Monday, July 31, 2006

Don't Hold Your Breath On Immigration Reform

A Way Across the Border
By John Tierney
The New York Times
The good news for immigration reform is that both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are denouncing a plan put forward last week. When both sides care enough to complain, at least they’re talking.

This plan comes from Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the Republican who has spent the summer selling the idea to his party’s leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House. With their encouragement, he joined a Senate Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, in unveiling a shrewd compromise between the House’s approach to immigration — seal the border! — and the Senate’s plan for a guest-worker program.

To mollify the border hawks, Hutchison and Pence proposed a guest-worker program that wouldn’t start for two years, and then only if the president certified that new border security measures had been carried out. Although some Democrats are complaining publicly about the delay, this isn’t a deal-breaker, because it would take a couple of years to set up the guest-worker program anyway.

To get a guest-worker visa, immigrants would have to apply in their home countries. That’s another concession to the House Republicans, who accused the Senate of effectively offering amnesty to illegal immigrants by letting them remain in America while they applied for a visa.

By making them go home, Pence can reassure the Republican base that lawbreakers aren’t being rewarded, they’re just being given the same chance to apply for a visa as any worker in their home country. Anyone in a Latin American country with a free-trade agreement with the United States could get a visa if an American employer promised to hire him.

But would illegal immigrants be willing to go home? Democratic critics of Pence, like Senator Edward Kennedy, warn that immigrants would be too afraid of losing their jobs, and in many cases their families, to risk being stranded in their home countries waiting for a visa.

That’s a valid concern, especially if federal bureaucrats had to process all those applications. Immigration officials are already swamped with paperwork. If millions of illegal immigrants suddenly started applying for a new guest-worker program, they could end up waiting years for visas.

But Pence has an ingenious solution: guarantee workers that their visa applications will be processed within two weeks. The federal government would oversee the process and run background checks for security risks, but most of the routine work — processing applications, doing medical checks, matching applicants with employers — would be handled at “Ellis Island centers” in Latin American countries run by American private companies or agencies.

Pence thinks the most likely operators of these centers would be companies experienced in placing job applicants, like But some of Pence’s fans in the White House and on Capitol Hill envision letting other groups get involved too — perhaps churches or labor unions or trade associations.

If an applicant already had an employer willing to hire him, the center would confirm it. If he were looking for a job, the center would see if any employers were interested. Once word got out that there was a quick way to get a visa, illegal immigrants would want to come out of the shadows, and their employers would be under new pressure to make sure workers had the visas.

The guest workers would be able, after 17 years, to apply for permanent residency. Some Democrats fear that after the long wait it might still be impossible for the immigrants to become citizens, but Pence says the system can be set up to make sure there are enough slots for them as long as they follow the law.

“I don’t think the American people are very concerned about giving legal immigrants the choice of permanent status or citizenship in the future,” Pence says. “What concerns Americans is giving people amnesty for breaking the law right now.”

Pence, the chairman of the Republican conservative caucus in the House, figures that of the more than 110 members in the caucus, a third are dead set against his proposal. But he estimates that a third are undecided, and a third are leaning in favor.

Getting them and the rest of Congress to pass this proposal in time for the election won’t be easy — certainly not as simple as railing at illegal immigrants, as Republicans have been doing in their interminable hearings around the country. But if they want to show voters they can do something besides complain, there’s a deal to be made.

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Prioritizing Family Over Work

Mom's Balancing Act
By Judith Warner
The New York Times
The little media tempest over Katie Couric’s non-refusal to go to Iraq is, in news cycle time, long past. Yet, I’m still hearing echoes about her “wimping out” from male journalist friends. And I’m still feeling that, by having the honesty and courage to publicly admit that there are limits to what she is willing to do as CBS’s new evening anchor, she has done all of us a great service.

Couric did not categorically refuse to report from war zones. But she did say, in late May, when asked if she would go to Iraq after the CBS news correspondent Kimberly Dozier was badly wounded there, “I think the situation there is so dangerous, and as a single parent with two children, that’s something I won’t be doing.” She later said she’d resolve questions of travel on a “case-by-case basis ... it really depends on the situation and what’s happening.”

In other words, if her CBS bosses told her to jump, Couric, unlike most ambitious journalists, wouldn’t immediately answer, “How high?” Family considerations would come first.

It seems to me that Couric — in her mind, at least, as the situation under discussion was hypothetical — was drawing a line in the sand: There are work demands that are appropriate and those that are inappropriate. There are tradeoffs that are reasonable and feasible, and others that simply can’t be reconciled with a life of sole parental responsibility.

Many people have said they believe that Couric is out of line. Being a top journalist, they say, is an if-you-can’t-take-the-heat-get-out-of-the-kitchen situation. Others — and these people seem, generally, to be increasingly vocal these days — feel that Couric’s sense of entitlement, her self-given right to even think “no” to a job demand, is typical of today’s parents, who are always looking for an easy out from job responsibilities that the childless end up having to shoulder.

I disagree very strongly with these people. But I would, on the other hand, qualify my glee at Couric’s statements with the recognition that the freedom to say — or even think — “no” to potential job demands is a privilege enjoyed by very, very few working people. To do it, you either need to be so desirable as to be all but indispensable or so financially well-cushioned that you can afford the fallout from the worst-case consequences of your actions. Couric, of course, is both. Most of us are neither.

Extrapolating from what Couric was able (at least verbally) to do to what most women and men might or ought to do would be a disservice; it would steamroll over the realities of most people’s lives. But still — let’s just fantasize for a moment. Imagine that more women like Couric — women of influence and means, women who have choices and the freedom to live comfortably with the consequences of their choices — started throwing down a gauntlet at work to say: This I will do (my job, all that it reasonably requires), and no more.

No jaunts abroad just to “show the flag.” No less-than-essential meetings or face-time lunches. No excess evenings out wooing clients, no night-time heroics. No posturing. No preening. Just the essentials.

It might be deemed a trend. It might — like all trends involving women of privilege — be perceived as a new norm. Imagine that: Ten-hour days boiled down to eight. Eight-hour days boiled down to six. It’s what working mothers already do — when they can get away with it. It’s what working fathers ought to do — if they’d dare.

I’ve never been a big believer in male or female essences (though discussions of them amuse me to no end). I’ve never quite bought into the notion that if women ruled the world they would change it, making it greener, and nicer, and more peaceful, life-affirming, collaborative and zen. But I do think that working mothers have a mode of operating that is different from that of the cultural mainstream and that ought to be more widely emulated. Born of necessity, it’s about priorities and efficiency and cutting to the chase. If we’re lucky — and if the attitude polls showing that the rising generations of fathers want to spend more time with their kids prove true — it might well spread in the future.

A future in which work and family could be put in the proper perspective would be a fantastic thing. If only we could make doing so viable for people less privileged than Katie Couric.

Judith Warner is the author of "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" and a contributing columnist for TimesSelect. She will be on vacation during the rest of August, and return in September.

Photo credit: Judith Warner. (The New York Times)

Meanwhile ...

Iran Min: To Spend $4 Billion In 2 Venezuela Oil Fields
"Iran's state-owned Petropars oil and gas company is investing around $4 billion in the explorations and developments of two oil fields in Venezuela, Iran's Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said Sunday."
Aljazeera.Net - Chavez seeks Iran oil investment
"Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has invited Iran to invest in his country's oil and gas industries during talks with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president."
Iran rejects terms of UN resolution
"The people of Iran are entitled to produce their own nuclear fuel, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday, rejecting the terms of a draft U.N. resolution that demands it give up its nuclear work."
Better Get Used to Killer Heat Waves - New York Times
"In Fresno, the morgue is full of victims from a California heat wave. A combination of heat and power outages killed a dozen people in Missouri. And in parts of Europe, temperatures are hotter than in 2003 when a heat wave killed 35,000 people. Get used to it."
Feds confirm fears of New Orleans flooding - Yahoo! News
"NEW ORLEANS - New data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirms fears that rain from hurricanes and tropical storms could flood some neighborhoods with up to 5 feet of water when new floodgates are closed at the mouths of three major drainage canals."
Guardian Unlimited | Pushing for a ceasefire from behind a barrage of Katyushas
"Hizbullah wants an immediate ceasefire and is ready to swap the two abducted Israeli soldiers 'in six hours' after it comes into force, according to officials from Amal, a Shia party allied to Hizbullah."
Detainee Abuse Charges Feared
"An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes and prosecuted at some point in US courts."
Iraqi Detainee Abuse Widespread: Report - New York Times
"Iraqi detainees were routinely subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other forms of abuse by U.S. interrogators, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Sunday that offers first-hand accounts from three former soldiers.

The U.S.-based watchdog group said its report discredits government arguments casting mistreatment of detainees as the aberrant and unauthorized work of a few personnel.

It included accounts by former soldiers who said detainees were regularly subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation and stress positions -- practices that started to come to light two years ago when pictures of physical abuse and sexual humiliation at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison surfaced.

These accounts rebut U.S. government claims that torture and abuse in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional -- on the contrary, it was condoned and commonly used,'' said John Sifton, author of the report and the group's senior researcher on terrorism and counter-terrorism."
Sirotablog: Bush, Congress consider free trade pact with North Korea

New York Times Tells a Whopper About Legality and Morality of Israel's Actions | The Progressive

Women Back Under Wraps With Taliban Vice Squad
"Afghanistan's notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was set up by the Taliban to enforce bans on women doing anything from working to wearing nail varnish or laughing out loud, is to be recreated by the Government in Kabul. The decision has provoked an outcry among women and human rights activists."
Barbara Lee: India Nuclear Deal Will Undermine Non-Proliferation Efforts
"In a press conference on Capitol Hill today, Representative Barbara Lee called the US nuclear deal with India a dangerous precedent. "The problem with the deal, as it is currently written, is that it will do lasting harm to more than thirty years of international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons."
UN Nuclear Sanctions May Lead to a Second Korean War, Warns Defiant North
"North Korea has angrily rejected a UN Security Council resolution imposing trade sanctions and condemning it for its recent batch of ballistic missile tests, saying it constituted 'a prelude to the provocation of the second Korean War.'"
World trade talks collapse
"Global free trade talks, billed as a once-in-a-generation chance to boost growth and ease poverty, collapsed on Monday after nearly five years of haggling, and resuming them could take years. The suspension of the World Trade Organization's Doha round came after major trading powers failed in a last-ditch bid to overcome differences on reforming world farm trade. The European Union and India firmly pointed the finger at the United States for the final breakdown."
Venezuela Supported for UN Security Council
"CORDOBA, Argentina, July 21.—Venezuela received Friday the support of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) in its bid for a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2007-2008.

In the final declaration approved at the Mercosur Summit in Cordoba, the strengthened trade bloc gave its explicit support to Venezuela.

The country, led by President Hugo Chavez, is the newest member of Mercosur, which also includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Chavez’ fellow leaders supported Venezuela for the Security Council, “with the conviction that it will promote a limitless respect for the principles and norms of international law and contribute to a necessary balance in dealing with the issues brought before it.”

The United States is actively working to thwart Venezuela’s bid to obtain the rotating seat currently held by Bolivia and instead supports Guatemala’s candidacy, reported ANSA."
Bush told to plan for Ch�avez oil shock

The Observer | Putin plan to shut out US oil giants
"President Vladimir Putin is set to keep US oil companies out of a lucrative gas field in the latest sign of the deteriorating relationship between Moscow and Washington."

A Thought To Consider

I received the following e-mail from an Israeli friend and felt it should be shared:
"Regardless of your feelings about the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians and Arab neighbors, even if you believe there is more culpability on Israel's part for whatever reason, the following two sentences really say it all:

If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence.

If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel."
History bears out the truth of this statement. It is, indeed, something to contemplate.

The fact remains, however, that incessant arguing over who did what first to whom and the constant claims on both sides of blame and righteousness do nothing to solve the underlying problems and everything to avoid doing so. The bombing and killings directed by each side toward the other do nothing to help pave the way for a long term, peaceful agreement.

These are literally the tactics of 4 and 5 year-olds: "He started it!" "No SHE did!!" "He's lying!" "No she is!!" "I'll smash your face in, you little --" "Oh yeah? Just try it!!!"

One would think civilization had progressed in its ability to mediate and solve problems beyond the pre-school mentality. Apparently not.

If citizens of the world would value human life above all else, if laws were written and enforced to uphold the value of ALL human beings in every country on this earth and their right to respect, education, medical care, a fair wage, and equal opportunities -- and if we all actually cared for one another and refused to allow the abuse of our fellow humans around the globe, it would be a very different world indeed.

How many more will have to die and kill before we get to that place? For how many more millennia will we allow this barbarism to go on?

It is counter-productive to blame and point fingers. It is productive to say, "Stop. You are both right and you are both wrong. The question is, are you "right" enough to live up to your stated values -- religious and moral -- and find it in your hearts to forgive and find common ground for peace? Or are you intent on proving your righteousness by engaging in immoral killing?"

That is the choice. The road to peace is not easy. But it is a much, much more hopeful and enlightened one than the road to war.

Imagine if the billions of dollars our government is pouring into killing and war were used instead to ameliorate human suffering around the globe--we could end world hunger, for starters. Imagine impacting the world, not by imposing our will on others for our own selfish ends, but by offering sincere help to those in need, with no strings attached, because we truly care.

Is that not what every great religion preaches? Is that not the promise of America?

Ultimately, the choice is ours.

The question is, what will you do?

The Anti-Semitic Passion of Mel Gibson

Gibson's Anti-Semitic Tirade -- Alleged Cover Up:
"...Once inside the car, a source directly connected with the case says Gibson began banging himself against the seat. The report says Gibson told the deputy, "You mother f****r. I'm going to f*** you." The report also says "Gibson almost continually [sic] threatened me saying he 'owns Malibu' and will spend all of his money to 'get even' with me."

The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

The deputy became alarmed as Gibson's tirade escalated, and called ahead for a sergeant to meet them when they arrived at the station. When they arrived, a sergeant began videotaping Gibson, who noticed the camera and then said, "What the f*** do you think you're doing?"

A law enforcement source says Gibson then noticed another female sergeant and yelled, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"

We're told Gibson took two blood alcohol tests, which were videotaped, and continued saying how "f****d" he was and how he was going to "f***" Deputy Mee...."
If you must, read more.

Photo credit: Mel Gibson speaks with the media as he arrives for the premiere of his film "We Were Soldiers" in a Monday, Feb. 25, 2002 photo, in Los Angeles. Mel Gibson was arrested early Friday for suspicion of driving under the influence, a Sheriff's Department spokesman said. (AP Photo/Lee Celano, file)

Also see:

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Trouble With War

In this excellent op ed, The Krug Man echoes the same point I have earlier espoused: "The hard truth is that Israel needs, for its own sake, to stop a bombing campaign that is making its enemies stronger, not weaker."

Shock and Awe
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq. It’s as if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been possessed by the deranged spirit of Donald Rumsfeld.

Yes, I know that there are big differences in the origins of the two wars. There’s no question of this war having been sold on false pretenses; unlike America in Iraq, Israel is clearly acting in self-defense.

But both Clausewitz and Sherman were right: war is both a continuation of policy by other means, and all hell. It’s a terrible mistake to start a major military operation, regardless of the moral justification, unless you have very good reason to believe that the action will improve matters.

The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn’t the suspicion many of us had, which turned out to be correct, that the administration’s case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war — their belief that if the United States used its military might to “hit someone” in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism — was, all too obviously, a childish fantasy.

And the results of going to war on the basis of that fantasy were predictably disastrous: the fiasco in Iraq has ended up demonstrating the limits of U.S. power, strengthening radical Islam — especially radical Shiites allied with Iran, a group that includes Hezbollah — and losing America the moral high ground.

What I never expected was that Israel — a nation that has unfortunately had plenty of experience with both war and insurgency — would be susceptible to similar fantasies. Yet that’s what seems to have happened.

There is a case for a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may yet come to that, if Israel can’t find any other way to protect itself. There is also a case for restraint — limited counterstrikes combined with diplomacy, an effort to get other players to rein Hezbollah in, with the option of that full-scale offensive always in the background.

But the actual course Israel has chosen — a bombing campaign that clearly isn’t crippling Hezbollah, but is destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing lots of civilians — achieves the worst of both worlds. Presumably there were people in the Israeli government who assured the political leadership that a rain of smart bombs would smash and/or intimidate Hezbollah into submission. Those people should be fired.

Israel’s decision to rely on shock and awe rather than either diplomacy or boots on the ground, like the U.S. decision to order the U.N. inspectors out and invade Iraq without sufficient troops or a plan to stabilize the country, is having the opposite of its intended effect. Hezbollah has acquired heroic status, while Israel has both damaged its reputation as a regional superpower and made itself a villain in the eyes of the world.

Complaining that this is unfair does no good, just as repeating “but Saddam was evil” does nothing to improve the situation in Iraq. What Israel needs now is a way out of the quagmire. And since Israel doesn’t appear ready to reoccupy southern Lebanon, that means doing what it should have done from the beginning: try restraint and diplomacy. And Israel will negotiate from a far weaker position than seemed possible just three weeks ago.

And what about the role of the United States, which should be trying to contain the crisis? Our response has been both hapless and malign.

For the moment, U.S. policy seems to be to stall and divert efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as long as possible, so as to give Israel a chance to dig its hole even deeper. Also, we aren’t talking to Syria, which might hold the key to resolving the crisis, because President Bush doesn’t believe in talking to bad people, and anyway that’s the kind of thing Bill Clinton did. Did I mention that these people are childish?

Again, Israel has the right to protect itself. If all-out war with Hezbollah becomes impossible to avoid, so be it. But bombing Lebanon isn’t making Israel more secure.

As this column was going to press, Israel — responding to the horror at Qana, where missiles killed dozens of civilians, many of them children — announced a 48-hour suspension of aerial bombardment. But why resume that bombardment when the 48 hours are up? The hard truth is that Israel needs, for its own sake, to stop a bombing campaign that is making its enemies stronger, not weaker.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Nuclear Weapons Here, There, Everywhere

A World Gone Mad
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
As if the war in Iraq and the battles between Israel and its neighbors were not frightening enough, now comes word of a development in Pakistan that may well be the harbinger of a much greater catastrophe.

Over the past few years, Pakistan has been hard at work building a powerful new plutonium reactor that when completed will be able to produce enough fuel to make 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year.

This is happening at the same time that the Bush administration is pushing hard for final Congressional approval of a nonmilitary nuclear cooperation deal with Pakistan’s rival, India, that would in fact enhance India’s bomb-making capacity. The deal would enable India to free up its own stocks of nuclear fuel to the extent that it could expand its nuclear weapons production from about seven warheads a year to perhaps 50.

Yes, Virginia, the world is going mad.

Pakistan’s initiative, which in a few years could increase its bomb-making capacity twentyfold, was first reported last week by The Washington Post. Experts at the Institute for Science and International Security, after analyzing the program, concluded that “South Asia may be heading for a nuclear arms race that could lead to arsenals growing into the hundreds of nuclear weapons or, at minimum, vastly expanded stockpiles of military fissile material.”

There is no way to overstate the potential danger of an accelerated nuclear arms race in South Asia. Breeding nukes willy-nilly is an invitation to Armageddon. Pakistan, for those who need to be reminded, is where Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are thought to be hiding. It’s also the home of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the pied piper of proliferation (now under house arrest) who provided crucial nuclear materials and expertise to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Representative Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who led the opposition to the deal with India, told me he was surprised by the subdued reaction to the news about Pakistan’s reactor.

“You would have thought that a firestorm would break out,” he said. “As a nation, we should be very afraid if Pakistan can come up with a twentyfold increase in the amount of nuclear weapons materials that it can manufacture. The greatest fear we have is of a bomb slipping into the hands of a terrorist group — and we know that Al Qaeda is in Pakistan — and then having it moved toward the Middle East, or put on a ship headed to an American port.”

Mr. Markey, who is co-chairman of a bipartisan House task force on nonproliferation, noted that the White House had long been aware of Pakistan’s plutonium-production reactor but had kept that knowledge from Congress and the American public. Why? To what end? Does the administration not understand the truly horrifying stakes involved in this deplorable spread of nuclear adventurism?

“This is not just about Pakistan, or Pakistan and India,” said Mr. Markey. “What impact will this have on China, which is looking at what India might do? What impact will it have on Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, being put on trial at the U.N., with sanctions being asked by the United States?”

(Neither India nor Pakistan are signers of the treaty.)

Common sense should tell you that thundering along the road to ever more nuclear weapons in ever shakier hands is madness, the global equivalent to driving drunk at ever higher speeds. Does anyone think China will sit quietly by as India and Pakistan develop the capacity to outpace it in the production of nukes?

Does anyone doubt that at some point, if the spread of nuclear weapons is not vigorously suppressed, a bomb will end up in the hands of a freak who has no other intention in the world than to use it?

John F. Kennedy, in a televised address to the nation in July 1963, said: “I ask you to stop and think for a moment what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in so many hands, in the hands of countries large and small, stable and unstable, responsible and irresponsible, scattered throughout the world. There would be no rest for anyone then, no stability, no real security, and no chance of effective disarmament.”

There was a time when the top leaders of the United States understood that we should be moving toward fewer nukes on the planet, not an exponential, suicidal increase in these worst of all weapons.

Photo credit: Bob Herbert. (The New York Times)

9/11 American Scholars Symposium

The information highlight of the symposium was undoubtedly the Sunday morning panel discussion. The panel was a who’s who of the most credentialed 9/11 skeptics ever impaneled. It was moderated by Alex Jones who set the stage and pushed the envelope from his first statement; this seemed to energize the crowd as well as the panel members. The fact that C-SPAN had agreed to film this event had the panel chomping at the bit to hit bullet point after bullet point.


Told Ya So

Roberts and Alito Misled Us
By Edward M. Kennedy
The Washington Post
"The careful, bipartisan process of years past - like so many checks and balances rooted in our Constitution - has been badly broken by the current Bush administration. The result has been the confirmation of two justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., whose voting record on the court reflects not the neutral, modest judicial philosophy they promised the Judiciary Committee, but an activist's embrace of the administration's political and ideological agenda," writes Edward M. Kennedy.
Photo credits: (1) Senator Edward Kennedy (Wikipedia) (2) Alito & Roberts. (Stephen Voss)

Bush on Dope?

(Click on Picture for Larger View)

Thanks to Rimone at D A T E L I N E : B R I S T O L for the heads-up on this one: Dope Test For President? Bush Tests Positive for Testosterone

War Overload

Once again, a superb piece from Frank Rich, who manages to re-focus our attention on BushCo's Iraq War fiasco -- despite the television news-media attempts to tune it out.

Rich: "Americans want the war in Iraq canceled, and first-and last-place networks alike are more than happy to oblige."

The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq
By Frank Rich
The New York Times
AS America fell into the quagmire of Vietnam, the comedian Milton Berle joked that the fastest way to end the war would be to put it on the last-place network, ABC, where it was certain to be canceled. Berle’s gallows humor lives on in the quagmire in Iraq. Americans want this war canceled too, and first- and last-place networks alike are more than happy to oblige.

CNN will surely remind us today that it is Day 19 of the Israel-Hezbollah war — now branded as Crisis in the Middle East — but you won’t catch anyone saying it’s Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks’ evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. On Thursday, Brian Williams of NBC read aloud a “shame on you” e-mail complaint from the parents of two military sons anguished that his broadcast had so little news about the war.

This is happening even as the casualties in Iraq, averaging more than 100 a day, easily surpass those in Israel and Lebanon combined. When Nouri al-Maliki, the latest Iraqi prime minister, visited Washington last week to address Congress, he too got short TV shrift — a mere five sentences about the speech on ABC’s “World News.” The networks know a rerun when they see it. Only 22 months earlier, one of Mr. Maliki’s short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi, had come to town during the 2004 campaign to give a similarly empty Congressional address laced with White House-scripted talking points about the war’s progress. Propaganda stunts, unlike “Law & Order” episodes, don’t hold up on a second viewing.

The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn’t happenstance. It’s a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. “It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror,” said Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly on July 18. “I mean, it’s summertime.” Americans don’t like to lose, whatever the season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched off Iraq. The larger issue is that we don’t know what we — or, more specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops — are fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. It’s a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot.

Certainly there has been no shortage of retrofitted explanations for the war in the three-plus years since the administration’s initial casus belli, to fend off Saddam’s mushroom clouds and vanquish Al Qaeda, proved to be frauds. We’ve been told that the war would promote democracy in the Arab world. And make the region safer for Israel. And secure the flow of cheap oil. If any of these justifications retained any credibility, they have been obliterated by Crisis in the Middle East. The new war is a grueling daily object lesson in just how much the American blunders in Iraq have undermined the one robust democracy that already existed in the region, Israel, while emboldening terrorists and strengthening the hand of Iran.

But it’s the collapse of the one remaining (and unassailable) motivation that still might justify staying the course in Iraq — as a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people — that is most revealing of what a moral catastrophe this misadventure has been for our country. The sad truth is that the war’s architects always cared more about their own grandiose political and ideological ambitions than they did about the Iraqis, and they communicated that indifference from the start to Iraqis and Americans alike. The legacy of that attitude is that the American public cannot be rallied to the Iraqi cause today, as the war reaches its treacherous endgame.

The Bush administration constantly congratulates itself for liberating Iraq from Saddam’s genocidal regime. But regime change was never billed as a primary motivation for the war; the White House instead appealed to American fears and narcissism — we had to be saved from Saddam’s W.M.D. From “Shock and Awe” on, the fate of Iraqis was an afterthought. They would greet our troops with flowers and go about their business.

Donald Rumsfeld boasted that “the care” and “the humanity” that went into our precision assaults on military targets would minimize any civilian deaths. Such casualties were merely “collateral damage,” unworthy of quantification. “We don’t do body counts,” said Gen. Tommy Franks. President Bush at last started counting those Iraqi bodies publicly — with an estimate of 30,000 — some seven months ago. (More recently, The Los Angeles Times put the figure at, conservatively, 50,000.) By then, Americans had tuned out.

The contempt our government showed for Iraqis was not just to be found in our cavalier stance toward their casualties, or in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There was a cultural condescension toward the Iraqi people from the get-go as well, as if they were schoolchildren in a compassionate-conservatism campaign ad. This attitude was epitomized by Mr. Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens” response to the looting of Baghdad at the dawn of the American occupation. In “Fiasco,” his stunning new book about the American failure in Iraq, Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent, captures the meaning of that pivotal moment perfectly: “The message sent to Iraqis was far more troubling than Americans understood. It was that the U.S. government didn’t care — or, even more troubling for the future security of Iraq, that it did care but was incapable of acting effectively.”

As it turned out, it was the worst of both worlds: we didn’t care, and we were incapable of acting effectively. Nowhere is this seen more explicitly than in the subsequent American failure to follow through on our promise to reconstruct the Iraqi infrastructure we helped to smash. “There’s some little part of my brain that simply doesn’t understand how the most powerful country on earth just can’t get electricity back in Baghdad,” said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and prominent proponent of the war, in a recent Washington Post interview.

The simple answer is that the war planners didn’t care enough to provide the number of troops needed to secure the country so that reconstruction could proceed. The coalition authority isolated in its Green Zone bubble didn’t care enough to police the cronyism and corruption that squandered billions of dollars on abandoned projects. The latest monument to this humanitarian disaster was reported by James Glanz of The New York Times on Friday: a high-tech children’s hospital planned for Basra, repeatedly publicized by Laura Bush and Condi Rice, is now in serious jeopardy because of cost overruns and delays.

This history can’t be undone; there’s neither the American money nor the manpower to fulfill the mission left unaccomplished. The Iraqi people, whose collateral damage was so successfully hidden for so long by the Rumsfeld war plan, remain a sentimental abstraction to most Americans. Whether they are seen in agony after another Baghdad bombing or waving their inked fingers after an election or being used as props to frame Mrs. Bush during the State of the Union address, they have little more specificity than movie extras. Chalabi, Allawi, Jaafari, Maliki come and go, all graced with the same indistinguishable praise from the American president, all blurring into an endless loop of instability and crisis. We feel badly ... and change the channel.

Given that the violence in Iraq has only increased in the weeks since the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist portrayed by the White House as the fount of Iraqi troubles, any Americans still paying attention to the war must now confront the reality that the administration is desperately trying to hide. “The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists and Saddamists and terrorists,” President Bush said in December when branding Zarqawi Public Enemy No. 1. But Iraq’s exploding sectarian warfare cannot be pinned on Al Qaeda or Baathist dead-enders.

The most dangerous figure in Iraq, the home-grown radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is an acolyte of neither Osama bin Laden nor Saddam but an ally of Iran who has sworn solidarity to both Hezbollah and Hamas. He commands more than 30 seats in Mr. Maliki’s governing coalition in Parliament and 5 cabinet positions. He is also linked to death squads that have slaughtered Iraqis and Americans with impunity since the April 2004 uprising that killed, among others, Cindy Sheehan’s son, Casey. Since then, Mr. Sadr’s power has only grown, enabled by Iraqi “democracy.”

That the latest American plan for victory is to reposition our forces by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdad’s civil war is tantamount to treating our troops as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic. Even if the networks led with the story every night, what Americans would have the stomach to watch?

Photo credit: Frank Rich. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Oxymoronic War for Peace

Brooks puts his spin on the Israel/Lebanon crisis: An imposed cease-fire would carry risks. "If Hezbollah emerges from this moment still strong, it will tower like a giant over the Lebanese government."

There is truth to this. However, I maintain that by allowing the innocent civilian atrocities to continue and the war hatred to build on both sides will not hasten a long term solution. It will only make matters worse.

Cease-Fire to Nowhere
By David Brooks
The New York Times
There are victory markers strewn across southern Lebanon commemorating the last time Israel withdrew from that land. While reporting a piece for The New Yorker a few years ago, Jeffrey Goldberg would come upon them by the roads. It was like seeing the battle markers at Gettysburg or Antietam, he wrote.

One brightly colored sign, written in both Arabic and (rough) English, marked the spot where “On Oct. 19, 1988 at 1:25 p.m. a martyr car that was body trapped with 500 kilograms of highly exploding materials transformed two Israeli troops into masses of fire and limbs.”

Busloads of tourists would take victory tours and stop at the prominent sights. Before the current war, there were gift shops and, in at least one place, a poster showing a Hezbollah fighter lifting a severed Israeli head. It all testified to the magnetism of a successful idea: that Muslim greatness can be restored through terrorism.

Some people believe that terrorists are driven by desperation, but if you read the statements by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and other Hezbollah leaders, it’s obvious that their movement has been inspired by opportunity and nourished by success. And the big news last week was that most of the world is calling for an immediate Lebanese cease-fire and another Israeli withdrawal.

If that happens, Nasrallah will be able to build another chain of victory markers. There will be a missile- launcher monument in Tyre. There will be a terror gift shop in Maroun al-Ras. Hell, he’ll probably build a suicide-bomber theme park in Bint Jbail.

Nasrallah himself will become a legend, and teens across the region will be electrified by his glory.

Many of those calling for this immediate cease-fire are people of good will whose anguish over the wartime suffering overrides long-term considerations. Some are European leaders who want Hezbollah destroyed but who don’t want anybody to actually do it. Some are professional diplomats, acolytes of the first-class-cabin fundamentalism that holds that “talks” and “engagement” can iron out any problem, regardless of the interests and beliefs and fanaticisms that make up the underlying reality.

The best of them have a serious case to make. It’s true, they say, that Israel may degrade Hezbollah if it keeps fighting, but it may also sow so much instability that it ends up toppling the same Lebanese government that it is trying to strengthen.

They point to real risks, but if a cease-fire is imposed now, there won’t be only risks. There will be dead certainties. If Hezbollah emerges from this moment still strong, it will tower like a giant over the Lebanese government. Extremist groups around the world will be swamped with recruits. Iran’s prestige will surge. The defenders of nation states and the sponsors of Resolution 1559 will be humiliated. Israel’s deterrence power will be shattered.

It is dead certain that this cease-fire will not last, any more than the cease-fires of ’78 or ’93 or ’96 lasted. And most important, the idea — that the Muslim renaissance will come through terror — will dominate the sky like the bright summer sun.

That idea is the key to the whole string of crises in this decade of jihad. Lebanon is a chance to show that the death cult is not invincible.

To its enormous credit, the Bush administration has kept its focus on that core reality, and it has developed a strategy to reverse the momentum: let Israel weaken Hezbollah, then build an international force to help create a better Lebanon.

Yet, having spent a week on the phone with experts and policy makers, I’d be lying if I said that I was optimistic the strategy will work. The renovation of Lebanon will require scaffolding, and the fact is the scaffolding of the West is corroding at every joint.

The U.S. lacks authority because of Iraq. Over the past few days, Israel has grown wary of getting into Lebanon, because it might have no help getting out. The Europeans, being the Europeans, are again squandering a chance to play a big role in world affairs. The “moderate” Arabs are finding that if you spend a generation inciting hatred of Israel you will wind up prisoner to groups who hate Israel more than you do. The U.N. is simply feckless.

The U.S. is right to resist the calls for a quick-fix cease-fire. But when you step back, you see once again the power of ideas. The terrorists are more unified by their ideas than we in the civilized world are unified by ours.

Photo credit: David Brooks. (The New York Times)

Global Challenge

While war rages throughout the Middle East, Nicholas Kristof reminds us that global warming will continue to be mankind's greatest challenge even after all the bombs cease. He focuses our attention on the progressive and successful steps Portland, Oregon has taken since 1993 to curb greenhouse gases.

Another Small Step for Earth
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times

The best argument for ignoring global warming has been that there are better ways to spend money: instead of devoting billions to curb carbon emissions and reduce the impact on sea levels in 2050, we could spend the resources developing a vaccine for AIDS or providing universal health care to all Americans.

In essence, the dangers of climate change appeared distant and uncertain, while the costs of curbing greenhouse gases were immediate and appeared substantial.

But all across the country, states and local governments have chipped away at those arguments for delay — actually, pretty much demolished them — by showing that there are myriad small steps we can take that significantly curb carbon emissions and that are easily affordable.

A leader of that effort has been Portland, earnestly green even when it is wintry gray. In 1993, the city adopted a plan to curb greenhouse gases, and it is bearing remarkable fruit: local greenhouse gas emissions are back down to 1990 levels, while nationally they are up 16 percent. And instead of damaging its economy, Portland has boomed.

This month Portland took an important additional step, by adopting a renewable-fuel standard. Beginning July 1, 2007, all diesel sold for vehicles in the city will have to be at least a 5 percent biodiesel blend. And all gasoline will have to contain at least 10 percent ethanol. This measure is not a magic bullet, but it has a negligible cost and is one more example of the creative thinking at local levels that is curbing greenhouse gases without breaking the bank.

Portland joins several states — Minnesota, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, Iowa, Louisiana and Missouri — that have passed similar laws.

“We aren’t confused into thinking that we can change the world,” said Randy Leonard, the city commissioner who sponsored the ordinance, which passed unanimously. “We’re just hoping that we can establish a template to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and promote economic development and reduce greenhouse gases. Then we can send a message.

“We get that we’re an asterisk to the larger issue of oil dependence and global warming,” he added. “But we also think that there isn’t an energy policy in the state or nation that makes sense, and here there is something we can do that does make sense.”

The 5 percent biodiesel works in all diesel vehicles, without any loss of acceleration. The bio- component sometimes comes from discarded restaurant grease; vehicles using it smell faintly of French fries.

The benefit of the 10 percent ethanol requirement is less clear because U.S. ethanol sometimes takes nearly as much petroleum to make (in fuel to run tractors to harvest corn, for example) as it saves. But increasingly we’ll probably be making ethanol from switch grass or sugar cane in ways that are more likely to save petroleum.

Portland customers may end up paying slightly more for gas and diesel because of the new regulation, but city planners say that any increase will be minimal — perhaps a penny or two per gallon.

“This will reduce total emissions by 1 percent,” said Michael Armstrong, a city environmental expert. “It sounds tiny, but if you think that the Kyoto standard is a 7 percent reduction [below 1990 levels], and this one simple move would be 1 percent, then it seems more doable.”

The city is also seeking to ensure that all city government units use power from wind or solar sources by 2010. Portland has changed streetlamps to use low-power bulbs, built bicycle trails to encourage commuting on bike or on foot, and greatly expanded mass transit.

It’s true that the risks of climate change are uncertain, but when encountering other kinds of dangers — like Iran apparently trying to develop nuclear weapons — we don’t shrug and say there’s no point in doing anything because of the uncertainties. The risks of warming are potentially enormous — imagine much of the east coast under water — and our obligation to protect our planet is not just technical but also moral.

So it’s time to abandon the old self-defeating notion that curbing greenhouse gases is too costly to be effective. Portland and other localities are showing that there’s plenty we can do inexpensively, at least in the early phases — if we don’t mind rush-hour traffic smelling of French fries.

I almost didn’t write this column, because with the Middle East in flames it’s obvious that climate change is not the most important topic of the day. But it could be the most important issue of this century.

Photo credit: Nicholas Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Condoleezza Rice: Midwife from Hell

Matthew Rothschild of "The Progressive" writes:
After being one of the most inept national security advisers in the nation’s history, Condoleezza Rice is now earning the same grade as secretary of state.

Her description of the conflagration in Lebanon as the “birthpangs of a new Middle East” was about as callous as it gets, matched only by Bush’s remark that the conflict represents “a moment of opportunity.”

The 400 Lebanese who have died, an overwhelming number of them civilian and many of them children, were not feeling any birthpangs. They were feeling deathpangs.
Read more.

Bush Proposes No Rights for U.S. Citizen Suspects

The Boston Globe reports that "U.S. Citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration....

A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the Pentagon's tribunal system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was thrown out last month by the Supreme Court.


According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all "enemy combatants" until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute."

Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.

"That's the big question ... the definition of who can be detained," said Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy of the bill to a Web blog.

Scott L. Silliman, a retired Air Force Judge Advocate, said the broad definition of enemy combatants is alarming because a U.S. citizen loosely suspected of terror ties would lose access to a civilian court -- and all the rights that come with it. Administration officials have said they want to establish a secret court to try enemy combatants that factor in realities of the battlefield and would protect classified information.

The administration's proposal, as considered at one point during discussions, would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing "speedy trials" and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the submission of coerced testimony...."

Photo credit: "Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed seen in this Tuesday July 13, 2004 file photograph, in Alcala Meco, Spain. The only Spanish citizen to have been held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, has been ordered to be released from a Spanish jail. The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a terrorism conviction against Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, saying there was no evidence to back up charges he was a member of al-Qaida." (AP Photo/Denis Doyle, File)

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Fox News Out-Foxed

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Bush & Blair Subtext

MoDo provides a humorous subtext to today's press conference with Blather-Blair and Bumble-Bush. Enjoy. These days, we can use all the humor we can get.

Fetch, Heel, Stall
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Oops, they did it again. That pesky microphone problem that plagued George W. Bush and Tony Blair in St. Petersburg struck again at their White House news conference yesterday. The president told technicians to make sure his real thoughts would not be overheard this time, but somehow someone forgot to turn off the feed to my office. As a public service, I’d like to reprint the candid under-their-breath mutterings they exchanged in between their public utterances.

THE PRESIDENT: “The prime minister and I have committed our governments to a plan to make every effort to achieve a lasting peace out of this crisis.”

“Actually, we talked about our plan to keep using fancy phrases like ‘lasting peace’ and ‘sustainable cease-fire,’ so we don’t actually have to cease the fire. Condi had a great one! Didya hear it, Tony? She said, ‘The fields of the Middle East are littered with broken cease-fires.’ Man, can she talk, and she plays piano, too!”

THE PRIME MINISTER: “The question is now how to get it stopped and get it stopped with the urgency that the situation demands. ... I welcome very much the fact that Secretary Rice will go back to the region tomorrow. She will have with her the package of proposals in order to get agreement both from the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon on what is necessary to happen in order for this crisis to stop.”

“I thought it was quite clever, George, to stall by sending Condi to Kuala Lumpur for that imminently skippable meeting of marginal Asian powers. And her decision to tickle the ivories while Beirut burns was inspired. The Asians love a good Brahms sonata. And she called it a ‘prayer for peace’! Just brilliant. But her idea of a series of Rachmaninoff concerts at every layover on the way to the Middle East could look too conspicuously like dawdling.”

THE PRESIDENT: “Hezbollah’s not a state. They’re a, you know, supposed political party that happens to be armed. Now what kind of state is it that’s got a political party that has got a militia?”

“Uh-oh! I mean, besides all those Shiite leaders we set up in Iraq who have THEIR own militias. Oh, man, this is complicated. What about those Republican Minutemen patrolling the Mexican border? Or Vice on a hunting trip?”

THE PRIME MINISTER: “Of course the U.N. resolution, the passing of it, the agreeing of it, can be the occasion for the end of hostilities if it’s acted upon, and agreed upon. And that requires not just the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon, obviously, to abide by it, but also for the whole of the international community to exert the necessary pressure so that there is the cessation of hostilities on both sides.”

“And the whole of the cosmos! We can call for an intergalactic study group to act upon and agree upon and adjudicate — George, I can keep the verbs, adjectives and conditional phrases going until these reporters keel over.”

THE PRESIDENT: “My message is, give up your nuclear weapon and your nuclear weapon ambitions. That’s my message to Syria — I mean, to Iran. And my message to Syria is, you know, become an active participant in the neighborhood for peace.”

“It’s so hard to keep all these countries straight! And which ones are in the Axis? I hate it when Condi leaves town. Tony Baloney, just blink twice when I mention a bad country and once when I mention one we like and sell arms to. And while you’re at it, heel, poodle! Har-har. Play dead! You crack me up.”

THE PRIME MINISTER: “I’ve spoken to President Chirac, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, the president of the European Union, the prime minister of Finland and many, many others.”

“See? I’m no poodle. I’m here to keep the names of our allies straight. And I can stand up straight. Bush, old boy, that’s not posture. That’s Paleolithic Man.”

THE PRESIDENT: “And so what you’re seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles. For example, you know, you know, the, the, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge — emerge — scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, and those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them, and so they respond. They’ve always been violent. ... There’s this kind of almost, you know, kind of weird kind of elitism that says: well, maybe — maybe — certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn’t be free.”

“Tony, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Photo credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Labor Pains of a Stillborn Foreign Policy

By Robert Scheer, Editor-in-Chief
"Apparently not content to spark both conventional and ethnic-cleansing wars in the region, Bush is also heightening the risk of a nuclear war. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that our war-on-terror ally Pakistan is completing work on a secret reactor that can produce enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons ... a year. The Bush administration apparently didn't tell Congress this little tidbit, perhaps embarrassed that its decision after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to lift sanctions imposed on Pakistan because of its nuke bomb tests had backfired so dangerously."

Photo credit: Robert Scheer. (Zuade Kaufman/Truthdig)
Read more.

24/7 Coverage Doesn't Cover It

By Molly Ivins
AUSTIN, Texas—State of play in the Middle East: Lebanon, extensively damaged, plus a half-million refugees; Syria, tired of being dissed; Israel, disproportionate. Are you kidding? Did it work last time they occupied Lebanon? Condi Rice, undercut by neocons at home? Iraq, completely fallen apart. Iran, only winner? Everybody else, mad at Bush. Most under-covered story, collapse of Iraq.

And what do I think this is? A media story, of course.

From the first day of 24/7 coverage, you could tell this was big. By the time Chapter 9,271 of the conflicts in the Middle East had gotten its own logo, everyone knew it was huge. I mean, like, bigger than Natalee Holloway. Then anchormen began to arrive in the Middle East, and people like Anderson Cooper and Tucker Carlson—real experts. Then Newt Gingrich—and who would know better than Newt?—declared it was World War III. Let’s ratchet up the fear here—probably good for Republican campaigning.

By then, of course, you couldn’t find a television story about the back corridors of diplomacy and what was or, more important, what was not going on there. Between Anderson Cooper and Tucker Carlson, it was obviously World War III, and besides, there were a bunch of American refugees in Lebanon who couldn’t get out, and so elements of the Katrina story appeared. Thank God Anderson was there.

Meanwhile, people who should have known better were all in a World III snit over Chapter 9,271. Actually, they all knew better, but it was a better story if you overplayed it—sort of like watching a horror movie that you know will turn out OK in the end, but meanwhile you get to enjoy this delicious chill of horror up your spine.

What if it really was The End? I mean, any fool could see it could easily careen out of control, and when George W. Bush is all you’ve got for rational, fair-minded grown-ups, well, there it is.

If I may raise a nasty political possibility: One good reason for the Bush administration to leave Chapter 9,271 to burn out of control is that this administration thrives on fear. Fear has been the text and the subtext of every Republican campaign since 9/11. Endless replay of the footage from 9/11 has graced every Republican campaign since. Could it be that 9/11 is beginning to pall, to feel as overplayed as Natalee Holloway? Fear is actually more dangerous than war in the Middle East. For those who spin dizzily toward World War III, the Apocalypse, the Rapture—always with that delicious frisson of terror—the slow, patient negotiations needed to get it back under control are Not News.

All we have to fear, said FDR, is fear itself. And when we are afraid, we do damage to both ourselves and to the Constitution. Our history is rank with these fits of fear. We get so afraid of some dreadful menace, so afraid of anarchists, Reds, crime or drugs or communism or illegal aliens or terrorists that we think we can make ourselves safer by making ourselves less free. We damage the Constitution because we’re so afraid. We engage in torture and worse because we’re afraid. We damage our standing in the world, our own finest principles, out of fear. And television enjoys scaring us. One could say cynically, “It’s good for their ratings,” but in truth, I think television people enjoy scary movies, too. And besides, it makes it all a bigger story for them.

What’s fascinating about this as a media story is how much attention can be given to one story while still only about a fifth of it gets told. The amount of misinformation routinely reported on television is astounding. For example, “Israel is our only democratic ally in the Middle East....” How long has Turkey been a real republic and ally?

The more surprising development is how completely one story drives out another. At other times, the collapse of Iraq would have been news.

Photo credit: Molly Ivins. (Creators Syndicate/Truthdig)

Republican Wants Democratic Congress

The following is a letter from former Republican Congressman and Presidential candidate Pete McCloskey.

I have found it difficult in the past several weeks to reach a conclusion as to what a citizen should do with respect to this fall’s forthcoming congressional elections. I am a Republican, intend to remain a Republican, and am descended from three generations of California Republicans, active in Merced and San Bernardino Counties as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have just engaged in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the Republican Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary, obtaining just over 32% of the Republican vote against Pombo's 62%.

The observation of Mr. Pombo’s political consultant, Wayne Johnson, that I have been mired in the obsolete values of the 1970s, honesty, good ethics and balanced budgets, all rejected by today’s modern Republicans, is only too accurate.

It has been difficult, nevertheless, to conclude as I have, that the Republican House leadership has been so unalterably corrupted by power and money that reasonable Republicans should support Democrats against DeLay-type Republican incumbents in 2006. Let me try to explain why.

I have decided to endorse Jerry McNerney and every other honorable Democrat now challenging those Republican incumbents who have acted to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have flatly reneged on their Contract With America promise in 1994 to restore high standards of ethical behavior in the House and who have combined to prevent investigation of the Cunningham and Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals. These Republican incumbents have brought shame on the House, and have created a wide-spread view in the public at large that Republicans are more interested in obtaining campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists than they are in legislating in the public interest.

At the outset, let me say that in four months of campaigning I have learned that Jerry McNerney is an honorable man and that Richard Pombo is not. Mr. Pombo has used his position and power to shamelessly enrich his wife and family from campaign funds, has interfered with the federal investigation of men like Michael Hurwitz, he of the Savings & Loan frauds and ruthless clear-cutting of old growth California redwoods. Mr. Pombo has taken more money from Indian gaming lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his associates and Indian tribes interested in gaming than any other Member of Congress, in excess of $500,000. With his stated intent to gut the Endangered Species and Environmental Protection Acts, to privatize for development millions of acres of public land, including a number of National Parks, to give veto power to the Congress over constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court, his substantial contributions to DeLay’s legal defense fund, and most particularly his refusal to investigate the Abramoff involvement in Indian gaming and the exploitation of women labor in the Marianas, both matters within the jurisdiction of his committee, Mr. Pombo in my view represents all that is wrong with the national government in Washington today.

It is clear that the forthcoming campaign will be a vicious one, with Mr. Pombo willing to stretch the truth as he has in the past with respect to the elderberry beetle, levee breaks, his steadfast opposition to veterans’ health care, including prosthetics research for amputees from Iraq and other wars, the impact on Marine lives of endangered species protection at Camp Pendleton and other issues. That Mr. Pombo lied in testimony to the Senate in 1994 is an accepted fact. He testified that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had designated his farm near Tracy as habitat for the endangered California kit fox. This was untrue, and Pombo admitted to the untruthfulness a few months later when questioned over public television, an agency for which he recently voted to cut federal funds.

Such a man should not be allowed to be in charge of the nation’s public lands and waterways, a position to which he was elevated by the now-departed Tom DeLay.

Some 18 months ago, my former law partner, Lewis Butler, an Assistant Secretary of HEW in the Nixon Administration and subsequently the distinguished Chair of California Tomorrow and the Plowshares Foundation, and I initiated an effort we called The Revolt of the Elders. All of us were retired and in the latter years of Social Security entitlement. Most of us were Republicans who had served in the Congress or in former Republican administrations with men like Gerry Ford, John Rhodes, Bob Michel, Elliot Richardson, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and the president’s father, George H. W. Bush, all men of impeccable integrity and ethics.

We had become appalled at the House Republican leadership’s decision in early 2005 to effectively emasculate the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct by changing the rules to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay had been admonished three times by the Committee for abuse of power and unethical conduct. It was our hope to persuade Speaker Hastert and the Republican leadership, of which Northern California Congressman Richard Pombo and John Doolittle were prominent members, to rescind the rules changes and to act in accord with the promise of high ethical standards contained in Speaker Gingrich’s Contract With America which brought the Republicans majority control in 1994. We failed. Letters to the Speaker from an increasing number of former Republican Members were ignored and remained unanswered. Then, only a few weeks ago, the House leadership refused to allow even a vote on what could have become an effective independent ethics monitor. Instead of repudiating the infamous “Pay to Play” program put in place by DeLay to extract maximum corporate campaign contributions to “Retain Our Majority Party” (ROMP), DeLay’s successor as Majority Leader called for a continuance of the free luxury airline trips, mammoth campaign contributions to the so-called “Leadership PACs” and the continuing stalemate on the Ethics Committee. Strangely, even after the guilty pleas of Abramoff, Duke Cunningham and a number of former House staffers who had been sent to work for Abramoff and other lobbyists. The Republican House leaders don’t see this as corruption worthy of investigation or change. That their former staff members and Abramoff were granted preference in access to the legislative process is not seen as a problem if it helps Republicans retain control of the House. It reminds one of the contentions of Haldeman and Ehrlichman long ago that the national security justified wire-tapping and burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate. Republicans are happy with this new corporate lobby/House complex, which is far more dangerous that the Industry/Defense complex we were long ago warned about by President Eisenhower.

I have therefore reluctantly concluded that party loyalty should be set aside, and that it is in the best interests of the nation, and indeed the future of the Republican Party itself, to return control of the House to temporary Democrat control, if only to return the House for a time to the kind of ethics standards practiced by Republicans in former years. I say reluctantly, having no great illusion that Democrats or any other kind of politician will long resist the allure of campaign funds and benefits offered by the richest and most profitable of the Halliburtons, oil companies, tobacco companies, developers and Indian gaming tribes whose contributions so heavily dominate the contributions to Congressmen Pombo and Doolittle.

As an aside, it seems to me that the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals make it timely for the Congress to consider public matching funds for small contributions to congressional candidates, the same type of system we adopted some time ago for presidential elections. It may be cheaper for the taxpayer to fund congressional elections than to bear the cost of lobbyist-controlled legislation like the recent Medicaid/Medicare drug bill.

There is another strong reason, I believe, for Republicans to work this fall for Democrat challengers against the DeLay-type Republicans like Pombo and Doolittle. That is the clear abdication by the House over the past five years of the Congress’ constitutional power and duty to exercise oversight over abuses of power, cronyism, incompetence and excessive secrecy on the part of the Executive Branch. When does anyone remember House Committee hearings to examine into the patent failures of the Bush Administration to adhere to laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or to the arrogant refusal of the President to accept the congressionally-enacted limits on torture of prisoners? When can anyone remember the House’s use of the subpoena power to compel answers from Administration officials? Why have there been no oversight hearings into the Cunningham bribery affair or Abramoff’s Indian gaming and exploitation of women labor in the Marianas?

When three former congressional staff aides join Abramoff in pleading guilty to attempting to bribe Congressmen, and a fourth takes the 5th Amendment rather than answer Senator McCain’s questions about his relationship with Abramoff and Indian gaming, with all five having given substantial campaign contributions to Mr. Pombo, with Indian tribes alone having given more than $500,000 to Pombo, would it not seem reasonable to ask him to conduct an appropriate oversight committee

Hearing into these matters, as long demanded by members of both parties, notably including his neighbor, George Miller?

For all of these reasons, I believe and hope that the Republicans who voted for me on June 6 will vote for Mr. McNerney and against Mr. Pombo in November.

The checks and balances of our Constitution are an essential part of our system of government, as is the public faith that can be obtained only by good ethical conduct on the part of our elected leaders.

If the Republicans in the House won’t honor these principles, then the Democrats should be challenged to do so. And if they decline to exercise that privilege, we can turn them out too. I appreciate that I had serious deficiencies as a candidate, and that four months of campaigning and the expenditure of $500,000 of the funds contributed by old friends and supporters were unsuccessful in convincing Republicans of the 11th District to end the continuing corruption in Washington. I hope, however, to partially redeem my electoral failure by working, as a simple private citizen, to rekindle a Republican sense of civic duty to participate in the electoral process this fall. The goal of The Revolt of the Elders was and is to educate voters to the need for a return of ethics and honesty in Washington. That goal was right 18 months ago, and seems even more worthwhile today.

Pete McCloskey, Dublin, California. July 26, 2006

[emphasis and link added]