Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Tyranny of Oil?

Before the invasion of Iraq, many protesters took a "no blood for oil" opposition to the looming war (personally, I just thought the administration was full of shit, and thought the war was generally a bad idea). Right-wingers scoffed at the notion that this was an 'oil war' (so did I, if only because listening to the rhetoric of the war's architects, you'd see their larger motivations were far more disgusting).They insisted that the war's critics were a bunch of insane hippies.

Some of the war's supporters, however, reacted to 'oil war' anger with a "so what, they got it, we need it, let's get it" attitude. Rupert Murdoch, king of numerous fair and balanced media outlets, said in backing the war, "The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country." And they all lived happily ever after.

But in general, discussing oil in conjunction with the war circa 2002-2004 was certain to get you reviled and dismissed by pundits and politicians from left, right, and center.

It's with that history in mind that I was shocked by the non-reaction to this line from Barack Obama's Iowa victory speech (a line he's used in stump speeches for a while). He promised to work to-
" this nation from the tyranny of oil once and for all."

A strong statement notable to me by how non-controversial it is now.

Nearly every candidate is promising to wage war against oil's deadly grip on us. It's been presented as an economic issue, a national security issue, and an environmental issue (a formidable 3-way). Even President Bush-- oil's long-time BFF-- has paid lip-service to the problem... while threatening vetoes to proposed solutions. Maybe it took $3-4 a gallon to get people to realize that we have a problem that can't be solved by just digging around for more of the stuff. Whatever the reason, it's encouraging that this issue is no longer as taboo as it just so recently was.

Now if only someone had a real solution here. Our current fixes are less than perfect.

Bush vs. Schwarzenegger on Climate Change (Pt. II)

Oh, it's on now.

From the AP-
California sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for denying its first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs, challenging the Bush administration's conclusion that states have no business setting emission standards.

Other states are expected to join the lawsuit, which was anticipated after the EPA denied California's request Dec. 19...

As noted before, California would seem to have Supreme Court precedent on its side here.

Weekend Odds and Ends

It's only 307 (long) days until Election Day. Here's the news...

Discouraging economic news has finally caught the President's attention. He says "we’re considering all options" in terms of an economic stimulus package. One thing being considered? Tax cuts, natch.

Jon Soltz asks, why does the President hate the troops? It involves a pocket veto.

Sen. Dodd may have ended his long-shot presidential bid, but he makes clear he still intends to filibuster any FISA granting immunity to telecom companies. Kudos.

Was Rudy Giuliani upset by the Iowa results? No, because 9/11 9/11 9/11.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is being taken up by Scotland Yard. And the recent events have many in Washington having doubts about supporting Musharraf's regime.

The post-election turmoil in Kenya is renewing international focus on that nation.

Finally, in the Middle East, "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in an unprecedented public acknowledgment, called continued Israeli construction in West Bank settlements a breach of Israel's obligations under a recently revived peace plan."

Friday, January 04, 2008

More Iraq

The media may have lost interest in the Iraq story (which in turn replaced the less sexy Afghanistan story) in favor of non-stop campaign coverage, but that's not indicative of settled tensions... despite what its bored supporters insist (robbed of a war with Iran, they've moved onto a new enemy... everyone).

Spencer Ackerman takes a look at Iraq, at the beginning of 2008-
"Suicide bombings in Iraq: not actually over. The last two weeks there's been something approaching a bombing every two or three days. And they're not where U.S. forces are spread the thinnest, but where they're in full effect -- Diyala and Baghdad...

...Over the past several months, surgenik euphoria has gotten out of control. War supporters all but declared victory as soon as 2007 ended. "We are now winning the war," writes new NYT columnist Bill Kristol in the current Weekly Standard... What this account neglects (as an understatement) is that every single time U.S. forces have shifted their tactics and pushed the insurgencies back -- the capture of Fallujah, the death of Zarqawi, the capture and the execution of Saddam Hussein, Operation Together Forward I, Operation Together Forward II, etc. -- the insurgency and al-Qaeda have watched, adjusted, adapted, and responded...

....But we've passed the high-water mark of U.S. capabilities: the surge brigades will be gone by the spring-summer, owing to the unyielding reality of military overstretch, and Secretary Gates has spoken of bringing 40,000 troops total home by July. Continuing the current strategy will require doing way more with significantly less. For an example of what happens when troops are asked to do that, read this.

Now combine that with the continued recalcitrance, sectarianism and incompetence of the Maliki government; the creation of over 70,000 Sunni militiamen on the U.S. payroll; the blossoming of Moqtada al-Sadr's Islamic credentials; the coming struggle for Mosul/Kirkuk/disputed Arab-Kurdish territory in the north; and reminisce for the halcyon days of 2007. The last-best-chance is over."

Just a reminder that the mess doesn't go away because some choose to sweep it under the rug. As the primary season rolls on-- and candidates are asked about health-care, energy, jobs, etc-- it'd be nice if they started getting asked about this again.

I'm probably preaching to choir here, I know, but it's just all very frustrating.

The Morning After

I turned on MSNBC when I woke up this morning. After months of worshipping Iowa, they were already reporting live from New Hampshire. Ahhh, primary season. Obviously nothing has changed since last night, though (from right-wing blogs I've read) the GOP establishment is sharpening their knives to take down Huckabee. And I'm still giddy about Obama.

I'll be back to blogging later today, but in the meantime, the speech-

Iowa Decides; Primary Season Just Beginning

Well, the Iowa caucus is over, but primary season has just begun. Ultimately, today's events just determine the narratives going forward, and I hope those still waiting on the big primaries on Feb. 5th still feel that their votes count. But who won tonight?

On the Democratic side, it was a very strong win for Barack Obama... and Democrats in general (turnout for them was record-breaking; GOP turnout was lackluster). Obviously, I'm pretty excited about this and I think it bodes well for progressive issues going into the 2008 race. Andrew Sullivan gushes-
"This black man won an overwhelmingly white vote in Iowa. Whatever else happens, he has made history tonight. And he deserved every single vote."

Yes, thanks for not being racist, Iowa! {*rolls eyes*} Seriously, though, this is pretty exciting.

On the Republican, it was an overwhelming victory for Mike Huckabee. Though he came in second, this was a huge blow to Mitt Romney, who spent more money per voter than any other candidate. He's not done yet, but it's nice to see people saw through this phony. McCain came in a distant third, which isn't bad, considering he was trailing until recently. The big loser was Rudy Giuliani whose campaign imploded (right on schedule) and ended finishing 6 points behind Ron Paul. As Salon's Tim Grieve quipped, "9 + 1 + 1 = sixth place".

But Huckabee's win has the GOP establishment worried... they don't like him. Why? Well-
"Few of Huckabee’s critics have actually come out and said what many of them think. The language is coded, as it usually is with class and race in this country. The Wall Street Journal, the anti-tax jihadists at the Club For Growth, the National Review – these pillars of Old School Republicanism have signaled that Huckabee is Not One of Ours. But they’re careful to say it’s not about class, because, of course – it is!

Class war is forbidden in the Republican playbook. But Huckabee, despite an inept last week of campaigning, has forced the Republican party to face the Wal-Mart shoppers that they have long taken advantage of. He’s here. He’s Gomer. And he’s not going away...

...It’s okay to have faux rubes, a la Bush senior and his pork rinds, or George W. and his Midland malapropisms. But when something that looks like the real thing comes along, the Republican royalists get apoplectic. They were appalled at the recent YouTube debate because it looked like a parody of one faction of their party – complete with Bible-waving wackos, trigger-happy gun nuts and Confederate-flag enthusiasts.

Among fellow Republican candidates, Huckabee is certainly “not one of them” in the bottom-line sense."

Of course, when it comes to populism, Huckabee is no John Edwards, but compared to someone like Romney or McCain... he sounds like John F'ing Mellencamp and that scares the suits. They'll work hard now to tear him down (and likely rally around McCain). I love watching such a loathsome party fight itself.

Andrew Sullivan notes they are reaping what they have sown-
"Twice as many people turned out for the Democrats than the Republicans. Clearly independents prefer the Dems... One is a national party; the other is on its way to being an ideological church. The damage Bush and Rove have done - revealed in 2006 - is now inescapable."

Amen.... pardon the pun. And good riddance.

TPM's final scorecard is... here. Expect the first drop-outs (Dodd, others) to come today.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


...Was "the deadliest for the U.S. military since the 2003 invasion, with 899 troops killed." A slightly less deadly Fall (if compared to the spring, not to previous points in the war) was a small consolation to some-- mostly American politicians and pundits-- though maybe not to the families of those 899.

It should be remembered that, during the 2006 campaign, defenders of the war insisted that withdrawals were imminent and that war would be virtually over by the end of 2007. Instead, they decided to escalate it instead, and have simply grown increasingly vague in their language of when they expect a conclusion. Funny how that turned out.

One such defender-- James Carafano, a 'security expert' with the right-wing Heritage Foundation think-tank-- said that "the surge made that statement to Iraqis... a reaffirmation that Americans aren't going to walk away from this." He didn't add 'ever', but he didn't need to. It was implied. War forever!

As long as the media keeps ignoring all of this, the more distant the/any end will be.

Bush's Legacy

Besides the war(s), debt, mass politicization of government agencies, and distrust of government, President Bush's long-term legacy is likely to be a largely conservative court system.

Regardless, expect to see the GOP base still rumbling about 'activist judges' for years.

Enemies Everywhere!!!

It wasn't too long ago (and probably is still the case in some circles) that one couldn't follow right-wing radio, TV, or papers without reading about how Iran and Syria were the real threats in the Middle East. As soon as we smacked them around properly, we were told, the rest of the Middle East would fall in line (just like what happened after we saved Iraq). Now, aside from the usual neocon faces (several of whom have regular columns in the NY Post... like Amer Tahiri, a Chalabi-caliber con man), the rhetoric is slowly dying off(*).

(*Lou Dobbs-style anti-immigrant populism seems to be replacing terrorism as the top right-wing fear)

This is largely explained, to me, by the fact that the administration is no longer totally stacked by Cheney-ites willing to outright lie and bamboozle the public about these issues. Gone are the Rumsfelds and Wolfowitzes and Perles, replaced by (comparatively) sane management types. And so-- as the with recent NIE release-- a little reality is seeping through.

Now what follows here is not an endorsement of these countries and their leadership, nor an ignoring of the incredibly complex nature of these situations, or that of international affairs in general. Simply consider it an antidote to the wild-eyed rhetoric we usually get.

Via the Washington Times (no doves they), encouraging news-
Iran's leaders are no longer supplying weapons or training to Islamic militants in Iraq, the spokesman for the top U.S. commander in Iraq told The Washington Times.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, sees Iran as following through on assurances it made to Iraqi and U.S. officials last fall not to assist extremists in Iraq, spokesman Col. Steven Boylan said, adding that other U.S. officials have noted declines in Iranian weapons and funds to Iraqi insurgents.

"We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups," Col. Boylan said. "We have seen a downward trend in the signature-type attacks using weapons provided by Iran."...

I'd add that the initial reports on Iranian weapons in Iraq which began early last year were never that conclusive or impressive to begin with (and administration officials were always half walking away from them), so if Petraeus and co are saying this, this narrative is lost.

Meanwhile, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says "I would be the first one to support these relations [with the United States]... Of course we never said the severed relations were forever. But for the time being, it is harmful and we should not pursue it." Not exactly 'Death to America'.

And in regards to Syria, the CNS news service reports that-
General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is crediting efforts by the Syrian government, along with stepped-up counter-terrorism activities in other Arab states, with cutting the flow of al Qaeda terrorists entering Iraq.

This change in Syrian behavior has occurred at a time when the Iraqi government and the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad have been increasing their diplomatic and economic engagement, and when relations between Jordan and Syria also have been warming...

Again, none of this is to imply that Mideast tensions have calmed down (impossible until there is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement), but rather just a look at what diplomatic overtures can achieve in place of bellicose warmongering.

Not a bad lesson for voters to keep in mind when deciding between candidates.

Mommy, What's A Caucus?

ABC News explains just what the hell is happening today in Iowa. More from the AP.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

9 out 10 DC Centrists Agree: Mike Bloomberg Is Way Awesome

Despite repeated denials (including a fresh one this week) that he's not running for President, there remains a strong contingency of DC centrist types fantasizing about a run from independent NYC Mayor Bloomberg. At the forefront of this is a group called Unity '08 which advocates for a third-party candidacy, not necessarily because they dislike either party (they seemingly have no ideology or stances at all), but because they just think it'd be neat. As someone who's as frustrated with politics as the next guy (probably even more so), I'd note what a ridiculous idea this is.

For the record, that's coming from a guy who voted for Bloomberg twice. It's not personal.

As I noted, the Unity '08 group has no ideology, ideas, or proposals of their own. They want a third-party run just for their own amusement, under the banner of supposed 'bipartisanship'... which in DC terms, usually means supporting Republicans, but ones who aren't as horrifying as the usual bunch. The group says the two main parties have failed to...
"address the fundamental challenges facing the nation,"

...and yet the group is compromised of wishy-washy centrist types who get uncomfortable any time someone takes a stand against the status quo.

They seem to have latched onto Bloomberg as their fantasy guy because he occassionally returns their calls and was on the cover of Newsweek once. But, as Glenn Greenwald handily catalogues, despite his very progressive views on social issues and the environment, Bloomberg has been loyal to the Bush approach to foreign policy and constitutional issues. I disagree with his strong assertion that Bloomberg "is basically just Rudy Giuliani with a billion or two dollars to spend to alter the election," but if I were a group looking to get away from the partisanship of the Bush/GOP era and 'address the fundamental challenges facing the nation,' I'd find myself another candidate.

Moreover, it's obvious that the thought of a Bloomberg run has all the wrong people excited. "Liberal Fascism" author Jonah Golberg is giddy at the National Review-
"The more I think about it, the better I feel about a Bloomberg third party candidacy. I think it is obvious he can't win. And while I understand the argument that he could siphon off more GOP votes than Democratic ones, I'm increasingly skeptical that that's how it would work out... Ultimately, having a race where there are two pro-choice social liberals from New York and one pro-life social conservative; two more dovish war-on-terror candidates and one hawkish one; two tax-hikers and one tax-cutter, etc etc is a recipe for GOP success. Of course, a Giuliani candidacy could shake that math up considerably. But beyond that, I think Bloomberg would help the GOP retain the White House in '08. And it would be fun watching Bloomberg lose and spend half a billion dollars in the process."

Somehow, I think his definition of 'fun' differs from most people's.

Amazingly enough, one who makes a solid case against this political fantasy is Time magazine's Joe Klein, well known and mocked for his obsession with faux-bipartisanship. Here he shakes his head at all this-
"Every four years, we get a group of high-minded Mugwumps who are just shocked and appalled by the messiness of the democratic process and yearn for something more pristine. Most of the people on Bloomberg's list are the sort who are more interested in governing than in getting themselves dirty begging for votes. It will be nice to see some of them involved in the next administration, whether Democrat or Republican. But I don't think they have very much to add to the debate right now."

And that's all that really needs to said on this issue. Let's hope it remains a fantasy.

Odds and Ends

How's 2008 treating you so far? Mine's very groggy. Here's the news...

Late-night talk shows return tonight sans writers (with Stewart and Colbert to follow on Monday). But their return is being met by protesters concerned about the strike.

Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton-- the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission-- have a NY Times op-ed in which they detail how the CIA "stonewalled" and "obstructed" their investigation. Them's fighting words! So what now?

(UPDATE: The Justice Dept has launched a criminal investigation into the destroyed tapes.)

Oil rises to $100 a barrel. Enjoy the oil while it lasts! And don't plan for the future!

A city abandoned?... 'New Orleans set to be U.S. murder capital for second year'

Civil unions... now legal in New Hampshire.

North Korea missed its nuclear declaration deadline, but the U.S. says "they believe the overall disarmament process, though falling behind schedule, is still on track."

A dispute over last week's election in Kenya has sparked widespread violent clashes.

Juan Cole discusses the top 10 challenges we face in the Middle East.

The NY Times defends its hiring of the perpetually-wrong Iraq war architect, Bill Kristol, by insisting his critics don't appreciate what a "serious, respected conservative intellectual" he is. I've got your serious right here, sirs.

Glenn Greenwald looks at all the billion$ that we love throwing at the military.

Finally, Paul Krugman asks 'Did we dodge a bullet?' in regards to recession.

Candidate Odds and Ends

So much candidate news going into primary season, it needs its own post...

Barack Obama gets a boost in Iowa with Kucinich telling his supporters to pick Obama as their second choice. Kucinich had done this for Edwards in 2004.

Speaking of, John Edwards says "that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months." This is a more aggressive plan than others.

Moving on to the Republican side, Mike Huckabee warns Americans of the dangerous threat of gay sex. He also went after Mitt Romney for not having executed anyone as Governor. Praise Jeebus!

Ron Paul's more mainstream supporters are shocked, shocked to see the totally non-bigoted libertarian appealing to xenophobia and racism in a new ad. Lordy, get my fainting couch.

Finally, Rudy Giuliani really likes war(s). John McCain too.

Meanwhile, In Pakistan...

Last week, the Pakistani government made the claim that Ms. Bhutto died not from the assassin's gunshot, but from "a blow to the head (causing a fractured skull) she suffered while ducking down into the car she was riding in to escape the gunfire." This was met with skepticism by many, and it appears for good reason. Videotape analysis of the attack would seem to confirm the initial reports that she was shot to death.

So why would the government claim otherwise (they've now backed away from those claims in light of the evidence)? It's unclear, but it has conspiracy theorists-- and the many already inclined to distrust/suspect the Musharraf regime-- talking of cover-up.

Adding to all that was this news from Monday-
The day she was assassinated last Thursday, Benazir Bhutto had planned to reveal new evidence alleging the involvement of Pakistan's intelligence agencies in rigging the country's upcoming elections, an aide said Monday.

Bhutto had been due to meet U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to hand over a report charging that the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency was planning to fix the polls in the favor of President Pervez Musharraf.

Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of the Pakistan People's Party election monitoring unit, said the report was "very sensitive" and that the party wanted to initially share it with trusted American politicians rather than the Bush administration, which is seen here as strongly backing Musharraf....

This report has not surfaced yet (and Bhutto's aides would be wise to get it out there sooner rather than later if they have it), so the Musharraf government is denying the allegations.

The elections themselves have been postponed until February 18, in light of the assassination and resulting turmoil. Whether they will mean anything (rigging or no rigging) with the absence of the dead Bhutto and the boycotting Sharif remains to be seen.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

I'm still settling into the new year (good morning afternoon!) and full blogging will resume tomorrow, with thoughts on this fantasy Bloomberg candidacy and other topics. For now, I'll stick with end-of-year recaps.

First, a NY Times editorial sums up the anger many of us feel-
There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country....

...Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer....

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

This passionate plea for national sanity was, of course, met with a cartoonish 'if you don't like it, you can just giiittt out' from the gang at National Review. Patriotism = Shhhhhh!

Moving right along, the AP has a pretty balanced analysis of Speaker Pelosi's first year running Congress. It sums up what a frustrating year 2007 was for progressives and the obstacles that remain in the way of change.

Finally, the muckraking gang at Talking Points Memo held the first annual Golden Duke Awards, honoring the year's most significant scandal-makers. A fun/depressing watch.

Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: Can't Say I'll Miss You

Well it's that time of the year again... where everyone compiles their masturbatory Best Of lists and tries to catalog the past 365 days as best they can. Some of those lists are pretty interesting and I've decided to post my favorites here.

Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths about Iraq 2007

The BEAST: 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2007

Rolling Stone (Bill Maher): Dickheads of the Year

Glenn Greenwald: Favorite quotes of 2007

Wired: The Top 10 New Organisms of 2007


Slate: Legal Fictions: The Bush administration's dumbest legal arguments of the year.

Fortune: 101 Dumbest Moments in Business

Finally, Tom Tomorrow does his annual summary of the year cartoon in two parts.

And that is it for the next day or two... wake me when it's 2008. Happy new year!

'Liberal Fascism' , Continued

TPM's Spencer Ackerman delves into this brilliant treatise- here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Case For/Against Obama

Anonymous Liberal makes the case for Obama. Lambert makes a (lengthy) case against him.

I have avoided using this blog for candidate advocacy (it's just not that kind of blog), but I think my regular readers have picked up that I've been supporting Sen. Obama in the primary, after a brief flirtation with Bill Richardson (who lacks the enthusiasm of his impressive resume). His record is that of a solid progressive, and he showed sound judgment and foresight in the run-up to war. Moreover, despite being more overall liberal than Sen. Clinton, he is much less polarizing... the best his opponents have been able to throw at him is the debunked 'madrassa' smear, and the fact that he did drugs when he was in his youth (oh noes!1). He has a diplomatic air about him that not only will be useful at home, but also be greater at repairing U.S. credibility abroad. Is he perfect? No, of course not, he's a politician. But of the primary options, I believe that he represents the best hope (pardon the cliche) for America's immediate future. I am open to changing my mind before the Feb. 5th NY primary if something major changes, of course.

Consider this a general open thread to make the case for your preferred candidate(s).

[PS- If he were to be nominated, my choices for the VP nod? Chris Dodd or John Edwards.]

"Conned and frightened, our nation demands not actual security, but security spectacle."

A good piece on a NY Times blog on the ridiculousness of modern airport security.