Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reservoir Dogs, Republican-style

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's Sullivan on the "circular conservative firing squad" in response to the (very sensible) immigration bill:

The hysteria on the far right (is there any other sort any more?) about the immigration bill is remarkable to me. It's not that there aren't obviously good arguments against amnesty; it's the fever-pitch mania that drives these people. I have to say I find it baffling - not the position as such but the anger and rage. The obvious solution -- much better border control and some attempt to bring most illegal immigrants out of the shadows -- is obscured by emotion. The result, of course, is that the GOP has all but lost the Hispanic vote for a generation, just by the tone of their rhetoric. And they are at one another's throats. Bush, in particular, is now despised -- for a policy [he] has always publicly supported. The suicide of the right continues, and perhaps it's for the best. If these people have not asked to be sent into the political wilderness, who has?


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Where diplomats go to be punished

By Libby Spencer

Never underestimate Bush's delusions of grandeur. While his occupation falls apart, he's busy building the world's biggest and most expensive embassy.

The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington's National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls. The compound is a symbol both of how much the United States has invested in Iraq and how the circumstances of its involvement are changing.

We're paying $600 mil for that ugly fortress? It looks more like a gigantic bunker than an embassy and at 104 acres, it's not a diplomatic outpost, it's a small town. One can imagine Bush envisioned himself in the royaly appointed HQ, deep inside the compound, directing the spread of democracy all over the Middle East when he ordered the hideous monstrosity built. He probably still does, if his hold on reality is as tenuous as I think it is . Let's face it, a guy who jumps into an orchestra pit to conduct his own exit music is simply not firing on all cylinders.

But the Decider/Commander Guy's nervous breakdown aside, an "embassy" of that size does not speak of a reduced presence in Iraq -- ever. It shouts shadow government, something not lost on the average Iraqi who without reliable electricity some four years after the "liberation," sits in the dark while the lights in the US compounds blaze. No wonder they love us so much.

(Photo from Yahoo news.)

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Don't hold back, Jimmy

By Creature

Former president Jimmy Carter on current president GWB:

"I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," Carter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a story that appeared in the newspaper's Saturday editions. "The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me."

As for Tony Blair:

Carter also lashed out Saturday at British prime minister Tony Blair. Asked how he would judge Blair's support of Bush, the former president said: "Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient."

Douglas Brinkley, a Carter biographer, described Carter's comments as "unprecedented." Unprecedented and sorely needed. Let the conservative backlash begin. Hold on.

More Carter here.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Friday, May 18, 2007

A very special friendship

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here are Tony and George heading into the Rose Garden. You know, I've said some very nice things about Blair recently, but reminders of his oh-so-special friendship with Bush, built around a disaster of a war, compel me to reconsider my generosity. He accomplished a great deal as prime minister, far more than his critics care to admit, but Iraq remains his Waterloo, of sorts. And for that he has no one to blame but himself.

(Photo from the Globe.)

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An orange jumpsuit for the AG?

By Creature

Yesterday, conservatives were trying to make the case that there is "no there there" when it came to Alberto Gonzales' late night, DOJ disrespecting trip to the sick-bed of his predecessor, John Ashcroft. Well, today, Time magazine takes a look at the "there" in "no there there" and finds that, in fact, there may have been a law broken.

Ashcroft bluntly rebuffed Gonzales, but Comey's unwillingness publicly to say what Gonzales said in the hospital room has raised questions about whether Gonzales may have violated executive branch rules regarding the handling of highly classified information, and possibly the law preventing intentional disclosure of national secrets. [...]

The law controlling the unwarranted disclosure of classified information that has been gained through electronic surveillance is particularly strict. In the past, everyone from low-level officers in the armed forces to sitting Senators have been investigated by the Justice department for the intentional disclosure of such information. The penalty for "knowingly and willfully" disclosing information "concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States" carries a penalty up to 10 years in prison under U.S. law.

Sounds like the "no there there" conservatives will be in need of a new set of talking points. What a waste of paper.

Note: Conservatives only resorted to their claim of no actual wrongdoing as a fall back position after it was discovered that Bill Clinton had never sent his chief counsel to arm-twist a disabled and disoriented Janet Reno.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Sensible immigration reform that irks the xenophobic right

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Although I haven't had time to examine it all that carefully, this looks pretty good: "The Bush administration and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement yesterday on a sprawling overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that would bring an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants out of society's shadows while stiffening border protections and cracking down on employers of undocumented workers."

Here's what I said last year: "To be sure, something needs to be done about "illegal" (or "undocumented") immigration, but I must say this: Let America's policy towards these immigrants be generous, fair, and flexible. Do not punish them for having chosen to come to America. Offer them an opportunity to settle, legally, for good. If they work, if they pay their taxes, if they accept the American way of life and want to be a part of it, indeed, if they are already American, broadly speaking, be generous to them. They only want to live their lives in Lincoln's last, best hope, in a nation of immigrants that has historically welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses who have yearned for the chance to start anew, to make a better life for themselves and their families. These new Americans want to breathe free. Let them." (An expanded version of that post, "In Search of a Solution to Illegal Immigration," appeared at John Edwards's One America Committee Blog.)

It seems to me that the Senate compromise is, at the very least, a good and impressive start. It "would grant temporary legal status to virtually all illegal immigrants in the country, while allowing them to apply for residence visas and eventual citizenship". In addition, it would provide for "[a] temporary-worker program [that] would allow as many as 400,000 migrants into the country each year," for two years. It's not perfect, but, as Senator Feinstein put it, "[d]on't let the perfect be the enemy of the good". This may very well be as good as it gets.

And the xenophobic right hates it, which must mean it's got something good going for it. Michelle Malkin, one of the leading xenophobes, calls it an "amnesty sellout," "[t]he Bush-Kennedy amnesty". She screams "Amnesty No!" here. Hugh Hewitt is leading a "Stop the GOP Senate Cave-in" campaign. He notes that "[t]he only good news about the bill... is that it will effectively end the McCain campaign," which is what conservative hardliners want. (As is often the case, Ed Morrissey provides a much more sensible conservative response.) For more reaction, mostly from the pissed-off right, head over to Memeorandum, where it's currently the lead item.

Maybe this, more than Iraq, will trigger the conservative crack-up we've all been waiting for.

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The worsening of global warming

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Via Kevin Drum, a new and disturbing finding on global warming:

The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is so loaded with carbon dioxide that it can barely absorb any more, so more of the gas will stay in the atmosphere to warm up the planet, scientists reported Thursday...

"We thought we would be able to detect these only the second half of this century, say 2050 or so," [said researcher Corinne Le Quere]. But data from 1981 through 2004 show the sink is already full of carbon dioxide. "So I find this really quite alarming."

"Increased winds over the last half-century are to blame for the change, Le Quere said," and these increased winds are caused by ozone depletion and global warming, that is, by human activity. (Make sure to read the whole piece.)

More: "Another sign of warming in the Antarctic was reported Tuesday by NASA, which found vast areas of snow melted on the southern continent in 2005 in a process that may accelerate invisible melting deep beneath the surface." Read more on this here.

Yes, it's getting worse and worse, no matter what the genocidal deniers say.


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Look who isn't supporting the troops

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sure, Bush like to say he supports the troops, but, well, support is relative:

Troops don’t need bigger pay raises, White House budget officials said Wednesday in a statement of administration policy laying out objections to the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill.

The Bush administration had asked for a 3 percent military raise for Jan. 1, 2008, enough to match last year’s average pay increase in the private sector. The House Armed Services Committee recommends a 3.5 percent pay increase for 2008, and increases in 2009 through 2012 that also are 0.5 percentage point greater than private-sector pay raises.

The slightly bigger military raises are intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today. Under the bill, HR 1585, the pay gap would be reduced to 1.4 percent after the Jan. 1, 2012, pay increase.

Bush budget officials said the administration "strongly opposes" both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases "unnecessary."

Unnecessary? Unnecessary?! For whom? For those who are risking their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? That is, inter alia, for those fighting Bush's wars? I mean, so what if their tours of duty are being extended? So what if their pay rates lag behind those in the private sector? It's not like they're doing important work or anything, right?

As with the Walter Reed scandal and the general mistreatment of veterans and wounded troops, this strong opposition to the House's recommended pay increases says far more about the extent and sincerity of Bush's support for the troops than his hollow partisan rhetoric.

For more, see Steve Benen and Taylor Marsh.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Responsibility and resignation

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Wolfowitz is out -- soon:

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has resigned his post, effective June 30.

An internal panel tasked with investigating the lucrative pay and promotion package Wolfowitz arranged in 2005 for girlfriend Shaha Riza found him guilty of breaking bank rules.

The committee also found that he tried to hide the salary and promotion package from top ethics and legal officials within the bank. The report added that there is a "crisis in the leadership" at the World Bank.

Wolfowitz is the first World Bank president to ever leave the bank under a cloud of scandal.

Yet he doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong. You've got to admit, he's consistent in his cluelessness. But at least this mess will soon be over.

The photo above is from the White House. With Wolfowitz embroiled in scandal and soon to resign, let's remind ourselves what President Bush said about him on March 16, 2005, upon his appointment to head The World Bank:

Paul Wolfowitz is a proven leader and experienced diplomat, who will guide the World Bank effectively and honorably during a critical time in history -- both for the Bank and the developing nations it supports.

Well, that didn't quite work out. Bush went on to praise Wolfowitz's "experience" and "skills," as well as his allegedly "deep understanding of developmental issues and economic and political reform," but, however excessive that praise, what he will now be remembered for most is being completely wrong about the Iraq War and reducing The World Bank to a state of crisis by acting unethically and trying to cover it up.

It couldn't have happened to a more deserving man.

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Republican torturers

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you missed it -- as WaPo reminds us in a surprisingly good editorial -- the eleven Republican presidential candidates were asked during their South Carolina debate on Tuesday about the interrogation of suspected terrorists involved in suicide bombings in the U.S. "How aggressively would you interrogate?" asked Fox hack (er, moderator) Brit Hume. The only one of the eleven who came out decidedly against torture was John McCain. The other ten, trying to look tough (or, in Republican terms, presidential), took part in a public pissing contest to see who was the bigger asshole (sorry, mixed metaphors), that is, who, in response to the "million-to-one scenario," would be the more determined torturer.

(See Jon Stewart's hilarious take on the whole "clusterfuck" madness, torture and all, below.) It should come as no surprise that Jack Bauer's name was mentioned, nor that Giuliani leaned on 9/11 for support (and applause), nor that Republicans are playing to the lowest instincts of voters, but the award for craziest comment, and the competition was stiff, must go to Mitt Romney, who said that "we ought to double Guantanamo".

WaPo: "Does Mr. Romney think the president has gone soft on terrorism? More likely, he and most of the other GOP candidates are calculating that they can curry favor with voters by promising that torture will be a tool of their presidential administrations." Whatever his warmongering ways, McCain's leadership in opposition to torture has been admirable. But he is alone among his peers, all of whom, it would seem, aspire to be torturer-in-chief.

This is what the Republican Party has come to.

(For more, see Jim Martin at The Impolitic.)

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Dead at last

By Capt. Fogg

I'm not always a fan of Christopher Hitchens, although I'd never deny his intelligence, but he and I see eye to eye regarding the late Jerry Falwell. Dead at last, good God almighty, dead at last.

I don't have the time and patience to expatiate on the offenses of the "reverend" Falwell, but it's something that needs to be done and done often, lest we forget that this Bible-thumping bigot and hatemonger thrived on our reluctance to turn an honest and critical eye on anyone calling himself Reverend, our forbearance when it comes to perceiving and punishing the evil of religious leaders, annointed, ordained, or self-appointed, be they Mullah or Pastor, Reverend or Rabbi, Priest or Pundit.

Hitchens's erudite excoriation of Falwell at Slate and his profession on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360° expresses my sentiments admirably, if more politely than I would do. Perhaps you've seen it, but even so it's worth seeing again.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Oliver Stone Alert

By Creature

One bullet, two bullets, magic bullet, bull:

In a collision of 21st-century science and decades-old conspiracy theories, a research team that includes a former top FBI scientist is challenging the bullet analysis used by the government to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot the two bullets that struck and killed President John F. Kennedy in 1963. [...]

They found that the scientific and statistical assumptions Guinn [conductor of the original bullet analysis] used -- and the government accepted at the time -- to conclude that the fragments came from just two bullets fired from Oswald's gun were wrong.

"This finding means that the bullet fragments from the assassination that match could have come from three or more separate bullets," the researchers said. "If the assassination fragments are derived from three or more separate bullets, then a second assassin is likely," the researchers said. If the five fragments came from three or more bullets, that would mean a second gunman's bullet would have had to strike the president, the researchers explained.

I guess Jerry had it right all along...

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Ron Paul, the people's choice?

By Libby Spencer

This is an interesting development. ABC News has a poll up asking for the viewers' assessment on the winners of the Republican debate and Ron Paul runs away with the tally with over 21,000 votes. The next closest pick is "It doesn't matter because I would rather die than have another Republican president," coming in at 1,800 and in the rest of the field only Romney and Guiliani managed to barely beat "none of the above" in the 350 range.

So why isn't this making news?

[Hat tip to long time Impolitic commenter, Lester.]

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Sign of the Apocalypse #46: The end of Melinda Doolittle

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'll admit it. I've watched pretty much all of American Idol this season. And it has been clear for a long time that the best of them all, by a lot, was Melinda Doolittle. Sure, she had her neuroses. Sure, she seemed a bit old, or old-fashioned. Sure, she didn't always seem to reach the high standard she had set for herself with some exceptional early performances. But compare her to the rest of the mediocre top ten. Or compare her to Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks, the other two of the final three. Jordin is young and raw, and has a great voice, if one that she has not always been able to control and that lacks precision. Blake is genuinely likeable, and did quite well with the beatboxing routine, but he has little to no range, seems cold and detached, and has been inconsistent. And Melinda? She was the consummate professional, an artist, the one who got it, the one who wasn't just acting, the one who truly seemed to belong on that stage. And now, yes, now she's done, voted out by the American people, leaving us with two amateurs, whatever their respective talents, to compete for the title.

It's all a big joke, was my response upon hearing Ryan Seacrest announce last night that it was the end of the line for Melinda. And I stand by that. It's one thing for someone like Sanjaya to make it far. He was a joke, and viewers were laughing at him even if they were voting for him. And of course it's hardly to be expected that there would be much talent even in the top ten. It must be remembered, after all, that American Idol is a singing, beauty, and showmanship competition for amateurs. Most of it, even in the final weeks, is nothing but glorified karaoke. But this is what set Melinda apart. And, probably, why she didn't win. She was too good for American Idol. One week the judges even lamented that they had nothing bad to say about her. In the end, that's not the sort of idol Americans -- or at least those who vote, vote, and vote again -- want. She was too much of a sure thing.

Still, Melinda has proven herself. What does it matter that she didn't win it all? She was too good for American Idol anyway.

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Edwards and Romney are in the lead

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In Iowa.


It's still early -- although I do think the progressive Edwards has a good shot of winning Iowa and, with that victory, of building momentum against Clinton and Obama heading into New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the other early primaries. But it'll be awfully tough for him to pull ahead of those two celebrity (and celebrated) candidates.

What is interesting in the Zogby poll is the news that "Giuliani has slid substantially". So could Romney, who is rising rapidly in the Iowa polls, win? Well, sure. That is, if the love affair with Fred Thompson as the incarnation of Ronald Reagan doesn't materialize in terms of actual votes. Given that both Giuliani and McCain are deeply flawed candidates -- the former because he's a liberal with a complex personal life, however authoritarian overall, the latter because he's been way too much of a maverick and isn't trusted by his own party -- Romney could win both Iowa and New Hampshire, where he's also polling well, positioning himself as the sudden frontrunner. If that were to happen, and if Republicans have nowhere else to turn (and, more, if religious conservatives come to accept or at least put up with his Mormon faith), he could very well pull it off.

And -- you know what? -- an Edwards-Romney general election wouldn't be so bad. I don't think it'll happen, but weirder things have happened. I just can't think of any at the moment.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

For Wolfowitz, the end is near

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I posted my thoughts on The Wolfowitz Affair last night, and here's the latest from WaPo:

The World Bank's executive board is negotiating the resignation of embattled President Paul D. Wolfowitz, senior bank officials said this afternoon.

The sources said that under the terms being discussed, Wolfowitz would step down, ending the ethics controversy that has consumed the bank for weeks, while the board would credit him for some achievements as president of the global poverty-fighting institution, including a sharpened focus on aiding Africa and stemming corruption.

The Bush Administration is apparently "helping broker the terms" and is "eager to see the matter resolved swiftly," but -- and this shows its wagon-circling priorities -- it had been working on "finding Wolfowitz a face-saving way out," whereby "the bank's board [would have reprimanded] but not [fired] Wolfowitz for engineering and covering up a substantial raise for his girlfriend, with the bank expressly sharing some of the blame for the ethics controversy".

In typical fashion, then, the Bush Administration was trying to avoid responsibility and deflect accountability while protecting one of its own. But the bank, much to its credit, "rejected that formulation in discussions last night and today". And consider this: "The Bush administration appeared to be virtually alone in supporting Wolfowitz. Nearly all board members have endorsed the findings of the committee's report, officials said, with even Canada -- traditionally a reliable U.S. ally -- breaking with the Bush administration."

(Bush. Alone. Again. What else is new?)

Which means that the end is near for Wolfowitz at The World Bank. If he doesn't resign -- and the window seems to be open -- he will likely be subjected to a vote of no confidence or fired. And so
his resignation is inevitable. It's just a matter of when.

(CNN has more here, ABC here.)

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Mekong turtle

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A wonderful discovery in Cambodia:

One of the world's largest turtles, said to be on the brink of extinction, has been found in abundance in a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in Cambodia.

Conservationists discovered an 11kg (24lb) female Cantor's giant soft-shell turtle and a nesting ground during a survey of the country's Mekong River.

The species, which can grow two metres (6ft) long and weigh 50kg (110lb) was last spotted in Cambodia in 2003.

Scientists say the find could help save it from disappearing off the planet.

And this is some turtle. It "has a rubbery skin and a powerful bite, with jaws strong enough to crush bone," and "[i]t spends most of its time hidden in sand with only its eyes or nose showing".

A big problem is that the Vietnamese eat this "expensive delicacy". Hopefully this discovery will at least ward off extinction and perhaps even allow the species to flourish.

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By Creature

Yesterday, the former No. 2 at the Justice Department, James Comey, filled in the details of an attempt by the administration to skirt DOJ approval with respect to their warrantless wiretapping program -- an attempt which included a late night visit to a sick and hospitalized attorney general and a subsequent reauthorization of the program without DOJ approval. Today, even the Washington Post's editorial board is "disturbed" by it all.

The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration's alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president's inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice's conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department's supervision.

Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.

Welcome, WaPo, to the land of the disturbed. Maybe now there will be less cheerleading and more scrutiny. Maybe.

Glenn Greenwald will take you the rest of the warrantless wiretapping way.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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All hail Douglas Lute

By Michael J.W. Stickings

No one seemed to want the job, but, at long last, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the Pentagon's director of operations, has been named the new "war czar":

In the newly created position of assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation, Lute would have the power to direct the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies involved in the two conflicts.

Lute would report directly to the president and to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley...

Lute is a widely respected officer, but is by no means a high-profile player in Washington. Before assuming his position at the Pentagon, he was the director of operations for Central Command while Gen. John Abizaid was the commander.

The whole thing seems crazy, a last-ditch "Hail Mary" by a White House that has run out of ideas (and where is Bush in all this? isn't he the commander-in-chief?), but there could very well be meaning behind the madness. Just ask this question -- why Lute?

As Think Progress points out, "[t]he choice of Lute is notable because of his previous advocacy for troop withdrawal in Iraq". Indeed, he advocated withdrawal last year, to Charlie Rose:

Whatever the political arguments, Charlie, there are at least two good operational reasons that we would like to see a smaller, lighter, less prominent U.S. force structure in Iraq. One is this perception of occupation that a large American force brings with it. Today, there are about 140,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq. We would like to bring that down and undercut the enemy propaganda that in fact we have designs on Iraqi resources or Iraqi bases and so forth, and that in fact we`re really just masquerading as an occupation force. So we want to undercut that perception.

Steve Soto makes a similar case at The Left Coaster. Perhaps the White House picked an advocate of withdrawal because withdrawal is on the way: "Could there be some truth to the rumors out of the Middle East that Cheney's trip to the region was a warning flare to our allies that we are reducing our troop levels after Petraeus's report in September? Has the White House suddenly realized that GOP support will crumble after September?"

That would be an astonishing appreciation of reality from a White House that has closed itself off from reality, that basically denies reality, and for that reason alone I remain highly skeptical. Still, even the White House can't ignore reality altogether, and some Republicans, eyeing '08 and rightly judging Iraq a losing issue, have already begun to turn on the war. As well, as I've argued before (see here and here, for example), a possible alternative to ongoing war (i.e., carrying on with the surge and otherwise continuing to fight the war as is), which has been Bush's standard "strategy" (we'll stay until the job is done, he keeps insisting) is withdrawal while blaming the Iraqis for not meeting certain (unreachable) benchmarks and the Democrats for being cowards, traitors, "Defeatocrats," etc.

This could explain Lute's appointment. Of course, another explanation is that everyone else turned down the job and he was the only one left.
We should certainly know more by September.

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Things must be bad when Ashcroft looks good

By Michael J.W. Stickings


On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey's presence in the room, turned and left.

Let's repeat that: Ashcroft refused to sign the papers.

It's a fascinating story. For more, see The Carpetbagger Report, The Anonymous Liberal, Glenn Greenwald, Balkinization, TPMmuckraker, and Firedoglake. The Carpetbagger sums it up well: "The surveillance was already underway without court approval, and then the White House decided it didn’t need the Justice Department either. The NSA program, at that point, was operating purely because the president said it could, despite the objections of the acting Attorney General."

In other words, Bush's program was illegal and operational. Even Ashcroft was against it.

A Sign of the Apocalypse? No, more a Sign of America's Imminent Collapse.

This president has spent much of the past six-plus years abusing American democracy and Americans' freedoms, not to mention other countries and other peoples.

The evidence is clear. And piling up.

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The Wolfowitz Affair

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't yet posted on the Wolfowitz scandal at The World Bank, but I can't resist quoting this piece in The Telegraph:

Paul Wolfowitz, the embattled World Bank chief, launched into a threatening tirade against members of his staff when news of his controversial pay and promotion package for his girlfriend began to leak out, it emerged yesterday.

The revelation was one of the more damning elements of a report by a special investigative panel, which concluded that the scandal "had a dramatic, negative effect on the reputation and credibility" of the bank.

The whole affair is "banal and tawdry," as Heraclitus put it a while ago, and I tend to agree. Is it bad? Yes. Is it that bad? Well, no. What is that bad is the scandal, not the "pay and promotion package," which is precisely what the report implies.

To the extent that Wolfowitz has damaged the credibility of the institution, not to mention whatever was left of his own credibility after his role in getting the Iraq War off the ground, he would do well to resign. As The Washington Post is reporting, after all, the report determines that "[his] actions manifest a lack of understanding for and a disregard for the institution as a public international organization," and that he may no longer "be able to provide the leadership needed to ensure that the bank continues to operate to the fullest extent possible".

Matthew Yglesias is right to point out that "hypocrisy matters" -- consider the extent of hypocrisy in the White House and throughout the Bush Administration, for example, as well as on the religious right -- but I do think that some of Wolfowitz's critics are exaggerating their criticism in this case because he "was an architect of the Iraq War," as James Kirchick wrote at The Plank (in a post that I otherwise find to be excessively apologetic). If it had been some random economist who had given his girlfriend a raise and a promotion, or if it had been a Democrat, would the criticism be what it is now? If it had been a Democrat, Republicans would be exaggerating their criticism. If it had been some randon economist, I doubt anyone would be paying much attention. (It would be yet another scandal at an international institution, just like any of the usual scandals at the U.N.) In other words, hypocrisy matters, but so does partisanship.

Which is not to say that the partisans are wrong. Far from it. Whatever the motives of some of his critics, Wolfowitz acted in an inappropriate, and indeed unethical, manner, and he is now embroiled in a scandal that has tarnished the institution of which he is the head, this according to the institution itself. Wolfowitz has fought back in force, rejecting calls for his regisnation (or firing), but a report at ABC News suggests that "all options are on the table" for the White House, that "it is an open question" whether he will remain in the job. Even the White House realizes that Wolfowitz's position is untenable, that the scandal has simply grown too large to dismiss. Bush has expressed his support for Wolfowitz in the past, and just recently, but, as Sir Humphrey once remarked, you have to get behind someone before you stab them in the back.

Wolfowitz is likely done, but it won't be because of Iraq or because of any policy failure at The World Bank. That may be fine for some, but -- and I say this as someone who dislikes Wolfowitz immensely -- I'm not so sure.

He has done far worse in other capacities, and in more serious ways, but perhaps such an undignified end is some sort of justice after all.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Fallwell is dead

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Which means there's a little less bigotry in the world now.

Oh, is that insensitive? Too fucking bad. Consider some of the evidence here, just from the past few years. There is so much from which to choose, but let's go back to what he said shortly after 9/11:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'

He has also compared homosexuality to bestiality and crack addiction. Here's what he said last summer about gays in Hollywood:

And don't, don't ever be proud of sin. You know, you almost got to be a homosexual to be recognized in the entertainment industry anymore. Ellen [Degeneres], and all the rest. I love them, pray for their souls, but they're immoral.

Under cloak of religion, and sometimes not even, Falwell spent his life spewing hatred with a smile.

Like my friend Steve Benen, I was consistently "repelled and appalled," all the more so because of his popularity, legitimation in the mainstream media, and position of leadership on the religious right and within the Republican Party generally. Steve has a useful look back over Falwell's career and finds yet more bigotry. Consider what he said in 1993: "We must never allow our children to forget that this is a Christian nation. We must take back what is rightfully ours." It should come as no surprise that he claimed, in 1999, that the Antichrist is Jewish. And consider also that he once said that "AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals" (in Atrios).

And so on and so on.

(For more, see Digby. On the right, Ed Morrissey has some nice things to say.)

I simply find no reason to be generous. One may be saddened by his death, as by the death of any human being, but one must not forget just what sort of a man he was.

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The Gingrich factor

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In his own words, it's now "a great possibility" that Newt Gingrich will run for president. And more power to him. Honestly.

Sure, there's Tancredo (crazy on immigration), Brownback (crazy on abortion), Romney (crazy clean image) McCain (crazy for war), Giuliani, (just plain crazy), and so on, but there's always room for more craziness on the Republican side. Remember back in '00, for example, when Bauer and Keyes were running and Bush was widely seen as the class clown? Good times.

Gingrich would bring to the show not only his massive and shameless ego but some genuine partisan zeal, unironic self-righteousness, ugly arrogance, and a whole lot of hypocrisy and personal baggage. Plus, he's proven his dangerous idiocy time and time again.

I think an apologist for the Confederacy is just what the GOP needs, and it'd be sincerely edifying to have him defend his linguistic bigotry, not to mention his understanding of the word "ghetto," on the national stage. Oh, and he'd be the James Dobson candidate -- he has already confessed his sins to that evangelical maniac and, "mistakes" and all, he could very well turn out to be the darling of the religious right.

Yes, this is sounding better and better.

Run, Newt, run!

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Suck 'n' blow

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Read Newsweek's Michael Isikoff on Bush's "Bloody Monday": "The White House was hit by two sudden resignations late Monday when Paul McNulty, a top Justice Department official, and Lanny Davis, the only Democratic member of the president’s civil liberties watchdog board, announced they were stepping down. Both resignations are likely to fuel allegations of White House political meddling in law enforcement and national security issues."

Fuel allegations, huh? No, really? I wonder why.

WaPo and CNN have more on the McNulty resignation. And for more reaction, see Memeorandum. In particular, see Think Progress (with video) and The Next Hurrah.

I don't have anything to add right now. This is the sort of story that more or less speaks for itself.

But I will give the award for best line goes to Chuck Schumer: "It seems ironic that Paul McNulty, who at least tried to level with the committee, goes while Gonzales, who stonewalled the committee, is still in charge. This administration owes us a lot better."

Indeed it does.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The hypocrisy of Fred the Savior

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You don't need me to tell you to read the Greenwald -- you would do well to read all of his posts -- but here's the enticing intro to today's post on Fred Thompson and the rule of law:

Fred Thompson is desperate to be depicted as the savior of the right-wing movement and for that leaderless faction to embrace him as the Heir to George W. Bush. The number one qualification for that position is blind, cult-like loyalty to the right-wing movement, which in turn requires a willingness to blindly defend anyone loyal to the movement because, by definition, such a person is Good at their core and thus can do no real wrong.

In this case, Fred the Savior -- as we shall henceforth call him -- claims to be "dedicated to the rule of law" even as he "[calls] for a pardon for Scooter Libby".

It's the usual hypocrisy, of course: "Loyalty to this movement's power is their only real principle. All others are but tools used to justify that loyalty." Fred the Savior is just like all the others.

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The dishonorable Kristol

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From The Raw Story, here's Krazy Kristol bashing Republican dissenters yesterday on Fox News Sunday: "The idea that they will get credit for deserting the war at this point, they voted for the war, they voted to fund the war, now they're going to what? Vote for withdrawal, for surrender... It's a ridiculous political calculation, as well as dishonorable one. The Democrats are behaving terribly, but the Republicans are behaving foolishly."

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Republicans who are now fed up with the Iraq War aren't looking for "credit," they're looking to cover their asses heading into '08. They know already that the war is a losing issue for them. As political calculation, it's not "ridiculous," it's sensible. Voters may not accept what they view as convenient conversion, but abandoning the disastrous status quo is, it seems to me, a risk worth taking. Is it "dishonorable"? Perhaps, if what is driving the dissent is pure political calculation. Where were many of the dissenters back when the war was not yet the losing issue it is today? Still, it would be even more dishonorable to continue to support the status quo -- that is, Bush's war -- no matter what. Better dissent, whatever the motivation, than groupthink.

I am tired of repeating myself, but withdrawal is not surrender. That withdrawal is surrender is just the warmongering talking point, and Kristol and his ilk repeat it ad nauseam. Having been wrong about pretty much everything, all they can do now is dismiss the dissent and smear the dissenters. Whenever Kristol opens his mouth to spew this sort of nonsense, all we get is more evidence of his own dishonorable failure.

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An independent run for Hagel?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Chuck Hagel, yesterday, on Face the Nation (via TP): "There’s no question there is a very clear political dynamic here. The President may find himself standing alone sometime this fall, where Republicans will start to move away. And you’re starting to see trap doors and exit signs already with a number of Republicans. The 11 House Republicans who went to see him speak for more than just 11 House Republicans. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The uneasiness that’s in the Republican Party today is there."

(For more, see my recent posts on this Republican dissent here and here.)


And now there's this from The Hill:

Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel on Sunday hinted at the possibility of running for the White House as an independent, saying a credible third party ticket would be beneficial to the country.

"I am not happy with the Republican Party today," Hagel said, adding that the party is not what it was when he joined. "It’s been hijacked by a group of single-minded, almost isolationist insulationists, power-projectors..."


The senator also said a third party bid would be good for a system in which both parties "have been hijacked by the extremes."

"The system needs to be shaken up," he said, adding that the 2008 election will not be about party affiliation. Instead, he argued, what voters will "be looking at and wanting and demanding is honest, competent, accountable leadership."

I would disagree with Hagel on this: What has happened to the Republican Party has not happened to the Democratic Party. Although it is generally the position of self-styled centrists that both parties have been taken over by their extremist wings, it is simply not the case that extremists have taken over the Democratic Party. Reid and Pelosi, not to mention, Clinton and Obama, are hardly extremists. 2007 is not 1972. Opposition to the Iraq War and Republican plutocracy is not extremism, and the new Democratic majorities in Congress are pursuing a sensible agenda that is admirably mainstream.

Regardless, I do admire Chuck Hagel -- at least for his courageous opposition to Bush and his party on Iraq, if not so much for his staunch conservatism on most other issues -- and it would certainly make sense for him to run not as a Republican, for he is no longer welcome in his own party, but as an independent, if only to make a point.

Whether he runs or not, though, 2008 will be a crucial election, perhaps one of the most important in American history. Not just because of Iraq but because of global warming, the economy, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, international development, and many other pressing issues, both domestic and global. After eight disastrous years of what will have been one of the worst presidencies in history, what will be needed is new and visionary leadership. Such leadership will only come from the Democratic Party.

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The malevolent hegemon: President Bush, global warming, and the enabling of genocide

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Once again, it is the United States -- and specifically the Bush Administration -- that is actively working to block efforts to curb global warming. And not efforts by radical environmental groups, mind you, but efforts by the world's leading industrialized (or post-industrialized, depending on how you look at it) nations:

The US is trying to block sections of a draft agreement on climate change prepared for next month's G8 summit, according to documents seen by the BBC.

Washington objects to the draft's targets to keep the global temperature rise below 2C this century and halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The draft, prepared by the German G8 presidency, said action was imperative.

With UN talks struggling to extend the current Kyoto targets, the G8 summit is seen as a vital way to regain momentum.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has made climate a priority for the organisation, with backing from other leaders including Tony Blair.

And what are the objections?

A clause saying "climate change is speeding up and will seriously damage our common natural environment and severely weaken (the) global economy... resolute action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions" is struck out.

So are a statement that "we are deeply concerned about the latest findings confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)", and a commitment to send a "clear message" on international efforts to combat global warming at the next round of UN climate talks in December.

US negotiators also want to remove from the draft firm targets for improving energy efficiency in buildings and transport, and a call for the establishment of a global carbon market.

So: The U.S. (i.e., the Bush Administration) does not think (or does not want to admit) that global warming is getting worse or that it will harm the environment and the economy, does not think that action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, does not accept the findings of the IPCC, and intends to block sensible international efforts to deal with the problem.

There you have it.

Much of the rest of the world -- particularly the world's major democracies -- is turning its attention to the most pressing crisis of our time, a crisis that will affect generations to come, but, with Bush in the White House, the U.S. not only has no interest in doing anything about global warming itself, it doesn't want any concerted action to be taken by anyone else either.

This is the height of stupidity and irresponsibility. Given the likely consequences of global warming, one would not be wrong to call Bush, who must ultimately be held accountable for this, an enabler of future genocide.

The rest of the world, and certainly the rest of the G8, would do well to move forward with or without the U.S. A new president, in 2009, could bring the U.S. back into the community of responsible nations on global warming, but, for now, it seems that the world's only major superpower has chosen to play the role of malevolent hegemon on the one issue that matters most.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Petition for Darfur

By Heraclitus

Here's a petition you can sign urging Fidelity Investments to divest from a company helping to fund and prolong the genocide in Darfur. From the Save Darfur website:

Divestment offers a powerful way to put economic pressure on the Sudanese government to cooperate with international efforts to end the violence in Darfur.

Fidelity Investments is a major holder of PetroChina, a Chinese oil company that is one of the highest offenders in helping fund the genocide in Darfur.

Help cut off financial support for the government-sponsored violence in Darfur by urging Fidelity and other investment institutions to divest their holdings from PetroChina and other companies doing business with the government of Sudan.

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Behind the spin: The perseverance of failure in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Speaking for the warmongers, of whom he is as much a leader as anyone else, Dick Cheney declared on Friday that the U.S. had to "persevere" in Iraq. (I commented on his ludicrous comments here.) But "persevere" to what end? And for how long? The spin has been that the "surge" is working, that there has been progress, that violence is down in Baghdad and Anbar province. The spin has come from the usual suspects, including John McCain, the White House and its allies, and prominent pro-war pundits and bloggers, even as the slow bleed of worried Republicans away from Bush and the war continues and indeed accelerates. It has been reported that the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has claimed he will be able to tell whether the "surge" has been working by September, but, increasingly, the truth about what is really going on in Iraq is coming out, such as this:

The commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq said Friday that he did not have enough troops to deal with the escalating violence in Iraq's Diyala province, an unusually frank assertion for a top officer and a sign that American military officials might be starting to offer more candid and blunt assessments of the war.

Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon also said that the Iraqi government had failed to help the situation in the restive province and that it has been a hindrance at times by failing to support local army and police forces. Diyala borders Baghdad on the east, and violence in the province has grown as U.S. troop levels have been bolstered in the capital.

Mixon's call for help coincides with a rise in the number of sectarian death squad killings in Baghdad. U.S. officials had heralded an earlier decline in such deaths as a sign of the success of the security clampdown in the capital that began Feb. 13.

So now what? -- More troops? If so, what troops? And where to? And would more troops even make much of a difference at this point? Would the American people, who have already turned against the war, support the deployment of more troops? (Or the extensions of tours of duty of more troops.) Democrats wouldn't, but would Republicans, particularly the ones looking ahead to '08?

How much longer must this go on? There is neither the popular nor the political will for the war to continue as is, and it does not seem that there will ever be a military breakthrough in what is now both a civil and an insurgent war.

The point is that perseverance is pointless. The status quo, which includes the "surge," isn't working, whatever "success" there has been has been either temporary or illusory, and it is simply too late, and simply not possible, to do what should have been done years ago, that is, to send the appropriate number of troops over to Iraq.

The right plan for right now is not to send in more troops to contend with rising violence in Diyala or anywhere else but to initiate the responsible phased withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. forces from Iraq.

The problem is that Bush, Cheney, and those in power who still cling to delusion will have none of it. And that means that the perseverance of failure in Iraq will continue.

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Chaos in Karachi

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't been following the tense situation in Pakistan as closely as I ought to have recently, but our good friend Cernig has, and I recommend his latest post. From that post, here's the situation as reported yesterday by The Telegraph:

Chaos gripped the streets of Karachi yesterday as gun battles left at least 31 people dead and hundreds more injured, threatening a complete breakdown of law and order in Pakistan's largest and most volatile city.

With plumes of black smoke billowing over the city of 12 million people, there were extraordinary scenes as gunmen on motorbikes pumped bullets into crowds demonstrating against Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, while police stood by and watched.

In images more reminiscent of Baghdad, bloodstained corpses lay where they had fallen in the streets and bodies piled up in hospital morgues. As the sense of crisis deepened, a crisis meeting between Gen Musharraf and the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, resolved to send in paramilitary troops to restore order, and to place the army on standby. The men agreed that a state of emergency would be imposed if the first two options failed.

It was the bloodiest escalation of the two-month long saga which began when the president attempted to sack the country's chief justice in March. The ensuing challenge by lawyers and opposition parties to Gen Musharraf's eight-year rule has left the president -- a key Western ally in the "war on terror" -- desperately clinging to power.

See also The Globe and Mail. More to come as more is known.

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Brownback fumbles

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This was like going into the Bronx and trash-talking the Yanks (if less dangerous physically):

Note to Sen. Sam Brownback: In Packerland, it's not cool to diss Brett Favre.

The GOP presidential hopeful drew boos and groans Friday at the Wisconsin Republican Party convention when he used a football analogy to talk about the need to focus on families.

"This is fundamental blocking and tackling," he said. "This is your line in football. If you don't have a line, how many passes can Peyton Manning complete? Greatest quarterback, maybe, in NFL history."

Actually, he may be right, to a point. A good case can be made that Manning is better than Favre -- although, of course, the former's career still has quite a few years left while the latter has struggled in recent years after some incredible seasons in his prime. I just wouldn't go so far as to say that Manning is the best ever. Not yet.

But it was a rather stupid thing to say in Wisconsin, where Favre is a god and the Packers are about as important a socio-cultural institution as there is.

The cheeseheads aren't about to forget this anytime soon.

(For more on the dangers of using sports analogies, see Ed Morrissey.)

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