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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bring In The Refugees

I'm sitting here watching a little of President Ford's funeral, and am reminded that one of the great things he did was to overrule all his advisers and make arrangements for hundreds of thousands of refugees from South Vietnam to be patriated into this country. Those men, women and children surely would have died at the hands of the Viet Cong without this swift action. It occurs to me that if our current President is still awake, he would do right to remember this decision, and to mirror it by extending the same hand to those Iraqi citizens whose lives are in his hands.

The refugees are witnesses to the cruelty that stains our age, and they cannot be overlooked. America bears heavy responsibility for their plight. We have a clear obligation to stop ignoring it and help chart a sensible course to ease the refugee crisis. Time is not on our side. We must act quickly and effectively [...]

There is an overwhelming need for temporary relief and permanent resettlement. Last year, however, America accepted only 202 Iraqi refugees, and next year we plan to accept approximately the same number. We and other nations of the world need to do far better.

Thousands of these refugees are fleeing because they have been affiliated in some way with the United States. Cooks, drivers and translators have been called traitors for cooperating with the United States. They know all too well that the fate of those who work with U.S. civilians or military forces can be sudden death. Yet, beyond a congressionally mandated program that accepts 50 Iraqi translators from Iraq and Afghanistan each year, the administration has done nothing to resettle brave Iraqis who provided assistance in some way to our military. This lack of conscience is fundamentally unfair. We need to do much more to help Iraqi refugees, especially those who have helped our troops.

Our nation is spending $8 billion a month to wage the war in Iraq. Yet to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the refugees who have fled the war, the State Department plans to spend only $20 million in the current fiscal year.

It's maybe the most despicable outcome of this war in Iraq. The Administration is intellectually incapable of bringing in those refugees because of the signal it would send that the war is a failure. But people's lives are at stake, people who are being targeted because of their relationship to the United States. They are being left to die in much the same way that the Shiites were left to die at the hands of Saddam Hussein, when we asked them to rise up and overthrow him, yet offered no support. That was the work of Bush's father. This President has a choice to make; will he take the model of his father, or of Gerald Ford, who valued the human cost over the rhetorical or perceived advantage in a political sense.

Bush may ask for an new economic plan for Iraqi citizens (you mean there WASN'T one before?), but it's far too late for any of that. Giving an Iraqi the opportunity for a job is cold comfort in a country where job recruitment centers are increasingly targets for suicide bombers.

Neoconservatives talk a lot about our moral obligation to Iraq. But they don't want to engage in any action to prove their war was a failure. If they felt TRULY obligated to the Iraqi people, they would join Ted Kennedy in calling on the President to provide relief and resettlement for those whose lives we've turned upside down.

Doing what we can to bring aid to this humanitarian crisis has a political benefit as well. Relieving the burden off of not only Iraqi civilians but the Muslim countries into which they are largely pouring, would be very important in rebuilding our shattered image in that part of the world. But none of that is really so important. What's important is a small girl who doesn't know that her heritage makes her marked for death. What's important is a baker who lives in the wrong village, who has grown up with a different view of Islam than those with guns and bombs. What's important is that we have the conviction that America helps those put into peril by our own actions. To ignore that imperative would be tragic and very nearly criminal.



I really don't know what to say about the death of Saddam Hussein, except that it's been a rough year for Don Rumsfeld, losing his job and his friend:

I guess what I have to say about it has already been said by this specialist:

U.S. troops cheered as news of Saddam's execution appeared on television at the mess hall at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in eastern Baghdad. But some soldiers expressed doubt that Saddam's death would be a significant turning point for Iraq.

"First it was weapons of mass destruction. Then when there were none, it was that we had to find Saddam. We did that, but then it was that we had to put him on trial," said Spc. Thomas Sheck, 25, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "So now, what will be the next story they tell us to keep us over here?"

It's important to note that, far from the swift administration of justice, this was an explicitly political act. The timing was generated with the full participation of the United States. The timing, in fact, was designed to rub Shiite power in the nose of the Sunnis:

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

Saddam was a tyrants, and all tyrants who rule with brutality and targeted murder deserve to meet justice. But by doing it in this way, the US (let's not kid ourselves that this was solely the Iraqi's idea) managed the near-incredible feat of turning this horrible person into something of a martyr. Josh Marshall really had one of the quotes of the year in describing this:

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us [...]

Marty Peretz, with some sort of projection, calls any attempt to rain on this parade "prissy and finicky." Myself, I just find it embarrassing. This is what we're reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there's nothing else this president can get right.

At this point, I don't think anyone still believes that Saddam's corpse rests on a corner that we will turn to face victory. For an Administration that's out of options, save for surging more troops to their death, killing the former dictator represented at least something tangible that they can point to, a line in the State of the Union, an accomplishment they can tout. In actuality, it's just a way for Shiites to lord it over Sunnis in the country, an excuse for more horrible violence. It's a meaningless act in a country full of meaningless acts that end in death.

Oh yeah, and those of you looking for footage of his hanging on my site, the ones doing the Google searches that get you here?



A Final Word (Or A Thousand) On Ford

Gerald Ford, in the end, was a loyal soldier, a loyal Republican. He was a moderate, certainly, on some things; late in life he came out in favor of stem cell research, choice, gun control... the list goes on and on. In his time, he mirrored Nixon's policies almost precisely, and this came out of their close relationship, almost entirely hidden to the public, that lasted from the late 1940s onward.

When talk turned to Nixon, Ford made me start at the very beginning: his early congressional career during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Ford had two indelible memories from the early Cold War days: sitting in the House chamber hearing General Douglas MacArthur deliver his "Old Soldiers Never Die" resignation speech, and watching his G.O.P. colleague Richard Nixon, a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, zealously investigate the State Department official and accused Soviet spy Alger Hiss. "Both moments stayed with me in a very real sense for very real reasons," Ford recalled. "General MacArthur, after all, had led our efforts in the Pacific, where I served during World War II. And Dick Nixon was my close friend, and there he was creating a national ruckus by methodically prosecuting Hiss. In MacArthur's case I was impressed by the power of oratory. In Dick's case it was more the power of dogged diligence."

It didn't take Ford long to learn that Nixon was "a foreign-policy wizard." "We had a shared vision about the Soviet Union," Ford said. "But Nixon could actually tell you about 20 political parties in Rhodesia. He was that micro." Ford genuinely respected Nixon's acumen in the foreign-policy realm. Both Republicans enthusiastically endorsed the Marshall Plan and the U.S. military intervention on the Korean Peninsula. "Our political views on global issues were nearly identical," Ford recalled. "I even agreed with him on Hiss. Domestically we were mirror images." Both men had gone through the Great Depression on the poorer side of the socio-economic tracks. "We understood what is meant to rise on merit, not privilege," Ford said. "But it was our mutual love of football —both N.F.L. and college—which sealed the deal of our friendship.

But it wasn't until Nixon lost his 1962 California gubernatorial bid, to Pat Brown, that he fully appreciated Ford's stand-up quality. Most Republican politicians now deemed Nixon finished, a washed-up pariah who couldn't win dogcatcher of San Clemente. As the saying went, everybody enjoyed kicking Nixon while he was down. Everybody except Gerald Ford. "I kept in touch with Dick as a friend," Ford recalled. "I knew how down he could get. And whenever somebody bad-mouthed him within my earshot I defended his honor. That's what friends do for friends. When Alger Hiss went on TV and started smearing Dick, I spoke out." [...]

No major Republican congressional leader stood by Nixon more fulsomely than Gerald Ford. Ford was the man Nixon trusted on Capitol Hill. The mutual friendship continued well past the throes of Watergate, Nixon's resignation, and Ford's ascension to the Oval Office. Exiled at Casa Pacifica, his home in San Clemente, California, Nixon, hoping to repay the friend who had campaigned for him in 1960, 1968, and 1972, was hell-bent on returning the favor. Unbeknownst to history until now, Nixon was occasionally offering Ford both strategic advice and morale boosts from retirement throughout the 1976 campaign. Nixon presented himself in letters as a scarred veteran of political bloodbaths, a California sage with an instinct for the jugular. On April 22, 1976, for example, he urged Ford to lambaste the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill, which sought to trim unemployment by offering a wide range of public-service jobs to citizens willing to take them. To Nixon, the bill was a "monstrosity," and he urged Ford to score points with independents by denouncing it as socialist. Nixon also advised Ford to aggressively paint Carter, and the Democratic congress, as wimpish on Communism. "Your 'guts' comment on the Congress' failure to support you on Angola was tops," Nixon wrote Ford on February 12, referring to Ford's thwarted bid to fund anti-Marxist guerrillas in the African country. "You will take a little heat on it—but sometimes the right four letter word is the best way to get a message across."

This revelation of a close relationship, seconded by Bob Woodward, is only the latest in the many things coming out about Ford that buck the conventional wisdom. It was always a given that Nixon picked Ford for VP because he was popular on Capitol Hill and would be easily confirmable. Now we can see that it was a reward for loyalty. A reward that was paid back with the pardon of Nixon that marked (and marred) Ford's entire Presidency. One month earlier, in his speech to the nation after taking the Oath of Office, Ford claimed that "the long national nightmare is over" because the process worked, showing that no man is above the law. Then he went and put Nixon above that law. The conventional wisdom is that Ford healed the nation by sparing them the protracted trial and imprisonment of a former leader. But at the time, the reaction was the exact opposite:

Many Americans were furious. Conservative columnist George F. Will railed that the pardon showed Ford was not committed to "equal justice under law." As a gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Jerry Brown told The Chronicle that Ford was wrong to pardon Nixon "before the special prosecutor had completed his independent review of the evidence."

Of 32 Letters to the Editor printed in The Chronicle in the week following the pardon, only 2 supported Ford. One reader called the pardon "the grossest insult ever perpetrated against the working, taxpaying American citizen."

Here's some more fallout. To suggest that those who were so angry at the exoneration of a disgraceful criminal just because he once lived in the White House just didn't know how good it would be for the country decades later is insulting. People were angry with Ford because he upended the entire idea of American justice. And he clearly, given the new disclosure of friendship, did it out of loyalty. It was the same loyalty that propelled him to embargo his criticisms of President Bush's war in Iraq until after his death. The fiction is that this pardon "healed the wounds of the nation." Really, as Atrios says, it healed the wounds of official Washington.

As we all know, because everybody on the teevee will keep repeating it, Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon was perhaps the wisest and awesomest thing anyone has ever done in the history of presidenting. Never mind that it wasn't popular at the time. Never mind that it set an awful precedent which led to the pardoning of the Iran Contra figures and transformed corrupt Nixonites into distinguished elder statesmen and Bush administration officials.

We are told again and again that what they nation needed was "to heal." That "the turmoil" needed to be over. That it was necessary to move on.

But these are the Wise Old Men talking, not of the country but of their beloved Washington. The turmoil was in their city, not in the country. While they speak as if they know what's best for us, in truth they simply know what's best for them.

One thing we have to do in this country is put the stake through the heart of "conventional wisdom". It's almost never true (like the old one about how former Presidents don't criticize sitting Presidents, even though Reagan did it ONE MONTH into Clinton's term). In fact, it's incredibly damaging, because it keeps the nation from moving forward by constraining it based on what a few unelected elites in DC think. The politician that eventually decides not to care what these boors think will earn the undying gratitude of America.

Jerry Ford was a nice and honest man. Betty was a treasure. But he was a loyalist, through and through, and this loyalty characterized practically all his decisions. Let's not pretend anything different.


Now I Want a Funeral Like That

We're going to see a state funeral for President Ford this week, but let me tell you, James Brown just came by and blew the doors off of him. A 20-piece band playing funk music on a stage above the body (with an open casket!), well-wishers like Michael Jackson and Al Sharpton, a giant JumboTron...

Now THAT'S the way to go out. At once a fitting and a completely bizarre tribute. I was transfixed to it this morning.


Unlimited Potential

There's a rash of Administration officials and Bush defenders speaking in the future tense, literally painting the picture they see in their rose-colored glasses and calling it reality. Two examples of this derangement:

Jeff Goldstein on Saddam Hussein's execution:

Let them (Democrats), for one brief moment, bracket their partisan aggressions and reflect on what the US and its allies have done in removing this butcher from power—which, contrary to received wisdom, has made Iraq a far better place, if only for the moment potentially.

Potentially, I ride gold-encrusted ponies in a green meadow while 73 naked virgins feed me grapes. Only potentially.

Here comes number two, the President's top homeland security official, Frances Townsend, on capturing bin Laden.

HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.

Isn't that a good phrase to describe the entire 6 years of the Bush Administration? "A success that hasn't occurred yet."

This attempt to define the world as you hope it to be is becoming almost an epidemic. But when you're dealing with magical thinkers that think they have the power to write their own history (and then claim THEMSELVES to be the morally superior ones), what are you gonna do?


Friday, December 29, 2006

"Is he dead? Is he dead?"

This death watch is absolutely disgusting. Larry King's going live to Baghdad asking "Did they kill Saddam yet?" He has a peace activist on who's having none of it. "I don't care if he dies. Hundreds of people are killing each other in Iraq every day. There is no joy in seeing one more man dead."

King ignored her. "Is he dead yet? Any news? Is he dead?"

He just said "we'll bring it right to you, even if we're in a commercial break."

What a fitting end of the year for the media, expecting everyone to huddle up to their screens to look at a hanging.

I'm ashamed for them.

UPDATE: L-King didn't get the scoop, but on his outro, he just said "We'll have the death of Saddam for you as it happens... coming up on Sunday, Jack Hanna and his amazing animals!"

I. Shit. You. Not.

I can't watch this anymore.


A Victory for Net Neutrality?

Dr. Tim Wu at says that the recent concession by AT&T, preserving the principle of Net Neutrality for 24 months at the least, is a big moment in the preservation of the Internet.

The language in the agreement is written for a purpose: to preserve the most attractive features of the Internet as it now exists. Some perspective may be useful. In the 20th Century, at crucial points, technologies like radio and the recording industry moved from being lively and vital decentralized industries toward much more centralized control, often due to misguided government policy and industry consolidation. Stated simply, this agreement forms part of a general movement to prevent a similar fate for the Internet.

At a level of theory, the language in the agreement is premised on a belief in the merits of a neutral network, and in particular its cultural, political, and economic benefits. The preservation of an open communications network as a catalyst for these sectors, without unfairly restricting AT&T's business, appears to be the motivating force behind the agreed upon language.

As I read it, the agreement stands for a period of 24 months, at which time AT&T can go back on it with impunity. I can see the lobbyists lining up now to sunset Net Neutrality upon expiration in 2009. And while they're the big boys on the block, AT&T is not the only telecommunications company looking to install a toll booth on the Internet.

So the Congress still needs to act. This agreement, hammered out as a condition of the AT&T merger with BellSouth (welcome back, Ma Bell monopoly!), provides a path for Congress to follow. But unless they do so, and boldly, we'll be dealing with this issue again 24 months down the road.


Lawyers, Judges, and Bears (OK, no bears)

Earlier this week, news came a sitting judge in St. Louis will release a book called "The Tyranny of Tolerance: A Sitting Judge Breaks the Code of Silence to Expose the Liberal Judicial Assault," excoriating liberals, "femifascists" (dude, don't you listen to Rush, it's "feminazis"), and the "secret judicial agenda" to turn everybody into a gay abortionist that uses the Bible for toilet paper, I guess. This is someone who is still hearing cases in St. Louis courts, and who still thinks he has the proper judicial temperament and independence to rule fairly.

Lawyers could cite the book as evidence that Dierker is unable to be impartial on issues involving women, or liberals, or the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, forcing his removal from cases.

Dierker responds that he is always fair in the courtroom, and paraphrases the book: "Conservative judges are much more likely to know where their biases are and how to draw the line."

Dierker could also face an inquiry from Missouri's Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline. Most of what the commission does is informal and secret. But the commission does have the power to recommend anything from a public reprimand to removal of the judge from office.

State Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, filed a complaint with the commission last month, citing her concerns with the first chapter. Bray said, "I'm still worrying about women in Missouri being treated fairly in the courtroom." She said she plans a follow-up complaint, based on conversations with lawyers and judges, that would include a complaint that Dierker was violating judicial rules by using his position to promote the book.

If you're a judge in majority-Democratic St. Louis and you can't rule in cases involving women or liberals... how many cases a year can we expect out of you? 3?

So of course, this guy will probably get to keep his job. In fact, given who the Bush Administration nominates to the bench, he may be up for a promotion.

A Mississippi lawyer asked President Bush to withdraw his nomination to an appellate court, saying that he does not believe that the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee considers him a consensus nominee.

The lawyer, Michael B. Wallace, 54, of Jackson, said Tuesday that he made the request in a letter sent to the White House last week [...]

In February, Bush nominated Wallace, a former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), to fill the seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit vacated more than a year ago by Judge Charles Pickering Sr., also a Mississippian. The New Orleans-based 5th Circuit hears cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

In November, Wallace's name was among six judicial nominations that Bush resubmitted to the Senate.

Wallace drew opposition from Democrats, civil rights groups and the American Bar Association, which for the first time in almost a quarter-century unanimously rated a judicial nominee "unqualified."

This is par for the course among Bush appointments, as he seems to have a knack to find the most unqualified people for the position. In the case of the judiciary, however, he may have good reason to pack the courts with hacks and ideologues, because with the Democrats taking over Congress next week, a hard rain's gonna fall:

President Bush is bracing for what could be an onslaught of investigations by the new Democratic-led Congress by hiring lawyers to fill key White House posts and preparing to play defense on countless document requests and possible subpoenas.
Bush is moving quickly to fill vacancies within his stable of lawyers, though White House officials say there are no plans to drastically expand the legal staff to deal with a flood of oversight. . . .

in the days after the elections, the White House announced that Bush had hired two replacements to plug holes in his counsel's office, including one lawyer, Christopher G. Oprison, who is a specialist in handling white-collar investigations. A third hire was securities law specialist Paul R. Eckert, whose duties include dealing with the Office of the Special Counsel. Bush is in the process of hiring a fourth associate counsel, said Emily A. Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman [...]

"They just think it's inevitable that there will be some investigations that will tie up some time and attention," said Charles Black, a strategist with close ties to the White House. But there's no panic in the ranks of Bush's team, he added. "They don't think they have anything to hide."

If they had nothing to hide, they wouldn't be scrambling to hire every lawyer with an R on his voter registration card. The White House is clearly terrified. I'll bet the shredders will be running on overdrive right up until January 3. And the call for more unqualified judges to adjudicate them must be going out nationwide. I think there's a guy in St. Louis who can send in a book as his résumé...


African War Over, Or Just Beginning?

Ethiopian troops moved into the Somali capital without a fight yesterday, as the Islamists just melted away. There was a sense of relief but also vast concern for the future.

Despite the celebrations in the streets, worries about the future were widespread in a country that hasn't had an effective national government since clan warlords toppled a longtime dictator 15 years ago.

Many in overwhelmingly Muslim Somalia are suspicious of the transitional government's reliance on neighboring Ethiopia, a traditional rival with a large Christian population and one of East Africa's biggest armies. Witnesses said crowds threw rocks at Ethiopians troops on the city's northern edge.

Somalia's complex clan politics also are a big worry, having undone at least 14 attempts to install a central government in this violent, anarchic nation.

Gedi's government, set up in 2004 with U.N. backing, is riddled with clan rivalries, most notably between the young prime minister and elderly president.

"The future of Somalia is very bleak and Somalis will share the same fate with Iraq and Afghanistan," a Mogadishu resident, Abdullahi Mohamed Laki, told The Associated Press. "The transitional government has no broad support in the capital."

Gedi later said his government was seeking approval from the interim parliament to impose martial law across Somalia while its forces attempt to restore order. Weapons will be confiscated, he said without giving details.

A chilling reminder of the chaos Somalia has known came as clan militiamen and criminal groups began looting almost anything they could after the Islamic forces fled. At least four people were killed in the melee, said one witness, Abdullahi Adow.

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia has vowed not to leave Somalia until it hunted down the Islamists lest they regroup. It remains to be seen whether the lines are that clean, and whether the Islamists will be able to be separated from the general population. The head of the Somali government reached Mogadishu today, and proposed three months of martial law to stop the lawlessness. But his power is eclipsed by that of the rival warlords who, now that their main enemy has been deposed, will fight for control of the capital. This won't bring much hope to the Somali people. And the hatred of Ethiopians, increasingly the face of the transitional government, goes back centuries.

The Islamists brought excessive law and order to the capital; their defeat will bring anarchy. There is nowhere on Earth in need of nation-building help more than Somalia. Of course, this will not come to the attention of the United States. The war was a choice between two unpalatable options. One is nearly defeated (the Islamists apparently are herding into Kismayo for a last stand); the other is creeping out of their shelter to wreak havoc on an already suffering people. The Guardian UK lists some possible outcomes:

1. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is weak and largely unpopular, comes to a power-sharing agreement with the powerful Hawiye clan in Mogadishu and installs a functioning administration in the capital. Ethiopian forces withdraw. By negotiating with clans in Somalia's other important cities, the TFG begins to exert some form of central authority, putting the country on the path to normality.

2. Ethiopia withdraws its troops and the TFG is unable to exert any real authority beyond its base of Baidoa. In the vacuum created by the Islamists' departure, power reverts to clan-based warlords who have held sway in Somalia for the past 16 years. The anarchic situation that existed before the Somali Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC) rose to power in Mogadishu returns.

3. The remnants of the SCIC, in particular the militant Shabaab wing, regroup to wage guerrilla war against the government - and the Ethiopians, if they stay. Eritrea and other Arab states continue to sponsor the Islamists. Somalia becomes a magnet for foreign militants keen to help local fighters establish an Islamic state.

Let's hope for #1, and let's hope the international community does whatever they can to see that through.


The Importance of Being Malkin

So Michelle Malkin, who posted a photo of a "lonely John Kerry" yesterday to prove that he was being ostracized by the US military in the wake of his "botched joke," responded to questions about the picture's authenticity by posting... a picture, taken the same day, of Kerry talking to a bunch of soldiers.

The original "lonely Kerry" pic:

The corroborating second pic:

While this (and other evidence) proves that the initial pic was taken in Basra during Kerry's recent visit, it also proves that Kerry was NOT ostracized by the military. In fact, even in the first pic he appears to be talking to someone who is out of frame.

Malkin doesn't decide to mention this all. Even though the entire point of her first post mocking Kerry has been debunked. By her own doing.

And that was today's spin in the circular logic of the insaneosphere.


A vote for Lieberman

was a vote for more war.

He lied his way through that campaign and tried to claim he had a way to get the troops out of Iraq. In truth he was willing to do whatever was necessary to save face and make him look right all along. If that means thousands more have to die so he can rest easier at night (an insane notion), so be it.

In this disgraceful op=ed he claims that the war is winnable because of the "coming together of moderate political forces" in Baghdad (you know, like when Ayatollah Sistani said "screw you, I'm not throwing Muqtada al-Sadr under the bus).

He claims that the lack of security in the country is due to "a conscious strategy by al-Qaeda and Iran," two entities that sit on the divide between Sunni and Shia, groups that hate one another (I wonder if we'll see the media with their knives out for Lieberman like they were for Silvestre Reyes when he got the question wrong about which kind of Islam al-Qaeda practiced).

He claims that every soldier he met wanted to send more troops, despite yesterday's AP story which had troops on the record (and not simply rhetorical devices by a deluded Senator) rejecting any call for additional forces.

I agree that we cannot abandon Iraq; we should open up our borders to any refugee who seeks asylum here, for starters. But we cannot abandon all reason by placing more troops to be policemen in the middle of a civil war, where they shoot at both sides (that's what Lieberman is advocating here). He's just the kind of person who thinks the military can solve all of our problems, despite being woefully unequipped and untrained to solve this one.

This is McCain and Lieberman's war now. There isn't bipartisan support for escalation; there's overwhelming support against it. And there ought to be.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

End of a Blogging Era

Billmon posted this on his blog today, and now his entire site is "Temporarily Unavailable".

Just yesterday I wrote about how good it was to have Billmon back after a short blogging hiatus. Now the Whiskey Bar appears to have closed for good.

Billmon may not have been the first blog I read a lot, but it was one I found pretty quickly. I remember when it had comments (apparently there were a lot of flame wars going on in there, leading to the shutdown). The guy was a razor-sharp writer, first and foremost. He also was someone who saw the value of blogging very early and (perhaps idealistically) wanted to make a difference. The Unapologetic Mexican sums it up nicely.

Something tells me that he won't be back. And that may be because he actually has some smarts, if you get me. Or at least some nerves. Some feelings. It may be the same impulse that led to one man immolating himself, and others ranting and getting crazier by the day [...]

Perhaps Billmon feels impotent, as if he is just jacking off to the beat of war drums. Maybe he sees that the Machine will not halt, and that the People will not Listen to Reason. Maybe he feels he is preaching to the choir, and that it isn't doing enough Good. I don't know. I guess (despite his recent minstrelly behavior!) I think well of the person I imagine is Billmon. I think he sees through much of the fog, and wants to help, wants to change things. I think—or choose to think—that he now feels ineffective in the face of Evil and it bothers him. And I understand. Although I will miss his writing. It felt smart, and close to the bone. I hope he finds something worthwhile to get his hands on. Or maybe just a big sky, and a road underneath it.

I remember the chill up my spine while reading one particular Billmon post, when he chided everyone in this country for not doing enough to stop the war, claiming that we're all responsible for what's going on over there, and what will continue to happen for the next several decades. Billmon wrote a lot of posts like that. He was a fatalist, a realist, but he had a cockeyed belief in the power to change the prevailing narrative, despite those overwhelming forces aligned in opposition.

I sometimes think that I'm spitting into the wind here, but that spitting is a hell of a lot better than walking around with my head down. I have this tendency to find satisfaction wherever I can, to burrow into a consolation when the intitial shoot-for-the-stars goal falters. This keeps me going but is something I always watch out for. There's no reason that change can't be realized; look how far things have come from just two years ago.

Billmon will be missed, and nobody understands that feeling, like you're banging their head against the wall without success, as much as I do. But I truly believe that this movement to engage people to reclaim their democracy has the power to overtake the status quo. We don't have to be afraid that we're only talking to ourselves anymore.

I'll toast to the "free thinking in a dirty glass" tonight.


Ford, and How the Media Stopped Doing Its Job

Obviously, one of the bigger stories of the day is Gerald Ford telling Bob Woodward that he wouldn't have supported going to war in Iraq. Ford's other comments, particularly about Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger, are very enlightening, and sound more like the reflections of a blogger than a Washington elder statesman.

"He was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true." [...]

Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. "Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood," Ford said. "Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period." But Ford viewed Kissinger's dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration's ability to fully air policy debates. "They were supposed to check on one another." [...]

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. "Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, 'I'm offering my resignation.' Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. 'Now, Henry, you've got the nation's future in your hands and you can't leave us now.' Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

From this description, Cheney and Kissinger sound like every conservative and neoconservative I've ever had a conversation with. Dishonest, thin-skinned, convinced of their own brilliance, never wrong, meddling... it's all there.

But I agree with those who've said that the importance of the story is not that Ford disagreed on Iraq (the war would not have suddenly stopped because of the 38th President's disapproval), but that Ford asked for the interview to be embargoed until after his death, and more important, that Woodward AGREED to it. Exactly what else does Bob Woodward know that he's not telling the public? How does that fulfill Woodward's obligation to inform and educate his readers?

But while you can take issue with the hagiographer-in-chief for concealing his reporting for a book payday, you can at least understand it. What I think is far more reflective of the change in the media from the 70s to today is the signature moment from the 2nd Presidential debate in 1976 between Ford and Jimmy Carter. Given how we've understood the media in the era of W, it's a shocking exchange that seems like it must have happened in another country. And in a way, it did.

Gerald Ford was rebounding from a 30-point deficit in the polls to pull almost even with Carter at the time of the 2nd Presidential debate. This surge (an apt word) would be halted by a comment made by Ford during the debate, that became powerful evidence that he was either out of touch or a liar when it came to the Soviet Union. But it wasn't Jimmy Carter or his political spinmeisters that made hay of this. In fact, it was the questioner, Max Frankel, an associate editor of The New York Times, who immediately challenged Ford for the remark. It's important to give full context for this.

MS. FREDERICK: Mr. Frankel, a question for President Ford.

MR. FRANKEL: Mr. President, I'd like to explore a little more deeply our relationship with the Russians. They used to brag back in Khrushchev's day that because of their greater patience and because of our greed for - for business deals that they would sooner or later get the better of us. Is it possible that despite some setbacks in the Middle East, they've proved their point? Our allies in France and Italy are now flirting with Communism. We've recognized the permanent Communist regime in East Germany. We've virtually signed, in Helsinki, an agreement that the Russians have dominance in Eastern Europe. We've bailed out Soviet agriculture with our huge grain sales. We've given them large loans, access to our best technology and if the Senate hadn't interfered with the Jackson Amendment, maybe we - you would've given them even larger loans. Is that what you call a two-way street of traffic in Europe?

Now there's a question that you would never see in the modern era of debates or even press conferences. Instead of basing it on Administration press releases or official sources, Frankel synthesizes what he has actually seen coming out of Europe at the time, and arrives at an analysis that forces the President to explain his position on the Soviet Union (arguably the biggest issue at the time).

And here's Ford's fateful response.

MR. FORD: I believe that we have uh - negotiated with the Soviet Union since I've been president from a position of strength. And let me cite several examples. Shortly after I became president in uh - December of 1974, I met with uh - General Secretary Brezhnev in Vladivostok and we agreed to a mutual cap on the ballistic missile launchers at a ceiling of twenty-four hundred - which means that the Soviet Union, if that becomes a permanent agreement, will have to make a reduction in their launchers that they now have or plan to have. I've negotiated at Vladivostok with uh - Mr. Brezhnev a limitation on the MIRVing of their ballistic missiles at a figure of thirteen-twenty, which is the first time that any president has achieved a cap either on launchers or on MIRVs. It seems to me that we can go from there to uh - the uh - grain sales. The grain sales have been a benefit to American agriculture. We have achieved a five and three quarter year uh - sale of a minimum six million metric tons, which means that they have already bought about four million metric tons this year and are bound to buy another two million metric tons to take the grain and corn and wheat that the American farmers have produced in order to uh - have full production. And these grain sales to the Soviet Union have helped us tremendously in meeting the costs of the additional oil and - the oil that we have bought from overseas. If we turn to Helsinki - I'm glad you raised it, Mr. uh - Frankel. In the case of Helsinki, thirty-five nations signed an agreement, including the secretary of state for the Vatican - I can't under any circumstances believe that the - His Holiness, the Pope would agree by signing that agreement that the thirty-five nations have turned over to the Warsaw Pact nations the domination of the - Eastern Europe. It just isn't true. And if Mr. Carter alleges that His Holiness by signing that has done it, he is totally inaccurate. Now, what has been accomplished by the Helsinki agreement? Number one, we have an agreement where they notify us and we notify them of any uh - military maneuvers that are to be be undertaken. They have done it. In both cases where they've done so, there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.

This was a silly statement. It was clear that the Soviets were dominating Eastern Europe at the time. Now, here is the moment that would literally be impossible and unthinkable in the present day.

MS. FREDERICK: Governor Carter?

MR. FRANKEL: I'm sorry, I - could I just follow - did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying mo- most of the countries there and in - and making sure with their troops that it's a - that it's a Communist zone, whereas on our side of the line the Italians and the French are still flirting with the possibility of Communism?

MR. FORD: I don't believe, uh - Mr. Frankel that uh - the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Rumanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous: it has its own territorial integrity and the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, I visited Poland, Yugoslavia and Rumania to make certain that the people of those countries understood that the president of the United States and the people of the United are dedicated to their independence, their autonomy and their freedom.

Carter gave a nice response afterwards that reiterated how out of touch Ford was ("I would like to see Mr. Ford convince the Polish-Americans and the Czech-Americans and the Hungarian-Americans in this country that those countries don't live under the domination and supervision of the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain"). But the REPORTER questioned Ford's facts first. Frankel decided to involve himself in the debate on the side of truth. He called Ford on his misleading answer. He performed a primary function of journalism - to be a referee rather than a broadcaster.

And this was not unusual. In fact, if you read the transcript you'd recognize that it was very common for the questioners, who were actual correspondents at newspapers and national news outlets instead of anchors, to ask follow-up questions and to respond to the candidates' answers. See, at that time there was still such a thing as empirical truth, and the reporters weren't afraid to stand up for it.

You absolutely wouldn't see this today. I could name for you at least a half-dozen instances of outright lying of this sort in the 2004 Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. How about when Dick Cheney claimed that the first time he ever met John Edwards was the night of the debate, when there was VIDEO FOOTAGE of the two shaking hands at a White House prayer breakfast? How about when Bush claimed Kerry would raise taxes on a million small businesses, when the White House counts any company that makes as little as $1 as a small business, and thus wildly overstated the impact of those tax changes?

Here's a list from the time of 28 inaccuracies made by both Bush and Kerry during the 2004 debates.

Now, did any of these cause such an uproar that they stopped one candidate's momentum? Because that's exactly what happened to Ford. Carter and his running mate Walter Mondale shrewdly hammered on that one line for a week. They were given the opening because a respected media figure stepped in to essentially say, "Mr. President, you're wrong, surely you know that." And Ford decided to remain defiant and stand by his statement. The final result of the 1976 election was close enough, that you can reasonably claim that Ford's debate gaffe cost him the election. Many historians have. Maybe it was a different time. Maybe debates were more important because they were novel (only the second Presidential debates ever, and the first since the Kennedy-Nixon ones 16 years prior). But I can't help thinking that this is due to the impact of that member of the media speaking up and calling a spade a spade.

We don't have a media that separates fact from fiction anymore. As good as Jim Lehrer is, he wouldn't think of stopping a Bush-Kerry debate in the middle to say, "Mr. Bush, did you just reference 9-11 as part of an answer about Iraq, when the two had nothing to do with one another?" The presence of an independent voice, in my opinion, is what made Ford's gaffe such a major event. Not only did it become a partisan fight, but the "neutral observer" had to come in on the side of Carter as well. That doesn't happen today. We have a he said-she said media, a group of stenographers that in the interest of balance simply do not enter the debate on the side of the truth.

Anonymous Liberal had an interesting post the other day about how commercial advertising is more highly scrutinized than political advertising. Laws are in place to protect consumers from misstatements and lies about various products, but not to protect voters from misstatements and lies about various candidates. Digby had the perfect response to this, and it's relevant to this discussion:

But the system is supposed to have a mechanism for dealing with this --- the press. It's protected by the same amendment that protects the politicians and operates on an equal constitutional basis. If jouranlists were doing their job correctly they would function as the political consumer watchdogs and enforcers of truth in advertising.

The thing is, they think they are. They nitpick something ridiculous, like Al Gore's joke that his grandmother sang him a certain lullabye while allowing a huge majority of the country to believe that there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11 --- something which those of us who were paying close attention knew was untrue, by virtue of the administration's cleverly misleading statements [...]

...the Bush administration repeatedly made speeches and statements like that above and suffered virtually no blowback in the media. In his press conferences, the white house press corps failed to properly follow up or make it clear that Bush was being clever when he made these connections and instead laughed and fawned as if they were at a movie star's press junket.

It was their job to sort that rhetoric out, right as it happened, no matter how unpleasant it might have been. The failure to correct that misimpression (along with dozens of others) led many millions of Americans to support the invasion of Iraq who otherwise might not have. Had the press done its job, acted as the public's "political consumer" advocate, and put pressure on the administration to explain its claims, the war would likely have happened anyway --- they were determined to do it come hell or high water --- but Bush would not have won re-election. They made it possible for someone who had lied blatantly to the people in some cases, misled them in others and started a war based upon what turned out to be a completely false premise to hang on long enough to win another term before people belatedly realized they had been taken to the cleaners.

And 30 years ago, they refused to let that happen. They actually got in the middle of the field and threw the yellow flag and made calls. In other words, they did their jobs as journalists.

What has happened in those intervening 30 years, allowing the media to completely give up the function they are supposed to serve in American politics? I have a few ideas, but what's important is that we continue to monitor this and hammer those who refuse to do their job. Blogs are great but the average voter still gets most of their information from a few mainstream media sources. They still play a vital role, and if they abdicate their responsibility, we'll continue to see more and more liars and obfuscators on the national stage, knowing they can get away with their deliberate falsehoods, knowing that there will be no accountability for it.

We need a free press that is bold and challenging and willing to take their job seriously. Those who take up this challenge should be rewarded, those who don't condemned.


Good Day For A Hangin'

I guess all that talk of Saddam's hanging to coincide with the State of the Union Address was misplaced, and I guess that that letter which showed up yesterday was a farewell note. It looks like this is going down by Sunday (Happy New Year!):

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, sentenced to death for his role in 148 killings in 1982, will have his sentence carried out by Sunday, NBC News reported Thursday. According to a U.S. military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, Saddam will be hanged before the start of the Eid religious holiday, which begins this Sunday.

The hanging could take place as early as Friday, NBC’s Richard Engel reported.

The U.S. military received a formal request from the Iraqi government to transfer Saddam to Iraqi authorities, NBC reported on Thursday, which is one of the final steps required before his execution. His sentence, handed down last month, ordered that he be hanged within 30 days.

I don't think that the US is as in control of events in Iraq as everyone thinks, at least not at this point. You would not think that if they were, they would allow a hanging that will almost certainly produce a new paroxysm of violence to occur right before adding US troops into the region.

As for the culture of life, at least one person is stepping up:

Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI’s top prelate for justice issues and a former Vatican envoy to the U.N., condemned the death sentence in a newspaper interview published Thursday, saying capital punishment goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Saddam's trial, undertaken by his enemies in the middle of a war zone, may have been fair but hardly met all requirements for international law. There's a certain bloodlust in this execution that will only fire up the street in expectation of more. And on the other side, this brutish dictator will now be made into a rallying cry, which wouldn't happen if he just rotted away in his prison cell.

Anyway, I have to go pick out my outfit for the hangin' now, so if you'll excuse me...


Quick Hits

They actually expect me to work where I'm working today, so let me link to a few things to keep things running smoothly.

• Ever think you'd see the day when polar bears were an endangered species? Ever think you'd see it this quickly? The pace of global warming is really frightening. I remember reading these stories about polar bears drowning and what-not, but I had no idea they'd be endangered so fast.

Steve Jobs should go to jail if this is true. We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in theft. And anyone with Apple stock, I'd take it out, you're going to see something in the WorldCom/Enron range before too long if these allegations hold up.

• Pure class: Rudy Guiliani is recruiting 9-11 families to help with his Presidential campaign. Are they going to testify to how shrewd it was to put the emergency response center in the World Trade Center complex after it had already been bombed in 1993, or are they going to swell with pride about how Rudy let thousands of cleanup workers get sick and die by not properly outfitting them to do their work in the toxic aftermath? And, exactly how exploitative is it to RECRUIT 9-11 families to your team?

• You know, I made the mistake of getting slightly hopeful about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and then I read news of more Israeli settlements being added to the West Bank. If it's still a land grab, there's no hope for peace. Oh yeah, and rockets are firing back and forth again.

• Interesting story from the Times a few days back about how porkbarrel spending and "bringing home the bacon" didn't exactly lead some Congressmen to victory in 2006. Pork and corruption are becoming more and more intertwined, and frequently these vanity projects reward construction and big-money interests in the district, not the constituents. I don't think we'll see these projects totally go away just because of the PR value, but maybe that value is overrated.

• I'm glad Hamid Karzai denounced Pakistan's mining of the border with Afghanistan. The whole world should be up in arms. Pakistan is militarizing the border, and assaulting anyone poking around there.

New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall tells ABC News she was assaulted by plain-clothed government security agents while reporting in Quetta, a Pakistani city near the Afghan frontier where NATO suspects the Taliban hides its shadow government.

Akhtar Soomro, a freelance Pakistani photographer working with Gall, was detained for five-and-a-half hours. According to Gall, the agents broke down the door to her hotel room, after she refused to let them enter, and began to seize her notebooks and laptop. When she tried to stop them, she says one of the men punched her twice in the face and head.

"I fell backwards onto a coffee table smashing the crockery," she recalled in a written account of the incident. "I have heavy bruising on my arms, on my temple and my cheekbone, and swelling on my left eye and a sprained knee."

Pakistan is one of the most brutal places for journalists in the world, and now it'll be just as brutal for refugees. I like to mention at these points that they're our ally.

• Gale Norton steps out of her position as the Secretary of the Interior, and into a job as an attorney for Royal Dutch Shell. Sounds like a nice fit.

• Marty Peretz is a moron, suggesting that Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi is a pussy for opposing the death penalty, then claiming he opposes the death penalty TOO, but just not for people like Saddan Hussein. Moral relativism, I believe we've found your poster boy! For the record, I think making Saddam a martyr is stupid, and videotaping it is ghoulish.


Soldiers Don't Want It, Civilian Leadership Doesn't Want It

The President is meeting with his War Cabinet today to figure out how best to sell the strategy of escalation in Iraq. Last week, the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, traveled to Iraq to "meet with the troops," and CNN made a big deal of the fact that this "random sample" of troops seemed to support a buildup of forces. Yeah, completely random sample of troops who just so happen to share a meal with the Secretary of Defense. Yeah, that's how this White House works.

As it turns out, an actual random sample of the troops tields results more along the lines of "that's a hell of a bad idea":

Many of the American soldiers trying to quell sectarian killings in Baghdad don't appear to be looking for reinforcements. They say the temporary surge in troop levels some people are calling for is a bad idea [...]

In dozens of interviews with soldiers of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as they patrolled the streets of eastern Baghdad, many said the Iraqi capital is embroiled in civil warfare between majority Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs that no number of American troops can stop.

Others insisted current troop levels are sufficient and said any increase in U.S. presence should focus on training Iraqi forces, not combat.

But their more troubling worry was that dispatching a new wave of soldiers would result in more U.S. casualties, and some questioned whether an increasingly muddled American mission in Baghdad is worth putting more lives on the line.

Spc. Don Roberts, who was stationed in Baghdad in 2004, said the situation had gotten worse because of increasing violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

"I don't know what could help at this point," said Roberts, 22, of Paonia, Colo. "What would more guys do? We can't pick sides. It's almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions."

"Nothing's going to help. It's a religious war, and we're caught in the middle of it," said Sgt. Josh Keim, a native of Canton, Ohio, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "It's hard to be somewhere where there's no mission and we just drive around."

Pfc. Richard Grieco said it's hard to see how daily missions in Baghdad make a difference.

"If there's a plan to sweep through Baghdad and clear it, (more troops) could make a difference," said the 19-year-old from Slidell, La. "But if we just dump troops in here like we've been doing, it's just going to make for more targets."

Sgt. James Simons, 24, of Tacoma, Wash., said Baghdad is so dangerous that U.S. forces spend much of their time in combat instead of training Iraqis.

"Baghdad is still like it was at the start of the war. We still have to knock out insurgents because things are too dangerous for us to train the Iraqis," he said.

Sgt. Justin Thompson, a San Antonio native, said he signed up for delayed enlistment before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, then was forced to go to a war he didn't agree with.

A troop surge is "not going to stop the hatred between Shia and Sunni," said Thompson, who is especially bitter because his 4-year contract was involuntarily extended in June. "This is a civil war, and we're just making things worse. We're losing. I'm not afraid to say it."

There were a few scattered calls for escalation, but the majority were against it. Public opinion among those in Iraq seems to reflect public opinion here at home. And the Secretary of Defense, recipient of all of those good wishes and calls for more troops just a week ago, doesn't seem to agree anymore:

With President Bush leaning toward sending more soldiers to pacify Iraq, his defense secretary is privately opposing the buildup.

According to two administration officials who asked not to be named, Robert Gates expressed his skepticism about a troop surge in Iraq on his first day on the job, December 18, at a Pentagon meeting with civilians who oversee the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines.

The view of the new defense secretary appears to be at odds with the leanings of Mr. Bush, who is expected to announce a new troop surge when he unveils his new war strategy next month. Mr. Gates met with Mr. Bush Saturday at Camp David after a trip to Iraq, where the defense secretary met with the commander of American forces there, General George Casey.

Remember, Gates was actually part of the Iraq Study Group before leaving to become SecDef. He's been following the proceedings on the ground and he's not convinced that mediating a civil war would be the ideal strategy. In fact anyone who believes that escalating the war is a good idea is the kind of person who thinks the military can solve anything, and in this case, it can't. It can't stop Sunnis and Shia from killing each other.

The White House is trying to pre-empt growing concern over the imminent decision, by asking critics to "wait to hear what the President has to say before announcing what (they're) opposed to." This would be exactly the wrong thing to do, if you care about the well-being of men and women in uniform. It was thrilling to see John Edwards reference the McCain Doctrine of escalation in Iraq. This policy ought to be both radioactive, and connected to the man who most supports it (more even than the President), so that when it's announced there is outrage directed right at the primary sources. Republicans know that the status quo, or worse, increases in troops and casualties in Iraq, will be political suicide in 2008. They're going to start distancing themselves from the policy as well. And then the 2008 GOP frontrunner will go down along with his President.

This policy will be forced upon the American people unless it becomes too hot to the touch. Biden and Edwards are beginning to put the heat on. The President has no pain receptors when it comes to public opinion, so it may mean nothing. Except for the continued slide into irrelevance for the Republican Party.


Making It Up As They Go Along

It's gotten to the point for war defenders that they have to dig up year-old emails to make their points.

Reader SB points us to an entry today at The Corner, a blog belonging to National Review magazine, entitled "FROM IRAQ: A MARINE’S NOTES."

Among other things, the unnamed Marine tells the National Review that:

"[M]orale among our guys is very high. They not only believe that they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them.
That sentiment seems a bit out of place, given that the president himself admitted last week the United States isn't winning the war. Granted, his words were widely reported by the media -- but that's hardly a reason to hate on the messenger."

Turns out the post is out of place, as SB discovered: the "MARINE'S NOTES" are actually an excerpt from an e-mail that circulated widely around November 2005, perhaps earlier.

The e-mail is said to have been written by an unnamed Marine or just-retired Marine, who had recently (at the time of the e-mail's alleged writing) returned from Iraq.

So this latest justification for war is that somebody in Iraq supposedly wrote that it was going well a year ago.

But wait, there's more.

This radio host put up a picture of John Kerry eating alone in Iraq, with the assumption that he's being shunned by the troops after his comments in late October (the "botched joke"). The entry has the headline "A picture tells a thousand words". The only words missing are "this picture was taken in January 2006, nine months before Kerry ever told that joke."

This is the scraping at the bottom of the barrel for war defenders, desperate to tell the story they believe in their heart to be true, despite all available evidence. It's downright embarrassing.

UPDATE: Turns out that the year-old email spam was floating around the Iraq Study Group. This is what they were using as "evidence" for their report.

God help us all.


African War Update

The Islamists have vanished from Mogadishu. The tactic is hardly surprising; in this century of guerrilla warfare, I don't think you'll see a lot of head-on fighting anymore. Technology tips the scales in favor of the superior force too readily.

The Islamist forces who have controlled much of Somalia in recent months suddenly vanished from the streets of the capital, Mogadishu, residents said Wednesday night, just as thousands of rival troops massed 15 miles away.

In the past few days, Ethiopian-backed forces, with tacit approval from the United States, have unleashed tanks, helicopter gunships and jet fighters on the Islamists, decimating their military and paving the way for the internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia to assert control.

Even so, the Islamists, who have been regarded as a regional menace by Ethiopia and the United States, had repeatedly vowed to fight to the death for their religion and their land, making their disappearance that much more unexpected.

Fortified checkpoints across the city — in front of the radio station, at the airport, at the main roads leading into Mogadishu and outside police stations — were abruptly abandoned Wednesday night, residents said.

Many of the teenage troops who made up the backbone of the Islamist army had blended back into the civilian population, walking around without guns or their trademark green skullcaps.

The sudden reversal left it unclear whether a war that had threatened to consume the Horn of Africa had quickly ended, or the Islamists had merely gone underground, preparing to wage a guerrilla insurgency, as some leaders had threatened.

This comes after the Ethiopians repelled an Islamist counterattack on the inland capital of Baidoa, and the US admitted its support for the mission.

"Ethiopia has genuine security concerns with regard to developments within Somalia," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

Johndroe added that Ethiopian forces were there "at the request" of Somalia's interim government, which wants to break the stronghold of the Islamic Courts Council on southern Somalia and Mogadishu.

What happens now is anybody's guess. The Ethiopians have nobody to fight in Mogadishu. Will they simply leave? I don't think there's any way peace talks between the ICU and the transitional government can go on at this point. Will the Ethiopian Army hunt down suspected militants? How will they know who they are to capture? Is there any way the citizens of Mogadishu, who are at once supportive of and terrorized by the Islamic Courts, would help a foreign army?

The situation in Somalia mirrors Iraq circa April 2003. It remains to be seen if Ethiopia will fall into the same traps that have dogged the US since then. One thing is clear; you cannot use the phrase "American support" anymore and expect anything but enmity:

The rally was supposed to be against Ethiopia, Somalia's neighbor and historic archenemy, which in the past few weeks had sent troops streaming across the border in an attempt to check the power of the increasingly powerful Islamists who rule Mogadishu.

But the cheers that shook the stadium (which had no roof, by the way, and was riddled with bullet holes) were about another country, far, far away.

"Down, down U.S.A.!" thousands of Somalis yelled, many of them waving cocked Kalashnikovs. "Slit the throats of the Americans!"

Not exactly soothing words, especially when the passport in your pocket has one of those golden eagles on it.

Somalia may be the place that best illustrates a trend sweeping across the African continent: After Sept. 11, 2001, the United States concluded that anarchy and misery aid terrorism, and so it tried to re-engage Africa. But anti-American sentiment on the continent has only grown, and become increasingly nasty. And the United States seems unable to do much about it.

A number of experts on Africa trace those developments to a sense not of American power, but of its decline — a perception that the United States is no longer the only power that counts, that it is too bogged down in the Middle East to be a real threat here, and so it can be ignored or defied with impunity.

This, as much as anything, is the tragedy of Iraq. It's a recipe for chaos in a world without moral leadership, a rudderless ship where there is no counterbalancing weight on the side of truth and justice. It is a terrible situation to have earned the hatred of the majority of the world. It makes anything allowable as long as it flies in the face of American interests.


Edwards Steps Up

It was supposed to be perfect: a slow news week, an announcement from the Lower Ninth Ward. Turned out that the death of a former President, and an Internet glitch which led to his campaign website going live a day early kind of got the whole thing off to a shaky start. But everyone knew that Edwards was running anyway, and the Ford tributes got out of the way enough for him to merit some coverage this morning.

Kicking off the campaign in the Lower Ninth was a powerful signal, one that suggests his will be a different kind of campaign, talking to and about a different class of people, on a different plane than some of the other candidates. That might work, or not, but in a crowded field with so-called "celebrity candidates," it's the best chance Edwards has to flip the script.

From his email to supporters:

I'm writing to you from New Orleans, where tomorrow I will announce that I am a candidate for president of the United States.

I'm announcing here because no place better demonstrates the two Americas I've talked about for a long time. But even more important, no place better demonstrates the power people have when they -- not Washington -- take responsibility and take action to build the America we believe in.

I'm running to ask millions of Americans to take responsibility and take action to change our country and ensure America's greatness in the 21st century.

We know what we need to do. Changing our country means:

Providing moral leadership in the world -- starting with Iraq, where we should begin drawing down troops, not escalating the war

Strengthening our middle class and ending the shame of poverty

Guaranteeing health care for every single American

Leading the fight against global warming

Getting America and the world to break our addiction to oil

That's not just my vision –- it's our vision. And we can't wait for the next president to take office to begin fundamentally changing our country.

And the truth is, we don't have to wait. Since I left Washington, I've seen firsthand the power that ordinary people have when we work together.

We worked with thousands of volunteers to raise the minimum wage in six states – and we got it done. We're making the first year of college free for young people in Greene County, North Carolina. And we've been working from the grassroots up to organize workers so they can stand up for their rights and earn a decent living.

And this week in New Orleans, I've been working with young people who gave up part of their Christmas vacation to work on rebuilding and helping those in need -- just like the hundreds of college students who came here to work with me during their Spring Break earlier this year.

This is the kind of commitment to solving our problems that I've seen time and time again over the last two years – and it reaffirms one of the great lessons of my whole life. The power of America doesn't lie in Washington; the true power of America is in the people of America.

That's why we're getting ready to launch a campaign that says to everyone who wants to take responsibility for our future: we can't wait until tomorrow. We must act now.

Tomorrow begins today.

I honestly didn't think much of John Edwards in 2004. He came off to me as too slick, as if he were selling me a monorail in Springfield. The stump speech was so polished it appeared to me to be out of a musical. "You know what I'm talking about! You work hard, two, three jobs just to make ends meet..." Its cadence was too familiar, too perfect. Over the last couple years I've seen Edwards grow into the role, become more human. His focus on poverty is disarming because it's so novel.

He's one of the candidates I'm taking a look at for 2008.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Investments and Disconnection

I held back on this for a few days, but Billmon (good to have him back blogging again) is dead right about Condi Rice and her ridiculous quote that Iraq "is worth the investment."

I once made the analogy that in the imperialism business troops equal money, so perhaps I'm not in the best position to criticize. But I was trying to sound cruel and heartless for sarcastic effect, while Condi appears to have been utterly sincere -- every bit as sincere as when she described Israel's air assault on Lebanon as the "birth pangs" of the new Middle East. (How's the baby doing, Condi?)

Maybe the simplest explanation is also the most accurate. Maybe Condi is just a cold, heartless bitch -- as morally numb and sociopathic as her office husband. But these kinds of comments could also simply reflect the incredibly sheltered life Madame Supertanker appears to have led, especially since she entered the pampered, intersecting worlds of the academic, national security and corporate elites [...]

Does Condi understand how many deaths, mutilations and wrecked lives lie behind her "investments" and "birth pangs"? Undoubtedly. Does she care? I don't know. But, from a public diplomacy point of view, it would behoove her to show some sign that she has an emotional connection to the rest of the human race -- or, if she doesn't, to at least pretend that she does.

These are the words of someone who doesn't exist on a human level. To talk in those kinds of abstractions - without care or concern for the flesh and blood behind them - just reveals so much about the poverty of character inherent in this Secretary of State. And later on that week, she built on this image with yet another sickening quote:

In a long interview with the Washington Post Rice notes, "The old Middle East was not going to stay. Let's stop mourning the old Middle East. It was not so great and it was not going to survive anyway."

The condescension and arrogance at work here is stunning. In one sweeping stroke, Rice dismisses the tens of thousands who have died, the civil war in Iraq and the volatile mess left by our neglectful and misguided policies in Lebanon and Palestine as the mere passing of the "old Middle East", which wasn't "so good" anyway. There is, therefore, no need to beat our breasts with mea culpas, no reason to fret about the failures and the devastating consequences of our misguided policy.

It is not our fault, it is theirs. And, in any case, things are better off now, because we said they were.

These people are so bereft of concern for the consequences of their actions because they're so disconnected from them. Rice sometimes gets a free pass as "the sane one" who tries to steer the ship of state to a more moderate course (I know that the media was trying hard to push that narrative). But her appalling lack of awareness suggests that she takes comfort in the bubble right with the President. It's this kind of circular logic that argues, no matter how things turn out, no matter what suffering and devastation is caused by their actions, it was the right thing to do anyway. The conclusion is reached, and then they argue backwards that it was both inevitable and proper. It's the exact wrong way to think about the world.


Mismanaging the Run-Up to Escalation

This strategy by the President of waiting to give a final assessment of a new Iraq policy is really backfiring. Maybe they deliberately timed the disclosure to early January to put additional troops in Baghdad at a time when, historically, attacks have decreased; or maybe it was timed to blunt the emergence of the new Democratic majority in Congress. But politically speaking, what it's done is raise expectations for this big change in policy while present the President as out of touch with the urgency of the situation. I think that's a really poor way to sell the idea of escalation to the public.

Anticipation is high not just because people are weary of war, but also because of the way Bush has gone about deciding his next move.

Saddled with a reputation for stubbornness, Bush has gone the other direction. He has made a visible effort to seek advice — from the military, diplomats, academics, retired generals, a special study commission, Iraqi officials, Republican leaders, even Democrats he once ridiculed.

"He has built up expectations," said David Gergen, a former White House adviser in the administrations of presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. "People are saying, 'OK, if you've spent all this time and effort on it, you better have a pretty darn good plan.'"

And as we know, the "plan" is to add 30,000 troops or so, and... not much else. And to people who don't pay as much attention to the news, that's going to come as a great shock. After all the buildup, to suggest the opposite of what the evidence appears to demand will really turn people off more, if that's possible. I think the public reaction will largely this reaction from Jane Smiley:

I'm interested because the "surge" is a classic example of a loser's strategy, and it is about to be put in place by a bunch of losers. The "surge" is about saving face rather than achieving an objective, and, let me say it right here, it's a guy thing. It's like "going down fighting", except that those who are going to be going down aren't going to be those who want to save face.

People always comment on how stubborn George W. Bush is, or how stupid he is, or how ignorant he is, but what they don't comment on is how selfish he is. Clearly, the face that is being saved in this probable "surge" is his face, and that's how he wants it. He is willing to sacrifice any number of troops (and we don't know what that number will be, but it could be high) and any number of Iraqis (certainly a higher number, because the American troops will throw off all restraint) in order to say that---Well, what? What would be the expression? "We did our best"? Well, no. The Bush administration didn't do their best, because they never gave their post war strategy any thought. "We tried"? Hardly. "We did everything we could"? But no. They gave the PR a shot ("weapons of mass destruction"), but in the end, they were indifferent to everything about the war except George W. Bush's mood.

Some of that is psychoanalysis, but much of it is set up by these expectations. He appears to be waiting to find a way to make this selfish call to save face without it seeming to be selfish. And the fact that it's taken weeks just plays into that. Nobody believes that the President is sitting in Crawford diligently weighing options. He's on his bike, and his speechwriters are trying to figure out how to sell this turd.

Even using the word "surge" is problematic, because it suggests a short-term solution, when even the architects of the policy know that their meaning of surge is a long-lasting escalation of the fighting.

Reports on the Bush administration's efforts to craft a new strategy in Iraq often use the term "surge" but rarely define it. Estimates of the number of troops to be added in Baghdad range from fewer than 10,000 to more than 30,000. Some "surges" would last a few months, others a few years.

We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development -- is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

You won't hear that from the President's mouth, because it'd be the death rattle of the policy. So they hide behind more palatable language when the actuality is to increase the force for an open-ended period of time.

This White House used to pride itself on stagecraft, but they've now built up a change of course in Iraq to be an end-all be-all when they're going to announce the opposite of what people want to see, and they are going to use euphemistic language to describe it while their public figures going out to speak about the policy are undermining them.

Good job, guys. The AP article gives a good sum-up of the pickle Bush has gotten himself into:

Bush now faces his own test of great expectations, largely of his own doing. He's promised a new approach, yet even his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, has acknowledged that "there are no new ideas in Iraq."

Indeed, some of the main ideas under consideration — sending in more troops, embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units, engaging in more aggressive diplomacy — aren't novel. And if Bush does come up with a remarkably fresh approach after nearly four years of war, that will raise the question of why he hadn't thought of it before.

John Kerry did an admirable job showing the way that a reasonable, principled leader might approach this kind of situation, where instead of stubbornly "sticking to your guns" in the face of chaos, you explain yourself with honesty and candor.

There's something much worse than being accused of "flip-flopping": refusing to flip when it's obvious that your course of action is a flop.

I say this to President Bush as someone who learned the hard way how embracing the world's complexity can be twisted into a crude political shorthand. Barbed words can make for great politics. But with U.S. troops in Iraq in the middle of an escalating civil war, this is no time for politics. Refusing to change course for fear of the political fallout is not only dangerous -- it is immoral.

I'd rather explain a change of position any day than look a parent in the eye and tell them that their son or daughter had to die so that a broken policy could live [...]

We cannot afford to waste time being told that admitting mistakes, not the mistakes themselves, will provide our enemies with an intolerable propaganda victory. We've already lost years being told that we have no choice but to stay the course of a failed policy.

This isn't a time for stubbornness, nor is it a time for halfway solutions -- or warmed-over "new" solutions that our own experience tells us will only make the problem worse [...]

How else could we end up with the famous mantra that "only Nixon could go to China"? For decades, Richard Nixon built his reputation as a China hawk. In 1960, he took John Kennedy to task for being soft on China. He called isolating China a "moral position" that "flatly rejected cowardly expediency." Then, when China broke with the Soviet Union during his presidency, he saw an opportunity to weaken our enemies and make Americans safer. His 1972 visit to China was a major U.S. diplomatic victory in the Cold War.

Ronald Reagan was no shape-shifter, either, but after calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire," he met repeatedly with its leaders. When Reagan saw an opportunity for cooperation with Mikhail Gorbachev, he reached out and tested our enemies' intentions. History remembers that he backed tough words with tough decisions -- and, yes, that he changed course even as he remained true to his principles.

President Bush and all of us who grew up in the shadows of World War II remember Winston Churchill -- his grit, his daring, his resolve. I remember listening to his speeches on a vinyl album in the pre-iPod era. Two years ago I spoke about Iraq at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where Churchill had drawn a line between freedom and fear in his "iron curtain" speech. In preparation, I reread some of the many words from various addresses that made him famous. Something in one passage caught my eye. When Churchill urged, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in," he added: "except to convictions of honour and good sense."

This is a time for such convictions.

It's a good piece of writing - and it's a good piece of leadership. Would that we had some right now.

UPDATE: Joe Biden's got the stagecraft down. Sure, he's doing it to pump up his profile for a Presidential bid, but holding 3 days of hearings a week before the State of the Union is a pretty darn good way to wrestle control of the narrative. It should be radioactive to commit more troops to a war like this. Biden's fighting the good fight toward making that so.


Strong Words

The San Jose Mercury News delivered the strongest editorial about global warming that I've seen in a major newspaper. You could see this coming; over the last year, with Al Gore's help, global warming has moved from something perceived as only important to "the tree-hugger set" to its rightful place as an urgent crisis which requires immediate attention. When the editorial board of a newspaper jumps aboard, you know it's crossed over into the mainstream.

Global warming is the greatest environmental threat that humanity has ever faced.

Caused mainly by the unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by automobiles and industries, the rise in temperature is already starting to melt the polar ice caps and disrupt weather patterns.

The potential consequences for California are dire. At current rates of warming, state researchers project that the sea level will rise as much as three feet by the end of the century, flooding many low-lying areas and tainting important sources of fresh water like the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. Higher temperatures will drastically shrink the Sierra snowpack that stores much of our water. They will increase smog, boost the risk of wildfires and upset California's vital agricultural industries.

The United States produces about one-fourth of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, yet we're the only major nation that officially denies there's a problem. This is the year for all of us -- government, business, individuals -- to aggressively attack global warming.

We really have seen a tipping point on the environment, one that I wasn't sure would happen in my lifetime unless the crisis was right in front of our noses (Manhattan drowning or something). There are still institutional forces against it. If the Supreme Court refuses to rule carbon dioxide as a pollutant, it'll be a fateful decision that'll take decades to reverse. We'll find out about that in the coming year. And the guys in the executive branch are still largely denying the problem.

But this is an election issue, this is a legislative issue (bye-bye, kickbacks for Big Oil; hello, conservation and alternative energy research), this is a human issue. And it's almost breathtaking how quickly it all coalesced.


"Gerald Ford, dead today, and I'm gay."

One of the best sketches in SNL history. Seemed fitting on this day.

You could love Ford or hate him, but one thing's for sure, he was great for comedy.

1996 episode of SNL featuring Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw, announcing the various ways Gerald Ford could die.


D-Day on the Beeb (again)

At about 1:40 EST (10:40 PST), I'll be on the BBC Radio program "World Have Your Say" talking about Gerald Ford. I assume this will be less controversial than the Virgil Goode story.

You can listen to the program over the Web at this link.

...OK, that one went well, I think. The only thing I wanted to say that I didn't get in was that Ford was responsible for Chevy Chase's career, and I can never forgive him for that.