Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Biden v. His Own Mouth

The television today has been abuzz with Senator Joe Biden's comment yesterday about Senator Barack Obama. Biden said:

I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man.
Senator Barack Obama rightly pointed out that previous African-American Presidential candidates Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun (the first African-American Senator from Illinois to run for President), and Shirley Chisholm (an African-American woman who ran for President in 1972!) — were all quite articulate speakers. I can tell you firsthand that few experiences in life compare with being in a crowd of people being led by Reverend Jesse Jackson in the call "I am somebody!!" In fact, I would say that the experience amped up my passion for politics by a couple o' notches.

Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton ran to highlight issues they felt were being neglected; neither won a single primary. Shirley Chisholm was well before her time, although she did have 152 delegates at the national convention. (I weep to think what a better nation we'd be today if we had elected Shirley Chisholm instead of Richard Nixon in 1972.) Jesse Jackson won five primaries in 1984, and was the early leader in delegates in 1988, although he ran second in the final tally.

The point I think Senator Biden was probably trying to make — rather inarticulately, it must be said — is that Senator Obama is the first African-American who might really have a shot at the Presidential nomination. In 1988, even with the mantle of "early frontrunner," Jesse Jackson's candidacy was doomed by the overwhelming perception that there was no possibility he could win in November; the nation was "not yet ready" to see an African-American President. In the intervening years, we've had two significant African-American Presidencies, Morgan Freeman and Dennis Haysbert, and now we have D. B. Woodside. You may not think of Deep Impact or 24 as leading political indicators, but the broad public acceptance of the character of an African-American President in film and television dramas is a fair barometer of attitudes towards the potential reality. (If America is ever threatened by a killer comet discovered by a dolphin-loving young future hobbit at the Ambassador Hotel, there's no one I'd rather have in the White House than Morgan Freeman.)

Since we are on the cusp of Black History Month, let's remember also Senator Hiram Revels (R–MS, 1870), Senator Blanche K. Bruce (R–MS, 1875), General Colin Powell, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Uncle Thomas, Harold Ford Jr., Gwen Ifill, Belva Davis at KQED, Mayor slick Willie Brown, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Bill Cosby, Consul Frederick Douglass, Tavis Smiley (PBS host and author of The Covenant with Black America), as well as Dr. King and George Washington Carver, not to mention....

P.S. If you're a light-skinned European-American and you live in a big city, here's a little Black History Month suggestion for you: if you see an African-American having a little trouble hailing a taxi, flag one for 'em. It's just wrong that a middle-aged white guy practically has to fend off taxis when I'm just walking down the street in jeans and a hoodie, while a well-dressed professional who happens to have dark skin can't get one for love or money.

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Goodbye, Molly Ivins

Less than two hours ago, one of President Bush's wittiest critics, Molly Ivins, died after a lengthy struggle with breast cancer. She wrote for the now-defunct Dallas Times-Herald, and later for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She began writing about George W. Bush before he became governor of Texas, giving the little Bush the nickname "Shrub." It is also in part thanks to Molly Ivins (in a 2002 documentary) that I know that Texas law — to this day — makes the possession of a dildo a misdemeanor, and possession of six or more a felony. [Texas Penal Code, Section 43.23]

We miss ya already, Molly.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

ABC This Week: Biden, Lugar, Hunter

ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos vies for the Sunday morning political wonk demographic. This week, George's guests were Senators Joe Biden (D–DE) and Richard Lugar (R–IN), and Representative Duncan Hunter (R–CA 52nd). The Senators discussed the Iraq War and President Bush's policies there, with Mr. Lugar taking much more the Bush Administration's line, at least on the question of the proposed Senate resolutions against the troop surge; Mr. Hunter was in a one-on-one interview, talking about his bid for President in 2008. (Mr. Biden is also running for President, and is endorsed by The Third Path.) The roundtable today focused on healthcare policy and the 2008 election; the panelists were George F. Will, Martha Raddatz, E. J. Dionne, and Torie Clarke. What struck me most were the duplicitous, anti-democratic, anti-republican (little 'd' and little 'r') talking points on the dissent regarding the President's Iraq strategy, but also the references to socialized medicine in the roundtable discussion on healthcare.

Senator Joe Biden has put forward a Senate resolution stating that it is "not in the national interest" to increase our troop levels in Iraq. The case for that position is pretty straightforward. The Iraq War no longer has the support of the American public, without which there can be no victory. Almost 2/3 of voters in recent polls oppose sending any more troops to Iraq. There is also a strong consensus among experts — Republican, Democratic, and independent — that the President's strategy is unworkable. The military supports the plan only to the extent that their jobs depend on refraining from contradicting the White House: President Bush replaced two generals who said the move was a mistake. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, five Republicans and five Democrats, reached a unanimous consensus that the best way forward was to begin withdrawing our military from Iraq. Even the White House admits openly that the "surge" is a political public-relations gesture, not a genuine military strategy.

The White House and the Pentagon have said that Senator Biden's resolution would hurt morale and "embolden the enemy." However, as Senator Biden noted, "It's not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy, it's the failed policy of this President: going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment, and, lastly, now sending 17,500 people in the middle of a city of 6½ million people, with bullseyes on their backs, with no plan." Hits the nail right on the head, I'd say. The Republicans talk endlessly about how we mustn't show the terrorists that we don't have the "guts" or the "stomach" or the "heart" to stay in this fight to victory, but we need to have the brains to fight intelligently. When the United States goes to war, we need a clear objective and a well-thought-out plan, as well as the backing of the great majority of the people, based on true and accurate information to overcome the natural and healthy skepticism of the people. The Iraq War had — and still has! — no clear objective, nor anything remotely resembling a well-thought-out plan, and it doesn't have the backing of even 40% of the public.

Senator Lugar, though, said about the proposed resolutions (Senator Biden's and others) criticizing the President's war policy, "I don't believe that it's helpful right now to show this disarray, around the world as well as in our body politic." We live in a democracy, and our President is fond of touting the transparency with which our government reaches its decisions — never mind that his White House is the most secretive in living memory. The people do not support the President on this issue, and he cannot continue defying us. In order to persuade us to follow his policies, he and his remaining Republican allies need to engage in a free and open debate without painting dissent as disloyalty. Further, the "disarray" that Senator Lugar speaks about is also the fault of neither the people nor the Congress, it is entirely the fault of the White House. President Bush has consistently ignored the people and the Congress, including the Republicans in Congress, and his pig-headedness has gotten us into this mess. Lugar goes on to portray the resolutions as not "constructive," as opposed to the vigorous oversight the Congress has given the Administration in the first four years of the war — except for the teensy little detail that the Congress has performed almost no oversight. He still hopes that the Congress can reach out to the President to forge closer links, and thereby possibly at some point down the road have a tiny influence on policy. You don't deal with an arrogant bully like President Bush — and if you disagree with that characterization, you have your head so deep in the sand you might as well look for oil while you're down there — by saying, "Umm, please, sir, uh, I know you've completely ignored me for four years, and really pretty much ignored everybody, but do you think you might be able to take a meeting some time soon — at your convenience, of course — to discuss talking about considering some changes in strategy and tactics, if that's all right with you, please, sir?" The time is long overdue for the Congress to give President Bush a public bitch-slap in the hopes of jolting him out of his monomania for "staying the course." Senator Lugar says, "We really need, at this point, to get on the same page." Well, yes, but President Bush needs to be the one to come onto the page the rest of us are already on, not vice-versa. Senator Lugar even dismisses the idea of a resolution, as proposed by Senator Warner (R–VA), simply expressing disagreement with the policy of sending more troops; he says, "I don't think it's at all helpful. I've indicated in my testimony before the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee that I have doubts about the 'surge' situation, both in terms of the numbers of people ... There's movement here that is important to note. That is why I'd like not to get bogged down into, sort of, the referendum on where we all stand these days." In order to be involved in shaping Iraq policy, the Congress needs to take a stand, and do more than just say, as Senator Lugar does, "I don't think it's right, but I'll support it anyway." Senator Biden counters, "I make a prediction to you [George Stephanopoulos]: you will hear, when this [Senate] debate begins, the first time we will have had a full-throated debate on this policy. ... I will make you a bet: you will not find 20% of the Senate standing up and saying the President is headed in the right direction." In order to have a seat at the table, the Congress needs to take a stand, if you'll pardon a mixed metaphor.

Senator Biden closed with a ringing indictment of the Bush Administration in his sales pitch for his own candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. Stephanopoulos asked Biden why the Democrats should nominate him; he replied, "Because I think the President's dug us in a deep hole. The President's foreign policy has made us more vulnerable, his economic policy has made the middle class more vulnerable; my life story, my record, best prepares me to deal with those two issues." Senator Biden has, in his own words, "the most competence, the most experience, and the most foreign policy capability" of the Democratic field. That's why I support Joe Biden for President. [Third Path endorsement; Biden's web site]

Duncan Hunter, a Republican member of Congress from El Cajon (San Diego County), California, is one of the newest entrants to the 2008 Presidential race. Never mind that he has about the same chance as a snowball in global-warming hell; Hunter is determined to give voice the extreme right. He advocates an aggressive restructuring of American trade relationships, reversing course on the "free trade" policies of most of the post-World War II period. He's going against the grain not only of Democrats, but even moreso of Republicans, in that position. "Free trade" is right up there with "tax cuts" as a mantra for the Bush Administration. It was the Republicans in the Congress who got NAFTA ratified under President Clinton. In fact, it's mostly Democratic labor leaders who complain about the loss of American jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, resulting from globalization. Mr. Hunter, though, has a perfect record as he begins his 14th term in Congress: he has never once voted in favor of any trade bill. Mr. Hunter also favors a far more draconian immigration policy, with a "double fence" along the entire U.S.–Mexico border and deportation of every illegal immigrant. Echoing his comments about undermining the morale of the troops in Iraq, he says, "I think it's wrong for us to send a message to the great Border Patrolmen in this country, and all the people that work to make sure people are here legally, to say, 'You know, we really don't believe in this.' All we're saying with respect to the [border] fence in is, 'We got this big front door in America, with legal immigration. Knock on the door if you want to come into the United States.'" The hope of prosperity of the United States acts as a magnet for people from every corner of the world, but as a practical reality the United States needs to make the legal immigration process easier to navigate, not just increase penalties and enforcement against people who come illegally.

Mr. Hunter is a veteran himself, and his son is currently serving in Iraq, giving him an unusual (at least within Congress) personal perspective on military service. However, the conclusions he draws are suspect. Asked how much time he believes President Bush has for his "troop surge" plan to work, he replies, "I think he's got some time. I think the American people have some patience. I know the polls are down; I told my guys, 'I don't want to see polls. Let's just try to do what's right here.' The point I've tried to make to my colleagues in the House and Senate is this: this plan is being carried out right now. The idea that Congress is going to sit back and talk about cutting off reinforcements, that disserves the mission, and I think it disserves the soldiers that are over there." He talks about soldiers in Iraq watching American TV in their mess halls: "When they're going out on a mission and they see a politician out there saying we're going the wrong way, this is bad, I'm going to do everything I can to stop it — common sense tells you, that doesn't help." Well, what if in fact they are going the wrong way, Mr. Hunter? Our politicians have an obligation to the troops to speak out against policies they believe are fundamentally wrong, to say that we've sent our troops on the wrong mission, and to commit to working to change the policy.

In the roundtable discussion on healthcare policy, specifically President Bush's proposed tax breaks to help uninsured workers buy private health insurance, George Will said, "Look at the two reasons — aside from the fact that Bush favors it — that the Democrats oppose it. First is, Hillary Clinton says this will 'unravel the safety net'; now, what she means is, this might encourage employers to stop providing health insurance — and we should encourage that, to get healthcare out of the wage system. The 'safety net' that Hillary Clinton is so fond of is General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. There's a reason it costs $1,000 more to manufacture a car in Michigan than it does across the river in Ontario, Canada, and it is the healthcare component of this." In other words, Canada got it right, and the United States is still getting it wrong. Single-payer healthcare — in other words, socialized medicine — is more efficient in providing basic healthcare to everyone. I've seen serious estimates that the costs of paperwork alone in the Medicare system could pay for healthcare for every uninsured American. The United States does not have the best healthcare system in the world — far from it! At any given time, about 1 in 6 people in the U.S. are uninsured, at the mercy of public hospitals if their illness or injury lasts longer than their savings; if you add in the intermittently insured, the number is much higher, which leads to arguments over "pre-existing condition" clauses and yet more paperwork. If the United States wants to reclaim the top honors in healthcare, we need to provide universal coverage. Not universal access, but actual universal coverage.

Torie Clarke, a former Pentagon spokesperson, addressed the question, why have the major Republican Presidential candidates made no significant moves to separate themselves from President Bush's position on the Iraq War. "I think they believe in it. I think they believe in the cause, I think they believe in the reality is that we're going to fight this fight against extremist Islamists now or later — it's just a matter of coming to terms with that." Again, we need to be not just strong and determined, but also smart, in order to win the fight against extremist Islamists. By "staying the course," we give aid, comfort, and battlefield training to our enemies. We are not bringing the United States any closer to safety and security, we are making ourselves more vulnerable, in no small part because we are pushing moderate Muslims away, aligning at least their sympathies, and in many cases their money and their persons, with the fight to "defend Islam" against the "infidel." Secretary Rumsfeld, in a rare moment of clearheadedness, talked about the possibility that we are creating new terrorists in Iraq faster than we can capture or kill them. That's a real danger, and the only way out is to slow down on creating the new terrorists. The majority of the Iraqi people, and hence the majority of Muslims in the world, view the United States as a hostile occupying power oppressing the people of Iraq, and they're not entirely wrong in that view. They didn't ask us to come in the first place, they've made it clear that they want us to leave, and yet we stay on and make plans to build permanent military bases, complete with Burger King and Pizza Hut. Our security in the 21st century depends on having the common sense to get out of Iraq, taking time only to do what we can to minimize the chaos we leave in our wake.

Ms. Clarke says, "What horrifies me is when I hear people like a Senator I heard a few weeks ago saying, 'Our strategy in Iraq is not politically viable.' How horrifying is that! He was talking about political viability here in Washington, not thinking about what we have to do." Well, first of all, our strategy in Iraq isn't politically viable, either in Washington or in Baghdad. In order to win a military engagement, we have to have the backing of the American people, which the current strategy does not. We're not going to change the minds of the American people, so we'll have to change the strategy — maybe to something with a chance of success, or at least damage control. The American people signed on for a war that would pay for itself and be over and done with by Labor Day, and yet we're now nearing the 4th anniversary of the invasion with no end to combat, casualties, and death, and costing more taxpayer dollars in a week ($2 billion) than we were told the entire war would require ($1.7 billion). "Stay the course" just is not an option in this scenario, and neither is sending in more troops.

Oh, well; I'm going to go off to watch HBO's Rome, a story about megalomaniacal dictators who only feign concern for the average citizen....

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Signs of Intelligent Life on Television

President Bush may or may not get to complete his military "surge" in Iraq, but the television news organizations are calling all hands on deck. The greed motive is at last beginning to align with aggressive skepticism of the White House: nobody wants to be the last "Me, too!" in echoing the really big news story. MSNBC is giving CNN a real run for the news junkie demographic, Al Jazeera English is must-see TV for anyone who wants to pretend to be globally well informed, and PBS has ever-so-politely thrown down the gauntlet to the White House. The gloves aren't coming all the way off, but they're at least trading the boxing gloves for long black evening gloves, the better to bitch-slap you with, m'dear. I have some thoughts on where best to catch the action over the next few weeks.

MSNBC was the reason that I switched cable companies, specifically to see Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Keith Olbermann is to real news what Jon Stewart is to fake news. Even if you think his political views are fucked up, you can't escape the fact that he's far smarter than Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and George W. Bush combined. And then there's his follow-up act on MSNBC, former Republican Congressman (and Newt Gingrich "Contract with America" revolutionary) Joe Scarborough. Lately, Joe has been quite aggressively taking on much of the neocon power structure, including calling Billo out on some of his irresponsible comments. He expresses a healthy skepticism about the proposals coming from the White House. Of course, we mustn't forget Chris Matthews, whose program is living up to the name Hardball. Chris was a staffer for Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill, so he's no mossback, but nor is he a wild-eyed leftie. He's smart, and he shows the tenacity he honed as a high-school wrestler. There's also Tucker Carlson in the mix, and there are some respects in which Tucker is smart, but he's so often jaw-droppingly foolish. Just a quick for instance: he not only asserted, but defiantly repeated that we Americans know better than the Iraqi people what is best for Iraq. If you want to know why so much of the world hates America, you need look no farther than statements like that.

Al Jazeera English was six months late launching, but it was worth the wait. They have assembled a team that meets or beats the BBC and CNN International on just about every front. It's not just the Middle East — their coverage of sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia and even South America, leaves the other English-language news channels (in which category I count neither Fox News nor Sky News!) in the dust! Many people in America are convinced or just assume that Al Jazeera has a jihadist, or at least anti-American and anti-Jewish, bias. Not in the least! Al Jazeera English bends over backwards to be fair and balanced, shining a bright light on some of the dirty laundry in their own back yard and also on positive aspects of the Other. As a sign of their success, the largest Israeli cable TV operator bumped BBC World in favor of Al Jazeera English. And yet no conventional U.S. cable or satellite minidish company dares even offer it; you have to get it on the web at Okay, but what's the best? The newscasts are consistently top-notch, including the whole cast of newsreader/anchors. Peppermint Gomez — umm, I mean Ghida Fakhry — merits special mention for Daily Show fans.

However, Al Jazeera English's crown jewels are its focus programs. Jasim Al-Azzawi is a former U.S. State Department translator; he now hosts the weekly panel discussion Inside Iraq, on which he has guests including the leader of one of the main opposition parties in Iraq, or this week a top aide to Muqtada al-Sadr. He strikes a careful balance, allowing the Iraqi side a voice, but at the same time challenging them when they make outrageous statements. He had a former Bush assistant on, as well, and Jasim stepped in to keep them from leaping across an entire ocean to throttle one another. David Frost is occasionally interesting, but honestly I'm more impressed by Riz Khan, Everywoman, Inside Story, People & Power, Witness, and sometimes Listening Post. The special series Mo and Me was surprisingly compelling. I had never heard of Mohammad Amin, a pioneering African journalist, but his son narrates the trail that Mo blazed, up to his ironically newsworthy death. I got the strong sense that Mohammad Amin would have been proud to be on the Al Jazeera team, and that Al Jazeera would have been proud to have him. The bottom line: you can't go far wrong watching anything on this channel. I live for the day I can finally TiVo my Al Jazeera. I want my A-J-Z!

PBS has long been viewed as the enemy of everything conservative, never mind neoconservative, but PBS is ever genteel about presenting not so much a liberal perspective as an educated perspective. PBS has done a bit of dodging and weaving in the face of infiltration and sabotage by the White House, but it is showing that it ain't givin' up yet. When I was a kid, one of our weekly rituals was the double-header of Wall $treet Week and Washington Week in Review, and more often than not we watched The MacNeil–Lehrer Report. The incomparable Paul Duke, the long-time host of Washington Week in Review, retired many years ago, but his successor Gwen Ifill is not only a worthy fill-in, she is a journalistic force in her own right. On tonight's show, she commented about the now admittedly standard White House practice (under both Republicans and Democrats) of trying to "bury" unfavorable news by releasing it late on Friday afternoon. Cathie Martin, aide to Vice President Cheney told the Scooter Libby court, "Fewer pay attention to it late on Friday"; Gwen Ifill responded, "We at Washington Week take that as a challenge. No news will be buried here! If you're watching it, we'll be telling it — that's a promise." That's a promise I can count on. Of course, there are many other wonderful news shows on PBS, including what is now The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, but another must-see program for a true global perspective is Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria. You know Fareed if you watch The Daily Show; he's one of their most frequent guests.

Or then again, if you don't have time to watch all that wonderful television, with the occasional C–SPAN binge, you can read my blog!

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Inside Iraq

Al Jazeera English has a weekly program called Inside Iraq, with host Jasim Al-Azzawi moderating a discussion of the week's events and the future of Iraq. Today's guests included CENTCOM spokesperson Capt. Frank Pascual; Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri, an aide to Moqtada al-Sadr (مقتدى الصدر); Dr. Mohammed al Douri (محمد الدوري), former Iraqi ambassador to the U.N.; and Brad Blakeman (بردّ بلكمن), former senior advisor to President Bush. The exchange might have erupted into a fistfight, were it not for the fact that the panelists were separated by thousands of kilometers.

First, Mr. Azzawi played an interview with Capt. Pascual, in which the Captain emphasized that the United States feels it is vital for the Iraqi government, with assistance from U.S. forces, to rein in the lawlessness of the Mahdi Army. The real debate, though, came in the panel discussion:

Jasim al-Azzawi: Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri, let me start with you. The Central Command in the last three days issued a very clear warning to Jaish al-Mahdi: Disband, or else. Throw down your arms; otherwise, you will be hunted down. Will you put them down, or will you fight?

Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri: In the beginning, let's talk about who's carrying the guns. Now, all the Iraqi people are suffering from, there is no security and safety in Iraq, and everybody [is] looking for the security and safety. We are waiting for a quite long time, we give a vote for this government, we elect this government in the democracy way, so why we are still waiting for this government [to be able to] keep the security and the safety for Iraqi people? So, firstly, there is no security for the Iraqi people. Secondly, people are defending themselves. The third thing, you are talking about the terrorist in Iraq. The terrorist in Iraq has been established when the Americans invade Iraq. So, the occupation brought the terrorist to Iraq, and, you know, the CIA report last year said it was 200,000 explosives from the previous Iraqi army, when the Iraqi regime (Saddam) was there. They collected it, and they lost it. Who lost this 200,000 tonnes of explosives, and where are they? Who brought the car bombs and suicide —

Azzawi: I'll take that, Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri, as a very clear no. You are not going to disband. Brad Blakeman, such warning in the past has been issued. They have not been heeded. What makes this one different?

Brad Blakeman: Well, what makes this one different is, there are about 20,000+ U.S. troops coming into Iraq, specifically in the Baghdad area and the surrounds of Sadr City, and other areas that are unstable, and the Iraqi army is going to come in, and security forces, and be in the lead, and the Americans are going to back them up, and if the militias don't lay down their arms, they'll be destroyed.

Azzawi: In what way?

Blakeman: In what way? They'll be killed! Whether it's house to house, room to room, that's what's going to happen. But I have to tell you, we've somewhat created this problem, because, you know, we've made our bed with the devil, initially, in building up these militia and fighting alongside of us, when we should've disbanded them from the beginning. Maybe one of the mistakes was totally disbanding the army and relying on these militias to our detriment, now, because we built them up. But now, the militias have to make a decision. Are they going to lay down their arms and abide by the laws that were created by the Iraqi people when they were freed, under their constitution, or are they going to continue to fight. If they continue to fight, they will be destroyed.

Azzawi: Ambassador Douri, this is amazing to me to listen to an American and an Iraqi agree at one point, and that is that all these militias were created by the Americans.

Dr. Mohammed al Douri: Well, exactly. I think at the end of the day, they will find a way out, both, because they know each other, and they have had a kind of cooperation, a good cooperation between them, these four years. Certainly, there was a clash between them, but I think at the end of the day they will find a way out for this crisis between them. But the loser is the Iraqi people.

Azzawi: Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri, you have been claiming for a long time, you are not a militia, you are an army of God, you are an ideological army, and your primary mission is to protect the neighborhood. That argument, unfortunately, does not carry with modern society.

Nasri: You know, we are talking like, sorry to say that, like an ignorant people. American policy is a business. They are not looking for democracy around the world, they are looking for the business. Where can [they] get more money, where can [they] get more financial — that's what they are doing with the new strategy for Bush, when he ask in the Congress. He want[s] the[m to] pay more money to the Dick Cheney company and Bush company and al Qaeda company and the generals in Iraq and around the world. They are not looking for [promoting] democracy around the world. They are against the democracy. They established the terrorists around the world. Who established al Qaeda and Taliban? They established [them]. We are against the militia; we don't want the militia in Iraq. We are supporting the Iraqi government. We have now, there is a big dialog now [with] the mayor of Sadr City, which is the biggest city in Iraq, and this is going nicely and smoothly now. And we want to —

Azzawi: Brad — Let me stop you for just a second —

Nasri: No, let me tell you something. Let me tell you something.

Blakeman: Completely crazy!

Nasri: Sorry?

Azzawi: Brad, go ahead.

Blakeman: I said you're completely crazy! What you just said is absolutely crazy! There's no other way to describe it.

Nasri: Who is the partnership of the brother of Osama bin Laden? Who is the partnership? Who has the company?

Blakeman: Our sons and daughters are dying —

Azzawi: Brad, let me just put it this way — Yusuf al-Nasri, hold on just a sec.

Nasri: Osama bin Laden company. You know Osama bin Laden's brother, he [has] a company — the partnership is George W. Bush. You are taking money from the American people and put[ting] it in your pocket.

Azzawi: Shaikh al-Nasri, hold on just a second. Brad Blakeman, the shaikh is making the point that you are here to steal our money, to steal our oil, to enslave our people, and more importantly to prevent the messiah, the Shi'ite messiah.

Blakeman: Ridiculous!

Nasri: Even from American people!

Blakeman: We have spent billions and billions of dollars of American taxpayer money to help the Iraqis be free. How do we benefit from that? Our sons and our daughters have died on your soil to help your country be free. How do they benefit from that?

Nasri: You are putting the bombs everywhere! Ask the Iraqi government and ask the chief of the police, Iraqi police, wherever American forces coming

Blakeman: You, sir, are completely and utterly crazy. You make no sense at all.

Nasri: They are too worried that the car bomb is coming with the American forces around each center, each city in Baghdad, and around all the cities around Iraq.

Azzawi: Gentlemen, let me stop you and let me ask Dr. Moh —

Nasri: There is no American forces, there is a security —

Azzawi: Shaikh al-Nasri, hold on just a second. Dr. al Douri, you have heard those two gentlemen; that is a heated argument. Is it possible to politically rehabilitate Jaish al-Mahdi and Moqtada al-Sadr's people and get them involved politically in the political process? Because that's what the Americans are looking for.

Douri: First of all, I agree with Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri about the ultimate goals of Americans in Iraq. The American strategy in Iraq is very clear, it is very well known, so this is true. But I am asking Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri why they are not going to a kind of reconciliation [among] the Iraqi people themselves to face this invasion, to face this occupation. Why this mass killings every day, more than 100, 200 bodies in the streets of Baghdad and other cities? So, we can face Americans, we can ask them to get out [of] Iraq.

[commercial break]

Azzawi: Welcome back. We are talking about Jaish al-Mahdi and Moqtada al-Sadr to three specialists: Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri, [the] ambassador just a minute ago asked, national reconciliation is the only way. But we just saw a bubble right now, we just saw a factoid: the Pentagon says that Jaish al-Mahdi has replaced al Qaeda as the most lethal institution in Iraq.

Nasri: Firstly, we have to find out clearly who is behind the terrorists in Iraq. And then we going smoothly. No one, no one in Iraq, Shia or Sunni, Kurdish and Arab, want to be against nor the police or the government hand. We want the government [to be able to] be strong and bring security and safety for everybody. And al-Mahdi Army, as you said, and as everybody knows, is not an army, and this is the problem with translation between Arabic and English language. It is an ideological movement. Those people are farmers, workers, teachers, doctors, university teachers —

Azzawi: That is exactly what al Qaeda says, and the insurgents say, and all the other militias say: you know, we are not a militia, we are ideological armies.

Nasri: No, no, no. When the Iraqi regime fell, everybody saw: the al-Sadr movement, they are cleaning the roads, they are replacing the government where there is no government, and they are very happy to see the government —

Azzawi: I get the point. Brad Blakeman, they are social services.

Nasri: Look, look, wait. No, no, wait — we have to say to the people —

Blakeman: Here's the solution —

Nasri: People who killing the Sunnis and the Shia, that was the question.

Blakeman: Here's the solution: lay down your arms and care for your people. Educate your people. Build roads. Build schools. And you know what? A national society. That's what you need to do. Because if you don't do it, you're going to be destroyed. Do you want your men and women killed in the streets? If they take up arms against the national government —

Nasri: This is your message always: you want to be destroyed, you are the killers. You brought the terrorists around the world. You don't have a simple —

Blakeman: No, you're the killers. You kill your own people! You strike down men, women, and children. You're killers.

Nasri: You don't have a peaceful people, destroying men, women, and children. You kill lots of people around the world, and you killed lots of people in Iraq. You should listen: no one will carry the guns. If you leave Iraq and this government is democracy —

Blakeman: We're not leaving so long as the Iraqi government wants us there!

Nasri: We elected this government; we don't want to see you in Iraq! We are not fighting each other. You know who is fighting each other? Ask Negroponte!

Blakeman: We don't want to be there, but we don't have a mission to be there.

Nasri: Negroponte, he is well done playing games. He did that in Honduras and Latin America. He established a different organization fighting each other. This is, you know, the dirty forces.

Blakeman: Sir, let's not talk about everywhere else, let's talk about Iraq. Here's the bottom line: You will be destroyed.

Nasri: You kill the Shia in the name of Sunnis and you kill the Sunni in the name of the Shia. There is no killing —

Azzawi: Gentlemen, just a second, I need to stop both of you, if you allow me, Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri. Ambassador al Douri, the very genesis of this sectarian [conflict] that we are seeing is when the U.S. imposed this sectarian quota on the Iraqi government. Isn't that what generated all this?

Douri: Of course. We cannot neglect that factor. The American, as occupying power, in the view of international law, is responsible for all of what has happened in Iraq. But I am asking also to the government of Iraq, what is this situation, what is going [on] now in Iraq? What is this climate of chaos [that] exists in Iraq? [Why] is the situation going out of control? We are on the brink of civil war. The responsibility of the government of Iraq, or so-called government, is clear here. So both are responsible: the American government as occupying power, and those who are serving the American power in Iraq, I mean the government of Iraq.

Azzawi: Brad Blakeman, the strategy of the militias, perhaps even of Jaish al-Mahdi, is create chaos, kill enough G.I.'s, kill enough Americans — eventually you will throw up your arms and just leave. You just told me, "we are not leaving," the U.S. is staying. Are you sure?

Blakeman: As long as this President is President, as long as our mission is clear, as long as the risk is worth the reward of a free and independent Iraq, as long as the Iraqi government can make good on their promises that they made to us, we will stay there, and we will be effective, and we will win. We're taking off the gloves now. You folks have to realize that: the militias are going to be destroyed. And it's a shame, because you are killing your own people, you are destroying your own world, your own sovereignty — that's just wrong. You're squandering an opportunity. For what?

Azzawi: Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri, the Americans are coming after you.

Blakeman: [inaudible] only a small piece of your land.

Azzawi: Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri, the Americans are coming after you.

Nasri: You ask me a question, if you give me a time.

Azzawi: Go ahead.

Nasri: Listen: firstly, no Iraqi people, no Sunni, no Shia, are agreed with this civil war. I told you before that the Iraqi government arrested lots of terrorist people [who] have a map to bombing Shia mosque and Sunni mosque and one time, and those people were American officers and Israelian [sic] officers, and we proved that, and he knows very well that.

Blakeman: That is absolutely outrageous! You —

Nasri: Please, let me continue.

Blakeman: The Sunnis and the Arabs destroyed those mosques, not the Americans, and not the Israelis. So, please, that is nonsense. You know that.

Nasri: Please, I was waiting for you to finish. Please, don't be a dictator. I know you don't learn from the democracy. You should learn from us! We are an older civilization: learn from us! I was waiting for you.

Azzawi: Go ahead, Shaikh Yusuf al-Nasri. Go ahead.

Nasri: The killing in Iraq is not between Sunni and Shia. They are stupid, some of the Shia and Sunnis, using by the dirty force established by Negroponte and his cabinet, and you know Negroponte wasn't a diplomatic. He wasn't working for the foreign department, he is working for the higher intelligence department. They are establishing different organizations in Iraq — and they have the big mechanism of propaganda. There is a civil war....

Azzawi: The documentation of the extra-judicial killings by the Mahdi Army has been documented not by the Americans alone, but by a group like the International Crisis Group, as well as the Iraqi government. Denial is not a proof that they are not happening.

Nasri: No, prove it! You said "Iraqi government" — where is that documentaries? 70% of people who are dying and killed are Shia — do you think Shia are killing themselves? Not the Sunni killing the Shia, not the Shia killing the Sunni — we have to be very aware about this propaganda. They are using propaganda and intelligence department, and they want to destroy the Iraq. We have to be clever enough to stop this dictatorship and terrorist. Look, wherever the American forces are there, there is a terrorist. There is no solution, there is no democracy, there is no rebuilding.

Azzawi: Brad, many analysts believe that Moqtada al-Sadr has lost control over Jaish al-Mahdi, that the core group of perhaps 7,000 he can control, but the larger group, almost 60,000, he lost control of them.

Blakeman: I don't believe he's lost control of them at all. I think he has control, and the fact that he's trying to allege he's lost control is a benefit to him, saying, "Look, whatever happens, don't look to me for responsibility." We don't believe that! Here's the bottom line: forget all the rhetoric over the last half hour. Bottom line is this: we have a duly elected representation in Iraq, we have a free and independent Iraq in the sense of their government. Their government is being prevented, unfortunately, from ruling because of these militias who seek to create instability. We have instability coming in over the borders of Iraq from Iran and Syria.
[Copyright ©2007, Al Jazeera English; reproduced here under the Fair Use provisions of copyright law for the purpose of fostering political discussion.]
The Bush Administration and its spokesmen are unaccustomed to hearing their talking points contradicted so brazenly, and to having the moderator take at least some of the counterpoints seriously. That said, Shaikh al-Nasri irreparably undermined his credibility with paranoid fantasies about "Israelian" agents provocateurs in Iraq. It's a shame, because the points he raised about the profitability of the Iraq War for allies of the Bush Administration, particularly including Halliburton, need to be addressed seriously and openly. It is also clear that the shaikh is right that the Bush Administration's commitment to democracy is secondary to its commitment to American commercial and military interests. It is also true that the United States is largely responsible for creating al Qaeda and the Taliban, since we armed and trained them to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's. We must also not allow the Bush Administration to sweep under the rug the fact that the U.S. lost 200 kilotonnes of explosives from the stockpiles of the former Iraqi army — equivalent in destructive power to a couple of small nukes, but spread out over thousands of IED's and car bombs.

Also, the U.S. committed terrible blunders in the initial occupation of Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and we have never recovered from those blunders. In hindsight, it is abundantly clear that it was a mistake to completely disband the Iraqi army and police forces, and to fail to secure Baghdad. We then, as Mr. Blakeman says, "made our bed with the devil" by encouraging the militias and sectarian factions to develop and take most of the seats at the negotiating table. The Bush Administration has paid lip service to the idea of democracy in Iraq, but the substance has been thin and uneven. (Of course, what should we expect, given the Bush Administration's consistent hostility towards real democracy here in the United States?) Sadly, it is not "completely crazy" to suggest that the profits of Halliburton and other well-connected military contractors are a significant factor in U.S. policy in Iraq. Nor is it "completely crazy" to look at the entanglement of the Bush family's finances with Saudi Arabia, including the bin Laden family.

On the other hand, it is completely crazy to suggest that the U.S. is trying to prevent the coming of the Shi'ite messiah, just as it is completely crazy to suggest that the United States and Israel are blowing up mosques of each sect in Iraq in order to frame the other sect. Simply put, there's no profit in it. Stealing the oil is profitable; starting a civil war is not. But it is also completely crazy for Mr. Blakeman to ignore the thousands of Iraqi citizens who have been killed by U.S. forces, and the resentment those deaths leave in their wake.

Still, something Mr. Blakeman said rings true, although not in quite the way he intended. How do the American soldiers who are wounded or killed in Iraq benefit from their sacrifice? How do the American taxpayers — not Bush's pals, but the ordinary working folks — benefit from the hundreds of billions of dollars we have thrown into Iraq? How does the United States stand to benefit from continuing our military presence in Iraq? The American people don't see an answer to that question, not in Bush's speech announcing the "troop surge," nor in his State of the Union message.

Is it realistic to think that the U.S. military, with a modest increase in troop levels, can make a decisive difference in bringing down the sectarian militias to allow a secular government to emerge and take root? It hasn't worked very well so far, and the patience of the American people has worn out. As David Broder said in the Washington Post last week, "The question is not whether we have the stomach for the fight but the brains to figure out what to do in Iraq." Without any intelligent planning, throwing 21,500 more troops into Iraq will only lead to more bloodshed, not more stability — and "intelligent planning" isn't even on the Bush Administration's radar screens. The American people have spoken loud and clear that the risk of continued military operations in Iraq is not worth the potential rewards, especially given the dismal track record so far and the abyssmal lack of any sign that the people in charge have learned from their blunders. Vice President Cheney the other day hotly denied that the White House had made any blunders in Iraq, but that view is no less blinkered and no less "completely crazy" than the notion that the sectarian killings in Iraq are the result of an Israeli-American conspiracy.

Will the troop surge foster the national reconciliation that is required to bring Iraq back to stability and security? Or will it just feed the cycle of violence? We have to find a way to engage the civic-mindedness (even if it's far from pure altruism) of the Mahdi Army and other factions so that they can come together and reconcile for the benefit of all Iraqis. The Mahdi Army might be destroyed by the U.S. military, but as long as the U.S. is occupying Iraq, there will be Iraqis willing to fight, die, and kill to oppose our presence. This fantasy that the American occupiers are perfect peaceful angels who only reluctantly go to Iraq to fight and die for the benefit of the Iraqi people, just doesn't fly — not in America, and certainly not in Iraq.

George W. Bush is still President, for another 725 days, but our mission in Iraq is not clear — Saddam is gone, the threat of WMD's has been neutralized, and we've given Iraq the opportunity to build a better nation. It's up to the Iraqis to do it. The risk of our continued presence in Iraq is not only that more Americans will die or be maimed, or that we will spend hundreds of billions more of our great grandchildren's tax dollars that could be better spent on our own needs, but also that we will continue to inflame the situation in Iraq and make it even worse than it already is. The reward of a free and independent Iraq, first of all, doesn't hold much allure to the American public. Sure, it would be nice, but it's not anywhere near the top of the priority list. The American people have spoken, and their verdict is that the risk is too great and the reward both too small and too unlikely to justify anything but getting out of the mess we've made. As for winning, we can win individual battles, but we will never win the war by military action, because winning requires winning the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people — a goal that gets more remote with each passing day. It doesn't help that neither the Iraqis nor the American people believe that the U.S. will ever leave Iraq: the neocons who engineered this war are determined to establish permanent military bases.

The focus of American policy in Iraq must shift immediately from "victory" (however defined) to Damage Control. How do we withdraw American forces with the least possible further damage to the situation?

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Why didn't that kid in Missouri run away?

You have, no doubt, heard about the astonishing discovery of a second boy when the boy who was kidnapped last week in Missouri was found. The older boy, Shawn Hornbeck, was kidnaped when he was 11; he is now 15. News reports indicate that he was given substantial freedom of movement, and possibly even allowed to use the Internet. It raises the question of why he didn't run away, back to his parents. I don't have the full answer to that question, but I have some thoughts on the subject.

The first thing to remind you of, dear reader, is the trap of false perspective. You ask yourself the question, "If I were kidnaped and living in a terrible situation where I was unhappy, what would I do?" The answer seems obvious: you would flee at the first opportunity. It's an answer that would seem obvious even to an 11-year-old boy. Therefore, it stands to reason that there must have been something we don't know about that held Shawn back. Bill O'Reilly on Fox News speculated that maybe the boy stayed because his abductor didn't make him go to school, but that explanation just doesn't hold together. It is much more plausible to speculate that the boy was in some way afraid of what would happen if he tried to escape. Child predators manipulate their victims, exploiting their strongest hopes and darkest fears to get the victims to submit. I believe that, one way or another, Michael Devlin found an emotional hot button that gave him control over Shawn in ways that are almost unfathomable. Don't forget: Shawn was 11 when he was abducted. Everything since then was skewed by Devlin's influence. Think about everything you learned about life from age 11 to age 15, and now filter it through the diseased mind of a child predator.

I remember a case that was roughly my contemporary: Steven Stayner. A child predator by the name of Kenneth Parnell snatched Steven when he was only 7 years old and held him for almost 8 years. The story was dramatized in a made-for-TV movie, I Know My First Name is Steven, which occasionally runs on cable. In the TV version of the story, Steven was at first terrified to make any attempt at escape. Parnell told him that his parents were dead, or didn't want him any more because he was a bad kid, or that a court had given Parnell custody of Steven. The boy gradually resigned himself to his fate, seeing no safe escape route. If he ran away and Parnell caught up with him, his life would become even worse. It was only when Parnell kidnaped a younger boy that Steven finally felt he had to risk running away. He was resigned to his own victimization, but couldn't bear to watch another boy slide into the same living hell. When Steven returned to his parents, his father, again at least in the TV version, could barely look at his son, seeing only the sexual violation that Steven had apparently not resisted. His own father blamed Steven for giving in.

Going back to the present day, there has also been much speculation about whether Shawn was sexually abused. To answer that question, flip it on its back: why else would a grown man kidnap a young boy and keep him for over four years? Do you think that he did it just to watch Shawn play Nintendo? That's about all there is to say on the subject, except this: Shawn Hornbeck is still a minor, and he is also the victim of the abuse, not its perpetrator, nor even a willing accomplice. Everyone, down to the most predatory of TV news crews, must respect Shawn's privacy. I would hope that when Devlin comes to trial, the judge imposes a strict embargo on publication of any of the sordid details of Shawn's abuse. Making those details public would in itself be child sexual abuse. For the general public, it suffices to say that Shawn was held against his will and in some way sexually abused. The details appeal only to the same prurient interest that apparently motivated Devlin in the first place.

Why didn't Shawn Hornbeck run away? Because he was scared, abused, and manipulated. Maybe you would've done differently if you were kidnaped at age 11, but maybe not. More to the point, if you are a parent or a teacher or in whatever way have a child in your life, what can you do to help that child have the wherewithal to find his or her way out of such a terrible situation? Does your child have a faerie godmother? I'll explain what I mean by that, and how you can be sure that your child has one, in an upcoming post.

As to Bill O'Reilly's suggestion that Shawn found his new home more appealing than his real family, I think that's way out of line. It's not impossible that a home could be so horrific that almost anything would be an improvement, but everything I have seen suggests Shawn prayed for the day he could return home. Billo's analysis sounds rather like saying that a battered wife stays with her abusive husband because she enjoys getting smacked around — it keeps her life from being a bore. In fact, it looks to me like the core of the problem is that, even at 11 years old, Shawn Hornbeck had more emotional maturity than Bill O'Reilly has now.

Update: [2007-10-09] Today we found out why Shawn didn't escape. He feared for his life — a realistic fear, given that Devlin did actually try to kill him — every moment of his captivity. He spent days tied to a bed with duct tape over his mouth. He was in no respect, at no time, a willing participant in his abduction. He was a terrified child, doing his best simply to stay alive.

Let that stand as an object lesson to anyone who listens to the likes of blowhard Bill O'Reilly.

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Tonight's entry is on the DKos site

I wrote a blog entry tonight about the new U.S. Army manual for the Guantánamo trials, but I wrote it on the Daily Kos website. Please visit my Daily Kos "diary" for more.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dinesh D'Souza's "Blame America First" book

A great many of you have never heard of Dinesh D'Souza, giving him the obscurity and irrelevance he deserves. I have known Dinesh's writings, though, since about 1984, when he was editor of Prospect magazine. Remember the stink about Judge Samuel Alito and the Concerned Reactionary Alumni of Princeton? Prospect was C.R.A.P.'s newsletter, advocating the Concerned Alumni's dream of returning to an all-male, all-WASP university, turning out gentlemen who can make conversation at cocktail parties. Trouble is, Dinesh D'Souza never actually attended the university, so technically he wasn't an alumnus. He was openly challenged on the point, but he insisted that he was qualified to be the editor because he had attended another Ivy League school, or some such rationalization. Maybe he was looking for Weapons of Mass Depravity, while acting as a mouthpiece for racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Tonight, thousands of Americans were given their first taste of Dinesh D'Souza on Comedy Central's Colbert Report. D'Souza's new book blames liberals in the United States for the problem of terrorism. Stephen Colbert knocked Dinesh to the rhetorical floor, pinned him, tickled him, and gave him a few verbal noogies. Here's the transcript, with my commentary.

Stephen Colbert: Welcome back, everybody. My guest tonight says that to win the war on terror, we must export traditional American values. First, we have to find a way to make apple pies explode. Please welcome Dinesh D'Souza!

Mr. D'Souza, thank you so much for coming on. (Pleasure.) This book is a revelation to me. It's called The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. Okay, I've been trying to figure this one out for a while — walk me through it: how did the liberals plan 9/11? Go!

Dinesh D'Souza: Well, first of all, the liberals convinced Jimmy Carter to withdraw American support from a valuable ally, the Shah of Iran. The United States pulled the Persian rug out from under the shah, and who did we get? Khomeini. In trying to get rid of a bad guy, we got the worse guy.
Kind of like we got rid of Saddam Hussein, only to get what could very well turn out to be — from both an American and an Iraqi perspective — the worse guy?
Colbert: But Reagan got back at those bastards by selling them Hawk missiles in the '80's, right? He showed them a thing or two about American muscle by giving them some.

D'Souza: Well, he also sent some missiles the way of Khadafy, which put him out of the terrorism trade. Here's the second point: in the 1990's, the radical Muslims launched a bunch of attacks — Cobar Towers, the embassies, the U.S.S. Cole; President Clinton did absolutely nothing, and bin Laden said, you know what, the United States is a bunch of cowards, and that's why he says he was emboldened to strike at 9/11.

Colbert: But is all the responsibility Carter and Clinton's? Doesn't some of it lie at FDR's doorstep? Doesn't things [sic] like Social Security and Medicare and LBJ's Great Society — doesn't some of that send the wrong message to our enemies, that America cares about domestic issues, not just about foreign policy?

D'Souza: Indirectly, yes; here's why —

Colbert: Okay, I can't wait. Can I guess? It's because we never got to see him standing up, and therefore America doesn't stand up for its principles?

[Audience groans]

D'Souza: No. FDR gave away Eastern Europe through Yalta, and then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Muslims had to fight back — that's where bin Laden got his start.
So really, the problem of terrorism is Churchill's fault, because without his determination to oppose the Nazis, we could've gotten rid of that pesky Soviet Union instead of giving it Prague and Poland and Potsdam.
Colbert: But it's worse than just politics, right? I mean, it's worse than just international relations that does it. Isn't our culture itself corrosive, and invites this kind of attack?

D'Souza: Well, that's what the radical Muslims say. They say America is the fount of global depravity and atheism.

Colbert: But do you think there's any truth to this, because I'm with you — our culture is depraved, correct? (Wrong.) Hollywood is depraved? (No, but—) Hollywood is depraved or not? You pro-Hollywood or anti-Hollywood?

D'Souza: Well, I have mixed feelings about Hollywood. (Oh, that's not going to sell books!) But I'll tell you this: we in America know that there's a big difference between some of the excesses of our popular culture and the way that Americans actually live, but abroad they don't know that. The only America they see is the face of TV, and the music industry, and the movies, so they're getting a distorted picture of America, but that's the only America they see.

Colbert: What should we be sending them? Because I'm afraid they're seeing things like, you know, The Goonies, and I'm pretty sure that's responsible for the Cole attack. Can't we send them stuff like this? Jimmy, show 'em the Truckasaurus. Wouldn't this send a strong message to our enemies, not to mess with us? Wouldn't this be helpful?

D'Souza: Symbolically, it might be useful, but look: here is the point. The point I'm trying to make is that there is an America, a traditional America and also a liberal America. Very often, the only America that the Muslims see is "blue" America: they see the America of gay marriage, they see the America of people eating maggots, they see one side of America. They don't see —

Colbert: Why do gay people love maggots so much, is my question for you. (I wasn't putting — ) Because I've never been to a gay wedding, but I assume it's on the buffet.

D'Souza: I don't know everything about the gay lifestyle, but —
Yup, nothing like a nice big bowl of maggots for marrying two faggots!
Colbert: Well, what can we do? What can we do, because I am with you, there is this depraved, destructive element in our culture that invites attacks by Islamic extremists, but what can we do to get the attacks straight to them, and leave us alone, because there's certainly real Americans, like you and me, and liberal Americans, who don't deserve our protection or our liberties.
You either support our President, or you hate America. Of course, blaming American liberals for telling the terrorists to "bring it on," simply by not adhering strictly to fundamentalist Muslim tradition — that's just speaking truth to power.
D'Souza: Look, I'm not — we can't convince the Islamic radicals. (But you can convince me!) Not you; there are a lot of traditional Muslims, who have traditional values — not very different from traditional Jewish or Christian values.

Colbert: And can we just hold hands in brotherhood, and use our free hands to stone gay people — is that possible?
It's the one thing that can bring unity to Jerusalem! Last year, leaders from the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Muslim communities came together to issue an unprecedented joint statement condemning a gay pride march planned for Jerusalem.
D'Souza: No. Look, homosexuality exists all over the world. (Right, right.) It's not something — (But it's our responsibility to stop it here, not everywhere in the world.) — no, but there is a difference between something that is allowed or tolerated and something that is seen as given social sanction. That's, I think, what makes a lot of traditional Muslims uneasy. Here's all I'm saying: why don't we show them a little more of the traditional America? That will undermine bin Laden's argument that we're all a bunch of atheists; that will undermine bin Laden's idea that America is trying to project —
So, in other words, it's okay to kill atheists.
Colbert: So, what other cultural editing notes should we take from the terrorists?

D'Souza: It's not editing notes, it's a matter of —

Colbert: No, no, I mean, I agree with you: there are some good ideas these guys have. This is what you're saying, that there are some parts of our culture that are corrosive, and you agree with some of the things that they're saying.

D'Souza: I'm saying that —

Colbert: No, you have the courage to say that, right? That you agree with some of the things these radical extremists are against in America. (I'm more concerned — ) Do you agree with that statement? (Well, no, I'm — ) Just do you agree with that statement?

D'Souza: I agree with it. (Okay, good.) But —

Colbert: Finally, someone has the courage to say that there are things in America that the liberals do that are causing our destruction.

D'Souza: Okay, that's going a little too far —

Colbert: Oh, I know, that's what you're saying: "The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11." That's why I had you on the show, because I agree with that statement, sir!

D'Souza: But I didn't do 9/11!

Colbert: No, because you're not a Cultural Left! And the Cultural Left people did do 9/11.

D'Souza: But bin Laden says he did 9/11 for foreign policy reasons, and because he sees America as culturally depraved, so in other words —

Colbert: So the Cultural Left is responsible for 9/11 — when do you think bin Laden's going to get a movie deal?

D'Souza: No movie deal for that guy! I think —

Colbert: All right, but he's not truly part of the Cultural Left. I think you need to do your research a little better. Dinesh D'Souza, thank you for stopping by. The book is The Enemy at Home; we'll be right back.
Dinesh D'Souza looked like such a fool, he should run for Congress!

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Secretary Rice's Senate Testimony

I've reviewed only a few excerpts of the testimony given by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, but there is one quote from her that continues to rankle me.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D–CA) asked a question about how many additional U.S. casualties we anticipate as a result of the "surge" or "augmentation" or whatever you want to call the escalation of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. The Secretary's response: "Senator, I think it would be highly unlikely for the military to tell the President we expect X number of casualties because of this augmentation of the forces."

First, let's consider the possibility that Condi is speaking honestly on this question and knows what she's talking about. The military planners who presented this plan to President Bush for his approval gave him no estimate whatsoever of how it would affect the rate of American casualties (not to mention Iraqi civilian casualties). In other words, they were derelict in their duties and should be court-martialed. In preparing any battle plan, the casualty projections should be an integral part of the decision-making process. The generals and admirals have an obligation to consider casualties, because they have an obligation to the front-line soldiers to hold their risk to the minimum possible without endangering the success of the mission. To choose a plan, the planners must consider the likelihood of achieving the objective and the risks involved.

I find it difficult to believe that the military leaders would withhold such vital information from the Decider-in-Chief — unless, of course, he directly ordered them to withhold it. That leaves three more possibilities for Secretary Rice's bizarre statement. The first is that she simply misspoke; it seems unlikely, viewing the video of her testimony, because she seemed entirely aware of what she was saying. The second possibility is that Condi was intentionally lying to Congress, covering up an inconvenient bit of evidence that might sway opinion against the President's plan. Of course, lying to Congress, even if not in sworn testimony, is a serious matter. The third possibility is that the Secretary of State simply knows even less about military planning than some random blogger sitting on a futon watching the TV news.

So, Secretary Rice, which is it? Are the generals incompetent, or did you space out, or were you lying, or are you utterly unqualified for your job?

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

I want my AJZ!

I rushed home to watch God's Business on Al Jazeera English, but all I'm getting is a blank screen occasionally flashing up "Kein Videosignal!" (The Internet feed is piped through Germany.) I'm al-Jajonezin for my al-Jazeera!

Oh, well; tonight's installment is supposed to be Part Four: Islam in France. The blurb mentions that France recently approved the first Islamic school to be included in the state school system, which is a remarkable step. There is a movement to create a natively French Islam, not so willing to defer to the traditional leaders, and particularly not willing to defer to someone just because he's from the land of Mohammed. I am not a Muslim, but I find it especially incredible to claim that God prefers one particular human language (in this case, Arabic, but the principle holds the same for English, Hebrew, Latin, or Aramaic) rather than all of them equally. My hope, a bit utopian perhaps, is that broadening the cultural base of Islam will lead to a greater reconciliation of Islamic faith with the realities of the modern world. The global caliphate will never happen, nor any other unanimity of religious belief. The challenge we must take on is to live in harmony with people we disagree with.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Meth Coffee

Right here in San Francisco, some budding ontapanoors have come up with a spiffy, stylish, classy name for their bizness: Meth Coffee. Really — check their web site if you don't believe me. That's Meth as in Crystal Methamphetamine, also known as speed, crank, Tina, or a variety of other noms d'aiguille. Meth is ravaging our community, fueling the rise of petty crime (especially "smash and grab" burglaries from parked cars), and turning thousands of people into haggard zombies, "wasted" both mentally and physically. It's also the reason that you can no longer find Sudafed® on store shelves; you have to ask the pharmacist.

What's next? Rat Poison Latte? Drain Cleaner Mocha? Cocaine Cola? [Oh, wait — that's been done!] Crispy Crack Flakes breakfast cereal?

You can let these people know what you think of their business model on their comment page:

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Road Map to Impeachment

About a thousand people gathered on the beach in San Francisco last weekend to spell out IMPEACH! in gigantic letters. Sentiment here on the Left Coast is strong for repudiating the illegal policies of the Bush Administration and removing the President and Vice President from office before they can do any further damage to our economic future, our national reputation, or our Constitution. Realistically, I'd say that impeachment is only slightly more likely in the next two years than persuading Moqtada al-Sadr to convert to Judaism, but if it's ever going to happen, here's how we get there.

We begin with Congressional hearings. Not Congressional impeachment hearings, just regular oversight hearings and investigations of specific issues. Those hearings will inevitably request and then require the administration to provide information. The administration will stonewall, and therein lies the kernel of impeachability. For better or worse, Bush will not be impeached for lying to the Congress and the public about the reasons for war. Just as Al Capone wasn't convicted for any of his violent crimes, but rather for income tax evasion, so, too, Bush will be undone by his defiance of Congress.

The signing statements will come into play in that discussion, because they show a manifest intent to disregard, rather than uphold, the laws passed by Congress and duly enacted by his signature. The program of eavesdropping on electronic communications of "U.S. persons" in utter disregard for the law and of the specific language of the Constitution itself, will be a part of the background, but the signing statement in which the President claims the right to open First Class mail without a warrant for "intelligence collection" purposes will ultimately loom much larger, certainly larger if the authority is ever used. The war profiteering abetted by the administration will be a bigger factor than the war itself, because it's a more sharply defined issue. The politicization of the Coalition Provisional Authority — submitting applicants to purely political litmus tests wholly unrelated to the job — might also factor in, because it is specifically and directly a political crime.

The Fourth Amendment is equal to the First in protecting our liberty and our democracy. It is only one sentence, albeit a bit of a run-on sentence:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In discussing the electronic eavesdropping program, it is easy to drift into discussions about the fact that the Founders could never have anticipated e-mail or even the telephone, but they most certainly did have snail-mail, and there can be no possible doubt that "secure in their papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures" applies unambiguously to the mail. That is clear by the wording itself, and it is clearly the intent of the Framers. It makes no mention whatsoever of "except for purposes of collecting intelligence in wartime," and it is abundantly clear that no such exception was intended.

War profiteering will figure more prominently than torture or habeas corpus, simply because it is all too easy to argue that detainee treatment only affects "them"; war profiteering directly affects every American taxpayer, here and now. There have always been and will always be no-bid contracts, but the Bush Administration has raised them to new heights. No-bid contracts can only be justified in cases where there is such an urgent and immediate need that the delay of the bidding process itself is unacceptable. Even then, the administration has a fiduciary duty to ensure that the American people get what they've paid for, which means accounting for, perhaps not every penny, but certainly every million dollars spent. The fact that we are spending more than $10 million an hour on the war doesn't diminish the point: just like with cheap long-distance, we want our six-second billing!

The fact that the Bush Administration sent inexperienced, objectively unqualified people, chosen entirely for their partisan political loyalty rather than for their ability to do the job, should also be brought directly into the glaring light of Congressional oversight. What possible relevance can an applicant's opinion of Roe v. Wade have on his or her ability to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure? The only loyalties that can legally be required of such a person are to the Constitution of the United States and to the welfare of the Iraqi people. Party registration, religious affiliation, and general political views, are irrelevant.

We start with the hearings. As the hearings uncover and document abuses of the Constitution by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and as Bush and Cheney illegally disregard Congressional subpoenas when they inevitably arrive, then we will have the beginnings of the case for impeachment. Everything that has happened up to now can't factor into the impeachment discussion until it has been stamped with the seal of a formal Congressional investigation. Those investigations are the prelude to any possible impeachment. Building up such a mountain of documented, corroborated evidence that 68 Senators are compelled by their constituents to vote for removal from office, and doing it all in less than a year, is pretty unlikely. The more fruitful course is to let the investigations shine light on the administration's abuses and rein them in, in such a way as to leave Bush's successor no wiggle room to continue them.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Urge to Surge

As expected — indeed, as copiously leaked in advance — President Bush tonight announced his intention to commit an additional 20,000+ troops in Iraq. The mission they will undertake is to take and hold the areas of Baghdad and al Anbar governate from which the largest numbers of insurgent, sectarian, and/or terrorist attacks have originated. They will be attached to Iraqi units, who will take the lead in the fight, and the Prime Minister of Iraq has committed to providing those Iraqi troops, as well as giving the political clearance to allow the combined Iraqi-American forces to pursue the enemy. President Bush reached this decision in defiance of the views of the Iraqi people, the American people, the Congress, the Iraq Study Group, the rank-and-file military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the generals in charge of the Iraq theater. He failed to enunciate a clear military objective for this operation, and failed to demonstrate that this "surge" will in any way hasten the departure of American forces from Iraq.

On the surface, it sounds good: send in an extra contingent of "cops" to lock down Baghdad long enough for the Iraqi government to gain the strength to actually govern Iraq, from al Anbar to Kurdistan to al Basrah. It promises the security that the people of Baghdad desperately need in order to begin rebuilding their city and their national economy. The great American eagle will shelter the newly hatched Iraqi democracy, just long enough for it to grow big enough to fly on its own. Problem is, this isn't a Disney movie.

Baghdad is a city of about 6 million people, even accounting for the thousands who have fled the violence. In peacetime, a police force of 50,000 would probably be more than enough to preserve order, but we're not talking about preserving order. We are talking about establishing order out of mayhem. A small number of provocateurs can keep the violence boiling, since an attack on one group generates reprisals, which in turn generate reprisals, which generate more reprisals. Shia death squads murder Sunnis, Sunni death squads murder Shia, and other factions murder their rivals. The insurgency was given time to establish itself, and the "government of national unity" has not yet lived up to its billing. The Sunnis in particular have felt that the political playing field is tilted against them; of course, given their disproportionate share of power under Saddam, absolute equality would still feel like privation. In order to pacify Baghdad, it will be necessary to pacify the entire city at once and neutralize the death squads and private armies of all factions. Putting it in those terms, even the entire American force of 150,000, even taking second to the lead of 18 brigades of Iraqi forces, will not bring quiet to the streets and markets of Baghdad.

The only way to establish order in Baghdad is for the Iraqi people to reach the point that the great majority of them are willing to put that goal above their sectarian rivalries, and back up the goal with concrete and coordinated action. Iraq needs an army and a police force that is Iraqi, not Sunni Iraqi, Shia Iraqi, Baathist Iraqi, or Kurdish Iraqi. Iraq needs a government that has the trust and loyalty of all of segments of society. Reforming the de-Baathification laws is an important step, because it will allow some of the experienced bureaucrats, police, and military commanders, many of whom were members of the Baath Party out of necessity rather than out of any personal loyalty to Saddam, to return to their posts. Reassembling the apparatus of government and of law and order is a daunting task, but building it from scratch is an impossibility, especially in the midst of a civil war. The Iraqis need to figure out how best to use their resources — human talent as well as petroleum — to build the foundation of a secure, prosperous, and (hopefully) democratic society.

President Bush, in his speech tonight, outlined a military mission that is ill-defined, ill-considered, and open-ended. How will we know that the mission — even just this much more limited mission — has been accomplished? At what point will we decide that it has failed to achieve its objective? What is the exit strategy? How can we expect our military, especially our military reserves, to sustain this surge of troop levels when many units are already on their third or even fourth deployment in Iraq? On television tonight, a soldier mentioned some alarming statistics. Among soldiers in Iraq, the suicide rate tripled from 2005 to 2006. Divorce is epidemic. Post-traumatic stress disorder will haunt thousands of these soldiers for years. And the bottom-line question remains: what are those soldiers there to accomplish? They're going to be policemen in a city in which, for the most part, they don't speak the language, don't have the trust of the locals, and don't know the neighborhoods or the neighborhood leaders, much less the nuances of alliances and rivalries. By all accounts, the mission on which President Bush is predicating this surge is more political than military, and that's a recipe for failure from both perspectives.

On the domestic political front, President Bush didn't go nearly far enough in taking responsibility for the mistakes made so far. It wasn't the generals on the ground, it was the ideologues in the White House and the Pentagon who decided that we didn't need to secure the capital in 2003, after our blitzkrieg to Baghdad. It was those same ideologues who gave us absurd predictions about how easy and cheap and quick this war would be. On Saint Patrick's Day, the Iraq War will have lasted as long as the American Civil War, making it — along with our ongoing war in Afghanistan — among our longest-lasting military operations. So much for "I doubt it will last six months."

The Congress will hold hearings on the President's plans in the coming days. The Democrats need to have the courage to not only ask the difficult questions, but to demand coherent answers. What exactly is the mission? How long do we expect it to take? How will it accelerate the substantive withdrawal of American forces from Iraq?
How can we be confident that we won't have to send in even more troops? What will we do if the Iraqi government is unable to muster 18 brigades to hold the capital? What measures are we taking to earn the trust of the average citizen in Baghdad?

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