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Justice May Be Blind, But She Still Must See

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 00:00

Roddy Stencil by privatenobby (flickr)

The National Review’s Jonah “Doughy Pantload” Goldberg complains this week as he revisits President Obama’s desire expressed a year ago for a Supreme Court Justice nominee possessed of empathy. Goldberg likens this to an expectation that “Lady Justice should peek from under the blindfold every now and then.”

No, Goldberg. You do not get to complain about potential bias while benefiting from the cultural capital accrued to your status as a white male in American society. The problem is that the Supreme Court has been blind to its own built-in bias, inherent in its majority of white males; the Court should not be blind to this as it evaluates and interprets the law.

Just as it’s easy for Goldberg to complain that the Court should be blind (even to its own bias) in its decisions, it’s very easy for white men to claim that anything beyond the black-and-white four corners of the law — law paid, written, passed, and enforced substantively by and for white men — should be ignored.

It’s much easier when one has never been at the receiving end of the baton to ignore what happens away from the gripped end; it’s removed, at a distance, the pain not felt. The condition shapes a body of knowledge based on the experience of wielding and keeping the baton, not the experience of living under it. (One wonders how much this has encouraged the promulgation of torture.)

It’s also very easy to maintain the distance when damages must be quantified in terms of the lingua franca possessed and used substantively by white men — in terms of money and capital.

How does one put a price on the loss of dignity and self-esteem to a pre-teen girl who has been violated in the search of her underwear by school officials for over-the-counter pain medication, especially when the persons making the assessment will have never been exposed to such humiliation? (See Safford Unified School District v. Redding.) Imagine Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s frustration with male counterparts who could not grasp the damage in this case, let alone quantify it, simply because her co-horts couldn’t see themselves in such a position, let alone translate the loss into their lingua franca.

Blind justice, my eye.

We can argue all day as to whether empathy (the ability to put one’s self in someone else’s shoes) or sympathy (the ability share sentiment or feeling with others) are appropriate to the interpretation of law. This question remains: how else are we to rectify a continuing problem with interpreting law which governs all the people, when it is bought/written/passed/enforced by a single group with the majority of political and economic power?

How do we the people as a whole ensure the spirit of the law reflects the spirit of all of its people, both at the point where law is created and at the point at which it is interpreted?

I’ll point to Brown v. Board of Education as an example of the kind of change which might not have been realized had the Court been led by a different Justice who could not grasp the intangible damages. What if had been Justice Fred Vinson leading the court instead of Justice Earl Warren? Would we have seen this:

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.

In Sweatt v. Painter, supra, in finding that a segregated law school for Negroes could not provide them equal educational opportunities, this Court relied in large part on “those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school.” In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, supra, the Court, in requiring that a Negro admitted to a white graduate school be treated like all other students, again resorted to intangible considerations: “. . . his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession.” [p*494] Such considerations apply with added force to children in grade and high schools. To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. The effect of this separation on their educational opportunities was well stated by a finding in the Kansas case by a court which nevertheless felt compelled to rule against the Negro plaintiffs:Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system. [n10]Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority. [n11] Any language[p495] in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected.

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [n12]

The intangibles which exist between those black-and-white words have now become part of the dialog of the Supreme Court; there are still swathes of intangibles which have gone ignored because the Court’s current composition ignores them or cannot see them.

Even if a majority of empathic/sympathetic individuals do not sit on the bench, there must be a range of individuals who exemplify the population of this country, including people who are empathic or sympathetic. Some of the people on the bench must also be able to point out clearly even in minority dissenting opinions that the law is flawed and why, so that legislators can be held to account and rectify the flaws.

Look, too, at Justice Bader-Ginsburg’s dissent read from the bench in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.; Justice Alito said the case was decided by the majority “easily” on the law “as written,” while Bader-Ginsburg spoke for the four dissenting justices saying, “In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination…”

Had there been one more justice who did not interpret the law “as written” from the same perspective of the male majority, there would have been no need for the subsequent modification to existing law in the form of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And had Bader-Ginsburg not been on the court to provide a pointed rebuttal, there might not have been an adequate path to remedy the bias in the law.

There must be greater discernment of intangible damages by justices; call it empathy or sympathy if you need to label it, but seating another person in the same mold as the predominantly white, all-male majority which could not see the holes in the 1963 Equal Pay Act would be a mistake on the magnitude of approving Tim Geithner to be Treasury Secretary or reapproving Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chair.

Albert Einstein once said, “A problem cannot be solved from the same state of consciousness which created it.” I offer an addendum: a problem may not be seen by the same state of consciousness which created it. Let’s ensure the Supreme Court can actually see the problems which are presented before it.

Won't someone think of the children?

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 00:00

Bill Clinton once said: "When people think, Democrats win." That statement likely has some validity: after all, if voters were to actually examine the statistics behind which major political party has done the most to improve the living standards of middle-class Americans and ensure equal opportunities for everyone, Democrats would come out ahead every time.

Unfortunately, however, emotional narratives often trump hard reality. The fact that the TEA Party movement--an acronym for "Taxed Enough Already"--is able to draw any media oxygen whatsoever despite the fact that 98% of Americans received a tax cut this year is evidence enough of the insufficiency of mere facts. Drew Weston's recent book, The Political Brain--a must-read for progressives of all interests--demonstrates this point with even more certainty. While Democrats seek to persuade voters with facts, statistics and numbers, conservatives play to emotional narratives that reinforce existing ideological perceptions. This not only makes their voters more committed to them, but also creates a smooth, coherent narrative that can appeal to the 20% of the population that is actually persuadable.

Democrats may not be able to count on people "thinking" to be able to win elections. But there's one thing they could do much better than they're doing now: connecting to and turning out the voters who are already receptive to their facts and narratives. And who are these voters? The youth.

Becca Doten is California's only elected member to the Democratic National Committee who qualifies to be a Young Democrat (age 35 or under). In a recent article on the Huffington Post, Doten outlined the specific importance of reaching out to young voters:

Issue polls show us that young voters are progressive voters. A recent Public Policy Institute of California study found that Californians age 18-34 support marriage equality 66% to 49%. Republican political strategist Dan Schnur wrote a column in the LA Times last week citing a poll that young voters - regardless of race - opposed denying services to undocumented immigrants by a 20 point margin. Schnur wrote, "age has become the primary factor determining opinion on illegal immigration in California."

And young voters don't just support progressive causes; we support the candidates who champion them. The aforementioned PPIC poll also found that Jerry Brown leads Meg Whitman 44% to 30% in voters aged 18-35 and "younger voters prefer Boxer (56% to 30% for Fiorina)." This is night and day from the results of the polls of all likely voters, where these races are neck-and-neck.

The young voters of America are in a unique political position. Our America is increasingly tolerant and welcoming of other races, cultures and orientations--despite the last, violent gasps of a movement chiefly contained to a region that for so long has been on the wrong side of all our advances in the arena of social justice. We are progressive. We do not share the longstanding prejudices of the many generations that came before. And we will vote our progressive consciences--just as soon as we get off of Facebook.

And therein lies the problem. Young activists--as well as the young voters that young activists are supposed to turn out--are caught in a vicious circle. Because a young vote is a statistically less reliable vote compared to our older peers, campaigns do not spend nearly as much time and resources engaging the inherently progressive youth who may not be the most politically aware. For more local campaigns with limited resources, that decision does make a certain modicum of sense in the short term--but it doesn't help solidify the progressive values of what should be a core Democratic constituency.

That would be tolerable if that lack of short-term outreach were overcome by a significant long-term strategic investment at the national level in turning out young voters, solidifying our generation's progressive tendencies, and recruiting young activists to be the future leaders of the Party. Currently, however, that investment is not being made at the proper level. In California, for instance, Young Democrat and College Democrat clubs essentially function as independent entities who are mostly, if not solely, responsible for their own fundraising, outreach and voter turnout programs in their local areas. There is not as much connection as there should be with the California Democratic Party, and very little outreach at all from any national organizations or Party Committees.

The Republican Party, however, has well-connected youth outreach efforts--not so much designed to turn out young conservative voters, because that is generally an oxymoron, but rather to bring young conservatives with talent into the fold of the Republican Party and provide them with the leadership opportunities they need to hone their skills. The RNC, for instance, sends out fundraising letters on behalf of its national College Republican organization, and the RNC's Young Eagle program has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. The Democratic Party would likely never have this problem, if for no other reason than a Young Democrat organization would likely never find itself that close to a DNC expense account.

It would make sense for a Party to invest in the demographic groups that identify most closely with it, and there is far more the Democrats could be doing in this regard at a national level. As Doten says:

There is no silver bullet that will turn out young voters. As with every other constituency, it takes a strategic effort and focus of resources to reach young people. Ensuring young voter turnout, and in turn ensuring Democratic victories, means more than paying us lip service. It means including young voter outreach in campaign plans and investing resources in turning out our demographic. It means having young supporters play an active role in campaigns by reaching out to millennial voters with a message that resonates on a peer-to-peer level. Young voters need to understand their stake in the election, that their vote means something to their lives and that the candidate is someone who will fight for what they believe in - which is a progressive, positive agenda.

There are many things that could be done to make accomplish some of these objectives right now, such as a strategic investment in Young Democrat organizations; investment in online and mobile voter registration technology; promoting early voting locations on college campuses; and a dedicated youth outreach program for national and statewide campaigns, just to name a few.

When young people vote, Democrats win. We just need a little reminder--especially if it comes by iPhone.

The Timeline of Torture Tape Destruction in Special Prosecutor Durham’s Documents

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 23:00

photo: flattop341 via Flickr

As I said the other day, most of the documents we received the other day are the 13 or so documents that CIA had cleared for FOIA release, but over which John Durham had declared a law enforcement privilege. This chart compares what we got with what had been declared in Vaughn Indices in November (this showed the hard copy documents explaining the destruction of the torture tapes) and January (this showed the electronic documents discussing the destruction of the torture tapes; there are 6 files total to this index). While this doesn’t show us everything John Durham is looking at (presumably, there are a number of documents that are too sensitive to release), looking at the documents from this perspective gives us a sense of what Durham is investigating.

As you’ll see from the chart, I have numbered the documents from 1 to 27. I just assigned them in the order the documents appear in the complete PDF file. I’ll also refer to the PDF number for each document.

The Documents Not on Durham’s List

First, assuming I matched the documents up to the Vaughn descriptions properly, there are four documents were not on Durham’s list:

  • Document 9, January 9, 2003, Review of Interrogation Videotapes (PDF 24-28)
  • Document 11, June 18, 2003, Interview Report (PDF 33-37)
  • Document 22, December 3, 2007, Potential Statement (PDF 86-93)
  • Document 23, December 10, 2007, Trip Report (PDF 95-99)

I believe these documents all did appear elsewhere in the earlier FOIAs on this (I’m going to try to find the Vaughn descriptions later), but presumably CIA had earlier said it could not release them, which meant it was that decision, rather than Durham’s determination, that had prevented their earlier release.

Most of these documents (except the questions) pertain to the CIA Office of General Counsel review of the torture tape, and the Inspector General’s subsequent discovery that the original review had neglected to mention key details about blank tapes and discrepancies between what was portrayed in the video and what OLC authorized. Curiously, their release seems to be tied to the events reported by the WaPo, in which John McPherson, reportedly the lawyer who conducted that review, was given immunity to testify before the grand jury in the last month or so. In other words, now that McPherson has testified about this stuff, CIA has decided to release the details of his review publicly. I have included the documents in the timeline below.

The Chronology on the Tapes

Many of the rest of these documents pertain to the correspondence regarding videotapes. The chronology they show is:

April 27, 2002: A letter directing the tapes “should all be catalogued and made into official record copies” and asking when they would “arrive here.” (Document 1; PDF 1)

May 6, 2002: Someone sends a cable providing guidance to “please do not tape over or edit videos of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations” and “please preserve all videos.” Note, we don’t get the original copy of this, but it appears in an email forwarding the cable to Scott Muller and John Rizzo in January 2003. (Document 10; PDF )

September 5, 2002: According to October 25, 2002 cable (see below), “HQS elements discussed the disposition of the videotapes” and determined that “the continued retention of these tapes … represents a serious security risk.” (Documents 2 and 3; PDF 3-7)

October 25, 2002: Cable directing field to tape over tapes each day and promising someone will deploy to assist in destroying the existing tapes. (Document 2, Document 3; PDF 3-7)October 27, 2002: Some excerpts the October 25 cable and another one (which is entirely redacted) into a one-page summary. Note that both prior cables were classified Secret, but this summary is classified Top Secret. (Document 4; PDF 9)

November 28, 2002: It appears this cable was included among those collected in Document 12 some time after the tape destruction. But what we got in FOIA cuts off the cable (and entirely redacts what is there). (PDF 39-50) Note that the November 11, 2009 Vaughn Index described document 12 as a 13 page document, but we’ve only got 12 pages.

November 30, 2003: John McPherson reviews the torture tapes. This is noted in an undated timeline of the facts surrounding the torture tape destruction. (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

December 3, 2002: After McPherson reviewed the videotapes on November 30, someone sent out a cable stating that it was a mistake to move the videotapes, and ordering that “no tapes will be destroyed until specific authorization is sent.” Documents 5, 6, and 7 all appear to be identical copies of this cable, save for routing information that is redacted; the routing on Document 6 is very long. (PDF 11-18)

December 9, 2002: Someone sends a cable referring to McPherson’s review of the videotapes, as well as an inventory conducted on December 3, 2002. The inventory matches this inventory, though Friday’s version does not redact the description of Tape 88 as “no video but there is sound” nor the description “begin other materials.” Also note the appearance of “H2O” below number 75. We don’t get the original of this cable, but it appears someone pulled it up from the files some time after the tape destruction in November 2005. (Document 12; PDF 39-50)

December 20, 2002: At a time when CIA is discussing what to do with the videotapes (there are emails between the Office of General Counsel and Tenet on December 20 and December 26 noted elsewhere in the Vaughn index), someone from Counterterrorism Center (probably their legal department) forwards the October 25 cable to someone else, perhaps to explain why the officers in the field had started taping over tapes on a daily basis. (Document 8; PDF 20-22)

January 2, 2003: Someone requests HQS decision regarding videotapes. We don’t get this cable, but it is noted in Document 12. (PDF-39-50)

January 9, 2003: John McPherson completes his memo on his review of the tapes. (Document 9; PDF 24-28)

January 10, 2003: A meeting to discuss the disposition of the torture tapes. For a variety of reasons, I believe this to be written by George Tenet’s Chief of Staff. The note requests CTC to write a paper explaining the reasons to destroy the tapes. (Document 24; PDF 101)

January 13, 2003: Someone forwards Scott Muller and John Rizzo and others “early background on videotapes.” The subject line says four cables are included, but only one appears here, the one sent on May 6, 2002 described above. (Document 10; PDF 30-31)

January 2003: Document 27 (PDF 110-122) appears to have been written before January 28, 2003 because it refers to the “Guidelines” that were finalized on January 28 as still being coordinated by CTC. The document summarizes Abu Zubaydah’s treatment up to that point and speaks of his status in the present tense. I’ll do a separate post on this, but the document may have been part of CIA efforts in January 2003 to justify destroying the torture tapes. It gives some background on him, lists the intelligence he has given, lists the techniques used on him (though, curiously, the description of the techniques is redacted), describes the videotapes and OGC’s review of them, and describes the efforts to fix the torture program. In addition, there are two extensive redacted sections. Most curiously, there is a one-page passage, classified “Secret” (the rest of the document is classified “Top Secret”) that summarizes who AZ was claimed to be, intelligence he provided, and his injuries. I suspect the entire document was used to brief Congress during their February 4 and 5 briefings, and the Secret summary was what the members of Congress were allowed to take away–though that’s just a wildarsed guess.

June 18, 2003: Someone from CIA Inspector General’s office interviewed John McPherson. The report makes clear that McPherson did not think the videotapes that had been taped over were “noteworthy.” The report also suggests that McPherson had not compared the videotape content with guidance sent to the interrogators to see if it matched. McPherson appears to have said he was not under any pressure to ignore those aspects of the videotapes. (PDF 33-37)

July 13, 2003: A cable from the field asking for instructions for disposition of hard drives and magnetic media. Note, we don’t have the original document, but it appears someone pulled it up from the files some time after the tape destruction in November 2005. (Document 12; PDF 39-50)

August 3, 2003: Someone sends a cable to the field directing someone to maintain control of all magnetic media (but not the videotapes in someone’s possession), and forward the inventory document for it to someone. We don’t get the original of this cable, but it appears someone pulled it up from the files some time after the tape destruction in November 2005. (Document 12; PDF 39-50)

August 4, 2003: Someone sends a cable asking for “a cable from the Inspector General authorizing ref action.” We don’t get the original of this cable, but it appears someone pulled it up from the files some time after the tape destruction in November 2005. (Document 12, PDF 39-50)

April 1, 2004: A completely redacted event that appears in the undated timeline summarizing the key events surrounding the torture tape destruction. (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

May 11, 2004: David Addington and Alberto Gonzales tell Scott Muller not to destroy the torture tapes. This is noted in an undated timeline of the torture tape destruction. (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

November 4, 2005: The timeline event reads: “At ODDO request, [redacted]CTC[redacted] drafts language to be included in a cable from [redacted] requesting DDO approval to destroy the tapes. [Redacted]CTC[redacted] sends the language to [redacted] and the ODDO front office, as well as OGC for approval. The plan was for [redacted] to cut and paste the text into a cable and send it to HQs for approval.” (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

November 5, 2005: The timeline event reads: “[Redacted] sends cable requesting approval to destroy the tapes.” (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

November 8, 2005: A cable claiming the IG no longer needed the videotapes and OGC had determined they “accurately documented [redacted] activities on video tape” requests approval to destroy the videotapes. Documents 13, 15, and 16 all appear to be identical copies of this cable though with different routing information and (for Document 15) a different typeface. (PDF 52, 57, 59) Note, the timeline suggests this cable was sent on November 5, not November 8. (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

November 8, 2005: A cable granting permission to destroy the tapes. (Document 14, PDF 54-55) The timeline makes it clear that DDO–Jose Rodriguez–authorized the tape destruction. (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

November 9, 2005: The field informs HQ that it has destroyed the videotapes and within a minute of receipt of that cable–at 5:19 AM–someone forwards the cable to someone else. Note, we have both the original cable (Document 18; PDF 64) and the forwarded cable (Document 17; PDF 61-62)

November 10, 2005: The timeline on the tape destruction shows the following three events (Document 25; PDF 103-104):

[Redacted]CTC[redacted] sends a note to [redacted] saying he has gotten [redacted] concurrence on the language for the cable. He also says that he understands [redacted] is going to call [redacted] with the language for the cable rather than email it to him.

[Redacted] receives the note and replies that the exchange with [redacted] has already taken place. He phoned the language to [redacted] sent the cable. He notes that DDO already approved the destruction of the tapes.

AGC learns that the tapes were destroyed and contacts DCIA Chief of Staff. AGC notes that DNI and Harriet Miers as recently as a few months ago opposed the idea of destroying the tapes. He states they need to be notified of the destruction as well as others.

Also on November 10, 2005, someone sends two cables with the subject line “Short backgrounder” to Dusty Foggo, first saying everything on the tape destruction made sense (though John Rizzo was upset), then noting that the approvals had not been as originally represented. (Document 20; PDF 81-82)

November 25, 2005: The November Vaughn (but not the January one) describes a 3 email chain with the subject line “short backgrounder” with a November 25 date. This suggests that the two emails sent on November 10 (Document 20) were actually part of a 3-email chain, the last email of which was written on November 25. Note that since the November Vaughn was hard copy documents and the January one electronic copy documents, there may not be an electronic copy of this email chain.

September 25, 2007: Someone sends another person the information for the email authorizing the tape destruction, as if asking for help doing a search. (Document 21; PDF 84)

October 5, 2007: Someone forwards the September 25 email, as if asking someone else for help searching for the email. (Document 21; PDF 84)

December 3, 2007: This appears to have been a request for a statement for the NYT, which broke the story of the torture tape destruction the following day. It begins by laying out the problem we’ve identified with the tapes–that they showed that interrogators had used waterboarding more times and differently than they had been directed to. 7 pages of this document remain totally redacted (suggesting that the problems with the tapes were not just what they portrayed). (Document 22; PDF 86-93)

December 10, 2007: This appears to be someone sending the IG, internally, the summary of a trip taken during the IG Review of the interrogation program. This may have been the May 2003 trip when IG reviewed the tapes themselves, though the report also seems to discuss interviews. Note, the forwarding email says the summary table–which appears to summarize all Abu Zubaydah’s waterboard applications–”was subsequently refined. (Document 23; PDF 95-99)

December 20, 2007: Some pulls the three cable sequence on tape destruction (perhaps for the IG?), as well as a document dated August 19, 2003. The November Vaughn suggests the August 19, 2003 document discusses an “unrelated counter-terrorism operation.” (Document 19; PDF 66-79)

Curb your economic growth enthusiasm

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 22:50
From the Economist:Curb your enthusiasm. Yes, the economy is recovering, as everyone save the nihilists expected. However, the debate ought to be about the strength, not the fact, of the recovery. At the risk of gross oversimplification, the debate is this: do we follow the strong recovery model (the “V”) which holds that deep recessions are followed by strong recoveries, or the weak recovery model (the “U”) that holds that recessions caused by financial crises are followed by weak recoveries? I have long been in the latter camp. In fact, I describe my forecast as “reverse square root”, sort of a cross between a V and U (credit to George Soros for the term): an early cyclical rebound followed by muted growth. I’m still there.Now, to the evidence. So far, the magnitude of growth does not validate the V. GDP fell more during the 2007-2009 recession than in either 1973-75 or 1981-82 and has recovered less. Assuming GDP grew 3% (annualised) in the first quarter, which is the consensus, then it will be up 2.8% (not annualised) in the nine months since the recession ended, compared to 3.8% after 1975 and 5.6% after 1982. Yes, employment is finally rising, but as The Economist notes, its performance is far worse than after other recessions.

Second, the composition of growth looks unsustainable. A disproportionate amount so far has come from inventories which are not a sustainable source of demand. Relative to expectations, final demand is a wash: consumption has been stronger but housing has been weaker. Our special report argued consumer spending cannot lead the recovery because wealth has been devastated and credit is tight. Contrary to that thesis, consumption has outgrown income in the past quarter, saving has declined, and the trade deficit has widened, though only a bit. An important reason for caution is that much of the recovery we’ve seen so far is down to fiscal stimulus. It probably accounted for half of the estimated 3% growth in the first quarter. Its contribution will turn negative by the third quarter. We need a virtuous cycle of incomes and spending underway by then, which means stronger job creation than we’ve seen so far. I still think it will happen. The economy is highly unlikely to dip back into recession; 3% growth seems a safe bet. But I don’t yet see the makings of the 5%-plus growth that would characterize a V, though I’d love to be wrong.

Ceci n'est pas une Maverick

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 22:00

"I'm a maverick."

   -- John McCain to Larry King, CNN, October 30th, 2008

"I never considered myself a maverick."

   -- John McCain to Newsweek, April 3rd, 2010

What I most savor about John McCain's recent statement, "I never considered myself a maverick," is that it one of those passing utterances that show a pure and unspoiled contempt for the listener. There are big lies in this world and small ones; there are half-truths, shades of gray, minor factual fender-benders and spectacular wrecks of truthiness, and then there are those statements that exist only to demonstrate the absolute mastery of the speaker over his own version of reality, one that you, as a listener, are most emphatically not privy to. There is no point to the statement, and no profound advantage in saying it or not saying it. It is not something to be fact checked or tittered at. It is merely there, a dangling, glistening drop of verbal drool from a smiling, unimpeachably honest mouth. It is a blown kiss directed at you, the listener, whether you want it or not. It is a tiny act of intellectual assault; a minor act of thuggery sandwiched between one magazine page and the next; a noble monument erected by the speaker to himself so that the rest of you pissant little tyrants, you dime-store dictators of the lower classes, can look upon his greatest works and know your own place. The most precise translation is something like screw you, listener.

It is not a lie, of course, it is only a, shall we say... evolution of the truth. And that is the genius of the statement: it acknowledges fully that what is true and what is false, in politics -- scratch that, in America -- is completely irrelevant.

We can take him at his word, of course. We can presume that the most narrow interpretation of those six words are indeed, true -- that he never considered himself a maverick, but was perfectly willing to craft an entire campaign, an entire career around the stupid little word. That would mean that Senator John McCain has been a conniving liar all along, a manipulative son of a bitch, in fact, and that with this one statement he intends to come clean, if only for a moment -- but that would be insultingly simplistic, and far too easy. We could presume he is simply a senile old fart -- also a possibility, given recent performances, but equally insulting.

The more accurate answer, of course, is that whether something is "true" or "false" is a game among children, and John McCain, like every other politician able to momentarily capture a camera or a podium, knows full well that you can lie your ass off to all of America and there's not two people in a hundred who will either notice or give a flying damn. It is not just a move for campaigning -- you can govern by it, too. What the hell, you can form an entire movement around the premise that the "truth" is whatever the hell you say it is at one given moment, and that the "truth" may be something entirely opposite tomorrow.

If it means denying past videotape -- please. Only elitists, bastards and misanthropes know how to press rewind.

If it means rewriting textbooks to bend history into a more pleasing pattern -- not a problem. A hundred petty dictatorships in the world, past and present, have paved the way to that particular nirvana already: it hardly even requires effort at this point.

If it means celebrating Confederate history without once mentioning that the intolerable oppression those Confederates were attempting to cast off under the mantle of "states' rights" was the inalienable right to keep other human beings in slavery, to breed and sell them like cattle, and to maintain this state of slavery over lifetimes and generations entirely on basis of parentage and perceived race -- pfft. Only the easily insulted could care.

A collection of housing advocates for the poor might be just what they sound like -- or a secret cabal capable of bending the nation to their will. Is it not arrogant to presume both are equally likely? After all, is not any organization dedicated primarily to the poor a suspect enterprise to begin with?

You can deny anything from climate change to evolution to the existence of garlic bread by simply denying whichever physical laws of nature are most inconvenient or -- better yet -- simply get rid of the transitive properties of mathematics altogether. If A = B, and B = C, than can we truly say that A = C? Or is that, as some of our greatest political minds will assert, the path to communism?

And what of death panels? We can mutter all we like about the plain facts in front of us, that no such things ever were contemplated, that no "panels" anywhere in any legislation were holding the Sword of Damocles over your nana. We can trace the origins of the lie, we can identify the prime liars by name and rank and income bracket, we can even track the lie back to its own corporate sponsorship -- a lie in service of a profit, just another new terrifying brand to be marketed to the masses. But to say any of that is to be a sick and ignorant little fuck, because REAL AMERICANS, in all their uppercased glory, know that true patriotism consists of believing whatever fever dream you are being told, by whoever said it the loudest, and being prepared to believe the exact opposite as well if and when the need arises.

In this context, then, it seems downright mean-spirited to single John McCain out. He is only doing what his constituency requires: reinventing reality into whatever new shape will gain a bare moment of applause. Today he is not a maverick, and never has been; by next week he might be one again. But in all of this it would seem he deserves not our scorn, but our sincere gratitude -- because his, at least, is merely a political lie. A banal, straightforward, screw-you-all lie targeted at nothing more than gaining a few votes from that most fickle of American interest groups, the unadulterated moron. If you are too stupid to remember what happens from one year to the next, John McCain wants your vote. If you do not give a flying damn what comes out of a politician's mouth, John McCain is your man. Give me your gullible, your indifferent, your huddled masses yearning to breathe any horse's fart we can claim is the soft breeze of freedom, and John McCain, like a thousand other politicians and would-be politicians and outright hucksters of twenty other sorts can, for a small price, lead you to the promised land.

A mere campaign pander, no matter how comical -- now that is almost refreshing. John McCain's simple self-denial endangered no lives, and sent no creatures nearer to extinction. It misled his audience not about science, or history, or taxes, or their grandmother's health, or the dark designs of evil census workers. Hell no -- he simply wants your vote, and is gladly willing to pants himself in front of the nation to get it. Compare that to any other lies uttered in the last weeks by the likes of Michele Bachmann, or Sarah Palin, or Newt Gingrich, or insert-your-favorite-political-circus-act here...

Ah, now those are lies. And, as a slight aside, it is rapidly becoming true that if you want to know what is happening in politics, you will almost certainly get more accurate news from a comedy channel than a news one. The reason is simple: comedians still have the plain common sense to be offended when someone is bullshitting them, which is something not one damn host on any Sunday show has the self-respect to manage.

The "news" is not the news, precisely speaking: it is merely the forum by which competing interests can cough up competing versions of reality. You will find no politician shunned on the networks or in the editorial pages because of their own rampant falsehoods. Perhaps it is foolish to expect it, but still... it feels like we should expect it.

It still feels, somehow, that we should hold our national leaders to the same standards we demand of our kindergartners.

In any event, we should celebrate our new decade, for it has solidified the progress of the last. We have now made abject lying into a national political movement. It is no longer merely a tool for the cynical, but a destination, a bona fide political theme park. You can take a bus to it. You can craft a network around it. Most of all, to tell an outright lie is now the American thing to do, proof positive that you are a patriot. There is no statement so false as to be irredeemable, no matter how ugly or how stupid, so long as you wrap a flag around it. Wrap a lie in the flag and it becomes a benediction. Wrap a lie in the flag and it becomes untouchable.

John McCain once campaigned on a bus dubbed the Straight Talk Express. I know this because ancient videotape tells us so, and because some of us, a very few, have retained something called "memory" of those days. We may learn later that it was actually the Grilled Cheese Express -- there is no assurance that the plain facts of one set of months will transfer to another. Where that bus is now I am not sure anyone can tell, but I prefer to imagine that it has been repainted with even more stars and even brighter stripes, sold off and re-stenciled with a truly ripping lie, some grand and nearly epic falsehood in eighteen-inch-high letters.

Maybe it tours the country telling people that their grandmothers are still in danger, or that whittling down to a mere several thousand nuclear weapons in the world would be national suicide, or that you have the God-given right to have companies dump toxins in your drinking water and anyone who says differently is a secret communist. Perhaps it hunts the American heartland looking for citizens who dare to consider homosexuals people. Maybe it travels north to argue that spotted owls cause cancer. Maybe it urgently insists, in large, bold letters, that the government keep its filthy hands off your Medicare.

It hardly matters. There is literally no end to the possibilities -- a movement that prides itself on creative falsehoods can accomplish anything, given a sufficiently gullible population. But but a popular movement that additionally prides itself on its own gullibility, on its own fevered dismissal of anything that smacks too strongly of science, or of logic, or or rationality? A movement that screams "read the bill!", but has never read it, or a politician that screams "you lie!" only to have it demonstrated that they, in fact, are the liar?

Now that has the makings of something truly great.

As for Sen. McCain, we owe him our gratitude. "I never considered myself a maverick" may be a lie, may be the truth, may be both or neither, but at least it was merely the kind of nonsensical horseshit we have always expected of our leaders. It is practically nostalgic, in fact. I dare say it feels as warm as a grandma-knitted sweater.

Moms, politics and the NYT (by Suzie)

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 21:40

Click on the NYT today, and what you may notice first is the photo of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman. Author Liesl Schillinger starts by making fun of what they were wearing in a joint appearance. Even if you dislike them, remember that focusing on their appearance hurts other women, too.
Schillinger notes that they have something in common with Nancy Pelosi: All have given birth to five children. What does it say about this country at this moment that, of the small handful of women who have achieved highly visible political roles, three are matriarchs of such very large families? Could it be that the skills of managing sprawling households translate well into holding office? Or that such a remarkable glut of mom cred makes a woman’s bid for external power more palatable to voters? Or are they just related to more voters, which translates into a mysterious edge at the polls?

Whatever forces may be at play, taking a look at present dynamics, any American woman with long-range political ambitions might do well to also look to her nursery.At what income do people have "nurseries"? By saying that no men need apply to this "clique," Schillinger equates giving birth to raising children. She doesn't ask if male politicians benefit from having a lot of kids. She doesn't look at the norm for female politicians, or question whether attitudes about moms-in-office have changed. She assumes that Palin, Bachmann and Pelosi ran their own households, without asking how much their husbands and other family members helped, or whether they had paid help.
Some of you may say: Lighten up! This is just a fun story. And I would say: Yeah, I figured that out when I saw that it ran in the print edition's Fashion & Style, the section where women make light of issues affecting other women.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 21:00

[Welcome Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, and Host Jeremy Adam Smith, author of, The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Bread winning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family.]

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture

When I was traveling around the country interviewing bread winning mothers and care giving fathers for my book, The Daddy Shift, I discovered that reverse-traditional families were politically, culturally, and economically very diverse. The decision for the father to stay home with kids was never motivated by ideology—it was usually based on which parent made more money—but many of the moms and dads felt that taking care of kids led fathers to adopt more liberal social and political attitudes. According to these couples, the dad just became more conscious of the importance of access to the commons, things like playgrounds and health care.

“The world would be a better place if more fathers…took care of children,” said one Kansas City mom. “I think a man becomes more aware of other social issues.”

This leads to questions: Does family type shape voting patterns? Does the experience of being part of nontraditional families—such as two-income, mixed race, same-sex, or reverse-traditional—lead to more progressive political attitudes and decision-making? Will the growth of nontraditional families help lead to more progressive social change?

I wasn’t sure while writing The Daddy Shift, but everything in the book points to the last chapter, which argues that the “daddy shift”–the expansion of good fathering from pure bread winning to include care giving as well–necessitates a shift in law and public policy. I end the book by asking dads who have made the private shift to help make that public shift happen, to allow their care giving experience to drive their political participation and inform their votes. We need policies, such as paternity leave and flextime, which will help us to be the fathers we want to be.

Now, the empirical evidence is mounting that, at the very least, there is a strong correlation between family type and political identity. In Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture, law professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone makes a very compelling, research-tested case for the idea that the kind of family you’re in is tightly linked to where you live, how much education you have, what you do for work, how much money you make–and how you vote come election time.

According to Cahn and Carbone, the “Red Family Paradigm” emphasizes “the unity of sex, marriage, and procreation” and is defined by early marriage and parenthood (not necessarily in that order, as shotgun marriages are more commons in red states), less education, and more hierarchical family relationships. The first chapters of the book are dedicated to showing how this way of family is rooted in states and areas that voted Republican in recent elections—and how the states that voted Democratic are defined by another, newer family model “geared for the post-industrial economy.” This “Blue Family Paradigm” is urban, educated, and egalitarian. Crucially, Cahn and Carbone find both men and women will tend to delay parenthood until they both feel a degree of emotional and financial independence, which in the twenty-first century has translated in more income and wealth as well as better outcomes for children.

Thus the conflict between Red Families and Blue Families is about more than just family type—it’s also about class. In some ways, this seems counterintuitive, for we also know that Democrats enjoy more support among poor and working class people, as well as folks of color. And indeed, we find nontraditional families in every social class and racial group. Red Families v. Blue Families also suggests a high degree of intractable polarization, because debates about sex and family tend to run high in emotion and low on evidence—and yet Cohn and Carbone suggest that we might be able to overcome this polarization by finding common ground around issues of teen pregnancy. The authors aim for hope, but evidence in their book left me feeling rather pessimistic about the possibilities for Red and Blue reconciliation.

Those are just two of the seeming paradoxes I’d like to explore in this book salon. We have Naomi Cahn and June Carbone on hand to answer your toughest questions, which you can pose as a comment to this blog entry. Go to it!

Liberal Democrats making their move in UK election

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 20:44
The Liberal Democrats fell apart just over 100 years ago and became the third party. The left used to be dominated by the Lib Dems until they failed to change with the times. Labour moved in and never looked back until now. They are currently running in second place and the Conservatives are slipping, though still at the top. Labour has to be very worried about this news because they don't seem to stand for much of anything these days other than "not Conservatives." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is now hoping to ignite the interest of the younger voters to propel him over the top. His showing in the televised debate was a huge success. The Guardian:Clegg, who appealed to the electorate during the debate to "do something different", saw his party leapfrog Labour into second, and cut the Tory lead to three points, in a YouGov poll yesterday.

A series of new polls out today are also impressive for the party and show a dramatic shrinking of the Tory lead. A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror puts David Cameron's party on 31%, the Lib Dems on 29% and Labour on 27%. Two polls even suggest the party is now leading both Conservatives and Labour. Such an outcome would give Gordon Brown's party most seats in the Commons – perhaps explaining why Labour aides are more comfortable with the Lib Dem surge.

Campaigning in Bedford, Brown claimed to be the only leader of substance. "As the dust settles after the first two weeks, people will have all their views about style and about presentation," he said. "But an election like this comes down to big choices people have to make about the big issues of the future."

Goldman Sachs: Killing Their Own Brand?

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 20:15

I don’t understand it. Why would they do it?  Oh, I know that Goldman Sachs made a lot of money working both sides of the deal selling short on a synthetic CDO that it created with direct input of the customer who wanted to take the short position (bet against the CDO). According to the indictment:

Undisclosed in the marketing materials and unbeknownst to investors, a large hedge fund, Paulson & Co. Inc. (“Paulson”), with economic interests directly adverse to investors in the ABACUS 2007-AC1 CDO, played a significant role in the portfolio selection process. After participating in the selection of the reference portfolio, Paulson effectively shorted the RMBS portfolio it helped select by entering into credit default swaps (“CDS”) with GS&Co to buy protection on specific layers of the ABACUS 2007-AC1 capital structure. Given its financial short interest, Paulson had an economic incentive to choose RMBS that it expected to experience credit events in the near future. GS&Co did not disclose Paulson’s adverse economic interests or its role in the portfolio selection process in the term sheet, flip book, offering memorandum or other marketing materials provided to investors.

Maybe they made even more money than we even realize at this point. However, could it possibly be enough money to kill the goose that lays all the golden eggs?

The allegation is that Goldman deliberately and with foreknowledge sold out one customer over another; allowing a hedge fund,  Paulson & Co. Inc.,  to hand pick the components of a CDO that it wanted to bet against. They are alleged to have actually allowed one customer, Paulson, to stack the deck against another customer, with Goldman’s help. They then hired, and lied to, a portfolio management firm, ACA,  and used that firm’s good name to lure investors into buying the doomed CDOs. More from the indictment:

a 65-page flip book for ABACUS 2007-AC1 finalized by GS&Co on or about February 26, 2007 represented on its cover page that the reference portfolio of RMBS had been “Selected by ACA Management, LLC.”


Investors were assured that the party selecting the portfolio had an “alignment of economic interest” with investors. This document contained no mention of Paulson, its economic interests in the transaction, or its role in selecting the reference portfolio.

If this is true, who would ever want to do business with Goldman again? It would require that all their customers going forward be so delusionally stupid as to think themselves the favored customer in every deal, rather than the mark.

I don’t understand it. Goldman Sachs is a legendary brand. They have an entire department staffed with lawyers and investigators specifically tasked with reviewing potential deals to make sure no dealmaker is able to do something this monumentally stupid and end up tarnishing the brand.

Some of the people in this unit are former colleagues of mine and I can vouch, from personal experience, they are not dummies. So, was their review circumvented? Was their analysis ignored or overridden?

And why wasn’t Paulson indicted for insider trading? Compared with the thin evidence against Martha Stewart, the information in the indictment seems to show plenty of evidence against Paulson & Co. Or maybe another shoe will drop?

Anyway, I don’t get it. Why would Goldman do something this monumentally stupid, especially when they go to the trouble of having an anti-stupid unit for the purpose of preventing these kinds of things?

I wonder if Goldman can survive such a severe corroding of its brand and reputation.

Can I say again that synthetic derivatives are the work of the devil. They take any problem and multiply by several orders of magnitude. They are a relatively new market “innovation’ and so should be easy to outlaw.

Midday Open Thread

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 20:00

April 18, 1906, San Francisco Earthquake. Bush Street, near Stockton Street.

Library of Congress DLC/PP-1906:42971 (more images)

Catholic Church ostracizing nuns who supported health care reform

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 18:44
Had the nuns only raped small children, then they'd be welcome.

Rick Perry’s Hysterical Revisionism, and the Sorry State of the Republican Party

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 18:30

It’s impossible to have a meaningful, productive debate between two parties if they first can’t agree on a basic framework of facts. For instance, if you think the US already has The Greatest Health Care System in the World, it’s unlikely that you will offer too many helpful ideas that address the question, “How do we reform health care?”

That’s why when you read this Newsweek interview with the Secessionist, you realize that there’s simply no such thing as a “bipartisan compromise” possible with the current Republican Party.

Exactly one year ago today you were on the steps of Austin City Hall, talking about the possibility of secession.
I said that we live in an incredibly wonderful country, and I see absolutely no reason for that to ever happen.

Uh, no he didn’t. The Secessionist, bashing Obama’s stimulus, said that there were “a lot of different scenarios” under which Texas might secede and, wink-wink, “who knows what might come out of that.” Then he promptly covered Texas’ budget shortfall with federal dollars — to the tune of $12B.

You’re opposed to the New Deal?
Yes. I think the programs created by the New Deal and the monetary jury-rigging that went on in our society exacerbated the Great Depression and pushed us farther down. The New Deal did not get America out of the Great Depression; World War II did.

Factually wrong on all counts, of course.

Worse, the Secessionist apparently doesn’t see the absurdity of his argument: “Lots of government spending didn’t get America out of the Depression — lots and lots and lots of government spending did.”

Do you consider Bush to have been a great president?
At the end of the day, when the history books are written, I think George W. Bush will go down as a very, very good president. Approaching great? I don’t know yet—I mean, a year and a half after he’s been out of office may be a little too early to write George’s history. But here is why he was an incredibly good president: because the man kept America safe.

Except for that whole 9/11 thing. (And losing two wars, one of which was totally unnecessary, yada yada yada.)

But here’s the problem. These are mainstream Republican views: George W. Bush kept us safe, FDR made the Depression worse, and the stimulus is evil and socialist and repressive and destructive to the economy — except the part that balanced our state budget.

Hopefully, after getting nothing from the GOP on the stimulus, health care, and now Wall Street reform, Obama has figured out that he has no choice but to be a partisan president. He seems to long to be Eisenhower, but that’s just not in the cards.

Not when one of the two parties is cocooned in its own wingnut fantasyland.

Book review/interview: The Blueprint

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 18:02

[Full disclosure from the start: I've been friends with Rob Witwer for twenty years, when I started at Amherst College and he was a sophomore already well-known as a campus conservative leader.  We shared the same thesis adviser, a mutual love of the NFL and a political debate which has not ended during the intervening decades.  After college, we found ourselves again separated by one year at the same law school, and have remained close over the years.  While he's wrong on many issues that we here care about, he's an honorable guy, and this book is worth your time.]

"In October 2004, the GOP dominated politics at every level in Colorado," write Rob Witwer and Adam Schrager in their new book The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care).  "Republicans held both US Senate seats, five of seven congressional seats, the governor’s  mansion, the secretary of state’s and treasurer’s offices, and both houses of the state legislature. On Election Day in 2008, the opposite would be true."

The story told by Witwer, a former Colorado state representative, and Schrager, a journalist, is a narrative as much about infrastructure and campaign finance law as it is about issues and candidates.  Colorado changed because four wealthy progressives -- Rutt Bridges, Tim Gill, Jared Polis, and Pat Stryker -- had a plan.  Over email this week, I asked Rob to explain:

So, a bunch of tremendously rich Coloradans get together in a room and decide to use their wealth to change the state's politics, only for Democrats this is a happy story?

That's one of the things that makes the Colorado story so remarkable.  It was progressives, not conservatives, who came together in a focused, businesslike way to change the political climate of their state.  There's no question that four very wealthy donors -- Rutt Bridges, Tim Gill, Jared Polis and Pat Stryker -- were decisive in changing Colorado from red to blue.  But it would be a mistake to say that this story is just about money.  Discipline, unity and leadership were just as important.

And law.  Without getting too much into the details, which your book covers quite well, explain to folks what these four donors figured out.

Campaign finance reform was a necessary pre-condition to the Colorado story.  In 2002, voters passed a ballot initiative that significantly restricted how much money parties and candidates could raise and spend (much as McCain-Feingold did at the federal level).  Colorado progressives were quick to understand that the infrastructure necessary to support a political movement -- voter registration, grassroots mobilzation, get-out-the-vote, communications, etc. -- could only be accomplished through a network of nonprofit entities like 527s and 501(c)(4)s.  In essence, progressives privatized party functions.  And here was where the "Gang of Four" donors played a key role: the discipline imposed by their purse strings ensured that these nonprofits would work together in a coordinated way towards a common objective: winning state legislative races.

Talk a bit more about the coordinated effort.  What were all these different progressive organizations doing?

Donors and their advisors presided over a constellation of entities, each with a special purpose.  One 527 would focus on the state House, another on the state Senate, and yet another on joint field operations.  After 2004, the Gang of Four added new donors and massively expanded the scope of their infrastructure.  In addition to carrying on the work of the 527s, they supported a think tank (the Bell Policy Center), a grassroots communications arm (ProgressNow), a government watchdog (Colorado Ethics Watch), a media watchdog (Colorado Media Matters), an online newspaper (the Colorado Independent), and as many as three dozen other entities.  Imagine a toolbox with a variety of specialized instruments, each calibrated for a specific use, in the hands of a master carpenter.  It was -- and is -- quite an effective model.  And it's being replicated in states across the country.

You were a state legislator at the time, though I know your district wasn't one of the ones targeted.  Did your Republican colleagues have any idea what was happening to them in 2004?

Not until it was too late.  The sustained, coordinated force of the progressive effort overwhelmed and swamped a number of Republicans in traditionally "safe" GOP districts.  The level of resources directed at state legislative races was unprecedented.  In 2004 progressives raised $3.6 million in outside money for state legislative races ($2.5 million of which was provided by the Gang of Four).  By contrast, legislative Republicans raised $845,000 in the same cycle.  But again, money wasn't the whole story.  The unity on the progressive side gave Democrats a tremendous advantage over a number of GOP candidates who were badly wounded by bitter primaries.

Have Republicans caught up?  How much do decisions like Citizens United and SpeechNow play into this sphere going forward?

Republicans haven't caught up yet, but as this book shows the Colorado blueprint isn't rocket science -- with enough money, discipline and unity, anyone can replicate it.  I don't think recent cases will do anything to slow the rise of outside spending.  If anything, they will accelerate it.  Campaign finance reform dramatically raised the amount of soft money in politics, and there's probably no way to put the toothpaste back into the tube.  On both sides, the "shadow party" is here to stay.

Why was there such a focus on state legislative seats?

One of the amazing things about the Gang of Four is that they clearly had the resources to be players in big federal races, but they opted instead to focus on state legislative seats, where they could get more bang for the buck.  As Tim Gill is fond of pointing out, state legislatures are the starting point for changes in social policy.  Gill is focused on gay rights, so to him control of a state legislative chamber matters more than a U.S. Senate seat.  Beyond that, legislatures are the farm teams for future Governors, Senators and members of Congress.  Defeating or electing a local candidate can launch or derail a political career.  And finally -- perhaps most importantly -- in the next two years state legislatures will redraw the lines of Congressional districts.  The battle for state legislatures in 2010 will in many ways determine the balance of power in Congress for the next decade.

Why should the Colorado story matter to folks in other states?

Progressives in Colorado built a better political mousetrap, and strategists everywhere are taking note.  The progressive donor group Democracy Alliance is committing $110 million to export the Colorado blueprint to several other states in time for the 2010 elections, even as conservatives study the lessons of Colorado closely.  In a business where there's nothing new under the sun, Colorado progressives came up with an innovative new way to build and sustain political movements.  It's not rocket science, but it is different than what came before.

An excerpt from The Blueprint is available here.  Of note, it's been blurbed by everyone from liberals like ProgressNow founder Michael Huttner, David Sirota and me to conservatives including former Gov. Bill Owens and Hugh Hewitt -- this is an even-handed take, not a takedown, and is well worth your time.

The Blueprint is available via Amazon, and at bookstores everywhere.

The SEC Begs To Differ With Lloyd Blankfein’s Explanation

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 17:30

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, wrote to shareholders explaining that Goldman Sachs didn’t bet against its clients, just differently. Let’s see how that letter stacks up to the SEC’s complaint against Goldman Sachs. The letter is here (large .pdf), and the complaint is here (.pdf).

    The Complaint.

The SEC complaint says that Paulson & Co., Inc. (PCI) did an extensive analysis of existing real estate mortgage backed securities (RMBS). RMBSs are debt securities backed by residential real estate mortgages. PCI decided that the lowest rated debt securities, rated BBB by Standard & Poor’s, would fail. It asked Goldman Sachs to facilitate its bets on that proposition.

The Complaint says that PCI selected a number of recent-vintage BBB RMBSs, and asked Goldman Sachs to “help it buy protection, through the use of CDS…”. Para. 15. The problem was to find counterparties, because there was a lot of concern in the “market” for mortgage related securities.

Goldman Sachs decided to set up a synthetic CDO. Collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) are debt securities issued by special purpose vehicles, like trusts or LLCs. The special purpose vehicle holds debt securities like RMBSs. Goldman Sachs formed ABACUS 2007-ACI as a synthetic CDO. A synthetic CDO doesn’t hold debt securities; it writes protection credit default swaps against a portfolio of RMBSs or other CDOs, called the reference securities. The buyer of those swaps pays a premium to ABACUS 2007-ACI. If the reference securities fail, then the ABACUS 2007-ACI has to pay off on the CDSs. The premiums paid by the purchaser of protection are used to pay interest and principal on the debt securities. Goldman Sachs knew it would be difficult to sell ABACUS 2007-ACI:

… if they disclosed to investors that a short investor, such as Paulson, played a significant role in the collateral selection process. By contrast, they knew that the identification of an experienced and independent third-party collateral manager as having selected the portfolio would facilitate the placement of the CDO liabilities in a market that was beginning to show signs of distress.

Goldman Sachs hired ACA Management LLC, a third party known for its ability to evaluate RMBS. All the offering materials for the ABACUS 2007-ACI securities said that ACA handled the selection of the reference securities. What they didn’t disclose was that PCI was deeply involved in the selection of the reference RMBS. Furthermore, Goldman Sachs led ACA to believe that PCI was buying an equity tranche of securities, which would eat the first losses if the reference securities started failing. That was false. Goldman Sachs had no intention of selling the equity tranche, and PCI only intended only to buy protection CDSs from ABACUS 2007-ACI.

The Complaint says that one potential purchaser, IKB Deutsche Industriebank AG, told Goldman Sachs that it was worried about the housing market and would not buy anything unless the portfolio was selected by an independent agency. IKB bought $150 million of debt securities of ABACUS 2007-ACI, not knowing of the role of PCI in selection of the reference securities and its adverse interest. Those debt securities are nearly worthless. Most of the IKB money went to PCI.

ACA wrote protection CDSs on the senior tranche of ABACUS 2007-ACI, intermediated by AMRO Bank N.V. In early 2008, ACA failed. ABN also had serious financial difficulties and was bought by other banks. The CDSs were unwound for $841 million, most of which was paid to Goldman Sachs, which in turn paid most of it to PCI.

    The Blankfein Letter

Blankfein’s letter explains that Goldman Sachs didn’t bet against its customers. Goldman Sachs was strictly a market maker.

The markets for residential mortgage-related products, and subprime mortgage securities in particular, were volatile and unpredictable in the first half of 2007. Investors in these markets held very different views of the future direction of the U.S. housing market based on their outlook on factors that were equally available to all market participants, including housing prices, interest rates and personal income and indebtedness data. Some investors developed aggressively negative views on the residential mortgage market. Others believed that any weakness in the residential housing markets would be relatively mild and temporary. Investors with both sets of views came to Goldman Sachs and other financial intermediaries to establish long and short exposures to the residential housing market through RMBS, CDOs, CDS and other types of instruments or transactions.

The SEC complaint says that Goldman Sachs had to work to sell the debt securities of ABACUS 2007-ACI, and that it had to commit fraud to make it close. In the face of the SEC complaint, it doesn’t seem likely that IKB and ACA just showed up at Goldman Sachs’s door to establish a position based on their own research and review of the data on the housing market. Goldman Sachs actively misled both into participating in the deal. Goldman Sachs accommodated some of its counterparties more than others.

Clinton says he was wrong to follow Rubin's and Summers' advice on derivatives

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 16:40
An interesting admission, especially since Summers is a top economic adviser to President Obama. From Jake Tapper at ABC:Clinton acknowledged that he was wrong to take what he now views as bad advice from his Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, who told him the market for complex financial instruments known as derivatives ought to remain unregulated.

"On derivatives, yeah, I think they were wrong and I think I was wrong to take [their advice]," Clinton said, "because the argument on derivatives was that these things are expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of investors will buy them, and they don't need any extra protection and any extra transparency. The money they're putting up guarantees them transparency.

"The flaw in that argument," Clinton added, "was that first of all sometimes people with a lot of money make stupid decisions and make it without transparency."What is a derivative? Watch:

“Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That”

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 16:30

Elena Kagan courtesy Harvard Law Record (flickr)

That is the great 1990s phrase made famous on Seinfeld when all the major characters spent an episode denying that George and Jerry were Gay. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” is the phrase missing from the White House’s outrage at CBS and Ben Domenech for claiming potential SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan was openly gay, or closeted, or something.

Here’s Howie Kurtz describing how the silliness started:

The White House ripped CBS News on Thursday for publishing an online column by a blogger who made assertions about the sexual orientation of Solicitor General Elena Kagan, widely viewed as a leading candidate for the Supreme Court.

Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer, wrote that President Obama would “please” much of his base by picking the “first openly gay justice.” An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian.

And this is when someone from the White House needed to add “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Here’s how New York Magazine described the White House contacts with CBS:

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt reached out to the network and said that Kagan was not gay, and asked for the post to be taken down. When CBS initially resisted, the White House upped the ante. Former White House communications guru Anita Dunn, who is consulting on the Supreme Court choice, said nastily, “The fact that they’ve chosen to become enablers of people posting lies on their site tells us where the journalistic standards of CBS are in 2010.”

According to the Washington Post, LaBolt said he reached out to CBS because the blog post had “made false charges.” Charges? Like they claimed Kagan committed a crime?

Well, if you “charge” that someone is openly gay and they are not, is that a “lie?” Perhaps. But someone from the White House needed to think twice before calling the statement that Elena Kagan was openly gay a “false charge.” And the White House clearly neglected to add to the accusation of a “false charge” this:

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

See, it’s 2010, fully seventeen years since the Seinfeld episode first aired. The phrase is part of American culture now, and being gay is neither a ‘charge’ nor a ‘lie’ about which the White House needed to get upset. Or, if they were upset, or if Elena Kagan was, someone needed to leaven their upset by adding, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

And this forced error by the White House has left them in a precarious position regarding the woman many presume to be Obama’s first choice for the Court:

This looks bad. As we pointed out earlier, the “There’s Something Gay About Elena Kagan” story line is going to be part of any nomination process involving her. The White House isn’t going to be able to stop the press from writing about it, so they shouldn’t try. They’re putting themselves in a bad position by giving this story line credit, and making their denials that she’s gay a story in itself. If Kagan isn’t gay, people will say she is anyway, but no one will be able to prove it. Republicans won’t have the guts to get up and call her gay in nominations hearings if it’s just a rumor. They’ll just go after her record and say she supports gay rights, which isn’t particularly worse than what they alleged about Sonia Sotomayor’s positions.

There’s very little more ludicrous than Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist — except possibly fellow GOP Judiciary Committee member Lindsay Graham asking Elena Kagan if she’s gay. It simply isn’t going to happen.

But now the White House has called the “charge” a “lie” and got CBS to withdraw the Ben Domenech blog post. You can bet the little kerning specialists and font-studiers and not-pimp-dressers who fancy themselves right-wing journalists are swarming over Cambridge, Massachusetts. If there’s gay in them there hills, someone will find it.

Domenech guaranteed that with his email before CBS withdrew his post from their site:

“I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post,” Domenech said. CBS initially added that statement to an editor’s note that also reported the White House denial.

In his e-mail, Domenech said that the naming of an openly gay justice would show “how far we’ve come as a society” and that this “will be an issue of political discussion, whether we like it or not.”

And then what will the White House do?

It’s a little late to say “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Isn’t it?

If she is gay, and a news outlet finds proof, the White House has basically disqualified her for the Supreme Court by making a lie part of her fundamental story (and by making it seem like being gay would somehow make her unfit for the role). The reason this is a rumor in the first place is that many members of the Harvard community who knew Kagan while she was the dean of the law school there really do believe Kagan to be gay, and to have a partner. Because of that, this story isn’t going away.

If the story isn’t going away, why did the White House blow it up into a major blog-event going into the weekend? Espcially if, as Glenn Greenwald discusses, progressive voices were already urged to pipe up this week to “dismiss” his own well-reasoned objections to Elena Kagan on civil libertarian and executive authority grounds.

This is not the kind of pushback sought for someone who isn’t a favorite on the short-list. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

LGBT Americans have every right to be concerned about the Obama White House’s response to the ‘charge’ that Elena Kagan is ‘openly gay.’ In 2010 America, that’s not a ‘charge.’ It’s neither immoral nor illegal nowadays to be openly gay. If the modification to Domenech’s post wasn’t satisfactory (“I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted — odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.”) then it’s pretty clear we have a problem.

One of two fact patterns pertains: either Elena Kagan is gay, or she is not. If she is not, it is not a ‘charge’ to say she’s gay, but an error. If she is gay, but not openly gay, it is perhaps a ‘lie’ to say she’s openly gay, but then not a ‘lie’ to correct that statement to read that she is ‘apparently still closeted.’

Whichever fact pattern prevails in the case of Elena Kagan — either she’s gay or she’s not — someone at the White House needs to understand that in 2010 America (just like in 1993 Seinfeld NYC) this fact pattern always pertains: Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That.

Unless the Obama White House thinks otherwise?

What's The Matter With Doctors?

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 16:00

Honest discussions about what doctors think about health reform are all too rare. One reason is that doctors are aware of the current economic environment, know they have relatively safe well-paying jobs, and are reluctant to get into public arguments about it. Of course, there's also an obligation to be a patient advocate, and there are so many patients affected by health reform (and lack of health insurance, which impacts their ability to access the system) that it's hard not to have an opinion. So, let's see where things stand with the docs - and why.

The professional societies have pretty much all weighed in (I interviewed some prominent ones here a year ago in the health reform run-up - see Interview With Dr. Judith Palfrey, FAAP, President Elect, American Academy of Pediatrics and Interview With Dr. Lori Heim, FAAFP, President Elect, American Academy of Family Physicians, for example.) my dusty unused MD bag

I wrote about my dusty unused MD bag back in June when we were discussing the (then) AMA's opposition to health reform. They've since come around, as have most other medical associations and groups (see this very long list, for example.) But you'll look in vain for the support of the American College of Surgeons. In fact, the ACS came out in full throated opposition.

In addition, the groups stressed the importance of addressing several issues in any final health care reform bill, including extending health insurance coverage to more Americans and repealing the broken current Medicare payment formula known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR). In the letter, the organizations also expressed opposition to a proposal to create an independent Medicare commission that would have policy-making authority over the program and, thereby, likely have a negative effect on patient access to quality, efficient health care. The letter also expressed support for measures that promote well-designed and tested quality improvement initiatives, incorporate medical liability reform, address surgical workforce problems, and ensure appropriate Medicaid payment rates. Finally, the organizations expressed opposition to controversial scope-of-practice proposals that could confuse patients about the significant variations in training, education, and expertise between qualified physicians and other health care providers.

That opposition from surgeons (not from all surgeons, some of whom post here, but from their professional organization) needs to be kept in mind when you read stories like this (generally involving high priced specialists):

Last month a Republican urologist in Florida posted a sign on his office door telling his patients that if they voted for President Obama, they should "seek urologic care elsewhere." Despite later admitting that he knew little about the new law, the sign added: "Changes to your healthcare begin right now, not in four years."

The Daily Caller reports that another doctor has pulled a similar stunt. Arizona dermatologist Joseph Scherzer put a sign outside his office warning his patients that he will be closing his doors because of the new law. "If you voted for Obamacare, be aware these doors will close before it goes into effect," the sign reads. Scherzer — a self-described conservative — claims that the "stress" the law will supposedly impose will cause him to close up shop:

"I’m absolutely serious [about stopping practicing] and it’s not just because I’ll be nearing 65," Scherzer said. "The stress is what would push me out the door." [...]

   Scherzer said the bill’s emphasis on punitive measures for physicians not following government-prescribed treatment methods under Medicare would increase his anxiety level to the point he would no longer be able to practice medicine.

Let's just say that dermatology (even in Arizona) is not considered one of the more stressful branches of medicine, like trauma surgery or neonatology are. The American College of Surgeons is a lot more honest and open about their objections, and it isn't stress: it's about the money that doctors get paid. See this bit here from the ACS statement?

... [surgeon and anesthesiologist] groups stressed the importance of addressing several issues in any final health care reform bill, including extending health insurance coverage to more Americans and repealing the broken current Medicare payment formula known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR). In the letter, the organizations also expressed opposition to a proposal to create an independent Medicare commission that would have policy-making authority over the program and, thereby, likely have a negative effect on patient access to quality, efficient health care. The letter also expressed support for measures that promote well-designed and tested quality improvement initiatives, incorporate medical liability reform, address surgical workforce problems, and ensure appropriate Medicaid payment rates. Finally, the organizations expressed opposition to controversial scope-of-practice proposals that could confuse patients about the significant variations in training, education, and expertise between qualified physicians and other health care providers.

I highlighted the parts that you can translate as "how much are you going to pay me?"

First of all, just about all doctors are upset with Medicare cuts and the "broken current Medicare payment formula known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR)". It's a formula based on a variety of factors that take into account the cost of doing business, but is intimately tied to GDP and not what things actually cost.

Separately, HHS figures something called the Medicare Economic Index (MEI). The MEI is the annual estimated increase in the cost of medical practice. The AMA and other organizations have traditionally felt that the MEI is a better gauge of what fees should be, and not the SGR.

The discrepancy between SGR and MEI leads to gross underpayment, and is recognized by Congress as something that needs fixing. This slide comes from an AMA presentation on the topic (click for bigger graphic):

You read about it regularly in headlines like "Bunning Blockade Leads To 21 Percent Fee Cut For Doctors" and stories like:

A 21 percent cut in Medicare physician reimbursement took effect April 1, and now area patients and doctors are fighting back.

Paul Orta lost his left leg 15 years ago due to complications with diabetes. Disabled and unable to work, Orta found a doctor who accepted Medicare and helped fit him for a prosthetic, also partly paid for by Medicare. But, Orta’s problems haven't gone away.

"At this moment, I have problems with my right leg. I had surgery couple of weeks ago. They're telling me I might lose it," Orta said.

The SGR was intended as a brake on rising Medicare costs, but was tied to GDP and not the actual cost of medical care. If medical care costs rise faster than the GDP or inflation (and they generally do, especially in a recession), then reimbursement will disproportionately drop relative to what it costs to run a practice or take care of a patient. That's why docs are always upset about it (I don't see Medicare patients but my colleagues do.)

The key here is that this argument predates the current health reform bill (see, for example, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, H.R 6331, which passed with wide bipartisan majorities and overrode a Bush veto)

The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008  temporarily blocks a scheduled 10% cut in payments to physicians from Medicare, the federal government’s health insurance program for Americans ages 65 and older. Instead, the bill grants a 1.1% raise to the physicians for 2009. The legislation provides incentives to doctors for the use of electronic prescriptions and for reporting on quality of care. The Act extends through 2009 the Qualifying Individual Program that pays the Medicare premiums of low-income beneficiaries. The legislation also increases the amount of assets that applicants are able possess and still qualify for the Medicare Savings Program, which helps low-income beneficiaries pay the costs of Medicare benefits. The bill expands coverage of mental health services and authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to cover new preventive services.

and is never a reason or excuse to claim that Obama's initiative is the root of the problem.

As it happens, other cost-savings proposals in the bill are under attack from the surgeons as well.

See this part?

...opposition to controversial scope-of-practice proposals that could confuse patients about the significant variations in training, education, and expertise between qualified physicians and other health care providers.

That's about Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners. (And as it happens, I interviewed them, too - see Interview With Patrick Killeen, President Elect, American Academy of Physician Assistants and Interview With Thad Wilson, President, American College of Nurse Practitioners. I was busy last summer!)

Did the White House Review CIA’s Records on Congressional Briefings?

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 15:30

(photo by Scott Ableman)

A month ago, I wrote a post noting that CIA had never finished its Memos for the Record of several key Congressional briefings. But as I’ve been reviewing old Vaughn Indices to get a better sense of what we received yesterday, I’ve seen some details that raise new questions about CIA’s use of Congressional briefings.

That post from last month was based on this FOIA dump, including a collection of materials on whether or not Congress was briefed on the tapes. Those materials include:

  • A 2-page MFR of Pat Roberts’ February, 4 2003 briefing on torture and the tapes printed out on November 19, 2008. It noted that Roberts named “10 reasons right off” for Congress not to exercise any oversight over torture. It also recorded these details about what CIA told Roberts about the torture tapes:

[Deputy Director of Operations Jim] Pavitt and [CIA General Counsel Scott] Muller described the circumstances surrounding the existence of tapes of the Zubayda debriefing, the inspection of those tapes by OGC lawyers, the comparison of the tapes with the cables describing the same interrogations. According to Muller, the match was perfect and the lawyer who did the review was satisfied that the interrogations were carried out in full accordance with the guidance. Muller indicated that it was our intention to destroy these tapes, which were created in any case as but an aide to the interrogations, as soon as the Inspector General had completed his report. (In a subsequent briefing to Congressmen Goss and Harman, Muller said that the interrogators themselves were greatly concerned that the tapes might leak one day and put themselves and their families at risk.) Senator Roberts listened carefully and gave his assent. [my emphasis]

  • A two-page MFR by Office of Congressional Affairs head Stanley Moskowitz prepared on July 11, 2004, presumably in advance of the 2004 Congressional briefings on (among other things) the IG Report. It lists 4 relevant briefings (the February 4, 2003 briefing for Roberts; the February 5, 2003 briefing for Goss and Harman; the September 4, 2003 briefing for Goss and Harman; the September 4, 2003 briefing for Roberts and Rockefeller). Moskowitz attached the February 4, 2003 Roberts briefing to that memo, noting that “the remainder of the sessions are being finalized.”
  • A one-page MFR for the February 5, 2003 Goss and Harman briefing printed out on April 27, 2009 (so not long before CIA released its torture briefing list on May 7, 2009). The MFR states, “Pls see attached notes.” It also records that the “MFR never completed. Closed in FELIX 10/3/07 by OCA IMO.”
  • An earlier version of that same one-page MFR of the February 5, 2003 Goss and Harman briefing. The print date on it is not shown, though it shows no record of being closed out and/or never completed. There is a post-it on the document labeling it for the “AZ FILE.”
  • A stub noting that “Pages 3-5 withheld in full,” which suggests the two previous pages–the two copies of the Goss and Harman MFRs–were considered part of a package with these withheld pages. This suggests these withheld pages may be the actual notes from the briefing.
  • A one-page list (in proportional font, so probably from a different office than OCA) listing “SENSITIVE BRIEFINGS TO OVERSIGHT MEMBERS FROM FEBRUARY 2003-JULY 2004.” It lists the February 5, 2003 briefing first, following by the February 4, 2003 Roberts briefing. It makes no mention of the September 4, 2003 briefings of the Gang of Four. It lists a January 28, 2004 briefing of Goss and Harman (the document redacts the description of whether or not EITs were discussed, though since this briefing doesn’t appear on CIA’s most recent torture briefing list, presumably EITs weren’t discussed). And it lists the July 15, 2004 briefing of Roberts and Rockefeller, but not the July 13, 2004 briefing of Goss and Harman covering the same topics.
  • A second copy of the July 11, 2004 MFR described above. It seems to be an exact copy, down to the staple holes. The only difference in the presentation I can see is a difference in redaction of one of the staffer’s names, which may be significant since one of the staffers present, Michael Sheehy, is reported to have briefed Pelosi on the briefing (though the Moskowitz MFR only notes the presence of two staffers, not the three recorded in the CIA’s most recent list).
  • A one-page table listing “Congressional Assent” to the destruction of the torture tapes. It includes: a December 19, 2002 General Counsel email apparently recording “no objection” from the Inspector General to destroying the tapes; Jane Harman’s February 10, 2003 letter objecting to such a plan; the MFR of the February 4, 2003 Roberts briefing assenting to the torture tape destruction; note of the mention in the Roberts MFR that the torture tapes were briefed to Goss and Harman in their briefing; affirmation that the tapes were mentioned in the handwritten notes of the Goss and Harman briefing, with a note showing that Hoekstra may never have been briefed on the issue. The mention of Hoekstra shows this document had to have been made after 2005. It appears to have been printed on August 12, 2008, and includes a Bates stamp (suggesting it has been used in some kind of investigation or discovery).

Now, all of that’s a muddle. But that’s precisely the point. CIA appears to have had no consistent record-keeping with regards to Congressional briefings. The problems seem particularly acute when it pertains to that February 2003 briefing of Goss and Harman.

Which is why I’m so curious about the way the MFRs from February 2003 are described in this Vaughn Index as documents 155 to 157 (document 164 may be the chart described in the final bullet point above).

Document 155, SSCI Member Briefing, 2 pages: This document is a two-page draft MFR recounting a briefing of SSCI members and staff regarding the CIA’s RDI program. … The document also contains predecisional information transmitted to presidential advisors and used as part of the President’s and the CIA’s decision-making process.

Document 156, SSCI Member Briefing, 4 pages: This document contains two MFRs discussing a CIA briefing regarding the RDI program. The document contains information transmitted to presidential advisors in furtherance of the President’s decision making process. … The document also contains Congressional equities that require coordination with Congress before a final release determination can be determined.

Document 157, HPSCI Member Briefing, 8 pages: This document is an eight-page MFR including three page of handwritten notes discussing a briefing regarding the CIA’s RDI program. … This document also contains Congressional equities that require coordination with Congress before a final release determination can be reached.

Document 158, HPSCI Member Briefing, 4 pages: This document is a draft Memorandum for the Record, with three pages of handwritten notes, discussing a briefing regarding the CIA’s RDI program. … The document also contains predecisional information used as part of the CIA’s decision-making process. [my emphasis]

See, the muddle gets even worse. Most noticeably, CIA says the MFR describing the Roberts briefing–but not the Goss and Harman briefing–was transmitted to Presidential advisors. In fact, they appear to have sent two MFRs in document 156, though both appear to relate only to the Roberts briefing.

By comparison, they say the Goss and Harman briefing was only used as part of CIA’s decision-making, not the White House’s.

Which is all the more weird, considering we know CIA met with the White House later in February to strategize how to respond to Jane Harman’s letter warning them not to destroy the torture tapes. (The response ultimately ignored her entire objection to destroying the torture tapes.)

And, ultimately, they appear to have completed just one MFR showing Congress getting briefed on the use of waterboarding and the planned destruction of the torture tape. That MFR happens to integrate a line showing that Goss and Harman were briefed–but it tells us nothing about how they (or more pointedly, Harman) responded. It shows Roberts assenting (though he disputes that version). Just as importantly, the MFR (and possibly the briefing itself) falsely claims that OGC (probably John McPherson) found the torture depicted on the tapes had been “carried out in full accordance with the guidance” on torture; when CIA’s IG asked him about that subject in June 2003, he said he “would have to check guidance before answering.”

And that MFR–and not the Goss and Harman one, which was never finalized–was what got used on presidential decision-making.

Of course, we might ask Porter Goss what he remembers from that briefing. But last we heard, he was laughing about taking the blame for destroying the tapes.

Teabaggers fine with speaker talking about taking up arms, but freak out when he questions Sarah Palin

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 14:54
Whether or not this guy was an infiltrator, i.e, a Democrat posing as a Teabagger, what's most interesting is that the beginning of his speech, where he suggests that they all need to take up arms against the government got zero reaction from the crowd. But when he suggests that maybe they all shouldn't vote for Sarah Palin, suddenly everyone rises up and says he's an infiltrator.

So, taking up arms against the government is not extreme enough to brand you as not part of the Tea Party movement, but not voting for Sarah Palin is. Very interesting.

Boxer Addresses Democratic Convention

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 14:30

Barbara Boxer addressed Democratic delegates by taking jabs at her potential Republican opponents, casting the coming Senate election as a stark ideological choice, and slamming the economic credentials of her rivals.

Boxer, giving a preview of her strategy for the fall, alluded to but didn’t mention by name the three candidates for Senate on the Republican side. On Tom Campbell:

One of my opponents was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s top economic advisor during the state budget crisis. Need I say more?

On Carly Fiorina:

Another had a well-executed jobs plan for India, China and Europe, outsourcing California jobs there.

(Fiorina got off easy there over her tenure at Hewlett-Packard.)

On Chuck DeVore:

Another is a state legislator who did nothing to solve the state budget mess, and thinks doing nothing is a plan.

For her part, Boxer foregrounded her work to make California “the hub for the new clean energy industry,” and create jobs through her perch on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Of course, she will have to ensure that the federal climate bill does not pre-empt California’s landmark global warming law and nullify the opportunity to put the state at the center of the clean energy space.

She strongly highlighted the fact that her opponents “want to repeal health care,” asking:

Why would they want to repeal a law that cracks down on insurance companies and restricts them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and closes the donut hole?

She also said “There’s also a choice on this election on choice,” adding that two of her opponents would criminalize women and doctors, and none of them would “lead the fight” to strengthen choice laws.

Boxer exhorted the delegates to support her campaign, saying “I won’t turn my back on you. The lines are drawn. We are in a real fight for the direction of our state and our nation… We want you to be as excited as the tea party people are. Will you help me, will you get excited?”