Saturday, December 09, 2006


The Sunshine Boys Can’t Save Iraq

The New York Times
December 10, 2006

In America we like quick fixes, closure and an uplifting show. Such were the high hopes for the Iraq Study Group, and on one of the three it delivered.

The report of the 10 Washington elders was rolled out like a heartwarming Hollywood holiday release. There was a feel-good title, “The Way Forward,” unfortunately chosen as well by Ford Motor to promote its last-ditch plan to stave off bankruptcy. There was a months-long buildup, with titillating sneak previews to whip up anticipation. There was the gala publicity tour on opening day, starting with a President Bush cameo timed for morning television and building to a “Sunshine Boys” curtain call by James Baker and Lee Hamilton on “Larry King Live.”

The wizard behind it all was the public relations giant Edelman, which has lately been recruited by Wal-Mart to put down the populist insurgency threatening its bottom line. Edelman’s vice chairman is Michael Deaver, the imagineer extraordinaire of the Reagan presidency, and “The Way Forward” had a nostalgic dash of that old Morning-in-America vibe. In The Washington Post, David Broder gushingly quoted one member of the group, Alan Simpson, musing that “immigration, Social Security and all those other things that have been hung up for so long” might benefit from similar ex-officio bipartisanship. Only in Washington could an unelected panel of retirees pass for public-policy Viagra.

Mr. Simpson notwithstanding, the former senator who most comes to mind is Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. In the early 1990’s he famously coined the phrase “defining deviancy down” to describe the erosion of civic standards for what constitutes criminal behavior. In 2006, our governmental ailment is defining reality down. “The Way Forward” is its apotheosis.

This syndrome begins at the top, with the president, who has cut and run from reality in Iraq for nearly four years. His case is extreme but hardly unique. Take Robert Gates, the next defense secretary, who was hailed as a paragon of realism by Washington last week simply for agreeing with his Senate questioners that we’re “not winning” in Iraq. While that may be a step closer to candor than Mr. Bush’s “absolutely, we’re winning” of late October, it’s hardly the whole truth and nothing but. The actual reality is that we have lost in Iraq.

That’s what Donald Rumsfeld at long last acknowledged, between the lines, as he fled the Pentagon to make way for Mr. Gates. The most revealing passage in his parting memo listing possible options for the war was his suggestion that public expectations for success be downsized so we would “therefore not ‘lose.’ ” By putting the word lose in quotes, Mr. Rumsfeld revealed his hand: the administration must not utter that L word even though lose is exactly what we’ve done. The illusion of not losing must be preserved no matter what the price in blood.

The Iraq Study Group takes a similarly disingenuous tack. Its account of how the country Mr. Bush called a “grave and gathering danger” in September 2002 has devolved into a “grave and deteriorating” catastrophe today is unsparing and accurate. But everyone except the president knew this already, and that patina of realism evaporates once the report moves from diagnosis to prescription.

Its recommendations are bogus because the few that have any teeth are completely unattainable. Of course, it would be fantastic if additional Iraqi troops would stand up en masse after an infusion of new American military advisers. And if reconciliation among the country’s warring ethnicities could be mandated on a tight schedule. And if the Bush White House could be persuaded to persuade Iran and Syria to “influence events” for America’s benefit. It would also be nice if we could all break the bank in Vegas.

The group’s coulda-woulda recommendations are either nonstarters, equivocations (it endorses withdrawal of combat troops by 2008 but is averse to timelines) or contradictions of its own findings of fact. To take just one example: Even if we could wave a magic wand and quickly create thousands more military advisers (and Arabic-speaking ones at that), there’s no reason to believe they could build a crack Iraqi army and police force where all those who came before have failed. As the report points out, the loyalties and capabilities of the existing units are suspect as it is.

By prescribing such placebos, the Iraq Study Group isn’t plotting a way forward but delaying the recognition of our defeat. Its real aim is to enact a charade of progress to pacify the public while Washington waits, no doubt in vain, for Mr. Bush to return to the real world. The tip-off to the cynical game can be found in a single sentence: “We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the president: ‘an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.’ ” This studious group knows that even that modest goal, a radical devaluation of the administration’s ambition to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, has long been proven a mirage. The Iraqi government’s ability to defend anything is so inoperative that the group’s members visited the country but once, with just one (Chuck Robb) daring to leave the Green Zone. The Bush-Maliki rendezvous 10 days ago was at the Four Seasons hotel in Amman.

The only recommendations that might alter that reality, however evanescently, come not from “The Way Forward” but from its critics on the right who want significantly more troops and no withdrawal timetables whatsoever. But a Pentagon review leaked to The Washington Post three weeks ago estimates that a true counterinsurgency campaign would “require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police,” not the 20,000 or so envisioned as a short-term booster shot by John McCain.

Since these troops don’t exist and there is no public support in either America or Iraq for mobilizing them, the president can’t satisfy the hawks even if he chooses to do so. Since he’s also dead set against a prompt withdrawal, we already know what his policy will be, no matter how many “reviews” he conducts. He will stay the course, with various fake-outs along the way to keep us from thinking we’ve “lost,” until the whole mess is deposited in the lap of the next president.

But as Chuck Hagel said last week, “The impending disaster in Iraq is unwinding at a rate that we can’t quite calibrate.” It is yet another, even more reckless flight from reality to suppose that the world will stand still while we dally. The Iraq Study Group’s insistence on dragging out its deliberations until after Election Day for the sake of domestic politics mocked and undermined the urgency of its own mission. Meanwhile the violence metastasized. Eleven more of our soldiers were killed on the day the group finally put on its show. The antagonists in Iraq are not about to take a recess while we celebrate Christmas. The mass exodus of Iraqis, some 100,000 per month, was labeled “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world” by Refugees International last week and might soon rival Darfur’s.

The Iraq-Vietnam parallels at this juncture are striking. In January 1968, L.B.J. replaced his arrogant failed defense secretary, Robert McNamara, with a practiced Washington hand, Clark Clifford. The war’s violence boiled over soon after (Tet), prompting a downturn in American public opinion. Allies in our coalition of the willing — Thailand, the Philippines, Australia — had balked at tossing in new troops. Clifford commissioned a re-evaluation of American policy that churned up such ideas as a troop pullback, increased training of South Vietnamese forces and a warning to the South Vietnamese government that American assistance would depend on its performance. In March, a bipartisan group of wise men (from Dean Acheson to Omar Bradley) was summoned to the White House, where it seconded the notion of disengagement.

But there the stories of Vietnam and Iraq diverge. Those wise men, unlike the Iraq Study Group, were clear in their verdict. And that Texan president, unlike ours, paid more than lip service to changing course. He abruptly announced he would abjure re-election, restrict American bombing and entertain the idea of peace talks. But as Stanley Karnow recounts in “Vietnam: A History,” it was already too late, after some 20,000 casualties and three years of all-out war, for an easy escape: “The frustrating talks were to drag on for another five years. More Americans would be killed in Vietnam than had died there previously. And the United States itself would be torn apart by the worst internal upheavals in a century.”

The lesson in that is clear and sobering: As bad as things may seem now, they can yet become worse, and not just in Iraq. The longer we pretend that we have not lost there, the more we risk losing other wars we still may salvage, starting with Afghanistan.

The members of the Iraq Study Group are all good Americans of proven service to their country. But to the extent that their report forestalls reality and promotes pipe dreams of one last chance for success in this fiasco, it will be remembered as just one more delusional milestone in the tragedy of our age.

Frank Rich Hits Iraq Study Group and Its 'Bogus' Proposals

By E&P Staff

Published: December 09, 2006 9:00 PM ET

NEW YORK Don't count New York Times columnist Frank Rich among those hailing the work of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which produced its long-awaited report this week. Among other problems: Their much-needed policy proposals for Iraq were "bogus," he writes in his Sunday column.

Even so, other pundits have praised the new bi-partisanship and how that could get more things done in D.C. Of this Rich retorts: "Only in Washington could an unelected panel of retirees pass for public-policy Viagra."

Rich notes (in his column available via TimesSelect) the long buildup for this "holiday release" -- it could have been had a movie title such as "The Way Forward" -- before the letdown.

The panel's recommendations, he writes, "are bogus because the few that have any teeth are completely unattainable. Of course, it would be fantastic if additional Iraqi troops would stand up en masse after an infusion of new American military advisers. And if reconciliation among the country’s warring ethnicities could be mandated on a tight schedule. And if the Bush White House could be persuaded to persuade Iran and Syria to 'influence events' for America’s benefit. It would also be nice if we could all break the bank in Vegas.

"The group’s coulda-woulda recommendations are either nonstarters, equivocations (it endorses withdrawal of combat troops by 2008 but is averse to timelines) or contradictions of its own findings of fact. To take just one example: Even if we could wave a magic wand and quickly create thousands more military advisers (and Arabic-speaking ones at that), there’s no reason to believe they could build a crack Iraqi army and police force where all those who came before have failed. As the report points out, the loyalties and capabilities of the existing units are suspect as it is.

"By prescribing such placebos, the Iraq Study Group isn’t plotting a way forward but delaying the recognition of our defeat. Its real aim is to enact a charade of progress to pacify the public while Washington waits, no doubt in vain, for Mr. Bush to return to the real world."

Rich concludes by predicting that Bush "will stay the course, with various fake-outs along the way to keep us from thinking we’ve 'lost,' until the whole mess is deposited in the lap of the next president." But he adds that it is a "reckless flight from reality to suppose that the world will stand still while we dally. The Iraq Study Group’s insistence on dragging out its deliberations until after Election Day for the sake of domestic politics mocked and undermined the urgency of its own mission. Meanwhile the violence metastasized. Eleven more of our soldiers were killed on the day the group finally put on its show."

Rich then noted the Iraq-Vietnam parallels, with President Johnson's new Pentagon chief, Clark Clifford, ordering up a commission to study the faltering war effort in 1968: "In March, a bipartisan group of wise men (from Dean Acheson to Omar Bradley) was summoned to the White House, where it seconded the notion of disengagement.

"But there the stories of Vietnam and Iraq diverge. Those wise men, unlike the Iraq Study Group, were clear in their verdict. And that Texan president, unlike ours, paid more than lip service to changing course. He abruptly announced he would abjure re-election, restrict American bombing and entertain the idea of peace talks. But as Stanley Karnow recounts, it was already too late, after some 20,000 casualties and three years of all-out war, for an easy escape: 'The frustrating talks were to drag on for another five years. More Americans would be killed in Vietnam than had died there previously. And the United States itself would be torn apart by the worst internal upheavals in a century.'

"The lesson in that is clear and sobering: As bad as things may seem now, they can yet become worse, and not just in Iraq. The longer we pretend that we have not lost there, the more we risk losing other wars we still may salvage, starting with Afghanistan.

"The members of the Iraq Study Group are all good Americans of proven service to their country. But to the extent that their report forestalls reality and promotes pipe dreams of one last chance for success in this fiasco, it will be remembered as just one more delusional milestone in the tragedy of our age."

Fellow Times columnist David Brooks takes a quite different approach Sunday, with a futuristic column that opens: "In fall 2007, the United States began to withdraw troops from Iraq, and so began the Second Thirty Years’ War." Note: It ends badly.

Fox News Anchor Fired for Giggling Every Time She Said "Fair & Balanced."

NEW YORK - Fox News Anchor Donna Fiducia was fired Friday for what Fox News called “inappropriate behavior while reading the news,” Underneath Hollywood learned. Ms. Fiducia couldn’t stop giggling every time she said Fox News was “Fair & Balanced.”

“Fox News is one long commercial for the Republican party,” Ms. Fiducia said. “Yet they kept insisting we say ‘Fair & Balanced.’ Every time I said it, I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, like we’re really fooling anybody.’”

Fox News said its actions were justified. “Millions of people are asked to tow the company line,” Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes said. “Somehow they can do it without giggling, which Ms. Fiducia could not handle.”

Mr. Ailes feels that Ms. Fiducia will eventually get her comeuppance. “Let’s see how much giggling she does while waitressing at TGI-Friday’s and singing cute little birthday songs to 80-year-old women, because she will never anchor the news again!”

Ms. Fiducia is glad to be gone and says Fox News is trying to cover up their conservatism by shoving their neutralism down people’s throats. “When a kid behaves badly and his or her parents enter the room the kid immediately says, ‘I didn’t do it!’ They say that because they did do it. Well, Fox News says they’re ‘Fair & Balanced’ because they’re unfair and partisan.”

Ms. Fiducia mentions that despite being labeled “liberal media” by some, CNN doesn’t have a catchy slogan reminding viewers that they’re non-partisan. “If CNN was insecure in their fairness, they’d end their news cast by saying, ‘CNN, we don’t have a liberal bias, honestly we don’t. In fact, we are offended by the notion. You’re watching CNN.’”

Mr. Ailes says the slogan is a proud affirmation of their unbiased viewpoint. “100% of our conservative audience understands what the slogan represents, which is comforting since 100% of our conservative audience represents 97% of our general audience… and the other 3% are inmates who are forced to watch Fox News as punishment from the evil warden.”

Ms. Fiducia has no plans for the future, though she hopes to avoid getting another job where lying on a regular basis is required.

Hillary can win but mustn't

I utterly detest this sleazy little toe-sucking worm, but he does it so well…

Hillary has dropped the coy pretense of indecision that she used to justify her reelection to a Senate seat she no longer wants and has told friends that she plans to run for president, two questions present themselves: Can she win? And what kind of a president would she be?

She definitely can win … and probably will. She is uniquely able to expand the electorate to bring in millions of women, mostly single, who will vote overwhelmingly for a female Democrat. The feminization of poverty, long decried by the left, will finally lead unmarried women to show up at the polling place and vote their short-term economic interest and vindicate their gender bias. In 2000, only 19 million single women voted. By 2004, their turnout rose to 27 million. With Hillary in the race, the single-female vote will probably go up to its proper ratio of the adult population — 33 million votes.

Can white men outvote single women? Despite the intensity with which white men tend to oppose Hillary, they can't vote twice.

The enthusiasm that will grip many Americans — women in particular — at the cultural implications of a woman president will probably sweep through the primaries and cause many to overlook Hillary's flaws and dismiss her defects. The generic of a woman candidate will prove so attractive that millions of voters will overcome their objections to the specific person who is running.


She devotedly and deeply believes in a European-style socialism in which government takes much more of our national income and offers a far wider array of services and benefits.

QUERY: And you mean like…that’s supposed to be a bad thing?



Koch Calls for Pundit’s Ouster from Shoah Council

Jennifer Siegel Fri. Dec 08, 2006
The Jewish Daily Forward

Former New York City Mayor Edward Koch has called for Dennis Prager to resign or be removed from United States Holocaust Memorial Council, in response to the pundit’s recent insistence that a Muslim congressman should not be sworn in using a Quran.

“There is no question that Dennis Prager is a bigot who ought to be repudiated even by his closest supporters,” Koch said this morning in an interview with the Forward. “His statements are a disgrace … and I will be down there calling for the council to condemn him, and, if we have the power, to remove him.”

Prager, a conservative radio talkshow host and syndicated columnist, authored a November 28 online column that lambasted Minnesota Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, for planning to use a Quran at his private swearing-in ceremony.

“Insofar as a member of Congress is taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, Prager wrote, “America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”

Koch, like Prager, serves on the 55-member memorial council, which oversees the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He said he plans to take up the issue at a December 18 meeting of the advisory panel in Washington, if Prager does not resign. A second committee member, who did not want to be named publicly, also said she was disturbed by Prager’s comments, and would likely support action support calling for his withdrawal.

Dennis Prager could not be reached for comment. [ * Note: He was somewhere out on Sunset Blvd. practicing his new profession, busking for spare change. Here he is playing ‘Lady of Spain’.]

Koch, who served as a U.S. representative from 1969 to 1977, said he recalled using a Hebrew Bible at his initial, private swearing-in ceremony. A number of commentators, including Koch, have criticized Prager for factual inaccuracies in his column, including the assertions that Jewish legislators have traditionally used the Christian Bible to take their oaths of office and that use of the Christian Bible is a traditional part of the official swearing-in ceremony. (In fact, lawmakers often choose to use religious texts at optional private events held with family and friends.)

The Holocaust memorial council includes a number of prominent Jews, including Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Jack Rosen, the president of the American Jewish Congress. A number of members of Congress also serve on the panel, including Reps. Eric Cantor, Tom Lantos and Henry Waxman, as well as Senators Norm Coleman, Russell Feingold and Frank Lautenberg. The panel is chaired by Fred Zeidman, a prominent Republican from Houston. He is politically close to President Bush, who appointed Prager to the panel.

In response to an inquiry from the Forward, California Rep. Henry Waxman said Prager’s comments were “inappropriate, incorrect and reflect a lack of the qualities of tolerance and civility, and respect for other people’s religion.” The lawmaker, who is entering his seventeenth term of office, said he had never used a Bible at his own swearing-in ceremonies.

Despite Prager’s apparent intransigence in a follow-up column posted on the Web site on December 5, Waxman called on him to apologize. The lawmaker said he had not decided what action he would take if Prager refuses to issue an apology.

In his interview with the Forward, Koch pointed out that the first observant Jew elected to the British Parliament, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, vigorously fought against a required Christian oath of office, and succeeded in having the law changed in 1858.

“The encyclopedia says he used the Hebrew term for God when he took his oath — I guess that’s Yahweh or Adonai,” Koch said, chuckling. “In any event, that’s democracy, and Prager is a shmuck, if I may put it literally.”

COMMENT: I concur with Mayor Koch. Simply put, connedserfaturd Bushbuttsucker Dennis Prager is a shmuck. (In fact, rumor has it even Mel Gibson has called for Prager’s ouster from the Council…)


An Exit Strategy for the War on Christmas

By Barbara Ehrenreich, AlterNet
December 9, 2006

As a dedicated secular humanist, I must regretfully acknowledge that the War on Christmas has not been going well. Some would use the word "quagmire," and urge a phased redeployment to other fronts, like Easter and Mardi Gras.

Others argue that we simply need more boots on the ground, and that our allies, such as the ACLU, have not been fielding sufficient troops. I say we have only ourselves to blame, and that -- however noble our intentions -- we haven't been putting up much of a fight.

Take me, for example. I had big plans for the season: I was going to spray paint the local church crèches with atheist graffiti, sue my town over the lights on Main Street, let termites loose on the mega-tree at Rockefeller Center, and start rumors about an E. Coli infestation of the nation's fruitcake supply.

But here it is, December already, and I've done nothing to rate a mention on Bill O'Reilly's show or even a mild rebuke from the Pope, who, apparently oblivious to the anti-Christmas threat, spent last week cozying up with Muslims in Turkey.

What's my excuse? Well, Christmas of course. There are those catalogues, which usually get recycled directly from the mail box, to study. Menus to plan. Should we do the Cuban-style roast pork or a re-run of the Thanksgiving turkey? Cards to buy and address: How will the pretty Virgin and baby go over with my Wiccan friends?

Then there's the annual fight over the tree: Can it be multi-colored and gaudy, as I prefer, or all-white, as certain puritanical in-laws insist? And toys, toys, toys. I spent yesterday searching for obscure members of the Dora the Explorer tribe: What's with this pre-Christmas shortage of Dora's monkey sidekick, Boots?

Let's face it: Christmas is not the exclusive property of those who think God came to earth 2000 years ago as a baby in Bethlehem. I caught the Christmas bug from my parents, who were militant atheists of the Richard Dawkins ilk.

I celebrated it with my first husband, the son of Jewish atheists. True, we tried Chanukah too one year, but it bombed with the kids. What's a little Chanukah gelt compared to a floor-full of presents?

My second husband, who had been inadvertently converted to atheism by the nuns at Catholic school, was the worst. We fought over whether to measure the extent of our excess by the volume of presents under the tree or their weight as determined by the bathroom scale.

How Christian is Christmas anyway? The tree and the wreathes descend from pagan, tree-worshipping, Druidism. The December date for the holiday probably comes from the Roman Saturnalia, a pre-existing blow-out featuring feasting and role-inversion (masters had to wait on slaves.)

Even if you fixate on Jesus, he was a pretty ecumenical guy -- a Jew who invented Christianity and is also much honored by Muslims. And who would be grinch-like enough not to welcome a baby whose mission was to bring world peace? Hell, I'm such a baby freak I think any baby, anywhere, any time, should be a cause for major celebration.

At the post office last week, where I was stocking up on stamps for the above-mentioned cards, I struggled over the seasonal options: Chanukah, Kwanza, Eid (the post-Ramadan Muslim holiday), or a traditional Virgin and Child. "You should get a sheet of each," the postmistress helpfully suggested, "More and more people are doing that." So I did, and I now declare the war is over -- the War on Christmas anyway.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, most recently "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream."

Iraq Study Group: a bipartisan coverup of Washington’s war crimes

By Bill Van Auken
9 December 2006

A striking feature of the Iraq Study Group report is that its belated admission of the military-political debacle and catastrophic conditions created by the US intervention in Iraq excludes any assessment of how the “grave and deteriorating” situation in that country came to pass, and who bears political responsibility for it.

Instead, the document includes multiple denunciations of the Iraqi government for failing to provide essential services, create a functioning judiciary or foster economic progress. That the country was laid to waste by a US war and remains under military occupation—making Washington fully responsible for all of these failures—is simply passed over in silence.

As one member of the group, Democratic power broker Vernon Jordan, put it, the bipartisan panel made no effort to determine “how the house got on fire.”

The American people, to whom the Iraq Study Group’s report is ostensibly addressed, are more than entitled to ask the question, “Why not?” They have, moreover, every right to suspect that the panel is silent on the identities of those responsible for the torching of Iraq because it is the work of a criminal gang of arsonists who control the US government.

Under the cover of proposing a course change in US policy in Iraq, the panel offers a blanket amnesty for those who conspired to launch an illegal war that has resulted in the destruction of an entire society and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as well as nearly 3,000 US troops.

This crime continues to widen every day. The Iraq Study Group document contains a section entitled “Sources of Violence.” It says the following:

“Violence is increasing in scope, complexity, and lethality. There are multiple sources of

violence in Iraq: the Sunni Arab insurgency, al Qaeda and affiliated jihadist groups, Shiite militias and death squads, and organized criminality. Sectarian violence—particularly in and around Baghdad—has become the principal challenge to stability.”

Yet it fails to state the obvious. The root cause of this violence is an imperialist intervention that was aimed at reducing Iraq to a semi-colony of the US. It was this intervention that generated the so-called “insurgency”—i.e., the legitimate resistance of Iraqis to the foreign military occupation of their country. And it was Washington’s attempts to impose a client regime, utilizing tactics of divide-and-rule, that gave rise to the nightmare of sectarian violence.

The closest that the report comes to acknowledging US responsibility is contained in the following passage: “Because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy.”

How delicately phrased! The formulation suggests that the US government is somehow only indirectly responsible, its well-intentioned “decisions and actions” having created unforeseeable ill effects—not that those in power today in Washington are both politically and criminally liable for an Iraqi death toll that has been credibly estimated at over 655,000.

Nor is this merely a matter of a crime carried out three-and-a-half years ago which triggered violence by others. The US occupation force of nearly 150,000 soldiers and Marines remains a principal source of lethal violence against the Iraqi people.

This was tragically confirmed once again on Friday, when US warplanes bombed two homes in the town of al-Ishaqi, northwest of Baghdad, killing at least 32 civilians. The town’s mayor said that of the 25 bodies that had been pulled out of the rubble so far, eight were women and six children.

The US military labeled the victims “Al Qaeda terrorists,” the standard designation given to civilians slaughtered by the American military machine.

The Iraq war was not a mistaken policy that can be set right by adopting the Iraq Study Group’s 79-point plan. It was a premeditated crime for which no one has yet been held accountable.

The patent aim of the panel’s proposals is to continue this crime and, under the mantle of bipartisanship, pursue the original objectives of the war—conquering a country with the world’s second-largest oil reserves as part of a strategy of using US military superiority to establish the global hegemony of American capitalism.

In presenting the report, the panel’s Republican chairman, James Baker, dismissed any idea that it represented a call for an end to the US intervention. “This report does not in any way call for a graceful exit,” Baker declared. “In fact, we specifically say we agree with the president’s articulated goal.”

Baker added, “The report also makes clear: We’re going to have a really robust American troop presence in Iraq and the region for a very long time.”

Democrats promote “consensus” for war

Democrats on the panel stressed their commitment to forging a bipartisan consensus for continuing the war and suppressing the mass popular opposition to the Iraq intervention that found expression in the defeat delivered to the Republicans in last month’s election.

The panel’s Democratic co-chairman, Lee Hamilton, declared his “hope that our report will help bridge the divide in this country on the Iraq war and will at least be a beginning of a consensus here, because without that consensus in the country, we do not think ultimately you can succeed in Iraq.”

Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff in the Democratic Clinton administration, was even more explicit. “This country cannot be at war and be as divided as we are today,” he declared, adding that the report represented “one last chance at making Iraq work” and “one last chance at unifying this country on this war.”

What none of these political eminences bothered to explain is why the American people should unite behind a military adventure that is characterized by rampant criminality.

In launching its invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, the Bush administration carried out the same principal crime for which the surviving leaders of Hitler’s Third Reich were tried, convicted and hung at Nuremberg—that of waging aggressive war.

The international military tribunal that tried the Nazi officials described waging such a war as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” It is this “accumulated evil” that is now unfolding daily in the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, in the form of bombings, death squad murders, torture and other crimes against humanity.

For the Bush administration, waging a war of aggression was not an impulsive action, but rather a deliberate policy formulated well in advance. In a speech delivered to the graduating class at the US Military Academy at West Point in June 2002, Bush publicly announced a new national security doctrine that jettisoned the previous policies of containment and deterrence in favor of unprovoked military action against any purported threats to US security and interests.

The war was then foisted upon the American people with lies about imminent threats from non-existent weapons of mass destruction and fabricated ties between Baghdad and Islamist terrorists.

America is a country with over 2 million of its citizens incarcerated, the bulk of them for non-violent offenses. “Zero-tolerance” enforcement and “three strikes and you’re out” penalty schemes have filled the country’s prisons—overwhelmingly with people drawn from the most oppressed and impoverished layers of society.

Yet for those in the Bush White House and the Pentagon who have carried out this “supreme international crime,” there is neither accountability nor punishment.

The Iraq Study Group could not touch the question of accountability, because both major parties and all the major political institutions in America, including the mass media, were complicit in carrying out or abetting an act of military aggression that constitutes a war crime.

Significantly, among those listed as having been consulted by the panel are the columnists Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and George Will of the Washington Post, two of the most prominent—among so many—of the media voices that not only echoed the lies of the Bush administration, but enthusiastically campaigned for a war against Iraq.

Friedman already had a long and loathsome record of justifying imperialist militarism as a necessary condition for corporate profits. Two and a half years before the Iraq invasion, he wrote, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps . . . Without America on duty, there will be no America Online.”

In September 2003, as evidence mounted that the claims about weapons of mass destruction were all lies, the Times columnist proclaimed blithely, “The war to oust Saddam Hussein was always a war of choice (a good choice, I believe). But democracies don’t like to fight wars of choice . . .”

And it was Will who stated in 2004, as the death toll in Iraq mounted, “Regime change, occupation, nation-building—in a word, empire—are a bloody business. Now Americans must steel themselves for administering the violence necessary . . .”

In the final analysis, the Iraq Study Group report only underscores the unbridgeable gulf that separates the entire US ruling establishment, its two political parties and its media spokesmen from the millions of American working people, the overwhelming majority of the US population, who oppose the Iraq war and want American troops withdrawn now.

It is necessary not only to halt this war, but also to ensure that all those who conspired to carry it out be held politically and criminally responsible. Trying the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others for war crimes is necessary both to achieve a real accounting for the bloody and tragic debacle in Iraq and to prevent the launching of further and even more catastrophic wars of aggression.

The Rascals on the Right

The New York Times
December 9, 2006

The early jockeying for the Republican presidential nomination reveals a split in the G.O.P. between sociocultural conservatives and the economy/ national defense wing, a split likely either to expand Democratic opportunities in 2008 or to produce an exceptionally viable Republican nominee.

The most significant development at this stage of the race is the failure of any G.O.P. candidate to emerge as the consensus conservative, uniting white evangelicals, family-values traditionalists, defense hawks, and opponents of the tax and regulatory state. “There is a vacuum in the field,” says the Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, “a big, gaping hole.”

The two Republican candidates leading in polls, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, both fail the consensus test. Each stands to the left of the party — well to the left in Giuliani’s case — on the “traditional values” issues: sexual mores, family structure, reproductive choice, gay rights, embryonic stem cell research, and so forth.

While religious leaders and social conservatives have claimed veto power over Republican presidential candidates, there are at least three reasons to doubt this will take place:

First, the G.O.P. has a long history of sticking with front-runners. Second, socially conservative political activists in key primary and caucus states are under intense pressure to choose now, accepting the field as it is. McCain has picked up the support of one of Iowa’s top Christian power brokers, Marlys Popma, despite his denunciation six years ago of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance” who “shame our faith, our party and our country.” Third, states such as Michigan, Florida, New Jersey and California are considering advancing their primaries to an early date, Feb. 5. This would weaken the leverage of religious and cultural conservatives who are strongest in the South, and would strengthen the hand of Republicans who are enthusiastic about right-libertarians like McCain and Giuliani.

Where once party leaders and institutional forces screened candidates for moral rectitude — or the semblance of it — the top four candidates in this Republican crop head into the race with nine marriages, five divorces and unknown numbers of extramarital affairs. Among them, only Mitt Romney is viewed as squeaky clean.

Public Opinion Strategies, a highly respected Republican polling firm, noted in an election post-mortem that the impact of personal scandal “on the Republican Party has been understated.” Bill McInturff, a senior partner in the firm, presented data showing that in the closing weeks of the last election, Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who resigned after disclosures that he sent sexually suggestive messages to teenage House pages, had become a better-recognized figure than either Dennis Hastert, the former House speaker, or Nancy Pelosi, his Democratic successor. In October 2006, Foley achieved the dubious distinction of a 69 percent negative rating among respondents, seven points higher than O. J. Simpson and nearly as high as Yasir Arafat.

Although Romney has evidently led an uneventful private life, he is trying to forcibly reinvent himself from his incarnation as a Massachusetts governor who favored abortion rights and gay rights — almost as hard a history to surmount in the G.O.P. as the multiple marriages and divorces of McCain, Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich. (Gingrich set a new standard in nerviness by conducting an affair with a House staffer while leading the drive to impeach President Bill Clinton.)

Social-moral conflicts of the sort surfacing in the Republican Party should help the Democrats, if they choose a candidate who can capitalize on Republican disarray. Sexual mores aside, Democrats have been hampered by a long line of candidates who, no matter how virtuous (or not), have been perceived by swing voters as moralizing, elitist, egg-headed, puritanical, do-good scolds — from Adlai Stevenson to Walter Mondale to Michael Dukakis to Al Gore.

Unless the Democratic Party can suppress its inclination to pick such nominees, or can find a way to focus public attention on the opportunistic and grandstanding nature of its opponents, the weakness of social conservatives could turn out to be a Republican strength. The nomination of a McCain, or a Giuliani, could result in the selection of a candidate whose macho posture and rascal charm make for a viable general election nominee.

Thomas B. Edsall, who holds the Pulitzer-Moore Chair at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is a guest columnist.


>>>>Democrats have been hampered by a long line of candidates who, no matter how virtuous (or not), have been perceived by swing voters as moralizing, elitist, egg-headed, puritanical, do-good scolds — from Adlai Stevenson to Walter Mondale to Michael Dukakis to Al Gore.

Leave us not forget, Mr. Edsall, that Al Gore WON…! (Points pretty much taken on the others…)

>>>>Unless the Democratic Party can suppress its inclination to pick such nominees, or can find a way to focus public attention on the opportunistic and grandstanding nature of its opponents, the weakness of social conservatives could turn out to be a Republican strength. The nomination of a McCain, or a Giuliani, could result in the selection of a candidate whose macho posture and rascal charm make for a viable general election nominee.

Heavens forefend the American electorate ever actually grows a brain, turns its back on ’negative campaigning’ & votes its own interests e.g. the bread & butter progressive populist issues that turned things around in the recent Midterms.

The Oval Intervention


It is not a happy mood in the Oval Office.

Poppy is sobbing, his face in his hands, slumped in one of the yellow-and-blue striped chairs. Laura is screaming the words “Oscar de la Renta” and “rendition” into her cellphone, still seeing red after showing up at a White House gala in the same $8,400 red gown as three other women who did not happen to be first lady.

Bob Gates is grim-faced, but not as grim-faced as Barbara, whose look could freeze not only the Potomac but the Tigris and the Euphrates. Scowcroft is over on the couch, trying to nap while Kissinger drones softly in his ear.

And, of course, there is the Deprogrammer for the Decider, James Baker, perfectly suited in bright green tie and suited perfectly for his spot behind the president’s desk.

The Council of Elders had hoped this Apocalypto moment wouldn’t be necessary. They had assumed that the scorching Iraq Study Group report would have the same effect on Junior as the bucket of cold water that Mr. Baker’s strict father, a lawyer known as “the Warden,” used to throw on his face to wake him up as a boy.

But Junior is trying to wriggle away completely, offering a decidedly cool response to the attempt to yank him into the reality-based community. He rallied his last two allies — his English poodle and his Scottish terrier, Blair and Barney.

He is loath to give up his gunslinger pose to go all diplo. He cleaves to the neocon complaint that it is the realists who are now being unrealistic, thinking the administration can bargain with Syria and Iran, or that the Army can train Iraqi security forces (or, as they are known there, death squads) in a matter of months when they haven’t been able to do it in years.

The Velvet Hammer is undeterred. He’s doing an all-out intervention, locking Junior and Barney in the little study next to the Oval. To stress the seriousness of the situation, they don’t give the president his feather pillow.

The group gathers at the door of the study. “My boy,” his dad tells him between sobs. “We love you. We’re here for you. We’re worried about you. You’re not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting others. This is a safe place. No one’s judging you …”

“What are you talking about, Dad?” Junior snaps. “I just actually read 96 pages of your friends’ judging me in that cowpie report.” Barney woofs in support.

Barbara can be heard muttering from across the room. “We were right about Jebbie.”

Henry the K lumbers up to the door and in a low Teutonic rumble says: “It’s time we stopped taking care of you and started caring about you. Would you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

Junior is getting even more furious. “You all think you’re so realist. But you’re unrealist. I’m realist. Are you sitting at my desk, Baker? Get out of there! Everyone says you’re so Mr. Ride to the Rescue, but none of your surrender monkey ideas would work. Talk about Pretend Land — Israel giving up the Golan Heights? Yeah, right. And they call me delusional.”

Baker glides up to the door and says, in his most satiny drawl, “Son, I just threw a few D.O.A. ones in there for you to reject so you could preserve your manhood.”

There are sounds of feet stomping. “You say I can’t stay the course but I can too stay the course!” Junior yells. “I can! I can! You say I have to put the two trillion dollar war cost in the budget, but I don’t! You say we have to cuddle up to evildoers in Iran and Syria. Why do you hate the troops? Where’s Condi? I want my Condi!”

Realizing the president is getting hysterical, the group looks at Laura, hoping she can calm him down.

She approaches the door and coos in a soft voice: “Bushie? Listen, now, this is important. How do you get someone audited? Can’t we send Oscar de la Loser to Gitmo?”

Baker gently nudges Laura aside. “Now son, hear me out. We’ve disabled your enablers. Rummy has written his last self-serving memo. Dick’s got his hands full explaining his darlin’ new grandchild’s Two Mommies. Don’t bother calling for Condi. She’s at the bottom of Foggy Bottom. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”

It’s not sinking in. “We must achieve our objective,” Junior sputters. “Our objective is success. To succeed we must have success. If we don’t win, we lose. We are the winners. We can’t let the … we’re in an ideological struggle and that’s why we have a strategy … AL QAEDA! We must help democracy in Iraq succeed because … ISLAMOFASCISTS! … that is the objective of a successful …”

Barney scratches at the door, trying to cut and run.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Do you think he’s trying to tell me something…?


They Told You So


Shortly after U.S. forces marched into Baghdad in 2003, The Weekly Standard published a jeering article titled, “The Cassandra Chronicles: The stupidity of the antiwar doomsayers.” Among those the article mocked was a “war novelist” named James Webb, who is now the senator-elect from Virginia.

The article’s title was more revealing than its authors knew. People forget the nature of Cassandra’s curse: although nobody would believe her, all her prophecies came true. And so it was with those who warned against invading Iraq. At best, they were ignored. A recent article in The Washington Post ruefully conceded that the paper’s account of the debate in the House of Representatives over the resolution authorizing the Iraq war — a resolution opposed by a majority of the Democrats — gave no coverage at all to those antiwar arguments that now seem prescient.

At worst, those who were skeptical about the case for war had their patriotism and/or their sanity questioned. The New Republic now says that it “deeply regrets its early support for this war.” Does it also deeply regret accusing those who opposed rushing into war of “abject pacifism?”

Now, only a few neocon dead-enders still believe that this war was anything but a vast exercise in folly. And those who braved political pressure and ridicule to oppose what Al Gore has rightly called “the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States” deserve some credit.

Unlike The Weekly Standard, which singled out those it thought had been proved wrong, I’d like to offer some praise to those who got it right. Here’s a partial honor roll:

Former President George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, explaining in 1998 why they didn’t go on to Baghdad in 1991: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

Representative Ike Skelton, September 2002: “I have no doubt that our military would decisively defeat Iraq’s forces and remove Saddam. But like the proverbial dog chasing the car down the road, we must consider what we would do after we caught it.”

Al Gore, September 2002: “I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.”

Barack Obama, now a United States senator, September 2002: “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

Representative John Spratt, October 2002: “The outcome after the conflict is actually going to be the hardest part, and it is far less certain.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi, now the House speaker-elect, October 2002: “When we go in, the occupation, which is now being called the liberation, could be interminable and the amount of money it costs could be unlimited.”

Senator Russ Feingold, October 2002: “I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. … When the administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the administration’s motives.”

Howard Dean, then a candidate for president and now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, February 2003: “I firmly believe that the president is focusing our diplomats, our military, our intelligence agencies, and even our people on the wrong war, at the wrong time. … Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.”

We should honor these people for their wisdom and courage. We should also ask why anyone who didn’t raise questions about the war — or, at any rate, anyone who acted as a cheerleader for this march of folly — should be taken seriously when he or she talks about matters of national security.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

GOP House Leaders Choose to Let Voting Rights Bill Die

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 6, 2006; B10

Republican congressional leaders decided yesterday not to bring to the floor a bill giving the District a full voting member of the House, dooming the measure's chances in this legislative session.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the bill's author, had appealed to his party's leadership to cram in a vote during Congress's lame-duck session, which could end as soon as Thursday. But in a closed-door meeting, House leaders rejected the request.

"There was a certain level of resistance because there were a number of constitutional concerns from members," said Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the House majority leader. He did not elaborate.

The bill had faced long odds for approval this week, given the time constraints. Even if it got through the House, it would have needed to clear the Senate. But proponents had taken heart from the bipartisan support it had attracted. The bill would have balanced the new seat for the mostly Democratic District with an additional one for heavily Republican Utah.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) criticized lawmakers for not moving ahead this week. "I'm disappointed because District residents have waited long enough for basic voting rights, and we shouldn't have to wait one day longer," Williams said in a statement.

Questions about the bill's legal merits have persisted, as it worked its way through Congress this year. Some scholars have testified that the Constitution limits full membership in Congress to states; others have argued that Congress has the authority to treat the District as a state for the purposes of representation.

Davis, working with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and other voting-rights advocates, had built a wide-ranging coalition to support the bill, and had won the backing of some prominent legal scholars. He and Norton expressed dismay at the decision.

"It's tough to take after we, along with D.C. residents, had created so much momentum for this bipartisan bill," Davis and Norton said in a statement. "We got it farther than anyone anticipated."

They pledged to reintroduce the bill "as our first order of business in the 110th Congress."

Norton has represented the city in the House for eight terms, introducing legislation and serving on committees. But she is not allowed to vote on the floor. Advocates have sought to give the District a vote in Congress for decades, and backers are not giving up.

Some supporters are optimistic that it can win approval next year when Democrats take control of Congress. The House speaker-elect, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), is a co-sponsor of the measure, and Democrats have generally been more amenable to the issue.

In his statement, Williams said he hoped that the new Congress will revisit the issue next month.

Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty, who met with Norton and Pelosi last week, echoed that view. "I look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure passage of the bill and enfranchisement for District residents," he said.

But Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an advocacy group that had been promoting the bill, said he worries that lawmakers will be too busy with budget bills and other priorities to consider the measure early in 2007.

"We're very skeptical about what might happen next year," he said.

District officials were jubilant after the voting measure was approved last May by the House Committee on Government Reform, chaired by Davis. The bill then moved to the Judiciary Committee, where it was held up over its plan to make Utah's new seat at-large, an arrangement some legislators considered unconstitutional.

To resolve that concern, the Utah legislature met in special session Monday to approve a redistricting map that would include a fourth congressional seat for the state. But the move came too late to propel the bill to a full House vote.


Iraq Study Group Report Rebuffs Neo-Conservatives, But Still Seeks “Success” Through Lower-Profile War

by Tom Hayden

The report of the Iraq Study Group, if implemented, closes the door on the neo-conservative dreams which have been a nightmare for the people of Iraq and the United States. Since the Nov. 7 election, we have applauded the disappearance of Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton. The ISG report would bury their fantasies.

But the ISG equivocates on the alternative to prolonged war, speaking of “one last chance” to “succeed.” The panel’s proposed gradual pullback of 15 US combat brigades by early 2008 is a welcome alternative to presidential rhetoric about “staying the course.” But there is no deadline attached to the recommendation. There is no recommendation that they all be brought home. The ISG envisions keeping at least 70,000 or more US troops in Iraq for the long-term. Does the ISG imagine that the Iraqi nationalist insurgency will fade away? Does the ISG imagine that a “new” Iraqi army with US trainers will succeed against a nationalist insurgency and militias? Will US trainers be successful where US ground troops failed? Or is this the revival of the “decent interval” doctrine that ended in the collapse of South Vietnam after the US withdrew? No one knows what may be between the lines of this report.

But on their face the ISG recommendations fail to reflect the desire of the American people, and the Iraqi people, for military withdrawal, as measured in polls. Sixty-two percent of all Americans favor withdrawing all our troops, either immediately or within one year. Eighty percent of all Iraqis feel the same way, even more strongly; sixty percent favor armed resistance against US troops. [MORE]


Kucinich on House Floor Today

Submitted by davidswanson on December 6, 2006 - 12:32pm.Iraq War

Congressman Dennis Kucinich just said this on the floor of the House of Representatives:'

The American public did not vote for the Iraq Study Group. They voted for a new congress and a new direction in Iraq - - out. Many who voted for change will be surprised to learn some who oppose the war will continue to fund it, in the name of supporting the troops in the field.

“We will not abandon the troops in the field,” some solemnly pronounce, while continuing to fund a war that even generals say cannot be won militarily. Well, we have abandoned the troops in the field already. We have abandoned them to lies about why the war was being fought. We have abandoned them to getting shot from all sides. We have left them in a type of hell while we profess a strange love for them by keeping them there.

The money is in the pipeline right now to bring the troops home. $70 billion dollars was appropriated for Iraq on October 1st. The Administration will ask for another $160 billion in the spring. That is a total of $230 billion for the Iraq war. In less than two years the war and the so called defense budget will cost more than $1 trillion. Stop wasting money. Stop wasting lives. Bring the troops home now. Cut off any more funds for the war.


Goodness Gracious! The Truth!


WASHINGTON: First Junior took over the house with grandiose plans to remodel it and make it the envy of the neighborhood. But then he played with matches and set the house on fire. So now he’s frantically trying to stop the flames from torching the whole block.

The Bush administration has gone from a breathless plan to change the Middle East to a breathless plan to preserve it, from democracy promotion to conflagration avoidance.

That was the cold shower offered yesterday by Robert Gates, the former C.I.A. chief, on his way to being unanimously endorsed as the new defense secretary by a Senate panel craving a cold shower. He told the Armed Services Committee, peppered with wannabe future presidents, that the American occupation could lead to a Baghdad as hostile as Tehran, and set off “a regional conflagration” if Iraq is not deftly handled in the next couple of years.

Mr. Gates asserted that if America left Iraq in chaos, Iran and Syria could encroach more, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia might jump in to stop the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis by Shiites. “We’re already seeing Hezbollah involved in training fighters for Iraq,” he said. “I think all of that could spread fairly dramatically.”

It was the sort of realistic assessment that never came from Rummy, except when he privately admitted in a classified Nov. 6 memo that their Iraq strategy was “not working well enough or fast enough,” offering a silly hodgepodge of wildly tardy or dubious options, like telling the Iraqis to “pull up their socks.”

It was chilling to see in print that the man who spent nearly four years overseeing the war did not have any idea what to do in Iraq; his basic plan was not so much to fix the problem as to lower expectations. The memo, reported by Michael Gordon in The Times on Sunday, offered the following lame-brained prescriptions to manage perception:

“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis. This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’ ” And this: “Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist.”

So with the Pentagon deciding whether to Go Big, Go Long or Go Home, Rummy urged the White House to Go Minimalist and simply streamline the spin.

Junior took the advice to manage perceptions by minimizing Rummy two days after he sent the memo. The walls had closed in on W.; he could no longer minimize the war, which was escalating, or the perception that it was not going well, which had spread into Republican ranks. Even Gen. Peter Pace, yes man that he is, acknowledged on Monday that “We’re not winning but we’re not losing.”

The old criticisms of whether Mr. Gates massaged intelligence were forgotten; the senators would have embraced an ax-murderer if he had seemed sensible about Iraq.

There was no blathering yesterday about “known unknowns” or “Henny Penny” pessimists. The soft-spoken, vanilla Mr. Gates offered a sharp contrast from the finger-wagging, flavorful Rummy. In a remarkable shift from the mindless bellicosity and jingoism of the last few years, Mr. Gates said he did not favor military action against Iran or Syria.

Even though he was a member of the Iraq Study Group, Mr. Gates conceded that there would be no silver bullet. “It’s my impression that, frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq,” he said. Asked by Robert Byrd who was responsible for 9/11, Saddam or Osama, Mr. Gates did not try to fudge. “Osama bin Laden, Senator,” he replied. Asked who has represented a greater threat to the U.S., he repeated “Osama bin Laden.”

W. insisted to Fox News’s Brit Hume on Monday that his “objective hadn’t changed” and that “we’re going to succeed in Iraq.” Asked by Carl Levin if America was winning in Iraq, Mr. Gates answered, “No, sir.”

After lunch the nominee clarified his remarks, saying he had not meant to criticize the troops, that the reversals in Iraq were not their fault. They don’t lose battles in Iraq because there are no battles. There’s just a counterinsurgency that they can’t see and that they weren’t prepared or equipped to fight.

Gates’s friends from the old Bush 41 gang have been watching closely to see if 43 brought the old Washington hand back for “cosmetic reasons,” as one put it, simply to try to change the perception that W. has been stubborn and deaf on Iraq. Or whether 43 really will give his new defense chief the parameters he needs to make real changes in strategy. Will he let him Go Maximalist?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NASA Plans Permanent Moon Base


WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 — NASA announced plans on Monday for a permanent base on the Moon, to be started soon after astronauts return there around 2020.

The agency’s deputy administrator, Shana Dale, said the United States would develop rockets and spacecraft to get people to the Moon and establish a rudimentary base. There, other countries and commercial enterprises could expand the outpost to develop scientific and other interests, Ms. Dale said.

Ms. Dale and other officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the agency envisioned a base at one of the lunar poles, to take advantage of the near-constant sunlight for solar power generation. It would have an “open architecture” design to which others could add the capabilities they want.

Scott Horowitz, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, said crews of four astronauts would make weeklong missions to the Moon starting around 2020.

As more equipment was set up, human stays would eventually grow to 180 days, and become permanent by 2024. By 2027, officials said, a pressurized roving vehicle on the surface would take people on expeditions far from the base.

NASA gave no cost estimate for the program and no design details for the base. Ms. Dale said all plans assumed that the agency would continue operating from a fixed budget of about $17 billion a year.

The space shuttle fleet is to be retired by 2010, and the United States plans to scale back its involvement in the International Space Station. The station is still under construction, with a mission by the shuttle Discovery to lift off on Thursday. Ms. Dale said money would be shifted to the lunar exploration program from the shuttle and the station.

While the Bush administration and NASA have spoken in general terms about plans for a return to the Moon, followed by human spaceflight to Mars, the lunar outpost plan is the first time officials have proposed a permanent presence.

”We’re going for a base on the Moon,” Mr. Horowitz said. “It’s a very, very big decision.”

Many gaps in the plan remain to be filled in. NASA called Monday’s announcement a baseline concept.

In a televised news conference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston on the eve of an international conference there on space exploration, Ms. Dale said the plan was developed after consultation with space agencies representing 14 countries and more than 1,000 experts in space science and commerce.

“The door is open for international and commercial interests,” she said.

The lunar base plan is part of a larger effort to develop an international exploration strategy, one that explains why and how humans are returning to the Moon and what they plan to do when they get there, NASA officials said.

The planning includes an international conference early next year on setting scientific goals for returning to the Moon, including those that private interests might want to pursue.

Doug Cooke, the agency official who led the lunar study group, said the plan called for putting a lander craft down near a polar crater and later adding solar-power generating units and living quarters to establish a base.

A site near the lunar South Pole, like the Shackleton Crater, would provide enough sunlight for power generation. It is also near possible deposits of valuable minerals.

From this site, Mr. Cooke said, other nations could add scientific laboratories or observatories, and commercial concerns might want to process rocket fuel and other products from water and other materials that might be found in the ground nearby.

Mr. Horowitz said having a base did not mean that humans would go there after every lunar landing. The option remains open for some missions to go to equatorial regions, as the Apollo project landers did in the 1970s, or even to the other side of the Moon.

Getting to the Moon and establishing a base will require a versatile, general-purpose lander that could land anywhere and be the core of an outpost, he said.

“The nickname I use for the lander is, it’s a pickup truck,” Mr. Horowitz said. “You can put whatever you want in the back. You can take it to wherever you want. So you can deliver cargo, crew, do it robotically, do it with humans on board. These are the types of things we’re looking for in this system.”

Ms. Dale said she and other NASA officials would spend part of next year visiting potential partners in the lunar project, like the space agencies of Europe, Russia and Japan, to see what they might want to contribute. Different aspects of a lunar base might come from many agreements between the United States and other nations, she said, rather than following the model of the space station of having many partners signing one agreement.

While there have been preliminary talks about cooperation in space with China, a growing space power which along with the United States and Russia has the ability to launch humans, it is too early to tell whether the two nations will agree to work together on human space flight projects such as the lunar base, she said.

Howard McCurdy, a NASA expert who is a professor at the school of public affairs at American University in Washington, expressed some skepticism about whether the space agency could make the ambitious plan fit in its budget, even with the winding down of the shuttle program and “throwing the keys to the International Space Station” to the other nations that helped to build it.

By relying on some of the ideas and technologies developed during the Apollo program and beyond, Mr. McCurdy said, NASA planners expect to be able to get back to the Moon for 40 percent to 60 percent of the original cost. There would be savings, too, in not having to reinvent technologies for protecting spacecraft from the heat of re-entry into the atmosphere, and not having to develop new launching facilities from scratch.

But he said he was concerned that the technology for lunar exploration “won’t get us beyond the Moon” and on to Mars.

“The fear is that the Moon, which is now viewed as a means to get beyond the Moon, will become its own destination, for hundreds of years,” he said. “The easy way to go to the Moon is the hard way to go to Mars.”

While NASA has yet to design the permanent camp, last July officials at the Johnson Space Center took reporters on a tour of possible lunar habitats to come.

The mock-ups were built of plywood and plastic, and had the crowded feel of a FEMA trailer. They addressed problems that NASA engineers expected astronauts living on the Moon to encounter.

Dust, for example, is not just untidy. On the Moon, the particles tend to be jagged and sticky, and so the engineers have designed an airlock to allow dust removal after any trip outside.

John Schwartz contributed reporting from New York.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Breyer: Court should aid minority rights

By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
Sun Dec 3, 2006

Justice Stephen G. Breyer says the Supreme Court must promote the political rights of minorities and look beyond the Constitution's text when necessary to ensure that "no one gets too powerful."

Breyer, a Clinton appointee who has brokered many of the high court's 5-4 rulings, spoke in a televised interview that aired one day before justices hear a key case on race in schools. He said judges must consider the practical impact of a decision to ensure democratic participation.

"We're the boundary patrol," Breyer said, reiterating themes in his 2005 book that argue in favor of race preferences in university admissions because they would lead to diverse workplaces and leadership.

"It's a Constitution that protects a democratic system, basic liberties, a rule of law, a degree of equality, a division of powers, state, federal, so that no one gets too powerful," said Breyer, who often votes with a four-member liberal bloc of justices.

On Monday, the court will hear arguments in a pair of cases involving integration plans in K-12 schools. The legal challenge, which is backed by the Bush administration, could be among the most significant school cases since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 banned racial segregation.

In 2003, the court upheld race-conscious admissions in higher education in a 5-4 opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

O'Connor, however, has since retired and been replaced by conservative Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Antonin Scalia, meanwhile, has denounced the use of race in school admissions as lacking any support in the Constitution.

In his interview, Breyer argued that in some cases it wouldn't make sense to strictly follow the Constitution because phrases such as "freedom of speech" are vague. Judges must look at the real-world context — not focus solely on framers' intent, as Scalia has argued — because society is constantly evolving, he said.

"Those words, 'the freedom of speech,' 'Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech' — neither they, the founders, nor those words tell you how to apply it to the Internet," Breyer said.

Pointing to the example of campaign finance, Breyer also said the court was right in 2003 to uphold on a 5-4 vote the McCain-Feingold law that banned unlimited donations to political parties.

Acknowledging that critics had a point in saying the law violates free speech, Breyer said the limits were constitutional because it would make the electoral process more fair and democratic to the little guy who isn't tied to special interests.

"You don't want one person's speech, that $20 million giver, to drown out everybody else's. So if we want to give a chance to the people who have only $1 and not $20 million, maybe we have to do something to make that playing field a little more level in terms of money," he said.

Breyer, who has voted to uphold abortion rights, declined to comment on the court's role in deciding abortion. Justices this term are considering the constitutionality of so-called "partial-birth" abortion in a case some conservatives hope will be used to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

"The more the precedent has been around, the more people rely on it, the more secure it has to be," he said.

Breyer commented on "Fox News Sunday," in an interview taped last week.


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Chávez Wins Easily in Venezuela, but Opposition Protests


CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 3 — President Hugo Chávez was re-elected in a landslide on Sunday night, as voting tallies poured in from throughout the country. But representatives of the opposition candidate contended that the results were tainted by irregularities.

With 78 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Chávez was ahead with 61 percent, compared with 38 percent for Manuel Rosales, the governor of Zulia State, Venezuela’s electoral council said late Sunday night as it declared Mr. Chávez the winner. Thousands of supporters filed into the streets around Miraflores, the president palace downtown, to hear Mr. Chávez deliver a victory speech in the rain.

“Long live the socialist revolution!” Mr. Chávez yelled to the crowd, pumping his fist in the air. His supporters, many of them dancing, reacted by chanting, “Ooh-ah, Chávez isn’t leaving!”

The win for Mr. Chávez gives him a stronger mandate to press forward with his socialist-inspired policies in Venezuela and abroad. He signaled as much in his victory speech, invoking figures from Jesus Christ to Pancho Villa as influences for his ambitious plans.

The tension between the campaigns of Mr. Chávez and Mr. Rosales reflected a polarized electorate in Venezuela, but by contrast the voting itself was largely tranquil, with few reports of clashes or other violence. Both candidates spent heavily in the race, with supporters for Mr. Chávez and Mr. Rosales each using American polling companies until well into Sunday evening.

Evans/McDonough, a polling company based in Oakland, Calif., and hired by Venezuela’s national oil company, released an exit poll indicating that Mr. Chávez was ahead, with 58 percent of the vote, to 40 percent for Mr. Rosales.

The results showed Mr. Rosales doing better than had been forecast in some polls, and his advisers said that quick counts indicated that he had won in several states and Caracas. But Mr. Rosales conceded defeat in a brief speech Sunday night, while saying the margin of Mr. Chávez’s victory was narrower than official results indicated.

“It’s been a hard fight against the mechanisms, all the dimensions of the government,” Mr. Rosales said.

Antonio Márquez, an official with Mr. Rosales’s campaign, said: “There’s been a great deal of pressure exerted by the government to demonstrate that they won. This climate of tension is not positive for the country.”

Other campaign officials for Mr. Rosales said soldiers had forced some polling places to remain open past the 4 p.m. closing time on Sunday to allow supporters of Mr. Chávez to vote. International observers in various parts of the country, however, said the election took place without signs of wrongdoing.

“One had to be moved by the earnestness and attention to detail,” said Martin Garbus, a trial lawyer from New York invited by Venezuela’s government to observe the election in Sarare, a town in the state of Lara. “it was a lesson in participatory democracy.”

Once the official results are in, how Mr. Chávez and Mr. Rosales react will determine whether Venezuela will return to the instability and street violence that had marred earlier elections. Mr. Rosales said Sunday night that he would continue leading the political opposition in the country, but it was clear that many critics of Mr. Chávez were hoping for a stronger response.

Still, the margin in Mr. Chávez’s favor reflected widespread support for the president as Venezuela reaps the economic benefits of high oil prices. Mr. Chavez has redirected government spending by creating an array of social welfare programs that benefit the poor.

In Caracas, voting at the Simón Bolívar elementary school in San Blas, a slum in the Petare district, proceeded calmly on Sunday morning. Once outside after voting, some voters put on red shirts and hats, indicating their support for Mr. Chávez. “I’m red, very red,” said Carlos Gelvis, an unemployed man from Petare, in a reference to a refrain of Mr. Chávez’s campaign.

Jens Erik Gould and Jose Orozco contributed reporting.

TWO MORE YEARS (Let’s hope not…)

The New York Times
December 4, 2006

At a reception following the midterm election, President Bush approached Senator-elect James Webb.

“How’s your boy?” asked Mr. Bush.

“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” replied Mr. Webb, whose son, a Marine lance corporal, is risking his life in Mr. Bush’s war of choice.

“That’s not what I asked you,” the president snapped. “How’s your boy?”

“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” said Mr. Webb.

Good for him. We need people in Washington who are willing to stand up to the bully in chief. Unfortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, they’re still in short supply.

You can understand, if not condone, the way the political and media establishment let itself be browbeaten by Mr. Bush in his post-9/11 political prime. What’s amazing is the extent to which insiders still cringe before a lame duck with a 60 percent disapproval rating.

Look at what seems to have happened to the Iraq Study Group, whose mission statement says that it would provide an “independent assessment.” If press reports are correct, the group did nothing of the sort. Instead, it watered down its conclusions and recommendations, trying to come up with something Mr. Bush wouldn’t reject out of hand.

In particular, says Newsweek, the report “will set no timetables or call for any troop reductions.” All it will do is “suggest that the president could, not should, begin to withdraw forces in the vaguely defined future.”

And all this self-abasement is for naught. Senior Bush aides, Newsweek tells us, are “dismissive, even condescending” toward James Baker, the Bush family consigliere who is the dominant force in the study group, and the report. Of course they are. That’s how bullies always treat their hangers-on.

Even now, it seems, the wise men of Washington can’t bring themselves to face up to two glaringly obvious truths.

The first is that Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq for no reason.

It’s true that terrible things will happen when U.S. forces withdraw. Mr. Bush was attacking a straw man when he mocked those who think we can make a “graceful exit” from Iraq. Everyone I know realizes that the civil war will get even worse after we’re gone, and that there will probably be a bloody bout of ethnic cleansing that effectively partitions the country into hostile segments.

But nobody — not even Donald Rumsfeld, it turns out — thinks we’re making progress in Iraq. So the same terrible things that would happen if we withdrew soon will still happen if we delay that withdrawal for two, three or more years. The only difference is that we’ll sacrifice many more American lives along the way.

The second truth is that the war will go on all the same, unless something or someone forces Mr. Bush to change course.

During his recent trip to Vietnam, Mr. Bush was asked whether there were any lessons from that conflict for Iraq. His response: “We’ll succeed unless we quit.”

It was a bizarre answer given both the history of the Vietnam War and the facts on the ground in Iraq, but it makes perfect sense given what we know about Mr. Bush’s character. He has never been willing to own up to mistakes, however trivial. If he were to accept the failure of his adventure in Iraq, he would be admitting, at least implicitly, to having made the mother of all mistakes.

So Mr. Bush will keep sending other men’s children off to fight his war. And he’ll always insist that Iraq would have been a great victory if only his successors had shared his steely determination.

Does this mean that we’re doomed to at least two more years of bloody futility? Not necessarily. Last month the public delivered a huge vote of no confidence in Mr. Bush and his war. He’s still the commander in chief, but the new majority in Congress can put a lot of pressure on him to at least begin a withdrawal.

I’m worried, however, that Democrats may have counted on the Iraq Study Group to provide them with political cover. Now that the study group has apparently wimped out, will the Democrats do the same?

Well, here’s a question for those who might be tempted, yet again, to shy away from a confrontation with Mr. Bush over Iraq: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully’s ego?

Has He Started Talking to the Walls?

The New York Times
December 3, 2006

IT turns out we’ve been reading the wrong Bob Woodward book to understand what’s going on with President Bush. The text we should be consulting instead is “The Final Days,” the Woodward-Bernstein account of Richard Nixon talking to the portraits on the White House walls while Watergate demolished his presidency. As Mr. Bush has ricocheted from Vietnam to Latvia to Jordan in recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the troubling behavior of a president who isn’t merely in a state of denial but is completely untethered from reality. It’s not that he can’t handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn’t know what the truth is.

The most startling example was his insistence that Al Qaeda is primarily responsible for the country’s spiraling violence. Only a week before Mr. Bush said this, the American military spokesman on the scene, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, called Al Qaeda “extremely disorganized” in Iraq, adding that “I would question at this point how effective they are at all at the state level.” Military intelligence estimates that Al Qaeda makes up only 2 percent to 3 percent of the enemy forces in Iraq, according to Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News. The bottom line: America has a commander in chief who can’t even identify some 97 percent to 98 percent of the combatants in a war that has gone on longer than our involvement in World War II.

But that’s not the half of it. Mr. Bush relentlessly refers to Iraq’s “unity government” though it is not unified and can only nominally govern. (In Henry Kissinger’s accurate recent formulation, Iraq is not even a nation “in the historic sense.”) After that pseudo-government’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, brushed him off in Amman, the president nonetheless declared him “the right guy for Iraq” the morning after. This came only a day after The Times’s revelation of a secret memo by Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, judging Mr. Maliki either “ignorant of what is going on” in his own country or disingenuous or insufficiently capable of running a government. Not that it matters what Mr. Hadley writes when his boss is impervious to facts.

In truth the president is so out of it he wasn’t even meeting with the right guy. No one doubts that the most powerful political leader in Iraq is the anti-American, pro-Hezbollah cleric Moktada al-Sadr, without whom Mr. Maliki would be on the scrap heap next to his short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Mr. Sadr’s militia is far more powerful than the official Iraqi army that we’ve been helping to “stand up” at hideous cost all these years. If we’re not going to take him out, as John McCain proposed this month, we might as well deal with him directly rather than with Mr. Maliki, his puppet. But our president shows few signs of recognizing Mr. Sadr’s existence.

In his classic study, “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Paul Fussell wrote of how World War I shattered and remade literature, for only a new language of irony could convey the trauma and waste. Under the auspices of Mr. Bush, the Iraq war is having a comparable, if different, linguistic impact: the more he loses his hold on reality, the more language is severed from its meaning altogether.

When the president persists in talking about staying until “the mission is complete” even though there is no definable military mission, let alone one that can be completed, he is indulging in pure absurdity. The same goes for his talk of “victory,” another concept robbed of any definition when the prime minister we are trying to prop up is allied with Mr. Sadr, a man who wants Americans dead and has many scalps to prove it. The newest hollowed-out Bush word to mask the endgame in Iraq is “phase,” as if the increasing violence were as transitional as the growing pains of a surly teenager. “Phase” is meant to drown out all the unsettling debate about two words the president doesn’t want to hear, “civil war.”

When news organizations, politicians and bloggers had their own civil war about the proper usage of that designation last week, it was highly instructive — but about America, not Iraq. The intensity of the squabble showed the corrosive effect the president’s subversion of language has had on our larger culture. Iraq arguably passed beyond civil war months ago into what might more accurately be termed ethnic cleansing or chaos. That we were fighting over “civil war” at this late date was a reminder that wittingly or not, we have all taken to following Mr. Bush’s lead in retreating from English as we once knew it.

It’s been a familiar pattern for the news media, politicians and the public alike in the Bush era. It took us far too long to acknowledge that the “abuses” at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere might be more accurately called torture. And that the “manipulation” of prewar intelligence might be more accurately called lying. Next up is “pullback,” the Iraq Study Group’s reported euphemism to stave off the word “retreat” (if not retreat itself).

In the case of “civil war,” it fell to a morning television anchor, Matt Lauer, to officially bless the term before the “Today” show moved on to such regular fare as an update on the Olsen twins. That juxtaposition of Iraq and post-pubescent eroticism was only too accurate a gauge of how much the word “war” itself has been drained of its meaning in America after years of waging a war that required no shared sacrifice. Whatever you want to label what’s happening in Iraq, it has never impeded our freedom to dote on the Olsen twins.

I have not been one to buy into the arguments that Mr. Bush is stupid or is the sum of his “Bushisms” or is, as feverish Internet speculation periodically has it, secretly drinking again. I still don’t. But I have believed he is a cynic — that he could always distinguish between truth and fiction even as he and Karl Rove sold us their fictions. That’s why, when the president said that “absolutely, we’re winning” in Iraq before the midterms, I just figured it was more of the same: another expedient lie to further his partisan political ends.

But that election has come and gone, and Mr. Bush is more isolated from the real world than ever. That’s scary. Neither he nor his party has anything to gain politically by pretending that Iraq is not in crisis. Yet Mr. Bush clings to his delusions with a near-rage — watch him seethe in his press conference with Mr. Maliki — that can’t be explained away by sheer stubbornness or misguided principles or a pat psychological theory. Whatever the reason, he is slipping into the same zone as Woodrow Wilson did when refusing to face the rejection of the League of Nations, as a sleepless L.B.J. did when micromanaging bombing missions in Vietnam, as Ronald Reagan did when checking out during Iran-Contra. You can understand why Jim Webb, the Virginia senator-elect with a son in Iraq, was tempted to slug the president at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress. Mr. Bush asked “How’s your boy?” But when Mr. Webb replied, “I’d like to get them out of Iraq,” the president refused to so much as acknowledge the subject. Maybe a timely slug would have woken him up.

Or at least sounded an alarm. Some two years ago, I wrote that Iraq was Vietnam on speed, a quagmire for the MTV generation. Those jump cuts are accelerating now. The illusion that America can control events on the ground is just that: an illusion. As the list of theoretical silver bullets for Iraq grows longer (and more theoretical) by the day — special envoy, embedded military advisers, partition, outreach to Iran and Syria, Holbrooke, international conference, NATO — urgent decisions have to be made by a chief executive who is in touch with reality (or such is the minimal job description). Otherwise the events in Iraq will make the Decider’s decisions for him, as indeed they are doing already.

The joke, history may note, is that even as Mr. Bush deludes himself that he is bringing “democracy” to Iraq, he is flouting democracy at home. American voters could not have delivered a clearer mandate on the war than they did on Nov. 7, but apparently elections don’t register at the White House unless the voters dip their fingers in purple ink. Mr. Bush seems to think that the only decision he had to make was replacing Donald Rumsfeld and the mission of changing course would be accomplished.

Tell that to the Americans in Anbar Province. Back in August the chief of intelligence for the Marines filed a secret report — uncovered by Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post — concluding that American troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar.” That finding was confirmed in an intelligence update last month. Yet American troops are still being tossed into that maw, and at least 90 have been killed there since Labor Day, including five marines, ages 19 to 24, around Thanksgiving.

Civil war? Sectarian violence? A phase? This much is certain: The dead in Iraq don’t give a damn what we call it.

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