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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

November 18, 2005 PERMALINK
Murtha Moves The Debate
(posted Nov. 18 12:15 AM ET)

Rep. John Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal of ground troops* from Iraq substantively and positively shifts the terms of the debate, but also could complicate matters for the Dems as they struggle to articulate a clear message on Iraq.

Murtha’s stance gives further credence to the argument that a full withdrawal of US troops would deflate the insurgency and allow Iraq to move towards self-governance - not a "cut and run" strategy but a "strategy for success."

Sen. Russ Feingold first advanced this argument in his call for a target date of 12/31/06 to fully withdraw ground troops*.

Feingold based his case on what "one of the top generals in Iraq" told him, that "nothing would take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents more than having a timeline in place," because without a permanent occupation, the insurgency lacks a political rationale.

Murtha, who recently returned from Iraq, made a similar case yesterday:

... the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize ... the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.

Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency.

They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence...

...I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraq security forces will be incentivized to take control...

...I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy.

All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United Stated occupation.

I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a "free" Iraq.

The conventional wisdom is that without US troops, the insurgency would be emboldened and civil war would break out.

This gets repeated so much in the media most people take it as a given. It's not.

Thorough debate and discussion on this subject, so we can make a informed decision on how to best end the occupation, will do our nation and the Iraqi nation good.

With Murtha joining Feingold, we may just have it.

That's the substantive upside to Murtha's Iraq resolution.

The potential political downside is that it complicates the Democratic Party's recent efforts to articulate a unified position on Iraq.

The vast majority of Senate Dems voted for an amendment this week that put them on record supporting a flexible timetable for phased withdrawal.

They did not specify a final target date, but Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid characterized the amendment as saying "the Administration must tell the Iraqi people clearly and unambiguously that U.S. military forces will not stay indefinitely".

It took a lot of legwork by Reid to get his fractured caucus to agree to this basic strategic vision, and most of them will not be inclined to break away and embrace Murtha's plan.

(That includes Feingold, who released a statement praising Murtha, but expressing preference for his 12/31/06 target date as part of a "flexible timetable for achieving clear, realistic goals.")

But if Murtha proves to be influential with his fellow House members, we may end up with a House Dem plan that calls for a speedy withdrawal and a Senate Dem plan that calls for phased withdrawal with no target date.

Such a tactical split risks a continuation of the Dems' muddled messaging on Iraq.

But it doesn't have to.

As LiberalOasis has argued in the past, the common ground among Dems is: we think we should leave Iraq eventually, and Republicans don't.

On June 15, LO wrote:

This is a question of which party wants to leave Iraq, and which party wants to stay forever.

This is not about tactics. This is about goals.

The GOP's goal is to stay and unilaterally project our influence in the region militarily, against the will the Iraqi people, breeding further resentment and helping terrorists grow their ranks.

The Democratic Party's goal is to ensure the Iraqi people are actually independent and free of outside influences, because as Bush himself says, "as long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export."

That common ground not only remains, it's become firmer following Murtha's announcement.

Dems in both houses just need to recognize that, articulate the common ground, and not get bogged down distancing themselves from each other’s specific plans.

*(Note that Murtha also calls for a "a quick reaction force in the region" and "an over-the-horizon presence of Marines" and Feingold supports "a continuing effort, as requested by the Iraqi government, to take targeted actions against terrorist cells within Iraq and nearby, as we are doing with other countries".)

November 17, 2005 PERMALINK
Reid Steps It Up on Alito
Will He Play His Trump Card?
(posted Nov. 17 1:45 AM ET)

LiberalOasis has been critical of the approach to Alito by some Senate Dems, particularly how several have uncritically repeated to the press Alito’s moderate-sounding comments, instead of challenging their veracity.

But yesterday, we saw some top Senate Dems throw some elbows, helping add to the momentum against Alito sparked by the Vanguard scandal and the job application revelations.

Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid led the way, saying in a floor speech that he had "significant concerns" since “for the past fifteen years, Judge Alito has been one of the most conservative federal judges in the country.”

He specifically criticized Alito for “argu[ing] for higher barriers to recovery for people with claims of discrimination” and for being “quick to limit the authority of Congress, when it is working to help people with real problems.”

And Sen. Joe Biden, who idiotically pooh-poohed prospects for a filibuster several days ago, stopped the Dem trend of regurgitating Alito’s comments after meeting with him privately.

Regarding Alito’s uber-conservative application for a job in the Reagan Justice Dept., Biden told reporters:

He said he was 35 when he wrote that.

I pointed out that I had been a senator five years when I was 35, and no one says to me what you said in 1974 as a senator we can forget.

Also, Sens. Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer gave speeches criticizing Alito yesterday.

But Reid’s leadership is key.

He signaled his disapproval on Day 1, then hung back as others in his caucus failed to properly define Alito, and now appears to be signaling to his caucus: ”Enough with the free passes.”

The question LiberalOasis has for Reid is: will he play his Pro-Life card?

In case you forgot, the highest ranking Democrat in Congress opposes abortion rights.

But he?s a pro-lifer who has a good relationship with NARAL Pro-Choice America, in large part because -- unlike the fringe fundamentalist leaders -- he's pro-contraception, pro-stem cell research and he does not support right-wing judges.

If Reid led a filibuster on Alito, while making clear that as a pro-lifer his personal feelings on Roe have nothing to do with his opposition, that would greatly expand the playing field.

For Democrats to be able to articulate that people on both sides of the abortion debate have strong reasons to oppose Alito is a hell of a trump card.

Perhaps that’s a trump card worth saving until later in the nomination process.

In the meantime, Reid is doing the right thing, laying down the intellectual foundation for principled opposition.

He just needs to do more of it, and get more of his colleagues to do the same.

November 16, 2005 PERMALINK
Alito Exposed
Where The Fight Should Go Next
(posted Nov. 16 1:30 AM ET)

The Alito “job application” should stop cold the ability of the White House (using allegedly liberal pals of Alito) to sap the energy of the opposition by convincing some Dems that he’s one of those “reasonable conservatives.”

We now know that his judicial philosophy (not his personal opinions) ignores the Constitutional basis for a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, and does not accept that ”one person, one vote” actually applies to minorities in practice.

We even know that the (irrelevant) attempt to paint Alito’s time at Princeton as one of a liberal visionary was a farce, since he was a member of the reactionary right-wing Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

Granted, it didn’t stop cold the idiocy of some Democratic Senators, who still foolishly take Alito’s lame excuses at face value instead of detailing Alito’s pattern of contradictions.

But we already knew Alito would not be stopped by Senate Dems alone. Alito needs to be stopped by a grassroots outcry.

And the Alito revelation effectively snuffs out the nascent intra-base discussion and debate whether Alito may be “the best we can do.”

With a unified base, our activist leaders can now put on the full court press to persuade the broad middle of the country to stand with us to protect the swing seat of the Court.

We now have a different problem, albeit a far preferable one: ensuring that our argument is comprehensive, not solely reliant on his opposition to Roe.

Roe of course is a huge issue that affects millions, and must be part of the argument.

A clear majority of the country wants Roe upheld.

Which is why Alito and his spinners are desperately trying to distance him from his own words (and which is why Bush preferred blank slates like John Roberts and Harriet Miers.)

But the pro-Roe majority is less intense that the anti-Roe minority.

Therefore, it’s by no means detrimental to talk about Roe, but there are enough nominal pro-choicers who tune out of the abortion battle to make the issue insufficient on its own to win the Court battle.

Liberal activist leaders, based on their polling, recently concluded that a comprehensive, multi-issue strategy was the way the go.

(Hey guys, if you were reading LiberalOasis since April, you could have saved a lot of money on pollsters and upped your ad buys.)

But abortion is an issue with massive gravitational pull. (For good reason. It directly affects a whole lot of women’s lives.)

So without forethought, abortion will overshadow everything else.

They key is to tie the set of issues -- family medical leave, machine gun bans, environmental protections, privacy, voting rights, workplace and academic equality -- into a larger narrative of what conservative judicial activism is all about:

-- Preventing Congress from passing laws that protect individual rights and promote the common good.

-- Striking down laws in an unprincipled and arbitrary fashion.

-- Permitting corporations to escape accountability by denying citizens their day in court.

-- Hiding their true judicial philosophy from the public with disingenuous legalisms and phony “respect for precedent.”

Of course, we should pound the Roe revelation this week.

It’s fresh, and it also exposes Alito’s past disingenuous comments to Senators about precedent and privacy.

When added to his previous lies to the Senate about his conflicts of interest, it portrays a man who cannot be trusted.

But after that, we must build on these revelations and articulate the larger narrative, not get stuck in a one-issue rut.

November 15, 2005 PERMALINK
*** SPECIAL EDITION ***
Interview With Joe Conason, author of "The Raw Deal"
(posted Nov. 15 12:30 AM ET)

The latest book from Joe Conason, columnist for the New York Observer and Salon.com, is ”The Raw Deal,” which chronicles the conservative movement's campaign to eliminate Social Security and dismantle the New Deal.

As Mr. Conason explained to LiberalOasis, “It’s not just about Social Security,” but also, “how the Bush Administration does business, and how the conservative movement does business ... the deceptive structure of the movement that they created to push this forward.”

And he helpfully added, it’s all done “with a minimum of mathematics and a maximum of investigative revelations.”

The book is now available, and Mr. Conason will be doing book signings this Wednesday at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, and the following Monday at New York City’s Barnes & Noble in Union Square.

For more info, visit joeconason.com.

Mr. Conason joined LiberalOasis for an interview on Friday, November 11. The following is an edited transcript. Click here for a wide-screen version.

LiberalOasis: Democrats successfully blocked Social Security privatization in the court of public opinion, and a top GOPer says nothing will happen before 2009.

Is this fight over? Will the conservative movement give up and move on to a different issue?

Joe Conason: Oh, I think not.

First of all, the Senate and the House don’t agree about this.

There are members of the House, and in fact there are a few among the conservatives in the Senate, who want to push forward on this long before 2009. Some of them still want to go ahead with it next year, or as soon as sometime in the next session.

So I don’t think they’ve given up at all. I think they believe they can still make the case, especially if they maintain their majorities in the House and the Senate.

I think if they win next year’s congressional elections, they will try to push this again before the 2008 election.

LO: Why do they want this that bad?

JC: Social security privatization is what I call a generation goal for American conservatives.

They have wanted to this, and some of them have been around since the Goldwater campaign in 1964, when this issue was first raised by the person they look upon as kind of the founder of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater.

People like Richard Viguerie, people like Morton Blackwell, important figures in the conservative movement, began their careers then, and they have cherished this idea ever since.

They thought they were going to get it with Reagan.

And in fact he did the opposite, which was to strengthen Social Security through a deal with the Democrats in the House in 1983.

They were frustrated at that point.

But that was also when they put together a blueprint for the movement that they have created now, which brings together important financial institutions, and financial sector companies, with the ideological Right -- Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

LO: What do you think has gone right for us and wrong for them? Are there lessons that Democrats should take away from that?

JC: The most important reason why they were not able to move this in Congress is that the Democrats stood united against it, and the Democrats were held accountable by their base on this issue.

Had they been able to pick off any significant number of Democrats in the House or the Senate to support this plan, you would have seen them move it this year.

And they certainly would have been able to pass it in the House, [though] it could have been filibustered in the Senate.

The reason that they would not, that many House Republicans did not want to see this legislation move, was that they didn’t want to end up having to run on this issue without the cover of being able to say, “Some Democrats are for it. It’s bipartisan.”

LO: Why is it then you have not seen Democrats replicate that strategy?

They have not been as unified on Iraq and Supreme Court nominees. Why isn’t that lesson sinking in?

JC: There’s what you could call a certainty about the public’s view of Social Security, that is not necessarily there for these politicians on the other issues you mentioned.

In other words, they know that Social Security is popular across every spectrum of the country. Blue states, Red states, conservatives, liberals.

There’s a reason why the Religious Right never got behind Social Security privatization, they know their base doesn’t want it.

So, this is actually a relatively easy issue for the Democrats to stay united on.

The war is much more vexed.

A lot of them voted for the resolution authorizing the president -- I mean, I think you can explain that vote -- but they know they’re going to be called to account for that if they now turn against the war.

Supreme Court nomination: I think you will see considerable unity on that once everything about Judge Alito is known.

But...there is a lesson to be learned from this experience, and they haven’t fully learned it yet, but I think they’re starting to.

LO: There is increasing concern about the weakening of our nation’s private pension system.

Is there more that Democrats should be saying to address that looming problem?

JC: I think the Democratic position on that has to be that we need the public sector to step in, but the private sector has to also pony up a very large share of these shortfalls.

You have enormous profits being made by companies.

You have corporate executives with the largest multiple of workers’ salaries in the history of the world, walking away with huge golden parachutes when they fail.

And they’re leaving these companies behind with underfunded pensions. That’s not right.

There needs to be corporate responsibility on this issue and that should be the Democratic position.

LO: Seems like if you tell someone over 60 that the Republicans want to dismantle the New Deal, that’ll get their back up.

Tell that to someone under 30, it won’t have the same meaning, because they’re much farther removed from that era.

How can Democrats frame this larger struggle in terms that all generations would find relevant?

JC: I think they need to talk about what the New Deal was, what the New Deal did for their grandparents, their parents.

And not just the New Deal, but the entire spectrum of Democratic progress that we’ve seen over the last century.

If you lay out the kind of society that we have, why it’s become strong [and] powerful, how it’s benefited as many people as it has, and what the Republicans want to take away, then it becomes an issue that people can understand.

To say that it’s bad because they’re going to undo FDR is really not the way to begin.

The political education has to start with what the meaning of the Republican program is for people in their everyday lives. Then you give the historical lesson.

And it’s very important do that, for people to understand that these things didn’t arrive out of nowhere.

They came out of a political struggle that people had in the past, and they can only be kept that way.

LO: In light of the Democratic Election Day success earlier this month, what do you think of Democratic prospects for 2006?

Will Bush backlash be enough for Democrats to pick up seats in Congress, or do Democrats still have work to do to convince the public that they have a compelling policy agenda?

JC: Both. It’s necessary to get people to vote for something. They won’t just go in and vote against something. If that’s how they feel they probably won’t turn up to vote. So you have to mobilize, and you have to motivate them.

But I think that the Bush Administration through its incompetence and corruption has made that a lot easier. They have created an opportunity.

And it’s a question whether the Democrats have, sort of, the intellectual and organizational ability to take advantage of that.

LO: What will happen to the Democratic base if Senators fail to filibuster Sam Alito? Would that harm 2006 prospects?

JC: I think there’s enough reason for people want to have a change in Washington, whether or not there’s a filibuster on a particular issue, even one as salient as that.

But I think the more backbone they show, the stronger the response from the public is.

And not just the base. I think people are looking for the Democrats to define themselves now. And that filibuster would certainly be one way to do it.

But they have to make the case very strongly, and they can’t look as if they were simply wanting to filibuster anybody Bush sent up. It has to be clear that there is a reason to stop Alito and it’s a strong one.

November 14, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Nov. 14 1:45 AM ET)

On 11/4, The Weekly Standard?s Bill Kristol demanded that Dubya “fight back” and “aggressively--not to say indignantly--confront the ‘Bush lied’ charge now emanating from leaders in the Democratic party” by “call[ing] the now antiwar Democrats on their disreputable rewriting of history”.

And he later argued that the reason 57% of the country now says Bush “deliberately misled people to make the case for war” was because Bush was not fighting back.

On Veterans Day, Bush chose to follow Kristol’s advice to the letter, (i.e. “it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began”), cheapening a solemn day in unprecedented fashion with more self-serving lies.

Taking to heart Kristol’s warning -- “If the American people really come to a settled belief that Bush lied us into war, his presidency will be over” -- the renewed campaign to shift blame continued on Sunday.

National Security Adviser Stephen ”16 Words” Hadley made the biggest splash, admitting on CNN's Late Edition that ”we were wrong” about the intelligence.

That was an attempt to win some candor points before arguing “allegations now that the president somehow manipulated intelligence, somehow misled the American people are flat wrong.”

Because, as Kristol said, Job #1 is convincing the public Bush isn’t a liar. They’ll cop to anything else if it'll help turn that 57% around.

Problem is, once people think you’re a liar, it’s a little tricky to get them to believe anything else you have to say.

To make their problem worse, they’re lying to deflect the charge that they’re liars (liars tend to do that.)

The main lie: Hadley, as well as RNC Chair Ken Melhman, are claiming they were exonerated by the (Bush hand-picked) Silberman-Robb Commission and the (GOP-led) Senate Intelligence Cmte.

In fact, Silberman-Robb was not charged with addressing the issue of the Administration’s misuse of intelligence, and the Senate cmte has not addressed it yet.

(Sen. Harry Reid’s “closed session” last week was all about jumpstarting that Senate cmte investigation.)

There were other lies and deceptions of course, which were well-chronicled by Talking Points Memo and Sic Semper Tyrannis 2005.

But LiberalOasis will note one more lie that may otherwise get overlooked.

On CNN’s Late Edition, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts was asked about the recently declassified report that exposed another lie:

WOLF BLITZER: In the aftermath of Senator [Carl] Levin's ability to declassify a DIA report saying that this source of this information -- alleging this link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda -- was known to be a fabricator and a liar, long before the president or the then secretary of state, Colin Powell, ever made this accusation.

But they went ahead and made the accusation in any case.

ROBERTS: It never got to that level. It never got to the policy maker's level.

But while Sen. Roberts claimed the policy makers never saw that report, earlier in the program, Hadley (one of them policy makers) would not offer such a definitive statement:

BLITZER: The Defense Intelligence Agency months earlier, before either of those statements were made, had concluded that the source, this Iraqi source, was a fabricator and should not be believed...

...Did you know about that DIA analysis?

HADLEY: I have no recollection of it.

Sen. Roberts, of course, is the guy supposedly leading that investigation into whether the Administration misused and manipulated intelligence.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Save The Court: Sign the petition to stop Alito

Daily Princetonian: "Alito wrote that he was 'a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University...' ... Marsha Levy-Warren '73, who was a member of the University's first coeducational class [said,] 'They stated explicitly that they were not in favor of coeducation and that they weren't in favor of affirmative action ... Implicitly, they were opposed to any form of diversity on campus.'"

Baghdad Burning: "These torture houses have existed since the beginning of the occupation. While it is generally known that SCIRI is behind them, other religious parties are not innocent ... This is hardly news for Americans in the Green Zone."

Tikkun interviews the new leader of Israel's Labour Party, Amir Peretz

Feministing: "In response to Virginia’s laws banning same-sex marriages, a local pastor and his church’s governing council have decided to protest in a big way -- the church is no longer offering wedding services."

IndependentCourt.org releases new ad: 'The right wing has already taken over the West Wing…don’t let them take over your Supreme Court,' says the ad, which mentions Alito’s efforts as a federal judge to weaken protections against job discrimination, his dissent that would have upheld the strip search of a 10-year-old girl without a valid warrant, and his declaration that the Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion."

The Stakeholder: Noted Dem hawk Rep. John Murtha today: "It is evident that continued military presence in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States, Iraq, or the MIddle East ... The main reason given for war has been discredited"

Informed Comment: "First, the Pentagon was forced to admit that it had in fact used white phosphorus as a weapon ... Then there was more bad news when 8 GIs were killed within 24 hours ... In a third wave of bad news, the scandal of the tortured Iraqi prisoners has continued to grow ... a fourth blow [was a] major contracting scandal ... that involves enormous graft on the part of officials of the Coalition Provisional Administration ..."

Supreme Court Watch: "Judge Alito says [his '85 job application was] just the words of an advocate eager to land a political job ... But his 15-year record on the bench shows something different ... rulings [that] consistently track the hard-line legal views he articulated in the application." (PDF file)

firedoglake: Could Woodward's source be John Bolton deputy Fred Fleitz?

TalkLeft: "My bet: Woodward's source is the State Department or CIA official mentioned in Paragraph 6 or 7 (and 33) of the Indictment against Libby ... David Wurmser seems to me to be the most likely."

The Washington Note: "Woodward's celebrity-status has seriously blinded him and affected his judgment about quality journalism and his responsibilities to the public ... he must be held ACCOUNTABLE for his irresponsibility in the Plame case."

AlterNet: "In targeted moves since the election, McCain has continued his Bushification by changing positions on conservative priorities like creationism, gay marriage and tax cuts."

Nathan Newman: "Alito ... was against the Supreme Court decisions requiring that all state legislative districts be designed to guarantee 'one person, one vote', instead of giving some districts with very few voters the same representation as urban districts with far more voters."

Oliver Willis: "So it’s clear these little childish speeches from Bush are going to continue ... there’s always a strong desire on the left to debunk these mewlings [but] The only way to fight back is to just keep repeating what’s true. The President misled America into war with Iraq, and has no plan to succeed in Iraq."

Pacific Views: "the reason it is so complicated is that this [drug] benefit was written to benefit the drug companies - and not the seniors who are only a means to the end."

Lawyers, Guns and Money on Alito Apologists

Bitch Ph.D.: Alito's Smoking Gun

Basie! interviews George McGovern

War and Piece: "If the White House has nothing to hide, why are they trying so hard to prevent an investigation of how the policymakers used the intelligence they received?"

Weekly Radio Address: President Bush's message to the people following the '05 elections (not work safe)

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