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12/16/2004

Alexander Downer

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that the US opposes El Baradei's reappointment to the director generalship of the IAEA because of his unwillingness to beat the martial drums on Iran. No surprise there. The article fleshes out, though, the story of the failed US effort to draft Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer. Downer turned down the job, but the wiretapping revelations had made it a moot point by then anyway.

Not True

But as Iraqis register to vote, the United States worries that the real winners could be the ayatollahs in neighboring Iran. U.S. intelligence sources tell NBC News that 1 million Iranians have already poured across the border to register to vote in Iraq. And Iran is spending as much as $100 million to elect its favored slate of candidates in Iraq — and may have thousands of spies in Iraq.

"They're putting money into Iraq," says Danielle Pletka, an Iraq expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "They're promoting candidates. They're sponsoring terrorist groups that are pressuring people in Iraq. They're doing everything they can."

And while Iraq's defense minister warned Wednesday that both Iran and Syria are cooperating with Iraq's No. 1 terrorist — Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — the United States has no proof of that. [NBC News]
I have no doubt that Syria and Iran are meddling in Iraq - why wouldn't they, when what happens there so strongly affects their national security situation? But the idea that Iran is supporting Zarqawi is just too ridiculous - the man hates Shiites more than anybody.
As much as he hates Americans and Jews, Zarqawi loathes Shiite Muslims even more.

"They (Shiites) harbor more evil and rancor against Muslims, big and small, devout and non-devout, than anyone else...To them, anyone who does not believe in the infallible Imam (Al-Mahdi) -- who incidentally does not exist -- is a nonbeliever in God and the prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him." [Military.com]
Zarqawi is trying to destabilize the rise of the Iranian leaning Shiites in Iraq by fomenting a civil war. Iran has no incentive to cooperate with him, and with "no proof," one certainly shouldn't assume it.

Moveon

“My center is giving way, my right is pulled back… Situation excellent. I shall attack.”
I'm busy, and posting will be light for the next week or so, but I want to highlight a few important post-election pieces on the impact of Moveon.org and the 527s. The first is this piece from Newsweek, which reports on the house parties that took place a couple of weeks ago. The second and third are in Salon, here and here. The first two skeptically note what is simply true: the 527s succeeded. They met their goals. The problem, again, is that their goals weren't high enough, that they didn't predict the effectiveness of the GOP GOTV operation. The third piece contains some insightful comments from Wes Boyd, particularly on the Beinart purge effort.

All three are important to understanding the future of the independent groups' efforts to revitalize progressive politics.

12/15/2004

Bolton

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs put out a nice piece on John Bolton: John Bolton’s Appointment Would Destroy State Department Credibility. Of course, it's merely salting burned fields at this point.

Economy Summit

The summit is news only to the extent it can be laughed at.

Six discussion panels with outside business leaders and economists were to be moderated by Bush administration officials. Bush planned to take part in two panels, on the costs of lawsuit abuse and on the need to confront short-term and long-term deficits. Cheney was to participate in a third, a broad discussion of the current state of the economy.

The speeches and panels are meant to highlight the president's major plans for boosting the economy: overhauling Social Security and the tax code, making recently passed tax cuts permanent, curbing lawsuit abuse, restraining federal spending, helping educate and train workers in a changing economy, making international trade freer, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and passing a comprehensive energy plan.
See Dan Froomkin's day old column for more details.

Missile Defense Test Fails

BBC 12/15/04: The Pentagon said an interceptor missile did not take off and was automatically shut down on its launch pad in the central Pacific.

12/14/2004

Moral Values Watch

Read the sad story of John "Digger" Dolan, an alcoholic identity thief with a habit of name-dropping big Republicans.

Dolan, interviewed in jail on Dec. 4 after an arrest in Maryland, said any news article about his driving record would hurt the war on terror. "You're helping the enemy if you write about it," Dolan said at the Cecil County jail, where he was serving 10 days for disorderly conduct.
Weldon, the nine-term representative who prides himself on expertise in foreign affairs and national security, wrote a June 23 letter to James Pavitt, then the CIA's deputy director. In the letter, Weldon asked Pavitt to meet with Dolan "at your earliest convenience," and said Dolan's software "could have assisted in preventing" events such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

Weldon's letter described Dolan's firm, Your Choice Communications Inc., as "one of the leading communication developers in my district, with whom I have worked for more than 12 years."
Dolan's most recent arrest in Philadelphia was on March 23. He was driving another Mercedes, a gray 190E, in South Philadelphia. In his report, Officer Thomas Cairns wrote that the Mercedes' driver staggered from the car and "couldn't recite the alphabet."

In an interview, Cairns recalled what the driver had said then: "He told me to call Tom Ridge. He said he worked for Homeland Security."

Kay Daly & Manny Miranda

I missed the American Prospect's November bio on Kay Daly, head of the astroturf organization Coalition for a Fair Judiciary. Her arguments are a leading indicator of GOP strategy on judicial nominations - when she levels a charge, we can be sure that other Republicans will soon follow suit.

My favorite aspect of the story is her involvement in Hackergate. Whatever happened to old Manny Miranda, memo thief extraordinaire?

We know what's going on with the plan he drew up:

Alexander Bolton, Getting Ready for Court Fight, The Hill, 12/1/04: Republican battle lines are similar to those drawn up in summer 2003, when many believed Rehnquist or Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would announce their retirement. That strategy was drafted by Manuel Miranda, who was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) senior aide on judicial strategy.

Bill Wichterman, who heads coalition outreach for Frist, took on judicial confirmation planning for Frist at the beginning of this year.

Under the Miranda plan, as soon as Bush nominated a justice, Republicans and conservatives would issue press releases pre-emptively to deflect liberal efforts to define the nominee. Conservative groups would issue their own information packets while selected Republican senators would make statements and floor speeches.

While the nomination was reviewed in committee, Republican senators would speak publicly to counter expected negative coverage by newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Once the nomination reached the Senate floor, the majority leader and majority whip would take over and mobilize the entire conference behind the nominee. The 40-hour debate that Republican senators staged on the Senate floor at the end of 2003 was a trial run for this battle.

Outside groups would also be involved. Organizations such as Coalition for a Fair Judiciary would handle grassroots work while The Federalist Society would provide substantive arguments for use in Senate and media debates.

The business community would be expected to fund the communications campaign.
He's apparently still giving interviews on judicial nominations, including a bit of strategy in the odious Human Events, 11/19/04:
At least four scenarios exist for halting the filibusters, said Manuel Miranda, former counsel to both Frist and Hatch on judicial nominations. Since leaving the Senate in February, Miranda has criticized the Democrat obstructionism, which was documented in a series of memos highlighting the influence of liberal interest groups on nominees.

Frist's attempt to reach an accord with Democrats might be remote, but it's a starting point, Miranda said. After that, Frist might consider something similar to the proposal he offered in 2003 with Sen. Zell Miller (D.-Ga.), which would have gradually lowered the number of votes need to invoke "cloture" and force a final vote on a nominee.

Then there's the so-called "nuclear option," which would require 51 supportive senators to be present on the Senate floor when the GOP makes a motion on the interpretation of Senate Rule XXII, Miranda said. The presiding officer would then confirm that only a simple majority is needed to confirm a nominee.

The final option, and the most unlikely, according to Miranda, involves rewriting the Senate rules themselves at the beginning of the 109th Congress. Former Vice Presidents Richard Nixon (R), Hubert Humphrey (D) and Nelson Rockefeller (R), while serving in their capacity as Senate president, agreed that the Senate could change its rules at the start of its new session.

"I support the constitutional option, I support a rule change, I support elimination of the unconstitutional filibuster by any legal means," said Cornyn, the Texas senator.

Until the GOP formulates its strategy, Frist plans to maintain a certain degree of "civility" toward his Democrat colleagues, he said at Wednesday's press briefing. At the same time, however, he said the Republicans strongly believe the filibuster is wrong.

"We have constitutional duty to give advice and consent," Frist said. "That's our constitutional duty. That is shared by every member of our caucus because that's what our responsibility is. We feel as a caucus we have been denied that opportunity in the last Congress for the first time in history."
I'm pretty sure he should be in jail.

Pentagon Disinformation

Shanker and Schmitt, Pentagon Weighs Use of Deception in a Broad Arena, NYT, 12/13/04: The Pentagon is engaged in bitter, high-level debate over how far it can and should go in managing or manipulating information to influence opinion abroad, senior Defense Department civilians and military officers say.

Such missions, if approved, could take the deceptive techniques endorsed for use on the battlefield to confuse an adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations.

Critics of the proposals say such deceptive missions could shatter the Pentagon's credibility, leaving the American public and a world audience skeptical of anything the Defense Department and military say - a repeat of the credibility gap that roiled America during the Vietnam War.
I'm glad that someone at the Pentagon is concerned about the Department of Defense's credibility. I'm a little worried, though, that they are about 4 years too late.

As Steve Clemons explains over at The Washington Note, the DoD's credibility is already a bit damaged, by things like torture and lies. Steps that may have, at one time, restored that credibility - things like holding people accountable, promising not to do them again, and taking steps to ensure that they aren't repeated - were scoffed at. Don Rumsfeld still stands at his desk in the Pentagon, imagining himself to be living a tougher life than Gitmo detainees.

Moreover, who's to say that the DoD hasn't been waging a relentless disinformation campaign for the last four years? If one were to look back and imagine what a determined campaign might look like, how would it differ from what actually happened? The CIA or a foreign intelligence service says something that doesn't support the DoD line, so someone from Feith's office sends Ahmed Chalabi to talk to Judith Miller. A CIA analyst sticks to his guns, and gets threatened with retaliation. The CIA is purged, while DoD is glad-handed. The DoD knew, or at least exhibited reckless disregard for, facts that undercut their line. Yet they quashed them, discredited their advocates, and spread deceptions.

Government by Frame

It is commonplace to talk about the framing advantage enjoyed by Republicans. They define issues in a way that favors their positions and they have the media resources to quickly transform their cognitive shells into the conventional wisdom. It is an incredibly effective strategy, forcing Democrats, who lack the GOP megaphone, to debate issues on Republican terms.

It is not, however, a good way to approach policy. Competent policy management and development requires the ability to analyze issues from multiple sides and from multiple perspectives. There is a sense of dishonesty in the idea of framing, because politicians must consciously recognize that their frames are intentional, artificial as soon as they get to DC- after using frames to get elected, they must discard them to create policy.

GOP framing has been so effective, though, that the administration is either unable, or unwilling to see through them when making important policy decisions. The best example, though not actually a policy decision, is the withdrawn nomination of Bernard Kerik. Kerik, a nominee for head of the Department of Homelad Security, has been lambasted for transgression after transgression, ranging from possibly mythical nanny issues to bigamy to organized crime connections to Saudi government connections to junketing the creation of the Iraqi security forces [see Josh Marshall for details]. What's key in this discussion, though, is that he was horribly underqualified to serve as the head of the Department of Homeland Security. How could Bush and his advisors have chosen a guy like Kerik to head what the GOP pretends is the most important Cabinet Position of the 21st century?

They liked his "toughness." They believed their own campaign rhetoric, their frame of Bush's policy positions as "harder" than Kerry's. They lost sight of the fact that "toughness" has little to nothing to do with actually securing the country, if they ever saw, or cared about, this at all.

White House officials are defensive about the vetting process. They say they depended on Kerik to be forthcoming, and he failed to warn them of the nanny problem... But some administration officials acknowledge that the president's predilections work against a careful review. Bush hates leaks and enjoys popping surprise announcements on the press. He liked the idea of Kerik—the self-made tough guy—and he dismissed as gossip or press carping newspaper stories about Kerik's bending the rules. [Newsweek 12/20/04]
This is Bush governing with his gut - but his bowells have been filled with bilge from his sycophantic advisers. The GOP is more than willing to use bad policy for partisan advantage - but it would be nice if they would bother look at the costs of their decisions before imposing them on the country. I guess I'm not cynical enough.

Graham Opposes Borrowing to Pay for Social Security Abolition

President Bush has rightly forsworn increasing payroll taxes to finance the elimination of Social Security. Some people, though, seem to think that Bush intends to finance it instead through borrowing and increasing public debt. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, everyone's favorite Southern Republican, warned him that this course would be "irresponsible:"

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said reliance on borrowing to finance an estimated $1 trillion to $2 trillion in transition costs would be irresponsible and could undermine Bush's tax- and deficit-cutting goals.
"White House officials" don't believe that Graham's objections have merit, claiming that "borrowing would not endanger the president's other financial goals."

This is an excellent example of the GOP's ability to shift political debates to the right. In the above exchange, Graham looks like a moderate - but he still favors the abolition of Social Security. He just wants to do it by "raising the annual salary cap for Social Security taxes from $87,900 to $150,000," which is a far superior funding mechanism for what remains horrible legislation. If we are going to raise the ceiling on payroll taxes (which is already scheduled to rise to $102,000 in 2008, I believe), the already miniscule risk of a Social Security crisis is rendered inconceivable.

We occasionally get mired down in the minutiae of political debates, challenging Bush on details when we should be looking at the big picture.

Bruce Josten and the Corporate Agenda

Bruce Josten is the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in charge of public affairs, including lobbying and monitoring legislative development. Jeff Birbaum in yesterday's Washington Post included some predictions from Josten's most recent legislative update, forecasts renowned within business circles for being "complete and unvarnished," "nuanced and realistic, often to a fault." The predictions are interesting, but not nearly as much as what they reveal about the underlying agenda of business lobbyists. While it has been glaringly clear for decades, business favors the hard right:

Despite the Republicans' impressive victories on Election Day, the corporate agenda won't be easy to get through Congress. What the House giveth, the Senate will taketh away. So industry groups will have to redouble their efforts to enact the promises their GOP allies have made.
The good news, Josten said, is that the Senate now has 55 Republicans and that the GOP freshmen include "conservatives with strong ideological credentials" such as Reps. Jim DeMint (S.C.), David Vitter (La.) and former representative Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. In other words, he concluded, "the political center in the Senate has moved to the right."
They pretend that their issues, things like corporate pork, are pocketbook issues; the question, of course, is whose pocketbook are we talking about?
When it comes to the economic legislation that business lobbyists care most about, he said, additional obstacles stand in the way. The highest of these: Americans don't care as deeply as they once did about pocketbook issues.
They have a problem with the budget deficit, but only to the extent that it stands in the way of more corporate pork, social security abolition and revolutionary changes to the tax code:
Another barrier: the federal budget deficit, which will run to hundreds of billions of dollars each year. "The continuing flow of red ink," Josten said, "has the potential to interfere with any plans to overhaul Social Security or the tax code" -- which are President Bush's top fiscal initiatives.
They apparently favor Bush's ill-defined yet certainly inane tax package:
Tax overhaul, in particular, could be fraught with hazards for companies, Josten said. Lawmakers of both parties are sure to want to cut "corporate welfare" and close "corporate loopholes." As a result, individual industries could face higher tax bills even if the president keeps his promise for "tax reform" to neither lose nor gain revenue overall.
They want Trade Promotion Authority, "tort reform," and an investigation of "the big-money, independent groups called 527s that made a mockery of campaign-finance reform."

Again, none of this should be surprising, but it's nice to have some confirmation.

Beinart Extended Criticism

I have struggled with Beinart's "Fighting Faith" essay in The New Republic. It is wrong on so many levels as to be difficult to respond to. More than just being wrong, it actively damages liberalism, the Democratic Party, and the country, by emboldening conservatives and obscuring reality. It has also forced liberals to plunge their heads in the murky barrel of recrimination, not in the privacy of our homes, but in full public view.

Let's begin at the beginning. The analogy between Communism and Al Qaeda is poor. The main distinction, for our purposes, is that there is no credible argument that liberals have pro-fundamentalist tendencies. Americans for Democratic Action was so necessary because liberals at the time weren't firm in their opposition to communism, not because they didn't favor invasion of the Soviet Union. We don't need to expel Islamic fundamentalists from the American left, because there are none. The GOP has tried to tar us as being pro-fundamentalist, and some people believe them. These are baseless slurs, but Beinart's framing of the issue actually advances them. Islamic fundamentalism is more akin to Naziism than Communism in the way it plots on the American political spectrum, and liberalism did not need to be "fundamentally reshaped" to deal with Naziism.

The idea that conservatism has been "fundamentally reshaped" by the events of 9/11 is also wrong. George W. Bush and senior administration officials wanted to invade iraq prior to 9/11, and they seized the opportunity presented by 9/11 to act on their desires. In order to believe that the GOP fundamentally changed its national security vision, one would have to believe that they willingly assumed the burden of democratizing the Middle East. They did not – they believed that there would be no burden, that it would be a cakewalk. They still won't fund their war with taxes, give the troops the armor and equipment they need (despite the sound and fury), or change the military force structure to facilitate nation building.

He is right, in a sense, that the Democratic foreign policy remains to a degree ad hoc. The unifying vision of our foreign policy is anti-proliferation, from Russian loose nukes, to the Fissile Materials Control Treaty, to converting highly enriched uranium research reactors to leu. We did not articulate this well in the campaign, despite John Kerry's strong record on the issue and his highlighting it during the debates. We needed to do more.

He is also right that "post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions--most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn--that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world." That is primarily because the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism is not central to our hope for a better world. We stand a much better chance of using the military to limit the capabilities of sadistic non-state actors than we do of successfully waging a global counter-terrorist war. The military should not be central to our fight against sadistic terrorism; foreign aid, diplomacy, and outreach are more likely to hinder the spread of Islamic fundamentalism than willy-nilly invasions. Calling Michael Moore or Moveon "Wallacite" is simply moronic – Moveon has 2.8 million people, and not one of them supports Islamic fundamentalism.

Beinart claims that the 34 percent of voters that mentioned either Iraq or terrorism in exit polls, that "voters who cited terrorism backed Bush even more strongly than those who cited moral values," and that "it was largely this new cohort--the same one that handed the GOP its Senate majority in 2002--that accounts for Bush's improvement over 2000." He does not mention that those who mentioned Iraq as their primary concern voted overwhelmingly for Kerry. Foreign Policy was a wash in the 2004 election.

Beinart says "Kerry's nomination was a compromise between a party elite desperate to neutralize the terrorism issue and a liberal base unwilling to redefine itself for the post-September 11 world." He has no evidence for this assertion. Kerry was selected by "the base" in the primary process, and there is nothing to suggest that the "party elite" had anything to do with it. I would like to see any evidence Mr. Beinart might have.

Kerry's vote for the military authorization might have "satisfied his foreign policy advisers," but they were all operating on false assumptions about the truthfulness and reliability of the Bush administration's claims about intelligence. Beinart appears to be unable to admit, even in hindsight, that those who relied on the administration were not operating on good facts.

Beinart's assertion that "September 11 validated the transformation" of the Democratic foreign policy from one of benign neglect to "a new post-Vietnam liberalism that embraced U.S. Power" is wrong on multiple levels. First, Clinton's foreign policy was overwhelmingly guided by the post-Vietnam Powell Doctrine, which counseled using overwhelming force to achieve clear goals with a definable exit strategy. Beinart believes that the fact that "Democratic foreign policy wonks not only supported the war in Afghanistan, they generally felt it didn't go far enough--urging a larger nato force capable of securing the entire country" is a sign of incipient hawkishness. It is not – it is a sign that Democrats take war seriously, and want to make sure it's done right. Bush's hawkishness is predicated on wars fought casually, without sacrifice or second thought.

Beinart states that "had [the war in Afghanistan], rather than the war in Iraq, become the defining event of the post-September 11 era, the 're-education' about U.S. power, and about the new totalitarian threat from the Muslim world that had transformed Kerry's advisers, might have trickled down to the party's liberal base, transforming it as well." He has no evidence for, and is in fact probably wrong, on this assertion. The war in Afghanistan was gradually accepted by the liberal base – contemporaneous hesitance about it does not translate into durable opposition. Has Mr. Beinart bothered to call Michael Moore or Eli Pariser to ask them what they think about the war in Afghanistan now? Bush ran on Iraq as his model for future war fighting, Kerry ran on Afghanistan, and the Democratic base supported him.

Peter Beinart is wrong in his characterization of the Democratic primary process. There are competing narratives explaining John Kerry's primary victory – electability (tough campaigner, battle tested), hybrid (strong on domestic and foreign policy), good organizer (veteran team on the ground in Iowa, home state advantage in New Hampshire). Beinart, as is his wont, constructs his own amalgam narrative, drawing on the worst of the Republican characterizations, that Kerry turned "isolationist," "exploit[ed] public antipathy toward foreign aid and nation-building," to head off Dean from the left. I seem to recall Kerry embracing multilateralism – reluctance to unilaterally invade countries is not a sign of "isolationism."

The vote against the $87 billion was not a vote for isolationism. It was a vote for more sensible priorities in the war on terrorism, for more fiscal accountability in the war on terrorism, and for more strategic accountability in the war on terrorism. Let's look at some of Kerry's specific comments:

Kerry said he and others warned the president to take time to build a multinational coalition and discern the consensus of the American people. "Oh, no - this president rushed to war," Kerry said.

The fact that the United States will spend $87 billion in Iraq this year - more than the nation will spend on education - "is a disgrace of judgment." [Tampa Tribune, 11/21/03]
Kerry wanted an international coalition to support the war, the opposite of isolationism.
Mr Bush is also embroiled in a struggle with Congress, which has failed to approve the $ 87 billion that he has requested for rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan next year. Mr Bush has public opinion against him on the issue, with an overwhelming majority believing that the bill should be met by cancelling some of Mr Bush's tax cuts for the richest Americans rather than adding to the US deficit. [The London Times, 10/28/03]
The liberal base (and the rest of the country) opposed the $87 billion because of the way it was funded, not because they were isolationist.
"This president has done it wrong every step of the way," Kerry said. "He broke every promise and he's done it wrong every step of the way. I'm not going to vote for him to continue to do it wrong." [Boston Herald, 10/27/03]
Kerry wanted more oversight, not isolationism.
"Well, Joe, I had seared in me an experience which you don't have, and that's the experience of being one of those troops on the front lines when the policy has gone wrong," he said. "And the way you best protect the troops is to guarantee that you put the troops in the safest, strongest position as fast as possible. Our troops are today more exposed, are in greater danger, because this president didn't put together a real coalition, because this president's been unwilling to share the burden and the task." [NYT, 10/27/03]
I could go on. John Kerry was not an isolationist, did not vote against the $87 billion because he wanted to starve the troops, and did not go wobbly in the war on terrorism. Reading over the reporting from the time, though, it's clear where those slurs originated: Joe Lieberman, The New Republic, and the DLC. It is much harder to refute that sort of distortion when its made by nominal allies, even the liberal New Republic.

Beinart sort of acknowledges the unfairness of his characterization of Kerry's record, noting that "the only alternative principle he clearly articulated was multilateralism, which often sounded like a veiled way of asking Americans to do less." Note Beinart's passive voice: it was institutions like the New Republic, blinded by their zeal for Lieberman, that distorted Kerry's statements into something like Beinart's caricature. But, "because [Kerry] never urged a national mobilization for safety and freedom, his discussion of terrorism lacked Bush's grandeur." This may be true, but Beinart shouldn't pretend that Bush's vision has "grandeur," nor that it called for a "national mobilization" of anything by the red pen.

That was the decent part of Beinart's essay. It gets worse from there. Beinart claims that "the fundamental problem was the party's liberal base, which would have refused to nominate anyone who proposed redefining the Democratic Party in the way the ADA did in 1947." This counterfactual aspersion might be worth addressing if anyone had ever made a credible case that the Democratic Party needed an ADA moment. Beinart certainly hasn't made such a case. More egregiously, though, Beinart actually translates his unsupported insinuation into a call to action: "[Transforming the party at its grassroots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge] requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry Wallace. In the party today, two such heirs loom largest: Michael Moore and MoveOn." Michael Moore is not part of the Democratic Party. MoveOn did not support John Kerry in the Democratic primary, and certainly didn't exercise undue control over the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. Dean's pre-primary strength was derived in part from MoveOn's support, but short of purging MoveOn members from the system, there is no way to "wrest" control from them. They didn't exercise control, their candidate lost. And again, MoveOn does not support Islamic fundamentalism – they oppose ineffective, counterproductive military actions taken in its name. That may be too complex an argument to make to the electorate, but Mr. Beinart doesn't appear to be dealing with optics or presentation – he honestly appears to think that MoveOn and foreign policy liberals want Islamic fundamentalism to spread. MoveOn and the democratic wing of the Party are anti-Islamic fundamentalist – we are "hard," to use Beinart's New Leader's nomenclature – but we recognize that the invasion of Iraq did not move us closer to that goal.

Beinart criticizes Moore for stating "there is no terrorist threat." Moore is engaging in hyperbole, but he is correct that the threat has been blown way out of proportion for partisan political purposes. I find it hard to believe that someone could have lived through the entirety of Bush's carefully managed campaignistration and not come to the same conclusion. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't prudently combat it – it means that good policy can ensure that it is not an existential threat. The burden of proof is on Beinart to establish that it is a threat, but he has not done so.

"Moore is a non-totalitarian, but, like Wallace, he is not an anti-totalitarian." I don't want to and can't speak for Michael Moore, but I can assure you nonetheless: Michael Moore is anti-Islamic fundamentalist. I don't even think "Islamic totalitarianism"actually exists – Al Qaedism wants a hybrid version of theocratic authoritarianism. It is not even possible to have a totalitarian non-state actor like modern Islamic fundamentalism; Beinart talks gibberish. Denying something exists is a factual disagreement, not any sort of Chamberlain-esque acquiescence.

When Beinart turns to Moveon, he fares no better. Consider his charge that "a [MoveOn] bulletin suggested that the United States should have 'utilize[d] international law and judicial procedures, including due process' against bin Laden and that 'it's possible that a tribunal could even have garnered cooperation from the Taliban.'" Beinart leaves this quote alone, uncommented on, but it is quite possibly correct. It is certainly not self-evidently incorrect.

Beinart claims that MoveOn's emails "convey the same basic hostility to U.S. Power" as Michael Moore. Note that nowhere did Beinart prove the Moore opposed U.S. Power (should "power" really be capitalized?). MoveOn, and I suppose Moore, have a different conception of power – one where international cooperation, diplomacy, and general "soft power" are more effective than crass militarism. Based on the ineffectiveness of our track record of crass militarism, we'd better hope MoveOn is correct; otherwise, we are impotent. Beinart also makes clear that he didn't talk to anyone from MoveOn by claiming they have "more than 1.5 million members;" they have 2.8 million members.

Beinart engages in the conservative tactic of silence ergo "supports something bad," noting that MoveOn "seems to have largely lost interest in any agenda for fighting terrorism at all," focusing on the negative. This is not an acceptable rhetorical tactics when applied to a fellow liberal organization, since every group need not put together a comprehensive policy agenda. If MoveOn wants to remain silent on strategy formation, there is no harm done.

Beinart's next criticism of MoveOn reveals more about him than MoveOn. He claims that merely asking if "the threat to the United States' existence [is] great enough to justify the evisceration of our most treasured principles" "grossly inflated the [PATRIOT] Act's effect," and "contrasted it with the-- implicitly far smaller--danger from Al Qaeda." Every action we take in the WoT should meet this test, and it is appalling that Beinart criticizes them for merely asking it.

Beinart levels much calumny at MoveOn, all of it ridiculous. He engages in guilt by association with ANSWER, critiques the tone of linked articles, and is otherwise ridiculous. If Beinart disagrees with MoveOn, he should call Eli, Wes or Joan up and talk to them. He should challenge someone from the organization to a debate, or try to host a joint forum with them. He should go to an Al Gore speech and hear what he's got to say. He should leave the ridiculous slurs to the National Review.

12/13/2004

Jack Abramoff

Andrew Ferguson provides some background on Jack Abramoff in The Weekly Standard. He heavily relies on Nina Easton's Gang of Five, which I excerpted here. It's important to realize just how plugged into the conservative movement this guy is.

Filibuster Update

Helen Dewar and Mike Allen report that "several lawyers and former administration officials who have discussed the issue with West Wing aides" think Bush is going to nominate a "strong ideological conservative" to replace Rehnquist.

The three prong GOP strategy to force through the nomination:

  1. Distort the Constitution. Bill Frist has already begun the task, telling the Federalist Society that the filibuster of judicial nominees is a "formula for tyranny by the minority." They will accuse Democrats of betraying the rule of law, of undermining the constitutional powers of the executive branch, and of risking the integrity of the Supreme Court. All cases of clear projection.

  2. Forbid the Filibuster. After laying the groundwork by distorting the Constitution, the GOP will get Dick Cheney to declare filibusters of Court nominees unconstitutional. It is a lawless grab for power, a violation of the principle of separation of powers, and an affront to Senate prerogatives.

  3. Claim their "Due." The GOP will sell their nominee to a disinterested public and a cowed press by claiming an electoral mandate and by arguing that a conservative replacement is necessary for ideological balance on the Court. "What they plan to say is that they would not be fundamentally changing the makeup of the court" by replacing Rehnquist with another hardline conservative. The GOP is impervious to claims of hypocrisy, otherwise one could accuse them of betraying the idea of a "qualified judiciary."
Harry Reid is threatening to close down the Senate if Republicans invoke the "nuclear option," forbidding the filibuster. I hope it's not a hollow threat. Democrats need to begin, right now, forcefully defending the Constitution, defending the idea of a separation of powers, and denying that there is a mandate for a conservative court.

Update 12/14/04 9:57 AM EST: Via Salon, I see Hugh Hewitt's reaction: "Bill Frist's finger is on the [nuclear] button. Push it, Senator." Very Goldwateresque, Mr. Hewitt.

Amtrak 21 Thrown a Bone

The omnibus spending bill, laden as it was with poor policy and pork politics, punished Northeastern and Midwestern Republicans that requested increased funding for Amtrak. 21 Republicans had their road projects excised from the bill at the request of Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), whose dislike of Amtrak "is seen by some northern Republicans as suspect, given the close ties of Sunbelt conservatives to highway, oil and gas interests."

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has promised to restore funding for some of the road projects early in the next session. This hasn't placated the neutered Midwestern and Northeastern Republicans, but they will have to shut up and take it. GOP strategy is to suck the blue states dry, building up resentment of government, which can then be channeled into movement conservatism. They run as the anti-government Party despite their total control, creating a perverse incentive for malgovernance, corruption, and incompetence. So long as Americans reward them with their votes, we get the government we deserve.

Sources:

The original The Hill article on the story:

The Hill, 11/24/04: Deep in the transportation section of this year’s omnibus spending bill, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) dispensed a little appropriator’s justice, punishing 21 Republicans who wrote him a letter in support of $1.8 billion for Amtrak.

Istook, chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, drastically reduced, or entirely excised, the transportation earmarks that those lawmakers were expecting to receive, making good on a little-noticed threat he issued in a letter last February.
UPI report on Istook's four sentence "apology."

An Oklahoma editorial:
Muskogee Phoenix, 12/8/04: Being the chair of a committee doesn't endow a lawmaker with totalitarian powers, and a czarist attitude doesn't work in a democratic government.

Just because a representative from New York, Connecticut or New Jersey doesn't agree with a lawmaker from Oklahoma, the people in New York, Connecticut or New Jersey shouldn't be penalized.

And we wouldn't want Oklahomans punished either for the attitude or actions of one of our lawmakers.
On the rumored McHugh/Istook tussle:
The Hill, 12/7/04: In December, Istook will have to face Weldon and McHugh, both of whom sit on the House Republican Steering Committee, to plead his case for remaining a cardinal. Several sources said that McHugh had to be physically restrained from Istook when he learned that his projects were struck from the bill.

Istook's office disputed this version of events. However, Leydorf acknowledged that McHugh was not pleased with Istook."I think Mr. McHugh was pretty upset," Leydorf told The Hill Nov. 23.

McHugh characterized his conversation with Istook as "spirited."

"We absolutely did not almost come to blows, but we did have a spirited discussion, and I have no doubt that Congressman Istook knew how passionately I felt about this," said McHugh.
How it's playing in Connecticut:
The Day, 12/11/04: This is the story of the “Amtrak 21.” It's a dramatic tale involving political intrigue and, according to some, near-violence between two congressmen. And it comes with a strong message for liberals and moderates: They, more than anyone else, need to get the federal government off their backs.

The Amtrak 21 is a group of moderate Republicans, mostly from the Northeast and Midwest. These lawmakers represent districts that regard Amtrak as an essential piece of their transportation grid. Their crime was writing a letter that called for $1.8 billion in Amtrak funding.

Rep. Ernest Istook does not like Amtrak. The Oklahoman is the chairman of the powerful House subcommittee that doles out money for transportation projects. Istook had previously sent his colleagues a letter that said, “Every dollar for Amtrak is a dollar less for other transportation funding, including projects in your state and your district.”

The Amtrak supporters took the Istook letter as a general statement. Little did they know it was a preview of the grisly revenge he would wreak against them. Istook then picked up an ax and massacred their pet projects.

For example, the Connecticut district of Rep. Rob Simmons lost $6 million for a new highway, $9 million for road widening and smaller sums for other items. During his re-election campaign last month, Simmons had told voters in his mostly Democratic ward that sending him, a Republican, to Washington would keep them in the good graces of the party in power.

Another Istook victim, Rep. John McHugh of upstate New York, had been flattering the chairman for years. When he got money for a Canadian border crossing in 2002, he thanked Istook with great servility. “I am thrilled that Chairman Istook and the subcommittee have honored my request,” his press release read. There are reports that McHugh was so enraged by the Amtrak betrayal that he and Istook came close to blows.

Not only had Istook turned a disagreement into a backstab, but he crowned it with an act of supreme hypocrisy. While crying about the scarcity of transportation dollars, he earmarked $50 million for a new 10-lane highway in Oklahoma City.

Spy Satellite

Saturday Dana Priest confirmed John Pike's suspicion, that the "secret program" hidden in the intelligence reform program, was a $10 billion "stealth" spy satellite program, once known as "Misty." The program has been criticized for its cost and its anachronism, but was strongly championed by Senate and House appropriations committees and the House intelligence committee.

National Press Club Event on Future of the Democratic Party

Stu Rothenberg at the National Pres Club on Friday on Moveon.org's comments [my transcription of 39:45-41:00]:

I opened up USA Today and I saw a comment from somebody from Moveon.org uh who said the Democratic Party quote "is lead by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base" the person went on to talk about how much money Moveon and other progressive groups had raised and said "now it's our party we bought it we own it and we're going to take it back." I would simply say I don't think that is a particularly useful way to approach this, to throw (laughter) down the, to create, there are obviously fissures within the party, differences within the party, and making it kind of us versus them, "it's those corporate lobbyists in the Democratic Party," uhm, you know the Democratic Party needs the AFL CIO and they need George Soros at the same time, I guess, and maybe they even need Whoopi Goldberg, although I'd be happy to debate that. Uh, but they, you know, they need all these constituencies but this kind of rhetoric and insider and outsider is just you know that's just looking for a fight. We need a more uh mature discussion rather than a puffing out of the collective chests. I'll stop there.
Borosage went on to defend Moveon a bit, calling them "very relevant" to the debate about opposing crony capitalism.

Contempt was dripping from Rothenberg's voice as he made the above comment, as though to laugh at the hopelessly naive Moveon crowd. This despite the fact that Moveon was a perfect team player in 2004, doing everything they could to get George W. Bush out of office. Rather than embracing Moveon with open arms, much of the establishment (especially the "elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base") has called for their marginalization or even a purge. Moveon's message, which was certainly aggressive, was defensive - it was a reaction to the "immature discussion" emanating from Al From and Bruce Reed and Peter Beinart. From was sitting at the head table with Rothenberg - if Stu was sincere about his advice that Democrats embrace their coalition, he should have directed his comments to From, who's later gratuitous slamming of Michael Moore was petulant whining worthy of George W. Bush.

From also immaturely responded to David Sirota, who politely asked a question about the DLC's funders, saying, "well first of all you probably don't know very much about the DLC." See Sirota's reaction to the DLC's criticism of him.

Goss Mum

After three years of pressuring intelligence agencies to produce intelligence product that politically supports administration policy, the executive branch appointed Porter Goss to head the CIA. His first step in office was to bring four Republican operatives from his House Intelligence Committee over to senior positions in the Agency. An exodus of CIA analysts, operatives, and officials ensued, with no end in sight (Sen. Rockefeller's staff "is picking up 'talk of another 20 people leaving.'").

Some people believe Goss is well intentioned, but "clumsy." There appears to be no basis for such confidence in Goss' intentions. As John Diamond reports in USA Today, Goss has said nothing at all, much less anything reassuring. The only evidence from the horse's mouth is the leaked interdepartmental memo which reminds the agency:

"We support the Administration and its policies in our work. As Agency employees
we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the Administration
or its policies."

Even if Goss is merely clumsy, we can not afford incompetence in the CIA. He is not qualified for the position.

Goss Background Posts:

Goss Managing CIA Personnel with Neutron Bomb
More on Corruption of the CIA
AP on Goss Purges
Hitler Youth
Goss Appoints "Dusty"
Richer Promotion Unusual Good News on CIA Front
Jay Jakub
Patrick Murray
Goss Purge
Goss Extreme Makeover

12/12/2004

Brent Bozell

Atrios asks about setting up a liberal version of Brent Bozell's Media Research Center and Parent's Television Council, which are apparently responsible for > 99% of recent complaints to the FCC. As explained in great detail by Washington Post Staff Writer Bob Thompson last Thursday, the PTC uses sheltered, infantilized graduates of conservative religious colleges to monitor media morality. When they detect something "objectionable," they send action alerts out to their ~ million member list, generating huge numbers of complaints to the FCC from people that wouldn't and don't usually watch the shows they're complaining about. A single complaint to the FCC is adequate to trigger an investigation.

I don't often sympathize with pro-corporation regulatory schemes - but usually it's because the pro-corp. schemes are anti-democratic. The FCC's system is so broken that reregulating in a pro-corporate direction is actually more democratic than the current system. The PTC, even when all million members express genuine outrage over a bit of programming, are still a minority faction using the power of the state to impose their views on the rest of society. And there is no procedure for challenging them.

Someone has complained to the FCC about indecency at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies. [Lisa de Moraes, FCC Wary of Greeks Baring Gifts at Games, Washington Post, 12/11/04] I feel fairly strongly that televised expressions of Greek heritage are actually good, even when boobies are involved; similarly, I think naked cherubim and bare breasted depictions of Justice are acceptable for public consumption. There is nowhere for me to register my preference. Should I write to the FCC everytime I see a tasteful (or funny or pleasantly ironic) depiction of human sexuality, requesting that the FCC not fine that show? If I see a particularly incisive piece of critical commentary that features profanity, should I email the FCC to register my approval?

Jeff Jarvis' FOIA request.

Mediaweek:

The number of indecency complaints had soared dramatically to more than 240,000 in the previous year, Powell said. The figure was up from roughly 14,000 in 2002, and from fewer than 350 in each of the two previous years. There was, Powell said, “a dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes.”

What Powell did not reveal—apparently because he was unaware—was the source of the complaints. According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003—99.8 percent—were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group.
Ellen Gray, Parents Television Council Carries a Big Stick with FCC, Philladelphia Inquirer, 12/8/04.

Yushchenko Poisoned by Dioxin

The BBC reports that "extensive tests showed a form of dioxin had been used, leaving Mr Yushchenko's face disfigured." "His blood and tissue registered concentrations of dioxin 1,000 times above normal levels...There appeared to be little lasting damage to Mr Yushchenko's internal organs, though experts say it could take more than two years for his skin to return to normal." Time Magazine has a more pessimistic outlook, claiming "his long-term prospects are bleak." The Telegraph reports Yushchenko's doctor speculating that dioxin may have been a carrier for other toxins.

Dr Michael Zimpfer, the head of Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus clinic, said further tests would establish whether Mr Yushchenko, who first fell ill in September, had also been poisoned by another toxin.

"Dioxin is easily absorbed by the body and might have been used as a carrier to facilitate the passage of other substances into the body," said Dr Zimpfer. "If, for example, arsenic had been used, it would have taken effect quicker had dioxin been used as a carrier."



Syrian Cooperation With US

Carla Anne Robbins and Greg Jaffe, U.S. Sees Efforts By Syria To Control Border With Iraq, Wall Street Journal, 12/10/04:

The suggestion of a new approach from Syria is at odds with recent harsh criticism coming out of Washington and from Iraqi officials. In an interview this week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the "damage [Syria and Iran] are doing inside of Iraq is killing Americans." Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie yesterday accused Syria of allowing insurgent leaders to direct operations from Damascus and to allow insurgents to freely cross the border into Iraq. "It is very difficult to convince me that the Syrian government does not know about these activities," he told Reuters.

The view from key U.S. military officers in the field appears to be different. Another senior military officer described a series of recent steps the Syrians have taken to tighten up their border with Iraq, including increasing the number of troops and checkpoints and building berms to make crossing over more difficult. According to this officer, the Syrians have made "hundreds of arrests at the border" and have used their security forces "to go after guys" that the U.S. has asked for.

Meanwhile, a civilian U.S. official said the Syrians arrested one comparatively big fish in recent weeks, at the request of the U.S. The person arrested is believed to be a former Iraqi military officer involved in the Iraqi insurgency. The Syrians haven't turned the former officer over to the U.S. or to Iraqis, "but there is intelligence coordination going on," according to the U.S. official, with Syria sharing the result of his interrogation...

One Pentagon official who favors harsher treatment of Damascus dismissed any changes in Syrian behavior as cosmetic, and said the Syrians recently allowed a meeting of former Iraqi Baathists supporting the insurgency to take place in Lebanon.

Indeed, views differ over how seriously to take recent changes in Damascus's behavior -- and whether to meet it with more engagement or additional pressure...

It isn't clear why there is such a gap in perception with regard to Syria and its support for the Iraq insurgency. One reason for the rift may be that U.S. officials still don't have a clear picture of how the insurgency in Iraq is organized and financed.
"If you ask each of the division commanders [in Iraq], `Who is the enemy?' you will get a different answer from each -- if you get a coherent answer at all," said one senior defense official who has recently traveled to Iraq.

Iraqi Security Forces

Yesterday's Financial Times carried an update on the training of Iraqi security forces. John Reed, Police recruits thrust into Iraq's front line, Financial Times, 12/11/04:

The US-led military coalition has long identified training of Iraqi security forces, led countrywide by American Lt Gen David Petraeus, as a priority. But the issue of police preparedness has gained new urgency with the approach of next month's national election, which Iraqi and foreign officials expect will see an upsurge of violence. Police, along with the Iraqi national guard, will be deployed to guard the 10,000 polling stations. For fear of tarnishing the vote's credibility, coalition forces will keep their distance.

With elections in mind, Apache's curriculum includes a course on public order, which about 2,200 officers have completed. The alarmingly realistic scenario enacted for guests this week saw a crowd of a dozen "demonstrators" pelt bricks and petrol bombs at police. Forming an orderly phalanx protected by plastic shields, the officers pushed the demonstrators back before subduing troublemakers in headlocks.

Even as the foreign advisers push ready-made solutions, Iraqi police admit they are overwhelmed. Iraq's interim government, when it assumed power from the coalition in June, inherited a force largely assembled by the multinational forces with little screening of recruits. Officials are now working through a vetting exercise aimed at purging criminals from police ranks. In recent months they have stepped up training courses like the one at Apache, and recruited aggressively from former members of Mr Hussein's army to form new elite units.

But some units still complain of shortages of equipment or ammunition, supported by anecdotes of insurgents outgunning police.

Police regularly come under pressure from political factions or criminal gangs to release suspects or refrain from investigations. Col Karim Kareem, an Apache spokesman, says the problem stems from the weakness of Iraq's interim political authority. "People think the government is not so strong and the law cannot be applied."

Israeli Spy Case

Juan Cole has an important update on the spy case, using a UPI report to flesh out the rationale for the original FBI investigation into AIPAC.

For more information:

Iran Contra II Update IV
Iran Contra II Update III
Iran Contra II Update II
Iran Contra II Update

Operation Lightning Freedom

Lieutenant General David Barno offers some anecdotal evidence that the Taliban amnesty is working:

[Reuters] Afghanistan's radical Islamic group, the Taliban, has been thrown into turmoil over an offer of reconciliation from President Hamid Karzai, the commander of U.S.-led forces in the country said on Thursday.

Lieutenant General David Barno told Reuters in an interview that Taliban members had been devastated by their failure to scare off Afghans from voting in the country's first democratic election on Oct. 9, and now feared being left out of its future.

"I think they are at an internal crossroads and they are having great difficultly deciding what their future should be," Barno said in his rug-strewn office in the U.S. military camp in Kabul.

"We see indications that there are arguments even among the leadership about whether it's time to accept reconciliation with the Afghan government."
The US has launched an offensive, Operation Lightning Freedom, to secure the country before Spring parliamentary elections and to "to persuade Taleban militants to accept a recent US amnesty offer and disarm." [BBC] The operation "includes a redeployment to tighten security on the border with Pakistan and raids by special forces to snatch rebel leaders." [CNN/AP] Barno hopes that success in Lightning Freedom will allow a troop draw down next year.

 

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