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Syriana, the Rendon Group Edition (Updated)

| Tue May 6, 2008 3:20 PM EDT

Is Washington showing new signs of willingness to test out opportunities for increased diplomacy with Syria?

On May 5, the Rendon Group, a government consulting group which worked closely with Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, was asked to organize a "narrow focus discussion group" to examine the case of Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, according to a Washington source with an ear on the Levant. The Syria-based Al Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiyah, runs the Al Qaeda in Iraq "facilitation network, which controls the flow of money, weapons, terrorists, and other resources through Syria into Iraq," the Treasury Department said in a February press release announcing his designation as a terrorist. "Former AQI leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi appointed Badran as AQI's Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi's death, Badran began working for the new AQI leader, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. As of late-September 2006, Badran took orders directly from Masri, or through a deputy."

The group assembled by Rendon yesterday consisted of Defense, State Department and Intelligence analysts, according to this source. They concluded, he said, "that the US needed to send a message requesting Damascus' assistance on Abu Ghadiyah. But it should not be seen by Damascus as an American message." Ideas were floated to ask the Turks, or the French to play the intermediary. "A request will be made to the Iraqis to ask the Syrians for Abu Ghadiya's extradition," he says.

The alleged Rendon Group meeting comes amid reports that principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former US ambassador to Lebanon, recently held a rare meeting with Syria's ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa. After the meeting, the Syrian ambassador flew to Damascus for consultations.

What's going on?

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As Putin Leaves, Russia Rolls Out The Tanks (And Prepares For War?)

| Tue May 6, 2008 3:02 PM EDT

putinstalinlenin.jpg

Tomorrow, eight years after taking power, Russian president Vladimir Putin will turn the reigns of government over to his anointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev. And in keeping with the spirit of Putin's rule, the former KGB man's departure (and the arrival of the like-minded Medvedev) will be celebrated with one last dose of Soviet anachronism: a parade of military hardware in Red Square, the first such demonstration since the fall of the "Evil Empire." According to the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Osborn, over 100 tanks and mobile missile launchers, escorted by about 6,000 ground troops, will parade past the Kremlin, while more than 30 strategic bombers and fighters roar overhead.

More from the Journal:

Departing President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the parade isn't irresponsible saber-rattling but proof of the country's military resurgence. "We are not threatening anyone and don't plan to," he told a farewell cabinet meeting. "This is a demonstration of our growing defense capability."
The parade will be the first time the successor to the Red Army has showed off its armor and missiles on the storied square since 1990, when the faltering Soviet Communist party celebrated the Russian revolution for the last time. Friday's parade will mark the anniversary of the allied defeat of Nazi Germany.

Why Democrats Are Promoting Gingrich's Worries Regarding the 2008 Elections

| Tue May 6, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--the Democratic Party entity responsible for supporting House candidates--is happy that Newt Gingrich is not happy. On Tuesday, it zapped around a piece that Gingrich wrote for the conservative Human Events magazine, in which he cited the Democrat's recent win in a congressional special election in Louisiana as one helluva warning for the Republican party. Gingrich wrote:

Saturday's loss was in a district that President Bush carried by 19 percentage points in 2004 and that the Republicans have held since 1975.
This defeat follows on the loss of Speaker Hastert's seat in Illinois. That seat had been held by a Republican for 76 years with the single exception of the 1974 Watergate election when the Democrats held it for one term. That same seat had been carried by President Bush 55-44% in 2004.

Gingrich notes that congressional Democrats lead congressional Republicans in generic polling by 18 points nowadays, "reminiscent of the depths of the Watergate disaster." And bashing Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ain't gonna help the GOPers running for House and Senate seats:

MoJo Nukes Convo: Judith Lewis Highlights

| Tue May 6, 2008 12:23 PM EDT

judith-headshot.jpgJudith Lewis, author of our May/June 2008 feature "The Nuclear Option," has been writing about nuclear energy-related issues for some time. While she has some safety concerns about nuclear power, she says that if we are as concerned about carbon in the environment as we say we are, then we cannot afford to ignore the relatively carbon-free electricity nuclear plants provide. At the same time, she says, "while we consider it, we also have to understand that the nuclear industry also has a lot of problems associated with it."

The main problems, as Lewis sees them, are the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power, the industry's faulty monitoring agency, and a geologic waste repository built on top of an active fault line. In the end, Lewis says, "only public participation can force industry and government regulators to do their jobs right."

Here are some of Judith Lewis's key comments from last week's Blue Marble expert-moderated reader conversation:
"On greenhouse gas emissions alone, nuclear energy does very well. While coal-fired electricity generation emits around 900 kg of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, nuclear leaves us with only 16 to 55 kg CO2 per MWh (that's including mining, milling, enrichment, plant construction, waste disposal—the whole deal)...whether the pros outweight the cons really does depend on how urgently worried we are about catastrophic climate change."

"The notion that coal releases more radioactivity than nuclear is a popular one in with the nuclear industry right now, but I'm not sure it's their soundest argument. Many coal plants were built before we knew enough to put buffer zones between them and residential communities, so people live closer to whatever radioactivity they release. We do know that 24,000 people die a year because of pollution from coal-fired power plants...and then there's the carbon."

"I notice that this discussion swings wildly between extremes (Nuclear has no environmental impact! Solar is the only way! Nuclear will save the world!), but I suspect the real answers lie somewhere in the middle."

Our readers also had some words for Judith. Below are a few highlights:
"Judith: Thank you for your response that included the numerical data from nuclear fuel cycle studies. It is nice to see someone who thinks and recognizes that facts and figures matter more than vague generalizations."—Rod Adams

"Coal plants cause ~24,000 deaths annually, in addition to being the largest single source of global warming. Nuclear plants have no measurable impact (~0 deaths) and have a negligible global warming impact. Even the worst possible accident/meltdown event that could occur at a Western reactor would cause far fewer deaths than US coal plants do ANNUALLY."—Jim Hopf

"There is a reason there seems to be little middle ground in these nukes versus renewables debates (of which this one seems fairly typical) which is that there really isn't any. I don't see a "mix" of nukes and renewables as being desirable because of the horrifying killing power of atomic energy, both weapons and reactors. And since I agree with Al Gore that nuke power is not a solution to global warming, I am opposed to any and all of them."—Harvey Wasserman

Read the full conversation here.

Huffington: McCain Didn't Vote for Bush in 2000

| Tue May 6, 2008 12:05 PM EDT

With this report in mind, I have a question. Is John McCain is the only politician in America who has moved closer and closer to Bush over the last eight years, instead of farther and farther away?

Know Your Enemy: Heather Mac Donald

| Tue May 6, 2008 11:48 AM EDT

If you believe that the criminal justice system is racially biased, you need to know Heather Mac Donald.

She'll mess with your mind and make you either up your politico-cultural game or admit you were wrong. What worries me is that so few on 'our' side can, or bother to, go toe to toe with her. Just about every one of her pieces is a statistical and analytical tour-de-force, while we liberals tend too often to mouth liberal pieties like inside jokes. Just yesterday, I was listening to Angela Davis address the Commonwealth Club (sorry. speech not posted) on my car radio. I agreed with nearly everything she said, but they were dissatisfying lefty bromides, one and all. Racist criminal justice system. Slavery was bad. War in Iraq. The crowd whooped and hollered, but where was the beef, the analysis, the facts? Forgive me Angela, patron saint of the streets, but Mac Donald would have had you for lunch.

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The Clinton War on Economists Continues

| Tue May 6, 2008 11:42 AM EDT

Presumably, President H. Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury will be Bo Duke and her Secretary of Labor will be Norm from Cheers.

All of this is particularly funny because of this:

Background here.

Another Example of Why You Can't Trust the Right on Politics of the Left

| Tue May 6, 2008 10:48 AM EDT

Yesterday, I made the case that those of us on the left shouldn't use the arguments of those on the right, even if they ring true, in our own internal debates. An Obama supporter, for example, shouldn't use a right-wing blogger's case against Clinton as evidence because the right-wing blogger's motives are suspect: does she really like Obama, or does she simply want to sow seeds of discord and stir up trouble. She doesn't have the left's best interests at heart, after all.

Yesterday, the Obama campaign found an excellent example of my point. Here is the text of a National Right to Life robocall being made to Democrats in Indiana:

A Gitmo Update By the Numbers

| Tue May 6, 2008 9:58 AM EDT

guantanamo-plane250x200.jpg The Washington Post reports dismaying news from Guantanamo Bay:

Nearly seven years [after 9/11] not one of the approximately 775 terrorism suspects who have been held on this island has faced a jury trial inside the [Expeditionary Legal Complex Courtroom], and U.S. officials think it is highly unlikely that any of the Sept. 11 suspects will before the Bush administration ends...
"I think it's a near-impossibility that these cases will be in court before the end of the administration," said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, who has observed numerous court hearings on the island.
"Some of the detainees haven't even seen their lawyers yet, there's incredibly complicated issues about access to evidence and discovery, and as we've seen with every single case to date, it's incredibly hard to move through a system that lacks established rules and precedent," she said. "Every little detail ends up being contested, because it's an entirely new system of justice."

Here is the history of trials at Guantanamo (or the lack thereof), by the numbers:

McCain Wants a League of What Now?

| Tue May 6, 2008 9:34 AM EDT

Recently, McCain proposed a League of Democracies to replace the United Nations. It wasn't well-received:

The approach lacks any strategic framework.... How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

McCain may now be suggesting an alternative — a League of Nations.

McCain may have misspoken. The League of Nations was established by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919-1920 and folded just after World War II in 1946. McCain was nine at the time. Perhaps he just got confused. Or maybe he's serious and he'll propose the Great Compromise next. We should see some development of this issue over the course of the day.

Update: McCain is speechifying about judicial nominees today. MyDD speculates about the possible nomination of William Howard Taft.