Saturday, November 25, 2006

And the death toll rises

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It was 161 when I wrote about it just over a day ago. Now it's over 200. And the violence continues:

Defying a government-imposed curfew, Shiite militiamen stormed Sunni mosques in central Iraq today, shooting guards and burning down buildings in apparent retaliation for a series of devastating car bombs that killed hundreds of people the previous day in a Shiite slum, residents and police officials said.

As the death toll from those bombings rose above 200, gunmen drove through several neighborhoods in Baghdad and the nearby provincial capital of Baquba, taking aim at mosques with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades on the Muslim holy day, when many Iraqis go to mosques to pray.

It may be 215. And then there's this: "Revenge-seeking militiamen seized six Sunnis as they left Friday prayers and burned them alive with kerosene":

Most of the thousands of dead bodies that have been found dumped across Baghdad and other cities in central Iraq in recent months have been of victims who were tortured and then shot to death, according to police. The suspected militia killers often have used electric drills on their captives' bodies before killing them. The bodies are frequently decapitated.

But burning victims alive introduced a new method of brutality that was likely to be reciprocated by the other sect as the Shiites and Sunnis continue killing one another in unprecedented numbers. The gruesome attack, which came despite a curfew in Baghdad, capped a day in which at least 87 people were killed or found dead in sectarian violence across Iraq.

Once again, we can't say that this was "just another day" in Iraq. The "just another day" normalcy of death and destruction that the news media barely paid attention to has given way to new levels of violence that simply cannot be ignored. The new "normal" is an entirely new level of horror, "the deadliest wave of violence since the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003". It is out of control. And it has unleashed chaos.

And there may be no way to stop it.

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More on Pelosi, Harman, and Hastings

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Salon's Joe Conason weighed in yesterday on what is shaping up to be a huge, ongoing embarrassment for Pelosi and the Democrats if Harman is bypassed for Hastings, a corrupt former federal judge who was impeached and convicted by Congress, and hence removed from office, and whose "service on the [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI)] has been neither noteworthy nor distinguished".

But if it's not to be Harman, at least let it be, as Conason suggests, Rush Holt (D-NJ), "a physicist and former State Department intelligence officer who is not only highly qualified to chair HPSCI but also has served on the committee with distinction."

Anyone but Hastings? Well, yes. I think it should be Harman, as I've said before, but, if not, any Democrat on the committee would be better than Hastings.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Stealing Sarasota

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Have you all heard what happened in Florida's 13th congressional district, specifically in Sarasota County? Jonathan Chait summed it up at The Plank a few days ago:

It seems beyond dispute that malfunctioning voting machines cost Democrat Christine Jennings a House seat in Florida's 13th District. Jennings lost by 369 votes. Meanwhile, more than 17,000 voting machines in Sarasota County, which Jennings won by six percentage points, failed to register any vote at all for the hotly contested House race. That's an undervote rate almost six times as high as other counties.

And E.J. Dionne addressed it today at the Post:

Here's the story so far: The official vote count in the battle for -- you won't believe this -- Katherine Harris's seat put Republican Vern Buchanan 369 votes ahead of Democrat Christine Jennings out of roughly 238,000 votes cast.

But in Sarasota County, there was an "undervote" of more than 18,000 -- meaning that those voters supposedly didn't choose to record votes in the Buchanan-Jennings race. Jennings carried the county 53 percent to 47 percent.

The Sarasota undervote in the congressional race amounted to nearly 15 percent. Kendall Coffey, Jennings's lawyer, has pointed out that in the other four counties in the district, the undervote ranged from 2.2 to 5.3 percent. Put another way, roughly 18,000 of the 21,000 undervotes in the contest came from Sarasota County.

Which is to say, 13,000 to 15,000 votes just, uh, disappeared, vanished. Into thin air? No, into the nebulous inner-workings of Sarasota's voting machines. Whatever happened, or however it happened, or whoever's responsible for what happened, these thousands and thousands of votes -- in a Jennings stronghold -- "were probably not counted". Surely she would have made up the 369 votes. Easily. And she, not Buchanan, should be heading to Washington.

In the Times today (well, TimesSelect), Paul Krugman asked this question: "Do we have to wait for a constitutional crisis to realize that we’re in danger of becoming a digital-age banana republic?" This may not be a constitutional crisis, but it is an electoral crisis. Since the outcome of this election doesn't affect the balance of power in the House, there hasn't been all that much attention on what would otherwise be a national scandal (and a constitutional crisis). But, as Dionne argues, this also allows what happened in Sarasota to be a test case on what can go wrong with e-voting: "Control of the House does not depend on how this race turns out. It is therefore in the interest of both parties, not to mention the country, to be simultaneously aggressive and judicious in figuring out what went wrong in Sarasota and to use that knowledge to fix the nation's voting system before a major disaster strikes."

Jennings is demanding a new election. Like Krugman, I think "[s]he deserves one". Given that the "result" of the election was obviously wrong, given that there's no reasonable explanation for the high undervote, given that thousands of voters didn't have their votes registered, there is no way that the outcome -- Buchanan's "victory" -- is legitimate. It would be a travesty if Buchanan were to take the seat. There must be another election, a fair and accurate one. Otherwise, the crisis of confidence in American democracy -- and we all know there is one -- will only deepen.

For more, see The Carpetbagger Report, DownWithTyranny!, The Brad Blog (which is always on top of voting fiascos), and Daily Kos.

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A sign of progress in Pakistan

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Progress on what? On rape:

The upper house of Pakistan's parliament has backed a bill amending an Islamic law on rape and adultery.

Until now rape cases have been dealt with in Sharia courts. Victims had to have four male witnesses to the crime -- or else face prosecution for adultery.

The new law, which must be approved by Pakistani leader Gen Pervez Musharraf, allows civil courts to try rape cases...

The new law allows for DNA and other scientific evidence to be used in prosecuting rape cases.

It also drops the death penalty for people having sex outside marriage.

Why is the law needed? Aside from the obvious, aside from basic human and civil rights, here are the shocking statistics:

A woman is raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours in Pakistan, according to the country's independent Human Rights Commission.

And those are just reported rapes. Just imagine what the real numbers are.

Well, General Musharraf? You're clearly not an Islamic extremist. (Hey, you were even on The Daily Show -- and you were even pretty funny.) Will you act on this? Will you approve this sensible effort to lift your country's women out of barbarism? Will you sign it into law?

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

K Street welcomes Hoyer victory

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Hill is reporting that K Street -- that is, Washington's pro-business lobbying establishment -- is happy with Hoyer's win over Murtha for House majority leader: "Hoyer gets credit on K Street for maintaining a dialogue with business groups, even if he hasn’t been a reliable pro-business vote." Which is true, but it's not like the Hoyer Democrats are the DeLay Republicans. Not even close. The connections to K Street, and to business generally, may be there, and may on the whole be more friendly than they would have been with Murtha as majority leader, but the Democrats now in power don't have years and years of vote-buying corruption behind them. That was DeLay's game. And, besides, there's nothing wrong with being friendly with business. The Hill even notes that Pelosi herself "is not generally viewed as anti-business". The problem is when business essentially controls the legislative agenda, or even writes legislation.

Nonetheless, the influence of money in American politics is itself a huge problem no matter which party controls Congress. For more, I recommend an excellent post by Howie Klein at Down With Tyranny!. I'm not quite as critical of the Democratic "establishment" (Hoyer, Emanuel, etc.) as he is, but his overall argument is a sound one and he asks the right questions: "Are Democrats ready to take on the big concerns they have so often finessed in this conservative era? Will they respond to the anger and discontents expressed by people in this election, or will they continue to play it safe?" I favour pragmatic leadership, but I also hope Pelosi's Democrats take reform seriously and make a concerted effort to drain the swamp. They're certainly not as bad as the Republicans, but they certainly don't need to act like Republicans either.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XXIII

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Actually, it wasn't "just another day". It was worse:

Sunni Muslim insurgents blew up five car bombs and fired mortars into Baghdad's largest Shiite district Thursday, killing at least 161 people and wounding 257 in a dramatic attack that sent the U.S. ambassador racing to meet with Iraqi leaders in an effort to contain the growing sectarian war.

Shiite mortar teams quickly retaliated, firing 10 shells at Sunni Islam's most important shrine in Baghdad, badly damaging the Abu Hanifa mosque and killing one person. Eight more rounds slammed down near the offices of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the top Sunni Muslim organization in Iraq, setting nearby houses on fire.

Two other mortar barrages on Sunni neighborhoods in west Baghdad killed nine and wounded 21, police said late Thursday.

In response, the White House said that it "condemn[s] such acts of senseless violence that are clearly aimed at undermining the Iraqi people's hopes for a peaceful and stable Iraq," but those "hopes," such as there is any hope left, are giving way to an escalation of sectarian violence that is poorly understood by pro-war Americans, including the one in the Oval Office. And that escalation is reflected in steady month-by-month increase in civilian deaths.

There are some, like Power Line's John Hinderaker, who refuse to call Iraq "[a] disaster comparable to a civil war," denying that there is anything like "out-of-control sectarian violence". Iraq is just twice as violent as Washington, D.C., he argues. But how is this in any way comforting? The fact is, the violence is increasing. According to the AP, "The United Nations said [yesterday] that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll since the March 2003 U.S. invasion and another sign of the severity of Iraq's sectarian bloodbath". And these are just the reported deaths. How many went unreported? And how many Iraqis suffered violent injuries? And what about all the Americans who were killed? It is a sign of the right's desperation, and callousness, and delusion, to compare Iraq to an American city. The violence is simply not the same. And it's getting worse in Iraq. Worse and worse and worse.

(Graph and photo from The New York Times. See link above.)

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Pelosi at the helm

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Looking back, I've been rather hard on Nancy Pelosi lately, criticizing her support for Jack Murtha and her opposition to Jane Harman, but I want to stress that I still welcome her speakership and support her leadership enthusiastically. Indeed, despite these two high-profile personnel missteps, I think she's already doing an exceptional job.

As The Boston Globe reported the other day, for example, Pelosi has been emphasizing unity in her caucus and "has urged House Democrats, including incoming committee chairmen, to use the first weeks of next year's congressional term to focus exclusively on proposals on which the party is unified and legislative goals that are within reach". The Globe refers to this -- mistakenly, I think -- as "chart[ing] a centrist course," but what it really amounts to is an admirable pragmatism, a realistic sense of what's doable and what isn't, a keen focus on getting things done. There may still be tensions between Pelosi and rival Steny Hoyer, but they seem to be working together to ensure that core Democratic principles and key Democratic initiatives aren't lost to petty bickering. The divisions within the caucus are still there, of course, and they will no doubt emerge over issues like Iraq, but for now unity seems to be the order of the day.

And, too, Pelosi is showing real toughness, just the sort of toughness that the Democrats need going forward as they work to push ahead with their ambitious legislative agenda and to check and balance (and investigate) the abuses and excesses of the White House. The San Francisco Chronicle explains:

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi made clear Tuesday she's not willing to cede the public spotlight to President Bush in the weeks before his State of the Union speech.

Pelosi plans to start the 110th Congress with a bang on Jan. 4 -- when the House holds its ceremonial swearing in and elects her as speaker -- by immediately setting off on a sprint of several weeks to enact the Democrats' ambitious 100-hour agenda.

Lawmakers usually return home between the swearing-in ceremony and the president's speech, but analysts say the hurried schedule gives Democrats a chance to show instant results. It could also put Bush on the defensive, forcing him to sign or veto a host of popular initiatives.

Nancy Pelosi knows what she's doing. With Bush looking to control the narrative on Iraq and national security, and with the Republicans in the House looking to block the Democrats whenever and wherever possible, she is providing just the sort of leadership her party -- and the country -- needs.

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A modest Thanksgiving proposal

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

As I sit here all alone in my apartment in New Haven on this American Thanksgiving day, the victim of high holiday-season airfares and a crushing law school workload, I'd like to make a very modest Thanksgiving proposal. No, I'm not about to condemn the consumption of turkey as cruel to animals and human waistlines, or call for the cancellation of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade because it is an extravagant use of helium. I just think that Americans should celebrate Thanksgiving earlier in the fall -- say at the beginning of November, rather than at the end.

The driving force behind my proposal is the notion that American Thanksgiving as currently scheduled is just too close to Christmas. Given that people generally go through the trouble and expense of travelling home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, doesn't it make sense to distribute the holidays a little further apart, so that you can recover from the last family visit before being subjected to them again?

The same theme of recovery extends to the central aspect of both modern Thanksgiving and Christmas observances: the turkey dinner. I am a vegetarian, so the turkey thing is completely lost on me, but from what I hear, four weeks is barely enough to recover from the excesses of Thanksgiving dinner, never mind enough time to deal with turkey leftovers galore. Spacing the two turkey-centric holidays further apart would do wonders for the digestion and the state of America's fridges.

Furthermore, American workers currently go 12 weeks without a statutory holiday between Labour Day and Thanksgiving, only to be subjected to 2 statutory holidays within the next six weeks. Absent Columbus Day becoming a holiday for everyone (unlikely in this age of political correctness), isn't is a good thing to evenly space our precious holidays more evenly? Think of the productivity gains that would accrue if employees were more evenly rested during the year.

Speaking of the economy, did you know that Franklin Roosevelt actually moved up Thanksgiving by a week during the Depression, as an economic measure? Previously, American Thanksgiving had been marked on the last Thursday of November, but Roosevelt reasoned that moving it up to the fourth Thursday of November would give people an extra week to shop for Christmas. Given that the current Commander-in-Chief views it as the duty of every American to go shopping and support the economy during this time of war, surely moving Thanksgiving up a couple of weeks is the patriotic thing to do.

I could go on. There are literally thousands of reasons why an earlier Thanksgiving is in the best interests of Americans. The earlier the holiday is in the fall, the closer it comes to being a proper harvest celebration, and the nicer the weather outside to enjoy such classic harvest-time activities as apple-picking, pumpkin-carving, and Congressional campaigning. Indeed, my preferred date for rescheduling American Thanksgiving is the first Thursday after the first Monday in November. That way, every two years, Americans can give thanks for their democratic right to boot out the current incompetents in office before they dig into their turkey, and at the same time, enjoy an extra hour of time off, given that this would also be the weekend that Daylight Saving Time ends.

I think I make a compelling case. Let the campaign for an earlier American Thanksgiving begin! And Happy Thanksgiving just the same!

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Would someone please tell George Allen to go away?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The New York Times editorializes today on the latest example of the immensely dangerous idiocy of outgoing Virginia Senator George Allen's:

As a last little gift to America, Senator George Allen, who was narrowly defeated by James Webb this month, has introduced what may be his final piece of legislation: a bill that would allow the carrying of concealed weapons in national parks. The argument behind the bill is that national park regulations unfairly strip many Americans of a right they may enjoy outside the parks. The bill has passed to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where we hope it will die the miserable death it deserves.

I've called Allen many things, all appropriate: Buffoon. Jackass. Goon. Thug. Idiot. Racist. At least he's being true to himself as he leaves the public stage.

Good riddance.

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Reich on McCain

By Michael J.W. Stickings

John McCain supports a troop increase in Iraq.

Robert Reich tries to get inside his head: "I think McCain knows Iraq is out of our hands – it’s disintegrating into civil war, and by 2008 will be a bloodbath. He also knows American troops will be withdrawn. The most important political fact he knows is he has to keep a big distance between himself and Bush in order to avoid being tainted by this horrifying failure. Arguing that we need more troops effectively covers his ass. It will allow him to say, 'if the President did what I urged him to do, none of this would have happened'... In the end, McCain alone will be able to escape blame."

(Slate's John Dickerson makes a similar point in an interesting piece on five key challenges McCain faces as GOP frontrunner for '08. TNR's Isaac Chotiner disagrees with him.)

An interesting analysis. McCain certainly seems to be spending a lot of time covering his ass lately, eh?

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Personal differences

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What's behind the whole Pelosi-Harman brouhaha?

The L.A. Times looks at their friendship and recent enmity here.

(I still think Harman should be chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Snubbing her is a bad move for Pelosi.)

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The latest Republican pissing contest

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So you know how McCain has been trying to prove his conservative bona fides lately, running to the right on such issues as same-sex marriage and abortion? And you know how McCain and Giuliani, both of whom have already initiated campaigns for the White House, seem to be the frontrunners for the '08 Republican presidential nomination? Well, Romney, whom I think will turn out to be the main conservative candidate in the race, particularly now that Allen is out, isn't amused.

"We're in a different place on immigration; we're in a different place on campaign reform; we're in a different place on same-sex marriage; we're in a different place on the president’s policy on interrogation of detainees," he said in a recent interview. (Does this mean he wants to deport illegal immigrants and promote the use of torture?) "I'm a conservative Republican, there's no question about that. I'm at a different place than the other two."

Fantastic. He may be right, he likely is far more conservative than McCain and Giuliani, but these pathetic attempts to appeal to the base seem to be what Republican politicking has come down to. It's all a game of one-upsmanship, an escalation of rhetoric to determine who's more ideologically pure, who's more extreme, than the rest. I can't wait to find out who supports the harshest torture for undocumented gay Mexican abortionist stem-cell researchers.

And there's more -- much more -- to come.

Next week: pissing contest!

And the week after that: penis measurements!

My money's on Romney to win both. Although Gingrich, should he choose to sign up, could prove a formidable opponent in at least one of those two competitions.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman (1925-2006)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Robert Altman -- the director of such acclaimed films as M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts, and Gosford Park -- died today in Los Angeles at the age of 81. Although I found The Player and especially Short Cuts vastly overrated, and some of his work mediocre, M*A*S*H remains a powerful anti-war statement, as well as the basis for a fantastic TV show, Gosford Park is an exceptional reworking of Renoir's classic The Rules of the Game, and Nashville... what can I say about Nashville? Except that I rank it among the greatest films of all time and as one of my favourites, a vast, sprawling look at over 24 lives intersecting over five days in Nashville in the mid-'70s, complex, profound, deeply humane. Perhaps no better film has ever been made about America.

For more, I recommend "Ebert's Altman Home Companion," compiled by Jim Emerson at Ebert's website. It includes reviews and interviews, all a reminder of what made Altman such a great and influential director.

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Here's what Bush will do about Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Speaking in Indonesia yesterday, President Bush said this: "I haven't made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases, and won't until I hear from a variety of sources, including our own United States military. They will be bringing forth the suggestions and recommendations to me here as quickly as possible."

He's playing dumb. The "variety of sources" is likely only two key sources: the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group set up by Congress and the secret Pentagon study set up by JCS Chairman Gen. Peter Pace. Which source will prevail? And then, which option will prevail?

Bush has met with the ISG, and reports suggest that its recommendations will emphasize multi-pronged compromise. As Steve Clemons put it, the ISG will likely "call for a new, expansive commitment to regional deal-making to solve many of the unresolved problems in the Middle East and to try and create a new equilibrium of interests in the region".

NPR outlines the likely recommendations in greater detail here. The ISG will likely not "endorse an immediate withdrawal from Iraq". There are various options, including a troop increase and phased withdrawal, but Baker has indicated that there is some middle ground between "cutting and running" (which Democrats have not proposed despite Republican slurs to the contrary) and "staying the course" (which has been Bush's strategy despite his mendacious denials). The ISG will likely also emphasize the responsibility of the Iraqi government and the need for reconstruction. It may also recommend opening up discussions on the future of Iraq with Iran and Syria.

According to The Washington Post, the Pentagon study "has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops ['Go Big'], shrink the force but stay longer ['Go Long'], or pull out ['Go Home']." "Go Big" is out: "That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the U.S. military and not enough effective Iraqi forces." "Go Home" is also out: "It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war." Which leaves "Go Long":

The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one -- "Go Long" -- and calls for cutting the U.S. combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts. Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period...

The purpose of the temporary but notable increase, they said, would be twofold: To do as much as possible to curtail sectarian violence, and also to signal to the Iraqi government and public that the shift to a "Go Long" option that aims to eventually cut the U.S. presence is not a disguised form of withdrawal.

It has been suggested that the ISG would provide Bush with bipartisan political cover as he shifted course in the direction of withdrawal without appearing to give in to Democratic opposition, that, in essence, long-time Bush Family saviour James Baker would rescue Bush from the quagmire of his own making in Iraq. But Bush recently launched a new "sweeping internal review of Iraq policy" that "parallels the effort by the [ISG] to salvage U.S. policy in Iraq," in the words of the Post, and the existence of such a review, which "will knit together separate efforts that have been underway at the State Department and the Pentagon over the past six weeks," suggests that Bush is now trying to undercut, if not negate, the ISG's work. It wasn't so long ago that Baker appeared to be the shadow Secretary of State on a historic mission to extract the U.S. from Iraq with its dignity, and Bush's, intact. Now he just appears to be yet one more participant in the discussion, yet one more competing voice in the overall policy debate. And given how badly the Republicans did in the midterms, the unpopularity among conservatives of discussions with Iran and Syria, and Bush's reluctance even to appear to give in to the Democrats, Bush may be unlikely to accept what are likely to be the ISG's moderate recommendations. Given his recent comments in Vietnam, likening Iraq to Vietnam and declaring with astonishing historical ignorance that the U.S. will succeed in Iraq unless it quits, he now seems to be taking a more hard-line approach. It's all about winning now, not compromise and dignity.

Which makes the Pentagon's hybrid "Go Long" plan seem like a real possibility. There are surely other viable plans out there, and the "internal review" may churn out other viable possibilities, but the "Go Long" plan, or some variation of it, could turn out to be Bush's preference. Remember, after all, that he has listened to the Pentagon in the past. Rumsfeld may be on his way out, but a Pentagon-driven (and military-oriented) plan is likely to be far more popular with Cheney and other high-ranking officials than a "realist" bipartisan plan from Baker and Hamilton. And there will soon be a new Secretary of Defense -- Robert Gates, perhaps? -- to sell whatever the Pentagon proposes, both internally and externally.

The "Go Long" plan is not without its risks, however. A troop increase could be highly unpopular both in the U.S. and in Iraq, and the U.S. could look as if it's ultimately giving up on Iraq. Democrats would criticize it, and so could those Iraqis who see it unfavourably as withdrawal in disguise. And it's not at all clear that the American people would support either an initial troop increase or a long-term military commitment. They have little patience left, and they registered their discontent vehemently at the polls. Still, Bush has the luxury of two years in office without having to face the voters again, and he may now be in a position to consider such a long-term plan, particularly if he can point to the eventual withdrawal of large numbers of U.S. troops.

This is not to say that Bush will ignore the ISG entirely, nor that the Pentagon study will ultimately prevail. But the "Go Long" plan makes sense as a viable option for Bush, and some variation of it may soon become the new "stay the course" in Iraq.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Check those talking points, Senator McCain

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With McCain these days, it's all about sending more troops to Iraq. A terrible, terrible idea, as I've argued here and here, but at least he's been fairly consistent, and repetitive, in his promotion of the neocon position. So it was quite odd that he had to rely so heavily on his notes with Stephanopoulos yesterday. Did he forget his talking points? How "weird," as Atrios puts it.

Steve has the video at The Carpetbagger Report. It's definitely worth watching -- not just to witness a seemingly un-confident McCain but to familiarize yourself with the usual talking points. We're going to hear a lot more of them over the next couple of years.

(Although as awkward as McCain seems to be here, he's still a vast improvement over Bush in terms of style and the appearance of credibility. But Bush has so lowered the standard of political discourse, or oratorical persuasion, that pretty much anyone who can string a few sentences together coherently and without succumbing to gross ineloquence seems to be an improvement.)

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Kissinger admits victory not possible in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Henry Kissinger, in an interview today with the BBC as reported by the AP, victory in Iraq is impossible:

If you mean by “military victory” an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don’t believe that is possible.”

The problem is that “[a] dramatic collapse of Iraq — whatever we think about how the situation was created — would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years and which would bring us back, one way or another, into the region”. Therefore: “I think we have to redefine the course, but I don’t think that the alternative is between military victory, as defined previously, or total withdrawal.” His concrete proposals are to engage the U.N. Security Council and Iraq’s neighbours and to turn Iraq into a confederation of loosely autonomous regions.

As reported by the
L.A. Times, Kissinger claims to be “a friend of the administration who thinks well of the president”. Which is enough to throw his credibility, such as he has much left regardless, into disrepute. However, what he is essentially saying here is that Bush’s misadventure in Iraq has been a failure. We know that already, but it’s nice to hear directly from Kissinger.

But then, if he’s right, how do you continue a military campaign when victory is no longer possible?


On a related note, here's Josh Marshall (via Atrios) on Bush's comparison of Iraq to Vietnam -- in Vietnam:

Isn't this trip a really odd venue for the president to be arguing that staying the course basically forever is the only acceptable solution? Though it took a tragically long time, the US, for all the moonwalking, eventually decided to pull up stakes in Vietnam...

And yet here we have President Bush, stepping on to Vietnamese soil to further our rapprochement with Vietnam, and arguing, in so many words, that the lesson of Vietnam is that we should still be there blowing the place up thirty years later.

We're really deep into the primitive brainstem phase of our long national nightmare of presidential denial and mendacity on Iraq. Poetically, politically and intellectually it's appropriate that Henry Kissinger is now along for the ride.

Well put.

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Power players

By J. Kingston Pierce

No wonder the U.S. government is so dysfunctional. And no wonder so many people blame Republican’ts for the mess in Washington, D.C.

According to The Telegraph, a British newspaper, the GOP--looking to make a comeback on Capitol Hill after this month’s devastating losses at the polls--is “already co-ordinating plans to attack Nancy Pelosi, the liberal Californian congresswoman and Speaker-in-waiting who suffered a damaging rebuff from her own party caucus last week. The Republican strategy is not only to undermine Mrs. Pelosi’s control of the House but also to associate her in voters’ minds with Senator Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2008 Democrat presidential nomination. ‘Two years of Pelosi gives a good idea of what four years of Hillary will be like,’ said Tom DeLay, the Republican powerbroker who ran his party in the House before he was caught up in a lobbyist corruption scandal. ‘They are both committed liberals and we will make that clear to the American people.’”

First of all, as numerous bloggers (and fewer mainstream news sources) have pointed out, Pelosi’s unsuccessful move to install 16-term Representative
John Murtha Jr. (D-Pennsylvania), an outspoken critic of George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq war, as House majority leader in the next Congress, was hardly a unique failure. Back when Newt Gingrich first ascended to the Speaker’s chair, following the 1994 midterm elections, he named a longtime ally, then-Congressman Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, as his pick for GOP majority leader. “As the internal House election drew near,” recalls Specious Reasoning, “Newt was campaigning hard to get Robert the position, but as the votes were counted it was clear that he had failed and the position went to a rival of Newt’s, Tom DeLay. Almost the exact same situation as we have today. At the time the media said nothing about how Newt was damaged goods before he even got the job, none of it.” Yet they’re ready to write Pelosi’s political obituary because the House chose Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) over Murtha for the majority leader’s post? Ridiculous. Almost as outlandish as the Associated Press commenting on Pelosi’s clothes as she walked toward her first post-election news conference. (What, I wonder, was Gingrich wearing to his own first press meeting? Of course, it would’ve been too stupid to comment.)

Secondly, the idea that, even before the 110th Congress convenes in January, Republican’ts are preparing to carpet-bomb Speaker Pelosi’s reputation as a way of undermining a potential presidential race by Senator Clinton is--while hardly unexpected from that group--nonetheless despicable. Although we would hardly know it, given the levels of partisan animus and ugliness purveyed by the GOP over the last 12 years, the purpose of electing men and women to government is not so they can try to cut each other off at the knees. It’s supposed to be so that they can try to solve some of the nation’s manifest, and expanding, problems. Yet, despite a recent election that communicated quite clearly voter unrest with the GOP’s take-no-prisoners, ignore-the-voters strategy for governing, the
indicted DeLay and his philosophical brethren in the Republican’t “leadership” on Capitol Hill continue to emphasize their pursuit of power over any efforts to improve the lot of ordinary (read: not wealthy or religiously zealous) Americans.

Gosh, who said the GOP is out of touch?

Let’s hope that the new majority of Democrats in D.C. can rise above such petty games-playing and start to work on behalf of voters, for a change.

Pelosi’s ‘Rocky Start’: The Conventional Wisdom Is Dead Wrong Once Again,” by Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post).

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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McCain supports overturning Roe

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He’s been wishy-washy on abortion in the past, back in his media-friendly “maverick” days, but now that he’s running for president he’s turning into the social conservative he needs to be to have any hope of making it through the GOP primaries.

Yes, Sen. John McCain told ABC’s George Stephanolpoulos yesterday that he would support the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. His argument is federalism, or states’ rights, not pro-life absolutism, but his position is nonetheless the pro-life one. And that means taking rights away from women, or at least allowing the states to do so. That’s what the debate over Roe comes down to. And McCain’s now decisively on the wrong side of it.

Think Progress has the video and transcript. See also LG&M, MyDD, Preemptive Karma, and Majikthise.

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Democrats serious about tackling global warming

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Post is telling us that “[d]ramatic changes in congressional oversight of environmental issues may pump new life into efforts to fight global warming”.

The good news isn’t just that Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will be taking over the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee but that John Warner (R-VA) intends to take over the top Republican spot on the committee from global warming denier James Inhofe (R-OK):

[Boxer] — a liberal who has called global warming a dire threat — is in line to chair the committee in the next Congress as a result of last week’s elections, which will give Democrats the Senate majority. Environmentalists have been hailing her impending replacement of Inhofe as chairman. Warner’s takeover of the ranking minority member’s slot, they said yesterday, would raise even greater hopes for advancing their agenda.

Inhofe himself has no intention of stepping down, but Warner — who supports “market-based measures and investments in new commercial technologies to slow the rate of growth in greenhouse gas emissions as we continue to gather further sound scientific evidence to guide national and international decision-making” — looks serious about challenging him for the position. Regardless:

Whoever is the top Republican on the environment committee, Boxer said in an interview yesterday that she plans aggressive hearings on environmental concerns, especially climate change. “There is a pent-up desire on the part of many people in the country to get back to making progress on the environment,” she said, adding that she plans “to roll out a pretty in-depth set of hearings on global warming.”

Beyond even Iraq and terrorism, this may be the most pressing issue of our time. (Nuclear proliferation and global poverty may be other candidates.) Have I mentioned that I’m happy the Democrats won?

(See also Political Animal, MyDD, DownWithTyranny!, and Raising Kaine.)

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Is Rove about to go?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Think Progress is reporting (quoting Bulletin News) that Rove may soon leave the White House:

The rumors that chief White House political architect Karl Rove will leave sometime next year are being bolstered with new insider reports that his partisan style is a hurdle to President Bush’s new push for bipartisanship. “Karl represents the old style and he’s got to go if the Democrats are going to believe Bush’s talk of getting along,” said a key Bush advisor…

The advisor said that Rove is aware of the situation and that a departure might come in “weeks, not months.”

We’ll see. The Republicans lost badly last week, and Rove deserves some of the blame (if hardly all of it) for their poor performance. (See Dickerson at Slate.) If he goes, he goes.

But what’s this nonsense about Bush’s “bipartisanship”. Do you see it? I don’t. Sure, he met with the Democratic congressional leadership and, despite the evident awkwardness, said all the right things. But that’s self-interest, not conviction. The GOP losses didn’t reform Bush. If anything, I suspect they made him incredibly bitter. One thing we know about the Bushes, father and son (and brother), is that they’re highly competitive and hate losing. And when they do lose, they don’t take it well.

So despite some friendly rhetoric, what have we heard from Bush since the midterms? He reiterated his support for John Bolton even with Bolton's confirmation as U.N. ambassador dead in the Senate. He signalled his intention to nominate (or re-nominate) extremist judges. He appointed an extremist to head the Office of Population Affairs. And although his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, claimed he’s open to new ideas on Iraq, and although he met with the Iraq Study Group (which will likely propose a new course in Iraq), he came out today and compared Iraq to Vietnam, stating that “the task in Iraq is going to take awhile”. Plus, according to the Post, he “launched a sweeping internal review of Iraq policy” on Tuesday that “parallels the effort” of the Iraq Study Group -- or, in other words, that essentially negates its work. Plus, according to The Guardian, he “has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make ‘a last big push’ to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers”.

Does this sounds like bipartisanship? Does this sound like he intends to compromise? Does this sound like he intends to work with Democrats? If Rove goes, it’s because he’s done his job and there’s really nothing left to do. But don’t expect anything new from a president convinced of his own righteousness. The Democratic victory will only strengthen the bubble in which he presides over his own delusions and fantasies.

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Reason number 2,357 why the GOP failed to become America’s “Permanent Majority” party

By J. Kingston Pierce

In Minnesota, Rae Hart Anderson, a Republican former teacher turned nurse practitioner who was unsuccessful in her campaign to unseat Democratic state Senator Satveer Chaudhary in his bid for a third term, conceded via e-mail, rather than with the usual congratulatory phone call. And in her electronic message, she spent most of her time trying to convert Chaudhary, a second-generation Indian-American and practicing Hindu, to Christianity, rather than suggesting how he might better serve Minnesota voters. Minneapolis-St. Paul TV station WCCO has the verbatim text, but one of the choicest parts comes right up front:

Congratulations on winning the District 50 senate race. Your phone is “busy” … no doubt with good wishes!

I’ve enjoyed much of this race, especially the people I’ve met…even you! I see your deficits--not all of them, and your potential--but not all of it. Only your Creator knows the real potential He’s put in you. Get to know Him and know yourself … you’ll be more interesting even to you!

The race of your life is more important than this one--and it is my sincere wish that you’ll get to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He died for the sins of the world, yours and mine--and especially for those who accept His forgiveness. His kingdom will come and His will be done--on earth as it is in heaven. There’s more … I love belonging to the family of God. Jesus is the way, the truth and offers His life to you and each human being. Pay attention … this is very important, Satveer. Have you noticed Jesus for yourself … at some moment in time, yet???

And Anderson’s note concludes:

Jesus Christ lives in His earth family by His Spirit. He said He’d be back, and He said it first. You could invite Him to make the race of your life ‘eternal’. God waits to be gracious to each person that knows they need to be forgiven. Do you? I think you do. Just ask. Christ won eternal life for you and said so. Take Him at His Word. Take some time to get acquainted with this power-filled Jesus ... God with us. You could be a temple of the living God, by invitation--yours, TO GOD. :) There’s nothing like belonging to Christ ... not winning, not money, not degrees ... it’s the best.

Good wishes and better wishes ... until you wish for the best!

“To get a sermon is definitely a surprise,” Chaudhary told WCCO. But perhaps Anderson, who confirms the nitwitted drive to make the GOP “God’s Own Party,” was the most surprised. She thought the Lord was by her side in this race; yet she lost by a whopping margin of 63 percent to 36 percent.

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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Latino voters abandon the GOP

By Michael J.W. Stickings

No surprise here:

Two years ago, Latino voters gravitated in larger-than-ever numbers toward President Bush, the former governor of Texas, a Mexican border state, and his brother Jeb, the loquacious Florida governor who speaks fluent Spanish…

How times have changed.

Pollsters generally agree that the same voters abandoned the president’s party in droves during last week’s elections, with Latinos giving the GOP only 30 percent of their vote as strident House immigration legislation inspired by Republicans and tough-talking campaign ads by conservative candidates roiled the community. It was a 10-point drop from the lowest estimated Latino vote percentage two years ago, and a 14-point drop from the highest.

Okay, but let’s get something straight. Republican candidates didn’t just run “tough-talking campaign ads”. Many of their ads were blatantly racist and hateful. (I wrote a post on these ads before the election — see here.) Not all Republicans are racist and hateful, but how exactly were Latinos to take these ads? They may be socially conservative on some issues, like abortion, but why would they continue to support a party that scapegoats them when it’s politically necessary to find some evil Other to run against? Considering that many Latinos are themselves recent immigrants to the U.S., I suspect they didn’t take too well to these grotesque characterizations.

Certainly there were other reasons for so many Latinos to vote Democratic, just as for other Americans, including Iraq, the incompetence and injustices of the Bush Administration, and the corruption of the Republican Party. But then there was also the Democrats’ emphasis on economic populism. While Republicans were busy targeting Latinos with their racist ire, Democrats were calling for an increase in the minimum wage and for efforts to deal with the negative impacts on domestic labor from the forces of globalization.

The Latino vote has been a cornerstone of Karl Rove’s ongoing effort to build a long-lasting Republican majority in America. And the numbers looked pretty good in ‘04. I wonder if he’s ever taken his party’s lingering bigotry into consideration.

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Canadian social conservatives? Meet my mom!

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

Anti-Gay Marriage Protest
Canada's Religious Right: Whiter Than Thou

Today's New York Times has an interesting article about the legalization of gay marriage in Canada is giving the religious right in the true north a new lease on life. The article documents how organizations like the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and REAL Women have grown in size and influence, particularly since Stephen Harper's Conservative Party formed a minority government earlier this year, but the author is far off the mark in his conclusion that "the Christian right … is coalescing with new clout and credibility, similar to the evangelical Christian movement in the United States in the 1980s."

While the article admits that this coalescence is "not nearly on the same scale" as in the U.S., that Christian groups have been noisy in their protests against gay marriage does not mean that they are about to become a major political force in Canadian political life. The problem, quite simply, is that "family values" issues simply don't have enough traction with religious and traditionally-minded Canadians to become the ballot issue even for this segment of the population.

My mother exemplifies the conundrum facing the "religious right" in Canada. Like many first-generation Canadians, my mother is devoutly religious and rather conservative on questions of personal morality, but she couldn't care less whether or not Canada allows same-sex couples to marry. In her view, the whole gay marriage debate is a pointless polemic that diverts attention from the real "family values" issues such as education, health care, and pensions.

Perhaps my mother cares less about gay marriage than other similarly situated foreign-born Canadians, who make up 20 percent of the population, because of the influence of her two extremely liberal sons. This may be, but it still doesn't obviate the fact that social conservatives face an uphill struggle in winning foreign-born Canadians and visible minorities to their side. The problem is fundamentally one of policy bundling. As in the U.S., the Canadian social conservative base is conservative on economic issues as well, meaning that their homophobic rhetoric usually comes with side dishes of charter schools and private hospitals. Such slash-and-burn economic policies are distinctly unappealing to new Canadians and visible minorities, who have traditionally been the strongest supporters of the Canadian welfare state, and are traditionally the most reliable supporters of the Liberal Party. Thus, unless Canada's social conservatives can find a way out of this particular box and combine their moralizing with progressive economic policy, their scope for growth is limited -- especially since foreign-born Canadians and visible minorities are the only sections of the Canadian population that are growing.

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Let the investigations begin

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Congress under the Democrats will likely (and hopefully) be an investigative body as much as a legislative one. The legislative agenda is impressive — a minimum wage increase, stem-cell research funding, lobbying reform, etc. — but we’ve been waiting a long time for the truth about the abuses of the Bush Administration to come out once and for all. And in the Senate, a particularly egregious area of abuse is about to be exposed:

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee next year, asked the Justice Department to release two newly acknowledged documents, which set U.S. policy on how terrorism suspects are detained and interrogated.

The CIA recently acknowledged the existence of the documents in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The first is a directive President Bush signed giving the CIA authority to establish detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees.

The second is a 2002 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to the CIA’s general counsel regarding interrogation methods that the spy agency may use against al-Qaeda leaders.

I wonder what
choice words Cheney has for Leahy now. (Or what he’ll say when the Democrats venture to uncover the truth about Halliburton.)

As they say, what goes around...

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Sexy Stephen

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Stephen Colbert was recently named by People as one of the sexiest men alive. As I'm a huge Colbert fan (and quite comfortable with my sexuality), I present you with this amusing (and perhaps stimulating) clip from YouTube:

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