Blogs

Iraqi Elections

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:59 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 1:37 PM EST

IRAQI ELECTIONS....Results from Iraq's provincial elections are finally in. The LA Times reports:

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has won a resounding victory in provincial elections across Iraq, cashing in on his strongman image while dealing a sharp defeat to outright religious parties, according to preliminary results released Thursday.

Candidates running under Maliki's Enforcement of Law slate won the most seats in nine of 14 contested provinces, including the Shiite Muslim power bases of Baghdad and Basra. /p>

Juan Cole offers a rather different take:

Although Nuri al-Maliki's Da'wa Party got over a third of the votes in Baghdad and Basra, they clearly did not achieve a commanding position, and its share in the more rural Shiite provinces was signifcantly less..

The big story here is that the Shiite religious parties (and yes, the Da'wa or Islamic Mission Party is among them) again swept the Shiite south. However, those Shiite parties that won out this time want a strong central government, not a Shiite mini-state.

....On the whole, I think these results are encouraging for Obama. The Sunni Arab ex-Baathist secular elites have reentered polities in the Sunni Arab areas. These election results put paid to the fantasies of Dick Cheney and John McCain that Sunni Arab Iraqis are pro-"al-Qaeda." Most of them would not even vote for a religious party, much less for a radical fundamentalist terrorist group. Cheney said that if the US left, al-Qaeda would take over Sunni Arab Iraq. That is highly unlikely given these election results.

I certainly wouldn't have guessed this a year or two ago, but Maliki really does seem to have consolidated his position throughout the country, something that's almost certainly good news for the U.S. If Obama really does want to get out of Iraq within 16 months (or 19 months or 23 months, depending on who you listen to), it's going to be a lot easier if the Maliki administration is stable and relatively secure. And while Iraq will still have friendly relations with Iran under Maliki, that would have been the case regardless and is probably no bad thing anyway. Overall, I'd say these results make a successful withdrawal from Iraq more likely than it was a week ago.

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Hilda Solis

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:55 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 7:23 PM EST

HILDA SOLIS....I see that Senate Republicans are continuing to throw up roadblocks in front of Hilda Solis, Obama's nominee for Labor Secretary. This is pretty odd. I mean, what's their beef? That she's pro-labor and pro-EFCA? That can hardly be a surprise, since Obama himself is pro-labor and pro-EFCA. That there's some kind of skeleton in her closet? Maybe, but the items they've dug up so far have been tissue thin. They can't possibly think her husband's tax liens are going to derail her nomination, can they? And the ARW stuff is even more ridiculous.

The whole thing is hard to fathom. But I guess it's yet another indication that of all the things that drive Republicans crackers, labor tops the list. Even more than taxes, they just go completely nuts when they're faced with the prospect of unions gaining a bit of power. The result is a temper tantrum over Solis even though they know perfectly well they can't stop her nomination.

Quote of the Day - 02.05.09

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:53 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 2:32 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Joe Klein, begging his fellow reporters not to make the same mistake he made 16 years ago:

In 1993, I did a pretty shabby job of covering Bill Clinton's economic plan. It was, in sum, a very good plan — it worked wonders for the economy — but I focused on the mishaps. (Clinton, for example, pulled the rug out from under House Democrats by offering a carbon tax, which they voted for...and then the President removed it from the bill.) Clinton couldn't get any Republican votes for the package. A disaster! He had trouble getting Democratic votes for it; he had to beg Bob Kerrey for his vote to get it through the Senate. His presidency was in ruins! He had lost all credibility! (Actually, those of us who had focused on some big ugly trees rather than the blooming forest were the ones who had lost credibility.) It pains me to watch normally reasonable colleagues overreacting to Obama's situation now — which is far less dire than Clinton's was.

The problem is that Republicans know what attracts media attention: shiny new baubles. So we need an even shinier new bauble of our own to distract them. But what? A war? Maybe a shark attack somewhere? Or some Britney news?

Terrorist Watchlist Watch

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:47 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 1:38 PM EST

TERRORIST WATCHLIST WATCH....This is good news, I think:

The House passed a bill Tuesday aimed at helping people who have been misidentified as terrorists clear their names from government watch lists and databases.

The bill (HR 559), sponsored by Yvette D. Clarke , D-N.Y., passed by a vote of 413-3....“This is a good bill,” said Pete Olson , R-Texas. “This is a bipartisan bill.”

It's always been sort of Kafkaesque that a gigantic security bureaucracy could stick your name on a terrorist watchlist and basically give you no way to get it off. It's long past time for Congress to address this.

But here's what I want to know: if this bill passed 413-3, what took so long? Did Republicans only decide they could afford to support it once George Bush was out of office? Or what?

Conventional Wisdom Watch

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 12:42 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 12:52 PM EST

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM WATCH....Wednesday's CW: The stimulus bill is doomed! We're all gonna die!

Thursday's CW: It'll pass by Friday, with a few modest changes. Happy days!

You could get whiplash from stuff like this. Hopefully today's CW is the right one.

Earthquake in China Caused by Dam After All?

| Sat Feb. 7, 2009 5:10 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 1:16 AM EST
In September I questioned the theory going around that the devastating  Sichuan province earthquake in May was caused by the Three Gorges Dam. The idea was inspired by research out of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska in 1999 (long before Three Gorges was built) that said that the weight of the water held back by the dam could cause "reservoir-induced seismicity." The problem with Probe International's charge was that the fact that Three Gorges happens to be 400 miles from the epicenter. But now scientists have found that a closer dam might have contributed to tectonic shifts of the 7.9 variety, that its several hundred million tons of water would have put "25 times" the stress of natural tectonic movements on the fault line.

That the dam involved is not the controversial Three Gorges doesn't lessen the consequence here: an earthquake caused by a man-made dam means the government has to answer, at least in part, for 80,000 deaths.

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The Legacy of Public Investment

| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 5:39 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 5:39 PM EST

Not only is infrastructure investment an excellent way to stimulate the economy, it creates lasting projects that serve America for decades. Salon has a slideshow up that shows some of the well-known American institutions created with federal money during the New Deal. See how many you've been to or used. They include: the Lincoln Tunnel in New York, the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia and North Carolina, Camp David in Maryland, the Appalachian Trail, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, much of the Chicago lakefront, and La Guardia Airport.

Will Obama Mobilize His Millions of Supporters? The White House Responds

| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 4:49 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 4:49 PM EST

On Friday morning, I asked, "Will Obama mobilize his millions?" By that, I meant would he activate the 13 million or so Americans who had signed up with his campaign in order to pass the stimulus bill. Organizing for America, the spin-off of the Obama presidential campaign, is holding house parties on the weekend to discuss the recovery package. But Obama has yet truly to unleash his supporters. His push for the economic bill has not had much of a grassroots component.

On Friday afternoon, I was able to ask White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about this. First, I inquired if President Obama wanted the folks attending the weekend house meetings to pressure members of Congress to support the stimulus bill. (As of this writing, the bill, which had passed the House, was heading toward a vote in the Senate. After that, the two versions will have be reconciled and a final version approved by both chambers.) Gibbs replied with something of a platitudinous reply, noting that the president always encourages citizens to be involved in their government.

Grammy Preview: M.I.A. About to Pop, Radiohead On the March?

| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 3:40 PM EST
While it's understandable if you're a cynic about the usually-preposterous Grammy Awards, Sunday night's show actually promises some nail-biting races and some dramatic, "will-they-or-won't-they" performances. First of all, singer M.I.A., up for Record of the Year for "Paper Planes," is scheduled to perform, despite the fact that she is very, very preggers. In fact, tomorrow Sunday is apparently her due date, if you can believe it. Will her wee Arulpragasam pop out right at the "ka-ching" noise in "Planes," or will an early arrival force her to cancel? Also upping the drama quotient is Radiohead, who are not scheduled to perform (and have never performed at the Grammys), but rumors are flying all the way to Pitchfork, who seem to believe the Brit combo will play In Rainbows' jazzy, drum-led 5/4 opener "15 Step" accompanied by the USC marching band. Hooray Radiohead, but ugh, marching bands—they're so, you know, "Hollaback Girl." Pitchfork also holds out hope for a Kanye/Radiohead mashup performance, which would make me pleased for Earworm but sad for myself, since it's long been a secret wish to see, for instance, Liam Gallagher wander out on to the Grammys stage for a surprise duet with Green Day—even if I don't get a shout-out. MTV already made some predictions about who will win (Coldplay, yes; Lil Wayne, nope) but I suppose I can try my hand at calling what the wrinkled old geezers in the Recording Academy will vote for without ever having heard it. My predictions in a few categories after the jump.

LOST: Babies Are Boring

| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 3:23 PM EST
After last week's dramatic episode, I had high hopes for LOST's third installment, titled "The Little Prince." Well, I was disappointed. It was dull, dull, dull, punctuated only by overly dramatic music (like when Sun received a very ominous box of Godiva chocolates) and one key revelation. Namely, Jin's not dead! Hurrah!