Saturday, December 30, 2006

Rice Explains Why U.S. Won't "Just Talk To Iran" Or Syria

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice argued last week that the U.S. can't "just talk to Iran" or Syria.

Why? Because if "the Iranians and the Syrians want to act to stabilize Iraq, they can do that without talking to us," she told Margaret Warner of PBS' NewsHour.

Sort of circular logic, doncha think? We don't need to talk to them because they don't have to talk to us if we or they want a stabilized Iraq?

Rice also fears that any diplomacy would lead to the Iranians and Syrians seeking "some kind of trade." But that merely represents the Bush Administration (read: neocon) belief that diplomacy equals appeasement. Just because the Iranians or Syrians may want something does not mean that we have to appease their wishes.

"(T)he idea that we somehow have to tell them what to do in order to stabilize Iraq when they, in fact, are the ones who are destabilizing Iraq?" Rice said. "They know what they're doing. They can stop it on any day."

That's true. But they have been given no reason to fall into line. While the U.S. has failed to consider diplomacy, even when Syria has asked for it, Iran has tried to flex its muscles as a regional power. The longer Iraq remains a mess, the better the chances that Iran (with Syria in tow) can influence its future.

"They are, by the way, talking to the Iraqis about how to (stabilize Iraq). They are, by the way, members of the International Compact for Iraq," Rice said.

You would think a red flag would be raised, or warning bells would go off. The longer we leave Iran and Syria alone talking with Iraq, the harsher the price will be. If Rice is worried about Iran or Syria seeking "some kind of trade" now, how will she feel if Iraq's government allies itself with those countries -- and turns against the U.S.?

Friday, December 29, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

When people were asked in an Associated Press-AOL News poll to name the villains and heroes of the year, Bush topped both lists, in a sign of these polarized times.

Bush won the villain sweepstakes by a landslide, with one in four respondents putting him at the top of that bad-guy list. When people were asked to name the candidate for villain that first came to mind, Bush far outdistanced even Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader in hiding; and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is scheduled for execution.

The president was picked as hero of the year by a much smaller margin. In the poll, 13 percent named him as their favorite while 6 percent cited the troops in Iraq.

***

Perhaps one reason people don't like Bush -- beyond the failures in Iraq, the bungling of Hurricane Katrina, etc. -- is that the man just doesn't seem to work very hard, even in the face of catastrophes.

As the Associated Press noted yesterday: President Bush worked nearly three hours at his Texas ranch on Thursday to design a new U.S. policy in Iraq."

Three hours. Phew. Guess he had to make time for those photo-ops clearing brush.

It reminds me of the image of Bush flying over the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina -- spending far too little time on the problems at hand. This was before he was given a DVD briefing him on the situation, and long before he had his photo-op showing off how much he cared.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Campaign 2008: Four Years Ago, The "Liberal Media" Trashed Kerry Because Of His Wealth. Here We Go Again ...

Here we go again.

Four years ago, the "liberal media" picked on John Kerry's wealth, trying to suggest that it was a metaphor for someone out of touch with the needs of mainstream America.

Now, if this MSNBC image is any indicator, John Edwards will be the candidate picked on for his wealth.

It won't matter, I guess, what the personal wealth is of Rudy Giuliani or John McCain or whomever else wins the Republican presidential nomination. The "liberal media" loves a storyline when it finds one, and "wealthy Democrat" may once again be too good to pass up.

***

During Campaign 2004, the New York Times published at least three splashy stories detailing John Kerry's wealth, as well as describing mannerisms that would suggest he was wealthy.

The Times prattled on about Kerry's highbrow pronunciations, described a campaign assistant as a "butler," and told us that "some Democrats" were worried that Kerry liked to vacation among the wealthy in Nantucket.

Those same articles offered contrasting images of President Bush as someone who "despite his own family's legacy of wealth and political power, manages to come off as a simple-hearted Texan," failed to discuss the help Bush had gotten along the way in creating his own fortune -- such as how he used borrowed money to make a killing as part owner of baseball's Texas Rangers -- or how his family had long vacationed among the wealthy in Kennebunkport, Maine, long before he was providing the made-for-spin image of clearing brush in Crawford, Texas.

Four years ago, the "liberal media" had a story to tell. Kerry was wealthy, and out of touch with the common man. Bush was wealthy, but in touch with the common man.

To make those stories work, the "liberal media" had to paint a picture. Kerry had a butler and correctly pronounced words. Bush liked to clear brush and eat barbecue.

***

Fast forward to the current election cycle.

Here we go again, America. John Edwards is the new candidate to annoint as "wealthy." Let the stereotyping and storytelling begin.

Campaign 2008: Did You Know That His Full Name Is Barack Hussein Obama?

His name is Barack Hussein Obama.

Obama, the popular Democratic Senator from Illinois and possible 2008 presidential candidate, doesn't use his middle name as say, John Quincy Adams or William Henry Harrison did. He doesn't even refer to it -- as say, George W. Bush does with his middle initial.

But conservatives want you, the voter, to associate Obama with his middle name, in the hopes of scaring you into thinking anyone named Hussein must have ties to terrorism, or at the very least, brutal Iraqi dictators.

It all began last month, when GOP strategist Ed Rogers ridiculed Obama on MSNBC's Hardball, making sure to note that Obama's middle name is "Hussein." Now, references to "Barack Hussein Obama" are commonplace on conservative websites.

Forget that "Hussein" -- Arabic for "good, small handsome one" -- is a popular name throughout Africa and the Middle East. Forget that in Obama's case, it's a family moniker passed down from his Kenyan father and grandfather.

Conservatives want to scare you. And if that means saying "Hussein" early and often, so be it.

***

If the middle name isn't enough to scare you, then conservatives hope Obama -- which of course, sounds like Osama -- will do the trick.

Right-wing Web site Freerepublic.com has featured a photoshopped image of "Senator Osama Obama," and Rush Limbaugh has for some time called him "Obama Osama."

Other conservatives, like CNBC's Larry Kudlow, have "accidentally" referred to Obama as "Osama."

***

Will all the conservative scare tactics work?

The Chicago Tribune asked that question this week. The answer, apparently, is "not always."

"People have unconscious, emotional reactions to names," Cleveland Kent Evans, a psychologist who studies the practice and effect of naming, told the Tribune. "And there's a lot of psychological research that shows people do a lot of unconsciously prejudiced things. But most people do not think of themselves as biased. And when those things become conscious, when they realize they're in danger of doing something against their values, it may be more likely that they're going to behave the opposite way."

In other words, if the conservative talking heads and radio ranters play the scare card too often, it's bound to backfire.

This may all be moot if Obama decides not to run for president. But clearly, conservatives are scared enough to lay the ugly groundwork in hopes of derailing him.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Syria Ambassador To U.S. Says He Wants Dialogue On Iraq's Future

Syria’s ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, told the Wall Street Journal that Syria wants to engage with the U.S. on Iraq’s future.

Moustapha noted that Condoleeza Rice is the first Secretary of State since 1974 "to have no working relationship with Syria whatsoever.”

Three of Rice’s predecessors as secretaries of state — James Baker, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell — have argued recently in favor of engaging Syria. Another former Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, shuttled between Damascus and Jerusalem to negotiate a truce between Israel and Hezbollah in 1996.

But, Moustapha said, Rice "won’t listen to her former colleagues. ... (S)he has made up her own mind: Engagement with the Syrians does not benefit."

Maybe it's not fair to blame Rice. She is only carrying out the Bush Administration (read: neocon) gameplan, which argues that diplomacy with a country with ties to terrorism is equal to appeasement.

The last we heard from the State Department on Syria was more tough talk -- which has worked so well with the "Axis of Evil" and would-be members like Syria. State Department Deputy Tom Casey said last month that the problem "is not what they say; the problem is what they do."

But only a fool would think that there is no benefit from a face-to-face conversation with the "enemy." Only a fool would think that by sitting down with Syria, we would not be able to talk tough -- that to sit with them would make the U.S. the equivalent of Neville Chamberlain's England.

As JABBS noted in July, the fact that the Bush Administration hasn't talked with Syria has had only negative effects. The U.S. has had no ability to set the terms on issues from "foreign fighters" crossing over the Syrian-Iraqi border to Syria's continued assistance of Hezbollah.

Syria is not to be commended for its ties to terrorism. But to look the other way -- as the Bush team has chosen to do -- is only hurting the long-term stability of the Middle East.

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

"In any event, we find widespread agreement among Republicans that U.S. troops must be leaving Iraq at the end of 2007 to avoid catastrophe in 2008."

-- Evans-Novak Political Report, Dec. 27

If this prediction came true, that would certainly be "good news" for the country, even if it provided a short-term boost in the polls for the GOP. But it's hard to envision the neocons that have President Bush's ear advocating troop redeployment under Bush's watch.

More likely, Bush will propose redeploying the additional troops brought to Iraq -- the so-called short-term "surge" -- and try to spin this as the first step in the road to victory there, whatever "victory" means.

Bush "Encouraged" By Moderates' Gains In Iran, But Actions Speak Louder Than Words

President Bush was encouraged by moderates' gains in this month's Iranian elections, according to Jewish leaders who met with him earlier this month.

Bush has been surprisingly mum about the elections, in which allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lost ground among the main political groups, which analysts have said was a setback for the fiery leader and a possible sign of growing frustration among Iranians.

Bush did say at a press conference last week that Iranians "can do better than having somebody who's trying to develop a nuclear weapon that the world believes you shouldn't have."

But why hasn't Bush spoken out more about the elections? Or better yet, why hasn't Bush used the election results as an opportunity to try to reign in Iran through diplomacy?

I'm paraphrasing the late Israeli leader Abba Eban, but Bush, it would seem, "never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity" when it comes to diplomatic solutions for the Middle East.

***

It would be easy for Bush, or Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on his behalf, or some coalition of U.S. leaders -- James Baker and Colin Powell come to mind -- to reach out to Ahmadinejad and quietly say that if he continues to isolate his country on the wrong side of the "Axis of Evil," only bad things can come to him and his country.

Another angle would be to reach out to our "moderate" Middle East friends to bridge the gap with Ahmadinejad.

The key is that diplomacy does not equal appeasement, as the conservative talking heads and radio ranters will tell you. British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who last month said that Syria and Iran could play a "constructive" role in the Middle East -- understood as much when he said that it is absurd to suggest that talking to the countries amounted to appeasement.

While the U.S. has stayed on the sidelines, Ahmadinejad has tried to flex his country's muscles, reaching out to Iraq and Syria.

And the U.S. reaction has been to continue to polarize Iran. The Bush Administration says Iran is interfering with Iraq, and this week announced it had linked Iranians detained last week in Iraq with shipments of weapons to groups in Iraq.

We should remain tough with Iran, and try to seal off Iranian help to Iraqi insurgents. But being tough and having a dialogue are not mutually exclusive. Again, the Bush Administration has to stop believing neocon advisors who insist that diplomacy equals appeasement.

The election results in Iran have opened a door. Bush can score political points here at home -- given that just about everyone outside the neocon universe thinks the U.S. needs to open diplomatic channels -- and it might actually help contain an increasingly unstable Middle East.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Biden, Agreeing With Overwhelming American Majority, Says He'll Oppose Effort To Increase Troops In Iraq

Incoming Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) said today he would oppose any effort by President Bush to increase U.S troops in Iraq as part of a new war strategy.

"Absent some profound political announcement . . . I can't imagine there being an overwhelming, even significant support for the president's position," he told reporters during a telephone conference call.

And of course, he's right. Conservative television pundits and radio ranters spin that only "cut and run" liberals with "San Francisco values" oppose Bush's gameplan for Iraq. But the truth is that a poll this month from CNN found just 11 percent of Americans supported the idea of sending more troops to Iraq.

Biden is going against incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who said earlier this month he would be open to a short-term increase in troops.

Why is Reid wrong? As liberal pundit Rachel Maddow noted recently, Reid is incorporating a "triangulation" strategy -- trying to find a middle ground between an option almost no one favors (a surge in troops) and one that a majority supports (beginning redeployment within a year). The result is mush. Maddow correctly said that Reid should stop acting likely a minority party representative, and recognize why the Democrats regained control of both Houses of Congress.

***

Biden warned that congressional Republicans — not Democrats — would suffer in the 2008 elections if they do not join him in speaking out against Bush and opposing troop increases in Iraq.

That remains to be seen. But a number of Senate Republicans up for election in 2008, including Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) clearly oppose the plan to add more troops. It's not beyond reason to think these two have one eye on their re-election campaigns.

Pentagon Considers Fast-Tracking Citizenship For Immigrants Willing to Serve

The military is considering a proposal to put more immigrants on a faster track to U.S. citizenship ... if they volunteer to join the armed forces.

President Bush asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week to come up with a plan to expand the military. But recruiters are finding it increasingly difficult to find recruits.

But does the U.S. really want to grow our military by adding foreigners?

The Pentagon still has to decide on specifics, such as English proficiency, but the wheels are clearly turning. The loophole that would be used is a a recent change in law -- thanks, Republican Congress -- that gives the Pentagon authority to bring immigrants to the U.S. if it determines it is vital to national security.

As the "war on terror" is vital to national security, ipso facto the U.S. must have immigrants in the armed forces.

Already, the Army and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security have "made it easier for green-card holders who do enlist to get their citizenship," Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, told the Boston Globe.

***

There are critics of the proposal, including some within the Army who told the Globe that a big push to recruit noncitizens would smack of "the decline of the American empire."

The Hispanic rights advocacy group National Council of La Raza has said the plan sends the wrong message that Americans themselves are not willing to sacrifice to defend their country. Officials have also raised concerns that immigrants would be disproportionately sent to the front lines as "cannon fodder" in any conflict.

Here are some questions I'd like answered:

-- If the proposal is accepted, would our borders suddenly become more open to "foreign fighters?"

-- Would the U.S. limit immigration for humanitarian reasons -- refugees, political prisoners, etc. -- to increase the number of immigrants who had a history of weapon use?

-- While changing the mix of immigrants may provide a short-term gain for the military, wouldn't it cause a long-term deficit for the U.S. as a whole?

Pentagon Cited For Weak Oversight Of Contractors In Iraq

The Pentagon is not providing adequate oversight of private companies that support American military operations in Iraq, according to a report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office.

This shouldn't be a surprise for close watchers of the Bush Administration, which in spite of spin to the contrary has proven to be among the least fiscally sound governments in American history.

Because of a shortage of managers on the front lines to oversee contractor support, there is no accountability or assurance that the military is getting the services it has paid for.

Amazingly, the Pentagon does not know how many contractors currently are working in Iraq and living on the American bases that have sprung up around the country, the GAO noted. The Army admitted in October that it was struggling to complete a census of the contractors used in Iraq, and that its data would ultimately not meet the standards requested by the Office of Management and Budget.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Recruiters Go Far And Wide In Effort To Grow Military

Even before President Bush asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week to come up with a plan to expand the military, recruiters were having a hard time finding people willing and able to join the armed forces during war time.

In October, recruiters in the New York metropolitan area were caught on tape lying about the odds of a recruit winding up in Iraq, or about the ease with which someone can leave the military. It was reminiscent of the happy talk from recruiters canvassing shopping centers in Flint, Mich., in the documentary Farenheit 9/11.

A story in today's New York Times paints another picture, perhaps equally desperate.

One recruiter, Sergeant Roger White, explains how he found a 39-year-old woman in a shelter who once worked as a chemical specialist in the Army. He convinced her to re-enlist.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is apparently hoping some recruits will ignore their parents' wishes, or avoid telling them they signed up. Luis Vega, for example, told the Times that he had enlisted without telling his parents.

He plans to ship out in April.

Happy Holidays, Sen. Allen

It's been an awkward few months for soon-to-be-former Sen. George Allen (R-VA), who this fall, at age 54, learned that his maternal grandfather was Jewish.

At the time, he took "great pride" in his newly discovered ancestry, then made a comment that some found insensitive to Jews, and others found simply odd.

"I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops," he said.

No longer a presidential candidate after his "macaca" moment, Allen told the Associated Press that he plans to explore his newfound Jewish heritage.

But in the next breath, he implied that he hoped to run, and win, another race for office.

"Every time you win," he said, "you're reborn."

It's an interesting choice of words -- "reborn." Is that code for his "good ol' boy" supporters? A nod to evangelical Christians that in spite of his heritage, he's not the least bit Jewish? Something he thought up while dining on a ham sandwich or some other non-kosher meal?

If we learned anything from this fall's election season, it's that quipping is not one of Allen's strong suits. Between thoughtless comments like "macaca" or "Things like that happen," in response to his staffers assaulting a protester, and odd-ball comments like "I still had a ham sandwich for lunch," Allen would do well to learn the power of "no comment."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sign Of The Times? Fox News Ratings Tumble In October, November

Fox News is still the cable news king, but its ratings are clearly tumbling.

Fox's ratings were down 24 percent from October 2005 to October 2006, from 1.7 million viewers to 1.3 million.

The news didn't improve for Fox News in November. Heightened viewership because of the mid-term elections, Donald Rumsfeld's resignation from the Pentagon, and increased discussion over Iraq War policy boosted CNN and MSNBC, but did little for Fox.

In prime time for the month, Fox's average total audience fell 19 percent when compared with a year earlier, to 1.35 million total viewers. CNN posted a 15 percent gain to average 826,000, and MSNBC's average audience grew 29 percent to 505,000.

***

Fox executives have spun that its ratings decline is the result of a slow news year. I suppose that's true, if you equate "slow news year" with "lack of happy stories for conservatives."

Think of the stories that grabbed headlines this year that folks like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Neil Cavuto and John Gibson looked to dismiss quickly or avoid altogether:

-- Declining support for the Bush Administration's handling of the Iraq War.

-- Republican ties to the Jack Abramoff scandal.

-- Sen. George Allen's "Macaca" moment.

-- House Republicans not properly handling Mark Foley's improper interactions with House pages.

-- Americans rejecting Bush Administration policies by sweeping in Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

And on and on ...

Fox News still has the inside track on covering "culture war" topics like the "War on Christmas," and the "controversy" surrounding the recent children's movie Happy Feet.

But it appears less and less people are interested in such things. Fox News is still on top, but the tide appears to be turning.

Friday, December 22, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

No doubt the left often disagrees with Tucker Carlson.

But on the Dec. 20 edition of his MSNBC show, Carlson made comments that were just plain goofy.

Follow along as Carlson has this odd back-and-forth with New Republic senior editor Michael Crowley and former Bush media advisor Mark McKinnon:

CROWLEY: But as far as Bush admitting we‘re not winning, he was starting to look like that guy, remember Baghdad Bob, who said, you know, the sands of Iraq are soaked with the blood of Americans. You know, this was as the Marines were rolling into Baghdad. Bush was — Bush could not maintain the state of denial anymore and fiction. It's what everyone knows and at some point the president has to seem like he knows it too.

CARLSON: Well I don‘t know. I disagree. I mean, I hate the war passionately, but I like that about Bush. I like the fact that he was in this kind of Teddy Rooseveltian way. You know what I mean, almost like you don‘t believe what your eyes tell you. I‘m the guy who knows the deep truth and the deep truth is victory. I mean, I think it‘s important — failure is so scary.

MCKINNON: Yes and it‘s not an option. It just can‘t be and so he is committed to finding and securing a way forward that amends the strategy and he is doing that now. But failure is not an option as he said and it shouldn‘t be. And it shouldn‘t be communicated that way from the president of the United States.

CARLSON: I like a tiny bit of B.S. I know nobody agrees with me.

***

A couple of follow-up questions for Carlson:

-- For most of us, when "you don‘t believe what your eyes tell you," you could be described as unrealistic, even delusional. Why is this a good quality in a president? Should the lives of our troops be at the mercy of someone who fits this description?

-- If some B.S. is good, is a lot of B.S. great? Back in March, you agreed that the Bush Administration has a "pattern that the rhetoric does not match the reality on the ground." A pattern of false rhetoric would seem to be more than a "tiny bit of B.S."

Maybe this goofiness from Carlson is why his show has abysmal ratings and was moved from prime-time.

Poll Finds Just 16 Percent Of Americans Believe Republican-Led Federal Government "Reflects Will Of The People"

A new Rasmussen Reports poll finds that just 16 percent of voters believe that the Republican-led federal government reflects the "will of the American people."

The percentage is about half of the number who believed -- in the pre-Bush era -- that government represented its interests.

It makes you wonder -- who are the 16 percent of Americans happy with their federal government? I'm guessing multi-millionaires, who have benefited from Bush's huge tax cuts. And corporate executives -- specifically defense contractors and those in the energy sector. They have had a good ride, too.

But for most Americans -- regardless of political affiliation -- there is not much positive to say after six years of Republican control of Washington.

Consider some of the issues in which large majorities differ with President Bush:

-- A majority of Americans (86 percent) say it is important to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. The Bush Administration has repeatedly said that this is not a priority.

-- A majority of Americans (68 percent) are calling the situation in Iraq a "civil war." Bush refuses to do so.

-- A majority of Americans (69 percent) want to see troops withdrawn immediately, or a timetable to be established for such a withdrawal. Bush refuses to consider either option.

-- A majority of Americans (83 percent) support hiking the minimum wage. Bush would only support the measure if tied to a tax break for businesses or a deep cut in the estate tax.

-- A majority of Americans (68 percent) support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Bush vetoed a bill on the matter in July, in spite of bipartisan support.

***

Truth be told, it's hard to believe most conservatives are happy with the actions of the Bush Administraton.

A variety of scandals -- Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney -- didn't sit well with party regulars. Fiscal conservatives can't be happy with the swollen federal debt. Social conservatives have failed to see any change in abortion rights during the Bush era. The Defense of Marriage Act has gotten nowhere. The Mark Foley scandal was embarrassing, as was the Republican-led House Ethics Committee's decision not to punish anyone, even after finding wrongdoing.

And the Bush Administration didn't win any fans on the religious right by appointing an openly gay man, Mark Dybul, as its Global AIDS Coordinator. Worse for them, First Lady Laura Bush was photographed as "smiling" during the swearing-in ceremony. Even worse, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice referred to the mother of Dybul's partner as Dybul's "mother-in-law."

***

If you've read this blog, or dozens others like it, none of the above should be new. It's been a frustrating six years. We've known for years that President Bush and Congressional Republicans failed to represent our values. Now we know that they have failed their own party, too.

Business Never Better For Contractor That Failed Badly In Iraq

Parsons Corp. was given roughly $200 million to build 150 primary health clinics in Iraq. Just 20 were finished before Parsons was terminated, and the Army Corps of Engineers says just seven are operational.

A policy academy building Parsons constructed for $75 million was so flawed that human waste rained from the ceilings. Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said 13 out of 14 Parsons projects that his office examined were flawed.

For this, the company has taken bipartisan hits on Capitol Hill, and its contracts are being audited by the Defense Department. "This is the lens through which Iraqis will now see America. Incompetence. Profiteering. Arrogance," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) at a September hearing.

Chief Executive James F. McNulty told the Washington Post that he has personally been under intense pressure to explain the company's performance to potential clients and to the public.

But he said the firm continues to rack up contracts even as it comes under assault.

"We've lost no business over it. In fact, the very people who are criticizing us are giving us more work," McNulty told the Post.

Here's a question for the incoming Congress: Why?

***

The Defense Department Inspector General is looking at the Parsons contracts under a broader audit related to spending and financial management for activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The audit is scheduled to be completed in March.

Meanwhile, oversight is expected to increase dramatically next year with Democrats taking control of Congress, and several key lawmakers have announced their intention to ramp up hearings.

The feeling among Democrats: the Republican-led Congress was too soft on companies like Parsons.

Will Burns Use Campaign "Surplus" For Legal Defense Against Ties To Abramoff Scandal?

The unsuccessful re-election campaign of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), ended with a $292,969 surplus, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Rules limit what may be done with the remaining money. In some cases, leftover campaign money may be spent on legal fees. The FEC reviews such expenditures case by case.

TPMMuckraker.com, citing FEC disclosure forms, reported in October that Burns had spent $91,500 of campaign funds on defense attorney Ralph Caccia of Powell Goldstein http://www.pogolaw.com/.

It's not far-fetched to think Burns will use some or all of his surplus on additional legal fees. Burns is not wealthy. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics put Burns' net worth at no more than $340,000 -- 88th in the most recent Senate.

The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a congressional influence-peddling investigation related to the activities of convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff, along with his clients and associates, gave $150,000 to Burns' campaign committees. Burns later returned some of the money and gave away the rest.

Burns spent much of the year trying to distance himself from Abramoff, at one point telling a Montana television station that he wished Abramoff had "never been born." But Abramoff, writing in Vanity Fair earlier this year, noted, “Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used (Abramoff’s restaurant) Signatures as their cafeteria.”

Once Again, "Loophole" Allows Government To Violate Propaganda Laws

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, amended in 1972 and 1998, prohibits the U.S. government from propagandizing the American public with information and psychological operations directed at foreign audiences.

But in two recent examples, the government has found "loopholes" in the law, allowing it to allow propaganda to inadvertently reach U.S. audiences.

TV and Radio Marti are spending $377,500 of taxpayer dollars over the next six months to air propaganda on South Florida broadcast stations, in spite of laws that prohibit the distribution of propaganda within the United States.

The spin -- the "loophole" -- is that the intended audience for Radio Mambí 710 AM and WPMF-TV are residents of Cuba. That the Cubans have a radio station on the same frequency should be overlooked.

The situation is remarkably similar to a loophole that came to light back in January, when a 2003 Pentagon document was released that said that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP (psychological operations) increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience," most often because of the Internet.

Just consider: today's loophole is tomorrow's precedent. A government that inadvertently propagandizes Americans without being held accountable now may decide to look for more "loopholes" later. And that's dangerous.

***

The connection to these events is the Republican leadership in Washington.

Larry Hart, a spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the TV and Radio Marti, told the Miami Herald, ''We believe we have the authority to do this.'' Wby? Because Hart had met extensively with the Republican-led Congressional committees overseeing TV and Radio Marti.

The Pentagon document was approved by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Pentagon's response when the document came to light? Larry Di Rita, a senior adviser to Rumsfeld, rejected the "premise" offered by critics that as long as the American public is not "targeted," leakage of propaganda to Americans doesn't count.

But Di Rita told the Associated Press that the Pentagon has no guidelines regarding the loophole. That also means the Pentagon has no real idea how many Americans are receiving their propaganda.

And that, too, is dangerous.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bush's Reason #53 For Why The U.S. Went To Iraq: "To Help Young Democracies Survive The Threats Of Radicalism And Extremism"

From yesterday's press conference:

NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER SHERYL GAY STOLBERG: But beyond that, sir, do you question your own decisions?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I haven't questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out, nor have I questioned the necessity for the American people -- I mean, I've questioned it; I've come to the conclusion it's the right decision
.

To some, that sounds a little silly. Bush essentially says, "I still agree with myself." Not very newsworthy, especially from this president.

But pay attention to what Bush said next:

BUSH: But I also know it's the right decision for America to stay engaged, and to take the lead, and to deal with these radicals and extremists, and to help support young democracies. It's the calling of our time, Sheryl. And I firmly believe it is necessary. And I believe the next President, whoever the person is, will have the same charge, the same obligations to deal with terrorists so they don't hurt us, and to help young democracies survive the threats of radicalism and extremism."

Is this why the U.S. went to Iraq, Mr. President? "To help young democracies survive the threats of radicalism and extremism?"

Seems that may be why the U.S. is there now, but it couldn't possibly be the reason the U.S. decided to "take Saddam Hussein out," right? Wasn't the reason ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the "slam dunk" that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and the need to be pre-emptive, rather than risk Iraq obtaining nuclear weapons and creating a "mushroom cloud"?

***

If the Bush Administration is so concerned that fledgling Middle East democracies "survive the threats of radicalism and extremism," why hasn't the U.S. been a leader in helping administer the "Roadmap" toward lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, and in the process help the fledgling Palestinian democracy?

While the Bush administration -- as conservative pundit William F. Buckley said -- was "engulfed by Iraq" -- the terrorist group Hamas won 74 of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections.

Would such election results have occurred otherwise? It's hard to say.

What we do know is that spin is not a foreign policy. Words without actions do have ramifications. Just ask those who bought Bush's spin that the "Roadmap" was a step toward the U.S. brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and helping the fledgling Palestinian democracy "survive the threats of radicalism and extremism."

The same can be said for Egypt, where the U.S. allowed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stomp on Egypt's fledgling democratic movement?

As the Washington Post wrote recently in an editorial, Mubarak, with "tacit consent of the Bush Administration ... is continuing his campaign against the democratic movement that sprouted in his country last year. His latest target is the fledgling independent press. ... Last week Mr. Mubarak's ruling party reaffirmed a law that makes it a crime, punishable by imprisonment, to 'affront the president of the republic' -- or insult parliament, public agencies, the armed forces, the judiciary or "the general public interest."

What did the U.S. do to help this fledgling democratic movement "survive?" Nothing.

As Nir Boms, vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East, wrote in the Washington Times, "President Bush rejected a bill that sought to tie some of the American assistance to Egypt with democratic reforms. ... (W)hen Mr. Nour was arrested, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Francis J. Ricciardone, declined to comment, giving a subtle green light for (Mubarak) to accelerate his crackdown."

Campaign 2008: Edwards Transitions From "Fresh Face To Crusader"

The Evans-Novak Political Report writes this week that while an inordinate amount of attention is being paid to Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards "should not be written off."

According to the report, Edwards "is the apparent front-runner in Iowa and is ahead of Clinton and Obama with key labor unions. He is a contender for support from Change to Win unions who left the AFL-CIO (Teamsters, SEIU, Laborers, Hotel and Restaurant Workers)."

Edwards may have a message that will resonate with a broad batch of primary voters -- built on the "Two Americas" theme he unveiled as a candidate in 2004. As the National Journal's "Hotline" wrote: Edwards is going from fresh face to crusader.

Who is Edwards crusading for? The same people he has sought to help since the 2004 election cycle, through his work as director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.

"You can also see it in the schedule -- announcing his candidacy in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, the new symbol of the forgotten America," writes blogger Dan Conley. "The subtext of the Edwards campaign will be that it's not enough to represent Americans who have been locked behind walls of power, you need to tear down those walls and deal head-on with issues of poverty, job creation and health care accessibility, the three prime impediments to expanding and strengthening the middle class."

It's a crusade worth fighting, on the heels of a Republican leadership that has so overwhelmingly looked out for the well-to-do, and time and time again left behind lower-income families.

Republicans have for six years spun about being "compassionate conservatives." It's meaningless words, not backed by actions. Edwards has a message that he plans to back up with action, and it could lead him to the White House.

Bush, Republicans Remain Disingenuous On Raising Minimum Wage

President Bush and Congressional Republicans continue to disingenuously discuss hiking the minimum wage.

The headlines today are misleading. "Bush Supports Democrats' Minimum Wage Hike Plan," reads the Washington Post. But in truth, Bush only will support such a hike -- from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour -- if it comes with a corresponding tax break for small businesses.

It's not much different that the effort from Congressional conservatives this summer to tie a hike in the minimum wage with deep cuts in the estate tax.

Democrats should reject the conservative spin. Once they control Congress, they should "fast track" a hike in the minimum wage. The legislation should pass quickly. Then let President Bush look like Ebenezer Scrooge as he decides whether to be a "compassionate conservative" just once in his presidency.

***

The conservative spin is that government should help both rich and poor. The truth is that deep tax cuts under the Bush Administration have overwhelmingly benefited the well-to-do.

It's amazing that conservatives spin that they are champions of "family values," when their record over the past six years is so incredibly lopsided. While the Bush tax cuts have provided an average tax cut of nearly $124,000 for families earning over $1 million, and just $647 for "middle-income families."

Meanwhile, the tax cuts haven't helped the poorest among us -- with the exception of those with hefty child-care bills -- because the cuts provide no relief to low-income families who don't owe income taxes, but pay payroll taxes. Furthermore, in 2003 Bush successfully pushed the Republican-controlled Congress to accelerate most income tax cuts enacted in 2001, rather than have them phase in. But that acceleration didn't include the child tax credit provision enacted in 2001 -- which most benefits low-income families.

Conservative television pundits and radio ranters like to spin about the values of "limousine liberals." But what can we say about "corporate jet" conservatives, who only care about helping the very wealthy?

If Bush were truly a "compassionate conservative," he would understand that working full-time at minimum wage means an annual income of $10,712, or $8,000 less than what the government defines as poverty. In other words, a person would have to essentially work two full-time jobs, or for two-adult households, have both work full-time jobs, just to be above the poverty line.

***

The other conservative objection to raising the minimum wage is that it might hurt job growth, or kill jobs altogether. It's a myth.

A March 2006 report by the Fiscal Policy Institute found that increasing the minimum wage actually helps job growth: "[T]his report examined recent state-by-state trends for small businesses employing fewer than 50 workers and found that employment and payrolls in small businesses grew faster in the states with minimum wages above the federal level than in the remaining states where the $5.15 an hour federal minimum wage prevailed. ... This report also found that total job growth was faster in the higher minimum wage states. Faster job growth also occurred in the retail trade sector, the sector of the economy employing the most workers at low wages, in the higher minimum wage states."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Scientists Speak Out Against "Political Interference"

The Union of Concerned Scientists released the names of more than 10,000 scientists — including 52 Nobel Laureates — who say they are tired of "political interference."

The UCS has also created The A to Z Guide To Political Interference In Science, which offers "dozens of examples of the misuse of science on issues like childhood lead poisoning, toxic mercury contamination, and endangered species."

Needless to say, the vast majority of complaints are being made against the Bush Administration.

Bush Considering Short-Term Increase In Troops In Iraq, Despite Army Reports Showing Stretched Military Is Suffering

President Bush said yesterday that he is considering a short-term surge in troops in Iraq, an option that top generals have resisted. Among the options under review by the White House is sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq for six to eight months.

Forget the fact that Americans overwhelmingly oppose such a decision. Can our military be stretched any thinner -- even for a period of a few months?

Back in January, a 136-page report contracted by the Pentagon found that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. The author of the study, retired Army officer Andrew Krepinevich, said even Army leaders are not sure how much longer they can keep up the unusually high pace of combat tours in Iraq before they trigger an institutional crisis. Some major Army divisions are serving their second yearlong tours in Iraq, and some smaller units have served three times.

The effects of stretching the military thin is harrowing.

Statistics just released by the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team Survey found that 22 soldiers deployed to Iraq or Kuwait committed suicide in 2005. Since the war began, 58 deployed soldiers have taken their lives.

The U.S. Army Surgeon General has created a suicide prevention cell to try to identify new ways to prevent suicide among soldiers.

One place to start may be the increasing number of troops -- many of whom have served multiple tours -- who are complaining of acute combat stress or depression.

A separate survey from the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team found that U.S. soldiers serving repeated Iraq deployments are 50 percent more likely to suffer such problems.

More than 650,000 soldiers have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 -- including more than 170,000 now in the Army who have served multiple tours.

The proportion of soldiers who reported that they suffered a combination of anxiety, depression and acute stress rose to 17 percent, compared with 13 percent in the survey a year earlier. Combat stress is significantly higher among soldiers with at least one previous tour -- 18.4 percent, compared with 12.5 percent of those on their first deployment, the survey found.

Fourteen percent of soldiers surveyed said they have taken medications, such as antidepressants, for mental health problems.

Pentagon Wants To Spend $100 Million For Second Courthouse At Guantanamo

The U.S. government already has a courthouse at Guantanamo Bay, but the Pentagon plans to spend $100 million of your tax dollars to build a huge new facility just down the hill.

In addition to having a courtroom for the trials of the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the courthouse would sleep up to 1,200 people, have a dining facility for 800, and a garage for 100 vehicles.

Tom Finnigan of Citizens Against Government Waste told CBS News that his radar antennae went up when the Pentagon recently tried to push the plans through Congress on an emergency basis without any votes.

"They tried to rush the funding through the process. That alone raises a red flag this could be a boondoggle in the works," Finnigan said.

That move, and the price tag, raised enough eyebrows tthat the Pentagon will have to put the project through a more formal route next month, including a Congressional vote.

Regarding U.S. Troop Levels In Iraq, Americans Have Never Been So United

A new poll from CNN finds just 11 percent of Americans supported the idea of sending more troops to Iraq.

Rarely has the country been so united.

Americans are being very clear. Just 32 percent said they would support keeping U.S. troops in Iraq "as long as necessary" to hand over control to a new Iraqi government. By comparison, 54 percent said they wanted U.S. troop withdrawal within a year.

The conservative television pundits and radio ranters would have you believe that only "Blame America First" liberals want to "cut and run." The truth is, the vast majority of Americans want us to begin redeploying troops soon, and handing over more responsibility to the Iraqis.

I don't expect President Bush to listen. CNN's White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, noted Monday that the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, “has the president’s ear and is influencing his thinking” on Iraq, as Bush last week was briefed on an AEI report calling for a troop surge in Iraq that “would probably last for anywhere from 18 to 24 months.”

But Democrats should not be scared of conservative name-calling, and they should not ignore the fact that Bush is not representing the vast majority of Americans.

The people have spoken. It's time the Democrats give these people a voice in Washington.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Snow Suggests Some Iraqi Deaths Are More Worthy Of Counting Than Others

If we are to believe White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, not all Iraqi deaths should be counted, including ones that have a direct genesis from the U.S.-led Iraq War -- those caused by insurgents, foreign fighters, or sectarian violence.

Here's a snippet from yesterday's press briefing:

Q So what is the latest working number?

SNOW: I don't know. But maybe what you ...

Q Can you find that out for us?

SNOW: Yes, but what -- the purpose is ...

Q Perspective.

SNOW: And how will you put that in perspective?

Q It's perspective.

SNOW: And how will you put that in perspective.

Q We keep track of how many American personnel are killed and wounded ...

SNOW: ... (I)f you're going to assess the situation, find out -- it's also important to try to match up the sources of the violence, the people who are doing the killing, and the commitment of the government for going after them, whether they be militias or insurgent groups.

***

So let me get this straight. Before the Iraq War began:

-- There was no tie between Al Qaeda terrorists and Iraq, and no Al Qaeda-backed terrorism occurring in Iraq.

-- There was no Iraqi insurgency fighting us, and there were no "foreign fighters" helping fuel that insurgency.

-- There was no sectarian violence (read: "civil war") between Shiites and Sunnis.

So why shouldn't an official tally of Iraqis killed since the war began include those who have died at the hands of insurgents, foreign fighters, or sectarian violence? How can those deaths not be considered directly related to the Iraq War?

It's not like someone is trying to suggest that such a tally should include the thousands of Iraqis who are believed to have died from shortages of medicine, vital equipment and qualified doctors, or the children who have died because the child mortality rate has worsened since the war began.

Not counting Iraqi deaths caused by insurgents, foreign fighters, or those engaged in Civil War is a form of denial. It prevents Americans from considering a number that is almost incomprehensible and subsitutes one that can be spun by the White Hosue as more palatable if the U.S. wants to win the "war on terror."

Campaign 2008: Newsweek Wonders If Primary Voters Are Ready For "Someone Truly Different"; Kucinich Gets Poor Reviews In Ohio

So nice of Newsweek to put Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on its cover this week, with the headline "The Race Is On."

So that's it. John Edwards, John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, don't bother running. Newsweek doesn't like your chances.

It gets worse.

Jonathan Alter, who could hardly be described as conservative, writes the cover story. Here's the main argument he makes to justify the cover:

ALTER: "For 220 years, Americans have elected only white male Christians with no hint of ethnicity to the White House. Even Irish Catholic John F. Kennedy seemed like a WASP to most people. By the time of Rep. Shirley Chisholm's brief run in 1972, then Jesse Jackson's in 1984 and 1988, the country was comfortable with barrier-breaking on the campaign trail, but not yet serious about electing someone truly different. No one knows yet whether we are serious now, and we won't find out for sure unless it happens. But the record of white males in high places has not exactly been stellar of late, and voters might be in the mood to try something historic and possibly redemptive."

Do people really vote to promote "someone truly different?" Will primary voters want "to try something historic?" (And wouldn't electing Richardson, of Hispanic ethnicity, also count as not a "white male Christian?")

Recent history has said no. Iowans in 2004 voted for the candidate deemed most electable, John Kerry, rather than the upstart, Howard Dean. In 2000, the same thing happened, when Al Gore was selected over underdog Bill Bradley.

The last time primary/caucus voters went off-script was 1992, when the early favorite, Bill Clinton, was derailed by the Gennifer Flowers scandal. Tom Harkin of Iowa won Iowa, and then regional favorite Paul Tsongas carried New Hampshire. Clinton righted the ship several weeks later, with a primary win in Georgia.

So forget gender and forget race. Recent history suggests the question running through Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina voters is: Are Clinton or Obama the most electable candidate?

Clinton has to explain her votes and rhetoric regarding the Iraq War to what will certainly be a anti-war voter pool. And Obama -- assuming the adoration dies down -- must convince voters that someone with limited national experience is ready to be the leader of the free world. If either of those events occur, that would be "truly different."

***

Republicans are quick to point out that John Edwards wouldn't have carried his home state of North Carolina had he been the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and that Al Gore failed to carry his home state of Tennessee as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000.

The spin is that this proves a candidate is unworthy for office, because recent history says that other than Gore, the last major party candidate to not carry his home state was Democrat George McGovern, who failed to carry South Dakota in 1972.

Dennis Kucinich is perhaps the longest of long-shots to win the Democratic nomination in 2008. And it doesn't help that he has received less-than-adoring reviews from his home-state newspapers.

"For Kucinich to attract votes beyond his small band of ardent admirers, he would have to show himself capable of delivering on the promise at the heart of his campaign - a promise to lead America in a new direction," writes Elizabeth Auster in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "That would require some proof of prior leadership. But Kucinich's only stint as a political leader was his tempestuous two-year term as mayor of Cleveland - a fiasco that alienated so many people that he barely survived a recall and was voted out after only one term."

Ugh.

The Toledo Blade also notes Kucinich "first attracted national headlines as Cleveland's disastrous "boy" mayor," and said the "diminutive Cleveland congressman has a giant-sized ego."

Double ugh.

It's easy to see the spin Kucinich's rivals -- Democrat or Republican -- might offer: If those who know Kucinich best don't like him, why should the rest of us?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hannity Chooses Myths, Not Facts, When Remembering Reaganomics

Sean Hannity, on his syndicated radio show, suggested that one reason the Republicans did poorly in the midterm elections was that they had collectively lost touch with the "fiscally conservative" principles of Ronald Reagan.

It's mythmaking. Hannity, presumably, knows his audience is either too young to remember Reaganomics first-hand, or is too partisan to be interested in the reality of Reaganomics. Worse, Hannity pretends that President Bush's economic program isn't grounded in the Reagan legacy of tax cuts to benefit the wealthy, and massive deficits.

Jimmy Carter may have presided over the worst economy since Herbert Hoover, but one thing to note was that his annual budgets produced deficits of less than $100 billion.

Reagan needed to jumpstart the economy, which have have argued for a short-term hike in the annual deficit. But none of Reagan's budgets had deficits of less than $100 billion, and three had deficits in excess of $200 billion. Deficits ballooned more under George Bush, the man who called Reaganomics "voodoo economics," before he was tapped as Reagan's vice president.

In other words, Reagan was hardly a fiscal conservative. Reaganomics was the equivalent of maxing out your credit card in order to pretend to be well-off.

***

But what about Reagan and taxation?

It's true that Reagan reduced income tax rates, with the top tax rate dropping from 70% to 50% in his first tax legislation, and to 28% by the end of his presidency.

But it's also true that Reagan raised taxes several times in his presidency.

In 1982 alone, he signed into law two major tax increases. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year and the Highway Revenue Act raised the gasoline tax by another $3.3 billion.

The third tax increase came a year later, in the form of an increased payroll tax to pay for Social Security and Medicare hospital insurance.

As liberal columnist Paul Krugman noted in 2004: "For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan's income tax cuts. In 1980, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, middle-income families with children paid 8.2 percent of their income in income taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. By 1988 the income tax share was down to 6.6 percent — but the payroll tax share was up to 11.8 percent, and the combined burden was up, not down."

Bruce Bartlett, writing for National Review Online, offers the rest of the Reagan legacy:

-- In 1984, Reagan signed another big tax increase in the Deficit Reduction Act. This raised taxes by $18 billion per year or 0.4 percent of GDP.

-- The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 raised taxes yet again.

-- The Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was designed to be revenue-neutral, contained a net tax increase in its first 2 years.

-- The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 raised taxes still more.

Some legacy, huh? No wonder Hannity only cites the mythology, and not the facts, for his listeners.

Campaign 2008: Bayh Won't Run ... Warner Reconsidering?

Just two weeks after he indicated he would make a bid for the presidency, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana announced Saturday that he had d decided not to run.

Iin a statement issued Saturday, Bayh said it would be hard to compete with Sen. Hillary Clinton's huge fundraising machinery and Barack Obama's star power if both senators decided to run.

Bayh's decision has some pundits wondering if former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner will reconsider his decision not to run. Warner opted against a run back in October.

For what it's worth, some people are still hoping to draft Warner.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Good Soldier Powell" Apparently Stays True To Bush's "Stay The Course" Philosophy

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told Bob Schieffer of CBS' Face The Nation of the Iraq War: "We are losing. We haven't lost."

How are we to feel about Powell? Some in the liberal blogosphere are cheering the above quote. But I remain unimpressed with "Good Soldier Powell."

The former Secretary is still advocating the "Pottery Barn" rule, which refers to a "you break it, you own it" policy of a retail store that holds a customer responsible for damage done to displayed merchandise.

Powell told Shieffer that, as noted in the Iraq Study Group report, "(I)t’s grave and deteriorating, and we’re not winning. We are losing. We haven’t lost. This is the time now to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around."

At the same time, Powell doesn't believe the U.S. should increase troops -- as some in Bush's inner circle are advocating. But he doesn't believe the U.S. should start redeploying until it has turned things around, conceivably from "grave and deteriorating" to "shiny and happy."

In other words, Powell is on the "stay the course" bandwagon. He's the loyal soldier.

But that's apparently been the case all along. As Bob Woodward explained to Mike Wallace of CBS' 60 Minutes in 2004:

WOODWARD: (President Bush) calls Colin Powell in alone, sitting in those two famous chairs in the Oval Office -- and the president said, "Looks like war." Then Powell directly says, "You know, you're going to be owning this place." And the president says, "I understand that."

The president knows that Powell is the one who doesn't want to go to war. The president knows that Powell is the one who doesn't want to go to war. He says, "Will you be with me?" And Powell, the soldier, 35 years in the Army, president has decided, and he says, "I'll do my best, Mr. President, I'll be with you." And then the president says, "Time to put your war uniform on."

***

Some on the left cheer Powell whenever he says something like "We're not winning." But just about everyone outside of the President and his neocon circle is willing to admit as much.

To me, it's same old, same old.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

How Many On Left View Bush's Iraq Plans

This may be one of the best political cartoons of the year:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Carter's Double Whammy: Wrong On Israel, Wrong For Democrats

Jimmy Carter screwed up.

His new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, is wrong-headed in its approach and a failure in hoping for long-term peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The man has a right to his opinion, but this drivel -- which puts all the blame on Israel -- won't help the peace process, and Carter no doubt has lost the respect of a lot of people.

But for Democrats, the book provides a hole that Republicans can drive a truck through from now until the 2008 election cycle. You can almost hear the spin -- that this book is proof that only Republicans are staunch supporters of Israel. You can almost hear the spin that only Republicans can broker peace in that troubled region.

Which is a shame, because the Bush Administration's record in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been weak.

Once upon a time, the administration talked tough and offered its "Roadmap" for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But there's been little leadership since, because the administration has turned all its attention to Iraq.

As conservative writer William F. Buckley wrote earlier this year, the administration has been so "engulfed by Iraq" that it failed to have proper perspective on "other parts of the Middle East with respect to Iran in particular."

In other words, our administration chose the potential threat of Iraq over the real threat of Iran and Syria, the state sponsors of Israeli's terrorist enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah. When the situation blew up earlier this year between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, Rice stayed in Washington for weeks, breaking from past precedent, which saw President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, used “shuttle diplomacy” following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and President Clinton's Secretary of State, Warren Christopher shuttling between Damascus and Jerusalem to negotiate a “truce between Israel and Hezbollah” in 1996.

The Iraq Study Group recommended that the administration put a greater focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- one of the few recommendations it apparently agrees with. We'll see if the administration can make any headway.

***

In the world of spin, the mediocre performance by the Bush Administration can easily be overshadowed by a book. Watch how the conservative television pundits and the radio ranters forget their recent history in order to blast Carter, and in turn, the Democrats.

The bulk of outrage has centered on Carter's use of the word "apartheid" in the title, wrong-headedly equating the plight of today’s Palestinians to the former victims of government-mandated racial separation in South Africa.

Michael Kinsley lambasted the book in the Washington Post on Tuesday. “It’s not clear what he means by using the loaded word ‘apartheid,’ since the book makes no attempt to explain it."

Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the New York Times: “The title is to de-legitimize Israel, because if Israel is like South Africa, it doesn’t really deserve to be a democratic state. He’s provoking, he’s outrageous, and he’s bigoted.”

But as any student of recent history should be able to understand, primarily blaming Israel for the region's troubles is illogical. Show me the olive branches the Palestinians have offered. Show me the real effort by the Palestinian leadership -- past or present -- to control its terrorist factions. Show me any real effort by the Palestinians to bring peace to the region.

Then we can talk about Israel and the mistakes it has made.

Snow Apologizes To NBC's Gregory

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow apologized today to NBC reporter David Gregory.

Such moments are few from this White House.

Snow, before responding to a question from Gregory today, recanted his accusation that Gregory had framed an earlier question in a "partisan" way.

SNOW: Before I get to that, I want to address something else. Because you and I had a conversation last week that got a whole lot of play in a lot of places, where I used the term "partisan" in describing one of your questions. And I've thought a lot about that, and that I was wrong. So I want to apologize and tell you I'm sorry for it.

GREGORY: Thank you.

***

Perhaps this is part of Snow's campaign to convince Americans that the Bush White House likes the media?

I wish we could get Armstrong Williams' opinion on this. Or Michael McManus'. Or Maggie Gallagher's. Any of those people who took money from the administration to propagandize on its behalf.

Or maybe we could go ask Jeff Gannon, a Republican plant in the press corps, and the ultimate fraudulent "reporter."

Maybe this is still a sore subject. ...

***

For what it's worth, Snow's apology isn't unprecedented. Back in June, President Bush apologizedl to a Los Angeles Times reporter after he poked fun at him for wearing sunglasses to a Rose Garden press conference, without realizing they were needed for vision loss.

The reporter, Peter Wallsten, accepted the apology, but later complained that Bush didn't answer his question that day.

But that's a whole other problem for this administration ...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gov.-Elect Patrick Pledges To Hire 1,000 Cops In Massachusetts

Massachusetts Gov.-elect Deval Patrick renewed his campaign pledge today to hire 1,000 new police officers statewide.

The promise of 1,000 new officers was a key part of Patrick's public safety platform as a candidate. Under the plan, the state would initially pay for the officers and gradually turn those costs over to cities and towns. The goal is to help control guns and gang violence.

It's another example of a Democrat taking action that repudiates the conservative spin that Democrats are "soft on crime."

***

One of the most famous examples of conservative spin overwhelming facts came in the 1988 presidential race between then-Vice President George Bush and then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Under Dukakis' watch, the violent-crime rate in Massachusetts dropped 13.4 percent, while the national rate in that same period under President Reagan rose 1.8 percent.

But all voters heard about that year with regard to crime was the horrific situation surrounding furloughed prisoner Willie Horton. Two ads followed that fall -- one from the Bush campaign, one independently created -- playing the race card and linking Dukakis with the idea that Democrats were soft on crime. Facts be damned.

***

Today, it's harder to get the label of "soft on crime" to stick.

That's in large part because of President Clinton. Not only was Clinton in favor of the death penalty, but as governor of Arkansas he ordered a convict executed in the year he first ran for president. He then promised to replace 100,000 bureaucrats with 100,000 cops -- a promise he kept.

Conservative pundits and radio ranters still push the idea. In the real world, voters generally don't buy the claim.

Patrick's opponent this year, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, was one of the few Republicans this year pushing the "soft on crime" claim on a Democrat. She lost ... badly.

Next Job For Santorum? You Guessed It ... Cable TV Ranter

Outgoing Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), who was crushed in last month's mid-term elections, may soon have a future as a television pundit.

Santorum has been negotiating a cable deal, which political insiders say most likely is with Fox News Channel -- though MSNBC and CNN have been mentioned as well -- "to be a screamer," as one political operative put it.

"You could see that as a pretty easy transition for that guy. He likes to get up and speak," a Republican State Committee official told the Patriot-News, a Pennsylvania daily.

Santorum is also expected to go on the lecture circuit, where he likely would earn $20,000 to $50,000 a speech, according to several estimates, addressing corporations and interest groups.

What Is Cheney Trying To Hide?

The Bush administration asked an appeals court Wednesday to overrule a federal judge and allow the White House to keep secret any records of visitors to Vice President Dick Cheney's residence and office.

The government was responding to an October order, by U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, to release two years of White House visitor logs to the Washington Post, which was researching the access lobbyists and others had on the White House.

What is the Vice President trying to hide?

Here's a clue: A lawsuit over similar records revealed in September that Republican activists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed — key figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal — landed more than 100 meetings inside the Bush White House.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Senate Ethics Committee Rejects Charge Against Reid

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) did not break Senate rules by accepting seats at boxing matches from the Nevada Athletic Commission, the Senate Ethics Committee has ruled.

No doubt, this news will make some on the right unhappy -- it's another case when their spin about how "corrupt" Reid is hasn't stuck.

Reid attended three Las Vegas fights from 2003 to 2005 without paying. At the time, Reid was supporting legislation to create a federal agency to oversee boxing.

Reid defended attending the matches, saying it helped him better understand boxing regulations. He later acknowledged that he created the impression of wrongdoing, and apologized.

Apparently, the committee agreed. Attendance at the matches "was a matter appropriately left to (Reid's) discretion," wrote the committee's chief counsel and staff director, Robert L. Walker.

***

So that's one ethics case down, one to go.

On the other issue, Reid has not yet filed revised financial disclosure forms with the secretary of the Senate to account more fully for a Las Vegas land deal that allowed him to collect $1.1 million for property he hadn't personally owned in three years.

In mid-October, shortly after the AP reported on the 2001 deal, Reid announced plans to revise his financial disclosure forms.

A Reid spokesman said the revised forms have been submitted to the Ethics Committee, and his staff was waiting for signoff from the committee before filing them.

***

The right-wing constantly spins that Reid is "corrupt." (See here, here, here, here, and here ... and there are plenty more.) Radio ranters give him nicknames, like Mark Levin calling him Harry "The Body" Reid.

There's an easy reason for the spin. Republicans have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar an unprecedented number of times during the Bush era. Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, the Jack Abramoff scandal. And some conservatives desperately want to spread the filth around, to turn a given conversation from "Some Republicans are corrupt" to "Some politicians from both parties are corrupt."

And hey, if the charges against Reid stuck, many Democrats would say, "Throw the bum out." You don't see Democrats -- in Washington or most anywhere else -- defending Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) and his freezer of cash. The fact that his district's voters don't want to get on board is an embarrassment.

Although questions on Reid's ethics have gotten significant coverage in the press, the conservative punditry hasn't been happy.

One talking point: Dennis Hastert's ethics questions have gotten more press than Reid's. Damn that liberal media!!! But the spin isn't true. A Lexis-Nexis search conducted in October found, for example, that CNN had devoted 50 times as much coverage to Reid’s case as to Hastert's. By comparison, Fox News had mentioned the Reid land deal nine times, but had brought up the Hastert deal just three.

Just as those spin points aren't true, it's pretty clear that the right-wing claims about Reid's "corrupt" nature are likely untrue, too.

Rodriguez Upsets Bonilla To Win Runoff Election In Texas, Giving Democrats Whopping 233 Seats

Former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez upset incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla yesterday in a runoff election to see who would representTexas's 23rd District.

"I thought it would be, in all honesty, would be a lot closer than it was," said Rodriguez, who won with 54 percent of the vote.

Fans of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart may remember Bonilla in 2004 struggling to defend the Republican spin that John Kerry and John Edwards were the first- and fourth-most liberal senators at the time.

That probably had little to do with his loss to Rodriguez. But as one who roots against Republicans who offer nothing more than spin, I'm not upset to see Bonilla go.

***

With the win, Democrats now have 233 seats in the 110th congress. That's more than Republicans have had at any time since 1948.

As MyDD.com noted: "The Republican "revolution" never secured this large a majority in the House. We beat them. We did better than they ever did. So much for the vaunted Republican political machine, which recorded record voter contacts, record fundraising, and record early voting this cycle.

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