Political MoJo

Engelhardt: Is there an Iraq?

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 5:53 PM EDT

Oh happy day! Tom Engelhardt, legendary book editor -- and author in his own right -- and the force of nature behind Tomdispatch.com, has taken to blogging. His first post is up at The Notion, the blog of The Nation magazine. It's a characteristically sharp-eyed reading of US Iraq coverage. He writes:

Sometimes, if you want to get reality straight, it pays to read pieces in our press with care and to the end. Take a recent New York Times piece by Richard A. Oppel Jr., headlined: Iraqi Official Reports Capture of Top Insurgent Leader Linked to Shrine Bombing." It's pretty typical of reporting on this story. Forget for a second that the capture of second-in-commands and "top lieutenants" of al-Qaeda in Iraq have been staples of Bush administration announcements for the last year or more -- or that you could practically fill Abu Ghraib (recently turned over to the Iraqis empty) with these "top" figures. Though this was billed as a joint U.S./Iraqi operation, it's been heavily flogged as an Iraqi success story. Hence the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, proudly made the announcement that "the second-ranking leader" of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi, was in custody.

Read a little farther into the piece though and you get this telling bit of journalistic anonymity: "However, a United States military official was more cautious in describing Mr. Saeedi's place in the organization's pecking order? ?I'm not sure we are ready to put a number on him,' said the American official, who agreed to speak only without being named because Iraqi officials had been designated to announce the capture. ?It's a very decentralized operation.'"

Is this the equivalent of designated driver, Iraqi-style? You all go to the bar and boisterously down a few -- except for that little guy in the corner, drinking coffee, who's there to drive you home. Is this what they call "sovereignty" in Iraq?

There's more, and it includes the urgent question--Is there an Iraq? Read it here.

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"Faithful" Democrats Tackle Their God Problem

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 4:20 PM EDT

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The latest liberal/progressive effort to counter the broad impression that Democrats are devil-worshippers--or whatever it is that pious Middle America thinks they are--is this nifty website, Faithful Democrats. Launched by one David Wilhelm, an Ohio investment banker and churchgoing Methodist -- and not officially affiliated with the Democratic Party (nudge, wink) -- the site bills itself as an online Christian community and boasts a pretty impressive roster of bloggers and writers, all at pains to convey that Democrats can too be religious.

USA Today has a piece today about the site in which Jim Wallis of Sojourners (inevitably) pops up to say, "Some Democrats or some interest groups in the party act as what I call secular fundamentalists and have a disdain for people of faith or talk of spiritual values. Democrats are foolish to go down that road. They have done that to some extent, and they've paid for it." This view has become almost a cliche in Democratic circles, of course, but judging by the polls there's something to it. A recent Pew survey has 47 percent of folks viewing the Republican Party as friendly to religion, but only 26 percent seeing Democrats that way.

And proving that miracles do happen, even DNC chair Howard Dean, who once famously located the Book of Job in the New Testament, has got with the program: the DNC will shortly announce its own "faith advisory team" of religious leaders to, as a spokesperson puts it, "provide counsel, direction and a sounding board as we reach out to people of faith."

Government Secrecy Under Bush Unprecedented

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 2:39 PM EDT

Surprising no sentient being (but offering lots of good evidence), a new report from openthegovernment.org shows "a continued expansion of government secrecy across a broad array of agencies and actions." Reminding that information created by or for the federal government belongs to the American public, the exec summary notes, "The current administration has exercised an unprecedented level of restriction of access to information about, and suppression of discussion of, the federal government's policies and decisions."

Among the report's highlights:

  • For every dollar spent declassifying old secrets, federal agencies spent $134 in 2005 creating and storing new secrets. The serious imbalance between taxpayer dollars devoted to generating secrets versus those spent to release records that are no longer sensitive continues.

  • With 2,072 secret surveillance orders approved in 2005, federal surveillance activity under the jurisdiction of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court more than doubled in five years.

  • Over 60 percent of federal advisory committee meetings in 2005 were completely closed to the public. More were partially closed.

  • Since 2001, the "state secrets" privilege has been used a reported 22 times—an average in 5.5 years (4) that is close to twice as high as the previous 24 years (2.46). In the 211 years of our Republic to 2000, fewer than 600 signing statements that took issue with the bills were issued. [See this recent Mother Jones piece by Cameron Scott on what exactly a "state secret" is, and who gets to decide.] In five years, President Bush has issued at least 132, challenging 810 provisions of laws.

Full report (PDF) here.

Elections 2006: The Security Issue Trumps Everything? Or is This Cake Baked?

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 2:00 PM EDT

This piece from today's New York Daily News on the midterm elections has an unusually high quotient of great quotes, showcasing Republican anxieties and bluster in roughly equal measure. A sampling.

  • "'The security issue trumps everything,' a senior Bush official said last week. 'That's why even though they're really mad at us, in the end they're going to give us another two years.'"
  • "'We'll lose the House,' one of the party's most prominent officials flatly predicted, 'and the President will be dead in the water for two years.'"
  • "This cake is baked," predicted Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report newsletter. "You just don't have a wave of this magnitude and not see 15 seats turn over."
  • Americans have "decided the personal characteristics that kept him afloat for a long time aren't that appealing anymore," an influential Bushie told the Daily News. "They also think Iraq is a failure."
  • "We enjoy a severalfold strategic advantage on the ground," said a confident top Bush strategist. "A well-executed mediocre plan will beat a poorly executed brilliant plan every day."

Now, admittedly, what I've called bluster might be quiet confidence that Democrats will find a way to squander their advantage. But that just goes to show that where the House is concerned it's the Democrats' election to lose.

G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House (NYT Goes Out On a Limb)

| Mon Sep. 4, 2006 3:10 PM EDT

"G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House " That's the headline for this NYT story. And bold, isn't it? Not "is" in peril—as the panoply of polls, analysts, and GOP pols say in the body of the piece itself—but "seen to be."

Is or Seen To Be, this is not news. Everybody knows the GOP is in danger of loosing the House. Indeed many political insiders see it as a given, provided the DNC doesn't blow it (and, granted…). The real issue is the Senate. Here, the NYT says:

"A turnover in the Senate, which would require the Democrats to pick up six seats, is considered a longer shot. Democrats' greatest hopes rest with Pennsylvania, Montana, Rhode Island, Ohio and Missouri; the sixth seat is more of a leap of faith. It would require Democrats to carry a state like Tennessee, Arizona or Virginia, where Democratic hopes are buoyed as Senator George Allen, a Republican, deals with the fallout from his using a demeaning term for a young man of Indian descent at a rally last month."

"Using a demeaning term for a young man of Indian descent at a rally last month"—it is so weird hearing that incident described in such white-paper language, isn't it? More on how key the Virginia Senate race to the overall outcome of the midterm eletctions here.

Another sign the GOP is in trouble: its own candidates calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resisgnation, as Thomas H. Kean Jr., a New Jersey state senator who's running for the U.S. Senate, did "just shy of midnight" on Friday. "What compelled him to advocate publicly for a "fresh face" leading the troops, Mr. Kean said (via the NYT), were Mr. Rumsfeld's recent remarks chiding critics of the war for "moral and intellectual confusion," and comparing them to those who advocated appeasing Nazi Germany in the 1930's. "By engaging in that kind of rhetoric," Kean said, "this secretary has stepped over the line." (More on Rumsfeld's Nazi rhetoric here.)

Also the NYT offers some really cool interactive maps and databases to track all the races. You can navigate to them from any of the above NYT links.

Note to Readers: Labor Day

| Mon Sep. 4, 2006 1:12 PM EDT

Posting today will be light at best in observance of Labor Day. We'll be back at full force tomorrow. Have a great holiday.

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Donald Rumsfeld's Dance With the Nazis (Set Frank Rich Free!)

| Sun Sep. 3, 2006 6:31 PM EDT

As he does week in and week out, Frank Rich has knocked one out of the park with his column: "Donald Rumsfeld's Dance With the Nazis."

Last week the man who gave us "stuff happens" and "you go to war with the Army you have" outdid himself. In an instantly infamous address to the American Legion, he likened critics of the Iraq debacle to those who "ridiculed or ignored" the rise of the Nazis in the 1930's and tried to appease Hitler. Such Americans, he said, suffer from a "moral or intellectual confusion" and fail to recognize the "new type of fascism" represented by terrorists. Presumably he was not only describing the usual array of "Defeatocrats" but also the first President Bush, who had already been implicitly tarred as an appeaser by Tony Snow last month for failing to knock out Saddam in 1991.

What made Mr. Rumsfeld's speech noteworthy wasn't its toxic effort to impugn the patriotism of administration critics by conflating dissent on Iraq with cut-and-run surrender and incipient treason. That's old news. No, what made Mr. Rumsfeld's performance special was the preview it offered of the ambitious propaganda campaign planned between now and Election Day. An on-the-ropes White House plans to stop at nothing when rewriting its record of defeat (not to be confused with defeatism) in a war that has now lasted longer than America's fight against the actual Nazis in World War II.

Here's how brazen Mr. Rumsfeld was when he invoked Hitler's appeasers to score his cheap points: Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain's hand at Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Mr. Rumsfeld himself in Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist regalia. Is the defense secretary so self-deluded that he thought no one would remember a picture so easily Googled on the Web? Or worse, is he just too shameless to care?

Mr. Rumsfeld didn't go to Baghdad in 1983 to tour the museum. Then a private citizen, he had been dispatched as an emissary by the Reagan administration, which sought to align itself with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam was already a notorious thug. Well before Mr. Rumsfeld's trip, Amnesty International had reported the dictator's use of torture — "beating, burning, sexual abuse and the infliction of electric shocks" — on hundreds of political prisoners. Dozens more had been summarily executed or had "disappeared." American intelligence agencies knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons to gas both Iraqi Kurds and Iranians.

According to declassified State Department memos detailing Mr. Rumsfeld's Baghdad meetings, the American visitor never raised the subject of these crimes with his host. (Mr. Rumsfeld has since claimed otherwise, but that is not supported by the documents, which can be viewed online at George Washington University's National Security Archive.) Within a year of his visit, the American mission was accomplished: Iraq and the United States resumed diplomatic relations for the first time since Iraq had severed them in 1967 in protest of American backing of Israel in the Six-Day War.

In his speech last week, Mr. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill: Appeasing tyrants is "a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last." He can quote Churchill all he wants, but if he wants to self-righteously use that argument to smear others, the record shows that Mr. Rumsfeld cozied up to the crocodile of Baghdad as smarmily as anyone. To borrow the defense secretary's own formulation, he suffers from moral confusion about Saddam.

Mr. Rumsfeld also suffers from intellectual confusion about terrorism. He might not have appeased Al Qaeda but he certainly enabled it. Like Chamberlain, he didn't recognize the severity of the looming threat until it was too late. Had he done so, maybe his boss would not have blown off intelligence about imminent Qaeda attacks while on siesta in Crawford.

The whole column is brilliant, and should be read by as many people as possible. So screw Times Select. Read it after the jump.

Senator "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens Outted For Placing Secret Hold on Bill to Create Government Spending Database Available to P

| Sun Sep. 3, 2006 4:38 PM EDT

In a coup for the blogging community, which mounted a "call your Senator" campaign to figure out who was the Pro-Pork Senator blocking the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), the Senator in question has been revealed. It is, as FFATA co-sponsor Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) predicted, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)

FFATA, co-sponsored Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.), "would require the Office of Management and Budget to create a user-friendly Web site listing details on every grant and contract handed out by the federal government. Information would have to be posted within 30 days of Congress' authorization of the spending." (Via this editorial, which is popping up in a variety of papers)

That would be a problem for Sen. Stevens, probably the reigning king of pork. Now that he's been outted, pressure must be brought to get him to release the bill. FFATA has broad bipartisan support, 29 Senators joined Coburn and Obama in co-sponsoring it, it sailed through the appropriate committees, and it deserves a full "up or down" Senate vote, as the administration is fond of saying.

Ironically, the Senate voted 84-13 in April to ban secret holds. The bill—another bi-partisan effort, this one sponsored by by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)—would permit Senators to object to legislation, but not secretly. (The Wyden-Grassley amendment, No. 2944, was rolled into the Senate's ethics reform package, which is, but of course, held up in conference committee.) All of the 13 no votes were cast by Republicans—Senators Allard, Bunning, Burr, Coburn, DeMint, Ensign, Frist, Gregg, Kyl, McConnell, Sessions, Sununu, Thune; Democratic Senators Byrd and Rockefeller did not vote, along with Republican Lindsey Graham. (Byrd, another notorious porker, explained his absence as being due to a death in the family.)

So Stevens votes in favor of a bill banning secret holds, but continues to use them. Coburn votes against the ban on secret holds, but rails against Stevens for using them. And this may be a simple case of pay back. It was Coburn, after all, that got Stevens' bridge to nowhere killed.

Ain't Washington fun?


It's a Good Day to Take Out the (9/11) Trash

| Sat Sep. 2, 2006 4:11 AM EDT

In yet another classic Friday-afternoon "take out the trash" maneuver to bury bad news on a slow news day (how much slower can it get than the Saturday of Labor Day weekend?), the Transportation Department's Inspector General is recommending discipline for FAA executives who gave the 9/11 commission false information, reports the New York Times. Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this; for our part, CYA looks like a perfectly good explanation, especially from an agency that has a lot of A to cover when it comes to 9/11. For more on that, see Jim Ridgeway's summary of FAA failures as part of his call for nine new congressional investigations in the most recent issue of Mother Jones; for even more, check out Michael Scherer and Barry Yeoman's MoJo piece, which among other things shows how much of this was known well before 9/11, here.

Attention Gay Wal-Mart Shoppers...

| Fri Sep. 1, 2006 7:52 PM EDT

Wal-Mart has formed a partnership with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, a move that Wal-Mart calls "a very sincere effort to reach out to people who are a significant part of our customer base."

As sincere as the effort may be, Wal-Mart chose not to announce the new partnership, leaving that job to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. And now that the word is out, there has already been some backlash from conservatives.

Wal-Mart does not offer benefits to domestic partners, though the company is said to be considering making a change in that area. At last count, Wal-Mart gave 85% of its political donations to the Republican Party, which has actively sought to curtail rights for GLBT citizens.

Wal-Mart discriminates against women in a variety of ways and is the defendant in several gender discrimination lawsuits. Wal-Mart also discriminates against working people in a variety of ways, too. Yet women and working people stand in line to shop there, so there is every reason to believe that GLBT citizens will also be sucked into the company's latest marketing ploy.