Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Horror in Baghdad

I didn't want to let the day pass without at least a mention of the tragedy that occurred in Baghdad today, in which as many as 1,000 people - mostly women and children - were killed in a stampede on a bridge over the Tigris River. The people, Shiite pilgrims enroute to a religious ceremony, were frightened by someone shouting that there was a suicide bomber in their midst, and panicked.

Absolutely horrifying.

Poor Effort

You know the president's speech didn't work very well when the folks over at National Review fail him (here, here, here, here, here, here and here for a sampling). The president just took to the Rose Garden and offered little more than a laundry list of the bureaucratic measures being taken to combat the aftermath of Katrina. True, he recommended the Red Cross webpage, but as our nation faces a crisis that may turn out to be comparable to 9/11, he offered none of the leadership we saw in the days following that dark moment in our history. He looked cranky and petulant, like he has in recent days when defending the state of things in Iraq.

We need leadership now, not laundry lists.

[Update: Didn't mean to leave the impression that I don't appreciate the efforts being made by the federal, state, and local governments. Of course I don't. All the steps that are being taken by those and all other groups are necessary and important.]

Another Pollution Rules Rollback

The Washington Post reports today that the Bush Administration has proposed new power plant emissions rules that could allow significantly more pollutants to be spewed into the atmosphere. Reversing a former government policy and adopting the line voiced by the power industry, the revised EPA position would mean that "decisions on whether a plant complies with the regulations after modernization should be based on how much pollution it could potentially emit per hour, rather than the current standard of how much it pollutes annually."

In a nutshell: if a modernized power plant produces less pollution per hour, and was allowed to operate more hours a day, the modernization could result in a net increase in pollutants emitted. This might mean more efficiency (i.e. less pollutants if the hours of operation were held at the same level), and that would be a good thing - but allowing the hours of operation to increase and the overall levels of pollution to rise? Not so much.

As recently as 2002, the government opposed exactly this: in court filings then, the EPA estimated that "an hourly standard would allow eight plants in five states - including Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia - to generate legally as much as 100,000 tons a year of pollutants that would be illegal under the existing New Source Review rule. That equals about a third of their total emissions." But now the EPA's done a complete flip-flop and supports an hourly standard. What gives?

An EPA spokesperson told the Post that the existing rules "are no longer necessary" due to other regulatory initiatives that are supposed to decrease overall pollution emissions by instituting a system under which "less-polluting plants [could] sell credits to dirtier facilities to reach the overall goal" of decreased emissions.

Seems to me that a combination of the two wouldn't be a bad idea. I don't see any reason to change the standard from annual to hourly-based, particularly if it results in a net incease in pollutants. This complete turnaround looks like little more than catering to the power industry at the expense of the environment and public health. If it's not, I'm happy to be corrected, and will gladly revise my position - but I don't expect to have to do that anytime soon.

Don't Miss This

The Bull Moose has an excellent post today on the question of whether it should be a high priority for the Senate to repeal or permanently extend drastic reductions to the estate tax when they get back to town next week. It will be anathema for me among some Republicans to say this, but I just don't see how such a move is justifiable in the current climate.

The estate tax affects very few Americans every year. Contrary to the assertions of anti-tax groups, it rarely affects "small businesses and family farms," since it exempts all estates worth less than $1.5 million (an exemption that is scheduled to rise to $3.5 million by 2009). That works out to one half of one percent of all estates affected by the current rate (or less than two-tenths of one percent by 2009). Nonetheless, the House annually votes to permanently kill the estate tax, and a Senate vote on the repeal as early as next week may come close to the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

It is not fiscally responsible to repeal the estate tax at this time. We're fighting a war, face mountains of debt due to already-rampant budgetary insanity, and now have a tremendous cleanup and rebuilding effort to undertake in the Gulf region. Cutting taxes for the sake of cutting taxes just doesn't cut the mustard for me.

Centrist senators are already being targeted by a coalition of groups trying to pressure them into supporting the repeal: Democrats Max Baucus, Ron Wyden, Evan Bayh and Mary Landrieu, along with Republicans John McCain and George Voinovich are the swing votes on this, and the ad campaigns have begun ... the Club for Growth is even running t.v. ads against McCain in New Hampshire.

I have a feeling that Senator Landrieu's got other things on her mind right now ... and I hope the others do too. It's about priorities, and frankly repeal of the estate tax shouldn't even be close to the top of the list right now.

Another good editorial on this subject from today's Bangor Daily News.

Iraq Is Not World War II

The president yesterday, not for the first time, sought to compare the ongoing conflict in Iraq to World War II. Does he seriously believe that the American people are going to buy this nonsense? I guess that's what five years of "town-hall meetings" with hand-picked "citizens" who just happen to hang on his every word will do.

Bush seems, in every passing speech, to be embracing further the ridiculous straw-man argument that those who question the conduct the war in Iraq intend to throw open America's borders and invite Zarqawi and bin Laden in for dinner and a round of attack-planning. Laughable. Of course we cannot lose in Iraq. But we cannot win in Iraq if we allow this Administration to carry on with "stay the course" as the only guiding strategic principle. It's as simple as that.

Rumsfeld, who was praised to the ceiling by the president yesterday, said of the war "The goal in this war is not complicated. It is victory. And let there be no doubt: We will prevail." All due respect, Mr. Secretary, but victory is looking like a pretty complicated goal to me right now. What does victory look like in Iraq? If it's so simple, why can't you tell us that? How are we to know when that goal has been attained?

That's what we want. A success strategy. A set of victory benchmarks, backed up by facts, not rhetoric. We've waited far too long.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

When Words Fail

I wrote earlier that it was really hard to put into words my thoughts about the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. That was before all the footage and photographs I saw today. Now it's even harder. The response, by all accounts, has been quick and efficient, as government agencies, the military, charity organizations, and corporations all do their part to rescue those trapped, evacuate the stranded, care for the living, and recover those who did not survive the fury of the storm.

The scenes are worse than gut-wrenching, and it's frustrating to sit here and know I can't help in any direct way right now. I will certainly continue to pass along the link to the Red Cross (you can also call them at 1-800-HELPNOW), and urge all who can to give as they can. And I offer whatever support words can give to those who do have the training and the ability to help in the efforts, like my friend Garrick Hoadley, who commented below. He'll be heading to the region tomorrow as a Red Cross volunteer, along with hundreds of others - they deserve our praise, our respect, and our support. They are the people who will bring the region back from the brink, and who will help the suffering in their hours of need, and all the power in the world to them.

This is not the time for politics. This is a time for togetherness, for mutual support and for appreciation of leadership and humankindness in all their forms.

Bush to Return to DC

After a month of insistence that he could be just as effective in Crawford as in Washington, the White House announced today that President Bush will return to the White House on Wednesday, two days earlier than planned, in order to oversee coordination of federal cleanup efforts in the regions affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Good move. Not to be snarky, but I'm pleased to note that the unspeakable devastation unleashed by the hurricane prodded the president into cutting short his vacation, especially considering what was on his plate the last time such a step was taken. I just wish it hadn't been necessary in the first place. I still cannot believe the pictures coming out of the affected areas - it's like something from a Hollywood disaster movie, but watching these pictures, you know it's real suffering, real blood, sweat and tears. I'll repeat what I said earlier - please, give (link is to the Red Cross) if you're able.

It may be symbolic, but I'm glad to know that the president is going back to Washington to deal with this. I wish I could do more.

Santorum Silliness

Pennsylvania may well turn into "the state to watch" during next year's midterm elections - not only could House races prove interesting there (as I mentioned in my last post), but the Senate race between Rick Santorum and Bob Casey Jr. will likely rank among the most competitive. In that race, a debate has sprung up over the degree to which Santorum has expressed anything beyond the "party line" on the war effort: Casey has accused the incumbent senator of "not asking the tough questions."

But I have asked the tough questions, Santorum and his staff have been insisting for several weeks. The senator told the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 19 that "he had been critical of war tactics in private conversations with the White House and in public." But his aides admitted later that day that they couldn't find any public statements to that effect. Oops.

It's been eleven days, but Santorum's people are finally trumpeting a discovery: the transcript of a September 21, 2004 press appearance in which Santorum is quoted as saying "
There are concerns - I have concerns - about tactics and decisions that were made. I think you'd find a lot of Republicans who are very willing to second-guess our tactics in Fallujah, for example."

Said Santorum media consultant John Brabender "
This shows he is not afraid to stand up to the administration, or to say things could be better."

I beg to differ. This shows that Rick Santorum made one statement, almost a year ago, offering one of the most mild criticisms of the conduct of the war I think I've ever seen. Perhaps Santorum has offered more meaningful criticisms in private conversations with Administration officials, but how are we to know that? I'm not entirely willing to take him at his word.

It's perfectly fine if Santorum wants to parrot the talking points on the war in Iraq - most senators and representatives do exactly that. But if he's going to start saying that he's been critical, he'd better have the proof to back that up. And if he does in fact "have concerns" about the way things are going in Iraq, as he said he did in an NPR interview recently, then he's got a responsibility to the people of Pennsylvania and to the Republican Party (as its third-ranking leader in the Senate) to voice those concerns, both publicly and privately.

One of the Few

Today's must-read article (aside from all the hurricane coverage, which is well handled on all sides) comes from the Christian Science Monitor. Josh Burek reports in from Pennsylvania's Sixth House district, which he calls "one of the last competitive congressional districts left in America." Here, Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Republican, is one of the (very) few incumbents who needs to be concerned about losing his seat next year; thanks to the gerrymandered districts all across the country, most incumbents of either party are sitting pretty.

Not that the Sixth isn't gerrymandered ... the article includes a map of the district, which kind of looks like some kind of two-headed video game monster (Burek compares the boundaries to an "Etch-a-Sketch doodle"). But it's a centrist district, sending Gerlach back to Congress even as its voters supported Kerry in 2004, and rising discontent with Republican leadership has left this district ripe for the picking by Democrats, who have set their sights on it for 2006.

Burek interviews several of Gerlach's Republican constituents who say they've grown "frustrated" with President Bush, mainly over the war in Iraq but for other reasons as well. One is quoted as saying "
I'm a lifelong Republican. But for the first time in my life, I can imagine voting Democrat." Gerlach's opponent, Democrat Lois Murphy, seems to say she intends to run against the national Republican party as much as Jim Gerlach, noting the discomfort many of the Sixth's residents feel with the GOP's "reckless" record on fiscal discipline as well as the war.

This kind of sentiment against incumbent Republicans is a serious issue for the GOP, one which the party very much needs to begin a dialogue about. People are frustrated, even those who could have been reliably counted upon in the past to support Republican candidates. Maybe, as Gerlach believes, it will be "
[t]he quality of his constituent service" that is the deciding factor in next year's election, but I'm growing increasingly unconvinced that will not be the case. If Democrats like Lois Murphy can run good campaigns, can effectively discuss issues like fiscal sanity and responsible conduct of the war in Iraq, I think there's a real danger of a serious Republican rout next November.

The party needs to get its act together, and rediscover its roots. Republicans must offer something different than "more of the same" next year, because clearly people aren't enjoying the current path the country's headed down. It will be places like PA 6 where this trend becomes evident first, since the district (unlike most in the country) is closely divided. But if things continue along their current path, even the safest of incumbents may be unsafe against competitive opponents.

If the GOP doesn't start changing its tune, and a rout occurs, it might not be a bad thing for the country or the party (I've long stated my preference for divided government). But a serious discussion among Republicans about the direction our current leadership is taking the country needs to happen, and fast, or we risk more than a rout - we risk irrelevance.

Katrina Devastation

I'm not going to say too much about Katrina's aftermath, because words in cases like this are completely insufficient. But I do want to pass along a link to the American Red Cross. Please give as you are able - it's needed now more than ever.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Good Link

Via John Cole's Balloon Juice, Ezra Klein has a good post on the positives of raising fuel efficiency standards vis a vis hiking the gas tax. It's very much worth a read. While I think both those steps would do much to decrease oil consumption in the long run, obviously my strong preference would be for increasing CAFE requirements. As he says, "Why isn't this a no-brainer?"


At first I thought of Cindy Sheehan as a grieving mom, deserving of some attention and who the president probably should invite in for a heart-to-heart about Iraq and her son's sacrifice there. But after a month of her antics, my patience has worn thin. Ms. Sheehan's "movement" now seems little more than a media circus, and some of her more outrageous statements have transformed her from a sympathetic figure into a little more than a shrill extremist.

Sheehan has seriously undermined any contributions she might have made to a meaningful discussion about the war in Iraq by resorting to nothing more than name-calling and hateful rhetoric, without expressing a willingness to enter into a real dialogue about the future. When pressed to defend her views, as she was today on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" (you can listen here) Ms. Sheehan almost immediately goes on the defensive, and today she suddenly announced a very premature end to her NPR interview when the host asked her questions that she didn't seem to feel like answering. A few more interviews like this and the media may grow as tired of her as I am.

One of the most interesting questions that came up in the few minutes of today's interview dealt with the fact that Ms. Sheehan's son volunteered to join the Army. Host Neal Conan asked if Ms. Sheehan knew why her son had joined up; she said that he was lied to by his recruiter. Conan then asked if she'd tried to talk her son out of enlisting, and Sheehan answered:

Sheehan: "Well we didn't have a chance, because he joined before he talked to us."
Conan: "Before he talked .... So, he made a choice of his own."
Sheehan: "Right."
Conan: "Um, no, um ... You were ..."
Sheehan: "Does that have to do with him being sent to a war that's illegal and immoral to kill people and get killed in a country that was no harm or threat to the United States of America?"
Conan: [Pausing]. "Um, no, but uh, he wasn't drafted. He made a choice of free will."
Sheehan: "Yeah and if we give our children to the government to serve our country we should make sure they're only used if it's absolutely necessary to defend the United States of America."

Ms. Sheehan misses a crucial point there. She didn't "give" her child to the government to serve our country. Casey Sheehan made the choice to enlist in the United States Army of his own volition, for reasons entirely his own, whatever they were. Ms. Sheehan has every right to grieve; she has as much right as anyone else to question the conduct of the war and its aftermath. But she needs to recognize the fact that her son joined the Army, knowing full well the risks involved. He first enlisted in 2000, when, it could be said, we were at peace. But he signed up again in 2004, long after the war in Iraq had already begun, and apparently understanding that he would likely be asked to serve in that region.

Casey Sheehan served our country nobly, heroically. I admire him and his sacrifice greatly. As regular readers know, I have long had serious concerns about how the president and the Pentagon have conducted the war and its aftermath, and I have expressed countless times my desire for some straight talk from President Bush and his Administration about the real state of affairs in Iraq and for the announcement of a success strategy, complete with benchmarks that will trigger the eventual withdrawal of coalition troops.

I hope that all those brave young men and women who, like Casey Sheehan, signed up for service in the armed forces, will soon be able to return home in triumph. I hope that the president and his Administration will stop offering the American people "more of the same," more than "stay the course." And I hope that Cindy Sheehan will, instead of continuing to sideline herself through extreme and unproductive rhetoric, will abandon those tactics and join the serious discussion about the war that some of us are trying to get started.

And above all, I hope that it is not too late for any of those things to occur.

Almost Forgot

- It's a good thing Political Wire is around to jog my memory; I'd almost forgotten that I wanted to comment on David Francis' commentary from today's Christian Science Monitor, which compares the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to previous American wars. According to Francis' analysis, if you look at military costs (excluding reconstruction funds) and use today's dollar as a baseline for comparison, the costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have already surpassed the total costs for World War I, and ring up at less than only World War II, Vietnam, and Korea.

Francis writes that in terms of expenditures per soldier, the current conflicts are already the most expensive in US history, due to increases in technology, protection, pay, and travel costs. He's got several other comparisons in the piece that are worth thinking about; read his whole piece.

- Also today, the Washington Post wrote an editorial on the Bush Administration's proposed new rule for SUV fuel efficiency, which I discussed in depth here. Basically the Post echoes the sentiments I expressed about the rules change, but they've got an interesting calculation that I wanted to mention:

"Under the proposed rules, average mileage for such vehicles would have to rise by just 1.8 miles per gallon over the 2008 to 2011 model years, reaching an average of about 24 mpg by the end of that time. The administration estimates that this change will save 10 billion gallons of gasoline over about 15 years. This amounts to a total of about 25 days of consumption under current trends - a disappointing drop in the barrel."


Clark at TPMCafe

General Wes Clark is this week's "Table for One" guest over at TPMCafe, and his first post on the state of things in Iraq and how a strategy change is needed there (further expanding on his op/ed from last week) is quite a good one. Stop by if you get a chance, and feel free to post your comments and questions for Clark as well.

I'm pretty much fixated on the hurricane coverage today - completely unbelievable. Looks like the damage in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast is going to be quite extensive (to say the least). Nasty.

Rumsfeld to Face Senate Panel

Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told the New York Times over the weekend that he intends to call Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Capitol Hill to face what will undoubtedly be tough and pointed questions from the Senate panel. Warner said "The level of concern is, I think, gradually rising" among the American people, as casualties mount and progress barely seems measurable.

Joining the "stay the course is not a policy" movement, Warner said that while generally the American people and Congress remain support of efforts in Iraq, "continuing on the same course could steadily erode Congressional backing for the war," according to the Times.

Much the same sentiments came from Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Dem in the House, who told the Times "I think the public is losing patience with the effort because they don't see it succeeding. In fact, from their perspective, they see the attacks increasing. We haven't done what we need to do for the infrastructure in Iraq. We haven't got the economy going." Hoyer supported the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq back in 2002.

Warner also told the Times that he intends to visit Iraq in the near future, and that he plans to schedule another Armed Services Committee hearing sometime next month "on whether the Pentagon has failed to hold senior officials and military officers responsible for the prisoner abuses that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, and at other detention centers in Iraq, Cuba and Afghanistan."

John Warner could become one of the most important leaders of the efforts to encourage a strategy shift from the White House, away from "stay the course" to the construction of a benchmark rubric for success. His voice is certainly a welcome one. I hope that the Administration will recognize Senator Warner's seriousness and his dedication to the mission of the armed services and the success of their efforts and engage with him in a meaningful way. To attempt to sideline him as they have done with Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Joe Biden, Wes Clark and others who have tried to contribute in well-meaning ways to the debate over strategy in Iraq would be a serious mistake.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Santorum, Casey, and Iraq

Howard Fineman has a must-read piece in Newsweek's new issue about how the war in Iraq is playing out in the Pennsylvania Senate race between Rick Santorum and Bob Casey. This race is going to be one of the most interesting next year, and how Casey (and Santorum as well) handles Iraq as we move forward is definitely going to be something to watch.

Didn't Miss Much, I See

Back from my field trip, I've just finished rounding up the transcripts and a few reviews of the Sunday talk shows - doesn't look like I missed very much exciting. Here are a few things I noticed: McCain continued (PDF) to call for more troops in Iraq, and the roundtable of generals on "Meet the Press" seemed fairly interesting. You can read the transcript of that here, or download a podcast of the show here. Biden on "This Week" was, well, Biden. There's a video clip of him here.

If you're in the path of Hurricane Katrina, good luck - my thoughts are with you all tonight. I hope all goes as well as it possibly can for you and yours.

I'll be dipping in and out throughout the evening with more posts.

From the Papers

The few things I found relevant in my read of the papers this morning:

- Uber-slimeball and indicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's web of nastiness may extend into the Interior Department: the Washington Post reports this morning that Abramoff promised allies a deputy secretary's assistance on blocking a casino project even as he was negotiating a job offer with that official. The Post notes dryly "It can be a federal crime for government officials to negotiate for a job while being involved in decisions affecting the potential employer."

- Jeffrey Rosen's piece in the New York Times Magazine, "Roberts v. the Future," is a provocative article, offering insight into some areas of law that might appear on the Supreme Court's docket somewhere down the road. I found it quite interesting.

- And from the LA Times, this article examines the fractured nature of war critics' rhetoric, and how in the face of a disunited opposition, the White House feels comfortable offering up "stay the course." The author quotes one "senior administration official" as saying "There is obviously frustration out there; it has become an emotional issue. The sentiment is: 'Do Something!' But what are we going to do that we aren't already doing? Nobody has a good answer."

Aside from being patently untrue (for suggestions on what to do, see Wes Clark, John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden among others), this statement only cements the Jon Stewart-stated formulation that the White House is not paying attention to the serious questions being asked about the conduct of the war by very serious people. While President Bush continues to fight the "pull out all our troops today" straw-man offered up by practically no one (Feingold and others calling for withdrawal generally use the end of next year as a target date, remember), he blithely ignores the suggestions from any/all sides that might actually have some merit.

Frustrating, indeed.

I'm going to be away from the computer for much of the day (another birding trip, all around Boston and surrounding areas), so I'll catch up with the shows upon my return. If anything noteworthy happens, as always feel free to discuss in the comments.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Here are the available lineups for tomorrow:

Meet the Press (NBC): US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad will discuss the state of negotiations over the Iraqi constitution, and then the (retired) generals will take their turn. Former commanders Wes Clark, Monty Meigs, Barry McCaffrey, and Wayne Downing will discuss Iraq, and probably BRAC and some other topics as well.

This Week (ABC): The perennial Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) is back this week, talking Iraq, the Roberts nomination, and more. Freshman Republican Senator John Thune (R-SD) will be on to discuss the BRAC commission's reprieve of Ellsworth AFB (and probably Thune's career). Then Fareed Zakaria, George Will and Cokie Roberts will roundtable with George Stephanopoulos.

Fox News Sunday: Host Chris Wallace will interview two women whose sons were killed in Iraq, Rhonda Winfield and Barbara Porchia. Then Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Bryon Dorgan (D-ND) will discuss Iraq, Roberts, BRAC, etc. The panel will include Wallace, Brit Hume, Nina Easton, Bill Kristol, and Juan Williams.

Late Edition (CNN): Khalilzad will make a second appearance with Wolf, to be followed by interviews with Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) of the Intelligence Committee and Trent Lott (R-MS). Lott's also on the Intel Committee but he's on mainly to hawk his book. Then former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) will discuss Iraq, I'm guessing. The Chinese Ambassador to the US, Zhou Wenzhong, will round out the lineup.

I'll update once I know who Schieffer's got in store on Face the Nation (CBS).

[Update: Schieffer's main guest on Face the Nation will be Senator John McCain (R-AZ). -- 8:56 p.m.]

Still "More of the Same"

The president spoke about Iraq this morning in his weekly radio address this morning. Can you guess what he said? Yup, that's right:

Our strategy is straightforward: As Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down. And when Iraqi forces can defend their freedom by taking more and more of the fight to the enemy, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned." Again. That's the same line (the exact same line) he's been using since at least June.

Stay the course is not a strategy. More of the same will bring neither victory nor increased home-front support. As David Frum wrote earlier this week, by repeating these "stand pat" mantras of meaningless pablum, Bush does not only himself, but the American people, the Iraqi people, and the world, a great disservice.

Can't Be Good

This really doesn't seem like a particularly good idea.

The Days of August

This has been a very strange month. At the beginning of August, I was excited about having some time to get into non-breaking-news sorts of things, more reflective posts while the government and just about everyone else in Washington seemed to go into a rather extended siesta. Unfortunately I haven't done quite as much of that as I would have liked.

A move at the beginning of the month was followed by taking some time out every day to explore Boston and get settled in here. I also have been devoting serious chunks of time to catching up on a pile of books - one that had been steadily growing taller throughout the spring and early summer while I was fixated on things like John Bolton, the Supreme Court, and then the massive pork-barrel spending spree binge by Congress and the White House at the end of July. And I've been taking more trips out into the field for some birding, now that I have a whole new area to discover.

While I've mainly continued to focus here on discussing current news stories - from Iraq to gas prices to Pat Robertson's lunacy, etc. I've been doing some behind-the-scenes work, particularly on the redistricting reform effort, and preparing myself for the big stories that will return to the political forefront after Labor Day: the Roberts nomination hearings, stem cell research funding, and the ongoing debate over anti-torture amendments to the Defense Department Appropriations bill (among others).

As we finish up this lazy month and get back into the hyperactive swing of things, I just wanted to say thanks for sticking in there through this quiet month, and I hope you'll do the same once the craziness begins again. Things will probably start to look a little bit different with my posting schedule once I start classes, but I don't anticipate any major adjustments being necessary. In the meantime, I'll continue on in the same vein here, and I'm also going to jump back into debates over at The Yellow Line later today on a "radical middle agenda" offered by author Mark Satin so be sure to check in there.

Friday, August 26, 2005

BRAC to the Future

As others have been noting for the past couple of days, the independent Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) is completing its recommendations for closings based on Pentagon proposals. I've been checking in with these hearings all week, mainly to see what happened with important bases in New Hampshire, Maine, South Dakota, and New Mexico. While the vast majority of closures and realignments proposed by the DoD have been approved, the BRAC's members have shown their independence in several key decisions.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Groton Submarine Base, Ellsworth Air Force Base and Cannon Air Force Base were all spared by the Commission, against the Pentagon's wishes but much to the relief of the congressional delegations and state governments of their states, whose members fought hard to keep the bases up and running. The commission is expected to finish deliberations tonight, and then send its report to the president before September 8. Bush has said that he will send the report on to Congress without demanding changes - Congress must then vote to approve or disapprove the entire package of recommendations (they are widely expected to accept the plan).

I'm glad that BRAC didn't just rubber-stamp the Pentagon's recommendations. Watching their deliberations, it was clear that the commissioners and their staff had studied each specific base in some detail, and knew exactly the ramifications of their actions. It seemed a very well-managed and efficient process, and while some will not agree with their decisions to close certain bases and leave others open, I think that overall they have done the country a great service.

Jon Stewart v. Hitchens

If you missed the dust-up between Jon Stewart and Christopher Hitchens on "The Daily Show" last night, you can see the clip here, via the invaluable Crooks & Liars.

Here's a portion of the transcript, from Wonkette (who seems to have enjoyed this exchange almost as much as I did):

"Stewart: The people who say we shouldn't fight in Iraq aren't saying it's our fault. . . That is the conflation that is the most disturbing. . .
Don't you hear people saying. . .
You hear people saying a lot of stupid [bleep]. . . But there are reasonable disagreements in this country about the way this war has been conducted, that has nothing to do with people believing we should cut and run from the terrorists, or we should show weakness in the face of terrorism, or that we believe that we have in some way brought this upon ourselves. . .
They believe that this war is being conducted without transparency, without credibility, and without competence...
I'm sorry, sunshine... I just watched you ridicule the president for saying he wouldn't give. . .
Stewart: No, you misunderstood why. . . . That's not why I ridiculed the president. He refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults and falls back upon platitudes and phrases and talking points that does a disservice to the goals that he himself shares with the very people [he] needs to convince.
[Audience erupts in applause]
You want me to believe you're really secretly on the side of the Bush administration. . .
Stewart: I secretly need to believe he's on my side. He's too important and powerful a man not to be.
[Sputter, return to talking about his latest book.]"

Like Wonkette, I don't think I've ever seen Hitchens quite so rattled. It was something to see. More importantly, Stewart makes excellent points.

Wes Clark on Iraq

Retired general and former (and future?) presidential candidate Wes Clark has an op/ed column in the Washington Post today on the future of U.S. policy in Iraq. Clark begins by calling the original invasion of Iraq a mistake - which I did not originally think it was, because I bought the Administration's line on weapons of mass destruction, a line which has turned out to be 'somewhat less than accurate' (yes, I am putting that too nicely).

Clark, realizing correctly that re-arguing the fact that the United States invaded Iraq in the first place is not really of all that much relevance at this point (as much as some don't want to admit it, that ship has sailed), goes on to note that what we need today is a "strategy to create a stable, democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq - a strategy the administration has failed to develop and articulate." On the political, diplomatic, and military fronts, Clark argues, the Administration must take additional steps to enhance long-term stability in a reconstructed Iraq. Here are some of his suggestions:

Diplomatic: "form a standing conference of Iraq's neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists"; forswear permanent American military bases in Iraq.

Political: "help engineer, implement and sustain a compromise that will avoid the 'red lines' of the respective factions and leave in place a state that both we and Iraq's neighbors can support" (he gets more specific on some of these); "provide additional civil assistance and advice, along with additional U.S. civilian personnel, to help strengthen the institutions of government"; "Monies promised for reconstruction simply must be committed and projects moved forward, especially in those areas along the border and where the insurgency has the greatest potential."

Military: Engage France, Canada and Germany in assisting in the training of military and police forces; "Military and security operations must return primarily to the tried-and-true methods of counterinsurgency: winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small-scale economic development and positive daily interactions"; "Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters"; "A better effort must be made to control jihadist infiltration into the country by a combination of outposts, patrols and reaction forces reinforced by high technology."

I don't necessarily agree with all of these suggestions (I think the Iraqis should do as much of the constitution-compromise as they can without our strong-arming, since an Iraqi document will stand a much better chance of success than something perceived as foisted on the country by the U.S.), but I'm glad Clark's put them out there. As I said of Feingold and Hagel, and others, I think useful contributions to the nation's dialogue about Iraq are necesssary and important.

Clark's main point is key: if the Administration does not take steps to create a workable strategy in Iraq, our chances for "success" there (i.e. leaving in place a stable, flourishing Iraq in a region at least as stable as before the invasion) are seriously undermined. He concludes:

"The growing chorus of voices demanding a pullout should seriously alarm the Bush administration, because President Bush and his team are repeating the failure of Vietnam: failing to craft a realistic and effective policy and instead simply demanding that the American people show resolve. Resolve isn't enough to mend a flawed approach - or to save the lives of our troops. If the administration won't adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that it bring our troops home."

Stay the course is not a policy.

Friday Satire

From Andy Borowitz: an upside to the high gas prices; a Zell Miller challenge to Cindy Sheehan; Pat Robertson suggests breaking another commandment; and Bush proposes a permanent move from D.C.

From Scrappleface: a draft response letter from Bush to Ms. Sheehan; another account of the "Patwa" against Hugo Chavez.

From the Swift Report: a White House files for bankruptcy; God forsakes Pat Robertson.

From The Onion: Iraq declares "Partial Law".

The Garlic is on vacation.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More Constitution Delays

As I've said all along, I think that little extra time for an Iraqi constitution on which all sides can agree is preferable to pushing through a half-baked compromise document that leads to increased instability and more bloodshed. After another delay on Thursday, it looks as though the transitional assembly will now probably not consider the constitution until next week, as the gap between consideration and a planned October 15 national referendum on the governing structure narrows.

I continue to hold out hope that negotiators will reach consensus on the sticky issues of federalism and the status of members of the former Ba'ath Party, and that the constitution when it finally emerges will be one that most Iraqis can feel comfortable with. I hope that all Iraqis - Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis, will come out in droves in October and support the constitution that emerges from a negotiated compromise.

However, as CSIS' Jon Alterman says in Friday's Christian Science Monitor, if the Shiites and Kurds go ahead with a constitution which does not meet Sunni approval (as they said Thursday they might), high Sunni turnout in the October 15 referendum - even if it defeats the constitution - might not necessarily be a bad thing. Says Alterman, "There's a silver lining in that, if it finally draws the Sunnis inside the political process."

Networks Refuse to Air Darfur Ad

NBC, CBS and ABC have all refused to air this advertisement, which takes the news arms of those networks to task for covering stories like Michael Jackson and the Runaway Bride while hundreds of thousands are killed in Darfur. The ad, sponsored by, is an important reminder that America's news organizations are giving short shrift to Darfur while focusing on mindless stories of celebrity silliness.

You can also read the rejection statements from the networks' DC affiliates. Shameful.

The State of the Axis

Peter Grier has a very good piece in the Christian Science Monitor today on an interesting recent trend in U.S. diplomatic approaches toward North Korea and Iran. As Grier notes, up until the last few months, things seemed to be working well with Iran and not so much with North Korea, but now the situation has nearly reversed.

Grier: "That doesn't mean a deal with North Korea is close, or that the Iranian situation is beyond hope. It does mean that the efforts to confront these challenges may adjust to new realities."

One of those realities, Grier says, is that for all the Administration's tough talk, the use of force against Iran or North Korea is hardly a credible option given current force requirements around the world. As Senator Hagel said recently, "
We lose credibility in the face of the world when we say things like, 'Well, don't forget, what happened to Iraq could happen to you, Iran.'"

Negotiations with North Korea have been proceeding in good order recently, according to all concerned; another round of discussions is forthcoming. Meanwhile, Iran has become increasingly less inclined to negotiate in recent weeks, and Grier notes that some analysts believe the Iranians will willing to stand firm and take the chance that the U.S. and Europe will haul them before the Security Council, believing that "
China and Russia could well be unwilling to censure a nation with which they have economic ties."

It will be interesting to see how the next discussions with North Korea go, and whether Grier's hunch about Iran proves correct. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if the DPRK proved the easier of the two to deal with in the long run.

Republicans Worry About Gas Prices Backlash

The LA Times reports this morning that GOP members of Congress are becoming increasingly worried that the federal government's failure to respond to skyrocketing gas prices will come back to bite them at the ballot box in 2006. Legislators say they're not sure constituents will buy the argument that Congress has "few tools to provide immediate relief."

In the article, Republican consultant Tony Fabrizio is quoted as saying "If I were a guy in a marginal race, I would be all over the oil companies. I'd be getting ahead of the curve right now, hauling them before my committee, holding hearings throughout my state - maybe introducing legislation to cap their CEO salaries."

The problem is, steps that could be taken to immediately reduce oil consumption and bring down prices are unpopular. Lowering speed limits, establishing price controls, enforcing mandatory carpool limits - these would work in the short-term, but as Rep. Joe Barton notes (correctly) "People would love to be paying about half what they're paying for gasoline, but they're not willing to subject themselves to the loss of personal freedom and convenience that that would require."

Exactly. Too many Americans want to have their giant SUVs and cheap gas too - when will they realize that those two things are becoming increasingly mutually exclusive? People want quick fixes, but they are not willing to take the steps necessary to make sure we don't find ourselves held hostage to oil companies in the first place. Increase fuel efficiency, spend to develop viable alternatives to petroleum (while not compromising safety) - pick a solution, long-term or short-term, and people whine about it.

Republicans are in a bind here - they don't want to do nothing, because that leaves them open to charges of, well, doing nothing; but they don't want to take steps that would combat high gas prices, because they're unpopular and people might like them even less than paying so much for gas. So it's a tough call (and perhaps a very useful opening for Democrats, even though they don't have very good immediate alternatives to offer either). At the very least, congressional hearings should be held (they're already being planned on the Senate side) to determine the causes of the increases and discuss feasible solutions.

Hear the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Earlier this month, I noted that audio recordings from Arkansas had converted several scientists who had been skeptical of the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Those audio recordings have now been made available on Cornell University's website. You can listen to both "kent" calls and "double-knock" rapping on tree trunks at the site, and there are also links there to the video recordings made of the bird back in early 2004. The New York Times also has a story on the release of the recordings today.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Freshman Mindset

When I was in college (not all that long ago) I worked in the housing office, and every year prior to the arrival of the new freshman class one of the things I looked forward to most (and there wasn't all that much to look forward to about opening day, since it cannot be called one of the most pleasant experiences in the world) was the arrival of the annual Beloit College Mindset List. Drawn up by professors and staff at that small liberal arts college in Wisconsin, the list is a series of statements about things that the members of the new freshman class have always known or experienced.

It's not serious research, say the list's drafters. It's tongue-in-cheek, and it is always thought-provoking. I enjoy reading the lists each year, and the newest version, for the Class of 2009, is now available. It will be printed in Thursday's Christian Science Monitor, but it's also here on the Mindset List website, where you can also find archived lists from past years.

Robertson Apologizes

After test-driving the ridiculous line that he was "misinterpreted by the AP," televangelist Pat Robertson apologized Wednesday for his comments calling for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (see my earlier post here). Said Robertson, "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

Earlier today, Robertson had said of the incident "I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.' And 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP [Associated Press], but that happens all the time." Actually he said ""If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war." You can watch the video of Robertson's comments here.

I'm glad he's apologized. But he's still an embarrassment and a crackpot who doesn't deserve all the free publicity we've all given him for the past two days.

Comment-Spam Relief

I don't want to get too excited about this yet, but I'm hopeful that Blogger's new addition of a word verification security feature for comment posting will cut down on the insane amounts of comment spam we were dealing with here. I've re-enabled anonymous commenting now so that you don't have to have a Blogger account to post - you just can't be a computer. Keep your fingers crossed that the spam-bots don't find a way around barrier anytime soon.

Campaign Briefing

PoliticalWire always has great campaign updates; here are a few of the most recent:

- AnkleBitingPundits says they've been told by a "high level GOP source" that Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is meeting with advisers and fundraisers about the possibility of exploring an independent presidential bid in 2008. Says ABP's source, Hagel's worried about running against McCain in a GOP primary, so he's thinking about making a third-party run. "Should Senator John McCain win the GOP primary, Hagel would likely endorse his friend (and maybe even angle for a #2 spot on an 'all maverick' ticket.) If McCain were to lose and the GOP to nominate a right-winger, Hagel would try to tap into the disaffected McCain primary vote in a three-way general election," says ABP.

I'll believe it when I see it, but it's certainly something to think about!

- The Charlotte Observer reported yesterday that SC Governor Mark Sanford (R), a hero of fiscal conservatives, may be planning a presidential run.

- Former GOP congressman J.C. Watts will not run for Governor of Oklahoma.

- It looks increasingly likely that Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) will face a primary challenge next year from the more conservative mayor of Cranston, Stephen Laffey.

- Senator Lindsey Graham told the Index Journal (SC) that he will not join any 2008 presidential ticket as a vice-presidential nominee, even if asked.

- Last week I posted on Bill Weld's decision to run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in New York. The New York Sun reported Tuesday that Weld will have company: it's looking increasingly likely that NY Secretary of State Randy Daniels will make a run, and other candidates may also join the fray.

- If Senator Jon Corzine (D) is elected governor of New Jersey this fall, he'll get to select a replacement for himself to send to the Senate, but Democrats are already lining up for the next election: Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., Robert Menendez, and Roberts Andrews are all reportedly planning to run for the seat.

- Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) will not run for governor of his home state next year.

Potts Watch: Kaine Agrees to Debate

Virginia State Senator Russ Potts, running for governor in the Old Dominion as an independent Republican, has reached agreement with Democratic candidate Tim Kaine to hold a debate in mid-September. The pair invited Republican Jerry Kilgore to join the debate as well, but he refused, according to the Washington Post. The Potts-Kaine debate will occur immediately following a Kaine-Kilgore debate sponsored by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce (which refuses to allow Potts to participate in its debate because of a "long-standing policy of including only the major-party candidates").

Kilgore and Potts' campaigns said they want to offer Virginians more opportunity to hear the candidates exchange their views: Kilgore has refused to debate more than three times (only two of which will be televised). Kaine's press secretary said of the planned debate "This gives Virginians a chance to hear all of the gubernatorial candidates discuss the issues side by side. Jerry Kilgore has unfortunately decided not to accept, but we would still encourage him to come and watch."

I hope that the details can be worked out and that this debate moves forward, with or without Kilgore. Russ Potts' views deserve to be heard, because Virginians deserve a choice this November.

More State Action on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

It was just on Sunday that I posted about how Oregon and Washington are planning to join California in requiring cars sold there to comply with stricter-than-federal emissions standards. Today, the New York Times reports on another important new cooperative effort between states to take action that will decrease pollution emissions from power plants.

According to the Times, which cites a "confidential draft proposal" in its report, nine Northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) "have come to a preliminary agreement to freeze power plant emissions at their current levels and then reduce them by 10 percent by 2020." The legislature of each state will have to approve the plan prior to implementation.

As the article notes, this type of cooperative agreement between states to cap and reduce power plant pollution is unprecedented, but California, Washington and Oregon are reportedly in discussions to enter into a similiar regional effort.

The Northeastern agreement was instigated by New York's Republican governor George Pataki back in 2003, the Times reports - Pataki has long been concerned with the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, and I'm more than a little pleased that he took this step and that he's been able to persuade so many of his gubernatorial colleagues to join with him in taking action while the Bush Administration twiddles its thumbs.

This is yet another good step forward from the states on environmental matters, and I hope that the states can work out the final remaining details and get this agreement in place.

Reserving Judgment

I wanted to post this morning on the submitted Iraqi constitution. But there doesn't seem to be a complete, reliable version of the document available just yet. Various outlets are offering links to what they say is "the constitution," but there are differences in many of those. So I'm going to wait a little while before I try to analyze the proposal. Thankfully there's much other news to discuss this morning, I'll have some more posts shortly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Stepping Forward (and Back) on Fuel Efficiency

Today the White House performed the political equivalent of a two-step on fuel efficiency standards, announcing that while miles per gallon efficiency ratings for some light trucks and SUVs will be subject to a small increase by the 2011 model year, the way those ratings are calculated will change (opening a gigantic loophole which may have the effect of gutting the new regulations immediately).

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NHTSA) new proposed rule (all 169 pages of it) can be read here in PDF form. Its summary admits that "Conserving energy, especially reducing the nation's dependence on petroleum, benefits the U.S. in several ways. Reducing total petroleum use decreases our economy's vulnerability to price shocks. Reducing dependence on oil imports from regions with uncertain conditions enhances our energy security and can reduce the flow of oil profits to certain states now hostile to the U.S. Reducing the growth rate of oil use will help relieve pressures on already strained domestic refinery capacity, decreasing the likelihood of future product price volatility."

That's great rhetoric, which I fully support. But sadly, the rules announced today will probably not have much effect at all on the overall consumption or importation of foreign oil. While the major talking point today from the Administration is about the increases in fuel efficiency this proposed rule would bring about for mini-vans and light trucks/SUVs (from 22.2 mpg in 2007 to 23.5 mpg in 2010), what goes unmentioned is that automakers will be given the option to skirt those requirements by entering the "Reformed CAFE" requirement structure early.

Under "Reformed CAFE" (which might be better termed "Reduced CAFE"), automakers would be allowed to separate their fleets into six different size classes, each with its own standards for fuel efficiency (they're on page 10 of the rule). While mpg requirements for minivans and smaller SUVs would continue to rise under this scheme, the regulations for larger SUVs and pickup trucks actually have the potential to fall to below the average levels mandated for 2007. This provides automakers with an incentive to build larger vehicles with weaker fuel efficiency standards instead of devoting resources make their models more efficient.

Additionally, as I wrote last week, this proposed rule contains no provision for the establishment of regulations for gigantic SUVs like the Hummer - not even minimal standards. This omission is a serious one, leaving automakers free to continue building gas-guzzling behemoths. Sure, they only build them because people buy them, but I have always thought that corporations bear some social responsibility - a self-imposed ban by the automakers on the construction and marketing of Hummers and other tanks would hardly be a bad thing for the country.

Anyone can submit comments to the NHTSA via: their website, using docket number 2005-22144; fax to 202-493-2251; mail to Docket Management Facility; U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh Street SW, Nassif Building, Room PL-401, Washington D.C. 20590. I will be sending a letter myself, and would encourage all of my readers to do the same. Mine will call on the NHTSA to continue calculating mpg regulations for light trucks, minivans and SUVs on a fleet average basis with modest increases for each model year, and to include a Hummer/giant SUV rule in the final draft.

Dennis over at The Moderate Republican has a good companion post for this today, discussing the national security implications of driving SUVs. It bounces off a Fareed Zakaria column in this week's issue of Newsweek which urges increasing our fuel efficiency standards as a way to increase national security.

There is no rational reason for Americans to continue their feeding frenzy on foreign oil. There are many rational reasons to begin the weaning process. Real increases in fuel efficiency standards would be an excellent start.

New Ruffini Poll

Patrick Ruffini's got a new August straw poll up for the '08 GOP nomination. More choices, a couple of wrinkles, and a state-by-state breakdown make this one even more interesting. As he did last time, he's tracking the results by blog, so let's give Charging RINO a good showing. All readers should feel free to participate. The poll is here - vote early and often!

Robertson Does it Again

Back in May, I suggested that "Reverend" Pat Robertson is "cuckoo for cocoa puffs" - that was after he suggested that Hindus and Muslims shouldn't be allowed to hold government offices and that some nebulous "erosion of our cultural consensus" is more dangerous to America than terrorism. Well, he's gone and added some more evidence for that diagnosis: on his "700 Club" television show Monday, Robertson called for the government-backed assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (video there too).

Robertson called Chavez "a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us badly," before saying "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. ... We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Could someone please explain to me why Pat Robertson retains even a minimal amount of influence in the Republican Party? These tirades are designed explicitly to keep him in the news - which of course they do (he's currently on the front page of all five major US television news outlets) - and they only add to the perception of the GOP as being controlled by right-wing religious crackpots.

Pat Robertson does not speak for me. While I have concerns about some of Chavez' recent outrageous statements, and I'm not sure in the long run his continued grasp on power in Venezuela is in the best interests of the United States, so long as he is the democratically elected leader of that nation we'll just have to deal with him. Political assassinations are outlawed by multiple executive orders, and Robertson's suggestion of one is simply ridiculous.

Robertson has been and is an embarrassment to mainstream Republicans; we must all join now and condemn these latest statements, and relegate Pat Robertson to the loony bin of history where he belongs.

More "More of the Same"

Yesterday morning I suggested that the president's newest round of Iraq speeches offered an important opportunity for him to give the American people something new, some basic plan for what success in Iraq will look like and some indication of when we could begin to see an exit strategy for American troops.

Not particularly surprisingly, the president opted not to take that opportunity. In a speech at a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City yesterday, Bush continued toeing the "more of the same" line, offering as his only formulation of victory a line we've heard time after time after time: "Our military is strategy is straightforward: As Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down. And when Iraqi forces can defend their freedom by taking on more and more of the fight to the enemy, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned."

The president also voice anew a line of argument which has become particularly pernicious over the last couple of years, meshing the fight against bin Laden's al-Qaeda with the invasion of Iraq. As the LA Times says today in an editorial, Bush in repeating this nebulous formulation is "neglecting to note that Al Qaeda put down roots in Iraq only after the invasion or that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 or Osama bin Laden."

"Our goal," Bush said Monday, "is clear: to secure a more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren. We will accept nothing less than total victory over the terrorists and their hateful ideology." That's a great goal - but if this president thinks that it gives him carte blanche to send American forces anywhere in the world for "as long as it takes" without the American people eventually demanding accountability and planning, I think he'll soon see a moment when 36% approval ratings looked pretty good in comparison.

As the LA Times editorializes, "the American presence cannot be open-ended; we need ways to measure progress. How many Iraqi police and troops must be trained and ready before substantial numbers of U.S. forces can start withdrawing?" There doesn't have to be a "deadline" - but there must be benchmarks, concrete steps that can be pointed to. I agree, strongly, with the LAT's conclusion:

"[V]ague statements are not enough. As more Americans and Iraqis die, Washington and Baghdad need a plan to stem the chaos the U.S. unleashed with its invasion — a chaos that has given terrorists a new recruiting tool. Wishful thinking and stubborn optimism do not constitute a policy. The sooner realism prevails, complete with metrics for progress and consequences for those who fail to meet them, the better."

As Senator Hagel said on Sunday, "stay the course" is not a policy either. This Administration owes the American people, and particularly those brave men and women wearing her colors in Iraq, the withdrawal strategy that they didn't bother to put together before they conducted the invasion in the first place. The veneer of patience has worn down to the very thinnest of layers, and just how long the simmering discontent will remain even as contained as it is seems to be the big question these days.

We want answers, Mr. President. Not more of the same bland formulations of nothing-speak.

Some good links in the comments below to other posts on this topic, so check those out as well.

[Update: Via RedState, just after I posted I was directed to the NRO diary of David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter (most famous for "axis of evil"). He's got an incredibly thoughtful post today on how the president is handling Iraq right now that I encourage everyone to take a look at. Frum notes the precipitious drop in public support of the war in recent months, and correctly concludes:

"Again, supporters of the war can do our bit to try to change minds. But the biggest megaphone in the country belongs to President Bush - and much depends on whether he uses it well or badly.

He is using it very badly indeed.

Let me single out just one single but maybe decisive problem. Again and again during the Bush presidency - and yesterday most recently - the president will agree to give what is advertised in advance as a major speech. An important venue will be chose. A crowd of thousands will be gathered. The networks will all be invited. And after these elaborate preparations, the president says ... nothing that he has not said a hundred times before.

If a president continues to do that, he is himself teaching the public and the media to ignore him - especially when the words seem (as his speech yesterday to the VFW seemed) utterly to ignore the past three months of real-world events."

Important words, and some sound advice. -- 9:45 a.m.]

Monday, August 22, 2005

Clark Talks Darfur

Former general and presidential candidate Wesley Clark was interviewed on NPR's "Morning Edition" today, discussing the need and usefulness of sending NATO peacekeeping troops to Darfur. You can listen to the interview here. Clark suggests that NATO could supplement African Union peacekeeping already in the region and have a tremendous impact on ending continued attacks on civilians by government-backed militias.

Via the website of the Coalition for Darfur, by far the best website out there for news updates and commentary on the ongoing genocide in the Darfur area.

Bull Moose on Immoderate Centrism

Over at Bull Moose, Marshall Wittman discusses the question of whether "the front-runners for the Republican nomination will be figures who have challenged the prevailing GOP orthodoxy in at least one fundamental way - McCain, Giuliani and Frist." He doesn't add Hagel, but I will.

If McCain or Giuliani, in particular, gained their party's nomination either one of them would likely attract large number of independent and even Democratic voters," Wittman notes - while obviously holding on to the vast majority of Republicans.

"Will there be donkeys who follow this path of defying the base? The lefties may soon be establishing litmus tests such as signing on to a date for withdrawal from Iraq. There will be immense pressure from the emboldened blogosphere to follow Feingold's lead. That path would be disastrous for the Democrats as it would be portrayed as the 'cut and run' party by the Rovians. How will the leading Democratic contenders respond? And how will Democratic candidates appeal to independents and wayward Republicans? Now that wcould be a worthy 'litmus test' for the party."

Will "defying the base" be the catchphrase of 2008? Will 'Sister Souljah moments' become as common as visits to New Hampshire and Iowa? And how will that change the way the run is run, won, and lost?

I agree with the Moose: "
The immoderate centrists will be watching."

Brownstein: Support, Not Silence

Ron Brownstein's column in today's LA Times suggests:

"Serious debate about the war has practically vanished in Washington. It's difficult to find many people outside the administration who are satisfied with either the costs (in American lives) or the benefits (the progress toward establishing a secure, pro-Western Iraqi state) of current policies. It is even more difficult to find any major figure willing to publicly offer a significant alternative.

This amounts to a political dereliction of duty."

For both Democrats and Republicans, Brownstein argues, the "political incentives for silence" are strong - Republicans are uneasy, but know it is their party who might pay the price if things go sour (he notes the exceptions here of McCain and Hagel); Democrats (again, noting the exceptions, like Feingold) have their base united against the war, but many "fear that challenging Bush too aggressively on Iraq will open Democrats to charges of weakness on defense."

Brownstein is right that this state of things has "produced an unusual situation in which public discontent hasn't translated into meaningful pressure on Bush to consider changes" and "The war seems to be on autopilot, with leaders of both parties refusing to ask the questions Americans are asking one another every day."

"Silence in Washington doesn't support the troops," Brownstein concludes. "A debate that exposes the nation to the available alternatives, and that compels the administration and Congress to rethink what America can achieve in Iraq and what price it is willing to pay - that would support the troops."

He's correct. Republicans should not be afraid to criticize, and strongly; Democrats should not be afraid to offer plans, even if they aren't "stay the course." The American people do deserve a real debate over the direction of the war in Iraq, and they deserve more than "more of the same" from the Bush Administration.

We hear this morning that President Bush is going to begin a new round of speeches defending the war. This would be a good time to start making some different noises.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

States Join to Limit Emissions

The Associated Press reports tonight that Oregon and Washington will join California in requiring tougher vehicle emissions standards for all cars sold in those states beginning in 2016, and six states in the Northeast are also taking steps to join the effort.

As the report notes, "It's an environmental squeeze play - with states on the two coasts working to try to force the auto industry to turn out cleaner, more fuel efficient cars, since those states comprise nearly a third of the U.S. car market."

Steps like these may be exactly what's needed to spur action from Detroit - I applaud Oregon and Washington, and hope that the Northeast and other states follow suit.

Worth a Read

John Cole is right. Peter Maas' "The Breaking Point" in today's NY Times Magazine is the must-read article of the day. It is a lengthy but worthwhile examination of that moment, not too far down the road, when we are forced to deal with our addiction to Saudi oil by the simple fact that they won't be able to keep increasing production ad infinitum. Take some time this afternoon if you can and read Maas' article.

Notes from the Shows

Bill Richardson did well on "This Week" today on illegal immigration, basically arguing for federal action along the lines of something involving elements of the proposed McCain-Kennedy bill (which would allow illegal immigrants to begin an onerous process of moving toward citizenship) and parts of an alternative backed by Senators Kyl and Cornyn, which involves increasing border security. While I confess I don't know as much about the immigration issue as I ought to, I think that we should be paying attention to governors like Richardson and Napolitano - the states they govern are on the front lines of this debate, and their ideas certainly should be given great weight.

The second part of "This Week" seemed a sneak preview of an '08 Republican presidential primary debate. As you all know, I'm a big fan of intra-party dialogue; it's healthy, and I wish there was more of it. I was pretty surprised at the level of disagreement between Senators Hagel and Allen today; I'm not sure there was a single question where one didn't "completely disagree" with the other: Iraq on benchmarks, withdrawals, and its similarities to Vietnam; illegal immigration; even Cindy Sheehan (Allen walked back some comments from a couple weeks ago, as I expected he would, and said that while Bush should have met with Sheehan at the beginning, "things have changed" during her protest).

Hagel continued his "staying the course is not a policy" mantra, saying that the next six months are going to be incredibly important. We need to get out as soon as we can do so without leaving a dangerous power vacuum, Hagel said, because our continued presence there is going to only destabilize the region even more. Allen strenuously disagreed with that characterization, handing out Administration talking points like candy.

On immigration, Hagel said that there were elements of McCain-Kennedy that he agrees with, and that he'll be introducing a similar bill with added security elements in the near future. Allen took the "you can't reward illegal behavior" line.

Like I said, there was a pretty surprising level of tension between the two senators, but it was respectful and decent. We should be seeing more of this, not less.

I'm going to have updates throughout the morning to this as the shows go along.

[Update: Senator Graham on "Fox News Sunday" discussed Iraq ("people are concerned," "our security is tied to the security of Iraq"), gas prices ("Iraq and gas prices are what people talk about," "increase domestic production," etc.) and his Alaska trip. On that point, he said that he's become convinced that man is at least "partially" responsible for global warming, and that changes are occurring, but that any solution must include China and India so that it doesn't "cripple" our economy. Absolutely right - he should talk to the president about that and urge him to begin negotiations instead of ignoring the developing economies. -- 10:54 a.m.]

[Update: Feingold on "Meet the Press" - a more than decent case for his idea of setting a target date for the withdrawal of American troops. He made the point - one I hadn't heard made before - that we've set "target dates" for practically everything (transfer of sovereignty, elections, constitution, etc. etc.) - so why not have a similar goal for a pullout of American troops? Seems an interesting question at the very least.

Another interesting point - if the terrorists' goal is to drive us out and take control, why don't they stop blowing us up and let us leave, then seize power?

Feingold's clearly made himself a voice in this debate, and I think these are good questions. I'm not entirely convinced by those who oppose a timeline that it would do as much damage as they seem to think it would, and I am becoming increasingly convinced that as far as the American people and military go, laying out a road map for success and target dates (obviously not "deadlines") for troop drawdowns would not be a bad idea. People are concerned, and rightly so - Hagel's right, staying the course is not a policy, and Feingold's got some interesting and important pieces to add to the discussion. -- 11:13 a.m.]

[Update: Lott's interview on "MTP" was fairly benign and the usual talking points, including the discussion his new book - he played down his differences with Bush and even Frist over his ouster as majority leader back in 2002. The only interesting moment came right at the end, when David Gregory asked if Lott thought Frist "has the character to be president." Lott seemed to be gulping for air for a moment, said "I'd have to think about that," stammered something about not knowing who he was going to back in the 2008 race, and ended by saying "I probably would lean toward some of the others, let me just put it that way." Probably not a surprise to Frist, but something that may make some news. -- 11:21 a.m.]

[Note: As Phil notes in comments, Lott did get a little talkative about Iraq war planning. I missed exact quotes from that but once a transcript appears I'll have some up.]

[Update: Now that the "MTP" transcript is up, you can check out the exchange about Iraq war planning - it's just a bit past halfway down the page. He said "Well, beginning in August that year [2002] and into the fall - in fact, beginning not too long after 9/11 - as we had leadership meetings at breakfast with the president, he would go around the world and talk about what was going on, where the threats were, where the dangers were, and even in private discussions, it was clear to me that he thought Iraq was a destabilizing force, was a danger and a growing danger, and that we were going to have to deal with that problem."

He goes on to try and dial that statement back, but really it doesn't strike me as anything all that different than has been said for quite a while by Richard Clarke and others. -- 12:32 p.m.]

I'm not sure whether any news will be made over on "Late Edition," but if there's anything worth noting, I'll do so. So far, haven't seen much.

Redistricting Watch: WaPo on Prop 77

The Washington Post editorial board praises last week's California Supreme Court decision to put Governor Schwarzenegger's redistricting reform proposal back on the ballot for this fall, saying "If passed, it would replace the state's corrupt system for drawing state and federal legislative districts with a cleaner one in which a panel of retired judges - rather than the very politicians who have to run for office - would draw lines without regard for protecting incumbents. By passing it, California voters not only would clean up their up own system but could spur reform elsewhere as well."

As I did (here), the Post takes issue with part of redistricting plan (the mid-decade redrafting it allows), but admits "warts and all, passing the initiative would be a huge accomplishment."

Here's the rest of the Post piece:

"The advent of high-powered computing has made the old art of gerrymandering into a corruptly exact science. The result is that ever-more seats in state legislatures and in the House of Representatives have become safe for one party or the other. Many House elections are no longer even contested, so remote is the possibility of unseating an incumbent. In California's last election, as Mr. Schwarzenegger noted in a speech earlier this year, not a single one of 153 state or federal legislative seats changed party hands. "What kind of democracy is that?" the governor memorably asked.

The simple truth is that, as it's too often practiced in America, redistricting weakens two-party democracy and restricts all significant voter choice to primary elections within a district's dominant party. This, in turn, contributes to the polarization of the broader political system, as politicians of both parties attend more to keeping their flanks happy than to satisfying centrist voters or to reaching out to voters of the opposite party. For the largest state in the nation to declare this situation undemocratic and unacceptable and to demand instead that district lines get drawn as apolitically as possible would be an enormous step forward" [emphases added].

The Post has it right on this one. While the CA proposal isn't perfect, it's better than the status quo, and I hope that it's widely supported. As I noted in "Updates from the States," there are a few movements in other states as well to wrest control of redistricting away from the politicians and allow fairness and indepedence a role in the process. We've only just begun!

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Prop 77 Back On" (8/12)
- "Updates from the States" (8/10)
- "Updates on Several Fronts" (7/28)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/22)
- "How Exactly do you Gerrymander a Birthday Cake?" (7/20)
- "Happy Birthday Mr. Gerry" (7/19)
- "Federal Authority in Historical Perspective" (7/16)
- "Blue Dogs, on the Scent" (7/12)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/1)
- "Links, News, and Views" (6/24)
- "Polarization & Collegiality" (6/24)
- "Centrist Action on Redistricting Reform" (6/23)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Well gees, if I'd known all I had to do was ask, I would have done it ages ago! Some new blood in this week's talk show lineup - enjoy it while it lasts.

Face the Nation (CBS) takes the economic route tomorrow - host Bob Schieffer will talk with Glenn Hubbard, the former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors and Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor. Reich usually has some interesting and insightful things to say, even if I don't happen to agree with him all the time. Mike Allen of the Washington Post and Anne Kornblut from the New York Times will join in the questioning.

Fox News Sunday will feature Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC, Gang of 14), just back from his trip to Alaska with McCain, Clinton and Collins (more on that here). New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will also be on, talking about his state of emergency declaration this week to force the issue of discussing illegal immigration. The panel: Fox' Brit Hume, the Post's Ceci Connolly, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, and NPR's Juan Williams.

Late Edition (CNN) headlines Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Dem Carl Levin (MI) and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter (CA). They'll talk Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, among other things. South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon will also guest, as will Laith Kubba, an advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister al-Jaafari. Then Wolf will talk economics too, with former Clinton economic advisor Gene Sperling and Stephen Moore, former head of the Club for Growth. Finally, Israeli Finance Minister Ehud Olmert will discuss the Gaza pullout and the state of the peace process.

Meet the Press (NBC): Russert's absent this week; David Gregory will be guest-hosting. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) will appear to discuss his call for a full pullout of American troops from Iraq by the end of 2006. Then Trent Lott (R-MS), the former Majority Leader, will be on to discuss his new book, Herding Cats: A Life in Politics. Expect some tough questions about his portrayals of Bill Frist and George Allen (at least this question should be asked - whether it will or not is up in the air). Then Gregory will talk more Iraq with Larry Diamond, a former senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and author of Squandered Victory, and Dan Senor, former CPA spokesman.

This Week (ABC) will feature a second opportunity to catch Bill Richardson this weekend, followed by an intra-Republican party debate on Iraq between Senators Chuck "Unsure Sense" Hagel (NE) and George Allen (VA). Finally, and your best bet for anything really new and different in this week of new and differents, musician and novelist Kinky Friedman will appear to discuss his independent gubernatorial bid in Texas for the '06 election. He's an intriguing guy - don't miss this one.