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Russ Feingold

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Feingold Follows Fossey.

“Feingold has undertaken a dizzying round of talks in at least eight different African capitals, cajoling leaders face to face, negotiating with skittish rebels late into the night and strategizing with fellow diplomats, all in a very uphill effort to stop a long-running conflict in a region littered with failed peace deals. ‘Without a doubt,’ he said over coffee a few hours after the gorilla trek, ‘this is one of the favorite things I’ve ever done in my life.’

Stuart Reid checks in with former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold at his current job as John Kerry’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “‘I really wanted him here at the State Department because I saw him operate on the Foreign Relations Committee,’ Kerry told me. ‘He was the Senate’s expert, bar none, on Africa. He knows the region and the players.’”

Feingold Falls.

“‘He was one of the last true progressives,’ said Michael Zimmer, a Feingold supporter who teaches media and communication at the University of Wisconsin. “Who is left now?‘” One important addendum to the 2010 midterm overview that deserves its own post.

A handful of notable losses notwithstanding — Tom Perriello, Alan Grayson, Phil Hare — a goodly number of the House Democrats who lost seats on Tuesday were of the Blue Dog or New Democrat variety, and the whirlwind they reaped was partly of their own making. Looks to me like Third Way-style corporate shilling just isn’t the answer.

Rather, the most painful loss of the night for progressives happened on the Senate side, when Russ Feingold fell to an idiotic Ayn Rand disciple, businessman Ron Johnson. (Wisconsin, the state of both Bob LaFollette and Joe McCarthy, is a strange place.) From fighting against the Patriot Act to calling for accountability on the illegal NSA wiretaps to, of course, battling for campaign finance reform, Feingold was often a lonely voice of conscience in the Senate, and his progressive leadership will be sorely missed there.

Of course, the fight goes on, so let’s hope Feingold will be back in public life someday soon. Big Russ has ruled out a 2012 primary shot, but if Wisconsin’s other Senator, Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl, should decide to retire in 2012 at the age of 77, Feingold would be a great candidate to go toe-to-toe against yet another “Galtian nincompoop” of the first order, current GOP golden boy Paul Ryan.

The Marching Morons.

Truth be told, I never even heard the name ‘Washington, D.C.’ until I decided to run for the Senate. When I am elected, I will have no idea how to get there or where I’m supposed to go. Will there be buildings there? Is it temperate, rainy, hot, or arid? Do people speak English in this place, this Washington, D.C.?

Senator Russ Feingold’s Rand-loving opponent and possible successor, Ron Johnson, sums up his idiot philosophy in The Onion. “For the past 17 years Russ Feingold has done nothing but let down the people of this great state, or territory, or place, or whatever this is. He’s a D.C. insider who has well-thought-out positions on issues. I don’t know what issues are.

I’ll reserve comment on the midterms as a whole until after we’re through the gauntlet or the ship is wrecked, one way or another. Still, as per the norm, The Onion has been deadly on-point throughout this cycle.

Remember Mogadishu.

“None of those 76 senators, who include the current Republican leader and whip, acted to jeopardize the safety and security of U.S. troops in Somalia. All of them recognized that Congress had the power and the responsibility to bring our military operations in Somalia to a close, by establishing a date after which funds would be terminated.” In an editorial for Salon, Sen. Russ Feingold invokes GOP behavior on Somalia in 1993 to make the case for Congress cutting funding in Iraq. “Since President Bush has made it painfully clear that he has no intention of fixing his failed Iraq policy, it is no longer a question of if Congress will end this war; it is a question of when.

Iraq is a Hard Place.

Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.” I’m still furiously playing catch-up, so I’m obviously a day or two behind on blogging this…Then again, Dubya’s just as obviously three or four years behind in announcing it, so I’ll call it a wash. Nonetheless, after finally admitting that his administration has seriously screwed up in Iraq, Bush — sidestepping the suggestions of the Baker-Hamilton commissioncalls for sending 21,500 more troops to the region, in what’s being billed as a “surge.” (Re: “escalation.”) When you get right down to it, Dubya’s basic argument in his televised address on Wednesday was this: “Through wishful thinking and outright incompetence, I’ve dug two nations into a huge hole. Please, please, please let me keep digging…

Here’s the thing — A massive troop increase would’ve made a good deal of sense in 2003, during those crucial days just after the fall of the Hussein regime. A show of power then — and a quicker restoration of order and basic services — would have paid huge dividends down the road. But, now, all these years later, after so much infrastructure has been destroyed and so many sectarian schisms have been allowed to fester? 21,500 troops — many of them not fresh recruits but wearied soldiers returning to the region or having their tours extended — isn’t going to make a dent in the Whack-a-Mole game we’ve been playing against insurgents since 2003. At best, this escalation is a show of good faith to the al-Maliki government, which seems to be not much more than a brittle political arm of Shiite extremists (Exhibit A: the manner of Saddam’s hanging; Exhibit B: the refusal to do anything — until now — to rein in Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.) Yes, folks, throwing more troops at a losing situation, backing a shaky government that can’t handle its own security issues, rattling the saber at Cambodia/Iran…who says Dubya isn’t a student of history?

Fortunately, for the first time since the beginning of the war, Congress isn’t having it, with even some Republicans joining Dems in rallying against the proposed troop increase and today venting their wrath at Condi Rice before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (No doubt the poll numbers against Dubya’s plan is helping to stiffen some GOP spines.) Still, Dubya has some allies in this fight — While the Dems are universally opposed to the escalation gamble [Dem Response by Durbin | Biden | Clinton | Dodd | Edwards | Feingold | Obama | Pelosi] and a not-insubstantial number of Republicans are balking, some key GOP pols are still supporting Dubya’s move (most notably John McCain, who’s been calling for a troop increase since day one, and Rudy Giuliani, likely trying to right the 2008 ship after his recent devastating document dump.)

The Ethical Senate.

Meanwhile, over in the newly Democratic Senate: With Wednesday’s House cleaning spurring similar ethics reform in the upper chamber, a progressive dream team of Russ Feingold and Barack Obama unveil the Senate Dems’ ethics reform package, which includes a provision for an independent Office of Public Integrity, a key element of reform which failed 67-30 last year on the GOP’s watch.

Russ Opts Out.

“I’m sure a campaign for president would have been a great adventure and helpful in advancing a progressive agenda. At this time, however, I believe I can best advance that progressive agenda as a senator with significant seniority in the new Senate serving on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Judiciary and Budget committees.” In a letter posted to his campaign site, Senator and progressive standard-bearer Russ Feingold opts out of the 2008 presidential race.

[W]hile I’ve certainly enjoyed the repeated comments or buttons saying, ‘Run Russ Run’, or ‘Russ in ’08′, I often felt that if a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese had taken the same positions I’ve taken, it would have elicited the same standing ovations. This is because the hunger for progressive change we feel is obviously not about me but about the desire for a genuinely different Democratic Party that is ready to begin to reverse the 25 years of growing extremism we have endured.” Oof, I find this turn really depressing. But, he has a point, and this is probably for the best (and at least I’ve been freed from tilting at Bradley-esque windmills for the next 18 months.) At any rate, my vote in 2008 is now officially up for grabs. Update: Salon‘s Walter Shapiro and Glenn Greenwald pay respects to Russ.

Arlen’s Tap Dance.

“Despite the Administration’s stonewalling, the Judiciary Committee, which knows even less about the program than the Intelligence Committee, today approved legislation that would not only legalize a program that the Committee does not understand but would also completely gut the FISA law…Expanding executive power at the request of a president who has shown such deep disrespect for the rule of law is exactly the wrong thing to do.” Checks and balances? Bah, humbug. At Dubya’s mandate — and despite Democratic attempts to limit the damageSpineless Specter and the GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee approve legislation legalizing the NSA’s warrantless wiretap program. As the ACLU summed it up: “Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee acted as a rubber stamp for the administration’s abuse of power.” For shame.

Joe Must Go.

It surprised me…It seemed almost orchestrated. It’s sort of demeaning to the people of Connecticut…I thought the senator and the vice president were both wrong to use that attack (strategy) on the voters of Connecticut.” In the first full week of the post-primary race in Connecticut (Joe’s up five at the moment), Ned Lamont calls out Lieberman for his recent Cheneyisms. And, in related news, Russ Feingold asks Lieberman to get out of the race on ABC’s This Week: “Joe is showing with that regrettable statement that he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get it…Senator Lieberman has supported the Bush Administration’s disastrous strategic approach of getting us stuck in Iraq instead of focusing on those who attacked us.

…and Dubya’s FISA double down.

Meanwhile, in another recent reversal — one likely precipitated by both the Hamdan case and pending lawsuits by the ACLU and others — the Dubya White House agrees to a deal put forth by Arlen “paper tiger” Specter that would put the NSA warrantless wiretaps to a constitutional review by the FISA court. But the trick, as many Dems have pointed out, is under this deal the FISA court would only do a general review of the wiretap program, rather than conduct the individual case-by-case reviews that the law has always demanded: “Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) criticized the agreement, saying he will oppose ‘any bill that would grant blanket approval for warrantless surveillance of Americans, particularly when this administration has never explained why it believes that current law allowing surveillance of terrorist suspects is inadequate.’

Not this time, Karl.

“He’s making a political speech. He’s sitting in his air-conditioned office on his big, fat backside saying, ‘Stay the course.’ That’s not a plan.” As justifiably disgruntled veteran John Murtha lights into bile-spouting chicken-hawk Karl Rove for another gutterball attack on Dems’ patriotism, the Democrats step up to the bar and offer two substantive plans for phased withdrawal from Iraq, to be debated tomorrow. “Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin…pushed an amendment requiring that U.S. combat troops be out by July 2007…In a statement, Kerry and Feingold said a deadline ‘gives Iraqis the best chance for stability and self-government’ and ‘allows us to begin refocusing on the true threats that face our country.‘”

Hayden Right?

Unlike so many of the hacks placed in charge of important government agencies during the past six years, Hayden possesses powerful qualifications for the job…By the admittedly dismal standards of the Bush administration, then, Hayden is an unusually good appointment.” As former NSA head and probable CIA director-to-be Michael Hayden navigates the confirmation process (leaving all his Snoopgate-related answers for the secret session), he procures an endorsement from an unlikely source: Salon‘s Joe Conason: “[D]espite his military uniform, Hayden is likely to be more independent of the Pentagon and the White House than Goss was. It will help that, unlike Goss, he actually knows what he’s doing.” Hmmm. Update: Hayden is through committee on a 12-3 vote. (Feingold, for his part, voted no: “Our country needs a CIA Director who is committed to fighting terrorism aggressively without breaking the law or infringing on the rights of Americans.

Spineless Specter.

“‘I don’t need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I,’ Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) shouted after Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.” Senators Feingold and Specter go toe-to-toe over the anti-gay-marriage amendment, which passed a private meeting of the Senate Judiciary Comittee on a 10-8 partisan vote yesterday. My goodness, Specter is a joke these days, isn’t he? He says he’s “totally opposed” to the amendment for the cameras and his moderate Pennsylvania constituency, but, as per the norm, he capitulated to his GOP masters — who want this chum in the water for the fundies ASAP — at the first available opportunity. Senator, you’ve already proven time and time again in this Congress that you’re nowhere near the Constitutional protector as Sen. Feingold. But if you were, you’d recognize immediately that this vile and ridiculous piece of pandering to right-wing bigotry is the biggest embarrassment to our founding document since the Three-Fifths Compromise, and you would act accordingly.

Straight Talk on Gay Marriage.

“‘Obviously, it’s a very difficult issue and evokes a lot of emotions,’ Feingold said in a telephone interview yesterday. ‘I think it’s something ultimately that people throughout the country will accept, but it’s not an easy issue.’” Unlike many of his Dem colleagues (and potential rivals in 2008), Feingold comes out for legalizing same-sex marriage. “Feingold noted that removing the prohibition against gay marriage would not impose any obligation on religious groups. He indicated that no religious faith should ever be forced to conduct or recognize any marriage, but that civil laws on marriage should reflect the principle of equal rights under the law.

The Granite State Strikes Back.

Faced with the prospect of his state losing its disproportionate influence on presidential campaigns, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (D) begins twisting the arms of possible presidential candidates in 2008, with Evan Bayh the first to cry uncle. “New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has assiduously avoided taking a position on the issue despite personal urgings by Lynch to do so. Former Virginia governor Mark Warner, the hot ‘anti-Hillary’ candidate these days, is similarly noncommittal.” Pushing back on New Hampshire’s entreaties are Bill Richardson (New Mexico) and John Edwards (North Carolina), for obvious reasons. Feingold is also uncommitted (as far as I know), although one would think that, as an independent-minded maverick, he’d be a prime candidate for an early Granite State boost. That is, provided John McCain doesn’t suck all the air out of the state, as he did in 2000 versus Bradley.

Topic of Cancer.

“‘We know the president broke the law,’ Leahy said. ‘Now we need to know why.’” With the Dems — except for Feingold and Leahy — AWOL yet again, the Senate Judiciary Committee debates Feingold’s censure resolution and hears testimony from former Nixon counsel John Dean, who is back before Congress for the first time since Watergate. Said Feingold at one point: “If you want the words ‘bad faith’ in [the censure resolution], let’s put them right in, because that’s exactly what we have here…The lawbreaking is shocking in itself, but the defiant way that the president has persisted in defending his actions with specious legal arguments and misleading statements is part of what led me to conclude that censure is a necessary step.” Said the rest of the committee Dems (Kennedy, Biden, Kohl, Feinstein, Schumer, Durbin): Nothing.

Same Old Senate for Sale.

I don’t know,’ said Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio…’People are not really talking to me directly about lobbying. I think they’re concerned about some of the, quote, scandal, but I don’t have anybody come up to me and say there’s a lobbying problem. It doesn’t get that specific.‘” As such, one day after voting down an independent ethics office 67-30, the Senate passes a watered-down “lobbying reform” bill 90-8 that, for all intent and purposes. seems to be merely cosmetic. “The Senate measure toughens disclosure requirements for lobbyists and requires lawmakers to obtain advance approval for the private trips that were a central feature of the Abramoff scandal. But it does not rein in lawmakers’ use of corporate jets, and it fell far short of the sweeping changes, including a ban on privately financed travel, that some lawmakers advocated in January…’It’s very, very weak,’ said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

Five Republicans and only three measly Democrats voted against the phantom reform bill: McCain, Feingold, Kerry, Graham, DeMint, Inhofe, and the “unlikely duo” of Obama and Coburn. (The West Virginia Dem delegation — Byrd and Rockefeller — abstained.) Still, “Mr. McCain predicted that there would be more indictments growing out of the investigation into political corruption, and said that such a development would lead Congress to revisit the issue again.

McCain-Feingold on the Road.

“‘There seems to be a disconnect between the rhetoric in Washington about what this is all about and what we hear here,’ Feingold said. McCain responded that he did ‘not want to get into a back-and-forth with one of my best friends.’” While visiting Baghdad, Senators McCain and Feingold argue “cordially and pointedly” over Iraq. “Feingold…said he was dismayed not to hear any of the military commanders he met with mention al-Qaeda as a source of the problems in Iraq. The Bush administration and U.S. officials here often point to the radical group as a major source of instability in the country.

Would it help to confuse them if we run away more?

“‘I haven’t read it,’ demurred Barack Obama (Ill.). ‘I just don’t have enough information,’ protested Ben Nelson (Neb.).” As Senator Tom Harkin signs on as a co-sponsor of Russ Feingold’s censure resolution — which, word has it, is also now backed by John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and Robert Menendez — the Post‘s Dana Milbank watches the rest of our party head for the hills. “Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.). ‘Ask her after lunch’ offered Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.

Out to Dry?

“This is clearly more serious than anything President Clinton was accused of. It is reminiscent of what President Nixon was not only accused of doing but was basically removed from office for doing.”/em> As Senator Feingold continues his lonely push for a censure resolution, the GOP go into full “soft on terror” attack mode, while most Dems — of course — commence to hemming and hawing. “Reid…commended [Feingold] ‘for bringing this to the attention of the American people. We need a full and complete debate on this NSA spying.’ Reid and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) told reporters they wanted to examine the resolution before endorsing or rejecting it.” The world is watching, Dems: Get up and fight!

Ripe for Censure.

This conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors….We, as a Congress, have to stand up to a president who acts like the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were repealed on Sept 11.” On This Week, Senator Feingold calls for a censure of Dubya for, “openly and almost thumbing his nose at the American people,” continuing the NSA warrantless wiretaps. (The censure resolution is here.) Catkiller Frist — flush from his straw poll win over the weekend — responded by calling the censure a “terrible, terrible signal” to give the evildoers. It’s “terrible” to show respect for the rule of law? Get real. It’s about time somebody in the AWOL Senate stood up to this administration’s repeated abuses of power. Update: Feingold writes more on the censure. (Via Medley.)

Surrender, Democrats.

“‘The die has now been cast,’ acknowledged the law’s chief opponent, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis….’Obviously at this point, final passage of the reauthorization bill is now assured.‘” As expected, most Senate Dems — no doubt aiming to protect their national security flank in the upcoming elections — join in voting 84-15 to end another Feingold filibuster, thus sending the barely-revised Patriot Act along for likely passage. “‘No one has the right to turn this body into a rubber stamp,’ said Feingold, the leading opponent of the law in Congress. ‘The White House played hardball and the decision was made by some to capitulate.‘” Good God, our party is pathetic at times. Update: The Senate passes the Patriot Act, 89-10.

The Treason of the Senate.

Treason is a strong word, but not too strong to characterize the situation in which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, and indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be.As feared — the Senate GOP, including supposed “moderates” Snowe and Chafee — vote down hearings into the NSA wiretaps. And also as feared, the Senate Dems completely collapse on the Patriot Act renewal, joining the Republicans to end the Feingold filibuster 96-3. (Only Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) sided with Russ.) So, with the Senate in effect abdicating its responsibilty as an independent and coequal branch of government, it looks like it’ll be up to the judiciary to check Dubya’s executive powergrab.

Last Refuge of Scoundrels.

“It took a long time for Democrats to step up and challenge the administration’s baseless assertions that the Patriot Act could not be changed without threatening the security of the American people. When we finally did so, when we decided to make the case that we can fight terrorism and protect our American principles at the same time, it looked like Democrats were finally ready to stand on principle and offer strong leadership. Instead, too many Democrats have folded, and momentum for critical changes to the Patriot Act to protect our freedoms has been squandered.” In Salon, an angry Russ Feingold calls out his party for capitulating on the Patriot Act extension. Ugh. Are the Democrats irreparably broken at this point? Does our party leadership lack all conviction? At this point, the evidence is piling up against them, and, if we don’t get our act together, we’re going to lose our best chance in a decade to take back Congress this November. Update: Feingold filibusters alone.

Specter v. S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

The Specter hearings into the illegal NSA wiretaps begin, and, so far despite Specter’s tough talk on Sunday, they’ve been pretty much a sideshow. For one, as they did with Big Oil, the GOP ensured by a 10-8 party-line vote that Gonzales didn’t have to testify under oath. For another, Gonzales has been falling back on the ridiculous Article 2 defense and saying little of import as of yet. Still, at least Republicans like Specter and Lindsey Graham are joining Feingold and others in calling out the administration’s dubious rationale for the Imperial Presidency, so perhaps these hearings may be of some service yet. Update: As the NYT points out, we’ve been here before. Update 2: Dahlia Lithwick is not amused.

Big Russ.

With a tip-off from the Progressive Patriots Fund, I had the opportunity yesterday to catch Sen. Russ Feingold speak on the Patriot Act and the NSA wiretapping scandal over at Cardozo Law School. (Their pics are a lot better than mine — I forgot to charge my batteries, and thus only got in 2 or 3 shots before my camera died on me.) And how was he? Well, all-in-all, he came off as a convincing candidate for the election ahead, as well as an impressive, informed, and personable fellow. To be honest, I found his remarks a bit lawyerly (then again, he’s a lawyer speaking before a law school, so that’s not really a fair criticism), but, taken in full, he seemed a committeed progressive and a refreshingly candid leader, the type of dynamic, independent thinker the Senate should be teeming with, if the system came anywhere close to working these days.

The gist of Sen. Feingold’s remarks was thus: Al Qaeda is the central threat facing America and has been since 9/11. Yet, instead of bringing the nation together to eliminate this terrorist organization, the Dubya White House has chosen time and time again to endanger our national security and compromise our most fundamental American values for their own ideological or power-hoarding purposes. (Iraq, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, secret gulags, you name it.) Along those lines and as we now all know, the Patriot Act, which only Feingold voted against in 2001, contains some terrible provisions therein, the most notorious example affecting Middle America being Section 215 (which gives law enforcement, among other things, the right to see what you’ve been reading.)

Yet, as per the norm, Dubya has refused to admit that it’s even possible that something might be wrong with the Patriot Act now that it’s up for renewal — only that it’s necessary to defeat the evildoers and that any microscopic change in the statute could rend the fabric of freedom irreparably. (Despite this now-somewhat hoary ploy, Feingold and others have succeeded in blocking a permanent blanket extension for now, as y’all know if you’ve been visiting here lately.) And, of course, Dubya has taken this same tack of obfuscation and fear-mongering to cover up his brazen wiretapping power-grab — which, according to Congress’s own research arm, broke at least two laws and counting.

Again, this story is not news to many Dems out there, but Feingold laid it out in clear, comprehensible, and systematic fashion. (The only “breaking news” made was the Senator announcing this letter to Gonzales, asking him why he, in effect, lied to the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings about the NSA wiretaps.) And he had some good lines throughout — In reply to Rove’s ridiculous claim that Dems were “pre-9/11″, Feingold quipped that the GOP suffered from a “pre-1776″ mentality these days. (He also retold the recent Patrick Henry exchange.) To be honest, I’d liked to have heard more in this vein — In terms of breaking down the legislative legerdemain and legal issues at hand, Feingold was superb. But I thought the speech needed more narrative sweep and rhetorical grandeur, more explanation of why this battle matters so much to the workings of the republic. He doesn’t have to turn into Robert Byrd overnight. Still, I thought the remarks could have benefited from more dramatic heft and historical resonance: Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Lincoln, Wilson…they’re all relevant here. (Then again, as I said above, I was an historian sitting in a room full of lawyers, so I was a tougher sell than most.)

Along those lines, if there was a problem with this presentation, it’s that the Senator, while clearly outraged, at times seemed much less livid about all this than many in the audience, who occasionally sounded ready to hoist the black flag. (In fact, many will no doubt be happy to hear that Feingold was asked twice “why Democrats are so lame.” As he noted (and as the blogosphere can attest this week), if a crowd in New York City is this irate with the party, the Dems might be in serious trouble nationwide in November. Still, he also emphasized that the Democrats could be more effective fighters if they actually controlled a house of Congress — You can’t hold hearings if you’re in the minority.

In terms of other questions, Feingold said he supports and will take part in the very late-developing (and now already defunct) Alito filbuster (Roll Call.) In fact, he thought the Dems made a crucial mistake in capitulating to the original “Gang of 14″ compromise, arguing cogently that Dems have seen nothing for it and may well have had the votes to win Catkiller‘s game of nuclear chicken. Since Casino Jack and lobbying reform seemed too big a subject to address competently in the time allotted, I asked him a question about his thoughts on the NYT decision to spike the NSA story for a year, his general view of the mass media’s performance in serving as a check on these types of executive abuses, and (’cause it seemed apropos) his thoughts on the burgeoning blogosphere’s role in all this. He didn’t really go after the Times decision, and said that, in terms of the recent Patriot Act debate, he thought the press had actually done an ok job. Regarding blogs, he called the Internet “a miracle for populist politics,” which was a good enough soundbite that everyone in my row dutifully wrote it down at the same time.

And, of course, Sen. Feingold was asked — a couple of times — whether or not he was running for President in 2008. Naturally, he played it coy — After all, we still have just under two years before the Iowa caucus. But, for what it’s worth, I was impressed by him — He’s not a first-class emoter like Edwards or Clinton, of course. Instead, he comes across as a highly intelligent, capable, and nuanced thinker, a la Bradley, Kerry, or Gore on his better days. But unlike those three, he also seemed much more comfortable in his own skin, more naturally himself at the podium, and — most importantly — more content to play the maverick if his lefty principles dictate thus. (Although, as I said, I’d like to see him tone down the lawyer-ese and rev up more Wellstone-ish fire if he does make a White House run.) I suppose there’s a small, bordering-on-infinitesimal chance that Rodham Clinton, Biden, Warner, or someone else might drop all the “New Democrat” protective camouflage this time around and begin loudly and undefensively proclaiming progressive principles to the Heavens. But, until that unlikely event, my candidate in the 2008 Democratic primary is Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. (Update: 1776 link via Medley.)

All Ears (and No Earmarks).

“‘In 1994, when the Congress was taken over by Republicans, there were 4,000 earmarks on appropriations bills,’ [McCain] told the committee. ‘Last year there were 15,000. It’s disgraceful, this process.’” A Senate Committee chaired by Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman began discussing the Senate’s post-Abramoff cleanup today, with McCain, Feingold and others calling for systematic and comprehensive reform, including the end of “earmarking” (i.e. adding pork to appropriations bills.) “McCain said he was especially bothered that at the end of the last congressional session, various extraneous appropriations were ‘larded onto the money that was supposed to be devoted to the men and women in the military and their ability to conduct the war on terror.’

Patriot Games.

Unable to defeat the Feingold-led filibuster, the Senate GOP instead decide to punt with a six-month extension of the Patriot Act. Dubya originally said he’d veto a three-month stopgap, and the Republicans have been fervently against previous Democratic calls for a temporary extension…but at this point it sounds like the White House and GOP will take what they can get. (Feingold’s reaction: It’s “a victory for the American people.”) Update: Make that a month.

Patriotic Insurgency.

“I don’t want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care.” Aided by today’s shocking revelation that the NSA has been monitoring thousands of international calls without a warrant since 2002, a group of Senators led by Russ Feingold — and including four Republicans (Craig, Hagel, Murkowski, and Sununu) — succeed in defeating an extension of the Patriot Act. At this point, I might as well put a Feingold 2008 banner over on the sidebar — Ever since the McCain-Feingold days, the Senator from Wisconsin has continued to rise in my esteem, and this once again proves his mettle as our most forthright and committed progressive standard-bearer. Bravo!

Patriotic Fervor.

Apparently the House and Senate have decided on a compromise over the Patriot Act, one that will theoretically reduce the disturbing number of FBI terrorism inquiries via fuller reporting. The bill is now being put on the fast track by the GOP, so as to give Dubya a much-needed boost on his terror credentials, which means the Patriot Act, warts and all, may be made permanent by Thanksgiving. Update: Feingold leads a bipartisan charge against the bill.

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