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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Narcissistic Parasites

by digby

Economist Robert Frank, creative thinker and all around nice guy (and friend of this blog) went into the Lion's Den today and found that the beast was rabidly foaming at the mouth:

I've been writing about this phenomenon for a while now. It's an outgrowth of puerile Randism. These people really believe they are something very, very special. More absurdly, they really believe they work harder than everyone else. That's right, a moronic, blow dried FOX TV celebrity who spends more time with a tailor and manicurist in one week than most people spend in a lifetime, considers himself to be wealthy and successful not because he's a TV performer who got lucky, but because he's superior to everyone who makes less money than him. Indeed, these overpaid, Galt-worshipping wingnuts actually think they produce something and what they produce is unique and important.

If there is anyone in the world who should be thanking his lucky, lucky stars that Rupert Murdoch created a TV propaganda arm to protect the aristocracy and decided to hire a bunch of vapid spokesmodels to parrot talking points, it's a FOX News gasbag. John Galt would call such people parasites --- and in this case, he wouldn't be wrong.

Another case in point:

Accountability Drumbeat Grows

by dday

Jay Bybee's attempt to exonerate himself for his crimes only succeeded in inspiring more activism around his impeachment.

Jay Bybee signed off on notorious Bush-era torture memos. And now? He's serving as a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, thanks to George Bush.

Jay Bybee showed no respect for our laws and isn't fit to be a federal judge. Can you sign this petition urging Congress to impeach Jay Bybee?

The President put it very plainly last night, perhaps more plainly than he'd admit.

"President Obama said, 'They used torture, I believe waterboarding is torture,'" Nadler said, speaking of Obama’s comments about his predecessors. “Once you concede that torture was committed, the law requires that there be an investigation, and if warranted, a prosecution.”

Those who would condone war crimes at this point look increasingly foolish. We are a nation of laws, and if you don't want a law prosecuted, you repeal it, but you cannot ignore it. I would refer these apologists to Sen. Robert Byrd, who knows a thing or two about the Constitution:

The recently leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as the four released memorandums from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), confirm our worst fears. These documents point to brutal, inhumane acts which were repeatedly carried out by U.S. military personnel, and which were authorized and condoned at the highest levels of the Bush Administration. These acts appear to directly violate both the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. Spain and the United Kingdom have already initiated investigations of Bush Administration officials who approved these acts. The United States needs to investigate as well. To continue to ignore the mounting evidence of clear wrongdoing is a national humiliation [...]

The rule of law is not just a lofty concept to which we should aspire only when convenient. It is a fundamental principal upon which our Republic was founded, and it is the foundation of our free society. I understand the desire to look forward and to forge a new path on high ground instead of on the low road of the past eight years. But to use the need to move on as a reason not to investigate basic human rights violations is unacceptable. Excusing individuals at the highest levels of government from adhering to the rule of law, whether in wartime or not, is a dangerous precedent, for it undercuts the principle of accountability which permeates representative democracy.

We can start by ensuring that a violator of international laws and a moral reprobate is removed from the federal bench. Call and email Congress, particularly the members of the House Judiciary Committee, and ask them to open hearings.

House Judiciary Committee
John Conyers, Michigan Howard Berman, California
Rick Boucher, Virginia Jerrold Nadler, New York
Robert C. Scott, Virginia Mel Watt, North Carolina
Zoe Lofgren, California Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas
Maxine Waters, California Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts
Robert Wexler, Florida Steve Cohen, Tennessee
Hank Johnson, Georgia Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico
Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Brad Sherman, California
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Charles Gonzalez, Texas
Anthony Weiner, New York Adam Schiff, California
Linda Sánchez, California Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Fl
Dan Maffei, New York Lamar S. Smith, Texas
Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Howard Coble, North Carolina
Elton Gallegly, California Bob Goodlatte, Virginia
Dan Lungren, California Darrell Issa, California
Randy Forbes, Virginia Steve King, Iowa
Trent Franks, Arizona Louie Gohmert, Texas<
Jim Jordan, Ohio Ted Poe, Texas
Jason Chaffetz, Utah Tom Rooney, Florida
Gregg Harper, Mississippi  

P.S. Patrick Leahy would like Judge Bybee to stop by the Senate for a little chat.

Captives Of The Crazies

by digby

They've got nothing:

Republicans are widely viewed by the public as less competent than Democrats to handle issue ranging from health care to education and energy, according to internal polling presented to top GOP officials in Congress.

The same survey found President Barack Obama holds the support of a significant minority of self-described conservative, independent voters.

The Associated Press obtained partial results of the survey, which was conducted in late March by New Models, a firm with close ties to Republicans. GOP lawmakers in Congress have generally opposed Obama's early legislative agenda, voting with near unanimity against economic stimulus legislation and unanimously against a White House-backed budget that cleared Congress on Wednesday.

The survey found the public holds greater confidence in Democrats than in Republicans in handling most of the issues that are involved in Obama's legislative agenda.

Democrats were favored by a margin of 61 percent to 29 percent on education; 59 percent to 30 percent on health care and 59 percent to 31 percent on energy. Congress is expected to consider major legislation later this year in all three areas.

Democats were also viewed with more confidence in handling taxes, long a Republican strong suit. The only issue among nine in the survey where the two parties were rated as even was in the war on terror.

It was the hubris that put them over the edge, I think. The strutting, the arrogance, the pettiness with which they governed made their failure all the more obvious. Now they have lost the economic Republicans and even many national security Republicans which leaves them at the mercy of their tea bag dittoheads and the hard core social conservatives. As long as they have a stranglehold on the party it's going to be tough to build out from that.

They'll be back and sooner than we want if the economy stays stagnant too long or gets worse. After all, it wasn't that long ago that people were comparing Democrats to neutered farm animals. But they had it all, every branch of government, and they very publicly blew it in nearly every way possible from terrorist attacks, quagmires, catastrophic incompetence in a major natural disaster to full blown economic meltdown. It's hard to see them making an early comeback. But you never know --- things sometimes move very quickly and events have a way of shifting things. Still, at this moment, they are well and truly screwed.


by dday

Dick Durbin spoke about the destructive greed of the banksters today, the ones who torpedoed his amendment to allow bankruptcy judges to modify loan terms on primary residences the way they can on second homes, yachts, cars, and other pieces of property. He was unsparing and did not shy away from the statement he made on local radio in Illinois recently, that the bankers "own the place". He set the needs of regular homeowners, who "don't have any paid lobbyists," against the desires of banks who took hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money and face seemingly no consequence for their bad decisions.

Durbin is a close ally of the President and I feel he wouldn't make a statement like this if he thought it too embarrassing to the Administration. He is trying to spark the American people to demand some change. Obama has done this too, albeit with more subtlety. We need to get their backs.

Here are a couple of excerpts (I'm transcribing):

One other argument that I think takes the cake: "Senator, you understand the moral hazard here. People have to be held responsible for their wrongdoing. If you make a mistake, darn it, you've gotta pay the price. That's what America is all about." Really, Mr. Banker on Wall Street? That's what America is all about? What price did Wall Street pay for their miserable decisions creating rotten portfolios, destroying the credit of America and its businesses? Oh, they paid a pretty heavy price. Hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer's money sent to them to bail them out, to put them back in business, even to fund executive bonuses for those guilty of mismanaging. Moral hazard, huh? How can they argue that with a straight face? [...]

At the end of the day, this is a real test of where we're going in this country. Next up, after mortgages, credit cards. Next week, the same bankers get to come in and see how much might and power they have in the Senate when it comes to credit card reform. And the question we're going to face, is whether or not this Senate is going to listen to the families facing foreclosure, the families facing job loss and bills they can't pay, or whether they're going to listen to the American Bankers Association, which has folded its arms and walked out of the room. Well, I hope that we have the courage to stand up to them. I hope this is the beginning of a new day in the Senate, a new dialogue in the Senate, that says to the bankers across America that your business as usual has put us in a terrible mess, and we're not going to allow that to continue. We want America to be strong, but if it's going to be strong, you should be respectful, Mr. Banker, of the people who live in the communities where your banks are located. You should be respectful of those families who are doing their best to make ends meet in the toughest recession that they've ever seen. You should be respectful of the people that you want to sign up for checking accounts and savings accounts, and make sure that they have decent neighborhoods to live in. Show a little loyalty to this great nation instead of just your bottom line when it comes to profitability. Take a little consideration of what it takes to make America strong...

I'll offer this Durbin amendment as I did last year. When I offered it last year, they said, "Not a big problem, only two million foreclosures coming up." They were wrong. It turned out to be eight million. And if the bankers prevail today, and we can't get something through conference committee to deal with this issue, I'll be back. I'm not going to quit on this [...] At some point, the Senators in this chamber will decide, the bankers shouldn't write the agenda in the United States Senate.

There's really not much to add to that. Especially when you see the Senate vote 45 Yea, 51 Nay. (Roll call here). Nays included all Republicans and Baucus, Bennet, Byrd, Carper, Dorgan (?), Johnson, Landrieu, Lincoln, Nelson (NE), Pryor, Specter (awesome!), Tester. The Senators against this bill have lined up with the banksters, and for good reasons - they fund the campaigns, they throw the best parties, they share the interests and perspective of those disproportionately wealthy politicians. Last night, at Obama's press conference, he offered another hint of how the federal government is so immense that he cannot wield the power to "get the banks to do what I want them to do." Today he lashed out at the small group of hedge funds who forced Chrysler into bankruptcy, not just because they thought they could get a better deal from the bankruptcy judge, but because they'll get paid off on their credit default swaps due to the bankruptcy.

The Obama budget, mostly laudatory, stripped out those elements which would have taxed wealth, instead protecting it in many instances. The system of government in this country has become a system of fealty to oligarchs. Democrats like Durbin made one concession after another on the bankruptcy bill, and still couldn't get enough members of the Senate on board.

We have a major problem in this country, when the banksters hold this much control in the corridors of power. Dick Durbin is opening the window and showing the sick, decayed underbelly inside. Actions like the shareholder revolt ousting Ken Lewis from the chairmanship of Bank of America need to happen more and again. At some point, we can affect these people personally, and really damage them where they live. It's the only way, through a broad-based movement, to overturn this horrible dynamic of financial industry control of government.

Here's some video of Durbin's speech.

...Ryan Grim finds the Mortgage Banker's Association slapping five and drinking toasts to each other. Feel the excitement!

Time Travel

by digby

So our lovely Miss California is going to become an anti-gay crusader. She probably thinks it's a good career move, but it's not exactly an original one. Recall that a former Miss Oklahoma and runner up to the Miss America contest is probably the most famous anti-gay crusader in American history:

In 1977, Dade County, Florida (now Miami-Dade County), passed an ordinance sponsored by Bryant's former good friend Ruth Shack, that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[1] Bryant led a highly publicized campaign to repeal the ordinance as the leader of a coalition named Save Our Children. The campaign was based on conservative Christian beliefs regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality and the perceived threat of homosexual recruitment of children and child molestation."

She said that "What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life. [...] I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before." The campaign began an organized opposition to gay rights that spread across the nation. Jerry Falwell went to Miami to help her.

Bryant made the following statements during the campaign: "As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children" and "If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters." She also added that "All America and all the world will hear what the people have said, and with God's continued help we will prevail in our fight to repeal similar laws throughout the nation."[2] On June 7, 1977, Bryant's campaign led to a repeal of the anti-discrimination ordinance by a margin of 69 to 31 percent.

The gay community retaliated against Bryant by organizing a boycott on orange juice. Gay bars all over North America took screwdrivers off their drink menus and replaced them with the "Anita Bryant", which was made with vodka and apple juice. Sales and proceeds went to gay political activists to help fund their fight against Bryant and her campaign.

Bryant didn't know what hit her:

Bryant's crusade was a galvanizing event that had the effect of empowering gays and eventually leading the country in the opposite direction Bryant and her antediluvian compatriots thought it would.

Somehow, I don't the think the California orange growers are going to to signing Miss California up for an endorsement any time soon.

Serious Journalism

by digby

Yesterday was a low point for CNN in many ways. But this must have been the lowest:

I thought it was bad enough when the gasbag media was obsessed with sex.

Update: Jeff Zeleny of the NY Times, (who tristero takes downtown below) was on MSNBC earlier and said that the American people got to hear all the substantive answers they needed and his silly question was a chance to hear something important about how Obama felt about his first 100 days. Except, that's nonsense. The American people didn't hear a word about the banking crisis and Afghanistan, arguably the two most important, fundamental problems the government faces.

Condi Invokes The Nixon Defense

by dday

Condoleezza Rice, who's being investigated and may go to prison if she ever sets foot in Spain, had a conversation at the Hoover Institute where she follows in the footsteps of another California politician:

Q: Is waterboarding torture?

RICE: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture. So that's -- And by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.

Q: Okay. Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?

RICE: I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

Score one for pop culture, because thanks to the trailer to Frost/Nixon, most of the country understands the insanity of a statement like this.

Cenk Uygur notes that Rice was also questioned about her verbal authorization for waterboarding and other torture techniques to the CIA, and gave a classic answer:

"I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did."

Can we ask why she teaches at Stanford at this point, similar to asking why John Yoo remains at Berkeley and Jay Bybee on the federal bench?

Condi Rice's entire career in the White House was marked by a denial of responsibility. "Nobody could have anticipated" should be the epitaph on her gravestone. But I don't know what legal world exists where a conveyance of authorization does not equal an authorization. Uygur concludes:

This is why I say these people don't understand the whole concept behind America. In our system of government, the president is not supposed to be above the law. He is not a king; his word is not the law. The president can violate the law and when he does, he is supposed to be held accountable. That is supposed to be one of the pillars of our democracy.

Look at what she said: "[B]y definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture." Does that mean the president can authorize any kind of torture under the Convention Against Torture?

If someone doesn't do something about this dangerous idea it will do more damage than the torture itself. Yes, the torture damaged our reputation across the world, helped terrorists recruit fighters against us, endangered our soldiers and sullied the name of America. But if this precedent - that the president can authorize anything and make it legal "by definition" - is allowed to stand, then our whole form of government is in jeopardy.

This was not the consensus view of everyone in the government at that time. Not everyone was swept up in 9/11 fever. Military experts warned against using these techniques for a variety of reasons, because it put our soldiers at risk and yielded bad information, setting aside the legal, ethical and moral implications of torture. So the use of these techniques, and the legal theories underpinning them, can only be seen as deliberate and thought-out by the perpetrators. They conspired to break the law for their own reasons, be it their warped beliefs about the Arab Mind, or their desire to expand executive power, or producing the false confessions necessary to assert an Iraq/Al Qaeda link, or whatever. These were sane people who made the decision to torture. And we have courts available to deal with the consequences.

...Here's some more of this, including the bon mots that Nazi Germany wasn't as consequential a threat to this country as Al Qaeda because the Nazis never "attacked the homeland of the United States."

...Spencer Ackerman thinks Condi made news:

But Rice is now portraying herself as merely being a conduit for approving the CIA's interrogation regime: "I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency." Well, there are only two more-senior officials than Rice in this context, and that's Bush and then-VP Dick Cheney. If she hadn't made a decision on the part of the administration for the Abu Zubaydah interrogation plan, only one of these two men would have had the authority to do so. And all of this would have happened before the Justice Department determined the interrogation techniques to be legal.

My impression of the SASC report was that Condi told the CIA they could do ahead and waterboard pending OLC approval. But it'd be nice to haul Rice before a panel and ask her to clarify this.

But Remember, Greed Is Good

by dday

Over the last 30 days, Chrysler secured deals with their union. They got the bondholders to take 28 cents on the dollar. They made a deal with Fiat. They lined up pretty much every stakeholder and got them all to share in the pain. And then the hedge funds said no and forced them into bankruptcy.

Chrysler LLC is going to file for bankruptcy, an administration official confirmed to CNN Thursday.

The filing comes after some of the company's smaller lenders refused a Treasury Department demand to reduce the amount of money the troubled automaker owed them.

Chrysler officials had no comment on the bankruptcy report. The company faces a Thursday deadline from the Treasury Department to reach deals with creditors who had loaned the company about $7 billion.

But the filing will not mean the halt of operations or liquidation for the troubled 85-year old automaker. Instead, the administration expects to use the bankruptcy process to join Chrysler with Italian automaker Fiat.

In addition, the United Auto Workers union announced late Wednesday night that its membership at Chrysler had overwhelmingly ratified a concession contract reached between the company and union leadership on Sunday night.

This will be a quick bankruptcy, since most of the deals are in place. But in this case, the hedge funds (they are the "smaller lenders" referenced in the article) are more likely to get a better deal from a bankruptcy judge. And we're certainly going to see if anyone trusts buying a car from a company in bankruptcy. So Chrysler comes out of this, but diminished, because the hedge funds demanded payment.

Now can we tax their income as income instead of capital gains?

...Obama on the hedge funds, just now:

While many stakeholders made sacrifices and worked constructively, I have to tell you, some did not. In particular, a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout. They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the return that other lenders were getting. I don't stand with them. I stand with Chrysler's employees, its families and communities. I stand with Chrysler's management, its dealers and suppliers. I stand with the millions of Americans who own and want to buy Chrysler cars. I don't stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.

Obama had an interesting bit last night where he talked about the enormous scope of the political landscape, and how "I can't get the banks to do what I want them to." It was a telling example.

The Real Food Craze

by tristero

It's just a detail, but a telling one, a tiny prelude to a near-certain media blitz of ridicule that will probably break soon. In a story about how local ordinances are changing to permit the limited raising of chickens, goats, and other food-producing animals within the bounds of a city, Peter Applebome types:
Of course, not many New Haven residents or Yale professors were raising chickens a few years ago. But some combination of the locavore craze...
What???? A locavore craze? Eating locally, which the human species did without exception for hundreds of thousands of years, that's now called a "craze?" The mind reels.

No, the real food craze is eating food made like this. It's a perfect example of a craze, an interest pursued with excessive enthusiasm - over 10 billion bucks of excessive enthusiasm - that can't, and won't, last. But eating this garbage is not only a craze. It's also crazy, and it's disgusting.*

But never mind. The "locavore craze" is code for dirty fucking hippie behavior - ie, stuff - like protesting an illegal and immoral war before it happens - that the Serious Ones needn't bother to take seriously. And you can expect more of the same, and ever more direct disparagement of eating healthfully and sensibly the more popular the Obamas' garden gets - and the more unpopular Republican-linked polluters like Smithfield become.* I predict that the silly and gently self-disparaging label "foodie" will be twisted to rival "politically correct" as a putdown, guaranteed to short circuit serious discussions of how truly horrible the food production and distribution industries are.


* It is a common rejoinder; Those of us who are appalled that people are eating deliberately sickened animals raised full time packed tightly in their own shit and piss are told we want to "impose vegetarianism" on everyone. Not true. I am a vegetarian. My wife and daughter are not. I wouldn't dream of imposing my diet on them or anyone else and I make no claims that being vegetarian is intrinsically more healthful or "moral" than any other way of eating.

That said, last night, I printed out the Rolling Stone article linked to above and asked my family to please consider not eating factory-raised beef, pork, or chicken (in fact, for the most part, they already don't). Between farmer's markets and specialty stores, you can buy sensibly raised meat products at a fair price. Yes, it's more expensive, but treating health problems implicated by industrially-raised meats is far more so.

** A Smithfield subsidiary industrial hog farm was only 12 miles from La Gloria, the town believed to be the starting point of the Swine Flu strain that is sweeping the world; it is too early to say conclusively that the unbelievably unsanitary conditions there were a factor in the virus's incubation,. The company, naturally, denies they had anything to do with the swine flu, but several experts have pointed out that the proximity of the industrial farm to the outbreak merits close investigation. See brief discussion with links here.

NY Times: And How Does Bo LIke The White House, Mr. President?

by tristero

Ok, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times didn't ask how the First Dog was adjusting to his new home, But that's only because he wasn't allowed a follow-up to this idiotic question:
Jeff Zeleny.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?

MR. OBAMA: Let me write this down. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Surprised.

MR. OBAMA: All right. I've got --

QUESTION: Troubled.

MR. OBAMA: I've got -- what was the first one?

QUESTION: Surprised.

MR. OBAMA: Surprised.

QUESTION: Troubled.

MR. OBAMA: Troubled.

QUESTION: Enchanted.

MR. OBAMA: Enchanted. Nice. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And humbled.

MR. OBAMA: And what was the last one, humbled?

QUESTION: Humbled.

Thank you, sir.
And as of this morning, Jeff Zeleny still has a job.

It's important to note the context of this question. For the most part - although perhaps Digby and dday disagree - the questions were substantive. Some were bad-Republican-idea questions - like whether the border should be closed to help prevent the SWINE flu from spreading - but most were serious, from concerns about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to the disproportionate impact the financial crises are having on African-American and Hispanic-American communities. One reporter even got Obama to repeat that waterboarding is torture.

But in his article (with Helene Cooper) Zeleny even missed the importance of the torture discussion, concluding:
He offered no shift, however, in his opposition to an independent inquiry into the Bush administration’s policies on the interrogation of terror suspects.
On the contrary, by not bringing it up when he easily could have, Obama appeared to signal a softening in his opposition.

Bill, Jill: Fire 'im.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


by digby

Oh my. Apparently, Democratic Senators don't like back room deals being made that deny them their prerogatives:
Senior Senate Democrats are objecting to the deal Majority Leader Harry Reid made with Sen. Arlen Specter, saying they will vote against letting the former Republican shoot to the top of powerful committees after he switches parties.

Several Democrats are furious with Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) for agreeing to let Specter (Pa.) keep his seniority, accrued over more than 28 years as a GOP senator. That agreement would allow Specter to leap past senior Democrats on powerful panels — including the Appropriations and Judiciary committees.

“I won’t be happy if I don’t get to chair something because of Arlen Specter,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee with Specter and is fifth in seniority among Democrats, behind Chairman Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa). “I’m happy with the Democratic order, but I don’t want to be displaced because of Arlen Specter,” she said.


One senior Democratic lawmaker told The Hill that the Democratic Conference will vote against giving the longtime Pennsylvania Republican seniority over lawmakers like Harkin, Mikulski and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) when they hold their organizational meeting after the 2010 election.

Under his deal with Reid, Specter would jump ahead of all but a few Democrats when it comes time to dole out committee chairmanships and assignments.

“That’s his deal and not the caucus’s,” the senior lawmaker said of Reid’s agreement with Specter.

I feel their pain. It's very annoying when powerful party pooh bahs make back room deals that foreclose the normal Democratic processes. For instance, when they promise a party switcher that he won't have a primary opponent. I hate when that happens.

Subtle Message

by digby

Chris Matthews sez:

Matthews: He wants to lessen the harshness of the reputation he's getting among people who are complaining about the Notre Dame speech, that he's too pro-choice. He wants to pull back from that by offering up the story, that I hadn't heard before, that there's a task force in his domestic policy council that's looking at ways to reduce, I think he meant, to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, the number of situations that would lead a woman to make a decision about an abortion. I thought that was very positive.

Olbermann: And reaching out people from both camps, the anti-abortion and pro-choice camps, somehow involving them in that task force.

Matthews: Yeah. And I think that's what you hear from people like Ryan of Ohio, people on both sides who are pro-choice and pro-life, who would like to radically reduce the number of people who choose abortion because they didn't use birth control or they didn't practice whatever or they didn't ... they put themselves in a situation where abortion was an option when ...

It was a very subtle message to the pro-life community, I think.

This "subtle message" is Matthews' latest "insight" which is that the little sluts are all having abortions out of sheer laziness and stupidity and they need to be forced to be responsible for their hootchies because decent people just won't stand for their abortion loving ways anymore. He got this from Lord Saletan's most recent stupidity and I dearly hope that the Obama administration knows how deeply offensive this particular approach is and are in no way sending messages that they concur.

Yes, we liberals want to help women avoid unwanted pregnancy. We have been advocating for that for years. Education and access to birth control have always been at the top of our agenda. But judging women as ignorant, irresponsible whores if they do get pregnant isn't exactly a big step forward. In fact, I'm pretty sure that takes us right back to square one.

Perhaps someday birth control will be completely safe and available in every drug store and 7-11 in the land and then lazy, abortion loving women won't have any excuses to fall back on anymore ...

At What Point Do You Get Your House Speaking Privileges Revoked?

by dday

Speaking of Michelle Bachmann, here she is teaching history, on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

BACHMANN: The recession FDR had to deal with wasn't as bad as the one Coolidge had to deal with in the early '20s, Yet the prescription that Coolidge put on that, from history, is lower taxes, lower regulatory burden, and we saw the Roaring '20s, where we saw markets and growth in the economy like we've never seen before in the history of the country. FDR applied just the opposite formula. The Hoot-Smalley Act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions, and of course trade barriers and the regulatory burden and tax barriers. That's what we saw happen under FDR, that took a recession and blew it into a full-scale Depression. The American people suffered for almost ten years under that kind of thinking.

None of this is right, but "Hoot-Smalley" deserves some kind of medal. Hoover signed Smoot-Hawley into law, by the way.

Bachmann is like a college student who skimmed the entire history book the night before the test, and knows a couple dates and places, and just connects dots randomly, making sense only to her.

Now I know where the people who think Stephen Colbert is a closet conservative come from - MN-06. Because clearly they elected one of their own to represent them.

Making The Grade

by digby

It's hard enough to believe CNN has actually reassembled their election night team to "grade" Obama on his first 100 days and then tell us what to think about his press conference tonight, but they actually had people write in with grades for their Senators, which is based upon, as far as I can, tell absolutely nothing --- and is obviously being freeped. (Right now you have exactly 1 minute to grade Tim Geithner! Hurry!)

This whole 100 Days ritual navel gazing has always been stupid, but they've reached unprecedented heights this time. They've turned it into a Major TV Event, in which the only thing that actually happens is that the usual fatuous gasbags blather on for hours about nothing in advance of a mundane press conference. Talk about riveting television.

The good news for the team is that the consensus is that Obama is popular and doing well. The bad news for the country is that shallow, puerile psuedo analysis never actually helps anything.

I think I'll take a nap. Wake me when the world begins again.

Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands

by dday

The bad news is that the Senate is on the verge of gutting that mortgage "cram-down" bill, removing the ability for bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of loans for primary residences of people facing foreclosure.

Democrats Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) have indicated to the Huffington Post that they oppose the bill's central measure -- giving bankruptcy judges the power to reduce, or cramdown, a homeowner's mortgage payment under bankruptcy proceedings.

That provision is on the chopping block.

"The bill that the House sent us is a very, very good bill, a very good bill," said Reid. "It would be a terrific bill if we had cramdown in it and it'll still be a good bill if that's not in it."

Cramdown, however, is the guts of the bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the Huffington Post.

"Well, it wouldn't be a bankruptcy reform bill without cramdown in it," she said.

The two versions of the bill would need to be reconciled in a conference committee. "I strongly support [cramdown], but we'll see what happens on the Senate floor," said Pelosi.

I can tell you what will happen, the banking lobby refuses to relinquish the power they hold, and will squash efforts to write down these loans. Because the banks, in the words of Dick Durbin, own the place. So despite the facts that the lenders committed clear acts of fraud on practically all of their customers when handing out the loans, the people will get no relief with the only tool available to them to ensure a level playing field when they try to rewrite the terms.

On the flip side, a shareholder revolt led by institutional investors, state pension funds, union leaders and everyday people got Ken Lewis fired as the chairman of Bank of America. He remains on as CEO but lost the chairmanship to Walter Massey. This may not mean a hell of a lot on its own, but it's a powerful symbol of the anger felt by people out in the country with the banksters. And this will only grow. If Congress refuses to take action on these executives and their runaway entitlement, maybe the people will hold them to account.

What's In A Name?

by digby

Mediabloodhound does a nice job of deconstructing this mind boggling NY Times ombudsman piece about what kind of words are appropriate to describe what the United States does to its prisoners in the War On Terror. Apparently, it's caused quite a bit of confusion among journalists and editors at the paper of record. In fact, the process of sorting it out eerily echoes the processes and reasoning of the OLC memos: comfortable people in offices somewhere sitting around dryly discussing these techniques as if they were ordering lunch, trying to find words to obscure the clear, unambiguous meaning of what was being done to human beings by the United States Government.

A short excerpt:

The bizarro world of this editorial process continues.

A week later, Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, came to her own conclusion that the facts supported a stronger word than harsh after she read just-released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department spelling out the interrogation methods in detail and declaring them legal. The memos were repudiated by President Obama.

“Harsh sounded like the way I talked to my kids when they were teenagers and told them I was going to take the car keys away,” said Abramson, who consulted with several legal experts and talked it over with Dean Baquet, the Washington bureau chief. Abramson and Baquet agreed that “brutal” was a better word. From rare use now and then, it had gone to being the preferred choice. The result of that decision was this top headline in the printed paper of April 17: "Memos Spell Out Brutal C.I.A. Mode of Interrogation."

Maybe when Abramson "consulted with several legal experts" she should have been more concerned with verifying that such techniques were indeed torture, and brought that to her Washington bureau chief, instead of dithering over the relative meaninglessness of which adjective best described her article's subject, torture, which, ipso facto, had occurred but which she and her paper nonetheless still refuse to report.

It would be imprecise to refer to the paper's discussions as evil in the same sense that the legal memos clearly are, but it's very hard not to see it as a branch of the same tree. It most certainly is banal.

Now if you are Tom Friedman, you think we are dealing with Satanic Wogs who have superpowers and we cannot win unless we are willing to use any means necessary to stop them or risk annihilating the whole country. Therefore, torture is necessary. And Tom Friedman writes for the New York Times as some sort of expert on the middle east. So perhaps he has simply convinced his colleagues that even using the word torture is akin to helping the terrorists destroy our way of life.

But for normal people who prize reason and decency as basic human values, this is not a hard call at all. It doesn't require nuance, you don't have to weigh different responsibilities or worry about necessity. It's not like it's anything new.

Spanish Inquisition

Middle ages witch hunts

Khmer Rouge torture system

People used waterboarding for centuries and civilized nations have since outlawed it. We prosecuted it in WWII as a war crime. We have signed international treaties banning it.

And so too, beating, hanging people by their arms for days at a time, depriving them of sleep for weeks, putting them in boxes and body contorting "stress positions, "dietary manipulation", sexual humiliation, forced enemas, severe psychological trauma and more are all torture. If you have lost sight of that and no longer know whether such things should be described as "harsh" or "brutal" then you have lost your judgment and are in danger of losing your humanity.

We call it torture because it is torture, by any decent standard. If those who perpetrated it want to defend it honestly then we can have a debate. But the idea that people who use words for a living and allegedly strive to tell the truth are even hesitating to call this what it clearly is tells us far more about the state of journalism today than anything else. If they can't even do this straightforwardly, then they have truly lost their purpose.

Swine In Minnesota

by tristero

Did I just call Michele Bachmann swine? I did not! I would never, ever insult such intelligent animals as pigs with such a vile, baseless comparison:
I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence
Oh, and by the way, apparently, she's wrong or she's lying. According to the link, the last outbreak of swine flu was under Ford. A Republican.

As per my previous post, there may be a tie between Smithfield Foods, which donated heavily to Republicans in 2002/03 and the swine flu outbreak. So, most likely, Bachmann will be followed by others who will insist that investigations of Smithfield's unbelievably filthy hog raising practices - which are outrageous even if they are not responsible for the swine flu outbreak - are just a liberal plot to turn the country vegetarian. Think I'm kidding? This is from the former head of Smithfield:
"The animal-rights people,' he once said, 'want to impose a vegetarian's society on the U.S..."
Yes, indeed, Republicans have some kind of strange and pathetic cognitive deficit.

Call It Like It Is

by tristero



La Vida Locavore informs us that the industrial meat industry doesn't like the media calling swine flu..."swine flu." Quoting from Meatingplace:
The North American Meat Processors Association, the National Meat Association and the American Meat Institute all issued statements asking the media to pick up on the phrase "North American flu" or other, accurate references to the hybrid A/H1N1 flu strain that is the culprit in the ongoing outbreak.
I totally agree. We need to describe this flu outbreak as accurately as possible. But "North American Flu" doesn't cut it; that's far too general a term. Courtesy Mark Bittman, I believe that this post can help us a good deal in the search for a proper name for this disease:
A report in the Guardian* links La Gloria, a small town in eastern Mexico 12 miles from the Smithfield plant, as the possible epicenter of the recent outbreak. The article cites that “60% of the town’s population…has been affected.”

Dr. Hansen [of Consumers Union] weighs in: “If 60% of the population of a town near a huge swine facility got sick with this flu and those are among the first cases seen (e.g. close to ground zero), then that really does point a strong finger that something in that area could be the problem. At the very least, there should be a very specific investigation of the Smithfield facility that involves significant testing of those pigs for swine flu.”
And there we have it. It seems possible that Smithfield's pig megafarm may have been at least one important breeding ground for this nasty bug. And thus, what we may be dealing with is a highly lethal Smithfield Industrial Farming Swine Flu pandemic.

However, as the post makes clear, it may be the case that this flu strain may have come from a smaller farm. In which case it would be totally unfair to Smithfield and industrial farming in general to blame the bug on them. Therefore, I suggest that, given the current state of our knowledge, that until further notice, the media should call this virus by the currently most accurate description we have: Swine Flu.


*Warning: If you click on the Guardian link, you'll get a description of pig farm conditions that may turn you off bacon and pork chops forever. And you'll learn that in the past, Smithfield has been fined for unbelievably unsanitary practices.

UPDATE: A little more on Smithfield's history as a polluter. This describes a Smithfield pig farm in the US, not Mexico:
Looking down from the plane, we watch as several of Smithfield's farmers spray their hog shit straight up into the air as a fine mist: It looks like a public fountain. Lofted and atomized, the shit is blown clear of the company's property. People who breathe the shit-infused air suffer from bronchitis, asthma, heart palpitations, headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds and brain damage. In 1995, a woman downwind from a corporate hog farm in Olivia, Minnesota, called a poison-control center and described her symptoms. "Ma'am," the poison-control officer told her, "the only symptoms of hydrogen-sulfide poisoning you're not experiencing are seizures, convulsions and death. Leave the area immediately." When you fly over eastern North Carolina, you realize that virtually everyone in this part of the state lives close to a lagoon.

UPDATE II: And of course, the prick who ran Smithfield is a Republican. He is a Friend of George Allen, a member of Santorum '06 (haha), and also part of a conservative Republican activist group. I suspect that if Smithfield is involved, we can expect the usual pushback from Republican thugs - sorry, I meant to say activists.

Good Faith

by dday

Jay Bybee spoke for the first time that I can remember about his signing of the Torture Memos while at the Office of Legal Counsel, and he went with the "they looked good to me" defense.

Judge Bybee said he was issuing a statement following reports that he had regrets over his role in the memorandums, including an article in The Washington Post on Saturday to that effect. Given the widespread criticism of the memorandums, he said he would have done some things differently, like clarifying and sharpening the analysis of some of his answers to help the public better understand the basis for his conclusions.

But he said: “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.”

Other administration lawyers agreed with those conclusions, Judge Bybee said.

“The legal question was and is difficult,” he said. “And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.”

Yes, if you just sharpen the analysis that waterboarding causes a denial of oxygen and gives the sensation of imminent death, but isn't torture anyway, I think everybody would be satisfied. As Ian Milhiser says, though John Yoo did most of the writing of the memos, and Bybee could have easily pleaded negligence and thoughtlessness, he decided to take ownership and aver that they were legally correct, which is essentially a confession of his involvement.

We get a portrait here of Bybee ostracized by many colleagues for his work.

Prof. Christopher L. Blakesley, a colleague on the law school faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that after the first memorandum was released, he was unable to restrain himself from expressing disagreement at a 2004 dinner at a restaurant that included their wives.

“I asked him how he could sign such an awful thing,” Professor Blakesley recalled in an interview.

He said the judge replied that he could not talk about the matter. The dinner proceeded awkwardly, Professor Blakesley said, and they have not spoken since.

Professor Blakesley said that while he liked Judge Bybee, “he has some basic flaws including being very naïve about leaders.’

“He has too much respect for authority and will avoid a confrontation no matter what,” the professor continued.

There are other glimpses of Bybee dropping hints about his conduct, saying that he wasn't proud of his time at the Bush Justice Department, and that some of the work concerned matters “so awful, so terrible, so radioactive” that he thought it would never come to light. This law clerk kind of nails it:

Another clerk at the luncheon, Nina Rabin, who now runs an immigration clinic at the University of Arizona, said she found Judge Bybee’s remarks troubling because he suggested that his role as a lawyer could be divorced from whatever policy was being pursued. “He definitely offered a view that was sanitized,” she said, “and I thought that was disingenuous in that it removed any responsibility on the part of the lawyer for what was happening.”

This is quite literally the definition of lawlessness; the lawyers put no roadblocks in place to the whims of the Cheneyites, and instead did their bidding. So the Cheneyites could argue they received legal advice that pushed them in a certain direction, and the lawyers could argue they made their best effort to provide what the Cheneyites wanted (which is the opposite of the role of a lawyer, of course). And everyone gets to sleep another night. Yet the damage around the world holds to this day.

"For years, talks with foreign partners regarding how best to combat terrorism have foundered at a fundamental impasse because of the use of counter-terrorism authorities outside of, and many felt, contrary to, the rule of law," (deputy assistant Attorney General Todd) Hinnen told an audience of government and private-sector counter-terrorism experts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

His remarks were especially noteworthy because Hinnen, until 2007, was a top Bush administration counter-terrorism official at the National Security Council.

Hinnen said that the new administration was trying to "move past this impasse and provide grounds for constructive discussions with foreign partners and in multilateral organizations," but that the effort had proven extremely challenging given the Bush White House's penchant for conducting a global counter-terrorism campaign that was in apparent violation of U.S. and international law and treaty.

"In recent weeks, the administration has made a clean break with the practices of the last administration that were, to put this delicately, least amenable to existence as part of a principled and enduring legal framework," Hinnen said. "The Department of Justice has released and rejected a series of memoranda that are widely regarded as an effort to bend the rule of law to support conclusions which are fundamentally antagonistic to it."

Hinnen had no comment on whether the Justice Department, which is investigating the Bush administration lawyers who wrote those memos, would consider such an "effort to bend the rule of law" in support of possibly illegal policies to be something prosecutable in a court of law.

And what Hinnen leaves unsaid is that a country that refuses to follow the law in providing accountability for those who violated it remains a lawless country, and our allies around the world know it. Which is why we must continue the fight for justice and the rule of law, beginning with the man who defended his atrocious conduct and still sits on the federal bench. Call and write the House Judiciary Committee and demand that they open hearings with the possibility for penalties to the fullest extent of the law, starting with his impeachment.

Give Him His Turkey

by digby

... and put him to bed.

Tom Friedman says that even though people were tortured and killed in Bush's GWOT almost certainly out of sheer barbarity, and it's very unsatisfying that nobody will be brought to account, there's nothing to be done because prosecuting Rummy and Cheney will tear the country apart. And that's if we fail to stop the barbaric, primitive psychopathic animals who are coming to kill us all in our beds first.

The good news is that right now we have them all pinned down and distracted in Iraq so they haven't been able to put their minds to attacking us. (Apparently, they're not good multi-taskers.) But once we finish turning Iraq into the Iowa of the middle east and they have the time to focus on attacking America again, watch out because they're coming.

The bottom line is that they are trying to force our society to close up and lose all trust in our institutions. To prevent that we must cover up all the torture and murder our country has committed. Recall once again that psychotic monsters are lurking in every corner of the world, seeking ways to kill you and your family. In order to maintain our morals and values we have to be psychotic monsters ourselves. It's how we preserve our freedom.

Apparently Friedman still hasn't come down from his post 9/11 hysteria, which rendered him so dizzy and senseless he spent his time driving through Manhattan singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and babbling incoherently about sending crazy Don Rumsefeld to steal a turkey from a bedouin and put it under a mahogany table somewhere.

I think it's pretty clear that Friedman has some "issues" that disqualify him from being taken the least bit seriously about terrorism and the war in Iraq. At this point he's more to be pitied than censured.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shmaht As A Whip

by digby

Right over their heads ...

[L]ots of conservatives seem to not understand the intrinsic, underlying joke of The Colbert Report:
This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert's political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism. Finally, a post hoc analysis revealed that perceptions of Colbert's political opinions fully mediated the relationship between political ideology and individual-level opinion.

Kind of sad really.

Would You Support A Progressive Challenger To Specter?

by digby

I confess that I'm more than a little bit irked that the Democratic Party has already pledged to support Specter against a primary challenger. It's fundamentally undemocratic, not to mention dumb. Specter now has carte blanche to remain an incoherent obstructionist for the next two years when they could have at least let us pull him to the left with a primary challenge. It's not like he would lose to Pat Santorum ... er, Toomey, if we had succeeded. The man is a hard right Teabag Republican and Arlen would beat him the general anyway. Of course, there's always the possibility that Specter would lose to an orthodox Dem in the primary ... who would also beat the teabagger in the primary.

Sadly, one is inclined to conclude they want to keep a Republican within the party on fiscal issues the way Lieberman is a Republican within the party (sort of) on foreign policy. In other words, a powerful Democratic voice against liberal policies so that David Broder won't get the vapors and the DFHs won't get all crazy and try to put some liberals on the court or pass pro-labor legislation. Sure looks that way.

It's not easy to go up against the Democratic Party leadership,but there's no reason someone couldn't do it anyway. Primaries are supposed to be the way the rank and file have a voice in the nominating process and just because the leadership insists on making back room deals doesn't mean the voters have to adhere to them.

Adam Green has an idea about where to start:

On the very day Arlen Specter became a Democrat, he lamented that not enough right-wing Bush judges got confirmed, he opposed workers' right to organize, and he compared himself to Joe Lieberman. The DSCC and Pennsylvania Democratic Party will be supporting Specter in the primary.

If there is a potential progressive challenger to Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, they are probably scratching their head right now asking, "Would I have any chance at all if I ran, or is the fix in?"

What can progressives to do create an environment where this person feels they can run?

Legally, we can't put money in a pot for a fictional candidate. But we can pledge now that if a real progressive steps up, we'll get their back.

So, here's a little experiment. I just created a Facebook fan page (like a Facebook group) called "I support a real progressive against Arlen Specter."

Sounds like a good idea to me. I hate it when the poohbahs arrogantly foreclose the primary process, especially when there's little chance of a Republican victory. I really hate it when it's done behind closed doors to shut out liberals. If an actual Democrat out there wants to give it a try I think they deserve some support.
Planning And Progress

by digby

According to the Republicans pandemic preparedness has absolutely nothing to do with economics:

Here's the problem with that kind of silly, cretinous nonsense:

"We think that what we're doing now at the land ports and the airports makes sense," she said on NBC's "Today Show." Asked whether border closure is under review, she added: "That's something that can be considered, but you have to look at what the costs are. We literally have thousands of trucks and commerce that cross that border.... That would be a very, very heavy cost for what epidemiologists tell us would be marginal" benefit in containing the virus.

Anyone who thinks that a pandemic in the middle of a global financial crisis isn't something to worry about is crazy. We have known for years that it was only a matter of time before something like this happened and everyone knew that public health and research into the problem had been neglected for years in order to spend lots of money of Dick Cheney's wet dreams. When the economy went into a tailspin, Democrats thought that it would be a good stimulus (scientists, public health and homeland security agencies spend money too...) but that it was also necessary to plan for what might happen in this fragile economy if a pandemic hit. The GOP made fun of it and knocked it out of the bill for no reason other than the fact that Susan Collins had decided that pandemic funding wasn't important.

The Republicans thought it was cute to label spending on things like this and honey be research and volcano monitoring as superfluous and silly. But these are exactly the things that Americans think their government is supposed to do, once they think about it. (Who else will do it?) What they aren't so keen on is kick-backs to wealthy Republican contributors and endless military adventures for no good reason.

Having said that, let's not forget that our newest 'lil Democrat was right there braying about the stimulus and cutting deals with Collins and I wouldn't expect that to change. Standing in the way of planning and progress is the "moderates'" raison d'etre. Regardless of party, that always serves conservatism.

As Ed Rollins commented on CNN earlier, "the Democrats will 'enjoy' every day they have to keep Arlen happy."

A Victory On State Secrets

by dday

Russ Feingold released a rule of law report card today, judging the Administration's efforts in restoring core Constitutional principles about justice and executive power. Feingold gave Obama generally good marks, but saved his greatest ire for the Administration's continuing use of the state secrets privilege.

Recommendation (State Secrets): "The new administration should conduct a review of pending cases in which the state secrets privilege has been invoked to assess whether the invocation was proper. It should also support legislative efforts, such as the State Secrets Protection Act (S. 2533/H.R. 5607), to allow more meaningful judicial scrutiny when the privilege is invoked."

Action: The Obama administration has invoked the state secrets privilege in three cases in the first 100 days -- Al Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, and Jewel v. NSA.

In Al Haramain, the Obama administration reinvoked the privilege in a case originally filed against the Bush administration in which the Al Haramain foundation, whose American branch is based on Oregon, alleged that the Bush administration authorized warrantless wiretaps. In Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, five individuals once held at Guantanamo Bay prison are accusing Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, of providing logistical support for their “extraordinary rendition” to a foreign country where they were allegedly tortured. In Jewel v. NSA, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the National Security Agency on behalf of AT&T customers for alleged illegal wiretapping surveillance. After Congress granted retroactive immunity to the telecom companies that allegedly participated in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, cases in which the government is the defendant are the only legal avenues remaining to potentially test the legality of that program.

Senator Feingold has joined Senators Patrick Leahy, Arlen Specter, Edward Kennedy and others in introducing the State Secrets Protection Act, a bill to provide guidance to federal courts considering cases in which the government has asserted the state secrets privilege. The Obama administration has yet to take a position on the legislation.

Attorney General Holder has indicated that a complete review of all cases in which the state secrets privilege was asserted by the Bush administration is under way and that he hopes to make the result of that review public. Only the glimmer of hope offered by that ongoing review saves the Obama administration from a failing grade on this recommendation.

Today, the 9th Circuit appellate court agreed with Feingold and dealt a rebuke to the efforts to circumvent the rule of law by putting executive power grabs, in this case the Bush Administration's extraordinary rendition program in the Jeppesen case, behind a state secrets firewall:

Today, in a 26-page ruling (.pdf), the appellate court resoundingly rejected the Bush/Obama position, holding that the "state secrets" privilege -- except in extremely rare circumstances not applicable here -- does not entitle the Government to demand dismissal of an entire lawsuit based on the assertion that the "subject matter" of the lawsuit is a state secret. Instead, the privilege only allows the Government to make specific claims of secrecy with regard to specific documents and other facts -- exactly how the privilege was virtually always used before the Bush and Obama DOJs sought to expand it into a vast weapon of immunity from all lawsuits challenging the legality of any executive branch program relating to national security.

In rejecting this radical secrecy theory, the court emphasized how the Bush/Obama doctrine, if accepted, would essentially place the President above and beyond the rule of law.

The court wrote, "According to the government's theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands of the limits of the law." And this, basically, is where the "look forward but not backward" construction totally breaks down. The law requires scrutiny into official actions taken by the government and puts no limits on them for the sake of comity or bipartisanship. The law sees no Democrat or Republican, only the contours of the law. That was true when George W. Bush said that "In our country, when there's an allegation of abuse ... there will be a full investigation, and justice will be delivered," and that "War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, 'I was just following orders,'" and it's just as true today. The power of the state secrets privilege is the power to subvert the belief that no one is above the law by offering the executive branch a tool to block investigation by the other two branches. It is the tool of a cover-up and enables the rampant abuse and lawbreaking that can then be papered over.

The Obama DoJ appealed the ruling on Bagram detainees' habeas rights, and will probably appeal this ruling as well, and we will have to await the ruling of the Supreme Court before determining whether or not we have fully eliminated the most dangerous aspects of the state secrets privilege, or at least the passage of the State Secrets Protection Act by Feingold, America's Next Top Democrat Arlen Specter and the Congress. But as Glenn notes:

...in the meantime, the case will return to the District Court for a document-by-document assessment of what is and is not truly "secret" (and the court today held that a mere decision by the President to classify certain documents is insufficient; the court is required to exercise independent judgment as to whether secrecy is truly warranted). Finally, these 5 torture victims will have their day in court.

And hopefully, not just the victims but the perpetrators will have their day in court as well.

Public Service Announcement

by digby

Always read Tom Tomorrow.

That is all.

Memory Lane

by dday

I'm old enough to remember George Bush and Rick Santorum being Arlen Specter's biggest fan. In other words, I'm more than 5 years old.

The recent history of these things is that the party-switcher ends up landing in the mainstream of his new party. But in Specter's case, with the Democratic Party already coalescing around him and asking for little in return, that may not be so. In his press conference, Specter said he would retain seniority inside the Democratic Party and would therefore be likely to possibly earn a committee chairmanship in the next Congress. Harry Reid seems to have given up way too much to earn Specter's place in the caucus, considering that he was a goner if they refused. He also announced that he would oppose President Obama's nominee for the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen. He may have an emphasis on some other issues, but basically he's going to be the same, probably demanding certain changes on key legislation to befit his moderate heart before invoking cloture. For instance, he may have to make some grand compromise on Employee Free Choice in order to show his bona fides to labor and a Democratic primary electorate. But whether he guts legislation from the Republican or Democratic side of the aisle, Washington will continue to revere him. Hell, Obama said today he'd campaign for him.

For his part, Rep. Joe Sestak said he'd still entertain a primary if Specter doesn't hew his views closer to the Democratic Party. Good for him, though he'll have lots of pressure to stay out.

...I just threw up.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Democrat-turned-Independent Democrat, Connecticut) put out this statement welcoming Sen. Arlen Specter (Republican-turned-Democrat, Pennsylvania) to the Dem caucus:

"I enthusiastically welcome my good friend Arlen Specter into the Democratic caucus. It will be very good to have the company of yet another independent minded Democrat in the caucus!

"I have always admired Arlen as a man of deep principle who has been a bridge builder to get things done in the Senate. Arlen understands that we get things accomplished when we listen to the vital center of American politics. I know that Arlen will continue to make a major contribution to the Senate and the nation as an effective independent leader and problem solver."

...On the bright side, it is fun to watch Republicans go insane at this news.

Welcome To Our New Overlord

by digby

I'm sure you have heard that Snarlin' Arlen has just become the most powerful man in the world. (Ben Nelson must be hurting today.) I'm sure he would have preferred to join the Lieberman for Connecticut Party, but Pennsylvania seems to want a Democrat, se we're stuck with him.

This is not uncommon when there's been a big turnover election. That's how the Democrats finally got rid of Richard Shelby back in 94. If there were more sane Republicans we'd probably see some others. It's a testament to their solidarity with Rush that they are sticking.

If you want to enjoy this watch Fox news. They all look like they've just sucked on a bag of lemons.

Update: Republican leader Limbaugh had this to say today, from Simon at Limbaughwire:

After briefly downplaying the concerns about swine flu, Rush kicked off today's program by noting that Sen. Arlen Specter will announce today his switch from (R-PA) to (D-PA). Rush counseled Specter to take Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his daughter, Meghan, with him, and then pondered who else in the Senate should make the switch. The only other name he tossed out was Sam Brownback (R-KS). That struck us as... odd, seeing as when Brownback ran for president last year, Republicans "fear[ed] he may be too conservative to win a national election." Brownback's sin, it seems, was voicing support for Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- who, according to Rush, is "for every abortion that ever happened" -- as Health and Human Services secretary.

Update II: When asked on CNN about whether or not the Republicans regret taking out the pandemic money in the stimulus, Michael Steele said "we didn't know there was going to be a flu pandemic! You can't make that link!"

He added,

The American people don't want there to be pointing fingers where you don't have people in place or you vogted against the money. What you want to say is "what does the Administration going to do about it now? You cannot, in my view, make this blanket, after the fact, oh gee we should have voted for this money. See, but that had nothing to do with c`reating the jobs six months ago when this whole crisis situation was really kicking off. This bill was supposed to be twoard giving the small business owner who was about t ogo our of business a fighting chance to survive and it has nothing to do with some of the other things that we're now looking at, so I'm not going to sit here and accept that connection. Is the money there? Yeah, the money would have been there whether the congress voted for it six months ago or not because we have an emergency situation and as in all cases, congress will find a way to fund the needs of the people at the time of the crisis situation.

Kira Phillips: Well, I think that's the bottom line Chairman, is that why do voters have to wait until it becomes a crisis. I think voters just want to know whether it's a pandemic, whether it's flooding in New Orleans, whether it's ..

Steele: Absolutely. but it's the priorities, it's the priorities. And at the time the priorities was stabilizing the economy and creating jobs. now the priority is dealing with what is potentially a very serious health issue. The government and elected officials have a responsibility to to step up and help the states work through this thing. So it's a matter of priorities.

And tomorrow, a week from now, three weeks from now, three months from now, the priority might be something different because we don't know what tomorrow holds, we can only deal with the here and now. And that's what we were dealing with when these spending bills were put before the congress and Republicans made a legitimate argument that the trillions of dollars that were being spent had very little to do with job creation and wealth preservation and everything to do with a checklist of spending that Democrats wanted to work their way through.

And one of those items on the check list was preparing for a pandemic. Which we are now possibly facing and which the Republicans didn't think was important enough to spend money on because it wasn't a priority.

They can only live in the here and now. But then we already knew that planning wasn't their strong suit. (See: Iraq occupation)

These Republicans are making the Dems look like disciplined, mature adults by comparison.