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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

June 2, 2006 PERMALINK
Editor's Note: Changes Coming
(posted June 2 2 AM ET)

In a few days, things are going to be a little different around here – hopefully in a good way – so I wanted to give you a heads up.

First, we’re in the homestretch of a complete redesign, which should launch next week. The design here was always pretty crude – either charmingly so or appallingly so, I think depending on your browser settings. So after the bloglift, the site should be eminently readable to all travelers.

Second, LiberalOasis is going to start taking ads. Thanks to generous donors and low operating costs, this has never been a money-losing endeavor. But it’s not income-generating either. Your fearless executive editor quit his day job a year ago to write that book you see on the right. And as exciting as that is, it’s not exactly a cash cow (at least, not yet.) So there is a pressing need for sources of income.

However, this is LiberalOasis, and it would not be much of an oasis if it promotes any ol’ widget. So I will only accept ads that are for products and causes with liberal goals. Making such determinations may be subjective and tricky, and feedback from you as we proceed is most welcome. Also, I plan to keep ads to a minimum, and prevent the site from looking like a cluttered billboard.

Finally, I will be getting married (to the Snow White of the Left, as Majority Report listeners know her) on June 10, and then heading off for a long honeymoon for the rest of the month. In my absence, I’m lining up a stellar group of guest bloggers to keep LiberalOasis humming. More on that next week.

If posting next week is a little erratic, blame the redesign and pending nuptials.

Thanks for your readership and support.
Bill Scher

June 1, 2006 PERMALINK
Predictable
(posted June 1 2 AM ET)

On April 19, LiberalOasis wrote:

...it is very possible that Bush may well take intermediate steps before an attack [on Iran], just so he can say he exhausted all other avenues.

He may try economic sanctions. He may even do a round of direct talks at some point. (Remember, for a while they said they wouldn’t talk to North Korea.)

But Bush cannot be counted on to take such tacks sincerely, and give them a chance to work.

This must be said now. The skepticism has to be in the media bloodstream ahead of time, or else Bush will succeed again in stringing the media along...

...If you don’t challenge Bush’s sincerity towards diplomacy, Bush will be able to co-opt our proposals and continue his phony multilateralism unfettered.

And here we are.

Facing increased Establishment pressure, risking being seen as the obstacle to a settlement, Bush sought to change the dynamic -- proposing multiparty talks with Iran, on the condition that Iran suspends its uranium enrichment first.

So how did it play in the media?

The Bushies have to be happy in general with the initial coverage, as it makes the White House appear to be sincere about pursuing diplomacy.

But some skepticism did creep into the NY Times coverage:

And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence.

As well as some confirmation of that skepticism:

In the end, said one former [Bush] official who has kept close tabs on the [internal White House] debate, "it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box" of trying talks.

Outside of the mainstream media, there was a little push back against the White House spin.

Leading Dem foreign policy expert Ivo Daalder unnecessarily praised the move on TPM Café, but also indicated he knew what would come next:

... unless a willingness to talk is accompanied by a willingness to engage in real negotiations, it may not be enough to end the crisis.

The worst possible outcome would be if we were willing to sit down with the Iranians, but not willing to deal in any substantive way.

This has been the situation with North Korea, where the admnistration has consistently refused to work out a deal that meets not only our bottom line but also recognizes Pyongyang's concerns.

If all we're prepared to do is sit at the table with Tehran and make demands, then we'd better not go at all.

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly, noting Bush’s pre-conditions for talks, wrote:

...this is straight out of the Diplomacy 101 playbook as a way of responding to pressure to look reasonable without actually running the risk of reaching a peaceful agreement.

Taylor Marsh also finds “failure is written into the language” of the Bush proposal. (Marsh and TPM Muckraker also flagged that this week, Bush met with the liar behind the fake Iran “Jew badges” story, not exactly an indication of peaceful intentions.)

And The American Prospect took the opportunity to promote its major, absolute must-read piece on how Iran has been trying to cut a deal since 2003 that would not only address the nuclear issue, but also the Israel issue – and how the Bushies have recklessly rebuffed them.

Now, all of that is probably not enough push back to alter mainstream media discourse.

But it’s a start. It’s certainly more of a challenge to White House spin than we saw at this stage of the run-up to the Iraq War.

And if we’re going to prevent the Bushies from successfully re-running the Iraq playbook, we’re going to have do better job countering their moves in these early stages.

May 31, 2006 PERMALINK
Chip, Chip, Chip
(posted May 30 1:15 AM ET)

In a 5-4 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts and his newly enlarged conservative cabal held on to right-leaning swing vote Anthony Kennedy and denied free speech protections to public servants who, while inside the workplace, call out official misconduct.

This is particularly notable as it comes on the heels of Roberts’ latest attempt to portray himself and his Court as non-ideological.

Roberts introduced himself to America trying to disarm potential critics by cloaking his conservatism, calling himself just a guy who was going to call “balls and strikes” regarding the constitutionality of laws.

He’s trying to keep up that impression. Earlier this month, he gave a speech claiming he wants a Court that aims for 9-0 rulings on narrow grounds.

Esteemed constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein took the bait in a LA Times op-ed, praising Roberts’s “minimalism”:

...not least because it tries to avoid taking a stand on the most controversial questions and thus shows respect for people with reasonable competing views.

Indeed, narrow rulings help to promote a key goal of societies that are both diverse and free: to make agreement possible where agreement is necessary, while also making agreement unnecessary where agreement is not possible...

...If the court does move in that direction, its movement would have major consequences not only for privacy, free speech and the war on terror but for nearly every question that now divides both the court and the country.

Well, so much for free speech, and 9-0 rulings.

Five days after that op-ed, Roberts’ so-called minimalism led a divided 5-4 Court to strip free speech rights from those who speak out in the name of good government.

Now, the ruling was narrow, in the sense that it didn’t go beyond the case at hand to strike down whistleblower statutes or deny free speech rights to government workers who speak out off the job.

But that’s no great solace to potential whistleblowers. Balkinization explains:

...employees ... will retain First Amendment protection only if they make their complaints publicly without going through internal grievance procedures.

Although the Court suggests that its decision will encourage the creation and use of such internal procedures, it will probably not have that effect...

...employees will have incentives not to use such procedures but to speak only in public if they want First Amendment protections (note that if they speak both privately and publicly, they can be fired for their private speech).

However, if they speak only publicly, they essentially forfeit their ability to stay in their jobs, first because they become pariahs, and second, because they have refused to use the employer's internal mechanisms for complaint (mechanisms which, if they used them, would eliminate their First Amendment rights).

In short, whatever they do, they are pretty much screwed.

So the effect of the Court's decision is to create very strong incentives against whistleblowing of any kind.

Roberts was not named Chief Justice to usher in a glorious era of technocratic centrism.

He was put there because Republicans know that an abrupt right-wing revolution on the Court would spark a major backlash, and Roberts is far more of a pragmatic conservative than blusterers Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas.

If he can mask the conservative trajectory of the Court as mere minimalism, he can keep chip, chip, chipping away at Constitutional protections, sucker well-intentioned folks like Sunstein (not to mention reporters like NY Times’ Linda Greenhouse, who played up the minimalism and marginalized critics), and, just maybe, avoid that backlash.

All we can do to counter that strategy is call attention to such rulings that move our Constitution, step by step, in a direction that neither today’s voters or yesterday’s Founders ever intended.

Other thoughts from Lawyers, Guns and Money and Firedoglake.

May 30, 2006 PERMALINK
Disintegration, Revisited
(posted May 30 2:30 AM ET)

Back in September, the LiberalOasis post titled “Disintegration” noted the rise of ethnic cleansing in Iraq, perpetrated by both Sunnis and Shias.

LiberalOasis concluded:

...while Bush has to deal with the mess he created for the next three years, a disintegrating Iraq doesn’t make life so great for the Dems either.

Because Dems still have to articulate what they would do to clean up the mess. And the faster Iraq declines, the more daunting it becomes to turn things around.

Things are getting more daunting.

A gruesome depiction of the state of Iraq’s ethnic cleansing was offered by Nir Rosen in Sunday’s W. Post (via Informed Comment).

It begins with:

Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite.

Power drills are an especially popular torture device.

Things have gotten so bad, and Iraqis are so beaten down, that they can’t muster up the energy to be outraged by reports of a massacre of unarmed civilians by Marines in Haditha. Monday’s W. Post reported:

"We are tired of this news. I don't want to hear about more killings," said Ismael Abbas ... "The only news I care about is when a car bomb explodes in my neighborhood. I just check if my family is okay."...

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in violence since the U.S. invasion in 2003, many from insurgent bombs and execution-like killings in the intensifying sectarian violence, making TV broadcasts most days a montage of sprawled corpses and weeping families. A fraction of the deaths are caused directly by U.S. fire.

"We have a Haditha every day. We have a Fallujah and Karbala every day,'' said Muhanned Jasim,... [He] hadn't heard the news of Haditha, he said, because he no longer has electricity to power his television...

...Ghasan Jayih, a pharmacist, said he could pinpoint when he stopped caring: in November 2004, when gunmen shot and killed his best friend ... "When I lose the friend of my childhood, it means nothing else can matter to me."

"Were they the first . . . Iraqis to be killed for no reason?" Jayih said. "We're used to being killed. It's normal now to hear 25 Iraqis are killed in one day."

(One soldier’s disturbing account of Haditha was published in Monday’s LA Times. Rep. John Murtha is raising the possibility that the military tried to coverup the massacre.)

Meanwhile, two CBS employees became the 70th and 71st members of the media to be killed in Iraq, further undermining the long-ridiculous notion that reporters aren’t reporting enough “good news” from Iraq.

And there is no sign that the heralded “unity government” is going to reverse the disintegration trend.

Furthermore, In These Times’ Chris Toensing explored what withdrawal might look like, and while he still believes that our occupation is “still one of the causes [of violence], and it cannot be the cure,” he also concluded that withdrawal could worsen the already awful sectarian violence.

With such violence persisting, the questions for those of us who recognize that continued occupation is disastrous for our security and Middle East stability, are:

What must we do, along with withdrawal, to minimize the risks of further disintegration?

What political, diplomatic and economic steps can be taken in advance of, or in tandem with, withdrawal that would give Sunnis and Shia factions reason to reject violence?

The current situation is simply too dire to ignore such questions.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

**************

Wait!
The debut book from LiberalOasis' Bill Scher
Available 9/19/06
Pre-order today at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Powell's

**************

Altercation: "I went to a dinner for Al Gore last night ... I feel even more certain now, he’s thinking about [running for President]."

National Journal: "On September 29, 2003 ... Robert Novak telephoned ... Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation ... Suspicious that Rove and Novak might have devised a cover story during that conversation to protect Rove, federal investigators briefed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on the matter in the early stages of the investigation .."

MyDD: Internet Freedom bill passes House cmte

Thoughts of an Average Woman: "why did Hastert have his pants in a wad over the FBI raid on Jefferson's congressional office? Because Hastert could very well be next."

The Left Coaster: "Mr. Cheney, we now know that your Energy Task Force had a convicted felon as a participant. How can you justify keeping those deliberations secret?"

Demagogue: "Clergy opposed to the Federal Marriage Amendment are coming out of the closet. Not just a few, either."

Arms Control Wonk: Judy Miller busted again, misleading readers about Libya's WMD

Public Campaign Action Fund: Sign our petition demanding that Rep. Jefferson resign from Congress.

In These Times: "Charting a Sane Course in the Middle East," a roundtable discussion

**************

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