalted - his entire column is constructed to move towards. Let's take a moment to unpack the awful awfulness of its awful-osity.

First, Kristol transposed Obama's context from the specific to the general. From there, Kristol asserts that Obama meant that true patriotism consists only of speaking out on issues. This latter trick requires you to completely forget the context of what Obama actually said. And that is why Kristol urges us to leave it aside, to give us time to forget. Then, at the end of his little essay, Kristol can comfortably bring up not Obama's remark but his own distortion of it, knowing that few readers will do more than hastily check the original quote.

And he does so in the context of McCain's military service which - being the nasty piece of work that Kristol is - is invoked by inference, no less. That's an extra dollop of contempt heaped on Obama, that McCain's superior record needn't even be directly mentioned because it is so far beyond anything Obama's speaking out on issues might accomplish for his country.

And that, ladies, gentlemen, and Republicans, is one main reason you should never, ever agree to leave aside speaking out on issues. Especially when a paid conservative operative - Holy streewalker! Did I just call Kristol a rightwing hooker? - tells you to.

*Note to students of rhetoric: If there is a term to describe this tactic of Kristol's (preferably in Greek, which reads so groovily in a blogpost), please let me know.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Saturday Night At The Movies

If it’s Tuesday, this must be a Boschian nightmare

By Dennis Hartley

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 14 years since Pulp Fiction was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. So what can we glean from this little factoid? What hath Tarantino wrought? Well, for one thing, the genre tag “hit man comedy” has now officially entered the cinematic lexicon. And, by the looks of things, (love it or loathe it) it is here to stay.

The latest example is a film that reportedly, er, knocked ‘em dead at the 2008 Sundance festival and is currently playing in theaters-Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges. A pair of Irish hit men, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) have botched a job in London and are exiled to the Belgian city of Bruges, where they are ordered to lay low and await judgment on their cock-up from their piqued Dublin employer (Ray Fiennes).

Ken is enamored by the “fairy tale” ambience of Bruges, with its intricate canals and well-preserved medieval architecture, and decides to go the tourist route. The ADD-afflicted Ray, on the other hand, fails to see the appeal of “old buildings” and would just as soon plant himself in front of a pint for the duration of his purgatory. Initially, Ken lures the reluctant Ray into joining him for sightseeing with the promise of some pub time afterwards. However, it quickly becomes evident that Ray lacks any kind of discernible social filter, displaying a general disregard for local mores and folkways. Ken decides that the best way to stay low profile would be to let Ray pass time as he wishes.

In order to avoid spoilers, I won’t elaborate much more on what ensues, other than to say that Ray wanders off and finds himself a love interest and enjoys escapades like a coke binge with a “racist dwarf” while Ken finds himself thrust into a moral and ethical dilemma that fuels the dramatic turn of the film’s final third. Toss some heaping tablespoons of raging Catholic guilt, existentialism 101 and winking Hieronymus Bosch references into the mix, and voila! (The Sundance crowd swoons…)

So what exactly has McDonagh cooked up here? Well, as much as I’d like to be able to tell you that it’s “an original dish”, I’d have to call it more of a “sampler plate” featuring a generous wedge of Quentin Tarantino and a few tidbits of Guy Ritchie, sprinkled with a taste of Brendan Behan. If you’re a fan of dark (very dark) Irish humor, you’ll likely get a few decent chuckles out of playwright McDonagh’s brash and brassy dialog (and marvel at his creative use of “fook” as a noun, adverb, super verb and adjective). Unfortunately, the humor doesn’t fold so well into the mix with the generous dollops of dramatic bathos and queasy violence. Also, some of the more decidedly un-PC jokes fall terribly flat (I realize that nothing is sacred in comedy, but referring to obese people as “elephants” and a dwarf as a “short-arse” is not what I consider groundbreaking, cutting-edge humor).

That being said, there are some strong performances here, almost in spite of the film’s uneven tone. Gleeson and Farrell vibe a Laurel and Hardy dynamic together that works very well; you almost expect the doughy, exasperated Gleeson to exclaim “Well, it’s a fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” every time Farrell throws more gas on the fire with another one of his Tourette’s-like outbursts. Farrell has not previously impressed me as a nuanced performer, but in this film he proves to be quite deft at navigating the tricky waters of black comedy (that unibrow sure comes in handy). Gleeson (a world-class actor) is superb as always. Fiennes, who seems to be channeling Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast (by way of Michael Caine) goes way over the top with his archetypical caricature of a “hard” Cockney gangster, but he appears to be having a grand old time just the same.

I had an “OK” time on my little Belgian excursion with Ray and Ken; and the location filming does make for a great travelogue, as Bruges truly is a beautiful city-but In Bruges may not be the ideal cinematic getaway for all tastes. A guarded recommendation.

Hit-man “buddy movies”: Pulp Fiction , I Went Down, The Boondock Saints, The Krays , Things Change, I Love You to Death, Buddy, Buddy, Lucky Number Slevin , Panic (2000), The Hit (1984),You Kill Me, The Matador , Leon - The Professional, La Femme Nikita (Special Edition), Diva, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Replacement Killers, Ghost Dog - The Way of the Samurai, Smokin' Aces, Diamonds are Forever, The Osterman Weekend, Mikey & Nicky, Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, The Mechanic, Fulltime Killer, Prizzi's Honor.

…And a programming note for those of you who have the Sundance Channel:

Since events in Cuba have been grabbing headlines recently, I wanted to mention that there will be a rare TV screening of a fascinating documentary that I reviewed here last year, 638 Ways to Kill Castro (March 3; check local listings for air time). If you don’t have cable, it is available on DVD (although not easy to find). Enjoy! –D.H.

The Old Dog

by digby

Lerxst places a bet on Modo's column tomorrow:

Now let's see, what oh what will Maureen Dowd find to write about this Sunday? I'd think its a sure bet that the name "Iseman" will feature in there. Maybe some reference to the golden dress she's wearing in the photo that's all over the news. Some references to Cindy's hair?

I'd say that's an excellent prognostication. But I would also assume that she will use it to imply the old boy's still got it, if you know what I mean. I haven't heard anyone else set forth that obvious "interpretation' of recent stories, but Modo might just be the one to finally do it.

Looking For A Reason

by digby

I know the MSM isn't particularly quick on the uptake, but this one is so obvious even they should be able to get it. I have been hearing for the past 24 hours how this NYT story has really been good for McCain because it finally brought the base back over to his side.

Can we get real here? The "base" meaning Rush, Fox and the lesser wingnut blowhards, were desperate for an excuse to get on board the Straight Talk Express. The man is the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, the electoral arm of the conservative movement. Did anyone really think their animosity for McCain was going to last through November? Please. They are all on wingnut welfare to one degree or another and there's no way in hell that they could continue to do their jobs in opposition to the Republican presidential nominee. It's ridiculous. I'm sure they all felt a huge sense of relief that they had finally found a hook to get back down to business, which is demeaning and destroying liberals on behalf of Republicans.

This is not to say that they won't blame McCain for being a heretic and turncoat to conservatism when he loses in November. Their lizard brain logic will be "The liberal Democrat won because McCain wasn't conservative enough." But in the meantime, they had to find a way to earn their paycheck, and now they have their hook.


Friday, February 22, 2008


by dday

Bud Paxson has now officially contradicted St. Maverick on his blanket statement that he never met with the broadcasting mogul, which of course was already contradicted by John McCain himself in a sworn deposition.

Broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson today contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.

Paxson also recalled that his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, attended the meeting in McCain's office and that Iseman helped arrange the meeting. "Was Vicki there? Probably," Paxson said in an interview with The Washington Post today. "The woman was a professional. She was good. She could get us meetings."

Of course she could get meetings with John McCain. The man has a soft spot for lobbyists. And it's something when your alibi is "But I never show up for work!"

"Senator McCain was actively engaged in a presidential campaign in 1999-2000, and according to his calendar, the last day he conducted business in the Senate was November 8, 1999, and was frequently absent from the Senate prior to that date," the statement said.

"He returned to the Senate the night of November 19, 1999, for one hour to participate in a budget vote, and the Senate adjourned shortly thereafter on November 22, 1999. Between November 22, 1999 and Christmas, the Senator did not return to the Senate for any substantive meetings as he was involved in a national book tour and a presidential campaign."

Why should I be impressed that you were on a book tour instead of doing your job?

So now here's yet another drip of the faucet, with McCain absolutely caught in a lie, contradicted by everybody involved. And of course, the scenario of McCain doing favors for corporate interests who contributed to his campaigns and let him use the corporate jet is a wormhole into his long history of close involvement with lobbyists. Whatever he did with Iseman, she was certainly around the 2000 campaign, bragging about her access, and told to put and end to it (by named source John Weaver). McCain was holding fundraisers arranged by the lobbying firm aboard the yacht from a cruise line they represented (and he sponsored bills to deregulate the cruise line industry around that same time). And this isn't just a side issue from 2000, it's basically the same setup right now. He has more lobbyists raising money for him than any Presidential candidate. He has more lobbyists on staff than any Presidential candidate. And while he defended them in comments today, these aren't people who represent the poor or the environment or Constitutional rights. They're folks like Charlie Black, the guy who runs his lobbying shop out of the back of the Straight Talk Express bus (no lie).

Among the loudest McCain mouthpieces is Charlie Black, a seasoned Republican operative whose client roster dates back to such paragons as the late Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos and several African dictators, and more recently has featured Erik Prince, the mercenary entrepreneur who founded Blackwater. (Black's wife is a lobbyist too, and his firm, known as BKSH, is owned by Burson-Marsteller, the enormous P.R. conglomerate chaired by Hillary Clinton's top campaign advisor, Mark Penn.) McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, is also a lobbyist, whose client interests in the broadcasting and cable industry overlapped with those represented by Iseman and her firm, Alcalde & Fay. During the off years between presidential elections, Davis collected donations from companies regulated by the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by his boss McCain, for the amusingly named "Reform Institute," which also paid handsome sinecures to Davis and various other McCain campaign consultants. McCain's chief fundraiser is Tom Loeffler, a prominent lobbyist and former Texas congressman whose clients range from PhRMA to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The print media is aggressively reporting this story, as the broadcast media tries to hold back the floodgates. The New York Times deserves some criticism for leading with the sex angle and going with sourcing that was a little thin. But all of these allegations about McCain's lobbyist ties have been out there for some time. They even got printed every so often, but always on the back pages of the paper. It took a bombshell to get the media to take notice. Now that they have, we can all see that the sex angle really doesn't have much to do with the fact that Mr. Reform, Mr. Straight Talk, Mr. Maverick, is actually just Mr. John McSame, another Republican crook who rewards those who reward him. And wait until they get to the defense contracts he's shoveled to constituents in Arizona.

TV Alert

by dday

They buried it on the same night as the Oscars, but 60 Minutes will be airing the Don Siegelman story on Sunday. Siegelman, the Democratic former governor of Alabama, is sitting in a jail cell right now for trumped-up reasons, almost certainly orchestrated by Karl Rove and his charges. Jill Simpson, a former Republican campaign worker, has powerful evidence of this travesty of justice, and she'll go on the record in the story:

A former Republican campaign worker claims that President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, asked her to find evidence that the Democratic governor of Alabama at the time was cheating on his wife, according to an upcoming broadcast of "60 Minutes."

Jill Simpson, who has long alleged that Rove may have influenced the corruption prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman, makes the claim against Rove in a broadcast scheduled to be aired Sunday, according to a statement from CBS.

Simpson testified to congressional investigators last year that she overheard conversations among Republicans in 2002 indicating that Rove was involved in the Justice Department's prosecution of Siegelman. She has never before said that Rove pressed her for evidence of marital infidelity in spite of testifying to congressional lawyers last year, submitting a sworn affidavit and speaking extensively with reporters [...]

According to the CBS statement, Simpson says Rove approached her at a 2001 meeting, when Siegelman was still governor.

"Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman?" reporter Scott Pelley asks.

"Yes," Simpson replies.

"In a compromising sexual position with one of his aides," Pelley says.

"Yes, if I could," she responds.

Simpson said she is speaking out because Siegelman's seven-year sentence on corruption charges bothers her, the release said. She said she found no evidence of an affair.

Karl Rove has dodged a lot of bullets in his day, but his entire operation is on the line with this Siegelman story. This involves the US Attorneys scandal, as the real meaning of that purge was about directing federal prosecutors to bring charges against Democrats and to use the Justice Department as an arm of the RNC. It involves Rove's project to build a permanent Republican majority through implementing all of the federal agencies at his disposal. It involves the entire modus operandi of the Bush White House. This is an extension of what Rove and his merry band of ratfuckers have been doing their entire careers. He just had a bunch of new tools to play with.

Kagro X has a fantastic post detailing the implications here.

This really demonstrates the lengths to which Bush-Cheney's hyper-politicized Department of Justice can go. If they can railroad the actual governor of a state into prison and have pretty much nobody really sit up and take notice, what does that say about the extent of the damage to the country? Not just the DOJ (which is a goner), but about the supposed watchdogs of the media, who've been in large part either cowed into silence, or distracted by an endless stream of shiny objects?

Seriously, this means they can do this to anybody.

But worse than that, it means that anybody who finds themselves under scrutiny by the federal government now has license to charge that they're being politically targeted. Because if this can happen as Horton describes it happening, all bets are off. It has all the ingredients of the complete and total undoing of all federal law enforcement capability for the foreseeable future [...]

That's the true measure of the damage the Bush-Cheney "administration" has caused. It's no longer just your basic looting of the Treasury. Dollar-based corruption we at least understand. But corruption of the actual mechanisms of the government itself? Corruption not meant to enrich, but to corrode public trust in the only system we have for actually holding corrupt officials to account?

We're now looking at federal law enforcement so grossly politicized that even a landslide victory for the opposition party might not be able to root the corruption out.

I'll be TiVoing on Sunday night. You should too. 52 former state Attorneys General have signed letters in support of re-opening the Siegelman case and investigating the politicization. You should do what you can to help them.

... I should add that this is something that Digby talks about a lot: the right appropriating the critiques of the left. You can bet that if a President Obama or President Clinton tries to get rid of some corrupt Republicans buried deep inside the federal agencies, the bloody shirt of "politicization" will be waved. They poisoned the well of impeachment to innoculate themselves of that potential action, they're sure to use "voter fraud" claims to try and illegitimize elections, and then this. It's something I hope we're thinking about.

Maverick At War With Himself

by digby

David Brooks finally writes about something on which he actually is an authority (unlike, say, the buying habits of red state America) namely, John McCain. Brooks, you may recall, (along with William Kristol, who ironically now joins him as an op-ed columnist for the NY Times.) was one of the earliest McCainiacs, a believe as was St John, in the notion of GOP Fascism Lite, which they called National Greatness conservatism. (They are pretty much imperialist neocons, but they also want to go around building temples and monuments all over the country to America's great martial history.)

Anyway, Brooks loves McCain, especially his bloodthirsty nature. I believe his contacts in that campaign are probably impeccable. The picture he draws today is of a man with no center who has two separate groups of worshippers around him with different goals and separate ways of approaching politics. McCain the maverick and McCain the standard hypocritical GOP suck-up are at war with each other and the campaign has manifested that with two separate camps:

Davis is a creature of the political mainstream. He is even-tempered and charming. He is a lobbyist and a friend of lobbyists. He is a good manager. In policy terms, his tastes tend toward the Republican center.

Weaver is a renegade. He has a darker personality. He’s not a member of elite Washington circles and resented the way McCain would occasionally get pulled into them. Weaver is a less effective bureaucrat, but his policy instincts are more daring and independent.

The Davis-Weaver rivalry has lasted for so long because John McCain has a foot in each camp. McCain is, on one level, a figure of the Washington mainstream. He admires Alan Greenspan and Henry Kissinger. He appreciates a steady manager like Davis.

But McCain is also a renegade and a romantic. He loves tilting at the establishment and shaking things up. He loves books and movies in which the hero dies at the end while serving a noble, if lost, cause. He loves the insurgent/band-of-brothers ethos that Weaver exudes.

McCain was loyal to each camp in a house divided. But the poisons emanating from the rift have spread outward. They are the background for the article my colleagues at The New York Times published Thursday.

It's hard to see how two such different camps could exist in one campaign since they are diametrically opposed to one another. More importantly it seems dicey to have a president who has two such warring parts of his own personality.

McCain's strength is the fact that he seems to be someone very secure in his own skin, someone who's biography shows that he has been to hell and back and can't be frightened or shaken by anything. This kind of thing speaks to something far more complex and potentially dangerous. This is a man who is either a complete phony or has never fully come to understand himself or the profession he chose.

I vote for phony. I think the maverick label is a typical dashing, macho flyboy image that he's always enjoyed, but has nothing to do with who he actually is, which is a ... politician, in the most pejorative sense. The fools are the John Weavers' and the David Brooks' who see in him something glorious and heroic, which he may have been at one time, but long since left behind when he decided to systematically create the conditions for him to enter politics --- conditions which included leaving his first wife for a beautiful heiress (whom he very may well have been lucky enough to conveniently fall in love with as well)and buying himself a seat in congress. The rest is history.

And they call Hillary calculating...