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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Village Meritocracy

by digby

At least he didn't get any kind of affirmative action. That would be unfair:

The late Tim Russert's son will take up a family tradition for NBC News, helping to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Luke Russert's assignment as a convention correspondent focusing on "youth issues" is his first for NBC, the network said Thursday.

Russert, 22, a recent Boston College graduate, has been on the radio since 2006 as co-host with pundit James Carville of "60/20 Sports" on XM Satellite Radio.

"Never before in an election cycle has so much attention turned to the youth vote, and Luke will bring a unique perspective to covering it," NBC News President Steve Capus said in a statement.

Russert told MSNBC.com that he realizes some might say it was only his name that got him the job. But he's ready for the challenge and plans to work hard, he said.

"I'm not trying to be my father. He's irreplaceable. I'm simply trying to do something that I think there's a real niche for, that there's a calling for, that has to do with youth, not just in the election but in politics from now on," Russert said.

In a statement, he said he was "humbled and grateful" for the opportunity.

Obama Clark

by digby

I was disheartened when the village succeeded in chasing Wes Clark out of the campaign. He's a good guy who brings a necessary combination of military credibility and progressive values into the political arena at a time when we have a chance to change the prevailing paradigm of conservative dominance in foreign policy.

Obama's going to need people like Clark close by to help him manage the military, which is going to be hostile to his leadership. The Man Called Petraeus is gearing up for his run in 2012 and they already injected themselves into the campaign by sandbagging Obama with that visit to the wounded troops flap. It's not going to be easy.

I support this effort to put Clark on the ticket. I realize that it's a long shot, but considering what dday is writing about below with respect to Afghanistan (which has me very worried) I would very much like to see Clark back on the inside. Afghanistan is a NATO mission and he knows NATO backwards and forwards. Maybe showing that he has a grassroots constituency is one way to do it.

Stoller puts it this way:

Clark has a 34 year service record, has won a war, commanded troops all over the world, and nearly died of his injuries in Vietnam. He has run for President and been a surrogate for hundreds of Democrats all over the country, including Ned Lamont. He was against the war in Iraq, and knows the military bureaucracy inside and out. This is someone who would make an insanely good Vice President, and someone who has deep connections to the newly formed progressive communities that emerged from 2002-2006

And I think this is compelling as well, from the highly respected Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight:

A month ago, picking Wesley Clark would have seemed like a fairly safe choice -- someone who allows you to check the "foreign policy" and "liked by Clinton supporters" boxes. It might have seemed, in other words, like a pander.

But because of the Face the Nation dust-up, all of the sudden it would send a very different message. It would say: we're going to stand our ground, we're not going to be so worried about being politically correct, and we're taking it right to you. Isn't that a fairly optimal message for Obama to send out given the present narrative?

I think now would be the perfect moment to reject the faux-outrage culture of the Village and pick somebody who isn't afraid to call McCain out on foreign policy and military affairs. Steve Schmidt will send everyone in DC a case of smelling salts and a personal fainting couch, but unless Obama figures out a way to signal that he's getting off the hissy fit express, this campaign is going to be torturous. And we know one thing: capitulating to it doesn't work. They just up the ante.

If you would like to add your voice to this initiative, you can do so here.

The AP covers the initiative:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark is getting an online push for presidential running mate.

A new Web site, http://www.obamaclark.com, offers readers a chance to sign a petition supporting Clark's placement on the ticket with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Clark, a Vietnam veteran and former supreme commander of NATO under President Clinton, had been serving as a national security surrogate for Obama until he belittled McCain's qualifications to be president during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" last month.

McCain, a former Navy fighter pilot, was shot down over Hanoi and held prisoner during the Vietnam War.

"I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Clark said.

Matt Stoller, a political consultant and blogger who created the pro-Clark Web site, said the flap over Clark's comments "was just a bunch of insiders getting mad." The Web site argues that Clark can complement Obama with his executive experience, a military background and understanding of foreign policy. Clark endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic primaries, but voiced support for Obama once he secured the nomination.

Meet The Bloggers

by dday

I've been invited to co-host the first segment of Brave New Films' "Meet the Bloggers" Web video show tomorrow. It's basically Meet The Press with thinking people. The guests include:

Rachel Maddow (Air America, MSNBC) interviewed by Cenk Ugyur and David Dayen (D-Day, Hullabaloo)

Bloggers roundtable with Roberto Lovato (Of America), Liliana Segura (AlterNet) and Baratunde Thurston (Jack and Jill Politics)

The topic is US policy in Afghanistan and it hopes to be a good, substantive discussion. I last posted about Afghanistan here - clearly this is an issue where Democrats feel they can "look tough" by believing they can shift troops and fight the "real war on terror," but there needs to be a serious, substantive look at what our goals should be and whether 5 years of trying to bomb the country into submission hasn't permanently damaged relations and led us to fight a losing battle. With the release of RAND Corporation study (hey, it only took a decade to undertake a study on how to best fight terrorism) re-affirming a strategy opposed to the militarism, colonialism and unilateralism of the current Administration, we need to think strategically about this foreign policy challenge and what might WORK best, not what will make the yahoos feel good.

(I should also say that the RAND study basically proved John Kerry right, and he is continuing to smartly lay out a new strategy against extremism designed to put military force in the background and a more totalistic "global counterinsurgency" based on legitimacy and global development in the foreground. It's well worth your time reading.)

I don't have to tell all of you that we need more progressive media, and this program, in its third episode, is an excellent opportunity for us to stake out a real tentpole. Plus, the strong commitment to women and communities of color is a very exciting way to show off this diverse movement. On this one episode you're seeing the equivalent of a year on all the Sunday chat shows combined.

More information at the Meet The Bloggers website. It streams live at 1pm ET/10am PT.


by digby

Look what's been scrubbed from the McCain campaign website. (Here's the google cache)

NEW YORK (AP) - Republican Sen. John McCain said he will officially enter the presidential race ... with a formal announcement in early April after a trip to Iraq.

The Arizona senator discussed the timing of the long-expected announcement with reporters at an awards reception Wednesday evening a few hours after taping an appearance on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman."

On the talk show, McCain told Letterman: "I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States," then added that he would give a formal speech to that effect in early April.


There had been no doubt that McCain would eventually become a full-fledged White House candidate, and he had been expected to make his candidacy official in the spring.

The 2006 midterm campaign had just ended when McCain took the first formal step toward a presidential run in November. He formed an exploratory committee and gave a speech casting himself as a "common-sense conservative" in the vein of Ronald Reagan who could lead the party back to dominance after a dreadful election season by returning to the GOP's core principles.

A political celebrity, McCain is considered a top contender for the nomination.



by digby

These guys are on a roll:

"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

Here's their evidence, from Obama's town hall meeting in Springfield yesterday:

So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky. That's essentially the argument they're making.

The Obama campaign won't make that mistake again, I'm sure. And I'm sure many people are happy to know that race will be off the table and McCain can dogwhistle his way in to office without any push back from anyone. Excellent work.

Keep in mind that this is just fine, however:

McCain pounded the Democratic presidential hopeful for opposing an increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq — known as the “surge” — which has been credited with helping stabilize the country.

”When we adopted the surge, we were losing the war in Iraq, and I stood up and said I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war,” McCain told reporters.

”Apparently Sen. Obama, who does not understand what’s happening in Iraq or fails to acknowledge the success in Iraq, would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.”

Playing the unpatriotic traitor card is a-ok. Unless, of course, you say that being a POW doesn't automatically qualify you to be president, in which case you are an unpatriotic traitor.

Good to know the rules are being laid down clearly so we know what is and isn't allowed in this campaign. Republicans can say anything and Democrats have to pretend it isn't happening. Some things never change.

And anyway, Obama can always dance on the head of pin:

Stipulating that McCain isn't race-baiting doesn't mean that Obama ought to refrain from recognizing that some people who might be inspired by his message might also be a little wary, a little prejudiced in the way that most of us are, a little confused about what this unusual guy is all about.

McCain isn't race baiting. And campaign operations chief Steve Schmidt has told his communications staff that he will fire any campaign operative on sight who even thinks of trying to exploit racial prejudice. Democrats might be skeptical of this, but there's no evidence to say otherwise.

Right. If Steve Schmidt says it, it must be true. And we're all a "little confused about what this unusual guy is all about."

Mum's the word on the racism thing. Nothing more will be said on the subject. It doesn't exist in this campaign. But the good news is that we do have permission to push back on the "Democrats are fags" stuff, which apparently has just been noticed by the members of the press:

Now, I didn't go to a four year college NOT to assimilate some lessons about the semiotics of about gender and language. CBS News National Correspondent Dean Reynolds noted yesterday that the McCain campaign accused Obama of reacting to McCain's aggressiveness "with a mix of fussiness and hysteria." Strike me down for noticing, and I usually hate to even think in these terms, but those words have gendered meanings. Reynolds:

It reminded those of us in the political press corps of the "Breck Girl" tag the Republicans stuck on John Edwards, or their slam against John Kerry: "He looks French."

Republican campaigns frequently take this "wimp factor" tack -- even against fellow Republicans. Remember Alexander Haig's critical riposte to then Vice President George H.W. Bush during a debate in 1988. "George," said Haig, "we didn't hear a wimp out of you."

It appears that in the latest rip on Obama's "fussiness and hysteria," the party of Larry Craig and Mark Foley seems to be trying to woo not only the male vote, but the "manly men" substrata therein.

Apparently the "Al Gore is practically lactating" line went right over their little heads.

But it's great that the mainstream media have finally noticed this so that they can pretend they are sensitive to the semiotics in gender and language after they trashed Clinton for months. Better late than never, I guess. And it's really convenient that they can do this without having to acknowledge that Obama is the first African American nominee and might just be subject to some acial-ray edjudicepray. (That could never happen in America!)

Update: The campaign responds.

"Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue, but he does believe they’re using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign, and those are the issues he’ll continue to talk about."


by digby

Look who's back! And with a great post about McNasty's history.


The Right To Be Offensive

by tristero

Ed Brayton is right. This is an excellent description of the recent Myers affair. Briefly, what happened was this:

A fellow attending Mass decided that, rather than swallow the consecrated Host, to take it home. This created a huge to-do about blasphemy which infuriated PZ Myers. In reaction, Dr. Myers offered to desecrate the Host himself and proceeded to do so.

As mentioned, I didn't like what PZ did but I sure understand why he did it. And I certainly agree with this:
... this is not the middle east; this is not the middle ages. This is a free society. And in a free society, there exists no right to not be offended. If the Catholic church can get away with desecrating what others consider sacred (or, for those of us who have no concept of sacredness, at least special) - if they can call a loving union between two gay men or women an "abomination", if they can call the union into which I hope to enter someday a "perversion", then damn it, I reserve the right to desecrate what they consider sacred also. Respect is a two-way street - if they want my respect, they must give me theirs. If they want Myers to respect them, they must also respect him (and Mr. Cook for that matter). But this is something of which religion in general seems incapable - they always want respect, but reserve the right to give none in return.
That is exactly right.

This is about respect and tolerance which, among the lunatic fringe that drives public discourse on religious belief these days, simply doesn't exist. It is, as the letter writer points out, absolutely outrageous to publicly characterize as "an abomination" a loving relationship or anathematize contraceptive practices as "murder." And yet christianist goons do it all the time. And no one blinks an eye.

PZ simply gave them a taste of their own medicine. We should carefully note the christianist reactions. We should recycle them, with interest, the next time they blame a hurricane on a gay pride parade, as psychopastor Hagee did in re: Katrina.

Note: The last time I posted about this , some of you were curious why I didn't like what PZ did. As I said then, it's besides the point. I just didn't, is all. My friends often do things I don't like, but I still like them fine (and vice versa, I hope). I think it's silly to assume we must agree with everything our friends do.*

In PZ's case, whom I've met and who I like a lot both personally and intellectually, I think PZ's actions here pale in comparison to those of the lunatics arrayed against him. I support him and have written the president of his college a letter to say so. But more to the point, I am so thrilled Dr. Myers regularly gives us posts like this one which really stick it to the likes of Bill Donohue and his boring, bleak, and loopy worldview!

*Let's make this general for a moment. Disagreement is not that big a deal; if anything, disagreement is a good thing. OTOH, strong opposition to intolerance, ignorance, and other right wing lunacy is a very big deal. About this, I agree with PZ (and most likely, you, dear reader) 100%.

Not That It Matters

by digby

David Riley at Businessweek notices that McNasty is McNasty

What the McCain campaign doesn’t want people to know, according to one GOP strategist I spoke with over the weekend, is that they had an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops saying that Obama was...wait for it...using wounded troops as campaign props. So, no matter which way Obama turned, McCain had an Obama bashing ad ready to launch. I guess that’s political hardball. But another word for it is the one word that most politicians are loathe to use about their opponents—a lie.

This is what some people are calling the Hannity strategy. Right wing nut-muffin Sean Hannity employs a slick strategy of repeating canards very quickly over and over, day in and day out, which aren’t challenged by his TV co-host Alan Colmes or by any of his radio listeners. By relentlessly repeating falsehoods day after day, the theory goes, it becomes embedded in the media. There is truth in this. In 2004, the Bush campaign ran an ad and daily repeated that John Kerry was a flip flopper, running a Kerry clip with the Democratic candidate saying he voted for an $87 billion military appropriation before he voted against it. It sounded bad when ripped out of context. Kerry voted for it in committee, and then voted against in on a floor vote when the bill included giveaways to Halliburton he didn’t support.

The distortion took on a life of its own, parroted by mainstream media including Chris Matthews, and even the Tom Brokaw and the late Tim Russert. It is a case study in how effective advertising can work when it is done relentlessly and consistently…even if its untrue.
I don't know why they are calling this the "Hannity Strategy." It's a long time propaganda technique that goes back to the birth of propaganda --- and it's one that's been constantly employed by Republicans for the past 20 years.

What this person fails to realize is that it isn't Hannity or even Limbaugh who make these things work. It's the mainstream media. They Blackberry each other the latest hilarious snotty talking point, which they repeat like a bunch of parrots with ADD, and it doesn't matter if it's true or not because "it's out there." Even when they are arguing that the facts are incorrect or claiming that there's a 'risk" of Mccain being perceived as too negative --- they are getting the smear out.

I just heard Andrea Mitchell argue for 10 minutes with McCain's campaign manager along those lines. She put a quote of his on the screen:

Only a celebrity of Barack Obama's magnitude could attract 200,000 fans in Berlin who gathered for the mere opportunity to be in his presence. These are not supporters or even voters, but fans fawning over The One. Only celebrities like Barack Obama go to the gym three times a day, demand "MET-RX chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew -- Black Forest Berry Honest Tea" and worry about the price of arugula

It sat there for quite some time as Davis and Mitchell talked over one another, making little sense. The only thing you remember from the exchange is that quote.

Enough of that and you wind up with this, (Via Stoller):

Perhaps one of the clearest indications emerged Tuesday from the world of late-night comedy, when David Letterman offered his "Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident." The examples included Obama proposing to change the name of Oklahoma to "Oklobama" and measuring his head for Mount Rushmore.

"When Letterman is doing 'Top Ten' lists about something, it has officially entered the public consciousness," said Dan Schnur, a political analyst from the University of Southern California and the communications director in John McCain's 2000 campaign. "And it usually stays there for a long, long time."

For historical purposes, here is an example of the late night jokes that were done about Kerry in 2004. (Interestingly, Letterman hates Bush so much that he doesn't seem to have joined in the fun.):

"Bush and Cheney say now they're targeting people who can't make up their minds, so apparently they're trying to get John Kerry's vote as well." —Jay Leno

"You see the pictures in the paper today of John Kerry windsurfing? He's at his home in Nantucket this week, doing his favorite thing, windsurfing. Even his hobby depends on which way the wind blows." —Jay Leno

"We make jokes about it but the truth is this presidential election really offers us a choice of two well-informed, opposing positions on every issue. OK, they both belong to John Kerry, but they're still there." —Jay Leno"

Vice President Dick Cheney attacked John Kerry. He said that John Kerry 'lacks deeply held convictions.' Today Kerry shot back, he said, 'That's not completely true.'" —Jay Leno

Once it's out there, it's out there. It doesn't matter how it got there.

McNasty's McNasty

by digby

Here's a story in tomorrow's NY Times about McCain's new hatchet man's very special talents. He's earning his money.

Mr. McCain’s campaign is now under the leadership of members of President Bush’s re-election campaign, including Steve Schmidt, the czar of the Bush war room that relentlessly painted his opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as effete, elite, and equivocal through a daily blitz of sound bites and Web videos that were carefully coordinated with Mr. Bush’s television advertisements.

The run of attacks against Mr. Obama over the last couple of weeks have been strikingly reminiscent of that drive, including the Bush team’s tactics of seeking to make campaigns referendums on its opponents — not a choice between two candidates — and attacking the opponent’s perceived strengths head-on. Central to the latest McCain drive is an attempt to use against Mr. Obama the huge crowds and excitement he has drawn, including on his foreign trip last week, by promoting a view of him as more interested in attention and adulation than in solving the problems facing American families.

“I would say that it is beyond dispute that he has become the biggest celebrity in the world,” Mr. Schmidt said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “The question that we are posing to the American people is this: ‘Is he ready to lead yet?’ And the answer to the question that we will offer to the American people is: ‘No he is not.’ ”

Mr. McCain’s more focused assault comes after one of his worst weeks of the general election campaign, when he seemed to fumble for a consistent, overarching critique of Mr. Obama, who winged around the Middle East and Europe. Mr. McCain’s advisers continue to look for ways to bring more discipline to his message, and are being urged by some supporters to cut back the frequency of his question-and-answer sessions with reporters, a staple of his campaign but one that occasionally yields unscripted moments, misstatements and off-the-cuff pronouncements that divert attention from the themes he is trying to promote.

The intensity of the recent drive — which has included some assertions from the McCain campaign that have been widely dismissed as misleading — has surprised even some allies of Mr. McCain, who has frequently spoken about the need for civility in politics. The sentiment seeped onto television on Wednesday with Andrea Tantaros, a Republican strategist, saying on MSNBC that the use of Ms. Hilton in Mr. McCain’s commercial was “absurd and juvenile,” and that he should spend more time promoting his own agenda.

Mr. Obama’s campaign seized on those concerns, trying to turn the tables by portraying Mr. McCain as cranky and negative. The Democratic National Committee called Mr. McCain “McNasty.” Late Wednesday Mr. Obama released a counter advertisement citing editorials critical of Mr. McCain’s latest volley of attacks and featuring an announcer who says, “John McCain, Same old politics, same failed policies.”

Asked by reporters about Mr. McCain’s new advertisement, Mr. Obama said, “I do notice that he doesn’t seem to have anything to say very positive about himself.”

I realize they want to take the high road, but ....

Here's a reminder of how President Dukakis responded when he was ruthlessly attacked by Bush Sr:

MICHAEL DUKAKIS: I'm fed up with it. Haven't seen anything like it in 25 years of public life. George Bush's negative TV ads, distorting my record, full of lies and he knows it. I'm on the record for the very weapons systems his ads say I'm against. I want to build a strong defense. I'm sure he wants to build a strong defense. So this isn't about defense issues. It's about dragging the truth into the gutter. And I'm not going to let them do it. This campaign is too important. The stakes are too high for every American family. The real question is, will we have a president who fights for the privileged few, or will we have a president who fights for you? George Bush wants to give the wealthiest one percent of the people in this country a new tax break worth $30,000 a year. I'm fighting for you and your family, for affordable housing and health care, for better jobs, for the best education and opportunity for our children. It's a tough fight, I know that. Uphill all the way, but I'm going to keep on fighting because what I'm fighting for is our future.

That worked out.

For a little more info on the special political stylings of our pal Steve Schmidt, here's a story from the San Francisco Chronicle when he was hired to run Schwarzenegger's campaign:

Governor's team adds former Rove protege

Steve Schmidt displayed his uncanny political talent -- the ability to launch "rapid response" -- when Martha Alito fled weeping after senators cast her husband, Judge Samuel Alito, as a closet racist during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Working the phones, the lawmakers and the media, Schmidt, the administration's point man on Alito's confirmation, lamented that she had been pushed to the limit by the Senate's Democrats.

"The American people who saw this hearing today are going to be troubled by some of the tactics of the Democrats, who I think didn't focus on law, didn't want to have an uplifting debate -- but made a decision to try to attack Judge Alito and tear him down in the most unfair way,'' Schmidt, 35, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in one live interview.

Republicans -- even some frustrated Democratic opponents -- shook their heads in admiration. Thanks to Schmidt's spin, the incident ballooned into front page headlines and photos sympathetic to the judge.

Schmidt, a former California political operative, was a member of the exclusive "breakfast club" led by top White House adviser Karl Rove that ran President Bush's re-election campaign.

That was a beaut, for sure, and we were on to it at the time. It made no difference, it took on a life of its own and we all know the result. This guy's good.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Silly Season

by digby

Atrios watched the gasbags all day and it's driving him crazy. I feel his pain. If you haven't checked in over there today, go to his first post of the day and read up the page. It's hilarious.

This is the first one, and it only gets better:


Sam Brownback is on my TV upset that China might be monitoring the internet and telephone communications of visitors during the olympics. "That's spying!" he says. He's really upset.

Please just kill me.

I saw that one too and nearly lost my latte.

This is getting weird. Brownback's taking on the mantle of a fake libertarian ca. 1997 as if we haven't just gone through a huge debate about the US spying on Americans without warrants. Which he supported. The other day Pelosi went on Jon Stewart and complained about domestic surveillance powers and then said "this Republican Congress has been a rubber stamp for so long, but that will change."

Am I on drugs and don't know it?

"As many loyalists as possible."

by dday

Today the Justice Department's Inspector General, Glenn Fine, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss Monday's report showing serious violations of the law in the hiring of career Department employees. What the IG revealed today was that the attitude of extreme partisanship inside the DoJ was pervasive. Whether people were actively engaging in politicization or just tacitly accepting it, everyone was at least aware of what was happening... everyone except for Abu Gonzales, of course, who does not recall.

FINE: He said he wasn’t aware of what was going on. He said he did not know Goodling used poltiical factors when assessing candidates for career positions, did not know the search terms Goodling used, did not know even that Goodling’s portfolio including hiring for IJs [immigration judges], and basically said he didn’t have knowledge of the role the office of the Attorney General played in identifying candidates.

It is of course grossly incompetent for Gonzales to be unaware of the goings-on in a department he's supposed to manage. But I don't buy this at all. Gonzales came from the White House counsel's office, and it is beyond clear that the politicized hiring originated at 1600 Penna. Charlie Savage finds evidence inside the IG report.

n May 17, 2005, the White House’s political affairs office sent an e-mail message to agencies throughout the executive branch directing them to find jobs for 108 people on a list of “priority candidates” who had “loyally served the president.”

“We simply want to place as many of our Bush loyalists as possible,” the White House emphasized in a follow-up message, according to a little-noticed passage of an internal Justice Department report released Monday about politicization in the department’s hiring of civil-service prosecutors and immigration officials [...]

The report released on Monday by Justice Department investigators said that the context of the May 17, 2005, message from the White House about its priority-hire list “made plain” that it was seeking politically appointed government jobs, for which it is legal to take politics into account. The report did not say who sent the message.

But the message also urged administration officials to “get creative” in finding the patronage positions — and some political appointees carried out their mission with particular zeal.

“We pledge 7 slots within 40 days and 40 nights. Let the games begin!” Jan Williams, then the White House’s liaison to the Justice Department, responded in an e-mail message on May 19, 2005.

But despite this very clear evidence, the IG only consulted with one White House official, Rove protege Scott Jennings, during the entire investigation. It's this compartmentalization - investigating pieces of the federal bureaucracy in a vacuum and refusing to connect the dot to the overall project directed at the highest levels - that feeds the Beltway mindset that restricts accountability at every turn. As Jonathan Turley said yesterday, if Monica Goodling becomes the next iteration of the "few bad apples" at Abu Ghraib, with accountability and punishment ending with her, it would be pathetic.

And even getting Goodling to pay for this would be a stretch. She was given immunity against self-incrimination at her Congressional hearing, and the crime she committed doesn't appear to have a penalty now that she's no longer employed by the DoJ. This made me want to scream today:

Schumer: On of the most shocking conclusions in your report is that someone like Monica Goodling, who politicized the appointment of Assistant US Attorneys, Immigration Judges, and even Counter-Terrorism positions may not face any consequences for her actions. So let me ask you this, Mr. Fine. Should such blatant politicization and illegal activity be subject to some criminal punishment so there would be some ultimate accountability.

Fine: I'm not sure it's true to say she escaped any accountability and punishment. As I discussed with Senator Whitehouse earlier, she--people did leave the Department, so they can't be disciplined by the Department, but we've recommended that they never get a job with the Department again and hopefully with the federal government again and that hopefully they consider this report if they ever do reapply. They have been exposed. Their conduct has been exposed in a transparent way for all to see. And then, there may be--I'm not saying there is but there may be appropriate Bar sanctions for--possibly--for attorneys who have committed misconduct and may have violated a Bar rule and so the Bar may look into that [...]

Whitehouse: Um, with respect to the consequences for the violation of federal law. Can you identify what Bar rules might have been broken. ... I did not see OPR making any referrals to the Disciplinary Council as a result, so I'm a little confused about what disciplinary consequences lawyers might face?

Fine: My understanding is, and I've had discussions with OPR about this, that OPR intends to, and we will participate in a notification to the Bars of individuals who are found to have committed misconduct, for them to review the conduct. Now I don't believe OPR has done a lengthy review of this and say which exact rule but it does intend to and I think it is appropriate to notify the Bars of the individuals who were involved and in fact I think some of them have already been notified; I think individuals have provided our reports to various Bars for the Bar to look at. In terms of the rules, I'm not an expert in the area, potentially Rule 8.4 which talks about the administration of justice and acts going to the fitness to practice law. I'm not necessarily saying that does apply but I do think there are things that ought to be review and looked at and I think the experts in this area ought to do that.

Whitehouse then asked about stripping civil service protection for anyone hired during Goodling's reign, and also about John Nowacki, revealed in the IG report to have lied about Goodling's hiring practices, and STILL employed by the Justice Department. And... crickets.

This, in the end, is the problem, as surely as it's the problem with citing Karl Rove for contempt. There are follow-ups and hurdles and gaps within the law that allow these people to pervert the Justice Department, use it as an arm of the RNC, put honorable people into jail, and get away with it. Because there's no understanding of the big picture here. Krugman gets at it today.

As we all know, the Bush administration essentially brushed aside all notion of due process. It locked up and tortured people it said were “enemy combatants”; it engaged in warrantless wiretapping; and so on.

We weren’t supposed to worry our pretty little heads about this, because we were supposed to take it as a given that these were people we could trust not to abuse their power.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department was interviewing job candidates, and asking,

What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

In other words, there was a combination of power without oversight and a deeply creepy cult of personality (which was obvious long before we got the latest specifics.)

The deeply politicized Justice Department is the firewall against accountability for the crimes of the Administration. They started that project right away to make sure.

It was in a different context and regarding different criminals, but this is what accountability looks like, courtesy (Lord help us) Republican Ted Poe:

Mr. Speaker, it seems to be this is yet another example of incompetence, waste, and possible fraud against America. If crimes have been committed, the Justice Department needs to prosecute anyone that steals money from America during this time of war. Because the long arm of American law even reaches crooked contractors in Iraq. And where shall we send these people? To the well-built Guantanamo Bay prison where we house war criminals. And that’s just the way it is.

Loyalists have a different opinion.

Dog Day Rollout

by digby

Just a little reminder. It was precisely this time of year in 2004, the lull before the Olympics and the conventions, when they rolled out the swiftboat smear. It's when the media are hungry for something juicy and mean and the Republicans are ready to feed it to them.

And don't think because they have been somewhat sympathetic to Obama up to now that they won't run with this stuff. remember, it doesn't matter if they agree with it, if they stage a hissy fit, if they write long denuncuations of McCain or run fact chacks. All that matters is that they get it out there for the McCain campaign.

The swift boat liars never did a big ad buy. They got almost all their play through pimping the controversy and having the media show their ads for free.

Update: Speaking of Barack the anorexic starlet on the down-low:

McCain camp on Obama's 'hysteria'

Staying very personal, the McCain campaign responds to Obama's suggestion that Republicans will attack his unusual name and his race:

"This is a typically superfluous response from Barack Obama. Like most celebrities, he reacts to fair criticism with a mix of fussiness and hysteria," says McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, before trying to link the attack back to offshore drilling

And You Wonder How George W. Bush Got Elected?

by digby

Via Chris Blattman:

Robert Higgs in The Beacon describes how he recently

stumbled upon a description of War Plan Red, which pertains to a war between the United States and the British Empire. The U.S. Army developed this plan, along with many other color-coded contingency plans, in the 1920s and kept it warm until the end of the 1930s, when new plans were made in which the United States and Canada would cooperate in military actions against common enemies, such as Germany and Japan.

War Plan Red envisioned primarily U.S. attacks on and occupation of various Canadian cities, including Halifax (to be subjected to a poison-gas first strike), Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Victoria.

Hard to believe? Well, Canadian comic Rick Mercer hosts a popular television segment, "Talking to Americans." Perhaps not coincidentally, he finds skads of New Yorkers supporting the U.S. military's recent bombing of Saskatchewan (4m 30s in):

H/T to BT

On Dogwhistles

by digby

I've been getting a flurry of odd, disorienting criticism for suggesting that the right's use of the word "presumptuous," (which the lapdog media is eating with a spoon) is a racist dogwhistle. It's disorienting because I'm not getting this from right wingers but from fellow liberals, who seem to have concluded somewhere along the the line that racism doesn't exist and/or that the right wing in this country doesn't use it to win elections.

I think we need to have a little discussion of what "racist dogwhistle" means. It is a word or phrase that conjures up certain subliminal images in those who are predisposed to see things in racial terms. It doesn't mean that everyone who hears the word as a criticism sees it in that way --- only those who get "the code." So, when Karl Rove sends out McCain's minions to spread the word "presumptuous" all over the place, the idea is to signal to the racists among us that Obama is "uppity." It doesn't mean that if you think Obama is presumptuous that you are a racist. You might just think, "yeah, he's acting like it's in the bag already." But racists hear that Obama is an uppity black man.

See, it works on two levels. That's why it's called a dogwhistle --- only the racists can hear the racism in it.

This is a complicated mode of communication that's been developed on the right for many decades. It's not something I just made up. There are dozens of examples: "welfare queen" and "Willie Horton," the "Hands" ad by Jesse Helms and most recently, the Harold Ford "Call Me" ad in 2006. The most famous of all was Ronald Reagan slyly beginning his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where one of the worst atrocities of the civil rights movement happened. Over the years it's gotten more subtle as the nation becomes less tolerant of overt racism, but it's never completely gone.

Here's how the famous GOP strategist Lee Atwater described it:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

Racism is not dead in this country, as much as we wish it were. It's getting better. But you only have to read this article from last week in the NY Times to know (as if you have to see it written in the paper) that this issue still has salience:

Americans are sharply divided by race heading into the first election in which an African-American will be a major-party presidential nominee, with blacks and whites holding vastly different views of Senator Barack Obama, the state of race relations and how black Americans are treated by society, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The results of the poll, conducted against the backdrop of a campaign in which race has been a constant if not always overt issue, suggested that Mr. Obama’s candidacy, while generating high levels of enthusiasm among black voters, is not seen by them as evidence of significant improvement in race relations.

After years of growing political polarization, much of the divide in American politics is partisan. But Americans’ perceptions of the fall presidential election between Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, also underlined the racial discord that the poll found. More than 80 percent of black voters said they had a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama; about 30 percent of white voters said they had a favorable opinion of him.

Nearly 60 percent of black respondents said race relations were generally bad, compared with 34 percent of whites. Four in 10 blacks say that there has been no progress in recent years in eliminating racial discrimination; fewer than 2 in 10 whites say the same thing. And about one-quarter of white respondents said they thought that too much had been made of racial barriers facing black people, while one-half of black respondents said not enough had been made of racial impediments faced by blacks.

The survey suggests that even as the nation crosses a racial threshold when it comes to politics — Mr. Obama, a Democrat, is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — many of the racial patterns in society remain unchanged in recent years.

Indeed, the poll showed markedly little change in the racial components of people’s daily lives since 2000, when The Times examined race relations in an extensive series of articles called “How Race Is Lived in America.”

As it was eight years ago, few Americans have regular contact with people of other races, and few say their own workplaces or their own neighborhoods are integrated. In this latest poll, over 40 percent of blacks said they believed they had been stopped by the police because of their race, the same figure as eight years ago; 7 percent of whites said the same thing.

This certainly doesn't mean that everyone who dislikes Obama is a racist. But it does suggest that some people dislike him because of his race and can be persuaded with some subliminal racialized massaging that McCain agrees with them. Republicans have been winning with this formula for many, many years so this shouldn't exactly be news to anyone.

As anyone who has ever seen Gone With The Wind knows, the "uppity" theme goes all the way back to Reconstruction where it especially applied to northern black carpetbaggers who allegedly lorded over the vanquished south. (It also, of course, applied to those former slaves who behaved like they were actually, you know, free.) It comes out today in the anti-affirmative action victimization and commentary like this:

Hall: If they can’t prove he’s a Muslim, then let’s prove his wife is an angry black woman. I think it’s going to get ugly.

Thomas: And who are the black women you see on the local news at night in cities all over the country. They’re usually angry about something. They’ve had a son who has been shot in a drive-by shooting. They are angry at Bush. So you don’t really have a profile of non-angry black women.

The idea that racism doesn't exist and that the right wing isn't trying to stoke it with the first nomination of black candidate is naive. (They would have used all the overt sexist smears that were previewed in the primaries if Clinton had won, as well.) It's the way the right wins elections --- by stoking tribal resentment and tickling the ids of Americans who are hostile to any kind of progress because they are afraid they will lose out.

* For the record, I don't think that the phrase "fairy tale" or the LBJ/MLK comments during the primaries were racist dogwhistles. There's no linguistic association or meaning in those things that make sense as a code designed to appeal to racists. However, I'm not in any position to judge whether it's appropriate that blacks felt they were insulting --- I'm not black and they are the ones to make that call, not me. But a racist dogwhistle is a conscious, pre-planned word or phrase designed to explicitly appeal to racists. I don't think those things fit that criteria.

And by the way, I was one who defended Clinton vociferously against sexist commentary during the primaries and I have the scars to prove it. I guess no good deed goes unpunished. This is the kind of analysis I have been doing for five years on this blog. It should surprise nobody that I would write about it, whether it's Clinton, Obama or any other Democrat who's the victim of it. It's what I do.

Update: dday hits the latest one today. I would just add that there's a secondary dogwhistle in this one too, that stems from Maureen Dowd's nasty little jibes about Obama being an "anorexic starlet."

He's not just a black man messing around with white women. He's a gay man on the "down-low." Like all Democrats.


Miscegenation Dogwhistle Watch

by dday

Wow, this is just transparent.

There's no reason to include Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in this ad. None. It hangs on the word "celebrity" being included, which means it could have just as well been Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Anyway, all the footage is from Obama's Berlin speech, not the red carpet. This is absolutely meant to juxtapose images of white women with images of a black man. They even dissolve into one another!

Josh Marshall notes:

I note with interest today, John McCain's new tactic of associating Barack Obama with oversexed and/or promiscuous young white women. (See today's new ad and this from yesterday.) Presumably, a la Harold Ford 2006, this will be one of those strategies that will be a matter of deep dispute during the campaign and later treated as transparent and obvious once the campaign is concluded.

...here we have a candidate, John McCain, who is running on a record of straight talk and honorable campaigning running a campaign made up mainly of charges reporters are now more or less acknowledging are lies. But there's precious little drawing together of the contradiction. What's more, as everyone will acknowledge after the campaign, the McCain campaign is now pushing the caricature of Obama as a uppity young black man whose presumptuousness is displayed not only in taking on airs above his station but also in a taste for young white women.

As he mentions, McCain actually hired the guy who created the "Harold, call me" ad in 2006.

This is very, very obvious. McCain's ads have overall been more negative and the press occasionally does push back on their falsehoods on a case-by-case basis. Let's see how they handle this one. Because right now we have a press narrative entirely focused on Obama, whether or not he's "ready," whether or not he's "presumptuous," whether or not he's "equipped to lead." It's high time there was a bit of focus on McCain, and the truly nasty, racially coded campaign he is now running.

Jaw On The Floor

by tristero

I don't read MoDo much anymore. I have far more important things and enlightening things to do, like watch a pot of water come to a boil on the stove. But for some reason, I chose this morning to read this and my jaw hit the floor. The only conclusion I can come to is that MoDo simply can't hold her liquor. She must have joined Obama in a ' "very dry" martini with olives.' Or two. Or three. What other reason could there be for typing up this:
The senator left his briefing books behind for a rare instance of mingling with his journalism posse at a Berlin restaurant as he sipped a rare “very dry” martini with olives. (This was either because he wanted to charm the press, which, contrary to popular imagination, is not universally enchanted with him, or because he could not get ESPN in his hotel room.)

The Obamanauts were so elated that they didn’t even seem to mind the caricature of Obama, ears sticking out, that had been drawn on the round We-Are-The-World Obama logo in the press section. The cartoon candidate demanded: “Worship me.”

After he got out of the Middle East unscathed and filled up the park in Berlin, Obama seemed to relax.

I asked him what presents he takes home to his daughters. “Anytime I make a stop, Sasha gets snow globes and Malia gets key chains,” he said. “Somebody is assigned to that.”

“You have a snow globe aide?” I marveled.
I don't have the vocabulary to describe such inanity. I can learn far more about politics by watching old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons than I can from Maureen Dowd (and they're a lot funnier). Go ahead, I dare you, try to find a reason why anyone would choose to write the above. I have a pretty darn good imagination but I cannot conceive of a psychopathological state so vapidly demented as to inform her readers, on the op-ed page of the New York Fucking Times no less, about who buys the snow globes for Obama's children.

A little reality here about that filled-up park in Berlin which MoDo glosses over in her haste to tell us about Obama's snow globe aide. I have an American friend currently living in Germany. She came up to visit us where we're staying in Massachusetts this summer. She told us that Obama's Berlin speech made an electrifying impression on all her friends. It was a transforming moment. Here in the US, as Frank Rich noted this Sunday, it was, perhaps, the first time some of the younger folks amongst us had seen an American politician greeted with cheering throngs (never mind that it happens regularly to Clinton when he travels abroad: those appearances are ignored by the US press).

Also note how MoDo describes how Obama's people reacted to the puerile graffiti that a I-use-the-term-loosely journalist drew on a campaign logo. Like most normal adults would, Obama's aides ignored it. Not MoDo. For her, it is important enough to inform the worldwide readership of the New York Times of its existence. It means something important, at least to her, but exactly what, other than the press is as immature and biased as we been saying they are for years and years, is hard to discern.

If, as the old joke has it, Andrew Lloyd-Webber is the luckiest man in the world, then Maureen Dowd must be the luckiest woman. To write such drivel, and to publish it, and to get paid for it... Truly, Fortune smiles her treacly, empty smile upon Maureen.

One more thing. That "worship me" graffiti? Remember this? For those of you who don't, it's quite real. Clear Channel paid good money to put this billboard up:

Ooops, looks like that water's about to boil Another ten minutes now, I'm sure...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Media Industrial Complex

by dday

Turns out Ron Fournier, now heading the Washington bureau of the AP right into ruin, had another job offer on the table prior to that:

In October 2006, the McCain team approached Fournier about joining the fledgling operation, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. In the months that followed, said a source, Fournier spoke about the job possibility with members of McCain’s inner circle, including political aides Mark Salter, John Weaver and Rick Davis.

Salter, who remains a top McCain adviser, said in an e-mail to Politico that Fournier was considered for “a senior advisory role” in communications.

“He did us the courtesy of considering the offer before politely declining it,” Salter said.

Why would he take it? He gets the free Dunkin' Donuts for McCain anyway, which I assume would have been part of his job description.

Fournier is clearly a partisan cheerleader ("Keep up the fight!") masquerading as a journalist. But am I supposed to be shocked by this? The late White House press secretary Tony Snow worked for Fox News prior to his arrival. The National Journal's Linda Douglass is on the Obama campaign. There's an endless revolving door between media and the corridors of power, and it's been true since Bill Moyers and even before. That's kind of a separate case, but my point is this: When I talk about the failures of the media, there's no real discernment between it and the failures of a cloistered, insulated establishment. Because they amount to the same thing.

What's far more disturbing is that these cozy establishment relationships lead insiders to expect to get away with contradictions while maintaining their perceived honorable reputation - which happens a lot on the McCain campaign:

A while back the McCain put a new rule in place that no one involved in their campaign could be a federal lobbyist or foreign agent. But CBS has an interview out with McCain campaign manager Rick Davis that appears to say that rule is no longer in effect. Asked how many lobbyists work on the campaign, Davis tells Katie Couric: "We don't make it a litmus test for employment at the McCain campaign."

THIS is the problem. The laziness, the willingness to be fed information for access, the inability to challenge any official statements or make a judgment on the side of truth or even remember what is being said from one day to the next. Fournier is not a problem, he's just a symptom.


by digby

Wolcott on the Laura Ingraham flap:

Alas, K'Lo does her heroine no favors hailing Ingraham's cool aplomb in a post titled "Laura, the Cucumber Queen." In today's climate of innuendo, 'Cucumber Queen' is the sort of honorific that could be easily misconstrued.

I'll say. But then K-Lo has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer. Here's TBOGG:

Word on the street is that John McCain's speech tonight was deeply and profoundly sucktastic, and so it turns to two of the brighter lights in the conservative constellation to offer up some really swell advice:

Exactly Right [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Sean Hannity just offered some advice to McCain on Hannity & Colmes. If he wants to give an inspiring speech, the senator ought to look at Mitt Romney's CPAC exit speech and Fred Thompson's exit speech; they were both fantastic, conservative, uplifting speeches. And so, John McCain should make like he's about to bow out of the race to find, as Hillary might put it, his voice.

And then, of course, there's this, from late 2003:

even if the Washington Post thinks they're just MidEast-phobic: 70 percent believe Saddam Hussein was tied to 9/11.

Posted at 07:45 PM

Why They Hate Us

by digby

I don't have it in me today to do another full take-down on Richard Cohen, although he surely deserves it. Just read this vapid pile of drivel and judge for yourself.

The only thing that anyone ever has to know about Richard Cohen to decide whether his political judgment is even remotely worth paying attention to is this, which he wrote in November of 2000:

"Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush."

Today he writes this bizarre statement:

The next president will have to be something of a political Superman, a man of steel who can tell the American people that they will have to pay more for less -- higher taxes, lower benefits of all kinds -- and deal in an ugly way when nuclear weapons seize the imagination of madmen.

Richard Cohen and others like him who play the role of "liberal" in the mainstream media are the reason why so many people hate liberals. They're idiots.

Taser Atrocity Of The Day

by digby

Here's a story about a couple of people dying in taser related incidents:

A Statesville man died after being shocked multiple times by Tasers at the Iredell County jail over the weekend, sources say.

Anthony Davidson, 29, was unresponsive when he was taken to Iredell Memorial Hospital Saturday afternoon. He was put on life support and died late Sunday night, police said.

His death is the second Taser-related death this year in the Charlotte area. In March, 17-year-old Darryl Wayne Turner, died after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police used a Taser on him at a Food Lion store in Charlotte.

The officers involved in Davidson's arrest – at least two from the Statesville Police Department – were put on administrative duty until the State Bureau of Investigation completes a probe into the incident.

Assistant Chief Tom Anderson of the Statesville Police Department said he was unaware how many officers or deputies may have fired their Tasers and the duration of the shocks.

But a source familiar with the investigation told the Observer that Davidson was shocked at least three times by several different law enforcement officers. Family members told the Observer that police said he had been shocked at least twice.

The incident began about 3 p.m. Saturday at a Statesville grocery store. Employees at the Food Lion on N.C. 115 told police they tried unsuccessfully to stop Davidson from leaving the store with a full cart of groceries after his debit card was declined. He left the parking lot without the groceries, police said.

When officers caught up with Davidson a short time later, he was carrying an Applebee's gift card from the store that hadn't been paid for, Anderson said.

Officers took Davidson to the Iredell County Jail where he appeared before a magistrate on a larceny charge. Davidson was behaving abnormally from the time officers first encountered him, Anderson said.

While being booked, Davidson became “physically aggressive and was communicating loudly,” Anderson said. That's when officers used one or more Tasers to get him “back under control,” police said.

A nurse who screened Davidson afterward told officers he needed further medical screening because he appeared to be “under the influence of some type of impairing substance.”

Paramedics took Davidson to the hospital Saturday. His condition continued to decline and he was unresponsive when he arrived, Anderson said. He was admitted to intensive care and was taken off life support about 10:30 p.m. Sunday.


Davidson's family said they weren't aware of him using or having a problem with drugs or alcohol... They said police told them Davidson fell while being subdued and may have hit his head.

An autopsy is scheduled later this week, Moore said.

Last month, the officer involved in the Charlotte Taser incident was cleared of criminal charges but was suspended for five days for violating the department's policy when he continuously shocked Darryl Turner for 37 seconds, a factor that contributed to his death.

No kidding

A Taser is a weapon that typically uses compressed nitrogen to shoot two tethered needle-like probes that penetrate skin and deliver an electric shock. It's designed to temporarily subdue a person. Studies suggest that multiple shocks might increase the risk of serious injury, which has prompted some agencies to limit the number of times an officer can shock someone.

Officers are taught to pull and immediately release the Taser trigger to deliver a five-second shock. They may repeatedly pull the trigger in extreme circumstances when necessary to control a suspect. But the goal is to use the minimal force necessary to control a suspect, Anderson said.

Taser-related deaths across North Carolina prompted a coalition to study Taser use. The N.C. Taser Safety Project surveyed the state's 100 sheriff's offices and found that 70 issued Tasers to some or all of its deputies, but many agencies lack clear policies about when and how they should be used.

It doesn't look like they're exactly cracking down. After all, the officer who held the trigger for 37 seconds resulting in the death of the prisoner was cleared.

The fact that the police are torturing citizens (not just "suspects") to control them isn't even a matter for comment. I just don't get it.

Party Like It's 2005

by digby

I don't know how many of you say Nancy Pelosi on The Daily Show, but it was a bizarre performance, particularly this part:

Q: Is Congress, as it is made up today, obsolete? With a powerful president, is Congress sort of a vestigial -- unless it has 60 votes in the Senate and a huge majority in the House?

A: Fair question … because the fact is the Republicans in Congress vote so much as a rubber stamp with the president that they are abdicating the role of Article I -- we are the first article of the Constitution, the Congress of the United States -- but if you say, "I'm just going to vote with the president, stick with the president every time," then he has power he should not have.

Q: Will you exercise that type -- let's say Barack Obama is fortunate enough to win the presidency … are you saying that the Democrats will exercise more and more stringent oversight over a Democratic president than the Republican Congress did over President Bush?

A: Well, the same thing --

Q: You'll rubber stamp?

A: No rubber stamp. And in terms of, say, for example, domestic surveillance, no president, Democrat or Republican should have the power that this president wanted to have. So it isn't -- and the Congress of the United States has to assert its prerogatives. And this Republican Congress has been a rubber stamp for so long, but that will change.


First, am I mistaken or are the Democrats in charge of congress right now. The "Republican Congress" hasn't been in charge since January 2007. And didn't that Democratic congress just give the president what he wanted on domestic surveillance? What am I missing?

You can see the whole interview here. It's quite incoherent, as if she is stuck in some time warp and talking about events that haven't already happened.

And, by the way, one thing she says is undoubtedly true: the Democratic congress will give President Obama a much harder time than they ever gave Bush. No rubber stamps, that's for sure. The only time Democrats ever put up a fight is against their own.

Slow News Day

by digby

I guess there aren't any white women missing or something because this ongoing coverage of the earthquake in LA is just mindboggling.

I was sitting at my desk and said to myself "Oh, we're having an earthquake." No car alarms went off, the dogs didn't bark and nothing happened. My husband and my cat were both napping and neither one of them even woke up, so it's not exactly The Big One. It's worth a mention and maybe a little follow-up but that's it. It wasn't LA 94 or SF 89 or Alaska 64. I went through two of those. It was just a mild shaker.

Helping Our Own

by digby

Susie Madrak, pioneer blogger and lively good egg, is having some difficulties. If you can spare some change to help her get through this time, I'm sure she'd appreciate it. With the economy rapidly going to hell, I expect that we will see more of our own facing problems like this and I hope we will do what we can to help them out.

His Favorite Thing

by digby

President Bush must be having the best day of his presidency. He got to do his very favorite thing for the first time in seven long years: sign a death warrant. And he got to be the first president in 50 years to do so!

President Bush on Monday approved the first execution by the military since 1961, upholding the death penalty of an Army private convicted of a series of rapes and murders more than two decades ago.

As commander in chief, the president has the final authority to approve capital punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and he did so on Monday morning in the case of Pvt. Ronald A. Gray, convicted by court-martial for two killings and an attempted murder at Fort Bragg, N.C., the White House said in a statement.

Although the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in the military in 1996, no one has been executed since President Ronald Reagan reinstated capital punishment in 1984 for military crimes.

The last military execution was ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, although it was not carried out by hanging until 1961. President John F. Kennedy was the last president to face the question, in 1962, but commuted the sentence to life in prison.

This will be his 153rd execution, I believe. (That number, of course, represents only American prisoners. The hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed are also on his ledger, but I doubt he gets the satisfaction he takes in personally signing off on individual executions.)

Bush must have been terribly frustrated over these past few years being unable to enjoy his favorite thing. We all remember the laughs and chuckles he got out of this one:

"Bush's brand of forthright tough-guy populism can be appealing, and it has played well in Texas. Yet occasionally there are flashes of meanness visible beneath it.

While driving back from the speech later that day, Bush mentions Karla Faye Tucker, a double murderer who was executed in Texas last year. In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. 'Did you meet with any of them?' I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. 'No, I didn't meet with any of them,' he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. 'I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' 'What was her answer?' I wonder.

'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me.'

I must look shocked -- ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel, even for someone as militantly anticrime as Bush -- because he immediately stops smirking.

'It's tough stuff,' Bush says, suddenly somber, 'but my job is to enforce the law.' As it turns out, the Larry King-Karla Faye Tucker exchange Bush recounted never took place, at least not on television. During her interview with King, however, Tucker did imply that Bush was succumbing to election-year pressure from pro-death penalty voters. Apparently Bush never forgot it. He has a long memory for slights."

McCain has never had the opportunity to execute anyone, being a mere Senator and all. But he's a big supporter of the death penalty and I'm sure he'll enjoy it now that Bush has broken the logjam. you can't call yourself a real right winger until you've signed someone's death warrant. It's a wingnut rite of passage.

It's Not An Indictment, It's A Series of Tubes

by dday

Just so you have a receptacle for comments since it's the story of the day, here's the scoop on Ted Stevens, who's going to need a bigger Hulk tie:

Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate and one of the chamber's most powerful members, was indicted Tuesday in Washington, a result of a years-long investigation into corruption in Alaska politics.

The 7-count indictment comes nearly one year after federal agents raided Stevens' home in Girdwood, a resort town about 40 miles south of Anchorage. The Justice Department has scheduled a press conference for 1:30 p.m. to announce the indictment.

A broad federal investigation of public corruption has been under way in Alaska for more than four years, although it didn't become widely known until Aug. 31, 2006. That's when teams of federal agents executed search warrants at the offices of six state legislators, as well as others, in Anchorage, Juneau and elsewhere around the state.

The government has since brought indictments against five state legislators. Three have been convicted by juries and two are awaiting trial. Four others — two former top officials with Veco Corp., the former chief of staff of Gov. Frank Murkowski and a private-prison lobbyist - have entered guilty pleas and are cooperating with the government.

No word just yet on what the indictment is actually about. It could be lying to federal investigators and obstruction of justice, or they could have zeroed in on his steering contracts to Veco Oil in exchange for Veco remodeling his home in Girdwood. Plenty on that element of the case here. There are also questions about his ties to the fishing industry.

UPDATE: The indictment is here. Looks to me at first read that it's about Stevens failing to disclose gifts from Bill Allen (CEO of Veco) and his company, including improvements to his home in Girdwood, and performing actions on behalf of Veco as part of his duties as a US Senator. Pretty damning stuff. You know what Veco did to the house, right?

From in or about June 2000 to in or about April 2001, multiple VECO employees and contractors participated in renovating the Girdwood Residence. That renovation work included jacking up and resting the house on stilts, building a new first floor with two bedrooms and a bathroom, renovating the existing residence, and adding a garage with workshop and a second-story wraparound deck. Among other tasks, VECO employees and contractors also installed electrical, plumbing, framing, heating, and flooring materials in the Girdwood Residence.

Allen also apparently gave Stevens a brand-new Land Rover in 1999 in exchange for some jalopy, basically an in-kind donation.

It's not impossible that Stevens continues on to try and keep his job - actually I'd put the odds at around 50/50. He has challengers in an August 26 primary, however, including a couple self-funding millionaires. One of them, businessman Vic Vickers, launched a $400,000 ad buy just yesterday, with all the ads to specifically focus on Stevens' corruption.

I think it's worth asking whether or not he was tipped off by the Feds. We know that the Bush Justice Department is an arm of the RNC. If they don't think Stevens can win, the combination of an indictment and two months of attack ads would be a way to tighten the pressure on him to get out of the race.

All right, speculate away!

...I'm not talking about Vickers being tipped off to an indictment per se, as it was well-known inside Alaska that this was going to happen. I'm talking about the timing. Vickers' ads start TOMORROW, and they take place in front of the very house in Girdwood that's the focus of the indictment.

Good Reading

by tristero

I have my head down trying to finish a new, big piece (about which more in a week or two) so sorry for the lack of posts (although Digby and dday have been posting plenty of great stuff, so I don't feel too guilty!). However, this NY Review of Books article is so good that I wanted to share it.
Boumediene v. Bush is one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in recent years.[1] The Court held by a 5–4 vote that aliens detained as enemy combatants in Guantánamo have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in American courts. The decision frees none of them, some of whom have been held without trial for six years, but it makes it possible for them to argue to a federal district court judge that the administration has no factual or legal ground for imprisoning them. If that judge is persuaded, he must order their release. American law has never before recognized that aliens imprisoned by the United States abroad have such rights. The disgrace of Guantánamo has produced a landmark change in our constitutional practice.

The case raised complex constitutional issues that I must describe, but the principle the Court vindicated is simple and clear. Since before Magna Carta, Anglo-American law has insisted that anyone imprisoned has the right to require his jailor to show a justification in a court of law. (The technical device through which this right is exercised is called a writ of habeas corpus. Addressed to the jailor, it announces that he has custody of a certain person's body and demands that he justify that custody.)

The Bush administration, as part of its so-called "war on terror," created a unique category of prisoners that it claims have no such right because they are aliens, not citizens, and because they are held not in an American prison but in foreign territory. The administration labels them enemy combatants but refuses to treat them as prisoners of war with the protection that status gives. It calls them outlaws but refuses them the rights of anyone else accused of a crime. It keeps them locked up behind barbed wire and interrogates them under torture. The Supreme Court has now declared that this shameful episode in our history must end. By implication, moreover, the decision goes even further. It undermines the assumption, widespread among lawyers and scholars for decades, that the Constitution as a whole offers substantially less protection against American tyranny to foreigners than it does to America's own citizens.

Boumediene was decided by the slimmest of margins. The Court now often divides, in cases of high importance, into a conservative phalanx of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, and a more liberal group of Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Ginsberg, and Stephen Breyer.[2] The ninth justice, Anthony Kennedy, holds the balance of power; in this case he rejected the phalanx, joined the more liberal group, and wrote the Court's opinion on their behalf.

The conservatives were outraged but self-contradictory in dissent. Roberts declared that the Court's decision would have at best a "modest" impact and would be of no use to the detainees because it left them, as a practical matter, with no more opportunity for freedom than they had before. If anything, he said, the decision made it less likely that any of them would be released soon. Scalia insisted, with his usual splenetic flamboyance, that the decision would free dangerous terrorists and "almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed." Each of the four conservatives signed both dissenting opinions, apparently unconcerned by the contradiction.

Senator John McCain called the decision "one of the worst" in the country's history. The conservative press was horrified: The Wall Street Journal said that Kennedy had turned the Constitution into a "suicide pact." No one explained why it would destroy America to allow people who claim innocence of any crime, or threat, a chance to defend that claim before an American judge who is presumably just as worried about his family's security as the president is. Why would it be suicidal to allow them the same opportunity for defense that we allow people indicted as serial killers?

Senator Barack Obama, on the other hand, welcomed the decision, so the Court's action may well become an important issue in the coming presidential election. McCain has already promised that if elected he will appoint more justices like Roberts and Alito. It would take only one such appointment to make further decisions like Boumediene impossible, and probably reverse that decision itself.
As they say, read the whole thing. Long and worth it. And let's take to heart the warning in the last paragraph quoted above. It is not an exaggeration to state that with Supreme Court appointments alone, the election of John McCain would ratify the dismantling of American democracy undertaken by Bush. As it is, it will easily take all of Obama's terms to assess and reverse the incredible damage Bush has done. And that is being optimistic.

BTW, the New York Review has many good articles this month, including a scathing one by Jane Mayer called "The Battle for a Country's Soul" which is available here . There's also a review I haven't yet looked at for Matt Yglesias's book for which Matt deserves a hearty congratulations.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Last Year's Fashion

by digby

One of the most annoying aspects of the faith based movement in politics is the extent to which some of the lobbyists for the Religion Industrial Complex are willing to twist facts and data to support the idea that they are the determining factor in elections. It's a little bit unnerving that people who are pushing the idea that the Democratic party must appeal to this strata of the voting public on the basis of moral and religious principles are so ... devious.

Today we have a perfect example of a Democratic religion lobbyist spinning the numbers for their industry. ( Think of it as a sort of "Thank you For Praying"):

Because Obama is convinced the federal faith-based initiative is worth saving, he is in a position to critique the problems in the current system and insist on changes. One big step is to make sure that programs receiving government funds actually work. From the beginning, Bush has talked about accountability for faith-based organizations, using the word "results" 16 times at one 2005 conference. In 2002, then-HUD Secretary Mel Martinez declared that "faith-based organizations should be judged on one central question: Do they work?" Yet the president never put in place measures to track the effectiveness of programs receiving grants.

Unlike those Democrats who see in the faith-based initiative an overflowing slush fund, Obama has also recognized that the real scandal is how small the pots of money for religious and secular non-profits have become over the past eight years.

Even conservative supporters of the faith-based initiative, like former Bush aide Michael Gerson, agree with Obama's charge that the effort has been "consistently underfunded." In fiscal 2007, $2.2 billion was disbursed to faith-based groups. But while that figure may seem high, it is roughly equivalent to what religiously affiliated organizations like Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity received before Bush took office.

Wow, there's an argument for you -- the programs show no results AND the Democrats want to throw more money at them. Say jalapeno!

And for those who haven't figured it out yet, the fact that groups like Catholic Charities were receiving money from the government before the "faith based" program was instituted, means that Bush must have changed something when he took office, right? There were always "faith based" organization receiving money from the government. It's just that they weren't allowed to proselytize or discriminate before Bush, something that nobody wants to talk about because it is politically dicey to admit that that was the whole point of the initiative.

BTD at Talk Left argues that the big political payoff for all this religious outreach that everyone is expecting is not materializing so far either:

Amy Sullivan is at it again, urging, and in this case, cheering on, Obama's "reachout" to "values" voters. She thinks Obama has hit a home run. Strangely enough, an American Spectator writer agrees with her. But the funny thing is the data the Spectator writer relies upon simply does not support his assertions. For example, the Spectator writer states:

Polls still show that conservative Christians favor McCain, but Obama is faring better than Kerry did in 2004.

But the linked Pew poll does not say that at all. Indeed, Obama is faring worse with white evangelical and white non-hispanic Catholics than even John Kerry.

Obama's outreach to "values" voters has been a total flop. Al Gore was getting 28% of white evangelicals in June 2000, according to Pew, Kerry got 26% in June 2004, according to Pew and Obama gets 25% according to Pew.

In terms of white Catholics, according to Pew, Kerry was receiving 47% of the vote in June 2004, Gore received 45% of the vote in 2000. Obama receives 40% now. Obama is running about even with Kerry (but well behind Gore) is so called white mainline voters (presumably non-Evangelical non-Catholics.)

As for the Catholic vote, well, I'm still reeling from this op-ed in the NY Times last week-end which claims that Europe is experiencing a new Black Death because its people are secular. Let's hope that American Catholics will continue to ignore their leadership on this one, because they are getting more conservative rather than less:

FORTY years ago last week, Pope Paul VI provoked the greatest uproar against a papal edict in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church when he reiterated the church’s ban on artificial birth control by issuing the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” At the time, commentators predicted that not only would the teaching collapse under its own weight, but it might well bring the “monarchical papacy” down with it.


In a nutshell, “Humanae Vitae” held that the twin functions of marriage — to foster love between the partners and to be open to children — are so closely related as to be inseparable. In practice, that meant a resounding no to the pill.

The encyclical quickly became seen, both in the secular world and in liberal Catholic circles, as the papacy’s Waterloo. It was so out of sync with the hopes and desires of the Catholic rank and file that it simply could not stand.

And in some ways, it didn’t. Today polls show that Catholics, at least in the West, dissent from the teaching on birth control, often by majorities exceeding 80 percent.

But at the official level, Catholicism’s commitment to “Humanae Vitae” is more solid than ever.

During his almost 27-year papacy, John Paul II provided a deeper theoretical basis for traditional Catholic sexual morality through his “theology of the body.” In brief, the late pope’s argument was that human sexuality is an image of the creative love among the three persons of the Trinity, as well as God’s love for humanity. Birth control “changes the language” of sexuality, because it prevents life-giving love.

That’s a claim many Catholics might dispute, but the reading groups and seminars devoted to contemplating John Paul’s “theology of the body” mean that Catholics disposed to defend the church’s teaching now have a more formidable set of resources than they did when Paul VI wrote “Humanae Vitae.”

In addition, three decades of bishops’ appointments by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both unambiguously committed to “Humanae Vitae,” mean that senior leaders in Catholicism these days are far less inclined than they were in 1968 to distance themselves from the ban on birth control, or to soft-pedal it. A striking number of Catholic bishops have recently brought out documents of their own defending “Humanae Vitae.”

Advocates of the encyclical draw assurance from the declining fertility rates across the developed world, especially in Europe. No country in Europe has a fertility rate above 2.1, the number of children each woman needs to have by the end of her child-bearing years to keep a population stable.

Even with increasing immigration, Europe is projected to suffer a population loss in the 21st century that will rival the impact of the Black Death, leading some to talk about the continent’s “demographic suicide.”

Not coincidentally, Europe is also the most secular region of the world, where the use of artificial contraception is utterly unproblematic. Among those committed to Catholic teaching, the obvious question becomes: What more clear proof of the folly of separating sex and child-bearing could one want?

I don't think I need to point out just how illiberal that is, on nearly every level. I don't begrudge Catholics their right to believe anything they want, but if these beliefs are ever taken more seriously by the flock then I am quite worried about how that will affect society at large, particularly if liberal politicians continue to believe they must be pandered to on these issues. The right to choose is hanging by thread and I believe will likely be gone before I'm dead. Birth control is the logical next step and you can believe that the Religion Industrial Complex will be in there fighting for it --- and persuading liberals that they have to go along because the country demands it.

The politics of all this religiosity in this election are particularly interesting. First, you have these lies about Obama being a Muslim (terrorist.) That alone has necessitated the campaign to hit harder on Christian themes than most. But it doesn't seem as if that's the main reason. All the Democrats running followed this playbook, largely I would guess, because of the dishonest spinning that was done after the 2006 elections:

Party strategists and nonpartisan pollsters credit the operative, Mara Vanderslice . . . with helping a handful of Democratic candidates make deep inroads among white evangelical and churchgoing Roman Catholic voters in Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Exit polls show that Ms. Vanderslice’s candidates did 10 percentage points or so better than Democrats nationally among those voters, who make up about a third of the electorate.


The midterm elections were a “proof point” for arguments that Ms. Vanderslice had made two years before, said Mike McCurry, a Democratic consultant and former spokesman for President Bill Clinton who worked with Ms. Vanderslice on the Kerry campaign. For the Democrats, Mr. McCurry said, Ms. Vanderslice and her company “were the only ones taking systematic, methodical steps to build a religious component in the practical campaign work.”
The problem was that their numbers didn't add up. Not that it mattered. It was all the rage. Just as the religious right rushed forward to claim credit in the days after Bush's win in 2004 (even though it was crapola), the Democratic religious lobby rushed in after 2006 to do the same thing. It's a very clever strategy. Unfortunately, it has the effect of making politics even more conservative at a time when people are actually getting tired of conservatism.

How this will affect the November election remains to be seen. Chris Cilizza had an interesting item today about Gallup's new poll which points out a largely undiscussed demographic factoid:

The most interesting divide that is apparent from the Gallup results is that people living in western states are significantly less likely to believe in God than residents of any other geographic region of the country.

Less than six in ten Americans living in the West say they believe in God as compared to more than 80 percent who say the same in the east, Midwest and South. (Not surprisingly, the South features the highest percentage -- 86 percent -- of people who say they believe in God.)

That doesn't mean, however, that Westerners don't believe in any sort of higher power. Nearly three in ten say that have faith in a "universal spirit or higher power" -- more than double the percentage of people who say the same in any of the other three regions.

"The fact that, as compared with other regions, those from the Western United States have the lowest likelihood of believing in God does not come as a total surprise given other data showing that the West has a lower level of religiosity overall," writes Gallup poll director Frank Newport. "Still, the contrast between Westerners and those from other regions reflected in these data is fairly substantial."

Cilizza goes on to note this inconvenient truth:

The data is also particularly telling given the primacy of the West to the electoral calculations of both John McCain and Barack Obama.

While McCain has represented Arizona for more than two decades in the Senate, Democrats have made considerable gains in the West over the last few elections -- winning the governorships of Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado and taking House and Senate seats in Colorado, Montana and Arizona.

As a result, Obama is heavily targeting the region this fall in the belief that the West is moving inexorably in his party's favor.

The data from the Gallup poll seems to affirm the growing appeal in the region for Democrats who have traditionally done far better among secular voters than among those who consider themselves religious.

The numbers also make for an intriguing political calculation this fall for Obama. The Illinois senator has spoken far more openly about his faith and its importance in his life than past Democrats -- a development that many within the party have greeted with open arms, believing that it is the only way Democrats can close the God gap.

But, what if Obama's overt talk of his faith turns off voters in the West where Democrats seem to be ascendant?

I doubt if it will. It has become common to hear politicians speak in these terms and Obama has a particularly winning way with his religiously laced rhetoric. But it's a useful question for someone to ask. (McCain has the help of the media on this one, who are always in there to vouch for the fact that he doesn't really like those awful far right preachers, he just has to kiss their rings to get elected -- which makes him authentic!)

But whoever benefits from this western godlessness, the fact remains that much of the "faith outreach" is based on a bogus understanding of what drives the electorate which has been dishonestly sold to both parties by religion lobbyists.

I've written many times about the Barna group's polling of religious attitudes. And nobody ever seems to notice one very important piece of data, which has been noted by Barna over and over again:

Since 1991, the number of unchurched has nearly doubled from 39 million to 75 million, according to The Barna Group, a company that follows trends related to faith, culture and leadership in America.

The latest study shows that the percentage of adults that is unchurched - defined as not having attended a Christian church service, other than for a holiday service, such as Christmas or Easter, or for special events such as a wedding or funeral, at any time in the past six months - has risen from 21 percent in 1991 to 34 percent today...

The unchurched are also younger (median age: 38) than most U.S. adults (median age: 43). Born-again adults are substantially older than either group (median age: 46).

While one-quarter (26 percent) of American adults are single-never-married, nearly two-fifths(37 percent) of the unchurched fit that definition.

The study revealed that the unchurched are also less likely to participate in elections, less likely to donate to non-profit organizations, and less likely to use media or to engage in community activities.

"The unchurched are more likely than others to be somewhat isolated from the mainstream activities of the society in which they live," said director of the study, author and researcher, George Barna.

Barna also described the group as "non-committal" and "independent." He noted that to unchurched people, embracing church life is "both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive."

"Unchurched people are not just lazy or uniformed," the researcher continued. "They are wholly disinterested in church life -- often passionately so.

You can understand why this rapidly growing part of the population is resistant to politics and American civic activities since traditional Christianity seems to be more and more intertwined with them. But it would seem to me that this group should not be disparaged and ignored. They aren't all atheist heathens. Many of them consider themselves to be Christians, but they reject the strictures of formal religiosity.

Here's how Barna describes the trend;

There are, indeed, millions of unchurched people who want nothing to do with organized religion or spiritual development. The more important trend, however, is that a large and growing number of Americans who avoid congregational contact are not rejecting Christianity as much as they are shifting how they interact with God and people in a strategic effort to have a more fulfilling spiritual life. This data, combined with other studies we have recently been conducting, suggests that we are on the precipice of a new era of spiritual experience and expression."

Barna expects the percentage of adults who are unchurched to grow during the coming decade...We anticipate substantial growth in the number of people who are not connected to a congregational church but who are committed to growing spiritually.

It would be sadly typical of the Democrats to get in on the big church awakening bandwagon just when it's over and miss the opening for engaging people who are looking for meaning, community and service in other ways. Obama has made a good start with them I think, but going overboard on the traditional religious aspect could derail it.

After years of propaganda, everyone believes that the big demographic prize is people who go to church once a week or more. Maybe the Democrats should think a little bit more about the huge and growing number of people --- religious and not religious --- who never go to church at all and try to tailor at least some of their their message to them.

Of course, there was a time when politicians made vague public religious comments and a strong pitch for tolerance for the religious and the non-religious alike so they didn't have to take sides in these things. It was probably a good idea which many would love to try again, I'm sure, but the RIC and the media won't let them. The theme of the "values voters" is a faith-based proposition and there's no arguing with that.