Saturday, May 26, 2007

Laura Flanders on electoral politics and media

By Jeffaclitus

Okay, first, as you can see just above, I've changed -- or really just tweaked -- my nom de blog. The new name burst forth fully formed from the head of the excellent
Sylvia, like Athena from the brow of Zeus, here (scroll up a bit to hear my lament about the old moniker, Heraclitus, which struck me as too pretentious and really out of keeping with my blogging persona).

Anyways, on to the substance of the post: Amanda Marcotte has
a very interesting interview up at Pandagon with Laura Flanders, author of a new book on the future of the progressive movement and the Democratic Party. The interview covers a lot of ground and Flanders has a lot of heterodox ideas about how the Democrats can strengthen their party and what they can learn from the conservative movement. Here's a sample of the interview:

One of the biggest breaks you make with conventional wisdom is your advice for liberals to embrace the culture wars instead of just changing the subject and hope they’ll go away. You disagree strongly with the Thomas Frank theory that cultural issues are a distraction from “real” issues like labor and the economy. What are your objections to the changing-the-subject strategy?

I say that the Democrats are never going to be anti-gay or anti-abortion or anti-racial justice enough to please their critics. On the other hand, they could learn from their friends. These fundamental issues of fairness are not losing issues; it’s how the Democratic candidates tend to deal with those issues that trips them up. In just a decade of talking about gay marriage, now 66% of Americans support some legal recognition for gay and lesbian relationships. My book BLUE GRIT is full of examples of candidates who have won office -- even in conservative areas -- by standing up on these issues and gaining respect. Candidates who duck and dodge look shady. They certainly don’t look like leaders.

For instance, Hillary Clinton was asked point blank: “Do you believe homosexuality is immoral?” She answered, “I’ll leave that for others to decide.” That’s not leadership. Moreover, it’s insulting to her very own base.

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A tale of incompetence and irresponsibility

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He was warned, but he went ahead anyway, misleading the American people, misleading the world, and leading his country into a disaster of his own making. Now we know:

Two months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies twice warned the Bush administration that establishing a democracy there would prove difficult and that Al Qaeda would use political instability to increase its operations, according to a Senate report released Friday.

The report, issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee, brought to light once-classified warnings that accurately forecasted many of the military and political problems the Bush administration and Iraqi officials have faced since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

These warnings were distributed to senior officials with daily access to President Bush and others at the very top of the administration, the report states.

No surprise here, nothing new.

Bush and the warmongers weren't about to let such warnings -- or the facts -- get in the way of what they all wanted, of what they all had wanted for so long. The annals of warfare are filled with examples of incompetence and irresponsibility. But Bush's misadventure in Iraq surely takes its place alongside the great military blunders of history.

Senator Rockefeller: "[T]he intelligence community gave the administration plenty of warning about the difficulties we would face if the decision was made to go to war... These dire warnings were widely distributed at the highest levels of government, and it's clear that the administration didn't plan for any of them."

For his part, Bush blew off the report. But of course. He remains delusionally self-righteous. And he is certainly not about to admit to failure.


Update: Why is this report only coming out now? Why did it not come out, say, before the '04 election? See Steve Benen at TPM for the history (although it's still not clear why now, before the long weekend).

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Feeding the sheep

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There is yet another report in the mainstream media today -- this time in the NYT, which prints so much that is unfit -- of White House "concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate". Think about this for a moment: What exactly are "concepts"? Are they concrete plans or, much more likely, vague notions being tossed around because everything has gone wrong in a war that drags on and on and that has more or less destroyed the president's credibility and his party's electoral fortunes? And are we honestly to believe that there is some genuine "internal debate" in progress? Would it not be more appropriate to view this latest report as yet more of the same old warmongering spin being lapped up by a willing and eager and essentially bankrupt media establishment?

For more on this, see Glenn Greenwald, who posts the evidence. This does indeed seem to be yet another appearance of the eternal recurrence of the same old warmongering spin, "the same exact false assurances about Iraq -- virtually verbatim -- in order to protect themselves politically".

With the controversial war-funding bill now behind us -- and, as I said yesterday, we must unite around the common goal of putting an end as soon as possible to this disastrous war, not allow internal differences to overwhelm us -- we must not allow them to get away with it. The media may lap it all up, but all the bullshit coming out of the White House, and from the ranks of the warmongers generally, is nothing but cynical deception. And we don't need Penn and Teller to show us how it's done. It's all quite obvious.

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Irish election update

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For some background, see my recent post here. And here's the BBC with the latest:

The final seats in Ireland's parliament are being decided by counts in six remaining constituencies.

Fianna Fail are expected to secure 78 Dail seats - five short of an overall majority, but the focus now is on who they will form a government with.

They can count on two former Fianna Fail independents and two Progressive Democrat TDs set to retain their seats.

Fine Gael polled well, but its potential coalition partners Labour and the Greens fared less well.

As a result, not even these three combined could overtake Fianna Fail and the PDs.


So far the breakdown of seats is: Fianna Fail 73; Fine Gael 48; Labour 20; PDs 1; Green Party 5; Sinn Fein 3 and Others 5.

There had been some speculation that Sinn Fein could play kingmaker, tipping the balance one way or the other, but (good news indeed) it "polled badly". If it prefers not to form a coalition with the Progressive Democrats and the independents, the governing Fianni Fail could do so with Labour. Regardless, Bertie Ahern is set to remain as prime minister.

For a profile of Ahern, see here. For an analysis of his victory, see here.

As always, Wikipedia has a lot more here.


Update: The BBC article linked above has been updated: "Irish PM Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail party has won the country's general election, but narrowly failed to gain an overall majority in parliament. The party secured 78 seats in the 166-seat assembly, but saw a decline in the vote of its previous coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats."

The breakdown is now as follows:

  • Fianna Fail: 78 seats
  • Fine Gael: 51
  • Labour: 20
  • Greens: 6
  • Independents: 5
  • Sinn Fein: 4
  • Progressive Democrats: 2

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Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Let's take a break from blogging about Iraq, Bush, and the Dems. (More on that, and on much else, soon enough.)

Although I consider Van Gogh to be wildly overrated and overexposed -- consider those ubiquitous sunflowers, for example, or those hugely popular stars and swirls -- there is no denying his influence on modern art, and specifically on expressionism, and there is also no denying the diversity of his work. Just as Monet was about more than waterlilies, so was Van Gogh about more than poster-friendly still lifes and self-portraits (and a famous ear). Consider the selection of his work here and here.

This painting -- Starry Night Over the Rhone -- is one of my favourite Van Goghs. It is similar to the more famous Starry Night -- yet I find it significantly more beautiful.


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Friday, May 25, 2007

Tactics, not principle

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Jonathan Alter (via Maha) makes an excellent (and correct) point: "[W]hat's going on inside the Democratic Party now is a family argument about tactics, not principle."

This is important. Now is not the time for division. Now is not the time for Democrats to be attacking Democrats. Now is not the time for insinuations and allegations. Now is not the time for ideological narrowness. We all -- allow me to generalize here -- we all want this disastrous war to come to an end as soon as possible. But how to achieve that end? Some demand a timetable for withdrawal. Some have agreed to compromise. The war-funding bill that President Bush signed today threatens to tear us apart, pitting Democrat against Democrat, friend against friend. There has even been differences of opinion at this blog, where I have made the case for compromise and others -- notably Creature and Edward -- have argued, rather persuasively, that compromise amounts to capitulation. And yet the struggle goes on. And we will only win that struggle if we remain united, if we remember that we all have the same goal. We may differ with one another with respect to means, but we must remain focused on the end.


Allow me to quote more from Alter. He has argued before that Democrats needed to "stiffen their spines," but he argues here that the tactic (compromise or capitulation, call it what you will) was driven by political reality:

[I]t's one thing to be tough; it's another altogether to criticize any member of the party who doesn't vote with and others on the antiwar left as "Dick Cheney Democrats" cruising for a primary challenge, or at least a flaming from the liberal blogosphere. It's fine to urge opposition to the Iraq spending bill, but it's juvenile to toss around threats or make it seem as if voting wrong on this bill means you aren't sincerely against the war. In fact, what's going on inside the Democratic Party now is a family argument about tactics, not principle.

The first thing to understand is that Democrats may have won the midterms but they lack the votes to end the war in Iraq. Some liberals don't seem to get this elemental fact. A bill with a timetable for withdrawal was passed and sent to President Bush's desk. He vetoed it. Democrats didn't have anywhere near the votes to override the veto. Bush and his war might be terribly unpopular, but under our system, he's still holding the high cards.

Make sure to read his entire piece. You may not agree -- and I do not agree -- that Democrats "had no choice" but to agree to remove the timetable from the bill. They did have a choice, and what they chose was what they thought was the right thing to do. Not all of them, of course. Congressional Democrats, like those of us in the blogosphere, have their differences. But do not think, because I do not think it is true, that Democrats willfully capitulated, that they are secret supporters of the war, that they are afraid of Bush and the Republicans. There is good reason to worry about how Bush and the Republicans will use their spin-and-smear machine to blame Democrats for whatever happens in Iraq, but public opinion is with the Democrats, not Bush. But I do think Democrats were legitimately worried about how voters would understand (or misunderstand) the funding issue.

Here's Barbara O'Brien (or Maha, linked above): "Only 13 percent want Congress to cut off funding for the war. Dems look at those numbers and assume that cutting off funds would be political suicide. That, folks, is motivation. That's why the supplement bill passed both houses yesterday." I would also add that Democrats do not want to be held responsible for what could happen in Iraq post-withdrawal (i.e., chaos, genocide). You may disagree with their assumptions, you may find their worries overblown, but I for one find them both, assumptions and worries alike, wholly reasonable given the circumstances. This is why I simply cannot agree with Matt Stoller, who suggested that "Democratic insiders are convinced that capitulation is the right strategy. They actually believe that this will put pressure on the Republicans in the fall, and that standing up to Bush is a bad idea." Barbara again: "I don't think in their minds they thought capitulation now would put pressure on Republicans in the fall. They're hoping the war's own popularity [or unpopularity] will put pressure on Republicans in the fall. Instead, I think the Dems just want to avoid being a big, fat target for the [Vast Right Wing Conspiracy] over the summer."

Yes, this makes sense to me. The war is unpopular -- and it's also going badly and seemingly getting worse. It is Bush's war. He will be held accountable for it in the long run. Will the Democrats' refusal to demand a timetable for withdrawal now cost even more lives? No. Because the Democrats were never going to get a timetable for withdrawal. It's not as if Democrats said, "Look, we could put a stop to this war, but, well, we're not going to do that right now." Let's not overstate their power. Bush is still in charge, like it or not. (And he's still in trouble.) That's the basis of Alter's analysis. And I think it's a sound one.


See also E.J. Dionne at WaPo:

Democrats, in short, have enough power to complicate the president's life, but not enough to impose their will. Moreover, there is genuine disagreement even among Bush's Democratic critics over what the pace of withdrawal should be and how to minimize the damage of this war to the country's long-term interests. That is neither shocking nor appalling, but, yes, it complicates things. So does the fact that the minority wields enormous power in the Senate.

What was true in January thus remains true today: The president will be forced to change his policy only when enough Republicans tell him he has to. Facing this is no fun; it's just necessary.

Political reality, in other words.


See also Juan Cole (via Shakes):

Thursday night's vote did not put a resolution of the Iraq quagmire off for only a few months. It put it off until a new president is inaugurated in January of 2009. Bush seems unlikely to significantly withdraw while still president, and the Dems can't make him if the Republicans won't turn on their own party's leader.

Iraq will be the central issue of the 2008 presidential campaign.

An excellent analysis of why Democrats voted the way they did. Again, political reality. And Democrats, however they voted on this particular bill, can win in '08 because of Iraq. Timetable or no, they will be able to made the credible case they have been against the war, if not from the beginning at least since the gross mismanagement of the occupation began.


And yet I have been agonizing over all this for some time now. It is difficult to find oneself in disagreement with one's friends, with those one admires and respects. Consider, for one example among many, Taylor Marsh's compelling post in opposition to the compromise. There is much there with which I agree.

Just remember: means, not ends; tactics, not principle.

Let's focus on what unites us. And let's work towards that goal.

Bush has signed the bill. Let's move on.

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Clearly it was capitulation and the Democrats were wrong

By Creature

My boss, and friend, Michael, has a thoughtful post just below this one entitled: Capitulation or compromise? Were the Democrats right to support an Iraq funding bill without a timetable for withdrawal? In the post Michael somewhat reluctantly comes down on the positive side of compromise. While I don't want to risk my title of "Assistant Editor" here at The Reaction, I do take issue with Michael and his reasons for seeing a silver lining with the passage of the war funding bill.

Silver lining reason number one: Democratic momentum

[T]he momentum on Iraq is with the Democrats. It is becoming more and more apparent that the surge isn't working. Republicans are fearfully looking ahead to '08 and increasingly abandoning the war (and Bush).

While it is apparent that the surge is not working, I believe Michael, and many Democrats in Congress, are wrong in believing, relying even, on the hope that the Republicans will abandon the war. Come September, or any other Friedman Unit in the future, General Patreous will report some progress, plead for more time, hatch a new plan and the Republicans will bow to his wishes. We simply cannot count on the GOP coming around.

Silver lining reason number two: The fight will go on

I really do think the Democrats will continue to hit Bush hard on Iraq in the months ahead.

True, they will still pound away, but how much political capital have they lost due to yesterday's capitulation to the president. Before the vote they had two solid political legs to stand on, today, not so much. Today, they look like the weak caricature Karl Rove has so successfully painted them as.

Silver lining reason number three: Public opinion

[T]he American people have turned against the war in huge numbers. A new CBS/NYT poll indicates that 76% of Americans think the war is going badly (at least), 47% think the war is going very badly, and only 20% think the surge is working. Meanwhile, 52% of Republicans think the war is going at least somewhat badly; this is up 16 points from April.

Sorry, this is all the more reason not to capitulate to the president.

Michael does acknowledge that "there is risk in compromise. But I don't think this was capitulation. If anything, it was political expediency." And there in lies the problem.

This compromise was done for political considerations and this funding bill showdown was about life and death. Punting the funding issue down the road only serves to kill more troops, waste more dollars, and delay the inevitable. They knew that going toe-to-toe with the president was going to be tough, but in not doing so they underestimate the desire of the American people to end this war.

I come down on the side of fighting this petulant president to the end, politics be damned, name calling be damned. The American people would respect the Democrats more if they had stood firm on principle today, as opposed to posturing for political gain tomorrow.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Capitulation or compromise? Were the Democrats right to support an Iraq funding bill without a timetable for withdrawal?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

First, the facts (from WaPo, which is somewhat more balanced than it was the other day):

Congress sent President Bush a new Iraq funding bill yesterday that lacked troop withdrawal deadlines demanded by liberal Democrats, but party leaders vowed it was only a temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops.

War opponents dismissed the bill as a capitulation to Bush and said they would seek to hold supporters in both parties accountable. But backers said the bill's provisions -- including benchmarks for progress that the Iraqi government must meet to continue receiving reconstruction aid -- represented an assertion of congressional authority over the war that was unthinkable a few months ago.

Bush, who had vowed to veto any legislation with restrictions on troop deployments, announced he would sign the $120 billion package, which was approved 80 to 14 last night in the Senate, after a 280 to 142 House vote.

Second, what to make of it?

I find myself in some disagreement -- which may seem more substantial than it really is -- with many of my friends who, like me, oppose the Iraq War (whether for what it has become or for what it always has been). For example, our own Edward Copeland, in his first post as a co-blogger, argued persuasively, just yesterday, that the bill reflects Democratic "capitulation" on Iraq, an unwillingness to stand up to Bush on his disaster of a war. Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report, whom I respect as much as anyone in the blogosphere, referred to the "Dems' inexplicable retreat" and argued that they need "to start thinking like the majority party". At The Newshoggers, another of our co-bloggers, Libby Spencer, called it a "dismal Democratic Capitulation Bill" (linking to Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe). Tom Wilson called the Democrats "feckless fools," "weak, cowardly, spineless and ill-informed". MyDD's Matt Stoller called it "capitulation," too. And Taylor Marsh is "disgusted".

Another friend, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville, makes a similar case to one I've made before, and rather bluntly: "The real issue here is that the Democrats don't really want the responsibility of ending the war, because they fear Iraq is going to descend into chaos and they’re going to be blamed for it, rather than the shithead-in-chief who started the thing, mismanaged the thing, and blew it from every conceivable angle. And that’s a legitimate fear -- because, well, the media sucks, the Republicans are better at spin, and that's exactly how they'll spin it when that scenario inevitably happens. The entire catastrophic fuck-up that preceded the Dems' ending of the war will be all but forgotten, and so the Dems are trying to wrangle a way to pressure Bush into ending the war, so they can take responsibility for forcing the issue while not burdening themselves with the imminent disaster that results."

The problem, Melissa suggests, is that Bush won't be forced into anything, let alone ending the war, which means that the Democratic effort to avoid taking responsibility won't work. So the Democrats should have sent "versions of the same bill over and over and over, until it became glaringly apparent to anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention that the problem was Bush".

Okay. I get that. These are intelligent people making intelligent arguments. So how is it that (in the post linked above) I came to call the bill "a decent compromise"? Because (a) I don't think this was a victory for Bush at all -- see the case I make in that post. And I still don't think so despite the atrocious media coverage that views compromise as capitulation, as a Bush win. Because (b) the momentum on Iraq is with the Democrats. It is becoming more and more apparent that the surge isn't working. Republicans are fearfully looking ahead to '08 and increasingly abandoning the war (and Bush). Because (c) I really do think the Democrats will continue to hit Bush hard on Iraq in the months ahead. And because (d) the American people have turned against the war in huge numbers. A new CBS/NYT poll indicates that 76% of Americans think the war is going badly (at least), 47% think the war is going very badly, and only 20% think the surge is working. Meanwhile, 52% of Republicans think the war is going at least somewhat badly; this is up 16 points from April.

Bill or no bill, what Democrats need to do -- and this goes for those who support this bill and those who oppose it -- is to keep the pressure and the focus squarely on Bush, and not to let the White House and the Republican spin machine determine how Iraq is presented to the American people. So there's no timetable for withdrawal? Okay. Bush never would have agreed to one anyway. What good would it have done to keep insisting on one in legislation? Democrats can still argue for withdrawal even without a statutory timetable. Will Bush give in and withdraw the bulk of U.S. forces from Iraq? Will he effectively end the war? No, maybe not. But there will be increasing pressure from his own party, as well as from the American people, for him to change course. He is isolated already, but the isolation will only deepen. Could Bush withdraw and then blame the Democrats for what has gone wrong? Sure, just as he'd blame the Iraqis for not stepping up and taking control of their country, as if that were ever likely, just as he'd blame Iran for supporting the insurgency. But everyone knows, or should know, that this war is his war, that he is responsible for what has gone wrong (and what may yet happen, such as post-withdrawal chaos). As long as the Democrats tell the truth, they'll be fine.

When it comes to the war, I don't substantially disagree with those I link to and quote above. (See Taylor's post, in particular.) And I do recognize the appeal of standing firm and demanding a timetable for withdrawal in bill after bill, veto after veto. There is risk in compromise. But I don't think this was capitulation. If anything, it was political expediency. Is that noble? Is that what we would want in a perfect world? No and no. But it will now be up to the Democrats to prove that this was indeed a decent, and useful, compromise. And they can do that not just through political theater, which is what much of this has been, but by continuing to make the case that this disastrous war needs to end as soon as possible.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Betting on Bertie

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Irish went to the polls today to election members of the lower house (Dáil) of the national parliament (Oireachtas), but, given that country's complex electoral system (Single Transferable Vote, or STV), the results may not be known for some time. Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Bertie Ahern's center-right Fianna Fáil (Republican Party), which has governed in coalition with the neo-liberal Progressive Democrats since 1997, was ahead in pre-election polls and is set to win the most seats, if not a majority on its own, but the centrist Fine Gael, a party that traces its origins back to Michael Collins and the fight for independence, and the Labour Party, Ireland's second and third largest parties, respectively, could end up doing well enough to form a governing coalition, perhaps with the Green Party. Other parties that could win seats are the Trotskyite Socialist Party, which opposes both coalitions, and the left-wing nationalist Sinn Féin, the political arm of the IRA, which, with enough seats, could end up being the key swing party, determining which coalition forms the government (and then assuming a prominent place in that government).

Good times.

For more, see the Wikipedia entry here. I'll have more when the results are known.

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Neither an officer nor a gentleman

By Michael J.W. Stickings

George W. Bush at the Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT) yesterday, where he delivered the commencement address and posed as the embodiment of presidential cool.

(And I'm not being sarcastic at all. Seriously. Not at all.)

(Photo from the Globe.)

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Why do they still fear Dubya?

By Edward Copeland

The capitulation of Congress to Bush on the Iraq funding bill boggles my mind. I was going to link to Keith Olbermann's great special comment on it last night, but Creature beat me to it. I did want to quote a specific part of his words, though:

Few men or women elected in our history — whether executive or legislative, state or national—have been sent into office with a mandate more obvious, nor instructions more clear: Get us out of Iraq.

Yet after six months of preparation and execution — half a year gathering the strands of public support; translating into action, the collective will of the nearly 70 percent of Americans who reject this War of Lies, the Democrats have managed only this:

* The Democratic leadership has surrendered to a president — if not the worst president, then easily the most selfish, in our history — who happily blackmails his own people, and uses his own military personnel as hostages to his asinine demand, that the Democrats "give the troops their money".

* The Democratic leadership has agreed to finance the deaths of Americans in a war that has only reduced the security of Americans.

* The Democratic leadership has given Mr. Bush all that he wanted, with the only caveat being, not merely meaningless symbolism about benchmarks for the Iraqi government, but optional meaningless symbolism about benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

* The Democratic leadership has, in sum, claimed a compromise with the Administration, in which the only things truly compromised, are the trust of the voters, the ethics of the Democrats, and the lives of our brave, and doomed, friends, and family, in Iraq.

The caving to a man whose popularity hovers between 28% and 34%, depending which poll you believe, over a war that a majority of Americans want over and with has done little more than spark the internecine fighting among Democrats that always seems to damage them in the end. In fact, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows opposition to the war at its highest level yet with 61% of Americans saying we should have never gone in and 76% saying the war is going badly. (Dubya has 30% approval/63% disapproval in this poll). The presidential contenders, such as Obama and Hillary, are silent. Biden already says he'll vote yes. Only Dodd and Kucinich have challenged the deal among sitting officeholders, along with Edwards.

Half-measures and equivocations are not going to change our course in Iraq. If we are serious about ending the war, Congress must stand up to this president's failed policy now — with clarity and conviction.

Those words came from Chris Dodd, but they seem to fall on deaf ears. Why are the Democrats still so afraid of the lamest of lame ducks whom the American people have largely tuned out in a vain attempt to pretend he's not president?

Admittedly, I think congressional Democrats have taken the wrong approach all along. They saddled the war funding bill with unnecessary provisions that allowed the GOP to get an opening on "pork." What they should have done (and should still do, if it's not already too late) is send Dubya a bill solely devoted to war funding: No timetables, no funds for peanut storage, etc. The only extra thing that belongs in that bill is to require a repeal of Bush's tax cuts on his wealthy friends to pay for it. It's the GOP whose balls should be in a vise, not Dems. Then Republicans would truly face a soul-searching moment about what's important to them: If they'd tried to filibuster or if Bush threatened a veto over the tax part, then the case would be crystal clear as to how much they care about the troops, and the Dems would have the upper hand once again. Remember, this isn't the Bush of September 2001, it's the Bush of May 2007, and few presidents have been weaker than him and it's high time to take advantage of that fact.

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No fat lady singing, please

By Creature

I would be delinquent in my liberal blogger duties, and Michael would surely have me canned, if I did not link to Keith Olbermann's Special Comment from last night's show. Olbermann called out the spineless Dems who talked a good game about ending the war, but in the end played politics and served up platitudes.

Thankfully, however, not all Democrats cower at the feet of the boy president and his evil spin machine. Bob Geiger runs down the list of Democrats who talk the talk and walk the walk. This fight is not over.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The assault on the immigration reform bill

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The bipartisan immigration reform bill -- that very sensible bill, in my view -- has already taken a beating, from both sides:

The Senate slashed the size of a proposed guest-worker program for foreign laborers yesterday, dealing the first real blow to a fragile overhaul of the nation's immigration laws since it reached the Senate floor this week.

The bipartisan 74 to 24 vote trimmed a program that could have admitted as many as 600,000 laborers a year down to 200,000, a level that proponents asserted would minimize the risk that participants would depress wages and replace U.S. workers.

This over the objections of the Bush Administration. Still:

The bipartisan negotiators who created the immigration bill said the blow to what they call their "grand bargain" will not unravel the coalition. The compromise is premised on four central tenets: tightening border controls and punishing the employers of illegal immigrants; granting legal status to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country; establishing a robust guest-worker program to give would-be illegal immigrants a legitimate route into the country; and shifting the emphasis of future legal migration away from family reunification and into favoring immigrants with work skills and education.

In other words, the core of the bill is still intact. If it takes additional compromise here and there to secure its passage, such as Judd Gregg's border-control amendment (also adopted by the Senate), so be it. But there are (at least) two huge problems.

1) From TNR's John Judis (sub. req.): "I'll be surprised if it ever becomes law. One reason is the complexity of the 326-page bill. The other reason is the complexity of the politics of immigration. Both parties have an interest in preventing it from reaching the president's desk." Immigration is like abortion in that the issue "cuts across party lines". However, "the Republican divide is more problematic [than the Democratic one]. The most intense opposition to assimilating illegal immigrants is concentrated in the Republican Party. If you look at what issues matter to Republican primary voters, immigration always ranks near the top". And there is intense opposition to the bill on the right that isn't about to subside. And so:

-- "If the current bill -- presumably with a few draconian amendments to attract more Republicans -- were to pass, then Republicans could potentially alienate part of their base without winning over Latino voters who will continue to see Democrats as more friendly to their cause. So Republicans are probably best off if the bill gets bottled up and dies."

-- "Democrats, on the other hand, also have reason to hope a bill doesn't pass. As long as they position themselves as being more friendly to illegal immigrants than the anti-immigrant Republicans, they stand to get the kind of support they got from Latino voters in 2006. But if they can also warn that temporary workers can bring wages down, and argue for better border enforcement, they stand a better chance of winning white working-class voters in states like Wyoming, Montana, and Michigan."

Yes, it's all about race and class. And winning in '08.

2) From Rasmussen: There is little popular support for the bill. "A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey conducted Monday and Tuesday night shows that just 26% of American voters favor passage of the legislation. Forty-eight percent (48%) are opposed while 26% are not sure." And, as Ed Morrissey points out, examining the numbers closely: "Not a single demographic in the study favors this proposal, except under Race:Other. Democrats oppose it 51-28. Republicans oppose it 47-25. Men and women both clearly oppose it. Only people ages 30-39 come close to overcoming opposition, 34-32 in opposition."

But of course. The bill is a compromise that unites such divergent figures as George Bush and Ted Kennedy. It isn't perfect, but it's good. But that isn't good enough for its critics, who will hold out for the perfect and, in so doing, defeat the good, no matter what. And this goes for the public, as well. What sort of immigration bill would secure widespread popular support? Is widespread popular support for such a massive undertaking even possible? No matter what, there will always be something to criticize. No bill will ever appeal to everyone, or even to most everyone, and certainly not to partisans of either party.

I don't dismiss public opinion on this matter, but the fact is that American democracy is not direct. Issues of public policy are not put to the people as they are with regularity in places like Switzerland and Ireland. America is a representative democracy. It is up to the people's representatives to work out public policy and, where necessary, to seek compromise. For their part, what does this poll-defined majority of the American people that opposes this bill want? Does it even know what it wants? Probably not, at least not beyond a few vague and perhaps contradictory principles. This is why immigration reform must be worked out by the people's representatives, not the people themselves. Call me a Burkean, but that's how I see it.

So, sure, a tweak here and a tweak there, as long as the core remains intact -- which it is, for now. I certainly understand the concern regarding guest workers and border control, and the two key amendments mentioned here do make some sense to me. But Judis may be right. It seems to be in the immediate electoral interests of both parties to prevent this bill from going to Bush and becoming law. And, without the public behind it in large numbers, there won't be any significant pressure from outside the Beltway to overcome these interests and to work out, finally, a compromise that can get through Congress.

Alas, in American politics, and in politics generally, there is often no greater loser than the good.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tortoise blogging

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, yes, I know. There's so much else going on in the world. What's with the turtle?

Well, first, it's not a turtle, it's a tortoise -- an Egyptian tortoise, to be precise, a Testudo kleinmanni (about which you can find out more here, here, and here). It's an endangered species, as you might guess (and there will be many more such species as a result of global warming). This is a newborn held by a zookeeper at Rome's Bioparco zoo. Isn't it cute? I couldn't decide which photo to post, so I'm posting both (the first is from the BBC, the second is from the Globe).

Second, the preservation of endangered species like this one is extremely important. It's an issue -- and a crisis -- that deserves far more attention, particularly political attention.

Third, I like posting photos of animals -- just type "animals" in the search bar above. They tend to be a welcome respite from all the gravitas. Although, again, this is pretty serious.

Fourth, we'll get back to the latest from our mad, mad, mad, mad world soon enough. For now, just enjoy the photos.

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Flawed intelligence

By Creature

As Capt. Fogg posted about below, the president plans to give a speech today with the hope of rallying support for his Iraq war. In this latest rah-rah speech, there will be a juicy bit of freshly declassified intelligence from a 2005 Homeland Security bulletin "which warned that bin Laden had enlisted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his senior operative in Iraq, to plan potential strikes in the United States."

The Lefty blogs are dead-on with their criticism that this is the same old, tried and true, after-the-fact Bush tactic of scaring the American people into submission. However, I have not seen anyone raise the basic disconnect which flows from this newly declassified intelligence. A disconnect that undermines the GOP talking point that if we leave Iraq now they will follow us home.

See, the declassified Homeland Security bulletin makes it abundantly clear that Al Qaeda is perfectly willing to follow us home while we are fighting them over there. By golly, they can fight us over there and follow us home at the same time. So, I guess the fight, and withdrawing from the fight, isn't as black and white as the president and his supporters would like us to believe. Who would have thought?

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Tiger by the tail

By Capt. Fogg

Bush's desperate attempts to justify his crimes are so shoddily constructed as to pass enough light to illuminate his lying soul. When he "declassified" or perhaps invented data showing Osama bin Laden had a desire to use Iraq as a base for operations against the US yesterday and used it as a justification for the same operations that gave Osama bin Laden the opportunity to do that, he hoped you wouldn't once again smell the sophistry.

Osama, of course, had no reason to choose Iraq and no expectation that any attempt to operate there would meet with anything but brutal repression by the Shia-hating and brutal Sunni dictator, Saddam Hussein. We gave him the chance, not just by replacing a strongman with a vacuum, but by completely eliminating order and security in Iraq.

Bush is expected to let this bit of self-incriminating idiocy loose today at a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. I have no idea as to whether the newly minted Coasties will buy it. Admitting that you screwed up at the cost of a hundred thousand lives or so and at the cost of making the world a very much more dangerous place is not the best way to sell anyone on continuing to take your advice much less continuing your occupation of an increasingly hostile country. But you never know. The urge to follow and even worship leaders is good evidence for the lack of intelligent design behind our species.

Of course, the story depends not only on the belief in Bush's honesty and intelligence to serve its purpose as jingoistic propaganda for the troops; it needs you to believe that information obtained with red hot tongs and cattle prods from Abu Faraj al-Libbi, yet another one of the seemingly endless processions of "number two" al Qaeda men is dependably accurate. I wouldn't bet a wooden nickel on it, much less the fate of the nation and the world.

Bush's "tiger by the tail" gambit is a desperate move. It essentially boils down to "yes, I deceived you and killed many of you for reasons of profit and power unrelated to your safety, but now we can't afford to stop because it would be dangerous." That's much like the argument against abolition saying that you can't let the slaves go now because they hate us so much for enslaving them.

I have little faith in gung ho young men with their minds stuffed full of indoctrination. Bush will probably be cheered and hats will fly in the air. In his dreams, perhaps the Caligula of Crawford sees the military rising up to stomp out dissent and democracy so his wars can go on forever. That's one small dream for a traitor and a giant nightmare for the rest of us.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Happy Monica Goodling Day!

By Creature

Today the infamous and immunity protected Monica Goodling will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee regarding her role in the US Attorney purge scandal. Sure a whole lot of interesting, and hopefully administration damning, testimony will be had. However, what's really important about Goodling's appearance today is that the media, the blogs, and maybe even Monica's mother will finally have different photo of the reclusive loyal Bushie to use.

A photo farewell: Monica drinking from red cup. Monica in white T-shirt. Monica leaning against poll. Monica with purse. And simply, Monica.

Wednesday's Judiciary Committee Hearing will be streamed on C-SPAN3 and is sponsored by Kleenex.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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A victory for whom?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For more on the new Democratic war-funding bill, the one without a timeline for withdrawal, the one that I addressed here, see WaPo.

Here's how that distinguished (deservedly or not) publication puts it on the front page of today's edition: "Democrats gave up their demand for troop-withdrawal deadlines in an Iraq war spending package yesterday, abandoning their top goal of bringing U.S. troops home and handing President Bush a victory in a debate that has roiled Congress for months."

Oh, really? How is this a victory for Bush? Because the timeline isn't in it? What a narrow way to define victory. I have already made the case that a timeline wasn't in the Democrats' best interests, but, regardless -- if I may quote my own post linked above -- the Democrats have made their points, backed Bush and his Republican supporters into a corner, and, if this bill passes, set up another and likely more pressing battle with Bush once the fiscal year ends at the end of September, General Petraeus offers his assessment of the surge (which isn't working), and a few more months of Republican discontent, as well as ongoing failure in Iraq, have passed.

How is that failure? It isn't. WaPo gets it wrong. (By way of comparison, see CNN, which offers this: "[Leadership aides] said Democrats won't give up on a deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq, hoping to write language into defense appropriations and defense authorization bills over the summer." They also "said... benchmarks would be tied to Iraq reconstruction aid and would require President Bush to present to Congress numerous reports before August". Well done, CNN.)


Of course, not all Democrats are happy with the new bill. For example, Russ Feingold, whom I admire but with whom I disagree (somewhat, at least in terms of means) on this issue. He writes at Kos: "This situation is a collapse for Democrats. We had a strong start, pushed back against the President’s failed policy and held our ground that the supplemental should include binding language to end the war. But now, as Congress gets ready to send the President a bill that does nothing to get our troops out of Iraq, we are just folding our cards."

True enough, Democrats shouldn't play by Republican rules on this, nor by the Republican timeline: "Why should this wait until September?... Now is the time to be pulling out all the stops to end the war." Absolutely. Democrats ought to continue to apply pressure and to demand action from President Bush. The American people are on their side, as is the reality of the war, a failure that keeps going on and on. But the political reality is that Bush will not, at present (if ever), sign a bill with a timetable for withdrawal. No, we do not want Bush and the Republicans to manipulate the war so as to win it as an issue at home, but it seems to me that this bill is a decent compromise. If Bush doesn't sign it, then the Democrats can hit back hard. If he does, then they can still continue to push for an end to the war.

The cards have not yet been folded.

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Gay flamingos start family

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Their names are Fernando and Carlos, they live in England, at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust near Bristol, and they've been together for six years. They've stolen other flamingos' eggs before, but this time they adopted an abandoned, unhatched egg.

And good for them, I say.

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Arming the evildoers

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Brad Plumer has a good post up on America's highly "lucrative" arms business, specifically on how the U.S. arms most of the "countries involved in active conflicts around the world," including its own enemies: "not uncommon for us to end up fighting against the same armies we equip." For example, many of America's "adversaries or potential adversaries" have "fleets of U.S.-built F-16s".

All part of the military-industrial complex. So much for benevolent hegemony.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Headline of the Day

By Michael J.W. Stickings

How 'bout another irregular feature here at The Reaction? Sure, why not? Let's do our Headline of the Day!

In honour of AI's final week -- I'm for Blake, by the way, though Melinda was the best by far -- here's our HOD for today:

Yeah, okay. And I'm sure we can believe everything her publicist says. But at least Tulip wasn't hurt.

(Please e-mail us whenever you come across anything HOD-worthy.)

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Bloomberg goes green

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Give Michael Bloomberg a lot of credit. While the federal government, under Bush, refuses to do anything about the climate crisis, refusng to acknowledge that there is a crisis at all, or even that global warming is a reality, he and other state and local officials around the country are providing the sort of progressive leadership that is sorely needed at this critical time. Here's what's new in New York today:

Every yellow cab in this city will be a fuel-efficient hybrid by 2012, and stricter emissions and gas mileage standards for taxis will be phased in starting next year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday.

There are now 375 hybrid vehicles among the 13,000 taxis rolling on New York City streets. Under Bloomberg’s plan, that number will increase to 1,000 by October 2008 and will grow by about 20 percent each year until 2012.

"There's an awful lot of taxicabs on the streets of New York City," Bloomberg said. "These cars just sit there in traffic sometimes, belching fumes.

"This does a lot less. It's a lot better for all of us," he said of the hybrid plan.

Indeed it is. The rest of the country would do well to follow his lead.

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The second surge that isn't really a surge at all

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sit down. Hold on to your hats. Ready?

Stewart Powell of Hearst Newspapers is reporting -- for example, here at the San Francisco Chronicle -- that there could soon be a second surge in Iraq:

The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday.

The little-noticed second surge, designed to reinforce U.S. troops in Iraq, is being executed by sending more combat brigades and extending tours of duty for troops already there.

The actions could boost the number of combat soldiers from 52,500 in early January to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year if the Pentagon overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades.

Separately, when additional support troops are included in this second troop increase, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 -- a record-high number -- by the end of the year.

The numbers were arrived at by an analysis of deployment orders by Hearst Newspapers.

Really. Nice try, Hearst Newspapers -- at least you're not advocating war in Cuba and the Philippines -- but the results of your "analysis" are rather misleading (if not yellow).

Here's the key point: There will only a second surge if the Pentagon overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades. There may indeed be overlap, but any such overlap would only be temporary (unless the Pentagon keeps the departing brigades on active duty in Iraq, which would mean they wouldn't be departing brigades at all. True, tours of duty are being extended -- we know that -- but would enough of them be extended to support a second, and more significant, surge? One wonders. And how would Congress, Republicans included, respond if there actually were such a second surge that involved keeping the brigades on active duty that are meant to come home? Even if Bush were to push for such a surge, well beyond the current one, there is simply no way Congress would allow it to happen without pushing back far more firmly that it has already.

I am cynical enough -- i.e., I have paid enough attention to reality -- to think the worst when it comes to Bush's (thoroughly incompetent, and yet consistently arrogant) handling of the war, but on this I agree with Kevin Drum: "[T]he Pentagon routinely overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades. And when they do, it always produces a temporary increase of troop levels that lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a month or two. And since the surge has increased the base number of troops, it's likely that the temporary increase this time around will be larger than past ones." Which is to say, "I don't quite get the fuss... It seems like it's going to be the same kind of short-lived enlargement that we've seen several times in the past."

Maybe I'm wrong, but at this point I see no reason to get too worked up about any possible second surge.

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The Iranian timeline in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Two interesting developments:

1) AP: "Democrats intend to draft an Iraq war-funding bill without a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops".

2) NPR: "[T]he Pentagon is considering maintaining a core group of forces in Iraq, possibly for decades".

On the Democratic compromise, see The Anonymous Liberal, who provides this cogent analysis. Although some on the left may be angry with the Democrats for making this significant concession,

[B]y any reasonable metric, the Democrats have already won this debate. The public supports their position by a 70/30 margin. The problem is that this president is immune to normal political pressures. He's been resigned for some time now to the fact that only about 30% of the country is with him on this. And he knows that that 30% is pretty solidly behind him. He's not running for re-election, and he cares only about his long term legacy. In other words, despite having lost the political fight, he feels no pressure to concede.

What that means is that no matter how well the Democrats manage to frame this funding stalemate, no matter how unreasonable they manage to make Bush look, he will not give an inch.

In other words, there's not much the Democrats can do, at least until January '09. Bush was never going to agree to a timeline, and, in my view, a timeline wasn't in the Democrats' best interests regardless. They've made their points, backed Bush and his Republican supporters into a corner, and, if this bill passes, set up another and likely more pressing battle with Bush once the fiscal year ends at the end of September, General Petraeus offers his assessment of the surge (which isn't working), and a few more months of Republican discontent, as well as ongoing failure in Iraq, have passed.


But there is another player here: Iran. And it has its own agenda for Iraq:

Iran is secretly forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal, US officials say.

"Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it's a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces," a senior US official in Baghdad warned. "They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government]."

The official said US commanders were bracing for a nationwide, Iranian-orchestrated summer offensive, linking al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents to Tehran's Shia militia allies, that Iran hoped would trigger a political mutiny in Washington and a US retreat. "We expect that al-Qaida and Iran will both attempt to increase the propaganda and increase the violence prior to Petraeus's report in September [when the US commander General David Petraeus will report to Congress on President George Bush's controversial, six-month security "surge" of 30,000 troop reinforcements]," the official said.

So Iran may be supporting both sides of the key sectarian divide with the goal of intensifying the insurgency over the summer so as to force the U.S. out of Iraq.

Does this make sense? Sort of. Well, no.

Given the sectarian tensions in Iraq, would Iran be able to bring together for a common purpose al Qaeda and the various Sunni insurgents on one side and Shiite militias on the other? Would Iran really be able to coordinate such a plan? Would the various parties even agree to it? They are fighting each other, after all, not just the U.S.

Furthermore, Iran may very well want the U.S. out of Iraq, but Iran's position seems to be stronger with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq than it would be with the U.S. liberated from that quagmire. Once the U.S. leaves Iraq, or at least withdraws the bulk of its forces, American attention would likely turn to Iran. Of course, Iran may not be reasoning along these lines, or reasoning at all. Perhaps it believes that the U.S. has been so weakened by Iraq that it would not be able to engage Iran militarily. Perhaps it has been deluded by dreams of regional grandeur. Perhaps it truly does believe that it can act as puppetmaster to both Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, that it can buy off and control both sides of the sectarian divide before ultimately asserting its control more directly in post-occupation Iraq. So much is possible with Tehran.

But isn't it also possible that much of this is just U.S. spin, a preemptive explanation for what could be an escalation in violence (both against the U.S. and more generally) over the summer? In other words -- so the spin could go, later this year -- it's not that the surge isn't working, or that there hasn't been real progress in Iraq, it's that Iran is intentionally sabotaging efforts to achieve peace and stability by supporting both Sunni and Shiite elements against the U.S. and the Iraqi government. Put another way, it seems that the U.S. is shifting the blame for failure in Iraq to Iran.

What this also means, if true, is that the U.S. could use alleged Iranian intervention in Iraq -- the "proxy war" against the U.S. -- as an excuse to launch a military campaign against Iran. If Iran is already waging war against the U.S., after all, wouldn't the U.S. be fully justified in responding?

Vice President Cheney recently talked tough on Iran, and there is certainly a desire among the warmongers, including some of the leading neocons, to engage Iran militarily. Here, according to the spin, is just the sort of excuse they've been looking for.

All of which is to say, let's see. The article in The Guardian relies on the claims of an anonymous U.S. official in Baghdad. The appropriate response to the claims of an anonymous U.S. official in Baghdad is skepticism. Although Iran may very well have a new agenda for Iraq, and although that agenda may very well involve playing both sides against the U.S., it would be foolish to accept the claims of an anonymous official in Baghdad without considering how the U.S. is playing this game.

Everyone has an agenda, after all.

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Rudy's doodies

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Rudy Giuliani likes to remind us, whenever possible, and not always when appropriate, that he was the mayor of New York on 9/11. Indeed, the shameless embellishment of his exploits on that horrible (yet politically useful) day forms the defining myth at the very core of his presidential bid. He was there; therefore, he is the right man to lead America through these turbulent times. Well, the truth is that he fucked up (h/t: Maha):

As more and more workers who inhaled the dust at ground zero fall ill, it has become increasingly clear that much of the problem can be traced to the Giuliani administration’s failure to insist that all emergency personnel and construction workers at the site wear respirators.

The then-mayor and his agency heads put their emphasis on a speedy cleanup and return to normalcy. In that, they were remarkably successful, clearing the site in less than 10 months. Unfortunately, the price is now being paid by thousands of workers who have developed lung and other ailments.

And, of course, he has gotten rich off 9/11 while these workers have suffered -- and while his myth has been been punctured by revelations that all was not as he continues to claim it was before, on, and after 9/11.

America's Mayor, in short, is a fraud.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

1984 in 2007

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the Globe: "Police officer Derek Charlton of Merseyside Police operates the force's new aerial surveillance drone in Liverpool, England, on Monday. The remote control helicopter, fitted with closed-circuit television cameras, will be used by officers to track criminals and record anti-social behaviour. The drones, which are almost silent when in use, are also fitted with night vision cameras, can be deployed to the air in less than three minutes, and provide instant high-quality images which can be transmitted to a support vehicle or to a control room."

In related news, Orwell was right.

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Bring them home

By Libby Spencer

The Chicago Sun Times joins a growing chorus of editorials calling for withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq. It makes the usual points on the Democrats' failure to act decisively on this, albeit with more eloquence than most, but here's the money quote.

We shocked and awed our way into Iraq four years ago, so if Baghdad should become an al-Qaida stronghold, what's to stop us from shocking and awing the city again? If 6 million Jews, surrounded by more than 200 million Arabs, have not been annihilated, why do we believe that an Iraq withdrawal will lead to a pitched battle with invading terrorist forces on Main Street in Peoria?

Of all the memes this White House has successfully foisted on the average American, the fear of being "taken over" by the terrorists is the most illogical. There's a wealth of evidence that our continued presence and current policies are making are making us less safe, yet there are thousands of people who will tell you in all seriousness that we must stay in Baghdad because if we don't, the terrorists will follow us home like a lost puppy and cut off our heads.

How does that even make sense? Our mighty military can't keep them from coming into Baghdad, so why would anyone believe we can stop them from leaving any time they want? And it's not like the Terrorist Liberation Army is going to arrive in their fleet of C5-As and start marching down the main streets of America in platoons. If they had the decency to organize in large units, we would have been able to find them by now.

Common sense would tell you that keeping our troops mired in the slaughterhouse of Iraq is doing little more than creating a greater opportunity for terrorism, not diminishing its threat. It's too bad so many of my fellow citizens seem to have misplaced theirs.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Yes, it does matter

By Mustang Bobby

The White House and the Orcosphere have dismissed the U.S. attorney purge scandal as "no big deal," and "there's no scandal here." This is their typical response nowadays, which is a strange tack to take for the party that basically brought the United States government to a screeching halt over a blowjob. But as
The New York Times points out in its editorial today, it does matter:

The Justice Department is no ordinary agency. Its 93 United States attorney offices, scattered across the country, prosecute federal crimes ranging from public corruption to terrorism. These prosecutors have enormous power: they can wiretap people’s homes, seize property and put people in jail for life. They can destroy businesses, and affect the outcomes of elections. It has always been understood that although they are appointed by a president, usually from his own party, once in office they must operate in a nonpartisan way, and be insulated from outside pressures.

This understanding has badly broken down. It is now clear that United States attorneys were pressured to act in the interests of the Republican Party, and lost their job if they failed to do so. The firing offenses of the nine prosecutors who were purged last year were that they would not indict Democrats, they investigated important Republicans, or they would not try to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups with baseless election fraud cases.

It also takes aim at the White House and specifically at Karl Rove:

It is hard not to see the fingerprints of Karl Rove. A disproportionate number of the prosecutors pushed out, or considered for dismissal, were in swing states. The main reason for the purge — apart from hobbling a California investigation that has already put one Republican congressman in jail — appears to have been an attempt to tip states like Missouri and Washington to Republican candidates for House, Senate, governor and president.

It's nice to see the Times catching up with this, and it's also nice to notice that finally
The Washington Post too is waking out of its stupor and catching up to the fact that -- OMG! -- the president might have some role to play in this as well. As one of my friends used to say, "BTYFO" -- "'Bout Time You Found Out."

Of course, the White House is going to dismiss this story as "no news." That's standard operating procedure for every White House. Remember the "third-rate burglary" that turned out to be the starting point for Watergate? And while people like Kate O'Bierne and David Brooks can laugh and dismiss as "histrionics" the drama of the late-night hospital encounter between Alberto Gonzales and James Comey over the nearly-comatose John Ashcroft, the truth is that when you have people desperately trying to end-run the Justice Department that causes threats of mass resignations including the director of the FBI and the senior staff of the Justice Department, and when John Ashcroft, not known for his defiance of the president or his liberal interpretation of the law, turns out to be the hero by arising from his sickbed to defy the president's men and their attempts to break the law, it is a pretty big deal.

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