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Friday, June 30, 2006

"Weak-kneed attacks by cowards"

Here’s how you do it. Delicious.

Swift-boat this
[T]he campaign for Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia has gone on the attack against Democratic challenger Jim Webb for saying that he would have voted against the constitutional amendment. But rather than taking it quietly in the mode of John Kerry in 2004, Webb's campaign is giving Allen -- and a lot of timid Democrats -- a lesson in how you fight back.

The Allen campaign said that Webb's position on flag burning exposed him as "liberal" and put him in the same camp as "John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Charles Schumer." Those are fighting words in the Commonwealth, and Webb isn't taking them sitting down. Returning fire, Webb's camp said Wednesday that "George Felix
Allen Jr. and his bush-league lapdog, [campaign manager] Dick Wadhams, have not
earned the right to challenge Jim Webb's position on free speech and flag burning." They noted that Webb, the secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, served in Vietnam and "fought for our flag and what it stands for," while "George Felix Allen Jr. chose to cut and run."

Allen turned 18 in 1970, but he did not serve in Vietnam, staying in college and spending summers at what the Webb campaign calls a "dude ranch in Nevada."
"When he and his disrespectful campaign puppets attack Jim Webb they are attacking every man and woman who served," the Webb campaign press release continued. "Their comments are nothing more than weak-kneed attacks by cowards."

Maybe the main point is that they were prepared. We know the cheap shots the Republicans are going to take. When the Swift-Boat garbage comes this time, the counter-attack in all its glory should be ready. In these cases, the 10-for-1 rule is fully justified.

Gone fish'n

Out today, back tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I'm basking in the glow of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

May GWB rot in hell.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Jeb Bush gets charitable deduction to run for 2008 as president

It's your money:

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Jeb Bush has used his recently revived nonprofit foundation to pay a former campaign finance director and two former campaign aides.

Although Bush has said his Foundation for Florida's Future is not a way of keeping his political machine intact after he leaves office early next year, recent disclosures on the foundation's Web site show that it paid:

•Nearly $99,000 to Ann Herberger, Bush's campaign finance director during two campaign and a longtime political fund-raiser for his family.

•Nearly $70,000 to Neil Newhouse of Washington-based GOP Public Opinion Strategies group for polling last October.

•$48,000 for "management services" to a lobbying and public-affairs firm whose staff includes Mandy Clark and Mandy Fletcher. Both worked on Bush's reelection campaign and on his brother's presidential reelection campaign.

•$23,500 for "legal services" from the Washington law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs.

•$20,000 in February to GOP political strategist Adam Goodman's The Victory Group Inc.

The foundation has spent about $320,000 of the $1.9 million it has raised since Bush revived it in the fall, according to its Web site. Those contributions have come from friends, former colleagues and campaign contributors, and even the prime minister of Haiti.

Bush also has tapped three "Rangers" — fund-raisers who brought in at least $200,000 for President Bush's 2004 campaign — to sit on the foundation's board: Zach Zachariah, a Fort Lauderdale cardiologist; Tom Petway, a Jacksonville businessman; and Sergio Pino, a Miami developer.

In Washington on Wednesday, Bush said the foundation's expenditures are within the law and that Herberger's salary comes from donations.

"It's all pretty transparent, complying with the new law," Bush said. "Ann Herberger gets money when she raises money. It's kind of how she makes a living."

But when asked about the subject of the $70,000 poll, Bush said, "I'm not going to tell you."

Bush had said he resurrected the foundation to campaign for a constitutional amendment to allow the state to pay for private- and religious-school tuition for children in failing schools, but lawmakers failed to pass a joint resolution that would have put such a question on the ballot in November.

Although Bush has said he will not seek public office in 2008, political strategists say the foundation will keep him from fading out of sight.

"The first time Michael Jordan retired, I bet he didn't quit working out. I bet he didn't quit playing basketball. You never know when you want to play again. And you want to be in shape if you think, 'I want to play a few seasons,' " said GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich.

Net neutrality: some good news, more bad

As you have probably already heard (I'm a bit late reporting this), net neutrality lost yesterday in the Senate Committee -- 11 to 11. Kos has pointed me to a report by Matt Stoller at MyDD on what happened:

Yesterday's events threw a lot of pieces into place for a hardened opposition to this bill. While telco lobbyists were probably celebrating last night's passage of the bill through the Commerce Committee and the failure of the net neutrality amendment, today the landscape is probably making them a lot less sanguine about their prospects. They won the Committee vote, but lost a lot of ground.
The Committee's audio servers were overloaded so I couldn't listen to the hearings. From what I'm told, here's how it went down. The scene in the room was surreal, with Senators debating in front of a room full of Blackberry-armed lobbyists. There were aides behind the Senators who would pass their bosses arguments and information, with the lobbyists passing arguments and information to the aides based on the arguments Senators were making. There were over 50 Bell lobbyists alone, including 12 employees of Verizon. Some Senators were simply proxies for lobbyists to argue through. Lunatic arguments were apparently in vogue; Senator Demint said that he couldn't understand why the broadband market wasn't considered competitive. In a few years, he asserted, there would be as many broadband providers as there are search engines on the internet. Stevens was angry and ranting, pushing aggressively to get his bill through the Committee. He ultimately succeeded, but rubbed the Senators so raw that he now realizes that this bill cannot make it through the floor in its current shape.
In terms of the committee members, all of the Dems stood by net neutrality, including Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, and Mark Pryor. George Allen was sitting on the fence, visibly uncomfortable, and undecided until the last minute. John McCain left his vote with a staff by proxy, and wasn't there for most of the hearings. Always the showboater, he came in only to offer his own amendment, and for final passage of the bill. His own amendment was a pet issue of the Christian right, a la carte cable TV, which was destroyed by 20-2. He also voted against net neutrality and for passage of the final bill, per his orders from the Republican establishment. John McCain 2008 showed up, not maverick McCain. Quel surprise.
When the vote came, we held on for an 11-11 tie, keeping all the Democrats. I'm as critical of the Democratic Party as you'll find among liberal bloggers, but I have to acknowledge that the Democrats on the Commerce Committee (except for Inouye) were exceptional and just hung in there. I am very much learning that having votes in there matters a great deal, and that these people are under extraordinary pressure to do the wrong thing.
John Kerry was the major surprise in the hearings. Ted Stevens was deeply angry about the bill, and said at one point that the net neutrality provision was a poison pill that would prevent the larger telecom reform bill from passing. "If we include net neutrality in the bill, we won't have 60 votes to pass the bill", he said, to which John Kerry responded with something along the lines of "If you don't put net neutrality in the bill, you won't have 60 votes to pass the bill either." Ouch. This was vintage kickass Kerry, the Kerry that showed up for the debates in 2004.
Bill Nelson of Florida was another happy surprise. He has spent the last 6 months flirting with John Ensign, and is a big fan of video franchising. Not only did he vote correctly on net neutrality, but he prevented Stevens from holding the vote before he could make his strongly worded statement. In his statement, he said he really wants national video franchising, he thinks that this legislation is very important, and he's worked to pass it. But, he is now convinced that without network neutrality and without effective cable build-out provisions, he could not support it.

Frankly, I'm afraid this is a bit optimistic, given the lopsided vote against net neutrality in the House.

Lest you haven't been keeping up on this, net neutrality is the idea that the major carriers of network data on the net (the telcoms for the most part) should not have the right to charge content suppliers differentially. What is likely to happen without it is that they will give preferential access to the big guys who are willing to pay big bucks to monopolize access to the net, and the little guys like Scatablog will be given slow pipes that no one will want to deal with.

I've dealt with the telco lobbies professionally before -- sometimes pro, sometimes con -- they are the big boys in the business, and it's very hard to stop them from steamrolling things through. Just look at how they convinced Clinton and Gore to push for the telecom act back in Clinton's time. That was one of the worst bills ever to become law.

President Bush, the first traitor of the post-911 era

For the people lodging charges of treason and threatening physical violence against the New York Times and its editor and reporters for its mundane report on financial tracking of potential terrorist activity, let them direct their fulminating hatred at President Bush, who said this two weeks after 9-11:

We've established a foreign terrorist asset tracking center at the Department of the Treasury to identify and investigate the financial infrastructure of the international terrorist networks. It will bring together representatives of the intelligence, law enforcement and financial regulatory agencies to accomplish two goals: to follow the money as a trail to the terrorists, to follow their money so we can find out where they are; and to freeze the money to disrupt their actions.

We're also working with the friends and allies throughout the world to share information. We're working closely with the United Nations, the EU and through the G-7/G-8 structure to limit the ability of terrorist organizations to take advantage of the international financial systems.

Of course, we will see whether the people full of hate care whether they are totally inconsistent or not. I’m not betting on it.

Losing another one

"Diplomacy by another means", the definition of war attributed to Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, is a bit too subtle for The Regime which has seemingly abandoned talk for sabres (rattled, drawn, and used).

As WallDon has pointed out today, the war in Iraq has been a net loss in the so-called "War on Terror".

And at Slate, Michael Levi has now pointed out that the recent US decision to activate the (also so-called) missile defense system in response to North Korea's apparent fueling of an ICBM for launch has painted this nation into a losing corner:

There are four ways this crisis can end. If North Korea launches a missile, the United States can shoot it down, hold fire, or try to shoot it down and miss. Pyongyang can also back down and not test its missile. The first outcome would be a mixed blessing; the second would be embarrassing; the third would be a disaster. Whatever happens now, though, given the lack of an immediate threat to American cities, Washington's decision to activate the ground-based missile defense was probably a mistake.
Of course, this comes in the context of The Regime's general refusal to talk to North Korea ("diplomacy by any other means than diplomacy"). Given that NK apparently does not yet have an actual nuclear payload, there is no genuine threat for the missile defense system to face. And in the unlikely event that it should succeed (Levi also rehearses the well-known unreliability of the system and its inconclusive testing), the result will be a net loss:

But [a succesful interception] will not come without costs. If North Korea sticks to past form, it will launch a satellite, not a warhead, allowing it to claim that its test was for "peaceful purposes." It will also show the world that it is capable of launching a real warhead, since any missile that can launch a satellite can also fire a warhead thousands of miles. When it works, the missile-defense system destroys the missile's payload—either a warhead or a satellite—after the missile itself has done its job.
So, the best defense is therefore the diplomatic ability to prevent the launch. (Maybe we could use John Bolton as a payload, and launch a him in a cruise missile?) But no, the warrior class that runs our government has all but precluded this. Instead:
The United States has backed itself into a no-win situation. For now, the United States would do best to stick to research and development on missile defense and save activation for genuinely dangerous situations. By wielding its missile defense now, it has increased the stakes for itself while leaving them unchanged for North Korea. Ironically, American military moves have made a diplomatic solution all the more urgent.
All the more urgent-- and all the more unlikely. The best thing for American national security would be to send the Occupant of the White House and his cronies to Guantanamo: they are truly dangerous.

A dignified exit strategy

According to reports, eleven Sunni insurgent groups (which apparently represent a majority of the insurgents in Iraq) have said they would agree to stop their attacks both on Iraqis and Americans if the Iraqis and the Americans would agree to a total withdrawal of foreign forces within two years.

How could anyone turn that down? Jeese, it would immediately stop the killing of our guys, it would give us two years to train the Iraqis and help them set up their government, and it would give us a dignified exit strategy for the first time.

So, what do the Bushies say? No way.

June 28 (Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about a report that Sunni insurgents have made a conditional offer to halt attacks in Iraq, said the U.S. won't set a timetable for withdrawing troops from the country.

The Associated Press today said 11 Sunni insurgent groups offered to stop attacks on U.S.-led military forces in Iraq if the Iraqi government and President George W. Bush set a two-year deadline for withdrawing all foreign troops.

Could there be any clearer signal that Bush plans to be there forever? He wants a permanent military base on Iraqi soil.

[Before I read the Rumsfeld comment, I was actually expecting Bush to accept the challenge. What could be better for his poll numbers and for the prospects for Republicans in 2006 and 2008 than to announce an end to hostilities and a mutually agreed upon exit strategy with a date certain, leaving behind a duly elected government semi-friendly to us?

Of course, I haven't heard Bush say anything yet. Maybe Karl Rove will get to him yet.]

We won one for a change

From what I have read thus far (Glenn Greenwald and Marty Lederman), it appears the Supreme Court's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision is very broad, not only rejecting Bush's theories re. the kangaroo courts he has set up to try the Guantanamo detainees, but also rejecting at the same time the arguments he has used to justify warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, the arguments he has used to justify torturing detainees, the arguments he has used to justify extraordinary rendition, and the arguments he has used to justify violating Geneva Conventions. Further, it specifically requires him to go to Congress to seek authorization for any of these types of actions, in effect telling Bush he can't just make up his own laws.

Of course, Bush's first reaction was to say he's going to go ahead anyway by forcing a bill through Congress to legitimize everything he is now doing. Even if he succeeds, the point is he had to ask. This gives us back some balance to our government.

Unfortunately, this was a five to three decision with Roberts recusing himself (since he came down on the other side of the case when he heard it on the appeals court). That means, it was really a five-four decision. All Bush needs is one more appointee and we're cooked.

More and more, we need to take back Congress in November. Get out your check book and give what you can to progressive candidates.

Experts: US losing war on terror

We all knew this anyway, but now the "experts" have confirmed it. We're losing the "war or terror."

The United States is losing its fight against terrorism and the Iraq war is the biggest reason why, more than eight of 10 American terrorism and national security experts concluded in a poll released yesterday.
The incompetence of this administration is truly breathtaking. They have something like the Midas Touch -- everything they touch turns into crap.

What a yoyo

Over at MaxSpeak, Jared Bernstein coins a new term for the Bush economic policies -- "YOYO economics."

In other words, this is an economy that looks pretty good until you take a closer look at the people in it.

This disconnect between productivity and living standards is one of today’s most important, and most unsettling, economic dynamics. It’s obviously not the only salient problem we face—the extent of our fiscal and international indebtedness is also worthy of our attention. But I see these all of a package.

It’s a package tied up with a YOYO. That’s the acronym for “you’re on your own,” which over the past few decades has become a disturbing and destructive thematic embedded in our economic policy.

Under YOYO, the best way to meet the challenges we face, from inequality to health care to globalization, is a tax cut leavened with a private account. Market forces are the solution to whatever ails us, and for the YOYOs, the point of public policy is to turn up the market wattage. If you can’t take the heat, go to France.

Egregious over-reaction in Gaza

Juan Cole writes:

Half of the Palestinians in Gaza, who were already living pretty miserable lives after decades of marginalization and brutalization by the Israelis, were left without electricity yesterday.

Palestinian officials like Saeb Erekat rejected the idea that knocking out electricity for hundreds of thousands of people is targeting a "terrorist infrastructure." In fact, destroying electricity generation capability interferes with water purification. Palestinian children will die because of this, from drinking unpurified water. And what crime did Palestinian toddlers commit, to be murdered in this way?

The Israelis escalated the crisis by detaining Hamas government ministers. The likelihood is that the captors of the Israeli soldier are freelancers. This wasn't something plotted out by the Haniyeh government, which, in fact, recently granted a huge concession on the issue of potentially recognizing Israel.

PM Ismail Haniyeh called for the United Nations Security Council to intervene.

The ministers detained are members of a freely and democratically elected government. I can't imagine under what legal authority the Israelis have arrested them. But everyone in the Middle East can see exactly what "elections" and "democracy" amount to. Bush's promises have never seemed so hollow.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Who Else Is The Entertainment Industry Stalking?

Even for people who think we're often too hard on the entertainment industry, it's hard to see how you can reasonably defend their actions sometimes. For instance, it appears that the industry is really focused on stalking people they don't like. Earlier this year we had the story of how the RIAA was caught gathering private information on the children of one of the people who's resisting an RIAA lawsuit. However, they really seem to enjoy stalking executives at companies they don't like. Last year, for example, it came out that they had stalked the head of Kazaa for months. Earlier this week came the news that the MPAA hired a private eye to stalk one of the Pirate Bay people. Now comes the news that the MPAA also hired someone to stalk Torrentspy's founder. Some of this was known before. Last month, the news came out that the MPAA had hired a hacker to hack into Torrentspy's system and gather info. However, the new details suggest that the guy was hired to do much more than that -- and to gather all sorts of information on Torrentspy's founder however possible. If they have a legitimate legal complaint with the company (which is questionable), settle it in the courts -- but to stalk someone to get private, confidential info is ridiculous. The industry execs clearly think they're above the law -- which is partially true, since they seem to get to write the laws these days.

Advice to Dems on Flag Burning

I have some advice for the Democrats who voted against the flag burning amendment. When your opponent says "He voted in favor of burning flags," instead of saying, "no I didn't," say "My opponent voted to kill the Bill of Rights, and I voted to defend the Constitution as our founding fathers wrote it." And, don't be shy about this. Say it even before the opponent accuses you of voting in favor of flag burning. Attack, attack, attack.

An immaculate banking conception

I had an immaculate conception while driving back from visiting my mother's nursing home this afternoon.

I think someone should propose banking legislation that requires all credit card companies to pay interest on all credit balances on a card at a rate no less than one percent below the interest rate they charge on debit balances.

Seems to me that would keep the market a bit more honest than it is now.

Bush enacts legislation

Deputy assistant attorney general testified to Congress yesterday about the President's 750 signing statements:

Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general, said the statements were "not an abuse of power."

Rather, Ms. Boardman said, the president has the responsibility to make sure the Constitution is upheld. He uses signing statements, she argued, to "save" statutes from being found unconstitutional. And he reserves the right, she said, only to raise questions about a law "that could in some unknown future application" be declared unconstitutional.

"It is often not at all the situation that the president doesn't intend to enact the bill," Ms. Boardman said.

Apart from the obfuscatory language, isn't it the job of Congress to enact a bill and the job of the President to enforce it? I guess not. Now, apparently, a bill is not enacted until Bush agrees to enforce it.

Why is America behind everyone else? (one more example)

America's cars and pickup trucks represent only 30% of the world's fleet, but the spew out almost 50% of the world's greenhouse gases:

American cars and pickup trucks are responsible for nearly half of the greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles globally, even though the nation's vehicles make up just 30% of the nearly 700 million cars in use, according to a new report by Environmental Defense.

Cars in the U.S. are driven more miles, face lower fuel economy standards and use fuel with more carbon than many of those driven in other countries, the authors found. According to the report by the environmental group, due out today, U.S. cars and light trucks were driven 2.6 trillion miles in 2004, equal to driving back and forth to Pluto more than 470 times.

So, are we going to get tighter fuel economy standards? Don't count on it. Take a look at this press release from the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works claiming that experts believe global warming is due to natural causes. Most of the supposed experts here are hacks and have not even published their findings in refereed academic journals. As Al Gore states in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, a recent study in Science by Naomi Oreskes that surveyed a sample of 928 refereed journal articles on the subject found that none (nada, zippo, zero) concluded that global warming was due to natural causes alone. There is no serious debate on the question of whether human beings are creating climate change.

DeLay redistricting largely upheld by Supreme Court

I'm no scholar of Constitutional Law or of the Supreme Court, so I really can't comment on the legitimacy of today's decision from a legal perspective, but I am disappointed. The Court overturned one, relatively small, aspect of the DeLay redistricting plan in Texas, but left standing the changes that resulted in a six seat Congressional gain by Rethuglicans in 2004. Further, the Court said it was completely okay to redistrict at any time and that gerrymandering need not be limited to once every ten years, following the decennial census.

I wonder how the Court would have ruled if this had been a Republican challenge to a Democratic redistricting plan of a similar nature. Somehow, I have no confidence the ruling would have come out the same. Is it just me? Or has the Court lost the confidence of the public that it can judge cases in a fair and unbiased way? I think the 2000 decision of the Court to elect Bush did it for me.


I'm getting wonky.

Now that all the gas we get is mixed with 10% ethanol and many new cars are able to run on an 85% ethanol 15% gasoline mix, I thought I'd look into the case for ethanol to get myself informed on the subject. It turns out it isn't that easy. I've now finished reading about thirty scientific papers and have thirty or so to go before I'll feel prepared to offer readers here my final conclusions -- all of which will probably prove that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Some of the problems of sorting all this out include:

1) "Expert" opinions vary rather widely on whether or not it takes more energy to make corn based ethanol than you get back from the finished product.

2) Many of the "studies" tend to be conducted by or funded by interested parties, such as corn growers groups, major companies in the industry (e.g., ADM), the petroleum companies, the auto companies, politicians in the farm states, and I'm even suspicious of studies conducted by the government, since under the Bush administration the government hasn't hesitated to tilt its scientific findings to support government policy. It's often difficult to tell whether a study is grinding an ax or on the up and up.

3) There are legitimate areas of disagreement on a variety of questions, including the effects of changing land use patterns, how to treat the energy content of by-products and co-products of the corn-to-ethanol process, and how fast technology will improve the farming and manufacturing processes.

My very preliminary opinion so-far: Corn based ethanol is not worth the effort unless the only purpose is to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources. Even the optimists find very little benefit, if any, to green house gas emissions.

Once I finish my "research", I'll give a more complete report on my findings and the reasons for them.

Speak loudly and carry a little stick

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Arlen Specter, said yesterday that he is ``seriously considering" filing legislation to give Congress legal standing to sue President Bush over his use of signing statements to reserve the right to bypass laws.
I'll believe it when I see it.

Palestinians lose power

Please explain to me just why it was necessary to destroy a Palestinian power station in order to release a kidnapped soldier.

As Juan Cole points out, the Palestinians need the power station to pump drinking water, among other things. So, losing the power threatens the population with cholera.

[I also find it interesting that the Israelis always justify their over-reactions as appropriate responses to the horror of attacks on "innocent civilians," but their responses to attacks on their military (as in this case) are even more fierce.]

Blag furning amendment fails by one vote

The totally unnecessary amendment to ban flag burning failed by one vote in the Senate yesterday. Fourteen Democrats joined with most Republicans to vote for it. Here are the names of the fourteen:

Baucus (MT), Bayh (IN), Dayton (MN), Feinstein (CA), Johnson (SD), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AK), Menendez (NJ), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NB), Reid (NV), Rockefeller (WV), Salazar (CO), Stabenow (MI).

I am particularly dismayed that one of my own state's senators, Menendez, voted for this atrocity. Some of the people on this list should be Liebermaned. Interestingly, Lieberman voted the right way for a change.

The line item veto

Now Bush wants the line item veto:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, urging the Senate to pass the line-item veto, on Tuesday criticized House Democrats who didn't back the measure even though they've called for federal spending restraint.

As if the president didn't already have enough power. In his mind, he can overturn and violate any law, spy on any person without a warrant, ignore any court, throw anyone in prison (or worse) forever without any kind of review. Now, he wants to take over the only power left to another branch of government (the legislature) -- the power of the purse.

I guess we should just hand over this one too. After all, nobody thinks he would abuse any of these powers. He's the benevolent dictator, only looking out for the best interests of all the people. Sure, why not let him have all the power?

The middle is unacceptable

As usuual, Publius has some useful insights on treason at the New York Times. Here are some snippets.

…The two parties are not equally bad. Similarly, the two “teams” of pundits nominally aligned with each party are not equally extreme or unhinged or whatever your favorite description of the blogosphere may be. One side is (currently at least) far, far worse and events like the recent “blogswarm for treason” should make people recognize that.

What we’re actually seeing is an assault on little-l liberalism — the liberalism of the Enlightenment and of our Constitution and of the CATO Institute. As I've explained before, the core of liberalism is the idea that individuals (by virtue of being humans and having dignity) have a sphere of freedom that should be free from government intrusion. Logically following from this bedrock foundation are the other fundamental rights we know and love such as freedom of religion, democratic voting, rule-by-consent, rule of law, right to property, civil liberties, sexual freedom, and so on. All are rooted in the idea of individual freedom or individual consent.

Just look at what we’ve seen just in the past few days. First, we’ve witnessed a wide swath of the right-wing blogosphere, along with elected legislators abetted by the President of the United States, calling for charges of treason and prosecution against the press, essentially for repeating what everyone pretty much knew we already did. Of course, a lot of this anger stems from earlier reports of highly highly anti-liberal conduct such as illegal domestic spying and our black sites/ghost renditions in Eastern Europe. As if that weren’t enough, the Senate came one vote shy of approving a flag-burning amendment that would have put America in the same exclusive club as China, Cuba, and Iran. (The historical regime that shall not be named also banned flag desecration.)

That’s just this week. On top of that, we’ve seen the implementation and cheerleading for torture. We’ve seen signing statements and unitary executive theories and other vast expansions (both practical and theoretical) of presidential power. We’ve seen Gitmo and military tribunals. We’ve seen the relentless assault on the sexual freedom of women regarding not just abortion (even following rape), but the right to contraception. And let’s not forget about the assault on gays and Mr. Schiavo.

All of these are more than just political disagreements about taxes or racial policies. They are different in kind in that they are attacks on liberalism itself — i.e., on the idea of individual freedom and the civil liberties/rule of law principles that logically follow from that foundation.

And here’s what I’m getting at — in the face of what we’ve seen, to treat both sides as equally bad or partisan just doesn’t make sense. I’m no big fan of the modern Democratic Party, but their badness isn’t even in the same solar system. I mean, good Lord, treason. Elected representatives advocating criminal charges and treason. The Weekly Standard asserting that the NYT actively aids al Qaeda, the terrorist group that, oh you know, blew up a big chunk of downtown New York and killed people that those journalists and editors went to school with. Glenn Reynolds suggesting that freedom of the press wasn’t really for the press.

This is pretty scary stuff. And what infuriates modern-day liberals more than anything else is not so much this extremism as the fact that this extremism is portrayed as simply the equal and opposite force to Democratic policies and partisanship. Ann Coulter cancels out Kos. Republican partisanship cancels out Democratic partisanship. But they’re not the same — they’re not anywhere close to the same…

But as loathsome as I find people like Bill Kristol and Glenn Reynolds, they’re actually not the worst. They may be wrong, but they’re certainly not idiots. David Broder and Marshall Wittman, by contrast, are idiots. These guys look at the world and decry the partisanship of both parties and want them to meet in the middle. I don’t, and that’s because the middle is unacceptable when one side is calling for treason. The Moose warns the Democrats not to go weak on national security by opposing the quartering of Bill Keller. The Donkey must support treason and return to a national greatness narrative.

Congress decides to jump into the lynch the Times frenzy

It appears that (the thuglicans in) Congress are going to try to pass legislation condemning the New York Times:

House Republican leaders are expected to introduce a resolution today condemning The New York Times for publishing a story last week that exposed government monitoring of banking records.
Frankly, with so much hype going on, I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone tried to bomb the Times building or take a sniper shot at people entering or leaving it. I don't know when I have ever seen politicians be as irresponsible as the thuglicans are in this administration.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Still another domestic spying story

Michael Isikoff at Newsweek reports:

June 26, 2006 - Over the last four years, U.S. law enforcement agencies have gained access to over 28,000 financial records inside the United States under a little known provision of the USA Patriot Act that parallels the secret international bank data program disclosed by news organizations last week, Treasury Department records show...

Once there is a positive "match" showing a suspect individual or company has conducted a financial transaction with a U.S. bank, FINCEN then notifies the law enforcement agencies, which can use the existence of a reported "match" as the basis for a grand jury or administrative subpoena. The Treasury records show that U.S. agencies have used the program to obtain 1,206 grand jury subpoenas and 328 administrative subpoenas. It has also led, according to the Treasury records, to 90 indictments, 79 arrests and 10 convictions.

Treasury Department officials last week cited those figures as evidence that the Patriot Act program has become an important tool that is being increasingly used by U.S. law enforcement agencies to obtain domestic financial records.

Question: Just who should we bomb and try for this one? Michael Isikoff and Newsweek, or the Secretary of the Treasury?

We need more rapes, robberies & beatings by the National Guard

According to Raw Story:

A Congressman [Representative Ted Poe (R-TX)] took to the House floor yesterday insisting that illegal border crossings from Mexico have slowed due to fear of rape, robbery and beatings at the hands of U.S. National Guardsmen.
I guess the implication is that the more they gain a reputation for rapes, robberies and beatings, the more effective they will be at their job. Gee, let's send them all to practice on the detainees at abu Ghraib.

Defending the NY Times

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post on the brouhaha over the New York Times. He makes four very important points, which he then proceeds to explain. The four points are:

(1) There is not a single sentence in the Times banking report that could even arguably "help the terrorists."

(2) The reason there is "no evidence of abuse" [of the various surveillance programs the Times and others have exposed] is precisely because the administration exercises these powers in total secrecy.

(3) The Founders unequivocally opted for excess disclosures by the media over excess government secrecy and restraints on the press.

(4) No rational person can believe that the reporters and editors of The New York Times want to help terrorists attack the U.S.

Sounds almost as if Glenn is preparing to defend the Times at trial. But for the fact that taking this to trial would set such a terrible precedent, I'd love to see the Bush government go down in flames in front of a court of law on this one.

On bombing the NY Times

Atrios makes a point about how the mainstream media (in this case, Chris Matthews' Hardball) give airtime to a debate over blowing up the New York Times and jailing its employees, as if this was a serious debate:

Torturing people, jailing journalists for treason, the president being allowed to disobey the law at whim... The mainstream media has made all of these things a part of the normal conversation. They've allowed "two sides" to all of these things to be debated on equal footing. Left wing bloggers on the internets complain about the media and they get ignored and accused of "blogofascism." Conservatives call for the New York Times to be blown up and their reporters and editors jailed and they get treated seriously on MSNBC's flagship political talk show.

There's a problem here. You've been playing this game for years, letting these people control the terms of the debate. This is where it has brought you. Congratulations.
I might add, what do you suppose would happen to us liberals if we were to encourage the same treatment of our political enemies? What would happen if we proposed bombing the White House and lynching the President? That's right, we'd instantly be whisked away to never never land. (And, probably rightly so.) Meanwhile, Ann Coulter (along with many others) is out there proposing that Murtha be fragged -- that means killed -- with total impunity. Aren't there laws against threatening Congressmen?

Right-wing-nuts call for lynching of Times' reporters

Posters at the right-wing Free Republic message board went ballistic last night about the NY Times:

"I can only hope I get to see the video of Sulzberger's beheading! :)"

"If the government won't act, perhaps some private citizens will."

"Tar, feathers? You are the very definition of the term 'restraint'. I was thinking more along the lines of the Muslim solution."

"String em up, right next to Murtha's sad carcass."

"They need to hang for this, but it's not PC for me to type this in RESPONSE to their treason."

The inevitable climax of this rhetoric of hatred was a post declaring the Times to be THE ENEMY, followed by additional responses in which they were described as fair game for private vengeance:

"The Slimes [sic] and its puppets in the MSM ARE THE ENEMY. They simply hate America as it is. They want a socialist-homosexual utopia. Thus, they are simply aiding and abetting their faithful followers abroad and here. They are giving intel to their friends of gee-had. They are the enemy. Problem is, many Americans simply do not know or care."

"Any retired snipers out there?"

"They are, without a doubt our enemy. We need to treat them as such."

"I think it will be dangerous for a Slimes [sic] reporter to step foot out of Manhattan."

Compassionate conservatism at work!

Defense Department spying on students

It turns out the DOD is monitoring student e-mails and infiltrating campus demonstrations with undercover investigators. Got to stop the terrorists where they train, I guess, in the colleges and universities of America.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Defense has released documents that show wider surveillance of student organizations than previously reported, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has reported.

On April 11th PageOneQ reported that the Pentagon had admitted to conducting surveillance of groups protesting the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for gays and lesbians in the armed forces.

The new FOIA request yielded information about an undercover investigation by the Pentagon on acitivities into student groups protesting the war at State University of New York at Albany (SUNY Albany), William Paterson University in New Jersey, Southern Connecticut State University and the University of California at Berkeley, reports SLDN.

Gobbledeegook from the SCOTUS

Publius makes a great point in response to yesterday's Supreme Court opinion rejecting Vermont's limits on campaign financing:

The splintered 70-page Randall “opinion” was actually six different opinions that land all over the place. Here’s the summary from the Syllabus for those of you keeping score at home:

Breyer, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., joined, and in which Alito, J., joined as to all but Parts II–B–1 and II–B–2. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Kennedy, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Scalia, J., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined, and in which Stevens, J., joined as to Parts II and III.

Of course, Randall is a veritable The Sun Also Rises compared to the Court’s last campaign finance opinion, McConnell v. FEC, which was a 300-page, eight-opinion opinion. Here’s the syllabus for that one:

Stevens and O’Connor, JJ., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to BCRA Titles I and II, in which Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to BCRA Titles III and IV, in which O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Souter, JJ., joined, in which Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined except with respect to BCRA §305, and in which Thomas, J., joined with respect to BCRA §§304, 305, 307, 316, 319, and 403(b). Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to BCRA Title V, in which Stevens, O’Connor, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring with respect to BCRA Titles III and IV, dissenting with respect to BCRA Titles I and V, and concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part with respect to BCRA Title II. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring with respect to BCRA Titles III and IV, except for BCRA §§311 and 318, concurring in the result with respect to BCRA §318, concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part with respect to BCRA Title II, and dissenting with respect to BCRA Titles I, V, and §311, in which opinion Scalia, J., joined as to Parts I, II—A, and II—B. Kennedy, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part with respect to BCRA Titles I and II, in which Rehnquist, C. J., joined, in which Scalia, J., joined except to the extent the opinion upholds new FECA §323(e) and BCRA §202, and in which Thomas, J., joined with respect to BCRA §213. Rehnquist, C. J., filed an opinion dissenting with respect to BCRA Titles I and V, in which Scalia and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion dissenting with respect to BCRA §305, in which Ginsburg and Breyer, JJ., joined.

Got that?

This is simply ridiculous. I attended law school for 3 years, was a federal clerk, and have worked at a law firm and I can’t make sense of this. How can the general non-legally-trained public — the public who is subject to the Court’s opinions — make sense of any of this? The short answer is that they can’t. And that’s the problem.

Unlike academic journals or esoteric texts from other specialized professional fields, the esoteric text written by courts has the force of law. What these courts decide is binding on the public and the opinions obviously have an enormous impact on people’s lives. For that reason, democratic theory demands that the public be able to offer some sort of informed consent about them — consent that presupposes an ability to actually understand what the hell is going on and debate it. By but cloaking highly-important public decisions in inaccessible legal jargon, which is then further splintered across multiple opinions and concurrences, courts often prevent any sort of informed consent. After all, you can’t really disagree with something if you don't know what it is.
Go read the whole thing.

The Irony of the 1% Doctrine

Andrew Tobias points out the irony of the 1% doctrine:

This book by Ron Suskind will surely be #1 on the best-seller lists. The 1% Doctrine holds that if there is even the slightest – one-percent – chance a terror threat may be real, America will take action as if it’s a 100% certainty.

The implications of that – and of our not having known it was our nation’s policy – seem to me to be huge.

But for the sake of argument, let’s just buy it for a minute. (And then read the book and spend many hours debating it with everyone we know, because what debate could be more important?)

The irony is that when it comes to terror threats, the Administration has decided that a 1% chance is enough to impel decisive action. But when it comes to the global climate change that could wipe out most of the world's coastal cities and threaten civilization itself, even near certainty is not enough to provoke action.

Trying to get off the ballot

I find it mildly amusing to watch Tom DeLay's efforts to remove himself from the ballot in Texas, while the Democrats try to keep him on:

AUSTIN, Texas - Former Rep.

Tom DeLay testified Monday that he lives and votes in Virginia, bolstering the Republican Party's claim that he is ineligible to appear on the November ballot in Texas.

But Democrats, hoping to keep GOP scandal on voters' minds, argued in federal court that DeLay's name should stay on the ballot because he maintains a home in suburban Houston and could be living there before Election Day.

DeLay and state Republican Party chair Tina Benkiser seemed to agree under questioning that they can't say conclusively whether DeLay would be residing in the state on Nov. 7.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks did not immediately rule on the dispute but disagreed with part of the Republicans' argument.

Republican leaders insist DeLay did not "withdraw" from the election, which could mean that he couldn't be replaced. They say Benkiser declared him "ineligible" because of his move to Virginia, thus allowing the party to choose a new nominee.

Sparks, without saying how he will rule, said his legal opinion "will clearly say this is a withdrawal. ... The congressman, for whatever reason, decided not to complete the election."

It doesn't seem likely, but the Democrats would really have egg on their faces if they won the battle to keep him on the ballot, and he won re-election because of it.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The troops be damned

Atrios argues rather forcefully that there will be no troop withdrawals under Bush. He believes Bush wants to stay in Iraq permanently, and as long as the insurgency continues, you can't stay there with fewer troops than we already have -- at least that's how I read his argument.

I basically agree with his premise that Bush wants to stay there permanently. I think he sees Iraq as an American base in the Middle East. But, I wouldn't rule out some cosmetic withdrawals, designed solely for domestic political consumption. If that exposes the remaining troops to greater risk, I'm sure Bush wouldn't pause for one second because of it. After all, he's not even willing to get the guys who are there body armor. If there's political gain to be made at home, the troops be damned.

Estate Tax repeal violates American Values

From toh Blog Altercations:
The evil of estate tax repeal
Nordic dream, American
June 5, 2006 12:26 PM ET Permalink
Remember the "American Dream?" I used to believe in it too. Turns out we were all being naïve—at least insofar as the last half century is concerned. Why am I writing about this today? Because Congress is readying itself to make everything worse by repealing the estate tax.
Consider what you'd have learned if you'd read the (conservative) Economist magazine last week:
I'm afraid, that the "Nordic Dream"—or even the "British Dream" is a more realistic one than the much cherished "American Dream. This is true at nearly every level of society. Overall, according to two separate studies based on a set of data collected beginning in the 1950s, Nordic countries score around 0.2 for sons, Britain scores 0.36, and America 0.54 (meaning that a son's earnings are more closely related to his father's in America, and almost not at all in the Nordic nations). But it is at the bottom rung where the failure of the American system is most profoundly apparent. In the Nordic nations, for instance, three-quarters of those on welfare had moved up and out of the system by the time they reached in their forties but barely more than half of their American counterparts had. As the editors of the conservative Economist magazine put it, "In other words, Nordic countries have almost completely snapped the link between the earnings of parents and children at and near the bottom. That is not at all true of America." In Britain, too, fully seventy percent of those enmeshed in the welfare system had moved out within a single generation, again—a higher percentage than in America. The magazine points to the generous tax and welfare provisions for families as "The obvious explanation for greater mobility in the Nordic countries… which (especially when compared with America's) deliberately try to help the children of the poor to do better than their parents. [i]

Now take a look at what I learned from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
Estate tax repeal will likely cost $1 trillion in the first decade alone, and compare that amount to other priorities. For example, in light of the controversy this week over cuts in homeland security funding for a number of communities, it is worth noting that the annual revenue loss from repealing the estate tax is roughly the same as total federal spending on homeland security nationwide.

On the lighter side if it weren't so seious

Via MarketWatch:
How Paulson really got the Treasury job
By David Weidner, MarketWatchLast Update: 11:00 AM ET Jun 1, 2006

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s Henry Paulson is the next U.S. Treasury secretary, but it was only after a key meeting with the president that the two men came to an agreement.
What follows are excerpts of a secret transcript as transcribed from the Nixon Memorial Tape Machine in the Oval Office and obtained by MarketWatch through the Freedom of Disinformation Act.

The President of the United States: Thanks for coming in. I think you know why we've asked you here. We need a new ambassador to Iraq. Just kidding. Had you going. Looked a little nervous. But before we begin, I'd just like to say how we here in Washington really admire the work you've done at Goldblum. You've done a heckuva job, Hanky.
Paulson: Thanks, but please don't call me that.
POTUS: Heh-heh. Fair enough, Paulie. Unlike the vice president, I'm a straight shooter. This Treasury job is hard, hard, hard work. Now, my people tell me we have a lot in common. You run the world's most prestigious investment bank. I owned a part of the Texas Rangers. We both have MBAs. You like the environment. I ... well ... we both have China on our minds.
Paulson: That's true. In fact, I'd like to just say ...
POTUS: There will be time enough for gabbing about the rudermentaries of all that later. Let me ask you this: Are you a Christian?
Paulson: A Christian Scientist.
POTUS: Sounds half-right to me. So, anyway, I've had some problems with corporate CEOs in the past. I had to change my number to avoid Kenny Boy. I brought in Paul O'Neill from Alcoa, and all the tin man did was whine about Iraq. Snowy has been great -- he likes a strong dollar, have you heard that? Heh-heh. Now there's a guy who can stay on message. But Snowy's act is falling a little flat with investors.
Paulson: With all due respect, Mr. President, if I were to take this job, I'd like to be able to speak my mind.
POTUS: Well, if your mind likes a strong dollar ... But I regress. To be honest, I like you, Paulie, because people like you. You may not know this, and because I only speak in front of military audiences these days, I didn't know this myself until Karl Rove told me off the record, but people aren't real excited about me right now. Freedom is on the march, but it won't pay your electric bill come August.
Paulson: Off the top of my head, you could start by detailing a comprehensive energy program that sets aggressive targets for eliminating our dependence on oil. Green fuels would help the environment and curtail global warming. You might convene a meeting with the world's auto manufacturers. You might start thinking about an exit strategy in Iraq ...
POTUS: Whoa there, big fella. Too much information. Don't go all Bernanke-Bartiromo on me. I need you to give me your secrets and work some of that Wall Street magic. You've been building up your private-equity funds and competing against your own advisory clients. You do so much double dealing, for all I know you might be secretary of the Chinese treasury, too. You head the Nature Conservancy, which has been accused of doing questionable land deals with its own important members. You have a former employee charged with insider trading. You ran off Grasso and had your own lieutenant named head of the stock exchange. And let's not forget your new corporate headquarters near Ground Zero. You guys (GS) are enjoying the most profitable times in your history, and still you were awarded billions in government-backed Liberty Bonds.
Paulson: We manage our conflicts.
Voice from under the desk: I'll say.
Paulson: Who's that? I thought we were alone.
POTUS: Nobody. The vice president is in a secure location. By the way, I hear you're a bird watcher. Well, Dick watches birds, too. Watches birds and shoots lawyers, heh-heh. Ouch. Now, despite all of the scandals and the criticism, Goldstein is still the envy of the financial world. You're seen as one of the most astute leaders on Wall Street. That's the kind of spin we need around here. That's why when Josh Bolton mentioned you, I said, "Bring 'im on."
Paulson: Now wait just a minute. At Goldman, we have an internal system that ensures we keep our clients' interests first. There's no double dealing, just seizing opportunities. As for insider trading, Goldman is an organization of 31,000 entrepreneurial people. It's impossible to monitor each and everyone entirely. So the Nature Conservancy saves little animals by buying land; is it my fault that my rich friends own all the land? Also, may I remind you that the Big Board's board dumped Grasso. I was just a director. And I hated John Thain. I mean I hated to lose John Thain to the New York Stock Exchange (NYX) . As for our new headquarters, we were very concerned about security. Did I mention we are building a library for the neighborhood?
Voice from under the desk: Not bad. Remind me about this guy when the CEO of Halliburton wants to spend more time with his family. I think we got our man. Get Josh to call Hastert.
POTUS: Paulie, just one more thing.
Paulson: What, sir?
POTUS: How do you like your dollar?
Paulson: I think we have a deal.
POTUS: Mission accomplished.

Bank monitoring program was already in public domain

Notwithstanding the full court press to close down the NY Times and jail its editors, publisher, and reporters for treason, it turns out that information on the bank monitoring program has been publicly available since 2002 and was published in a UN report. According to Victor Comras,

The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:
“The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.”

Goodbye middle class

A good portion of what's left of the middle class is about to disappear:

General Motors will on Monday disclose details of one of most dramatic corporate downsizings in US history, exceeding a key target of its turnround plan and accelerating the demise of the privileged American car worker.

Rick Wagoner, chief executive, is expected to announce that about 30,000 workers – more than a quarter of GM's blue-collar US workforce – have taken up its offer of early retirement and severance packages.

Just how many hamburger flippers can we employ in this country?

A move in the wrong direction

Alito was the swing vote, and the Court voted to approve capital punishment in Kansas.

WASHINGTON (AP) - New Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito broke a tie Monday to rule that Kansas' death penalty law is constitutional.

By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices said the Kansas Supreme Court incorrectly interpreted the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment to strike down the state's death penalty statute.

As I noted a day or so ago, the vast majority of other countries in the world don't practice capital punishment. We are in league with a few rogue states, notably, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, who together with us accounted for 94% of the executions in 2005.

FBI drops demand for library records

You may recall the case of the Connecticut library. The FBI had served it with a National Security Letter (NSL) demanding it produce documents and records on all of its patrons' activities in connection with a particular IP address during a specific period of time. Recipients of NSLs are automatically prevented by law from telling anyone else that they have received the letter or that they are complying with it.

The library refused to comply, joined up with the ACLU and other libraries, and took the matter to court, where the FBI has lost motion after motion. Finally, it seems, the FBI has decided to drop the case altogether and has given up its request for the information.

It does seem strange that the FBI didn't just seek a warrant for this information. It actually seems to have been a very limited request for all "subscriber information, billing information, and access logs" of anyone "related" to a particular IP number during a specified fifteen minute period. (NSL letter here) The IP number is no longer active, so I can't tell whether it was one that many people are likely to visit (e.g., Google) or few (e.g., an al Qaeda operative). Assuming it was something like the latter, I see no reason why the FBI could not very easily have obtained a warrant for the information. The library says it would probably have complied with a request accompanied by a warrant. As it is, the FBI's insistence on seeking the information without a warrant resulted in it not getting anything.

The only explanation I can think of for this is that the Bush administration simply wanted to push the envelope of its powers at every opportunity just to prove it was not answerable to either Congress or the Courts.

Finally, we have a small victory for the good guys.

Afghanistan: Mission unaccomplished

Things have not been going well in Afghanistan recently. The Taliban is on the rise again outside Kabul -- and maybe inside it too, heroin is the cash crop of choice, and now, the Washington Post tells us that foreign leaders are losing faith in Karzai.

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 25 -- Many Afghans and some foreign supporters say they are losing faith in President Hamid Karzai's government, which is besieged by an escalating insurgency and endemic corruption and is unable to protect or administer large areas of the country.

As a sense of insecurity spreads, a rift is growing between the president and some of the foreign civilian and military establishments whose money and firepower have helped rebuild and defend the country for nearly five years. While the U.S. commitment to Karzai appears solid, several European governments are expressing serious concerns about his leadership.

If any war was the right war in response to 9-11, it was Afghanistan. The country was harboring bin Laden and the taliban were horrible in their own right. We went in. We had every opportunity to capture bin Laden. We had every opportunity to take down the Taliban permanently. Instead, we immediately re-focused on Iraq, pulled out most of our troops, and handed the job of catching bin Laden over to his allies. Now, the country seems to be in a downward spiral. The Taliban are again in control of much of the country.

Heck of a job, Bushie!


Matt Yglesias tells us (tongue in cheek) that
pseudonyms are a sign of blogofascism
So I guess I'm a blogofascist.

New web tool

I've just added a new web tool from to the left hand column. It will assist readers in contacting their elected officials and media outlets.

Desecrating the Constitution

Updated below:

It's a sad day when there is a strong likelihood that an idiotic and totally unnecessary amendment is likely to end up sullying our Constitution.

WASHINGTON — Debate on another in a series of measures that aim to please key Republican constituencies opens in the Senate on Monday, but with one big difference.

The latest proposal — a ban on flag burning — might actually pass.

The other recent measures that GOP Senate leaders had pushed with an eye toward invigorating party supporters, such as a ban on gay marriage and a repeal of the estate tax, were expected to fail even before the first floor speech was delivered. However, Senate vote counters say the constitutional amendment to prohibit physical desecration of the U.S. flag is on the cusp of passage.

Approval would probably ensure that the measure is sent to the states for ratification. And that prospect has raised the stakes for what had been a largely symbolic face-off on the issue in the Senate.

The flag-burning amendment had passed the House six times since 1995, most recently last summer. But the proposal consistently stalled in the Senate, where it was clear it lacked the two-thirds majority needed for approval of a constitutional amendment. Now, the GOP's gain of four Senate seats in the 2004 election has made the matter too close to call.

The amendment "will win or lose by a vote," said Eric Ueland, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Almost no one (in the US) ever burns a flag. It's a non-problem. But, as Glenn Greenwald (I think) said the other day, if they pass this idiotic amendment, I'd be tempted to burn one just prove I could.

Who knows whether 38 states would ratify, but American politicians are such wusses, they just might.


Raw Story is now reporting that the amendment will fail to pass by one or two votes. Let's hope they're right.

Keller defends the Times' decision

Here's an open letter from Bill Keller (editor of the NY Times) defending the paper's decision to publish the story of the administration's use of banking data. It's reasonably well written.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

More tea leaves

The Guardian Observer has a piece up on how Republicans are deserting their party in the red states to join the Democrats' ranks:

The squat, bunker-like building in a south Topeka suburb does not look like a place to turn American politics on its head. Nor does Mark Parkinson, a tall, affable man, look too much like a revolutionary. But here, deep in the American heartland, are the warning signs of a political earthquake.

The two-storey office block is Parkinson's campaign headquarters as he runs as Democrat candidate for deputy governor. So far, so normal. Except that only a few weeks ago Parkinson was a Republican. In fact, he was Kansas Republican party chairman.

His defection to the Democrats sent shockwaves through a state deeply associated with the national Republican cause and the evangelical conservatives at its base. Nor was it just Parkinson's leave-taking that left Republicans spluttering with rage and talking of betrayal. It was that as he left Parkinson lambasted his former party's obsession with conservative and religious issues such as gay marriage, evolution and abortion...

... in a swath of heartland states such as Kansas, Democrats are seeing the first signs of their party's rebirth. Parkinson is not alone in switching sides. In Virginia, Jim Webb, a one-time Reagan official, is seeking to be a Democrat senator. In South Carolina, top Republican prosecutor Barney Giese has defected after a spat with conservatives. Back in Kansas another top Republican, Paul Morrison, also joined the Democrats and is challenging a Republican to be the state attorney-general.

The tea leaves certainly seem to be looking good (or whatever tea leaves do when they forecast good news). I'm just afraid of getting too hopeful. I remember the feeling the morning after the 2004 elections.

Congressman: Try the NY Times for treason

Updated below:

Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee wants the NY Times, its publisher, its editors, and its reporters tried for treason:

King, R-N.Y., said he would write Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urging that the nation's chief law enforcer "begin an investigation and prosecution of The New York Times — the reporters, the editors and the publisher."

"We're at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous," King told The Associated Press.

I hope he doesn't have a safe seat.

If the government does elect to try the press for treason, it's probably time for a revolution.


Matt Yglesias makes a very important point in relation to the right's obsesiveness with secrecy:
I've gone through this all before, but the underlying view that liberal democracy is a source of weakness is, I think, deeply, deeply misguided. There's this line about how those who sacrifice liberty to gain security deserve neither, but even that, I think, actually tilts considerations more against liberty than I think needs to be conceded. It's just not the case historically that adopting more authoritarian forms of rule, with more all-pervasive surveillance and less morale-destroying media reports is a great strategy for national success.

I watched Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo last night and what strikes you about it beyond the tragedy and immorality of it all is the sheer pointlessness and wastage of time and resources involved.

Which, when you think about it, is exactly what you would expect to happen in circumstances without public scrutiny or legal oversight. Mistakes happen in life, especially when people need to make decisions quickly, get pressed into unusual tasks, and are acting under extreme emotional pressure. Secrecy just leads mistakes to be covered up rather than corrected -- it breeds complacency and corruption. This is, at least roughly, why democracies keep surviving and outcompeting their rivals -- why more-and-more countries wind up adopting democratic institutions and gaining greater security and prosperity for it.

Brooks idiocies

I don't usually involve myself in spats between bloggers, but David Brooks's anti-Kos column in the NY Times today was so idiotic that I feel compelled to respond. I'll do so by re-printing part of Atrios' response:

The notion that Markos is sitting around telling bloggers what to do is just ludicrous. There are bloggers who spend time try to herd the cats somewhat through organization and discussion - not through any top-down control efforts - but Markos isn't even one of those people. And, contra Jedmunds, this doesn't involve attempts to manipulate the "sheep" who are our readers, but rather how to sometimes influence the wider media-poltical bloodstream through emphasis and fact-based messaging. You know, sometimes bloggers discuss stuff. The horrors.

But, to reiterate, the reason Brooks's column is so funny is because it's so wrong. Markos has a big megaphone on his site. If there are bloggers out there who fear being mean to Markos because maybe he won't link you then perhaps you need to rethink your whole relationship to the blogging thing. But otherwise Markos is not one to spend his time controlling the blogosphere. Markos barely reads blogs, let alone tries to tell people what to put on theirs.

Reading tea leaves

I have just finished watching several of the Sunday talking head shows debating who won last week, the Republicans or the Democrats.

After letting the dust settle for a few minutes, I'm beginning to think that not only did the Democrats win last week, they won it BIG. I don't think they planned it out, but they accidently discovered the cookie jar.

First and foremost, they forced the Republicans to tie themselves to George Bush and the war. This president and this war are not popular at this point, and they're not like to grow in popularity.

Second, they forced the Republicans to take a stand on staying the course, blaming all who proposed a phased withdrawal with "cutting and running." Today, the administration itself proposed a phased "cut and run." That's so self-evidently inconsistent, people have to be laughing at them.

Third, we now have a number of semi-prominent Democrats calling for a pre-emptive missle strike on the North Korean missle test site to take out the missle that might be able to reach US shores. The Republicans are against it. My guess on this is that the public will favor the strike. My further guess is that this goes a long way to countering the image of Democrats as weak and Republicans as strong on national defense.

Fourth, on the McLaughlin Report today, the conservatives (Tony Blankley and Pat Buchanan) were supporting the idea of granting amnesty to the Sunnis in exchange for them laying down their arms. Earlier, on Meet the Press, Rus Feingold had said he was deadset against amnesty.

The idiocy of having Republicans at one and the same time supporting amnesty for those who have killed Americans while raging against amnesty for those who have entered America illegally has got to be registering on more than a few people. Further, I'm sure if you took a poll on the question of granting amnesty to insurgents who have killed Americans, you would get an overwhelming reaction against the idea. Feingold is on the right political side of this issue (as, I think, are most other Democratic candidates).

It seems to me that things are panning out pretty well for the Democrats right now. Let's just hope they don't blow it.


Just finished watching Rus Feingold on Meet the Press. If you want an illustration of the right way to talk about the issues of the day, watch Feingold. He's great!

If you've seen An Inconvenient Truth and were frightened by it, you'll really be frightened when you read this from the LA Times:

The ice is so massive that its weight presses the bedrock of Greenland below sea level, so all-concealing that not until recently did scientists discover that Greenland actually might be three islands.

Should all of the ice sheet ever thaw, the meltwater could raise sea level 21 feet and swamp the world's coastal cities, home to a billion people. It would cause higher tides, generate more powerful storm surges and, by altering ocean currents, drastically disrupt the global climate.

Climate experts have started to worry that the ice cap is disappearing in ways that computer models had not predicted.

By all accounts, the glaciers of Greenland are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago, even as the ice sheets of Antarctica — the world's largest reservoir of fresh water — also are shrinking, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February.

Twice as fast as expected! Bye, bye Bangladesh. Bye, bye most of Florida. Bye, bye significant portions of Manhattan Island. As for me, hah. I'll have beach front property!

If you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, go see it. It's a must for everyone!

[A hat tip to Kevin Drum]

Iraqi olive branch (dead branch, no olives)

Updated below:

It looks as though Bush may have put the screws to Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki. Contrary to the early speculation, the "olive branch offer" to the Iraqi insurgents includes neither amnesty nor a withdrawal of all foreign forces.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday offered an olive branch to insurgents who join in rebuilding Iraq and said lawmakers should set a timeline for the Iraqi military and police to take control of security throughout the country.

The prime minister made no mention of any timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in a 24-point national reconciliation plan he presented to parliament.

Maliki appears to know on which side his bread is buttered.

Somehow, I doubt the insurgents are going to accept this offer to lay down their weapons and surrender.


I've heard varying descriptions of the "olive branch" from different sources now. Some say it does include a pullout and full amnesty. Others say the opposite.

Neverthelesss, it appears the insurgents have rejected the deal, whatever it is.

Rich is rich

Frank Rich has some great quips in his column today in the NY Times (behind subscription wall). Here are a few.

He begins by comparing and contrasting the two soldiers who were kidnapped and killed last week with David Safavian (the former chief procurement officer in the White House, with a budget of $300 billion):

Privates Tucker and Menchaca made the ultimate sacrifice. Their bodies were so mutilated that they could be identified only by DNA. Mr. Safavian, by contrast, can be readily identified by smell.

He goes on to lament the corrupt outsourcing of contracts in the Bush government:

...Simply put, this was a plan to outsource as much of government as possible by forcing federal agencies to compete with private contractors and their K Street lobbyists for huge and lucrative assignments. The initiative's objective, as the C.E.O. administration officially put it, was to deliver "high-quality services to our citizens at the lowest cost."

The result was low-quality services at high cost..

As an example, he points to the Department of Homeland Security:

The Department of Homeland Security, in keeping with the Bush administration's original opposition to it, isn't really a government agency at all so much as an empty shell, a networking boot camp for future private contractors dreaming of big paydays. Thanks to an investigation by The Times's Eric Lipton, we know that some two-thirds of the top department executives, including Tom Ridge and his principal deputies, have cashed in on their often brief service by becoming executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that have received billions of dollars in government contracts. Even John Ashcroft, the first former attorney general in American history known to immediately register as a lobbyist, is selling his Homeland Security connections to interested bidders. "When you got it, flaunt it!" as they say in "The Producers."


The continuing Katrina calamity is another fruit of outsourced government. As Alan Wolfe details in "Why Conservatives Can't Govern" in the current Washington Monthly, the die was cast long before the storm hit: the Bush cronies installed at FEMA, first Joe Allbaugh and then Michael Brown, had privatized so many of the agency's programs that there was little government left to manage the disaster even if more competent managers than Brownie had been in charge.

Finally, he concludes with the war in Iraq and the dismal failure that outsourcing has proven there:

Back then [during FDR's administration] such a scandal was a shocking anomaly. Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, the very model of big government that the current administration vilifies, never would have trusted private contractors to run the show. Somehow that unwieldy, bloated government took less time to win World War II than George W. Bush's privatized government is taking to blow this one.

Cutting and running?

This certainly sounds suspiciously like the kind of phased withdrawal plan that the Democrats proposed last week and the Thuglicans shot down:

WASHINGTON, June 24 — The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

I guess this is a sign that the Administration has become weak-kneed and defeatist. They're going to cut and run instead of stay the course.

Oh, I see. You say "Mission accomplished. We've won the war. The insurgency is coming to an end (in its last throes). The Iraqi troops are standing up so we can stand down. Bush is the victor."

If you buy that, I've got a bridge over the East River I'm offering to sell.

Political reporting done correctly

This blogger frequently complains about the quality of political reporting done by the mainstream media, so I feel compelled to applaud loudly when I see political reporting done properly. Here's a perfect example from Jim Dwyer in today's NY Times on an attempt by Republican challenger, Tom Kean (former governor's son) to swiftboat Senator Menendez:

Mr. Kean said that while Mr. Menendez now poses as a brave truth teller who helped topple a regime of political crooks, he had actually issued $2 million in public money to a corrupt contractor "as part of a massive illegal kickback scheme." Had Mr. Menendez not cooperated with prosecutors, aides to Mr. Kean said, he might have gone to jail himself.

To a depth unusual for events that are decades old, the Kean campaign's accusations can be measured against a robust historical record — including F.B.I. tapes and volumes of trial testimony — of a roiling human and legal drama between 1978 and 1982 in Union City.

The Kean accusations find no support in those records or from independent authorities of that era.

The four former federal prosecutors who prosecuted senior Union City officials say that, in fact, Mr. Menendez did nothing wrong and much that was right under difficult circumstances.

"It's a sad commentary that Menendez's role in the trial is being used against him," said Samuel Rosenthal, one of the prosecutors, "when it was certainly an act of courage for him to testify against the entire city government, as well as an influential state senator, and people who are accused of being members of organized crime."

[Emphasis mine]

That's the kind of fact checking that all political reporters should be doing. I'm about to draft a letter to the Times in praise of Mr. Dwyer. It's high time the paper starts to encourage this kind of reporting (instead of the pap served up by Bumiller et al).