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Monday, April 30, 2007

for Bush, accountability is a one-way street

It seems to me that, even in 2007, the Bush Administration gets a free pass in regards to ANY benchmarks, timelines and yardsticks in Iraq.

Democrats are held, by the corporate media, GOP spin, and even fellow Democrats to a very narrow standard of consistency. ie. What Barack Obama says in 2003 is a big deal. Clinton and Edwards's votes for the Iraq authorization are still subject to media scrutiny. (The AP and the mainstream press are now giving Hillary crap about her name!!) In the midst of this Harry Reid is vilified on CNN and by David Broder for stating a patently obvious and widely-held truth: Bush's war is, indeed, lost and has been for the last four years.

If Bush's occupation of Iraq is not an outright failure, what is? Did the firing of Donald Rumsfeld mean anything? I guess not. Man, did they ever bury that one! The GOP loses an election and Bush fires the guy he "stood behind" for five long years regarding the build-up and dismal execution of the war in Iraq. In 24 short hours the President flipped from his previous statements of unqualified support for Rumsfeld. But it's now Harry Reid who is vilified for saying that Donald Rumsfeld execution of Bush's war was a failure! That's typical. For Rumsfeld, zero accountability for the utter and dangerous nonsense he spewed for five long years. He simply disappears. For Bush, zero accountability for his flip-flop and failed war. For Reid, total accountability for every last syllable. It's a one-way street.

Let's be real, the Bush Administration is held to absolutely zero standards. Bush doesn't even have to maintain consistency with statements from January of this year! On January 11th the President clearly stated: "the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November." The Iraqis are nowhere near attaining that goal. They will not attain that goal. In fact, they cannot attain that goal because the Bush Administration just threw that expectation out the window with this new talk of "outputs" that replace "outcomes." The Iraqi parliament, by the way, in honor of our "Surge" is about to embark on a two-month vacation.

It's galling. Bush is getting away with pushing the Surge deep into 2008...and with NO benchmarks to measure its failure or success. If Bush has his way the troops stay until...well...Bush says they don't. There is no measurable goal for success or victory in Iraq. There simply isn't. There are no metrics, just pie-in-the-sky posturing from our President. Take this typical example from the speech linked above:

over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace. And reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.

George Bush, January 11th, 2007

Try to measure that!

2007 has been a great year for this President. George Bush wasn't remotely held accountable for rejecting the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report. It was a non-topic. Bush has been able, despite his losses in the mid-term elections, in the first four months of this year, to send 30,000 more combat troops to Iraq and demand that this Surge be funded with no limitations into 2008.

Neither the media nor the Democrats have been able to hold Bush accountable to any hard and firm deadlines or benchmarks. The Congressional GOP is holding firm and winning the frame in the debate over "funding the troops." The current bill before the President, even as it is likely to be vetoed, is more about the political pressure than the force of law.

So, my question is this: is there any development in Iraq or here in the United States that would make the crucial bloc of Blue Dog Democrats and Moderate Republicans say:

"No, Mr. President, there has to be some accountability here. You have crossed the line. We need yardsticks and measurements. Accountability is not a one-way street."

I am not seeing it. (Others concur.) Failure, inconsistency, a lack of holding this President to any standards, any benchmarks, or any timelines is what the Bush Administration has asked for and received from our press and, up to this most recent moment, our Congress. The President's current demand is for a blank check to continue to escalate the war in Iraq well into 2008. After his presumed veto, those will be the terms of the debate.

For as long as this situation holds, as long as standards and yardsticks and deadlines are only applied to one side and not the President himself, there will be no accountability and no end to the war in Iraq.

James Carville: US Attorney for Washington DC?

Nightprowlktty has an excellent diary on dailykos explicating the Moyers/Marshall interview.

Npk highlights this passage from the transcript that gets to the heart of the US Attorney scandal, and the essence of the politicization of the Federal Government under Bush:

BILL MOYERS: Marshall's case in point: Timothy Griffin. Attorney General Gonzales picked him last year to replace the fired prosecutor in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Griffin's reputation was as a highly partisan operative ... first doing opposition research for The Republican National Committee and then As Karl Rove's deputy in the White House.

According to an internal Justice Department e-mail ... "Getting [Griffin] appointed [as U.S. Attorney] ... Was important to ... Karl."

JOSH MARSHALL: This, I think, is an example of, a lot of people say, 'Well, they're political appointees.' There's a difference, though, between being a political appointee and putting a political operative in charge of a U.S. attorney's office. I mean an example is: I think James Carville is an attorney. But-- no-- it wouldn't pass a laugh test to make James Carville a U.S. attorney in Washington DC. He wouldn't have credibility. He's too political.

BILL MOYERS: And is Tim Griffin in that category of a political operative?

JOSH MARSHALL: Oh, absolutely.

Read the whole thing here, it's called "Josh Marshall breaks through the Bull."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

the Iraq Supplemental and the fallacy of "implied constraint"

Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left did a breakdown of the legal and constitutional issues raised by my summary of the Pelosi "Bloggers Conference Call on the Iraq Supplemental".

It is very much worth a read.

I have three thoughts:

First, we are very much in the midst of an ongoing constitutional conflict. I think it's critical to understand the source of this conflict. George Bush, after elections in which the voters rejected his policy in Iraq, proceded with his "surge" in direct defiance of that election and every subsequent opinion poll. Bush took the exact opposite direction the voters indicated.

In my view, for as long as this situation holds...the President versus the people...that is the fundamental conflict in American political life. Now, the fact that that conflict expresses itself in terms of "Congress versus the President" makes Big Tent Democrat's analysis even more important. The constitutional battle between Congress and the President is the expression of this more fundamental disconnect...the President versus the people...only to the extent that the Democratic majorities make it stick with the force of law. Congress must stand up for the will of the voters in the elections of 2006. Congress must call this President's Constitutional bluff.

Point two, Big Tent Democrat is exactly right to point out that the fundamental Congressional power here is the "power of the purse." Big Tent Democrat and MaryB2004 have made this point clear: the idea that Congress can "take the President to court" over whether he follows any optional framework in the eventual Iraq supplemental is a fallacy; it does not hold. It is merely "implied constraint." Pelosi needs to hear this from the blogs. Congress gives Bush the money or it doesn't. There is no fall back to the Courts if Bush chooses to ignore "optional and discretionary" language in the Iraq supplemental.

The upshot of this is that Democrats need to understand this reality in the showdown over the veto and the "next bill." There is either "hard language" in the bill...ie. the bill provides funds in a limited and controlled way (ie. for a shorter period of time or with definitive language)...or the bill is more political theater than responsible legislation.

Nancy Pelosi, in my view, is banking on the "political" aspects of this process. ie. Speaker Pelosi, in using language counting on "the courts," really is implying the "court of public opinion." She must be thinking that whatever Bush's obligation to follow the framework of the Iraq bill, if he does not follow the language that Congress provides him, the GOP will be under such enormous political pressure in the court of public opinion that the GOP will cave. That, in a sense, was the bottom line upshot of the blogger's conference call.

There was an interesting moment, which I did not mention in that MyDD piece, in which Speaker Pelosi talked about how, at the time of the outset of the war in Afghanistan the President and the GOP very much did not want a bill from Congress. They felt that the President had all the authority he needed. Congressional Democrats insisted on getting a bill because having some bill, any bill, implied some constraint on the President's authority. If that is the mindset here, a mindset of "implied constraint" then it is critical we put pressure on the Democrats in Congress to go beyond that view. Implied constraint on this President does not cut it. Implied constraint is NOT what the voters voted for in 2006.

Point three, the blogosphere needs to get out front and explain the case for using the "power of the purse." Whether that means rallying behind Senator Feingold, or effectively and persuasively creating a framework through which centrist Democrats can stand by a "hard vote" to use the power of the purse to reign in the President, this much is clear: this President, in rejecting the will of American voters and undertaking the Surge chose a course of action that would provoke this very situation. The Constitutional conflict is his, not ours.

It is the job of Democrats. Heck, it's the job of every last one of the people's representatives in the House and the Senate, to do the bidding of the people. That means using the power of the purse to create a Constitutional, legal check on this President. That is the direct means of reigning in this President.

We have to face reality here. That stance will mean fighting the noxious bromide that using the power of the purse is "cutting off funds for the troops." That is where we are headed. That is the task at hand.

Speaker Pelosi may well be right that the political pressure mounting over the next months will prove significant. Perhaps her position in that conference call reflects her experience with persuading members to go along with this initial bill. That is no substitute for Congress doing its job and using its Constitutional power to reign in this President with the unquestionable force of law. We must make this clear.

Implied constraint, with Bushco, is no constraint at all.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

More on the Sanger NYT piece

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates found himself pressing Mr. Maliki last week to keep Parliament from taking a two-month summer break. If lawmakers remain in Baghdad, said one senior American official who did not want to be identified because he was discussing internal White House deliberations, “we’ll have some outputs then.”

He added, “That’s different from having outcomes,” drawing a distinction between a sign of activity and a sign of success, which could take considerably longer.

There's some more excellent coverage of the above-quoted David Sanger's piece in this morning's New York Times. (I 've already mentioned David Kurtz's must-read piece at the bottom of my analysis below.)

Here are two more excellent analyses:

Lithium Cola, a diarist at dailykos.com, has an excellent breakdown of the GOP talking points leading up to this "goal post moving" leak from the Administration. Needless to say, Republicans have consistently trumpeted the news from post-surge Iraq as rosy and upbeat and used their partisan bludgeon to cudgel critics of the surge simply for pointing out the obvious fact that the surge is NOT working and never was going to work.

(Has anyone pointed out that the President claimed in January that the surge would create "reconciliation" between Sunnis and Shia, and almost immediately Petraeus set out to build an ethnic wall dividing Baghdad?)

The effect, as Lithium Cola ably demonstrates, is to highlight how Republicans will question the patriotism of anyone who dares challenge their account of the facts...up and until they leak the news that "Shucks, things aren't going so well. We need another six months to a year." It's a hypocritical game that has cost them in the polls and at the ballot box. It's time for the media and the Democratic leadership to stop letting them get away with it. It's a truly excellent diary, check it out.

Second, Kevin Drum has a great translation summarizing Sanger's piece:

Translation: Maliki has no authority whatsoever; the Iraqi troops we've been training for the past three years are still useless; there's no political progress in sight; and in the meantime we're stalling for dear life, hoping against hope that something good magically happens. In Republican leadership circles, this is called a "foreign policy." The rest of us have a different name for it.

(This is followed by a round of vituperative comments well worth wading into.)

I am still convinced that David Sanger's piece reflects something powerful: a potential turning point. The New York Times, who deserve (on some backwards level) credit for reporting this stuff at all, couch this news in such terms as to make this course of events seem natural and "just the way things are."

It doesn't have to be this way. The press, the Democratic leadership and every American opposed to this war have to step up to the plate here.

The Bush Amdministration knew this surge was a sham from day one in exactly the same manner that they knew there was no WMD before we invaded Iraq. This is the exact same ploy they used to justify the invasion...repeated, however, in the fifth year of our occupation.

When will our press stop reporting these lies with a lackadaisical shrug and a deceptive headline? Bush and Cheney are simply buying time in Iraq with this hocus pocus...and in the meantime, as has been the case all along, people are dying for their lies.

The upshot of David Sanger's article is simple: Bush is lying to buy himself time and the New York Times, in my view, is helping him do it.

At this point, it is crystal clear: the United States will not leave Iraq until the people of the United States demand that we leave Iraq, until further political pressure is brought to bear. Our votes in the last election were, apparently, not clear enough.

If you haven't watched it already, watch Bill Moyers Buying the War and you will see exactly what I mean. The media politics used to justify surge are an exact re-run of how this Administration's lies are sold wholesale by the press.

Fool me once, shame on me....fool me twice, three times, four times, five times....how many times is it now?

And how much shame?

Friday, April 27, 2007

CW and the Iraq Supplemental

After watching Bill Moyers must-see Buying the War it is fascinating to read an article like this one by the NYT's veteran political reporter David Sanger: "The White House Scales Back Talk of Iraq Progress."

Sanger's article creates a powerful CW, or conventional wisdom, about the war in Iraq and the debate over that war in Washington. With this piece, you can literally watch the conventional wisdom being manufactured before your very eyes:

In interviews over the past week, [...] officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of President Nuri al-Maliki they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

That prospect would entail a dramatically longer commitment of frontline troops, patrolling the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad, than the one envisioned in legislation that passed the House and Senate this week. That vote, largely symbolic because Democrats do not have the votes to override the promised presidential veto, set deadlines that would lead to the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of March 2008.

That's a fascinating turn of phrase, a "largely symbolic" vote. As if a bill passed by the House and Senate which a President has pledged to veto is always merely a symbol. Clearly, Sanger and the NYT are conveying that the Iraq Supplemental is Dead On Arrival; they are manufacturing Conventional Wisdom before our very eyes. Bills voted on by majorities of the U.S. Congress are symbols, nothing more. Not like the confidential and confident words of "senior administration officials."

Sanger has interviewed some of these "senior administration officials" and those officials are eager to use Sanger and the New York Times to convey, among other things, the message that the "surge," which began in January of this year and was supposed to last a period of months, will now extend "well into next year." Now, I wouldn't call that "scaling back expectations of the government of Iraq" as this article has characterized it; I would call that news something else. A different headline for this piece could have been: "Facing Failure: The Bush Administration plans to extend the surge well into 2008." Sanger and the Times have chosen to hide that significant story and report this information as if this revelation marks a mere minor change of course for the Bush Administration. You see, according to the New York Times, what we have here is merely a change in Bush's expectations of the Iraqi government. Those silly Iraqis.

Let's take a step back, however, and review what George Bush said when announcing the surge just a little over four months ago:

...over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace. And reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible. [snip]

America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced. To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. [snip]

Let me be clear: The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent. Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue - and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties. The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will.Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world - a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people.

So, four months after George Bush announced this policy, it is already, essentially, a failure. Goals are unmet or deferred, rosy predictions have not come to pass. Even the one hard goal Bush named in his speech, an Iraqi security takeover in every province by November has flown out the window. But that's not how the New York Times is choosing to report this story. As Bill Moyers documented, the press, even the New York Times, allows this administration to create its own reality. Given Sanger's reporting, highlighting the incompetence of the fractured Maliki government, we can see that Bush's final paragraph is and was nothing more than a fabric of lies.

What a great deal for Bush! Mere talk of his veto evaporates an entire bill from Congress. Mere whispers from his nameless officials means "fait accompli" coverage on the front page of the Paper of Record. The only way to realize that the real import of this story...that the surge, like everything else Bush has done in Iraq, has failed, is to contrast what we are reading in today's New York Times with Bush's own words and our own command of recent history. That's something the New York Times won't do. They leave that work to others.

Here's another passage from Sanger's article where you can read the CW being manufactured in newsprint:

In interviews, his aides said Mr. Bush is convinced that once he vetoes the troop funding plan, because of its timetable for withdrawal, he will have the upper hand in negotiations.

“There is a segmented market” among the Democrats, the senior American official said. “Harry Reid has declared the war is lost, but there are a lot of people in his own party who have said they do not agree. Some of them are telling us privately that if they see some progress by the fall they would support us, because they do want this to succeed.”

That's the kind of thing you have to do a double/triple take to figure out: a nameless Bush official characterizes Democrats as segmented, describes Reid as declaring "war is lost," suggests a Democratic Congress full of folks offering to support the Bush Administration if they see progress by the fall, and, of course, implies that most Democrats don't want "success" in Iraq. In other words, Sanger allows a nameless Bush official to concoct a "partisan fairy tale world" in the midst of a story that's really about Bush's failure in Iraq.

The Democrats are divided and want to take a "wait and see" approach? I guess that's why 218 members of the House and 51 members of the Senate just voted for a bill that would begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops in July if the Iraqis fail to meet their benchmarks. There's no mention of that in the article, despite the fact that it is germaine to the matter at hand. And, of course, since that bill is merely "symbolic", we might as well allow a nameless Republican in the White House to convey the impression that Bush will have the upper hand in negotiations when he vetoes this "symbolic bill" that Sanger mentions only in passing.

It's nothing but heartbreak and defeat for Democrats from David Sanger. Easy to see how this becomes the conventional wisdom, period. It's pernicious.

What's important here? What is the New York Times telling us? The NYT is telling its readers to buy the spin from the GOP, to accept the inevitable Bush veto of the "symbolic" bill out of hand. Simply put, this is a piece of deeply irresponsible journalism that serves the function of keeping us in Iraq.

The upshot of this story, it's most significant "reality" is that it tells us that George Bush, in announcing his surge in January of 2007, the fourth year of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, was in reality committing the United States to two more years of escalation in Iraq no matter what. It does and didn't matter what the Iraqi government does or doesn't do. That's clear. Sanger's article is also telling us, implicitly, that this is the way that it will be. In effect, CW, as manufactured by the New York Times, says that years five and six of the US Occupation of Iraq are a fait accompli.

And the only thing that might stop this inevitability, a check on Bush's war authority from the United States Congress, is a mere symbol. Sanger brooks no discussion of the possibility that the fallout of a Bush veto might not be what his Republican informants think it will be. And that highlights something else that's missing here, too: an examination of the will of the voters in 2006 and the results of every single public opinion poll regarding this war in 2007. These factors that might challenge the powerful CW Sanger is creating are invisible, mere figments of a dreaming mind.

It doesn't have to be this way. But for things to change, folks have to demand that things change.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, as Bill Moyers so powerfully pointed out, the New York Times has often been nothing more than a conventional wisdom factory keeping us in Iraq. David Sanger's piece today is a case in point.

Update: David Kurtz has a must-read on this same Sanger piece at TPM. His conclusion is damning, but read the whole thing, especially the reader comment at the end:

The somber, measured tone of Sanger's piece in the The Times, without a hint of irony in it, conveys that we are all supposed to just play along with what everyone--from congressional Republicans to Petraeus to the poor grunts on the streets of Baghdad--knows to be a huge charade.


Kelly Link

There's an interesting NYT piece by Michael Luo today about the Iraq supplemental called "Bush Eases Tone on Iraq Spending Bill." Read it for the political rundown regarding Bush's impending veto.

Part of the piece, however, features the words of Kelly Link whose brother is serving in Baghdad. She's addressing the Senators who voted to pass the Iraq Supplemental:

“I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the senators for their support of the troops with the passage of this bill,” she said. “I am proud this bill will both provide the funding they need and set a plan to bring them home.”

Well put.

Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and George Bush

Take a gander at this post at the Horses Mouth about the racially offensive parodies that Rush Limbaugh promotes at this "members only" web site.

Did your realize that President Bush appeared on Rush Limbaugh in an interview as recently as November of 2006, and Dick Cheney as recently as April of this year?

bring them home

It's April 27th, 2007 and there is legislation sitting on the desk of the President, approved by both Houses of Congress, that would end the war in Iraq.

As Barack Obama said yesterday: one signature will end this war.

A headline on the front page of dkos, however, reads: "Senate Democratic Caucus responds to Broder." A top recommended diary by our 2004 Presidential Candidate, Senator John Kerry reads: "Stand with Harry Reid" and calls for us to write to newspapers in Senator Reid's defense.

I'm perplexed and flummoxed by this state of affairs.

Let me explain.


Our nation is in the midst of a monumental debate over the course of the war in Iraq. That debate is being shaped as we speak all over this land. As a part of this, the meaning of the 2006 election is up for grabs. The Republicans understand this fact.

In an attempt to define this battle, the President, the GOP Congress and their media enablers are doing three things:

1. They are attacking Harry Reid for saying "the War is Lost."

2. They are attempting to redefine the election of 2006, implying against all reason that since voters voted for a change in Iraq in 2006, that we voted for the Bush surge in 2006.

3. They are repeating, ad nauseum, that the President is for "success in Iraq" and the Democrats are for "failure in Iraq".

If you watched Bill Moyers excellent Buying the War, you will recognise the m.o. here. The GOP and their enablers are simply repeating themselves until their lies and spin sink in and poison the debate. All of this effort to move the debate on Iraq is aimed at three things:

* creating space for a Presidential veto of the supplemental
* taking pressure off Republicans and Democrats to vote for an override
* and, most critically, defining the political battle for the next stage by pressuring centrist Democrats off their support for ending this war

The GOP understands that they are fighting a national battle and need the support of voters from every spectrum of the American public. They are speaking to the nation as a whole and they are driving a wedge to get the votes they need to kill the Democratic effort to end the war. They are focused like a laser on center/moderate/Blue Dog wing of our caucus. That's where the pressure is focused. After Bush vetoes, and Congress fails to override, that is precisely where this battle will be fought. If the Republicans win this battle, they will have neutralized the election of 2006 and prepared the ground for the election of 2008.

I want to be very clear: 'defending Harry Reid' does absolutely NOTHING to counter this attack. It does nothing to work this vulnerable terrain. In fact, it only reinforces the strength of the GOP attacks.

The Democrats are playing into Karl Rove's hands.

Allow me to suggest something that should be patently clear: you only "defend" and "stand by" and "support" someone when they are in a position of weakness. When someone attacks your friend, and your friend is right, you don't defend your friend, you attack the attacker.

The GOP, in attacking Harry Reid, planted a false flag on a hill far away from the center of the Iraq debate. Don't run to that hill! That's exactly what the GOP wants the Democratic leadership to do. I've said before that the GOP are masters at driving the conversation over breakfast at McDonald's all over America. Democrats need to book their spot at that plastic table.

Democrats must take the battle over the war in Iraq directly to the GOP. They must understand what the GOP is trying to accomplish and then outmaneuver them. The focus of the Democratic Party should be on building the broadest public support for ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home. That's taking it to the GOP. That's what Bush and Rove do not want us to do. That's something to talk about over a coffee and an Egg McMuffin.

The Democratic Party won an election in 2006 on the issue of ending the war in Iraq. If Democrats can't make that point stick, we aren't worth the lickspittle off a NeoCon's comb.

My points are simple:

1. Instead of defending Harry Reid from David Broder, we should be making sure that every last thinking American sees Bill Moyers documentary Buying the War.

2. Instead of "standing with" Reid and Kerry, we should get behind Barack Obama's absolutely brilliant and spot on locution: "We are one signature away from ending this war."

3. Our leaders in Congress must, in no uncertain terms, reject the Bush claim that the voters "voted for the surge" in 2006. Our pundits must make clear that the only "failure" in Iraq has been four years of this Administration's policy.

4. Inspired by Moyers and Obama, we citizens must build a groundswell campaign to "fight the lies and end the war." That's what we should be writing letters to the editor about. It's about Moyers not Broder. It's about Votevets and Webb and Tester and McCaskill not Reid. It's about bringing our troops home in a swift and responsible fashion because that's what the American public voted for in 2006.

The sentiment behind defending Reid is understandable, but it is dead wrong. The GOP can't wait to pick off our moderate Democrats one by one. That's what the real battle is about here: what happens after the veto.

One signature will end this war. That's what the American public needs to know. This moment is what the voters voted for in 2006. We must stand together on that.

Our job is to build the broadest possible coalition of Americans from every political party and persuasion to drive that point home.

It's time to end this war. It's time to bring our troops home.

what a shame

Admissions Dean Marilee Jones of MIT resigned from the University because she had lied almost thirty years ago in her application for a low-level office job at the University.

The New York Times reports that Dean Jones was a much valued and respected member of the MIT campus and that her philosophy of "Less Stress, More Success"...expressed in a book she co-authored with Kenneth Ginsberg...had made a broad impact among college applicants and their families around the nation.

MIT Chancellor Phillip Clay had other thoughts upon learning, through an anonymous source, that Dean Jones had falsified her educational history in 1977 and never subsequently corrected it as she moved up the ranks to become a Dean at MIT:

“There are some mistakes people can make for which ‘I’m sorry’ can be accepted, but this is one of those matters where the lack of integrity is sufficient all by itself,” Professor Clay said. “This is a very sad situation for her and for the institution. We have obviously placed a lot of trust in her.”

Of course, some might take another view.

An institution with such inflexibility and apparent inhuman rigidity leads this reader to ask some basic questions.

* How can it be that the value that Dean Jones brought to MIT over three decades was erased by one mistake she made thirty years ago? (A mistake, admittedly, that she compounded over time.)
* What lesson does it teach the MIT community that the response to this kind of transgression is black and white, and not, as it seems to this outsider, distinctly gray?
* Could there have been an "outside the box" solution to this situation that quietly satisfied all parties and protected MIT's institutional character? (Dean Jones completing a round of coursework at another school?)
* What does this affair say about MIT? The school, after all, bore some, albeit lesser, responsibility here, too.

The institution, clearly, decided it could not brook Dean Jones' deception, especially in so sensitive, and relevant, a position as that of admissions. It became a question of "integrity," and understandably so.

But doesn't this outcome also seem, in some way, illiberal? I think so.

Live a few decades and one learns that there is no person above reproach, and few of us without some inherent, underlying complexity that defies logic. Character, after all, is more about what we transcend than what we do easily and without effort. Morality is not measured within straight lines and narrow confines, but by taking a broader view that understands that none of us are or can be perfect. Imperfection is the start point for all of us; it's what we do with that raw material that matters.

Dean Jones, by all accounts, did a great deal. She was a credit to MIT the institution. That's gone now, in an instant.

Allowing a closely-held secret to sink an entire career seems to give a power to the "whistleblower" disproportionate to all wisdom and common good. It makes one ask, what other figures at our major educational insitutions have secrets they've withheld, have complexities lurking in their shadows?

What seems lost, in my view, in the whole affair, is that MIT missed an opportunity to teach its community a lesson...to explore the insight we gain when we have the courage to honestly assess the failures and the good in the whole person and not merely the greatest hits expressed in the polish and surface impression of a one-page bio.

Ironically, wasn't that Dean Jones point all along?

Perhaps it will be up to some other, more flexible institution to explore just that territory, if Ms. Jones is willing.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Barack Obama

Senator Barack Obama:

"We are one signature away from ending the Iraq war."

h/t TPM

a pretty basic point

I may not have the popularity or the media presence of Ms. Malkin, but I have written any number of blog posts these last years exhorting fellow Democrats and like-minded progressives and independents to take action and get involved.

Of course, the action I talk about involves debating and discussing the issues of the day with our fellow citizens, petitioning our leaders and news corporations, and using our rights to free speech and assembly to express our views.

That approach seemed to work pretty well in California's 11th Congressional District and nationwide in 2006.

There's a reason Ms. Malkin isn't telling her supporters to go out there and debate the issues with Americans who disagree with her conservative views. It's the same reason Karl Rove has spent the last six years gaming our government for partisan gain in Washington.

A coalition of progressives, Democrats and independents are carrying the national debate, banding together, and winning elections by winning over voters in every district and state in the nation.

The GOP resorts to demagoguery and cheerleading because they can't debate the issues. On that front, they've already lost.

It's pretty simple, really.

When was the last time you heard someone like Michelle Malkin exhort her readers to go out and have a discussion with someone who disagrees with them?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Josh Marshall: George Bush is Bin Laden's "biggest ally"

Josh Marshall minces no words:

President Bush had bin Laden trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora. But he let bin Laden get away because Bush wanted to focus on Saddam Hussein instead. The president and the White House tried to lie about this during the 2004 election. But since then the evidence has become overwhelming. President Bush decided to let bin Laden get away so he could get ready to attack Saddam Hussein. So pretty much anything bin Laden does from here on out is on President Bush. And how about Iraq? President Bush has screwed things up so badly that he's created a whole new generation of recruits for bin Laden. He's created a whole new army for bin Laden. Not by being tough but by being stupid. And by being too much of a coward to admit his mistakes once it was obvious that the occupation of Iraq was helping bin Laden specifically and the jihadist agenda in general.

After half a decade, the verdict is pretty clear: President Bush has been the biggest ally Osama bin Laden has. He's helped bin Laden at pretty much every turn -- even if only by his own stupidity, incompetence and cowardice. And when the next big terrorist attack comes, we can thank President Bush for helping make it happen.

Read the whole post. It's worth it. While you are at it, if you missed the Jon Stewart/McCain throw down, Jon Amato has the goods for you. It's must-view blogging.

Update: while you are visiting Crooks and Liars...you have to check out this sequence from the Jon Stewart show. It's called "First Term President Bush v. Second Term President Bush". It is, simply put, a classic.

NYT: Bush guts OSHA

Must-read NYT from Stephen Labaton:

Since George W. Bush became president, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in its history, public health experts say. It has imposed only one major safety rule. The only significant health standard it issued was ordered by a federal court.

The agency has killed dozens of existing and proposed regulations and delayed adopting others. For example, OSHA has repeatedly identified silica dust, which can cause lung cancer, and construction site noise as health hazards that warrant new safeguards for nearly three million workers, but it has yet to require them.

The article highlights the story of one worker in a plant that produces "buttery flavored microwave popcorn" who will need a double lung transplant due to the chemicals he was exposed to, chemicals that everyone involved knew were bad.

The report is infuriating and a must-read, especially for what has become a familiar refrain from the Bush Administration: a Republican addiction to "conservative beliefs" that defy facts:

[Edwin G. Foulke Jr.], the OSHA chief, has a history of opposing regulations produced by the agency he now leads. He has described himself as a “true Ronald Reagan Republican” who “firmly believes in limited government.” Before coming to Washington last year, Mr. Foulke, a former Republican Party state chairman in South Carolina and top political fund-raiser, worked in Greenville, S.C., for a law firm that advises companies on how to avoid union organizing...

Early in his tenure at OSHA, Mr. Foulke delivered a speech called “Adults Do the Darndest Things,” which attributed many injuries to worker carelessness. Large posters of workers’ making dangerous errors, like erecting a tall ladder close to an overhead wire, were displayed around him. [snip]

"On diacetyl...[and]...whether the additive causes bronchiolitis obliterans, the disease that has been called “popcorn worker’s lung"...Mr. Foulke said “the science is murky”

Read the entire, excellent piece if you can stomach it. It is, in a nutshell, the epitome of everything that is wrong with electing a party to run the government that doesn't believe in government and who could care less who pays the price.

It's time we kicked these "true Ronald Reagan Republicans" out of the White House.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bush: "Americans voted for the surge in 2006"

From TPM we learn this from our President:

Last November the American people said they were frustrated and wanted change in our strategy in Iraq. I listened. Today General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course. But the American people did not vote for failure, and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership’s bill would guarantee.

Hmm. Let's get this straight. The American voters replaced the Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress in order for Bush to send MORE troops to Iraq and ESCALATE our occupation.

In other news, up is down, right is left, and Alberto Gonzales is doing a "heckuva job."

If President Bush were a capable leader, he would be able to persuade the public to sway to his side of a unpopular position. Instead, the President plays word games: Americans "did not vote for failure" hence, according to Bush and counter to all logic and polling, we Americans voted for the current surge in Iraq last November. Even the most die-hard Republican would have a hard time suggesting that was an accurate consclusion to draw from the elections of 2006.

The President has had four years during which time he has made speeches asking for more time, more troops, more money and more patience from this nation.

Time and again, Bush has failed to persuade...now he's just making things up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Republican CA-46

Here's a link to a must-read diary by Mardish where GOP Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46) tells a panel of representatives from the European Parliament:

"Well, I hope it's your families, I hope it's your families that suffer the consequences [of a terrorist attack]."

Once again we have a Republican using terrorism, in this case a bus bombing, as a rhetorical device to wish ill will upon his political opponents, on people with whom he simply disagrees. (See my note on remarks by Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia for another example.)

This is simply inexcusable.There is no justification for this kind of speech in the course of official House business. Representative Rohrabacher should be brought before the House Ethics Committee for this remark.

That being said, there are two things to note here. First, there is so much wrong with Congressman Rohrabacher's entire statement.

Representative Rohrabacher made this comment in the context of a long harangue in which he was advocating abducting and torturing suspected terrorists and fully accepting that innocent bystanders will get caught up in this process and be abducted and tortured as well. Representative Rohrabacher falsely concludes that the torture of enemies and innocents alike is "just the price we have to pay" to ensure our safety. But that's not all. Representative Rohrabacher also makes the nonsensical and grotesque analogy that if we had had the ability to abduct and torture Adolf Eichmann we might have saved "a million" lives in the Holocaust. That's a hyperbolic trifecta: making a Nazi analogy to representatives of the European Parliament, minimizing the number killed in Nazi concentration camps ("a million"), and implying, with zero logic, that capturing and torturing Adolf Eichmann could have in any way prevented the Holocaust.

I don't often use the term "wingnuttery" but that is wingnuttery of the highest order. I don't see how anyone can make a historical case for how this "abduction and torture" of Eichmann would have worked. Perhaps in a la-la land of Dana Rohrabacher's imagination, but not with any regards to history or reality-based thinking. In fact, the much more likely reason Representative Rohrabacher made the Eichmann analogy was to bully, intimidate and demean the representatives of the European Parliament sitting before him and to confuse the debate about "torture and rendition" that was the matter at hand.

Congressman Rohrabacher's extended comments were of a piece with what followed...where the congressman, caught up in his own flight of wingnuttery and channelling Senator Joseph McCarthy, actually wishes that the families of these representatives from Europe (and we assume their sympathizers in the hearing room) would get caught up in an Al Qaeda bus bombing.

Let me address that.

In the space of two weeks we have had two Republican Representatives, Jack Kingston and Dana Rohrabacher, use the rhetoric of terrorism to wish ill will on their political opponents, on people with whom they simply disagree. Whether it is an "IED" symbolically exploding the Democrats in Congress, or a bus bomb taking the lives of representatives of the Eurpean Parliament, this is a grotesque rhetorical trend. It also speaks to a deep pathology in the right-wing Republican mindset.

In the 2002, 2004, and 2006 campaigns the Republican Party attempted to associate the image of terrorism and terrorists intent on harming America with Democrats. That characterization, most frequently used by Vice President Dick Cheney, of Democrats "helping" or "aiding" the enemy or of "al Qaeda types" taking encouragement from Democratic victories is, in and of itself a reprehensible and extremely dangerous rhetorical ploy. It creates a world in which an ever present external enemy is reflected (against logic and reality) in an associated domestic political opponent. It vilifies those with whom one simply has a political disagreement by branding them with the image of a "foreign enemy." Finally, it hinders our ability to cooperate in the very real international struggle against terrorism by dividing us needlessly at home.

The US news media has uncritically allowed the Vice President, among many others, to use this rhetoric. That is not simply wrong; it is dangerous.

Branding one's domestic political opponents with the identity of a foreign enemy is an extremely irresponsible and dangerous rhetorical ploy. History is replete with examples of where that type of rhetoric leads. And, yes, in this case, whether it is the Gulag or, domestically, the internment camps or the McCarthy-era blacklist, it is not overblown to point up the historical record in this regard. Domestic political opponents, or in the case of the Japanese internment...innocent American citizens...are not "the enemy," not in a society that lives under the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution. It should simply have been enough to point out that this mindset is un-American..that this is not how we aspire to practice politics under our Constitution and Bill of Rights. But that kind of accountability hasn't been much available in the United States of late.

What to make, then, of this further rhetorical device used by Representatives Rohrabacher and Kingston?

There is something gruesome here...almost like these GOP Representatives are showing too much of their inner psychology, too much of their hand. What does it say about a political party that claims to oppose terrorism in all its forms that some of its members wish acts of terrorism upon their political opponents? IEDs on Democrats? Bus bombings on the families of representatives of the EU...spoken boldly from a Capitol hearing room? Where are the Republicans condemning these remarks? (Where were the Republicans when Max Cleland was smeared with images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in Georgia in 2002?)

This is a rhetorical game that has gone too far. We should all be able to agree on that.

Are these far-right Congressman that unselfaware? Yes. Of course.

But something else is going on here. The right wing in America has been emboldened by two decades of unchecked hate and venom embodied in right-wing hate radio and now supported by the Executive Branch. Whether it was slurs like "Macaca" or jokes like "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran" right-wing advocates have simply not been held accountable...until now. In the aftermath of the 2006 elections, there is a different political reality in the United States. Enough voters from the center moved to support the Democrats that the GOP is now forced to share power and deal with a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress, a majority that we all know benefitted mightily from millions of independent votes.

Some in the Republican Party have realized this and moved to the middle. Others have bunkered down and sought to extend the dangerous rhetorical game they were already playing. The Vice President has already cast his lot with the far-right and returned to the Rush Limbaugh show to repeat his mischaracterizations and demonization of Democrats. Representatives Kingston and Rohrabacher, as outlined above, have gone futher down a path that leads only to madness and divisive tragedies like that visited upon this nation with the Oklahoma City bombing.

Our job, in the face of this, is simple and clear.

We must call on the media and all fair-minded Americans (Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike) to join us in lamenting these comments and holding these Congressmen accountable. It's a new day in Washington. Some things are not "okay;" in fact, they never were.

And we must counter this inflammatory rhetoric and language in every instance with forthright, yet responsible, rhetoric of our own...both the mischaracterizations of Democrats as somehow "emboldening" terror and these gruesome fantasies of inflicting terror upon those with whom one disagrees. In every instance we must remind our fellow Americans that this is a nation of laws founded on the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. All Americans understand the concept of e pluribus unum; we are one.

That should be obvious after 9/11. In 2007, however, Congressman like Rohrabacher and Kingston follow the lead of our Vice President, and the media lets them get away with it. That's a shame.

We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must reach out to all Americans. In the face of Rohrabacher's venom, we must not back down.

Petraeus and GOP hypocrisy

From a must-read Ann Scott Tyson interview with General Petraeus in the Washington Post:

It is virtually impossible to eliminate the suicide bombings, the commanders acknowledged. "I don't think you're ever going to get rid of all the car bombs," Petraeus said. "Iraq is going to have to learn -- as did, say, Northern Ireland -- to live with some degree of sensational attacks." A more realistic goal, he said, but one that has eluded U.S. and Iraqi forces, is to prevent the bombers from causing "horrific damage."

Presidential Candidate John Kerry was eviscerated for expressing a much more sane version of the same sentiment during the 2004 campaign. From a 2004 New York Times article entitled "Bush Faults Kerry on Iraq Remarks:"

The senator said that for Americans to feel safe again, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance."

Mr. Kerry went on to draw a parallel to his experience as a prosecutor, suggesting that it was impossible to eradicate prostitution, illegal gambling or organized crime, but that they could be contained so that they did not threaten people's lives....

In New Jersey, Vice President Dick Cheney called Mr. Kerry's view of terrorism "naïve and dangerous." In a conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush campaign, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, mocked Mr. Kerry for comparing terrorism to gambling and prostitution. "The idea that you can have an acceptable level of terrorism is frightening," Mr. Giuliani said.

In addition to embracing base hypocrisy, an emerging theme of the GOP's ever-evolving rationales for the Global War on Terror in 2007 is now simply telling others to "learn to live with it."

What else can we expect from Bush's war in Iraq but more Hypocrisy, Incompetence and Lies?

Read the whole of the Petraeus piece. It is chilling. The entire thing is written from the point of the view of the General flying high above Baghdad in a helicopter...

On Friday night at dusk, Petraeus boarded a helicopter to look for scenes of normalcy and progress from above the maelstrom of the capital.

"On a bad day, I actually fly Baghdad just to reassure myself that life still goes on," he said, leaning back and propping his legs on the seat in front of him.

The aircraft banked right and Petraeus caught sight of a patch of relative calm. "He's actually watering the grass!" Petraeus said with a laugh, peering down at a man tending a soccer field, with children playing nearby.

Seconds later, the aircraft pivoted again, exposing boarded-up shops on a deserted, trash-strewn street. A bit farther, along the Tigris River, a hulking pile of twisted steel came into view -- the remains of the Sarafiya bridge, blown up April 12 amid a series of spectacular and deadly suicide bombings.

It's April of 2007 and our top General in Iraq is reduced to flying above Bagdhad and pointing to someone watering a field as progress.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Webb, Tester, McCaskill: fighting the disconnect

Josh Marshall and Greg Sargent point to this atrocious example of media bias and ineptitude from CNN's Kyra Phillips and it raises a profound question for everyone involved in Democratic strategy in 2007:

How can Democrats overcome the disconnect between the mainstream media's indulgence in GOP slurs of Democratic leaders and the results of the 2006 elections?

Whether it is the slanted coverage of Nancy Pelosi's bi-partisan trip to Syria, Harry Reid's recent assessment of the war in Iraq, John Edwards' hair (for god's sakes) or Barack Obama's middle name: political coverage in 2007 is replete with examples of blatant media bias against leading Democrats. This bias runs directly counter to the results of the 2006 elections and represents a disconnect in which, despite those elections, mainstream media outlets regularly spout talking points seemingly spoon-fed to them by Karl Rove and Mat

Cable news "reporters" like Kyra Phillips are annoying and, to be frank, for political junkies like those of us who read the blogs, too easily dismissed. The very vacuousness of someone like Phillips makes her hard to take seriously. That's a problem. Pseudo-journalists spouting GOP talking points, however vacuous and annoying, are quite effectively erasing the 2006 elections and subverting the clearly expressed will of the American electorate in the process.

Let's review the 2006 election results in Montana, Missouri and Virginia, and in particular how they relate to Iraq and the 2004 presidential election, for just one second. It's worth a look.

The Democratic Party started the morning of November 7th, 2006 with a 201 seat minority in the House of Representatives and a 44 seat minority in the United States Senate. When all the votes were counted and the election results certified, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives stood at 233 members and Democrats in the Senate had defeated no fewer than 6 incumbent Republicans to win a surprise 51 member majority in the United States Senate (with the two caucusing independents included in the total.)

To say that these election results represent a historic turning point is a commonplace. However, the U.S. media have by and large continued to cover domestic politics as if the elections of 2006 never happened. That erasure, if allowed to stand, threatens everything the Democratic party is attempting to accomplish in 2007 and forward.

To elaborate on this point, let's hone in on those U.S. Senate results for one second.

In 2004 the voters of Montana gave George W. Bush 59% of their votes. George Bush won 266,00 votes in Montana; that represented a crushing 90,000+ vote margin of victory in a state where there were fewer than 450,000 total presidential votes cast. In the 2006 contest between Jon Tester and Conrad Burns, on the other hand, Jon Tester prevailed by just under 3000 votes. Jon Tester won 198,000 out of the just under 400,000 votes cast for U.S. Senator in Montana for a 49% to 48% victory.

That slim margin is real, but focusing on the closeness of the result also hides the profound significance of that vote. Jon Tester, in a non-presidential year, beat John Kerry's vote total in Montana. (Conrad Burns, in contrast, lost 70,000 Bush supporters in his effort.) Something enormous changed in Montana politics in the two years leading up to Jon Tester's election to the United States Senate as a Democrat in a 59% Bush state. For the record here is the text of Jon Tester's position on Iraq from his website (emphasis mine):

Jon Tester supports our troops in Iraq who have fought bravely and made us proud, but unfortunately their leaders in Washington have let them down. This administration is conducting the war in Iraq with no plan and no end in sight and has failed to give our troops the armor and equipment they need to be safe and successful. Montanans deserve a senator who'll demand the President present a clear plan to give the Iraqi military control of their own country and bring our troops home. As your senator, Tester will never waver in keeping America safe and strong. Jon will keep the commitment we have made to our soldiers and veterans and will ask the tough questions to ensure that our troops have a clear mission and all the resources they need.

In other words, Jon Tester won his Senate seat in Montana explicitly using language calling for "a clear plan to give the Iraqi military control of their own country" and to "bring our troops home." There is a media black out of this reality. That media black out erases the will of Montana's voters.

If Montana seems like it might be an anomaly, let's take a look at Missouri. George Bush won 53% of the vote in Missouri in 2004. In no uncertain terms, Bush whupped John Kerry in the show-me state. In 2006 Claire McCaskill defeated GOP incumbent Senator Jim Talent with a 50% majority and a 46,000 vote margin of victory out of the roughly 2.1 million votes cast in Missouri. For the record, here is the text of Senator McCaskill's position on the war in Iraq (again emphasis mine):

Claire believes any solution must be a political one and must come from within Iraq, not from outside. We cannot impose democracy. Democracy only flourishes when people take responsibility for their own freedom and welfare. Iraqi leaders must take responsibility for their country and their people. The presence of U.S. troops may actually be slowing democratic growth by serving as a crutch to Iraq's interim leaders. Claire knows we cannot occupy Iraq indefinitely. We cannot train Iraqi police and military forces indefinitely. And we must tell the Iraqi leaders it is not our intent to remain indefinitely.

America must set the agenda for peace and stability in Iraq. In order to do so, Claire believes we must engage our traditional allies as well as the neighboring countries in the region who have an interest in a stable Iraq and an end to the conflict. Moving forward we must have a responsible strategy that is not "cut and run" or "stay the course." Changing the course is essential so that our national security cannot be held hostage to Iraq's inability to make the difficult political choices and compromises necessary to form a credible government.

We must establish benchmarks for the formation of a government. During the next two years, we need to transition to a multinational security force and redeploy our troops to best protect our long term national security interest. Such action should give the Iraqis the time to create a stable country.

In other words, voters in Missouri where George Bush won convincingly in 2004 chose a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate who explicitly talked about "changing course" in Iraq, about "benchmarks," about a "two year" transition to an Iraqi and multi-national security force and a "redeployment" of our troops. Again, McCaskill's victory, like Tester's was a narrow one; that narrowness belies, once again, a profound shift in the opinion of Missouri's voters. You will not hear anything in the mainstream US media about this, however. They are apparently too busy monitering the child custody battles of celebrities.

Finally, let's examine Virginia. George Bush won Virginia in 2004 with 54% of the vote from a pool of 3.1 million Virginian voters. Democrat Jim Webb turned out popular incumbent GOP Senator George Allen by winning 50% of the vote from a pool of 2.35 million Virginian voters...a razor thin 9000 vote margin of victory in a year with a sizable reduction in turn out. Jim Webb's victory, however, came in the face of a huge GOP expenditures in Virginia and a concerted effort to knock him out of the race. Despite that, something, clearly, had changed in Virginia in the two years between 2004 and 2006. Virginians endorsed a Democrat with a clear position in opposition to George Bush's policy in Iraq (from a Sept. 17th debate with George Allen on Meet the Press):

We made a strategic error in going into Iraq, but we have a responsibility to, to reduce our presence in Iraq in a way that will stabilize the region. What I've been saying for two years is we need a commitment from this administration that we, the United States, do not want to be in Iraq as a permanent presence and a long-term presence. But secondly, that we have to get these other countries involved, the other countries tangential to Iraq, the countries that have cultural and historical interests in Iraq, involved in an overt way to move toward a diplomatic process.

I know what it's like to be on the ground. I know what it's like to fight a war like this. And there's--there are limits to what the military can do. Eventually, this is going to have to move into a diplomatic environment. Now, that's where this administration seems to have blinders. They're not talking to Syria, they're not talking to Iran. And there are ways that we can do this, move this forward.

If you look at what we did after Afghanistan, in the invasion of Afghanistan, we actually brought the countries around Afghanistan to the table--including Iran, by the way. Iran was cooperating at that time, before President Bush made his "axis of evil" speech and they stopped cooperating. The eventual way out of this--and it can be done soon, with the right leadership--is for us to get something similar to what we had with the, the Madrid conference in 1991 after Gulf War I, get these countries to the table, and have them work out a formula. Sooner or later, we're going to leave. And when we leave, the countries that are tangential to Iraq are going to be players. We should overtly push that now.

Webb's pre-election position on Iraq was somewhat less specific than Tester's and McCaskill's, but Webb the candidate was crystal clear in his opposition to Bush policy in theory and in practice: "we have a responsibility to reduce our presence in Iraq in a way that will stabilize the region." For Webb, that means emphasizing a regional diplomatic effort and a reduction of U.S. troop levels. After his election, in a rebuttal to the President's SOTU, Webb made his stance (and an implicit timeline for action taking "our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities...in short order") even more clear:

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

So, here are three of the six Democratic Senators who won victories against GOP incumbents in 2006. These are "last three" members who make up the Democratic majority in the Senate. All three of them won close races in states where George Bush won decisively in 2004. All three of these Senators explicitly opposed George Bush's policy in Iraq as a part of their campaigns. Understanding that clear stance on Iraq, the voters of the states of Montana, Missouri and Virginia nevertheless sent Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb to the United States Senate and unseated their better-funded, decidely-ensconced Republican opponents.

In April of 2007, from the point of view of the US media, that reality has evaporated. There is a disconnect. I linked to those election results and quotes above to combat that fact. One has to wonder if the "media elites" who serve up biased pseudo-reporters like Kyra Phillips to front their coverage of Iraq begin to understand that the voters who put Harry Reid into his current status as Senate Majority leader are folks in places like Missouri, Montana and Virginia who had full access to the views of Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb all along? One asks oneself, does the 2006 election mean anything to the media elites in this country at all?

Clearly, whether it is the House or the Senate, there is a disconnect between the clearly expressed will of the voters and the way the media is covering our national debate about policy in Iraq.

To start a discussion of the way forward I have one piece of strategic advice to offer the Democratic party: combatting this media black out of the election of Senators Jim Webb, Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill and the rest of the "Class of 06", we cannot afford, as a party, to indulge our own black out of the generation of 2006 and, most importantly, the voters and the States they represent.

Senator Webb's rebuttal of the State of the Union Address quoted above was a good start. Since that time, however, Congressional Democrats have lost their way. We are currently losing the media battle in a kind of "death by a thousand cuts" that any veteran observer of the media and domestic politics is well familiar with. This has to end.

The entire Republican strategy, and it's really their only effective ploy at this point, is to mischaracterize the meaning of the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. If the GOP can separate the voters from their representatives, they can disconnect those representatives from the very tasks they were sent to Washington to fulfill.

To do this, however, the GOP must ruthlessly change the terms of the debate by focusing on critical weak points in the Democratic leadership that confirm longstanding and media-enforced misperceptions about the Democratic party: a misstatement by John Kerry, a hair cut for John Edwards, implicit misstrust of Barack Obama's background, mischaracterizations of Speaker Pelosi's diplomatic travels, feigned outrage at Senator Reid's analysis. As in the Kyra Phillips segment cited above, we all know that the mainstream media, by and large, has gone along with these tactics for years.

At every point, the GOP's goal is to drive a wedge in public perception between our leadership and the very voters, in particular those from swing districts and states, who sent them to Washington.

To combat this, every Democratic effort in 2007 must ruthlessly and relentlessly focus on the legacy of the 2006 election, the new faces that the voters across this nation sent to Washington, and what these Democratic majorities mean for the future of our country. In particular, we must ruthlessly convey the policy missions these Senators and Representatives were entrusted with by the voters at home. Those new faces, and the agenda they carry with them to DC, is our one effective antidote to these poisonous and effective attacks on our leadership in this media climate.

Quite rightly, the GOP has seized on the core weak point in public perception of the new Democratic majorities: ie. that this is simply a chance for "the same old crowd of Democrats to have their day in the sun in Washington."

To combat this we have to hammer this home:

Claire McCaskill is the junior Senator representing the people of Missouri. Jon Tester is the junior Senator representing the people of Montana. Jim Webb is the junior Senator representing the people of Virginia. All three happen to be Democrats. All three were sent to Washington explicitly with a charge, among other great tasks, to change the course of US policy in Iraq.

We need to see their faces and hear them talk about their home states. Over and over again. We must not allow the GOP and a complacent media to separate our representatives from the voters who sent them to Washington. These new Representatives and Senators represent ALL of the people in their home states and districts. We need to make this patently clear.

I cannot believe that we have a Senator from Montana and we aren't hard at work making him a folk hero. I cannot believe we have a woman Senator from Missouri and we aren't putting her front and center. We should make sure that everybody in this country knows that Jim Webb is the Democratic Senator from Virginia. (I wonder how many would realize that, if polled?)

We are failing. We have a disconnect. Kyra Phillips is merely emblematic, a poisonous symptom of what is happening when GOP spin meets a compliant corporate media.

It's got to stop.

Friday, April 20, 2007

don't back down

Today I worked crew on a photo shoot at a facility outside Sacramento that employs a wide array of folks with developmental disabilities. What an amazing experience.

We set up a white seamless and some lights and sooner than we realized there was a boisterous line of workers of all ages and ethnicities stretching far back on the shop floor ready to have their portraits taken.

We played music. Our subjects danced and sang. Some of them introduced themselves. Some of them didn't. Some were shy. Many weren't.

Every last one of them had a distinct personality. A shining individuality. A deeply personal voice and inquisitiveness. His or her own set of likes and dislikes...his or her own radiant identity...

just like you and me.


I thought today about a phrase I've used here once before...a line that folks told me has its roots in Unitarian Universalism:

the inherent dignity and worth of every person

I thought, too, of the work of Keith Haring. His radiant child...and what it meant in New York City in the 1980s to see that radiance let out. What it meant to see that symbol catch on in the subways and on gallery walls. An anti-corporate symbol that was vital, fresh and alive. An antidote to the anodyne. A subversive message wrapped in a package that forced its way into your consciousness. A symbol of life in a city full of death.

I was moved, of course, by the radiance of these workers. By their irrepressible insistence on being themselves. It is something else to receive high fives as you walk a factory floor. It is something else to realize that the most valuable thing you can share with someone is a possession that costs no money...it's your self. It's who you are. Our subjects today shared that as a matter of course. How generous. How real.

And I thought to myself that these folks, these fellow American citizens, have a message for you and me. Something political and deeply personal: don't back down.

Be yourself. Be true.

I came home and I clicked on that YouTube that Kagro X linked to today...about Congressman Obey and the "liberal" protestors and I thought: it's high time for this country to start debating and mixing it up again. It's high time we all came to the table and talked turkey. It's time this country came face to face and shared our common hopes and dreams. It's time we revisit that awkward moment we had in the 60s and 70s before the code words and hate speech became the order of the day when we actually had debates about our ideals...about what it means to be an American.

And, yes, it's high time that America realized that "liberals" are not "idiots" and that our idealism is sincere. It's time we showed our sincerity, our persistance in the face of adversity and our command of the facts. That conversation with Congressman Obey is just one of thousands that needs to happen. Both sides need to be honest. Both side need to listen and take heed of the other's point of view.

Let a thousand conversations bloom!

Some big oil corporation didn't invent "green"...no matter how many millions they spend on their advertising. Idealists did. "Liberals" did. And we can say that with pride even as we insist that it is about time that Congress got around to passing regulations and corporate reform that makes energy independence and a massive reduction in carbon emissions a reality.

There is one group of people in American politics who told it like it actually was about those "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq...and it wasn't the leadership of either party or the New York Times...it was us.

We've told the truth about the food we eat, the energy we use, the air we breath.

We idealists aren't just about pointing out a "different way"...in so many ways, in so many places, we work hard to make our ideals reality, to put them into action all over this great nation and beyond. Whether as teachers, or social workers, or pastors, or health care professionals or non-profit activists...whatever our employ...we do what we do out of love and passion and idealism.

We need to let that shine.

Some of us are religious, some of us are secular. Some of us lean right, and some of us lean left. What we have in common is a shared commitment and belief, an optimism rooted in the idea that when we work together, when we accept each other, when we listen and debate and discuss, so many great things are possible in this democracy.

Communication is not perfect, nor is it easy...but any attempt at authenticity and honest interchange is so much better than code words, cheap put downs and hate.

I was moved today by the courage and radiance of some fellow citizens who likely will not participate in the debates about the future of our nation that we have here online and elsewhere. That privelege and responsibility is ours.

My message to you tonight is simple. Stay true. Hew to the facts and to your ideals. Listen with respect, but do not cede an inch to intolerance and lies.

Don't back down.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

excuses Gonzales

Every organization has committees and deputies and assignments and meetings and reports. It's a logical fallacy and a sleight of hand for an executive trying to defend their performance to point to those aggregated committees, deputies, assignments, meetings and reports and attempt to make them stand in for that executive's success or failure with regards to outcomes and results in a given matter at hand.

Any fool can have a meeting. We assume all organizations do. Executives are charged with the ultimate responsibility for outcomes and accept that standard as a basis for judging their performance.

Everyone who has ever worked in an organization knows that the "slackest" most "incompetent" and even "lying" and "corrupt" managers will be able to point to deputies who were "working on" things and committees that "considered things." Everyone who has ever sat in an organizational meeting knows the difference between a manager who makes executive decisions with a command of the facts at the time of the decision and a manager who is simply post facto covering his or her ass.

Alberto Gonzales's defense is:

a) he doesn't really remember the firings
b) he delegated almost everything
c) other people gave him recommendations
d) however, AG Gonzales has now done a bit of homework and can offer generic reasons for the firings based on facts he learned AFTER the firings were undertaken
e) and, when all else fails, Gonzales insists that "we" at the Department of Justice were just doing our jobs, and any criticism of "us" is somehow inherently a criticism of our mission.

It is no small irony, however, that Gonzales's own mismanagement of the Department of Justice exhibits the very same weaknesses and lack of executive acuteness he is using to retroactively justify the dismissal of some of the US Attorneys. That alone is grounds for removal from his post.

Gonzales doesn't sound like a U.S. Attorney General up there. Muddling retroactive justifications should not "cut it" from the United States top enforcer of the law. Lies to Congress, of course, are always unacceptable.

More than anything, Gonzales sounds like the VP of a mid-level, money-losing company who is about to lose his job, and deservedly so.

UPDATE: it goes without saying that semi-unrepetent incompetence is also an excellent way to cover up for underlying willful wrong-doing. The public is often willing to cut some slack for "human" and "institutional" failings they might not be so forgiving of if they learned what those failings were used to hide.

This "hey, look over there" technique has been the Bush Administration's m.o. for years now. The Gonzales testimony is but one more exhibit of the "distract and deny" methodology at work in the Bush White House. At some point most folks realize, like in the real world that most of us live and work in, one is judged by results and outcomes on the public record.

Oversight will not be friendly to George Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Alberto Gonzales has already learned that hard fact.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imus and free speech

Our tolerance of Don Imus's "free speech" rights does not mean that we should allow him to use corporate speech to defame, debase and degrade the Rutgers basketball team on public airwaves without expressing our own free speech rights in return.

In fact, the widespread political protest of Don Imus defamatory language and its sponsership and endorsement by several major media corporations is EXACTLY the kind of political free speech protected in the Bill of Rights. ie. Criticism of powerful public figures and elected officials is THE CORE of free speech.

Would Imus's free speech supporters silence those who are protesting Imus? Apprently so, since they ask those of us who disagree with Don Imus to silence ourselves in the name of tolerance and free speech.

Tolerance of the rights of bigots to speak does not imply that we should not make direct political protest of that speech and its consequences. In fact, exactly the opposite. Even if it causes discomfort and awkwardness. Even if someone loses their position of power.

Sorry, but I think anyone caught up in defending Imus and minimizing the significant social consequences of his words is naive about racism in the United States to the extreme. This is not a "free speech" issue. This is not about "tolerating" Imus. This is about hatred and bigotry...even if that bigotry was expressed in a callous and offhand form. This is about the living legacy of racism against African Americans in this country.

Don Imus is an ignorant, cynical buffoon. Sure. But tens of millions of African Americans had to go to work this last week and deal with the consequences of this buffoon's words. Parents had to explain this all to their children. Young Black women around this country got a lesson in what passes for acceptable to our nation's "elite"...many of whom have appeared on Don Imus's show.

The Bill of Rights and the liberal spirit of tolerance in no way implies that we should remain silent when our brothers and sisters are debased and degraded by a multi-millionaire shock jockey. In fact, exactly the opposite. That is the essence of free speech. That is speaking truth to power.

The real victims in the story have always been the Rutgers basketball team, and by extension, the broader African American community slurred by Imus' words...and, finally, all of us who strive to live with tolerance and respect for each other, including lots of regular people on all sides of this issue who don't always speak perfectly when it comes to race but whose free speech rights are at the core of our democracy.

Tolerance and free speech does not mean standing in silence in the face of bigotry.

If Imus well-paid and corporate-sponsered career is affected by his choice of language, that is, sadly, one of the consequences of living in society that values democracy and free speech over privelege and power.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus the minstrel

The net is awash in folks making a dubious connection between Don Imus and rap music. I doubt, however, that Imus took his frame of reference for his slur of the Rutgers Women's Basketball team from the Nappy Rootz or from this lyric by the lesser known Nappy Headz. The easy equation of Imus's slurs with rap music is, in itself, a biased and ignorant point of view.

If you want Imus's frame of reference read this history of white caricatures of African Americans and then peruse this excellent wiki history of the minstrel show. In short, Imus's reference is Buckwheat, not hip hop. Later in the same program where Imus called the young women of Rutgers University "nappy headed ho's", Imus's sidekick used the term "jigaboo": you can read definitions of that term, written largely from a racist viewpoint here.

Folks who think that what Imus is up to has anything to do with, or is excused by "hip hop" or "rap" are basically ignorant of rap music and American cultural history.

Imus was playing the minstrel. In making those slurs he was putting on black face and playing the minstrel role for his audience based on their, his audience's, perceived view of "black dialect". Now, the fact that many folks on blogs confuse the use of the term "nappy headed ho's" and "jigaboo"...ie. Imus's minstrel act...with the rap lyrics they pretend to imitate is nothing new (from the wiki history of minstrel linked above):

Despite the elements of ridicule contained in blackface performance, mid-19th century white audiences by and large believed the songs and dances to be authentically black. For their part, the minstrels always billed themselves and their music as such. The songs were called "plantation melodies" or "Ethiopian choruses", among other names. By using the black caricatures and so-called black music, the minstrels added a touch of the unknown to the evening's entertainment, which was enough to fool audiences into accepting the whole performance as authentic.

The reason we don't see Imus apologists actually quoting rap and hip hop lyrics as his source material..Ice Cube's ultra-vulgar Givin' Up the Nappy Dugout is probably the most famous use of "nappy" in hip hop lyrics...is that to do so with any authenticity would confront the fact that rap and hip hop have been one long reaction to, rebellion against and explosion of the history of minstrelsy in American culture. One can, of course, debate and disagree with any individual hip hop artist's use of language...and often with cause like in the misogynist Ice Cube lyric above. But to do so, one has to actually pay attention and try to understand what rappers are doing. A real discussion of rap lyrics, including a critique of their frequent misogyny, violence and homophobia, would be a welcome step forward, but that's not what's happening here.

Bottom line, rap and hip hop have consistently rejected guys like Imus, how they view black culture, and everything they stand for. Equating the two is to misunderstand rap as a cultural form. Hip hop, at it's core, is very much a response to how mainstream audience's "hear" and "perceive" black youth culture; to say that bigots will have a hard time "getting" rap is axiomatic. That's the point.

When Snoop Dogg made his much misunderstood and ridiculed statement regarding Imus what he was saying was something about this very fact. Equating the white minstrel show with what it purports to "imitate" is ludicrous and backwards. Rap and hip hop lyrics, for all their frequent offensiveness, do not, as a matter of course, ever refer to women's basketball teams made up of hard-striving scholarship students as "nappy headed ho's" or "jigaboos".

White shock jockeys playing the minstrel for their national audiences...do.

Folks who can't hear the difference between the two things and hence, equate them, need to check their ears and ask themselves why that's so.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

George Bush's artificial timetables in Iraq

On September 8th, 2003, in the face of a burgeoning Iraqi insurgency and news reports making clear that neither David Kay, nor any further official investigation would ever turn up the weapons of mass destruction upon which the White House had staked its entire case for preemptive war against Iraq, President George W. Bush addressed the nation on live television.

With his September 8th speech, the President asked the nation for more money, more time, and for our forbearance as he unilaterally changed the rationale for the United States' occupation of Iraq. According to the President, our new mission...the establishment of "freedom and democracy" in Iraq...was to replace the previous task of eliminating the "grave and growing danger" of weapons of mass destruction which, six months into our occupation of Iraq, had simply proven nowhere to be found.

September 8th, 2003 was 3 years 7 months and 3 days ago.


Writ another way, it has been 1,311 days since George W. Bush went before the nation on September 8th, 2003 to ask for more money, more time and more patience in Iraq.

Over the course of those 1,311 days, along with many tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens, over 2900 American soldiers have lost their lives in the U.S. occupation. Many more have suffered life-shattering wounds and injuries. There is nothing "artificial" about any of this.

Further, in those 1,311 days, our nation has also learned, contrary to the President's predictions three and one half years ago, that the establishment of "freedom and democracy" in Iraq by force of U.S. arms has been nothing more than a fools errand and a sham.

In those 1,311 days, American citizens have had time to think long and and hard about U.S. policy in Iraq. A majority of thoughtful and considered citizens around this nation have come to a common conclusion: George Bush's war in Iraq has been an abject failure founded on a skein of lies.

Today, however, 1,311 days after he asked for and received $87 Billion for his war in Iraq, President Bush is asking for our patience, our money, and our forbearance once again. The President, as Commander in Chief...rejecting the advice of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission...has called forth more troops to execute his "surge" in Iraq. In the face of his military failure on the ground in Iraq, this President is unbowed. In fact, George Bush just now made this "offer" to Congressional leadership regarding further funding of the war in Iraq:

We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill, a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal and without handcuffing our generals on the ground.

Now, as the President negotiates with the representatives of the U.S. people...the United States Congress...over what the course of U.S. action in Iraq should be, we citizens should revisit this President's words form September 8th, 2003:

Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat.

Our enemies understand this. They know that a free Iraq will be free of them -- free of assassins, and torturers, and secret police. They know that as democracy rises in Iraq, all of their hateful ambitions will fall like the statues of the former dictator. And that is why, five months after we liberated Iraq, a collection of killers is desperately trying to undermine Iraq's progress and throw the country into chaos.

* President Bush, with all due respect, where is the freedom in Iraq?
* President Bush, has terror retreated one inch in the 1,311 days since you went before the nation and predicted it would do so?
* President Bush, is Iraq today free of assasins and torturers and secret police?
* President Bush, how is Iraq today not in the throes of a grave and growing chaos more profound than what it faced in September of 2003?
* Mr. President, your nation wants to know, how many more Iraqis and Americans have to die in this war of choice in Iraq?

Now, the President speaks of "artificial timetables" and "handcuffing generals." Attentive citizens can recognize those words in their rhetoric and tone. It is not hard to see the handiwork of Vice President Cheney in those phrases. Dick Cheney is a master at the art of bullying the public and the press. His conduct in spreading misinformation to the public about the war in Iraq is as well documented as it is despicable. Historians will not look kindly on this Vice President and a press that let him get away with innumerable lies great and small.

I have some questions in that regard for the major news media:

* How long will the American media stand idly by while this President and Vice President bully the Congress and the American people over their failed war in Iraq?
* How many lies from this White House are too many?
* When will reporters and journalists and news anchors finally stand up and say, "enough is enough" to Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and the big corporations they represent?

People ask me for a yardstick for knowing when the tide will have turned in regards to U.S. policy in Iraq. I tell them this: we will know the war in Iraq is over when someone at Time Magazine or Newsweek has the guts to run a cover story with the title: "Withdrawal from Iraq: Here's how it will work." When we see a graphic of Iraq with big arrows and those arrows are pointing south from Baghdad, we'll know it's over. But we haven't read those stories in the last 1,311 days because no one in the United States mainstream media has the guts to stand up to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

For that to happen, for the tide to turn, in my view, the American public needs to stand up, right now, and in no uncertain terms demand that Congress defeat this one phrase: "artificial timetables." And, in that light, I have one message for every elected Democrat and sympathetic Republican, in the United States Congress.


Dear Congresspersons and Senators:

We did our part, now it's time for you to do yours.

We've had enough of George Bush's lies and bullying over Iraq.

If 1,311 days weren't enough for George Bush to create freedom and democracy in Iraq, how many will be?

If 3292 American lives lost in Iraq aren't too much, how many will be? 5,000? 10,000? 58,226?

The President is calling your demand for a change of course leading to a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq in 2008 an "artificial timetable" that "handcuffs" our generals. The American people voted the 110th Congress into office, however, to make that very demand.

We citizens must ask: what is more important in American politics...the will of the people expressed in an election or the intransigience of one president regarding a failed policy he has pursued for years with little or no oversight and accountability?

If the United States Congress caves to this President, if you allow the demand for withdrawal from Iraq to be characterzied as an "artifical timetable" when will U.S. combat forces ever leave Iraq? 2009? 2010? 2025? What date won't be "artificial" if you let George Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove set the terms of the debate?

Simply put, how many more elections expressing the clear desire of American voters for an end to this war and a check on the President's power do we need to have?

For too many years, we citizens have watched as our elected leaders have checked plain language, honesty and political courage at the doors of the United States Capitol. We're sick of it. We're sick of the price we've had to pay in lives and in lies. We're sick of what this culture of cowardice has done to our great democracy. We're sick of a mainstream media that instead of asking the hard questions, has instead read fabrications off a sheet handed to them by Karl Rove.

Enough is enough. We had an election in 2006 and gave Congress a job to do. We did our job, it's time for our Congress to do theirs and stand up to this President.