Political MoJo

More Zarqawi Questions

| Thu Jun. 15, 2006 11:05 AM PDT

Okay, I'm a bit confused as to why it's perfectly acceptable to alert every single member of al-Qaeda in Iraq that we have a "huge treasure" of information about them, but somehow it's not okay to discuss the details of a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program in court because doing so would cause "grave harm to United States national security." Never mind, I guess this is the rhetorical question section.

Anyway, it also seems a bit suspicious that Zarqawi just happened to be carrying files on hundreds and hundreds of his associates—especially since he was traveling with such minimal security at the time of his death—and that that explains why the Iraqi government is now, today, killing so many "insurgents." George Friedman of Stratfor thinks that what's really going on is that the native Sunni insurgents who are really running things have agreed to sell out foreign fighters like Zarqawi in exchange for some sort of political deal with the Iraqi government. Who knows, really?

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Remember, the US could have taken Zarqawi out years ago.

| Thu Jun. 15, 2006 10:43 AM PDT

In the oceans of ink produced following Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi's death, there's been little more than a trickle on one of the most memorable elements of the Zarqawi saga: the fact that, as the Wall Street Journal and NBC News reported years ago, the Pentagon had plenty of chances to take Zarqawi out before the war even began, but didn't, in part to assuage the Europeans and in part because his presence in Iraq served the administration's purposes as proof of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link. The irony, of course, is that while Zarqawi was already training terrorists back then, he had not yet formalized his ties to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. That would occur after the war, when the insurgency began to grow. From the WSJ piece:

The Pentagon drew up detailed plans in June 2002, giving the administration a series of options for a military strike on the camp Mr. Zarqawi was running then in remote northeastern Iraq, according to generals who were involved directly in planning the attack and several former White House staffers…. Gen. Keane characterized the camp "as one of the best targets we ever had."

Also worth a look is a report from Australian news program Four Corners, from May of this year, in which former CIA agent Mike Scheuer says this:

"Mr Bush had Zarqawi in his sights almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn't shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq."

In the post-bombing stories, very few have so much as mentioned the prewar opportunities; Newsweek's cover story is an exception, with two short paragraphs that hit all the right notes.

Some American intelligence determined that Zarqawi and his cohorts were manufacturing crude chemical weapons [at Ansar Al-Islam]. The Pentagon developed plans to bomb the Ansar camp in 2002, but the White House withheld its approval. "He was up there, we knew where he was, and we couldn't get anybody to move on it," said a former US intelligence official who had worked on the plans to take out Zarqawi, but who refused to be identified discussing military secrets. "We were told they didn't want to disrupt the war planning. It was a real opportunity lost.

The Bush administration wanted to exploit Zarqawi in a different way. When Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations to make the case for going to war against Saddam in February 2003, he charged that Saddam "harbors" a "deadly terrorist network" headed by Zarqawi, whom he described as a "collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants."

Obama offers vision, while Dems offer laundry list

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 6:10 PM PDT

On the final day of a largely inspiring Take Back America progressive conference, Sen. Barack Obama offered, in a powerful, well-received speech, a searing critique of Bush administration policies, borrowing from Newt Gingrich's recommended attack phrase, "Had enough?" Yet at the same time he provided reassurance and hope for progressives. He told us that we know who we are and we stand for goals that appeal to the best in Americans: "The time for our identity crisis as progressives is over. Don't let anybody tell you that we don't know what we stand for."

He won applause, though, without providing a specific plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Divisions over Iraq among Democratic leaders became the focus of much of the mainstream coverage of the event, missing the broader "Common Good" agenda for change offered by some Democratic leaders and activists at the conference.

Obama captured that uplifting theme well and showed in a smart way how to put forward a positive program for Democrats. Here's some excerpts from a transcript, picking up after his critique of the Administration's failures on health care, Iraq and Katrina, and its underlying Social Darwinism:

Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on self-reliance and individual initiative and a belief in the free market.

But it's also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, our sense that we have a stake in each other's success.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, that everybody should have a shot at opportunity.

Americans understand this. They know the government can't solve all their problems, but they expect the government can help because they know it's an expression of what they're learning in Sunday school, what they learn in their church, in their synagogue, in their mosque, a basic moral precept that says that I have to look out for you and I have responsibility for you and you have responsibility for me; that I am your keeper and your are mine.

That's what America is.

And so I am eager to have this argument with the Republican Party about the core philosophy of America, about what our story is. We shouldn't shy away from that debate.

The time for our identity crisis as progressives is over. Don't let anybody tell you that we don't know what we stand for.

(APPLAUSE)

On the same day that Obama was giving his speech, the Democratic leadership offered a litany of ideas, billed as a "New Direction" for America, such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, raising the minimum wage, etc.

Reporters invited to Guantanamo, then sent home by Rumsfeld

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 5:59 PM PDT

The admiral in charge of the prison at Guantanamo Bay invited the news media to come to the base on Saturday to cover the suicides of three of the prisoners. Reporters responded, but on Tuesday night, the Pentagon sent an email citing a directive from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

Media currently on the island will depart on Wednesday, 14 June 2006 at 10:00 a.m. Please be prepared to depart the CBQ [quarters] at 8:00 a.m.

A flight had already been arranged to expedite the reporters' exit from the base, and though they protested the change of plans, they had to leave.

Editors of the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer said called the reversal "bad public policy" and "a panicked move."

A Pentagon spokesman, J.D. Gordon, said that the reporters were sent home because other media outlets were threatening to sue to get equal access.

In the meantime, George W. Bush as stated that he would like to close the Guantanamo Bay facility as soon as he has a plan to deal with the "darn dangerous" prisoners there.

Making Iraq Boring

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 4:41 PM PDT

John Dickerson thinks Bush's new Iraq strategy is to try to make it appear as "boring" as possible, so that the media stops paying attention. That means no more dramatic photo-ops aboard aircraft carriers or sweeping statements about freedom and the like. Instead it's all talk of reconciliation committees and public finance systems from here on out.

I'm not sure this is really the "strategy" here, but if Dickerson were right, it's be nice to say with confidence that the media would never fall for this. Who knows, though? Already the so-very-well-trained Washington press corps is swooning over the fact that yet another top Bush advisor wasn't indicted this week. Our hero. Meanwhile, I missed it when it came out earlier this week—too "boring," perhaps—but Anthony Shadid reported that foreign veterans of the Iraqi insurgency are now returning to places like Lebanon, waiting to start up what "Abu Haritha" calls "a more expansive war beyond Iraq, a struggle he casts in the most cataclysmic of terms." But we'd hate to rain on this week's magical "Bush bounce," so never mind.

UPDATE: Well, I was curious about this, and here's evidence that newspapers really are slowly pushing Iraq off the front page: "In the first five months of this year, the [Chicago] Tribune placed Iraq on the front page 41 times in 151 days. But in the same period last year, there were 74 Iraq articles on Page 1, and 138 stories in 2004." The same holds true for the New York Times, USA Today (which runs astonishingly few front page stories on Iraq in any case) , the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Private Internet Spies

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 3:36 PM PDT

Creepy. Via Feministe, apparently there's a group called Netvocates out on the internet that offers its services to businesses. And what sort of services might those be? Well, if a blog sullies the honor of the business in question, Netvocates will send out a swarm of right-wingers to troll the offending post with propaganda in the comments section. Meanwhile, the Rendon Group—about which more here—may be doing monitoring lefty blogs, for what purpose who knows. It all sounds conspiratorial, but seriously, check out the links.

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Why Proxy Season Matters

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 12:53 PM PDT

Kevin Kelleher of CorpWatch has a great article about how activists are increasingly submitting shareholder resolutions during proxy season in order to demand accountability from large corporations. Coca-Cola alone was the target of three such resolutions this past fall: one to demand an investigation into the company's complicity with paramilitaries in Colombia; one to force the company to develop a plan for recycling; and one to clarify the environmental impact of Coke's water-extraction plants in India. All three resolutions failed, but that's not the point:

For shareholder activists, bringing a proxy to other shareholders is less about winning the vote: Most institutional investors don't vote or blindly go with the management's recommendation. And even if a resolution passes, it's not legally binding. What's more encouraging is when a proxy wins the attention and the approval of a large number of investors.

"More and more, shareholders are voting in favor of resolutions," says Schueth. "Five to seven years ago, we'd win 3 percent or 4 percent of the vote and we'd be thrilled. "But we're seeing an uptick every year, so that now they win maybe 15 percent to 20 percent of the vote. That's a lot of investors, and it's often enough to lead the management to change."Indeed, many corporations worry enough about the optics of these resolutions to try to reform themselves before the issue gets brought to the attention of investors. (Apple promised to offer free recycling to users discarding their old Macs in response to a threatened shareholder resolution by activists complaining about the company's ever-growing e-waste.)

This looks like a trend to follow closely, especially as public pension funds start getting into the game. The New York City Employees Retirement System, for instance, sponsored the paramilitary resolution submitted to Coca-Cola shareholders. It's possible that with conservatives controlling the majority of statehouses across the country and likely to hold onto at least one branch of Congress this fall, the main impetus for progressive reform in this country could increasingly come from the treasurers, comptrollers, and pension-fund trustees that help manage large blue-state public funds such as CalPERS in California. (The potential for state pension funds to throw their weight around is staggering—nationwide, public funds hold $2.7 trillion in stocks and union-managed funds another $400 billion.)

California Treasurer Phil Angelides, the current Democratic candidate for governor, was big on a variation of this strategy while sitting on the boards of both CalPERS and CalSTRS (the teachers' pension fund). As William Greider reported last year, he helped initiate a host of activist moves: "dumping tobacco stocks, blacklisting ten 'emerging markets' that ignore international labor standards, redeploying capital to neglected sectors like inner-city redevelopment and innovative environmental technologies, and, above all, peppering scores of corporations, banks, brokerages, financial markets and federal regulators with critiques and demands for change." The strategy was slowed somewhat when Schwarzenegger helped force out Andrew Harrigan, the labor-backed CalPERS board president, in 2004, but it was quite effective.

The "Fair and Balanced" Obsession

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 11:41 AM PDT

Pam Spaulding spots a great example of one of journalism's most annoying tics: the need to put fake "balance" into stories. The other day the Houston Chronicle ran a profile of Sgt. Jack Oliver, the first officer in the Houston Police Department to undergo a sex change while on active duty. Interesting stuff. But the reporter then feels compelled to gin up controversy where none exists and quotes some pastor or other who gets all squirmy at the thought of transsexuals: "That would raise issues of competency in the line of duty in my mind."

"Issues of competency?" Who cares what "David Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council" thinks about police competency? There might be "competency" issues involved in this story, but a pastor has neither the authority nor the expertise to discuss them. Unless, of course, the reporter's purpose here is to give voice to bible-thumpers who think transsexuals are "icky" without appearing like she's wantonly turning the microphone over to bigots just for the fun of it. Which, of course, is exactly what's going on. But creating fake controversies just for the sake of seeming "balanced" doesn't count as objective reporting in any sense I'm familiar with.

Congress Gets a Raise

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 11:00 AM PDT

The House quickly voted to give itself a $3,300 pay raise yesterday, so that congressional salaries could keep up with the rising cost of living. No word on whether a new minimum wage bill—which would slowly raise the wage floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour (which is still far, far below living wage levels) by 2009—will also pass. No sense in rushing that, after all.

Hillary meets the anti-war left: booing at progressive conference

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 9:12 PM PDT

Hillary Clinton is supposed to have some of the most dedicated factions of the Democratic Party in her corner, but there's a new interest group competing for power in addition to minorities, the teachers' unions and feminist activists: the anti-war left.

And by the often tepid and sometimes hostile response she received at the "Take Back America" conference Tuesday -- including booing -- she has a long ways to go to win over liberals outraged over the war. ( Some lefties even speculated that she welcomed the outrage as her "Sister Souljah" moment to build up her credibility with the general public.) The line that drew that strongest negative response was this effort to create the appearance of centrism in her position on Iraq: "I do not think it is a smart strategy either for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government, nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interesets of our troops or our country."

That spurred either mostly silence or booing, some of it led by members of the direct action group Code Pink.

In contrast, Senator John Kerry, offering yet another apology for supporting the war and offering a fiery attack on Bush's failed war policies, won strong applause and some favorable online commentary.

But no new politician-hero of the left has emerged at the conference, even as some progressives hungered for the return of the supposedly new and improved Al Gore, riding a crest of (perhaps deluded) hope in his candidacy from a left that is, as Neil Young sings, "Looking for a Leader." On the final day of the conference, Senators Barack Obama and Russ Feingold, one of the left's favorite candidates, address the crowd.

See and hear for yourself what some of the politicians and activists had to offer by going to this complete list of speakers (scroll down to Tuesday for Clinton, Kerry, Pelosi and others), with some videos and transcripts provided.