Saturday, September 08, 2007

Recommended Reading

Washington Monthly: The Myth of AQI--

Fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq is the last big argument for keeping U.S. troops in the country. But the military's estimation of the threat is alarmingly wrong.

The Economy Is Great!

I was rereading the AP report about the resignation of White House press secretary Tony Snow and it hit me that Snow's decision revealed more than it intended to.

President Bush and his supporters regularly insist that, no matter what you might wanna say about other aspects of his presidency, he's the best thing to happen to the U.S. economy since St. Reagan first blessed us with trickle-down economics. Free tax cuts for everyone!

Here is the relevant paragraph that stuck out to me-
Snow, ailing with cancer, had said recently he would leave before the end of Bush's presidency. The father of three children, Snow said he needs to make more than his White House salary of $168,000.

He's saying that he can't support his wife and three kids on a salary... of $168,000 a year.

$168,000 is a lot of money. I have some friends with really great jobs and comfortable incomes. None of them, though, make anywhere near the $100,000/yr. mark, let alone close to $200,000. According to 2006 census data, the average personal income in America is $26,036 a year. And here is Tony Snow stating that he cannot support a family and pay his likely very high medical costs (but, but he has insurance, right!) on a salary roughly 6.5x higher than the national average.

That tells you what you need to know about the real economic reality in America today.

Politicians and pundits shouldn't be allowed to spin this anymore. What determines a healthy economy is not what is happening to people on Wall Street, but what is happening to the average American in their homes and jobs. Tony Snow is Press Secretary until the end of next week. Maybe some intrepid reporter can ask him for his feelings on this before then.

Even More Weekend Odds and Ends

I can't stop the news, I can only hope to contain it. Here it is...

Osama bin Laden releases latest video podcast; sounds like a crazy libertarian.

'08 candidate news! Robert Greenwald takes on Rudy Guiliani. A grassroots liberal group looks at Hillary's deceiving Iraq rhetoric. And John Edwards discusses counter-terrorism.

The Dept. of Homeland Security, however, remains a total disaster.

The California state legislature has "approved a measure giving same-sex couples the right to marry." The Governator is expected to veto it (again). This is why we turn to the courts.

The economic naysayers shit on our parade again with more pesky bad news: "For the first time in four years, employers have cut jobs, raising new fears that a deep housing slump and a painful credit crunch could push the economy into a recession."

Finally, Al Gore sums up Bush-outrage fatigue: "Not much surprises me anymore. I have a lot of friends who share the following problem with me: Our sense of outrage is so saturated that when a new outrage occurs, we have to download some existing outrage into an external hard drive in order to make room for a new outrage." Nerd!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Just The Facts, Ma'am. (Pt. II)

Here's a video looking at fact vs. fiction from the surge, courtesy of the TPM crew-

The articles they mention in the video are available here... the AP one, the LA Times one, and the NY Times one.

After months of near-silence, more and more people are starting to discuss the reality of the surge, not satisfied with the latest rounds of 'turning the corner' rhetoric. This has the Bush/war cultists a little bothered.

Drudge put up a headline on how Democrats are already 'dismissing' Petraeus. A post at the National Review laments the same thing, posting an email noting some Democrats are referring to the report as the 'Bush report'. The email concludes, "They must really want the report to come across in the press as administration hackwork rather than an honest assessment of the situation in Iraq." Well, umm, that's because it's the truth.

Nothing sinister about calling a spade a spade. The administration and its defenders justified the surge in January by agreeing to a number of benchmarks and now are insisting that, not only does it not matter that they haven't been met, but even having benchmarks at all was unfair. They are now re-justifying it with metrics of 'progress' that, upon inspection, simply aren't true. They hyped up the infallible Petraeus, then got angry when people revealed his report is actually a White House project. This deserves to be dismissed as the hackery it is.

Of course, Democrats will cave. But conservatives will complain they didn't do it quicker.

Weekend Odds and Ends

Just got back from San Francisco. Fox News was wrong, it wasn't so scary. Here's the news...

Is Sen. Craig staying or going? Nobody seems to know anymore.

More shitty news for Congress... Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-OH) was found dead on Wednesday.

Insert right-wing rant about activist judges here... "A federal judge struck down a key part of the USA Patriot Act on Thursday in a ruling that defended the need for judicial oversight of laws and bashed Congress for passing a law that makes possible 'far-reaching invasions of liberty'." The provision in question had to do with internet records.

Meanwhile, at a congressional hearing on FISA yesterday, there were no new revelations, but this quote from FISA critic Robert Turner stood out... "When you hold a hearing, you tell our enemies how our system works." Democracy in action!

Nuclear safety first! From the Army-Times: "A B-52 bomber mistakenly loaded with five nuclear warheads flew from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30, resulting in an Air Force-wide investigation." That's a helluva mistake.

Speaking of bombs, Syria says Israel dropped some on them. This news leads nowhere good.

Finally, climate change is making things interesting for map-makers. In the bad way.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Troop Drawdown Kabuki

While the AP was reporting this...
President Bush's senior advisers on Iraq have recommended he stand by his current war strategy, and he is unlikely to order more than a symbolic cut in troops before the end of the year, administration officials told The Associated Press Tuesday.

The recommendations from the military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker come despite independent government findings Tuesday that Baghdad has not met most of the political, military and economic markers set by Congress.

...ABC News is reporting this-
The top military general in Iraq hinted to ABC's Martha Raddatz that next week's much-anticipated report on the status of the troop surge in Iraq would include a recommendation for troop reduction in March, if not sooner, to avoid a strain on the Army.

The article makes it out to be a completely random decision by Petraeus, ignoring previous reports that the surge would logistically have to end by April '08, because that's when the Army would be at the breaking point and no longer able to sustain the numbers. So, if this is what happens, the White House will expect applause for doing what they were going to have to do anyway, unless they wanted to snap the giant rubberband that is our military.

In summation, it will have taken us well over a year to get back to where we were-- in regards to Iraq troop levels, the war debate, etc-- immediately following the '06 elections. Which, of course, was the point of the surge the whole time.

Goin' To The Candidates Debate

The GOP had their latest debate last night. Roundup is available from Talking Points Memo.

[UPDATE: Fred Thompson skipped it... to announce his candidacy on Jay Leno. Serious!]

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Just The Facts, Ma'am.

CNN's had some decent reporting on Iraq lately (rare on cable news), mostly the reports from their Iraq-based correspondent Michael Ware, like the one I posted last week.

Here's another noteworthy clip from this past weekend, in which Wolf Blitzer interviewed Rep. Boustany (R-LA). Boustany did his job, repeating all the talking points on 'progress' from the surge, and Blitzer did his job, using pesky facts to debunk that-

A detailed AP analysis looks at the Anbar Province-related talking points.

And some relevant snippets from a new Newsweek piece, on the increasing Shiite dominance of power in the heart of Iraq, accentuates the points Blitzer made-
The surge of U.S. troops—meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital—has hardly stemmed the problem. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July was slightly higher than in February, when the surge began. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone...

...When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias' cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they've essentially won.

A Washington Post article weighing the results of the surge has similar findings. At one point, it notes that a marketplace Petraeus has been taking congressfolk to (to show 'progress') is not what it seems. In reality, the market owners have been flooded with U.S. cash just to stay open at all, and business is virtually non-existent due to limited resources and fortress-like security measures. "Personally, I think it's a false representation," said one soldier working that beat, "But what can I say? I'm just doing my job and don't ask questions."

If this translates into 'success' and 'improvement' then the bar is set deadly low.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sen. Craig Changes His Mind?

The AP reports that "Sen. Larry Craig is reconsidering his decision to resign," though nothing is definite yet. Ugh. Just when I thought we finally didn't have to talk about him anymore.

Odds and Ends

Congress is back in session this week. Yay? Here's the news...

Former Justice Department bigwig Jack Goldsmith recalls VP Cheney's chief of staff telling him in 2004 that "We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court." What patriots.

I am so shocked, I forgot to faint... an AP report reveals that lawyers behind the CA ballot proposal to rework the Electoral College to benefit the GOP "have ties to a Texas homebuilder who financed attacks on Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam War record in the 2004 presidential campaign." You know, that group that had no connection with the White House.

Speaking of electoral scams, apparently "Justice David Souter nearly resigned in the wake of Bush v. Gore."

And speaking of Gore, Vanity Fair has an article looking back on how the media covered his 2000 campaign.

If the White House pulled the trigger on a war against Iran, what would it look like? A top British newspaper writes that "The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert." A real cakewalk.

And are 'carbon offsets' sound environmental practice? The LA Times explores the debate.

Ahh, The 1960's, The Good Ol' Days of U.S. Foreign Policy

Andrew Sullivan's on vacation and has some decent writers guest-blogging for him (that's what being famous gets you... when I vacation, my action figures refuse to blog for me).

One of them, the New Republic's Jamie Kirchik, has written a post-- entitled 'Whither the anti-totalitarian left?'-- that reads as if it were written by a more sane, intelligent version of Joe Lieberman. Asking of Democrats and liberals, he writes, "What has happened to this spirit [of taking on totalitarianism in the world]?" He laments that the party that lead the world in the fight against WWII-era fascism, and post-WWII communism, abandoned this "muscular, progressive internationalism" after the Vietnam war. She warns of the "impending realist takeover of the Democratic Party." Realism is a bad thing?

I think this criticism is misplaced for a number of reasons.

For starters, the Cold War was won by diplomatic, non-hostile means (it certainly helped that the Soviet Union was, by nature, a government doomed to failure long-term)... not through muscular military confrontation. A lot of the U.S.'s actions-- vis-à-vis the Cold War-- were overreactions. Children hiding under their desks? McCarthyism?

The Vietnam War, in particular, was the height of Democratic 'muscular, progressive internationalism' and it was a huge mistake. The domino theory never came true and hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives for nothing. Nixon's infamous trip to China accomplished far more than the Korean and Vietnam wars ever did. Democrats/liberals didn't pussy out after Vietnam by moving away from this foreign policy worldview... they were simply learning from their mistakes. Support for the invasion of Iraq was a failure to remember those lessons.

Secondly, Kirchik's lamentations make it sound as if the left is retreating into isolation, as many on the right like Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul would like. This is not supported by reality. If you listen to all the leading Democratic candidates, there remains a strong sense of international purpose and mission. They just don't-- to varying extents-- believe that this is accomplished by blowing up the world and telling everyone to 'suck on this'.

It is on this note that one of Sullivan's other guest-bloggers, Steve Clemons, responds to the Kirchik post by pointing out the Bush-era neocons, who embraced some of the old left's military views but on crack, have nearly destroyed our credibility and power in their zeal.

Clemons states that "the Bush/Cheney neocon gamble of showing all the world our limits [has] punctured the mystique of American power... The global equilibrium has been thrown off, and to fill the voids left by the collapse of confidence in America's ability to achieve its objectives, other nations are rushing in to maximize their security or to try and restore balance." This has made the world far more dangerous than it was when they came into office. He adds that the Democratic realists Kirchik laments are actually "those with a conscience, those who understand what checks and balances are about," and that what is beginning to happen (hopefully) is America "bouncing back to the norms this country has traditionally embraced."

A third guest-blogger-- 'hilzoy'-- piles on as well. He makes that the point that a policy of "anti-totalitarianism" makes little sense in the age of al Qaeda, which is not the conquering army that George W. Bush portrays it as. Moreover, Bush's spreading-democracy policy has been revealed to be a sham as well. The world is a more complicated place than our leaders describe it and needs to be treated as such.

Hard to disagree with these last points. And it's much harder to imagine why anyone would want to return to the foreign policy of the '50s and '60s. Bring on realism, it's overdue.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Headline of the Day

AP: Australian PM seeks climate deal without binding emission goals

Non-binding 'goals' passed off as serious policy? No wonder he and Bush get along so well.

International Odds and Ends

There was so much interesting international news, I'm giving it its own odds and ends post...

First, I'll do the Bush crew a favor and start with some good news, highlighting the important work of the State Department and diplomacy: "North Korea has agreed to account for and disable its atomic programs by the end of the year, offering its first timeline for a process long sought by nuclear negotiators."

But over in Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki lashed out at his American critics, insisting they fail to recognize his achievements such as stopping the civil war (?!). He stated that such criticism "send[s] regrettable messages which help terrorists." That rhetoric sounds familiar.

British troops completed withdrawal from Basra, "carried out under cover of darkness."

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, a series of setbacks worsen "a bloody stalemate that has occurred between NATO troops and Taliban fighters across southern Afghanistan this summer."

Over in Pakistan, "Former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto says she will return to the country 'very soon', despite having reached no power-sharing deal with the government."

Rwandan diplomats pledge to help control fighting in Congo.

Finally, Mexican president Felipe Calderón had harsh words for U.S. leaders, criticizing border fence plans and the demonizing of illegal immigrants. He also warned his own citizenry the country's "headed for a crisis" without improvements in jobs and education.

George W. Bush Looks To The Future

Via a NY Times article, President Bush discusses his post-presidency plans-
First, Mr. Bush said, "I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers." With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, "I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75" thousand dollars a speech, and "Clinton’s making a lot of money."

Then he said, "We’ll have a nice place in Dallas," where he will be running what he called "a fantastic Freedom Institute" promoting democracy around the world. But he added, "I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch."

A fantastic Freedom Institute? Sweet! Can't wait to visit the torture and warrantless wiretapping wings, take a photo in the free-speech zone, and read the voluminous texts about our victories in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Elsewhere in the article-
In response to Mr. Draper’s observance that Mr. Bush had nobody’s “shoulder to cry on,” the president said: “Of course I do, I’ve got God’s shoulder to cry on, and I cry a lot.” In what Mr. Draper interpreted as a reference to war casualties, Mr. Bush added, “I’ll bet I’ve shed more tears than you can count as president.”

Ahh, that explains the joking frat-boy humor and/or petulance in his press conferences.

Finally, the President discusses the consequential 2003 decision to disband the Iraqi army-
Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

The buck stops here, folks! I mean, Hadley's got notes. The 'Family Circus' ghost did it!

Mr. President, please do us a favor and retire early. Get bored, go down to the ranch. And leave this poor country alone.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Habeas What-us?

Earlier this week, the gang at Talking Points Memo ran down their Top 10 greatest moments of Alberto Gonzales' appearances before Congress. Searching around YouTube, I realized they forgot one of his finest moments... his constitutional ignorance on the issue of habeas corpus. Let's take a trip down memory lane-

[PS- Still need a Larry Craig fix? This insane Ben Stein rant on Fox News is all you need.]

Will Democrats Cave Again On Iraq?

(Spoiler alert... The answer is 'yes'.)

Last May, after the President vetoed their withdrawal timetable bill, Democrats allowed to pass a toothless war funding bill in its place. They promised that September would bring a new fight, and this time they would run over frightened Republicans. Well, it's September now... how's that going?

From the Washington Post-
Saying the coming weeks will be "one of the last opportunities" to alter the course of the war, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he is now willing to compromise with Republicans to find ways to limit troop deployments in Iraq.

You're already 'compromising'?(*) You haven't even started negotiating!!

(*Compromise = Republicans get all they want with blank check, Democrats walk away confused and defeated)


Reid acknowledged that his previous firm demand for a spring withdrawal deadline had become an obstacle for a small but growing number of Republicans who have said they want to end the war but have been unwilling to set a timeline.

Had become? Always was, Senator. Of course Republicans say they want to end the war (even the Senate's biggest war-fan, Joe Lieberman, promised voters he would end the war last summer). They're getting yelled at by their constituents too, so they say they want to end it, but they vote for its indefinite continuation. Your job is to change that. Apparently not, though, because...
"I don't think we have to think that our way is the only way," Reid said of specific dates during an interview in his office here. "I'm not saying, 'Republicans, do what we want to do.' Just give me something that you think you would like to do, that accomplishes some or all of what I want to do."

In short, Sen. Reid is saying that-- as Senate Majority Leader-- it would be wrong for him to try and get the minority to support the decision of the majority... not just the Senate majority mind you, but the vast majority of the American people as well. Unbelievable.

Sen. Reid's spokesperson clarifies the remarks, but said clarification doesn't help.

I almost think that Democrats went so long without any real power in Congress, they psychologically don't even realize that... 1) they're in charge now, 2) the GOP is in complete disarray, and 3) the President's approval ratings have bottomed out.

I can respect it if Congress put up the political fight of their lives and got vetoed or outmaneuvered. But laying down before the fight begins is pathetic. And this isn't some run-of-the-mill farm subsidy bill we're debating here, it's a war. An actual war where human beings are fighting and dying. They deserve better than this and so do we.

If you're the articulate type, you can contact Sen. Reid's office(s)... here.