One of the problems that hampered reconstruction in Iraq was that the Bush Administration hired young loyalists with no foreign policy experience to do extremely important and difficult jobs. In his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran noted that potential employees seeking a position in Iraq were asked explicitly if they voted for George Bush in 2000, and some were even asked for their views on Roe v. Wade. Unsurprisingly, the people hired tried to implement tenets of conservative ideology instead of taking necessary and pragmatic steps.
So why stop now? The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq just complained to Condoleezza Rice in an unclassified memo that employees at the massive U.S. embassy in Baghdad are either too young for the job, are unqualified, and/or are "trying to save their careers" by taking an urgent assignment in Iraq.
"Simply put," wrote the ambassador, Ryan Crocker, "we cannot do the nation's most important work if we do not have the Department's best people." Sorry, Mr. Crocker. If this administration's track record is any indication, you'll be getting Bush-Cheney '04 opposition researchers and Heritage Foundation junior staffers. Good luck trying to protect America's interests in a failed state of our own making -- especially with those folks on your team.
The embassy in Baghdad is America's largest embassy in the world, with a 2007 budget of more than $1 billion and a staff that includes more than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals. It is due for a $1.3 billion remodeling, which would renovate the 100+ acre compound and add a new pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, and the like. Whoops, forget I mentioned that.
Ah, time off, when you can do things you don't usually do, like rent a car and head for the desert and eat fast food and not think about stuff. I'd say the Top Ten this week is influenced by what sounded good on the stereo while driving through the immense, desolate landscape around Joshua Tree, but, turns out this atmospheric electronica and groovy hip-hop really isn't that different from what I usually listen to in my little apartment. Go figure.
10. Stateless "Inscape" (from the self-titled album out tomorrow on K7)
(MySpace, mp3 via Get Weird Turn Pro)
"How did it get so cold out here?" asks vocalist Chris James in this downtempo number from the UK combo's debut album. Well, here's an idea: maybe DJ Shadow-style beats and Portisthead atmosphere isn't exactly a recipe for turning up the heat, Stateless. Jeez.
9. Blue Scholars "North by Northwest" (from the new album Bayani on Rawkus)
The Seattle hip-hop duo gives their rainy region some love on this track from their just-released sophomore album. Politically aware hip-hop is kind of uncool right now, and nobody wants to be preached at, for sure. But it's the jazzy, surprising backing beats, reminiscent of Dilated Peoples or A Tribe Called Quest, that keeps the project on track.
8. Maps "Back + Forth" (from the new album We Can Create on Mute)
(MySpace, iTunes, YouTube video of live performance) Much has been made about how UK producer James Chapman created this electronica-inflected album in his bedroom without the use of computers, laying down everything to good old 12-track tape. I'm not sure if I can tell how this affects the music, but whatever floats your boat, Jim, especially if it helps you make ethereal pop this good. "Back + Forth" ends up sounding a bit like Leisure-era Blur, of all things.
7. People reacting to a first taste of Pepsi Ice Cucumber, now available in Japan
Just say that a few times: Pepsi. Ice. Cucumber. Pepsi. Ice. Cucumber.
6. Bitman & Roban "Answer 2 the Beat" (from The Chicas Project on Nacional)
This various-artists CD (accompanying the reality TV show) provides an quick fix of contemporary Latin music, most of it united by a mellow, summery vibe. Of course, I gravitate towards the strangest track: a Groove Armada-style instrumental with what appears to be a Speak 'n' Spell doing some lyrical stylings.
I know: The bar is set high here. Before writing that headline, I asked myself, "Is this dumb thing so dumb that to call the administration a bunch of crackheads for saying it would be an insult to crackheads everywhere?" And I concluded, yes, it is that dumb.
This weekend, U.S. forces killed 7 children in Afghanistan and 100 died there in clashes between NATO and the resurgent Taliban. A new jihadist group continued fighting the Lebanese military from a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. The more radical faction of the Palestinian government overthrew the more moderate Fatah in a five-day civil war in Gaza. The Iranian governmentwhich by the way, is holding four American citizens with no chargesis engaged in a massive crackdown on civil liberties.
This morning, when asked if he thought the U.S. invasion of Iraq has helped stabilize the Middle East, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "Hard to say....But it is pretty clear that a lot of people are putting their lives on the line for the cause of democracy in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. And we support them."
Saner heads would have said something like this: "The Middle East is in flames....Everywhere you look, there's deep trouble Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinians, the peace process, Iran. Are they linked? Of course they're linked." Saner heads like Lee Hamilton, who authored the Iraq Study Group report. The report correctly predicted that Bush's surge was a waste of time, money, and lives.
Now the sh-t is really hitting the fan: In a spate of cases nationwide, defense attorneys are claiming that prosecutors brought charges against their clients for political reasons. Even minor instances of prosecutor misconduct notoriously create a rash of appeals. Given the scope of the Justice scandal, there is likely to be a waterfall of legal filingssome legit. and some far-fetched. For example, Missouri lawyers have referred to the DOJ's habit of charging Democrats with corruption to question a 2006 indictment of a company owned by a prominent Democrat. (The company was allegedly in violation of federal wage laws.) The case sounds fishy, to be sure:
The indictment, which came two months after the owner announced that she was running for political office, was obtained by a Republican U.S. attorney who also has been criticized because he charged workers for a left-leaning political group on the eve of the 2006 midterm election.
But defense attorneys have been known to grasp at straws, and for every legitimate charge of political shenanigans, there will be 10 accusations. The lawyer representing a man charged with child pornography has argued that the case is politically motivated. And attorneys for a prominent county-level Democrat in Delaware forced the Republican prosecutor in the case to respond with an inch-and-a-half thick brief denying partisan considerations before the judge determined that corruption charges against the Democrat were initiated before scandal-ridden AG AG took office.
We're likely to see more of these claims in the future, and judges around the country will be forced to weigh the merit of each and every one. Still further travesty of justice undertaken by the department charged with guarding against it.
Newsweek has gone hunting through Fred Thompson's eight years worth of Senate records that are stashed in a public archive at the University of Tennessee, and they've come to the conclusion that Thompson is not quite as conservative as his admirers on the right believe. Abortion is a big problem:
On a 1994 Eagle Forum survey, Thompson said he opposed criminalizing abortion. Two years later, on a Christian Coalition questionnaire, he checked "opposed" to a proposed constitutional amendment protecting the sanctity of human life. He struggled with the question of when life begins. "I do believe that the decision to have an early term abortion is a moral issue and should not be a legal one subject to the dictates of the government," he wrote...
[Thompson told the Conservative Spectator], "I'm not willing to support laws that prohibit early term abortions ... It comes down to whether life begins at conception. I don't know in my own mind if that is the case so I don't feel the law ought to impose that standard on other people."
Thompson told a different paper, "The ultimate decision on abortion should be left with the woman and not the government." But Big Fred likely won't have to make like Romney and disavow his previous stance. For all his ambivalence, Thompson maintained a straight pro-life voting record in the Senate. No matter what his personal beliefs, it seems he always knew what was good for him politically.
But what about campaign finance? The McCain-Feingold bill that irritated a number of conservatives and has badly hurt John McCain's fundraising was supported strongly by Thompson. In fact, he helped write the bill.
The New York Times has an article today that focuses on how John McCain's uncompromising style of politics (until late, anyway) has created the presidential candidate's current fundraising woes.
For example, McCain has repeatedly hit defense contractors for being corrupt and wasteful, instead of using his position on the Armed Services Committee to become chummy with the industry. And he pays the price: his contributions from the military industry are less than half of what Chris Dodd has been able to pull in.
The problem is one McCain should have seen coming. One of his signature pieces of legislation is McCain-Feingold, which sought to limit the power of big money in politics. Now he has to do the big money dance, and no one with deep pockets wants to be his partner. Obama doesn't take money from lobbyists or special interests, so he would seem to be in the same position as McCain. So how does Obama raise so much while McCain is able to raise so little? One might argue that Obama has more momentum and a more magnetic personality. Or one might argue that Obama isn't America's single strongest supporter of a disastrous and badly unpopular war, and isn't alienating his own party over a surprisingly electric issue.
At Swampland, Joe Klein is getting sentimental over McCain's failings, and I can't quibble. I was victim to the same sort of thing when it was revealed in The Hill that McCain almost abandoned the GOP a few years back. I assumed that the news effectively meant the end of the McCain campaign, and I was sad to see McCain go. Klein disagrees with McCain's stance on the war but calls him an "essentially honorable man." I disagreed with McCain's stance on the war and lot of other stuff, but called him "decent." Surprisingly, Klein is taking worse jabs in his comments section than I did in ours.
There seems to be nothing liberals inside the beltway and on the internet enjoy carping about more than The New Republic, which has certainly earned its share of criticism. It has provided Republicans with liberal cover for some of their most outrageous wrongdoings, the Iraq War being the most obvious. It's been a haven for an incredibly long list of conservative writers, and it has often taken more joy at being contrary and at slamming liberals than in defending the causes one would expect a liberal magazine to defend. Oh, and its long time owner and top editor who just sold the mag is an Arab-hating neocon who allowed a pro-Israel fever to overtake all else. We're all familiar with the problem.
Eric Alterman has a solid piece in the American Prospect arguing all of this and more. It's worth reading, but let me just say that while I get that deconstructing liberalism's past, and TNR's place within it, is important because it helps illustrate the present, pieces like Alterman's often feel like they are done for gossipy reasons, to draw stark lines and remind everyone that one or two influential people stood on the wrong side of divisive issues. We all know Marty Peretz is only ironically called a "liberal" and we all know that TNR has a nasty past. We all know they screwed up on health care in the '90s and screwed up the Iraq War in a horrible, horrible way. But if we focus on getting our pound of flesh instead of hitting the mutual foe we now share with a much-improved TNR, aren't we in a way committing the same sin as TNR did for many years?
I never thought I'd defend The New Republic. I guess my point is this. We all know the magazine has gotten better under Frank Foer and we all know the criticisms -- so what's the point in drudging up the old hits and slamming the magazine all over again?