Friday, June 02, 2006

Maybe they DO know what they're doing

from the CarpetBagger Report:

Long-time readers may recall Tracy Henke, the Executive Director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness at the Department of Homeland Security, was one of 17 Bush cronies to receive controversial recess appointments in January. The Bush White House insisted she had to be on the job immediately, and the Senate wasn't acting fast enough.

Henke, before getting the DHS job, was best known for some "creative editing" to Justice Departments reports in order to remove information about racial-profiling data, and for then forcing an experienced and capable public official who disagreed out of a job.

Yesterday, Henke became infamous again. As Garance Franke-Ruta noted, Henke was the genius who decided to de-fund anti-terrorism efforts in New York and Washington.

We knew that someone at DHS decided that DC is a "low-risk" city and that the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and Empire State Building are not worthy of "national icon" status — and that person was our old friend Tracy Henke.

And, as Dana Milbank explained, Henke, as the official in charge of DHS's grant-making, also decided to cut counterterrorism money for NYC and the Washington area — "which together have been the targets of 100 percent of al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks on American soil" — by 40% each.

Now, apparently, she's feeling sorry for herself.

"Needless to say, not everybody has nice things to say about me," she said, so "anybody who wants to say something nice, please feel free to do so. You know, it's one of those things where it's occasionally important to have a little bit of that positive affirmation. If nothing else, then I'll have to call my parents, and the reality is they don't give it to me either."

Let this be a reminder to everyone that Bush's fondness for promoting hacks and cronies to key government posts is not just an inconvenient quirk of governing. These people are running the executive branch — and they don't know what they're doing.

I'm not so sure Henke and others like her don't know what they're doing. Maybe they cut funding to NYC and DC because (1) down deep they understand that the ubiquitous "war on terror" really is a "show about nothing" and that no real threat from terrorism or terrorists exists in any meaningful way and because (2) NYC and DC are liberal bastions and the administration would be better off helping its friends rather than its enemies.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What about Biden?

I realized that in my elections post yesterday I was pretty dismissive and not at all comprehensive of Joe Biden's prospects in '08. I should probably clarify things a bit and try to spell some other things out more.

First off, Biden is, like Evan Bayh, more disliked throughout the liberal blogosphere than I think he deserves. He's a decent speaker, seems to relate well at least to his Democratic audiences, and most importantly, has a good understanding of the religious and social forces at work that could and are undermining our civil liberties and the separation of church and state. I believe the emergence of the religious right (as documented by numerous writers but most recently by Kevin Phillips and Michelle Goldberg) is the primary development of our time and represents the greatest risk to pluralism, individual rights, freedom and democratic government in the years ahead. Biden would potentially be a great asset to have in the next campaign to take on these issues, hopefully in a way that helps turn the tide of religious radicalism while assuring mainstream religious voters that the party respects their values; encourages their participation; and will safeguard their liberties.

Most of the complaints about Biden, as far as I can tell are, he's a bit of a media-hound, running a near third probably only to John McCain and Joe Lieberman; too beholden to his state's credit card industry; a lackluster leader on foreign affairs, the other committee on which he serves; and finally just a bit of a schmuck all around. From his 1988 run, he also would inherit the charges of plagiarism, that while pretty mild by most estimations, were enough to torpedo him in that year and would surely be brought up and made to appear a criteria for burning at the stake by the Republican Party and its aspiring swift-boaters.

My reservations about Biden are his age: he's 60 or early 60-ish now and would be almost 70 during a second term. That's not as old as John McCain and isn't terribly old by most objective standards, but the job of president tends to age people pretty fast. An additional concern relates to that: Biden has been in the Senate since the early 1970's--over 30 years. He'd be among my first choices for someone who could, initially at least, be ready to be president from day one. I think he would inspire confidence on the campaign trail and even maybe among members of the media. He wouldn't need much of a learning curve. He's probably as intelligent and as engaged in public policy as anyone in Washington. But he's been on Capital Hill for 30+ years. As a Senator he's only had to face the electorate, an increasingly Democratic one at that, every six years. Add to that all the votes those years have produced and you have the usual drawbacks of a U.S. Senator running for president, but magnified in the case of Biden, who's about as insider as you get.

Granted there's a lot of intuition here with a sprinkling of conventional wisdom thrown in that isn't necessarily conclusive about his prospects especially given the alternatives available. But there will be younger, fresher faces on the campaign trail for Democrats in '08, who might be considered more cutting edge and who might also be more prepared to handle the responsibilities of the office over the long term.

Questioning the War on Terror

The Apostropher:

An important conversation is beginning to emerge on progressive blogs about the War on Terror and it is based on a notion that will prove controversial. Namely, that there is no War on Terror. You can expect the right to seize on this as evidence of the left's essential unseriousness in the face of an existential threat, and probably to win the rhetorical battle in the short run. However, it's past time for progressives to stop fretting about that. The right wing will say that no matter what position you take on any issue. It's a classic case of projection, and it is what they do best (aside from running up record-breaking deficits).

We are not at war. I'm not speaking here of Congressional war declarations; by that metric, we haven't been at war since 1945, though in practice we obviously have. I'm referring to an actual state of warfare. The war in Afghanistan ended when the Taliban fell. The war in Iraq ended when the Ba'ath were driven from power. What remains in both countries is a policing occupation among various Hobbesian conflicts that truly only concern us inasmuch as they affect our access to natural resources, or as long as we continue to proclaim ourselves the policemen of those countries. Not only is it unclear who we are fighting, it's increasingly unclear why we are fighting.

We are not faced with an existential threat. Even if all the violent Muslim extremist groups were working in concert, we still wouldn't be facing an existential threat. They plainly aren't powerful enough to bring down even the creaky government of Egypt, much less the world's last superpower. We are confronting a law enforcement issue, the same as every other government in the world. This reality is beginning to dawn on more and more Americans, which is why the ridiculous notion that we're in danger of losing the Southwest to Mexico has suddenly gained new traction. The right wing has no currency without an enemy, some scary "other"—hippies, blacks, drug users, Muslims, homosexuals, Mexicans—to hold up as a boogeyman to justify consolidating further power in an already too powerful executive. What is cowardly in this situation is not opposing the adventure in Iraq, it's allowing our own government to whittle away our freedoms because you're frightened some swarthy person might set off a bomb somewhere.

As Digby points out, the concept of a war on terror doesn't even make logical sense. It's a "war" that by design can never be won, that has no identifiable endpoint. And its goal isn't destruction of an ideology, but instead an entrenchment of domestic power.

What we do about Islamic fundamentalism is a topic we must deal with. I suspect that it will take a global effort and a willingness to deal intelligently with the impending global oil crisis. There will be other challenges as well, including potential wars and regional strife and any of the other things that have marked civilization from the beginning. All peoples must deal with such things.

But there is no war on terrorism. The nation is less secure because of this false construct. We are spending money we need not spend, making enemies we need not make and wasting lives we need not waste in the name of something that doesn't exist. That is as politically incorrect a statement as can be made in America today. But it's true. [...]

And I suspect, too, that I will be long in my grave before the "war on terrorism" is a thing of the past. It was a terrible accident of history that September 11th happened when the lunatic neocon cabal was in power. Nothing could have been worse. It was more damaging than the attacks themselves. We'll be dealing with the fall out from that strange happenstance for a generation.

Exactly. Feel free to call me unserious. I'm used to it. But so far, we've burned through nearly 2500 of our own troops, tens of thousands more permanently injured, God only knows how many dead or maimed Iraqis, hundreds of billions of dollars, most of our prestige and good will, and for what? For democracy? For freedom? Give me a break. It's the opening shot in a resource war, and everybody knows it, even if they won't admit it to themselves. And, like it or not, they aren't our resources. We don't have any right to insist the world petroleum market be conducted in dollars. We don't have the right to pick and choose other peoples' governments for them.

There is no war on terror. There never has been. It's time to start saying it aloud.

Very well said. The question in my mind, though, is whether the term War on Terror, and the fear and conformity it is meant to inspire, isn't already dying of its own volition. Does it become more ridiculous for its backers to invoke over time, and less central to the basis of campaigning and governing than it was in 2002 and even 2004? Foreign affairs and national security will continue to be staples of political concern and governmental responsibility. But I doubt the bat of national security will be as useful an instrument as it was the last two election cycles, regardless of how Democrats respond to it. But for what it's worth, I'm willing to challenge the ubiquitous assumptions involved in the term and those who employ it to eradicate civil liberties.

Here's another good post on the subject.

And finally, it appears that the federal DHS also agrees that the War on Terror is gobbledygook.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Huckabee (and Bayh)


When people look at the GOP field for 2008, they worry about McCain or Allen or even Romney.

You want to know who the strongest GOP candidate would be, the one that would make me lose sleep at night?

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The guy is a scary good politician and the more Republican voters see him around the country, the more support he'll get.

I suggested the same thing last week at Lindsay Beyerstein's place:

Actually Huckabee as a presidential hopeful doesn't surprise me at all. He's a governor, which has historically been a more fruitful breeding ground for presidents than Congress; He's also a religious True Believer. Of the other GOP hopefuls, only Sam Brownback (albeit a new convert to Roman Catholicism and a member of Opus Dei) can lay claim to that. Of course, he's kinda homely looking and being from Arkansas, hasn't been a regular on the talk show circuit (like, say, George Allen). I doubt he'll get his party's nomination. But it wouldn't surprise me if he was a player two years from now.

My original thinking looking ahead to '08 was that Jeb Bush was a shoo-in for the nomination. I had a hard time seeing how it could be anyone else, considering the opposition to McCain and presumably Guliani among the conservative rank and file. Jeb has a conservative rep, and nationally, would have the electoral credentials, being a governor of an important swing state.

But his brother's basement-dwelling poll numbers have probably negated any potential benefit Jeb would have from inheriting his brother's mantel and continuing the Bush dynasty, at least in 2008. Interestingly, Jeb's official "not-running" stance on the nomination has been accompanied lately by a Gore-like revival of interest in his candidacy from the likes of Newt Gingrich, among others who think W's brother would make a fine CiC. For the moment I'm inclined to think Jeb will stay out in '08.

Meanwhile, McCain seems to be enjoying a bit of a rebound among Republicans, making his nomination at least plausible. But this will be interesting to watch play out because despite his appearance at Jerry Fallwell's Liberty University for graduation speech duties, McCain is not, religiously, a True Believer. And given growing discontent among the conservative grass roots with Bush's lack of follow through on their agenda, I'm skeptical about how willing the party's base is going to be to accept somebody like John McCain who probably isn't itching to go to church with them.

Allen hasn't particularly stressed his religiosity, but his state is known as one in which the religious right exercises considerable influence in, if not outright control over, the Republican Party. Romney is Mormon, a religious tradition viewed by most Christian evangelicals as not only heretical but fraudulent, despite its similar stand on social issues.

And while the last six years have demonstrated how far someone of limited intelligence and charisma can go in today's Republican Party, I have a hard time seeing how a virtual doofus like Allen makes the grade.

If McCain and Guliani are out, and if Allen and Romney are suspect, Huckabee might seem like a reasonable alternative.

On the Democratic side, I wrote last week that I didn't think Al Gore would make a very good president. So who would? I don't know that he would be great, but among the prospective contenders, Evan Bayh would probably be most up for the job.

I know to most progressives, Evan Bayh shouldn't be allowed to run for dog-catcher on the Democratic ticket, much less headline the presidential slate. I probably said as much when Bayh voted for cloture on last year's bankruptcy "reform" legislation.

But you go with the Democratic presidential contenders you have, not the ones you wish you had (as we might paraphrase Donald Rumsfield). And when I scan the field, I see inexperience (Edwards, Clark, Feingold, Obama), potential endurance issues (Biden), the charisma challenged (Richardson, Dodd), ideological mushiness (Vilsack, HRC, and Bayh), or been there done that loser reputations (Gore, Kerry, Daschle), not mention geographical deficits (Biden, Dodd, Gore, Kerry). To be fair, most of these candidates have at least some strengths that would be important in either a campaign or presidency. Edwards and Obama would bring the most charisma and energy to a campaign. Biden, Kerry, Gore, and Bayh I would count as being ready for the job starting on day one. Richardson, Bayh and maybe Clark, Edwards and Vilsack could help geographically. Clark, Vilsack, Bayh, Richardson and Gore would bring executive experience. Feingold and Edwards would be the most progressive. Another important attribute would be who among these folks can help build an enduring national party. This is much harder to guage but ideally it would be someone who doesn't regularly denigrate other Democrats (like Vilsack and Bayh).

This is a potpouri of assets and liabilities and I can't say there's some formula that renders any of this reduceable to an index ranking sort of thing. But executive experience, geographical base, and age-endurance are among the factors I consider important in the next Democratic nominee. And when I throw everything together, and in particular when I think about who will best handle the Republicans in Congress and conservatives in the media, Bayh strikes me as a not unreasonable choice, maybe even a pretty good one. As for Bayh's ideological and party building liabilities, ultimately I think that party building will be best accomplished by us, the grassroots, and state and local efforts (such as those being led by David Sirota). Presidents generally help their parties by projecting a positive, winning image, raising money, and influencing public debate. Bayh would probably help a lot on the first two of these, but would have a harder time with the third. But again, looking at our list, I don't see who else would do much better. Beyond that, presidents are too busy with foreign affairs and other responsiblities to hold the party's hand. This means that ultimately, much of the responsibility for the Democratic Party's future success and development will depend on those who take action in their communities and in their party's campaigns. All the rest depends on events and circumstances largely beyond our control.

Anyway, none of this is to say I'm locked into a choice. This is just how I see things shaping up so far. Maybe someone else outside of this group will emerge, or maybe someone within it will step up in the months ahead. Then again, the 2006 elections and developments between now and 2008 will also be of obvious importance for the 2008 campaign.

The Problem with Lieberman

I haven't said anything about Ned Lamont's primary campaign to unseat Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, mostly because, although Lieberman is capable of being a pain, his voting record is mostly solid. Add to that the fact that the issue that steams most other Democrats is his support of the Iraq war, something that can't be undone now. Third, the elevation of Ned Lamont to the U.S. Senate would only succeed in replacing one Democrat with another one, albeit a more progressive one. I think our energies would be better directed at electing Democrats where Republicans currently serve, not in replacing other Democrats.

Having said that, I acknowledge that Lieberman is troublesome to many wanting to build a Democratic majority because he has a disturbing nack of stiffing the party at particularly volatile times and on high profile issues, while playing up his moralizing, maverick status in the media (something that other maverick Democrats, like Nebraska's Ben Nelson, tend to avoid). Lieberman is moreover, the worst kind of moralist: the kind seemingly more obsessed with private sexual matters and provocative language in the entertainment industry than about the morals of war and economics.

And while mavericks and moralizers can be useful to a political party, especially in states where the party is weak, they aren't really necessary in states in which the party's presidential standard-bearer typically wins by double-digit margins, as has been the case in Connecticut the last few election cycles. Hence, Lieberman's problem. For Democrats he's a party contrarian from a state that doesn't need one.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tens of Thousands

Baghdad Numb to Reports of Massacre

After three years of war that has been fought in their streets and claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, people in Baghdad could spare little more than subdued expressions of sympathy Sunday after hearing reports of a U.S. Marine massacre of 24 men, women and children in a faraway western town.

"We are tired of this news. I don't want to hear about more killings," said Ismael Abbas, a 37-year-old express-mail courier, chuckling slightly in acknowledgment of the callousness of his words. He added, "The only news I care about is when a car bomb explodes in my neighborhood. I just check if my family is okay."

Like most in Baghdad, he counts his personal toll from the war: a brother and three cousins killed last year when a mortar round -- most likely from insurgents -- fell on their neighborhood in the eastern part of the city.

"So what if more innocent people were killed?" Abbas said of the reported massacre in Haditha. "Dozens of them die daily."

Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment are under investigation for allegedly storming at least three homes in Haditha on Nov. 19, turning their guns and grenades against civilians including a 76-year-old amputee who used a wheelchair, and girls and boys ages 14, 10, 5, 4, 3 and 1. Five men, four college students returning home for the weekend and their taxi driver, were also killed in the rampage, which allegedly came in retaliation for a roadside bombing in the neighborhood that killed a Marine.

U.S. Marine commanders in Washington have warned Congress of grave findings when two military investigations into the killings are concluded in coming weeks. Some U.S. military officials have said they are bracing for a scandal like that surrounding Abu Ghraib, when the disclosure of torture and humiliation of naked Iraqi prisoners disillusioned many Iraqis who had welcomed the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in violence since the U.S. invasion in 2003, many from insurgent bombs and execution-like killings in the intensifying sectarian violence, making TV broadcasts most days a montage of sprawled corpses and weeping families. A fraction of the deaths are caused directly by U.S. fire.

"We have a Haditha every day. We have a Fallujah and Karbala every day,'' said Muhanned Jasim, a local merchant, citing two of the many landmarks for civilian death in the war, the 2004 U.S. offensive in Fallujah and insurgent bombings in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala.
An antiques seller in central Baghdad, Jasim hadn't heard the news of Haditha, he said, because he no longer has electricity to power his television.

"We live in darkness,'' he said, fanning his face as the sweat rolled down. "What's the big news about Iraqis getting killed? We're powerless to change the situation."

Ghasan Jayih, a pharmacist, said he could pinpoint when he stopped caring: in November 2004, when gunmen shot and killed his best friend as the man drove home from his job as an interpreter at a U.S. Army base. "When I lose the friend of my childhood, it means nothing else can matter to me."

"Were they the first . . . Iraqis to be killed for no reason?" Jayih said. "We're used to being killed. It's normal now to hear 25 Iraqis are killed in one day."

There's more from the article but you probably get the point. I just wonder when the Culture of Life folks are going to lament the killing of "tens of thousands" of Iraqi civilians as a result of the U.S. invasion. I wonder when the Party of Life and its ministerial water-carriers are going to deplore the moral relativism that excuses the deaths of "tens of thousands" in Iraq so that our military and political leaders exactly? True, most of these deaths are not directly attributable to American soldiers or its sophisticated weaponry, but we're responsible all the same. The massacre in Haditha is a microcosm of the whole war. At the prompting of a few blood-thirsty media personalities and mislead by a political elite bent on demonstrating it's will and war power, U.S. voters permitted, and in many cases if phone calls to C-Span were any indication, lauded the bombing, invasion, and occupation of a country whose citizens harbored us no ill will and with whom we were not at war. Innocents. But whether of rational fear or irrational patriotic fervor run amok, we are now responsible for that country's subsequent disintegration, mayhem and bloodshed. To defend it now and celebrate its executioners on the basis of a supposed aim of "liberation" or on behalf of a good-faith belief in the country's WMD possession, and not admit our country's moral error, is to engage in moral relativism at its worst.

Royal Failures

Today is Memorial Day, which this year provides a strange juxtoposition between our annual celebration of glorious victories and worthy warriors past with the ugly spawn of this era's mother of all battles, Iraq II.

But Memorial Day also signals the unofficial beginning of Summer and the game played by the Boys of Summer, baseball. Which begs the question, what awesome games will ESPN provide MLB's ardent fans today? Apparently none. Zippo. Nada. The Style section of my paper indicates that ESPN will be broadcasting Lacrosse and Poker today. Are you kidding me?

What ad wizards in Bristol--home of ESPN--failed to recognize that the NY Yankees were in Detroit today at 1 pm? And you know what else? Randy Johnson is scheduled to pitch for the Yanks today against a Detroit team that three years removed from a 120-loss season is 35-15. 35-15! The best record in baseball. But Bristol wants to broadcast Lacrosse and Poker.

But ESPN isn't the only sports entity that's committing errors these days. Let's talk about the Kansas City Royals. Once the perennial favorite to win the American League West (in the days when each league contained two divisions) and the team once known for having George Brett on its roster, and of participating in the infamous pine-tar game has now replaced the Tigers as baseball's laughing stock. As recently as a few years ago the Royals have had Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye patrolling their outfield and filling out the line-up card. But after dumping those players they endured a 19-game losing streak last year and have already contributed 11 and 13 game losing streaks this year. On Saturday they got blown out by the Yanks 15-4.

Would it surprise you to find out where the Royals' owner, Ed Glass, used to be employed? How about as President of Wal-Mart? That's right. The Royals' benefactor took the cheap-skate, labor cost reduction strategeries he learned at Wal-Mart to the baseball fans of western Missouri.

Since Glass became the chief executive in 1993, the Royals have managed one winning season. Glass, the former president of Wal-Mart, has long been stingy with the payroll and the team has plummeted, dropping 104 games in 2004 and 106 last season. Unless the Royals rebound, they could lose more this season.

Hey, Major League Baseball, here's a tip. Don't let former Wal-Mart executives grow up to be owners of professional baseball teams.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Must Read

Nir Rosen in the Wash Post today.

And some associated commentary at Ezra Klein's pad.

Fighting Liberals


There's a little more to it, of course, and Beinart remains critical of liberals who have gotten so disgusted with George Bush's approach to terrorism that they've decided the whole war on terror is just a sham. Still, it's an interesting transformation, and many of the differences that remain within liberal circles strike me as more rhetorical than substantive.


"The war on terror" was always a sham, in the sense that it was a hideously inappropriate metaphor which provided cover for a bunch of hideously inappropriate policies. As for these magical straw liberals who think terrorism isn't an issue, I imagine they're hiding out in Beinart's barn along with the rest of his straw monsters. As for the real issue, which is "George Bush's approach to terrorism," well, yes, that's a sham as I imagine even Beinart would acknowledge.

Well, I think the "war on terror(ism)" is a sham. At least it's a sham in the sense of it being a military conflict against foreign enemies. Obstensibly being waged against the Islamic world, the war on terrorism is in actuality a conflict being waged by Americans in the media, Congress, and conservative think tanks against dissent and non-conformity by other Americans. It's a war being waged against American freedom and liberty in an effort to fear-monger the creation of a Permanent Republican Majority.

The U.S. House of People's Deputies conducted a "hearing" on Friday in which some media figures and Constitutional specialists testified before the Select Committee on Intelligence about the "problem" of "national security" leaks to the media. Jonathan Turley a law prof from Georgetown (or George Washington) vigorously defended the need for whistleblowers to be protected and for the country's right to know about abuses being conducted in its name by its elected officials through the government's various agencies. Republicans on the Committee, meanwhile, continue to believe that the box-cutting orchestrated plane hijackings by 19 Egyptians, Saudis and Yemenians on Sept. 11 constitutes an open warrant for the Republican administration and its Congressional appeasers to roll back the Bill of Rights to secure their own power. Do Republicans really believe that Islamic terrorists represent a dire threat to the U.S. and are they really afraid the country will be attacked again, in some significant manner? Do you? I don't. The proper security of our major transportation systems, infrastructure, and energy establishments is needed, to be sure. But a war on the country's citizens and guaranteed freedoms are not. Republicans have made the 9-11 "19" into mystical, omniscient, omnipresent force that can only be combatted by surrending our God-given and Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. This is nonsense. The time has come for leading Democrats to tell the American people that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". It's time for leading Democrats to declare that Al Qaeda is not the Confederate Army poised to torch Washington, D.C. after Bull Run, Nazi Germany, the Cold War Soviet Union, or even modern North Korea.

Somebody else agrees