I wrote yesterday about how a Chuck Hagel presidential bid would directly question whether or not there is room in the Republican Party for an anti-war candidate. (On this issue, Hagel announced yesterday that he had nothing to announce.) According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, the answer is a resounding yes.

Let's start with some of the other interesting numbers from the poll. Republicans are dreary, depressed, and despondent: while only 12% of Democrats think the opposition party will win the White House this year, a whopping 40% of Republicans do. And it's justified: if the election were held today, an unnamed Democrat would beat an unnamed Republican by 20 percentage points, according to the poll. Further, Republicans acknowledge that backing Bush's war policies will be a huge disadvantage in 2008 and suggest they are open to supporting a candidate who breaks with the president on Iraq. From the Times:

Asked what was more important to them in a nominee, a commitment to stay in Iraq until the United States succeeds or flexibility about when to withdraw, 58 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters said flexibility versus 39 percent who said a commitment to stay.

That's got Chuck Hagel's name written all over it: he's easily the loudest and most prominent GOP critic of the war. Also, consider the fact that in the same poll 60 percent of Republican respondents said they wanted more choices in the race for their party's nomination. So the frontrunners -- Giuliani, McCain, and Romney -- aren't satisfying the base and Republicans would prefer someone who isn't an ardent supporter of the Iraq War. Are you listening, Chuck?

Oh, and about Giuliani's supposedly massive lead in the polls? About 50 percent of respondents say they don't know enough about the candidates -- even the frontrunners -- to form an opinion. When they do learn more, I think Giuliani's in trouble (see "How to Swiftboat Rudy Giuliani" below). It's time for Hagel-Huckabee, people. How many times do I need to say it?

 mitt_romney130.jpgMitt Romney is so wrong for the Republican base on so many issues, he's made a lot of enemies within his own party. Now that he's running for president, each one of those enemies can find a national platform to slam the helmet-haired flip-flopper. But Romney has a solution: pay everyone to shut up.

In The Nation, Max Blumenthal writes that Romney has made large donations out of his personal fortune to the National Review Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Massachusetts Family Institute, which is a local affiliate of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Each of these entities disagree with Romney in principle, and said as much until they received $10,000+ from the candidate. Now they sing his praises.

Maybe this is how politics is practiced by the very wealthy. In the end, though, not even Romney has enough money to buy off everybody.

The key to a good Karl Rove attack is not going after the target's weaknesses, but going after his or her strengths. John Kerry had a number of vulnerabilities in the 2004 campaign, and he was attacked for them all, but nothing was so viciously slammed as his service in Vietnam, which, if you saw his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, was meant to be his calling card and greatest asset.

 giuliani165.gifRudy Giuliani can be approached in the same way, argues a new Salon article. Instead of focusing on his support of civil unions, his support for abortion rights, his flip-flops to cover up these positions, his almost draconian gun laws, his many marriages (including one to his second cousin) and his estrangement from his children, his dressing up in drag, his voting for George McGovern, his yada yada yada -- Rudy's opponents should instead go after 9/11.

Sounds crazy, right? But Giuliani campaigns on 9/11 and little else, if you knock that out from under him, he's toast. And as it turns out, that's easier to do than commonly thought.

...the country's largest union of firefighters hates "America's mayor" with a passion.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents most of the nation's paid firefighters, initially declined to invite Giuliani to its bipartisan presidential candidates forum on Wednesday, March 14. Giuliani was the only major candidate from either party who didn't get an invite. The organization drafted a blistering letter to explain why it was snubbing him. After the IAFF leadership relented on March 5 and decided to ask Giuliani to attend after all, they shelved the letter. When Giuliani said scheduling conflicts would keep him from attending the forum, the letter leaked out. It blasted Giuliani for his "disgraceful" order of November 2001 that forced hundreds of New York firefighters to stop searching ground zero for the remains of their fallen brethren.
"Our disdain for him," said the letter, "is not about issues or a disputed contract. It is about a visceral, personal affront to the fallen, to our union and indeed, to every one of us who has ever risked our lives by going into a burning building to save lives and property."

The Salon article also has the story of Rosaleen Tallon, who lost her brother, a firefighter, on 9/11 because his radio wouldn't work and he couldn't hear "mayday" calls from his superiors. Turns out, the firefighters had fought long and hard to have the radios replaced because they were known to be defective. The reason they weren't replaced? The ineffectiveness or the unwillingness of Rudy Giuliani.

The whole situation is ripe for an attack ad. But it would be brutal, and it would have to reinvent a lot of the myths of 9/11. Is that territory Democrats will have the courage to revisit? It might pay dividends.

...imagine what a talented and aggressive Democratic media consultant could do with Giuliani's real 9/11 record. Imagine Rosaleen Tallon and a Greek chorus of angry, bereaved New Yorkers in a spate of heart-tugging commercials. The ads could include not only the family members of men and women killed on 9/11, but also hard hats sickened by prolonged exposure to the toxic ground zero air that Giuliani declared safe to inhale within days of the attack. And the chorus could include the mayor's downtown constituents, who were left to rid their homes of chemical dust without city assistance, risking their own well-being. The New York City government now estimates that 43,000 people have significant 9/11-related health problems. Many, no doubt, would gladly go on camera.

In the end, what's more damning that angry firefighters? And boy are they angry. The Giuliani campaigns must have nightmares about these guys.

"He has alienated pretty much everybody in the 8,000-member fire department -- by and large, we all resent him," said New York City Fire Capt. Michael Gala... "We don't forget. That's the big thing -- we don't forget."

Homophobia in the highest ranks of the military, of course! General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he supports the Clinton era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" program because homosexual acts "are immoral." Pace analogized being gay to having an affair, and finished by saying -- I think -- he'd prosecute both homosexuality and adultery.

"As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior."

You're already thinking this, but I think it's self-evident that anyone who had vocal and unrepentantly anti-Semitic or racist views would be immediately disqualified from being one of the nation's top military servicemen. If Pace had said, "I would prosecute black people, because I was raised not to approve of them as people," the calls for his dismissal would come flying from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

This was spotted in the Chicago Tribune, which elaborated on why the military needs gay servicemen and women now:

A 2005 government audit showed that about 10,000 troops have been discharged because of the policy. Among those discharged were more than 322 linguists, including 54 Arabic specialists, according to the Government Accountability Office report. The U.S. military, like the nation's foreign service and intelligence community, faces shortages of foreign-language specialists.
"The real question is: What is moral about discharging qualified linguists during a time of war simply for being gay or lesbian?" said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group.

Over half the country thinks gay people should be allowed to serve openly in the military. If you're in that half, don't get too angry about this -- the Pentagon might start monitoring your emails.

It feels like deja-vu all over again: The Congressional Quarterly reports that

The first full draft of the emergency supplemental spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan totals $124.1 billion — $21.1 billion more than the president's request...

Every year the administration asks for more [PDF] and more "emergency supplemental appropriations." If they are not asking for more money, they are worried about Iraq's trade and economy rather than the hundreds of thousands of people dying. And why wouldn't they be? The Bush administration and its oil-industry allies are going to reap the rewards.

As Americans pay and pay for the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's no surprise that the administration still won't pony up for health care for (all) its citizens.

More on the ever-mounting cost of the Iraq War in our handy Iraq 101 guide, here.

—Neha Inamdar

The University of Nebraska has a specialty in the study of indigenous peoples, so it decided to hire Bolivian expert Waskar Ari as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies, to teach from August 15, 2005, to May 16, 2008. However, Professor Ari has yet to teach a class because the Department of Homeland Security will not process his paperwork. The university paid $1,000 for expedited processing, which guarantees a response in fifteen days. DHS returned the $1,000 and explained that it was waiting for security checks and clearance. Apparently, these have never taken place.

On March 2, the University of Nebraska filed a lawsuit against DHS and DHS director Michael Chertoff, and others. The suit was filed to stop the agency from "unlawfully withholding or unreasonably delaying action" on the university's petition. The suit also argues that DHS did not have the authority to investigate security allegations during the employer's petition stage.

While the politicians argue over the border and the yuppie environmentalists gnash their teeth over miles per gallon, the U.S. economy runs on the backs of immigrants — like it always has. In New York the Center for an Urban Future recently released a report that demonstrates the economy there and in other big cities is propelled not by Citicorp, but by thousands upon thousands of small immigrant entrepreneuers. These are the people who Tom Tancredo and his supporters want to run out of the country, the people hunted down by the posses in the southwest. Baiting immigrants is the lifeblood of every politican — liberal or conservative.

And yet these people have become the economic heartbeat of the nation. Neither they nor their children have health care. They are denied food. There is no unemployment insurance. They are picked up on the corner and dragged off to jail before being returned to their native lands. And, of course, if they are Muslims, they face the very real prospect of being labelled terrorists in which case they are denied even the most basic legal rights. The sweat shop all too often looks like a commodious modern workplace to many of them. They live in the wonderful Victorian world the conservatives have designed for them. And it's not just the conservatives. It's the liberals — the politicians in Washington, the upper classes in Manhattan, the smug yuppies of San Francisco and Northern California, swaggering yahoos of Texas, who haggle over whether immigrants, illegal or legal, should receive basic social services.

In New York earlier today in a wrenching funeral service at a mosque, hundreds of West Africans prayed in the streets for the nine children and one woman killed in last Thursday's fire in the South Bronx. Some of the children were buried in New Jersey. Others will be buried in Mali.

"We will see what we can do in terms of housing, in terms of employment, in terms of ensuring health care, in terms of ensuring that a community that is so much a part of New York City as every immigrant community is, is tended to and is understood and appreciated," Governor Spitzer said. Spitzer at least might turn out to be a politician with some populist leanings. At least, he is no Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton.

"Immigrant entrepreneurs have emerged as key engines of growth for cities from New York to Los Angeles,'' says the Center for an Urban Future study. "…starting a greater share of new businesses than native-born residents, stimulating growth in sectors from food manufacturing to health care, creating loads of new jobs, and transforming once-sleepy neighborhoods into thriving commercial centers. And immigrant entrepreneurs are also becoming one of the most dependable parts of cities' economies: while elite sectors like finance (New York), entertainment (Los Angeles) and energy (Houston) fluctuate wildly through cycles of boom and bust, immigrants have been starting businesses and creating jobs during both good times and bad."

You can read the study here [pdf].

Here's a nice trend: religious diversity in Congress is increasing. This past November, Minnesota elected the nation's first Muslim to Congress. Now Pete Stark, a congressman from California first elected in 1973, is the nation's first openly nontheist lawmaker. In a response to a question from the Secular Coalition for America, Stark acknowledged recently that he does not believe in God. He's the first federal-level lawmaker in American history to say this publicly.

Anywhere from 8-15% of Americans don't believe in God, according to surveys and census data. Thus, "If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected the percentage of nontheists in the population," says the director of the Secular Coalition, "there would be 53-54 nontheistic Congress members instead of one."

Spotted on The Plank.

coulter.gif When I blogged briefly earlier this month about Ann Coulter's most recent use of discriminatory epithets (in a room filled with big-ticket Republicans), many of the comments scolded me for mentioning her at all. There's a whole movement, it seems, of folks pushing media outlets to turn Ann into the bigot who dare not speak its name. They claim that Coulter is the shock-jock of conservatism, saying whatever will win her the most attention.

Score one for them. Coulter has a new book coming out.

The refugee crisis in Iraq is dire and affects everyone, as is evident from Elizabeth's post below and this feature in our current issue. Newsweek reports today that the mass flight of Iraqis from their homeland has dwindled the educated class as well. "The exodus has...hollowed out Iraq's most skilled classes—doctors, engineers, managers and bureaucrats," the article reads. This is not entirely new news but has obvious future adverse effects for the rebuilding of a nation. Back in January, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that according to the U.N., 40 percent of Iraq's middle class had fled its country. "Most [were] fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return," the article read.

What's most interesting is that this statement regarding the middle class' desire never to return directly contradicts what the U.N. has been claiming most recently; that most refugees want to return to their homeland once the fighting stops. But of course, as I wrote here, many believe the U.N. only uses this as an excuse for the U.S.'s "miserly" asylum quota. And, miserly, it is. Regardless of the escalating crisis in the country, the United States continues to more or less ignore it, placating the situation with negligible assistance. A Refugees International rep., interviewed for the Newsweek article, echoed what I, and many others, have been saying for the past few months. The United States will continue to downplay this crisis, because in order to deal with it on the appropriate scale, it would have to admit how bad the situation actually is; that people in Iraq are dying to leaving their country because it is so unsafe for them. And admitting this would mean admitting the Iraq war has been lost -- something this administration, believe it or not, is still not willing to do.