Political MoJo

Men Are From Mars, But Only If They're Straight

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 6:34 PM EST

Today, AmericaBlog reported on the offensive SuperBowl commercial that aired yesterday. In it, two men, nibbling from both ends of a Snickers bar, wind up accidentally kissing, and then have to do something "manly" to neutralize the incident. Three alternate endings to the commercial were posted on a special Snickers website created by Mars, Inc. Also posted was a video of Bears and Colts team members reacting to the commercial, saying things like "That ain't right" and making faces of disgust.

Mars didn't stop there. They also posted commercials planned for the airing of the Daytona 500. In one, a man mocks what is supposed to be a gay mannerism, in another, the kissing men have to drink toxic substances in order to destroy the effects of a man-on-man kiss, and they scream and vomit while they do so. And in another, when the men decide they must "do something manly," one of them picks up a giant wrench and attacks the other, and the second man puts the first man's head under the hood of a car, and then slams the hood on his head. The Raw Story suggested this ad be named "Matthew Shepard."

The Human Rights Campaign has called on Mars, Inc. (which is owned by billionaire Republican activist families) to pull all of the ads from its website. As of now, you can get to the page, but when you click on the videos, they do not appear.

In a related story, Colts coach Tony Dungy is the honored guest at the gay-hating Indiana Family Institute's Friends of the Family banquet. Tickets for the fundraiser are $75 apiece, and it is expected to be a sell-out.

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Iraq More Expensive than Vietnam

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 3:48 PM EST

According to the Washington Post, Bush will ask Congress today for a quarter of a trillion dollars in additional funding to cover the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president wants $100 billion added to the $70 billion already allotted for this year, and $145 billion for next.

As the costs in Iraq spiral upward, once provocatively high estimates of the Iraq War's costs—like the one [PDF] offered late last year by Nobel Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard's Linda Bilmes, which predicted the war would cost more than a trillion dollars—are beginning to look too conservative.

WaPo notes:

The new war spending would bring the overall cost of fighting to about $745 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States -- adjusting for inflation, more than was spent on the Vietnam War.

And don't forget that what Congress earmarks for Iraq and Afghanistan only reflects a fraction of the wars' true economic burden. (See an article Stiglitz and Bilmes' penned for the Milken Insitute Review explaining their assessment of the future and human costs of the Iraq war broken down, as best they can be, into dollar and cents).

--Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

Nowhere To Run To

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 3:37 PM EST

This weekend, the Washington Post reported on the ever-worsening refugee crisis in Iraq. Through the profile of a once-famous singer from Baghdad, the story of nearly 2 million refugees is told. Saad Ali, who has to disguise his Iraqi accent with a Jordanian dialect while living in Jordan's shadows, "teeters on the fringes of life." I have written on this crisis many times before. One of the biggest issues facing Iraqi refugees is the dearth of safe havens. Jordan and Syria have handled a disproportionate amount of this exodus, but after the 2005 bombing in Amman, Jordan essentially shut its borders and increased its surveillance of its Iraqi refugees, hence Sali's life in the shadows. Right now, the Bush administration only allows 500 Iraqi refugees to enter the country. Yup, just 500. So, really that just leaves Syria. Hence the Post's narrative:

"On Jan. 13, knots of Iraqis waited to board 14 buses to Syria...Humfash (the travel agent) makes all his passengers sign waiver forms that read: 'I am traveling on my own responsibility and God is the only one that protects us.'"

As the United Nations tries to determine what can be done, and the United States dutifully ignores the thousands of Iraqis banging down its door, Sali and his fellows Iraqi citizens are left with little hope. The U.S. can hardly get a handle on Iraq's security. The Bush administration is hoping that Petraeus will be a quick fix or an easy out, at the very least. So, if the administration can't even put in the effort, time or resources into staving off a potential proxy war or complete chaos in the Middle East (which would really be in its best interest), I highly doubt that it has any intention of saving refugees. Not to mention the political repercussions. Because if you let Iraqi refugees into our country in droves, then you are admitting their country is not safe for them. If their country isn't safe, then I think it is safe to say, we failed our mission. And this is an even more dire situation for the Shi'ites who face the most persecution in Syria and Jordan, which are both predominantly Sunni and you can be sure they'd be the very last to be granted asylum here.

The Iraq Debate Begins

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 3:08 PM EST

The Senate debate that begins this afternoon is not quite what it seems to be. The resolution is non-binding, and the president's surge already is in full swing. If the Senate votes against Bush, the president can always turn around and say, "Big Deal. I am the commander-in-chief. Go screw yourselves!" And if the surge succeeds, which seems hard to believe, then the president is off the hook.

But if the Senate comes down against the president and the Bush surge flops, then the president will walk the plank. He will be without any credibility as will those Republicans who supported him. So the full import of this vote may be several months off, maybe even 6 months away, dragging Iraq into the middle of the presidential campaign.

The debate takes place against the backdrop of the presidential election and, much less discussed but crucially important for Democratic control of congress, the re-election of 33 members of the Senate. Of that total Republicans are defending 21, the Dems a dozen. A CQ Weekly analysis finds the GOP in danger of losing 6 seats, with the Dems in danger in two states -- Louisiana and South Dakota.

The Dem margin of control is so thin, the two danger spots must be taken seriously. One involveas Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, which she has held with narrow margins. People have left New Orleans which could effect the vote in unknown ways. In South Dakota, Tim Johnson won election in 2002 by 524 votes. He has not fully recovered from his recent brain hemmorrage, and his future seems problematic.

On the other hand, there are any number of Republican senators teetering on the brink: Such moderate Republicans as Maine's Susan Collins and New Hampshire's John Sununu could go down in a Democratic blitz. Wayne Allard is retiring in Colorado and CQ thinks the Dems there could pick up that seat. Dems eye Libby Dole in North Carolina and Gordon Smith in Oregon. And then there is always Al Franken's bid in Minnesota.

John Edwards Releases Health Care Plan

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 2:35 PM EST

Presidential candidate John Edwards has released his health care proposal, and I'll try to hit the main points here, with the disclaimer up front that I will echo a lot of what Ezra Klein has said on the American Prospect blog.

First of all, health care is still tied to the employer, but not really.  edwards130.jpg Employers have an obligation to purchase health care for every employee either through their current practices or through a "health market," which is a non-profit purchasing pool that offers both private plans and a public one modeled after Medicare. The benefits of these "health markets" are obvious: every employed person has access to public health care if he or she so desires, "health markets" can use economies of scale to get lower premiums, and the competition between public and private plans within a "health market" will drive down prices. There is even the possibility of a single-payer future. As the Edwards plan puts it, "This American solution will reward the sector that offers the best care at the best price. Over time, the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan."

It's a fairly neat mix of the public sector and the private sector, and it relies on the market to drive down costs instead of government protections, so it might have some appeal to Republicans. But what about Americans who don't have jobs? They will be given tax credits so they will be able to purchase their own plan through the same "health markets" the business use. Also, Medicaid will be expanded to insure low-income Americans are taken care of.

You can read the whole thing in PDF format here. There's a whole bunch of stuff in there about how Edwards plans on helping doctors do their jobs better and more inexpensively, but because that part matters less to the vast majority of Americans, it will probably get little coverage. It will be interesting to see how the insurance lobby reacts to all this.

Can Brainiacs Save the War in Iraq?

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 10:55 AM EST

That's the question asked in a Washington Post article that says new Iraq commander David Petraeus has put war planning in the hands of a team of "warrior-intellectuals" who have been leading critics of the way the Army has operated for the last three years.

In effect, the war has been turned over to a special group of dissidents -- "military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq" -- who are being told, "Here, you try." The new counter-insurgency chief is "an outspoken officer in the Australian Army" who "holds a PhD in anthropology, for which he studied Islamic extremism in Indonesia." Petraeus' executive officer "received a PhD at Ohio State for a dissertation on how U.S. Army infantry divisions were developed during World War II." One of Petraeus' advisors is based at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and wrote a book "about the failures of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War."

This infusion of talent is undoubtedly a good thing, but one wonders (1) why it took so long to get the Army's most qualified people on the scene, and (2) if even the military's best brain trust can save a bad situation. The Post article quotes two professors as saying Petraeus' new plan is inevitably destined for failure because the conditions on Iraq are past the point of redemption.

Leigh was thinking the same way last week when she wrote that Petraeus is being set up to fail.

If we fail in Iraq it will no longer be the fault of the Bush administration's years of incompetence before, during and after the war (all of which is thoroughly documented in the Mother Jones timeline). This is the same criticism that has been made about Bush's escalation of troops, that the administration can claim, "we sent 20,000 troops, what more can we do?" Now, they have an even better scapegoat -- the most revered General in the United States Army. That seems fair. "Look, if Petraeus couldn't do it, there was nothing more that possibly could have been done," they'll say, as they wipe their hands clean. What is even more infuriating is that maybe it can be done, maybe Petraeus' insurgency doctrine has all the answers or he has several other tricks up his sleeve. But if the administration's past actions have been any indication of how well they support their military leaders in Iraq, it doesn't matter what the doctrine looks like, Petraeus won't be given the resources or the freedom to show us how talented he really is.

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Support Our Troops (Except for the Gay Ones)

| Sun Feb. 4, 2007 2:46 AM EST

A new Harris Poll shows that just over half of Americans, 55%, think gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military. Which means that nearly half think they shouldn't.

Nineteen percent said that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve "only if they keep their sexual orientation a secret," and nearly one in five, 18%, said gays and lesbians should "not be allowed to serve in the military at all."

So, sexual politics trumps national security then? Do we want a secure border, a stable Afghanistan, a contained Iraq? Not if it means homosexuals are given guns. Is that rational? Sexual prejudice aside, the military needs all the bodies it can get, and if someone is willing to volunteer for what are surely dire deployments, shouldn't those of us armchairing it applaud each and every one of them? How does sexuality hamper military performance? I mean, I may not agree with polygamy but I wouldn't propose we prevent practicing Mormons from entering the fray.

The poll also asked Americans about the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which prohibits the military from asking personnel about their sexual orientation, but allows homosexuality to be a cause for discharge. Forty-six percent of respondents said they oppose the policy, no more and no less than the 46% who opposed it when asked in 2000. More than a third, 36%, said they favor the policy, up from 34% seven years ago.

What, I wonder, are we so afraid of? Yes, I'm asking. Do tell.

California Sues Automakers Over Global Warming

| Sat Feb. 3, 2007 2:50 PM EST

California's newly elected attorney general, Jerry Brown, will continue a suit filed by former AG Bill Lockyer against U.S. and Japanese automakers for contributing to global warming.

The United States as a whole is the largest single producer of greenhouse gases. California alone ranks 12th, with automobiles producing most of the emissions.

Automakers cannot claim they didn't know, nor can they claim that technology won't allow them to make more fuel efficient vehicles. As alarm about global warming has increased over the last 10 years, gas mileage in U.S.-made cars has decreased.

The suit is seeking monetary compensation for the millions of dollars the state will have to shell out to offset the effects of global warming, which, among other things, may include an endangered water supply.

The Planet is Dying, Exxon is Unabashed

| Sat Feb. 3, 2007 2:21 PM EST

Polar bears stranded on ice drifts, looking like dogs abandoned by their owners. Your favorite beach underwater before you can take your grandchildren there. Species die-offs. Scorching summers. Deadly droughts.

Sounds melodramatic, perhaps, but it's fact. Inexorable fact. Our only hope is that it won't be worse. I don't think it's overstating to call this the greatest moral imperative of our lifetime since, well, our lifetimes depend on it.

But Exxon is unabashed. The Guardian reports that the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank funded and led by Exxon, has offered scientists $10,000 apiece to uncover weaknesses in the UN report on climate change released yesterday. The report states with 90 percent certainty that humans are at fault for climate change, and that changes already in motion will continue for centuries.

(Do I need to repeat that Mother Jones broke the news that Exxon funded climate change denial, and has been following the story closely ever since?)

Iran Becomes Campaign Issue, Edwards First to State Position

| Sat Feb. 3, 2007 1:00 PM EST

The Prospect's Ezra Klein cornered John Edwards yesterday and got him to clarify some of the tough speechifying he has been doing in front of pro-Israel groups like AIPAC. The concern Klein had was that Edwards' extremely strong support of Israel could be interpreted as more saber-rattling at Iran, and this would indicate that Edwards didn't properly learn the lesson of Iraq -- namely, "toppling Middle Eastern governments, occupying their societies, and trying to impose pluralistic democracy is an almost impossible endeavor, one with far more potential for catastrophe than completion" -- and that it wasn't that Iraq was a mistake, but that invading or attacking anyone in that region, most importantly Iran, invites disaster.

In forcing Edwards to state where he stands on Iran, Klein has made Iran a campaign issue: every serious candidate will have to state his or her plan for dealing with the country. Here's Edwards:

...you have a radical leader, Ahmadinejad, who is politically unstable in his own country. The political elite have begun to leave him, the religious leaders have begun to leave him, the people aren't happy with him, for at least two reasons: one, they don't like his sort of bellicose rhetoric, and second, he was elected on a platform of economic reform and helping the poor and the middle class, and he hasn't done anything. In fact, while he was traveling, the leaders of the legislature sent him a letter saying, 'when are you gonna pay attention to the economic problems of our country.' So, I think we have an opportunity here that we need to be taking advantage of.
First, America should be negotiating directly with Iran, which Bush won't do. Second, we need to get our European friends, not just the banking system, but the governments themselves, to help us do two things -- put a group, a system of carrots and sticks on the table. The carrots are, we'll make nuclear fuel available to you, we'll control the cycle, but you can use it for any civilian purpose. Second, an economic package, which I don't think has been seriously proposed up until now. Because there economy is already struggling, and it would be very attractive to them. And then on the flip side, the stick side, to say if you don't do that, there are going to be more serious economic sanctions than you've seen up until now. Now of course we need the Europeans for this, cause they're the ones with the economic relationship with Iran, but the whole purpose of this is number one to get an agreement. Number two, to isolate this radical leader so that the moderates and those within the country who want to see Iran succeed economically, can take advantage of it.
Now that's on the one hand, the flip side of this is what happens if America were to militarily strike Iran? Well you take this unstable, radical leader, and you make him a hero -- that's the first thing that'll happen. The Iranian people will rally around him. The second thing that will happen is they will retaliate. And they have certainly some potential for retaliating here in the United States through some of these terrorist organizations they're close to, but we've got over a hundred thousand people right next door. And most people believe that they have an infrastructure for retaliation inside Iraq. So, that's the second thing that'll happen. And the third thing is there are a lot of analysts who believe that an air strike or a missile strike is not enough to be successful. To be successful we'd actually have to have troops on the ground, and where in the world would they come from? So, to me, this is the path...

The emphasis is mine, of course. The blogosphere will deconstruct this in the coming days, I'm sure, but Edwards' main points are now clear: negotiate with Iran, use a combination of incentives and threats, and don't make the mistake of attacking militarily.