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

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Operation Snake Charmer

Just a big PR stunt:

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

I don't see how you can blame the TV networks for getting it wrong when all of their information was coming from CentCom. Like I said, the Administration is more concerned with fighting the war at home, and so any fake "show of force" they can portray, with Iraqis purportedly in charge, will get the networks working themselves into a frenzy with weapons stats and "military analysts" surveying maps and all that. It distracts and diverts attention, and provides some justification for withdrawal (see, Iraqis are taking the lead in a MAJOR operation). It's just another example of the dishonesty which has characterized this entire mission. And to think we were the ones who laughed at Baghdad Bob.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Dumber and Dumbererer

You'll recall my post about the guy who broke the "big story" about the stash of Saddam Hussein documents and tapes that supposedly prove causal relationships with Al Qaeda and weapons programs. You'll recall that this guy believes God directed him to weapons sites in Iraq, and that he found out about one site through a friend's dream.

Well, yesterday the right blogosphere, undaunted despite this shattered credibility, started to hype the release of some documents from the office of John Negroponte that they say were captured in postwar Afghanistan and Iran. They refuse to acknowledge their authenticity or even the accuracy of the Arabic transcripts. Maybe that's because the first "evidence" that bloggers have hyped isn't a transcript at all. Mahablog has the details:

Yesterday John Hinderaker of Power Line published a post called “In Saddam’s Archives” in which he links to and discusses one of these documents, posted on the Foreign Military Studies Office web site as “CMPC-2003-006430.” And here is that document as posted on the FMSO site [PDF].

Now here’s where it gets screwy. This document consists of a page of what looks like Arabic script (I don’t know Arabic from Parsi from whatever). This is followed by a seven-page document from the Federation of American Scientists about the Iraqi Intelligence Service, with information gleaned from various unclassified sources. This same document is still on the FAS web site, here, and was last updated in 1997, it says. Not exactly super-secret, in other words, and not from Iraq. What it contains is information floating around in the West as of 1997.

Note that Hinderaker doesn’t misrepresent this; he says plainly in his post that “The English portion of the document is a description of the Mukhabarat by the Federation of American Scientists. The Arabic portion apparently hasn’t been translated.” But then he goes on to quote the FAS document under the “In Saddam’s Archives” title, which would leave the uncareful reader with the impression that the FAS document is a translation. For all I know the Arabic portion is a laundry list.

Hinderaker even posted a correction for this. But the impression left is clear: bloggers on the right are trying to force an assumption that Saddam and Al Qaeda had a relationship based on a 9 year-old document written by Americans, based on the same old intelligence that David Kay and everyone else has flatly stated was wrong. And the FAS document is based on nonclassified sources, so it's probably not even the best source of information we had in 1997, which, if you believe these bloggers, is the kind of outdated information we should be using to make decisions about wars in 2003.

Incidentally, what do these reports actually say? Well, one claims that Zarqawi was running terrorist training camps in Iraq prior to 9/11. He was. We know this. He was doing it in Iraqi Kurdistan, above the no-fly zone, outside Saddam's control, and Saddam wanted to take him out. That's your collaborative relationship.

This is from two years ago:

Apparently, Bush had three opportunities, long before the war, to destroy a terrorist camp in northern Iraq run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaida associate who recently cut off the head of Nicholas Berg. But the White House decided not to carry out the attack because, as the [NBC News] story puts it:

[T]he administration feared [that] destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

The implications of this are more shocking, in their way, than the news from Abu Ghraib. Bush promoted the invasion of Iraq as a vital battle in the war on terrorism, a continuation of our response to 9/11. Here was a chance to wipe out a high-ranking
terrorist. And Bush didn’t take advantage of it because doing so might also wipe out a rationale for invasion.

Way to take advantage of that info, John Kerry.

These documents are being dumped on the blogosphere in the hopes that they can find connections for the Administration - giving them plausible deniability when these connections are eventually debunked. If the Administration believed these would bolster their case they'd present them forcefully. Instead they sneak them out the back door to hopefully start a groundswell of unquestioning support. They can't make the case on the merits, so they let dishonest and ambitious bloggers make the case for them.

This needs to be knocked down immediately. The timing of this is clear: saber rattling on Iran has picked up, and justifying the last war will be key to winning support for this one. Only the justifications are a bunch of garbage.


Erin Go Bragh!

I'll be in Ireland in two days, AFTER St. Patrick's Day. Because I'm smart like that. Actually I hear that it's less of a raucous holiday over there, and more of a religious one.

Remember, I'll be travelblogging from Dublin and the Irish countryside all next week.


Congress Fights Back on Permanent Bases

I don't know how it got under the radar, and maybe this will get stripped out in committee or nullified by signing statement, but Rep. Barabara Lee of Oakland actually got an amendment passed banning funding for permanent bases in Iraq. It passed on a voice vote without opposition. I got an email on it from California Peace Aciton, otherwise I wouldn't have known about it.

We know that permanent basing undermines any possible victory strategy in Iraq, and we know that the Defense Department has been pouring money into setting them up anyway. This is a step toward accountability on that score, and that it passed so easily almost makes me a bit nervous. But I'm happy to see this issue highlighted by Democratic members of Congress.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Democrats Are The Party of Security

It's ages ago in blog time, but remember that Dubai Ports World deal? When Democrats were supposedly trying to "get to the right" of Republicans on national security? Even though Democrats have proposed one bill after another to fund real port security?

Well they just did it again:

Moments ago, the House of Representatives narrowly defeated an amendment proposed by Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN) that would have provided $1.25 billion in desperately needed funding for port security and disaster preparedness. The Sabo amendment included:

– $300 million to enable U.S. customs agents to inspect high-risk containers at all 140 overseas ports that ship directly to the United States. Current funding only allows U.S. customs agents to operate at 43 of these ports.

– $400 million to place radiation monitors at all U.S. ports of entry. Currently, less than half of U.S. ports have radiation monitors.

– $300 million to provide backup emergency communications equipment for the Gulf Coast.

Republicans don't give a shit about port security, or really any kind of homeland security. That's the only thing you can take away from these votes. Almost every Republican in the House voted against this bill.

This is exactly the strategy I wanted after the DP World deal went down. I wanted to get the GOP on the record on homeland security. They predictably failed the test. $1.25 billion is less than the daily budget of the Defense Department. It's less than the total expenditure in this year's budget for Star Wars missile defense, the thing they've been working on for 20+ years without success. How could you possibly say homeland security is not worth the price?

These votes should be front-page news. Right now at the top of is Operation Swarmer. War porn. Fox News' top story is a school bus flipping in Florida.


Cushy Job

Do nothing for three months, then meet for less than an hour:

Iraq's new parliament was sworn in Thursday, with parties still deadlocked over the next government, vehicles banned from Baghdad's streets to prevent car bombings and the country under the shadow of a feared civil war.

The long-expected first session, which took place within days of the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, lasted just over 30 minutes and was adjourned indefinitely because the legislature still has no speaker.

Adnan Pachachi, the senior politician who administered the oath in the absence of a speaker, spoke of a country in crisis.

"We have to prove to the world that a civil war is not and will not take place among our people," Pachachi told lawmakers. "The danger is still looming and the enemies are ready for us because they do not like to see a united, strong, stable Iraq."

As Pachachi spoke, he was interrupted from the floor by senior Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who said the remarks were inappropriate because of their political nature.

Even the oath was a source of disagreement, with the head of the committee that drafted the country's new constitution, Humam Hammoudi, protesting that lawmakers had strayed from the text. After brief consultations, judicial officials agreed the wording was acceptable.

Wow, working a half-hour every three months... in my next life, I want to be an Iraqi lawmaker. Wait, does that mean I have to live in Iraq? OK, never mind.

UPDATE: Also in the article is something I mentioned the other day:

Meanwhile, a top Iranian official said his country was ready to open direct talks with the United States over Iraq, marking a major shift in foreign policy a day after al-Hakim called for such talks.

Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the country's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters that any talks between the United States and Iran would deal only with Iraqi issues.

"To resolve Iraqi issues and help establishment of an independent and free government in Iraq, we agree to (talks with the United States)," Larijani said after a closed meeting of the parliament Thursday.

Larijani said the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, also had invited Iran for talks on Iraq.

Washington, which repeatedly has accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's affairs and of sending weapons and men to help insurgents in Iraq, had no immediate response.

They've been looking for a back-channel communication with Iran, and Iran pushed it out into the open. And we look like fools. Again.


The Birth Tax Balloons

Every man, woman and child in this country would now have to give $30,000 to the feds just to get us back to break even:

The U.S. Congress approved a $781 billion increase in the federal government's debt limit, the fourth time lawmakers have raised the cap since President George W. Bush took office.

The Senate voted 52-48 to increase the legal limit on federal borrowing to $8.97 trillion, up from $8.18 trillion. The House approved the measure last year, meaning the legislation now goes to the president for his signature.

The increase was approved about 30 minutes after the Treasury postponed the scheduled announcement of the sale of three-month and six-month Treasury bills. Treasury Secretary John Snow warned Congress in increasingly dire terms that the government couldn't continue to pay its bills, and risked defaulting on its obligations, without an immediate increase in the debt ceiling.

The fiscal irresponsibility of the Republican Administration continues. Four raises of the federal debt limit in five years. Unbelievable. And it's only getting worse. According to the article, "The Treasury said in January it plans to borrow $188 billion from January to March, the most ever for a single quarter." We had a surplus in the beginning of 2001, remember?

It is great news that two threatened GOP Senators up for re-election voted against their party on this, in Nevada (Jon Ensign) and Montana (Conrad Burns).  The heat must be on them from the Western libertarian constituency, who's more inclined to side with the Democrats if they continue to show fiscal responsibility like this.  That's what happens when you stick together (every single Democrat voted against raising the debt ceiling); you force members the other party to make choices they don't want to make. This vote and yesterday's vote on pay-go (which ended in a 50-50 tie, again with all Democrats voting together) should be highlighted come November.


I'd Call This Newsworthy

Interesting that most of the American papers didn't cover this:

Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."

She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

The Republicans, despite having their Presidents appoint judges for 20 out of the last 28 years (God, it hurts to say that), think they can bully the judiciary the same way they've bullied the Democrats in Congress. O'Connor is giving them a fair warning.

Frequently the courts are the last refuge of this country, the last arbiter of Constitutionality. This is where the NSA scandal should ultimately go; censure is merely an expression of disapproval. With Congressional oversight a thing of the past, the courts are one of the last options against this kind of thuggery. Good for Sandra Day O'Connor.

After the decision last March that ordered a brain-dead woman in Florida, Terri Schiavo, removed from life support, Mr DeLay said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour."

Mr DeLay later called for the impeachment of judges involved in the Schiavo case, and called for more scrutiny of "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president".

Such threats, Ms O'Connor said, "pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedom", and she told the lawyers in her audience: "I want you to tune your ears to these attacks ... You have an obligation to speak up.

"Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence - people do," the retired supreme court justice said.

She noted death threats against judges were on the rise and added that the situation was not helped by a senior senator's suggestion that there might be a connection between the violence against judges and the decisions they make.

The senator she was referring to was John Cornyn, a Bush loyalist from Texas, who made his remarks last April, soon after a judge was shot dead in an Atlanta courtroom and the family of a federal judge was murdered in Illinois.

I hope the legal community listens to this Cassandra. The rhetoric against the judiciary is out of bounds and something needs to be done about it.


Feingold on Censure

FEINGOLD: It seems to me appropriate, when the spin machines are out there and people are using various language, to come out and reiterate my reasons for doing this.

I think that the press decided immediately that somehow this was a bad thing for Democrats and a good thing for  conservatives. The facts don't bear it out. You don't have the polls to prove it. The way my colleagues are responding to me suggests to me they're thinking about this, that they feel that there has to be some accountability.

So the instant decision about what the story is, actually, I think is going to backfire on those who made up the story. I don't get the feeling that I had on Monday about this -- yes, people were concerned -- I'm not getting that.

And if the right wing really believes in this country that -- Rush Limbaugh and others -- that they can somehow turn the president's reputation around by saying, "You're darn right he violated the law, and it's a good thing," I think they're just as confused as they are about their Iraq politics. People aren't buying it anymore.

So not only do I not regret it, I felt an absolute obligation to do it.

I don't think Watergate could have happened in this era of the 24-hour news cycle. That was a two-year story that started on an inside page of the Washington Post and migrated out into the public eye. The media is far too concerned with making snap judgments and instant analysis, viewing everything through the lens of politics and the horse race, that to ask them to step back and actually look at the issues, to look at accountability, to sift through the truth and the spin, is simply asking them to do too much. That's not the kind of operation they run anymore.

So far, Sens. Harkin and Boxer (my phone call made a difference!) have co-sponsored the resolution, and Sens. Kerry and Menendez have made unofficial commitments to vote for it. An ARG poll out today shows a plurality of the public favoring censure 46-44% despite virtually no support from the Democratic leadership.

But the media will continue to write stories about how this will be a rallying cry for Republicans. Look, if Democrats woke up 5 minutes late one day, Republicans would argue that failing to wake up early in a time of war gives aid and comfort to the enemy. They'll find a rallying cry no matter what. Let's stand up for principle and rally DEMOCRATS to the cause.


War Porn

I'm surprised this air strike didn't happen sooner. It's EXACTLY what the doctor ordered for an Administration struggling to cope with a failed Iraq policy. That's because there's nothing the American media loves more than 'splosions.

By day I work as an editor for a variety of TV shows, and lately I've been coming in to find scripts from the night before on my desk. Today's script is for a show called "GI Factory" on something called "The Military Channel." I vaguely knew such a channel existed (and I don't know how it's funded, although I could guess), but reading this script was instructive. It's a segment on the M-134D Gatling-type Machine Gun. Here's an excerpt:

It's a six-barreled, electrically-driven machine gun, firing 3000 rounds per minute. They call it a fight stopper and you can see why.

The accompanying video suggestion says "Minigun in action - blows up something."

When the US began shock and awe in 2003, it was the talk of all the news nets. There were military experts walking on giant maps of Iraq projected on the floor, bestriding over them like a colossus. There were flashy graphics and vital statistics of weaponry and breathless descriptions of destruction and carnage.

I woke up to the same thing today. CNN had a scroll of all the munitions being used in the attack. There was lots of footage of planes, bombs, aircraft carriers, etc.

Allowing the news nets to air their war porn is the perfect antidote to bad news from Iraq. They practically salivate at the equipment, and completely lose sight of the context: why are we starting major combat operations three years after the war's inception? Why in Samarra? What is the benefit of this? None of that gets answered: what could be heard above the din of 'splosions onscreen?

The war has always been fought harder in this country than it has in Iraq. The war for hearts and minds is for the hearts and minds of the American people, to have them get behind the war effort. This show of force, with its attendant focus on the weapons of modern warfare, anesthetizes us to the effects of the violence in favor of its colorful display.

We already knew that the air war in Iraq was increasing. The political class at the White House just realized what they could gain by bringing it out into the open.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

History WILL Judge

Just had a completely disturbing time poring through Salon's comprehensive history of Abu Ghraib prison. I believe the President is fond of saying that "history will judge" his career. You bet your ass they will. And this will be primary documentary evidence of how badly we screwed up in Iraq.

As much as I objected to this war initially, it wasn't unwinnable until this team got their hands on it. One could argue about the policy of pre-emption, but it's impossible to argue about the results. The national shame that I experienced while viewing the photos, watching the videos, and reading the reports of Abu Ghraib hung heavy with me. I mentioned it once, but "Habeus Schmabeus," the This American Life episode which interviews released detainees from Guantanamo, is vital for everyone to hear. Together, these reports paint a picture of America out of control, almost punching into the night in anger, stoked by fear and hatred, hoping that this will at least stop their internal torment by passing it on to someone else. It was stupid, irrational, and wholly without merit. Period.

History will most definitely judge a country that lost its collective mind after September the 11th, that forgot every ideal and value it held dear for the past 200 years, almost without exception. History will judge how this country dealt with this craven behavior, by punishing the lesser lights (the "few bad apples") and leaving the policymakers alone. History will understand the ramifications of the abuse scandal, how the moderates in the Muslim world got bulldozed by the radicals, how Al Qaeda turned it into a recruitment poster. History will judge. And they won't be kind.


"Iraq Is All but Won; Now What?"

(above is a headline from the Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2003)

Atrios linked to this FAIR document providing dozens of idiotic quotes by the media about the war, taunting the "liberals" who were against it, spouting triumphant "the war is over" hosannas, and the like. It's an indisdpensable treasure trove of just how clueless the conventional wisdom was at that time. The media believed the bullshit that as long as we got to Baghdad and pulled the Saddam statue down (which was a military PSYOPS stunt, we now know), everything would take care of itself. Like a soccer team of 8 year-olds (Jon Stewart minted that, not I), the media ran past the business of winning the peace to breathlessly describe how we won the war and how all the naysayers were wrong. And when it turned out that the naysayers were actually, you know, RIGHT, they brushed past their own mistakes. The media shark just kept moving forward, without correction, without perspective.

Here's a sample quote:

"The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war."
(Fox News Channel's Fred Barnes, 4/10/03)

The media will never, EVER, EVER take responsibility for their role in cheerleading this war and shouting down critics of it. But this is a good way to let them know that we remember.


Casualties? What Casualties, We're in the Base-Building Business Here

Two stories in the news today go pretty far to clarify the real reasons why we're in Iraq. First we learn that early in the war, the rush to Baghdad was more important than the safety of our troops:

From the first days of the invasion in March 2003, American forces had tangled with fanatical Saddam Fedayeen paramilitary fighters. Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, who was leading the Army's V Corps toward Baghdad, had told two reporters that his soldiers needed to delay their advance on the Iraqi capital to suppress the Fedayeen threat in the rear.

Soon after, General Franks phoned Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the commander of allied land forces, to warn that he might relieve General Wallace.

The firing was averted after General McKiernan flew to meet General Franks. But the episode revealed the deep disagreements within the United States high command about the Iraqi military threat and what would be required to defeat it.

The paramilitary Fedayeen were numerous, well-armed, dispersed throughout the country, and seemingly determined to fight to the death. But while many officers in the field assessed the Fedayeen as a dogged foe, General Franks and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saw them as little more than speed bumps on the way to Baghdad. Three years later, Iraq has yet to be subdued. Many of the issues that have haunted the Bush administration about the war — the failure to foresee a potential insurgency and to send sufficient troops to stabilize the country after Saddam Hussein's government was toppled — were foreshadowed early in the conflict. How some of the crucial decisions were made, the behind-the-scenes debate about them and early cautions about a sustained threat have not been previously known.

This is all taken from a new book called "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," by Michael Gordon and General Bernard Trainor. Gordon and Trainor have multiple sources, and they really get at the priorities of the military commanders:

Determined to spur his ground war commanders to renew the push toward Baghdad, Gen Franks flew to Gen McKiernan's headquarters on March 31, where he delivered some harsh criticism. Only the British and the Special Operations Forces had been fighting, he complained.

The most memorable moment came when Gen Franks said that he did not want to hear about casualties, even though no one had mentioned any, recalled several participants in the meeting. He put his hand to his mouth and made a yawning motion, as if to suggest that some casualties were not of major consequence to the attack.

The whole idea was to get to Baghdad as quickly as possible, taking the country and occupying it, without a thought as to the consequences after the invasion was over. So why was there this need to occupy so quickly? Certainly there was a PR component to it; the Administration didn't want to get bogged down in a longer war (good job with that one). But if we read between the lines of this Reuters article, it becomes clear:

The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect the flow of oil, the Army general overseeing U.S. military operations in Iraq said Tuesday.

While the Bush administration has downplayed prospects for permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid told a House subcommittee he could not rule that out.

Abizaid said that policy would be worked out with a unified, national Iraqi government if and when that is established, "and it would be premature for me to predict."

We had to get to Baghdad to make it seem like the war was over so we could start moving in the infrastructure for the permanent bases. We've been setting these up for years. This is from March of 2004:

From the ashes of abandoned Iraqi army bases, U.S. military engineers are overseeing the building of an enhanced system of American bases designed to last for years.

Last year, as troops poured over the Kuwait border to invade Iraq, the U.S. military set up at least 120 forward operating bases. Then came hundreds of expeditionary and temporary bases that were to last between six months and a year for tactical operations while providing soldiers with such comforts as e-mail and Internet access.

Now U.S. engineers are focusing on constructing 14 "enduring bases," long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops expected to serve in Iraq for at least two years. The bases also would be key outposts for Bush administration policy advisers.

As the U.S. scales back its military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq provides an option for an administration eager to maintain a robust military presence in the Middle East and intent on a muscular approach to seeding democracy in the region. The number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, between 105,000 and 110,000, is expected to remain unchanged through 2006, according to military planners.

"Is this a swap for the Saudi bases?" asked Army Brig. Gen. Robert Pollman, chief engineer for base construction in Iraq. "I don't know. ... When we talk about enduring bases here, we're talking about the present operation, not in terms of America's global strategic base. But this makes sense. It makes a lot of logical sense."

The Coalition Provisional Authority had the mandate to build these bases when they assumed control in 2003. When it was split up into pieces following the handover of power, the purse strings fell into the hands of the Defense Department. The 2005 supplemental appropriation for Iraq included money for "permanent facilities" for military troops. There are about 172,000 different articles about permanent bases in Iraq, so I could go on and on.

The truth is that we probably wanted a little chaos in the country so we could distract the public from the setting up of permanent infrastructure, shifting our Middle Eastern forces in Saudi Arabia (a major contention for Bin Laden and the Wahhabists) into Iraq. This is probably more chaos than the White House expected or wanted. But it provides the same kind of cover.

There is no way we will ever have security in Iraq so long as we're building a permanent occupying presence there. The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman of California, has asked for a clarification from the
White House on this issue.

...Military tools are inadequate to transform Iraq into a fully functioning democratic state capable of providing security and services for its people. This can only be accomplished through aggressive diplomacy to forge true power-sharing among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.

And true power-sharing will not happen as long as Iraqis suspect the United States will maintain permanent military bases in Iraq and harbors designs on Iraqi oil.

I, therefore, urge you to make clear personally to the Iraqi people that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq and that Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people. Your continuing failure to clarify U.S. intentions provides an excuse for certain Iraqis to avoid compromise and jeopardizes our ability to succeed in Iraq.

Congresswoman Harman needs to keep pressing this. Email her and let her know we have her back.


A Show of Strength

Glenn Greenwald and Digby have great analyses of the censure issue, and I've done at least three of these as well, but I don't think it's possible to understate its importance. The only way Democrats are going to regain credibility in the eyes of voters is by standing up for their principles instead of cowering, running from a fight, and HOPING the other side implodes.

The Republicans aren't going to quit bashing Dems whether they co-sponsor censure or not. That's the great fallacy here. Democrats think that by laying in the weeds, they'll somehow get points from the Republicans for being responsible or something. This will never happen. Future President Feingold has already been called a terrorist, practically, for bringing this up. That's to be expected. But those that sit out this fight won't get a free pass. What have been the frames from the Right for the last several years? Democrats are weak, they're spineless, they have no agenda. As Greenwald says:

Who appears stronger and more resolute right about now -- Russ Feingold or the Democrats described by the Washington Post and New York Times as literally hiding behind each other to avoid reporters and beating a full "retreat"?

The answer is obvious, and the Republicans will make it. The Democrats need to stop spending so much time worrying what Republicans will think about them and start spending time thinking about what makes sense. The President broke the law and he shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. Whether or not the resolution will pass is 100% irrelevant, whether or not you think 10 voters in a Michigan suburb will react positively to it is also irrelevant. It's about having a spine and having a core set of beliefs.

Digby does a great job of explaining the larger issue with the NSA spying program:

Now we have Republican senators saying explicitly that Russ Feingold is helping the terrorists. You do the math. Everyone is supposed to simply "trust" a president and his rubber stamp bedwetters to not use such sweeping laws against political opponents.

Very recent history shows that we are very wise to be suspicious of such things. It is not only not unimaginable, it was definitely done, within my adult lifetime, by a former GOP president and many of that president's staff and acolytes who are now in the Bush administration. Congressional oversight was what nailed them before and they are determined not to be tripped up by that pesky constitutional requirement again.

Donna Freaking Brazile even gets this. She's on record as embracing the Feingold resolution. This is about a group of people that got nailed by the abuses in Watergate, waited 30 years after the Church Commission implemented safeguards against domestic spying, and decided when the political time was right to completely subvert them. Democrats have to stop being afraid of these bully tactics. Be an opposition party. Oppose. Call breaking the law what it is.

Call your senators.


Getting It

As far as I know, John Kerry is the only Senator to come out of his shell and endorse Russ Feingold's proposal for censure (though he hasn't done it in a public way; this is based on conversations with his staff). Now he's again fighting the craven attempt by the Bush Administration and oil & gas interests to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But instead of just fighting it, perpetuating the "Democrats are the Party of No" myth, he sent an email to supporters with five reasonable solutions that would do far more for energy independence than ANWR drilling could ever accomplish:


More than 20 states have implemented market-based Renewable Energy Portfolio programs that require utilities to gradually increase the portion of electricity produced from renewable resources such as wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar energy. We should build on that success at the national level. Tell your Senators to enact a nationwide Renewable Portfolio Standard so that 20% of our energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that implementing this policy would save $26.6 billion and that commercial and industrial customers would be the biggest winners.


We have the ability to transform our transportation sector from one that fuels our addiction to one that drives us toward a sustainable future. The President should build on that demand and fuel new production opportunities by supporting a mandate that agriculture will provide 20% of the total energy consumed in the United States by 2020.


In addition to developing new sources of energy, we must make better use of available energy. New technological advances in appliances, energy grid systems, and buildings can boost productivity, create jobs, improve the reliability and safety of the energy infrastructure, and make dramatic inroads in reducing air pollution. Congress should enact energy efficiency measures to decrease energy use by 20% by 2020.


The government should provide an aggressive set of tax incentives and grants for consumers and for industries that are retooling plants to promote the manufacturing and purchase of hybrid vehicles, which run on a combination of gas and electric power to sharply increase efficiency. Twenty percent of all passenger cars and trucks on the road should be high-efficiency, low emissions hybrids by 2020.


Today, America spends more than $500,000 per minute on foreign oil or $30 million per hour. We paid more than $42 billion for Persian Gulf imports alone in 2005. It is bad enough that these dollars will not help grow our domestic economy -- it is even worse when you consider their impact on our national security. Congress should act to eliminate America's oil imports from the Middle East by 2020.

This is sensible, and drives a stake through the heart of the "Democrats have no ideas" canard. Weaning this country off of foreign oil should not be a partisan issue; it's in everyone's best interest. It shows that those who are putting out responsible ideas are more serious about national security than those who want to give more tax breaks to multi-billionaire companies like Chevron and Exxon-Mobil. Democrats simply have a stronger and more credible voice on energy issues because they don't belong to the existing, old-world energy infrastructure of the current Big 5 oil companies.

Kerry has always been pretty good on this issue, saying "we have to invent our way" out of energy dependence during the 2004 election. I don't know that I want him as the 2008 standard bearer, but it's good to add him to the growing group of strong Democratic leaders. Now if they'd only WORK TOGETHER more and coordinate their messages, we'd be onto something.

UPDATE: Sen. Harkin signs on for censure, becoming the first co-sponsor of the resolution. Good for him, but it's like pulling teeth to get these Democrats to stand up.


No Go on Pay-Go

The conventional wisdom in Washington, amazingly, is still that Democrats are "tax-and-spend" big government proponents who are wasteful with the people's money, while Republicans are austere and practice fiscal restraint. No vote could make a mockery of that line of thinking more than yesterday's in the Senate:

Senate Republicans on Tuesday narrowly defeated an effort to impose budget rules that would make it harder to increase spending or cut taxes, a move that critics said that showed Republicans were posturing in their calls for greater fiscal restraint.

In the first of several politically charged budget and spending issues confronting Congress this week, the Senate rejected on a 50-to-50 tie a proposal to restore what are known as "pay-go" rules, a requirement that tax cuts and some new spending be approved by 60 votes or offset by budget savings or revenue increases.

Democrats and a handful of Republican allies said that the added discipline was essential to getting a handle on the mounting federal debt and that the rules had been instrumental in reducing red ink before they were allowed to lapse in 2002.

"For those who say they are fiscally responsible, here is your chance," said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, senior Democrat on the Budget Committee. "You are going to be able to prove with one vote whether you are serious about doing something about these runaway debts and runaway deficits or whether it is all talk."

Of course, it is all talk. The Republicans currently in power haven't been serious about fiscal restraint for five years. Their idea is to borrow as much as they can on the national credit card, and pass the ballooning debt on to our children and grandchildren. Pay-go is as simple a measure as it gets, something that every family in this country can understand: you spend when you have the money, and if you don't have the money, you either raise it, or you don't spend it. Republicans don't want to do that. They want the reward of giving away loads of money to their corporate cronies for porkbarrel earmarks and tax breaks for the wealthy, without the pain of finding the money to pay for them. They want an Alice in Wonderland budget, a fantasyland where everything is possible. They aren't living in the real world. In November, we ought to do something about this.

I won't hold my breath waiting for Democrats to actually make this an issue, however. This is one of the most depressing things I've read in a long time. It's a one-on-one interview with my Congressman, Henry Waxman, where he says things like "I don't really know" if there's a plan to nationalize the midterm elections, and "I don't think there's really a unified plan" to present specific policy objectives. Come on, man! At least have one political bone in your body! Understand that we need to be engaged in modern political warfare, because the other side is not going to let up!

I fear that my party still doesn't get it. Democrats are great at governing, and horrible at elections. Republicans are the other way around. Will this ever change?


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Winning vs. Losing: In This Case, Irrelevant

Once upon a time, a Congressman named Jack Murtha, respected inside the Beltway but pretty much unknown outside his district, called for the redeployment of US forces in Iraq. He could not have possibly believed that the Republican-controlled Administration or Congress would be willing to go along with him on the suggestion. He didn't have much support for his plan within his own party. He sprung it in a big news conference, and the Republicans in the House immediately tried to play politics with it, questioning Murtha's patriotism and putting together a sham vote that completely subverted Murtha's plan.

Flash forward six months.

Murtha has become the go-to voice in the Congress on Iraq. More than any Republican. Members of his party and the public are coming around to his way of thinking on Iraq. This STILL won't change the policy, but it puts Democrats in a far stronger position, with a credible voice on the war that reflects increasingly the position of the American people.

I say that to say this:

Russ Feingold already was, but will now certainly be the go-to voice on the NSA program. That's priceless in terms of getting the Democratic message out. He is not likely to get censure, but he adds to the list of credible, principled Democratic voices with something important to say on national security, civil liberties, and the war. In truth Feingold had always been a credible voice, but this bold move has allowed the country to take notice.

And he is absolutely right in saying this:

I’m amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president’s numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide. … Too many Democrats are going to do the same thing they did in 2000 and 2004. In the face of this, they’ll say we’d better just focus on domestic issues. … [Democrats shouldn’t] cower to the argument, that whatever you do, if you question the administration, you’re helping the terrorists.

Planned or not, gambit or not, we have to remember that this is the right thing to do. "Actions have consequences" is something the American people get, loud and clear. This is principle above politics, and it's what Democrats like myself have been begging for the last five years. It cannot be oppoertunism if it's doomed to fail in a Republican Congress. And given the level of "impeach NOW" stuff I get in my inbox, this isn't the preferred option of much of the rank-and-file either, I'd gather.

You have to stand up and state your beliefs, powerfully, succinctly, and credibly. That's what the public expects out of a political party. They don't expect them to run and hide every time the other side blows the "terrorist sympathizer" dog whistle. Feingold couldn't be more right to suggest censure at this time. That it's good politics is almost irrelevant, but what's been the major narrative of the week? Not the President's recycled PR speeches on Iraq, I can tell you that.


Media Lapdogs and Short Attention Spans.

Remember when everybody in the media got excited last week that the US would close Abu Ghraib prison, putting this sorry chapter in history behind them?

Turns out, not so much.

The United States always has planned to transfer authority for all detention facilities in Iraq to the Iraqis, but announcements regarding the imminent closure at the Abu Ghraib prison are premature, defense officials said today.
News reports that the U.S. military intends to close Abu Ghraib within the next few months and to transfer its prisoners to other jails are inaccurate, officials said.

There's no specific timetable for that transfer or for closure of the Baghdad prison, they said. Decisions regarding Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq will be based largely on two factors: the readiness of Iraq's security forces to assume control of them and infrastructure improvements at the facilities.

Remember when everybody in the media got excited about how Republicans (JUST Republicans, Democrats had nothing to do with it) killed the Dubai Ports World deal, striking a major blow against their own President and showing that national security was of paramount importance?

Turns out, not so much.

The Dubai-owned company that promised to surrender its U.S. port operations has no immediate plans to sell its U.S. subsidiary's interests at Miami's seaport, a senior executive wrote Monday in a private e-mail to business associates.

Even if DP World were to sell its Miami operations to quell the congressional furor over an Arab-owned company managing major U.S. ports, "that would probably take a while," wrote Robert Scavone, a vice president for DP World's U.S. subsidiary.

The e-mail, obtained by The Associated Press, added to questions raised since DP World's announcement last week that it will divest U.S. port operations it acquired when it bought London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

DP World has said those operations are worth roughly $700 million.

If these were the only two examples of this phenomenon ever happening that would be one thing. But time and time again over the last 5 years, the media, blogs, the Congress, everyone grabs hold of a story, seeing it through to its conclusion... only to turn away at the last minute while business as usual took the fore. The current Administration actually depends on this. Everyone can stamp their little feet and make a fuss and "deliver a setback," but in the end, these guys always get what they want. And nobody really calls them on it. Another example of this was the torture deal with John McCain, completely subverted by the "signing statement" the President penned that claimed he could opt out of the law whenever he felt like it.

The Administration relies on the short attention span of the public. Whether it's distracting with a big "Terra alert!" announcement or waiting until the cacophony of protest dies down to implement whatever they sought in the first place, they are extremely shrewd at preying upon the limitations of the American public and particularly the American media. This is why we have a public that is so uninformed. When you combine official secrecy with these tactics, the chemical compound is toxic to democracy.

P.S. This probably deserves its own post, but PLEASE PLEASE listen to Habeas Schmabeas" by This American Life. I was absolutely transfixed hearing it this weekend. They talked to actual detainees from Guantanamo who have since been released because they represented no threat to the United States. Many were picked up because Pakistanis turned them in for a healthy ransom, based on no evidence at all. One of the guys was the editor of the Pashto version of "The Onion." That was his crime.

We have to reward the few media outlets that have a longer attention span, that don't report back the White House press release, that do take the time to enlighten the public. This is so very crucial to our future. Please go listen to it.


Let the Record Show That They ARE Damned to Eternal Hellfire

Jerry Falwell, compassionate conservative that he is, makes a correction:

Earlier today, reports began circulating across the globe that I have recently stated that Jews can go to heaven without being converted to Jesus Christ. This is categorically untrue.

While I am a strong supporter of the State of Israel and dearly love the Jewish people and believe them to be the chosen people of God, I continue to stand on the foundational biblical principle that all people — Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Jews, Muslims, etc. — must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to enter heaven.

I want to reaffirm that I am a Zionist in terms of Israel’s entitlement to its homeland. I continue to pray daily for the peace of Jerusalem, as the Bible instructs Christians to do. And I have dedicated my life and ministry to working for the peace of Israel. I dearly cherish the highly esteemed Jabotinsky Award which was given me in 1981 by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. I have led thousands of pilgrims through the Land Of Israel during my 31 tours over 36 years. I seriously believe that few Americans have invested more time and resources in the defense of Israel in this generation.

However, I simply cannot alter my deeply-held belief in the exclusivity of salvation through the Gospel of Christ for the sake of political or theological expediency.

Like the Apostle Paul, I pray daily for the salvation of everyone, including the Jewish people.

These Jews that have teamed up with the religious right, and think that they represent hope and safety for the State of Israel need to re-read this passage. You're being used. And you're going to hell, according to your new partners. The theory of the Rapture says that there must be Jews in Jerusalem at the End Times. That's the only reason these guys support Israel. If the Bible said "the people of Mohammed" instead of "the people of Moses" it'd be a whole different story.

And remember, we have an evangelical Christian in the White House at the moment, who believes that God told him to go to war.


My Evil Twin

"My evil twin, bad weather friend, he always wants to start when I want to begin..." -They Might Be Giants

Republican cheats and thieves are now getting their alibis from the movie Dead Ringers:

Oh, now this is just too weird.

As you know, we've been following the bizarre case of Claude Allen, former top advisor to President Bush who was arrested a few days ago and booked and charges stemming from a lengthy shoplifting spree.

Now, here late this evening I got an email from TPM Reader WH who directed my attention to today's All Things Considered on NPR in which Michele Norris interviews Michael Fletcher, a reporter with the Post who's been covering the story.

Now, right at about 1:40 into the interview comes this exchange ...

Norris: We should note something, Michael. Apparently Claude Allen has a twin brother?

Fletcher: Yes, he does. He has an identical twin brother who even close friends can’t tell them apart when they see them. And people have seen him and close friends say that Mr. Allen has indicated to them that maybe his brother holds the key to this entire puzzling affair.

This New York Times story furthers the argument, getting quotes from Allen's stepmother saying "Floyd (the evil twin) was the twin who kept running into bad times."
And according to Josh, the evil twin meme is apparently contagious!

Yesterday we brought you the news that The Hill, the capitol hill newspaper, had unearthed an old article from the 1984 Republican convention which had some very harsh quotes from Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH). She's the one who narrowly beat Paul Hackett a few months back and then, soon after, called Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) a coward on the House floor.

So, anyway, the old article had Schmidt raging against now-Senator Liddy Dole. But the big thing was that she said young GOP activists " look like young Hitlers to me. … They’re so grim and deadly serious about the cause." [...]

When confronted with the Hitler remark, Schmidt's Chief of Staff Barry Bennett, "that Schmidt made the comment, explaining that her twin sister, Jennifer Black, who was also mentioned in the paragraph, made the remark."

I can see this only continuing to spread. "No, you guys misunderstood, Brick Cheney shot the guy in the face! Dick was at home!" "George W. Bush didn't lose the Iraq war and ignore federal wiretapping laws! George X. Bush did!"

They've really hit on something here. The Republican Party could run in 2006 on the idea that "vote for us and we'll throw out those evil Bepublicans who've taken over the government!" Actually, considering I've heard David Dreier claim that Republicans are "the party of reform" about 100 times (we'll save us from ourselves!), this could actually fly.


Spying on Peaceniks

We now have documented proof that the United States government is restarting COINTELPRO (hat tip a gnostic).

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania today released new evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting investigations into a political organizations based solely on its anti-war views.

Two documents released today reveal that the FBI investigated gatherings of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice just because the organization opposed the war in Iraq.  Although previously disclosed documents show that the FBI is retaining files on anti-war groups, these documents are the first to show conclusively that the rationale for FBI targeting is the group's opposition to the war.

"It makes no sense that the FBI would be spying on peace activists handing out flyers," said Jim Kleissler, Executive Director of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice.  "Our members were simply offering leaflets to passersby, legally and peacefully, and now they're being investigated by a counter-terrorism unit.  Something is seriously wrong in how our government determines who and what constitutes terrorism when peace activists find themselves targeted."

This is exactly the slippery slope those of us opposed to the NSA spying program have characterized. Without judicial or congressional oversight, we leave the determination of who is a terrorist and who is a national security threat to a select few people, a group who has on numerous ocassions called anyone who disagree's with the President's policies a traitor. That's not much of a step in their eyes, from traitor to terrorist, from providing aid and comfort to the enemy to being the enemy. And so a program that is designed to surveil terrorists ends up being used to surveil political enemies. And if the President has his way, there would be nothing that anyone could do about that.

This is highly un-American, and it's why censure is the least we can do to fight back. I called Sen. Boxer yesterday, and she was merely "taking comments." I will continue to give my comments to her and all my elected representatives. Especially in light of this revelation, we cannot have a President-King going around breaking laws whenever he wants.

UPDATE: Digby on fighting the fights wirth fighting:

It is past time for elected Democrats to begin laying out the case that the leader of the Republican party, the man to whom the congress has blindly followed at every turn for the past five years, is dishonorable. They must begin to create a low hum that reverberates throughout the body politic that says "the Republican party is unethical, untrustworthy, inept and dishonorable." Make people hear it in their heads before they go to sleep each night.

Russ Feingold has just taken the first step to doing this. His censure motion will not pass, of course. But he's started the hum. The press is listening. They are shocked, it can't be, how can he say that? But Feingold is saying outloud, for the whole nation to hear, that the president defied the law and broke his oath to defend the constition.

As the magnificent helmeted Cokie Roberts once said, "it doesn't matter if it's true or not, it's out there." In this case, it's true. And now it's out there. Take a moment and hum this tune in your senators ears today. It's time they get used to hearing it.


Another Day, Another Speech, Another 80 Executions

Monday found President Bush giving the same speech about Iraq that he's given for the last three years. It's designed to gain a political advantage rather than reveal a strategy. Americans haven't bought it for months and they're not buying it now. Perhaps that's because Americans are literate and can read:

Police found the bodies of at least 85 people killed by execution-style shootings in the past 24 hours -- a gruesome wave of apparent sectarian reprisal slayings, officials said Tuesday.

People being pulled from their homes for no other reason than their religious identity, killed, and dumped into a ditch or hung from lamp posts. A lot of people like to make parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, but it sounds like the Balkans to me. We have mass ethnic cleansing taking place here. And Donald Rumsfeld affirmed the other day that US forces would not intervene in a civil war. In other words, after invading a country for what eventually turned out to be humanitarian reasons (we have to liberate the Iraqi people!), we will decline to intervene when that invasion causes a humanitarian crisis. This is the lack of accountability Presidency.

p.s. Read this report about how the British knew that the Coalition Provisional Authority was a mess, with Britain's envoy to Baghdad citing "No leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis." History will be very cruel to that period of time, right after "Mission Accomplished." That's when we lost this war.


Kill Your Television

I was looking through the archives for something, and it struck me that during the first year of this site, from 2004-2005, pretty much every third story was "Look at this crap I heard on CNN!" That's when I was working somewhere that had a television set in the room, which being the news junkie that I am, I reluctantly set to CNN.

It's so much more soothing to the soul never to watch that channel. Done wonders for my peace of mind.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Get Tuna!

Wow, this is an alarm bell, and if this comes to pass, I won't fault the feds for not sounding it, I'll fault the public for not paying attention:

In a remarkable speech over the weekend, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu outbreak approaches the United States.

Ready or not, here it comes.

It is being spread much faster than first predicted from one wild flock of birds to another, an airborne delivery system that no government can stop.

"There's no way you can protect the United States by building a big cage around it and preventing wild birds from flying in and out," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Michael Johanns said.

The news networks certainly use fear as a weapon, and on occasion the Administration has too. But the potential for an outbeak has already been realized all over the globe. Even if the bird flu never mutates to humans, which is debatable in its possibility, the financial outcome of having to kill 80 million or so chickens is great.

I have no problem with giving the public the worst-case scenario for an outbreak to ensure preparation. It's darkly comic that the HHS Secretary is asking citizens to store tuna and milk under their beds, telegraphing the fact that government will be of no help in a crisis.

The Next Hurrah has been a great source of information on the avian flu's progress, as well as the Flu Wiki.



We're going to be doing something a little bit different with the site next week. I'm leaving for Ireland for a week on Sunday, and the goal is to check in once a day while I'm there, and post my thoughts on the Emerald Isle. This might be more difficult as the week goes on, since I'll be in the countryside the last few days, where Internet access will be more scarce than in Dublin. But I'll do whatever I can.

I'll try to rouse Cosmo from his slumber and get him to post on domestic politics a little bit, but I'll be travelblogging.


Like Scared Little Kittens

I think we can safely end speculation that Future President Feingold has called for censuring the President over breaking the law because it's a popular idea. He called for it because he believes (and virtually every legal mind who's weighed in on the case agrees with him) that the President broke the law, and that ought to carry consequences. Not surprisingly Democrats are running away from this like the plague, afraid to lead, more concerned with poll numbers and Republican threats of "this will hurt you in November" than principle.

Asked at a news conference whether he would vote for the censure resolution, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada declined to endorse it and said he hadn't read it.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he had not read it either and wasn't inclined simply to scold the president.

"I'd prefer to see us solve the problem," Lieberman told reporters.

Well, yes, Joe, except the Cover-up Committee on Intelligence has completely blocked an investigation. If the Administration would allow an investigation, let's go, ramp one up. But they won't, and despite tortured rationales and intimations of other spying programs afoot, Congress will not do its Constitutional duty regarding oversight.

Read Feingold's statement:

Mr. President, when the President of the United States breaks the law, he must be held accountable. That is why today I am introducing a resolution to censure President George W. Bush.

The President authorized an illegal program to spy on American citizens on American soil, and then misled Congress and the public about the existence and legality of that program. It is up to this body to reaffirm the rule of law by condemning the President’s actions.

All of us in this body took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and bear true allegiance to the same. Fulfilling that oath requires us to speak clearly and forcefully when the President violates the law. This resolution allows us to send a clear message that the President’s conduct was wrong.

And we must do that. The President’s actions demand a formal judgment from Congress.

At moments in our history like this, we are reminded why the founders balanced the powers of the different branches of government so carefully in the Constitution. At the very heart of our system of government lies the recognition that some leaders will do wrong, and that others in the government will then bear the responsibility to do right.

This President has done wrong. This body can do right by condemning his conduct and showing the people of this nation that his actions will not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

This is not so difficult. The President broke the law. Censure will not please the far right or the far left (believe me, I get enough impeachment emails in my in box to know that they'll consider this "letting him off easy"). But it's the right thing to do. It's the right message to send to the world, that there are consequences to illegal actions.

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary." -Federalist 51


Postscript on McCain

Looks like Mr. Straight Talk may have violated his own campaign finance reform law:

The California Democratic Party is asking for an investigation of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator John McCain for alleged violations of campaign finance law.

The allegations center on a scheduled March 20th fund-raiser in Beverly Hills in which donors have been asked to contribute up to 100 thousand dollars for the governor and the state Republican Party. McCain is the featured speaker at the event.

At issue is whether McCain's appearance violates restrictions on federal officeholders taking part in events that solicit political funds.

Looking around the right's side of the blogosphere for fallout from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, I noticed that those who are paying attention on the Right are just as mad about the media's "inevitability" narrative on McCain and those of us on the Left are mad about the similar narrative with regard to Hillary Clinton. Since the media increasingly can only think about campaign politics in terms of the horse race (not a new phenomenon; I remember doing a political cartoon for a American studies class in 6th grade, in 1984, which was basically a bunch of the candidates running around a track in a giant horse race), they must anoint front-runners based on... well, nothing but perception and name recognition, really, being 2 years away from the first primary. With the field wide open on both sides, I predict there will almost certainly be a surprise. Actually there was in 2004 as well: at this point, the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic primaries was Joe Lieberman.

Now that, as I believe, the media is starting to get a bad taste in their mouth with respect to McCain, I think we'll see them anoint another front-runner shortly. Rudy G, this is your moment.


Our Partner in Iraq

Via Harry Shearer, I learned that we have a new member of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq: Iran.

EVEN as politicians in Tehran and Washington stoked the fires of confrontation last week, America was said to have been asking Iran for help in calming the violence in Iraq.

A senior Iranian intelligence official showed Channel 4 News a letter in Persian purportedly signed by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Baghdad, inviting Iranian representatives to Iraq for talks.

Last November Khalilzad — who speaks Persian and dealt with the Iranians during negotiations over Afghanistan — said he had been authorised by President George W Bush to try to engage Iran and that its co-operation was needed to secure long-term peace in Iraq.

Most of Iraq’s senior Shi’ite politicians lived in exile in Iran during the latter years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, and the British and the Americans have both accused Iranian elements of arming and training Shi’ite militant groups.

The Iranian official claimed the invitation was renewed two weeks ago, just as America ratcheted up the rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear programme.

This is kind of amazing, and I doubt it will ever get reported in this country. This week, the UN Security Council is debating Iran and we're talking very tough, saying that military options are still on the table. We've gone so far as to warn Iran against meddling in Iraq, even claiming that they have been funneling money through Syria to fund the insurgency (which is simply ridiculous is you know the geopolitics of it).

But behind the scenes, we're asking them for help. Iran appears to have already achieved their objectives in Iraq (getting a religious Shiite theocracy into power), so what is the incentive for them to intervene to keep the peace there? Well, surely they would like to make it part of a broader discussion: namely, "we'll help you in Iraq if we can develop our civilian nuclear program. Such a devil's bargain would be stupid, but with a White House verging on desperation with regard to Iraq policy, they might give away the goose. It's not like we haven't traded arms with the Iranians before.

Iran also appears to be gearing up for war:

The talk all week in Tehran has been of war. The Iranian people are being prepared. On the eve of the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a huge crowd in the town of Khorramabad, in the mountainous southwest of the country. He invoked the spectre of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, and Iran’s continuing isolation.

“Today humanity is caught in a web of powerful nations who bully us to follow their ways,” he said. “They hit you on the head and you’re not supposed to moan. When they see a brave nation like Iran standing strong it makes them angry. The world must know that if anyone tries to violate the rights of the Iranian nation, we will place the blot of shame and regret on their forehead.”

The crowd roared and waved posters of the diminutive, bearded president who has come to symbolise Iran’s determination to enrich uranium whatever the political or diplomatic cost.

This is a dangerous, combustible game of realpolitik we're playing, and I don't trust the players to get it right. Not one bit.


Blowing Another Terror Case

One reason this Administration doesn't want to turn the war on terror into a law enforcement issue is because they're so very bad at law enforcement:

An angry federal judge unexpectedly recessed the death penalty trial of confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to consider whether government violations of her rules against coaching witnesses should remove the death penalty as an option.

The stunning development came at the opening of the fifth day of the trial as the government had informed the judge and the defense over the weekend that a lawyer for the Federal Aviation Administration had coached four government FAA witnesses in violation of the rule set by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema. The rule was that no witness should hear trial testimony in advance.

"This is the second significant error by the government affecting the constitutional rights of the defendant and the criminal justice system in this country in the context of a death case," Brinkema told lawyers in the case outside the presence of the jury.

These guys can't follow the rules. You have Zacarias Moussaoui, a guy who said "I am Al Qaeda" in open court, and you can't leave well enough alone to use the facts of the case and the proper procedures rather than risking the entire case. It's pathetic, and it stems right from an "ends-justify-the-means" comportment at the top. This is the end result of an arrogance of power, a belief that our cause is so just that we can be unjust in seeking it. It's simply no big deal at all to follow the rules when they're set out so explicitly. I can't tell you how much this angers me, as it should anger every American.

I hope that Republicans, seeing Moussaoui spend his life making appeals that his constitutional rights have been subverted, and maybe winning one of them, and going free, I hope that Republicans will then continue this line of argument about how the "adults" have returned to Washington.

UPDATE: Moussaoui plead guilty initially, so the chances of appeal are remote. Certainly the government is unlikely now to get the sentencing they desired, which was death.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Censure and Move On

Future President Russ Feingold has called for a formal censure of President Bush over his breaking the law in the NSA domestic spying affair. I have long said that I don't favor impeachment but I do favor accountability in this case, with it being so clear that the President violated the law and circumvented Congress. I didn't favor impeachment because it's a process question. I don't want terrorist surveillance to immediately cease. I want it to go through a court that has some oversight so we're not dealing with a situation where the definition of "terrorist" can be extended to include anybody who doesn't support the President. Without oversight the potential for abuse grows ever more. That the President decided to break the law instead of getting a friendly Congress (and at that time they were very friendly to whatever he wanted) to amend the law demands accountability. Censure is a good remedy.

Feingold makes his case here:

"This conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors," said Feingold, D-Wis., a three-term senator and potential presidential contender.

He said President Bush had, "openly and almost thumbing his nose at the American people," continued the NSA domestic wiretap program... a copy of the censure resolution obtained by ABC News, Feingold asserts the president, "repeatedly misled the public prior to the public disclosure of the National Security Agency surveillance program by indicating his administration was relying on court orders to wiretap suspected terrorists inside the United States."

Feingold cites three instances over a year-long period in which Bush outlined the necessity of a court order or a judge's permission prior to a domestic wiretap of a U.S. citizen...

..."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, [2001]," Feingold said.

People often forget that started its life as an email group called Censure and Move On. The idea was that President Clinton should be formally censured for his indiscretions in the Lewinsky affair, not impeached. Then the government could move on and continue doing the people's business. Thus this call for censure is perfectly consistent, and will allow everybody to move on. This is what's best for the country.

You can watch Feingold's statement at the This Week site. I applaud him for living up to his oath of office.


Maverick's Ass Writing Checks His Body Can't Cash

John McCain's gambit at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to call for supporters to write in George Bush's name in the straw poll is getting decidedly mixed reviews. The press has always been McCain's most loyal constituency, and they were the ones who were building a cult of inevitability around his nomination. This lurch towards the President, who is at his lowest ebb nationally AND in the eyes of the media, simply does not compute with their beloved notions of a "maverick."

Adam Nagourney called McCain's embrace of Bush "striking."

The extent of Mr. McCain's embrace of Mr. Bush was striking, and Republicans here suggested it reflected two political facts: that he needed to reassure conservatives of his loyalty to Mr. Bush, and that, at this point, he was in a strong enough position in this field to have flexibility in presenting himself.

Mr. McCain went so far as to condemn the collapse of the port deal, saying that Congress had served Mr. Bush poorly by not permitting a 45-day review of security concerns, though he did not mention that the deal was sunk by fellow Republicans.

"The president deserved better," Mr. McCain said.

That Nagourney would go out of his way to call McCain on his misrepresentation is something I find "striking."

(Incidentally, in the same article Lindsay Graham was quoted as saying "He's [the President] right about Social Security." Let's not forget this quote.)

Janet Hook and Mark Barabak, writing in the LA Times, call him "Lone Wolf McCain" and suggest that the maverick is going mainstream.

Even as he has picked high-profile fights with Bush over military interrogation tactics and with congressional colleagues over pork-barrel spending, McCain has been quietly courting GOP power brokers, emphasizing his loyalty to the president and burnishing his conservative credentials on litmus-test issues.

McCain was nearly alone on Capitol Hill in defending the administration-approved ports deal involving a Dubai-owned company. He has eased his opposition to tax cuts that he once complained were excessive.

He recently met with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a leading evangelical conservative whom he previously had denounced as intolerant. To the delight of GOP partisans, he publicly lambasted Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — a rising star among Democrats — over an ethics and lobbying overhaul.

McCain's speech in Memphis mixed his trademark blunt talk with a restatement of his credentials as a fiscal conservative.

He began by reiterating his defense of the Bush administration's approval of a ports deal with a United Arab Emirates company. After bipartisan protest, the company retreated from its U.S. plans.

"The president deserved better," McCain said to scattered applause.

The article highlights flip-flopping in an unflattering way and tries to show that his view on the ports deal was unpopular ("scattered applause"). Then they went out of their way to dampen his support:

Overall, the reception was warm, not wildly enthusiastic.

"There's no question he has made progress in the last year in softening some of the animosity that remained from the 2000 election," said Q. Whitfield Ayres, a veteran Southern Republican strategist, who heard McCain's speech. "But he's not over the hurdle yet."

The result: McCain has a steep hill to climb on his right. Influential televangelist Pat Robertson said last year in a television interview, "McCain I'd vote against under any circumstance."

Conservative activist Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, is suspicious of the Arizonan's recent embrace of tax cuts and other issues. "It's like an alcoholic not drinking for a day," said Norquist. "No one trusts that this is something he is going to stick with."

These are articles that simply wouldn't be written if there was an air of inevitablility. ABC's "This Week" provided a similar narrative, with practically the entire panel (save George Will, who still seems to think supporting the President is a "good thing" for voters) engaging in open mockery of McCain. This was to be expected, somewhat, from Donna Brazile, the "Democrat" on the panel, who said that this lurch towards Bush looked dishonest. But I was surprised to see Claire Shipman and the other guy (Time magazine writer, I forget his name) join in, the guy bringing up McCain's quote on South Dakota's abortion law and saying "Give me a break, nobody believes this from him."

The press played cabana boy to McCain's wealthy socialite ever since 2000. His entire popularity is based on this chummy relationship with the Beltway media. They fawn all over him in article after article, and the message is sent that this is a maverick with independent beliefs. If they abandon him, he's done as a candidate. The Bushites already don't trust him, and now the independents are getting the message that he's left them as well.

Prediction? I don't think we'll see McCain even get to New Hampshire, at this rate.