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The LiberalOasis Blog
September 23, 2005 PERMALINK
How bad have things gotten in Iraq?
Today’s NY Times reports that the Saudis are freaking out:
...the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war.
"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart."
...[He] added that American officials generally responded to his warnings by telling him that the United States successfully carried off the Iraqi elections and "they say the same things about the constitution"..."But what I am trying do is say that unless something is done to bring Iraqis together, elections alone won't do it. A constitution alone won't do it."
And earlier this week, Newsday (via Cursor) filed this disturbing report on what’s happening in Shia-majority southern Iraq, where things were supposedly going better than in the Sunni areas (backup link here):
Shia radicals have imposed their intolerant views on what used to be the Persian Gulf's freest city, [Basra,] where Kuwaitis were known to flock on the weekends to escape their puritanical society just 100 miles away.
Instead, Basra has become like Tehran, where morals are enforced not by family but by religious militias.
This is no aberration, but quite possibly the future of Iraq.
The religious parties in control here are mostly regional variations of those now running the central government in Baghdad.
The Shia-sponsored assassinations, politically or religiously motivated, that have been going on here for more than a year are beginning to happen in Baghdad as well.
"This is our greatest fear, that the religious people will take over Iraq," said one secular Iraqi diplomat.
Agents of Iran ... have thoroughly infiltrated both the local security police in Basra and the elite paramilitary brigades sent in by the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, according to sources with access to U.S. intelligence.
They are also heavily involved in the militias of some of the governing political parties.
What is happening in Basra, until recently little noticed in the international press, is described by one U.S. diplomat as "our dirty little secret."...
..."What we are seeing in Basra is not just Islam, but an extraordinary version of Islam which looks at Israel and the U.S. as the source of Islamic impotence," [one administration] official said.
"We could have won this battle if we had been able to provide electricity and services in the first 6 or 12 months."...
...Perhaps more important for the future of the country, it has helped fuel a drive for regional autonomy in the South that many fear could lead to the fragmentation, or even the disintegration, of Iraq.
There’s that “disintegration” word again.
The ethnic cleansing of Baghdad neighborhoods is proceeding at an alarming and potentially destabilizing pace...
..."Civil war today is closer than any time before," said Hazim Abdel Hamid al Nuaimi, a professor of politics at al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. "All of these explosions, the efforts by police and purging of neighborhoods is a battle to control Baghdad."
Now, LiberalOasis has noted previously that a “successful” execution of Bush’s Iraq strategy should not be considered a “victory” for America, because Bush’s strategic goals are antithetical to both our security interests and the self-determination of the Iraqi people.
But watching Bush fail in his execution (assuming the above fears of disintegration in the near-future prove accurate) is not exactly something to get excited about.
It only means that the inevitable backlash from Bush’s Iraq strategy is happening sooner rather than later.
And 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.
No matter what the state of Iraq is next month, next year or three years from now, the first building block of an alternative Democratic strategy for Iraq should be the same:
The US cannot work with the international community and play a positive role in Iraq without a clean break from the current Administration policy of unilateral interference in Iraq’s self-determination, and a renunciation of permanent military bases.
That is the essential first step to restoring American credibility in the region and allowing us and the international community to legitimately influence Iraq and the region for the global good, without trampling on the sovereignty of the Iraqi people.
September 22, 2005 PERMALINK
The arrest of David Safavian, the Bush budget official who had been charged with developing contracting policies for Katrina relief, is just the latest reminder of the conservative model of governance.
Yes, Safavian is a hack. Yes, Bush loves to foster personal loyalty by paying back his cronies. But this goes beyond Bush’s personal style.
As LiberalOasis has made a habit of noting, there is a right-wing mission to break our civil service.
To end the notion of a government bureaucracy led by experienced professionals, guided by facts, working on behalf of the public.
And to replace it with a government bureaucracy led by hacks, who only need experience in putting self-serving politics ahead of public service.
Why? When your government staff is reality-based, it’s hard to make them implement a reckless, corrupt agenda.
The conservative solution, as laid out in detail by the Heritage Foundation upon Dubya’s arrival in DC: strip career officials of power, and strengthen the hands of political appointees.
LiberalOasis last discussed this in January, when it was revealed that the Social Security Administration was putting out dubious info to assist Dubya’s privatization plans.
At the time, LiberalOasis listed the other highlights of this approach to governance, such as pressuring the intelligence community to provide assessments that fit with the Bush agenda, and threatening to fire Medicare staff that try to give Congress accurate cost estimates of drug benefit proposals.
And we can add hiring procurement officials, like Safavian, with little procurement experience, but are perfectly placed to dole out contracts to politically connected companies.
Not to mention the recent stories about Julie Myers, the lawyer with no immigration experience who Bush wants to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and Norris Alderson, the vet who almost became head of FDA’s Office of Women’s Health.
One expert deemed the Myers appointment, “pre-Katrina thinking, where political relationships were a very large factor.”
But it’s not merely pre-Katrina thinking.
As the 2001 Heritage Foundation policy paper tells us, it is deep-seated conservative thinking.
This is the conservative vision of how government “works,” fully put into practice.
Voters can decide next year in the mid-term elections if that’s the vision they have for their own government.
September 21, 2005 PERMALINK
Sen. Min. Leader Harry Reid put the nail in the coffin of the already limp Roberts opposition yesterday.
He announced his personal opposition to Roberts, but it was empty posturing to keep the base in check.
He also announced that the nomination “do[es] not warrant extraordinary procedural tactics to block” it.
In other words, no filibuster and hello Chief Justice Roberts.
Furthermore, he removed any pressure on his caucus to vote No, predicting that Roberts will get “plenty of votes” from Dems and that the nomination is “something people have to vote their conscience on.”
That’s code for: “I’m not twisting any arms.”
But this is not a bash-Reid post. This nomination was pretty much lost long ago, and the blame falls far and wide.
With Chief Justice Roberts a fait accompli, and with the next Court nomination just around the corner, there is no time to waste in looking back and determining what went wrong, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.
Without further ado, What Went Wrong, in chronological order:
1. The First 24 Hours
The lack of a strategy in this critical time period was the first and biggest mistake.
The media will define the nominee in this period as a “strong” pick or a “controversial” pick.
And barring the implausible scenario of Bush picking a proven impartial judge, the challenge on all of us is to define the pick as controversial.
Bush has two basic routes: an explicit conservative with a paper trail, or a stealth conservative with little paper trial.
Obviously, it’s easier to paint someone with a right-wing paper trail as controversial.
But that doesn’t excuse us from developing and executing a strategy for when there is a nominee with little paper trail, especially since that was and is a very live option.
The proper Day 1 message in that scenario is “No Blank Slates.” Without a clear record of impartiality and respect for basic rights, you have not earned a free pass to a lifetime appointment.
However, such a message now will be even harder to execute, because the Senate will soon confirm a Chief Justice who was very much a blank slate when he was first nominated (and only slightly less so today).
And if the next blank slate is a person of color, attacking that person while passing on Roberts will be quickly and gleefully branded by the Right as racism from the Left.
After Roberts hands down a few right-wing rulings, Dems will be able to point to Roberts and Clarence Thomas as nominees that gave misleading testimony, thereby bolstering the case against blank slates.
But that’s no help today. What can be done now?
Activist leaders like Alliance for Justice, People for the American Way and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights need to do is disseminate whatever info they have on possible nominees to the mainstream media and to the blogosphere, in advance of the nomination.
(For example, as LiberalOasis noted earlier, former Deputy AG Larry Thompson’s slate is pretty blank, but everyone should know he was both a Bork and Thomas backer, among other things.)
That way, assuming Bush doesn’t offer up a total surprise pick, everyone will know as soon as the name is announced that there’s something fishy about them, and the notion that the pick is controversial will be easier to argue.
2. Before The Hearings
Leading liberal activist groups felt compelled to wait until the days just before the hearings to formally announce opposition, thinking that waiting several weeks would inoculate them from seeming knee-jerk.
It didn’t. They got called knee-jerk anyway. All it did was waste precious time in the run-up to the hearing to define Roberts.
By the time the opposition was announced, after being quiet for so long (failing to run significant ad campaigns), the activists had rendered themselves impotent, and the announcements did nothing to build momentum.
It is more crass for Senators to formally oppose before they have their hearings. But Senators should have done more to place the burden on Roberts to prove his impartiality.
Senators should be articulating why the nomination matters, how it would affect people’s lives, in areas of personal freedom, workplace fairness, consumer rights and environmental protections.
And Senators, in conjunction with activists, should be laying out criteria along those lines that any nominee must meet to earn the public’s support.
Instead, the Senate Dems mostly clammed up, simply saying they would wait for the hearings.
That is essentially a strategy based on hopes that the nominee might slip up. Clearly in the case of Roberts, he was a nominee picked precisely because he wouldn’t slip up.
Therefore, saving all confrontation for the hearings was a strategy destined to fail.
Finally, opportunities to challenge a nominee’s credibility must be exploited.
The game for right-wing nominees is to give empty, feel-good, non-ideological (or even liberal-sounding) testimony.
So if you don’t give the public and the media a reason to doubt the nominee’s credibility in advance, the nominee will easily generate misleading headlines like “Roberts Supports Right To Privacy.”
With a blank slate, there may not always be an opening to challenge a nominee’s credibility in advance, but Roberts provided some openings that were not exploited (such as his dishonesty about his Federalist Society membership.)
3. The Hearings
Senators have yet to realize how idiotic they can look like with the klieg lights on.
Dems are so afraid of looking political during this supposed “dignified” process, but it’s long boring speeches during Q&A sessions that look political, because they are obviously self-serving.
More importantly, long speeches don’t make the evening news. Dramatic exchanges do.
And if you don’t make news, you’re not communicating to the public what is wrong with the nominee, and you’re not rallying public opinion, the essential ingredient for sustaining a filibuster.
Dems should ditch the entire “opening statements” business on the first day of hearings, which are a total waste of time.
(If Senate tradition does not oblige, then keep them to a minute, and get to the questioning. No one is listening.)
Once the questioning begins, actually question. Don’t ramble.
Question succinctly and aggressively.
Question in a way that the public will understand what you’re talking about. Don’t delve into arcane legalese.
And follow-up aggressively. Do not passively give the nominee the last word time and time again when he or she is clearly bullshitting everyone.
We can't be shocked that "plenty" of Senate Dems will vote for Roberts, because so little was done by liberal activists, pundits, bloggers, and politicians to create the conditions for a strong opposition.
If that doesn't change the next time around, we will badly lose again.
And Dubya, while at 40%, will have succeeded in further moving the Court to the Right, possibly for the next generation.
September 19, 2005 PERMALINK
Last year, LiberalOasis wrote about the urgent need for Dems to get over their squeamishness and make a compelling case for higher taxes.
Otherwise, they’ll never have the mandate to do what’s necessary to properly fund our government’s responsibilities and get our fiscal house in order.
And last month, LO renewed that call in the wake of Katrina.
Yesterday, we saw Dems take some steps in that direction.
Bill Clinton, making it look too easy, connected the dots on ABC’s This Week:
...tax cuts are always popular, but about half of these tax cuts since 2001 have gone to people in my income group, the top 1 percent. I've gotten four tax cuts.
They're responsible for this big structural deficit, and they're not going away, the deficits aren't.
Now, what Americans need to understand is that that means every single day of the year, our government goes into the market and borrows money from other countries to finance Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, and our tax cuts...
...Never in the history of our republic have we ever financed a conflict, military conflict, by borrowing money from somewhere else...
...We're pressing the Chinese now, a country not nearly rich as America per capita, to keep loaning us money with low interest to cover my tax cut, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Katrina.
And at the same time, to raise the value of their currency so their imports into our country will become more expensive, and our exports to them will become less expensive.
And by the way, we don't want to let them buy any oil companies or anything like that.
So what if they just got tired of buying our debt?
What if the Japanese got tired of doing it?
Japan's economy is beginning to grow again. Suppose they decided they wanted to keep some of their money at home and invest it in Japan, because they're starting to grow?
We depend on Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Korea primarily to basically loan us money every day of the year to cover my tax cut and these conflicts and Katrina.
I don't think it makes any sense. I think it's wrong.
Over at CNN’s Late Edition, after a clip of Dubya saying he would cut “unnecessary spending” and would not raise taxes, Sen. Joe Biden responded:
...he just sent us a budget, presumably with nothing but necessary spending in it.
Where is he going to find roughly half a trillion dollars over the next several years for Iraq and for Katrina?
I think we're not level with the American people...
...we're either going to share the cost with everyone, including the wealthiest among us by foregoing the tax cuts for the wealthiest, or we're going to put all the burden on the middle class...these are basic, fundamental decisions...
...I don't know how the president could possibly...take [taxes] off the table [when we’re] dealing with a natural catastrophe on two fronts.
We have one on the foreign agenda and we have one domestically. And they're going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
And the last thing I'll say is: The American people are tough...They have never let their country down -- whatever the cost is to get it right for their fellow citizens and protect their soldiers.
And on CBS’ Face The Nation, Sen. Barack Obama weighed in:
You can't fight a war in Iraq that's costing upwards of $200 billion, and rebuild New Orleans, and respond to the aftermath of Katrina, and try to deal with all the other domestic needs that we have, and then cut taxes for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
I mean, there was talk right immediately after the hurricane that the Republicans in the Senate were still going to push forward with the repeal of the estate tax, which is mind-boggling...
...We need some adult supervision of the budget process.
All that is good groundwork, helping legitimize discussion about tax increases so we can restore fair and adequate levels of taxation.
But we are still seeing Dems flinch at actually saying we need tax increases, which undercuts their ability to claim they will level with the public and make necessary tough choices.
Yesterday, Clinton also said on ABC:
...if you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up, and it disproportionately affects black and brown people, that's a consequence of the action made.
That's what they did in the eighties. That's what they've done in this decade.
[In my Administration,] we concentrated tax cuts on lower income working people and benefits to low-income people that helped them move from welfare to work, and we moved 100 times as many people out of poverty. We know what works...
That’s a nice condemnation of Reagan and Bush tax policy.
But Clinton makes the mistake of solely crediting tax cuts for his own successes, ignoring the courageous tax increases that got the budget balanced over hysterical GOP objections.
If he dared remind the public of the collective benefits we received because of those increases, it would go a long way to building support for what’s needed now.
However, Biden was worse than Clinton when it came to specific policy prescriptions.
Earlier last week, on NBC’s Today, Clinton said “I would repeal the tax cuts for upper-income people.”
That was the Dem platform in ’04. Back then, it was only a partial solution to our fiscal problems then. Now, our problems just got worse.
But Biden wouldn’t even go that far, saying, “we don't have to raise new taxes, but we don't have to go forward with further tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Well that’s definitely not leveling with the American people.
Just scrapping “further tax cuts” only stops the digging of the gigantic fiscal hole we’re in.
Yet we’d still be very deep in that hole, still adding to the pile of debt waiting for the grandkids, still extremely vulnerable to unexpected shocks to the system.
Granted, it can’t hurt to talk about the problem for a while longer – let it sink in with the public – before sticking our necks out with a politically daring solution, like going back to the Clinton tax levels. For all Americans.
More likely, Dems are too scared of what Republicans will say if they did come together around such a solution, and ran on it in 2006.
For our sake, for America’s sake, for the sake of the global economy, they better get over it.
The Blog Wire
Sept. 19: It has been 801 days since Karl Rove violated his obligations under Standard Form 312 without the White House taking “corrective action.”
Talking Points Memo: A MS paper reports "Federal officials appear to be seeking proof to blame the flood of New Orleans on environmental groups, documents show."
Pinko Feminist Hellcat tells Dems "Here's a ticket to the clue train: your base finds [Roberts] repulsive, and with good reason."
Red Hair, Black Leather hears word on the ground of more FEMA incompetence
Informed Comment: "Sistani has a great deal of moral authority, but you really worry whether he might be a level three levee facing a level five hurricane"
DNC Chair Howard Dean: "John Roberts is the wrong man for the job ... in failing to present clear answers to straightforward questions, Roberts missed a crucial opportunity to answer legitimate concerns about his record and show compassion for those who have been excluded from the American Dream. The consistent mark of Roberts' career is a lack of commitment to making the Constitution's promise of equal protection a reality for all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable in our society."
MyDD: "We just haven't found out much of anything about Roberts, which is exactly what the Republicans who love him seem to be shooting for."
Hullabaloo: "Roberts is obviously a very, very smart lawyer. He talked circles around everybody on the committee today. There is no doubt in my mind that he will craft beautifully reasoned, elegant decisions that will result in as much destruction of the last 75 years of social and economic progress as he can politically get away with."
Is That Legal?: "I understand perfectly well that no lawyer has absolute control over his or her caseload[, but Roberts] left a clerkship with ... Rehnquist to become a Special Assistant to [Reagan's] Attorney General [then joined] the White House staff ... These are no ordinary 'staff attorney' positions ... These are, in their nature, ideological positions."
The American Street: "John Roberts, if given the opportunity, WILL overrule Roe ... Will. Not “might.” Not “probably.” Will. How do I know this? ..."
Discourse.net: How the GOP Will Relaunch the Culture War With its Next Supreme Court Appointment
TalkLeft: Fitzgerald's Re-Appointment in Doubt
Bush V. Choice: Roberts' answers on privacy give no assurance to pro-choice Americans
Sirotablog: GOP Using Katrina To Justify Right-Wing Agenda
Daily Kos' Bob Brigham: Louisiana NAACP organizing Shelter Committees so "evacuees in shelters [can] take control of their own destinies"
Christian Alliance For Progress: "A coalition of scientists and Christian clergy members has joined forces to set the record straight [that] Evolution and Christian teachings are not in conflict"
Feministing: Sudanese women want fair representation
Huffington Post's George Lakoff: "The moral of Katrina is mostly being missed. It is not just a failure of execution (William Kristol), or that bad things just happen (Laura Bush). It was not just indifference by the President, or a lack of accountability, or a failure of federal-state communication, or corrupt appointments in FEMA, or the cutting of budgets for fixing levees, or the inexcusable absence of the National Guard off in Iraq. It was all of these and more, but they are the effects, not the cause. The cause was political through and through — a matter of values and principles. The progressive-liberal values are America’s values, and we need to go back to them."
The Stakeholder: Tom DeLay's PAC indicted
The Red Cross is accepting donations to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina
ASPCA is taking donations for its disaster relief fund
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