Political MoJo

Staying the Course: Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don't

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 12:19 PM EDT

As the Los Angeles Times reports this morning, the "stay the course" chorus in the administration is about to be smacked down by the commission headed by James Baker tasked with exploring options in Iraq. But is it too late to change course in Iraq, or more precisely, is it too late to change course in a manner that would ensure the ever-distant seeming victory that Bush constantly promises? In this morning's TomDispatch, Michael Schwartz examines this question, and concludes that no amount of tinkering with our military strategy will fix the mess we've made there. Though the military will undoubtedly try several more strategic shifts in the months ahead, as Schwartz observes, some military insiders have already realized the terrible, irreversible downward spiral we—and Iraq—are stuck in. Gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops—an option the Baker panel is reportedly considering—is not exactly a panacea, either. An excerpt:

There may have been a time, back when the invasion began, that the U.S. could have adopted a strategy that would have made it welcome -- for a time, anyway -- in Iraq. Such a strategy, as the military theorists flatly state, would have had to deliver a "vibrant economy, political participation, and restored hope." Instead, the occupation delivered economic stagnation or degradation, a powerless government, and the promise of endless violence. Given this reality, no new military strategy -- however humane, canny, or well designed -- could reverse the occupation's terminal unpopularity. Only a U.S. departure might do that.

Paradoxically, the policies these military strategists are now trying to reform have ensured that, however much most Iraqis may want such a departure, it would be, at best, bittersweet. The legacy of sectarian violence and the near-irreversible destruction wrought by the American presence make it unlikely that they would have the time or inclination to take much satisfaction in the end of the American occupation.

Read the full article here.

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$15,000 Buys a Lifetime Membership to Mitch McConnell's Quid Pro Quo Club

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 10:59 AM EDT

If the Republicans manage to keep control of the Senate — and that's a big if — Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who currently serves as Majority Whip, is poised to ascend to Majority Leader, as Bill Frist retires at the end of his term. In anticipation of this possibility, the Lexington Herald-Leader, has been investigating the Senator for the past six months and published its findings in a lengthy article yesterday. What did the Herald-Leader discover? A "nexus between his actions and his donors' agendas. He pushes the government to help cigarette makers, Las Vegas casinos, the pharmaceutical industry, credit card lenders, coal mine owners and others."

McConnell is one of the GOP's more prolific fundraisers and has personally raised close to $220 million for his party over the course of his career. Marshall Whitman, a onetime aide to John McCain, told the paper: "He's completely dogged in his pursuit of money. That's his great love, above everything else." Former Senator Alan Simpson said that "when he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds. He obviously loved it." Apparently McConnell was so intent on building up the GOP's warchest that he sold memberships to something called the "Senate Republican Inner Circle." A donation of $15,000 bought wealthy individuals a lifetime membership (members could also pay $2,000 a year), which carried with it access to "the men who are shaping the Senate agenda."

"Americans are big on rewards these days. Financial rewards in the stock market -- cash rewards on your credit cards -- luxurious rewards in the travel industry," McConnell wrote in one invitation. "But a special group of Americans is experiencing one of the greatest reward programs ever, because they took the initiative to become a Life Member of the Inner Circle."

Those rewards are greatly anticipated by corporate leaders who want a say in Senate decisions. After the Inner Circle welcomed Geoffrey Bible, chief executive at Philip Morris, he sent a copy of the announcement to his aides.

"So now I'm in," Bible wrote in the margin. "See if we can make the most of it."

When the paper questioned McConnell on his "inner circle," the senator downplayed its significance, telling the Herald-Leader that "they want their picture taken with you; that's all it amounts to." Hmmm. It's just a hunch, but something tells me that Bible and other members of McConnell's quid pro quo club were paying for more than just photo-ops.

Western Conservatives Seek Clampdown on Courts

| Sun Oct. 15, 2006 10:09 PM EDT

Furious over recent court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage and other offenses against their idea of all that's right and good, conservatives in several Western states are pushing ballot measures that would limit the power and independence of judges, the Los Angeles Times reports.

A measure in South Dakota would allow citizens to sue judges over their rulings (but can they go on to sue the second judge if he or she don't rule against the first?). One in Colorado would impose term limits on judges, another in Montana would allow residents to easily recall them, and yet another in Oregon would require high court judges "to be elected by geographic district, so they reflect the values of conservative rural communities as well as the liberal legal establishment in Portland," sums up the Times.

Judges, presumably, will put up a fight against these impositions on their authority, and they're no slouches in the electoral politics arena. In the many states in which they are elected, judicial candidates have for years been raking in huge campaign contributions.

Kerry says he deserves 2nd chance in '08

| Sun Oct. 15, 2006 3:25 PM EDT

The AP reports: "The Massachusetts Democrat, who lost to President Bush in 2004, said it is a basic principle that 'Americans give people a second chance. And if you learn something and prove you've learned something, maybe even more so. Now, I don't know what I'm going to do yet. We'll make that decision down the road.'"

Transcript here.

Abramoff and the White House: More Than Photo Ops

| Sun Oct. 15, 2006 3:44 AM EDT

Just the kind of story that's going to get buried on a Saturday: GOP bigwig and former White House political director Ken Mehlman pitched in with various pet projects of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff's. Yes, it turns out that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue now works just like your basic Congressional office: Any agenda, no matter how picayune, is worthy of top-level attention, as long as the money is right. Want a State Department official who's been making trouble for sweatshops fired? Want subsidies for a project the government itself says is unnecessary? Call the White House, and make sure you let them know what you've done for hte GOP lately. Not that we didn't sort of know this; but there's something in seeing it laid out quite this plainly:


"I was a gateway," Mehlman said in an interview. "It was my job to talk to political supporters, to hear their requests, and hand them on to policymakers."

Fight Big Oil with Clinton-Gore in '06!

| Fri Oct. 13, 2006 7:42 PM EDT

California's Proposition 87, which would impose some $4 billion worth of taxes on oil companies and use the proceeds to fund alternative energy development, got a much-needed publicity boost today when every Democrat's favorite (living) ex-president, Bill Clinton, exhorted voters to support it at a Los Angeles rally. That's a nice addition to the support his former veep, Al Gore, has already thrown behind the measure. The petroleum industry is lobbing tens of millions of dollars at the initiative in an effort to sink it - with disheartening success. Support for it has dropped from 52 per cent to 44 per cent among Golden State voters in recent weeks.

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State Pols: Kill Child Molesters

| Fri Oct. 13, 2006 7:33 PM EDT

With the November elections just a few weeks away, a number of state-level politicians are baying for the death penalty to be extended to repeat child molesters. Oklahoma and South Carolina have already passed such laws this year, and now law-and-order candidates from Texas to Minnesota want to see their states do the same. Never mind the usual ethical arguments - critics point out that these laws could easily backfire: if child rapists know they could face execution anyway, why not silence their victims by murdering them?

Police In Virginia Threaten To Arrest Anti-Marriage Amendment Canvassers

| Fri Oct. 13, 2006 4:30 PM EDT

Pam Spaulding notes that people canvassing houses in Warrenton, Virginia in an attempt to educate citizens about the dangers of passing the proposed marriage amendment are being threatened by police. Members of local law enforcement are dragging out an ordinance meant to control door-to-door sales. There is no evidence that the ordinance is being used to threaten candidates going door-to-door--only opponents of the marriage amendment.

The amendment reads as follows:

Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to state:
That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.
This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.

The ACLU of Virginia has intervened.

Jeb: "I Wasn't Hiding in the Closet"

| Fri Oct. 13, 2006 12:42 PM EDT

NewMax.com,the up to the minute conservative site has the latest in the Jeb Bush saga:

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has disputed media accounts that said he hid in a closet to avoid anti-Republican protesters during a visit to Pittsburgh last week.

Bush encountered protesters Oct. 6 while on his way to a fund-raising event for Republican Sen. Rick Santorum at Pittsburgh's exclusive Duquesne Club.

Curiously, those media accounts seemed to focus more on the "closet" aspect of the story than on the behavior of the unruly, obscenity-shouting mob. The stories mentioned prominently that Bush sought "refuge in a subway station supply closet."

Bush said it was actually a boiler room.

Bush said he had to seek safety in the boiler room when he came across the protesters, but also said he was never concerned for his safety because he was taller and "more burly" than most of the protesters who chased him.

Anna Politkovskaya's Last Article Hits Close to Home

| Fri Oct. 13, 2006 11:21 AM EDT

Russia's Novaya Gaeta newspaper has published the last article written by murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya. It's a short, yet unsparing, look at the use of torture on Chechens accused of terrorism. Even if you haven't been following Russia's long, brutal anti-terrorist campaign in Chechnya, the piece rings some depressingly familiar themes. The New York Times has a translation. It's worth a read:

Before me everyday are dozens of files—copies of the criminal cases of people jailed for "terrorism" or of those still under investigation.

Why is the word "terrorism" in quotation marks? Because the overwhelming majority of these people are designated terrorists. The practice of "designating terrorists" did not simply supplant in 2006 some kind of earnest anti-terrorist war. It came to breed on its own potential terrorists and a desire for vengeance. When prosecutors and the courts work, not for the sake of the law, but on political commission and with the only goal of providing good reports for the Kremlin, then criminal cases are baked like pancakes.

An assembly line producing "open-hearted confessions" effectively guaranties good data on the war on terror in the North Caucasus. ...

The practice of designating terrorists is the area in the sphere of "counterterrorist operations in the North Caucasus" where, head to head, two ideological approaches clash: Are we, the lawful, fighting against the unlawful? Or, are we battling "their" lawlessness with "ours?" This clash of approaches is guaranteed to exist for the present and future. The result of this "designation of terrorists" is the increase in number of those who won't put up with it.