Browsing the blog archives for May, 2007.


Obama Flunks Health Care

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Bush Administration

Ezra Klein explains.

Its failing, somewhat ironically, is a lack of audacity. It accepts the sectioning off of the market into the employed, the unemployed, the old, the young, and the poor. It does not consolidate the system into a coherent whole, preferring instead to preserve the patchwork quilt of programs and insurers that make health care so difficult to navigate. It does not sever the link between employment and health insurance, nor take a firm step towards single-payer, despite Obama’s professed preference for such a system.

All the ingredients are in place for this to be a great plan — a public insurance component, a commitment to universality, an understanding that coherence is better than fractiousness, a willingness to regulate the insurance industry — but, in each case, at the last second, the policy is hedged before the fulfillment of its purpose. In this, Obama’s plan is not dissimilar from Obama himself — filled with obvious talent and undeniable appeal, sold with stunning rhetoric and grand hopes, but never quite delivering on the promises and potential. And so he remains the candidate of almosts. But as he told Morgan Miller back in March, there is time yet. And he is so very close.

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A Jerking Knee Is No Substitute for a Thinking Brain

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Congress, Democratic Party

This Think Progress post is mildly interesting, but the comments bum me out. Here’s the post:

National Review’s Rich Lowry:“Was talking to an influential Republican strategist who thinks if Iraq looks the way it does now in September, Bush will lose about 25 Senate Republicans on a bill with some sort of timetable for withdrawal.”

Now, if true, which is a big if, that would be grand news. Twenty-five Republican senators is more than enough to make a veto-proof (two thirds) majority in the Senate, even giving away Joe Lieberman. We’ll see.

But the comments worry me — here’s a selection:

Sounds great, but I’m not getting my hopes up again. Even if 25 republicans do switch over, (which I doubt) what is to say the dems won’t just hand him a blank check again?

* * *

As a Democrat, the biggest problem in Washington is the Democrats.

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We can’t even get Democrats to vote for timetables. Why would we think 25 Republicans will?

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Bush has just said he wants a South Korea style presence – superbases and fifty years. What makes anyone think he’ll listen to 25 Republicans?

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Fcuk the Republicans and Fcuk the Democrats. Two hemorrhoids, both part of the same a$$hole.

Some of these comments reflect serious ignorance of the issues. For example, We can’t even get Democrats to vote for timetables is just wrong. An overwhelming majority of Dems did vote for timetables. House Dems voted for the appropriation bill with timetables (H.R. 1591) by 216 to 14. Most of the 14 were from the House Progressive caucus, who voted no because the timetables weren’t strict enough. Senate Dems passed the timetable bill 49-1 (guess who?), with one (the ailing Tim Johnson) absent.

Last week Bob Fertik wrote
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Unfortunately, there are simply not enough Democrats and Republicans in Congress who are willing to join them in standing up to Bush.

What are the numbers? We know them exactly because the Senate and the House just voted on setting a deadline for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

  • In the Senate, the Feingold-Reid Amendment was defeated 67-29, with all Republicans voting no along with 20 “Bush Democrats,” while 29 progressive Democrats voted yes.
  • In the House, the McGovern Amendment was defeated 255-171, with all but two Republicans voting no along with 59 “Bush Democrats,” while 169 progressive Democrats voted yes.
  • The Feingold and McGovern amendments both provided that a troop redeployment out of Iraq begin within a set number of days after the passage of the bill. These were tougher than the timetable bill, in other words. In the Senate, 29 out of 51 Democratic senators voted yes. In the House, 169 out of 233 Democrats voted yes. A glorious total of two Republicans in the entire Congress voted yes.

    Yet some twit commenting on Think Progress wrote We can’t even get Democrats to vote for timetables. Unfortunately, I think this notion is common among a large lump of people who passionately hate the war but aren’t paying close attention to what’s actually happening in Washington to end it.

    Further, the concept of overriding a veto seems to elude some people. Bush has just said he wants a South Korea style presence – superbases and fifty years. What makes anyone think he’ll listen to 25 Republicans? If 25 Senate Republicans voted with the Dems, that would be more than enough to override Bush’s veto in the Senate. By law, Bush would have to comply if Congress overrode a veto. If he didn’t — well, that’s never happened before. It could get interesting.

    I agree there’s plenty of reason to criticize the Dems, but it worries me when large numbers of “progressives” develop knee-jerk antipathy toward the Dems. This is not helpful.

    There’s a middle way between mindless boosterism and mindlessly assuming the worst. This middle way has two steps: First, be informed. Second, think.

    I get the impression that some people think it’s “cool” to run down the Dems or to declare that they’re just like Republicans. Certainly, when Dems do something stupid, speak up. But at the same time, give credit where credit is due. How many people out there really don’t understand that the Dems did vote to end the war? How many don’t understand that the timetables didn’t become law because Bush vetoed it, and there aren’t enough Dems to override a veto? Given the way Dems and Republicans voted on the recent appropriation bills, anyone who says the biggest problem in Washington is the Democrats or that the two parties are Two hemorrhoids, both part of the same a$$hole is being a big-time asshole himself. He’s also standing in the way of the only hope we have of enacting real progressive policy sometime in the future.

    Remember: It’s not about our supporting the Democrats; it’s about training the Democrats to support us. We’re not doing that by treating all Dems as the enemy, indistinguishable from the Republicans.

    Sure there are Dems I’d like to replace. Sure there are times they fall short. Sure they need their feet held to fire sometimes. But when we treat them all like the enemy — even the ones who have worked for issues we care about — then we’re training them to keep ignoring us.

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    It Ain’t a River in Egypt

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    blogging, Valerie Plame

    Kevin Drum writes about the confirmation that Valerie Plame was covert:

    So that settles that. I hope the wingosphere can finally stop bleating about how she wasn’t “really” covert and there was no harm in what Libby et. al. did.

    Ha.

    On another note, this probably means I was wrong about the reason Fitzgerald didn’t try to prosecute anyone for leaking Plame’s name. (Libby was tried only for perjury, not for outing a covert agent.) I figured it was because Plame had been working inside the U.S. for six years at the time of the leak, and one of the technical elements of “covert” under the IIPA Act is that the agent has “within the last five years served outside the United States.”

    But obviously she had been working under cover outside the U.S. quite extensively during the previous five years, which means that Plame almost certainly qualified as “covert” under the specific definitions outlined in IIPA. Nonetheless, for some reason Fitzgerald decided not to bring outing charges against anyone. This suggests that Mark Kleiman has been right all along: Fitzgerald’s decision had nothing to do with technical aspects of IIPA, but rather with its scienter requirements. That is, the leakers had to know that leaking Plame’s name could be damaging, and Fitzgerald didn’t think he had the evidence to make that case. That might have been especially true since the leaks seem to have been authorized at very high levels, something the leakers could have used in their defense at trial.

    Of course the wingnuts aren’t admitting they were wrong; they are clinging to their delusions more fiercely and frantically than ever. My favorite so far is the Flopping Ace, who draws upon his vast personal experience in espionage to write,

    So basically what constitutes a “covert” agent within the CIA is that they travel overseas sometimes using an alias, sometimes using their true name.

    Wow.

    Just wow.

    I mean a foreign country would never keep tabs on the real names of agents would they? But hey, she was “covert”.

    They still haven’t figured out it wasn’t her “name” that was a secret. It was her “job.” They still insist that Plame wasn’t “covert,” even though the CIA says she was, because (they claim) she doesn’t meet the criterion of “covert” under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. And they know this because Victoria Toensing and other Faux Snooze media personalities told them so. And in their minds, since (they think) the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 was not violated, then there was “no underlying crime,” even though Mr. Fitzgerald’s original indictment discussed allegations that other laws may have been been violated, such as “Title 18, United States Code, Section 793, and Executive Order 12958 (as modified by Executive Order 13292).” Those don’t count.

    My understanding has been all along that the reason Mr. Fitzgerald didn’t charge anyone with revealing classified information under any of the several statutes discussed in the indictment is that he couldn’t prove intent. He also couldn’t determine for certain if the people who “outed” Plame fully appreciated that her status as a CIA employee (not her “name,” wingnuts) was classified. My understanding of the various statutes is that to be convicted of spilling classified beans the prosecution must prove the spiller knew the beans were classified. Fitzgerald couldn’t put together a strong enough case to bring this charge to trial, and one reason he couldn’t put this case together is that Scooter Libby wouldn’t tell the truth.

    But try explaining that to a wingnut. Just try.

    Elsewhere on the wingnut-o-net I’m seeing replays of the whole Plame mythos, including the “she sent Joe Wilson to Niger and lied about it” tale, which has been debunked so many times I’ve lost count. It doesn’t matter; you know Faux Snooze and Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Echo Chamber are pushing the same old lies and misinformation as hard as they can today. And nobody’s minds will change. We’re way past the point that fact matter to these people.

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    The Underlying Criminal

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    blogging, Bush Administration, Valerie Plame

    Speaking of impeachment — last Friday Patrick Fitzgerald filed a sentencing memorandum for Scooter Libby. Today Dan Froomkin discusses it.

    Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has made it clearer than ever that he was hot on the trail of a coordinated campaign to out CIA agent Valerie Plame until that line of investigation was cut off by the repeated lies from Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. …

    … In Friday’s eminently readable court filing, Fitzgerald quotes the Libby defense calling his prosecution “unwarranted, unjust, and motivated by politics.” In responding to that charge, the special counsel evidently felt obliged to put Libby’s crime in context. And that context is Dick Cheney.

    Libby’s lies, Fitzgerald wrote, “made impossible an accurate evaluation of the role that Mr. Libby and those with whom he worked played in the disclosure of information regarding Ms. Wilson’s CIA employment and about the motivations for their actions.”

    It was established at trial that it was Cheney himself who first told Libby about Plame’s identity as a CIA agent, in the course of complaining about criticisms of the administration’s run-up to war leveled by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. And, as Fitzgerald notes: “The evidence at trial further established that when the investigation began, Mr. Libby kept the Vice President apprised of his shifting accounts of how he claimed to have learned about Ms. Wilson’s CIA employment.”

    The investigation, Fitzgerald writes, “was necessary to determine whether there was concerted action by any combination of the officials known to have disclosed the information about Ms. Plame to the media as anonymous sources, and also whether any of those who were involved acted at the direction of others. This was particularly important in light of Mr. Libby’s statement to the FBI that he may have discussed Ms. Wilson’s employment with reporters at the specific direction of the Vice President.” (My italics.)

    Not clear on the concept yet? Fitzgerald adds: “To accept the argument that Mr. Libby’s prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage, one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the Vice President.” (My italics.)

    Later in the column:

    Nexthurrah blogger Marcy Wheeler blogs at the Guardian about how Libby’s “defense team solicited his friends and associates to write letters to the judge arguing that Libby deserves a reduced sentence. Last Friday, Libby’s lawyer Bill Jeffress submitted a filing opposing the release of those letters to the public. In it, he writes: ‘Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.’ ”

    Concludes Wheeler: “Jeffress’ invocation of bloggers is a cheap attempt to dismiss precisely what bloggers bring: an appropriate scrutiny of the motivations and actions of those who lied us into war and outed Valerie Plame.”

    At The Guardian, Marcy’s response to this was admirably genteel. The suggestion that the people’s right to know is less important than keeping VIPs from being discussed, even mocked, might have annoyed the hell out of me.

    Big update: NBC News

    An unclassified summary of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame’s employment history at the spy agency, disclosed for the first time today in a court filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, indicates that Plame was “covert” when her name became public in July 2003.

    The summary is part of an attachment to Fitzgerald’s memorandum to the court supporting his recommendation that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former top aide, spend 2-1/2 to 3 years in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation. …

    The employment history indicates that while she was assigned to CPD, Plame, “engaged in temporary duty travel overseas on official business.” The report says, “she traveled at least seven times to more than ten times.” When overseas Plame traveled undercover, “sometimes in true name and sometimes in alias — but always using cover — whether official or non-official (NOC) — with no ostensible relationship to the CIA.”

    I wonder what righties will say about this.

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    Still Crazy After All These Years

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    Republican Party

    Via Cliff Schecter:

    Sen. Tom Coburn is mulling an entry into the Republican presidential primary, according to sources inside and outside the Senate. Coburn, a senator from Oklahoma, is believed to be receiving encouragement from a small group of wealthy businessmen and philanthropists in the Oklahoma-Kansas-Texas region of the country.

    He’s all about faith, lower taxes, and staying the course in Iraq,” says an adviser outside of the Senate who has been speaking to Coburn.

    Just what we need more of, huh? Coburn also favors the death penalty for abortion providers.

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    Warbloggers Must Be Ecstatic

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    blogging, Bush Administration, Iraq War

    Ten U.S. Soldiers Killed on Memorial Day.

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    Devil’s Advocate

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    Bush Administration

    Steven Thomma of McClatchy Newspapers describes a groundswell of support for impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

    More than 70 cities and 14 state Democratic parties have urged impeachment or investigations that could lead to impeachment. The most common charge is that Bush manipulated intelligence to lead the country into the Iraq war. Other charges include spying on Americans and torturing suspected terrorists in violation of U.S. and international law.

    Most recently, the Massachusetts Democratic Party voted to push impeachment of both men. The 2,500 state convention delegates voted almost unanimously against Cheney; the vote against Bush was closer.

    Massachusetts’ Democratic Party thus joined 13 others on the investigate-or-impeach bandwagon, including: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

    Among the cities and towns, the largest and most recent is Detroit, where the city council voted 7-0 this month to urge Congress to impeach Bush and Cheney for “intentionally misleading Congress and the public regarding the threat from Iraq in order to justify the war.”

    “There’s a lot growing in support,” said Tim Carpenter, the director of the liberal group Progressive Democrats of America. “Whether Congress will respond, that’s another question.”

    Thomma goes on to describe three reasons Dems in Congress are dragging their feet. IMO these three reasons are bad reasons.

    The first is that they haven’t yet found that Bush/Cheney have committed an impeachable offense. Oh, puh-LEEZE. We have a broad selection of impeachable offenses to choose from.

    The second is that Dems fear a political backlash, the way Republicans were “punished” in public opinion polls (but not, notice, at the voting booth) after they’d impeached Bill Clinton. I don’t think this excuse is applicable, either. I believe most of the public by 1998 had grown heartily sick of the Republicans’ perpetual investigations of Clinton’s every twitch and the hysterical frenzy with which they repeatedly attacked Clinton for so much as breathing. Piranha politics can be effective when people are looking for excuses to dislike a president, but not so much when the guy is charming and doing a reasonably satisfactory job.

    The third reason:

    The third is that they’re eager to keep Bush and Cheney around as punching bags for Democratic candidates in the 2008 campaign.

    “The political lens they’re looking through is the 2008 election,” Carpenter said. “They want to see Bush and Cheney dangling so the election is a referendum on them. That is not the correct lens.”

    I think it’s possible impeachment hearings might actually help the Dems and make them look stronger and more principled in contrast to the GOP snivelers who will (probably) still make excuses for Bush. The 1973-74 Watergate investigations and hearings in the Senate and House certainly didn’t hurt Dems in the 1974 midterms (Dems picked up 49 seats). Several previously obscure Dems became stars; Barbara Jordan is one example.

    Whether impeachment hearings would reflect well or badly on the Dems might depend on how they went about it. As much as possible I’d want them to frame impeachment as an act of due diligence to protect the Constitution, not as a way to punish Bush and Cheney for being bad. Take a look at Barbara Jordan’s opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee:

    I believe hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. …

    … We know the nature of impeachment. We have been talking about it awhile now. “It is chiefly designed for the president and his high ministers” to somehow be called into account. It is designed to “bridle” the executive if he engages in excesses. “It is designed as a method of national inquest into the public men.” (Hamilton, Federalist, no. 65.) The framers confined in the congress the power if needbe, to remove the president in order to strike a delicate balance between a president swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the executive. The nature of impeachment is a narrowly channeled exception to the separation-of-powers maxim; the federal convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors and discounted and opposed the term “maladministration.” “It is to be used only for great misdemeanors,” so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: “We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the others.”…

    … The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind impeachment; but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the constitutional term “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

    Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that “nothing short of the grossest offenses against the plain law of the land will suffice to give them speed and effectiveness. Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest may secure a conviction; but nothing else can.”

    Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for insurance, campaign finance reform, housing, environmental protection, energy sufficiency, mass transportation. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we are not being petty. We are trying to be big because the task we have before us is a big one.

    We must not be petty. Or smarmy. Or hysterical. We must be measured and solemn and undertake this act only when the acts of the Executive are potentially injurious to the Constitution itself. The charges against Bill Clinton didn’t come within ten miles of those criteria. I think most of the nation understood that the articles of impeachment brought against Clinton were petty, and part of a partisan war being waged by the Right. The lynch mob hysteria exhibited by Republicans in 1998 in no way resembled the gravity and solemnity with which Congress approached impeachment in 1974.

    There’s a fourth reason not listed in Steven Thomma’s article, and that reason should be considered very carefully.

    As you probably remember, articles of impeachment — essentially accusations against the President — must originate in the House. I believe such articles need only a simple majority to pass. Once impeached, a president is tried in the Senate. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote.

    What happens if Bush is impeached, tried … and not convicted? Wouldn’t he then be exonerated? Wouldn’t impeachment then be rendered into an empty gesture?

    At the moment there is no way two-thirds of the Senate would convict Bush. That might change after public hearings. But the burden of proof is huge. It’s not enough to prove that Bush did something unethical or even broke a law. Instead, it must be shown without doubt that Bush’s conduct in office has rendered serious damage to the Constitution and our system of government itself, and that the survival of our Republic depends on making it clear to all future presidents that this will not stand.

    I think that case can be made. But if there’s any doubt, then I’d have to reluctantly agree that impeachment may not be the best move.

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    Late Night for Geezers

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    entertainment and popular culture

    Let’s lighten things up a bit. Classic television, ca. 1954. And I bet some of you remember this.

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    Wrong Again

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    blogging

    Wingnuts still waiting for another Rathergate.

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    Charles Nelson Reilly

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    Bush Administration

    Some of you may chiefly remember him as Jose Chung on the wonderful “From Outer Space” episode (1996) from The X Files (remember Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as the Men in Black?). Well, he’s been permanently bleeping abducted.

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