As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Grover Cleveland

This demands your attention.


"I'll Show You The Classified Document!"

The Right likes to make a big deal about how the news media routinely reveals classified information which undermines the war effort. I could probably find a thousand stories written by conservative bloggers in the last month with this very storyline. When one of their own does it, however, they grow strangely silent.

Greg Sargent noticed something very interesting while watching the quixotic Rick Santorum try to convince everybody that "We found WMD in Iraq" when the "WMD" in question were 20 year-old forgotten sarin gas shells found buried on the Iranian border that wouldn't cause anything more than a rug burn or a headache (Weapons of Minor Discomfort):

In his interview on Fox, Santorum brandished a document and said the following:

"I'll show you the classified documents right here. And it says that in fact that there are assessed that there are additional weapons that we need to find. I can't go into the details. It's in the classified portion." (Emphasis added.)

It's a crime to even bring a classified document out of its holding place and into an interview room, let alone brandishing it on camera for the entire viewing public to see. You can't even make a copy of a classified document. You can see the video of this right here.

It's beyond laughable that the conservosphere gets their panties all in a twist about news organizations that supposedly reveal classified information (except for conservative news organizations like The Wall Street Journal), when here we have a US Senator holding a classified document up to a TV camera, and nary a peep from the peanut gallery.

UPDATE: George Bush's chief weapons inspector David Kay calls Santorum "...wrong as to the facts and exaggerated beyond all reason." You might also want to slip "breaker of federal laws" in there.


Hot In Herre

The National Academy of Sciences released a report, requested by the Congress, that shows that industrial activity is having an effect on rising temperatures globally. The media coverage in this and other stories focuses on the "debate" aspects as if they were talking about a Senate race. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It's a human issue, and we owe it to future generations to understand what our impact to the planet is, and how we can stop it if it's detrimental. The retiring chairman of the House Science Committee gets it:

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) sought the study last year after Energy and Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.), a global-warming skeptic, subpoenaed Mann's computer programs, funding sources and other documents.

Boehlert said in a statement yesterday that the academy "shows the value of Congress handling scientific disputes by asking scientists to give us guidance. The report clearly lays out a scientific consensus position on the historic temperature record."

Of course, he's retiring, making the upcoming elections even more important, lest a flat-earther be given that Chairmanship.

I'm finally getting around to seeing An Inconvenient Truth this weekend, and hopefully the public is getting the message that this is not about a debate. It's about what we can do to stop the crisis of global warming.


The Random Ten

The great TBogg has been doing this Random Ten thing for a while, and I've always wanted to join in the fun. Basically you put your iPod on shuffle and list the first 10 songs that come out. It's mp3 meets Magic 8-Ball. And my new Scion xB with iPod connector, along with the fact that I have exactly a 10-song commute to work these days makes this easy as pie. The desired result is something more like "I'm cooler than you" and less like "Hey, I got the CD for free, give me a break!"

Here goes it:

Mamas & Papas - Supergrass
Troglodyten - Stereo Total
First Class '77 - Fantastic Plastic Machine
I Am Naked - Stereo Total
Nightclubbin' - Iggy Pop
Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head - They Might Be Giants
Isobel - Bjork
The Modern Age - The Strokes
Negative Creep - Nirvana
Missing - Beck

I'm OK with that one.


Fun With Stifling Dissent

So I'm considering moving the focus of this blog more local, or at least providing a few more So-Cal stories per week. WE've got a big election coming up here, and Angelides frankly needs all the help he can get. So I wonder if it'll ever get to the point that it has this week in Kentucky.

The Bluegrass Report is a blog about Kentucky politics. The proprietor, Mark Nickolas, has had a lot to write about, since the Governor of the state has endured a slew of indictments to his staff over a patronage and corruption scandal. So the other day, the governor told bold action: he censored The Bluegrass Report to all state employee's computers. This happened a day after Nickolas was quoted in the above-linked New York Times story.

The governor's office responded that they had blocked all blogs, but this didn't hold up to scrutiny.

UPDATE #7: From a source within state government:

The only Kentucky-related blogs other than yours that appear to be blocked are at I think it's safe to say you have been singled out.


NKY Politics (Pat Crowley)


The Bluegrass Policy Blog (Bluegrass Institute)

The Bridge (Dr. Ted)

Conservative Edge (Brian Goettl)

KYKurmudgeon (Larry Dale Keeling)

The Rural Blog (Al Cross)



The Compassionate eCommunity (Jonathan Miller)

Kentucky Progress (David Adams)

Kentucky Republican Voice

The Kentucky Democrat (Daniel Solzman)

This was later confirmed.

The major national blogs started reporting about this, only to see THEIR sites blocked. One wonders if there was a full-time "official censor" scanning Technorati for postings and blocking the sites. Maybe I can get banned in Kentucky too! In fact, let's start a "banned in Kentucky" contest. I'll offer a free link to any site that gets banned in Kentucky. Let's build a "Banned In Kentucky" blogroll!

Censorship of this kind is ridiculous and just makes an out-of-touch, sinking Republican Administration in the Bluegrass State look just that much more out of touch. There are those out there doing their best to brand bloggers as "fascists" and "maniacs" (no, really, read the link), but really they're just people expressing opinions. This is anathema to the politicians and gatekeepers of the discourse who demand that they'll be the ones expressing opinions around here, thank you very much.


The Threat That's Not A Threat

I think this story of the capture of a terrorist cell in Miami that was plotting to, among other things, blow up the Sears Tower is a victory for law enforcement. It shows that just fighting them over there doesn't mean you have to stop fighting them over here. Oh, and since they're mostly Americans without any ties to Al Qaeda but "swearing a loyalty oath," which I'm pretty sure I could do right now and it wouldn't mean I get the key to the bin Laden executive washroom, does that mean that "the terrorists" aren't an organization that holds monthly meetings and potluck dinners but an amorphous force that you can't use traditional, MILITARY tactics to beat?

All that said, this is an edifying quote:

There is no imminent threat to Miami or any other area because of these operations," said Richard Kolko, spokesman for FBI headquarters in Washington. He declined further comment.

So, was this a situation that required a bust at this point? Or continued surveillance? These were apparently 7 broke kids that couldn't afford guns, that couldn't buy ammonium nitrate - fertilizer (no scratch for Home Depot) - and they were about to take on the entire anti-terror infrastructure of Chicago and blow up its tallest building? We may be unprepared for an attack, but not THAT unprepared.

There are troubling anti-American groups like this all over the country and they ought to be dealt with if they pose a threat. The Michigan Militia and Ruby Ridge and Tim McVeigh spring to mind. A bunch of broke teenagers pale in comparison.


The Iraqis Cut and Run (Us Off)

The Iraqi government is announcing a 28-point peace plan that is in direct opposition to the Bush strategy of "stay the course." I guess he didn't expect this when he looked into the eyes of Prime Minister Maliki:

The 28-point package for national reconciliation will offer Iraqi resistance groups inclusion in the political process and an amnesty for their prisoners if they renounce violence and lay down their arms, The Times can reveal.

The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.

It will pledge to take action against Shia militias and death squads. It will also offer to review the process of “de-Baathification” and financial compensation for the thousands of Sunnis who were purged from senior jobs in the Armed Forces and Civil Service after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Well, now it's obvious what to do. We must invade Iraq and stop this government from giving the terrorists a great victory by forcing us to leave. And this one will be a cakewalk, since we've already got the bases set up and everything.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, a state of emergency in Baghdad after insurgents set up roadblocks around the city.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Make me puke

I can't believe this came out of a President's mouth:

We've known for years now that George W. Bush received a presidential daily briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, in which he was warned: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." We've known for almost as long that Bush went fishing afterward.

What we didn't know is what happened in between the briefing and the fishing, and now Suskind is here to tell us. Bush listened to the briefing, Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: "All right. You've covered your ass, now."

I don't know if you can translate that any other way than "So when the terrorists do hit us, and I don't lift a finger to stop it, at least you can say you warned me."

This makes me want to hit something. How dare this guy claim to be a commander-in-chief and say something like that.


Um, Democrats Actually ARE On The Offensive

Greg Sargent's blog The Horse's Mouth, rapidly becoming a must-read, dissects the media's obsession with continuing its familiar narratives:

Here's something we should keep an eye out for as the political battle over Iraq unfolds: How often do reporters and commentators portray the GOP as being on offense and the Democrats as being on the defensive? Compare these two takes on yesterday's Congressional skirmishing over the war:

The New York Times: Democrats have found themselves trying to fend off accusations from the White House and other Republicans that they are "cutting and running," and many lawmakers demonstrated flashes of exasperation and anger about the level of partisanship.

Los Angeles Times: Democrats and Republicans dueled over the Iraq war in the Senate on Wednesday, exchanging rhetorical jabs as each side sought political advantage on a debate many strategists believed could be a decisive factor in determining which party would control Congress after the November elections.

What happened yesterday was this: Both parties attacked each other. The L.A. Times piece made this very clear. The N.Y. Times piece, though it did quote a couple Dems criticizing the GOP, essentially downplayed it. It's important to understand that these were editorial choices. The L.A. Times's choice was closer to the whole truth.

What's going on in this debate is that the Republicans have started up their Election '06 strategy. It should be familiar to everyone, since it's exactly the same as the Election '02 and Election '04 strategies. They try to intimidate the Democrats by yelling loudly and hoping that and that alone forces them into a mushy submission. You can't blame them for doing it again: it worked in 2002 and 2004. But this year we have an unpopular President and an unpopular war. We had those in '04 as well, but it wasn't perceived by the Democrats or the media that way.

Those right-wing apologists in the media are re-running the script from past elections, claiming that the Democrats are divided and weak. ABC's The Note, subject of a brilliant expose by Eric Boehlert, have decided that the Democrats are "on the precipice of making Iraq a 2006 political winner for the Republican Party."

In fact, this is a load of crap. The Democrats have put out several plans about what to do in Iraq, unlike any other point since the war began. They're actually taking their job seriously and understanding that the American people are looking for answers on the war. They're not running from the debate at the first sound of the Republican attack dogs.

On the other hand, the Republicans are nothing but resigned to accepting the Bush strategy of "stay the course," which is empty, meaningless, and exactly what I feel the public DOESN'T want, by all accounts.

That emerging Republican approach reflects, at least for now, the success of a White House effort to bring a skittish party behind Mr. Bush on the war after months of political ambivalence in some vocal quarters. As President Bush offered another defense of his Iraq policy during a visit to Vienna on Wednesday, Republicans acknowledged that it was a strategy of necessity, an effort to turn what some party leaders had feared could become the party's greatest liability into an advantage in the midterm elections.

The approach might yet be upended by more problems in Iraq, as Republicans were reminded this week with reports about two American servicemen who were abducted, tortured and apparently killed. Some polls show a majority of Americans continue to think that entering Iraq was a mistake, and pollsters say independent voters are particularly open to the idea of setting some sort of timetable for withdrawal, the very policy Democrats have embraced and Republicans are now fighting.

The GOP unity only exists in absence of any actual plan to succeed in Iraq. They're "on the offensive" because they're trying to be the bully on the block, spitting "cut'n'run" at every opportunity to try and bend the Democrats to their will. But, as Sargent says, it's not working:

The reality is this: Republicans have a massive albatross around their neck that's getting heavier every day. It's not an option to throw off the albatross -- that is, initiate a big pullout -- because doing so would be an admission of failure. So their only option is to put some phony swagger in their step, act as if they're confident that they have a winner on their hands, and hope for two things. First, that Dems blink. And second, that reporters and commentators will be taken for suckers, that members of the media will portray the GOP's political hand as the stronger one and allow the Republicans' feigned brashness to distract them from the reality that the GOP simply can't come up with a way out of the mess it's created.

The Dems haven't blinked -- yet.

And I don't think they're going to blink, not from the way it looks. Very few Democrats wavered in today's losing vote to start a redeployment by the end of the year. 38 Democrats held together out of 44 (Lieberman doesn't count). That's pretty strong unity on an issue like this. And Ron Wyden got to the heart of the issue with this proposal:

“I rise today to offer a simple proposition: Congress should act like a co-equal branch of government and vote on whether or not to keep American troops in Iraq for at least three more years,” said Wyden on the Senate floor today. “I simply ask the President to come to Congress and describe his plan and his budget, in detail, and let us consider its potential to succeed before we, with our silence, consent to three more years of exceptionally costly involvement in Iraq. That vote, if held, won't be about cut-and-run. It won't be about who comes up with the best spin. It will be about holding the President and Congress accountable. The vote will hold the President accountable for presenting a plan and a budget for securing the peace. And the vote will hold Congress accountable by making it finally act like a co-equal branch of government.”

The President has said repeatedly that he won't leave Iraq, that the choice to leave will be up to future Presidents. Unless something dramatic happens, that's how it's going to be. By fighting against that, by saying that we can change course and come up with an effective way to salvage this misadventure, Democrats are on the exact same side as the American people. As long as they aren't bullied (and evidence shows they won't be), they can win with this strategy. Paul Begala, oddly enough, is right:

The only place in the American government where there is an honest and spirited debate over Iraq is within the Democratic Party. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are not on the same page – and that’s a good thing. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry disagree. Hooray for that.

If anyone tells you the solution to Iraq is easy or obvious, they’re a liar or a fool (a false choice in the case of our president). So why not feature the debate? At least someone is debating what to do.

The fact is the American people want a new direction in Iraq, and the Democrats offer several. The Republicans, on the other hand, offer nothing more than a four-word strategy: more of the same.

Democrats should seize this moment to attack the rubber-stamp Republicans for their lemming-like devotion to a failed strategy and a set of incompetent and dishonest leaders. Republicans have a faith-based Iraq policy. They have faith in Donald Rumsfeld, they have faith in Dick Cheney, they have faith in George W. Bush. We don’t. They are liars and nincompoops – and the lives of tens of thousands of our best are in their hands.

Every time the GOP says “cut and run,” Democrats should say, “rubber stamp.” Every time they say we’re weak, we should say real strength is standing up to your president and your party when American lives are on the line. When they attack our patriotism, we should challenge them to sign their kids up for the military: “Since when did the sons and daughters of working people corner the market on patriotism, Senator? If this war is so wonderful, so noble, so vital, why the hell is your son throwing up on his date at Ivy League frat parties?”

In short, Democrats can and will win the debate over the war in Iraq not by playing defense (pleading “We’re NOT for cut and run!”) but on offense: the Republican Congress has blindly backed a failed strategy that has left 2,500 Americans dead, 20,000 wounded, and put us $2 trillion in the hole.

Being part of a party that has three or four different new approaches to Iraq beats the hell out of being part of a party that marches in lockstep off a cliff.

Hopefully the Dems won't chicken out and will stick with that message.

UPDATE: This is really the Clinton '92 strategy all over again: change vs. more of the same. This AP article tells you all you need to know in the headline and the nut graf:

Democrats Want Change in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats want a different direction in Iraq. Republicans back President Bush.

That's a winner in November.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

This Is What You're Going With?... Good Luck With That

Faced with leaving the Senate in about 6 months, Rick Santorum decided to push a completely irrelevant story today, arguing that 500 "WMD" have been found in Iraq since the start of the invasion. And you know, if I were to announce something this earth-shattering in magnitude, I'd definitely not give it to the Defense Department, but the Senator who doesn't sit on the Intelligence, Armed Services or Foreign Relations Commitees.

Taking a closer look at these so-called WMD, we find that they are, by the Senator's own words, "approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent." Sarin gas was likely to have been used in the Iran-Iraq war. It has a shelf life that degrades within several weeks to several months. According to Scott Ritter even stabilized sarin which is kept under close watch will become useless within 5 years. This stuff was buried near the Iranian border, and is likely between 20 and 25 years old.

Not only is this completely ridiculous, it's not even news. A sarin gas shell malfunctioned in 2004 in Fallujah, apparently used by insurgents who really didn't know what they were using, and it did no damage other than giving the soldier who found it a headache. And this was in the report that the Administration's own inspectors released:

While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible Indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.

The Defense Department won't use the proverbial 10-foot pole to touch this story:

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

“This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991,” the official said, adding the munitions “are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war.”

Some apologists are saying that this breaking story was trusted to the junior Senator from Pennsylvania and not the executive branch (who is openly disavowing it) because we're covering up for France and Russia and China. This is so because those countries sold conventional weapons to Saddam (like we did). And they call liberals the ones that fall for giant conspiracy theories.

I'm sure Sen. Santorum appreciates the donation-in-writing to his campaign that the bloggers running with this nonsense are giving him, but he's probably not all that happy about how many on the right aren't on board with him.

Meanwhile, in the real world, workers in Iraq are being abducted, lawyers are pulled out of their homes and killed by men in police uniforms, Iraqi troops have been found to have killed US soldiers in cold blood, and the official Senate repsonse is stay the course. This is what we need to focus on, the real problems that we have over there, the absolute inability by the Republican leadership to come up with a plan for the Iraqis to take control of their own country, rather than some unexploded, long-forgotten, 25 year-old meaningless shells.


Cut and Run Republican Congress

Every year, it seems, the GOP-run Congress finds a slogan and repeats it over and over again like a club with which to bash Democrats about the head. Last year it was "up or down vote," usually said quickly like it was one word. "Upperdownvote!"

This year it's clearly "cut and run," as in "The Democrats want to cut and run from Iraq." I think the Majority Leader was trying to set a record yesterday for the most times using "cut and run" in one legislative session. (A notable exception to this was Chuck Hagel, who I'd have no choice but to consider voting for in a Presidential contest against certain Democrats. At least he's part of the reality-based community.)

I thought Sen. Kerry's retort, that the Republicans want to "lie and die," was OK, but dueling slogans is not the way to go. What would be more effective would be to highlight how this do-nothing Congress is, in fact, cutting and running from their own responsibility to govern. Just within the last 48 hours, Republicans have stalled a host of legislation, and in so doing have decided to gridlock the country to serve their electoral needs.

On immigration, House leadership has shut down compromise legislation for the rest of the year, promising another round of hearings as an obvious stall tactic. It's pretty clear to me that they think immigration can be the wedge issue that will turn out their hardcore base and stop the bleeding in the midterms. They actually said as much in this very interesting post-mortem written by the NRCC (Congressional Campaign Commitee) after the Brian Bilbray-Francine Busby race in CA-50. They want to attack Democrats as the party of amnesty, and passing a bill (no matter what it said) would remove their ability to do so. So, once again putting party over country, the GOP would rather do nothing on immigration for yet another year. Here's their strategy:

Some officials added that Republicans have begun discussing a pre-election strategy for seizing the political high ground on an issue that so far has served to highlight divisions within the party. Among the possibilities, these officials said, are holding votes in the House or Senate this fall on additional measures to secure the borders, or on legislation that would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving Social Security payments or other government benefits.

"The discussion is how to put the Democrats in a box without attacking the president," said one aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Additionally, GOP aides said Rep. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the House campaign committee, has recently been using polling data to persuade fellow members of the leadership that the public would respond poorly to some provisions in the Senate-passed bill.

There's a doubly positive effect here assumed by the Republicans, of not only trying to gain a wedge issue for November, but distancing themselves from an unpopular President. As I said, the way for Democrats to play this as to call this do-nothing Congress exactly what it is.

And immigration is not the only issue where this applies. This week Ted Kennedy offered an amendment that would raise the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 an hour for close to a decade, up to $7.25 an hour. You simply can't live on $10,000 a year in America. This would boost the economy by adding disposable income, and study after study has shown it does not affect job creation. This is, in fact, the Democrats' major wedge issue for November.

But that didn't stop them from bringing it to the floor. They didn't shelve it so they could use it in the fall. But thankfully, the Republicans did it for them:

The Republican-controlled Senate smothered a proposed election-year increase in the minimum wage Wednesday, rejecting Democratic claims that it was past time to boost the $5.15 hourly pay floor that has been in effect for nearly a decade.

The 52-46 vote was eight short of the 60 needed for approval under budget rules and came one day after House Republican leaders made clear they do not intend to allow a vote on the issue, fearing it might pass.

The Senate vote marked the ninth time since 1997 that Democrats there have proposed — and Republicans have blocked — a stand-alone increase in the minimum wage. The debate fell along predictable lines.

"Americans believe that no one who works hard for a living should have to live in poverty. A job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass. He said a worker paid $5.15 an hour would earn $10,700 a year, "almost $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three."

Kennedy also said lawmakers' annual pay has risen by roughly $30,000 since the last increase in the minimum wage.

Similarly, the House leadership, worried that a minimum wage increase had passed the Appropriations Committee, scuttled the entire bill:

With the help of a few rebellious Republicans, House Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee succeeded in attaching a minimum wage increase last week to legislation providing funding for federal social programs. Fearing that the House would pass the measure with the increase intact, the GOP leadership swiftly decided to sidetrack the entire bill.

"I am opposed to it, and I think a vast majority of our (rank and file) is opposed to it," House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday.

Pressed by reporters, he said, "There are limits to my willingness to just throw anything out on the floor."

Like anything that has bipartisan support, for example. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer offered a full-throated rebuke of the craven tactic, exclaiming that "while Democrats are fighting for the average hardworking American, Republicans are worried about giving Paris Hilton another tax cut." Indeed, there will be a vote on a bogus compromise bill to cut the inheritance tax, after it already failed in the Senate.

And today, Southern Republicans in the House delayed a vote on renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which is nothing more than one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in American history.

This Republican Congress hasn't had a major piece of legislation pass their ranks all year, and they've committed to continuing that perfect record. They literally ought not to have existed in 2006. The only thing they managed to do was get the President to back down on the Dubai ports deal, on which the President promptly reneged. This is a cut and run Republican Congress that has abdicated their responsibilities as the lawmaking body of the nation. And it's time for new leadership that might actually be interested in getting something done.


People Want Democracy

A new poll by Public Campaign shows broad, bipartisan support for public financing of all elections:

In the wake of lobbyist scandals, the soaring costs of campaigns, and discontent with Washington, voters are hungry for a more open, clean, and fair system of campaign funding.

• Three out of four voters support a voluntary system of publicly funded campaigns. (2) Seventy-four percent of voters support a proposal for voluntary public funding of federal elections (57% strongly) with only 16% opposed.

• Support for public financing of Congressional elections cross all party lines. Eighty percent of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 65% of Republicans support this reform.

• Support of this reform is strong across demographic and regional groups. This reform enjoys strong support across gender lines, age groups, and regionally—garnering no less than 60% support and in most cases around three-quarters support.

• Support for public financing of elections helps Congressional candidates. Respondents were given a generic congressional profile ballot, with standard “Republican” and “Democratic” issue platforms. On this initial test, the “Democratic” candidate outpaces the “Republican” candidate by 53% to 37%. Then half the respondents were told the “Republican” signed a pledge to support the reform and that the “Democrat” refused, and vice versa for the other half of respondents. In both cases the congressional candidate who signed the pledge was able to increase their lead substantially over an opponent who refused to sign it. The “Republican” candidate supporting reform wins 49% to 39% over an anti-reform Democrat. The “Democratic” candidate supporting reform wins 58% to 29% over an anti-reform Republican.

• Voters support this reform because of the positive changes they overwhelmingly believe will come from it. Fully 82% of voters believe it is likely, as a result of publicly financed elections, that candidates will win on their ideas, not because of the money they raise, and 81% believe it is likely politicians will be more accountable to voters instead of large contributors. Additionally, voters also feel it is likely citizens with good ideas will have a fair shot at winning rather than just the rich and powerful (79% likely), and that special interests will not receive as many favors, tax breaks, and deals from politicians (77% likely).

• The low perception voters have of congressional ethics is driving their support for this reform. Voters’ unfavorable views of Congress (36% favorable, 52% unfavorable) and lobbyists (14% favorable, 66% unfavorable) spell trouble for the Washington status quo. Voters are angry about business as usual and are demanding significant change.

Now, if I had a dollar for all the things that had 75-80% public support that didn't pass the Congress...

I could self-fund my own election campaign!

But you know, this one might have a shot at working if we kept the pressure on. The key is to incubate it in the states and get more and more Clean Money candidates elected, who understand the process fully. It will reach a tipping point where there would be enough Clean Money Congressmen in the legislature to pass the bill.

To kick-start this process, Public Campaign is asking all politicians to sign a pledge supporting campaign spending limits, lobbyist restrictions and full disclosure of lobbying activities. This is a first step to getting politicians to understand the issues. The people want democracy with a small d. This is bipartisan and across every part of the country. Now it's about getting the leaders to figure that out, and making them get out in front of it.

UPDATE: I'm told that it's not possible for states to set down Clean Money laws for what are federal campaigns for the House and the Senate. But as such candidates move on, state legislatures often being the testing ground for Congress, it's extremely possible to have sitting federal Reps. or Sens. who have at least been through a clean-money campaign.


Don't Take My Vonage Away

I'm pretty happy with my VOIP phone service, even though I don't really use it all that much, and I'd probably switch over fully to a cell phone-only lifestyle if I didn't consider paying my monthly Vonage bill something of an in-kind donation to new technologies (and a thumb in the eye of telecom monopolies, no doubt). Vonage and Skype and other services like them are offering better service for less money. If I didn't have them, I'd be giving Verizon $35/month for pretty much nothing more than local calls. Via the iPac blog, it appears that Verizon is fighting back - not by offering better service, but by trying to sue Vonage out of existence:

Verizon would love to extort companies large and small for access to their DSL subscribers, but they really care about shutting down VOIP. VOIP fundamentally alters Verizon's bread and butter business model of selling over priced telephony because of their copper monopoly. If Verizon gets their way in Congress you can bet that Vonage, Skype, Gizmo, and every other VOIP application and company out there will be all but locked from Verizon's DSL subscribers. Just look at what's going on in Canada for a precedent.

What's going on in Canada is that Shaw, a broadband provider, is basically charging its customers who use Vonage $10 as a "quality of service" fee so they can make calls effectively. It's extortion, pure and simple, and it's exactly what you can expect if the US doesn't pass Net Neutrality provisions. What Verizon is doing is hedging their bets. If Congress lets them down by disallowing them to become online gatekeepers and charge businesses and the public for good service, then they'll take their chances with the courts:

Verizon Communications Inc. has charged that Internet phone carrier Vonage Holdings Corp. violated patent rights that Verizon has on technology for making phone calls over the Internet [...]

Holmdel-based Vonage, which said Monday it had been sued, contested the claim. "Vonage believes that its services have been developed with its own proprietary technology and technology licensed from third parties and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit," the company said in a statement.

Verizon charged that Vonage is infringing on at least seven of its patents regarding Internet phone service, a technology known as voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP. The patents include inventions related to gateway interfaces between a packet-switched and circuit-switched network, billing and fraud detection, call services such as call forwarding and voicemail and methods related to Wi-Fi handset use in a VoIP network, the lawsuit said.

The complaint, filed June 12, also claimed that "Vonage is aggressively marketing and advertising services made with Verizon's appropriated intellectual property."

Shorter Verizon: Our customers should not be given the burden of choice.

Despite adding a million customers (including me) in the last 15 months, Vonage is hurting because investors see how the telecom companies are planning on all sides to squeeze them out of the market. The fruit of this strategy is revealed in the article...

Vonage stock dropped 12 percent in trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange, the latest blow to shares that have lost about half their value since the company went public in late May.

Shares of Vonage tumbled $1.12 to close at $8.48 on the NYSE. The stock has been trading in a 52-week range between $9.60 and $17.25. Verizon shares fell 37 cents, or 1.1 percent, to finish at $32.17 on the NYSE.

The Ipac blog makes the options for Vonage very clear, and it's not pretty:

There are three possible outcomes that Verizon would like to see.

1) Verizon wins the case on all counts and now owns voice. The AT&T Ma Bell monopoly would have nothing on Verizon.

2) Verizon loses, but forces upstart Vonage to spend themselves out of business. Simply put, Verizon can fight this case as long as they need to. Vonage, on the other hand, has come off a bad IPO and may not be able to fight this all the way.

3) Verizon and Vonage settle. This way Verizon gets a cut of every call someone makes on Vonage's system. It's free money for Verizon and will chill innovation.

Verizon can't compete in the marketplace so they decided to take the marketplace out of the equation.

This is phase two of the Net Neutrality debate. And it's important to monitor and fight. The best way is to sign up for Vonage and give Verizon the finger.

But first we need to make sure we head off phase one. There's a vote tomorrow in the Senate Commerce Committee on the bill. The Senate has always been the best opportunity to get real Net Neutrality legislation to preserve Internet freedom. A bipartisan amendment to the House-backed COPA bill has been put forth by Byron Dorgan and Olympia Snowe. You need to call your Senator and ask them to support the amendment, especially if they're one of the members of the committee:

Chairman Ted Stevens (AK), (202) 224-3004
John McCain (AZ), (202) 224-2235
Conrad Burns (MT), Main: 202-224-2644
Trent Lott (MS), (202) 224-6253
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), 202-224-5922
Gordon H. Smith (OR), 202.224.3753
John Ensign (NV), (202) 224-6244
George Allen (VA), (202) 224-4024
John E. Sununu (NH), (202) 224-2841
Jim DeMint (SC), 202-224-6121
David Vitter (LA),(202) 224-4623
Co-Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (HI), 202-224-3934
John D. Rockefeller (WV), (202) 224-6472
John F. Kerry (MA), (202) 224-2742
Barbara Boxer (CA), (202) 224-3553
Bill Nelson (FL), 202-224-5274
Maria Cantwell (WA), 202-224-3441
Frank R. Lautenberg (NJ), (202) 224-3224
E. Benjamin Nelson (NE), (202) 224-6551
Mark Pryor (AR), (202) 224-2353

We need a free and open Internet. No two-tiered structure. And no companies like Verizon who think that they own the telephone and every manifestation thereof.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ahmadinejad's "play to the base" strategy

The current bluster over our conflict with Iran, while tempering in recent weeks, always neglects the peculiarities of the political system in Tehran.

The position of President over there has no power to make war, no power to set foreign policy, and can be overruled by the Supreme Leader and the judiciary on virtually everything.

In such an environment, a new President, especially one elected by a razor-thin margin, is at pains to aggrandize power. But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is managing to do it. And the United States is making it a lot easier for that process to occur.

This story in The Guardian shows that Ahmadinejad, while often dismissed as a bomb-throwing lunatic, is actually a pretty skillful politician who's used every opportunity the West has given him to become the most popular figure in an unpoopular government.

The popularity of Iran's controversial leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is surging almost a year after he unexpectedly won closely contested presidential elections, Iranian officials and western diplomats said on Tuesday.

Attributing his success to his populist style and fortnightly meet-the-people tours of the country, the sources said, as matters stand, Mr Ahmadinejad was the clear favourite to win a second term in 2009.
The perception that the president was standing up to the US over the nuclear issue was also boosting his standing.

"He's more popular now than a year ago. He's on the rise," said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a professor of political science at Tehran University. "I guess he has a 70% approval rating right now. He portrays himself as a simple man doing an honest job. He's comfortable communicating with ordinary people."

While there are no reliable national opinion polls in Iran, western diplomats acknowledged that support for Mr Ahmadinejad is growing, defying widespread predictions after last June's election that he would not last more than three months.

This is incredibly dangerous. We all know that Ahmadinejad has been demonized in the Western press, with his inflammatory comments on Jews and the Holocaust highlighted, and his every utterance on the Iranian nuclear program dutifully reported as if he's the dictator of the country. I've often said that invading Iran because of that crazy Ahmadinejad is like invading the United States because of that nutty Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

This serves the US warhawk interests very well. Every war needs a villain. Ahmadinejad is painted as irrational and unstable because it helps the case for war to have a nutcase running the show. He can't be trusted with nuclear weapins, the narrative goes. He can't be trusted with inspections. He can't be trusted at all. So he must be overthrown.

If we've learned anything from the events of 9/11, it's that a people will rally around their leader in a time of crisis. This is especially true if they don't already have a predetermined opinion on him or her. By all accounts, Iran's government is not that popular. The voters elected a reformer, Mohammed Khatami, to two terms, and watched as his efforts to reform the country from within were frustrated by the mullahs at every turn. That we never sought to encourage the reform movement in Iran during Khatami's reign was a major error.

Ahmadinejad's victory had very little to do with a return to hardline conservatism in the country, and a lot to do with his campaign message of economic populism. Thanks to high oil revenues he's been given some credit for a relative resurgence of the economy. And he's been spending quite a bit on subsidies and handouts to the rural communities. Ahmadinejad's move has clearly been to get the public, particularly in the small towns, on his side, by presenting himself as an incorruptable man of the people. It's working, particularly because he's been made into a symbol by the US.

"An indication of his power is the way he has whipped up public opinion on the nuclear energy issue," a western diplomat said. "If there was an election today, he would win." It was possible that Mr Ahmadinejad could become a liability to the government if Iran were taken to the UN security council, he added. "But I think in that situation, he gets stronger."

Vahid Karimi, of the government-affiliated Institute for Political and International Studies, said: "Certainly his popularity is increasing. People like what he says. It's not so much because he stands up to the west but because he's not corrupt. This is very important." Independent Iranian sources said many people were surprised that Mr Ahmadinejad had not turned out to be as socially conservative as many expected. His attacks on the privileges enjoyed by some among Iran's ruling clerical elite and his recent unsuccessful attempt to allow women to attend football matches had made a big impact.

It's very interesting what he's doing. Ahmadinejad is leveraging the demonization by the US and using it as a means to rally the people to his side. And he's also using the popular discontent with the Iranian leadership by setting himself up as their opposite number. He's undoubtedly more popular than the clerics now. He goes out every couple weeks to the countryside to meet with constituents, in direct opposition to the unaccountable leaders of the country. A year ago the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council would easily have been able to rein him in. But this is not the case today. He's played to his base, and succeeded.

And this is worrisome. If the US needed a boogeyman so badly, the mullahs could have easily sufficed. The people would not automatically rally to their cause after 27 years of Islamic Revolution. But Ahmadinejad was more of an unknown quantity. And he's become a hero of the Muslim world, a symbol of the perceived "clash of civilizations". Just as the war in Iraq has made Iran stronger than ever before, our persistent rhetoric has made Ahmadinejad stronger than ever as well.

This guy is very calculated. Faced with restraints on his power, he's taken advantage of virtually every opportunity to rise to a very high level. We've helped to create a monster. Instead of seeking out reformists and moderates, we've instead turned a dangerous religious hardliner into a heroic symbol of the Islamic world.


Quickly, Now

A series of quick hits on the news of the day:

• Apparently if there aren't any terror attacks in the country for five years it's because the Administration is doing a great job. But if there aren't any terror attacks in the country for 8 years, like under Clinton, that's because the terrorists were "planning."

• I think bringing in the National Guard to New Orleans after a spate of killings there seemed a little hasty, but it's the governor's prerogative. I do think it highlights a problem in the Crescent City, that with all the focus on rebuilding, there is no money to go around for the kind of afterschool and summer programs for at-risk youth that usually help stop this behavior. Nature abhors a vaccuum, as do gangs.

• Sen. George Allen, who has previously been much more concerned with running for President than running for re-election in the Senate, has suddenly become worried:

Allen, who faces a Senate challenge from Democrat Jim Webb, said he probably would not return to Iowa, where precinct caucuses launch the presidential nominating season, before the November election. He dismissed suggestions that other potential White House candidates would have an edge because they are free to roam Iowa.

He ought to worry about Virginia more than Iowa. His state has moderated, and he hasn't. Webb is primed for an upset here.

• Here's a cautionary tale about the dangers of MySpace. Oh, wait, it's actually a cautionary tale about the dangers of Republican strategists, as told on MySpace. Maybe Mike Fitzpatrick should seek legislation to ban Republican strategists from schools and libraries!

• From last week, but important enough to recollect: our emergency room system is a shambles.

The nation's emergency medical system — from the 911 centers that take phone calls for help to the emergency rooms that have become primary treatment centers for millions of Americans — is in a dangerous state of crisis, says a new series of landmark reports.

The reports warn that the U.S. lifesaving system is not only failing to handle daily emergencies but also could break down in the face of national disasters, including hurricanes, disease outbreaks or terrorist attacks.

"We are not prepared," says Brent Eastman, a board member and chief medical officer at Scripps Health in San Diego. "We struggle to survive day-to-day."

Anyone who's been in an ER lately will say an "Amen!" to that. I remember going in for asthma once, I literally couldn't catch my breath, and I waited for 90 minutes. I guess that's what you get when you have the BEST HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD!

• Even older, but worth revisiting: Europe's role in CIA abductions. The Council of Europe contradicts an earlier report absolving the Europeans of blame. I seem to remember that one being trumpeted by the conservosphere, and not a peep on this one. Hm.

• Despite their complicity in secret prisons in Europe, the EU will call for the closing of Guantanamo in a summit with the President this week. Not every country in Europe had a hand in helping the CIA, but this seems a little like misplaced blame to me. I agree that Guantanamo should be closed once everyone in it is prosecuted under due process of the law. Closing it now without doing that will just allow the US to transfer the prisoners somewhere even more secretive. I do agree with this, however:

On Monday a spokesman for the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said it was important to ensure that "in combating terrorism we do not ourselves damage our democratic and legal systems".

"Nobody should be in a legal vacuum," he said.

In Cuba OR in Europe.

• The fight for fluffernutter sandwiches continues. If this was the Reagan Administration that Marshmallow Fluff would be considered a vegetable.


Is The President a Japanese Elder?

Via Matthew Yglesias, here's a choice bit from this Washington Post review of Ron Suskind's new book The One Percent Doctrine:

One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques. [...]

"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

"You're not going to let me lose face?" Who the hell says that outside of 11th-century Osaka?

I think this entire going-on-six-year administration is a giant compound mistake, where they fuck one thing up, which leads to them compensating for that by fucking something else up, which then they need to cover up by fucking something up further...

You get the picture.

By the way, how much money did it cost for local, state and federal Homeland Security officials to track down the mad ravings of a lunatic as if they were actual terror alerts? How many people were up nights trying to make sense of these plots to blow up the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge, which had no basis in reality? And given that many major cities aren't even ready for natural disasters, yet alone man-made ones, how much manpower might have been diverted from actual threats to these fantasyland ones because Bush-san didn't want to "lose face"?

You know Mr. President, the ultimate way to save face is to commit seppuku. I'll send you a book on it.


Wherein I Solve Everything

Here's my deal on this whole North Korea missile testing thing: I encourage the North Koreans to test as many weapons as possible.

Hear me out.

North Korea has an indeterminate amount of weapons. Could be 10, could be 100, could be 1,000. But it's probably closer to 10. I say this because the country isn't even doing the job of feeding its own citizens. They're a poor nation, and even with a strong military, they couldn't possibly have the infrastructure needed to mass produce hundreds or thousands of weapons under the world community's noses.

Consequently, every weapon they test is one less weapon they have.

I don't even get why a poor country like North Korea would waste time and effort testing a weapon. They'd set it off, KA-BLAM, turn to each other, nod in agreement, and then it's time for the kimchee sale. "Say, why did we test one of the only weapons we have left? I mean, we know it works, but a lot of good half a ton of depleted uranium can do for us at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean! Are we idiots or what?"

That joke being over (and who says I can't do irony?), let me say that countries with the ability to deliver massive payloads over the heads of our allies like Japan, and possibly to our shores, might deserve more of our attention than countries who we think might have just enriched enough uranium to start up a flashlight pen.


Newton's Third Law

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction:

A jury found former Bush administration official David Safavian guilty Tuesday of covering up his dealings with Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff.

Safavian was convicted on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction. He had resigned from his White House post last year as the federal government's chief procurement officer [...]

In the Safavian case, prosecutors highlighted the name of Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio. They introduced a photograph of the congressman and Abramoff standing in front of a private jet that whisked them and other members of a golfing party for a five-day trip to the storied St Andrews Old Course in Scotland, and a second leg of the journey to London.

The trial consumed eight days of testimony about Safavian's assistance to Abramoff regarding government-owned real estate and the weeklong golfing excursion to Scotland that the lobbyist organized.

Safavian went on the trans-Atlantic trip while he was chief of staff at the General Services Administration, and other participants besides Ney included two of the congressman's aides and Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed.

OK, maybe not an equal and opposite reaction, considering two elected officials are named in those first few paragraphs.

Not every Republican in Washington is going to be so skillfull to wriggle out of corruption and deviousness this systemic. Don't forget that the star witness for all of this, Jack Abramoff himself, didn't even need to take the stand to convict Safavian. When he starts talking to juries, look out.


Hey Thanks Guys

Big shout-out and sincere thanks to John Yoo and Abu Gonzales, two fun and swinging moral relativists whose rewriting of national policy regarding torture and the Geneva Conventions has led to the increased likelihood of incidents like this:

U.S. forces on Tuesday recovered the bodies of two American soldiers reported captured by insurgents last week. An Iraqi defense ministry official said the men were tortured and "killed in a barbaric way." Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had "slaughtered" them.

The claim was made in a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men were beheaded.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the remains were believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore. [...]

The director of the Iraqi defense ministry's operation room, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured. "With great regret, they were killed in a barbaric way," he said.

There's a "chicken-or-the-egg" argument that will be made about who tortured who first and about how we have to fight fire with fire. But to be sure, when you unequivocally state that torture is an acceptable and necessary part of standard military practice, you don't have much of an ethical leg to stand on when your troops are treated the same way. And it disgusts me that this is so.

More here and here.



I do appreciate Mark Warner's efforts to engage the netroots and work towards electing Democrats in November. I just participated in his "Mapchangers" competition. The winners of the balloting will get $5000 from his PAC, and the grand prize winner gets a fundraiser with Gov. Warner. This is the way to get traction in the netroots over a party at the Stratosphere, in my opinion (though chocolate fondue is pretty).

Here's my ballot:

My MapChangers


CA-04 Charlie Brown

Met him at Yearly Kos. Great guy to take on John Doolittle in Northeast CA.

NV-Sen Jack Carter

Also met him at YK. Pres. Carter's son.

MT-Sen Jon Tester

Progressive populist from the Great Plains.

CO-05 Jay Fawcett

Former Air Force officer "Fighting Dem" in James Dobson country.

CA-11 Jerry McNerney


PA-08 Patrick Murphy

My parent's district, I have a lot of great things to say about this 32 year-old Iraq war vet.

NY-29 Eric Massa

Another FIghting Dem. Notice a pattern with me?

VA-Sen James Webb

George Allen's worst nightmare in VA, a former Navy Secretary under Reagan.

PA-10 Chris Carney

USAF vet up against Don "Why yes, I did strangle my mistress, why do you ask?" Sherwood.

MI-09 Nancy Skinner

Environmental candidate from auto country, met her at YKos.

Want to choose your own MapChangers?

I do appreciate candidates that are building bridges to the netroots. Feingold's doing the same with his Progressive Patriots Fund. Actually, it's exactly the same.


Occupational Hazards

Today there is debate in the Senate on two competing Democratic plans for eventual withdrawal from Iraq. My Senators in California have split equally, becoming co-sponsors on each of the bills. Sen. Boxer has signed on to the Kerry-Feingold Amendment giving a firm deadline for the redeployment of US combat troops out of Iraq (I believe the deadline is July of next year).

Our troops have served valiantly in Iraq. Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, they’ve done their job. Now, it’s time to put the future of Iraq where it belongs: in the hands of the Iraqi people and their leaders. And it’s time to listen to General George Casey and acknowledge that the indefinite presence of large numbers of U.S. combat forces in Iraq will weaken chances of defeating the insurgency and weaken our ability to fight the global terrorist networks that threaten us today.

The other amendment, supported by Senator Feinstein, will be brought to the floor by Jack Reed and Carl Levin:

At a press conference this afternoon, Senators Reed and Levin, along with co-sponsors Feinstein and Salazar, announced an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill that would shift U.S. policy in Iraq away from the open-ended commitment of the Bush Administration. The amendment involves a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq beginning this year, and it requires that the President submit a plan for continued redeployment by the end of 2006.

Matthew Yglesias likes that plan and thinks it's one most Democrats can get behind. This is of course true, because it's nonbinding and gives no commitment to an end date and really does nothing to change the current policy.

I guess I should be happy that Democrats are recognizing that they must talk about Iraq if they want to lead the country. The problem in talking about it, as well expressed by thereisnospoon but even better by Thom Hartmann last night on Air America, is that we're no longer fighting a war in Iraq. As long as you talk about Iraq in terms of a war, Americans are going to err on the side of wanting to see us succeed:

When push comes to shove, Americans want to win. Such is the eternal optimism of the American electorate that they will vote simultaneously for John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan--because both promised sunshine in the days ahead. And no matter what they say in the polls leading up an election, when they actually step into the ballot box, they're going to vote for the people who appeal to their pride and tell them that they will WIN.

There's no doubt about that. I want the US to succeed, no matter what the "you hate America" crowd might say about me and my fellow progressives. But I feel like we ended this war about 3 years ago, when we invaded the country, captured its leader and its major cities, and disbanded its Army (but allowed them to keep their weapons, now THAT was a good idea). And now we're involved in an occupation. And occupations usually fail. Maybe not immediately, maybe not for decades, but eventually, they fail. They fail because human beings do not want to be subject to other human beings who come in from foreign lands and take over their countries. This is the heart of George W. Bush's statement that "people everywhere strive to be free." This is no less true in Iraq, and the sectarian violence, guerrilla warfare, and terrorist acts we see in that country on a daily basis spring from a people under the thumb of occupation who want us out.

Not a single soldier was killed during the postwar occupation of Germany and Japan. Eventually, we left and allowed those countries to experience self-rule and maintain their own security. Many were killed in the French occupation of Vietnam. Eventually, both France and the US learned that self-determination is powerful enough to wear down even the strongest opponent. We have in Iraq an experience like the colonial occupation of Algeria, or the Chinese occupation of Tibet. These examples show that there are only two options, as thereisnospoon writes:

Occupations can end only in WITHDRAWAL or in ANNEXATION; Wars can end only in DEFEAT or VICTORY.

America is NOT ready to annex Iraq--even if such a thing were possible. Cheney and Bush would like to, through the process of permanent bases--but the American public won't stand for it. America IS ready to accept withdrawal from Iraq--But ONLY if it understands that what is happening in Iraq is an OCCUPATION and not a war.

These deabtes today are all well and good, but to the extent that they miss this key point, they are still vulnernable to the familiar charge of "cut and run." It's not accurate, but it will sway a certain segment of the population. This is despite the fact that the horror show continues in Iraq, with more deaths, more violence, more torture. Last night the President said at a fundraiser that "There will be no early withdrawal as long as we run the Congress and occupy the White House." This is the choice. A permanent occupation in a country blowing up into civil war, or getting our troops out of harm's way, redeploying them over the horizon, and attempting to salvage something out of what is not likely to end well.

The President isn't leaving Iraq for the same reason he couldn't admit a mistake during the election: it's a simple matter of not wanting to show weakness. Democrats will lose the argument if it's a strong vs. weak decision on a war. They need to level with the American people. This is an occupation. And it's gone well past its necessary point. Let's get back to the real war we need to fight - against Islamic extremism - and end this distracting occupation that is sucking up all our resources and costing us innumerable amounts in human life.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Parallel Universe

Here's something just thrown in on the front page of the B section in this past Sunday's Washington Post. It wasn't the top story of the day, and still isn't factoring high on Google News or anywhere else. Of course it would upset the whole "Comeback President" narrative that the media seems insistent to push about Iraq:

Hours before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees. This cable, marked "sensitive" and obtained by The Washington Post, outlines in spare prose the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government.

Here is the document.

This brief note and this cable, which paints a picture of an increasingly unstable and desperate Iraq, written not by those in insurgent strongholds but US Embassy personnel, arguably the most guarded and protected people in the entire country, seems like it's coming from a completely different universe than the happy talk of "last throes," which Deadeye Dick is still pushing. It's quite a horrific cable. Anyone of Iraqi descent seen to be working with the Embassy is singled out for harrassment and threats. Men cannot wear shorts in public anymore, and women can't show so much as an ounce of skin. Ethnic cleansing is occurring at a rapid rate, with Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis being uprooted from their homes and shipped out to less diverse regions of the country. This is of a piece with a civil war, as all sides turn from communities into armed encampments. There are fuel and energy shortages, kidnappings, targeted civilians, and a general sense of alarm.

We hear great things about the starts of crackdowns, in Baghdad, say, or Ramadi, but we never get the follow-up story about how they've ended up. That's because we've taken the same piece of land three or four times, only to watch the insurgents slip away from the fighting, and turn up elsewhere. That's because insurgency is probably a misnomer, since it's a such a large perecentage of the populace engaged in the fighting. Maybe that's why O'Reilly has come to the conclusion that Bill Maher has been saying as a joke for months:

O'Reilly: Now to me, they're not fighting it hard enough. See, if I'm president, I got probably another 50-60 thousand with orders to shoot on sight anybody violating curfews. Shoot them on sight. That's me... President O'Reilly... Curfew in Ramadi, seven o'clock at night. You're on the street? You're dead. I shoot you right between the eyes. Ok? That's how I run that country. Just like Saddam ran it. Saddam didn't have explosions - he didn't have bombers. Did he? because if you got out of line, you're dead.

Bill-O would like to meet the new boss that's the same as the old boss. Of course the way that this war has been managed, only a strongman could quell the destruction of the social fabric our intervention has caused. This was not a foregone conclusion, but resulted from an attitude of turning the Shiite-Sunni divide into the Democratic-Republican divide at home, angering the minority so much (and bolstering the majority as well) that armed conflict could be the only result. We've transformed Iraq from a brutal country ruled by a despot into a brutal country that has no despot. Neither is desirable. And with this option we've lost 2,500 Americans and $400 billion in cash.

The world has a lot of dictators, and now some on the right are pining for another one to stop the violence we created in Iraq. We zeroed in on Saddam above the dictator of, say, Uzbekistan, for still-unknown reasons, other than the fact that the region of the world suggested we could get away with it. We're paying a great price for a pre-emptive policy which ignored the realities of how this might turn out, especially given the mismanagement that these guys in power were sure to bring. And still the permanent fictions remain, highlighted by the Congress passing a FRICKING LAW that said "The United States will prevail in Iraq." Can I add a rider that "The United States will prevail in the World Series?" Because then, finally, the insurgent Toronto Blue Jays will give up and join Montreal in surrender.

We are not going to have a real debate on Iraq in this country as long as the Republicans are in power. Bush is committed to staying there basically forever, because he's got himself convinced that leaving equals losing. And he's not about to lose. This war will drag on and on and on until at least 2009. We're not going anywhere because the Republicans refuse to even enact a policy, yet alone change course. The mantra for 2006, many have said, ought to be "Had Enough?"

Count me in the "Had Enough" camp.


Death of a Moderate

If you are in the Bush White House and you're not a signatory to the PNAC document, you're an endangered species. Robert Zoellick became the latest casualty in the Death of the Moderates today:

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, the department's No. 2 official, is resigning, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Monday.

Zoellick, who served six years in the Bush administration, said he would join the Wall Street investment house Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

In his resignation letter, dated June 15, Zoellick, 52, did not say why he was leaving. A former U.S. trade representative, Zoellick reportedly wanted to be promoted to treasury secretary to replace departing secretary John Snow, but President George W. Bush nominated Goldman Sachs executive Henry Paulson instead.

I find it worrisome that at this sensitive time, the leading US diplomat dealing with the crisis in Darfur is leaving. I also find it worrisome that Zoellick was marginalized because of his moderation, apparently, showing that this weak White House cannot brook any difference of opinion that might send tumbling their house of cards. Think Progress finds a few choice quotes from newspaper accounts of Zoellick's departure:

In addition, friends said, Mr. Zoellick had at times felt marginalized at the State Department, where his subordinates, including R. Nicholas Burns, an under secretary of state, manage most of the major issues.

Zoellick has told administration officials he will leave, probably to a Wall Street firm, if he isn’t named to replace Treasury Secretary John Snow, two persons familiar with the matter said.

From his first days at the State Department, Mr. Zoellick has chafed at his subordinate position, frequently remarking that he was finding the adjustment difficult after running his own office during four years as United States trade representative, which is a cabinet position.

As Paul Krugman noted earlier today, there are no more moderates left. This latest purge serves as a dangerous reminder. The reason pragmatic Democrats like the online community are so often tarred as being "radical extremists" is because that's the only way Republicans, who've marginalized dissent in their own party for years, can understand inter-party differences in opinion. I wish the big tent still existed, but it's flown away, at least in the Republican Party.

Today a Democratic governor signed a law that would ban almost all abortions in the state of Louisiana if Roe v. Wade was overturned (an excellent use of the legislators' time in that well-functioning state with no problems to speak of on the horizon... like cleaning up and rebuilding its most populous city, etc.) Yet conservative organizations still put out books called "The Party of Death" (no link needed) because calling the other side extremist, and indeed being extremist themselves, serves their needs. The Republicans don't have a big tent and they don't want the other side to have one either, as it would mean a long, slow electoral death. I wholeheartedly condemn Gov. Blanco's decision. But in the final analysis, it doesn't matter to conservatives what she did. The Democrats will be seen as baby-killers anyway. And this long slow death of the moderates has not only damaged any ability to govern this country, it's distracted politicians from doing anything to move America forward. It's poisonous to the process.


Even-Numbered Politics

I kind of mentioned this in talking about Claire McCaskill's setting the terms of the immigration debate in her Senate race in Missouri, but this article from the Washington Post nicely displays the bankruptcy in the Bush Administration policy on the issue:

The Bush administration, which is vowing to crack down on U.S. companies that hire illegal workers, virtually abandoned such employer sanctions before it began pushing to overhaul U.S. immigration laws last year, government statistics show.

Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.

In 1999, the United States initiated fines against 417 companies. In 2004, it issued fine notices to three.

These studies have been well-known for a while, and it's perfectly legitimate for Democrats to bash the Administration and fellow Republican opponents for cozying up to big business by ignoring law enforcement in the workplace. I know it's not the only side of the immigration debate, but it's an important point to make to contrast the fearmongering and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the other side. Once again, the Republiwon'ts are trying to distract from the real issue here. They've continued selling out the middle class of America by turning away from enforcement when corporations hire illegal workers. New technologies provide ways to implement verification databases and other safeguards but they are unfunded pilot programs at this stage. Only after it became a campaign issue did this government get as serious about enforcement as, say, the Clinton Administration was a decade ago.

Identifying and correcting the root causes of immigration - like breaking the oligarchy that limits Mexican entrepreneurship and allowing subsistence farmers in Mexico to actually live off their crops, a reality shattered by agribusiness in the decade since the enaction of NAFTA - is just as crucial. But if we're talking electoral politics, bashing the Republicans for only getting serious about the immigration problem in an even-numbered year is not a bad strategy. Especially because that fits into a convenient theme that we see every two years.


The Center Cannot Hold

Behind the wall, Paul Krugman lays out the sad new truth in American politics:

But if the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have the last three elections been dominated by talk of terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no better way to do that than accusing the other party of being unpatriotic and godless [...]

So what should we do about all this? I won't offer the Democrats advice right now, except to say that tough talk on national security and affirmations of personal faith won't help: the other side will smear you anyway.

But I would like to offer some advice to my fellow pundits: face reality. There are some commentators who long for the bipartisan days of yore, and flock eagerly to any politician who looks "centrist." But there isn't any center in modern American politics. And the center won't return until we have a new New Deal, and rebuild our middle class.

Krugman is about the only pundit that understands this. Politics has become divisive not because of a lack of leadership or because everyone just decided to be mean all of a sudden. It's a willful design from a Republican Party that realized long ago that divisiveness is their strategy to win elections. So they turned politics into professional wrestling, waged a 40-year campaign to demonize and smear anyone and everyone that disagreed with them, questioning patriotism and loyalty to country. The "divide and conquer" approach is nothing new, and the truth will always win out as long as the message is effective. But to me, Krugman is explicitly calling out the likes of Joe Biden, whose entire campaign strategy is one of "faith and security." Establishment Dems like Biden will continue to try to reach accomodation with a Republican voter base that will hear absolutely none of it. A politics of contrast, a politics that highlights economic security and lays out the systematic destruction of the middle class in this country, and offers a solution and a way forward, is the only progressive politics that will win. Not Joe Biden screaming "but we're tougher and more faithful!"

National security and foreign policy is of course important, but there has to be a contrast with the status quo, an explanation of how to change the failed policies that have made us more vulnerable and at risk. Otherwise, the myth that a centrist can straddle that line and expect to win is complete horseshit.