Political MoJo

Romney to ("Terrorist") Khatami: Drop Dead

| Wed Sep. 6, 2006 12:57 PM EDT

It's true that Mohammed Khatami, as President of Iran, failed to live up to his early promise as a reformer. (And let's face it, that was always going to be a tough gig.) But to call him a "terrorist," as Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney is noisily doing, seems a touch histrionic.

Governor Mitt Romney declared yesterday he would not allow any state resources to be used to protect a former Iranian president during his visit to the Boston area this weekend, and he sharply criticized Harvard University for inviting Mohammed Khatami to speak on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"There are people in this state who have suffered from terrorism, and taking even a dollar of their money to support a terrorist is unacceptable," Romney, a potential candidate for the Republican Party's 2008 presidential nomination, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Khatami will give a lecture titled "Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence," which, yes, is ironic given his country's unimpressive record on the former and prolific contributions to the latter. But of course Romney wants to be president, so we should get used this kind of winking demagoguery, and not only from him. (Sigh.) Meanwhile, how the anti-terrorist cause will be served by Khatami's getting popped in Harvard Yard remains unclear.

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Bush Says EPA Immune From Protections for Federal Whisteblowers

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 10:17 PM EDT

Citing an unpublished opinion from the Attorney General's Office of Legal Counsel, the Bush administration has declared that federal employees may no longer pursue whistleblower claims and protections under the Clean Water Act. As of now, EPA employees will have almost no protection from retaliation if they come forward with information about water pollution enforcement breakdowns, cleanup failures, or the deceptive presentation of scientific findings. Approximately 170,000 employees are affected by this ruling.

The EPA is no help at all. The agency is taking the position that its employees have no protections of any kind regarding any environmental statute.

This turnabout occurred because an EPA employee reported problems with contracts for toxic cleanups. She was rewarded $225,000 in punitive damages after she filed a retaliation suit, but the Department of Labor overturned the court's decision.

The White House is claiming sovereign immunity for the EPA.

Katherine Harris's Campaign Makes FEMA Look Well Organized

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 7:01 PM EDT

More hilarity from the the slo-mo tragicomedy that is Katherine Harris's Florida Senate bid. She's expected to win her primary today, visiting fresh torment on Republicans who'd rather she disappear like so many uncounted ballots. This from AP today.

"This campaign will go down in history as one of the most disastrous ever run in the United States," said Jim Dornan, who helped launch Harris' bid as her campaign manager. He left three months later.

"I don't think anybody can envision any campaign being conducted in as poor a fashion as this one's been conducted," said Darryl Paulson, a University of South Florida political-science professor.

Her campaign shrugs off such criticism. "Our entire campaign team is looking forward, not backward," said spokeswoman Jennifer Marks. "We're energized and we're excited."...

"She doesn't interview, she flirts. And it's offensive to professional women and it's embarrassing," [Dornan] said. ...

She recently called separation of church and state "a lie" and angered Jews and others by saying, "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said Harris couldn't win. Ditto state Republican Party Chairman Carol Jean Jordan.

But spokeswoman Marks says Harris is being greeted by "a tremendous wave of support" as she travels the state, focusing on issues instead of the controversies.

Can you say karma? Justice comes slowly, granted, but it looks like there may be order in the heavens after all.

Engelhardt: Is there an Iraq?

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 4:53 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.

"Faithful" Democrats Tackle Their God Problem

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 3:20 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 1:39 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.

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

| Tue Sep. 5, 2006 1:00 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 2:10 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 12:12 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.

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

| Sun Sep. 3, 2006 5:31 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.