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May 13, 2005 PERMALINK
Why You Can’t Trust Republicans
Or, One Cheer For Voinovich
(posted May 13 2:30 AM ET)

Dems have avoided making ideological arguments against Bolton in hopes that his pattern of abusiveness would be more convincing to the other side.

Then GOP Sen. George Voinovich went ahead and opposed Bolton on ideological grounds anyway.

And then he made a mockery of his passionate arguments by refusing to kill the nomination.

(Voinovich weakly argued that it would “arrogant” for him to “impose” his sole “judgment and perspective” on the rest of the Senate, conveniently forgetting the eight other Senators in the room that agreed with him.)

So what should Dems take from this? Two things.

First, that they should feel emboldened to make the deeper, fundamental argument against Bolton.

To get away from inside baseball of whose toes Bolton stepped on, and instead articulate what a Bolton appointment means for our nation’s safety and security.

Voinovich showed how it’s done:

We will face more difficulties in conducting the war on terrorism, promoting peace and stability worldwide and building democracies without the help from our friends to share the responsibilities, leadership and costs.

To achieve these objectives, public diplomacy must once again be of high importance.

If we cannot win over the hearts and minds of the world community and work together as a team, our goals will be more difficult to achieve...

... But what message are we sending ... when in the same breath we have sought to appoint an ambassador ... who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally, of bullying those who do not have the ability to properly defend themselves?

These are the very characteristics that we’re trying to dispel in the world community.

Second, that it’s going to be a waste of time to try hustling up GOP votes on this one.

It’s patently obvious that half the GOPers on the Foreign Relations Cmte would vote against Bolton if it was a secret ballot, but they are too weak and wimpy to think for themselves and resist the intense White House pressure.

(The NYT runs the latest whining from the GOP moderates about how hard it is to be them. Boo frickin’ hoo. Don’t like living under the GOP thumb? Then leave.)

Dems did everything they could to wrest these GOPers free, even getting Voinovich to trash Bolton publicly. And it still wasn’t enough to kill the nomination.

So instead of expending time and energy working the corridors to pick off a few GOPers, the Dems need to strictly think “filibuster.”

That means rallying the public, as a filibuster would be high-profile and public opinion will be key in sustaining it.

And that means getting their own boys and girls in line, since it cannot be assumed that 41 Senators will be automatically comfortable with adding this battle on top of the judicial battle.

Some will no doubt have the foolish notion that Dems have to choose which battle to fight.

Sure, there are times in life when you have to choose your battles because you don’t have the resources to fight them all.

But this is not one of those times.

Dems have planted their flags. They have fought Bolton tooth and nail. They have fought right-wing judges tooth and nail.

If they don’t fight ‘til the end on both, once again the depth of their principles will be in doubt.

If they do, win or lose, the country will begin to regain their understanding of what the Democratic Party is about.

However, there is one caveat about a filibuster strategy.

There may not be a filibuster by the time the Bolton nomination hits the floor.

Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist has indicated that he’ll be bringing some judges to the floor early next week, before he addresses Bolton.

And it’s when Dems start filibustering those judges that the nuclear option will be attempted.

If Frist pulls off the nuclear option (a big if, as many think he doesn’t have the votes), then there’s no reason why the end of the filibuster for judicial nominees wouldn’t apply to other presidential nominees.

Because the “Advise and Consent” clause in the Constitution applies to all presidential nominees that require Senate confirmation, and the nuclear option will be explicitly tied to that clause.

If that is the case, Dems will be powerless to stop Bolton, though the GOP will pay a very high price for forcing him through.

May 11, 2005 PERMALINK
Did Bolton Violate the Haiti Arms Embargo?
(posted May 11 1 AM ET)

Here’s another John Bolton controversy that hasn’t received much attention.

There’s been an arms embargo on Haiti since 1991, when the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown.

The embargo was kept after the Clinton Administration helped Aristide regain power, over Aristide’s objections. And it remained in place after the Bush Administration removed Aristide in a coup last year.

But that hasn’t stopped the State Department from sending arms to the newly installed government anyway.

And Bolton, as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, presumably had a major role in the arms shipments.

Here’s how the story unfolded.

In early April, the Small Arms Survey released a report finding that the US gave Haiti thousands of “military-style weapons” and handguns, totaling nearly $7M.

(SAS is an independent research group backed by the Swiss govt.)

On April 17, Britain’s The Independent broke the story of the SAS report. An anonymous State Dept. spokesman was interviewed but didn’t cop to the shipments.

However, the State Department story changed a few days later.

On April 21, the AP cited unnamed State Dept. and UN officials in reporting that the US gave 2,600 used firearms to Haitian police (far less than the SAS report said).

Furthermore, State wants Congress to approve future sales of about $2M more, without necessarily lifting the embargo, but by utilizing loopholes in the embargo.

(The AP also reported on abuses by Haitian police: “Journalists saw police fire into peaceful protesters, leaving at least two dead.”)

On April 24, the W. Times further elaborated, noting the new info from State was an attempt to “refute” the SAS report.

An anonymous State Dept. official sought to downplay the matter to the W. Times, claiming that Congress was consulted.

But the fact that State didn't cop to anything until pressure came from the SAS report, and that no one from State will take responsibility for the arms transfer by name, undercuts the notion that this was no big deal.

On April 23, following the AP story, Haitian Catholic priest and former political prisoner Gerard Jean-Juste pointed the finger at John Bolton for the ostensibly illegal arms deals, and called for his resignation.

On April 27, Dem Rep. Maxine Waters, who must not have been consulted by State, publicly called for an investigation into Bolton’s role before a vote is taken on his nomination to be UN Ambassador.

(It is not clear if anyone on the Senate Foreign Relations Cmte has looked into the matter.)

Last Tuesday, the former attorney for the Haitian government under Aristide, Ira Kurzban, wrote in the Miami Herald of Bolton’s ideological motivations:

It is no surprise that Bolton is at the center of this controversy as well.

He has been one of the hard-liners in the State Department who sought the overthrow of Aristide and who bullied intelligence analysts on Haiti who were trying to provide a more-balanced picture.

Even his cohort in overthrowing Aristide, Otto Reich, was quoted as stating that they both rightfully went after an intelligence analyst who gave the ''benefit of the doubt'' to Aristide as the democratically elected president.

Perhaps Bolton can explain to members of the Senate when they reconvene why he would place more weapons in the hands of thugs and murderers whose police work is composed largely of executing peaceful demonstrators who are demanding the return of democracy to Haiti.

Also, last Tuesday, the Council On Hemispheric Affairs released a report summing up how the violation of the embargo would impact the Haitian people:

The shipment[, which] specifically violated an arms embargo ... could help the Haitian police provide security and tame armed factions, but the island’s underlying problem is that the Haitian police possess almost no capacity for leadership.

Many police officers are using their authority to improve their overall economic situation by taking bribes, some of them participate in drug trafficking operations or even carry out contract killings.

Providing arms to such a dysfunctional body is not going to resolve the problem of violence in the country but rather only worsen an already debilitated situation.

Bending and/or breaking the law to advance dangerous policies -- just another day in the life of John Bolton.

May 10, 2005 PERMALINK
Nuclear Waste ... Of Time
(posted May 10 1:30 AM ET)

There are a couple of upsides to the latest proposed deal to trade more Bush judges for a pullback on the nuclear option.

One, every new proposed deal is more ridiculous than the last, making an actual agreement that would put more right-wing judges on the bench far less likely.

Two, the latest deal is not from either party’s Senate leader, but from individual Senators with their own agendas and little ability to follow through.

As Knight-Ridder reported, the deal is being attempted by Dem Sen. Ben Nelson and GOP Sen. Trent Lott, and in theory only needs six Senators on each side for it to work.

Six Dems would promise not to filibuster any judges except in “extreme circumstances,” making it impossible to get 41 Senators to sustain a filibuster.

Six GOPers would promise not to let the party go nuclear, similarly denying GOP leaders a majority.

And an undetermined number of the currently filibustered appeals court nominees would go through.

The proposal is appalling for one simple reason: we are already in an “extreme circumstance.”

It has been extreme since 2001, when Bush renewed the GOP effort to pack the judiciary with right-wing hacks.

To even float this deal suggests the opposite, that we are not in extreme circumstances, that this is just lowly partisan wrangling.

That detracts from the argument Dems need to making: why this is such an extreme circumstance, why this is not just a battle between “interest groups,” why it is that these nominees would hurt Americans.

But Nelson has his own agenda.

He has styled himself as a conservative Dem for a while, and perceives a need to burnish that rep in advance of his ’06 re-election campaign.

He is not putting the interests of the party and the nation first, he is putting himself first.

Lott, on the other hand, is happy to undercut Majority Leader Bill Frist, the guy who stole Lott’s leadership job.

(Of course, conservatives hung Lott out to dry after his racist gaffe because they felt he wasn’t partisan enough and too quick to make bad deals. In turn, he seems to be having a harder time getting six to go along.)

Unfortunately, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid cannot easily marginalize Nelson’s efforts to compromise, because he’s been trying to position himself as a willing compromiser also.

Granted, Reid’s attempts at compromise appear to have been designed to make Frist look unreasonable, as oppose to actually reach a compromise. (Frist played the same game with a far more pathetic offer.)

But it’s way past time for this judges debate to move away from procedural inside baseball to judicial philosophy: how these judges would trash workers’ rights, reproductive freedoms and environmental protections.

It’s harder to do that now, since Reid effectively made "compromise" the name of the game for the time being.

The Dems clearly felt that was a necessary stage, so when they tie up the Senate in parliamentary maneuvers post-nuclear option, they can claim they did what they could to avert the situation.

But in all likelihood, the press won’t give them any points for trying anyway, so why bother?

It’s more important to lay out for the public what’s at stake for them, loudly and consistently.

Dems have largely coalesced around an “abuse of power” theme, which is not bad. But it needs more.

To really connect with the public, Dems need to make clear why that power is being abused, and to what end.

May 9, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted May 9 3 AM ET)

Though the fight is nowhere near over, the Sunday shows were unsatisfying for those hoping to block the John Bolton nomination to be UN Ambassador.

On Friday, Sec. of State Condi Rice formally refused Sen. Joe Biden’s request for info about Bolton’s role in disputes about intelligence.

A day earlier, Biden threatened to delay the vote if he did not get the info he asked for (LiberalOasis praised Biden's "steeliness").

Yesterday, on CBS’ Face The Nation, Biden did not back away from that threat, but he did not reiterate it either, and his tone was polite and restrained.

JOHN ROBERTS (guest host): Are you getting a lack of cooperation from the State Department, and if you don't get what you want, what are you going to do?

BIDEN: Well, we'll cross that bridge [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. I'm assuming that we get what we want...

ROBERTS: ...If you don't get that information, do you have all of the information you need to proceed to a vote on Thursday?

BIDEN: No, but we will -- I'm counting on having that information.

And I'm counting on being able to have a vote within five hours after we convene our hearing on Thursday morning.

This prompted Time Magazine reporter Michael Duffy to say, afterwards, that Biden may not have full Dem support to delay a vote.

But that’s not the only explanation.

Biden may simply be trying to keep communication lines up with Condi, and may think that direct attacks on her would prevent a deal.

That is not to say that such a tack would be smart politics.

If Dems are too polite from now through Thursday, that may give off a weakness vibe (see Duffy) which would make it harder to pick off a Republican or two, facing intense White House pressure.

Besides, a straight-up stonewall from the White House is plenty justification to delay a vote, and there is no shame in making that case loud and clear.

It’s a simple message: what are they hiding?

Furthermore, former CIA director John McLaughlin, on CNN’s Late Edition, confirmed a NY Times account that he vehemently opposed Bolton’s effort to fire an intelligence analyst over a dispute regarding Cuba.

McLaughlin said he had never seen another instance like it, where a policymaker tries to fire an intelligence analyst just because he doesn’t want to accept the analysis.

The Cuba dispute is one the areas where Condi is stonewalling, so it doesn’t wash when she tries to downplay the matter.

Nor does it wash when folks like Sen. George Allen, on Fox News Sunday, claim that “every single one of their charges and allegations have been refuted.”

Stonewalling is not refuting.

The other unsatisfying development was Sen. Chuck Hagel, one of the wavering GOP Senators, continuing to waver on ABC’s This Week.

And his wavering appeared to tilt ever so slightly to a "Yes" vote:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you seen anything ... so far that would keep you from voting for [Bolton]?

HAGEL: No, I have not seen anything that would keep me from voting for him.

But I have said I will reserve that vote until I hear all the facts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it would take something new now to push you away from voting for him?

HAGEL: Well, new from what I know now. But I don’t know everything now ...

... I know nothing as of this moment that would, my guess, would stop him from being voted out of committee.

He seems to be signaling to the Dems, you gotta kick it up a notch to get my vote.

Another reason not to be so polite between now and Thursday.

QUICK HITS

One More Time: Switch To Health Care

Last week, LiberalOasis argued that Dems should declare victory on Social Security, refuse to debate it anymore, while moving to address the real crisis with health care and Medicare with serious proposals and hearings.

Part of the reason for that would be to appease the punditocracy who knock Dems for not proposing a Social Security plan.

More evidence that such a tack would work could be found in yesterday’s pundit blather.

On Face The Nation, Duffy dutifully trotted out the GOP talking point on Social Security:

I think the clever thing in Bush's most recent offer to ... re-index Social Security benefits was essentially a Democratic idea and he's reached into their bag of tricks going back 20 years...

...he's really forcing the Democrats to say, “Are you for fixing this or are you just for saying no.”

And at the moment, the Democrats are still on the, “We're just for saying no” answer.

(Today, Paul Krugman essentially debunks the notion that Bush’s plan is in any way a Dem idea.)

While over at ABC's This Week, during a discussion of General Motors and health care costs, Cokie Roberts and George Will had this interesting exchange:

ROBERTS: The bottom line is that the health care problem is going to affect not only every American industry, it’s already affecting every American state.

All the states are having terrible budgetary problems because of their health care costs under Medicaid.

And somewhere along the line someone’s going to have to declare the true crisis right now, and that’s health care.

GEORGE WILL: Somewhere along the line you’re going to get from big business a push for socialized medicine.

ROBERTS: That’s exactly right.

Scare words from George Will aside, that exchange shows not only the hunger for someone to turn the spotlight to health care.

But also how there is an opening for Dems to shift the parameters of the debate by putting universal health care proposals on the table, both government-based and market-based.

Who Hates The UN?

On Face The Nation, W. Post reporter Mike Allen also spat out some White House spin, regarding the political fallout of the Bolton fight:

ALLEN: The White House says, “You don't understand. We chose him because he's this way.” Eighty percent of the American people are suspicious of the United Nations.

JOHN ROBERTS: Yeah. We need somebody to knock heads over there.

ALLEN: Yeah. They think it's inherently anti-American. And they want someone who will go up there and reform and [talk] tough.

Americans think the UN is inherently anti-American? 80% are suspicious of it?

Then why is it that the most recent poll (Feb. ’04) about the UN posted at Polling Report says 69% of Americans believe the UN should play a “leading” or “major role” in world affairs?

(More Sunday show analysis from Sunday Morning Talk and Crooks and Liars.)

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

The Stakeholder: 88 Members of Congress Call for Immediate Answers About Secret Bush/Blair Pre-War Deal

Sirotablog: Analyzing "Clintonism" ... Honestly

Blogger Radio doesn't care for the anti-immigrant Real ID Act on the verge of passing Congress

whats keezel blogging and The Talent Show react to LiberalOasis' suggested strategy on Social Security

Black Commentator on judicial nom Janice Rogers Brown: "She is a rightwing nut case, the end product of the litmus test that Republicans give to potential Black high bench nominees: they must be even crazier than their white GOP counterparts."

David Corn, War and Piece and Informed Comment analyze the Larry Franklin arrest

The Washington Note on the Bolton nom: "We now have full-fledged, genuine administration resistance to requests made by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- grounds for a lot of fireworks ... And this resistance isn't just to Biden requests, the administration is now also defying Richard Lugar -- AND LUGAR WAS TRYING TO BE NICE TO THEM."

Donkey Rising and MyDD mix it up over what Dems need to do to regain power

Pandagon: "In Kansas, students are being armed with 'Ten Questions To Ask Your Biology Teacher About [Intelligent] Design'"

Big Brass Blog: Howard Fineman is clueless about James Dobson

Operation Truth: "I lost three fingers on my left hand and took shrapnel in my legs and chest. Would an uparmor kit have kept my fingers from being blown off? No one will ever know for sure, but I think so."

War and Piece: Former Pentagon Iran analyst Larry Franklin charged

The Sideshow looks back at how far liberals have come, on the web and on the radio, in the last few years

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