The Wrong War

Following up on a cover story he wrote for Mother Jones last year, Peter Bergen has a new piece in Foreign Affairs on how Iraq has become a training ground for the next generation of international terrorists, just as Afghanistan was in the 1980s. It's a pretty well-trodden argument that has gained increasing empirical support of late—especially with this report that many Saudi fighters only decided to take up arms after the invasion of Iraq. Bush has downplayed this thesis by arguing that it's better to lure all the terrorists into Iraq and kill them there than to let them lurk in the shadows abroad. But that assumes a) there are a finite number of terrorists out there, which we know is false; b) that the military can kill all of the foreign fighters that come to Iraq—they can't; and c) it ignores the fact that many potential terrorists are gaining much-needed training in Iraq, which was unavailable to them before.

Bergen also avoids the thorny question of whether and how U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would affect all of this. On the one hand, getting out of Iraq as soon as possible would stop the flow of aspiring mujahideen who are going to Iraq and learning how to kill lots of people. Plus, there's no way the U.S. can stay and kill every last newly-minted terrorist in Iraq, so it's fallacious to argue that "we can't possibly pull out or else all those trained fighters will go cause havoc elsewhere." Even if the U.S. pacified Iraq, those fighters would still escape and, potentially, go cause havoc elsewhere. But on the other hand, if the U.S. did leave Iraq and groups such as al-Qaeda and Zarqawi managed to take credit for the defeat, it is likely that they would gain a tremendous amount of newfound legitimacy, and the influx of funding and recruits that come with it—just as happened to Hezbollah after that group took credit for Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon. From a national security standpoint, that's not appealing either. At this point, basically, there just aren't many good options.

Today at Mother Jones:

Paul Rogat Loeb separates the myths about Rosa Parks' life from the much more inspiring realities. (LINK) In a separate piece, Loeb argues that citizen activists can work to make the New Orleans disaster one of those key turning points with the potential to transform American politics. (LINK)

Tom Engelhardt reflects that what remains with us, after the indictment of Lewis Libby, is "the ongoing, devolving catastrophe in Iraq where, in just the last three days, 8 more American soldiers have died during a month, not yet at an end, in which 79 American servicemen and countless Iraqis were killed." (LINK)

Finally, on Sunday, Mother Jones Radio talked with Sam Butler, the Bishop of New Orleans, and asked whether the federal government actually wants lower-class black residents back in New Orleans. (To go by recent actions, the answer would appear to be no.) (LINK)

Of course, CNN reminds us why Alito was nominated in the first place:

Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Stanford Washington Research Group, added that it's unlikely that Alito would have been nominated if his judicial philosophy wasn't geared towards business interests.

In fact, the White House was reported to have consulted business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, headed by former Michigan governor and Bush friend John Engler, over potential nominations in order to garner support for what many see as an uphill battle to seat a conservative judge to replace moderate O'Connor. This is a good tidbit, too:

Three years ago, Alito upheld a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit against Vanguard Group. Yet Alito had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in Vanguard funds at the time. While he later recused himself from further involvement in the case, the issue could be used to block the nomination.

Alito and Abortion

So Samuel A. Alito, Jr. will be the new Supreme Court dude. Emphasis on "dude". Or emphasis on "fascist". Whatever. Anyway, I've been reading his infamous dissent on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the one in which he upheld a spousal notification law for abortions, and it's important to hash this out. The conservative defense of Alito will be that it wasn't his job to decide whether the law was good public policy or not, merely to decide whether it was constitutional; and on the latter, he was upholding what he thought were the precedents on abortion at the time. That's not implausible; see this passage:

Taken together, Justice O'Connor's [earlier] opinions reveal that an undue burden does not exist unless a law (a) prohibits abortion or gives another person the authority to veto an abortion or (b) has the practical effect of imposing "severe limitations," rather than simply inhibiting abortions "to some degree'" or inhibiting "some women."
In Alito's defense, it's sometimes hard to figure out exactly what Sandra Day O'Connor intends in her opinions—often only she knows for sure—and prior to Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court had placed restrictions on abortion that, while not "severe," probably did prevent some women from getting abortions. So Alito's ruling partially stems from previous Supreme Court sloppiness, it seems. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs who opposed the spousal notification law had not shown that the 5 percent of women who don't notify their husbands would in fact be harmed by the new law. (The law leaves an out for women who have "reason to believe that notification is likely to result in the infliction of bodily injury upon her.") On one level, then, Alito's opinion is sort of reasonable.

But on another level, it's not. It's ridiculous. It's dangerous. It's wrong. According to Alito, because only a small number of women might face an "undue burden" in theory, but that's not known for sure, the law is just fine and dandy? What kind of legal principle is that? The Supreme Court obviously disagreed with Alito, noting that regardless of whether 95 percent of women would be unharmed by the law, "[l]egislation is measured for consistency with the Constitution by its impact on those whose conduct it affects." And that includes women potentially affected.

This all matters very, very much because in an upcoming abortion case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court will decide just this sort of dry procedural issue: on whether litigants need to show that an abortion restriction places an "undue burden" on women in the abstract—and is therefore unconstitutional—or must show that it places an "undue burden" in a particular case. Alito would appear to side with the latter view, and a ruling this way would make it very hard for women to challenge abortion restrictions (litigants would have to show that parts of the law affect them personally), and the net effect would be that Roe v. Wade, for all practical purposes, would be crippled—states could leave restrictions on the book for many years before ever being challenged.

The political issue here is that over 70 percent of Americans support spousal notification laws, and if Democrats try to fight on that terrain, they'll face an uphill battle (but one very much worth fighting). But there's so much more at stake here.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure that would restrict the ability of non-profit organizations to conduct voter registration drives. The measure appeared as an amendment tacked onto a bill providing increased regulatory oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

This latest move by the Republican-controlled House is but one in a series of such attempts to prevent American citizens from voting. In 2003, there was the South Dakota voter ID requirement, clearly intended to thwart Native American voters, and just this year, Georgia also passed a voter ID requirement law, which was struck down by a federal court just a few days ago.

The Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac amendment--which prohibits any non-profit group from receiving federal affordable-housing funds if it has conducted a voter registration drive in the past year (even with its own funds)--was added for the benefit of the ultraconservative Republican Study Committee. It should be noted that one of the RSC's members is Louisiana Representative Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, who, as an Indian-American, is a man of color. This disconnect from reality apparently doesn't disturb Jindal's RSC peers any more than it disturbs the thousands of Louisianians who voted for Jindal, a slick bureaucrat with extreme right-wing views. Some of those views--especially in the areas of church/state separation and choice--if transformed into law, would be harmful to both people of color and non-Christians (Jindal was a Hindu before he converted to Christianity).

Just posted at Mother Jones:

Smoking Guns and Red Herrings
By Elizabeth de la Vega

What should we expect now that Libby has been indicted?


Teaching Our Kids in a 21st Century Economy
By Barack Obama

It's past time to transform an educational culture that's failing too many of our children.

Focusing on the Wrong Number
By Carl Robichaud, The Century Foundation

The figure of 2,000 U.S. soldiers dead in Iraq clouds our understanding of the war's full impact.

I'm not sure I buy the theory that the Bush administration has been weakened beyond all repair thanks to the botched Miers nomination, Fitzgerald's investigation, the Katrina response, and whatever else. The Republican Party's capacity for harm and destruction is near-infinite, and only an election that sweeps them out of power will ever stop that. Nevertheless, in a bit of surprisingly good news this week, the administration decided to back down from pursuing "bunker buster" nuclear weapons. These weapons are, by all accounts, frivolous—bunker busting can be done perfectly adequately using conventional weapons, as the administration is now admitting—and only lowers the bar for the use of nuclear weapons. Compared to Libby's fibs, this was a very big deal, and whether a sign that Bush if flailing or not, it's very good news that the opposition carried the day.

So is Rove off scot-free? No indictments, no nothing. Can he go back to plotting whatever it is he plots? Maybe not. Andrew Sullivan is making sense: "[I]t seems to me to be a pretty horrible scenario for the president. You have Libby indicted and Cheney thereby under suspicion, with a raft of potential questions heading his way; and you have Rove still under threat from the Grand Jury, fighting for his legal and political life, but required to stay mum (and understandably distracted) if the prosecution continues. You don't even get a clean break, and a chance to start over." The investigation's not over yet. The other day Paul Begala described what it's like to be in a White House under siege; doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun.

Libby Just a Cog

No doubt everyone's been opening their Fitzmas presents, and looking at Scooter Libby's perjury/false statements/obstruction of justice indictments. So it looks like we have the first indictment of a sitting White House official in over 130 years—the nation should be truly proud of our "honor and integrity" administration. In the meantime, though, via MyDD, here's a Washington Post profile of David Addington, the man now rumored to replace Libby as Dick Cheney's chief of staff:

Where there has been controversy over the past four years, there has often been Addington. He was a principal author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects. He was a prime advocate of arguments supporting the holding of terrorism suspects without access to courts.

Addington also led the fight with Congress and environmentalists over access to information about corporations that advised the White House on energy policy. He was instrumental in the series of fights with the Sept. 11 commission and its requests for information…

Colleagues say Addington stands out for his devotion to secrecy in an administration noted for its confidentiality….

Even in a White House known for its dedication to conservative philosophy, Addington is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president….

Addington's influence -- like Cheney's overall -- extends throughout the government in his bid to expand executive power. He goes through every page of the federal budget in search of riders that could restrict executive authority. He meets daily with White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and often raises objections to requests for information from Congress or the public, officials say. He also routinely works to defeat proposals from the State Department, where the pervasive internationalist philosophy is at odds with Cheney's neoconservatism.Out with the old, in with the new; the machine will keep purring along. Meanwhile, Billmon has some good questions about the indictment. All the circumstantial evidence points to the fact that Libby knew Valerie Plame was covert when he outed her, and we probably shouldn't retire the word "conspiracy" from the PlameGate dictionary just yet. Nor, for that matter, the phrase "presidential pardon."

ANWR Drilling Closer to Passage

In July Kaarle Strailey, a lanky 24-year-old Berkeley graduate and friend of mine, biked 240 miles along the single access road to the Alaskan arctic and then hiked through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in an effort to draw media attention to the imminent threat of oil-drilling in the area. He then traveled to Washington, DC, where he joined hundreds of other activists in a flurry of last-ditch lobbying to convince moderate Republicans in Congress to vote against ANWR drilling. The oil lobby has been pushing for drilling since the 1980s, but it has never come so close to succeeding as now. And, with supportive majorities in both Houses and a president who has placed ANWR drilling at the center of his energy plan, pro-drilling lobbyists are hardly even breaking a sweat.

On Wednesday, the House Resources Committee stuffed legislation that would lease ANWR land to oil companies and end a 24-year old moratorium on offshore drilling, into the $34.7 billion federal budget reconciliation bill. Last week the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee had passed a similar bill, although the committee chairman thinks the offshore part will get cut out. By squeezing the language into the reconciliation bill, the legislation will be immune from the Democratic filibuster that has so far kept Arctic drilling at bay.

A bill to open ANWR hasn't passed both floors of the Congress since the Clinton years, when it died under presidential veto. Though Arctic drilling idea was dropped from the energy bill passed earlier this year, it was explicitly kept in the FY2006 budget resolution by a narrow vote. Since then the House votes approving Arctic drilling have been continually squelched by the Senate. so the Senate's recent shift in opinion has sent preservationists of the so-called American Serengeti—the last stretch of untouched wilderness in the U.S.—scrambling.

Rep. Markey, one of the Democrats on the House Resources Committee taking a lead in attacking the bill, released a press release yesterday after his proposed amendment to strike the ANWR drilling provision from the budget was defeated:

So the choice comes down to this - do we raise $2.4 billion by prying open and forever destroying a national wildlife refuge, overturning forty years of established environmental policy, threatening the way of life of the Gwich'in peoples, and allowing the oil and gas industry to select any of our other 544 national wildlife refuges as their next target, or do we give the Secretary the discretion to raise by a tiny fraction the royalty rate paid by the wealthiest corporations in the world for producing oil on the public's land? This is simply a question of whether we would rather protect public land or big oil companies.

ANWR's pristine and contested 1002 area—1.5 million acres on Alaska's northeast coast—is the migratory birthing ground for the Porcupine River caribou herd, upon which the hunting and cultural traditions of the native Gwich'in tribe depend. Not to be all doom and gloom, but really, with the support of the Senate budget committee, the President's support in pocket, and a House that has repeatedly voted in favor of drilling, these could be the last moments before the end. The only hope for ANWR may come when the budget bill comes back to the full Senate for a vote after reconciliation. At that point, moderate Republicans may—possibly—disagree on various spending cuts and help to throw out the budget altogether.

Oil companies say that ANWR drilling will relieve pressure on gas prices and help businesses, but in truth, it won't make a dent of difference for another decade and will only marginally alleviate America's foreign-oil dependence. (Here's the MoJo exclusive on the new wave of American revivalism: Petroltheism.) As one oil exec admitted to Paul Roberts last year, "even if all the off-limits land were opened for drilling, all the new gas we could bring on-line wouldn't be enough to replace all the production we're losing from older fields. We'd barely keep production flat."