2008 - %3, January

Obama on Withdrawal

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:57 PM PDT

OBAMA ON WITHDRAWAL....Here is Obama's official statement on the news that we've reached a tentative agreement with the Iraqi government on a timetable to withdraw American combat troops:

I am glad that the Administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq. Success in Iraq depends on an Iraqi government that is reconciling its differences and taking responsibility for its future, and a timetable is the best way to press the Iraqis to do just that. I welcome the growing convergence around this pragmatic and responsible position.

....Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality. While Senator McCain continues to offer unconditional military and economic support for Iraq, I strongly believe that we need to use our leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure a political settlement. In addition to a timetable, we should only train Iraqi Security Forces if Iraq's leaders reconcile their differences, and we must insist that Iraq invests its $79 billion surplus on rebuilding its own country.

That's a good tone to take. Also interesting is that despite the 2011 date we've apparently badgered the Iraqis into accepting, Obama is sticking to his 16-month/2010 guns.

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Fundraising Woes

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:35 PM PDT

FUNDRAISING WOES....Over in GOP-land, it looks like fundraising pleas are falling on deaf ears:

"It has become clear that my call has gone largely unanswered," Sen. John Ensign of Nevada fumed in a statement. "I have no control over the timing or content of (independent) ads, but I have had no choice but to decrease the total budget for our (independent expenditures) unit."

Republican lawmakers contributed $1.1 million to the NRSC through June, while Democrats chipped in nearly $5 million [to the DSCC, presumably, unless Dems are feeling unusually generous this year –ed.], according to FEC reports.

....Ensign had challenged his colleagues to step up back in July by increasing their fundraising efforts or by providing more of their own direct contributions. His statement amounted to a renewed call to arms.

That's a mighty sad state of affairs, isn't it? I wonder why no one wants to give Republicans any money this year?

Lobbyist Linked to NRA Spy Caper Co-Chairs McCain's Sportsmen's Committee

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:22 PM PDT

Earlier this week, ABC News reported that the McCain campaign was seeking to distance itself from adviser James Jay Baker, a onetime NRA official and current lobbyist for the gun rights group, who is reportedly a member of McCain's "kitchen cabinet." Questioned by ABC, the campaign played down his involvement, describing him as a "high level volunteer."

It stands to reason why the campaign would want to draw a wide berth around Baker. Until 2002, Baker was the executive director of the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. During his tenure, the ILA engaged the services of a now defunct private security firm, Beckett Brown, which specialized in spying on activist groups. Beckett Brown's point of contact at ILA was Baker's deputy, Patrick O'Malley. O'Malley also served as an NRA contact for Mary Lou Sapone, who, as Mother Jones reported in July, is a freelance spy who infiltrated the gun control movement from more than a decade on behalf of the gun lobby. When we contacted Baker seeking comment on Sapone's work for the NRA, he said, "I don't have anything to say about any vendors at the NRA." And while maintaining that he had no knowledge of any efforts to penetrate the gun control movement while he was at the NRA, he added: "We got information from whatever sources we can." The NRA has refused to comment on the Sapone story, declining to explain any possible relationship between the ILA and Sapone.

Four-Day School Weeks: For Real Now

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:45 AM PDT

schoolbus-gas.jpgAbout a month ago, I wrote that a handful of school districts—due to rising fuel costs—said they could save thousands of dollars in school bus fuel by switching to four-day school weeks. Apparently things have really ramped up since then.

A recent survey says that 1 in 7 school boards nationwide are considering whether to drop a day off the normal five-day school week. About half surveyed said they were planning to cut out field trips, and more than 30% said they were consolidating or eliminating bus routes.

We've been down this road before. During the oil crisis of the 1970s about 100 districts implemented a four-day week also. One small study in Florida in 1973 found that half the students preferred it (Heck yeah: three-day weekends!).

But gas prices aren't the only issue: a shaky economy and some state budge woes led some districts to switch to a four-day week as many as four years ago.

Find Out Where a Gas Tax Holiday Might Have Some Serious Appeal...

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:37 AM PDT

When you're done checking out our cool interactive map of America's global military footprint, check out this cool interactive map of global gas prices.

Some of the facts are really remarkable. Citizens of Scandinavia pay almost $10 a gallon and the Turks, who labor under a 72 percent gas tax, pay $11.18. Meanwhile, residents of Turkmenistan pay just $0.76 per gallon, and the first 32 gallons each month are free. Comparatively speaking, we get off pretty easy. (Via Andrew.)

Biden's Experience

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:31 AM PDT

BIDEN'S EXPERIENCE....Over at the mother blog — a genuinely apt name at this magazine — Jonathan Stein comments on today's paean to Joe Biden from David Brooks:

So Biden is a liberal, not-evil Cheney. I'll agree that's a good thing. I'll further agree that having people like David Brooks on-board with the Obama VP pick is a good thing for Obama. But I won't agree that experience is the primary consideration when choosing a VP. Is Brooks not aware how that undercuts Obama's entire case for the presidency? If we value experience, why settle for a ticket with a VP who has 25+ years of experience in Washington? Why not pick the ticket with the nominee who has 25+ years of experience in Washington?

I imagine I'm probably more sympathetic to Biden than Jonathan is in the first place, but even aside from that I don't think this is right. By picking Biden, what Obama would show is that he's not afraid of experienced colleagues. Think of JFK picking Johnson or Carter picking Mondale as their running mates. It's basically a show of dominance.

And aside from that, there really is some value in Biden's experience. Maybe. All four of the most recent Democratic presidents have chosen their VPs from the ranks of the Senate, and I'll grant that the results have been fairly mixed. Still, the Senate is pretty clearly going to be ground zero for getting Obama's program passed into actual legislation, and Biden has a pretty decent track record of working the legislative process. So on that score it might be genuinely helpful. (Ditto, of course, for Jack Reed.)

My Brooks-related concern would be a little different. Remember how conservatives were singing hosannahs to Obama back before he actually won the nomination? That, um, didn't last long. So call me cynical, but I wonder if Brooks will continue to think so highly of Biden if he gets the nomination? Or will he suddenly discover a column or five's worth of reasons that he's actually a fatal albatross? I'm not saying he'd do that. I'm just saying.

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Sunni Awakening Update

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:01 AM PDT

SUNNI AWAKENING UPDATE....A couple of days ago McClatchy's Leila Fadel reported "Key U.S. Iraq strategy in danger of collapse":

A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who'd joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country's security forces.

...."We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently," said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Many of them were part of al Qaida despite the fact that many of them are helping us to fight al Qaida."

He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn't been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they'd be arrested, he said.

This has always been the risk in the bottom-up strategy of arming the former Sunni insurgents in hopes of giving them enough ground-level influence that Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite government wouldn't have any choice but to deal with them. After all, maybe Maliki would decide not to deal with them after all. What then? The New York Times picks up the story today:

West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.

"The state cannot accept the Awakening," said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. "Their days are numbered."

....The Shiite-dominated government has never been pleased with the continuing American plan to finance and organize Sunni insurgents into militia guards, charging that they will stop fighting only as long as it serves their interests.

"These people are like cancer, and we must remove them," said Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti, commander of the Iraqi Army's 5,000-strong Muthanna Brigade, which patrols west of Baghdad, said of the Awakening leaders on his list for arrest.

That doesn't sound very promising, does it? Gen. David Petraeus, however, says Maliki has promised to get with the program. "This is how you end these kinds of conflicts," he said. "That's why they call it reconciliation. It's not done with one's friends, it's done with former enemies."

This is absolutely something to keep a close eye on. If Maliki continues to believe his own PR and figures that he's strong enough on his own to renege on his promise to incorporate the Sunnis into Iraq's security forces, the tribal leaders are almost certain to start the insurgency right back up. And if they do, Muqtada al-Sadr might decide to rejoin the fight as well. And who knows? Maybe the Kurds would decide that chaos in the south was a perfect cover for retaking Kirkuk.

Surge supporters have long been eager to play down everything that's happened in Iraq other than the surge, and even Petraeus isn't immune to that. Yesterday he spoke about the Sunni tribal leaders who teamed up with American forces before the surge to kick al-Qaeda out of Iraq. "They have made an enormous contribution," he said, before catching himself: "or a very significant contribution, to improved security." If Maliki continues to stonewall and the Sunni leaders finally get tired of it, I suspect that "enormous" is going to turn out to have been the proper adjective after all.

McCain's Houses: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 9:43 AM PDT

The McCains spend more each year on house staff ($273,000), than the average American's home is worth ($266,000).

Update: McCain isn't commenting on this story. But that doesn't mean he's not out and about!

McCain, who huddled with advisors at his desert compound in Sedona, Ariz., said nothing in public. A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.

Late update: The McCain's spent more on household help than they gave to charity.

Brooks Dreams of Biden

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 9:03 AM PDT

David Brook's column today is a pretty good indication of what the Very Serious people of Washington will think of a Joe Biden pick.

Brooks likes Biden because of Biden's working class roots, his straight-shooting nature, and his experience in Washington and abroad. One suspects it is this last that really matters. "When Obama talks about postpartisanship, he talks about a grass-roots movement that will arise and sweep away the old ways of Washington," writes Brooks. "When John McCain talks about it, he describes a meeting of wise old heads who get together to craft compromises. Obama's vision is more romantic, but McCain's is more realistic."

So Biden is a liberal, not-evil Cheney. I'll agree that's a good thing. I'll further agree that having people like David Brooks on-board with the Obama VP pick is a good thing for Obama. But I won't agree that experience is the primary consideration when choosing a VP. Is Brooks not aware how that undercuts Obama's entire case for the presidency? If we value experience, why settle for a ticket with a VP who has 25+ years of experience in Washington? Why not pick the ticket with the nominee who has 25+ years of experience in Washington?

Endless Smears

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 8:57 AM PDT

ENDLESS SMEARS....When Daniel Kurtzer, an occasional advisor to the Obama campaign, said recently that he hoped Israel could make some progress in negotiations with Syria, the McCain campaign pounced. "If one of Senator Obama's advisers has been to Damascus," said Michael Goldfarb, in a show of classiness that's become his trademark, "we just wonder how many have been to Tehran."

Yuck yuck. Heather Hurlburt comments:

When the McCain campaign goes after an Orthodox Jew, former dean of Yeshiva U., career diplomat who was the Bush Administration's ambassador to Israel on 9-11, was caricatured in anti-Semitic cartoons in the Cairo press during his tenure as Ambassador to Egypt, where he bravely was a public face of Orthodoxy, and is the Commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League (you can't make this stuff up), for doing something the Israeli government is already doing (talking to Syrians), will someone please tell me exactly how this country is supposed to have a diplomatic establishment?

Goldfarb decided to smear the commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League? Nice work there. But I guess if it plays with the rubes, McCain's team figures it's all's fair.