Americans, wherever they may actually stand, love to present themselves as in the moderate middle of any debate, just as politicians regularly gravitate toward the "center," no matter how far out it may happen to be. Recently, Bush family consigliere James A. Baker III, co-chairing the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission to advise a reluctant President on future Iraq policy, put himself firmly "between" policy poles. "There are," he said, "alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of stay the course and cut and run."
It's easy enough to land in the moderate middle, between what Baker terms policy "extremes," when on one side you only have to say "cut and run" and any respectable, inside-the-Beltway politician will promptly cut-and-skedaddle; while, on the other, the President, as at his delusional press conference Wednesday, is continuing to make "stay the course" sound like "jump off a cliff." We don't yet know exactly where the post-election policy proposals of Baker and his bipartisanly well-connected crew will fall, any more than we know what Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner meant when he insisted, on return from Iraq, that policy there was "drifting sideways" and that if things didn't get better in a magical couple of months -- post the midterm elections -- no "options" should be "off the table."
Of course, for neither Warner, nor Baker could those options possibly include "cut and run," which, by its very self-description, is for cowards and fools, not dignified senators and well-appointed commissions. Where, then, does the moderate ground between the extremes of the present moment, that lovely center, actually lie? Whatever the dreams of critics of the war, withdrawal in any real form, phased or otherwise, is not likely to be the middle ground the new Washington opposition has in mind. Baker hinted at this Thursday night on the Lehrer News Hour when, while being cagey in a Margaret Warner interview, he nonetheless spoke of "initiatives or advice that Congress and the president could utilize in continuing the mission in Iraq."
If we turn from Washington civilians to the military brass, recent days offered clues to what a revised, no-extremes, no cut-and-run, continue-the-mission policy might look like. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker announced that his service was gearing up -- or as he put it making sure he had "enough ammo in the magazine that I can continue to shoot as long as they want us to shoot" – for four more years in Iraq at present levels (140,000+ troops). Meanwhile, in a tag-team news conference with Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, George Casey, U. S. commanding general in Iraq, responded to a question about whether he needed more troops with his own cautious hint: "Right now, my answer is no. But we're continuing to work things back there, and if I think I need more, I'll ask for more and bring more in."
"Right now," of course, means "before the election," a time when, while U.S. casualties soar and Iraqis die in their hundreds, you grit your teeth and, as Gen. Casey did, use the word "progress" eight times in a modest meeting with the press. ("I would also say that we continue to make progress with the Ministry of Interior and police forces etc…")
So we've had our hint. While the "mission continues" in Iraq with the endless build-up of our huge bases -- we still have, according to Rumsfeld, 55 of them, large and small -- and the continuing construction of the most permanent-looking embassy on the planet (with its own anti-missile system) in downtown Baghdad, it begins to look one significant "between" position may prove to be lots more of the same. If so, it will be a position extreme in its refusal to face the obvious -- that, for instance, wherever American troops go in Iraq (as in Baghdad right now), violence only escalates. The British Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the man responsible for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, just put "staying the course" in the kind of blunt perspective we generally don't hear in the U.S. The United Kingdom, he said, should "get ourselves out [of Iraq] sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems. We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear." Call that the real middle ground.
The early line on former Virginia Governor Mark Warner's surprise decision to scrap an expected bid for the 2OO8 Democratic presidential nomination is that this is good news for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the presumed frontrunner who shares many of Warner's centrist stances, and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, the other Democratic Leadership Council acolyte who is preparing a campaign.
"It's good for Hillary," bubbled Steve Elmendorf, a key aide to John Kerry's Democratic presidential campaign of 2004.
"The biggest winner might be Evan Bayh," countered Jennifer Duffy, who watches the race for the Washington-based Cook Political Report.
Don't buy either line.
Aside from the fact that Warner was the rare Democrat who in a post-9/11 election had taken a major position away from the Republicans in a southern state, and then governing successfully enough to leave office with high approval ratings, most potential primary voters knew nothing about him. His stands on the issues -- to the extent that he had articulated them -- were never what made Democrats around the country interested in Warner's serious-minded and well-financed bid for the nomination. Rather, it was the popular notion that Democrats are best positioned to win in the presidency if they nominate candidates with track records of winning in states that are below the Mason-Dixon line -- following in the footsteps of former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in 1992.
The theory's a bad one. Democrats should be looking for presidential prospects the Midwest and West -- regions where the party's support is expanding and has the potential to tip previously Republican states -- rather than the conservative climes of Dixie. But if there is one certainty about the Democratic Party, it is that the partisans are slow to let go even of the most worn-out strategies.
So the search for a southerner will continue.
For that reason, the beneficiary of the Warner exit will be former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
That's actually good news for progressives, since Edwards stands well to the left of both Warner and Clinton on most issues. The 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president has renounced his vote to authorize President Bush to take the country to war in Iraq, encouraged efforts to hold the administration to account for warrantless wiretapping and other assaults on basic liberties, strongly opposed conservative nominees for the Supreme Court and made fighting poverty his trademark issue.
If Clinton runs, she will be the frontrunner. The primary question will become: Who's the anti-Hillary? The calculus will be both ideological and regional. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, with his consistent record as an opponent of the Patriot Act and the war, will have the upper hand on the ideological score -- although there is a good chance that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the party's hapless 2004 nominee, will try to make a play from the left. Regional arguments may be made by westerners such as New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and, perhaps, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.
But Edwards, positioning himself as a progressive with a southern background and potentially a southern appeal, is set to compete on both the ideological and regional fronts. And his task will be a good measure easier now that Warner's exit has cleared the southern flank.
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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com
Okay, I admit it. As the election approaches, I amfeeling a creepy sense of paranoia. My right brain reads the newspapers,studies the polls and thinks we are looking at a blow-out next month--Dems conquer at last. My left brain hoots in derision. Get real, sucker.
The run-up has been pure fun for me: Generals leak the NationalIntelligence Estimate. Rep. Foley falls from grace. Senator Macaca blowshis lead. The reports from the field are more than promising. The hardnews has trumped every move by Bush-Rove to win once again on theirusual fear and smear campaign.
Yet the least little thing jerks away my optimism, like ripping off ascab that's not quite healed. When I heard the news flash that a planehad crashed into a Manhattan apartment tower, I didn't think, howhorrible. I said to myself: those rotten bastards in the White House.
I wasn't thinking terrorists. I was thinking the Bush regime had gone tonew extremes in its search for a believable "red alert." That tactic isworn out, it's been used so many times in election seasons. Instead, whynot blow up a chunk of New York City to remind folks how scary life canbe in these United States? Okay, that thought is irrational (alsoslanderous). But office conversations the next day told me I was notalone.
Like Alex Cockburn, I don't play conspiracy-theory games. Theplots are always too complicated and assign too much skill and foresightto the alleged conspirators. If wicked politicians or the "ruling class"were that smart, America would never lose a war.
But, boy, am I feeling vulnerable these days to ugly surprises. The lastfew weeks, helicopters and small planes have been buzzing heavily overmy neighborhood in northwest Washington. What's that about? I asked aneighbor and he laughed weakly. Maybe Cheney had a heart attack andthey're flying him to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Maybe it's just a trialrun for the big one.
In the office elevator, I bumped into an old friend, a reporter fromDow Jones. (Yes, the Wall Street Journal and The Nation can co-exist inthe same building (this is incestuous Washington and we all think ofourselves as kindred insiders). My friend is a smart and observantconservative who doesn't peddle cheap partisan opinions.
Democrats, he told me, won't get more than eight to ten seats in the House,forget the Senate. What? Why? Money and method, he said. Betweenblanketing TV with killer ads and turning out the righteous right-wingbase, the Republicans are in the process of buying it one more time.
I got off the elevator and found myself trembling. Didn't want to arguewith him, didn't want to hear more about what he knew. He mightconvince me.
Forget facts. I just want it be over. Soon. Actually, right now.
Here's why I've always loved Willie Nelson's music and message:
October 11 , 2006
By Willie Nelson
I was at a concert this weekend in California to raisemoney for the National Veterans Foundation. I'm an AirForce veteran, and I have great respect for themilitary. I like to support the soldiers whenever Ican. But I don't support this war in Iraq.
I was against the war before it started. I alwaysthought it was a terrible decision, badly thought out,badly planned, and then horribly executed.
I want to see our troops come home right away, and sodo most Americans. Unfortunately, too many politiciansin both parties refuse to listen.
So when will the troops come home? When we won't put upwith it anymore-when we change our government. And howwill we do that? By voting the bastards out! OnNovember 7, you should vote for anyone who's againstthe war and vote against anyone who's for the war. It'sthat simple.
When I wrote the song "Whatever Happened to Peace onEarth" at Christmastime in 2003, a lot of people werefor the war, a lot of people didn't know the facts orthe truth. But people are waking up now. They'relearning that they were lied to about the war. They'refeeling lied to about this Mark Foley scandal in termsof who knew what and when. They're questioning theleadership in this country.
And that gives us new possibilities for November 7th.If we all go out and vote for peace candidates and getour friends to vote, and if our votes are reallycounted, it's no contest. There'll be a change in theCongress, and then we'll just have to keep building sowe can get a president who won't send our soldiers tofight a war based on lies.
We should have thrown the bastards out years ago. Let'sdo it now! Give Peace A Vote!
Give Peace a Vote is organized by CodePink.
Representative Dennis Kucinich knows the neocon playbook used to lead our nation into war. That's why the courageous Congressman is doing everything he possibly can to ensure that the Bush administration fails in its effort to pull the same old tricks in manufacturing a war with Iran.
On October 10 Kucinich convened a panel of experts on Capitol Hill to answer two questions: is the Administration preparing for war? And is Iran an imminent threat?
Panelists included former chief weapons inspector, Dr. David Kay; retired Colonel Sam Gardiner of the National War College; Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress; Alfred Cummings, specialist in intelligence and national security foreign affairs at the Congressional Research Service; and Dr. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council. There was unanimity around a few key points:
1) Iran is at least 5 years – but more likely 10 or more years – away from producing weapons-grade nuclear materials
2) Iran poses no imminent threat to the US, Israel, or its neighbors
3) The Bush administration has already selected the military option and is moving to make it operational
4) The consequences of a military confrontation with Iran are global and nightmarish
5) We should be pursuing multilateral negotiations and have missed key opportunities to do so – including not even responding to an Iranian offer to put recognition of Israel and suspension of its nuclear program on the table. Perhaps more than anything else, our refusal to engage Iran frustrates this panel.
There was also a consensus that the threat assessment conducted by the intelligence agencies should be declassified. Let dissenters voice their opinions before Congress. We should have learned this lesson from the intelligence failure in Iraq.
The panel suggested that the cheerleaders for this war are – you guessed it – Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. The Joint Chiefs are believed to be opposed to yet another catastrophic misadventure.
Some consequences of this insane déjà vu-like war would include: skyrocketing oil prices; Hezbollah attacks on Israel; Iranian attacks on US forces in Iraq; Iranian sabotage of pipelines in Iraq; Iran blocking Gulf oil flow; and threats to regional governments.
Cirincione summarized, "If you like the war in Iraq, wait until you see the war in Iran. It will be a massive, global war."
Happy National Coming Out Day! The right-wing nuts are going, well, nuts. Wal-Mart is sponsoring LGBT Diversity Week at Boise State University in Idaho--October 9 to 13--and once again, the American Family Association is apoplectic. The group's action alert on the issue makes entertaining reading: "Wal-Mart has given its full endorsement to the homosexual agenda and homosexual marriage," the AFA fumes, noting, with trademark far-right salaciousness, that one of the event's other sponsors is a purveyor of sex toys (the "Pleasure Boutique"). But the conservative loons realize that when Wal-Mart supports a cause, it has become truly mainstream; that's why they're particularly upset that one of the (Wal-Mart-sponsored) events in Boise offers information on the campaign to defeat a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Idaho.
It's joyous to see elements of the conservative coalition falling apart. Why not join the fun by countering the AFA campaign? Write to Wal-Mart (use the AFA website, but "edit" the letter provided) and tell CEO Lee Scott you think it's wonderful that the company is funding decency and human rights in Idaho. (I just did this. I also checked a box on the same page agreeing that "I will pray for Lee Scott.") Now, if Wal-Mart would advance decency and human rights in the Philippines, or behind its own cash registers throughout the United States, that would be better still. But we'll enjoy one victory at a time.
"I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."
This is the pledge signed by over 18,000 people in the Give Peace a Vote drive organized by CodePink. It is the same pledge signed by approximately 80,000 other voters as part of the Voters for Peace campaign which includes Gold Star Families for Peace, Peace Action, Global Exchange, United for Peace and Justice (a coalition of 1,400 local groups in itself), CodePink and others.
Before the Iraq War, CodePink (whose name plays on the Bush administration's threat level system) was known as an international, women-initiated social justice movement creatively calling attention to many of our most pressing issues – "making the color pink synonymous with political rabble rousing," said co-founder, Jodie Evans.
Direct actions included hanging 40-foot pink banners with slogans like Stop Selling War out hotel windows; handing out pink educational flyers at pink lemonade stands; and awarding pink slips to political and corporate leaders who were leading our nation towards war. Members yelled out questions during Donald Rumsfeld's testimony in Congress regarding torture at Abu Ghraib; chained themselves to the entrance of the Halliburton's shareholders meeting; and brought US military families to Iraq where they met Iraqi victims of the war and occupation.
Now CodePink is focused on sending a message to politicians at the voting booth.
"With these pledge forms, I am finding an enthusiasm to end the war that I haven't seen in the past," Evans said. "Give Peace a Vote is going to give visibility to the emerging peace voting bloc so that the politicians can't keep ignoring the will of the voters to end the war in Iraq."
Well known peacemakers--including Samuel Jackson, musicians Jackson Browne, and Steve Earle, Angelica Huston, Susan Sarandon, Sandra Oh, Mike Farrell, Ed Asner, Paul Haggis, Julia-Louise Dreyfuss, Cornel West, writers Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston and Gore Vidal, among others--are doing their part to draw attention to the effort. Yoko Ono also signed onto the pledge that is named after John Lennon's peace anthem, Give Peace a Chance.
As we approach Election Day, let the candidates know you are serious about putting an end to the Iraq War by signing the pledge. Give Peace a Vote – we'll all be tickled pink when the warmongers are thrown out and the peace candidates prevail.
You gotta love the contradictions in Washington. The head of a new conservative group named Americans for Honesty on Issues is a former advisor to Rep. Tom DeLay and Enron CEO Ken Lay.
Perfect material for Katrina's "Dictionary of Republicanisms."
According to the New York Times, the group is spending more than $1 million on negative TV ads against nine Democratic House candidates, accusing them of "carpetbagging, coddling illegal immigrants, being soft on crime and advocating cutting off money for troops in Iraq."
Its leader, Houston-based political consultant Sue Walden, lobbied for Enron and told Lay which political candidates to donate to. She'd call people up for money on behalf of DeLay, who was later indicted for money laundering.
Sounds like she's the last person who should be lecturing anyone on honesty.
For some time now, Tonight Show host Jay Leno and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have enjoyed an unusually cozy relationship. Back in August, 2003, Schwarzenegger used Leno's couch as the launching pad for his ultimately successful gubernatorial run. Leno served mostly as jolly skeptic during their sit-down. But eyebrows were raised during their next appearance together.
On October 8, 2003, at the governor-elect's victory party, there was Leno introducing Schwarzenegger again, but this time as more of a cheerleader than skeptic. The backlash was almost immediate. There is an unspoken pact between late-night comedians and their audience. We expect them to be nonpartisan in their jokes and we certainly don't want them endorsing candidates. While his spokesman at the time claimed Leno's appearance that night was "an endorsement of [Arnold and his] friendship", it made people uncomfortable.
Now the issue of Leno's possible political bias has reared its head again. Schwarzenegger is scheduled to appear on tonight's broadcast in what is not destined to be a hard-hitting interview. Meanwhile, his opponent, Democrat Phil Angelides, has made a request to also appear and reportedly received no response as of today. US Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) has lodged a complaint with the FCC against Leno and the Tonight Show, claiming the show has violated equal time provisions in the Federal Communications Act.
"I'm not a conservative. I've never voted that way in my life," Leno claims. He has said there are no Republicans on his writing staff and has received positive marks from organized labor for his refusal to perform at a convention in Vegas conducted by a law firm that opposes unions. However, he is naïve if he thinks appearing supportive of Schwarzenegger will not affect the 2006 gubernatorial election.
A January 2004 study released by the Pew Research Center has found that 21 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 turn to entertainment like the Tonight Show for their news. Leno's show is a TV institution and the appearance that he is endorsing the governor--or even being good friends with him--really could taint the electoral process. If Leno is seriously committed to being an impartial comedian, than he ought to give Angelides his shot at the limelight.
Just when it couldn't get worse…
The one thing the Bush administration and the Republicans have excelled in these past years is conquering the media heights -- air, print, and face time -- when it was crucial. In the last two weeks, with Iraq in near meltdown, American casualties soaring (32 dead in the first 9 days of October and figures on the wounded going sky-high), Iraqi police poisoned by the hundreds, assassinations the norm, and Shiites as well as Sunnis fighting with the U.S. military, the Foley scandal suddenly succeeded in sucking all the air out of the media environment. The President and Vice President continued to travel the country doing their normal dirt, but it was as if they had been silenced.
In the meantime, the Bush Bump in the polls, which barely lasted out September, looks to be turning back into a Bush freefall. (The newest Newsweek poll has presidential approval back at a dismal 33%.) In fact, as the mid-term elections approach, all poll figures are trending Democratic. For the first time in what seems decades, Americans find the Democrats more "trustworthy" than Republicans on everything, even "moral values" and "defense against terrorism" (so both the latest Washington Post poll and the Newsweek one tell us).
So just when the President and his Party seem sunk, who rides to the rescue? Kim Jong Il. Okay, okay, the Democrats are going to argue that a North Korean nuclear test is but more evidence that Bush's policies were a hopeless caricature of a catastrophe. But that may not matter. It's just the sort of argument that generally goes on the inside pages for the news (and political) junkies. What may matter most is that, for the first time in ten days, the Foley scandal is, however briefly, off the front pages and the President is front page and center being "presidential." The New York Times lead headline is: "Bush Rebukes North Korea." The Washington Post: "U.S. Urges Sanctions on North Korea."
Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza put it this way in the Post: "GOP officials are urging [Republican] lawmakers to focus exclusively on local issues and leave it to party leaders to mitigate the Foley controversy by accusing Democrats of trying to politicize it. At the same time, the White House plans to amplify national security issues, especially the threat of terrorism, after North Korea's reported nuclear test, in hopes of shifting the debate away from casualties and controversy during the final month of the campaign."
Strange isn't it how the Evil Ones have a way of riding to the rescue of the Bush administration. It's worth remembering that George W. Bush's presidency was languishing and he was under attack by worried members of his own party on September 10, 2001. And have we all forgotten the way Osama bin Laden providentially video just on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, providing Bush with a poster-boy-of-terror moment. Now, the unlovely Kim has exploded his mini-nuke. Maybe it won't prove "just in time," but you can't blame the Axis of Evil One for giving it the old Pyongyang U. try.