Wednesday, December 19, 2007


In Dodd We Trust: The Vice Presidency

A lot of people have been mentioning Chris Dodd for Majority Leader in 2008. I know that because I have been one of the people doing just that. But there is another idea that came up when I was interviewing Marcy Wheeler of Empty Wheel on Monday (during our filibuster show to promote Chris Dodd's filibuster in the Senate).

How about Dodd for Vice President?

He could be the anti-Dick Cheney. Every force in the universe has an equal and opposite force. If Cheney was the dark matter of the Bush administration, Dodd can be the experienced hand inside the next Democratic administration pushing the new White House toward the light.

Sen. Dodd had a great line on Countdown on MSNBC the other night. It went something like this: If you want to be a leader in 2009, how about you start leading in 2007?

In some ways, of course, this is embarrassing because all of these folks should have been leading since 2001 when Bush stepped into office. The fact that they have to remember to lead this late in the game is a sad indictment of Democratic leadership.

But that's precisely why I'm scared that the Democrats in the Senate might not vote out Harry Reid as Majority Leader. They don't mind his leadership at all; he represents their collective inaction and timidity. He is their leader.

I'm not sure the Senate is at the point where there are enough progressive Democrats that someone like Dodd or Feingold can be the leader of a group of strong Democrats who know how to fight for their principles. But as Dick Cheney showed us, a vice president can do amazing things inside the executive branch (even though he might not even admit he's in that branch).

I believe in the title of this post (I'm sorry, I might have seen "In Dodd We Trust" somewhere else, but I don't remember, so let me know if I should credit someone for that catchy title). Because right now, I'm scoring the race for leadership among the presidential candidates as:

Dodd 1 Everyone Else 0

Senator Dodd won the fight to make sure Bush and the telecom companies didn't get immunity for their crimes (they admit they need immunity, so obviously they must have committed crimes). This was a huge win (by the way, the New York Times ran it on Page A29, that's ridiculous and shameful - what, they didn't think Bush's only significant legislative loss this year was newsworthy?). And how many other wins do Democrats even have?

Which other Democratic candidate can claim to have defeated George Bush at anything? Isn't that really, really sad? The most unpopular president of all time and he blanked the other guys. I'll never get over that. But what might help is if the one guy who actually made Bush retreat on an important issue was on the Democratic ticket. Maybe I could trust that ticket a little bit more.

Watch Young Turks Here

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Republicans Should Change Their Name to The Christian Conservatives. Huckabee comes home to roost for the American Taliban.

Huckabee: The GOP's Cynical Use of Religion Has Come Home to Roost
Arrianna Huffington
Posted December 17, 2007

With Mike Huckabee's continuing surge, the Republican Party now has an Iowa front-runner whose religious beliefs are virtually identical to those of George Bush. He's anti-choice, born-again, against gay-marriage, and gets political advice directly from God.

So why is the Republican establishment suddenly in a state of near-apoplexy about Mike Huckabee? Shouldn't they be happy? They've been cultivating evangelicals and fundamentalists for 30 years. Now they finally have a candidate who's truly part of the movement. So what's the problem?

Actually, that is the problem. The evangelical crowd was fine when it was just a resource to be cynically exploited every few years in demagogic anti-gay get-out-the-vote campaigns. But now the holy-rolling monster the GOP's Dr. Frankensteins have created has thrown off the shackles, fled the lab, and is currently leading in Iowa. And the party doesn't know what to do.

It's actually fun to watch the consternation. Ross Douthat has dubbed this feeling "Huckenfreude," which he defines as "pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee."

And there is certainly no shortage of outrage among hyperventilating conservative columnists across the country. The National Review's Rich Lowry has coined a neologism of his own: "Huckacide." This is when a national party commits suicide by nominating an "under-vetted former governor who is manifestly unprepared to be president of the United States."

Yeah, that would certainly be crazy, wouldn't it? Makes you wonder where these people have been for the last seven years.

Over at the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer is wringing his hands about an "overdose of public piety," "scriptural literalism," and how the 2008 campaign is "knee-deep in religion."

At the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes worries about the fact that Huckabee "told a producer for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network that his religious background made him most qualified to lead the war on terror," and that he "seems to believe the best foreign policy is one guided by the Golden Rule." Scoffing at the Golden Rule? What's next, attacking the Boy Scout Oath? And what it is about Huckabee's name that inspires a whole new lexicon? The Weekly Standard's headline writers couldn't resist, dubbing his perceived foreign policy shortcomings "The Perils of Huckaplomacy."

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan frets that the Republican Party of today wouldn't like Ronald Reagan much now that "faith has been heightened as a determining factor in how to vote," and says that voters in Iowa "may be deciding if Republicans are becoming a different kind of party."

If? If??

Turns out that when you define your party a certain way for a two or three decades, people actually start to believe it, and that definition can, in fact, become your party.

According to Andrew Sullivan, "it is certainly too late for fellow-traveling Christianists like Lowry and Krauthammer to start whining now. This is their party. And they asked for every last bit of it."

The Republican establishment is tying itself in knots trying to land on a publicly acceptable rationale for their Huckabhorrence (I told you, it's irresistible). Some criticize his "fair tax" plan -- but since when have nutty economic plans ever disqualified a Republican presidential candidate?

No, the real reason is class. As Kevin Drum puts it, "mainstream conservatives are mostly urban sophisticates with a libertarian bent, not rural evangelicals with a social conservative bent. They're happy to talk up NASCAR and pickup trucks in public, but in real life they mostly couldn't care less about either. Ditto for opposing abortion and the odd bit of gay bashing via proxy. But when it comes to Ten Commandments monuments and end times eschatology, they shiver inside just like any mainstream liberal."

As Steve Benen writes at TPM, "The Republican Party's religious right base is supposed to be seen, not heard. Candidates are supposed to pander to this crowd, not actually come from this crowd."

They want their base to be a kind of electoral cicada: wake up every four years, vote, and then go underground and shut-up.

Will Huckabee win the nomination? No one knows. But win or lose, I can't see this genie going back in the bottle. One danger for the Huckabee haters is that right wing social positions aren't the only thing they've been nurturing for 30 years -- there's also this sense of aggrieved, martyred hatred of "the elites." Of course, it's usually completely manufactured. But this time, there really is a group looking down its nose at the evangelicals -- and it's not godless liberals. It's the supporters of Romney, McCain, Thompson and Giuliani. So what's going to happen when evangelicals realize this and tap into the hatred of "the elites" the GOP establishment has been whipping up in them for three decades?

Mark Kleiman points out that Huckabee is the only non-millionaire among the serious GOP contenders, and the only one who doesn't court what Kevin Drum calls the "money-cons" -- those Republicans for whom globalization is the only true religion.

Republicans have been running on a faux populist/religiously conservative platform ever since Richard Nixon. It was refined and heightened by Lee Atwater and again by Karl Rove. And now that they have a rising candidate who truly represents that platform, the movers and shakers of the party are doing all they can to kneecap him.

But as the Good Book says: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."



Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
In Opposition to the Flawed FISA Bill

As Prepared for Delivery

December 17, 2007

Mr. President, I oppose cloture on the motion to proceed to S. 2248, as reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee. This bill is deeply flawed, and I am very disappointed by the decision to take it up on the Senate floor rather than the better bill reported out by the Judiciary Committee.

Before leaving town for the August recess, Congress bowed to pressure from the administration, and vastly expanded the government’s ability to eavesdrop without a court-approved warrant. That legislation, the so-called Protect America Act, was rushed through this chamber in a climate of fear – fear of terrorist attacks, and fear of not appearing sufficiently strong on national security. There was very little understanding of what the legislation actually did.

But there was one silver lining: The bill had a six-month sunset to force Congress to do its homework and reconsider the approach it took.

The Senate should be taking this opportunity to fix its mistakes and pass a new bill that gives the government all the tools it needs to spy on suspected terrorists but also protects Americans’ basic freedoms. This time around, the Senate should stand up to an Administration that time and again has employed fear-mongering and misleading statements to intimidate Congress.

Mr. President, the Intelligence Committee bill doesn’t fix those mistakes, and it is not the bill we should be considering on the Senate floor.

I do agree with the administration on one point -- Congress should make clear that when foreign terrorists are communicating with each other overseas, the U.S. government doesn’t need a warrant to listen in, even if the collection activity ends up taking place in this country because of the way modern communications are routed. Unfortunately, both the Protect America Act and the bill approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee go far beyond fixing that problem and also authorize widespread surveillance involving Americans – at home and abroad.

The bill we should be considering is the Judiciary Committee bill, which 14 Senators urged the Majority Leader to take up in a letter last week.

The Judiciary Committee made critical improvements to ensure independent judicial oversight of these sweeping new powers and to better protect innocent Americans. The Judiciary bill does not contain a new form of retroactive immunity for companies that allegedly cooperated with an illegal wiretapping program that lasted for more than five years. And, while the Intelligence Committee bill was drafted and debated behind closed doors and in close consultation with the Administration, the Judiciary bill was the product of an open process with the input of experts from a variety of perspectives.

The Judiciary Committee bill is not perfect. It needs further improvement. But it would be a vastly better starting point for Senate consideration than the bill that the Majority Leader has brought to the floor, which simply gives the Administration everything it was demanding, no questions asked.

Mr. President, the stakes are high. I want my colleagues to understand the impact that the Protect America Act and the Intelligence Committee bill could have on the privacy of Americans. These bills do not just authorize the unfettered surveillance of people outside the United States communicating with each other. They also permit the government to acquire those foreigners’ communications with Americans inside the United States, regardless of whether anyone involved in the communication is under any suspicion of wrongdoing.

There is no requirement that the foreign targets of this surveillance be terrorists, spies or other types of criminals. The only requirements are that the foreigners are outside the country, and that the purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information, a term that has an extremely broad definition. No court reviews these targets individually. Only the executive branch decides who fits these criteria.

The result is that many law-abiding Americans who communicate with completely innocent people overseas will be swept up in this new form of surveillance, with virtually no judicial involvement. Even the Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program, as described when it was publicly confirmed in 2005, at least focused on particular terrorists. What we are talking about now is a huge dragnet that will sweep up innocent Americans.

In America, we understand that if we happen to be talking to a criminal or terrorist suspect, our conversations might be overheard by the government. But I don’t think many Americans expect the government to be able to listen in to every single one of their international communications with people about whom there are no suspicions whatsoever.

These incredibly broad authorities are particularly troubling because we live in a world in which international communications are increasingly commonplace. Thirty years ago it was very expensive, and not very common, for most Americans to make an overseas call. Now, particularly with email, such communications are commonplace. Millions of ordinary, and innocent, Americans communicate with people overseas for entirely legitimate personal and business reasons. Parents or children call family members overseas. Students email friends they have met while studying abroad. Business people communicate with colleagues or clients overseas. Technological advancements combined with the ever more interconnected world economy have led to an explosion of international contacts.

We often hear from those who want to give the government new powers that we just have to bring FISA up to date with new technology. But changes in technology should also cause us to take a close look at the need for greater protections of the privacy of our citizens. If we are going to give the government broad new powers that will lead to the collection of much more information on innocent Americans, we have a duty to protect their privacy as much as we possibly can. And we can do that without sacrificing our ability to collect information that will help protect our national security.

To take one example, a critical difference between the Intelligence and Judiciary bills is the role of the court. The Judiciary bill gives the secret FISA court more authority to operate as an independent check on the executive branch. It gives the court authority to assess the government’s compliance with its wiretapping procedures, to place limits on the use of information that was acquired through unlawful procedures, and to enforce its own orders.

The Judiciary bill also does a better job of protecting Americans from widespread warrantless wiretapping. It prohibits so-called bulk collection – or vacuuming up all communications between the U.S. and overseas -- which the DNI admitted is legal under the PAA. And it ensures that if the government is wiretapping a foreigner overseas in order to collect the communications of the American with whom that foreign target is communicating – what is called reverse targeting -- it has to get a court order on that American. None of these changes hinders the government’s ability to protect national security.

The process by which the Judiciary Committee considered, drafted, amended and reported out its bill was an open one, allowing outside experts and the public at large the opportunity to review and comment. With regard to legislation so directly connected to the constitutional rights of Americans, the results of this open process should be accorded great weight, especially in light of the Judiciary Committee’s unique role and expertise in protecting those rights.

I am certain that over the course of this week, we will hear a number of arguments about why the Judiciary bill will hamper the fight against terrorism. Let me say now to my colleagues: Do not believe everything you hear. Last week I sat with many of you in the secure room in the Capitol, S-407, and listened to arguments made by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that several of the examples they gave were simply wrong. I am happy to have a classified meeting with anyone in this body who wishes to discuss this.

This is not about whether we will be effective in combating terrorism. Both bills allow that. This is about whether the court should have an independent oversight role, and whether Americans deserve more privacy protections than foreigners overseas.

All of this should sound familiar to those who have followed previous debates about fighting terrorism while protecting Americans’ civil liberties in the post-9/11 world: The administration says: “Trust us. We don’t need judicial oversight. The courts will just get in our way. You never know when they might tell us that what we’re doing is unconstitutional, and we would prefer to make that decision on our own.”

Time and again, that has proven to be a foolish and counter-productive attitude. And sadly, despite the objections of many of us in this chamber, too many times Congress has gone along. We don’t have to make that same mistake again.

Mr. President, in this case, we have a factual record to help us evaluate whether we should simply trust the administration or whether we should write protections into law. The Protect America Act has only been in law for four and a half months, and we are still missing key information about it. But the Intelligence Committee has recently been provided some basic information about its implementation.

Based on what I have learned, I have very serious questions about the way that the Administration is interpreting and implementing the Protect America Act, including its effect on the privacy of Americans. I will shortly be sending the Director of National Intelligence a classified letter detailing my concerns, which are directly relevant to the legislation we are now considering. I regret this information is classified, so I cannot discuss it here, and I regret that more of my colleagues have not been privy to this information prior to this floor debate. But I would be happy to share a copy of my letter, in an appropriate classified setting, with any Senator who wishes to review it.

Mr. President, I have been speaking for some time now about my strong opposition to the Intelligence Committee bill, and I haven’t even addressed one of the most outrageous elements of that bill: the granting of retroactive immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program that lasted for more than five years.

Mr. President, this grant of automatic immunity is simply unjustified. There is already an immunity provision in current law that has been there since FISA was negotiated – with the participation of the telecommunications industry – in the late 1970s. The law is clear. Companies already have immunity from civil liability when they cooperate with a government request for assistance – as long as they receive a court order, or the Attorney General certifies that a court order is not required and all statutory requirements have been met.

This is not about whether the companies had good intentions or acted in good faith. It is about whether they complied with this statutory immunity provision, which has applied to them for 30 years. If the companies followed that law, they should get immunity. If they did not follow that law, they should not get immunity. A court should make that decision, not Congress. It’s that simple.

Congress passed a law laying out when telecom companies get immunity and when they don’t for a reason. These companies have access to our most private communications, so Congress has subjected them to very precise rules about when they can provide that information to the government. If the companies did not follow the law Congress passed, they should not be granted a “get out of jail free card” after the fact.

We have heard a lot of arguments about needing the cooperation of carriers in the future. We do need that cooperation. But we also need to make sure that carriers don’t cooperate with illegitimate requests. We already have a law that tells companies when they should and when they shouldn’t cooperate, so they are not placed in the position of having to evaluate independently whether the government’s request for help is legitimate.

Instead of allowing the courts to apply that law to the facts – instead of allowing judges to decide whether the companies deserve immunity for acting appropriately -- the Intelligence Committee bill sends the message that companies need not worry about complying with questionable government requests in the future because they will be bailed out.

This is outrageous. Even more outrageous is that fact that if these lawsuits are dismissed, the courts may never rule on the NSA wiretapping program. This is an ideal outcome for an administration that believes it should be able to interpret laws alone, without worrying about how Congress wrote them or what a judge thinks. For those of us who believe in three independent and co-equal branches of government, it is a disaster.

Mr. President, for all of these reasons I oppose cloture on the motion to proceed to the Intelligence Committee bill. I fear we are about to make the same mistake that we made with the Patriot Act. We passed that law without taking the time to consider its implications, and we didn’t do enough during the reauthorization process to fix it. As a result, three federal courts have struck down provisions of the Patriot Act as unconstitutional. And that is right back where we are going to end up if we don’t do our jobs and fix the Protect America Act. I urge my colleagues to vote No on cloture.

I yield the floor.


John Edwards - "The few, the powerful, the well-financed, they now control the government, and it affects everything that happens in this country."

Edwards cuts sharper edge in Iowa trail speeches

By Tim Jones

Tribune national correspondent

December 16, 2007


The Chevy truck song -- John Mellencamp's "Our Country" -- blared from overhead speakers as the once and former Democratic beacon of sunshine and hope prepared to drop some red meat on the carpeted floor of the normally placid Iowa City Public Library.

"The few, the powerful, the well-financed, they now control the government," John Edwards told a tight crowd of about 350 last week. "They've taken over your democracy. And it affects everything that happens in this country."

"Everything," he emphasized.

During an 18-minute span, the former North Carolina senator took aim and fired freely at insurance, oil and drug companies and failed chief executives rewarded with golden parachutes. He described the Republican field as "George Bush on steroids" and said his Democratic competitors are talkers, not fighters.

In what has often been portrayed as a two-Democrat battle -- between Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York -- the populist Edwards is making an eight-day blitz across the frozen fields of Iowa, a sort of red-meat express to convince the middle class that he is the one who will wrest the country from the clutches of "corporate power and greed."

'I'm not Oprah'

Just days after Oprah Winfrey campaigned for Obama and former President Bill Clinton stumped for his wife, Edwards recruited actor Tim Robbins at the start of his swing across the state. Robbins reminded crowds in Iowa City, Grinnell and Des Moines that "I'm not Oprah." Then he set the tone.

It's time, Robbins said, "to get the crooks and the liars" out of Washington.

At 54, Edwards has jettisoned the polite and unthreatening populism of his 2004 presidential campaign for a sharper edge. The beaming smile, the bluejeans and the open-collar shirt are still a constant. But the "Two Americas" message has been replaced by one America, and it's time, he says, to take that America back.

"I know some people suggest we'll be able to sit at the table with drug companies and oil companies and think they can get their power away. Right," Edwards said dismissively, indirectly referring to the approaches he says Obama and Clinton would take.

"I'll tell you when they'll [corporations] lose their power: when we take it away from them," he told a cheering crowd at the Grinnell Eagles Club.

This is reminiscent of old-time class warfare, and it's tough stuff in Iowa, a state that prides itself on thoughtful consideration of candidates. In 2004, Iowa caucusgoers rejected the confrontational tone of Howard Dean, who had led in polls. The sunny Edwards almost won the state four years ago, finishing second behind Sen. John Kerry.

'There's been a change'

But this is a different time, Edwards said in an interview.

"There's been a change in America. We have greater concentration of wealth and power in a few. We have an increasingly dysfunctional health-care system. We have this war in Iraq that has gotten much worse," he said. "I think we need a president who's willing to be tough and to go after these things."

Exit polls from 2004 indicated that more than 40 percent of caucusgoers made up their minds during the final week of the campaign. And recent polls show greater public concerns about issues that play to Edwards' strengths: the economy and health care.

Heather Benesh, a factory worker in Grinnell, thought she had her mind made up three months ago, backing Obama. Now she's undecided. Her husband, Blane, a computer programmer, said he's leaning toward Obama. But neither is committed right now.

At a town hall-style meeting in Des Moines, youth counselor Robin Heinemann said she liked Edwards' remarks about poverty and appreciates the sharper edge to his message.

"John Edwards and Barack Obama are tied right now," Heinemann said. She wonders who is the more electable.

In Iowa City, Sam Osborne, a retired professor and newspaper editor, said the new Edwards is "genuine. ... It's from the gut."

Edwards' Iowa run is often described as the final argument for this veteran trial lawyer, who has spent more time in Iowa than any other Democratic candidate. He peaked in the polls early this year in Iowa and has slipped since then, although he has stayed within striking distance. If he does not win or finish close to the top, political analysts say, his campaign will be crippled.

Mike McMahon, the former Democratic Party chairman in Delaware County, declined to speculate on the effect of an Edwards loss but said, "We need to do well, so Iowa is a springboard for him."

Edwards campaigned Friday in northeastern Iowa, accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, two of his children and his parents. At another town hall-style meeting in a steakhouse, the talking points roll off his tongue: universal health care, out of Iraq by the end of 2009, no more sweetheart deals for the big corporations and stop the one-way trade agreements that hurt middle-class Americans.

Then he added, "It's not enough to be nice."

Sunday, December 16, 2007


A public-private partnership to establish a surveillance state.

The New York Times reports:

The N.S.A.’s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure.

To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified.

Carpetbagger writes, “Perhaps ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program‘ was a poor choice.” Atrios adds, “I guess we lost the cold war after all.”

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald: “More than anything else, what these revelations highlight — yet again — is that the U.S. has become precisely the kind of surveillance state that we were always told was the hallmark of tyrannical societies, with literally no limits on the government’s ability or willingness to spy on its own citizens and to maintain vast dossiers on those activities.”

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