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Friday, September 30, 2005

the United States, Iraq, and the post-oil Middle East: Part 2

I began the first part of this essay invoking the memory of Sergio de Mello, the United Nations diplomat killed on August 19th, 2003 in Iraq. His death symbolized in many ways the end of internationalist hopes for constructing a peaceful and equitable resolution to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. To start this essay, which due to its length will have to be Part 2 of a now three part series, let's revisit August of 2003.

August 14th, 2003 saw this article by Steven R. Weisman and Felicity Barringer in the New York Times document the diplomatic conditions that made de Mello's death so disheartening:

"The Bush administration has abandoned the idea of giving the United Nations more of a role in the occupation of Iraq as sought by France, India and other countries as a condition for their participation in peacekeeping there, administration officials said today.

Instead, the officials said, the United States would widen its effort to enlist other countries to assist the occupation forces in Iraq, which are dominated by the 139,000 United States troops there..[snip]

"The administration is not willing to confront going to the Security Council and saying, 'We really need to make Iraq an international operation,' " said an administration official. "You can make a case that it would be better to do that, but right now the situation in Iraq is not that dire."

Of course, the situation, as we all know now, was more than dire. Any discussion of proposals for Iraq's future, as this essay is, must address the Bush Administration's incredibly flawed and inadequate policy there. David Reiff, a journalist with extensive experience in Iraq, wrote about this subject in an essential book review in the Nation magazine examining Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory and David L. Phillips's Losing Iraq, two books that analyze the extensive failures of the U.S. in Iraq. These are the core paragraphs in Reiff's analysis of Philips' book, documenting that even within the U.S. government, the mission in Iraq was essentially a military one, that our presence, in fact, was militarized:

“The key moment, in Phillips's view, was when President Bush signed National Security Directive 24 giving the Pentagon overall control over even the nonmilitary aspects of postwar Iraq. It established the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which was in fact the CPA's predecessor, and placed it under the supervision of Douglas Feith, a leading neoconservative in the Defense Department and one of the leading advocates within the Administration for the ouster of Saddam. The institutional turf war, well if bitterly chronicled in Losing Iraq, was over. The Defense Department had prevailed over the State Department, even on those humanitarian issues that, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), State had traditionally controlled. As Phillips puts it, "ORHA was formed to do the job started by the Future of Iraq Project. However, it did not avail itself of previous planning, nor did it make use of those in the State Department knowledgeable about Iraq."

For Phillips, once that decision was made the stage was set for the cascade of errors committed by Bremer and the CPA. Instead of liberation and a fairly quick handover of power to an Iraqi government, which is what Phillips says the Iraqi members of the Future of Iraq Project had assumed would happen after the Baathist regime was defeated, Iraq got an occupation. For Phillips, it was only when the CPA was dissolved and sovereignty returned to Iraqis that what he rather too romantically calls Iraqis' "dreams of democracy" was even salvageable again. That is where the central narrative of his book ends: with the hope that it is not too late.”

From the litany of Pentagon failures and human rights violations we've witnessed these last two-and-one-half years, hope is not exactly a word on anyone's lips right now. Reiff uses his analysis of Larry Diamond's book to make a point that everyone trying to understand Iraq must come to grips with as fundamental, the invasion of Iraq, at its core, was essentially a political event. U.S. strategy in Iraq had nothing to do with pragmatism and everything to do with ideology. Reiff's second paragraph below, with its hard kernal of truth, is one of the best things yet written about the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

"the CPA relied heavily," as Diamond puts it, "on a revolving door of diplomats and other personnel who would leave just as they had begun to develop local knowledge and ties, and on a cadre of eager neophytes--some arrogant and others reflective, some idealistic and others driven mainly by political ambition."

Here, Diamond is being unnecessarily discreet. He really should have been much more severe with regard to these people he calls "eager neophytes"--in reality, disproportionately young men and women who worked in low-level positions within the Bush Administration, the Washington right-wing think-tank orbit, the Congressional Republican Party or the national Republican Party. A few, notably the CPA's senior adviser, Dan Senor (now a contributor to Fox News), cut their institutional teeth in AIPAC, the powerful American-Israeli Political Action Committee. It was commonplace to talk to young people in the Green Zone--the heavily fortified palace complex where the CPA was headquartered and from which most CPA employees rarely ventured except under heavy military escort--and find them fully up to speed on the Bush Administration's revolutionary project (a favorite word of theirs) for democratizing the Middle East but with only the haziest knowledge of Iraq, let alone of Arab, Persian or Islamic history. A favorite joke among these kids--and they were kids--at the time was, "anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." Thus did neoconservative dreams, hatched within the Beltway, flourish for a time along the Tigris”

Our 'progress' from the initial military 'victory' to the current Administration juggling of Iraqi progress towards a constitution with continuing failure on the ground is marked by the grim reality that the Bush Administration's shortcomings are clear for the world to see. This state of affairs has put most left commentators in a quandary. Hendrik Hertzberg, in an excellent essay from the New Yorker, highlights some of the ambivalence on the left with the very instability and danger of the situation on the ground in Iraq:

"In Iraq, the strategic rationales for war—terrorism and “weapons of mass destruction”—have turned out to be as phony as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. With scores of thousands of Iraqis dead, an Islamist theocracy in prospect for part, if not the whole, of the country, and the possibility of civil war growing, even the humanitarian rationale has begun to wither. And the hubristic dream of Iraq (in the words of Fouad Ajami, in an essay included in a new anthology entitled “The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq”) as “a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world . . . has clearly been set aside.” Even so: this is a different type of war. The enemy in Iraq possesses nothing like the monopoly on indigenous sources of legitimacy that was the Vietnamese Communists’ decisive advantage. Saddam Hussein’s regime was worse than Ho Chi Minh’s. Iraq-based terrorism, once a negligible threat, is now a serious one.

Last week, even as Bush was taking a break from his vacation to denounce “immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or the broader Middle East” as a step that “would only embolden the terrorists,” the Financial Times was reporting details of the Pentagon’s plans “to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next twelve months.” The chilling truth is that no one really knows what to do. No one knows whether the consequences of withdrawal, quick or slow, would be worse or better—for Iraq and for the “war on terror” of which, willy-nilly, it has become a part—than the consequences of “staying the course.”

If your head is spinning at the illogic of the situation Hertzberg spells out above. It should be. The situation in Iraq, where United States' military and diplomatic failures have been used as a justification for a policy of more of the same has created a kind of hyper-Catch-22 in Iraq, a Catch-22 squared, where even the best proposals simply call for more intervention on some level or another. This was exactly the Bush Administration's intended result: in a politically-motivated war writ large upon the very center of the world's oil and gas reserves there is only one solution, for better or for worse, that most any U.S. politician would ever be able to call for...more U.S. intervention.

A survey of three of the main voices proposing solutions from 'the Democratic side' in the United States makes this very clear. Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress have written a policy proposal entitled Strategic Redeployment [pdf] A Progressive Plan for Iraq and the Struggle Against Violent Extremists. This is how they lay out their analysis:

"Despite the growing opposition to President Bush’s “stay the course” strategy, no alternatives have emerged in government or among the foreign policy elites. The Bush administration’s numerous mistakes– sending in too few troops and not providing proper guidance or equipment as well as its frequent changes in the strategy for Iraq ’s political transition and reconstruction – have left us with no good options. The status quo is untenable, eroding American power and weakening our ability to keep America secure. But simply shifting gears into reverse and implementing a hasty withdrawal from Iraq is not the answer.
In the absence of fresh ideas, the American public has had to settle for a simplistic debate centered on a false choice – should U..S.forces “stay the course ” in Iraq or “cut and run”? These extreme positions avoid the fundamental question the country should debate: Is our government using all its powers effectively to defeat our country ’s enemies? The answer to that question is a resounding no. The key is focusing on Iraq in the broader context of the global security threats the United States faces."

With their emphasis on "our country's enemies" and defeating "violent extremists" with military force, this is clearly a Democratic hawk point of view. That does not mean Korb and Katulis don't have a critique of how the ongoing engagement in Iraq might very well "break" the United States military:

“...if we still have 140,000 ground troops in Iraq a year from now, we will destroy the all-volunteer Army. Keeping such a large contingent of troops there will require the Pentagon to send many units back to Iraq for a third time and to activate Reserve and Guard forces a second or third time.”

In response, Korb and Katulis propose the concept of 'Strategic Redeployment':

"[Strategic Redeployment]...means re-engaging our allies, building a platform for multilateral cooperation that counters the terrorist threats we face, rather than relying on ad-hoc “coalitions of the willing.”

Strategic Redeployment has four main components: military realignment that restores a realistic deployment policy for our active and reserve forces and moves troops to other hot spots in the struggle against global terrorist networks or brings them home to rebuild; a global communications campaign to counter misinformation and hateful ideologies; new regional diplomatic initiatives; and smarter support for Iraq’s renewal and reconstruction.”

What this means in terms of a military timetable is this:

"The redeployment of U.S.forces should take place in two phases.Phase one would take place in 2006, with the drawdown of 80,000 troops by the end of the year, leaving 60,000 U.S.troops in Iraq by December 31,2006. Phase two would take place in 2007,with most of the U.S.forces departing by the end of 2007.

United States troops would immediately and completely redeploy from urban areas, with Iraqi police, troops, and militias, like the Kurdish pesh merga, taking responsibility for security in these areas.This redeployment from urban areas – which has already begun in places like Najaf – will actually decrease the number of insurgents since many of them are probably motivated by the US occupation.It will also free up the remaining U.S.forces in Iraq to dedicate their efforts in 2007 to high-priority tasks related to our core mission.[snip]

The 80,000 troops coming out of Iraq in 2006 should be redistributed as follows: All Guard and Reserve troops would be demobilized and would immediately return to the United States.This would allow the Guard and Reserve to return to their policies of troops not spending more than one year out of five on active duty and let the Guard focus on shoring up gaps in homeland security.

Up to two active brigades – approximately 20,000 troops – would be sent to bolster U..S.and NATO efforts in Afghanistan and support counterterrorist operations in Africa and Asia. In Afghanistan, more troops are urgently needed to beat back the resurging Taliban forces and to maintain security throughout the country.If NATO is unwilling to send more troops,the United States must pick up the load.In the Horn of Africa, countries like Somalia and Sudan remain a breeding ground for terrorists and the Philippines also continues to be plagued by a low-level insurgency."

While Korb and Katulis do write about the other aspects of their proposal in some detail, the passage cited above is its core. Strategic Redployment can best be described as a "hawk" approach to the withdrawal from Iraq embedded in a critique of how the Bush Pentagon mishandled Iraq and how the Bush Administration has presented "false choices" to the American public regarding the war. This approach most certainly validates the concept of intervention; in fact, Korb and Katulis propose further U.S. engagements in Somalia, Sudan and the Philippines.

While not proposing a similar extension of the use of force outside of Iraq, General Wesley Clark does take a version of the "hawk" point of view to our military engagement there. Clark's rhetoric is that of looking for a way to "win" or "succeed" in Iraq:

"...for the mission to succeed we will have to be the catalyst for regional cooperation, not regional conflict.

U.S. armed forces still haven't received resources, restructuring and guidance adequate for the magnitude of the task. Only in June, over two years into the mission of training Iraqi forces, did the president announce such "new steps" as partnering with Iraqi units, establishing "transition teams" to work with Iraqi units and training Iraqi ministries to conduct antiterrorist operations. But there is nothing new about any of this; it is the same nation-building doctrine that we used in Vietnam. Where are the thousands of trained linguists? Where are the flexible, well-resourced, military-led infrastructure development programs to win "hearts and minds?" Where are the smart operations and adequate numbers of forces -- U.S., coalition or Iraqi -- to strengthen control over the borders?"

General Clark is looking for ways to broaden (you could even say...to start...) the diplomatic process in Iraq that the Bush Administration has so neglected:

"The United States should form a standing conference of Iraq's neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists. The United States should tone down its raw rhetoric and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. In addition, a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would be a helpful step in engaging both regional and Iraqi support as we implement our plans...[snip]

On the military side, the vast effort underway to train an army must be matched by efforts to train police and local justices. Canada, France and Germany should be engaged to assist. Neighboring states should also provide observers and technical assistance. In military terms, striking at insurgents and terrorists is necessary but insufficient. Military and security operations must return primarily to the tried-and-true methods of counterinsurgency: winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small-scale economic development and positive daily interactions. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters. A better effort must be made to control jihadist infiltration into the country by a combination of outposts, patrols and reaction forces reinforced by high technology. Over time U.S. forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and phased out."

If, as many have suggested, General Clark would have been appointed to head U.S. strategy in Iraq had John Kerry been elected president, it is a reasonable guess that Clark's views expressed above reflect a majority of United States' elected Democrats. Simply put, Clark's approach is a "fix it, don't leave it" strategy that puts a renewed emphasis on regional and international cooperation while, effectively, leaving the United States fully engaged in a military intervention in Iraq even as we forswear our intentions of a permanent presence there.

To complete the trio, Ron Brownstein, of the LA Times, recently wrote this analysis of Larry Diamond's four-pronged proposal for beginning an exit in Iraq:

"Diamond has laid out four principles "for diminishing the violent resistance in Iraq." He believes the United States should "declare some sort of time frame" — but not a rigid deadline — for withdrawing troops. He thinks the United States should negotiate more with Sunni political groups connected to the insurgency, and he wants to enlist other countries as an "honest broker" in such efforts. But at the top of Diamond's list is an unambiguous, unconditional pledge from Bush not to establish permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.

"Intense opposition to U.S. plans to establish long-term military bases in Iraq is one of the most passionate motivations behind the insurgency," Diamond wrote last week on the liberal website TPMCafe.com. "Neutralizing this anti-imperial passion — by clearly stating that we do not intend to remain in Iraq indefinitely — is essential to winding down the insurgency."

Brownstein, however, citing defense analyst John Pike, highlights some of the the pragmatic realities of any U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, namely the Iraqi goverment's ability to withstand military coups or defend itself from its neighbors:

"In May, the Washington Post reported that military planning did not envision permanent bases in Iraq but rather stationing troops in nearby Kuwait. But the report noted that the Pentagon was also planning to consolidate U.S. troops in Iraq into four large fortified bases. On the theory that concrete speaks louder than words, critics see such work as a sign the administration is planning to stay longer than it has acknowledged.

John E. Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, points to another indication. Although the United States is systematically training Iraqis to fight the insurgents, he notes, the Pentagon has not taken key steps — like making plans for acquiring tanks or aircraft — to build an Iraqi military capable of defending the country against its neighbors. To Pike that means that although the United States might reduce its troop level in Iraq, the fledgling nation, like Germany or South Korea, will require the sustained presence of a large American contingent, perhaps 50,000 soldiers. "We are building the base structure to facilitate exactly [that]," he says.

Whatever Iraqi politicians say publicly, Pike believes, in private many will prefer such a long-term U.S. presence, which might also provide insurance against a potential military coup. Diamond says he takes Pike's point, but still thinks the United States would improve its leverage in Iraq by making clear that Iraqi, not American, needs will determine the circumstances of our departure.

"I don't know why," Diamond says, "we just can't say, 'It is not our goal to set up for the indefinite duration military bases in Iraq, from which we can operate in the Middle East for our own geopolitical purposes. Our goal is to help the new Iraqi state secure the country and defend itself, and once we mutually judge that goal is achieved, we will leave.' "

Essentially, what we see, from Hertzberg, to Korb and Katulis, to General Clark and Larry Diamond is a broad sense, even among those who are critical of and have opposed the war in Iraq, that there is simply no way for the United States to leave Iraq as it stands. This is the flip side of the 'Catch-22 squared' I referred to above: most proposals by critics of the war in Iraq focus on, in some ways, "fixing the war" or even doing more interventions elsewhere. That too, is part of the structural 'reality on the ground' in Iraq. The political solutions coming from inside the United States are still, by and large, framed under the duress of the dual failures of the Bush Administration: Iraq is a diplomatic and a military failure that is essentially a modern day retelling of the Humpty Dumpty fairy tale. All of Bush's horses and all of Bush's men are extremely unlikely to put Iraq back together again.

From where this essayist stands, the above proposals do not take a broad enough view of the perils of intervention and unilateralism; nor do they seek equitable partnership and investment in the Middle East consonant with a 'progressive' vision. Even the most pragmatic step among these, forswearing permanent bases, is belied by also advocating continued U.S.-led intervention.

In my first essay, I pointed out that the Bush Administration did not simply "get us into a quagmire"...they deliberately constructed this quagmire. This quagmire construction project involved overriding our allies, the United Nations, and settled U.S. policy on wars of aggression; further, the Bush Pentagon discarded not simply respect for human rights at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay but the very "Powell Doctrine" of using overwhelming force to guarantee victory. It is clear today that the Pentagon went into Iraq knowing full well we wouldn't "win"...their goal was to build a new reality...Iraq and Iraqis be damned...and that is exactly what they've done.

Our proposals in response to this state of affairs must be as comprehensive and principled as theirs were foul. We must take the long view, and put our focus on an explicitly internationalist solution that guarantees peace for the Iraqis and takes a much broader view of regional stability, U.S. energy policy, and a global commitment to development. We must invest in an equitable vision of a post-oil Middle East, and show the region a commitment to forging our own energy independence. Simply put, this is not a time to propose a better way to rebuild Humpty Dumpty...though that is exactly what many are doing.


this is kid oakland blog

(or, as you can see above....k/o...for short.)

My name is Paul and I live and work and write in Oakland, California. I've been writing as kid oakland since the first days of scoop at dailykos.com (2003) and you may know me from there, or from my participation at blog communities like booman tribune or MyDD. However it may be that you've found your way here...welcome!

Think of this blog as a place to find writing on politics and culture from one progressive writer's point of view. I try to keep the content here fresh and the links reflective of the best writing and voices available on the net. Topics of interest include: local and regional blogging, electoral politics, national and international news stories mixed with essays and links on music and culture. If you liked my essays on dailykos, you'll find pieces like them here and links to other writers who work in a similar way.

Simply put, k/o is a place to find writing by me, kid oakland, as well as the occasional guest post, all in one place, and links to a whole lot more.

Your comments and tips are always welcome. Your readership is very much appreciated.


Paul / kid oakland

Contact me: kidoaklandatcomcast.net

Site content published under a Creative Commons license. All citations and links on this site are made in the spirit of fair use to promote and comment on the work cited, with a link to the original whenever possible. Comments are subject to moderation.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Allen Chin- Katrina Photos

Allen Chin of the Gamma agency has an exhibit of black and white photos at BAG news.

They are a must stop. There is so much there...some of it viscerally distrurbing...but number 25, a simple portrait, will send chills down your spine with its echoes of Dorothea Lange.

(thanks to JaninSanFran at Happenning Here? for the link.)

John Roberts and William Bennett

On the day our new conservative Chief Justice John Roberts is confirmed and sworn in to lead the Supreme Court of our land, there is another story in the news...that of the conservative former Secretary of Education under Reagan and Drug Czar under the first President Bush, William Bennett.

Studying the Supreme Court in American Politics our professor was always very clear about the political context of the Supreme Court. Simply put, the Justices make decisions in context.

This is our current context: conservatism is "sick" in America, at the very top. William Bennett is no fringe figure. He was in charge of education and drug policy under two separate Republican Presidents. He was a "figurehead" in speaking out on conservative ethics during the Clinton impeachment.

While there is no direct tie between the malicious views of Bill Bennett and the public record of John Roberts, Justice Roberts well knows that as Chief Justice for all Americans he has a duty to the Constitution and the American people that goes beyond mere affirmation of whether decisions reflect the law of the land. As Barack Obama noted...

"...what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.

In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision. In those circumstances, your decisions about whether affirmative action is an appropriate response to the history of discrimination in this country or whether a general right of privacy encompasses a more specific right of women to control their reproductive decisions or whether the commerce clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce, whether a person who is disabled has the right to be accommodated so they can work alongside those who are nondisabled -- in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart."

Today, Chief Justice Roberts takes control of a court in the context of William Bennett's foul words, of a conservative movement that has lost its bearings and its ability to speak to all Americans. Roberts knows that we, the citizens, are watching him and the Court, and the context he finds himself in is a nation mistrustful and divided by the abuse of trust and power exemplified in the words of William Bennett....words that find many of us doubtful of what lies at the core of the conservative heart. If that is what is said in public by former cabinet members, what do they say in private, and how will they define the law?


meta dkos

I've pretty much lost my heart for dkos 'meta-battles' on dkos. Argh. But I do feel an obligation lay out my opinion and clarify some misconceptions, and then move on.

For the sake of clarity, I think the discussion bink and booman started is a good one. However, I would like to clear up ways in which bink mischaracterized my views....even though I think his post, and this comment in particular, was valid and "fair enough."

In a nutshell, my opinion is that dkos can only do...maybe...two of the following three things successfully at one time:

  • 1. Be Markos' private blog where he rants and posts whatever he wants and people read it.
  • 2. Be KosMedia LLC...a kind of 'new media venture'...with subscribers, advertising, spin offs, staff writers and a commercial community: a kind of online magazine/forum/news service with reader generated content ...(that last part seems a bit of an eternal contradiction, imo.)
  • 3. Be the big tent "open source meeting place for Democrats and fellow travelers on the web" where we strategize, organize, raise money and do politics to take back D.C. from the GOP with as much innovative webroots democracy as we can muster, including meeting up in person someday and getting 'organized.'

  • Now, the contradictions here would challenge any blog run by anyone. They aren't particular to dKos. In particular, point one runs against both two and three to varying degrees at times. Point three, which is how many people approached dKos, in my view, is very hard to match up with one and two. For me, project number three is the only reason I ever got involved in dKos.

    My proposal to Markos, the "staff", and the community has been that we innovate some way to navigate these contradictions. My goal was to find a way for Markos to rightfully have "his voice" and "his blog"..hell, even his "new media enterprise"...but for the dkos community to be able to innovate some way to make goal number three, dKos as a democratic place for the netroots to organize and come together, more of a reality. Obviously, I mishandled that attempt both privately and publicly; quite frankly, I failed.

    However, bink's characterization of me as some kind of ingrate "rabble rouser," in my view, turns the story on its head and ignores history. I was nominated to write on the front page by the readers of dailykos. I was asked to join the front page by kos. And when I joined I was sent emails that read "staff" and invited to play a role in moderating the site. So, when Markos posted the anonymous Brazile piece, a piece that violated my off-line ethics and standards I thought we owed our readers...I did what I've done in every organization I've ever participated in: I made the case for change. I took it to the hoop.

    My argument was for more transparency (no more anonymous pieces), for some kind of editorial board (to deal with banning / promoting / new front pagers / and to play a referee role at times), for more women on the front page, and for some kind of innovative structural reform that would let Markos keep what he had built and worked so hard on, but let the community have a chance at developing ways to build project three in an open source way. Since project three was why I participated in dailykos in the first place, and the discussions I had with the staff and Markos made it clear that points one and two would rule the day....I left the staff. It just wasn't a good fit for me anymore. The discussions just never clicked.

    Now, I tried to write as a diarist for awhile. But, to be honest, Markos' abuse of the ownership vibe...his writing as if he can do as he damn well pleases...community, accountability and leadership be damned...soured me; to be blunt, kos sometimes writes as if his online community were no more than a big online game where some people 'get pwned', or, get left by the wayside, especially if they don't fit his politics; that rubs me the wrong way. That's not my offline politics, and I think Markos' attitude at times flies in the face of the size of his readership and the leadership / figurehead role he inevitably plays. It's not the best attitude to take in a party where we have to work together and persuade each other if we are going to win. At the end of the day, it is as a pragmatic matter his blog, and he will do what he wants with it, but that is...a very narrow view of the community of dailykos. We'll see what comes; I'm open to positive developments even if I don't play a part in them.

    At the end of the day, I felt that what we did in the early days of scoop at dKos, and over the summer and fall in 2004 achieved something significant that Markos, at best, glimpsed but did not much participate in. Personally, I know there's a kind of diary and a kind of writing that I did on dKos that I don't think I can replicate anywhere else, though I'll try. Many other writers had that spirit as well; those of us who were there can all agree that Meteor Blades and a gilas girl schooled many of us and created a space for that kind of community with their posts and comments. When booman linked to those protest journals by his readers last night...I thought...."these people get it"...the human, transformative power of web community, of people coming together for change and organizing to make a difference. Does Markos "get that?" Ehn...mebbe...at times. Other times it seems to me that he looks askance at it. That vision was the spirit of booman's post, and perhaps what bink doesn't get in response to booman, or maybe, at the end of the day, what bink just sees differently.

    You can't make that kind of community happen by telling it to appear. In some ways, community like that reflects a spirit of the times and it goes where it wants to go...even if it pushes us apart. To me, a sense of community in all its forms, not just its progressive one, is the critical fuel that will get folks to build and participate in building organized, open-source, online politics...however that project eventually does or does not come to fruition. For myself, I'm here for now, and less and less at dailykos. I am working the best I can, like all of us are, to boot the GOP out of D.C. in 2006 and make sure we don't drop the ball on a host of elections this November. I'm sure we can agree on these goals and come together on them, even if we do it separately.

    Fwiw, I don't begrudge anyone anything. I think bink is correct to point out how dailykos is valuable and significant just for what it does do well right now, including a ton of hard work by thousands of people, not least Markos himself. It has been a significant place for all of us for just that reason, a foundation of hard work and community building. Many kossacks feel "right at home" on dkos; and none of us should begrudge anyone that, even if we don't, at the end of the day, always feel the same way, and for valid reasons.

    Will dailykos succeed at building and organizing an online open source netroots community that has a political impact? Could it ever have done so...was it ever even meant to given the framework? I don't know. Markos certainly seems committed to innovating the new media format and...uh....thousands of people happily post on dkos under the current terms. So, maybe something new will develop. The 2006 elections will be a test case of how the site navigates its multiple roles.

    As for me, I gave it my all on dKos...writing well over 150 essays there in the last two years...perhaps laboring under a really big misconception. In essence, online community building was at the heart of what all my dkos diaries were about. It's likely time to let that go and move on.

    So, yeah, there it is. Meta dkos. I'm not going to make a habit of it, but I do have the right to my opinion, and I thought it was important to clarify my side of the story.


    Wednesday, September 28, 2005

    open thread

    Like Curtis Mayfield?

    I do...

    That's why I visit soul sides.

    Don't like Curtis Mayfield...?? (Shame on you.) Try ear fuzz, in particular the Heath Brothers...absolutely gorgeous music.

    state of the nation

    In the grocery line here in California today:

    Clerk: "Gas looks like it's going up to $3.25...I found a place for $2.95...and a year ago I would have been screaming about that."

    Me: "No kidding, and we have it cheap here compared to the rest of the world."

    Clerk: "Yeah, but that's all tax, in England they pay $10 a gallon but it's all taxes."

    Middle-Class Woman behind me: "But at least it goes to their country...our money just goes to all those people we're at war with over there."


    Tuesday, September 27, 2005

    the Mega-Mod

    "General Motors is pinning its turnaround on a series of new full-sized SUVs -- the very models whose sales have fallen as gas prices have climbed. GM previewed the redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe and several other 2007 models last week."

    -from the WSJ, via billmon

    In other news, the Democratic Party is rolling out its "make or break" 2007 models just in time for mid-term Congressional elections. Having seen the party's market share shrink for two decades in the face of tough competition, the DNC is rolling out a revamp of its standby minivan meant to appeal to America's increasingly Exurban middle: the Mega-Mod is an eight-door minivan, with passenger air-bags, AM/FM radio, and radical new features like a sun roof and "sport" package option to appeal to NASCAR dads.

    Party CEO H. Dean claims the Mega-Mod's ad slogan: "it's just like you...you just didn't know that yet" will win over buyers who haven't yet caught on to the Democrat's middle-of-the road appeal. Dual sliding side doors will allow passengers to exit any way they choose.

    Model colors are: Beige, White, Mauve, Gray, Taupe, Tan and Cream. The sport package adds the option of: Eggplant, Mustard and Salsa Red and an optional "racing stripe."

    Critics report that a lack of "pep" in freeway driving may hamper the Mega-Mod in its quest for suburban market share. The absence of a true passing gear is also said to impair vehicle performance on rural two-lane highways. "More of the same" is the consensus industry review. Prominent party insiders are more sanguine, and report that most consumers just won't want to buy cars from 'the other guys' and will flock to the Mega-Mod after a series of mechanical troubles in the main competition's vehicles. Competitors, however, point out that the DNC sales force do not themselves drive Mega-Mods.

    One in-the-know party observer noted the addition of military chevrons in the model's interior design will provide some much needed spark to this line and give some 'cross-over appeal.' It is said that one mid-year design change may even put a large chrome hawk on the hood. Rumors swirl in D.C. that a name change could be in the works as well: The Mega-Mod Hawk. Watch this space closely for updates


    Prop 75: Reform Elves

    Malacandra passed on this 'so bizarre it's a must-read' post to me...from the Arnold Schwarzenegger blog.

    Only deep, deep in the Republican mindset can a million dollar donation from a GOP big wig...rrr, I mean reform elf...pulling strings behind the scenes be heralded as reform. Meanwhile the voices of nurses and teachers are written off and silenced... um...just because!

    I guess when buying our political system counts as "reform", we've really passed through the GOP looking glass. You see, any millionaire elf giving dollars to Arnold for Prop 75 simply doesn't want working people's voices heard in Sacramento. In fact, you can take that to the bank.

    If you live in California, say "no" to Arnold and his fat cats...vote no on Propositions 73-78.

    Nathan Rudy and the Blue 7th

    I've had a link to Nathan Rudy's Blue 7th blog up for a month now. The reason for that is that I'm convinced that local blogs opposing vulnerable GOP representatives, in this case New Jersey Congressman Mike Ferguson, are the most important netroots trend for 2006. A lot of us online want to fundamentally change politics in this county. Taking back the House in 2006 is how we do just that. This is where online activism for 2006 should start, with local opposition blogs in the 80-100 vulnerable GOP districts.

    Blogs like Nathan Rudy's do three things:

  • They provide local voters with the information they need to learn how wrong their GOP representative is.
  • They provide local voters a way to sign up and pledge to fight to kick the GOP representative our of office
  • They show quality local candidates that there's a pool of fired up Democrats ready to unseat the GOP incumbant

  • This is where on-line and off-line activism meet. And the 2006 elections are very much a "live issue." This is where and when it all gets started. We need many, many more blogs like Nathan Rudy's Blue 7th.

    Yesterday I talked about unseating Richard Pombo in CA's 11th district. Readers pointed out that Jerry McNerney, an environmentalist who gave Pombo a run for his money last time around...and Steve Filson, who has apparently been embraced by the DCCC "just like that"...are both running against Pombo. My question is: is this the anti-Pombo "blog"?

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    the United States, Iraq, and the post-oil Middle East

    One observation you can make in the ongoing debate on all sides about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq...questions of if, when, how, where, and in what context...is how far removed from the context of any global, cooperative, far-sighted solution we've come. U.N. Special Envoy Sergio de Mello was killed in this bombing in Baghdad in August of 2003. As a result of which, the U.N. withdrew most of its outside personnel from Iraq for months. Since that time, a time in which the Bush administration spearheaded the nomination of "anti-U.N." ambassador John Bolton to the U.N. and the U.S. Congress has pushed the "oil-for-food" scandal onto the front pages (as if the "real scandal in Iraq" was the U.N. all along), no one has had much of anything constructive to say about U.N. involvement in helping bring an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

    The answer, then, to the question of "when" the U.S. will effectively withdraw from Iraq in this context is: not any time soon. At the start of the war the Pentagon was unambiguous about what kind of military presence it intended to build:

    "The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region, senior Bush administration officials say.

    American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north. [snip]

    Whether that can be arranged depends on relations between Washington and whoever takes control in Baghdad. If the ties are close enough, the military relationship could become one of the most striking developments in a strategic revolution now playing out across the Middle East and Southwest Asia, from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.
    A military foothold in Iraq would be felt across the border in Syria, and, in combination with the continuing United States presence in Afghanistan, it would virtually surround Iran with a new web of American influence.

    "There will be some kind of a long-term defense relationship with a new Iraq, similar to Afghanistan," said one senior administration official. "The scope of that has yet to be defined whether it will be full-up operational bases, smaller forward operating bases or just plain access." (NYT, April, 2003, linked above)

    Presidential candidate John Kerry made it clear in the first debate that renouncing the intention to build such bases was a lynchpin in navigating an end to the U.S. occupation. That point of view was recently echoed by Larry Diamond, author of Squandered Victory: the American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to bring Democracy to Iraq in an excellent discussion piece at TPM cafe. More importantly, as Juan Cole noted in March of this year, key Iraqi political leaders have expressed no desire to see permanent U.S. bases:

    Le Monde reported Monday that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the cleric who leads the United Iraqi Alliance, rejects a long-term presence for US troops in Iraq:

    "Permanent American bases in Iraq? The question seems so incongruous to His Most Austere "Eminence Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim," (as the leader of the Shiite party which won the January 30 elections identifies himself on his visiting card) that he almost bursts out laughing. "Ha! Ha! No. No one in Iraq desires the establishment of permanent foreign bases on our land. The United Nations Security Council resolutions are clear: it will be up to the elected Iraqi government, when the time comes, to give those forces a specific departure date. As soon as possible."

    What is the current Bush administration policy? No one really knows. They've seemed to be running on a hope and a prayer in Iraq since the day Baghdad fell. But the construction of "enduring U.S. bases" noted in the Christian Science Monitor last September continues into the present day across the Middle East. In the absence of any clear policy statement, that is the best sign of the Bush Administration's intentions.

    Michael Klare, author of Blood and Oil: the Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum, recently wrote two excellent pieces that appeared on ZNet, More Blood, Less Oil and the Twilight Era of Petroleum. These essays outline how United States energy policy, whether we avow it or not, is increasingly dependent on global competition for oil and natural gas resources from the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. In the face of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Bush Administration's "go it alone, anti-U.N." line, not to mention its "pro-consumption" energy policies, the subject of U.S. military engagement in the Middle East and how that engagement ties to "energy security," ie. oil, is really reduced to the age old question:

    Who are you going to believe...Bush...or your lying eyes?

    Much digital ink has been spilled in the context of the the Cindy Sheehan inspired anti-war protests about how and when the United States might withdraw from Iraq. This debate between Juan Cole and Michael Schwartz represents one end of the spectrum of debate. General Wesley Clark and the above-mentioned discussion started by Larry Diamond represents another. They all make interesting and valid points which I will follow up on in parts two and three of this essay.

    My position has been that defining a successful, international, peaceful context for the end of U.S. occupation of Iraq is success in Iraq. That being said, in light of the sources and discussion linked above, especially the reality that the United States and every industrial nation in the world is hopelessly dependent on Middle Eastern petroleum in the near and middle term, the answer is not so simple, and will never be so simple, as a position that simply says, "bring the troops home now." We need to step back and look deep down the road. We need to identify the start points.

    Pulling back, these are the major foci of the Iraq debate:

  • The U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Middle East. "Enduring bases" that will be built to endure, let's face it, till the oil and gas are gone.
  • U.S. hegemony in Iraq and Afghanistan and, to varying degrees, other Persian Gulf and Central Asian states
  • The world economy's need for regional stability in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia
  • Increasing global competition for the oil and natural gas resources in the Gulf, competition that will only intensify in the years to come
  • Jihadist resistance to foreign presence in the muslim Middle East, including the use of terrorism outside the region
  • The division of the Middle East into "oil-rich" and "oil-poor" states, none of them particularly democratic or the possessor of a modern economy
  • The continued failure to find an equitable long-term settlement to the Irsael/Palestinian conflict
  • The U.S. / British alliance to "go it alone" in Iraq and cut out both our allies and the United Nations
  • The lack of a plan, on any front, for building a successful "post-oil Middle East" that works for the people of the region
  • The lack of a plan for what a post-oil Global economy would look like, even though that economy is much closer than we think ie. it will arrive within three or four decades

  • The sum of all these factors is what we now see in Iraq. The U.S. and Great Britain have used unilateral military force to create a "facts on the ground" reality in the Middle East that the world cannot walk away from. If anything, there is more terrorism and instability in the region post-invasion. That can, in some ways, only be seen as deliberate. United States policy in invading Iraq was to define itself as the prime mover and shaker in Iraq and the Middle East, whatever the ancillary consequences...because, given our presence in Iraq, the U.S. has also now defined itself as the prime arbiter of political outcomes and access to the region's energy resources, and, most significantly the prime arbiter of peace and stability in the region, which was the intention all along.

    You see, the foundation of Bush's "war on terror" is this fact: The only people who are not, for better or for worse, invested in political and economic stability in the Middle East (and the steady flow of oil and natural gas to economies outside the region) are the insurgents and jihadists opposing the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Saudi regime. Once the U.S. inserted itself into Iraq, we created a perpetual argument to the world for the U.S. staying in Iraq: an inevitable and predictable jihad against U.S. occupation. There never was an exit strategy. This was intended to be a permanent war from the very beginning and the Bush Administration has always acted like it. (Why else would Donald Rumsfeld still have a job unless he had succeeded at what they set out to do?)

    In that context, demanding that we simply "bring the troops home now" is too simple, as Wesley Clark's speech indicates. Bush made this mess in order to have the need to clean up this mess. The war in Iraq has never been about a simple "invasion/occupation/withdrawal" formula, and to use those terms is to play into the administration's semantic trap. In opposition, we need to formulate a new way to engage and invest in the Middle East and to partner with its citizens. We need to envision an international framework for defining a "post-oil Middle East" as part of our vision for a "post-oil global economy" and to build equitable solutions to the Iraq occupation with those end goals in mind. Yes, we must work to end the U.S. occupation, but we must do so in the context of larger questions and realities.

    The context of any proposal for ending the war in Iraq is that the globe is now more dependent on Middle Eastern oil and stability in the Persian Gulf than ever...the Bush administration knew this fact going in.

    Without a doubt, every drop of oil and natural gas in the Persian Gulf will be consumed at a market price over the next decades. What would an equitable reinvestment in the region in return for the use of these resources look like? How can the world at large trade for those resources and at the same time respect the dignity and political autonomy of the region's citizens? What kind of international accord might be reached to build this kind of investment and ensure stability in the region, and even be part of building an autonomous post-oil Middle East? How might international cooperation build just solutions for the citizens of the Middle East and guarantee that they see themselves as much invested in peace and stability in the Gulf and the trade of their energy resources as the citizens who depend on those resources around the globe? These are the questions that the invasion of Iraq deliberately interrupted and preempted.

    The United States and Great Britain knew that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would take these questions, and international efforts to find equitable solutions to them, off the table. And, at the end of the day, that was the entire premise of the invasion of Iraq. Our solutions must take this state of affairs into account. Ending the occupation of Iraq is about more than simply our troops returning home. Only a far-sighted and truly global response will be adequate. Only a partnership for building a sustainable and equitable path to an autonomous post-oil Middle East will permit the construction of a stable post-U.S. Iraq. The global energy crisis is the issue of our times; it cuts through everything else. All roads in 2005 point to the Persian Gulf.

    (This is the first part of a three-part essay. Part Two features an analysis of the situation on the ground in Iraq and three Democratic proposals for an exit strategy. Part three, my version of a progressive proposal might look like was published on Sunday.)


    taking back red california

    Matt Lockshin, a reader who has been the source of a couple of my pieces on California politics here...has another good one: Take Back Red California, an organization dedicated to fighting for every vote in our recently "Blue" State.

    Oftentimes the difference between sticking in our Blue strongholds and actually working for change is as simple as crossing a hill. Richard Pombo, (link is to a must read Sierra Club article), a Congressman in an adjacent district to both Matt and me, just proposed to sell off, among other things, naming rights to our National Parks if not a few parks themselves. Pombo might just find that some Blue activists here in Barabara Lee's district (Oakland/Berkeley) have taken an interest in helping our allies and neighbors in Pombo's turf. Kicking Pombo out of D.C would be a nice start to the process of taking back red California.

    Sunday, September 25, 2005

    a walk in the woods

    I took a long walk in the woods today with a friend.

    After yesterday's march in the sun, surrounded by thousands of people, it was great to just stroll on the other side of the East Bay Hills, in the shade of huge hillside trees.

    There's a quiet creek that runs off the inside of Big Round Top. I've never hiked all the way back to it's source. There's no trail. Sometimes if I am hiking alone early in the morning or before sunset, I can hear the mule deer crunching in the brush away from me.

    There are places like this here near our city. Spots like the one on the French Trail in Redwood Park where you can stand alone, as the sun falls and watch rays of sunlight make their way through the silence of a hundred redwoods.

    If you've never been in a redwood forest, that's something they never tell you....they are quiet, and remarkably still. The canopy and wind...are so high up...and the underbrush is so sparse....that it's really you, and rocks, and soil, and trees.

    And maybe the sound of a stream running down the heart of the valley.

    open thread

    I've got a post up at BooMan Tribune called democratic writing: on blogging and community...and I'm working piece on Iraq for this space...

    what's on your mind today?

    Saturday, September 24, 2005

    protest: cindy and rita

    I was glad to read the news that Rita has proved, so far, less deadly than feared, though still an utterly serious disaster. It is a tremendous relief after Katrina's devastation.

    Having spent all day marching in the streets of San Francisco, where I joined up briefly with the Booman Tribune contingent...I have to say the march in San Francisco was about the people who came more than anything else. Their creativity, their opposition to the war, their resoluteness and indomitablility in just being themselves, and, as Chris Bowers pointed out, their support for Cindy Sheehan.

    For myself, I was quite happy to spend the day with my East Bay cadre, ages 3 through 63...and this, reading a note in the NYT, rang a bell....

    "In San Francisco, as protesters marched toward downtown, David Miles, 49, pumped up the volume on his iPod, attached to a 12-volt battery and large speakers on wheels. "War," the Vietnam-era protest song by Edwin Starr, suddenly filled the air.

    The lyrics, "War, what is it good for?" blared from the speakers, and protesters joined in, shouting back: "Absolutely nothing."

    We strolled right behind Mr. Miles all afternoon, that is, until he zoomed off on roller skates down Market Street.

    Friday, September 23, 2005

    things that make you go, hmm

    Ripley, at zen cabin, did some research on BYU connections to the Bush Administration in the wake of D. Kyle Sampson's appointment to be Chief of Staff at DOJ. "Hmm..."

    the Roberts nomination and the Democrats

    There have been some interesting, intelligent pieces written on the Roberts vote in the Senate.

  • LarryNYC cleared some of the fire and smoke of the initial blog response to make this nuanced speculation into what was and wasn't going through various Senators minds. (presidential prospects, future use of the filibuster, comity, the gang of 14, politics)
  • AnthonySF did yeoman work on an up to date list of who is voting which way.
  • New Direction added a heavy devil's advocate pov to the mix. It's worth a look.

  • The emerging conventional wisdom nod goes to a "we lost this one in 2000, '02 and '04" take...which is an analysis that may or may not lead to David Sirota's bracing:
    "As pathetic and braindead as the media is in only being able to see their narrow, insulated little playground of Washington, D.C. in terms of inaccurate stereotypes that reflect nothing of the actual real world, the current state of Democratic Party affairs is more pathetic. And it is time for all of us to let them know it, or the party will never change, and never win another national election."

    My own point of view is different. It involves taking a step back.

    Bush v. Gore and the 2000 election were a moment for Democrats to define a course of principled opposition to the GOP that included a strategy for tackling the inevitable Bush Supreme Court nominations. All was not lost in January of 2000, but even though we'd really won, and the press was focused on a "nation divided", we sure as hell acted like all was lost, as if we were a minority in this nation...and it is our response to 2000 that has defined our party for the last four and one half years, and left us ill-prepared to mount a cohesive response to the GOP. I'm not so much concerned with Al Gore here, though if you follow that link to a great New Yorker profile from last year...it will all come back to you...as I am about two things:

  • The Democrats abandoned the labor/African-American coalition that had "surprised the world" in the waning days of the Gore campaign. We abandoned the very folks who delivered our popular vote win, the folks who'd help us win our majority.
  • Further, to use Donna Brazile's words, in "kicking Al Gore to the curb" the Democrats fell back on our "Congressional leadership" as the locus for opposing Bush and the GOP. Al Gore was not just down after the 2000 election, he was kicked out...and instead of unity from Congress, what we got was positioning. It killed us in 2002, and it's killing us today.

  • Simply put, you cannot oppose the GOP if you don't define majority positions in clear terms. Congressional Democrats, especially Senators who are jockeying for Presidential runs, are poor instruments to do that. Further, in American politics of the 21st Century, Democrats cannot build our majority by ignoring organized labor and the Black and the Latino vote. That, however is exactly what Congressional Democrats and our party leadership have done. We hear from the Congressional Black Caucus in segregated press conferences...why?. The Latino vote in California has swung more conservative these last years and the Democratic party has done little to counter that trend...or act like it cares. Ask yourself, do Boxer, Feinstein and Pelosi give the impression of being "down" with or reaching out to Latino Californians and their hybrid liberal/conservative concerns?

    In order to oppose Roberts, or any nominee, we needed to build majority positions on issues like Choice, like Privacy, like the Patriot Act...and bring every one of our coalition members on board. We need to build support for our positions in a broad-based way so that any nominee who is not clearly acceptable to our side is branded as running against the clear majority view in this country. It's about creating a political climate before any name is announced. Congressional Democratic leaders aren't doing that. The DNC, even under Howard Dean, has not done that. We all know that you can't define a majority in this country with white middle-class Democrats, but the Democratic party acts like we can...and we lose.

    Our response to 2000, to Bush v. Gore, to Al Gore's banishment should have been to go straight back to the coalition that won us the popular vote. We didn't. We didn't push for election reform after Florida, and we haven't pushed for it seriously after Ohio, even though election reform is so important to our credibility in communities of color. As it stands, organized labor is in a crisis (or, if you choose to see it that way, rebirth) and the Democratic party, and our blogs, treat Labor like it's some small interest group instead of the backbone of our coalition. Majorities are won, they are defined, they don't magically appear when you need them, and facing a GOP Supreme Court nominee, we most certainly need them.

    Is it any surprise that the GOP runs roughshod over Congressional Democrats? If we can't bother to build our coaltion and get the phones ringing...we will, indeed, never win. It's not about, as David Sirota writes, simply what goes on inside the beltway, though that is relevant...is also about something we turned our back on when we rejected Al Gore in early 2001. We have a majority coalition. Or...we had one.


    Thursday, September 22, 2005


    There's really nothing to say but god help those in its path...up and down the Gulf Coast...and fleeing inland.

    the mod squad

    Reader Matt points out that here in California we have a "Mod Squad," or Moderate Caucus, that defeats environmental legislation with the help of corporate $$$ and the GOP. (Article from the Capital Weekly):

    "The so-called Moderate Caucus was first organized as a campaign finance committee in 1998 by then-Assemblyman (and now Congressman) Dennis Cardoza, who wanted to raise corporate money for Democrats that traditionally had flowed to Republicans. But only in the last couple of years has the Mod Squad flexed their political muscle. The caucus currently has fifteen members, 10 of [whom] are Latino, with Assemblymen Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, and [Joe] Canciamilla, [D-Pittsburg] serving as "co-conveners."

    In June 2004, the Moderate Caucus circulated its first ever "action alert" listing a dozen bills--sponsored by fellow Democrats--to be targeted for defeat. Circulated only to other moderate members, the list angered both the Democratic leadership and the environmental lobby. Such "action alerts" are now common for the Mod Squad, which meets at least once a month, and sometimes more than once a day toward the end of session...[snip]

    "The `Mod Squad' is the single greatest impediment to progressive environmental legislation in Sacramento," wrote the California League of Conservation Voters in their annual legislative scorecard last year. "Sure, they cast the easy votes, but when every friend is needed on strong environmental legislation, the Mod Squad is usually missing in action or an enemy combatant."

    This is the reality we live in here in California, even with a majority.  

    Dollars pry the political process away from progress.

    David Sirota on strategists

    Catnip at Booman pointed up this piece by David Sirota on the Huffington Post. It's quite good and worth reading the whole thing.

    "...the New York Times today quotes "Democratic strategists" saying that "with Roberts widely expected to win confirmation, members of their party should vote for him in order to appear open-minded and save their ammunition for the fight ahead."

    Yet, it was the same Democratic strategist class that helped create the perception in the first place that Roberts is "widely expected to win confirmation." If you recall, the very first day after the Roberts nomination was announced, Democratic strategists (most likely before they even gave a cursory review of Roberts' record) pitched a front page story to the Washington Post headlined "Democrats Say Nominee Will Be Hard to Defeat." Great strategy for a party that is perceived to stand for nothing: lead the biggest debate with an admission that you don't have enough guts to even make a fight of it.

    That, of course, immediately led to television reports right after Roberts was nominated blaring to the world that Democrats were going to lay down and die. As CNN, for instance, reported that night, unnamed Democrats "admit privately that, barring some sort of political cataclysm, John Roberts is going to be confirmed easily." Wolf Blitzer soon noted that "the conventional assessment here in Washington that he'll have pretty much smooth sailing up on Capitol Hill" - exactly, thanks to strategists within the Democratic Party.

    Thus, to review: the strategists saying the party now needs to capitulate are the same strategists who created the pro-capitulation circumstances/conventional wisdom in the first place. Wonderful - what absolutely brilliant, self-fulfilling "strategy," especially in light of President Bush being in the weakest position he's ever been in. Perfect! Let's give these strategists a raise!"

    John Edwards on the 'Working Society'

    From a speech given at the Center for American Progress:

    "There is a powerful hunger for a sense of community in this country again, a sense of national community, a sense that we are all in this together, that there is a higher purpose for our national community. People understand. They get it. They understand that they’re supposed to work hard and be responsible for themselves and for their families, but they know there’s more to America than them taking care of themselves. This administration may think that every single American is an island, but Americans know that Katrina’s victims shouldn’t have been out there on their own, and that no American should be out there on their own...[snip]

    To be true to our values, what our country needs to build is a working society; an America where everyone who works hard finally has the rewards to show for it. In this working society, nobody who works full-time should have to raise their children in poverty or in fear that one more healthcare emergency or one more layoff is going to put them right in the ditch. In the working society, everyone who works full-time will at least [have] something to show for it: a home of their own, an account where their savings and paychecks can grow. In the working society, everyone willing to work will actually have a chance to get ahead. Anybody who wants to go to college and is willing to work for it will be able to go. In the working society, people who work have the right to live in communities where the streets are safe, the schools are good, and jobs can be reached. In the working society, everyone will also be asked to hold up their end of the bargain, to work, to hold off having kids until they’re ready, and to do their part for their kids when the time comes.

    [snip]... At a time when millions of people have been displaced, many already poor before this storm ever hit, when the only shot many people have is a job rebuilding New Orleans, this president intervened to suspend Davis-Bacon so that people who are working there could at least earn a decent wage – the prevailing wage in the area for a hard day’s work. You know, I might have missed something, but I don’t think the president ever talked about putting a cap on the salaries of the CEOs of Halliburton and the other companies who are bidding on these contracts. No, this president, who never met an earmark he wouldn’t approve or a millionaire tax cut he wouldn’t promote, decided to the slash wages for the least of us, for the most vulnerable."

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Harold Arlen and Saul Bellow

    A composer and songwriter who exemplified the verve and swagger of the NYC streets...Harold Arlen was so sweet...just listen...and then read this essay, Come Rain or Come Shine by John Lahr from the New Yorker. It may be one of the best pieces of writing I've read all year. It's just perfect and beautiful and heartbreaking.

    It makes me think of this passage from Philip Roth's document in tribute to Saul Bellow, yet another great New Yorker essay. In the midst of writing a depressing novel in post-war Paris, Bellow recalled how he seized on the inspiration for his greatest novel...the Adventures of Augie March:

    "...when spring came I was deep in the dumps. I worked in a small studio, and as I was walking toward it one morning to wrestle yet again with death in a Chicago hospital room, I made the odd discovery that the streets of Paris were offering me some sort of relief. Parisian gutters are flushed every morning by municipal employees who open the hydrants a bit and let water run along the curbs. I seem to remember there were also rolls of burlap that were meant to keep the flow from the middle of the street. Well, there was a touch of sun in the water that strangely cheered me.

    I suppose a psychiatrist would say that this was some kind of hydrotherapy—the flowing water, freeing me from the caked burden of depression that had formed on my soul. But it wasn’t so much the water flow as the sunny iridescence. Just the sort of thing that makes us loonies cheerful. I remember saying to myself, “Well, why not take a short break and have at least as much freedom of movement as this running water.”

    My first thought was that I must get rid of the hospital novel—it was poisoning my life. And next I recognized that this was not what being a novelist was supposed to have meant. This bitterness of mine was intolerable, it was disgraceful, a symptom of slavery. I think I’ve always been inclined to accept the depressions that overtook me and I felt just now that I had allowed myself to be dominated by the atmosphere of misery or surliness, that I had agreed somehow to be shut in or bottled up.

    I seem then to have gone back to childhood in my thoughts and remembered a pal of mine whose surname was August—a handsome, breezy, freewheeling kid who used to yell out when we were playing checkers, “I got a scheme!” He lived in the adjoining building and we used to try to have telephone conversations with tin cans connected by waxed grocery string. [snip]...

    Now, just what had happened to handsome, cheerful Chuckie and to his brothers, his mother, and the stranger whom they called granny? I hadn’t seen anything of these people for three decades and hadn’t a clue. So I decided to describe their lives. This came on me in a tremendous jump. Subject and language appeared at the same moment. The language was immediately present—I can’t say how it happened, but I was suddenly enriched with words and phrases. The gloom went out of me and I found myself with magical suddenness writing a first paragraph.

    I was too busy and happy to make any diagnoses or to look for causes and effects. I had the triumphant feeling that this is what I had been born for. I pushed the hospital manuscript aside and began immediately to write in a spirit of reunion with the kid who had shouted, “I got a scheme!"

    And isn't it like that....something about being American, just when you feel like you may have lost it all...this place finds a way to drop a diamond in the midst of all your troubles...or a rainbow.

    In memoriam: Harold Arlen and Saul Bellow.

    the road ahead

    We on the blogs did an extremely poor job at defining what a "yes" vote on Roberts would mean. And now the response to those "yes" votes, votes we could all see coming, has been nothing if not counter productive (Armando and Booman).

    The strategy, spearheaded by dailyKos, of focusing on NARAL and Lincoln Chafee got us exactly here. (Link to Liberal Oasis.) The trend of blogs attacking the left this last year (and Howard Dean's embrace of "pro-life Dems") now comes face to face with a "yes-on-Roberts" by a wide swath of middle-of-the-road Democrats and a strategic mishandling of one of the crucial votes of our lifetimes. Simply put, when we needed the Democrats to show a fighting unity here...we on the blogs did little to create that unity.

    Unity is hard to create when so much energy has been turned to attacking our own.

    Markos definined 2005 as the year of the "attack blogs." This attack was defined not by building unity among left Democrats and moving forward together in opposition to the GOP, but by divisiveness and snark against the progressive left: the racial code words of the anonymous Brazile piece, the anti-NARAL stance, the free use of anti-"hippies" and anti-"women's studies" rhetoric, and now a jab at the HRC. Do those stances make sense in light of current defections from Democratic party unity by moderate Democrats...ie. the constituency Markos was valorizing as our party's core? The strategy of questioning the loyalty of progressives, of targeting and scapegoating us, looks neither all that wise nor strategic right now.

    Did attacking the left and embracing the right help us define a cohesive approach to Democratic unity against Roberts? I think not. Do the current outraged responses, the name calling of moderate Dems in response to their "yes" votes, the spurs to make angry phone calls do the blogosphere any favors right now, especially in light of this last year? The clear answer is no. In fact, it has the effect of eroding much of the good work we have done and making us look like hypocrites: we on the blogs have divisively attacked both our allies on the left and our friends and partners in the middle. Are we clever or what?

    All of us should have anticipated that George Bush would have Supreme Court nominations to make and been prepared. Our job was to define those nominations in a way that moved the discussion to our side, and created a context for winning a true pro-choice, pro-woman, pro-privacy majority, and if that was not possible, defining the vote in ways that positioned us well for battles to come. We could have worked together. By and large, we did not. Why was that?

    This is a moment for all of us to answer that question for ourselves. We failed. And now, more than anything, we need to come together and look at the road ahead.

    In my view, the lesson learned here is that we need to build coalition with a politics of unity. My take has always been that we build a progressive coalition first...and build out from there. We need to start from a position of cohesion on our side, based on the cooperation of labor, urban Democrats, progressives, gays, women, working families and voters of color. Progressive unity allows us to find strength in standing together and to find flexibilty in picking and choosing our battles because we've been in the same room defining our common strategy from the very beginning. We desperately need the unity that comes from fighting and winning.

    We will all have further opportunites to define this path.

    We have a mayoral race in NYC, a set of ballot initiatives in CA, including the anti-choice proposition 73, and a further Supreme Court appointment to debate. We need to come together...and push for victories in each of these cases...to do it right next time. Victories mean something, they define coalition. We need to learn our lessons and move on. This failure is an opportunity to stop and rethink, and to find a way to build the real coalition we know is at the heart of our politics.

    Yes, the blogs were but one small factor in the Roberts "yes" votes. But what little leverage we had; we squandered. We need to look down the road and get our act together. 2006 is nearly upon us. There are vulnerable GOP House candidates in districts that could go our way. How about putting the focus of our attacks on them? How about building coalition the old fashioned way: by uniting in opposition to a common opponent and winning victories together?

    It is clear that current blog trends will not change in weeks or even months. We can hope that the divisive attacks of 2005, the assumption that it's "okay" to cut off and snark members of our coalition will now begin to fade. We need each other, and in 2006 we should build something that we can all be proud of: a functioning coalition determined to win a legislative majority with every last one of us having a seat at the table and a share in that victory...however distant a possibility that now seems.


    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    justice not vengeance: simon wiesenthal

    As a teenager I had a chance to hear Dith Pran speak. I can't help but think of Dith Pran, his words, his presence and his lonely struggle to give voice to the Cambodian dead upon hearing the news of Simon Wiesenthal's passing.

    Simon Wiesenthal, first of all, survived. It is one of those facts that is easy to overlook. It is a raw fact; there is no moral to it. The central fact of Wiesenthal's life was the destruction and genocide of the European Jews, followed by his dogged pursuit of justice against the perpetrators of that genocide.

    Wiesenthal was an inmate in five separate concentration camps. In one camp, he was one of only 34 people to survive. He tried to kill himself twice. He and other survivors of Mauthausan sewed this flag in secrecy as the war came to an end. (ph. credit Simon Wiesenthal Center) It was more than a symbol...it was also, no doubt, in their minds, a possible tool for survival during allied liberation.

    Wiesenthal spent his life after the war pursuing Nazi war criminals. He had his critics. (There are those who want to confer a kind of "sainthood" to survival. The sentiment is missplaced.) But Wiesenthal by his actions over decades came to symbolize the relentless pursuit of those who were culpable of the atrocities in Europe during the Holocaust. His personal suffering accorded him respect, but his life work, what we honor him for, was dedicated to remembering millions who were not alive to thank him, and whose stories we, the living, readily consigned to the past...to museums, to displays, but not to the present...a present in which some of the perpetrators of the genocide still lived uncharged. That was Wiesenthal's focus.

    Societies seek to heal and move on, to rewrite history by covering it over. It's more convenient that way. What Wiesenthal taught us, the force of his life, is that we must never "cover over" the facts. That was the logic of his life; even if it points in directions he might not have anticipated. History and justice compel us to look behind the comfortable surface of things and honor the facts we find there by pursuing justice, not just for the victims, but so that future generations might be spared the suffering of the present day.

    Simon Wiesenthal was a lone voice for the forgotten. A force, moving through our times speaking words of conscience and memory. At times plodding, at times a celebrity...he was unflinching in his quest, and undaunted by intimidation. The world knows tonight that a giant has passed from our presence. And with his passing, one more chapter of our history is brought nearer to a close. Even in death, Simon Wiesenthal asks us: how committed are we to justice, to history, to matters of conscience?

    In the end, he survived to bring us that message...to ask us that question. There are those who knew him, who saw him in those camps, who had no idea that he would survive and pursue the course of action he did.

    His life was a tribute to those people. We should never forget that. Nor the litany of questions posed to us today...in Darfur, in Bosnia, in Cambodia, in Rwanda. Justice means not forgetting. Justice means building something new upon that act: we must never forget.


    woolworths: 1985

    Some time ago, way back in 1985 to be exact, I was asked by my ethics teacher to say a few words to an assembly about what Jesus meant to me. At the time, I was coming to the position I have today: one of respect for the historical and spiritual person, and those who follow his justice teachings...but one of estrangement from organized religion. Here's the gist of what I had to say:

    Back in 1985 there were still Woolworth's cafeteria counters around this country. If you were the type of high school kid who was into Flannery O'Connor or William Saroyan or Carson McCullers...you might find yourself sitting at one of them...an undulating series of "U"'s behind which waitresses served grilled cheese sandwiches and patty melts and poured coffee... reading away at your book...perhaps a story by Delmore Schwartz...among the fixed income retirees who tended to congregate for the lunch time specials.

    Cities can be brutal. Recessions can make that brutality more visible. Woolworth's was a place where that reality would show.

    Sixty, seventy and eighty-year-olds in the 1980's had lived through some of the worst that our nation had to offer. Difficult times. Wars. Depressions. Dislocations. Segregation. Years where two nickels rubbing together in an otherwise empty pocket meant you could eat that day...and the next.

    Yet my colleagues at Woolworth's would show up every day in hats and coats and dresses whose style were decades old...and sit, perhaps smoking a cigarette, with their peers. They often looked at the world with the long stare of those making their exit...those on their way out. And because the shape of the counter was a "U"...you often ended up sitting across from someone...quaintly, almost like you were sitting together in that old America where we all were neighbors even if we didn't know each other's names...a U.S.A. of Edward Hopper and Gary Winogrand....of Diane Arbus and Gordon Parks...of WeeGee and Raymond Carver.

    Looking out at my classmates in 1984, I didn't have much to say about Jesus that day. But, having told them the same story about Woolworth's I just told you, I did say this...if Jesus isn't that woman smoking a cigarette and looking down the butt-end of seventy years of hard living in a lonely world...then Jesus doesn't mean a thing.


    Monday, September 19, 2005

    open thread

    This open thread brought to you by....the Sacred Heart of Plastic Baby Meta Jesus.

    anti-racism and the global majority

    "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line."

    WEB DuBois, 1903, The Souls of Black Folk

    It's been pretty clear reading the feedback and commentary of the last few weeks post-Katrina that a large swath of the "liberal blogosphere" views racism as something related to personal morality. ie. Folks embrace the notion that you can be free of racism if you treat "other races" equally, or without a sense of personal prejudice.

    Now, I would argue, in agreement with WEB DuBois that the "color line" is still the central issue of our times. In effect, until people come to understand that we are one and act like it...until people understand that we may have different skin tones and backgrounds but that there are, in fact, no other races...that there is no such thing...well, until then, racism and its pervasive historical legacy will be the operative evil of the day, for all of us.

    Simply put, the idea that any of us can avoid race and racism, like so much middle class morality, is simply ahistorical wishful thinking. Our society is awash in racism. It is the underpinning of our culture, our economic system, the structure of our cities and suburbs, of where we live...and who we sit to eat with. Racism has shaped the two parties locked in battle to govern this country. It divides us today almost as much as it did forty years ago, when legal segregation was abolished in the United States. It divides our world almost as much as it did two centuries ago...when Europe looked out upon the world and its peoples as one vast colony.

    Our start point should be that we are one people, that each of on this planet us are equal and have an equal stake in happiness, and that we all need to bring the force of our efforts, our cooperation and our analysis to bear on understanding and overcoming the legacy of our racist past, and its manifestations in our political present...manifestions that we aren't able to wish away simply by "cleansing our thoughts."

    Anti-racism is linked to global justice movements. If child labor is wrong here, it should be wrong in China. If seventy-hour work weeks are wrong in the West, they are just as wrong in Southeast Asia. If HIV medicines and prevention are available here in the States, the should be available in Africa and India as well. And conversely, if neglect of the urban poor and their abandonment to substandard and dangerous housing is wrong in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, then it's wrong in the city of New Orleans. Democracy and fair voting practices should be the right of citizens around the world, not just those in nations the United States has chosen to occupy.

    There is no logic that justifies the domination and waste of the world's resources by the few...ie. us...while the many are dislocated by the effects of climate change and corporate-driven neglect; there is no logic that says that the many will willingly stay trapped by the status quo policies of the World Bank and the IMF. The fact that Katrina brought that contradiction into the clear light of day inside the U.S. borders is what drove our online discussions of class and race and poverty. What might have been a starting point, turned into a closed door for many. Not me, they said. Not me.

    At the end of the day, as it has always been in the United States, discussions of poverty and "racial minorities" were driven by many who never find time to even acknowledge the global majority in their political discussions.

    That global majority has a message for all of us...we are one. From New Orleans to Sri Lanka, from Beijing to NYC. One globe, one people...facing, as WEB DuBois might have sorrowfully predicted, another century of addressing the color line and the issues of justice and commonality that underly our existence, whether we acknowledge them or not.

    Katrina death toll

    I've been doing this search of Google News every day now since September 1st.

    We know so little about who died and where and when, or who might still be alive.

    If I told you that even as the President gave his speech last Thursday night there were still people living and dying in New Orleans, you would be hard pressed to believe me. Click on the link. That's the truth. And it's a symbol of our government's ineptitude, its callousness, of the real meaning of Homeland Security, and what the "rescue effort" meant.

    Here, in America, three weeks after Katrina hit land, folks are still dying in homes, are still being rescued. And none of us really knows how many we've lost. Think about that.

    Sunday, September 18, 2005

    america america america

    Walking down the aisles of my local grocery market, I think,

    "How much of this stuff is really poison?"

    Chips, Pretzels, Ice Cream, Frozen Dinners, Sugar Coated Cereal, Processed Sandwich Meat, Bread sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup, Protein Bars with Palm Kernal Oil, Crackers made with Partially Hyrdrogenated Soybean Oil, Flavored Water, Saline-injected hormone-fueled Chicken Breasts, Tomatoes, Potatoes and Peppers grown and sprayed and sprayed and sprayed again in California's Central Valley.

    What can you buy that's real? That isn't corporate factory food?

    Not much.

    We're factory made here in the USA. And, in some ways, after conversations with so many friends, in so many places...I'm coming to realize...that in some ways, Rockwell's Thanksgiving America is already over, we just haven't realized it yet. The wallpaper is peeling off the walls. Grandma's dead. She won't be baking any more pies. They've got a new development off the interstate though. Stop on by.

    At one time those levees in New Orleans were new. Then they settled, they needed repair.

    Societies founded on feats of engineering need to understand maintenance, to prepare against eventualities, to use science to hold back nature.

    We didn't. We haven't. The levees broke. It's as simple as that.

    The Space Shuttle is old. We're not talking about Mars anymore. We're coming back down to earth.

    One reason millions of Americans have been in a funk lately...it's not just Katrina, or Iraq, or Enron. It's the fact that somehow, underneath it all, we understand now that those Reagan parades...were nothing but a bunch of flag-waving, reality-blurring lies.

    (Hell, in 1984 they just recycled them...and included footage of old men who'd already died.)

    We're a nation addicted to fries. To fast food. To our microwaves. To deferring responsibility. And, let's face it, we're corrupt as hell.

    We just call corruption by a different name. We turn our eyes. We pretend that, let's say, giving confiscated counterfeit toys to children at the Astrodome is a "nice gesture." Or that tax cuts for the wealthy while we're at war...is somehow not really that "out of line."

    In 1984 Walter Mondale told America the truth. We told him to go screw himself. You really don't need to spell it out much more than that. We did the exact same thing in 2000, Al Gore's home state said, "Fuck you, your lock box, and your global warming, Al, we prefer George."

    The rest is history. No use getting mad about it. Or in pretending that the Supreme Court didn't vote to...uh...stop counting votes. Or that George W. Bush wasn't in over his head but propped up by folks who should have known better.

    It's ad hoc, and has been since 1980. Cakes to Iran. Guns to Honduras. George Schulz and GHW will be long gone by the time the shit really hits the fan. John Kerry knows the truth. So does every congressional Democrat. But most of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have been phoning it in for decades. Fiscal conservatives? My ass.

    Bill Frist is a three dollar bill.

    And like a bunch of con men, D.C. knows that the bill will come due. They've been running from the table for years. Making a hasty exit and leaving the chumps with the check. The real money is in big business. And only the banks really know how much we're in debt.

    I love America. I know you do too. You know, to tell the truth, I love people, period. And I love this earth we call home.

    And, like you, I know there's a better way. There has to be.

    And personally, I think it's high time all of us started working on it...one blank sheet of paper and our ideas.

    We've got good ones.

    We've gotta be better than this.