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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 1 November 2006
Things Won't Change
Topic: Election Notes
Things Won't Change
Assume the polling regarding the midterm elections is right. That maybe be a foolish assumption but grant it for a moment - Americans across the country on 7 November trot off to their polling places (here in this part of Hollywood the Iranian-American synagogue just south of the Sunset Strip) and cast votes to throw the bums out, as the term goes. The Democrats win control of the House and perhaps the Senate - and then it becomes permissible for the legislative branch of the government to ask questions and suggest alternatives. No more "rubber stamp" from both houses of everything Dick Cheney and Karl Rove whispers in George Bush's ear. All the committees that approve and fund government operations are chaired by the other guys - the ones who can now, on the record, ask questions and say no to this and that. The president is left with the veto and the power to commandeer an hour of prime time television now and then. The last two years of this administration would not be like the first six, not at all.

But things may not change.

Evidence for that comes from Beaumont Texas, where early voting is well underway. There's this (with video), from KFDM there -
KFDM continues to get complaints from Jefferson County voters who say the electronic voting machines are not registering their votes correctly.

Friday night, KFDM reported about people who had cast straight Democratic ticket ballots, but the touch-screen machines indicated they had voted a straight Republican ticket.

Some of those voters including Lamar University professor, Dr. Bruce Drury, believe the problem is a programming error.

Saturday, KFDM spoke to another voter who says it's not just happening with straight ticket voting, he says it's happening on individual races as well, Jerry Stopher told us when he voted for a Democrat, the Republican's name was highlighted.

Stopher said, "There's something in these machines, in this equipment, that's showing Republican votes when you vote for Democrats, and I know Ms. Guidry's a nice lady, and she's working hard, but her theory that my fingernail was somehow over the Republican button is just unrealistic, my fingernail was not. The equipment is not working properly as far as I can tell."

Jefferson county clerk Carolyn Guidry says her office has checked the calibration of the machines and found no problems.

She says the electronic system is very sensitive.

She told KFDM that's a concern she has expressed since county commissioners chose the machines.

Guidry advises voters to carefully review their choices, and make any changes before pressing the vote button.
Yep, it's tricky down there in Texas. And it's also tricky in Florida -
Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist.

That's exactly the kind of problem that sends conspiracy theorists into high gear -- especially in South Florida, where a history of problems at the polls have made voters particularly skittish.

A poll worker then helped Rudolf, but it took three tries to get it right, Reed said.

''I'm shocked because I really want … to trust that the issues with irregularities with voting machines have been resolved,'' said Reed, a paralegal. "It worries me because the races are so close.''

Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney said it's not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly. Poll workers are trained to recalibrate them on the spot - essentially, to realign the video screen with the electronics inside. The 15-step process is outlined in the poll-workers manual.

''It is resolved right there at the early-voting site,'' Cooney said.

Broward poll workers keep a log of all maintenance done on machines at each site. But the Supervisor of Elections office doesn't see that log until the early voting period ends. And a machine isn't taken out of service unless the poll clerk decides it's a chronic poor performer that can't be fixed.

Cooney said no machines have been removed during early voting, and she is not aware of any serious problems.

In Miami-Dade, two machines have been taken out of service during early voting. No votes were lost, Sola said.

Joan Marek, 60, a Democrat from Hollywood, was also stunned to see Charlie Crist on her ballot review page after voting on Thursday. ''Am I on the voting screen again?'' she wondered. "Well, this is too weird.'' Marek corrected her ballot and alerted poll workers at the Hollywood satellite courthouse, who she said told her they'd had previous problems with the same machine.

Poll workers did some work on her machine when she finished voting, Marek said. But no report was made to the Supervisor of Elections office and the machine was not removed, Cooney said. Workers at the Hollywood poll said there had been no voting problems on Friday.

Mauricio Raponi wanted to vote for Democrats across the board at the Lemon City Library in Miami on Thursday. But each time he hit the button next to the candidate, the Republican choice showed up. Raponi, 53, persevered until the machine worked. Then he alerted a poll worker.
These incidents may be anomalies of course. Only a conspiracy nut would think that something shady is going on, since (1) the two providers of voting machines nationwide are companies run by major contributors to the Bush campaigns, and since (2) none of the machines in use anywhere offer a paper trail or any way to audit the vote - recounts are meaningless as they just recount what's been written to the master files - and (3) since systems experts from Johns Hopkins to Stanford have noted the machines and their networks could be easily hacked and results changed on the fly in two minutes by anyone with even a little savvy, and no one would be able to detect that. You just have to trust that a few errors are just that - minor errors that can be fixed on the spot. And every voter is, of course, extremely careful and will try again and again and again and again if the machine shows the vote for the person they really don't want. And you have to assume what is finally locked on the screen and is finally confirmed is what is written to the master files - the tally. Why would you think otherwise?

Yep, the joke is on us. But you have to admire what they've pulled off here. It's a bit like Robert Redford and Paul Newman in that old movie "The Sting" - you finally admire the master scammers for their smarts. They know how to get what the want.

But suppose that the vote overwhelms the scam - there a just too many votes to change. What then?

Well, nothing much changes, as the Associated Press reports here on Wednesday, November 1 - "President Bush said Wednesday he wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain in his administration until the end of his presidency, extending a job guarantee to two of the most-criticized members of his team."

He says each is doing a fantastic job. The announcement is a pre-election jab at "the other guys" - pretty much saying, yeah, maybe, just maybe, you'll win, but you can't make me dump these two guys. People may hate them, and some say they've screwed up badly, and they lie - and it may all be true, but no one can make me do anything I don't want to do. It's an in-your-face power thing, and something to fire up the base before the election.

Andrew Sullivan offers this -
Let me put this kindly: anyone who believes that Donald Rumsfeld has done a "fantastic job" in Iraq is out of his mind. The fact that such a person is president of the United States is beyond disturbing. But then this is the man who told Michael Brown he was doing a "heckuva job." And, yes, our Iraq policy begins to look uncannily like the Katrina response.

The president, in other words, has just proved that he is utterly unhinged from reality, in a state of denial truly dangerous for the world. He needs an intervention. Think of this election as an intervention against a government in complete denial and capable of driving the West off a cliff. You can't merely abstain now. Bush just raised the stakes. And he must be stopped.
And as for all the Rumsfeld-Cheney errors, see Sullivan's new book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It; How To Get It Back -
Some of the errors can be attributed to the fog of war, to the inevitable mismatch between theory and practice, between war-plans and an actual conflict, taking place in a deeply divided country sealed off for years from most outside contact, and exhibiting what can only be called post-totalitarian syndrome. No one should expect perfection.

But what we witnessed was something far more disturbing: a refusal to account for reality, to acknowledge error, to prepare for all contingencies. In searching for an explanation for that, we have to return, I think, to the kind of conservatism George W. Bush had internalized.

In that world-view, what mattered was the ideological analysis: good versus evil. What mattered was the assertion of the United States' right to act alone if necessary to defend its own security. What mattered was the zero-sum analysis that we had to choose between war against Saddam and a potential mushroom cloud in an American city. It was this rigid and abstract analysis that essentially abolished the idea that the war was subject to rational debate.

… The fundamentalist makes his mind up instantly, makes the fundamental decision, and cannot, by necessity, stop short at a later date and ask himself if he's right. Such second-guessing undermines his entire worldview. It threatens his inner psychological core.

And this narrative - amazingly - continued throughout the post-invasion anarchy ... In the wake of growing chaos, murder and political drift, the Bush presidency merely insisted that nothing was wrong.

… Part of this brittleness can be understood as public relations. War-leaders do not want to be seen second-guessing strategy in public. Much of the opposition in America would have jumped on any concession to reality by the president and used it against him. But again, this doesn't fully explain the rigidity of the Bush White House, its imperviousness to empirical criticism, its insistence on the inerrancy of its leader, and its ruthlessness toward critics. What does help explain it is the fundamentalist mindset. A strong inerrant leader is typical of such religious groupings; deference is regarded as the natural response to such a hierarchy; criticism is immediately conflated with sin or weakness or treachery. Loyalty, however, is always valued - even when it appears ludicrous.
And Sullivan adds this -
We are surely in the ludicrous phase now.

From Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown to Donald "Fantastic Job" Rumsfeld, we see the same psychological profile. Woodward is right about this president. This is not conservatism. This is simply denial of reality. In these perilous times, it is beyond disturbing.
Even the pop novelist Stephen King is worried - "If I know anything, I know scary, and giving this president and this out-of-control Congress two more years to screw up our future is downright terrifying."

But if the main issue is Iraq, and how things are going badly, maybe the president is right. It really isn't Rumsfeld. Congressman John Boehner floated that idea on Wednesday, November 1, on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Bush is fine, and Rumsfeld has made no mistakes, then there is only one obvious conclusion - it's the generals -
GOP HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER: Let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld.

WOLF BLITZER: But he's in charge of the military.

BOEHNER: But the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president.
Okay, the number two Republican in the House says you have to work down to the truth. The problem cannot be the president, obviously, and the president says the problem is not Rumsfeld. "When you've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" - or something like that. Hey, it worked for Sherlock Holmes. So it's the generals who have screwed up.

If the generals use the same principle, they can push it down the chain of command. In the end some grunt private will look around and, seeing there's no one left, blame the Iraqis for screwing up our war.

But it seems the Iraqi generals are already on top of the issue, cutting to the chase -
The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."
Interesting - this will take "a few decades" to fix. So things won't change, in a really big way. But it's not Rumsfeld's fault.

And our military agrees -
Iraqi soldiers being trained by American military advisers go on rampages, flee from dangerous situations and waste ammunition in undisciplined bursts of fire at any provocation, according to an account in a U.S. Army journal.

In contrast to the iron discipline imposed during Saddam Hussein's regime, "the new army serves the cause of freedom, and officers and soldiers alike are a bit confused about what this means," Lt. Col. Carl D. Grunow wrote in the July-August issue of Military Review.

Iraqi soldiers frequently use excessive force, going on retaliatory rampages after colleagues are killed by insurgents, Grunow wrote in the journal, a publication of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

"The 'burst reaction' may be attributed to Iraqis experiencing denial, anger and grief all at the same time," he wrote.

Grunow, who spent a year with an Iraqi armored brigade north of Baghdad, also said that Iraqis often fail to report for training, and that sometimes up to 40 percent of some units flee from dangerous situations without fear of punishment.

"As of this writing, the only power holding them is the promise of a paycheck (not always delivered) and a sense of duty. Good soldiers leave after receiving terrorist threats against their families," Grunow wrote.

The old Iraqi army "executed deserters unhesitatingly," he said.

Another problem, Grunow wrote, is the Iraqi "death blossom," in which an attack by even a single sniper "provokes the average Iraqi soldier to empty his 30-round magazine and fire whatever belt of ammunition happens to be in his machine gun." That is both dangerous and wasteful, he said.
But it's not Rumsfeld's fault. You can read the source material here, and it doesn't mention Rumsfeld or any policy makers.

You want this to change? Think boldly. That's what Ralph Peters does at the New York Post. He suggests we simply have to engineer a military coup and let a carefully selected strongman take over -
American advisers risk their lives in the struggle to build Iraqi police units committed to doing their duty. We've equipped them, trained them and led from the front.

In gratitude, Iraq's police have ambushed our troops, fielded death squads less restrained than those under Saddam, stolen everything they could steal in preparation for a future civil war - and, apparently, funneled U.S.-provided arms to militias, insurgents and terrorists.

Our efforts to develop good cops have failed (garbage in, garbage out). We need to stop wasting our efforts. Shielded by government ministers and parliamentarians, the police are so out of control that there's no longer any hope of weeding out the bad guys. Instead, the bad guys are weeding out the good guys: Honest cops get killed. By other cops.

The situation's desperate. We need to revamp our strategy (to the extent that we have one). For all its shortcomings, the Iraqi army has been a far greater success than the police - whether we're speaking of cops on the beat or paramilitary commandos.

It's time to abandon the cops. Let the anti-American elements in the Maliki government have them. Don't continue to strengthen our enemies. Concentrate on developing and expanding the army.

Why? Here's where the truth gets still uglier. As dearly as we believe in democracy, Iraq's Arabs are proving that they're incapable of the political, social and moral maturity necessary to run an elected government. Casting ballots alone doesn't make a democracy. The government has to function. And to protect all of its citizens.

In the coming months, we may find that the only hope of restoring order is a military government. It sounds repellent, but a U.S.-backed coup may be the only alternative to endless anarchy.

Arabs still can't govern themselves democratically. That's the appalling lesson of our Iraqi experiment. A military regime might be capable of establishing order and protecting the common people.

… This really isn't our failure. The failure is on the part of the Iraqis. They had this one great chance - bought with American and allied blood - to build a rule-of-law democracy in the Arab world. They appear determined to throw that chance away, preferring to wallow in old hatreds, vengeance, corruption and the tyranny of fear.

It's ironic that, having gone to Iraq to jump-start democracy in the region, we may end up backing a military coup to save the battered country. We're not there yet (and the thought is anathema in Washington - reality usually is). But we'd better hedge our bets. The only, faint chance we have to protect the average Iraqi is to expand the Iraqi army and promote a national ethos within its ranks.
Well, if you see them as sub-human morons, that's one way to change things. Unfortunately Saddam Hussein is not currently available.

But if you want things to change, backing a military coup in Iraq would do the trick. It sure beats voting for Democrats, or something.

What might have set Peters off - spurring such thoughts - was the secondary news story on Halloween Day, 2006. The primary news story was the John Kerry comments, where he botched a line and, meaning to say the president had done some really stupid things, seemed to say our troops were too stupid to avoid service. That sucked the air out of the news cycles and none of the media had time for this -
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki demanded the removal of American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday, in what appeared to be his latest and boldest gambit in an increasingly tense struggle for more independence from his American protectors.

... The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high.
John Kerry could not have screwed up at any more propitious time. This was hardly covered at all.

Try this analysis from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly -
So: an American soldier is abducted and held in Sadr City, the Army sets up a cordon in an effort to force the soldier's release, but then meekly gives in when Maliki orders them to. This whole situation seems tailor-made for Democrats in an election year: Why have we abandoned an American soldier? Why are we letting Maliki give orders to U.S. generals? Who's in charge over there?

So far, though, Democrats have restrained themselves. Is this because they know in their hearts that letting Maliki call the shots in this case was the right thing to do, and they've decided they don't want to politicize the situation? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. The Dubai port deal was almost certainly the right thing to do too, but that didn't stop Dems from mounting a two-week frenzy over the whole thing. There's probably some other calculation going on. Or maybe they just need a day or two to get their act together.
But then, this may be a good thing -
I mention this mainly because bowing to pressure from Maliki probably was the right thing to do, for at least a couple of reasons. First, it's impossible for Maliki to control the political situation in Iraq, as we want him to do, unless the various Iraqi factions believe he has genuine influence over the U.S. military. If we had swatted him down in a high-profile case like this, it would have been tantamount to a death sentence.

Second, Maliki might very well have saved us from ourselves. After all, our cordon had already been in place for eight days without result, and there was no indication that it ever would have worked. (Hezbollah endured a thousand deaths and two months of destruction in Lebanon and still wouldn't release the abducted Israeli soldiers that started that war.) My guess is that the militants who held the U.S. soldier would never have released him, and that they even viewed the growing chaos in Sadr City as a positive benefit. Keeps the locals riled up against the American occupation, you know.

So Maliki probably did us a favor by giving us an excuse to back down yesterday. In a broader sense, though, the story of the Sadr City cordon is the story of Iraq in a microcosm: tactics unsuited to the fight, no exit strategy when those tactics turn out not to work, and eventually a clear demonstration of the limits of American power. The military set up the cordon because they didn't want to simply do nothing, but then had to stick with it forever because anything less would show a "lack of resolve." In a way, Maliki rescued us from our own folly on Tuesday.
And so maybe we don't have to elect Democrats anyway. The world may be self-correcting.

No, probably not. And things won't change.



Also on Wednesday, November 1, the president appeared on the Rush Limbaugh radio show, showing support for Limbaugh mocking Michael J. Fox and Fox's "so-called" disease. About the same time John Kerry apologized for his remarks - he meant something else entirely and he was sorry people got another impression. And just as Bush had demanded that Kerry apologize to the troops for implying they were all stupid when he only meant to say that George Bush himself was stupid, Rush and George demanded that Michael J. Fox apologize to the American people for pretending he had Parkinson's disease and his demanding that we fund killing babies to find a cure for the disease he was faking.

No, the last part of that wasn't true. That didn't happen. But this did -
Give me a second here, Rush, because I want to share something with you. I am deeply concerned about a country, the United States, leaving the Middle East. I am worried that rival forms of extremists will battle for power, obviously creating incredible damage if they do so; that they will topple modern governments, that they will be in a position to use oil as a tool to blackmail the West. People say, "What do you mean by that?" I say, "If they control oil resources, then they pull oil off the market in order to run the price up, and they will do so unless we abandon Israel, for example, or unless we abandon allies."
Rush called this "extremely visionary." He didn't ask how we go into this particular jam - and who was responsible for making it so we just had to stay. And he didn't ask if that wasn't saying our real call to arms - the reason our guys will have to continue to die - is now that we have to keep oil prices low and the flow steady because they've got us by the short hairs.

Rush was just in awe. He wasn't thinking. Or he was.

And the end of that same long day, from the New York Times, new polling data -
The poll found that just 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war in Iraq, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent of Americans said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and an overwhelming 80 percent said Mr. Bush's latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.
Add that in the generic congressional poll, Democrats now have a nineteen percent lead, a record. And for those who do over-under math, George Bush's approval/disapproval rating for handling the war is a minus thirty-five percent , and for the broader war on terrorism it's minus four percent. More people think the economy is getting worse than think it's getting better by a margin of twenty-two percent. People think taxes will go up no matter who wins control of Congress, and fifty-seven percent are in favor of allowing either marriage or civil unions for gay couples.

Things could change, if people triple-check their votes and hope the hackers mess up.

Posted by Alan at 22:17 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006 07:11 PST home

Monday, 30 October 2006
The End Game - A Pinched, Sour, Ugly Vision of America
Topic: Election Notes
The End Game - A Pinched, Sour, Ugly Vision of America
One week out from the midterm elections things were falling into place. Monday, October 30, President Bush was out campaigning for Republicans and saying that "terrorists win and America loses" if the opponents of his Iraq policy win next week's elections. Oh, a few may win here and there, but the tragedy will be if they win control of the House, or the Senate, or both. Rahm Emanuel, who heads the Democratic campaign committee, was saying fine - "There's a big national debate in this country about the direction of this war set by President Bush, Defense Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, and Democrats think we need to change that policy." The Associated Press covered it all here, if you like details. But that was about it - the news early in the day was we had just lost one hundred one of our troops in the month, with one day to go. There was no way not to report that. And ads criticizing Republican candidates for following the president's lead on the war were being prepared for Connecticut, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Iowa and a few other places - hammering the "stay the course" folks. The polling justified the expenditures. Two thirds of the country has the notion that this war is pointless.

For the record the Democrats have to gain fifteen seats in the House and six in the Senate to bring on the new era of divided government, and to make the president's last two years in office a bit of a bother for him.

There were some odd complications - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican who might want to run for president himself one day, campaigned in Connecticut for Senator Lieberman, the Democrat running as an independent (he lost the Democratic primary), who is hoping all the Republicans there would vote for him. They will. Lieberman has the endorsement of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, and Bill O-Reilly thinks he's wonderful - and Lieberman says if he wins, which is likely, he will caucus with the Democrats and consider himself one, but vote with the Republicans on all issues, or something like that. He wants to be above it all - bipartisan or something. The Democrat, who won the primary, Ned Lamont, is way off in the polling. The actual Republican candidate there is a nobody with gambling problems - banned from all sorts of casinos - so Lieberman has all the Republican votes and a few of his Democratic loyalists, and massive funding from the White House. He'll be fine. That state is not a worry. And the word is after the election, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will resign, the president will appoint Lieberman to the position, and the Republican governor of the state will appoint a Republican to Lieberman's slot in the Senate. Problem solved. And Lieberman is on record saying things are going fine in Iraq - great progress is being made and the place is actually far more peaceful than anyone is reporting - and in this dangerous world no politician should ever question the president on anything, as that aids our enemies, or our enemas, or something. So the Connecticut senate seat is fine, even if the house seats there are not.

But the message had to get out for other places where the problem hadn't been so neatly handled. The president ridiculed Democrats in general - They had "come up with a lot of creative ways to describe leaving Iraq before the job is done. [But] however they put it, the Democrat approach to Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses."

Right. And he ended up in Texas, where Republicans hope that the write-in contender, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, can hang onto former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's seat. Tom had to quit when he was indicted for this and that - conspiracy, money-laundering - and his name had to stay on the ballot as all this happened too late for changes. It's tough to write in Shelley Sekula-Gibbs - spelling counts, it seems. Oops. But you do what you have to do. You sell your competence to the people.

But the war is an issue everywhere, as AP notes -
"Rick O'Donnell. He's George Bush's candidate for Congress. O'Donnell wanted to send 75,000 more troops to Iraq," says an ad in a suburban Denver race that Democrats are particularly optimistic about winning.

"Despite a war gone wrong and no plan for victory politicians like Rob Simmons keep voting to stay the course again and again, following George Bush's failed leadership no matter what the cost," is the accusation against Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut.

Rep. Dave Reichert "just sides with Bush on Iraq," says the announcer in the ad against the Washington state congressman. "Iraq is just a disaster. Iraq is a complete disaster. It's heartbreaking."

Yet another ad shows Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., saying, "We need to stay the course," followed by an announcer's voice saying, "No, we don't."
This is not going well for the Republicans. And things get worse by the day in Baghdad.

Digby at Hullabaloo notes the core issue -
Let's say you have a problem. You have the choice of two people to solve the problem - the one who caused the problem, refuses to admit it even is a problem and won't change anything even as the problem grows worse - or the other one. Which do you choose?

That's the simple logic of this election.

There are, of course, many affirmative Democratic messages necessary for the future. But right now, this is it.
And so it would seem.

How bad is this? It looks a bit like a tidal wave.

See the widely read Cook Report -
With the election just eight days away, there are no signs that this wave is abating. Barring a dramatic event, we are looking at the prospect of GOP losses in the House of at least 20 to 35 seats, possibly more, and at least four in the Senate, with five or six most likely.

If independents vote in fairly low numbers, as is customary in midterm elections, losses in the House will be on the lower end of that range. But if they turn out at a higher than normal level, their strong preference for Democrats in most races would likely push the GOP House losses to or above the upper levels.

The dynamics we are seeing this year are eerily similar to those in 1994. The President and party are different, so are the issues, but the dynamics are comparable.

In 1994, Democrats were in trouble because of tax increases, a failed health plan, and the crime bill (read, guns). There were also a myriad of scandals that started in the late 1980s that moved voters, including many Democrats, to reject the party's candidates, including some once-popular incumbents.

This year, it is the war in Iraq and scandals. For conservatives, the list also includes the Mark Foley affair, immigration, high government spending and high deficits. For Democrats and independents, stem cell research and Terri Schiavo round out the list. Finally, it would seem that voters of all ideological stripes feel that the GOP-lead Congress has become dysfunctional.
So the numbers are not looking good. But the anecdotal evidence is worse. After appearing on Bill Maher's HBO political show "Real Time," the rebellious conservative Andrew Sullivan offers this -
I was chatting with some friends after the Maher show. They'd been against the war from the beginning. They were African-American and said it was obvious to them that the WMD argument was what they called "game." They weren't surprised. I was. I believed George W. Bush. And I trusted him. And as the evidence has poured in that my faith and trust were betrayed, my surprise has turned to rage. I'm not a generally angry person. But if I have placed my trust in someone on a matter of this gravity and I find out they lied, bungled and betrayed me and others who trusted them, then all I can say is: they picked the wrong guy to bamboozle.

You don't send 19 year-old kids to risk their lives and die to protect your own political power or advance your own partisan purposes. You don't abandon thousands of innocent Iraqis who also trusted you to marauding gangs of terrorists and murderers, and stand by and tell critics to "back off." You don't ask people of good faith to support you in a critical war and then secretly breach the Geneva Conventions and torture people and blame only a few grunts on the ground for your war-crimes.

The anger of the left, I realize, was always there. But the anger of the betrayed and decent right and center is deeper. Some readers think my anger has gotten the best of me. Maybe on occasions it has. But I'd rather be too angry than too afraid to call these people what they are.

But he's just one voice, and the president's supporters dismiss him for two reasons - he's gay, and a devout and very traditional Catholic, not a born again evangelical, so he harps on love and forgiveness and helping the poor and that sort of thing, not on smiting the evil people in this world and waiting for The Rapture.

But he's just one voice. The New York Times over the weekend offered many voices - the Republican professional class, well-off and well-educated, up in the Northwest.

These folks aren't happy either -

"I am a Republican and have traditionally voted that way," Tony Schuler, an operations services manager at Microsoft with a Harvard M.B.A., said as he sat with his wife, Deanna, in their home above Lake Sammamish. But Mr. Schuler abhors what he sees as a new Republican habit of meddling in private affairs. "The Schiavo case. Tapping people without a warrant. Whether or not people are gay," he said. "Let people be free! It's not government's job to interfere with those things."
To that Sullivan adds this -
American freedom and Bush-Rove Republicanism are increasingly at odds. Don't let them intimidate you. If you're a conservative who actually values the constitutional freedoms these people are stripping away, vote Democrat or abstain. If today's GOP wins, they will take it as vindication for their authoritarian streak. And the path we have already embarked upon will only get darker.
More dispassionately Digby notes the real issue -
I think that is one of the most interesting observations I've read in a while (certainly in the New York Times.) The Republicans and the Christian Right are leading America on a backward march into the Dark Ages - and that is stepping on our dreams. As a culture, we have always been idealistic about progress and inspired by new discoveries to improve the lot of the human race. We're about invention and reinvention. It's one of our best qualities.

These people are telling us that those days are over. We have to depend upon brute force, superstition and ancient revelation. Science is dangerous. Art is frightening. Education must be strictly circumscribed so that children aren't exposed to ideas that might lead them astray.

It's a pinched, sour, ugly vision of America. For those who believe that their time on earth is all about waiting for The Bridegroom, perhaps that doesn't mean much. But for the rest of us, things like scientific breakthroughs or artistic achievement are inspirational, soaring emotional connections with our country and our fellow man. It makes us proud. The dark-ages conservatives want to take that away from us.

This country has been divided at 50/50 for some time. That probably cannot continue much longer and a real majority will emerge before long. Tax-cuts have held together the GOP coalition up to now, but their dark vision of the future may be the thing that finally drives the suburban, educated voters to our side of the ledger for a long time to come. We're the ones with the progressive dream of the future and that's as American as a Big Mac and fries.
The Republicans may get out heir base and find the base is fourteen people in South Carolina.

And the stem cell thing isn't helping, when after being attacked as a manipulative faker by Rush Limbaugh for the ad where Fox argues such research should be fully funded, Michael J. Fox was using another really sneaky tactic, refusing to cave in -
As you may know, I had a run-in with a less than compassionate conservative. I guess I'm not supposed to speak with you until my symptoms go away, or maybe I'm supposed to go away, but I'm not going to go away and neither are the millions of Americans and their families who live with these diseases…
Yeah, Limbaugh was doing to Fox what Ann Coulter had done to the World Trade Center Widows - telling them they were being unfair because folks would feel sorry for them and anyone who thought they were wrong would look like a fool and a bore. Same thing happened. No one is going away like they're supposed to.

Will the base hold, and make the votes gay Catholic, the suburban, educated usually Republican voters, and all the others, insignificant? E. J. Dionne doesn't think so -
President Bush's six-year effort to create an enduring Republican majority based on a right-leaning coalition is on the verge of collapse. The way he tried to create it could have the unintended consequence of opening the way for an alternative majority.

… The strategy pursued by Bush and Karl Rove has frightened most of the political center into the arms of Democrats.

… [T]his approach created what may prove to be a fatal political disconnect: Adventurous policies designed to create enthusiasm on the right turned off a large number of less ideological voters.

That's a rather pedestrian observation, but it seems lost on Karl Rove. See the Houston Chronicle here - Bush stumps for Sekula-Gibbs in Sugar Land.

It seems most of the speech was about the evils of gay marriage, and it was received with wild enthusiasm. To many this hardly seems the most pressing issue the nation faces, but you need to fire up the base. Rove doesn't seem to see the implications. Ironically, the big science article of the same day was Mirror Test Implies Elephants Self-Aware - elephants are much smarter than anyone thought, introspective and perhaps aware, in the Cartesian sense. Thomas Nast chose the wrong symbol for the Republican Party - but then Nast didn't have the new research. Ah well.

And sometimes you just have to forget the labels. One of those awful World Trade Center widows that Ann Coulter mocked, Kristen Breitweiser, says forget the labels -

Go ahead. Call me a Democrat. But, I am not; I'm anti-terrorist - which means that I cannot support the Republican agenda.

Go ahead. Call me crazy. But, I am not. I favor common-sense logic, sound judgment, and smart leadership proven by and rooted in truth and reality - which means that I cannot support the Republican agenda.

Truth and Reality: Five years since 9/11, the Republicans have done more to further the terrorist agenda than Osama Bin Laden could have ever hoped for on the morning of 9/11.

The Republican's pre-emptive war in Iraq gave Bin Laden exactly what he dreamt about on the morning of 9/11: it has strengthened terrorist organizations worldwide; made American Republican policy makers and leaders look weak, ignorant, and arrogant; drained U.S. military personnel ranks and morale; eaten up massive amounts of our national budget; destabilized the world; harmed the U.S.'s reputation in the world; weakened U.S. Constitutional principles and the ideals of free and democratic society; allowed North Korea and Iran to not only become emboldened but also real, credible threats to American security; and left our homeland defense alarmingly vulnerable to a dizzying array of future terrorist attacks (i.e. biological, chemical, nuclear, aerial, nautical, etc).

In short, Republican leadership since 9/11 has been (to quote our Defense Secretary) a "catastrophic success." "Catastrophic" to us Americans. And a "success" to the terrorists bent on killing us.

Republicans scare us with their smoke and mirrors; their quick double-talk and their expensive campaign tactics, advertisements, and distractions. None of which are rooted in truth or reality. Republicans boast that they are the only ones to keep us safe from terrorists. Republicans have threatened that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for the terrorists. Republicans draw attention to the fact that we haven't had another attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

But, the aftermath of the Republicans maintaining their majority in Congress will likely bring: more worldwide instability; more unjustified and illegal wars against the wrong targets; more U.S. soldiers' lives placed in danger to defend dead wrong Republican policies; thousands of innocent lives lost in the cross-fire of the Republicans' lethal "stay the course" agenda; and apparently a never-ending and ever-ballooning vulnerability to our homeland security due to Republican bad judgment and misfit priorities.

Know this: the Republicans have had five years to make this nation markedly (not merely marginally) safer from terrorist attack. They've chosen not to do so.
She goes on for a bit more. But you get the idea. She's no Democrat, but things happen. The base may be gone.

Maybe the base will finally notice this (those that are sitting on a pile of debt, who fear losing their job, who have dropped their health insurance because they cannot afford it any longer - but would never vote for anyone but a Republican). From Jonathan Chait, just some facts -
Over the last quarter century, the portion of the national income accruing to the richest 1 percent of Americans has doubled. The share going to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled, and the share going to the richest one-hundredth of 1 percent has quadrupled.
Kevin Drum asks the question -
Whenever you hear someone propose an explanation for skyrocking income inequality over the past few decades, try to think about whether it explains the fact that inequality has gotten immensely worse not just between the top 20% and the bottom 20%, but between the top 1% and the 9% just below them. For example:

Greater returns to education? Do you really think that the top 1% are better educated on average than the next 9%?

Greater rewards for technical skills? Do you really think the top 1% have greater technical skills than the next 9%?


More stable families?

Race and gender?

A failure to take account of the growing value of health benefits?

Do any of these things plausibly seem like big differences between the top 1% and the next 9%? Pretty clearly they aren't. So why is the top 1% outpacing even the well-to-do who inhabit the next 9%? What's the big difference between these groups?
Someone is being had, and loving it. Others aren't so happy.

And on the same day, the same rumbling in the distance -
A spasm of violence seized the capital on Monday. Forty-six Iraqis were killed in six bombings across the city and a moderate Sunni Arab figure was gunned down by two men on motorcycles.

The American toll for October rose to 102, the highest since January 2005, with the military's announcement of three more deaths.

In a single deadly strike, 33 Shiite laborers gathered around food stalls in a Sadr City square were killed when a bomb in a bag exploded at 6 a.m., scattering glasses of tea and remains of breakfasts. The workers had been waiting for offers of $10-a-day jobs.

The attacks continued as the American national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, met in Baghdad with Iraqi officials. He came to discuss the work of a committee set up by the leaders of the two governments on Sunday, whose aim includes giving Iraqis more control over their troops.

The attack in Sadr City came despite the American Army cordon that has been in place for a week in a search for a missing soldier, whom the military believes was taken there. It was the fifth bomb in the area, Al Mudhafar Square, where poor workers line up to seek work, said Haidar Said, a police captain on duty when the bomb exploded.

"Please deliver this message," said Officer Said. "This city has suffered a lot. These are poor people. We want to reach our voice to the world."

… In another assassination, Raad Naem al-Jeheshi, a Shiite who led an organization of former Iraqi prisoners, was gunned down in Dora, a Sunni suburb that American troops had swept.

The militants' use of government uniforms for deception continued in a particularly grim way on Monday, when a suicide bomber dressed as a police officer passed through two checkpoints in the police headquarters in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad. Three people were killed, including a 5-year-old, the child of a woman who works as a cleaner. Thirteen were wounded.

Total Iraqi deaths reported for the day was 81, The A.P. said, including bodies found in rivers near Baghdad.

Violence in Baghdad was also responsible for an American's death, when a member of the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed Monday in the eastern part of the city. Another soldier died when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck by an explosive device south of Baghdad.

The other American whose death was tallied on Monday was a marine who was killed in fighting in Anbar Province the day before.

Some are angry our guys are caught up in this, and dying for some goal that is now unclear, if it ever was clear. Some are angry with those who think that.

Some are appalled at what we have unleashed - Saddam Hussein is gone and that is fine. But what have we done?

Some want to flood that place with three times the troops we have there now and shut down the violence, until we leave, and maybe we can never leave. Some want to back out slowly and carefully, and soon.

Some say just tinker around the edges and things will get better, if we just have patience. Some want to just rethink all this. Some say even thinking about rethinking any of this is treason.

No one is happy. It's not a good time to be running for reelection.



Bill Maher is also not happy -

America must stop bragging that it's the greatest country on earth and start acting like it. Now, I know - I know this is uncomfortable for the faith-over-facts crowd, but the greatness of a country can, to a large degree, be measured. Here are some numbers: Infant mortality rate, America ranks 48th in the world; overall health, 72nd; freedom of the press, 44; literacy, 55th. Do you realize there are 12-year-old kids in this country who can't spell the name of the teacher they're having sex with?

Now, America, I will admit, has done many great things: making the New World democratic comes to mind, the Marshall Plan, curing polio, beating Hitler, the deep-fried Twinkie. But what have we done for us lately? We're not the freest country. That would be Holland, where you can smoke hash in church, and Janet Jackson's nipple is on their flag.

And, sadly, we're no longer a country that can get things done, either. Not big things, like building a tunnel under Boston or running a war with competence. We had six years to fix the voting machines. Couldn't get that done. The FBI is just now getting email!

Prop 87 out here in California is about lessening our dependence on oil by using alternative fuels, and Bill Clinton comes on at the end of the ad and says, "If Brazil can do it, America can, too." Excuse me, since when did America have to buck itself up by saying we could catch up to Brazil?! We invented the airplane and the lightbulb. They invented the bikini wax, and now they're ahead?!

In most of the industrialized world, nearly everyone has health care. And hardly anyone doubts evolution. And, yes, having to live amid so many superstitious dimwits is also something that affects quality of life. It's why America isn't going to be the country that gets the inevitable patents in stem cell cures, because Jesus thinks it's too close to cloning!

Oh, and did I mention we owe China a trillion dollars? We owe everybody money. America is a debtor nation to Mexico! We're not on a bridge to the 21st century. We're on a bus to Atlantic City with a roll of quarters.

And this is why it bugs me that so many people talk like it's 1955 and we're still number one in everything. We're not. And I take no glee in saying this, because I love my country, and I wish we were. But when you're number 55 in this category and number 92 in that one, you look a little silly waving the big foam "Number One" finger.

As long as we believe being the greatest country in the world is a birthright, we'll keep coasting on the achievements of earlier generations and we'll keep losing the moral high ground. Because we may not be the biggest or the healthiest or the best educated. But we always did have one thing no other place did. We knew soccer was bullshit.

And we also had a little thing called the Bill of Rights. A great nation doesn't torture people or make them disappear without a trial. Bush keeps saying the terrorists hate us for our freedom. And he's working damn hard to see that pretty soon that won't be a problem.
It's time for a change.

Posted by Alan at 21:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006 09:27 PST home

Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Political Strategy - Going on the Offensive
Topic: Election Notes
Political Strategy - Going on the Offensive
"I knew the Republicans would react like animals if they ever found themselves on the losing end of an election," or so says Digby at Hullabaloo here. But whatever is he talking about?

It might be the Michael J. Fox political ad that everyone is buzzing about - the one Rush Limbaugh attacked, saying Fox is faking it. You can watch that here.

The Limbaugh attack sort of matches with what happened in Illinois where a Democratic house candidate, Tammy Duckworth, the Army helicopter pilot who while fighting in Iraq lost both her legs when she was shot down and now wants to wind this war down, was attacked by her opponent as someone who wants to "cut and run." She pointed to her aluminum legs and smiled. You can read about that here in the Chicago Sun Times -
Calling it "crude" and "offensive," Democrat Tammy Duckworth's campaign team is accusing Republican congressional rival Peter Roskam of tarring the war veteran who lost her legs in combat with advocating a "cut-and-run" strategy in Iraq.

But Roskam's camp fired back that the GOP state senator was being "misquoted" and "misrepresented" and Duckworth's campaign was lying.
It is getting nasty out there.

As for Limbaugh, David Montgomery, of the Washington Postgives the basics here -
Possibly worse than making fun of someone's disability is saying that it's imaginary. That is not to mock someone's body, but to challenge a person's guts, integrity, sanity.

To Rush Limbaugh on Monday, Michael J. Fox looked like a faker. The actor, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, has done a series of political ads supporting candidates who favor stem cell research, including Democrat Ben Cardin, who is running against Republican Michael Steele in a Maryland U.S. Senate race.

"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act.... This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."

Limbaugh was reacting to Fox's appearance in another one of the spots, one for Democratic Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill against Republican James M. Talent.

But the Cardin ad is similar. It is hard to watch, unless, for some reason, you don't believe it. As he speaks, Fox's restless torso weaves and writhes in a private dance. His head bobs from side to side, almost leaving the picture frame.

"This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has," Limbaugh said. "He can barely control himself."

Later Monday, still on the air, Limbaugh would apologize, but reaction to his statements from Parkinson's experts and Fox's supporters was swift and angry.
No kidding. The Post provides a roundup off all that, but Michael Fox himself was silent. Fox was campaigning for Tammy Duckworth, oddly enough, and his spokesman said Fox had no public comment. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh will start cracking jokes about the lame and the halt sticking together - losers that they are. He's one piece of work.

But of course he made some adjustments - ""Now people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial. All right then, I stand corrected. So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."

Then came the classic pivot, as something else must be going on - "Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democratic politician."

Then he really is as sick as he appears, and those nasty Democrats are using him and exploiting him, so you have to feel sorry for the poor guy, and angry with the Democrats for somehow tricking him into the whole thing. If they hadn't clouded his mind with their evil powers he'd remember stem cell research involves the murder of actual children, or close enough. Yep, that must be it.

The same ground is covered by the Associated Press here, but as the story is from the entertainment desk, you get different details -
Celebrities have a long history of supporting political candidates. But there's no question that Fox, who campaigned for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, is uniquely suited as a spokesman for embryonic stem cell research, which some scientists believe could aid in discovering treatments or cures to Parkinson's and other diseases.

"The reason that he's powerful is that he's comparatively young," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director for the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. "As a result, a lot of people in that age range can look at him and say, `If that can happen to him, it can happen to me.'"

Jamieson notes that the issue of stem cell research has the potential to be an advantage to Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections since polls have shown the majority of Americans favor some form of stem cell research. The risk, she adds, is that the ads could appear as using Fox's hopes for a cure for political gain, as some claimed was the case when the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve lobbied for stem cell research before his death in 2004.

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder of the central nervous system that leaves patients increasingly unable to control their movements. In his ads, Fox shows a remarkable nakedness that recalls Dick Clark's appearance last Dec. 31 on ABC's "New Year's Rockin' Eve," displaying the effects of his debilitating stroke a year prior.

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 and revealed his condition publicly in 1998. In 2000, the "Spin City" and "Back to the Future" star quit full-time acting because of his symptoms and founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which has raised millions of dollars.

So that put things in celebrity context, for what that's worth.

The AP notes only one other bit of context, from John Boockvar, a neurosurgeon and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical Center at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, who calls Limbaugh's claim that Fox was acting "ludicrous." It was the evil mind-control rays from the Democrats - "If there is one single disease that has the highest potential for benefit from stem cell research it's Parkinson's." And as for worrying about all the dead children - small clumps of sixteen cells that would be discarded anyway don't seem to be children.

But this was a political move by Rush - he's just supporting the side he thinks is right, and attacking those who question them.

It's standard stuff. You might remember the 2002 attacks on Max Cleland, as in this video. He was a highly-decorated Vietnam War guy, a triple amputee who fell on a grenade to save his buddies. He wanted changes in the original Patriot Act to preserve the bargaining rights of the few unionized federal employees - so he was unpatriotic and on the side of the terrorists. That cost him his senate seat. And note here that two years later, Ann Coulter claimed Cleland had actually wounded himself in combat - he cleverly transformed his bumbling carelessness in some sort of false heroic myth. That was about the time such folks were saying John Kerry did the same thing in Vietnam, to get his purple hearts - and delegates at that summer's Republican convention all wore purple band-aids to mock him, and support the real hero, George Bush. Some things never change.

It's just politics.

But Bill Montgomery notes it's not very good politics -

If you're Claire McCaskill (Missouri) or Ben Cardin (Maryland) this is the best thing since the invention of the teleprompter. Both are running against anti-abortion, anti-stem cell Republicans; both badly need a big turnout among pro-choice, pro-stem cell voters to win. But both are also running in Border South states with large Catholic voting blocks - i.e. states where the anti-abortion movement is strong and a pro-choice stand can alienate a lot of voters who might otherwise be willing to pull the Democratic lever.

But Rush, in his infinite wisdom, has now ensured that the issue isn't abortion. It isn't even stem cells. Now it's all about Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's Disease - which is exactly how you don't want it framed if you're the GOP candidates in those races (or a supporter of Missouri's proposed constitutional ban on stem cell research.)

I don't know where Limbaugh got the idea that telling scurrilous lies about one of America's favorite celebrities - and someone who enjoys a huge amount of public sympathy to boot - was a shrewd political move. But the Dems should be damned glad he did. Considering how razor-close the Missouri race appears to be, Rush may have just single-handedly booted away a Republican Senate seat.

Go Rush! Go!
Yep, sometimes firing up the base can backfire. As we know out here in Hollywood, a select few celebrities are just plain off limits - you just don't rag on them. Others - Tom Cruise, Barbara Streisand, Paris Hilton - no problem. Rush did not just make a reprehensible moral mistake, and a major political blunder - he attacked a pop icon. Bad move.

But something is going on here. In the absence of being able to defend the war, the economy (at least as it seems by the eighty-eight percent of us for whom it's worse than ever), Medicare Plan D, the deficits, the way the government handles domestic emergencies like big hurricanes, the healthcare system and so on and so forth, dealing with these "challenges" has taken some strange twists.

You get your basic lying, as in this -
A Democratic congressional candidate accused in a political ad of billing taxpayers for a call to a phone-sex line suggested he may have misdialed the number while trying to reach a state agency.

The ad that began airing Friday shows Democrat Michael Arcuri leering at the silhouette of a dancing woman who says, "Hi, sexy. You've reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line."

But Arcuri's campaign released records showing the call two years ago from his New York City hotel room to the 800-number sex line was followed the next minute by a call to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. The last seven digits of the two numbers are the same.

Arcuri, the district attorney in Oneida County, said the ad was "clearly libelous" and threatened to file a lawsuit. His GOP opponent, state Sen. Ray Meier, described it as "way over the line."

At least seven television stations in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton refused to run the ad, Arcuri said.

The ad's sponsor, the National Republican Congressional Committee, stood by the 30-second message. Spokesman Ed Patru insisted it was "totally true" and said Meier was not consulted.
Wait, wait, wait - the Republican candidate said it wasn't true and way out of line and the National Republican Congressional Committee said they'd keep running it anyway, as they didn't particularly care what their own candidate thought and that various media outlets wouldn't show it as it was clearly not factual and they the have their rules about such things? That couldn't be so. But it is.

And the same thing happened in Tennessee with this television ad, which prompted this exchange on CNN's Situation Room between William Cohen, the former Clinton administration Defense Secretary and once Republican senator from Maine -
COHEN: I think the Republicans have to be careful, also, in terms of not engaging in conduct. And I was watching the - the Tennessee race, specifically. It reminded me of what happened in North Carolina with Harvey Gantt, a purely overt racist approach.

BLITZER: You are talking about the new RNC ad which has this white woman talking about Playboy and the - the African-American candidate, Harold Ford Jr., the Democratic candidate.

COHEN: It's - to me, at least as I watch that, is a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment. And when the question is always asked, why - he would be the first African-American since Reconstruction elected to the Senate, you say, well, why is that the case? So, why is the South different? Why would they not elect someone...

BLITZER: So, you're a former Republican senator. Is the RNC playing the racial card against Harold Ford in Tennessee right now?

COHEN: I think they are coming very close to it, if not doing it exactly. And I think they ought to stop it. I think that they have a candidate, and discuss the - the issues on the merits, and not get into that kind of personal type of an attack.
You have to watch the video to see what he's getting at - the center of the ad is basically reminding folks that these oversexed black men want our white women folk, and they must be stopped.

And of course, as they say in the infomercials - But wait! There's more? That would be a web site called created by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to mock what they're trying to establish as Ford's high living ways - and that used to have a photo of a few nubile white women on the home page, but they removed that image.

The item linked here does, by the way, explain the Harvey Gantt ad to which Cohen referred - that was the 1994 North Carolina Senate race with Jesse Helms. The ad showed a white man's hands tearing up an employment rejection letter as the narrator mournfully intones that the job had to be given to a minority because of racial quotas. Gantt was one of those, an African American, as they say. It worked. Helms was reelected.

But as in New York, so in Tennessee - Bob Corker, Ford's opponent for the Senate seat, has asked the Republican National Committee to pull the ad. He says it's tacky, and way over the line. The Republican National Committee says they won't, and in fact they can't. Maybe they remember Tennessee was where the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866, and will ride this out, no matter what their own candidate says.

And here's the video, Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican National Committee, telling Tim Russert on national television that the ad stays on air -
RUSSERT: Ken Mehlman, the Republican candidate in Tennessee has asked that you take that ad off the air, that it is over the top. Former Republican Senator William Cohen says it's, quote, "overt racist appeal." Will you take that ad down?

MEHLMAN: Tim, I don't have the authority to take it down or put it up. It's what called an independent expenditure. The way that process works under the campaign reform laws is I write a check to an independent individual. And that person's responsible for spending money in certain states. Tennessee is one of them. I'll tell you this, though. After the comments by Mr. Corker and by former Senator Cohen, I looked at the ad. I don't agree with that characterization of it. But it's not an ad that I have authority over. I saw it for the first time the same time that they did.

RUSSERT: Hilary Shelton, the director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP has criticized this ad. And he said, Ken Mehlman, that you went down to the NAACP in July of 2005 and apologized for the southern strategy of Republican candidates under Richard Nixon and using race as a wedge issue and that this ad does exactly that.

MEHLMAN: I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Shelton. I don't believe that ad does that. I will tell you this: I'm very proud of that speech I made. I think that there is nothing more repugnant in our society than people who try to divide Americans along racial lines. And I would denounce any ad that I felt did. I happen not to believe that ad does, but as I said before, I don't have the legal authority to take the ad down. It's an independent expenditure. I looked at it. I just disagree with what Mr. Shelton said about it.

RUSSERT: Well, it's not only Mr. Shelton. Former Senator Cohen, Vanderbilt professor John Green says it makes the Willie Horton ad look tame, that it's filled with racial polarization.

MEHLMAN: Again, I just don't agree with that at all. I showed it to a number of people when the complaints came out about it after it was put up - African-American folks, Hispanic folks and myself. We all looked at it. All of us, I think, are very sensitive to that. And we did not have that same reaction to it. So I just think there's a disagreement about it.

RUSSERT: The whole idea of having a blond white woman winking at a black congressman, the notion of interracial sex is not in your mind racist?

MEHLMAN: I think that that ad talks about a number of people on the street talking about things that Mr. Ford allegedly has either done or a proposal he has for the future. I think it's a fair ad. As I said, we didn't have anything to do with creating it. I just think those criticisms of it are wrong.

RUSSERT: And so the NAACP Washington director, an organization that you tried to court, is denouncing the ad - and it doesn't seem to phase you.

MEHLMAN: Well, the Washington director of the NAACP and I happen to disagree about this. I was proud of that speech I made. I took some heat for saying it. It was the right thing to say. I'm proud of the fact that our party under this president and under my leadership has made an incredibly aggressive effort to reach out to African-Americans. I'm proud of the increased number of African-Americans who are running. I believe there is nothing more important we can do than bring people together. I just happen to disagree about the characterization of this ad. And more importantly, there's nothing I can do about it, because it's not an ad over which I have authority or control. This is an independent expenditure.

Make of all that what you will.

Everyone knows the ad is racist - one of those "they're after our white women" things. It's a bit obvious. Even the candidate it's supposed to benefit is appalled and wants it pulled. And it carries the tag line - "This message was paid for and approved by the Republican National Committee" - but they have no power to pull it, and won't anyway. They said they were sorry for that Southern Strategy - pulling in formerly Democratic voters by opposing all civil rights legislation way back when. But this is politics, after all. And there is a precedent Mehlman is counting on - McCain forgave Rove and Bush for that business in the 2000 South Carolina where the Rove guys spread the word that McCain a fathered a mixed-race love child with a black crack addict. McCain got clobbered and Bush was then assured the nomination, and later Bush apologized, explaining it was only politics.  McCain was okay with that.  Surely the black folk will be as understanding.

We'll see about that.

So it's nasty out there - or sometimes it's just silly -

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn't fazed by a report that her Republican challenger John Spencer said she was unattractive in her youth and must have had "millions of dollars" of plastic surgery.

"My high school picture was cute," Clinton joked with reporters during a campaign stop Monday, the same day Spencer's alleged comments were reported in the New York Daily News.

Spencer, in an interview with The Associated Press, denied making the comments to a reporter-columnist during a flight Friday from New York City to Rochester for the first of two weekend debates between the Senate contenders.

"It's a fabrication. I would never call Hillary Clinton ugly," the former mayor of Yonkers told the AP. "That's outrageous. I didn't do it."

Clinton said comments about her appearance strayed from the issues of the campaign.

"It's unfortunate that when you don't have anything positive to say about the issues that we can get off in some pretty swampy territory," Clinton said during the stop at a senior citizens' center in Watervliet just north of Albany.

Spencer did acknowledge talking to reporter Ben Smith on the flight.
So Spencer is backing off the "vote for me because the woman running against me was a butt-ugly teenager" ploy. Well, it was worth a try. The problem is people just laughed at him. Time to shift gears.

And it's not really nasty, like this - the Republican congresswoman who now holds Cheney's old seat in Wyoming and wants to hold onto it says to her opponent, a wheelchair-bound MS sufferer, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face."

Now that's a classic. Such things happen when you listen to too much Rush Limbaugh.

There's detailed rundown of the incident here, in everyone's favorite paper, the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Start Tribune, but it's a bit convoluted. You might try this summary -
OK, let's go to instant replay: Asked to comment on the political sewer that is the Republican Congress, the Democratic candidate starts babbling about giving away taxpayer dollars to finance the kind of sleazy shit we're all seeing on the tube these days - in Wyoming! The Libertarian candidate, on the other hand, deftly plants the Abramoff shiv directly between the GOP candidate's bony shoulders, causing her to go completely ballistic and threaten to slap a person in a wheelchair.
Well, they don't call it the wild west for nothing.

What to make of the five incidents? It's a bit like that old saw about how lawyers sometimes have to win a case in court - if you don't have the facts on your side, pound the law, and if you don't have the law on your side, pound the table. The idea is that you'd better pound something.

The problem is that for the incumbents, there's nothing handy.

Posted by Alan at 22:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006 08:00 PDT home

Wednesday, 27 September 2006
Watching the Barometer
Topic: Election Notes
Watching the Barometer
A note on the political weather - when the barometer starts dropping fast there's a storm coming. There's an area of extreme low pressure out there somewhere, sucking everything in and swirling into trouble. Get the dog and two cats in the house, shove the lawn furniture in the garage and go room to room and shut the windows. You're not going anywhere.

It was something like that the week everyone was talking about the National Intelligence Estimate from April, a finding that the Iraq war is making things worse and that caused a great deal of tap-dancing at the White House. They've been saying the opposite and sitting on the report since April - all sixteen intelligence agencies agree they're wrong. And then Wednesday, September 27, the House passed the compromise bill on detainees in this effort and sent it along to the Senate for those folks to vote on in two more days, before everyone goes home to campaign for the November elections. That stirred things up.

The question is whether the president should be given the legal authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions and define, on his own at any given time, what is and is not torture, no matter what anyone else thinks or what any previously enacted law or agreed to international law stipulates, and be given the right to declare anyone anywhere, even a US citizen, an "enemy combatant" who can be locked up forever without charges and with no right to argue a mistake has been made, on the president's decision alone. And should any decision on such matters back to 1997 be exempt from legal review - no matter what has been done no charges can be filed in any venue? That's part of it. That was the year of the War Crimes act that made any breech of the Geneva Conventions a felony.

It's an interesting bill. Part of it is, of course, a challenge to patriotism. Do you trust the president? Has he, in your mind, ever made a bad decision? And even if you think he has, are you willing to say to the world, in these perilous times, that the man has messed up on the job, thereby emboldening our enemies as they'll then think we're in disarray. Give him the power. Part of it too is a test of whether you're serious about keeping America safe. Are you so rule-bound and living in the abstract that you're not willing do say that torture is actually a very good thing that will save lives? And then, do you think those who the president on his own decides are terrorists deserve to be treated like everyone else, and allowed to defend themselves and argue a mistake has been made? Yeah, yeah, the guy who used to be his Secretary of Education did say the National Teachers Association, the union, was a terrorist organization, and all unions really were nothing more than terrorist organizations, but he's gone now. The president would be more careful and thoughtful. And there are real bad guys in this case. Do they deserve fair treatment? That's part of it. And part of it is, of course, a bit of geopolitical strategy. Shouldn't we say to the world, and particularly to the bad guys, that if anyone thinks they can get the best of us by assuming we'll play be the rules we've always claimed are so very important, they're in for a nasty surprise? Shouldn't we showing them we're willing to do anything we feel we must, no matter what they thought our country stood for, and they're in trouble if they assume otherwise?

All of it, all the parts, is positioning for the storm - shoving the lawn furniture in the garage and going room to room and shutting the windows. The storm is the upcoming elections, where the president's party could lose the House and Senate and we get a Republican Katrina, with the bloated bodies of the Republican dead floating in the toxic water and rotting in the streets, metaphorically speaking of course. It's timeto take a stand, and make the other side look foolish.

The problem really is, of course, what now to do in Iraq. The polls show well more than half of us now think Iraq has and had nothing to do with the War on Terror and think we should get out. But we can't. That's not a good alternative. And staying is making things worse. It's a problem.

So the Republicans are in trouble. The definitive word is the war has made things worse, and made us less safe. It's time to look strong, if nothing else. This preventative war was the mother of all bad decisions.

And that led to the curious column from David Ignatius's in the Wednesday, September 27th Washington Post, where he said this -
Many Democrats act as if that's the end of the discussion: A mismanaged occupation has created a breeding ground for terrorists, so we should withdraw and let the Iraqis sort out the mess.... But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next.... Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse.

... The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war - with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril. If the Democrats could lead that kind of debate about security, they would become the nation's governing party.
What? The Democrats become the janitorial service, cleaning up after the frat party? Why?

Kevin Drum has a good response here -
I agree that allowing Iraq to spiral into civil war would be a disaster, but it's telling that Ignatius doesn't propose any solutions himself aside from a vague allusion to the possibility of federalism and partitioning - an idea that's been floating around liberal foreign policy circles for the past couple of years but has gone nowhere because it has no traction either among Republicans or among Iraqis themselves.

Look: A "debate" is fine, but only if there's something to debate. Should we privatize Social Security? Let's debate. Should we debate about how to fix Iraq? We could, but only if there were some plausible solutions to argue about. Unfortunately, there aren't. We don't have enough troops in Iraq to keep order and the troops we do have aren't trained properly anyway. Nobody appears to have any serious desire to change that. Politically, the sectarian split in Iraq is embedded deeply in their history and culture and is mostly beyond our ability to affect, especially after three years of mismanagement. Globally, we have virtually no influence left with either local power brokers like Iran or with our European allies.

Various luminaries in the liberal foreign policy community have been proposing Iraq policies right and left for over three years now. First, that perhaps we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq altogether. Then, once we were there, liberal thinkers suggested more troops, dialogue with Iran, a multilateral council to accelerate regional investment in Iraq's progress, a variety of counterinsurgency strategies, a variety of partition plans, more serious engagement in Israeli-Palestinian talks (Tony Blair practically begged for this), and on and on. Every single one of these suggestions was ignored.

Would they have made any difference? Who knows? But to blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It's one thing to ask for "debate," but it's quite another to ask for a pony that doesn't exist anymore and to blame Democrats when they're unable to produce yet another one after three years of trying. That makes no sense.
No, it doesn't, but it's an election year.

But the real key here is that there really is no way out. You might be realistic.

One way of looking at this - no possible alternatives - is to conclude the war is lost. Not the War on Terror - that's so vague and without any possible way to assess what victory would look like, or defeat - so that's just bullshit posturing, but it's not lost. Iraq is. And, if so, then you see the dust-up with Bill Clinton on Fox News - where they tried to sandbag him, asking him why he caused 9/11 and he actually fought back - is just the first of many fifties flashbacks. Think of the whole McCarthy thing back then and one of the things that kicked it off - Who Lost China? Here we go again. That's the big storm, the bigger one that comes after the November 7th hurricane. We spent half a trillion dollars (so far), lost almost three thousand troops, damned near wrecked the Army, threw away the good will of any nation that would be our ally, and stirred up a world of new terrorism - to, at best, establish a Shi'a theocracy (if they ever get organized) aligned with our enemy Iran, if things work out well and nothing else at all goes wrong? This will be some storm.

And here Matthew Yglesias shows us how silly the first squalls seem to be -
… what's the deal with "Some extreme war critics are so angry at Bush they seem almost eager for America to lose, to prove a political point." That's a serious charge. Does Ignatius have evidence for it? No. Does he cite any examples? No. Does he name any names? No. I find it extremely frustrating that you're allowed to toss off this kind of liberal-bashing without providing any backing.

This matters not because I doubt Ignatius could find someone or other who "seems" like he's "eager" for America to lose. It matters because "extreme war critic" is such a vague phrase. For years, perfectly mainstream war critics - Howard Dean, Tony Zinni, Richard Clarke, Dick Durbin, Zbigniew Brzezinski - were portrayed as "extreme" and they still are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternate Saturdays. On the other hand, when I was in college there were these members of the Spartacist Youth League (or something) who would sit on the corner calling for the violent overthrow of the US government ranting and raving about North Korea's inalienable right to nuclear weapons and the need to unify the peninsula under Pyongyang's beneficent rule. No doubt those "extreme war critics" really do want to see America lose. But is Ignatius talking about crazy people who shout on street corners - in which case his observation is silly - or is he talking about meaningful participants in American politics, in which case it's false? Well, I think, he's talking about the former, but talking as if he's talking about the latter.
And the Post item was just the first squall. This is going to get nasty.

And here's a sudden fall in the barometer, as it were - the Post just reviewing new data. Wednesday, September 27, 2006, three different polling firms say that by a wide margin Iraqis want American troops to leave -
In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if US and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

... Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year.

... The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were questioned favored an immediate withdrawal.

The numbers - 65, 71, 80 percent - are rather dismal. To be fair, one of the polls suggests that Sunnis are a little less likely than Shiites to want us to cut out. Of course - we cut out and they're a bit outnumbered. But the poll our own State Department did said there's a stronger desire for our withdrawal in mixed areas than in the predominantly Shiite areas. The sentiment here is kind of universal. So how do you stay the course and "win" when three-quarters of the population wants you to leave?

The mercury is dropping in the barometer. On the other hand, at least the House passed a ban on our building permanent bases there. See this, with Joe Biden saying, "I have no illusions that this provision will somehow dramatically change the dynamic of events on the ground in Iraq, but this is a message that needs to be proclaimed loudly and regularly and with the stamp of the Congress."

No one in the slums of Baghdad cares any longer. Too little, too late.

Ah, but we never learn. Check out this -

In another indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran, a Pentagon unit has drafted a report charging that US international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime.

... It accuses the Voice of America's Persian TV service and Radio Farda, a US government Farsi-language broadcast, of taking a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and not giving adequate time to government critics.

... Three US government officials identified the author of the report as Ladan Archin, a civilian Iran specialist who works for Rumsfeld.

... She works in a recently established Pentagon unit known as the Iran directorate.
Yes, there was Cheney's Iraq Study Group in the White House before we went to Baghdad - with Scooter Libby and honorary member Judith Miller of the New York Times - working on the public case for war, and the Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon gathering the "real" proof of WMD stuff and the ties to al Qaeda because the CIA and all the rest were useless. This time the White House group is led by Cheney's daughter (not the gay one), and the Pentagon arm seems to be getting organized and active - Rumsfeld found them office space. Here we go again. Maybe this time they'll get it all right.

They're not paying attention to the weather. Storm warnings. How did Dylan put it? "You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing."

Maybe they like storms.

Posted by Alan at 23:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006 09:52 PDT home

Thursday, 7 September 2006
The Last Challenge
Topic: Election Notes
The Last Challenge
Now what? Wednesday, September 6, the president announced he was ordering fourteen "terrorist leaders" transferred from secret CIA prisons overseas to our military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

But we didn't have any secret CIA prisons overseas. We said so, or, when pressed, kind of implied if we did we would never admit it.

No one was supposed to know about them, and when the Washington Post revealed that we really did (here), Bill Bennett and half of the commentators on the right wanted to try Dana Priest, the reporter, and the Post, for treason. Yeah, Priest got the Pulitzer Prize for the story, but that didn't matter. If we didn't have the secret prisons this was unforgivable lying to hurt America, and if we did, no one was supposed to know. (The same crew was calling for the New York Times to be charged with treason for revealing the president had ordered clearly illegal wiretapping of American citizens - saying he needed no warrants as stipulated in the law - and for discussing how we were monitoring international banking transactions, as we had long said we were, but how we were on some shaky legal ground there too.)

So the Bush administration has officially acknowledged the existence of the secret prisons, and certain European countries would now like to know just where they were - to clear up questions from their own people, who'd like to know just what was going on and who approved what. But we're not saying - not our problem.

Why this, and why now? The congressional elections are coming up in November and it looks as if the Republicans will lose the House, and could lose the Senate. If that happens, the president will lose the power to get much done in his last two years in office, becoming the lamest of lame ducks. And all the investigations blocked in the first six years - regarding who knew what, when, and who was lying - could begin. No one is talking impeachment, yet, but just requiring answers to specific questions, under oath, would be deadly. This sudden change - saying that, yes, we did have secret prisons and those we held should now be tried - is seen by most as a bit of political gamesmanship.

The thinking is that Karl Rove has advised the president to jam the Democrats here. At the same time that the president is moving these special detainees to Guantánamo, he's pushing Congress to adopt new rules for trying them once they're there. Of course, earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down the president's plan for military tribunals at Guantánamo (details here) - they held that holding that the tribunals, as the administration envisioned them, would violate the Geneva Conventions and weren't authorized by any act of Congress anyway. So forget it. To work around that ruling, the White House is now asking Congress to authorize the tribunals and to adopt rules governing them that might get around the Geneva conventions. Note here a Republican Senate aide says the rules the White House has in mind would allow the use of evidence "obtained through coercion" - whatever they screamed out when we made them think they were going to die, or when the pain was unbearable, must be true. Yes, this has been thought kind of dumb since the sixteenth century in almost every nation on earth - no one allows such evidence. But 9/11 changed everything, perhaps. And the Senate aide said too that the proposed rules would additionally allow the tribunals to deny detainees access to evidence used against them - if the administration declared the evidence classified.

This would not be like Nuremberg, where we wanted to show the world how our legal systems works - the charges are clear, you get to see the evidence against you, you get to respond to the charges and challenge the evidence, in public, and everyone can see if you're guilty or not. The president is pressing congress here to approve something quite different - these people don't deserve what used be thought of as fairness. And that's the gambit. Anyone who wants to follow the Nuremberg model must be soft on terrorism and want these guys to walk. Oppose this and you get the Max Cleland treatment - as you recall he questioned the new Department of Homeland Security's personnel policies, suggesting some folks shouldn't be forced to quit their unions, and that turned out to be the same as really wanting al Qaeda to take over the world. Bad move on his part. And this is one of those. Oppose the new rules and you must hate America, and you'll be sorry.

There's a lot of talk on the right about how brilliant this is - it could save the House and Senate. For example there's this -
The President just pulled one of the best maneuvers of his entire presidency. By transferring most major Al Qaeda terrorists to Guantanamo, and simultaneously sending Congress a bill to rescue the Military Commissions from the Supreme Court's ruling Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the President spectacularly ambushed the Democrats on terrain they fondly thought their own. Now Democrats who oppose (and who have vociferously opposed) the Military Commissions will in effect be opposing the prosecution of the terrorists who planned and launched the attacks of September 11 for war crimes.

And if that were not enough, the President also frontally attacked the Hamdan ruling's potentially chilling effect on CIA extraordinary interrogation techniques, by arguing that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is too vague, and asking Congress to define clearly the criminal law limiting the scope of permissible interrogation.

Taken as a whole, the President's maneuver today turned the political tables completely around. He stole the terms of debate from the Democrats, and rewrote them, all in a single speech. It will be delightful to watch in coming days and hours as bewildered Democrats try to understand what just hit them, and then sort through the rubble of their anti-Bush national security strategy to see what, if anything, remains.
No longer operative is what Robert Jackson, the head prosecutor at Nuremberg, said in his closing address before that tribunal. That would be this -
Of one thing we may be sure. The future will never have to ask, with misgiving, what could the Nazis have said in their favor. History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say. They have been given the kind of a trial which they, in the days of their pomp and power, never gave to any man.

There's all this talk that these are the new Nazis. But it seems they're not. They don't get the rights we gave the German guys.

So, will the strategy work, this "Cleland Gambit?"

The Post was reporting here that three Republican senators - John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham - are working on legislation that would ensure detainees the right - which the Sixth Amendment would guarantee them in regular civil courts - to see the evidence against them. The Post reports these three believe that the administrations plan to deny detainees access to the evidence against them would "violate long-standing due-process standards and set a dangerous precedent for trials of captured US military personnel." Well, that's a thought. We'd be outraged if someone did this to our guys. And McCain here says this - "I think it's important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used."

How quaint, as the Attorney General would say.

By Friday we were getting this -

Brig, Gen. James C. Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines, said that no civilized country should deny a defendant the right to see the evidence against him and that the United States 'should not be the first.'

Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, the judge advocate general of the Army, made the same point, and Rear Adm. Bruce E. MacDonald, the judge advocate general of the Navy, said military law provided rules for using classified evidence, whereby a judge could prepare an unclassified version of the evidence to share with the jury and the accused and his lawyer.

Senate Republicans said the proposal to deny the accused the right to see classified evidence was one of the main points of contention remaining between them and the administration.

'It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them,' said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has played a key role in the drafting of alternative legislation as a member of the Armed Services Committee and a military judge. ''Trust us, you’re guilty, we’re going to execute you, but we can’t tell you why'? That's not going to pass muster; that's not necessary.'
Tim Grieve here -
The president and his supporters plainly see it differently. As Bill Frist prepares to push the Bush plan as part of a flurry of terrorism-related measures in the run-up to the November elections, an aide to the Senate majority leader says it's a "dangerous idea that terrorists and those around them automatically receive classified information about the means and methods used in the war on terror."

We wonder what Bush and Frist would think if an American soldier were tried and convicted based on evidence that was obtained through torture - evidence that he was never allowed to challenge or explain away because he was never allowed to see it in the first place. We hope they never have to ponder that sort of injustice. But if they do, they'll have left themselves, and the rest of us, with precious little room to complain.
No kidding. And he adds this -
By moving Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other high-level terrorism suspects to Guantánamo, the president changes the debate from the rights owed to some nameless and not-particularly-scary detainees to the rights owed to one of the alleged masterminds of 9/11.

But will Bush's move have much of an effect on November? That's clearly part of the plan. Just hours after the president's announcement Wednesday, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman was e-mailing supporters about al-Qaida's plot to obtain biological weapons and the ways in which "some Democrats in Washington" have "questioned why our government" needs the tools Bush wants to fight terrorism. It's all standard-issue, Democrats-are-soft-on-terror stuff: "They have questioned the terrorist surveillance program, and bragged about 'killing' the Patriot Act," Mehlman wrote. "The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate even likened America's interrogation practices to those in Nazi or Soviet concentration camps."

Will it work?

… Well, maybe. For better or for worse, the manner in which we try terrorism suspects isn't exactly at the top of most Americans' minds. According to the latest Fox News poll, the economy and Iraq are the top two issues voters say they'll consider as they head to the polls in November. Terrorism, in the general sense, is third; the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo doesn't make the list at all. Worse still for Bush, Americans just aren't that afraid anymore. A New York Times/CBS News poll out today shows that only 22 percent of Americans are "very concerned" about the possibility of a terrorist attack where they live. And, in what the Times calls a "political paradox," the president's approval ratings tend to be lowest in the parts of the country where Americans fear terrorism most.

Now, will jamming Democrats on Guantánamo help raise the profile of terrorism as an issue? Sure it will, and that has been the point of all the fear-and-appeasement talk coming out of the White House and the Pentagon over the last week.

… But we're betting the issue for most Americans will still be Iraq. The president can say what he wants about the attacks five years ago and the attacks that may come again someday. The polls and our own sense of things tell us that Americans care more about the soldiers who are dying every day in a war that shouldn't have begun and has no clear way of ending. Unless the president and his supporters can shift November's battlefield entirely - that is, unless they can move it away from Iraq and toward the war on terrorism more generally - then Bush's announcement about the detainees will prove to be a tactical victory in what is, again, the wrong war.
So we'll see.

Andrew Sullivan here suggests the president knows he and his party are in deep trouble this November. So he needs "a real Hail Mary pass to avoid a crushing defeat." And he adds this -
This is the Rove gambit: make this election a choice between legalizing torture or enabling the murderers of 9/11 to escape justice. The timing is deliberate; the exploitation of 9/11 gob-smacking; the cynicism fathomless. There is only one response: call them on it and vote for their opponents in November. And pray that in the meantime, John McCain won't lose his nerve or his integrity.
Well, McCain wants to be the next president. He has to decide what sort of president he wants to be, fair or ruthless. Which do people want these days?

See John Dickerson here discussing the matter -
After the 9/11 attacks George Bush kept a facebook in his desk drawer. It contained the pictures, where possible, of the key al-Qaida leaders. CIA Director George Tenet gave it to him not long after the attack. When one terrorist would get killed or captured, the president would cross him off. Wednesday, with the five-year anniversary of the attack approaching, the president hauled out the facebook again. In announcing that he was bringing 14 of the world's most dangerous terrorists out of their secret prisons, he reminded the world how many bad guys we've caught.

… The president tries to make the case that he and the Republicans are the only ones who understand the nature of the terrorist threat and how to combat it. In today's speech, he produced the best evidence to date to back up that assertion. While the Democrats complain about inattention and drift, he can say: Here's what we've been up to. And he's given Congress an assignment as well - to codify his proposal for handling detainees—in their few remaining days before members return home to campaign.

It's one thing to say you're on the hunt for terrorists. It's more powerful to offer graphic details. The president went on at some length giving descriptions of the work necessary to capture these men. He offered lots of hard-to-pronounce names that he might normally steer away form because in this context, granularity trumps his normal love of generalizations. He outlined several al-Qaida plots foiled as a result of the secret prisons and countless others quashed in their infancy. At the same time, the White House provided a catalog of the crimes committed by the terrorists in custody.

Bush further explained the lengths to which CIA interrogators go to follow the law, or at least the administration's reading of it. (His assurance that the CIA and Justice Department had vetted the detainee program was a stretch given their penchant for rubber-stamping his requests.) This was an effort to head off protests that his administration used torture in its secret prisons. But it was also part of the larger effort to show how careful, thoughtful, and methodical his administration can be.

… Of course we have to take the president's word for it that all of this happened as he describes it. In the end, whether the president gets political credit for changing his detainee policy will depend largely on whether voters still trust him. The failure to find WMD or connections between Saddam and al-Qaida undermined the president's trustworthiness. As the Iraq war has gotten worse, and the administration's spin has gotten heavier, Bush's credibility has suffered more damage. Katrina compounded this problem. Now Bush is offering lots of extraordinary detail and tales of competency no one can really challenge. Will the public discount this as more spin and exaggeration? Or will it buy his story about how hard his administration has been working to protect the country behind the scenes? I thought the details Bush offered today sounded fairly persuasive. But for him to ask us to simply trust him about anything at this point is a hard sell.
Indeed it is.

And see Mark Benjamin here -
On Wednesday afternoon, President Bush announced the transfer of 14 high-value terrorism suspects to Guantánamo for trials. He said that the suspects had been held outside the country by the CIA, and then admitted they had been detained as part of a secret program that also included specialized interrogation techniques, techniques the president described as "tough." Most observers believe the president was referring to a long-rumored program involving secret CIA prisons, or "black sites," where terrorism suspects have allegedly been sequestered, interrogated and perhaps tortured.

Bush defended those "tough" interrogation tactics, which he described as an "alternative set of procedures" specially approved by the Department of Justice. Bush said the tactics had saved American lives.

… Bush would not provide any specifics about the "tough" tactics, other than to insist improbably that they didn't constitute torture. "I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world. The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it." He did say, however, that the Supreme Court's recent Hamdan decision "has put in question the future of the CIA program," because it effectively bars "outrages upon personal dignity and humiliating and degrading treatment." The Hamdan decision, in other words, bars torture, and forces the United States to observe the Geneva Conventions.

Meanwhile, across the Potomac, an Army general unveiled a new Army interrogations manual designed to fit squarely within the protections of the Geneva Conventions. That new manual specifically bars hooding, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, mock executions and many of the other "tough" techniques allegedly practiced in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and the black sites.

The new manual was presented by Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence in a press conference that aired live Wednesday morning on the limited-circulation Pentagon Channel. During the press conference, Kimmons expressed a view about the effectiveness of "tough" interrogation techniques utterly different from the president's.

"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices," Kimmons said. "I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the past five years, hard years, tells us that." He argued that "any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility." And Kimmons conceded that bad P.R. about abuse could work against the United States in the war on terror. "It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used," Kimmons said. "We can't afford to go there."

Kimmons added that "our most significant successes on the battlefield - in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically, all of them" - came from interrogators that stuck to the kinds of humane techniques framed in the new Army manual. "We don't need abusive practices in there," Kimmons said. "Nothing good will come from them."
The "sell" gets harder when your own guys say you're wrong, but the general does say he's just speaking for the military. He has no idea what the CIA and Special Ops folks do. He's just a military guy - "You abide by the Geneva Conventions, and if you don't do that, you are endangering soldiers' lives."

Benjamin notes that after referring to the secret CIA interrogation program, the White House did ask Congress to modify the War Crimes Act of 1996 to shield participants in the program and those who approved it at the Justice Department from liability - should courts now determine that the techniques approved were not just "tough" but also illegal.

But the president said, flat-out, this -
I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it - and I will not authorize it.
And he added this -
I cannot describe the specific methods used - I think you understand why - if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.
You have to trust him on that. Andrew Sullivan, conservative, gay, on the staff at Time Magazine, doesn't -
But we know - and the enemy knows - what the techniques are. They've been listed and documented and debated. We also know what was done to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the case cited specifically by the president in his speech yesterday - because Bush officials told us. The New York Times reported the following: "Senior officials have said Mr. Mohammed was 'waterboarded,' a technique in which his head was pushed under water and he was made to believe that he might drown."

In another case of a detainee, Mohammed al-Qhatani, we actually have a log of what was done to him. He was deprived of sleep for 55 days, subjected to the KGB-perfected "cold cell" hypothermia treatment, and terrorized by unmuzzled dogs. Medics had to administer three bags of medical saline to Qhatani, while he was strapped to a chair, and aggressively treat him for hypothermia in hospital, before returning him to a torture cell. These facts are not disputed. Far, far worse has been done to detainees in less closely monitored "interrogations" in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the secret sites (now admitted) in Eastern Europe. (Yes, Dana, you deserve your Pulitzer.) Dozens of corpses are the result of the president's "safe and lawful" interrogation methods.

If the president wants to argue that all this is necessary, that we need to breach the Geneva Conventions in order to protect the public, then he should say so. He should make the argument, and persuade Americans that torture should now be official policy, and seek explicit legislation amounting to a breach of the Geneva Conventions. That would be an honest position. He would gain the support of much of the Republican base, a large swathe of the conservative intelligentsia, and the contempt of the civilized world. We could then debate this honestly, including the torture techniques he has authorized and supports. Instead he lies.

Am I splitting semantic hairs here with the word "torture"? The definition of the word, in the U.N. declaration to which the U.S. is a signatory is as follows: "[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession ... when such pain or suffering is inflicted at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

In the cases the president cites, he authorized torture as plainly stated in U.S. law and common English. Moreover, he says he has set up an elite group trained specifically for torture, the kind of elite torture-squads once dear to South American dictators. They have, he reassures us, 250 extra hours of torture-training over regular CIA interrogators. The president is asking the Congress to establish this in law. Yes, this is America. It just no longer seems like it.

The item links to all the sources. Sullivan is unhappy, but let us take this one step further. What if the administration was "honest" in the manner Sullivan would like, and the newest version of the Cleland Gambit was reframed? What if the challenge to congress were to dump the Geneva Conventions and make torture official American policy?

To do that you would have to argue that torture is necessary to keep America safe. You could not honestly argue that what is revealed when someone is tortured saves lives - those in excruciating pain and thinking they are about to die will say anything to stop what is happening to them, anything they think their torturer wants to hear. They make up stuff. It's useless. You end up believing foolish threats and having to verify what is said anyway. What's the point? And if something said in all of that is true, how do you know which part that is?

For detail see this -

Besides the 14 prisoners identified on Wednesday, some officials and human rights advocates questioned the fate of dozens of others believed to have moved through the C.I.A. prison network over the past four years.

Human Rights Watch, in response to a request from The New York Times, provided a list of 14 men who the organization believes have been secretly detained since the Sept. 11 attacks and whose whereabouts are still unknown.

One of the men, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, is believed to have given false information about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda after C.I.A. officials transferred him to Egyptian custody in 2002. Mr. al-Libi’s statements were used by the Bush administration as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons.

It emerged later that Mr. al-Libi had fabricated these stories while in captivity to avoid harsh treatment by his Egyptian captors.
No, the argument must be made differently. The argument would have to be that there's a deterrent effect here - the bad guys need to know that if we capture them they will be disappeared, they will face years of incredible pain, mixed with intense humiliation, and maybe they will be beaten to death, and we'll grab their wives and kids too, and sometimes there will be photos of them naked, and so on - and the kicker, we don't really give a damn what they say at any time during the process. We just let them know the true price for opposing us. That would be the argument. It's a statement, or more precisely, a warning.

The challenge to congress would be to make this our official policy, arguing those who oppose such a policy want us to appear weak and just not serious about the threats we really face. That would put people on the spot. And since we've done each of these things, with high-level approval, it would be more honest to argue it in this way. Why kid around? No one is fooled.

This whole business with giving these guys "fair" trials is a charade, given what the new rules will be - can't show you the evidence against you and what you said when you'd been awake for fifty-five hours and we had thinking you were drowning can and will be held against you. Why not get down to brass tacks? To win this thing we have to be the meanest and most unfair people on the planet. We cannot appear too pathetically idealistic to play rough. Agree or disagree. Then let the voters decide whether you should stay in office.

All else is pointless maneuvering.

Posted by Alan at 22:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006 09:18 PDT home

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