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Iran: Sabers and Sobriety

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 5:18 PM EDT

Much has been written already about General David Petraeus' and Ambassador Ryan Crocker's two days of marathon testimony on Capitol Hill this week, including plenty about the degree to which they also testified about Iran's influence both in Iraq and in the greater Middle East. Petraeus was quick to call Iran's influence in Iraq "malevolent", but less quick to reconcile that influence with the fact that Iran is on friendly terms with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. Just hours after the two men wrapped up their show, President Bush kicked up the rhetoric. According to the Times> of London, "President Bush warned Iran [] that if it did not stop arming and training Shia militia in Iraq then 'America will act to protect our interests and our troops.'"

Interestingly, while Petraeus and Crocker sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, the National Iranian American Council hosted a conference, drawing on the expertise of journalists, scholars, former chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to examine America's best options if it seeks to keep Iran's nuclear weapons program dormant. Iran, which recently claimed to be installing 6,000 new centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, could restart its weapons program, and preventing that, the guests noted, will likely require direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic.

That process would no doubt have an impact on Iran's influence in Iraq, and it might well prove to be a positive one. "Iran recently proved helpful in brokering a ceasefire between Prime Minister al-Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr's JAM militias in Basra, Feinstein noted. "Clearly, a more positive relationship with Iran might be helpful in stabilizing Iraq." That ceasefire is by no means destined to hold, and will by no means solve the fundamental political rifts that keep Iraq ablaze. But it has knocked violence down noticeably, which is something all sides no doubt welcome.

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Music: Prince Added to Coachella Lineup

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 4:35 PM EDT

mojo-photo-princecoach.jpgI was just telling people that I bet Goldenvoice would add another high-profile artist, and look at me, I'm so smart! All those commenters are so wrong! Although I had no idea the new addition would be Prince, the Great Horny Devil of the Super Bowl himself. Apparently the randy Minnesotan will be the headliner on Saturday, the second of the festival's three nights; this puts the kibosh on my whole "leave early before Jack Johnson and hang around in the hot tub" plans, since if Prince's performance is anything like that blazing Super Bowl appearance, I don't want to miss it.

Now if they could just sneak Radiohead in on Friday night…

What Does Mike Huckabee Have Up His Sleeve?

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 3:07 PM EDT

I suspect that good dude and total crazy person Mike Huckabee is going to be in our lives for a while. Why? Because this development has to be connected to this little mystery.

Update: Let me add that I have high expectations for Mr. Huckabee. I think he could be the king of all (Christian) media if he doesn't get sidetracked by some quixotic FairTax crusade.

McCain Gets the Boot From Project Vote Smart

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 1:52 PM EDT

ProjectVoteSmart.gif Project Vote Smart, the nonpartisan voter-education nonprofit, confirms today that it has kicked John McCain off its board. Mother Jones reported on Monday that PVS was prepared to make the move due to McCain's nine-month refusal to fill out its Political Courage Test. According to PVS President Richard Kimball, the nonprofit has a rule that bars nonrespondents from serving on its board.

PVS contacted the McCain campaign 25 times from June 2007 to February 2008 in the hopes of avoiding the embarrassment this move entails for both the organization and one of its long-time board members. Eventually, however, they were simply left with no choice. The senator who made his career on straight talk couldn't spare some for the organization he served.

You can see the full story in Monday's report.

Bush Limits Iraq Tours to 12 Months - Too Little, Too Late?

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 1:00 PM EDT

tiredsoldiers.jpg

Bolstered by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker's assurances that progress is being made in Iraq, if a bit slower than they'd like, President Bush this morning announced that he plans to cut Army combat tours from the current 15 months to 12 months, restoring the pre-surge pace of deployments. The President also officially embraced Petraeus' recommendation that the Pentagon freeze troop levels at 140,000 this July, pending "a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation," followed by "a process of assessment" before any further withdrawals take place. The strategy will effectively end the recent build-up of troops, returning the U.S. military's Iraq posture to what it was in January 2007, before the surge began.

The move to reduce the duration of combat tours enjoys the support of Bush's supporters and critics alike. Questions remain, however, about how the new 12-months tours will be implemented in practice and whether they will be sufficient to help the Army recover from the intense strain of its recent Iraq experience. Both the Army and the Marine Corps, the services bearing the brunt of the fighting in Iraq, have complained that the pace of deployment has severely undercut their overall readiness and, particularly in the case of the Army, may even threaten the future of the all-volunteer force. Following on his recent appearance on the Senate side, General Richard Cody, the Army's outgoing vice chief of staff, testified yesterday afternoon (.pdf) before the House Armed Services Committee, where he repeated his warning that the Army is "out of balance" and the current demand for its forces "exceeds the sustainable supply."

Cody's concerns may not be eased by today's decision to return to 12-month tours. According to the Washington Post:

ABC: Top Bush Advisors Were "Personally Involved" in Planning Interrogations

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 12:42 PM EDT

You already knew that there was no way John Yoo was shooting around memos authorizing interrogation techniques that amount to torture without the White House and Bush's top advisers knowing about it. Now ABC News proves it — they have Cheney officially signing off and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft asking, "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

That's the kind of administration this is: John Ashcroft is the most reasonable guy in the room.

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More Evidence of John McCain's Naivete on the Economy

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 10:35 AM EDT

John McCain has an economic plan for this country that could only be thought up in the mind of a Republican: somehow balance the budget while cutting taxes and continuing the war. That McCain's plan should strike any reasonable person as impossible is irrelevant: all McCain or any other Republican needs to do to brush those fears away is claim that cutting taxes generates money for the government in massive, fantastical ways.

But what's particularly dangerous about McCain is that he doesn't seem to understand his own voodoo economics.

When Senator John McCain was asked here this afternoon how he plans to balance the budget, he said that he hoped to do so by stimulating economic growth – and approvingly cited the example of President Ronald Reagan.
There was one thing he did not mention during his response: the deficit nearly tripled during the Reagan presidency, partly due to tax cuts and increases in military spending.

If you're going to pretend like supply-side economics work miracles, don't use the perfect counterexample as your example! You can read the full context of the episode, which happened at investment firm Bridgewater Associates, at the New York Times.

Multimedia Essay: The Torch's Secret Trail

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 1:02 AM EDT

UPDATE: /photos/monk-tank-500x331.jpg Hear the subject of this photo, and others in the photo essay, speak here. Read more coverage of the torch relay events by Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson here and here.

In a day of raucous protests and angry confrontations, human rights activists stalked the Olympic torch through the hilly streets of San Francisco in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. As planned, the torch was lit shortly after 1:00 p.m., but a phalanx of bodies clogging the streets prevented it from proceeding down the anticipated route along the downtown shoreline. Instead, a different torch was driven across town to Van Ness Avenue, a rolling artery that divides the city, where it proceeded towards the ritzy Marina District under the heavy cover of SUVs and motorcycles.

What If There'd Been Fox News or CNN During Slavery?

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 12:15 AM EDT

If nothing else results from the conversation America is having, however dysfunctionally, about Rev. Wright and Obama's speech, we can't help but learn to take the black church seriously as the ultra-complicated reality it truly is. It's not just about rousing gospel songs, old ladies in big hats, and ministers foaming at the mouth—all insulting sins even I have long committed.

I was raised a hard-core black Protestant and considered myself well versed in its contours, but I now find myself challenged and informed in ways I'd never expected. I never really understood the significance of the black prophetic tradition, or that it even was one. Nor did I properly understand or evaluate the schism that the modern black church's focus on prosperity, vice prophecy, represents. That history is rich and troubling. It also situates the black church at a Gladwellian tipping point; will the current controversy silence the voice of black prophecy and strident critique and replace it with a 'feel good, get rich' religiosity to which whites won't object?

From CNN this week:

Tibet: The Populist Playlist

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 8:35 PM EDT

Rick-Springfield-250x200.jpgAt the "finish line" for the Olympic torch runners at the Embarcadero area of San Francisco today was a live band made up of five white dudes wearing leisure suits and wigs, and performing mostly 80s songs.

As hordes of folks carrying Tibetan national flags, Chinese national flags, "Free Tibet" signs, bullhorns, video cameras, and cellphones surged through the massively barricaded area, the band performed as if it were a homecoming party at a frat house. Here's a sampling of their set list, what my colleague calls the Populist Playlist for the day: