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Sunday, July 31, 2005

They're Good At It

It just occurred to me how offensively stupid it is for some Washington chickenhawk to be saying the GOP is going to "bury" an Iraq war veteran.

US Military Fatalities at 7/31/05: 1796

National Democrats Please Listen

If you want a message that will resonate with red staters --- maybe even some of those macho white working class Nascar males who pride themselves on their independence --- this is how you do it:

"I don't need Washington to tell me how to live my personal life or how to pray to my God," he said.

The Republicans spent multi-millions over the last 25 years selling the idea that the American people want the government "off their backs." We should piggy back our candidates right on the back of that marketing slogan and ride it to victory.

What the national Democratic party needs to recognise is that when many people heard the Republicans saying that, they thought that they were talking about literally getting the government "off their backs" not just lowering their taxes. Instead, the Republicans are creating a national government that seeks to intrude in the most personal of ways, interfering with people's religious and moral choices. That wasn't what the independent, individualistic western style libertarian signed on for. They are ours for the taking if we have the nerve to say what Paul Hackett said up there.

Combine that with some big ticket ideas like "guaranteed health insurance for all Americans" with a foreign policy narrative that refocuses the threats and policy prescription in the proper direction as Matt Yglesias talks about here, and we have the essence of a Democratic message that will resonate.

Pull The Other One

Talk Left points to this post about a joint US Canadian raid day before yesterday in Canada to arrest a marijuana seed distributer on charges that his seeds are being used by Americans to break the law. Selling the seeds in not illegal in Canada, but the Americans persuaded the canadians that they should be able to reach across the border and arrest their citizens. The story is complex, but if you are interested in this subject I recommend you check it out.

I was struck by one quote by the US Attorney in Seattle under whose auspices this bust came about:

“The fact is, marijuana is a very dangerous drug,” Sullivan said. “People don't say that, but right now in America, there are more kids in treatment for addiction to marijuana than every other illegal drug combined."

Now, I can't say for sure, but I would bet a million dollars if I had it that this is flat out bullshit. Certainly, the "very dangerous" part is flat out bullshit. And I cannot believe that there are more kids in treatment for marijuana "addiction" than all other drugs combined. This is your government lying in your face. The kids know it and as a result they disregard all the warnings about drugs (like meth -- a very, very serious problem.)

Back In Ohio

I don't know how many people are following the corruption scandals in Ohio, but they are doozies -- just flat out graft in the highest reaches of the Ohio Republican party. It's one reason why Paul Hackett may just have a chance to win. Combine that with the outrages documented in "What Went Wrong In Ohio" and the GOP is becoming so discredited as an institution that its brand is suffering.

Jean Schmidt has been running from the Ohio bigwigs implicated in the scandal as fast as her bandy little legs will carry her. But it appears that in these last couple of days her lies about knowing some of the major players are unravelling. Swing State project has the story.

In another display of the GOP's irony and history impaired lameness, the Washington Post reports today why the national GOP decided to throw a bunch of last minute money at Schmidt:

"He called the commander in chief a son-of-a-[expletive]," said NRCC spokesman Carl Forti. "We decided to bury him."

I suppose he took off his shoe and pounded on the table too.

In many ways, they really are "Red" states.

How We CIA

Arthur has a must read post up dissecting Highpockets' tribalism and the meaning of plaid pants and cultural paranoia. (If you aren't checking in with his blog frequently you are missing some of the most consistently amazing cultural and political analysis in the blogosphere.) I'll leave that fascinating topic to him for now, but he does mention one thing in passing that I'd like to expound on a bit; the wingnuts and the CIA.

I've been thinking a lot about how the Plame affair has brought up an interesting political contradiction: the right is now openly contemptuous of the CIA while the left is a vocal supporter. I think it's probably a good idea to clarify that bit so we don't get confused. The fact is that both sides have always been simultaneously vocal supporters and openly contemptuous of the CIA, but for entirely different reasons.

I usually don't speak for "the left" but for the purpose of this discussion I will use my views as a proxy for the lefty argument. I'm not generally a big fan of secretive government departments with no accountability. I always worry that they are up to things not sanctioned by the people and it has often turned out that they are. I have long been skeptical of the CIA because of the CIA's history of bad acts around the world that were not sanctioned or even known by more than a few people and were often, in hindsight, wrong --- like rendition, for instance. I don't believe that we should have a secret foreign policy operation that doesn't answer to the people. They tend to do bad shit that leaves the people holding the bag.

But I didn't just fall out of the back of Arnold's hummer, so I understand that a nation needs intelligence to protect itself and understand the world. I also understand that the way we obtain that information must be kept secret in order to protect the lives of those who are involved in getting it. I have never objected to the idea that we have spies around the world gathering information about what our enemies are up to. I also think that intelligence should, as much as possible, be objective and apolitical. Otherwise, we cannot accurately assess real threats. If the CIA (and the other intelligence agencies) only make objective analyses, the buck will stop at the president, where it always properly should.

Therefore, I see this Plame affair -- and the larger matter of the pre-war WMD threat assessment -- as a matter of compromised intelligence and an extension of the 30 year war the right has waged against what it thinks is the CIA's tepid threat analysis. Never mind that the right's hysterical analyses have always turned out to have been completely wrong.

But then accuracy was never the point because the right takes the opposite approach to the CIA's proper role. They have always been entirely in favor of the CIA working on behalf of any president who wanted to topple a left wing dictator or stage a coup without congressional knowledge. This is, in their view, the proper role of the CIA --- to covertly advance foreign policy on behalf of an executive (of whom they approve) and basically do illegal and immoral dirty work. But they have never valued the intelligence and analysis the CIA produced since it often challenged their preconcieved beliefs and as a result didn't validate their knee jerk impulse to invade, bomb, obliterate, topple somebody for reasons of ideology or geopolitical power. The CIA's intelligence often backed up the success of the containment policy that kept us from a major bloody hot war with the commies --- and for that they will never be trusted.(See Team B, and the Committee on the Present Danger parts I and II.)

Therefore, the right sees the Plame affair as another example of an inappropriately "independent" CIA refusing to accede to its boss's wishes. They believe that the CIA exists to provide the president with the documentation he needs to advance his foreign policy goals --- and if that includes lying to precipitate a war he feels is needed, then their job is to acquiesce. When you cut away the verbiage, what the right really believes is that the US is justified in invading and occupying any country it likes --- it's just some sissified, cowardly rule 'o law that prevents us from doing it. The CIA's job is to smooth the way for the president to do what he wants by keeping the citizen rubes and the allies in line with phony proof that we are following international and domestic laws. (This would be the Straussian method of governance --- too bad the wise ones who are running the world while keeping the rest of us entertained with religion and bread and circuses are so fucking lame.)

Back in the day, they used to just admit that they were engaging in Realpolitik, and as disgusting as that is, at least it was more honest than the current crop of neocons who insist that they are righteous and good by advancing democracy and vanquishing evil using undemocratic, illegal means. It makes me miss Kissinger. At least he didn't sing kumbaya while he was fucking over the wogs.

I have no idea where people who don't pay much attention to the political scene would come down on this. It may be that they think the government should have a branch that does illegal dirty work. But I suspect they would also think that the president should not be allowed to run a secret foreign policy or stage wars for inscrutable reasons. Indeed, I think most people would find it repugnant if they knew that there are people in government who think the president of the United States has a right to lie to them in order to commit their blood and treasure to a cause or plan that has nothing to do with the one that is stated.

Of course, that's exactly what happened with Iraq. The right's greatest challenge now is to get the public to believe that they were lied to for their own good.


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Volunteer For Hackett

I just got this e-mail from Bob Brigham of Swing State Project:

Man, cellular laptop cards are great. I'm riding in Paul Hackett's motorcade and live-blogging over at Swing State Project.

The campaign has momentum and is peaking perfectly, but needs more people. It would be great if you could post a general call for the netroots to get down to Ohio 2nd district. People have been reading about this on the blogs and coming from all over, Philly, Michigan, Florida and a whole helluva lot of netroots people from Ohio. So far, over 7,000 people have donated. Let's see if we can get 1% to go volunteer for GOTV.

We need a few hundred more people
and every available Democratic volunteer in the area is already plugged in. Let's finish the job.

Ask people to call HQ at (513) 735-4310.

It's a long shot, but if Hackett could pull this out it might be considered the kind of bellweather that Harris Wofford was back in 1991. It could change the media dynamic considerably for '06.

Testy, Testy

Wow. Anyone who hasn't seen this Jean Schmidt interview with David Gregory over at Crooks and Liars needs to check it out.

Let's just say that if the election turns on which candidate has the most winning personality, Hackett should win in a lanslide. Yikes.

Update: I hope the canvassers are armed with this information as they spread the word this week-end. It may be too late to make much of it, which is too bad. it would be a nice test case of the new libertarian red state Dem vs the religious extremist red state Republican paradigm:

...here's one fact her side is carefully guarding, knowing only about 10 percent of those registered will vote Tuesday: her extreme views. If voters from places like Mariemont, Anderson Township or Hyde Park knew fully what Schmidt believed, they might sit out the election or switch over for once to a Democrat, especially one like Hackett.

Here's the backup. During the campaign Schmidt is on leave as president of the Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. Now, no one should begrudge her that commitment. It's personal and religious. But does that commitment affect her political judgment and fitness? Second District voters must decide that.

But go to her group's Web site, www.affirminglife.org/ index.asp, and click around through the many buttons and pages and you'll learn she and her cohorts abhor living wills. Huh? Isn't that the one lesson from the Republican exploitation of Terri Schiavo -- that we should immediately get willed up? She says no.

Her local Right to Life site to this day says Schiavo was executed. And that you shouldn't buy Levi jeans or anything Microsoft or Johnson & Johnson baby cream or read The New York Times. And they say no to the promise of embryonic stem cell research that could help our relatives and friends survive diseases and crippling paralysis.

Flat out, Schmidt is a political extremist. Of course, she thinks those fringe views put her in the 2nd District mainstream. I don't think so, not with the suburban masses or even the man farming a rural field while his wife packs lunches for the kids waiting for their long school bus ride.

No doubt Schmidt will turn out her Right to Life friends on Tuesday. They believe their numbers will be enough for at least a victory.

But the more mainstream voters come to realize she's a friend of Taft's and the leader of such a fringe group, they might conclude she's not Rob Portman, she's not like them. And putting in a Democrat, especially one who still wears the Marine uniform and has economic success but with colorful, earthy edges, could be the more comfortable choice.

It all comes down to what people know, when they know it and whether they'll care. We'll soon know.


Friday, July 29, 2005


I know that most of you have already seen this, but I wanted to post it anyway, just for posterity.

Armando at Kos caught this from Hindquarter and the Gang:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

I've written a lot about "up-is-downism" and "epistemic relativism" and "bizarro world" trying to analyse the Republicans' alternate reality, wondering whether it comes from a full absorbtion into the field of public relations, a consciously created competing discourse or simple lying with a straight face. All of that is bullshit. It's a form of mass hysteria ---- along the lines of the Salem Witch trials or the audience at an NSynch NSync concert.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Oooh Daddy

Via Jesse at Pandagon,(who will give you the full hilarious run-down) I see that the Cornerites are all a twitter at the new Geena Davis show "Commander In Chief." They are having little giggle fits at the idea that a woman president would be, like, so cute when she's negotiating and baking cookies!

Here's little taste of the more serious side of the discussion from Jonah "Doughy Pant Load" Goldberg:

The idea that a female liberal president would be more "feminine" than Bill Clinton is absurd, laughable, factually untrue. Bill Clinton was weepy, huggy and at all times pain-feeling. He'd wax eloquent on the glories of talk and empathy. At the end of one marathon meeting which accomplished nothing, he stretched out in his chair and said "That was great" as if he was about to light a cigarette. Feminists declared him the first female president. He talked of security not in the sense of blowing up terrorists but of leaving no children behind...And, sad to say, it was so successful that George W. Bush and Karl Rove copied it with their treacly "compassionate conservatism." It took 9/11 to remind George W. Bush why Republicans are called the Daddy Party.

Actually, I'd heard about that all night meeting too, except I'd heard that at the end of it, he stretched out in his chair and said "that was great --- Monica."

And I believe he lit a cigar if I'm not mistaken.

I don't actually blame Jonah. With a mother like his it's hard to see how he could have come out unscathed. But this is just sad. The little guy wrote that whole thing without even realizing what he was revealing about his issues with women --- and why Republican males like him hated Bill Clinton.

Hippie Spooks

Crooks and Liars is featuring a rather nutty exchange on Faux news in which it's posited that al Qaeda set up the poor Brazilian schmuck in the London subway in order to discredit the US and British governments. That's kooky, all right.

But there's a lot of that going around, I'm afraid. After quoting from Deborah Orrin's breathless scoop that Valerie Wilson went to a Springsteen fundraiser for Kerry, Orrin Judd speculates:

It's not beyond the realm of possibility that MoveOn, ActUp, and the rest of them are just CIA fronts.

For those of you who aren't following the latest line of thinking in wingnuttia, the whole Plame deal was an elaborate scheme by a cabal of evil CIA hippies who were trying to bring the president down. Just ask Senator Pat Roberts if you think I'm kidding.

Simmering The Slime

Joe Conason has a nice piece here about how the right is preparing the ground to slime Pat Fitzgerald. Now that Senator Roberts has narrowed the scope of his interest in the Plame case, I think it's pretty clear that the little trial balloon about hearings (and my speculation about them granting immunity) was premature. The Dem Senators understood that better than I did --- they are keeping the heat on Roberts to hold hearings that he now quite clearly doesn't want to have. It really didn't make sense to pre-emptively slime Fitzgerald or haul Rove before the committee. They don't know what Fitzgerald has. And if I'm not mistaken, the special prosecutor, unlike the Independent Counsel, has no requirement to file a report if there is no indictment.

Therefore, if Fitzgerald doesn't indict, there is every reason to believe that all we'll ever find out is that ... no law was technically broken. The Republicans have wisely decided to back off at least until they know what they are dealing with. Why make him mad?

But if Fitzgerald does indict somebody --- and the spectre of a trial looms --- you can bet they'll be ready to try to bury him.

Failing By Their Own Standards

While I have been engaging in the blogospheric pie fight over the liberal hawks' approach to national security to some extent, I do think it's important also to engage in a substantive response to the the DLC on this. Kevin links to a very good article at Democracy Arsenal that challenges the DLC's overreliance on the military to solve problems. This is a huge issue, particularly in light of the threats we actually face.

I was actually quite stunned to realize that they had signed on so fully to the idea that the GWOT or the G-SAVE or whatever, is a military challenge when quite clearly it is something else entirely. After all we've seen from 9/11 to Bali to Madrid to London --- and our our ineffectual and impotent performance in Iraq --- you would think that even hawks would have done some tweaking of the old superpower handbook.

But they haven't. And they even went a step further, indicating that criticising the methods that the Bush administration has employed thus far is naive (or vaguely anti-American) when it seems to me that it is vital to publicly reject their approach in order to repair the damage. The Bush administration has employed some catastrophically bad tactics and methods that have destroyed our credibility and our moral authority --- two things that are essential in repelling terrorism, attracting allies and keeping foreign enemies from overreaching. And in squandering those things the Bush administration has created recruiting propaganda for the terrorists and probably ruined any chance the liberal hawks might have had to test their Wilsonian experiment in exporting democracy.

First, the Bush administration continues to this day to tell the entire world that our intelligence services are completely untrustworthy. By invading a country without provocation, failing to find the WMD which would have justified the preemption doctrine, failing to prepare for the post war and then blaming the CIA and the state departments for that failure, they are saying to the world that the greatest military power the world has ever known is entirely incompetent. It leads enemies to overreach and it leads friends to be wary of letting us take the lead.

The only thing that can set this right is to publicly hold the Bush administration accountable for its politicising of the war for its own ends. To hush it up is to make us less safe, not more.

Second, by using torture and humiliation tactics we have shown the Muslim world that we are uncivilized. This is not just a matter, as Will Marshall said, of us not being grown-ups and undertanding that bad apples will blow off steam. It is clear that these things were ordered at the highest levels. And, as it has been reported today in even greater detail than before, there was a huge amount of dissension within the military about using these tactics for a variety of reasons. The primary concern for them is that it puts our own troops in danger, both morally and physically.

Marshall says that we have no credibility on torture unless we also condemn the acts of the barbaric insurgency in Iraq. This is precisely the opposite of the truth. Civilized people take for granted that anyone who blows up innocent people is barbaric. It does not have to be individually condemned. The behavior of the insurgency is not our responsiblity. The tactics and methods of the US Military are. It is incumbent upon us to take specific note of our own people who do barbaric things and show the world that we condemn it in the harshest possible terms. We cannot hope to export our democratic freedoms and demonstrate their benefits unless we hold ourselves to this higher standard --- and exporting our democratic freedoms is what these liberal hawks so fervently believe we must do.

So, they are defeating their own stated purpose of keeping the country safe by allowing the Bush administration to get away with exploding the myth that US intelligence is virtually omnipotent and possibly emboldening would be enemies.

They are defeating their own stated purpose of defending the military, by refusing to stand with those within it who objected to the way the Bush administration ignored its rules and regulations.

They are defeating their own stated purpose of spreading democracy by refusing to demonstrate our system's higher moral and ethical standards to people who are skeptical of our power.

If we are looking to the DLC for smart thinking on national security, we'd better look elsewhere. In all these ways the policies of the DLC hawks have already failed even by their own standards.

Point Break

Atrios points today to this article in the Village Voice by Rick Perlstein which I encourage you to read. It's short and to the point. I think Perlstein has really gotten to the heart of why the Democratic party is having such a difficult problem getting through to people; we're not staying true true to our long term vision.

However, I'd like to draw your attention to an interview this week with Perlstein in this week's In These Times in which he discusses his book "the Stockticker and the SuperJumbo" which is only 8 bucks and is filled with interesting insights not just from him but other writers and thinkers in response to his ideas. You get a very real sense of the outlines of the debate within the party.

I'd like to discuss one thing in particular that Perlstein notes in the book and the interview and which I touched upon in my post earlier this week about Will Marshall and the DLC. I took issue with Marshall's point that liberals had been traumatized by the "protest politics" of the 60's to such an extent that they could not rationally deal with national security --- particularly the military. He characterized this as a feature of the grassroots liberal activists which I disagreed with because the "Move-On" left is quite a diverse group and it's certainly intergenerational. I do not believe that the grassroots were traumatized by the protest politics of the 60's --- although I'm sure there are some among us who were. We are a large group.

However, there is one group of Democrats who most certainly were traumatized by the protest politics of the 60's. Unfortunately, contrary to what Marshall set forth in his piece, the Democrats who are still carrying around that baggage are now the leaders of the Democratic party --- and particularly the leaders of the DLC. Indeed, their entire political careers have been forged in response to their early radicalism and subsequent political losses in 1972 and beyond.

The rest of us have indeed "moved on," going with the flow of changing political tides and reassessing our priorities as most people do as they go through life. But the people who came of age as political leaders in 1972 through the Reagan losses have been forever chastened by their youthful enthusiasm and as a result have an emotional aversion to bold, confrontational politics. Perlstein says:

The trauma of the generation of people who are running the Democratic Party was being blindsided by the political failures of left-of-center boldness. If you look at a lot of the most resonant and stalwart centrists and Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) Democrats, for a lot of them, their political coming-of-age was being blindsided by conservatism. For Bill Clinton, it was losing the governorship in 1980. For Joe Lieberman, it was losing a congressional race in 1980. For Evan Bayh, the chair of the DLC, it was seeing his dad lose his Senate seat to Dan Quayle in 1980. But the formative traumas of my generation of Democrats—and I’m 35—have been the failures of left-of-center timidity. So there really is a structural generational battle among Democrats. People of a certain age are terrified that the electorate is going to associate them with the excesses of the ’60s, but most voters are too young to remember that stuff. The Republicans keep trying to paint the Democrats as the party of the hippies and punks who burn the flag.

I'm a baby boomer myself, although I'm 10 years younger than the vanguard leaders of the 60's, and I certainly understood the tremendous frustration that we felt as Reaganism exploded across the 80's. I was deeply demoralized for a long time and I supported the DLC's attempt to reposition the party away from sectarian social issues to a more mainstream middle class economic focus. What I didn't count on was that while we settled into our grown-up middle aged persona, the right wing was going to have a doozy of a mid-life crisis and hurl themselves into true radicalism. It was a failure of imagination of epic proportions on my part.

But when they impeached the president on trumped up charges, I learned. And I realized that as you fight the political battles of the day, all you have to hang on to are the core beliefs that brought you into the arena in the first place.

As Perlstein demonstrates in his book, the key to long term political success is to have big things you stand for over the long haul. People understand different political realitites. Life happens. But they want to know what you care deeply about and what you want to accomplish even when you haven't a chance in hell of actually accomplishing it any time soon. Perlstein calls it laying down "markers:"

It’s a gambling term. A marker basically is a commitment to pay. In Guys and Dolls, Nathan Detroit would say, “that guy holds my marker.” It’s something you can’t back out of, on pain of getting your knees broken. The marker that Republicans have is that everyone who runs for office has to sign a pledge—it’s enforced by their own knee-breaker, Grover Norquist—that on pain of political death they’re not going to raise taxes.

My thesis is that a commitment that doesn’t waver adds value by the very fact of the commitment. The evidence is that even though the individual initiatives that make up the conservative project poll quite poorly, they’ve managed to succeed simply because everyone knows what the Republicans stand for. And the most profound exit poll finding in the last election had nothing to do with moral values, it was all the people who said that they disagreed with the Republicans on individual issues, but they voted for George W. Bush anyway because they knew what he stood for.

I think this is spot on. And it applies particularly to times in which we have the strange political freedom in which to operate without the responsibility of governance. We do not have to appease the pork barrel needs of legislators. We don't have to massage corporate donors. We can, instead, use the opportunity to advance ideas that have no particular hope of passage but that illustrate what we stand for.

And we don't have to do it merely by submitting ten point plans and stirring manifestos, although that's certainly legitimate. What we should do is promote big ideas and attach those ideas to the Democratic party across the spectrum of political activity.

Perlstein sugggests that every Democrat put on his or her website that they support "guaranteed health insurance for all Americans." Simple and sweet. Do we all agree that every American should have guaranteed health care? I think so. Should we say it out loud, so that the American people know that we support guaranteed health insurance for all Americans? Uh, yes.

I would also say that there are other ways to express our long term committments to more abstract ideals, like a right to privacy. When we question Judge Roberts we should make it clear what the stakes are in that battle. We shouldn't just talk about Roe, although that's important, we should put Roe in the context of all the other intrusions people will suffer both by the government and corporations if we don't acknowledge this as settled law and fundamental to our liberties. We are going to lose this nomination battle, but it is a good forum for staking out a long term position on privacy rights vis a vis everything from the Patriot Act to birth control. The libertarian strain that guys like Paul Hackett represents needs to be woven into our agenda for the long haul so that we can continue to fight for the freedom to be left alone by religious extremists and zealous police agencies alike.

I agree with Matt Yglesias that this is also a good opportunity for the Democrats to stand together and just say no. We don't have to trash the guy, if that's something that's unpalatable, but we certainly don't have to allow any free votes for a very right wing ideologue either. Unlike social security, we will not win the battle, but we stake out a position much more strongly if we hold together as a caucus instead of allowing free "gimmes" to Senators who want to appear above the fray. Nobody should be above the fray.

Tactics and strategies are, by necessity, subject to changing circumstances. Our goals and aspirations shouldn't be. Thinking big is what progressives do, and we pay a price for that at times when people adjust to progress. But we cannot survive if people don't know what we stand for. We need to take every opportunity to make that known and then stick to it even when it's impossible to achieve in the next election cycle or two.

The Democratic party apparatus for a variety of reasons have become risk averse. We in the grassroots have to help them see that this is not wise. It means that we are going to be perceived by some as intemperate and unpleasant at times. But that's ok. As Perlstein says:

We do have a timid bunch of folks in the Democratic Party, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Timid and cautious people can often express their timidity and cautiousness by being swept up in a tide. We’ve got to provide the tide and let them surf it.

Update: Publius at legal Fiction makes a similar point about the "60's trauma" in this excellent post.

Fighting Liberals

So it looks like Paul Hackett actually has a chance. I can't tell you how happily surprised I am. According to Swing State Project he's within five points in a district in which the Democrat hasn't achieved more than 30% in over twenty years. it's still a long shot, but this is a very good sign.

Hackett is, of course, a particularly attractive candidate being a good looking Iraq veteran family man and all. But the fact that he's making inroads in such a conservative district is pretty amazing in this era of GOP dominance in the red states. Let's hope it's a bellweather.

I cannot help but make note of the fact that the allegedly anti-military Move-on crowd have embraced Hackett so fervently. I would hope that this is noticed by the critics who say that there is an anti-patriotic strain in the grassroots. Clearly, we of the rank and file do not actually have a problem with the military --- we love this guy.

What this points up is the fact that the DLC badly misunderstands the reasons why the grassroots reject their leadership. It's only partially to do with policy and has almost nothing to do with ideology. It's about tactics and strategy. We see their split-the-difference "third way" approach -- particularly their rhetoric --- as a form of appeasement that may have made sense in a time of shared power but that is now self-defeating and dangerous.This is particularly so in light of the demonstrable ruthlessness of the opposition and their willingness to go far beyond any normal political limits.

We like Hackett because he's a strong, tough talking Democrat who takes it to the Republicans. I would imagine that there are plenty of gun control advocates among the urban netroots who nonetheless have given money to his campaign. And I know for a fact that there are quite a few like me who did not support the Iraq war, who nonetheless are proud of brave men like Hackett who subscribe to the military ethos of service to country. We certainly don't hold the insane decisions of ivory tower neocons against him --- we know the difference between those who make the policies and those who carry them out -- it's spelled out in our constitution.

The grassroots are not united in pacifism or any other particular ideology. The grassroots are united in our belief that the Republicans are dangerous radicals who are driving this country off of a cliff. And we've concluded that accomodationist rhetoric at a time of total GOP political dominance is suicidal, particularly when the Republicans are losing the support of the American people on virtually every issue. We think that it's time for a confrontational strategy that shines a light on the Republicans' radicalism. We believe that the country is yearning for some authentic straight talk about real issues and real problems and real solutions --- including national security --- instead of half baked esoteric reworkings of Republican talking points disguised as Democratic moderation.

We believe that you can't be perceived as strong unless you are willing to fight the political fight head on. It's that simple. It's about speaking truth to power. We don't hate the military and we aren't afraid to protect the country. In fact, our entire ethos is just the opposite. The legendary "fighting liberal" image that the hawks evoke with such nostalgia --- is us.

Paul Hackett is one of us.

It's getting down to the wire. If anyone is in the vicinity and can volunteer over the next few days until the election --- or if you have another couple of bucks to send his way --- here's the info:

Paul Hackett For Congress

Act Blue Contribution Page

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sailed Through

There had been some talk that the Democrats had a secret plan for Karen Hughes when every one of them failed to show up for the hearings on Friday and that they would unveil it on Tuesday when the hearings reconvened. Well...

Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the nomination of Karen Hughes, a former political adviser to President Bush, as the State Department's top public relations official.

The Senate is expected to complete the confirmation process this week before leaving for its August recess.

Hughes' main assignment as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is to reverse anti-American sentiment around the world.

I'm sure there would have been no political value in getting Hughes on camera admitting that she'd been called before the grand jury. Not would it have been valuable to have on-camera reporters on the cable and evening news explaining to their viewers that Patrick Fitzgerald's probe evidently reached up to all of president's Bush's closest advisors, even Hughes.

It's a good thing we don't waste our time with such crass political tactics. Besides, Republicans might might say we are mean and nobody votes for mean. Well, unless it's being mean to a Democrat in which case people seem to positively love it.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Debt Nanny

Can someone tell me why the government, under the "we trust you with your own money" Bush administration no less, is pressuring the credit card companies to double their minimum payments from 2% to 4% (with interest) for the stated purpose that people need to be forced to pay off their credit cards sooner?

Where does the government sponsored MNBA tough-love end? The bankruptcy bill wasn't enough, apparently. They now want to drive people who are struggling in a weak labor market into bankruptcy by abruptly doubling their monthly credit card bills. I guess there's no use wasting time in getting people into their properly indentured forever status.

Seriously, I can understand why the credit card companies want to do this now that they are protected from people having their debts discharged when they suddenly can't make their monthly payments. But on what basis does a Republican government excuse its meddling into the private financial affairs of American citizens?

This sounds like a good campaign issue to me. It hits home --- it's like Gray Davis doubling the car tax in California; it's an increase everybody notices. If the Bush administration is actually pushing it, the Democrats ought to staple this little GOP corporate collusion right on the foreheads of Republicans everywhere in the '06 election.

Update: Apparently a lot of progressives think that this is a good idea. The government should be in the business of forcing people to save more money, lower their credit card debt faster and behave more responsibly.

Unfortunately, the problem is that a large number of people who are paying only their minimums right now are people who just can't afford to pay any more. And while it's always nice to assume that people who get themselves into debt are all bums who aren't smart enough or don't care enough to manage their money properly, we actually have no idea why individuals have such high debt --- but the statistics show that good many of them are people who suffered a protracted job loss, a health crisis or a divorce. Some of them are juggling high debt because they are changing careers, they started a business or they took some other entrepreneurial chance. The large numbers of good people in a temporary jam are, sadly, going to get lumped in with all the people we feel need to be taught a lesson.

This piss poor labor economy has been propped up by easy credit for a long time by people who wanted to keep the party going. Individuals who have not been getting raises or who can't change jobs because of employer based health care have had to manage inflation and necessary big ticket items with credit at ever higher interest rates. They've met their obligations, but apparently that's not good enough. Now, the government needs to raise the national savings rate because the government itself is spending like drunken sailors so they are going to put the onus on people who are living under the high stress of a stagnant job market and high debt to do it. Somehow that just doesn't seem right to me.

The credit card companies get "hurt" by a slight dip in their usurious profits and the individual working stiff gets to learn a lesson in not eating.

This is a suckers issue for Democrats. Telling working people that we think the government should encourage their credit card companies to raise their payments because they need to learn how to manage their money is something even I find offensive --- and I'm a liberal Democrat. Let the credit card companies eat it for a while by telling them to tighten their new credit requirements --- don't just suddenly lower the boom on people. Make all new debt subject to the higher minimums. But if people are carrying a heavy load like 300 dollars a months in minimums which they can just manage --- doubling it to 600(+ interest) one month is enough to put them on the spiral of late payments, 30% interest and financial doom. Real live people are going to be hurt quite badly if this happens.

I hate MBNA as much as any person but "sticking it to 'em" by pressuring them to abruptly raise the payments of their customers isn't really a winning way to deal with this, in my book.

Here is another article that explains what's happening in greater detail.

And another.

And another.

In every single article it discusses the long term good of people paying down their debt faster. And they also discuss the singular hell that people are going to be facing when this abruptly happens to them and they don't have the ability to come up with the cash.

I'm sure there are a lot of people whohave just been too dumb to realize that they should pay more than the minimums each month in order to keep up with the compounding interest on their debt. This may help them. But it's also quite obvious that alot of people are going to be thrown to the wolves on this:

Of course, if your finances are already squeezed to the breaking point, the rate hike is a bitter pill to swallow -- good for you in the long run, but hard to take right now.

"If you're living paycheck to paycheck and your minimum payment goes from $200 to $275, spread over five cards, that's an extra $375 a month," says Brauer. "A lot of families can't come up with that." The banks already know that and are planning for it. Bank of America, one of the first to raise minimum payment requirements, worked an extra $130 million into its 2005 budget to cover projected losses from defaulting cardholders.

The same defaulting cardholders who are now going to have to pay much higher fees to go bankrupt and who, if they make above the median in their state, will no longer be allowed to file chapter 7. Quite the double whammy.


I have been skeptical that Patrick Fitzgerald would broaden the scope of his investigation to include anything beyond the narrow question of who leaked Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak and other reporters. I thought it was possible that if he uncovered perjury or obstruction in the course of that investigation he might run with it. But, this WaPo article indicates that he might have gone beyond that narrow question:

The special prosecutor in the CIA leak probe has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than was previously known, part of an effort to determine whether anyone broke laws during a White House effort two years ago to discredit allegations that President Bush used faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to several officials familiar with the case.

Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street. In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame's name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa.

Most of the questioning of CIA and State Department officials took place in 2004, the sources said.

It remains unclear whether Fitzgerald uncovered any wrongdoing in this or any other portion of his nearly 18-month investigation. All that is known at this point are the names of some people he has interviewed, what questions he has asked and whom he has focused on.

This is interesting, but I have to say that I'm not getting my hopes up. Unless he's got a high level witness who's spilling his guts, I have my doubts that this will blow the lid off of the Iraq lies. His investigation, after all, is said to have been pretty much wrapped up in 2004. How thoroughly could he have investigated this in that time? On the other hand it's very intriguing that he looked into it at all and it's at least possible that he could have exposed the white house effort to shift the blame for the yellowcake mess.

One thing is clear. The turf war between the White House and the CIA is now open warfare:

Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified information.

In a column published Oct. 1, 2003, Novak wrote that the CIA official he spoke to "asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause 'difficulties' if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson's wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name."

Harlow was also involved in the larger internal administration battle over who would be held responsible for Bush using the disputed charge about the Iraq-Niger connection as part of the war argument. Based on the questions they have been asked, people involved in the case believe that Fitzgerald looked into this bureaucratic fight because the effort to discredit Wilson was part of the larger campaign to distance Bush from the Niger controversy.

Wilson unleashed a multimedia attack on Bush's claim on July 6, 2003, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," in an interview in The Post and writing his own op-ed article in the New York Times, in which he accused the president of "twisting" intelligence.

Behind the scenes, the White House responded with twin attacks: one on Wilson and the other on the CIA, which it wanted to take the blame for allowing the 16 words to have remained in Bush's speech. As part of this effort, then-national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley spoke with Tenet during the week about clearing up CIA responsibility for the 16 words, even though both knew the agency did not believe Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Tenet was interviewed by prosecutors in the leak case, but it is not clear whether he appeared before the grand jury, a former CIA official said.


A former senior CIA official said yesterday that Tenet's statement was drafted within the agency and was shown only to Hadley on July 10 to get White House input. Only a few minor changes were accepted before it was released on July 11, this former official said. He took issue with a New York Times report last week that said Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, had a role in Tenet's statement.

Fitzgerald has run a very tight investigation for it not to have come out before now that he interviewed the head of the CIA and his top deputy. (And it certainly makes it important to know if John Bolton was one of those who was interviewed and if he lied about it to the Senate...)

If he's on to something really serious, perhaps even reaching the president, it may very well explain why Pat Roberts has been hinting around about investigating Fitzgerald and talking openly about holding hearings into whether the CIA is handling its covert agents properly. They are firing shots across the bow now --- at both Fitzgerald and the Agency.

*By the way, the mysterious stranger mentioned in the article is covered in depth in Wilson's book --- and Wilson evidently went to great lengths to document the meeting at the time it happened.

**And you have to love the fact that it now looks very much like Robert Novak knew that Plame was covert and published her identity anyway. He really is a Prime DFL.

UPDATE: This is truly scary, but I think Susie may be on to something. The hearings may just be an efficent way to grant immunity to the perpetrators. There would be nothing Fitzgerald or anyone else could do about it. Wow.

And as we speak, the Democrats are all clamoring for hearings. Is it possible they didn't anticipate this possibility?

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., unveiled an Internet "Accountability Clock" to highlight the lack of congressional hearings in the 742 days since Plame's identity was disclosed after her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, attacked some of the administration's pre-war claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Lautenberg noted that he had served in the Senate under four presidents, but that "for the first time ... I'm watching the United States shirk its duty to check the powers of the White House."

The Republican majorities in the House and Senate are giving the president "a free pass" on the CIA leak controversy, he charged.

Spokesman for Frist and Hastert did not respond immediately to requests for comment Monday.

But within hours of the release of Kerry's letter, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, announced his panel would hold hearings on toughening legislation barring unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Similarly, Hoekstra's counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., disclosed he will preside over hearings on how the intelligence community determines which officers need their identities protected and are covered by the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

It would be Frist-worthy if the Democrats actually helped enable the GOP to derail Fitzgerald's investigation.

On the other hand, they've given no indication that they are willing to get into this case in public, which they would have to do if they give Rove and Libby immunity and call them before the panel. But you never know. If the shit is really hitting the fan they may just be willing to take some lumps, call them as witnesses and "explain" under immunity how it really wasn't a bad thing to expose Plame because she wasn't really covert. In which case, Fitzgerald's case is over.

I can see them doing this and I can see them getting away with it too. It's just confusing enough and clever enough to baffle the press corpse and leave the Democrats gasping impotently on the sidelines.

Failing Up

Following up my post below on Bremer's baby, I see that TBOGG caught the fact that the number two guy in the CPA boondoggle is being rewarded with an ambassadorship to Israel. Watch your wallets, Israelies. Neocons are coming to help you.

My New Buddy

I have left it to others to do the heavy lifting on Paul Hackett's netroots campaign and I have regrets because I really would like to see him win after reading this endorsement from the conservative Cincinnati Post:

Schmidt served as a township trustee for 10 years before winning election in 2000 to the Ohio House of Representatives. There she served for four years before giving up the seat to run for the Ohio Senate - a race she lost, in a recount, by just 22 votes.

Schmidt has also held a variety of civic and political posts, and serves on the governing boards of such entities as the Clermont County Library, Clermont Mercy Hospital Foundation, the Live Oaks/Great Oaks Business Industry Partnership Council and Greater Cincinnati Right to Life.

Hackett's public service revolves around the Marine Corps. In 1982 he enlisted in a reserve officers program while he was a student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He completed law school at Cleveland State before starting full-time active duty in 1989. He continued in the active reserves after returning in 1992 to Cincinnati, where he practiced law in a small firm before launching a solo practice in 1994. Hackett served on Milford City Council from 1995-98; he stepped down after purchasing what he describes as the oldest house in Indian Hill - a recently-renovated, 200-year-old stone structure on the banks of the Little Miami River.

Last year Hackett re-enlisted in the Marine active reserves; he went in with the rank of major and served in Iraq with a governance support team, where part of his job involved organizing convoys to bring money and supplies from Baghdad to Iraqis serving in the regional government.

In terms of their ideology and their approach to issues, Schmidt and Hackett present sharp differences.

Schmidt, from what we can discern, would likely be a dependable vote for the Bush administration, particularly its foreign policy and Iraq. In this campaign she has allied herself with the president, as she did earlier to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and before that to former House Speaker Larry Householder. Her approach to policy issues is incremental, except perhaps concerning taxes. She seems generally to favor supply side economics, and wants to make President Bush's personal income taxes permanent and get rid of the estate, capital gains and alternative minimum taxes entirely. She supports incentives to encourage small businesses to offer health insurance, greater reliance on ethanol as a fuel source and a prohibition against Congress' use of Social Security funds for general government operations.

Hackett, in our view, is a gust of fresh air. If we had to put a label on him, it would be Libertarian Democrat. He says what he thinks and doesn't seem to have much use for the orthodoxy, or the partisanship, of either party. He doesn't want the government telling him what kinds of guns he can own, nor does he want it interfering in family or medical decisions or taking away civil liberties in the name of fighting terror. He regards Social Security more as an insurance program than a retirement savings plan, but wants to put it on a sound footing and would raise the earnings ceiling if necessary to do so.

If elected, he notes, he would be the only member of Congress with direct military experience in Iraq - which, he says, is a fight we should end as soon as possible. He wants to finish the job and get out, and he wants the United States to stop holding hands with Pakistan and to get serious about tracking down those responsible for the 9-11 attacks.

We like Hackett's candor. We're impressed with the freshness of his ideas. We believe his experience shows him to be someone who is action-oriented.

We endorse Hackett for the 2nd District seat.

It just doesn't get any better than that for a Democrat in a Republican district. I don't know if he'll win -- special elections are tough --- but he certainly seems like the kind of candidate that we should be trying to field in these conservative districts if we want to ever take back the congress.

And, by the way, I think he's even patriotic enough for the DLC, don't you? Of course, he doesn't endorse free trade and he doesn't seem inclined to jettison all of our civil liberties one at a time in order to appease religious zealots and panicked neocons, so I'm not sure he's quite malleable enough.

I understand the Republicans have found his achilles heel though, as they always do. Seems he is a bit of an effeminate pansy. As a US Marine he was only involved in transporting goods and cash through a war zone instead of furiously pounding out the words "Smoke 'Em Out!" on his little keyboard while whistling the Colonel Bogie March as true patriots do. Well, nobody's perfect. Perhaps the voters will overlook his cowardice.

Here's the page to donate if you're of a mind. Even if you don't, read about this guy and see if you can live with this mix of issues. I'm inclined to think that with a fat dose of fiery economic populism, this could really work for us on a larger scale. The fact that the Cincinnati Post sees this guy's views a "fresh" should give us pause. We desperately need some fresh.

My readers know that I'm a big civil libertarian so I'm attracted to candidates who emphasize those issues. But I think I'm a little bit anomalous among the leftie netroots crowd on that and I'm thrilled to see that we are backing this guy so fervently. It makes me think that we will be able to transcend some of our differences when the time comes and coalesce around candidates who advance our agenda but who might have a mix of priorities that don't fit perfectly with our own.

Just one last note: Hackett apparently got off the plane from Iraq and was so disgusted by the Terri Schiavo circus that he decided to run for congress. You've just gotta love a Democrat like that.

Bremer's Baby

So, people in Baghdad have worms in their drinking water and no electricity during the worst heat of the day. If someone wants to know why they hate us, that's a good place to start.

Over 18 months, American officials spent almost $2 billion to revive the capital ravaged by war and neglect, according to Army Gen. William G. Webster, who heads the 30,000 U.S. and foreign troops and 15,000 Iraqi soldiers known collectively as Task Force Baghdad. But the money goes for long-term projects that yield few visible results and for security to protect the construction sites from sabotage.

As a result, Iraqis have seen scant evidence of improvement in their homes, streets or neighborhoods. They blame American and Iraqi government corruption.

"We thank God that the air we breathe is not in the hands of the government. Otherwise they would have cut it off for a few hours each day," said Nadeem Haki, 39, an electric-goods shop owner in the upscale Karrada district in the east of the capital.

Of the major completed projects in Baghdad, more than $38 million went to sewage projects, $375,000 to a water main and $101.2 million to electricity generation and transmission.

Others are in the works. More than $792 million is being invested in water, sewage and electricity projects across the capital, according to U.S. military documents.

The progress is slow and the rewards incremental. Parts of the city - such as the impoverished Shiite Muslim neighborhood Sadr City, once flooded with green rivers of sewage - now have functioning sewer systems.

"The things that go below the ground and provide enough electricity are incredibly expensive, especially when you have to pay for security for that local job site," Webster said.

Yes. All these things are very expensive. Too bad we can't lay our hands on the 8 Fucking Billion Dollars of the Iraqis own money that went missing under Paul Bremer's Coalition provisional Government.

When Paul Bremer, the American pro consul in Baghdad until June last year, arrived in Iraq soon after the official end of hostilities, there was $6bn left over from the UN Oil for Food Programme, as well as sequestered and frozen assets, and at least $10bn from resumed Iraqi oil exports. Under Security Council Resolution 1483, passed on May 22 2003, all these funds were transferred into a new account held at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, called the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), and intended to be spent by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) "in a transparent manner ... for the benefit of the Iraqi people".

The US Congress also voted to spend $18.4bn of US taxpayers' money on the redevelopment of Iraq. By June 28 last year, however, when Bremer left Baghdad two days early to avoid possible attack on the way to the airport, his CPA had spent up to $20bn of Iraqi money, compared with $300m of US funds. The "reconstruction" of Iraq is the largest American-led occupation programme since the Marshall Plan - but the US government funded the Marshall Plan. Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer have made sure that the reconstruction of Iraq is paid for by the "liberated" country, by the Iraqis themselves.

The CPA maintained one fund of nearly $600m cash for which there is no paperwork: $200m of it was kept in a room in one of Saddam's former palaces. The US soldier in charge used to keep the key to the room in his backpack, which he left on his desk when he popped out for lunch. Again, this is Iraqi money, not US funds.

The "financial irregularities" described in audit reports carried out by agencies of the American government and auditors working for the international community collectively give a detailed insight into the mentality of the American occupation authorities and the way they operated. Truckloads of dollars were handed out for which neither they nor the recipients felt they had to be accountable.

The auditors have so far referred more than a hundred contracts, involving billions of dollars paid to American personnel and corporations, for investigation and possible criminal prosecution. They have also discovered that $8.8bn that passed through the new Iraqi government ministries in Baghdad while Bremer was in charge is unaccounted for, with little prospect of finding out where it has gone. A further $3.4bn appropriated by Congress for Iraqi development has since been siphoned off to finance "security".


Lack of accountability does not stop with the Americans. In January this year, the Sigir issued a report detailing evidence of fraud, corruption and waste by the Iraqi Interim Government when Bremer was in charge. They found that $8.8bn - the entire Iraqi Interim Government spending from October 2003 through June 2004 - was not properly accounted for. The Iraqi Office of Budget and Management at one point had only six staff, all of them inexperienced, and most of the ministries had no budget departments. Iraq's newly appointed ministers and their senior officials were free to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars in cash as they pleased, while American "advisers" looked on.

"CPA personnel did not review and compare financial, budgetary and operational performance to planned or expected results," the auditors explained. One ministry gave out $430m in contracts without its CPA advisers seeing any of the paperwork. Another claimed to be paying 8,206 guards, but only 602 could be found. There is simply no way of knowing how much of the $8.8bn has gone to pay for private militias and into private pockets.

"It's remarkable that the inspector general's office could have produced even a draft report with so many misconceptions and inaccuracies," Bremer said in his reply to the Sigir report. "At liberation, the Iraqi economy was dead in the water. So CPA's top priority was to get the economy going."

The Sigir has responded by releasing another audit this April, an investigation into the way Bremer's CPA managed cash payments from Iraqi funds in just one part of Iraq, the region around Hillah: "During the course of the audit, we identified deficiencies in the control of cash ... of such magnitude as to require prompt attention. Those deficiencies were so significant that we were precluded from accomplishing our stated objectives." They found that CPA headquarters in Baghdad "did not maintain full control and accountability for approximately $119.9m", and that agents in the field "cannot properly account for or support over $96.6m in cash and receipts". The agents were mostly Americans in Iraq on short-term contracts. One agent's account balance was "overstated by $2,825,755, and the error went undetected". Another agent was given $25m cash for which Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation". Of more than $23m given to another agent, there are only records for $6,306,836 paid to contractors.

Many of the American agents submitted their paperwork only hours before they headed to the airport. Two left Iraq without accounting for $750,000 each, which has never been found. CPA head office cleared several agents' balances of between $250,000 and $12m without any receipts. One agent who did submit receipts, on being told that he still owed $1,878,870, turned up three days later with exactly that amount. The auditors thought that "this suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash", pointing out that if his original figures had been correct, he would have accounted to the CPA for approximately $3.8m more than he had been given in the first place, which "suggests that the receipt documents provided to the DFI account manager were unreliable".

I urge you to read the whole story. It was published earlier this month and fell down the memory hole. It's simply unbelievable.

I'm sure that Bush apologists will be tempted to say that's the price the Iraqi people had to pay for their liberation, but it's a little bit hard to understand why they would have had to pay to line the pockets of corrupt Americans and local bigshots for the privilege. If they weren't still dodging worms in their drinking water, they might have let it slide.

Meanwhile, we struggle at home with the fact that US taxpayers are still spending a billion dollars a week --- most of it on homegrown corruption, one suspects, because the troops are still having to put sheet metal on their humvees because they don't have the proper armor. I would guess that if there is ever a proper accounting, and there will likely never be one, that US taxpayers are being screwed more royally on this than they can possible imagine. There is no transparency and congress is ironically too afraid of being called cowardly to demand explanations.

The CPA though was a very special boondoggle, if you'll recall. It was an experiment in Republican Party governance. They refused to allow anyone on "the team" who didn't pass the GOP litmus test. They would not hire experts nor would they allow foreign or domestic political actors who were not deemed sufficiently loyal to Bush to help with planning and implementation. So much so that they were finally reduced to hiring kids who had posted resumes on the Heritage Foundation web-site in order to ensure ideological purity. If I recall correctly, Ari Fleischer's brother was put in charge of setting up the new Iraqi stock market despite the fact that he knew absolutely zero about stock markets. But he had the right contacts, that's for sure.

And, let's not forget that all this happened because we were in such a damned hurry to "disarm" Iraq that we couldn't take even a minute to think through how we might re-start their economy and rebuild their infrastructure in a planned and rational way. We just invaded come hell or high water and then sent in a bunch of college Republicans with planeloads of cash. This is one of the aspects of the DSM's that hasn't yet been properly discussed. The minutes make clear that it wasn't that our plans just didn't forsee the particular problems we encountered. We didn't plan for the post war period at all.

This is a huge story for someone to truly unravel although I think it will probably take a novelist or a filmmaker to do it justice. The grand Neocon experiment turns out to be a corrupt boondoggle of unprecedented, epic proportions. Perhaps that plot is just too predictable to sell...

I can tell you one thing, though: I don't want to hear one more goddamned self-righteous word from any Republican about the "Oil For Food" scandal. Not one.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Running On Empty

Will Marshall of the DLC has written a critique of us Michael Moore Democrats who are ruining the party with our anti-Americanism and lack of real patriotism. Don't even bother to read it if this kind of thing pisses you off because this one's a doozy.

There are many problems with his thesis, but this is perhaps the central thing he gets wrong:

The left's unease with patriotism is rooted in a 1960s narrative of American arrogance and abuse of power. For many liberals who came of age during the protests against the Vietnam War, writes leftish commentator Todd Gitlin, "the most powerful public emotion of our lives was rejecting patriotism." As he and other honest liberals have acknowledged, the excesses of protest politics still haunt liberalism today and complicate Democratic efforts to develop a coherent stance toward American power and the use of force.

When Americans ponder such questions today, their frame of reference is not the Vietnam War, but Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks evoked the most powerful upsurge in patriotic feeling since Pearl Harbor, and thrust national security back into the center of American politics. Democrats have yet to come to grips with this new reality. More than anything else, they need to show the country a party unified behind a new patriotism -- a progressive patriotism determined to succeed in Iraq and win the war on terror, to close a yawning cultural gap between Democrats and the military, and to summon a new spirit of national service and shared sacrifice to counter the politics of polarization.

Well, I don't know about you, but I happen to be an American who went through 9/11 just like the conservatives and the hawkish centrists did. I don't know who he's talking about. We all have the same frame of reference as everyone else who has lived in our time. We live in the new reality too and we've come to grips with it --- we simply don't agree with their prescription for dealing with terrorism and it has nothing to do with Vietnam or patriotism.

How petty and lacking in imagination this discussion is. Apparently, all honest liberals are ex-campus radicals who went to school with Todd Gitlin and who feel "uncomfortable" with this new patriotism because their formative experience was with protest politics. Whatever. Perhaps Marshall ought to check with his boss Al From, who Rick Perlstein quotes in "The Stockticker and the Superjumbo" as saying that that his formative experience was McGovern's loss in 1972. I think that might just be a bit more to the point.

I'm a baby boomer but I'm 48 and my formative political experience was probably Watergate, in which patriotism was shown to be a willingness to put the country above politics when the chips were down. Republicans Howard Baker and Barry Goldwater ranked as major patriots for me. Indeed, Watergate was one of those moments when I think the entire country was impressed (and surprised) by the incredible resiliency of its system of government and the integrity of men and women who rose to the occasion. To me patriotism isn't about fighting wars, it's about love of country.

People born in 1970 are now in their mid-30's. Are they scarred by their parents' youthful beliefs in "anti-patriotism?" Their formative political years were during the Reagan era, hardly a period of anti-americanism. Flag waving was a fetish.

My friends' mother is 80 years old. She's a child of the depression and she's a Democrat who was adamantly against the Iraq war. It had nothing to do with Vietnam; it was because she didn't believe in "wars of aggression." That was the reflexive foreign policy belief of cold war liberals who learned their lessons from the two world wars. I have another friend who is 22 and was against the war in Iraq because he believes it distracts from the War on terrorism. I was against it because I gravely mistrust the neocon vision of American global hegemony and I wanted them to do the minumum possible until we could get sane people in office to assess the threat properly. We are not all singing kumbaya from the 60's campus radical manual.

He talks about liberals (or maybe just the unbearable bi-coastal elites he describes in such loving detail) as if we are from Mars. I have no doubt that there are quite a few who really disdain the military and would be shocked to see one of their friends' children from the elite private school choosing to join the marines instead of going to an Ivy League College as expected. But really, can we call this a particularly Democratic or liberal response? Considering the remarkable problem the military is having with recruitment, I'd have to say it's a pretty common American response, rather than any comment on Democrats. It's not as if Republicans are all rushing out to join up either. If it's a lack of patriotism that's causing that reaction I think you would have to say that most Americans are unpatriotic.

He worries that the military itself is too Republican and laments that the Democrats are not better represented. His evidence is two polls which show that the majority of officers are Republicans. Can everyone see what might be wrong with that picture?

The salient point in all this is that there are no national Democrats who are anti- military and very, very few rank and file Democrats who are anti-military. Even the hated Michael Moore shows a tremendous affinity for the grunts in his movies in which he focuses on the sacrifices of working and middle class families who are being treated terribly by the government in thanks for their sacrifice. This thing that Marshall and his DLCers see is not anti-military; it's anti-Washington and that's not the same thing at all.

He builds a straw man out of poll results that purport to show that most Democrats don't want to fight the war on terrorism with the same sort of dizzying fervor he thinks is required, and calls them unpatriotic for their views. He refers to a list of foreign policy issues in which more Democrats consider outsourcing to be a bigger worry than dismantling al Qaeda.

Why is that a measure of patriotism? It's actually surprisingly rational. The statistics would certainly show that any individual stands a greater chance of being personally affected by outsourcing than an al Qaeda terrorist attack. It's actually kind of dumb to put al Qaeda at the top of your list of national security worries when really, it isn't the biggest one we face --- loose nukes are, and nobody gives a fuck about that.

Furthermore, it's entirely possible that at least some Democrats realize that al Qaeda isn't something you can just "dismantle" with a ripping good show of military might because it's morphed into a constantly changing, moving concept, rather than a single entity you can "end." And while terrorism is scary and we need to do all we can to protect people from it, it is not any more threatening than Leonid Bresznev potentially getting into a pissing match or losing control of his military or any other thing that could have resulted in an accidental nuclear exchange during the cold war. We lived for many years under an unimaginable threat (still do, actually) and we managed to keep our heads for the most part and not turn ourselves inside out over it. This threat of terrorism is real and it's important, but we simply have to stop overreacting like we did with Iraq or we really are going to turn it into the existential threat these people seem to desire so fervently.

Finally, Marshall suggests that we not make such a big deal out torture.

"...the revelation that some U.S. troops aren't saints should not come as too great a shock, at least to grownups. By dwelling obsessively on U.S. misdeeds while ignoring the far more heinous crimes of what is quite possibly the most barbaric insurgency in modern times, anti-war critics betray an anti-American bias that undercuts their credibility."

(Yeah, it's the liberals who are ignoring the barbaric insurgency in Iraq. And here the last I heard they were in their last throes.)

Let's just say I'm a big believer in supporting the troops --- troops like Spc. Joseph Darby, for instance, who had the courage and patriotism to stand up and say something when his fellow troopers were committing reprehensible acts --- or the FBI agents who complained on the record about what they saw at Guantanamo. I will never excuse the United States using torture or abuse or holding prisoners indefinitely without due process. Never. No matter what the "barbaric insurgency" does in Iraq. And I am more than willing to throw down the gauntlet on this and say that anyone who soft peddles those things is the worst kind of anti-American there is. We're not going to find common ground on this subject. If that kicks me out of the big tent so be it. I'm not signing on to that shit, ever.

I recognise that saying all this means that I couldn't get elected. And for that reason there are almost no elected Democrats who do say what I'm saying. They all wave flags and shriek like old ladies every time something happens --- and they back ridiculous wars, because if they don't the chattering classes will go nuts and label them unpatriotic. But saying it doesn't make it true. That's inside the beltway Republican kabuki which nobody who calls himself a Democrat should ever allow himself to perform. There are legitimate reasons why we might disagree on this stuff and still take national security seriously.

Being lectured all the time by effete DC Democrats on "patriotism" because I don't back their reflexively hawkish foreign policy is not only insulting it's dumb. It plays into stereotypes that only serve the Republicans by turning this into a dick measuring contest when we should be turning the conversation into who can get the job done. I would submit that if anyone's been traumatized by the Vietnam experience it's the tired Democratic national security hawks who are always rushing to support military action, no matter how insanely counterproductive, because some Republican somewhere might call him a pussy. They've been around since the 60's too. Hell, they've been around forever.

"Never Tell Anybody Outside The Family What You're Thinking Again"

This Alberto Gonzales 12 hour gap is quite interesting, but I'm sure that we all also remember that Gonzales also later reviewed every document that was produced and vetted it before it was released to the Justice Department --- the Justice Department run by John Ashcroft who didn't bother to recuse himself until three months later. Let's just say there were many opportunities for documents to have gone astray in this process.

As I was perusing old articles about the document production, I also realized that none of the top administration aides bothered to lawyer up in the early days when they were talking to the FBI. One could assume that they were confident they'd done nothing wrong, but it strikes me that these guys may have thought it was in the bag. They had old "Let The Ego Soar" Ashcroft at justice and Alberto the torturer handling any incriminating documents.

And while one might have expected the president to say that he knew the truth would be revealed because he expected his staff to be forthcoming with the authorities, instead we got this:

"I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers," he said. "You tell me: How many sources have you had that's leaked information that you've exposed or had been exposed? Probably none. I mean, this town is a town full of people who like to leak information."

We always knew that somebody leaked this to Bob Novak. And unless Novak was lying, it was two senior white house officials. But the president of the United States said quite candidly that he didn't think we would ever know the truth unless reporters burned their sources. He certainly didn't seem to expect the "senior white house official" sources to come forward, did he?

With the benefit of hindsight, that sounds like the president of the United States was reminding the press corpse to keep its collective trap shut, doesn't it? (Are you listening Judy?)

Tripping Them Up

Josh Marshall points out today that Senator Pat Roberts (R- Partisan Tool) has decided that the congress must waste no time holding hearings on whether the CIA is properly protecting its covert agents. After all, if Karl Rove and Scooter Libby can find out who they are, how safe can they be?

The only other possibility -- one which I've referred to jokingly in the past -- is to argue that she wasn't covert enough. That is to say, maybe she was covert to the CIA. But she really wasn't covert up to the standards of say, Bill Safire or Tucker Carlson or Bill O'Reilly.

And this, understand, is the premise of the new Roberts' hearings. Was she really covert enough? And does the CIA really know how to define 'covert'. Asked about a bankrobber caught red-handed outside the bank, Sen. Roberts response would be to say, "But how much real claim did the bank have to that money? Did they really earn it? And what did they do to protect it?"

Roberts is one of the more reprehensible hacks in the GOP caucus and that's saying something. That he's chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is frankly scary. His little addendum to the SSCI report on Iraq pre-war intelligence is one of the most amazing examples of partisan smearing we've ever seen coming from a committee that is usually held up as the model of bi-partisan seriousness.

But his appearance on CNN yesterday had him dancing like he was challenging Ricky Martin to a samba contest. And, unfortunately, my senator, Dianne Feinstein made little effort to trip him up.

BLITZER: How big of a deal in your assessment is the fact that the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak of that covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame? Is this a big deal in your opinion, releasing the identity of an undercover CIA officer?

ROBERTS: Why yes, it is a big deal. And in the Intelligence Committee, we're going to go into quite a series of hearings in regards to cover. You cannot be in the business of outing somebody, if that's the proper word.

BLITZER: I ask the question because some are suggesting she really wasn't undercover any more. She had been working at the CIA in nonproliferation. She really wasn't a technical...

ROBERTS: There's a five-year period, OK? And whether or not that five-year period had been reached or not is still questionable. And I must say from a common sense standpoint, driving back and forth to work to the CIA headquarters, I don't know if that really qualifies as being, you know, covert.

But generically speaking, it is a very serious matter although it obviously dovetails now into the issue of the day in regards to Karl Rove and the First Amendment, and all of that.

BLITZER: The fact that the CIA asked for this criminal investigation, this probe into who leaked her name to Bob Novak, what does that say to you, Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: Well, it says to me that the CIA values this as extraordinarily important. If they can't protect their agents, they can't survive as an agency. And I've been distressed to even see in the newspapers, I believe this morning, about what some of the undercover placements were, listing them rather generically.

BLITZER: Have you been briefed, has the committee been briefed by the CIA about the potential damage that has been done, if any lives have been endangered, her contacts, undercover spies, if you will, as a result of her name being made public?

FEINSTEIN: I have not been briefed.

BLITZER: Have you been briefed on that?

ROBERTS: We are going to have those hearings, or those briefings, pardon.

BLITZER: But have you received a preliminary assessment of damage? Because usually when someone has been exposed like this, they do a damage assessment.

ROBERTS: I'll tell you what we have done in the 511 page document that we've released from the WMD report: We went into considerable detail in regards to the veracity of Admiral Wilson's testimony.

BLITZER: Ambassador Wilson.

ROBERTS: Pardon me. Admiral. All of a sudden, I've got him in a different, you know category. But the ambassador. And I'm just going to be very blunt about it. I don't think the White House had any need to discredit him. He discredited himself. He was all over the lot.

Now, I'm not going to say anymore about that because that's one issue.

I want to know basically who assigned him and what role she played. And then obviously we want to find out exactly what happened in regards to her covert status.

Now, we're going to have to wait on that in regards to the special prosecutor. But overall, Dianne is exactly right. If we're in the business now where somehow, through some means, a covert officer working in the CIA, if that becomes public, that just can not happen. And so that is why the committee is going to be so aggressive in really taking a look at it.

BLITZER: Should the president's top political adviser, the deputy White House chief of staff, Karl Rove, who has now apparently, according to sources close to him, acknowledged speaking to reporters about Valerie Plame Wilson, should his security clearances, based on what you know, Senator Feinstein, be revoked?

FEINSTEIN: Well, based on what I know, I think yes for the time being. I think you have to look at this: Who had opportunity, who had means, and who had motive? And if you look at those three things, you see the White House somewhere, some way figures into it.

Now, the details and the precise statements are being analyzed by the prosecutor, very well-regarded Mr. Fitzgerald. It's going to be very interesting to see what he comes up with. But in the meantime, I mean, you have somebody that quite possibly either corroborated or volunteered information that shouldn't be in the public sector.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the new Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts.

ROBERTS: I had another comment by the way, but...

FEINSTEIN: I figured you would.

BLITZER: Well, go ahead. Briefly comment and then we'll move on to John Roberts.

ROBERTS: Well, I think you're presumed innocent until proven guilty. And I think we ought to wait on the special prosecutor. If you go down a laundry list of leaks in this town as to who was involved and who wasn't, you'd probably have 10 or 12 people, and some of them are in the CIA. And there's been leaks from the CIA.

You know, in this town, when there is a leak, nobody gets wet until there is a leak. And right now we're about up to here on this particular issue. So let's wait on the facts.

Roberts refused to say if he'd been given a damage assessment, which is kind of interesting. But, he's just a blunt tool, not a very sharp one, so it could be that he was just rushing to the next talking point. But he was all over the map with that little exchange, ending with the "everybody leaks classified information so what's the big deal" excuse.

Dianne said that Rove should probably have his security clearance revoked for the time being and that the white house had the means and the motive to leak Plame's name. Well, doesn't that just blow the lid off this thing? As if we don't know that the white house was involved ferchirstsake. She wasn't well prepared, as usual.

She and all the Democrats should be trying to tie these guys up in knots with the obvious contradiction that the tough-guy national security Republicans have been caught red-handed being loosy-goosy with classified information for political reasons. They should always bring up the president. This isn't too difficult to do.

Imagine if Feinstein had said in reponse to Wolf's question about revoking Rove's security clearance, "Well, Wolf, it is well established already that Karl Rove was involved in leaking Valerie Plame's identity to the press. His lawyer admitted just this week that he was one of Robert Novak's two sources. I have every faith that the special prosecutor will find out if there is evidence that he or anyone else broke the law by doing this. But I think that even Pat here would have to admit that regardless of whether it was legal or illegal, Karl Rove and others in the White House have shown an appalling lack of judgment. As the man in charge, the president has a responsibility for the actions of his staff. He should have called Karl Rove into his office and demanded an explanation and withdrawn his security clearance the minute it was found that he was involved in this. Breaking the law isn't the issue here, Wolf. This is about national security. We're at war. The president shouldn't be playing politics with this stuff."

It would be helpful to show Bush as being either impotent to deal with Karl Rove, or covering for him, because it is imperative for Democrats over the long haul to begin to show the Republicans as being unable to deal responsibly with national security. If you look at what Roberts was saying it was basically, "Joe Wilson is a liar and his wife worked in Washington and anyway everybody leaks." Hardly the stuff of a macho "never complain, never explain" warrior, is it? This is an opportunity for Democrats to change the long standing narrative that the Republicans have built up about their national security prowess. If the Commander in Chief can't even call his own staff on the carpet when they screw up, then how tough is he?

This is the second time in 25 years that we've had a two term GOP president who has to be portrayed as dumb, distanced and out-of-it in order to cover for his staff running amuck. They're always out of the loop, aren't they? Never quite in charge when the bad shit happens, only the good. It's time for the Democrats to start tying this into a bigger narrative about national security. These tough guys, these people who are going to keep us safe, seem to continually elect presidents who are cluelss about what's going on around them. Or, at least, that's what they are always forced to use as an excuse when they fuck up.

It takes time to build new storylines. Even if this one isn't very good, we really need get started on something. And that means that Democrats have to agree among themselves on a basic framework of criticism for Republican national security policy and practice. They need to internalize it so that when a guy like Roberts starts blathering, they can respond with vigor and authority without having to think too much about it. Vague, off-point pablum like Feinstein's is exacerbating our problem. We look weak because we won't confront a blowhard like Roberts. And we are weak because we refuse to take every opportunity to show the American people that the Republicans are screw-ups on national security. That last should actually be pretty easy, because it patently true.