Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Too big to fail

The Iraqi government has backed off on its threat to push Blackwater USA out of the country. This came after the State Department restricted all diplomats to the Green Zone; the Iraqis soon got the message and agreed that forcing withdrawal of Blackwater's private gunmen would imperil security (Security, what security? you might well ask) too much to be permitted.

So the Iraqis are saddled with a company that, they say, employs murderers (the Iraqis claim to have a videotape proving that Blackwater operatives opened fire without provocation in Baghdad a couple of weeks ago), while the US is burdened with yet another example of what Iraqis regard as the conqueror's heavy boot. It should hardly need saying that from a political perspective, in this instance, the truth of what happened in the Baghdad firefight is not as important as what the Iraqis perceive to have happened.

Meanwhile, the Repubs go on the attack against Moveon.org (which, admittedly, played into their hands) and keep telling us that we must "stay the course," whatever that might mean. And Democrats are not ready--at least not yet--to endure the storm of vitriol that would come their way if they were to tell the President that he's not going to get any money for Iraq unless he agrees to a reasonable schedule for withdrawing American troops and cutting back our role in the country.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pride goeth

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton pulled a "full Ginsberg:" she was on all five of the major Sunday-morning TV news talkathons. According to several news reports, this is part of her drive to appear inevitable.

The term "full Ginsberg" comes from Monica Lewinski's first lawyer, and we know what good it did him and his client.

Hmmm. Last time I checked, not one vote had been cast. Even in the bellwether states of Iowa and New Hampshire, most people have just started to think seriously about the presidential campaign. And citizens in those states like the reputation of being independent. Which means that a number of them enjoy taking politicians showing hubris down a peg or two.

A friend of mine whose judgment I respect opines that "Hillary has everyone but the voters." He may just be right.

Finally, NPR's Cokie Roberts made Hillary sound inevitable in her commentary this morning. Roberts gives us the relentlessly conventional wisdom, which means she's almost always wrong.

Friday, September 21, 2007

All hat, no horses

Too, too delicious:

W is afraid of horses! That's what former Mexican president Vicente Fox says in his soon-to-be published memoir.

Note: Bush's ranch in Crawford has only been the family seat since 1999, when it was bought to burnish his image as a child of the frontier for the presidential run. Oh, and the ranch has no horses.

(Full disclosure: TONE has always been a little uncomfortable around horses--he's generally uncomfortable around beasts larger than himself. This may be hereditary: TONE's ancestors were a lot more likely to be running from the Cossacks than astride one of their mounts. And TONE doesn't hold himself out as a cowboy. )

More good sense

Also in today's Huffington Post is a piece by Mary Mapes, who was Dan Rather's producer on the story about W's military "service." Reading it, I realized that even I was bedazzled by the right-wing smokescreen put out to protect President "Mission Accomplished" (six weeks before the election) against having to confront how he cut and ran when war confronted his generation. And the news media, which should have blown the smoke away, caved in cravenly.

The fact that Mapes and Rather were thrown overboard by the network that stood up to Joe McCarthy in the '50's let us know how far the once-mighty have fallen.

Sense and nonsense

Kristin Breitweiser raises a rare voice of sanity in the uproar over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's request to visit Ground Zero. Read her article in The Huffington Post. (You may recall that Breitweiser was a New Jersey mother, before she became a leader among the 9/11 widows and widowers.)

Part of what she has to say: "The fact is, people are transformed by visiting the open wound of Ground Zero. Perhaps it is naïve to hope for this when it comes to Ahmandinejad. By September 2007, however, we have come to understand a few things. We can no longer go it alone as a nation, when it comes to fighting terrorism and making our world a safer place. We need a global approach. This necessarily means talking to scoundrels, rogues, and unsavory characters that we don't like."

The predictably outraged reaction to Ahmedinejad's request combines ignorance (it's clear that many people think Iran was mixed up in 9/11 and has ties to al Qaeda--the Bush administration has pushed the latter line--although Iran is Shi'ite and bin Laden and his coterie are extremist Sunnis who view the Shi'a as apostates) with demagoguery. It is another example of the way we learned exactly the wrong lessons from 9/11, which in turn helps to explain our parlous position in the world today.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Political matters

Barney Frank (D-MA) says that politics is the name we give to the things we do together. Unfortunately, that logic has been much frayed by the right-wing's silly market messianism.

The best current illustration of this is that Blackwater USA, the private "security contractor" that is in trouble in Iraq. As you probably know, Blackwater and other "security contractors" provide guards for American diplomats, as well as for businesses and the like.
Now, if there's a task that should be what political scientists call a core government function, protecting the lives and well-being of public employees ought to be it. What justification can there be for farming that job out to a for-profit company? Do we really pretend that a private contractor can do a better job of protecting our diplomats and civil servants than the United States military or the State Department's own security arm?

It's true that Blackwater takes pressure off of the military in Iraq, by reducing the number of American troops needed for security missions. But that is merely another way of illustrating the foolishness of the whole mission in that country. And, because hiring Blackwater is a lot more expensive than assigning soldiers or Marines, doing so is wasting the taxpayers' money. (In the billions and billions of dollars dropped down the rat-hole, it's all to easy to dismiss the cost as a drop in the bucket.) At the same time, however, using private companies also takes casualties among the "civilian" contractors or, as the lovely Diane calls them, mercenaries, "off the books." We hear about military deaths every day. The deaths of "contractors" seldom make the news.

Blackwater's activities in Iraq are hardly the sole example of government functions farmed out to private enterprise. There are the privately-run prisons that dot the landscape. How can we, in good conscience, turn over the care of people who are in the custody of the public to private businesses? By doing so we insure that the care that prisoners get will be worse than in a well-run prison system--or that the private system will cost much more; profit has to come from somewhere. We also make certain that the prison administration--being responsive to management, not the citizenry--will be more isolated from public pressure than a proper government-operated system. It is shameful that ides like this are even up for serious consideration.

And don't get me started on the idea of handing public roads over to private companies......

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Another distressing development

Led by the redoubtable Henry Waxman, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has opened an investigation of the State Department's Inspector General, Howard Krongard. Krongard has been charged with halting investigations, censor reports and refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, all to serve political ends.

If these charges are true--and they are reported to come from a number of people who worked for Krongard--they would represent a serious breach in one of the last defenses against the Bush administration's unbridled partisanship. The inspectors general in cabinet departments have, until now, seemed to retain a sense of professionalism and, as a consequence, have issued a number of embarrassing reports exposing a number of administration misdeeds. The idea that the offices supposed to guard against incompetence and corruption have been turned into political shops demonstrates how deep is the rot that has infected the institutions that were the proudest ornaments of our government.

The plot sickens

The Mitt-man has unveiled a radio ad defending "traditional marriage." His strategy becomes more and more clear: to prove that he is even more shameless (if that's conceivable) than the other serious Repub candidates.

A sad day in Boston

Summer is over. The Swan Boats have been taken apart. The hulls lie in the pond in the Public Garden (and it is the Garden, not the Gardens), waiting to be transported to storage for the winter. No more this year will we see this scene:

Not until the long winter is over will the Swan Boats return to grace us with their languid passage over the still waters.

This is the time to pay attention to what a friend told me a few years ago, when his boat came out of the water: "I look at it as the first step toward next spring."

Cold comfort as the first chill breezes of autumn swing down on us.

The rule of law, undone

The government has barred a British musicologist from entering the United States. Nailani Ghuman was born in Wales to a British mother and a father who moved from India to Britain in the 1960's. Her father, a Sikh, he is an emeritus professor of educational psychology. Ms. Ghuman is not exactly a stranger to these shores: she got a Ph.D. from Berkeley, is an assistant professor at Mills College in California, and has been working here for a decade.

The Ghuman case has raised a furor among academics and civil libertarians already concerned over the exclusion of foreign scholars.

While it is true that keeping out people like Ms. Ghuman is a blow to the intellectual health--and, because of that, the well-being and prosperity of the nation--I view it more as a sign of what happens when the rule of law is absent.

Ms. Ghuman's exclusion did not occur recently; it happened thirteen months ago, when she was taken from a plane in San Francisco by armed officers from ICE (that's the new INS in this Homeland Security age). Since then, she and a lawyer for Mills College have been trying to find out the reason for the revocation of her visa, and the issuance of an order barring her from this country. They have had no success. The security mania has meant that such decisions are secret and, because of that, immune to review or legal process.

This is a crisis that goes far beyond questions of who can come into the United States, or who can fly on an airplane. The Bush administration and its acolytes have constructed a redoubt of "national security" inside which the Constitution and the law do not apply--the only writ is that of the executive. That is worrisome in its very existence, but what is positively scary is that the size of that fortress could expand to exclude more and more matters of importance from the rule of law.

(This is, by the way, not merely frightening because a part of our country is being taken from us--bad enough--but because removing the law from society is the best way, short of physical destruction, to sap our economic strength and diminish our place in the world.)

The supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States over every act (and failure to act) that the government undertakes is central to the very existence of this nation. Threats to the rule of law, such as those mounted by the present administration, should be a central issue in the 2008 campaign, and every candidate should be quizzed on what she or he will do to restore the law to its rightful place in our lives.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Another game of chicken?

When it was first reported that former judge Michael Mukasey was Bush's choice for Attorney-General, a number of Democrats applauded the move. Now, however, The New York Times is reporting that one of those very senators, Charles Schumer (D-NY), along with Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee, is threatening to hold up the Mukasey nomination if the White House does not come up with documents that the committee has been seeking, but on which the administration has been stonewalling.

As Leahy put it, “All I want is the material we need to ask some questions about the former attorney general’s conduct, on torture and warrantless wiretapping, so we can legitimately ask, ‘Here’s what was done in the past, what will you do?’ ”

Now, what makes this especially interesting is that the White House announced today that the interim A-G, now that Alberto has left the building, will not be the respected Solicitor-General, Paul Clement, but Peter Kiesler, a partisan who had announced his resignation as an Assistant Attorney-General. Last spring, Kiesler was fingered as one of three political appointees who put the fix in on the government's racketeering case against Big Tobacco.

So, is the White House challenging Democrats by letting them know it'll be business-as-usual, Alberto-style, unless they knuckle under on the documents and confirm Mukasey? And if they do, would he have the professionalism, integrity and political courage to turn the documents over?

To spice the stew further, Kiesler has been nominated to the DC Court of Appeals, and Sen. Leahy has already expressed reservations.

Stay tuned.

Truth is where you find it

So who's telling the truth about Iraq? Bush? Petraeus? or their critics?

The Washington Post finds the answer in a help-wanted ad. It seems that ten days ago, commanders in Baghdad advertised for private contractors to assist in combat-supply warehouses in Iraq. Reason? Half of the soldiers assigned to those warehouses have been stripped out to serve in the field.

So much for the success of the surge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The best memorial

This morning, I walked past the Garden of Remembrance for Massachusetts victims of 9/11, as the Mayor was preparing to lay a wreath and the bells of the Arlington Street Church down the block pealed out in memory.

(You may recall that the planes that stuck the Twin Towers took off from Boston's Logan Airport.)

The Garden is a lovely spot, but it strikes me that the best memorial for all of those who suffered on 9/11 and after as a result of what happened six years ago today would not be names chiseled in granite, but a day when people no longer feel that they are justified in seeking to redress their grievances by making war on others, especially civilians.


Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) presidential campaign will return about $850,000 in contributions raised by Norman Hsu, recently revealed to have been on the lam from a fraud conviction in California at the time he became a major Democratic fundraiser.

(The real scandal here is that California authorities couldn't find this guy for more than 15 years. It's not like he was hiding.)

This is a real blow to the Clinton campaign. Not only is it expensive--even in this election cycle, where raising $200 million is widely considered the entry fee for a successful candidacy, giving back almost a million dollars is a real cost--but it will be another item for those who question Hillary's electability. Surely, the GOPhers will use Hsu and his contributions (he gave lesser amounts to Obama and many other Democrats) as evidence that the culture of corruption is bipartisan.

The Hsu case is a blow to all Democrats, for that very reason, but clearly it is a bigger knock on Hillary than her competitors.

I am not a big fan of Hillary (Hillary Clinton, that is; I AM a big fan of my daughter, Hillary), but I question when a candidate and her campaign are supposed to be put on guard about a donor. In the supercharged atmosphere that must surround any successful campaign, the pressure to take the money and worry about where it came from later is immense. In Hsu's case, he had apparently not asked for any favors (not that Democrats have been able to bestow many, at least on the federal level, since 2001), which made his money all the more welcome.

If Clinton has a real weakness on this scandal--besides being by far the largest recipient of Hsu's largesse--it is that she has not disdained contributions from lobbyists and others close to the levers of power (as Obama has), but has welcomed them. Still, blaming her for taking money from an apparently legitimate businessman is tarring her with the brush of guilt by association, and that is wrong.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Meanwhile, the war goes on

As General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were telling Congress that the war should go on without let-up, the Pentagon announced that nine more American soldiers have died in Iraq.

Questions for Petraeus

Today's New York Times asked a number of people to suggest questions for General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

TONE was not one of those asked, so here are the questions I would have asked:

1. General Petraeus, when did you give a draft of your report to the White House? 2. What changes in that draft, if any, did the White House suggest? 3. What changes, if any, did you make in the report from the time it was given to the White House until your appearance here today?

To a trial lawyer, the ideal question is the one where it does not matter what the witness answers. These questions are in that category. It is almost inconceivable that the White House did not seek changes in Petraeus' original report, and nearly as hard to believe that the report was not re-written in accord with those "suggestions." If Petraeus had refused to answer (I suspect that the White House would not have briefed him on claiming executive privilege), that would tell us all we need to know. If he had answered honestly about the way that the White House made the vaunted "Petraeus Report" into the administration's report, we would have a good picture of the General's true thinking, and yet another example of the way that Bush and his crowd seek to manipulate information about the war.

(Any claim of executive privilege would be specious. Petraeus' report was not intended to guide the President; it was specifically aimed at Congress and the American people. One of the limitations to the attorney-client privilege comes when the communication is meant to be relayed to a third party--such as an offer to settle. By the same token, information given to the White House that is not expected to stay within the Executive--like the Petraeus report--is outside any claim of privilege.)

Update: After posting this, I learned that the General told Congress that his testimony was his own, written by him and not revealed to the White House or anyone else in advance. Good. But I might still have inquired whether he'd talked to people in administration about what he planned to say, and whether there were discussions with them about the subjects he would cover or the way in which he would express himself. In other words, while it's good to know that General Petraeus prepared his own testimony, that does not wholly answer the questions I suggested above.

So, how d'ya read the polls?

Americans trust military commanders far more than the Bush administration or Congress to bring the war in Iraq to a successful end, and while most favor a withdrawal of American troops beginning next year, they suggested they were open to doing so at a measured pace, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2007

As General David H. Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, prepared to report to Congress today on gains made by the surge of 30,000 additional US troops in Iraq, two national polls released yesterday indicated that a majority of Americans believe the increased US troop presence has failed to deliver significant improvements in the war-torn country.

The Boston Globe, Sept. 10, 2007

(The Times owns The Globe. At least we see truth in claims of editorial independence.)

Here's how I read the Times/CBS poll:

Four times as many Americans (but still only 21 percent) think Congress to be most trustful on Iraq as rely on the White House (an incredible 5 percent).

Although 68 percent of respondents say they trust the military most, the language of the question may have had an important effect. They were asked, "If you had to choose [always a dangerous condition] who you trust with successfully resolving the war in Iraq?" There's no telling what individuals regard as "successfully resolving" the war; how many Americans would regard pulling out with the fighting still going on--which is what most people want, or at least acknowledge is going to happen--as a success? Besides, "resolving the war" suggests a military solution (whatever that means). If the question were "If you had to choose who you trust with ending the Iraq war?", I suspect that the answers would have been markedly different.

The same kind of selection bias comes into play in other questions:

The poll asked, Should the US: a) withdraw all troops within a year: b) withdraw some troops but retain some to train Iraqi troops, conduct raids against terrorists [who is a terrorist in Iraq? al Qaeda in Iraq? Sunni insurgents? the Mahdi Army? other Shi'ite militias?] and protect American officials; c) keep the same number of troops in Iraq as there are now and continue to fight until there is a stable democracy in Iraq? Given that question, the surprising thing is not that 56 percent of those asked chose the second option, but that 22 percent opted for a fixed withdrawal date and 20 percent for "staying the course." (Does anyone, Bush included, really believe that there will be a "stable democracy" in Iraq within the lifetime of anyone now breathing?)

No matter how well designed, polls like this are no substitute for leadership. For instance, the Times/CBS poll reports that 35 percent of people believe that the "surge" has made the situation better, up from 19 percent in July; it seems fair to say that the administration's relentless campaign (aided by professional military men) to paint a rosy picture has had an effect.

But contrast this with a BBC poll of the people with front-row seats--the Iraqis. What do they think? 70 percent believe that the "surge" has made things worse in the areas to which additional soldiers have been sent. Just under 70 percent think things have got worse in other areas. 70 percent think conditions for political reconciliation--the original excuse for the "surge," remember--have got worse. 65 percent think the ability of the Iraqi government to carry out its work has got worse.

Oh, and you know about all those reports of our new Sunni allies, like the ones W trumpeted in his visit to al Anbar province last week? According to the BBC, 93 percent of Sunnis believe that attacks on US-led forces are justified.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The wisdom of children

The lovely Diane saw this photo on the front page of The New York Times, and commented, "See, even children don't trust Mitt Romney."

Another missed opportunity

Osama bin Laden delivered another videotaped fulmination. What was the most important thing about it? I think it was this: THE GUY COLORS HIS HAIR.

I'm serious about this. Bin Laden's narcissism, there on the Internet for all to see, gave his enemies a great opening. Now, I'm no expert on Islam, but I am confident that that faith, like all of the world's great religions (and the near-great, too) condemn vanity. So, if Bush had some smarts, or even a fraction of Reagan's sense of theater, he would have consulted a respected imam, got a couple of references to relevant passages of the Qu'ran, and responded to bin Laden's maunderings with one of the most powerful weapons of all: Ridicule. By focusing on the fact that this self-appointed apostle of Islamic fundamentalism feels the need to color his hair, Bush would have struck at the very foundation of his enemy's authority.

It was too much to hope for.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Vinegar Joe

As we anticipate for General Petraeus' report, I've been thinking about General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell.

For those of you who don't recognize the name, Stilwell was an "old China hand" who was sent back to the Far East by FDR in early 1942, in a desperate attempt to stem the Japanese tide that was running over Southeast Asia. By the time Stilwell arrived in southern China, in March 1942, the Japanese had been handed the keys to Indochina by the Vichy government of France, overrun Malaya and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), acquired Thailand as an ally, and were moving swiftly through Burma against disorganized and ineffective resistance.

Given "command" of two Chinese field armies (which generally disregarded his orders), Stilwell moved into Burma in a last-ditch attempt to stanch the Japanese tide. The effort soon turned into a debacle, and Stilwell, with a rag-tag band of soldiers and civilians (including Dr. Norman Seagrave, "the Burma surgeon," and his Burmese nurses, a Quaker ambulance unit and a reporter), decided to walk to India--more than 100 miles through jungle and over mountains--ahead of the onrushing Japanese. Somehow, they made it.

And what did Stilwell tell reporters after he arrived safely in India? Just this: "We sure took a hell of a beating." No excuses. No self-serving rhetoric. Just the straight truth.

Need I say that we need another Vinegar Joe in Iraq?

Can we expect that from General Petraeus? No. If he were Stillwell's kind of soldier, he would never have got the job.

There will be no surprises in the Petraeus Report. The general will tell us that while progress has been uneven, that there is reason to keep American troops fighting the battle against...well, whoever we're fighting this month. Just one more sign of how far--mostly downhill--we've come from the can-do attitude of WWII.

One of my favorite scenes in The West Wing was where President Bartlet told his aide, Charlie, how FDR predicted that America would produce 50,000 airplanes in four years, and people said he was crazy. And he was: we turned out 50,000 planes in one year (1944). Do we still have that spirit? For all the posturing we've seen in the last six years, there's been seen precious little evidence of it.

Further thoughts on the labor-management divide

Earlier this week, I wrote a post commemorating Labor Day. LighthouseKeeper took me to task in a thoughtful post for being too partisan (MOI????), and in a rejoinder I suggested that I might have let my desire to quote the song "Which Side Are You On?" influence my position.

I've thought more on the subject, and while I wish I could foresee an era of labor/management peace, where the two sides work together for the good of all concerned, I cannot.

To begin with, I didn't invent the division between labor and management. Indeed, the conflict long antedates the labor movement and, indeed, was the primary force in its genesis. Had that not been the case, management would not have fought the unions so viciously and, in many cases, violently.

Then, too, the very nature of the corporation--which is intended for the single purpose of making a profit--naturally leads to tension between those whose mission is to minimize cost and those who want to maximize their wages.

I realize that there are companies where unions never get a hold, not because of management efforts to keep the workers from organizing, but because a cooperative spirit makes it impossible to convince workers that their interests are so contrary to management's that a union is justified. But such situations are the exception, not the rule, and are liable to deteriorate with any change in the executive offices. (I read a book about guerrillas in the Philippines during WWII, in which the writer pointed out that there was a Japanese captain in Davao who treated the people well. As a result, the guerrillas could never get a foothold. But he was very much the exception.)

So, my friends, I'm afraid that where business is concerned, it's still a case of, Which side are you on?

A good argument for nominating Barack Obama

A photo of Fred Thompson, campaigning in Iowa yesterday:

Don't you want the 2008 campaign to be about the future?

No words necessary

crooksandliars published this photo under, Write Your Own Caption, but honestly, does it need one?

Just in case you were wondering...

Toddler Study Proves Humans Outsmart Apes. [link]

Of course, they haven't said if that applies to adults.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The goods on Mitt

Massachusetts Democrats have unveiled RomneyFacts.com. Take a look, it's a hoot. The site has some of Mitt's many flip-flops (or is it flim-flams?) side by side to make comparison easier, precious facts about Mitt and some delicious videos, like this one:

Forgotten but not gone

Apparently, the media didn't notice that Larry Craig had his fingers crossed when he announced that he was resigning from the Senate to protect Idaho from "an unwanted and unfair distraction of [sic] my job." Now, like the unwanted guest, he's threatening to hang around.

This, of course, is good news for Democrats, who can watch the GOPhers wallow in scandal for at least a few more days. Meanwhile, the GOP, which had hoped to stuff the scandal during the Labor Day weekend, must see the nation reminded of Craig's embarrassing escapades. (Not least embarrassing being his decision to plead guilty to disorderly conduct without bothering to consult an attorney. Maybe we should have to pass an intelligence test in order to be eligible for public office.)

And as if that weren't enough for the Party of Nixon, Cong. John Doolittle's (R-CA) chief of staff and deputy chief of staff have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating the ties between the congressman, the congressman's wife and uber-fixer Jack Abramoff. There's a good chance that the Craig imbroglio will last at least until Doolittle's expected indictment.

Chortle as we might (and I admit that I am), these GOP scandals harm not only that party but the nation as a whole. Let's try to remember that even as we gloat.

War with Iran?

Rumors and reports that the administration is planning to attack Iran persist. While I constantly remind myself not to underestimate Bush's capacity for mendacity and duplicity, I remain skeptical that he would actually try to start a war against Iran (barring some spectacular attack that would convince even the skeptical that the Iranian regime was behind it), or that the public would go along with it. Where would the troops come from? Where would the money come from? What secure bases could we use?

Even Bush and Cheney don't seem that doctrinaire and that dumb.

But then again, I've been wrong before.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Bush's fly-in

I'll believe that there has been real progress in Iraq when the President's arrival doesn't have to be a complete secret beforehand.

For a refutation of the administration's publicity campaign, see Paul Krugman today.

Last month, I suggested that the movement of Sunnis toward the Americans in al Anbar province is not a sign of success in the war, but preparation for all-out war with the Shia once we leave Iraq. While I still think that is the case, my comment did not discuss the significance, if any, of the Sunni rejection of al Qaeda. Is this a real denial of the extremist Sunni position that bin Laden and his people represent? Is it a sign that there is an Iraqi identity--that Iraqi Sunnis might feel more kinship with Iraqi Shia than with al Qaeda? Those possibilities must be considered.

Still, we do not know how extensive this change--if it is a change--has been. Are foreign fighters still entering Iraq? Are they finding safe havens outside of Fallluja, which has been the poster for alleged American progress? These questions need to be answered before we can say if there has been more than ephemeral progress.

Finally, let's remember that in the best case put forth by administration apologists, we are back to square one: an Iraq without al Qaeda. Which is where we came in. Which is just one of the reasons why the war was a dumb idea from the beginning.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Which side are you on?

Tomorrow is Labor Day, and precious few of us will celebrate it by watching--much less marching in--a parade or attending a rally to honor American workers.

A few years ago, some union or unions (I confess that I don't recall the sponsor or sponsors) put out a bumper sticker that read, "From the folks who brought you the weekend." Exactly. It was labor unions that gave us the 40-hour week, and overtime pay for overtime work. Labor unions led the fight to relieve ordinary Americans from lives that were an Sisyphean struggle ended only by injury, disease or death.

As the forces of the right have ascended, with an anti-Union message that could have been delivered in 1907 as easily as 2007, it has become all too easy to forget what the labor movement did for America, and for Americans. Not only did it make the lives of workers more bearable and prosperous, but it played a very large part in making the Twentieth the American century.

Is is a coincidence that the decline in American power and influence in the world has taken place primarily under the leadership of a party that favors a reactionary view of labor-management relations? I think not.

Labor unions are hardly perfect. All too often, they are ineffective. They can be bureaucratic and, especially in the case of the larger unions, have many of the characteristics of management. Some have been corrupt. Some have sold out their members. But looking at the nation as unions declined in importance, I am reminded of the bumper-sticker that the teachers' unions put out a few years ago: "Think education is expensive? Try ignorance." Imagine a land without unions. (Think China, for a start.)

Must labor and management always be at war? No. There are some companies in which the two sides work comfortably and in an alliance against the competition. Which is as it should be in all businesses. But too often there is a divide, and if they are not unified, ordinary working people always get the short end of the stick in such situations. So, it's still a case of "Which side are you on?"

Don't scab for the bosses
Don't listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize

Florence Reese, "Which Side Are You On?"


A Scandal-Weary Party
Would Tolerate No
Delay From Craig

Sub-head in The New York Times
September 1, 2007

Repubs were nearly-unanimous in pressuring Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) to resign quickly, after word of his arrest and guilty plea (albeit only to disorderly conduct, whatever that means) became national news this week. (Ben Stein dissented on CBS Sunday Morning today, but he was almost alone on the right side of the aisle.)

What has been missing in this latest in a long line of GOP scandals is any examination within the party of the reasons why it seems so prone to this kind of dust-up.

So far as the narrow context of Craig's fall from grace is concerned--a revelation involving sex, especially gay sex--the party of Reagan and Bush is particularly susceptible, because of its decades-long attempt to monopolize the territory of politicians who espouse moral values, or at least the GOP's version of morality. Oh, and there's that anti-homosexual bias that has been a large part of the moral-values crusade. No coincidence that Larry Craig spoke out often and forcefully against gay marriage and extending civil rights to people discriminated against because of their sexual preference. The fact is, gays and lesbians who sympathize with the other political positions taken by the Repub Party (or who just wanted to ride the gravy train, until it ran off the rails) have had to hide their true selves if they are to be taken seriously in party ranks. In other words, we can be confident that there are a lot more closet cases in Repub ranks than among the Democrats (Jim McGreevey, former governor of New Jersey being a notable counter-example).

But there is a larger issue here. The GOP has been subject to many more scandals of the more traditional--and more damaging, to the nation--kind than the Democrats. Alaska's entire congressional delegation (all right, there are only three of them) has been exposed as having engaged in self-dealing that is at best (the case of Sen. Lisa Murkowski) unethical and at worst (Sen. Ted Stevens and Don "Bridge to Nowhere" Young) criminal. Former Reps. "Duke" Cunningham and Bob Ney are now wearing orange jumpsuits as tenants of the taxpayers, having admitted to taking bribes or what amount to them. All Repubs. Reps. Rick Renzi (R-AZ), Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and the aptly-named John Doolittle (R-CA) may yet join them in the cells. Yes, its true that Cong. William Jefferson (D-LA) has been charged with a laundry-list of offenses revolving around allegations that he was bought by some African businessmen who don't seem to have understood how little power a Democrat had in Washington in this decade, but the number of accused Democratic thieves is dwarfed by the landslide of Repub ones.

As numerous observers besides TONE have noticed, these scandals have been congruent with the anti-government message that has resonated from the right for the past three decades. Like the rampant incompetence of the Bush administration, corruption inevitably accompanies the presence in government of people who believe that government is a bad thing. As Paul Krugman pointed out the other day, "The thing about conservative governance is that it can succeed by failing: when conservative politicians mess up, they foster a cynicism about government that may actually help their cause." I disagree with the way Krugman uses the word "conservative," because I think the Reagan-Bush crowd disgraces traditional American conservatism, but otherwise he is on the mark.

Years ago, there was a cartoon, in The New Yorker, I think, that showed a group of tough-guys sitting around a forlorn-looking man in the middle of the circle. The caption read, "Harry, you're a lousy criminal and you're not very organized. Would you get the hell out of organized crime?" We might say the same to those who think government is evil, yet long to be part of it.