Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brzezinski to Speak Before Senate Foreign Affairs Committee

Zbigniew Brzezinski was a strong but patient critic of Bush's Iraq policy for roughly the first two years of the war and then largely threw up his hands as mistakes piled on mistakes. What does one do when a president's gut instinct is uninformed and he's incapable of listening or admitting mistakes (very late public relations admissions don't count; that's too much like the cookie thief finally admitting to his parents, "Oh! There a cookie in my hand. My mistake!")?

Brzezinski is going before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to explain his view tomorrow. Steve Clemons of The Washington Note has posted a copy of Brzezinski's statement; here's some highlights:
It is time for the White House to come to terms with two central realities:

1. The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.

2. Only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and the intensifying regional tensions.


Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on ... sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. ...

One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture.


The quest for a political solution for the growing chaos in Iraq should involve four steps:

1. The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time.

Ambiguity regarding the duration of the occupation in fact encourages unwillingness to compromise and intensifies the on-going civil strife. ...


[from point 2] It is necessary to engage all Iraqi leaders -- including those who do not reside within "the Green Zone" -- in a serious discussion regarding the proposed and jointly defined date for U.S. military disengagement because the very dialogue itself will help identify the authentic Iraqi leaders with the self-confidence and capacity to stand on their own legs without U.S. military protection. Only Iraqi leaders who can exercise real power beyond "the Green Zone" can eventually reach a genuine Iraqi accommodation. ...


It is also time for the Congress to assert itself.

Just to amplify his point concerning the Green Zone, Brzezinski might have mentioned prominent Iraqi officials and politicians who don't even bother to reside in Iraq and live in places like London. In the last sixty years, there have been many examples of propped up governments that simply do not survive the departure of the foreign government that had been occupying the country. Legitimacy cannot be imposed. Even when Germany and Japan were occupied, there were legitimate institutions still in place that formed much of the core that replaced nazism and fascism. We can leave forces in the vicinity and develop multilateral resources to help with the transition and do the necessary regional talks, but Iraq needs to find its own legitimacy.

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Rest in Peace, Molly

As most people know, Molly Ivins died today after three bouts of cancer. There are many tributes to the wonderful writer from Texas and there are many excellent picures of her from recent years but Mahablog caught my eye because she found a picture of Ms. Ivins in her glory days as a redhead. I had almost forgotten that look. It moved me.


James Pinkerton on Hagel and McCain

Bush's war in Iraq is a fiasco. The war was based on lies that the major media bought into line, hook and sinker. Unfortunately, someone has failed to notify James Pinkerton. Here's Pinkerton's first two paragraphs plus a paragraph on Hagel from his article in Newsday (hat tip to The Huffington Post):
It's official: Chuck Hagel is the new John McCain, getting the glowing treatment from glam publications such as GQ. And John McCain is the new Bob Dole - and we know what kind of press Dole got. Perhaps I should explain.

Once upon a time - say, five years ago - the liberal media were infatuated with McCain. Yes, the Republican senator from Arizona was a hard-line conservative on most matters, but he was sufficiently unorthodox on a few issues (campaign finance, global warming, tax cuts) to be newsworthy. In addition, McCain was enough of a George W. Bush basher to keep reporters interested in what he might say next.


But of course, just as the media take away, the media also give. And the recipient of media blessings these days is Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska. As a Republican critical of the Bush policy in Iraq, Hagel is infinitely more valuable to the anti-war cause than a mere Democrat. After all, nobody is surprised anymore when a Democrat opposes the war, but it's notable when a Republican breaks ranks with his own party's president - especially when he uses such punchy language, referring to the Iraq surge as the "most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

James Pinkerton is far from being the most right wing of commentators so I'm somewhat surprised at his 'interpretation' of the last five years. First, what liberal media? Rupert Murdoch's empire? The Washington Post? The Chicago Tribune? Clear Channel? CNN? The Washington Times? Does Pinkerton mean Tim Russert of NBC who, according to a witness in the Scooter Libby trial, apparently is the favorite go-to person when Cheney wants to get a pro-administration message out? If he means The New York Times, the Times supported Bush on the war for the first two years (and there was also Judith Miller's botched reporting; she was on the witness stand yesterday explaining her methods and relationship to Scooter Libby).

Second, the people in the media 'infatuated' with McCain appear to me to have been somewhat moderate conservatives who saw McCain as one of those rare Republicans willing to admit from time to time, that yes, maybe 2 + 2 = 4; maybe torture is a violation of the Constitution, maybe we need campaign finance reform, maybe the Republican culture of destruction is a bit much, etc. McCain's voting record in Congress of course, with just a handful of exceptions, was just as conservative as the majority of Republican right wingers who now dominate the party. All that changed in 2004 when McCain decided to run for president in 2008; since then, he's been trying the Rove/Bush method of political success.

The Republican Party is broken. The world knows it is broken. A majority of Americans know it is broken. The Republican Party has failed America. It continues to fail America by blocking the will of the American people on things like minimum wage and bringing the war in Iraq to a close before a greater catastrophe unfolds. If there are conservatives, moderates and liberals who look to somebody like Chuck Hagel as the person who might be able to rebuild the Republican Party, it's because we believe it's in the interests of all Americans to have two viable and functioning political parties. Republicans in recent years, with a great deal of help from the media that Pinkerton wishes to label as 'liberal,' has been very successful at winning elections and they have been dismal at governing and addressing the concerns of most Americans.

I know, when Republicans have nothing to say, they look for attack points and labeling the media as 'liberal' when they don't jump through right wing hoops is one of their lazy but somewhat effective methods of getting traction. But Pinkerton on occassion has been one of those conservatives that liberals like myself point to when we wonder if the Republican Party can return to the universe as the rest of us know it. Perhaps I was wrong.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Reasons to Start Withdrawing

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were not honest with the American people in the case they made for war in Iraq. If they intend to launch a military strike against Iran, it is highly unlikely that they will be honest with the American people. Given the chaos of war, in fact, the Bush Administration can literally concoct whatever story it wants. Keep in mind that President Bush still shows no sign that he knows what he's doing. Simply because he has a vice president adept at pushing and pulling levers does not mean we have anything approximating a rational foreign policy that is working in the best interests of the United States. Basically we have the equivalent of two juvenile delinquents playing with a very powerful chemistry set in the middle of an ammunition dump; does anyone still think they know what they're doing?

I've been reading about the deaths at Najaf and can only shake my head. I have no idea what happened. I suspect Bush and Cheney have no idea what happened. Our media, which sometimes cannot get close enough to these events, has no idea what happened.

Juan Cole of Informed Comment pointed out yesterday that there are contradictory versions of the events:
Well, a big battle took place at the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Saturday night into Sunday, but there are several contradictory narratives about its significance. Iraqi authorities, claimed that the Iraqi army killed a lot of the militants (250) but only took 25 casualties itself. The Shiite governor of Najaf implied that the guerrillas were Sunni Arabs and had several foreign Sunni fundamentalist fighters ("Afghans") among them. He said that they based themselves in an orchard recently purchased by Baathists. Other sources said that the militants were Shiites. I'd take the claim of numbers killed with a large grain of salt, though the Iraqi forces did have US close air support. I infer that the guerrillas shot down one US helicopter.

That's one narrative. Here is another. The pan-Arab London daily al-Hayat reported that the militiamen were followers of Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. It says one of his followers asserted that the fighting erupted when American and Iraqi troops attempted to arrest al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. The latter tried last summer to take over the shrine of al-Husayn in Karbala. It may have been feared that he would take advantage of the chaos of the Muharram pilgrimage season to make a play for power in Najaf. Al-Hayat says that although As'ad Abu Kalil, governor of Najaf, said the attackers were Sunnis, the director of the information center in Najaf, Ahmad Abdul Husayn Du'aybil, contradicted him. The latter said, "At dawn, today [Sunday], violent clashes took place between security forces and an armed militia calling itself "the Army of Heaven," which claims that the Imam Mahdi will [soon] appear." ...

Confused yet? Remember that it's unlikely our government has people on the ground in that area who understand what happened. Laura Rozen of War and Piece points to another version on Missing Links that is somewhat different from anything above but that has elements we've seen before:
Zeyad at his Healing Iraq website has new information on circumstances surrounding the Najaf fighting, including this:
Another story that is surfacing on several Iraqi message boards goes like this: A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe, which inhabits the area between Najaf and Diwaniya, arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, “To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area.”

The story continues with more elements. Is it plausible? At first glance, yes, and maybe at a long second look, it is. Is it true? I have no idea. This is what we're fighting in the Middle East, a land of plausible stories, any of which could be a lie, any of which can kill our soldiers. Two of our soldiers died in that battle and it's not clear that they knew what their mission was. It's doubtful that Robert Gates knew what their mission was. It's doubtful that Bush and Cheney knew what their mission was. And keep in mind that Bush and Cheney also tell 'plausible' stories. And they're thinking about attacking Iran.

Congress needs to wake up and rein these guys in. Republicans like Richard Lugar cannot continue to be thoughtful one moment and then waffle the next. It's time for both Democrats and Republicans to start exercising the full power of Congress to keep us from sliding into a wider war that no one understands and that we quite clearly do not need.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Democrats Need to Check Bush's Iran Authority

I'm a Democrat who believes in a pragmatic progressivism and clearly I have good reason to prefer the Democrats far more than the Republicans, but it's important to understand that in the current era neither American political party is performing at its best. Scott Ritter has an article in Truthout that discusses how Bush and the Republicans own the Iraq fiasco whether they like it or not, but if the Democrats are not careful and simply allow Bush to do what he wants, they're going to co-own whatever policy develops in Iran; this excerpt begins near end:
Only Congress holds the power of the purse. While a President may commit American forces to combat without the consent of Congress (for periods of up to 180 days), he cannot spend money that has not been appropriated. There is, in the passing of any budget, inherent authority given to the President when it comes to national defense. However, Congress can, if it wants to, put specific restrictions on the President's ability to use the people's money. A recent example occurred in 1982, when Congress passed the Boland Amendment to restrict funding for executive-sponsored actions, covert and overt, in Nicaragua. While it is in the process of getting a handle on America's policy vis-à-vis Iran, Congress would do well to pass a resolution that serves as a new Boland Amendment for Iran. Such an amendment could read like this:

An amendment to prohibit offensive military operations, covert or overt, being commenced by the United States of America against the Islamic Republic of Iran, without the expressed consent of the Congress of the United States. This amendment reserves the right of the President, commensurate with the War Powers Act, to carry out actions appropriate for the defense of the United States if attacked by Iran. However, any funds currently appropriated by Congress for use in support of ongoing operations by the United States Armed Forces are hereby prohibited from being allocated for any pre-emptive military action, whether overt or covert in nature, without the expressed prior consent by the Congress of the United States of America.

However it is worded, the impact of such an amendment would be immediate and could forestall any military moves planned by the Bush Administration against Iran until Congress can fully familiarize itself with the true nature of any threat posed to the United States. President Bush seems to be hellbent on making war with Iran. The passage of time is, in effect, the enemy of his Administration's goals and objectives. By buying the time required to fully study the issues pertaining to Iran, and by forestalling the possibility of immediate pre-emptive action through budgetary restrictions, Congress may very well spare America, and the world, another tragedy like Iraq. If a Democrat-controlled Congress fails to take action, and America finds itself embroiled in yet another Middle East military misadventure, there will be a reckoning at the polls in 2008. It will not bode well for the Democrats currently in power, or those seeking power in the future.

In his article, Ritter covers considerable ground and although he suggests he is skeptical, he reminds people that any policy toward Iran has to be aired and studied by both Republicans and Democrats. Actually, I would argue if enough Republicans join Democrats, we can avoid another Iraq-style bamboozlement concerning Iran. If Congress will get moving. And if Republicans can set aside their obstructionism for the sake of our country.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, however, reminds us in strong terms that Bush, whatever we eventually decide about Iran, is the wrong president to be in charge of such a policy:
Think back over this young year. How much have you heard about Iraq and how much have you heard about Iran? From where I'm sitting news of tits for tats with Iran, skirmishes between Iranian and American personnel, Cheney-heralded naval deployments are the order of the day. If you listen to these things closely everything is now turning toward Iran. Iraq, though central to everything, is also becoming old news.


You may remember quite a bit earlier in our long national nightmare the White House and its toadies and acolytes were very big on the so-called 'fly-paper' theory of the Iraq War. All the bombings and killings were a sign that the policy was working. Rather than have the terrorists hitting us in America or other spots around the world we had created a terrorist killing field in Iraq where we could wipe them out on our own terms, right where we wanted them. That and create a democracy there too.

I still remember one really clever TPM Reader writing in and telling me: that's brilliant. Sort of like by creating a really dirty hospital, we're going to create a place where we can fight the germs on our own terms!

I don't know about you but sometimes I feel like we're in this eerie afterburn of our four long years of disaster. The public has rendered its verdict. Every thinking person has rendered their verdict. But the administration is still going on more or less as though nothing's happened. ...

Like the line says, first do no harm. And for the United States as a country, right now, that means doing everything constitutionally, legally and politically possible to limit the president's and even more Vice President Cheney's free hand to shape and execute American foreign policy. Sift it all out and it's that simple. Stop them from doing any more damage. All the rest is commentary and elaboration.

Ritter is right about the procedure and he offers some excellent points but instinctively I'm on Marshall's side on this. After six years of a profoundly flawed presidency, I have no faith that Bush and Cheney are capable at the last moment of doing anything other than giving us more of the same or, worse, recklessly rolling the dice.

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The Cheney Problem II

The Scooter Libby trial is focusing attention on Vice President Dick Cheney like never before and the details we are learning are not putting Cheney in a good light. Americans can no longer ignore Cheney's hubris and incompetence but there have been signs for at least four years that much of this actually goes deeper. The problems with the secretive vice president are mounting.

That hasn't stopped Cheney from admitting that the job of Republicans in Congress is to bow to the superiority of the Bush Administration; here's the story from CBS News:
Vice President Dick Cheney shot back at Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has accused the Bush administration of playing "a ping-pong game with American lives" by sending more U.S. troops into Iraq.

"Let's say I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican," Cheney said. "But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."

Given his hypocritical bullying of his fellow Republicans and given the facts and behavior of the Bush Administration in the last six years, Cheney's comment has no other fundamental interpretation than this: when it comes to Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, Republicans must rubber stamp the incompetence, recklessness, deceptions and abuse of the US Constitution no matter what. That is behavior an overwhelming majority of Americans cannot afford.

Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing is back and has some comments on the Cheney situation:
While Dick Cheney undoubtedly remains the most powerful vice president this nation has ever seen, it's becoming increasingly unclear whether anyone outside the White House believes a word he says.

Inside the West Wing, Cheney's influence remains considerable. In fact, nothing better explains Bush's perplexing plan to send more troops to Iraq than Cheney's neoconservative conviction that showing the world that we have the "stomach for the fight" is the most important thing -- even if it isn't accomplishing the things we're supposed to be fighting for. Even if it's backfiring horribly.

But as his astonishing interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer laid bare last week, Cheney is increasingly out of touch with reality... ...

The secretive Cheney has the largest staff of any vice president in history; in essence, it's a government within a government with little oversight by Congress. Cheney has ignored repeated media requests to interview some of his people and understand his 'unusual' operation. President Bush has, by law, the ultimate authority in his government but it's never been clear how he and Cheney divide up their responsibilities. In the past, some critics have argued that Cheney is the real president while Bush is the public relations man.

Americans have a right to know what's going on in a government that has been elected by the people and why so much behavior is deliberately being hidden from us (Google Halliburton, Iraq reconstruction, defense contracts, and Republican campaign donors just as a place to start). As I mentioned above, Cheney has resisted all attempts to understand his operation; Justin Rood of TPM Muckraker has a story that may begin to peel back the layers of secrecy by revealing some of the people who directly work for Cheney (note that Cheney apparently has others burrowed in various departments around Washington):
Stamped "For Official Use Only," the four-page document lists 81 employees, including six who worked for Lynne Cheney. That's well over the 30 or so names Cheney's office is said to submit routinely to directory services.

The directory shows 23 staffers who worked exclusively on national security and homeland security issues. Meanwhile, three positions were dedicated on domestic policy issues; one of those was vacant at the time of the directory's publishing.

It's not clear how much overlap there is with the list we posted earlier of 41 staffers serving Cheney from the Senate's payroll according to a 2006 report. But at least now we're in the ballpark of the 88 staffers Laura Rozen estimated to be there.

In the next few months, Congress needs to ask what these people are doing. If there isn't cooperation forthcoming from Cheney, Congress should seriously consider cutting Cheney's staff budget in half, investigating Cheney's role in starting the war in Iraq and investigating his obvious interest in widening the war, possibly with Iran.

Since August 2003, when Cheney lied about a nuclear program in Iraq, the media and his fellow Republicans have walked on egg shells perhaps because of Cheney's threats and famous vindictiveness that resulted in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The more the country learns about Cheney, however, the more it becomes obvious that his behavior is unacceptable by any rational interpretation of the US Constitution and that his resignation is long overdue.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

President Bush's Al Qaida/Iraq Connection

We know al Qaida didn't have much of a presence, if any, at the time the United States was making its case for war in Iraq. Zarqawi, an independent terrorist/criminal thug who was holed up in the mountains of northeast Iraq, later called himself a member of al Qaida but that was more a propaganda move on his part (Bush was much obliged). It turns out we had apparently three chances to take out Zarqawi before the war began but Bush turned down the opportunities. Ironically, the invasion enabled Zarqawi to move around freely in the general chaos. I'm not clear about a number of things within the White House but clearly Bush gets obsessed when things aren't going well and he gets a name like Zarqawi. So an effort was made to track down Zarqawi and he was killed. The chaos in Iraq, of course, has gotten worse since Zarqawi's death, largely because Zarqawi was a relatively minor player and the problems in Iraq are largely political, requiring political solutions rather than military solutions.

We are told al Qaida operates in west Iraq but the ones telling us are the less than reliable members of the Bush Administration. American Pundit has a post on Bush's usual al Qaida propaganda:
Ted Galen Carpenter of the so-called "libertarian" Cato Institute wrote a little op-ed that sums it all up: There are only about a thousand foreign fighters in all of Iraq. Does anybody really think a thousand foreigners are going to take over a country of 26 million people? That's what President Bush would have you believe when he spouts crap like, "We didn’t drive Al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq."

In addition to the raw numbers, Carpenter points out that polls show 94% of Sunnis, 98% of Shiites and 100% of Kurds in Iraq just plain do not like al-Qaeda...


In a State of the Union address filled with spin and outright fabrication, the President's assertion that al-Qaeda could take over Iraq was a jaw-dropper. It's exactly the kind of baseless fear-mongering that sucked us into Iraq in the first place.

It's worth noting that several militias in Iraq have more than 10,000 members which makes al Qaida indeed a bit player, though they grab headlines because they specialize in suicide attacks, propaganda and violent melodrama.

Frankly, I'm losing track of how many groups are fighting in Iraq. Iraq has been compared to the chaos in Lebanon that has existed at various times over the last thirty years—and it's a useful comparison—but I have another comparison to offer. Although Iraq is a small country, the many factions remind me of China during the first half of the twentieth century with its many warlords and divisions. No European power could control that kind of mess once it was unleashed. The truth is that we don't know enough about all the factions to pretend we can control Iraq. Or at least without violating all our principles. I fear there are American right wingers who say, so what?

But here's the bottom line: without staying in Iraq as a colonial power, and we already are operating like a colonial power, there is no way that Iraq is going to become a democracy any time soon in any form that is meaningful. So the basic fact remains that there is little left to accomplish in Iraq except to wind down as carefully as we can to miminize the chaos and the potential for regional conflict. Other than damage control, we have no other purpose there at this point.

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Developments on Iran

When you read the history of World War I, it's difficult to be impressed with the heads of state that blundered into that war. The number one flaw that the heads of state in that era shared was hubris. The president of the United States and the current president of Iran share that quality. Of course, we're the superpower and we're supposed to be the guys who know better. War with Iran is not inevitable but a number of people inside and outside the United States better start getting their acts together.

The problem with coverage of Iran is that we're already beginning to slip into the kind of build-up that led to the fiasco in Iraq. Sam Gardiner of The Left Coaster notices the spin and has other observations:
The President said he's not going to attack Iran. If that’s true, I am left wondering why the outrage effort. Why has the White House created an interagency working group whose mission is to build outrage in the world about Iran? The whole effort is so much in the pattern of message preparation for Gulf II that I am left concerned.

In other words, not only does it look as if there are military preparations for striking Iran, it looks as if the White House is doing public opinion preparations for a strike on Iran.


This week the United States went to the UN to get a resolution condemning those who denied the Holocaust.

The President of Iran crossed the line with his rhetoric. I worry, however, this could be the main theme for generating support in the United States for the eventual attack on Iran. If you are interested in marketing a war, the beauty of this theme is that there are not many Democrats who would be able to object if that case is made. It also appeals to the religious right. It is a wonderful path to outrage.

The last two paragraphs above suggest the Bush Administration is deliberately looking for trouble. There's a lot of hot air on both sides and it's ridiculous if hot air leads to a broader war. In the past, competent American presidents has known ways to defuse hot air and have usually come out the winner in such cases. This is where the Europeans, Russians and Chinese could make themselves useful.

Americans need to recognize that there are diplomatic efforts going on, even if Bush and the neocons disdain them. Here's an AP story by Nasser Karimi in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Iran said Sunday it needs time to review a plan proposed by the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency that calls for holding off on imposing U.N. Security Council sanctions if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment.

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, proposed the simultaneous time-out plan during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in an effort to end the standoff between the West and Iran over the Islamic republic's suspect nuclear program.

“Time should be allocated to see if the plan has the capacity to solve the (nuclear) case,” Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, told reporters during a joint news conference with Russia's national security adviser, Igor Ivanov. He did not elaborate.

Steve Clemons of The Washinton Note, however, observes that the Iranians can sometimes be rather stupid (or perhaps in disarray?):
Over the last two years, Iran has played a shrewd diplomatic hand. It has negotiated with the Europeans and continued to do business deals with China and Russia. It has not done as much harm as it might have done inside Iraq, or even as a key sponsor of Hezbollah and Hamas.

While it's not comfortable for critics of Iran to hear this, Iran could have been a far worse actor on the international stage than it has been. There are real limits to this logic, but the key question is whether Iran's behavior can be steered away from being an international trouble-maker bent on exclusive domination of the Middle East, or whether Iran, America, and other key players are going to be drawn into what could evolve into a world war that alters the geopolitical terrain permanently.

Iran is now competing with George Bush as a champion of counter-productive, idiotic moves that undermine any international acceptance and legitimacy of its position.

Iran is now calling for the removal of the UN's top Iran-focused nuclear inspector, Chris Charlier, and has banned 38 other UN inspectors from entering the country.

At times, Ahmadinejad isn't much brighter than George W. Bush and seems to forget how his own words can be used against him by an administration adept at propaganda. In a war, Iran, has far more to lose than the United States, though both countries could be set back decades in a heavy war, particularly if oil production takes a serious blow. The potential consequences of war with Iran are not small (in fact, the consequences of fighting three wars at the same time will not be small).

Here's a story by the Guardian, reminding us that we may be going to war against an illusion and once again that would not be in America's interest:
Iran's efforts to produce highly enriched uranium, the material used to make nuclear bombs, are in chaos and the country is still years from mastering the required technology.

Iran's uranium enrichment programme has been plagued by constant technical problems, lack of access to outside technology and knowhow, and a failure to master the complex production-engineering processes involved. The country denies developing weapons, saying its pursuit of uranium enrichment is for energy purposes.

Despite Iran being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world peace - in particular by an increasingly bellicose Israel and its closest ally, the US - a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian programme have told The Observer [Guardian affiliate] it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the materials for industrial-scale production.

Notice how Israel keeps popping up in various discussions. Israel has its right wing hawks just like we do and it's ridiculous that we might go to war with Iran because of Israel. A similar problem is apparently developing with Saudi Arabia. We are friends and allies of Israel and Saudi Arabia and it is proper for both to express their concerns to us but it is not proper for either nation to drag us into some bigger war as a consequence of their own blunders. That begs the question of how much the Bush Administration understands American foreign policy and how much it's in control of its policy and how much it's willing to let two small countries 'dictate' our foreign policy?

Let me add one other post, again by Steve Clemons:
The Gulf States with Saudi Arabia in the lead are scrambling to figure out what to do if American power in the Middle East continues to dissipate. One of the tools in their tool kit is to quietly over-supply crude oil into the global market and knock prices down.

This would not only make Iran worry about its income shortfalls and the domestic political impact of that -- but also takes some of the flamboyance out of Russian and Venezuelan behavior lately.

Clemons is simply reporting what could be a bad situation on several levels. Something to keep in mind is that some experts believe Saudi Arabia does not have the capacity to pump more oil and could be bluffing. If Saudia Arabia is telling the truth and if it truly has the capacity to pump more oil, then this begs a mystery over the last few years: why has Saudi Arabia needed so many drilling rigs? Was it planning on the current situation? And, if so, was it planning it with the Bush Administration? I believe the answer is no, but it is something to consider and keep a watchful eye on. At the same time, it's important to note that Iran's growing population and economic isolation makes it difficult to maintain its level of oil exports. It's the falling oil exports, in fact, that may be driving its nuclear program.

One thing is certain, though. We cannot expect straight answers from George W. Bush in the coming months.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bush: The Only President to Lose an American City

Remember when no WMDs were found in Iraq and Bush responded with some stupid clowning by looking behind his chair, etc? This time, he's lost an American city but doesn't seem to remember. There's no bad joke looking behind his chair this time. There's just dead silence. It took Democrat Jim Webb to remember New Oreans the night Bush gave his State of the Union. New Orleans is the state of the union, a staggering symbol and reality of Republican indifference.

Here's Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post:
More infuriating than anything George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address was what he didn't say. Congress and the nation heard nothing, zilch, nada, not a single, solitary word about New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and the devastation that remains from the worst natural disaster in United States history.

A disaster that happened on his watch. How nice that the White House has been able to move beyond the trauma of September 2005 -- wind and water, death and destruction, poverty and race, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Too bad the people of New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, Pass Christian, Biloxi and the rest of the coast will never have the luxury of forgetting.


What kind of president can see one of the nation's greatest, most historic cities ruined and not make its rebirth his highest priority? What kind of president gives a State of the Union and doesn't even mention New Orleans?

I've known decent Republicans all my life but I don't know these Republicans that run things in Washington who can't be bothered to lift a hand for their fellow Americans. What they did to New Orleans, they can do to any American city. If they can be that indifferent to New Orleans and a good part of the Gulf, it doesn't take much for them to be indifferent to tens of millions of Americans. There's something wrong in America and it begins in the offices in the West Wing of the White House where power counts more than the voice of the American people.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

The Cheney Problem

This has not been a good week for Cheney. But at least Americans are finding out more about this strange character who talks about insurgents in their last throes and says he knew for certain that Saddam Hussein still had a nuclear weapons program in 2003 when all the evidence says otherwise.

Let's begin with Cheney's bizarre interview with cable news softball tosser Wolf Blitzer; Digby of Hullabalo had a few excerpts from that:
Cheney went on Wolf Blitzer and demonstrated that he has totally lost touch with reality:

CHENEY: Well, this is the argument, that there wouldn't be any problem if we hadn't gone into Iraq.

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein would still be in power.

CHENEY: Saddam Hussein would still be in power. He would, at this point, be engaged in a nuclear arms race with Ahmadinejad, his blood enemy next door in Iran.

BLITZER: But he was being contained, as you well know, by the no-fly zones --

CHENEY: He was not being contained. He was not being contained, Wolf. Wolf, the entire sanctions regime had been undermined by Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: But he didn't have stockpiles --

Awesome, isn't it?

His demeanor was extremely hostile and aggressive. Blitzer tried to inject some truth into the interview but Cheney would have none of it --- much like his earlier showdown with harpy wife, Lynn.

What with the sophomoric salvo against Clinton in the WaPo yesterday by daughter Liz, it appears that the Cheney family is having a very public meltdown.

Digby's blog has a series on the Libby trial and offers other examples of Cheney's delusions.

Here's another take on Cheney by Ron Hutcheson of the McClatchy Washington Bureau:
On Wednesday, a testy Cheney sparred with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer over Iraq and al-Qaida and insisted that Bush administration policies have succeeded in both cases. While he's acknowledged mistakes in Iraq, he bristled when Blitzer suggested that Cheney had lost credibility because of blunders there.

"I just simply don't accept the premise of your question," he said, cutting the interviewer off in mid-sentence. "I just think it's hogwash."


"The vice president doesn't know what he's talking about," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News last Sunday. "He has yet to be right one single time on Iraq. Name me one single time he's been right. It's about time we stop listening to that ideological rhetoric."

Cheney insisted on CNN Wednesday that "there's been a lot of success" in Iraq, and said that if the Senate passes a non-binding resolution opposing the administration's troop buildup there, "it won't stop us." The biggest threat to victory, he said, is if "we don't have the stomach for the fight."

The vice president also claimed success in weakening al-Qaida, removing the terrorist group's leadership below Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, "several times". "We've had great success against al-Qaida," Cheney said.

Several times? Is Cheney trying to gloss over the ridiculous number of times the Bush Administration has taken out the 'number two' man of al Qaida? How many number two men was al Qaida supposed to have? And did Cheney miss Rumsfeld's famous memo where he suggested we might be creating more terrorists than we're killing? Our military had al Qaida on the ropes until a certain president and vice president decided to put Afghanistan on the back burner and head for Iraq while Osama bin Laden went the other way. Cheney has a odd memory.

By the way, I sometimes read too fast and I misread what Joe Biden said on my first reading. When Biden talked about "it's about time we stop listening to that ideological rhetoric," I thought he said 'ideological neurotic.' Actually, it makes sense. Or to describe Cheney more accurately, he might best be described as a delusional 'ideological neurotic.'

Perhaps George W. Bush is also becoming a bit neurotic about the long shadow being cast from the vice president's office. Scarecrow of Firedoglake makes the case:
For the umpteenth time, George Bush felt compelled to remind the press that he is in charge by declaring, "I am the decision maker." I would have thought that being the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief and all would have settled the matter, but apparently this President feels he needs to say it again lest we (or his own VP) forget.


But I suspect the President's deeper identity problem stems in large part from the fact that his Vice President keeps saying and doing things that make it look like Dick Cheney is the decider, or if not, that he remains so completely out of control and out of bounds as to make the President appear foolish, weak and a helpless victim of his Vice President's never ending excesses.

This week we got repeated reminders of how much trouble a dishonest and arrogant Vice President can create for an Administration. Official Washington and its media are being reawakened once again by the Libby trial, in which the ever loyal Scooter is on trial for lying, but in which the defendent in waiting may well be Mr. Cheney himself. By the end of the week, government witnesses were detailing Mr. Cheney's and/or his trusted deputy's guilty knowledge of Ms. Plame's identy and status, while Ms. Martin, a trusted member of Mr. Cheney's own communications staff, described under oath how fixated Mr. Cheney had become about anyone who might reveal how badly he and the Administration had spun the facts to gin up a pretext for going to war.

A paranoid vice president who has a habit of making half the officials in Washington look over their shoulders could probably make anybody neurotic, including the president. The amazing thing is how long this character has stayed in office. I mean, he can't even shoot straight.


The Mythology of Bush's Intelligence

It actually takes a certain of amount of intelligence to have sufficient credibility and power to drive a major corporation straight into the ground. Whatever intelligence Bush supposedly has, it's obviously not the whole package.

From American Prospect, here's some excerpts from Harold Meyerson's take on the White House hedgehog:
...Bush, in all matters pertaining to his war, is a one-trick president who keeps doing the same thing over and over, never mind that it hasn't worked. In Isaiah Berlin's typology of leaders, Bush isn't merely a hedgehog who knows one thing rather than many things. He's a delusional hedgehog who knows one thing that isn't so.


In the war itself, meanwhile, our current policy has achieved new depths of senselessness. The administration is lining up support from our longtime Sunni allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt in particular -- as a buffer against the spreading influence of Shiite Iran within Iraq and across the Middle East. Inside Iraq, meanwhile, we have cast our lot with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a sectarian Shiite with long-standing ties to Iran, and hedged our bet by cultivating the support of another Shiite leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is even closer to Iran.


More broadly, our plan for stability in Iraq is to bolster whichever Shiite administration governs the country, no matter its closeness to Iran, in the groundless hope that it will establish nonsectarian order. Our plan for stability in the region is to enlist Sunni states to contain Iran. These plans cancel each other out.

This isn't an example of Kissingerian subtlety -- waging the Cold War, for instance, by tilting toward China over the Soviet Union. This is an example of world-class incoherence, entirely of our own making. We charged into Iraq with some dim sense that Hussein's successor government would be headed by representatives of the long-persecuted Shiite majority, but we assumed that comity would prevail between the Shiites and the displaced Sunnis. Then we rendered that dicey proposition all but impossible by sacking the Iraqi army and most of the civil service -- in effect, plunging the Sunni population into mass unemployment with no prospect of reemployment. We fed the Sunni resistance, which fed the Shiite retaliation.

At Enron, there was one division that made money when the price of energy went up and another division that lost money at nearly twice the rate of the first division when the price of energy went up. When the first division started illegally manipulating energy prices because of fat bonuses based on gross sales, it never bothered to talk to the other division which curiously was in the same building; nor did the higher ups pay much attention. Sounds like the Bush Administration. And it is a functional result of the head man living in a bubble.

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Perspective on Bush Rationalizers

It's late but I just wanted to post these two paragraphs from Mahablog:
I know a lot of you don’t want to listen to any plan that doesn’t include a precipitous withdrawal, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But I want to bash David Brooks first. It’s been a while.

BrooksWorld is a place where critical thinking (along with accuracy) is in short supply. He spends the first half of his column whining that violence and disorder in Iraq are getting worse. Then he whines that Democrats are bad people because they don’t support the strategies that have allowed violence and disorder in Iraq to get worse.

David Brooks is far from the worst of Bush's defenders but I get very tired of his relentless efforts to create rational-sounding loopholes for the gang that can't shoot straight. If David Brooks wants to help rebuild the Republican Party, he's going to have to do better.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Trudy Rubin: The News in the Middle East Is Not All Bad

Make no mistake: the situation in Iraq is bad. Even if the United States somehow manages to stabilize Iraq, we will have gained very little out of a very costly enterprise. If we don't stabilize Iraq, there is a real risk of wider conflict. But we have to be careful about the latest assertions coming out of Iraq (and probably the White House).

I saw New York Times reporter John Burns on Charlie Rose last night and found myself uneasy about how well Burns is reading the situation. He's been in Iraq for over four years and is one of the best reporters we've got. But I was struck by his pessimism about the situation and his belief that we have to try yet one more time to get it right because there is no other choice. I'm not sure I buy his reasoning and I'll save an analysis for another time. But I do buy, perhaps, Burns' assessment of the pessimism of our military and Bush Administration figures that a wider conflict may be very difficult to avoid (keeping in mind, of course, that the worst of the neocons want that conflict). No doubt working with Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush for four years will make just about anyone a pessimist. But that pessimism can rub off on reporters (and new secretaries of defense).

I suspect most reporters close to the action in the Middle East are increasingly uneasy about the disaster unfolding at the hands of Bush and Cheney and no one at this late date expects anything useful from those two. But Trudy Rubin of the Philadephia Inquirer (in the Times Herald-Record) points out that there are potential diplomatic possibilities:
...despite the Iraq gloom, some good news has emerged in recent days from the Middle East. The good news concerns Iran and Syria and points to an opening for a diplomatic process involving all of Iraq's neighbors.


First, the good news from Tehran. Iran's obnoxious President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is coming under harsh criticism from the highest authorities in Tehran. Contrary to Western perception, Ahmadinejad does not have either power to make foreign policy or control over Iran's nuclear program — powers that rest with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei appears to be reconsidering Ahmadinejad's behavior; the ayatollah's newspaper has called on the president to stay out of all nuclear matters. Criticism in Iran's press and parliament has also focused on Ahmadinejad's economic failures. U.S. and U.N. sanctions make foreign investment scarce, including in Iran's oil fields. This puts the country's economic future at risk.

The pressure on Ahmadinejad signals that Iran is concerned about further economic and political isolation. That means the United States has strong cards to play in any talks.


There is also a bit of good news from Syria. Last week, news broke in Israel of a two-year-long "Track II" negotiations between a former Israeli foreign ministry director general and a Syrian-American businessman with key connections to the family of President Bashar al-Assad.


Neither Bush, nor Vice President Cheney, nor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given any hint of such thinking. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, however, once part of the Baker-Hamilton group, said last week, "Right at this moment, there's really nothing the Iranians want from us. We need some leverage, it seems to me, before we engage with the Iranians." He added, "I think at some point engagement probably makes sense."

I would argue the United States already has serious economic and political leverage with Iran and Syria. You can see this in the good news out of Iran and Syria.

But will the White House grasp the opening it presents?

There's no question some neocons are trying to sell a war with Iran just like they did with Iraq. But methods change and sometimes new angles are found for peddling war. I'm worried that the White House is propagating a very dangerous mythology at the moment that, aw shit, it's too bad there isn't really much we can do; that mythology is beginning to get some traction. It's the kind of language and 'attitude' that can set up a wider conflict that some in the White House want and that many right wing ideologues want. I don't expect much from Bush and Cheney given their rigid ideology and reckless pursuit of flawed assumptions, but possibilities and leverage still exist and no one should mistake for one moment where the responsibility lies if indeed a wider conflict explodes on the scene: in the Oval Office.

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Russia, China, India: Trilateral Axis?

One of the major signs of Bush's failed foreign policy is that he has driven Russia, India and China into each other's arms. It is probably true that new alliances were going to be formed eventually but Bush's aggressive foreign policy speeded up events by years, if not decades.

Here's the latest development on this story from India's Tribune:
India and Russia today supported their trilateral axis with China, but opposed Beijing’s January 11 testing of an anti-satellite missile saying that they were against militarisation of space.

President Putin went on to the extent of saying that some powers (read the USA) were trying to militarise space. “We should not let the genie out of the bottle. That is our position,” Mr Putin said at a joint press interaction with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after their formal talks.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin held the seventh Indo-Russian summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Hyderabad House here this afternoon, it was clear that the two giant countries’ decades-old-strategic ties were taken to a significantly higher level.

We have business with Russia, China and India but Bush doesn't do much. We have business with our allies in Europe and Japan and Bush doesn't do much. We clearly have business with our enemies and that business may be the most important of all and still Bush doesn't do much (actually he doesn't do anything but he expects our remaining friends to do something). Our position in the world is weakening, our credibility is sagging and still George W. Bush sits on his hands when it comes to diplomatic talks and real leadership in world affairs. And President Bush still has right wing friends singing his praises in the media. Time is growing short. The only question is how many Republicans will join Democrats into pushing President Bush back into America's role as the world's diplomat and changing course before he gives us a wider war.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Senator Hagel: No Clear Strategy in Iraq

In the last few weeks, it's been surprising how many members of Congress can talk straight when the Republican noise machine doesn't obscure what they have to say. Paul Kiel of Talking Points Memo has a valuable quote from Senator Chuck Hagel today:
Don't miss Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-NE) speech from this morning's hearing on the Iraq resolution.
"I don't think we've ever had a coherent strategy. In fact, I would even challenge the administration today to show us the plan that the president talked about the other night. There is no plan.... There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives."

I was against the war but I hoped very much that once it began that it would be over quickly. A bad sign was the day Saddam Hussein's statue was pulled down. The media made a big fuss about the statue and gave it a lot of positive spin, but they missed two big clues. First, there weren't all that many Iraqis at the event. It looked like a few hundred; there should have been tens of thousands. The other clue was how silent the crowd got when the Americans pulled out an American flag, immediately raising the question of whether we were liberators or occupiers.

Pulling down Saddam Hussein's statue was merely emblematic and might have been forgotten if the Bush Administration had had a true strategy or the ability to rapidly adapt to conditions on the ground. Bush and his closest advisers initially had a plan of sorts, a poorly conceived plan that depended on Ahmed Chalabi riding to the rescue and the Iraqis throwing flowers at the Americans. Within weeks, it was obvious that the political side of plan A was worthless. What was disturbing was that there was no Plan B. In fact, there was never much in the way of discussions on what to do after the fall of Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein may have given us the obnoxious phrase about the mother of all battles but Bush gave us the mother of all white elephants. Historians will note that Bush essentially conquered Iraq and didn't know what to do with it.

In 2003, one can argue that our policy in Iraq drifted for months without any serious effort to correct the situation. In fact, in the last four years, there have been a series of small ad hoc policy moves followed by wait and see periods lasting for months. Hagel, of course, is right: even in 2007, not much has changed.

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Energy: Asking the Right Questions

In his State of the Union, Bush talked about energy but I don't have much faith that he will follow through. But it is important for Congress and the American people to start thinking more realistically about where we are and where we need to go. There are, in fact, any number of bills that Congress can pass that will improve our energy future.

Robert Rapier on The Oil Drum has a long post on several types of energy sources and he offers an important set of questions that he attempts to answer:
A question was recently posed here: What is the most important question concerning ethanol production? That got me to thinking about important questions regarding not only ethanol, but all of our energy sources. There are a number of issues that we must carefully consider for any of our potential energy sources.

In my opinion, they are:

1. Is the energy source sustainable?
2. What are the potential negative externalities of producing/using this energy source?
3. What is the EROEI? [Energy returned on energy invested —Craig]
4. Is it affordable?
5. Are there better alternatives?
6. Are there other special considerations?
7. In summary, are the advantages of the source large enough to justify any negative consequences?

There's been a lot of talk again about ethanol in the last couple of days and I fully expect the corn-based ethanol industry to continue growing and to some extent that's fine, but the reality is that corn isn't going to do much about our energy future as the industry methods now stand, and there's a physical limit on what percentage of our oil that ethanol can replace even if all of the Midwest is planted in corn and used only for ethanol. While the return on sugarcane grown in warmer climates like Brazil is reasonably good, the return on corn is not and it is not certain that the problems can be overcome. This means we need to have a broad-based approach to alternative energy and a careful realism when it comes to technologies that aren't productive. One thing to keep in mind is that windpower at the moment is far more productive than ethanol production and even solar cells are more efficient and are continuing to get better. In fact, at some point, since liquid fuels are very useful in a variety of situations, we can expect a method to be worked out that will use windpower to convert corn into ethanol but it still will be far from creating a full energy solution.

For now, except for some areas of Iowa and pockets elsewhere where the yields are better than average, the energy yield on converting corn to ethanol is so low that it's important to understand that the price of ethanol can be no better than the cost of growing corn plus the cost of coal and/or natural gas plus the actual manufacturing cost of converting corn to ethanol plus the profit margin.

For the moment, what we need most are ordinary cars with much higher mileage and a major effort to increase the number of hybrids on the road. Actually, over time, we will need a whole range of things but it will take years to start putting them in place. One final word: corporations should be drooling at all the new innovations and profits our national energy conversion will stimulate; let's hope they create a lot of new jobs at home.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Senator Webb Sounded More Presidential Than Bush

Bush has made many promises in the last seven years and delivered on very few of them. He has made many assertions to the American people that have proven to be false. His accomplishments are few and his presidency can be described as one step forward and five steps back. He has not served the American people well.

Let me note one major omission by Bush and it sums up the fundamental indifference he has towards a majority of Americans and their concerns: he didn't say one word about New Orleans. After major promises and assertions in his last speech a year ago, his performance continues to be dismal.

And let me note that Bush continues to peddle fear when it comes to his failed foreign policy. I was amazed that at this late date he's still peddling his right wing ideology when it comes to foreign policy. That will forever be emblematic of his flawed vision of the world.

Nevertheless, this year we have a president who now leaves some openings concerning health care, Global Warming and energy so that the implication is that perhaps he can work together with Democrats on at least some issues. I hope it comes to pass but the record of the last six years is not a good one and does not encourage me to believe Bush will do much to salvage his failed presidency. We'll see.

And then I listened to Senator Jim Webb of Virginia and he sounded like a leader. He mentioned New Orleans, he spoke the truth, he's a moderate who liberals like myself can listen to, respect and easily work with. My respect for the senator grew tonight. He impresses me as someone who knows how to get things done.

I reserve judgment on Bush's speech, which after all, for someone like Bush, is simply an extension of his continuing photo ops presidency, and will simply note that he has given fine-sounding speeches in the past that did not survive close inspection, or subsequent events. Let's see what Bush actually does and whether he can break his unforgiveable pattern of the last six years.

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Will Cheney Be Sitting Behind Bush Tonight?

At least the opening of the Libby trial hasn't been boring (see Kevin Drum). Both the defense and prosecution make Cheney a central figure in the Leakgate affair that came out of Bush Administration deceptions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (specifically the Niger/Iraq uranium yellowcake story that Joe Wilson debunked). If nothing else, Patrick Fitzgerald may put a number of things on the record, after all.

There are a number of blogs covering the Libby trial so I wasn't planning on doing much but this is a huge story after all and I've been following it since the day I picked up the paper in early September 2002 and read about the famous aluminum tubes just as the campaign to justify the war began; I remember it as a red flag moment—the timing was just too cute (I grumbled for weeks but as I have noted elsewhere, I didn't come out fully against the coming war until February of 2003).

In the excerpt below, I'm quoting from the reliable Steven Clemons of The Washington Note though MSNBC has already updated parts of the story (I dislike this practice, by the way, and prefer major updates to be noted, or simply a new story to be written):
Wow. This just from MSNBC news alert:
WASHINGTON -- Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald used his opening statement in the CIA leak trial Tuesday to allege that Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff lied about Cheney's early involvement in the disclosure of a spy's identity.

Fitzgerald said Cheney told his chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, in 2003 that the wife of Iraq critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson worked for the CIA, and that Libby spread that information to reporters. When that information got out, it triggered a federal investigation.

Think Progress has more specific details about what the prosecution said:
Libby is now on trial for perjury. His defense is that he simply forgot who told him that Plame worked for the CIA. But in court today, prosecutors outlined a powerful case establishing that Libby had reason to remember who told him and motive to cover it up. MSNBC’s David Schuster said today’s revelations from prosecutors are “new and will astound a number of people, even those who have been following this case.” Among the new claims:
– “Vice President Cheney himself directed Scooter Libby to essentially go around protocol and deal with the press and handle press himself…to try to beat back the criticism of administration critic Joe Wilson.”

– Cheney personally “wrote out for Scooter Libby what Libby should say in a conversation with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper.”

– “Scooter Libby destroyed a note from Vice President Cheney about their conversations and about how Vice President Cheney wanted the Wilson matter handled.”

And here's the story from the defense side from The Guardian:
Attorneys for former White House aide ``Scooter'' Libby said Tuesday that Bush administration officials tried to blame him for the leak of a CIA operative's name to cover up for Bush political adviser Karl Rove's own disclosures.

Attorney Theodore Wells, in the opening statements of I. Lewis Libby's perjury trial, said Libby went to Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 and complained that the White House was subtly blaming him for leaking Valerie Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak.

``They're trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb,'' Wells said, recalling the conversation between Libby and Cheney. ``I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected.''

Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. Now that's quite a pair. In Dante's Inferno, in one of the rings of hell, two ambitious thugs whose conspiracy unravelled spend their hours blaming each other for their downfall and they are doomed to gnaw at each over and over until the end of time. I don't wish such a fate on Rove and Libby, but they seem to be wishing it on each other.

Of course Libby blaming the White House for making him the fall guy to protect Karl Rove is a bit of a crock. When Bush, Cheney, Rove and Libby are involved, bad things just seem to happen? I seriously doubt that Bush or Cheney will be impeached because of the politics involved and the failure of the media and the continuing failure of a now Republican minority in Congress to come to grips with a reckless and law-breaking administration, but no one should doubt that the president and vice president are impeachable for any number of things they have done, including committing fraud in making the case for war in Iraq. If not for the protection of a rubber stamp Republican Congress, a number of Bush Administration figures would also have faced prosecution by now.

Perhaps Bush will make a lame crack or two tonight in reference to Cheney or Libby. If Cheney is sitting behind him, it will be one more embarrassment for Bush. And the nation.

Note: I'm still inclined to let other bloggers follow the trial closely but I'll be popping my head in now and then.

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The Real Core of Bush's Ultraconservative Base

Bush's numbers keep sagging and the numbers are curiously becoming more discriminating in terms of what they reveal. Here are the numbers from the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll:
In the survey, Bush’s job approval rating stands at 35 percent... ...

Perhaps more significant, a whopping 65 percent believe that Bush is facing a longer-term setback from which he’s unlikely to recover. That’s compared with 25 percent who think he’s facing just a short-term setback, and 7 percent who believe he’s facing no setback at all.

What’s more, only 22 percent say they want the president taking the lead in setting policy for the nation. Fifty-seven percent say they would prefer the Democratic-controlled Congress holding the reins.

The first thing to notice is that 90% of Americans don't think Bush is doing well—that's a staggering figure. But there's still that diehard 7% who seem to think he's doing great; those are the hardcore Bush Republicans, the base as it were. But Bush's approval rating is 35% which means a large number of Americans feel honor-bound to approve of Bush despite acknowledging that he is facing setbacks. And only 22% of Americans are willing to say they have enough faith in Bush to continue taking the lead in setting policy. That's a 13 point gap; it's as if the members of a family business have decided they're still fond of Uncle George but don't think he should be running the business anymore!

Look at those numbers one more time. Bush's hardcore loyal Republicans are somewhere between the 7% who don't think he's suffering any setbacks and the 22% who say they want the president to take the lead. Those are dismal numbers. Bush is still capable of a great deal of mischief but his presidency is over.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Good Post on Coal Mining at Firedoglake

Of and on, I've been reading a book by Jeff Goodell called Big Coal. Coal, of course, has a big problem that is far from being solved when it comes to pollution and Global Warming: it's dirty. There's talk about carbon sequestration but it's not certain how well that's going to work or what percentage of carbon dioxide will be pulled out of burning coal. There's also talk of using coal to create a hydrogen economy but that has a number of hurdles to cross before it becomes reality. For one thing, using coal to create hydrogen is still only a stopgap measure in the long run. Then there's the problem that a hydrogen fuel tank may be more of a problem than it's worth except for large vessels such as boats or perhaps trains. And these are only a few of the issues with coal, some of which may be solved and others maybe not.

Despite the problems with coal, the reality is that there will be coal mining for some time to come. And there's an economic and human side to the story. Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake lives in West Virginia and has a personal perspective on coal; here's a short excerpt:
...the opportunity to earn a good wage, with the risks laid flat out whan an individual makes the decision to work for a particular company, isn't some exercise in fraud (for the most part, although there is certainly an argument to be made where a particular company' shoddy safety record comes into play on occasion), but simply a matter of how much money one is willing to take in exchange for how much risk to one's life in the process. Not nearly that cut and dried, though, in the real world as it might be argued in the abstract, as anyone who knows any person who works in the mining indiustry can tell you — be it management or miner alike.

But so much of our state's history and culture — including the immigrants who swarmed here to work the mines from Scotland, Ireland and Italy, among many others — that form so much of the bedrock of who we are still today, comes from the mines and the folks who worked them.

I am a very proud mountaineer, but I also know that this legacy of strength, of tenacity in the face of so much adversity and tragedy, was bought and paid for with so many lives in the name of expediency and cutting corners for profits. Accidents happen, certainly, and they are unavoidable in an industry as dangerous as mining has always been and will continue to be, but there are a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered about the sheer number of mining disasters that my state has undergone — along with a whole ot of other states — in the past few years as prices for energy have skyrocketed and the push for profits has led to some ricky decisionmaking by some folks who ought to know better.

Give Smith's post a read and follow a couple of the links.

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Bush at It Again

Bush never misses an opportunity to cut taxes for those most likely to vote Republican. The rest of America does not exist for him. Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing quotes from a Paul Krugman column:
Quoting from Bush's radio address, Krugman writes: "Those are the words of someone with no sense of what it's like to be uninsured.

"Going without health insurance isn't like deciding to rent an apartment instead of buying a house. It's a terrifying experience, which most people endure only if they have no alternative. The uninsured don't need an 'incentive' to buy insurance; they need something that makes getting insurance possible.

"Most people without health insurance have low incomes, and just can't afford the premiums. And making premiums tax-deductible is almost worthless to workers whose income puts them in a low tax bracket.

"Of those uninsured who aren't low-income, many can't get coverage because of pre-existing conditions -- everything from diabetes to a long-ago case of jock itch. Again, tax deductions won't solve their problem.

Unless they're paid for, new tax deductions are the equivalent of tax cuts and given Bush's financial house of cards that he's built over the last six years, they are likely to add to the nation's growing red ink without substantially accomplishing anything.

I live in a county where health care is increasingly broken. We have three large hospitals, one of which is about to close because of heavy financial losses and the other two are not prepared to handle all the new patients. Doctors are either moving out of the county because they can't make a living or they're working for a wage for someone like Kaiser which increasingly is forced to practice a kind of rationed medicine in order to remain financially solvent. In the last five years, my wife and I have had eight different primary care physicians because of the medical musical chairs caused by employers changing health insurance or doctors moving away. One of the biggest problems with the county is that Medicare considers our county a rural county despite a rapidly growing population and rising housing costs. We can't get the government to change our ratings on Medicare but the next county over gets the urban rate while we get the rural rate.

Medicare, when it is allowed to do what it's supposed to do, is very efficient with little overhead. Corporate health care, however, is burdened with bureaucracy, multiple insurance forms (with widely varying filing procedures and requirements), exclusions, contradictions and even built-in money schemes that denies money to doctors and care for patients (credit card companies are not much different these days when it comes to cute games).

I can remember years ago going to a doctor's office and seeing one nurse and one office worker. In a small office, there's now about a half dozen people just to handle paper work and that doesn't count the doctor's group for HMOs in a centralized location that amounts to another layer of bureaucracy. Health care in our country is broken and the best George W. Bush can do is offer a tiny band-aid? Shame on him and shame on the Republicans.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bush's Public Relations Team Working Overtime

Bush's speechwriters, consultants, political gurus and pollsters are working overtime to gloss over a badly damaged presidency that has suffered a long series of self-inflicted blunders, false starts and broken promises—hey, shouldn't we have a mission on the way to Mars or hydrogen cars by now?—those are items we heard in previous speeches by Bush and of course they didn't go far, even with a Republican-controlled Congress no less.

Now Bush's speechwriters are letting us know that the Strutter-in-Chief has 'earned' yet another nickname: the editor-in-chief. Okay. If they say so. Then again, I would agree Bush spends considerable time rewriting his history.

On Tuesday, it would be an extraordinary act of courage and integrity if President George W. Bush would simply admit that he has no real idea what he's doing. His recent speech on Iraq, however, leaves little doubt that we will be hearing more of the same. The major problems facing our nation will continue to remain largely unaddressed by the White House (the one consolation on Tuesday is that Senator Webb of Virginia will be giving the Democratic response). Here's the story by Cheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times:
Most Americans think of President Bush as the commander in chief. His speechwriters have another name for him: the editor in chief.


The address on Tuesday comes 13 days after Mr. Bush’s prime-time speech on his new strategy in Iraq, one that even some Republicans have criticized as uninspiring, a rhetorical dud.


This year, the president told his speechwriters that he wanted a more thematic speech, one that would focus on a few core issues, like energy, immigration and health care, where Mr. Bush hopes to achieve compromise with the Democrats.

I have two themes the president should think about for his speech: humility, and being straight with the American people.


Bush Responsible for Troop Surge

It just keeps getting worse. Bush is the proof the American people cannot afford to go to sleep and simply vote the party line or buy into ads that says little about who a candidate is or why anyone should believe they're qualified.

The more one reads about the troop surge, the more it comes down to an arbitrary decision by Bush and probably Cheney to just charge ahead and ignore any quality advice. They ignore the Iraq Study Group, they ignore the Democrats, they ignore the generals and, perhaps the most significant of all, they ignore the Iraqis. After all, the Decider-in-Chief and the guy who can't shoot straight know better. And the basis of their decision? Six years of blunders beginning with day one when they ignored warning that al Qaida would be their biggest problem. If I sound harsh, it's because the State of the Union is coming up and George W. Bush still thinks he has a license to do whatever he pleases regardless of the American people.

American Pundit has reviewed State of Denial by Bob Woodward and he offers one of the better summaries of the Bush presidency from Woodward's book:
In each book I read, I try to find a passage that sums it up. There's one such spot in Woodward's latest book where a high-ranking Pentagon official, referring to the Bush administration, says he's "never seen a group of people less able to advance their own interests."

These guys strut and brag and flap their arms and they can't even do what they say they're going to do. And sometimes, they threaten to do the very thing they shouldn't do in the first place such as start a war with Iran! I know, patience. We all have to be patient while Republicans in Congress come around to joining Democrats on putting limits on Bush before he can do more harm.

Here's the story on Bush's 'decision' from Michael Abramowitz and Peter Baker of The Washington Post:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had a surprise for President Bush when they sat down with their aides in the Four Seasons Hotel in Amman, Jordan. Firing up a PowerPoint presentation, Maliki and his national security adviser proposed that U.S. troops withdraw to the outskirts of Baghdad and let Iraqis take over security in the strife-torn capital. Maliki said he did not want any more U.S. troops at all, just more authority.

The president listened intently to the unexpected proposal at their Nov. 30 meeting, according to accounts from several administration officials. Bush seemed impressed that Maliki had taken the initiative, but it did not take him long to reject the idea.


He never seriously considered beginning to withdraw U.S. forces, as urged by newly elected Democratic congressional leaders and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. And he had grown skeptical of his own military commanders, who were telling him no more troops were needed.

So Bush relied on his own judgment that the best answer was to try once again to snuff out the sectarian violence in Baghdad, even at the risk of putting U.S. soldiers into a crossfire between Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. When his generals resisted sending more troops, he seemed irritated. When they finally agreed to go along with the plan, he doubled the number of troops they requested.

It was a signature moment for a president who seems uninfluenced by the electorate on Iraq and headed for a showdown with the new Democratic Congress. Presented with an opportunity to pull back, Bush instead chose to extend and, in some ways, deepen his commitment, gambling that more time and a new plan will finally bring success to the troubled U.S. military mission.

George W. Bush is a flawed man who should never have become the president of the United States. Dick Cheney, an able administrator when someone else is in charge, should never have become vice president and given so much authority to implement his dark vision of the world. I have no idea what's going to happen in the next two years as Bush pursues one or two more foreign policy gambles, but we need to find some better people to send to Washington in 2008; and somewhere along the line, the American people need to confront why Bush and Cheney have combined to give us the worst administration in American history. They didn't do it alone—the sad truth is that they had help.

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Will Bush Use State of the Union to Raise Ante on Iran?

As Bush's poll numbers continue to drop, it's not certain what steps, if any, he will take to repair his foreign policy. His surge in Iraq, of course, is more a political tactic than a serious confronting of his failing policies in the Middle East.

Here's a quick roundup of stories on Iran. First, from Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times:
The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday sharply criticized the Bush administration’s increasingly combative stance toward Iran, saying that White House efforts to portray it as a growing threat are uncomfortably reminiscent of rhetoric about Iraq before the American invasion of 2003.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who took control of the committee this month, said that the administration was building a case against Tehran even as American intelligence agencies still know little about either Iran’s internal dynamics or its intentions in the Middle East.

“To be quite honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again,” Senator Rockefeller said during an interview in his office. “This whole concept of moving against Iran is bizarre.”

Then here's Gregory Djerejian of The Belgravian Dispatch:
What is current U.S. policy towards Iran, and where might it be heading? Of late, we seem to be sensing Ahmadi-Nejad has been over-playing his hand (correctly, to some extent, as note even Supreme Leader Khamenei has reportedly recently expressed some discontent re: Ahmadi-Nejad). Meantime, there is quite a bit of anti-Shia feeling brewing from Cairo to Riyadh, born of the fear of a rising Iran our Iraq intervention helped trigger, and so Condi Rice appears to have been cobbling together something of an anti-Iranian coalition (with Bob Gates making a coordinated trip where his message, in so many words, was basically that the US remains a major power in the region, no matter the controversy and deep pain of the Iraq War, that we have vital interests in the Gulf, and that we're not leaving the region anytime soon).

Frankly, I'd be much more comfortable with some of this muscle-flexing and formation of (supposed) anti-Iranian bulwarks in the region if they were being accompanied by serious offers to talk with the Iranians as well. In the absence of that linkage, while we are importantly telegraphing to the Iranians we have national resolve and staying power, we also seem to be achieving two other, and less favorable, things, in the main: 1) we are risking a confrontation with Iran born of a combination of recklessness, miscalculation, and hysteria and 2) we are further giving the lie to the supposed Bush Doctrine of democracy exportatation (right now we are mostly relying on Sunni type strong men and satrapies to counter the rising popularity among many on the Arab Street for Iran's hard-line rejectionist stances vis-a-vis the U.S. and Israel, not to mention of course Sheikh Nasrallah and Hezbollah's immense popularity resulting from the bungled Israeli War in Lebanon, and Hamas' alliance of convenience with Iran).

Finally, we have Sam Gardiner in The Left Coaster:
Military forces continue to move toward Iran. We have more details. In addition, a new concern emerged this morning. Iran may be reacting.

The USS John C. Stennis departed Bremerton, Washington last Saturday and sailed to San Diego to on load its air wing. That has been completed. It is to depart this morning (Saturday) for the Gulf.

We have to keep in mind this deployment was leaked even before the President’s speech on the Iraq Surge. Sources even then said the deployment was about Iran. The Secretary of Defense repeated that theme while he was in the Middle East this week. It is about Iran.


After seeing all of this unfold, there is an obvious question. What’s the U.S. strategy for Iran? Does all of it mean an attack is close. My sense at this point is an attack is not imminent.

I think we are seeing an unfolding of a broad strategy to put pressure on the Iranians. ...

How does one use the marshaling of military power to put pressure on a nation if there isn't dialogue? Leaving everything to the Europeans and others to negotiate with Iran is a perilous course in the hands of an incompetent president and vice president. There's word that Kissinger is involved but Kissinger may be assuming that the world, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, still operates the way it did thirty-five years ago. It doesn't.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Discontent with War in Iraq Growing in Kansas

For many years now, Kansas has been about as Republican as any state can get. But there has been growing discontent in the last couple of years with the rightward drift of the Republican Party, even by the standards of voters in Kansas. In the heartland of America, things may be changing. Here's the story by Steven Thomma of the McClatchy Washington Bureau:
President Bush is losing the heartland.

Conservative Kansas - home to the Army's Fort Riley, the U.S. Cavalry Museum, Republican icons Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole, and the place that gave Bush back to back landslide majorities - is turning against the Iraq war.

Kansas Democrats are quicker to oppose Bush, but growing numbers of Kansas Republicans also are rejecting his plan to send more troops to Iraq and the war itself. That threatens Bush's hope to maintain a solid base of support for his war policies and undermines White House efforts to portray war opposition as partisan Democratic politics.


"I probably support Bush for the extra troops. He's our commander in chief," said Karl Dix, an Army veteran and welder at a Goodyear plant in Topeka who voted for Bush and Brownback. "But Bush is losing a lot of popularity here because of Iraq. What are the 19-year-old Iraqis doing? Why don't the Iraqi people stand up? It's like Vietnam. Where were the 19-year-old Vietnamese?"


"I support the president. He's our commander in chief," said Dennis Jones, a county attorney in the west Kansas town of Lakin and a former state Republican chairman. "I wish we would get the war over and get our troops home. I see too many similarities to Vietnam. We're fighting using conventional methods. It's like the cavalry against the Apache Indians in the 1880s."

We have a lot of good people in this country but we need people to start thinking more clearly about what's happening in Washington. Leaving things in the hands of politicians who are thinking more about their wealthy friends or their tired assumptions about the world is something Americans can no longer afford.

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20 Americans Die in Iraq

For the last three weeks, it seemed the killing of Americans in Iraq was easing off though the sectarian deaths continued. Saturday was a terrible day. Twenty Americans in one day is unbearable for a war that doesn't make any sense. Reuters has the story:
U.S. forces had one of their costliest days in Iraq on Saturday when 20 troops were killed, including 13 on a helicopter and five in a clash in a Shi'ite holy city that the U.S. military blamed on militiamen.

The battle at a government building in Kerbala was the bloodiest for U.S. troops in the Shi'ite south in two years and occurred as President George W. Bush presses leaders of the Shi'ite majority to crack down on militias from their community.

Hours after the loss of all 13 passengers and crew aboard a Blackhawk transport helicopter, the U.S. military said five soldiers were killed and three wounded in the Kerbala clash. Two other soldiers were killed elsewhere, and the deaths of two killed on Friday were also announced.
We have gone from a war that should never have been started by Bush to a war that is difficult to disengage from because of the huge mess that Bush has made. This is not acceptable.

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Bill Moyers: State of the Union

I'm bone tired tonight. Sometimes my body doesn't quite do what it's supposed to do and this is one of those times. But I got a lift tonight reading Bill Moyers. In his speech, there were a couple of times when Moyers mentioned Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, a tract too little read by the powerful in Washington in recent years. I've been thinking about Paine recently, thinking of how he must be turning over in his grave at the betrayal of democracy in the last couple of decades, but after reading yet another eloquent exposition by Moyers I rather suspect Paine may be sitting up on his elbow listening closely to Moyer's recent speeches. Moyers isn't the only one speaking up these days but his is a voice that has been with us for many decades, as American as they come and a part of a history too many Americans have forgotten.

President Bush will be giving his State of the Union address on Tuesday but I'm tired of being lied to, I'm tired of the real issues of American being ignored or trampled. Here's Moyers speech, Life on the Plantation, in Truthout; although I offer excerpts below, give the full speech a good read because Moyers is speaking the truth and giving the real state of the union:
...over the previous two decades a series of mega-media mergers had swept the country, each deal even bigger than the last. The lobby representing the broadcast, cable, and newspaper industry is extremely powerful, with an iron grip on lawmakers and regulators alike. Both parties bowed to their will when the Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That monstrous assault on democracy, with malignant consequences for journalism, was nothing but a welfare giveaway to the largest, richest and most powerful media conglomerates in the world - Goliaths whose handful of owners controlled, commodified and monetized everyone, and everything, in sight.

Call it the "plantation mentality" in its modern incarnation. Here in Memphis they know all about that mentality. Even in 1968, the Civil Rights movement was still battling the plantation mentality based on race, gender, and power that permeated Southern culture long before and even after the groundbreaking legislation of the mid-1960s. When Martin Luther King came to Memphis to join the strike of garbage workers in 1968, the cry from every striker's heart - "I am a man" - voiced the long-suppressed outrage of a people whose rights were still being trampled by an ownership class that had arranged the world for its own benefit. The plantation mentality was a phenomenon deeply insulated in the American experience early on, and has it permeated and corrupted our course as a nation. ...


Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow - not someone known for extreme political statements - characterizes what is happening as nothing less than elite plunder: "the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful." Indeed, nearly all of the wealth America created over the past 25 years has been captured by the top 20 percent of households, and most of the gains went to the wealthiest. The top one percent of households captured more than 50 percent of all gains in financial wealth. These households hold more than twice the share their predecessors held on the eve of the American Revolution. Of the early American democratic creeds, the anti-Federalist warning that government naturally works to "fortify the conspiracies of the rich" has proved especially prophetic. So it is this that we confront today.

America confronts a choice between two fundamentally different economic visions. As Norton Garfinkle writes in his new book The American Dream vs. The Gospel of Wealth, the historic vision of the American Dream is that continuing economic growth and political stability can be achieved by supporting income growth and the economic security of middle-class families, without restricting the ability of successful businessmen to gain wealth. The counter-belief is that providing maximum financial rewards to the most successful is the way to maintain high economic growth. The choice cannot be avoided: What kind of economy do we seek, and what kind of nation do we wish to be? Do we want to be a country in which the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer?" Or do we want to be a country committed to an economy that provides for the common good, offers upward mobility, supports a middle-class standard of living, and provides generous opportunity for all? In Garfinkle's words, "When the richest nation in the world has to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to pay its bill, when its middle-class citizens sit on a mountain of debt to maintain their living standards, when the nation's economy has difficulty producing secure jobs or enough jobs of any kind, something is amiss."


...For years the media marketplace for "opinions about public policy" has been dominated by a highly disciplined, thoroughly networked ideological "noise machine," to use David Brock's term. Permeated with slogans concocted by big corporations, their lobbyists, and their think-tank subsidiaries, public discourse has effectively changed how American values are perceived. Day after day, the ideals of fairness and liberty and mutual responsibility have been stripped of their essential dignity and meaning in people's lives. Day after day, the egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is trampled underfoot by hired experts and sloganeers who speak of the "death tax," the "ownership society," the "culture of life," the "liberal assault" on God and family, "compassionate conservatism," "weak on terrorism," the "end of history," the "clash of civilizations," "no child left behind." They have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war into a "surge" - as if it were a current of electricity charging through a wire, instead of blood spurting from a soldier's ruptured veins. We have all the Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which language conceals reality and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies and lies to truth.

So it is that "limited government" has little to do with the Constitution or local autonomy any more; now it means corporate domination and the shifting of risk from government and business to struggling families and workers. "Family values" now means imposing a sectarian definition on everyone else. "Religious freedom" now means majoritarianism and public benefits for organized religion without any public burdens. And "patriotism" now means blind support for failed leaders. It's what happens when an interlocking media system filters, through commercial values or ideology, the information and moral viewpoints that people consume in their daily lives. ...


I think what's happened is not indifference or laziness or incompetence but the fact that most journalists on the plantation have so internalized conventional wisdom that they simply accept that the system is working as it should. I'm working on a documentary about the role of the press in the run-up to the war, and over and again reporters have told me it just never occurred to them that high officials would manipulate intelligence in order to go to war. [Moyers has a generous spirit at times and I wouldn't underestimate its value, but clearly we have seen indifference, laziness and incompetence in the media. Still, he's largely right: those who internalize 'conventional wisdom' invariably go far in the media.]


...The greatest challenge to the plantation mentality of the media giants is the innovation and expression made possible by the digital revolution. I may still prefer the newspaper for its investigative journalism and in-depth analysis, but we now have in our hands the means to tell a different story than big media tells. Our story. The other story of America that says free speech is not just corporate speech, that news is not just chattel in the field, living the bossman's story. This is the real gift of the digital revolution. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras that can transmit images over the Internet, make possible a nation of story tellers ... ...


Meanwhile, be vigilant about what happens in Congress. Track it day by day and post what you learn far and wide. Because the decisions made in this session of Congress will affect the future of all media - corporate and non commercial - and if we lose the future now, we'll never get it back.

So you have your work cut out for you. I'm glad you're all younger than me, and up to it. ...

When Moyers talks about the plantation mentality, broaden the definition. Keep in mind the way Irish immigrants were jammed into early New York tenements in the 1840s, or how California ranchers in the late 19th century used cheap labor provided by the Chinese, the Japanese and Mexican migrant workers who were treated by law as second-class citizens. Keep in mind the way union workers in Chicago were once shot down in cold blood or the way globalization has been distorted into another kind of plantation mentality where major corporations are resisting rising labor issues in the third world.

Time and time again, Americans have eventually come around to doing the right thing but it takes work and it takes time and it means, above everything else, having your eyes open. We are currently living in a Gilded Age, an age of greed and me-ism and it is not America at its best. Our country needs major reforms and we have seen a little of that reform in just the last few months—but there is so much more that has to be done.

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