Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Strategery for Victory?

President Bush spoke at the Naval Academy today, discussing what the White House is calling "Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Almost simultaneously, a 35-page document (linked via the indomitable Steve Clemons at The Washington Note) was released outlining said strategy. The NYTimes' David Sanger describes the plan and the speech as "a general military plan under which American forces will follow a strategy much like the one the United States is attempting in Afghanistan."

Bush continued to reject calls for a timetable of any kind whatsoever (this from the Administration which has been setting artificial timetables for the political track in Iraq since the day we invaded). Today's speech did not go nearly as far as I and many others would have liked the president to go, and the strategy put forth seems to differ very little from the generalities we've been getting all along. In short, too little, and the hour grows increasingly late.

Turmoil in NY GOP

As the Albany Times Union reports today, things remain "unstable" in the New York Republican Party's attempt to do, well, anything.

Clemency in Virginia

Virginia governor Mark Warner commuted the death sentence of convicted murderer Robin Lovitt on Tuesday; Lovitt will instead remain in prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole. Warner took the action based on the destruction of evidence in the case which Lovitt's attorneys argued might exonerate him, saying "In this case, the actions of an agent of the Commonwealth, in a manner contrary to the express direction of the law, comes at the expense of a defendant facing society's most severe and final sanction. The Commonwealth must ensure that every time this ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly."

The law in Virginia states that all evidence must be retained until all appeals are exhausted; in this case, a court clerk discarded some forensic evidence which may have contained DNA. While DNA tests when Lovitt was originally convicted in 1999 were inconclusive, Lovitt's defense team argued that the latest technology might have been effective.

Prior to announcing his decision, Governor Warner said in a radio interview "No case has been more troubling. ... Rest assured, there's no case I've spent more time thinking about, praying about, reflecting on." He was urged to grant clemency by former Republican state attorney general Mark Earley (his '01 gubernatorial opponent), who said in a letter that it would be "morally unfair" to execute Lovitt under the circumstances.

I agree. I think Warner did the right thing; if the state is to carry out capital punishment, it must be done in such a way as to comply precisely will all relevant laws, which was not possible in this case.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Rummy: No More Insurgents

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today announced that because of "an epiphany" he had over the weekend, he will no longer use the term "insurgents" to describe those attacking coalition and Iraqi troops (and civilians) in Iraq. Said Rummy "I thought to myself, 'You know, that gives them greater legitimacy than they seem to merit.'"

As an alternative, Rumsfeld suggested the ever-so-elegant "Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government. How's that?"

Honestly. How about some time spent on epiphanies about how to clean up Iraq and get our troops out of there and less about what to call those who are killing them?

Short Takes

- In the WaPo, Jeff Birnbaum takes a look at all the currently-boiling pots of scandal soup on the political stove and suggests that voters may respond unfavorably. I certainly hope so!

- Governor Mark Warner of VA, widely touted (and rightly so, I think) as a potential presidential candidate, gave a speech yesterday in which he rejected a set timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, suggesting that the president establish "milestones" instead. I think this "thread the needle approach" that we've started to hear from folks like Biden, Obama, John Warner, now Mark Warner, and others is just about right - I hope they'll keep talking.

- Linda Greenhouse in the NYTimes examines the New Hampshire parental notification case that will go before the Supreme Court tomorrow. As she writes, this case could have broad implications for all sorts of privacy jurisprudence, and it will certainly be interesting to watch as it moves forward. I don't know if it's one of those cases where they'll release the audio of the arguments right after the fact or not, but if they do I'll try and post a link.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Cunningham Resignation

In case you've been away from the news today (or in class as I have been), Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-CA) pleaded guilty to taking bribes and resigned from Congress, saying in part "The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family." The AP article linked goes into great detail about Cunningham's crimes, and Josh Marshall over at TalkingPointsMemo has been covering this scandal from the outset.

Like Jim Traficant back in '02, Cunningham abused the power of his office to enrich himself and his friends. I'm glad he had the decency to plead guilty and spare the state the expenses of a trial, and that he resigned from the House and saved that body the energy of expelling him. Cunningham deserves the maximum punishment allowed under the law, and I hope he gets it.

No More DeLay

Roll Call reports today that former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has "already drafted a letter to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) informing her that he is ready to return as Majority Leader, several Republican sources said." The letter will apparently be dispatched immediately if a judge dismisses charges against DeLay for money laundering and conspiracy.

The article goes on to note that while DeLay seems to enjoy contined support within the caucus (for reasons beyond comprehension to me), "an anti-DeLay faction in the Conference appears to be growing, ... with some senior Republicans privately estimating their ranks at around 60 lawmakers."

It is well past time for new GOP leadership. No matter whether the charges against DeLay are tossed or not, the Republican Party needs a new face, and that face should not be Tom DeLay's.

Bull Moose on Blogging

In a perceptive post, the Bull Moose asks "are bloggers necessary?"

Preparing for a Drawdown

As we discussed briefly last week, it would appear that the White House and the Pentagon are beginning to quietly lay the foundations for a significant withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq. The LATimes reports this morning that President Bush will give a speech on Wednesday in which he plans to "herald the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for pulling out US forces."

The entire article is worth reading, and contains some quotes from a "former top Pentagon official" that are quite intriguing indeed. He told the paper there is a "growing consensus" that a withdrawal of around 40,000 coalition troops before next November is likely, and that further decreases would be implemented if all went well.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Short Takes

- First, I want to note the retirement announcement from Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), a leading House centrist. Mathew at Centerfield posted on this, and I'd like to join his comments. Kolbe's wisdom and moderation will be missed.

- This isn't new, but Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the NYTimes reports (again) on Trent Lott's desire to weasel his way back into the Senate leadership structure after the departure of one Dr. Bill Frist next year. I will oppose any such maneuver, partly because I still don't think he deserves a position of responsibility within the party and partly because I think he is more free to speak his mind (and he's not always wrong) from outside the leadership.

- Also in the Times, a decent look at the state of the ever-more-contentious relationship between the Republican and Conservative parties in New York. Nothing could be better for the state GOP than to end their recent alliance with the Conservatives - they might even be able to field a candidate who could win statewide!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Here are the lineups for tomorrow's political gab-fests.

This Week (ABC): Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is the only headliner. George Will, Donna Brazile, and ABC's Claire Shipman will roundtable.

Face the Nation (CBS): Presidential historians Joseph Ellis, Ellen Fitzpatrick, James Reson Jr., and Stephen Carter.

Meet the Press (NBC): Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and John Warner (R-VA). Roundtable with David Broder, David Gregory, Eugene Robinson and Judy Woodruff.

Fox News Sunday: Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Carl Levin (D-MI). Also some pollsters.

Late Edition (CNN): Iraqi National Security Advisor Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, former SecState Henry Kissinger, former NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski, Peggy Noonan, and others.

Good Sense in New York

New York's State Environmental Board unanimously agreed earlier this month to adopt California's strict auto emissions standards, the New York Times reports today. Of course, the auto industry has already filed suit against the state for doing so. The standards, which will be phased in beginning in model year 2009, "require a roughly 30 percent reduction in automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the 2016 models," and "an [effective] improvement in fuel economy on the order of 40 percent for vehicles sold in the state."

Ten states plus California either currently follow or plan to follow these guidelines - as the Times piece notes, "If all 10 states and California succeed in enacting the rules, they will form a powerful alternative regulatory bloc accounting for about a third of the nation's auto sales."

This is good news. If the federal government continues to sit on its hands and refuse to implement fuel efficiency standards, then states should be free to enact their own. This case will be done to death in the courts for probably years, but hopefully the rules will be able to go into effect as scheduled.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Goldberg and Gandelman on the Center

Jonah Golberg from National Review had an op/ed in the LATimes yesterday, which I missed. It's lamenting what Goldberg sees as the two parties "galloping to the center." Joe Gandelman over at TMV responds - brilliantly - today. Don't miss this post.

Untangling the Web

Carl Hulse has today's must-read article, a look at the case being built around former Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon and a new trend emerging where the Justice Department is arguing "that campaign dollars and other perks routinely showered on lawmakers by those with legislative and political interests on Capitol Hill can reach the level of criminal misconduct."

This is one of those cases where, after all is said and done, some good may rise out of the rubble. If enough dirty laundry gets aired, perhaps it will spur Congress into action and force them to police themselves in a more meaningful and effective way.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Since it's a quiet news day so far (and hopefully will remain one), I just want to wish everyone a very happy (and filling) Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pardoning Turkeys

In case you missed it, yesterday was that magical day that only comes once a year: the pardoning of the traditional White House Thanksgiving turkeys. This year, the birds were named Marshmallow and Yam, and the two pardoned fowl will be heading off to Disneyland to star as the grand marshals of the Thanksgiving Day parade. They will then retire to a life of luxury on the Disney paddock for the remainder of their natural lives.

You can watch video of the pardoning ceremony here. Elisabeth Bumiller has a write-up in the NYTimes this morning. And in case your thoughts of turkey run to the more traditional (i.e. cooked) variety this Thanksgiving, I suggest this amusing little piece from McSweeney's.

While this year's was not the best turkey-pardoning ceremony ever (top honors in my book must go to the fictional one from "The West Wing" in which the staff puts the turkeys in the press secretary's office), they're always worth a glance - and in this time of strident debate, what better to unite us than a good turkey-pardoning? (No, I do not mean Scooter Libby).

Happy Thanksgiving Eve to you all. Enjoy it!

Obama and Iraq

Senator Barack Obama, who ran in the '04 primaries as an opponent of the Iraq war, gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday in which he joined that "Third Camp" we talked about earlier this week. Coalition troops in Iraq remain "part of a solution" in Iraq for the moment, Obama said, and should not be fully withdrawn immediately. Instead, Obama called for a "limited drawdown" of troops at the earliest opportunity to allow training of Iraqis to go forward (perhaps a drawdown similar to that plan which is reported this morning in the WaPo).

Obama urged the Administration to come clean and level with Congress and the American people: "Straight answers to critical questions. That's what we don't have right now. Members of both parties and the American people have now made clear that it is simply not enough for the president to simply say 'We know best' and 'Stay the course.'"

He's right. And I welcome his views to this debate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Important Statement from Iraqi Leaders

Meeting in Cairo, leaders of various Iraqi factions issued a key document late Tuesday, in which the group agreed on "calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces ... control the borders and the security situation," as well as ending terrorist attacks.

Those in attendance at the meeting include Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, P.M. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and other Shiite, Kurd and Sunni political leaders. Their final communique recognizes the goal of a timed withdrawal of coalition troops, based on the implementation of Iraqi security forces. Yesterday, Iraq's interior minister suggested that a withdrawal should be possible by the end of 2006.

The document issued by the group condemned terrorism, noting "Though resistance is a legitimate right for all people, terrorism does not represent resistance. Therefore, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping targeting Iraqi citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worship."

This is an important development, the impact of which should not be minimized. Our political leaders have often said that if a sovereign Iraqi government requested a withdrawal, it would happen. A loyal reader emailed me just today with some appropriate quotes: in an interview with the New York Times back in January, President Bush was "asked if, as a matter of principle, the United States would pull out of Iraq at the request of a new government." His response was "Absolutely. This is a sovereign government. They're on their feet." He noted further that he didn't think such a step would be taken until Iraqi troops were fully trained.

Also back on January 14, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had this exchange in an interview on NPR:

"INSKEEP: Granting that you think the new government will want Americans to stay, what if the new government asked the US to leave?

ARMITAGE: Then we would leave.

INSKEEP: Even if it's a short timetable?

ARMITAGE: If the government of a sovereign Iraq asked us to leave, we would leave, period. We have testified, my colleague Paul Wolfowitz and I. We've said clearly to the US Congress if that circumstance exists, then we would leave, period. There's no qualifications. No weasel words. You've got the answer to your question."

I don't know if there's something "there" here or not. As Tim F. remarks over at Balloon Juice, "If this obvious olive branch in the direction of the Sunni resistance plays out as intended then we could very well pull out and win, in the sense of leaving behind a state that’s capable of managing its ethnically pluralistic affairs without us...." It could happen.

Scanlon Pleads

Former Tom DeLay aide Michael Scanlon entered a guilty plea Monday in federal court to charges of "conspiring to bribe a member of Congress and other public officials." He also agreed to pay $19.6 million in restitution to the Indian tribes he bilked out of lobbying fees. Scanlon's plea will be key in federal charges to be filed against uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his former business partner.

It also may affect investigations into whether members of Congress accepted quid pro quo deals from the Scanlon/Abramoff crowd: not only has Tom DeLay's name been associated with the duo, but many other representatives may also find themselves on the hot seat. Bob Ney of Ohio seems to be at the top of that list for the moment, but who knows how things will shake out in the end.

This is an important step forward in uncovering yet another layer of the Abramoff sleaze-machine. Where it will stop, nobody knows.

Cheney Needs to Stop

I must confess, I was heartened, slightly, by some words from the president over the weekend, in which he asked for an "open, honest" debate over Iraq and said that "people should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions." I just wish he'd added another word: civil.

Dick Cheney's continued screeds against the critics of the war at every available opportunity are getting really pretty tiresome. Yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute, Cheney started off on a conciliatory foot (as Dana Milbank notes today), saying "I do not believe it is wrong to criticize the war on terror or any aspect thereof." Not wrong, but apparently it's worse: three minutes later Cheney returned to diatribe mode, calling critiques of the use of prewar intelligence at various times "dishonest," "reprehensible," "shameless," and "corrupt."

Those are not the words of an honest, open debate. If Dick Cheney cannot give a speech without spewing this kind of vile and unnecessary rhetoric, it's time for the Administration to find a new spokesperson. Turn to John McCain, John Warner, Richard Lugar, Colin Powell, people who can engage the other side without impugning their motives or resorting to childish name-calling. Enough with the nonsense.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Joining the "Third Camp"

Marshall Wittman over at Bull Moose has a tremendous post today discussing the formation of a "Third Camp" in the debate over Iraq: this camp, he writes "stands between the Administration 'stay the course' and the 'withdrawal now' forces. It includes both supporters of the decision to go to war and critics. Its leaders include John McCain, Joe Biden and Wes Clark.

While they have different victory strategies, all of these men believe that it would be a disaster to leave Iraq in chaos.This camp is highly critical of the President's failures in the post-war period and argues for a new strategy. This force believes that the White House is losing the moral high ground by failing to take a strong stand against torture and the inhumane treatment of prisoners.

However, the Third Camp is united in the belief that America can only leave when Iraq is relatively stable and a government is in place that can defend itself against the terrorist forces. Some favor more troops, at least temporarily. Others believe that current levels are adequate. Most of all, the Third Camp seeks a bi-partisan national unity that rejects the increasingly bitter polarization over the war. This is not the time to suggest that the President lied or that patriotic critics of the war are treasonous. To paraphrase Congressman Rahm Emanuel, the debate should not be over how we got in but rather how we get out leaving behind a stabilized Iraq."

The Moose concludes his post this way: "
What is needed is a bi-partisan coalition to emerge to seize control of this bleak situation - a 'coalition of the adults.'" I want to associate myself with his entire post, and wholeheartedly voice my support for the formation of the "Third Camp." We must find ways to bring the war above partisanship, and this RINO is proud to join the Bull Moose in that cause.

The (Not So) "Little Triumvirate"

In the NYTimes today, Sheryl Gay Stolberg profiles Senators John Warner, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, who have emerged as the three most prominent Republican senators on issues related to the prosecution of the war in Iraq and the treatment of detainees. It's a little bit gushy, but since I deeply admire and respect all three of these guys, I'll take a little gush. Stolberg discusses the important links between the three and how their relationshiops have been shaped, as well as the pressure that's been brought to bear on them by members of the Administration and others in Congress to just shut up and walk the line.

Thankfully, neither Warner, McCain, nor Graham is likely to do that anytime soon.

Embarrassing Moments

In case you have not yet seen the video of President Bush trying to escape a press conference in China but encountering a pair of locked doors instead, it's here. Michael Stickings has some reaction over at TMV. Quite amusing.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Going to the Source

Time reports that Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services committee, along with the ranking committee Democrat Carl Levin and Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota, sat down with 10 battalion commanders from Iraq, officers "chosen for their experience on the battlefield rather than in the political arena."

A Warner spokesman said the chairman "wanted the view from men who had been on the tip of the spear, and we got it." Time adds that two sources familiar with the meeting reported that "the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it." Because of the low number of troops, the commanders reportedly told the senators, "they have to 'leapfrog' around Iraq to keep insurgents from returning to towns that have been cleared out."

If Time's sources are accurate, this could be very important. While folks have been saying for months that there are not enough troops on the ground, if battalion commanders are saying they can't accomplish the mission because of insufficient manpower, steps need to be taken.

Brownstein on the Dems' War Plan

I don't know how accurate it will prove to be in the long run, but Ron Brownstein's news analysis in this morning's LA Times is well worth a read. He suggests that Democrats in Congress are "rapidly" shifting toward a position like that now held by Rep. John Murtha - that troops need to be withdrawn from Iraq sooner rather than later.

Seems to be that the Senate Dems have an easier row to hoe here: their plan, which failed in the Senate last week, called for specific timetables based on results in Iraq. In the end, the Senate opted to require regular updates from the Administration on progress.

I am not, at this time, ready to accept Murtha's plan for a withdrawal within six months, as much as I'd like to be. We cannot risk the implosion of Iraq. I have no problem with setting specific goals and targets, however. And above all, I am glad indeed that this issue has become something that's being talked about, debated, and discussed. (I also wish that the tone of the debate in the House and some of the crap spewing from the Administration would be elevated out of the gutter, of course).

It is well past time that the American people and their representatives have a debate over the course of this conflict and the impact it is having not only here in America, but in Iraq and around the world. Let us discuss it calmly, rationally, and openly, without impugning motives or slinging epithets. I don't think that should be too much to ask.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Quite a variation of topics on tomorrow's shows, except for an attempted four-show-run by one Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense. Here are the lineups:

This Week (ABC): Rumsfeld on Iraq, etc. Also Ted Koppel, Joe Klein, Martha Raddatz, Fareed Zakaria, and George Will.

Face the Nation (CBS): Rumsfeld. Also Senators Richard Lugar and Chris Dodd of the Foreign Relations Committee, with Elisabeth Bumiller of the NYT joining in the questioning.

Fox News Sunday: Rumsfeld, followed by Senator Joe Biden. The panel this week will be Paul Gigot, Bill Kristol, and Juan Williams.

Late Edition (CNN): Rumsfeld's fourth appearance. Also former Powell chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, former defense official Richard Perle, former senator Bob Kerrey, and three former CIA officers.

Meet the Press (NBC): Russert lost out on Rumsfeld, but scores the only interview this Sunday with Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. They'll also panelize on bird flu preparations.

Short Takes

- A few further words on last night's House stupidity. Kudos to John Murtha for an absolutely spot-on speech about the reasons he said what he did and his desire for a real debate over the course of the war in Iraq. Credit also to Senator John Warner of Virginia, who said "Today's debate in the House of Representatives shows the need for bipartisanship on the war in Iraq, instead of more political posturing." Of course the resolution failed; only three representatives voted for it. What a waste of an entire legislative day. The House leadership ought to be absolutely ashamed of itself for this waste of the people's time. Joe Gandelman at TMV has a great roundup post on this, don't miss it.

- Senator Arlen Specter, proving himself once again the kind of reasonable leader we need more of in Washington, refused to shove through a reauthorization of the Patriot Act yesterday, declaring that more time is needed to revise and study the provisions demanded by the House side. "My view is that the Patriot Act needs further analysis and some revision from what is in the proposed conference report at the present time," Specter opined. He said a particular sticking point was the sunset clauses on a couple sections of the law: the Senate wanted four years, the House wanted ten, so the conference committee settled on seven. Specter said "there ought to be a four-year sunset so we can review it again in a reasonably timely fashion." Specter is correct, and the issue is deserving of additional debate.

- If you are not yet addicted to PandaCam (aka 'Stick Pic), the National Zoo's webcam of the new baby panda bear, I highly recommend it. Usually he's sleeping, but when he moves, it's hysterical to watch. And much better for the blood pressure than C-SPAN.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Governed by Children Watch: Insanity in the House

I have absolutely nothing nice to say about the ridiculous political stunt being pulled by the Republican leadership in the House this evening, but I'm going to rant a little about it nonetheless. The way that a distinguished veteran like John Murtha has been smeared over the last 24 hours for voicing his concerns about the Administration's Iraq policy makes me sick. And the fact that the House leadership sees fit to spend an entire day on this silly resolution designed purely to be petty is downright juvenile. I deplore the entire proceeding.

I will also take this opportunity to condemn the hateful and unnecessary comments of newly-elected congresswoman Jean Schmidt [video here]. She should be ashamed of herself.

Where are the leaders of this country? When will we elect representatives who stand up and behave like adults instead of kindergartners who missed their naptime? That day cannot come soon enough. Credit to those who have acquitted themselves admirably today, on both sides of the aisle.

More Abramoff Sleaze-Tales

As part of the ongoing Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings into the dealings of uber-sleazeball lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies, the head of what media reports describe as a "pro-business environmental group" was hauled before the committee yesterday and subjected to a thorough grilling courtesy of John McCain and Byron Dorgan.

Italia Federici, the director of the "Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy" (which actually does the opposite) told the committee she "believed Abramoff's tribal clients had donated $500,000 over three years to her organization because they were generous, not because they hoped she would help them thwart efforts by competing tribes to open casinos."

Ha. Ha. Ha. And if you believe that, McCain and Dorgan have a brand-new bridge in Alaska to sell you. Heck they'll even name it for you!

The NY Times describes the hearing as "hostile," and the LA Times adds that McCain "grew so angry with Federici's interruptions of his questions - and at what he said were her unresponsive answers - that he twice threatened to find her in contempt of Congress." At issue are a number of email exchanges which blatantly depict donations by Abramoff's clients being solicited in exchange for Federici's influence with Interior Department officials on behalf of those clients.

Said McCain "Any objective observer would see that there is a clear connection between contributions to your organization and work that you would have been doing on behalf of Mr. Abramoff with the Department of the Interior." Dorgan added "I come from a really small town, but I think I can spot a pretty big lie from time to time."

The committee is expected to issue a report on its findings early next year, and if current trends are any indication, it should be quite a read.

Patriot Act Reauth May Draw Filibuster

House and Senate negotiators were close, but not close enough, to reaching agreement Thursday on reauthorization of the Patriot Act, many portions of which will expire at the end of this year unless extended. The two chambers' versions of the reauthorization bill differ widely, and several senators, from both parties, threatened to filibuster any conference report which does not contain "further civil rights safeguards that were seen as unacceptable to House leaders."

Six senators from across the political spectrum (Republicans Craig, Sununu, and Murkowski; Democrats Durbin, Salazar, and Feingold) signed a letter on Thursday stating that a tentative deal on the reauthorization bill was inadequate in "making reasonable changes to the original law to protect innocent people from unnecessary and intrusive government surveillance."

The Senate passed its version of the reauthorization bill unanimously back in July. It was the right approach then, and it remains so now. Senators from both parties should insist on the provisions in their version of the bill, and if the House does not agree, then a filibuster could be the appropriate response.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Interesting Poll Data

CQ's Hotline and Diageo research group have released an important new poll, which contains some rather interesting findings. Sixty-six percent of those polled now say the country is on the "wrong track" - even more striking, 41% of Republicans agree, up from 29% just a month ago. Republicans saying they would vote to replace their own congressional rep next year rose from 10% to 26% over the last month.

When presidential politics was brought into the poll, 57% of all voters said they'd be either very or somewhat likely to support Senator John McCain in 2008: in a head-to-head matchup with Senator Hillary Clinton McCain wins 52-39%; if he ran as an independent, the poll suggests, he would have more popular support (40%) than Clinton (34%) or Jeb Bush (18%); or the same level of support (35%) as Clinton if Rice were the GOP nominee (she'd get 22% support). These numbers, of course, do not factor in the electoral college.

The favorability ratings are very interesting. For McCain, 55% rated him either strongly or somewhat favorably, while 18% said rated him strongly or somewhat unfavorably. For Clinton, those numbers were 49% and 42%.

Check out the full poll - it's really quite a fascinating sample.

Don't Believe the Headlines!

Washington Post: "Funding for Alaskan Bridges Eliminated." New York Times: "Two 'Bridges to Nowhere' Tumble Down in Congress."

Reading those, you might be thinking (as I did) wow, we won a round, Ted Stevens gave up the ghost and relented on the stupid bridge projects. But no. The headlines turn out to be nothing more than a bit load of hooey.

Yesterday, House and Senate negotiators hashing out the chambers' differences on the Transportation Department spending bill decided to eliminate specific provisions funding the two "bridges to nowhere," as they have become known. But that doesn't mean the money for those bridges gets saved ... or even that it gets re-routed to hurricane-ravaged areas in the Gulf. Oh no. Alaska still gets the $454 million, it's now just not specifically earmarked for the bridges, so the state can use it for whatever it wants (i.e. well, the bridges).

This is unacceptable. No one who has been concerned with the current drunken-sailor pork-addicted spending binge should be placated by this shell game maneuver designed to attract favorable headlines (which worked like a charm today, may I add). While both the Post and Times articles do note that the money's still going to Alaska, their headlines and lead paragraphs convey the exact opposite (and wrong) impression.

*To be fair, the AP's headline and lead are more on the mark: "Alaskan Bridge Projects That Drew Ridicule May Be on Ice, But State Will Still Get the Cash."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bass Calls for New GOP Leadership

New Hampshire representative Charlie Bass, currently chairing the group of Republican House centrists known as the "Tuesday Group," called Tuesday for new leadership elections in the GOP caucus in January, "so we have a fresh slate of officers outside of the speaker for the next session of the Congress."

Bass said he is not planning on running for a position in the leadership, but thinks that the conference "would be healthier and more unified if we had real elections and if (former House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay would step aside for the good of the conference." Confirming other reports, Bass said DeLay is still "very much around" in the leadership circles.

Going beyond the leadership question in interviews with the Manchester Union Leader and radio station WBUR, Bass said "I think that obviously, with the party’s fortunes down, with the message clearly that most Americans would rather see a more moderate form of leadership in the country right now, then it’s time to govern from the middle. That doesn’t mean we do nothing. It just means we listen a little bit more."

Of last week's centrist rebellion, Bass said "Obviously, there are plenty of members of Congress who are concerned about the fact that a lot of their own party, Republicans, are complaining that we seem to be more concerned with the bridge to nowhere in Alaska and earmarks in appropriations than we are about what our fundamental principles are, which is less government, lower taxes and a strong national security. So people like me, although it is through the moderate agenda, are sending a message to our leadership that we want them to shape up and stop thinking about what they can do for themselves and start thinking about the country and what our agenda is and what our priorities are."

Good for Bass. I hope he and the others keep it up. This is good for the party, and good for the country at the same time.

All Sorts of Revelations Today

- Turns out when those oil company execs said before Congress last week that their companies hadn't met with the Dick Cheney energy task force back in 2001 (or that they "didn't know"), they were a little off the mark. The Washington Post has obtained a White House document showing that in fact officials from ExxonMobil, Conoco, BPAmerica, and Shell all met with Cheney aides during the debate over the compilation of an energy policy in the spring of 2001.

- Bob Woodward testified to the Plame leak case grand jury yesterday that he was given the name and CIA identity of Valerie Plame by a "senior administration official" more than a month before her identity was publicly disclosed, in mid-June 2003. In a statement, Woodward writes that he testified because his "senior administration official" source "went to Fitzgerald to discuss an interview with me in mid-June 2003 during which the person told me Wilson's wife worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction as a WMD analyst." Wilson says he talked to a total of three senior officials about Plame: this one, another unnamed, and Libby.

Somebody's turned state's evidence (presumably Karl Rove, but could be anyone I suppose). And clearly someone in the Administration is ditching documents to the newspapers as if heaving extra ballast from a sinking ship. What more will we learn?

Should We Worry?

In a 1985 job application, Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito wrote to Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese that he was "particularly proud" of arguments he had made within the Administration "that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to abortion."

Yesterday, Mr. Alito dismissed those remarks, in meetings with two key Judiciary Committee senators. Dianne Feinstein of California characterized their conversation about the memo this way: "He said first of all it was different then. He said, 'I was an advocate seeking a job, it was a political job and that was 1985. I'm now a judge. I've been on the circuit court for 15 years, and it's very different. I'm not an advocate; I don't give heed to my personal views. What I do is interpret the law.'"

Ms. Feinstein said she found Alito's response "very sincere" and that she believed he was being truthful.

Senator Ted Kennedy also met with Alito yesterday. After their powwow, Kennedy said he also asked Alito about the 1985 memo. "And so I asked him, 'Why shouldn't we consider the answers that you're giving today an application for another job?'" Kennedy continued "He had indicated that he is an older person that has learned more, that he thinks he is a wiser person, that he has got a better grasp and understanding of constitutional rights and liberties."

I would like to believe Judge Alito's claim, that he doesn't now as a judge give heed to his personal views, whatever they are. I really would. But the cynic in me shouts back. I fully expect that he will be questioned about this somewhat troubling disclosure before the Judiciary Committee, because it is important that we not elevate someone to the highest court in the land who goes there knowing exactly what course they will take when they get there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Short Takes

- There is a worthwhile op/ed in the Christian Science Monitor this morning on the Republican Party's "play to the base" strategy, particularly as relating to "intelligent design" and other such issues. The concluding paragraph: "The good news of pursuing a strategy that relies so strongly on the base and issue like intelligent design, is you probably won't see your approval ratings fall much lower. The base is, after all, bedrock. But you can't govern or even win by sitting on the bedrock. You have to build on it. And after years of reaching right, and angering and isolating the middle that won't be easy - it may be too late already."

- It would appear that a bipartisan group in the Senate (still not an oxymoronic term, thank goodness) has come up with a compromise on detainee access to courts. The agreement seems generally appropriate, so I hope it passes today and we can move forward on this.

This article hardly deserves its headline. But I am glad to see that an effort will be made today to pass an amendment in the Senate which "would require the administration to provide extensive new quarterly reports to Congress on subjects like progress in bringing in other countries to help stabilize Iraq." Apparently there is a Democratic alternative amendment which would move us toward setting timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. I have not read that proposal, so I can't say whether I'd agree or disagree with it - but Warner's amendment at the least seems like a start.

Monday, November 14, 2005

TMV Takes on Torture

Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has a great post up on some new reiterations from the Bush crowd that they won't accept the McCain amendment's language prohobiting "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of detainees in American custody.

McCain said Sunday he will continue to work for his amendment. As he should, and as all of us out here should as well.

Redistricting Watch: WaPo on the Way Forward

The Washington Post editorial board hits another redistricting home run today with "Redistricting Defeats," on why initiatives in Ohio and California failed last week and how other reform efforts can learn from those efforts.

I agree entirely with their view that "The most important is that redistricting should not be attempted in the middle of a census cycle - even when that redistricting is in the service of reform. Mid-cycle redistricting threatens to institutionalize the raw partisan politics that follow each decennial census and turn them into an ongoing state of affairs. That's what happened in Texas, where Republicans redrew the map after gaining control of the legislature in 2002."

The editorial notes, somewhat correctly, that neither the Ohio or California plans were "such partisan power grabs," and they weren't (although it was somewhat clear in Ohio's case what the result would have been). But by failing to work cooperatively on the proposals, in both cases the perception was that the redistricting effort was a partisan movement, and reform won't work like that.

The Post concludes "The broader lesson is that for reform to work, it has to be bipartisan and unpredictable in whom it will help and whom it will hurt. But the goals of reform should not change, notwithstanding this year's defeats. American elections are growing ever less competitive while squeezing out moderates from both parties and polarizing politics. This is in part because politicians get to choose their voters, rather than the reverse, and so they draw districts that are reliably Republican or Democratic. The system corrodes democracy."

Once again, I urge Congress to act on Rep. John Tanner's Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act H.R. 2642, which would assist states in the formation of independent redistricting commissions to redraw districts every ten years (see posts below for more information). Also, a cosponsor update to report on the bill: Washington's Norm Dicks became the 43rd cosponsor back on November 4 - slowly but surely!

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Tanner Calls for Hearings" (11/3)
- "WaPo Weighs In" (10/24)
- "Q & A with Congressman John Tanner" (10/20)
- "Governator Goes to Ohio" (10/18)
- "Schwarzenegger Calls on McCain" (10/11)
- "Broder's Right" (9/1)
- "WaPo on Prop 77" (8/21)
- "Prop 77 Back On" (8/12)
- "Updates from the States" (8/10)
- "Updates on Several Fronts" (7/28)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/22)
- "How Exactly do you Gerrymander a Birthday Cake?" (7/20)
- "Happy Birthday Mr. Gerry" (7/19)
- "Federal Authority in Historical Perspective" (7/16)
- "Blue Dogs, on the Scent" (7/12)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/1)
- "Links, News, and Views" (6/24)
- "Polarization & Collegiality" (6/24)
- "Centrist Action on Redistricting Reform" (6/23)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Short Takes

- See, I always knew daylight saving time was more trouble than it's worth! Just ask the people of Indiana! This Monia Davey piece from the NYT outlines a current struggle there over just what time it really is.

- Some new poll numbers on the president's status within the GOP and moderate/conservative attitudes in general. Notes that among self-described "moderate Republicans," Bush's approval rating fell 24 percentage points from August to November (Congress' approval rating dropped 22 points during the same period). Much more here if you like polls.

- George Will makes the case (or tries to) that under certain conditions, we could see a very interesting race in 2008: McCain v. Feingold.

- Since it's about the city I'm currently calling home, I wanted to mention this LATimes piece on Boston and its mayor, the newly-reelected Tom Menino.

- Oh, and Drudge is reporting that "Meet the Press" could get real interesting this morning: he says Dean is refusing to appear on the set, arguing that he only agreed to back-to-back interviews with Ken Mehlman, not a "debate." The show's not on until 10:30 here (after I have to go to work) so if anybody has a 9 a.m. air-time and wants to fill in the details of this, feel free!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

A few interesting names this week, plus the usual suspects. Here are the scheduled guests on tomorrow's political gab-fests:

This Week (ABC): The House and Senate campaign committee leaders will be on to dissect this week's elections and the implications for next years'. They are Senators Elizabeth Dole and Chuck Schumer, and Reps. Tom Reynolds and Rahm Emanuel. Steph will roundtable with Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, and George Will.

Face the Nation (CBS): Possible '08 contenders Senator John McCain and Virginia governor Mark Warner will guest. The NYTimes' Elisabeth Bumiller joins in the questioning.

Fox News Sunday: Senate Intel Committee leaders Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller will discuss the investigation into prewar intelligence. Possible '08 contenders NM Gov Bill Richardson and AR Gov Mike Huckabee will also guest. The panel will be as usual.

Meet the Press (NBC): Jordan's King Hussein will discuss the terrorist attacks in his country this week. And RNC Chair Ken Mehlman will "debate" DNC Chair Howard Dean.

Late Edition (CNN): National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley will headline. Roberts and Sen. Carl Levin will also appear. Huckabee makes a second appearance along with, you guessed it, possible '08 contender Tom Vilsack from IA. Wolf will also chat with Ahmed Chalabi, former Powell chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, and the Jordanian foreign minister.

Not Entiiirely Accurate

Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank have a joint analysis in the WaPo covering Bush's Veteran's Day "Don't question me, I'm the president!" speech. It seems to be a fairly good dissection of the speech's accuracy, which was, in a word, lacking. This president and his advisers are so caught up in their own web of half-truths, innuendoes, insinuations and outright falsehoods I'm not even sure they know which end is up.

Joe at The Moderate Voice has more on this; as usual, he and his co-bloggers have been on fire this week with excellent commentary from all angles. If TMV's not a regular stop on your blog-rounds, I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pat Robertson Check ... Yup, Still Crazy

Yesterday, the "Reverend" Pat Robertson suggested that because the people of Dover, PA voted several (alright all eight) school board members who favored the teaching of intelligent design out of office on Tuesday, God might strike them down.

On his "700 Club" broadcast, Robertson spewed "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever. If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

I agree with John Cole on this one. Robertson continues to drive himself further and further into irrelevancy, and frankly I can't even believe I'm giving him the attention. I think starting now, we should all just ignore the guy and hope that he goes away.

On with the Rebellion!

Not surprisingly, the mainstream media - always ready to enjoy a good squabble among Republicans - is happily enjoying the centrist revolt that's been occuring through Congress this week. Are they playing it up? Or is there really some "there" there?

Today's Washington Post has as least three pieces discussing the center's rising clout and increased vociferousness. First, Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray write up yesterday's events in Congress, noting that centrist Republicans in the House forced a holdup of the budget reconciliation bill, and Senator Snowe and others in the Senate put the kibosh on a planned committee vote to extend Bush tax cuts (and therefore more deficit spending) into the future.

The centrists are right. Budget cuts are needed. But why, why, why, should we cut valuable programs like student loans, food stamps, and health care services and then pass a tax-cut bill bigger than the amount we've just cut? That makes the fiscal sense of a rotten-tomato farm, and the American people know that.

I have to say I've never been prouder of my congressman, Sherry Boehlert, who is standing up as a strong, proud centrist these days. Yesterday, he said "I've told the leadership they're asking for the dismantling of the Republican conference" if they go ahead with the current budget plan. "The clear evidence from Tuesday's election results is that Americans are moderate. They need to start listening to us."

Thankfully the tax cut plan is meeting plenty of resistance in the Senate: Murry and Weisman also report that "Bush's call to make his first-term tax cuts permanent has had so little support that Grassley drafted a bill that would simply extend some of the Bush tax cuts for a single year. Even that may go nowhere." Senator Voinovich said of that yesterday "It should go away. We ought not to be involved in it."

He's right.

Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" today is "The Moderate Go to Extremes." It basically reiterates the same points, but includes some more excellent quotes from moderate legislators. Backbones were appearing all over Washington, as the moderates, often stooped and weary, raised themselves up to their full, height and stood proud and tall. Rep. Charlie Bass, currently chairing the Republican Main Street Partnership, said at a press conference "sometimes we can't even agree what day of the week it is." But on this, "We will not waver." Rep. Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland seconded Bass: "We will hold the line on this. I think this is the dawning of a new day." Vern Ehlers of Michigan added "They know very well what our position is, and it won't change."

David Ignatius' column is titled "Rise of the Center," and discusses the pendulum-swing just beginning to bring us back from the brink. Lots of quotes here from McCain and others, making it well worth a read as we move forward. And we will move forward. This is the time to act. This is the time to stand up and say we will not be cowed any longer. If we are to have spending cuts (and we should), then it's (well past) time to recognize you cannot have tax cuts simultaneously.

As I said yesterday, if this revolt be treason to the GOP, then let us make the most of it. We in the center must stand for our values and our priorities, and if others would turn the party toward continued fiscal insanity, we must and will resist at every turn. There can be no surrender now.

Veteran's Day

Today, November 11, is Veteran's Day, when we honor those men and women who've served our country in the armed forces. Take a moment today if you know a veteran to thank them for their service - and if you are a veteran reading this, please accept my heartfelt gratitude.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

An Eye-Roller from Bill Frist

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said today he's more concerned that news of a secret network of CIA prisons was leaked to the media than he is about anything going on inside those prisons. Speaking to reporters today, Frist stated "My concern is with leaks of information that jeopardize your safety and security - period. That is a legitimate concern." According to the AP, "Frist was asked if that meant he was not concerned about investigating what goes on in detention centers," and he answered "I am not concerned about what goes on and I'm not going to comment about the nature of that."

Somehow not at all surprising coming from Dr. Frist. But I, for one, am concerned about what's going on at those CIA prisons, and I think we all should be.

Oil Execs and the "Hot Seat"

Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" pieces for the Washington Post have become a sort of snarky blog/column hybrid; I usually find them quite enjoyable. Today's, "Oil and Grilling Don't Mix," is no exception. Milbank describes yesterday's hearing of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committees, in which several oil company execs were hauled before the panel to explain how they can reconcile record profit margins with record-high gas prices. Milbank's account is worth a read, and Crooks & Liars put up some video clips from the hearing as well. As usual, Ted Stevens proves himself a true friend of big oil and a gigantic old grouch at the same time.

Has "The Moment" Arrived?

Centrist Republicans in the House successfully managed to keep ANWR drilling out of the budget reconciliation bill, as I noted last night. The WaPo adds this morning that the group even received "assurances that it would not return after House and Senate negotiators hash out a final measure" (although Ted Stevens will certainly have something to say about that). Sherry Boehlert, fast becoming a leader in the rebellion, said "I want something more than a feel-good press release that will be operable for no more than a few hours," demanding no ANWR provisions in the budget bill all the way through the process.

Other House moderates are planning to vote against the budget bill today because of plans for a $70 billion tax-cut extension bill the House plans to debate next week (which would more than offset the $54 billion ostensibly being cut by this budget). And in the Senate, Senator Olympia Snowe told Bill Frist yesterday she plans to oppose a $60 billion tax-cut extension bill in the Finance Committee - thereby scuttling the measure for the moment.

Snowe's not alone: Senator George Voinovich also announced his opposition to the tax cuts yesterday, saying in part "I do not know how anyone can say with a straight face that when we voted to cut spending last week to help achieve deficit reductions we can now then turn around two weeks later to provide tax cuts that exceed the reduction in spending. That is beyond me, and I am sure the American people."

The Times also covers these important developments today, linking the moderate uprising to Tuesday's election results. They quote Boehlert as saying "There is a clear message from the election results all over the country. The American people, by and large as a body politic, are looking for a more centrist approach."

It's time. No more caving in. No more giving up. Look at what we can do if we centrists stand up and be counted when it really counts. If this be treason, as Patrick Henry said, then let us make the most of it. The American people are hungry for sensible leadership, and if those in the middle will finally offer it, the public will rally to the cause.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ANWR Safe For Another Day

After Republican centrists flexed their muscle (see? they can be powerful when they put their minds to it), the House Rules Committee late Wednesday opted to remove provisions from the budget reconciliation bill which would have allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The AP calls this a "stunning setback" for drilling proponents (yes, that roar you hear off in the distance is Ted Stevens).

I titled this post "safe for another day" because the Senate's version of the budget will contain ANWR-opening provisions - this means the House and Senate negotiators will hash out which version to adopt, and there is a chance that the final package could contain the language (so centrists in both House and Senate will have to be very much on their toes as we move forward).

For now, a minor victory. Sherry Boehlert and other centrist Republicans should be proud of themselves, but should stay ready to keep fighting. This isn't over yet.

Comptroller General Attacks Fiscal Insanity

Via PoliticalWire, a must-read essay in Business Week by David Walker, the Comptroller General and Head of the Government Accounting Office. The whole thing is important, but here are some quotes:

"Unfortunately, there is no question that both U.S. government spending and tax cuts are spiraling out of control. Recent increases in federal budget deficits have far outpaced the cost of the global war on terrorism and incremental homeland security costs. Although the $319 billion fiscal 2005 deficit was considerably lower than the previous year's, it is still imprudently high -- especially given that federal spending is expected to increase dramatically when the baby boomers begin to retire later this decade. …

The federal government should provide more clarity about where we are and where we are headed from a fiscal perspective. It also should reimpose meaningful budget controls on both the tax and spending sides of the ledger and begin a long-overdue review of all major federal spending programs, tax policies, and operating practices. …

It's true that other industrialized countries also face serious long-range fiscal challenges. But that's no excuse to delay getting our house in order. After all, our future economic security, competitive standing, quality of life, and even national security are at stake.

As a student of history and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, I long have been impressed by the example of George Washington, who was a strong believer in fiscal discipline. In his 1796 farewell address, Washington admonished the nation to avoid 'not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.' Americans today would be wise to heed Washington's timeless wisdom."

Short Takes

A few of the things I thought worth mentioning this morning:

- Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives, all four of them (in fact all eight initiatives on CA ballots yesterday) went down to defeat. This is unfortunate, at least from a redistricting angle - I hope that the governor will continue to push for legislative action on that front as we move forward.

- The House may vote as early as today or tomorrow on a budget package which includes provisions to open ANWR for oil drilling. That vote is reportedly "too close to call." Rep. Sherry Boehlert, a centrist Republican (and my congressman) who opposes drilling told the Washington Post "Hope springs eternal that we can pull the rabbit out of the hat. I really do think moderates are coming into their own. We're flexing our muscles collectively." Now's the time, if ever there was one!

- Linda Greenhouse's "Supreme Court Memo" from this morning's Times is well worth a read, as is a Douglas Jehl report that an internal CIA memo issued last year warned that some tactics being used by the Agency against detainees "might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election Results

A pretty big night for the Democrats - they've captured the governor's seats in both races this year. Tim Kaine has defeated Jerry Kilgore in Virginia (although the lieutenant governor and attorney general will be Republicans) by approx. 52%-46%, and Democrat Jon Corzine is beating Republican Doug Forrester in New Jersey by about nine percentage points. Hotline On Call has been doing quite a good job monitoring the results as they've come in.

Some of the other initiatives on the ballot today: voters in Texas approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage by a wide (but not surprising) margin, while Mainers seemed likely to reject a move to repeal an anti-discrimination law.

In Ohio, reform initiatives are sailing to resounding defeat, possible a bellwether of things to come when California reports in later tonight. Unfortunately, in both places, the reform efforts including redistricting have become very partisan, which for obvious reasons turns people off from supporting them.

Republican Mike Bloomberg sailed to an easy victory to a second term as mayor of NYC, and Boston's Tom Menino will keep his City Hall office for another term as well.

Americans Think Libby Case is Important

I have to say, I'm pretty surprised by the results of a Pew poll out today. According to the survey of 1201 Americans, 79% say that the indictment of Scooter Libby is of either "some" or "great" importance to the nation," and about 60% don't think it's gotten enough press coverage. Sure, they might be just saying it's important because they don't want it to seem like they don't care, but the number still seems pretty high.

The poll also found that 43% of respondents believe now that American and British leaders were "mostly lying" in their pre-war claims of Iraqi WMD programs; the same percentage say they believe the leaders were simply using bad intelligence data. Trends reveal those numbers have shifted from a 31-49% margin in February, 2004.

There's a ton more data from this poll to be mined (it's all here), including what would appear to be a serious drop in support among Republicans over the course of this year and some interesting findings about support for the confirmation of Judge Alito. Worth checking out.

Election Day

There are important races and ballot initiatives at stake all around the country today. Here are a few of them:

New Jersey - The race for governor here has grown increasingly disgusting in the last week or so, with Republican Doug Forrester and Democrat Jon Corzine duking it out in a typical New Jersey mud-fest, each spending nearly $1 million a day on television ads. If Corzine wins, he will get to pick his own successor to replace him in the Senate.

Virginia - This gubernatorial race has been nasty from the get-go, and is also awash in ridiculously high amounts of campaign spending. President Bush visited the state yesterday to campaign for Republican Jerry Kilgore, who's running against Democrat Tim Kaine and indepedent Russ Potts. Unfortunately for centrism, Potts' message never managed to catch fire in Virginia, so unless voters unleash an upset like no other today, Kaine or Kilgore seems likely to pull it out. This is a close race, definitely one to watch.

California - There are a whole slew of ballot initiatives (eight, total) up in the Golden State today, four of them sponsored and managed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of those is the redistricting measure, which I (half)-heartily endorse as better than nothing.

Ohio - Five ballot measures go to the voters today including another redistricting proposal (which I have serious issues with), turning control of elections over to a nonpartisan board of elections, and a couple ballot access/camaign finance issues.

Texas - A constitutional amendment is on the ballot that would prohibit same-sex marriage. If it passes as expected, Texas becomes the 19th state with such an amendment.

Maine - Voters will decide whether to accept a state law which prohibits discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.

New York City - The only question here today is just how big Mayor Bloomberg's margin of victory will be.

Boston - Ditto, basically, for incumbent Mayor Tom Menino.

Hotline On Call has good links for election night coverage and poll results. Not as exciting as next year's races will be, but certainly the governor's races the Arnold-initiatives will be worth keeping an eye on. Of course, if you live in these places (or other places, there are many more races that I didn't mention this morning), please vote if you can.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bush Approaching the Black Hole of Ridiculousness

In defending his vice president's obsession with preserving the right to torture detainees, President Bush today really came close to just completely crossing the line to utter absurdity. (It could be argued, and probably to some effect, that he crossed that line years ago, but set that aside for the moment). Taking questions in Panama, Bush defended the status quo on treatment of prisoners, saying "Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture."

So what, exactly, is the problem with banning the use of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" punishments?

Bush went on, and "pointedly noted that Congress as well as the White House has an obligation to protect U.S. citizens." Which is exactly what they're doing by passing McCain's amendment. As the senator said in his floor speech last week, passage of the anti-torture language will protect Americans - not only those here at home, but also those fighting overseas. "If we get in another war," McCain said, "and one of our men or women in the armed services is captured, they will be turned over to the secret police because they will use the same rationale that is being argued by the proponents for the continuation of cruel and inhumane treatment and torture, that they have to have this information."

McCain's amendment should and must pass in both the conference committee and in the House. It must reach this president's desk, and so that George W. Bush has to decide whether he wants his first veto (almost sure to be overriden) to be in defense of torture. What a legacy that will be.

Who Won the Debate?

Did you watch the live "West Wing" debate last night? If so, leave a comment letting us know which version you watched (East or West coast) and which candidate you thought won the debate. You can elaborate on why if you wish.

Cheney and Torture

Two good articles from today's papers on the campaign to implement anti-torture legislation. The first is a Washington Post profile of Cheney's role in the whole business. We've known for a long time that he's been the driving force behind the opposition to McCain's 90-9 amendment, but this article goes beyond that and discusses his role in internal administration debates as well. Dana Priest and Robin Wright report that Cheney is finding himself increasingly isolated within the administration, as Secretary of State Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and other top officials have come to see the necessity of implementing strong anti-torture language.

Even as Cheney attempts to gouge a loophole for the CIA in the anti-torture law, Senator Graham says he has not heard from the CIA that they find such a loophole necessary.

Wright and Priest: "Beside personal pressure from the vice president, Cheney's staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included 'trying to have meetings canceled ... to at least slow things down or gum up the works' or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president's office - in some cases without the knowledge of the authors."

This should not be tolerated. The president should not accept this kind of backroom manipulation, and he should not allow his rampaging and bruised vice president (or his Mayberry Torquemada staffers) to call the shots on detainee policy around the world.

The second piece I wanted to recommend today is an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor, which heartily endorses the McCain amendment. It's worth a read.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

McCain Stays the Course

Asked this morning on "Fox News Sunday" about "how far he would push" in his efforts to pass anti-torture language this year, McCain said simply "as far as necessary." Three cheers!

Who Will Lead?

The Washington Post reports this morning on something that polls have been showing for quite some time now - that, given a half-alive opposition and continued problems, Republicans are in very bad shape going into next year's midterm elections. The problems don't seem all that likely to disappear anytime soon. However, the Democrats just haven't started pulling their weight yet as a credible alternative, polls indicate.

In the newest WaPo/ABC News poll, just 35% say they approve of the job Republicans in Congress; only 6% more, 41%, approve of the Democrats. While surveys indicate that as of now, voters would prefer that Democrats take control of Congress after next year's election, serious doubt remains over the Democrats' ability to govern (conversely, we know all too well how the Republicans have done for the last five years).

Who will step up? Will the Democrats get their act together, develop a decent opposition strategy, and lead the way? Or will they continue their ad hoc tactics and keep just stumbling along? Has the time come for the formation of a grand coalition of sensible people from both parties - and beyond - to emerge and demand decent government and an end to the current ridiculousness?

Something's got to give.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Here are the lineups for this week:

This Week (ABC): Senators Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And then there will be a roundtable with Fareed Zakaria, Linda Douglass, and George Will.

Face the Nation (CBS): Senators Pat Roberts, Dick Durbin, and Orrin Hatch. Jan Crawford Greenburg joins the questioning.

Meet the Press (NBC): Senators Ted Kennedy, Tom Coburn. Rountable with NBC's David Gregory, Ron Brownstein from the LATimes, and NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Fox News Sunday: Senators John McCain and Chuck Schumer. The usual panel: Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Juan Williams, Bill Kristol.

Late Edition (CNN): Senators Jay Rockefeller and George Allen. Also former RNC and DNC chairs Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe.

If you play your cards right tomorrow, you can see eleven of the one hundred senators. That's probably more than you can see on your average day of C-SPAN2 ... and definitely more than any single human should have to endure in so short a time period. Pace yourselves.

Anti-Torture Provision Gets Renewed Support

The Senate on Friday reapproved the McCain language to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would ban the use of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment against detainees held by the United States. Earlier it was supported 90-9; this time it was approved by voice vote as part of a revised spending bill.

Senator McCain and others went to the floor to speak in support of the amendment, and took direct aim at those in the House and the White House who are trying to block or delay its passage.

McCain (long excerpts, because they're good, and more thoughts below): "I say again on this issue, No. 1, it is not going away. It is not going away. If, through some parliamentary maneuver, temporarily the will of the majority of both Houses, both bicameral and bipartisan, is thwarted, it will be on every vehicle that goes through this body because you cannot override the majority of the American people and their elected representatives in a functioning democracy. ...

Why is it some people feel we should carve out an exemption for a branch of our Government to practice cruel and inhumane treatment or even torture? Let me tell you what the consequence of that is, in case of another war. If we get in another war and one of our men or women in the armed services is captured, they will be turned over to the secret police because they will use the same rationale that is being argued by the proponents for the continuation of cruel and inhumane treatment and torture, that they have to have this information. We all know we need intelligence. We all know it is vital. We know how important it is. But to do differently not only offends our values as Americans but undermines our war efforts because abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, us in the war against terror. ...

Nevertheless, the administration has held that the prohibition does not legally apply to foreigners held overseas. They can, apparently, be treated inhumanely. That means America is the only country in the world that asserts a legal right to engage in cruel and inhumane treatment. How far have we come? ...

A democratic, freedom-loving society does not accept that investigators use any means for the purpose of uncovering the truth. The rules pertaining to investigations are important to a democratic state. They reflect its character. As I have said many times in response to a few Members of the Senate: It is not about them; it is about us. ...

Our brave men and women in the field need clarity. America needs to show the world that the terrible photos and stories of prison abuse are a thing of the past. Let's step up to this responsibility and speak clearly on this critical issue. We should do it not because we wish to coddle terrorists; we should do it not because we view them as anything but evil and terrible; we should do it because we are Americans and because we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people, no matter how evil or terrible they may be. America stands for a moral mission, one of freedom and democracy and human rights at home and abroad. We are better than these terrorists--and we will win. I have said it before, but it bears repeating: The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They do not deserve our sympathy. But this isn't about who they are, it is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies, and we can never allow our enemies to take those values away. ..."

Senator Graham also made a great speech yesterday. He mentioned the possibility of some kind of wording compromise, but concluded by saying "I will not entertain a retreat. I will not entertain an exception that washes away what we have been standing for and fighting for and what over 2,000 young men and women have died for. ... If we do not get this right now, people after us are going to pay a heavy price."

It is speeches like this that make me know that I was not wrong in supporting John McCain back in 1999-2000, and why I continue to harbor the greatest respect and admiration for him as a man and as a legislator. Dick Cheney and the would-be Torquemadas within our government should take some lessons in decency from McCain, from John Warner, from Lindsey Graham and others who will stand up to their nonsense in support of our troops and our values, as Americans and as human beings. There can be no retreat from human dignity.

Ethics School for You

Jim VandeHei at the WaPo: "President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe."

The White House Counsels' Office (yes, Harriett oh Harriett) will conduct the "refresher courses" (and we all know how well she does with tests). According to the memo sent to the staff, "there will be no exceptions" - everyone with a security clearance must attend.

Is Bush going to go himself? How about Cheney?

I Don't Want to Say It

But, I will. We told you so. Some of us (i.e. basically everyone outside of Congress, and even a few inside) recognized (here, here, here for some of my own thoughts on the matter) the fiscal insanity of the highway bill before it was passed; it didn't take the outrages of Katrina to make clear that spending tens of millions of dollars on pork-barrel projects in the middle of a war with deficits as far as the eye can see was a good idea. Some others, apparently, are a little slow. The Washington Post headlines today a Shailagh Murray piece titled "Some in GOP Regretting Pork-Stuffed Highway Bill." Well it's about time.

Murray leads off with "The highway bill seemed like such a good idea when it sailed through Congress this summer. But now Republicans who assembled the record spending package are suffering buyer's remorse," going on to note that while Congressfolks are usually overeager to rush home and crow about the "bacon" they're bringing to their district, this time, it's different. "But with spiraling war and hurricane recovery costs, the pork-laden bill has become a political albatross for Republicans, who have been promising since President Bush took office to get rid of wasteful spending."

The problem is, those who want to reallocate or rescind the highway-bill pork are basically those who were opposed in the first place. As Murray writes, "McCain and six other Senate Republicans want to reallocate the pork dollars in the bill to help pay for the damage caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of eight House members who opposed the legislation, and who declined any special projects for his district, wants to rescind 10 percent of the bill's total cost and allow states to disregard the pet projects authorized by the legislation, and spend the money as they wish."

Both would be fine steps. However, they're going to need more support than themselves. The strong blogospheric and outside support for the Coburn Amendment (which brought about one of the most amusing Senate moments ever from cranky-pants Senator Stevens) was heartening, and that level of outrage needs to continue and increase. Republicans (and Democrats) all need to be made embarrassed about their pork-addicted ways - that's the only way we'll get change.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bush Polls ... Ouch

The president has long said that he doesn't pay any attention to polls. Now we know why. With approval ratings comparable to no other second-term president in recent history save Richard Nixon (and Bush's, for the moment, are lower for the same period), Bush could certainly do with a significant course correction if he wants to recover some lost ground among the American people.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that "For the first time in his presidency a majority of Americans question the integrity of President Bush, and growing doubts about his leadership have left him with record negative ratings on the economy, Iraq and even the war on terrorism." Just 39% of respondents say they approve of Mr. Bush's job, while 60% disapprove. Among independents, his approval rating has dropped to 33%, down from 49% in January.

The full results of the poll are here, along with some of the trends.

Mr. President, I'm not sure that you will ever be able to regain the trust of many Americans, myself included. But I know you don't have even the slightest chance of doing so if you do nothing but stick to your warped "stay the course" mentality. That's only sending you deeper into the depths of despairing disapproval ... and frankly there's not very much ground there left to cover!

Shameful Delay in the House

No, not that DeLay (although he's also shameful and in the House). I'm talking this time about a ridiculous decision taken by the Republican leadership to push back a key vote. Democrats and many centrist Republicans are pushing for a House resolution that would instruct those House members sitting on the conference committee for the Defense Appropriations bill to accept the language in the Senate version that bans "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of any detainees held in American custody around the world. If you recall, that provision, sponsored by Senator McCain, was added in the Senate by a resounding vote of 90-9.

As the Times reports this morning, the resolution in the House, while non-binding, would be an important symbolic step highlighting the broad bipartisan support that the language has in both chambers of Congress.

So of course, Speaker Dennis Hastert has simply not named the conferees yet - and without conferees, no motion to instruct them can be made. On the Defense Appropriations bill. It's not like we're talking about the XYZ Post Office-Naming Act! Seems like the leadership would be making this their top priority, not shrugging it off until the end of the session (some aides are suggesting that the leadership will hold the bill until just before Congress is scheduled to leave town). I don't care why they're delaying this bill, it could be because Hastert's got a hangnail this week for all I know. But it needs to stop.

Importantly, the Times report notes the Republican support for acceptance of the McCain language: last week, fifteen Republicans (Castle, Shays, Johnson (CT), Simmons, Walsh, Boehlert, Kuhl, Schwartz, Ehlers, Dent, Gilchrest, Petri, Paul, Leach, and Bradley) wrote to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee expressing their strong support. "We believe the antitorture provisions are vital to protecting American service members in the field both now and in the future," they wrote.

It is time for the Republican leadership in the House to stop stalling and appoint conferees so that this important legislation can continue moving forward. With American troops in the field, this is no time for holding up military funding measures to protect the fragile ego of a floundering Vice President.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alito Hearings to Begin in January

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter spurned the White House Thursday by announcing that his committee will not begin hearings on the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court until January 9, 2006. President Bush had earlier called for a vote on Alito before the end of the year.

Specter's plan calls for five days of committee hearings, followed by a vote on January 17. The full Senate would then debate the nomination and vote on January 20.

This schedule makes sense. Not only does the Senate have more than enough to do between now and the end of the calendar year, but there are also hundreds of cases and much other Alito material to be examined before hearings can begin. Specter's plan seems to provide plenty of time for that necessary research.

Also today, the Gang of 14 met to discuss the Alito nomination: after the meeting, Senator Ken Salazar said that he left the gathering with a "sense that we're still together and keeping this a civil and orderly process at this point."

DeLay Prosecutor Plays Hardball

Ronnie Earle, the Texas DA who recently indicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay, won a round today. After DeLay's team succeeded in a motion to remove the original trial judge from the case because he had given money to Democratic-oriented political groups, Earle submitted a motion today to keep that judge's superior from choosing a replacement - because the superior judge has given money to Republican candidates.

In his motion, Earle wrote that he believed Judge B.B. Schraub, the superior judge, to be "completely fair and impartial, with a sterling reputation of honesty and integrity. However, as the recusal of Judge Perkins reflected, such is unfortunately no longer the standard in our state for the judiciary."

Judge Schraub agreed to Earle's motion, and said he will ask the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court to name a judge to preside over DeLay's trial.

In other scandal-related news today, Scooter Libby pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in the CIA leak investigation. Outside the courtroom, Libby's lawyer said "In pleading not guilty he has declared to the world that he is innocent. He has declared that intends to fight the charges in the indictment, and he has declared that he wants to clear his good name."