The Nation

Imagine 50 Million American Refugees

I'm an innumerate, but the figures on this -- the saddest story of our Iraq debacle -- are so large that even I can do the necessary computations. The population of the United States is now just over 300,000,000. The population of Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion was perhaps in the 26-27 million range. Between March 2003 and today, a number of reputable sources place the total of Iraqis who have fled their homes -- those who have been displaced internally and those who have gone abroad -- at between 4.5 million and 5 million individuals. If you take that still staggering lower figure, approximately one in six Iraqis is either a refugee in another country or an internally displaced person.

Now, consider the equivalent in terms of the U.S. population. If Iraq had invaded the United States in March 2003 with similar results, in less than five years approximately 50 million Americans would have fled their homes, assumedly flooding across the Mexican and Canadian borders, desperately burdening weaker neighboring economies. It would be an unparalleled, even unimaginable, catastrophe. Consider, then, what we would think if, back in Baghdad, politicians and the media were hailing, or at least discussing positively, the "success" of the prime minister's recent "surge strategy" in the U.S., even though it had probably been instrumental in creating at least one out of every ten of those refugees, 5 million displaced Americans in all. Imagine what our reaction would be to such blithe barbarism.

Back in the real world, of course, what Michael Schwartz terms the "tsunami" of Iraqi refugees, the greatest refugee crisis on the planet, has received only modest attention in this country (which managed, in 2007, to accept but 1,608 Iraqi refugees out of all those millions -- a figure nonetheless up from 2006). As with so much else, the Bush administration takes no responsibility for the crisis, nor does it feel any need to respond to it at an appropriate level. Until now, to the best of my knowledge, no one has even put together a history of the monumental, horrific tale of human suffering that George W. Bush's war of choice and subsequent occupation unleashed, or fully considered what such a brain drain, such a loss of human capital, might actually mean for Iraq's future.

But the author of the upcoming book, War Without End, The Iraq Debacle in Context, Michael Schwartz has just taken the first pass at history when it comes to this crisis. "Iraq's Tidal Wave of Misery" is, in fact, a monumental effort, laying out the three great waves of Iraqi displacement and dispossession: The first of these came in 2003 with the American occupation's policies of massive de-Baathification of the Iraqi government, demobilization of the Iraqi military, and the shutting down of Iraq's state-owned industries (combined with the rise of a widespread business in kidnapping); the second came when, in 2004, the U.S. military began to attack and invade insurgent strongholds, as they did the Sunni city of Falluja, using the full kinetic force of its massive fire power; the third came with the rise of a Sunni/Shia civil war and campaigns of ethnic cleansing, especially in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad (helped along by the U.S. "surge strategy").

Schwartz lays out the staggering, "tsunami"-level numbers involved, analyzes the disproportionate number of people with professional, managerial, or administrative backgrounds who fled the country ("... whereas less than 1% of Iraqis had a postgraduate education, nearly 10% of refugees in Syria had advanced degrees, including 4.5% with doctorates..."), gives a sense of the pain and deprivation inflicted, and above all suggests what it means for the future of a country like Iraq to have had such a "brain drain," such a largely irreversible loss of "human capital."

He concludes:

"From the vast out-migration and internal migrations of its desperate citizens comes damage to society as a whole that is almost impossible to estimate. The displacement of people carries with it the destruction of human capital. The destruction of human capital deprives Iraq of its most precious resource for repairing the damage of war and occupation, condemning it to further infrastructural decline. This tide of infrastructural decline is the surest guarantee of another wave of displacement, of future floods of refugees. As long as the United States keeps trying to pacify Iraq, it will create wave after wave of misery."


Dems Fight Spying with Clinton and Obama MIA

A trio of Democratic House Committee Chairmen are stepping up the fight against President Bush's surveillance bill this week, vowing to beat back a controversial proposal to grant retroactive amnesty to companies accused of illegally spying on Americans.

Congressmen John Dingell, Ed Markey and Bart Stupak are circulating a letter urging their colleagues to stand firm and keep amnesty out of the final spying bill. The House already passed a bill without amnesty, but the Senate is scheduled to pass a bill with retroactive amnesty as early as Tuesday. That would trigger a fight to resolve the issue in a conference committee of Democratic leaders. While a majority of Democrats in both Houses have voted against amnesty, Senators Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller have fought hard to keep the proposal on the table, quailing at Bush's repeated threats to veto the bill if it does not include amnesty.

The House Democrats' letter explains that amnesty is distinct from the surveillance bill, which grants the administration more spying powers and weakens judicial requirements for warrants. "The issue of immunity for phone companies that chose to cooperate with the President's warrantless wiretapping program deserves a separate and more deliberate examination by Congress," reads the letter. "No special urgency attaches to the question of immunity other than the Administration's general eagerness to limit tort liability and its desire to avoid scrutiny of its own actions, by either the courts or the Congress."

Last week, over two dozen House members hammered the same point in a letter toPresident Bush:

Corporations that handed over their customers' records without a valid court order [...] undermined fundamental civil protections and privacy rights of Americans. Congress as a whole was kept in the dark for years about these activities, and to this day, the overwhelming majority of House Members and Senators have never been briefed on these activities. We cannot be asked to immunize these actions before we know the full extent of what occurred.


According to several civil liberties groups, the developments in the House suggest that at least some Democrats are now willing to draw a line in the sand to stop Bush's abuse of executive power. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing telephone companies over domestic spying, characterized the House letters as "a significant shift in the political debate over telecom immunity." An ACLU spokesperson told The Nation that the action by House leaders is the only "ray of hope" to scuttle amnesty, because the Senate is considered a lost cause. 2008-02-11-Picture1.png "We need the House to stand strong and not bless this multibillion dollar giveaway to the telecommunications companies," said the ACLU official.

Most observers agree that the spying bill and retroactive amnesty are distinct issues. After all, the bill governs surveillance policy going forward, while the amnesty amendment dismisses cases challenging past surveillance. Apart from one's view on each issue –- I oppose both the underlying White House bill and amnesty, as I explained in this November op-ed –- it would be highly irresponsible for Congress to rush amnesty without basic information about what happened. Yet the administration refuses to brief members, even in classified sessions, as the House committee letter explains:

For the past five months this Committee has asked, in a bipartisan manner, the phone companies and the Administration to [provide factual and legal information that] would justify Congress telling a Federal judge to dismiss all lawsuits…Surprisingly, even at this late date, the Administration has not deemed it important enough to respond to our repeated inquiries or even to brief the Committee Members in closed session.


But there's nothing surprising about the administration's contempt for the rule of law at this point. Are Democratic leaders just figuring this out?

The past few months of the spying debate do reveal, in a depressing sort of way, both the promise and residual frailty of this (mildly) resurgent Democratic Party. There are leaders who now go to the mat against Bush, even on counterterrorism policy and even when few are paying attention. That includes people like Senators Dodd and Feingold, and the House leaders fighting this week. But even when they summon a majority of their caucus, as they have on amnesty, they are sold out by a few well-placed members of their own party. So Senate Democrats watch the spectacle of Jay Rockefeller doing his best Joe Lieberman impression, and listen to Harry Reid say that he opposes amnesty while rigging floor votes to pass it.

Meanwhile, the two remaining presidential candidates have finessed the issue with such precision, it's the surest proof that their promises of "change" do not include restoring the rule of law until the election is over. Clinton and Obama did vote the right way this summer, but they missed recent key votes, and they have refused to use the enormous megaphone they share to get anything done. Just this weekend, President Bush peddled more attacks and disinformation about spying in an interview with Fox News. The Obama Campaign was quick to rebut Bush's attack on the Senator's foreign policy, and the Clinton Campaign is plenty aggressive when counter-punching to protect The Clintons. Yet neither campaign so much as released statements from aides to rebut the President's surveillance comments, let alone launch a battle plan to protect civil liberties in the looming fight.

Both campaigns talk about how history will view their unprecedented candidacies -- and breaking political glass ceilings is no small feat. Yet history tends to judge not only one's candidacy, but one's character, assessing whether leaders acted on the conviction to do right when pressed with the choice. Amnesty is on the table now. If Congress sends this legislation to President Bush, next January will be too late. There will be no accountability for domestic spying and few levers for a thorough investigation. And the next President will inherit an office with growing power and receding legitimacy, a dynamic reinforced by Congress and unlikely to abate when even would-be presidents refuse to stand up for the rule of law.


Photo credit: Takomabibelot


As Maine Goes...

Barack Obama won the Maine caucuses by a wide margin Sunday night, securing 59 percent of the vote to just 40 percent for Hillary Clinton.

That's 15 more delegates for Obama, nine more for Clinton.

And it caps a weekend that saw Obama win everywhere people had a chance to vote for him -- from the Virgin Islands, where he got 89.9 percent of the vote, to Louisiana (57 percent of the vote; 33 delegates to 22 for Clinton) to Nebraska (68 percent; 16 delegates to 8 for Clinton) to Washington (68 percent; 35 delegates to 15 for Clinton).

But Maine was particularly sweet. It neighbors New Hampshire, which denied Obama an expected win in last month's primary, and Massachusetts. which backed Clinton on Super Tuesday.

Both Obama and Clinton campaigned in Maine -- bringing a rare level of attention to a state that usually caucuses without much attention. The Clinton camp also brought in former President Bill and former First Daughter Chelsea, and it had the backing of Maine Governor John Baldacci.

But Obama swept just about everywhere.

After this weekend of wins, Obama backers will be excused for renewing the old saying, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." They've got to feel that the momentum in on their side.

And if the Illinois senator wins Tuesday's "Potomac primary" voting in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, the Obama camp won't just be feeling it has momentum. The surge will have been confirmed.

The Shame of St. Louis

Over the past seven years, as Michael Reynolds wrote in a Nation cover story last June, George W. Bush's faith-based Administration has transformed the small-time abstinence-only business into a billion-dollar industry profiting off tax-payer money being spent on ineffective new school curriculums.

"I can't think of another federal program where so much money was spent without any oversight and to such little effect," James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, told Reynolds. "It wasn't that policy-makers didn't know that abstinence-only didn't work. In 2000 the Institute of Medicine issued a scathing report on these programs. But they went full steam ahead despite the warning. It's beyond naïve. It's immoral."

Thanks to recent Nation guest blogger Jessica Valenti for alerting me to the story of two eighth grade students in St. Louis who felt the same way and recently tried to protest this naivete and immorality. Other than a local CNN report, Valenti's website, Feministing.com, was the first--and still one of the only--publications or broadcast operations on or off-line to report on Tori Shoemaker and Cheyenne Byrd's brave stand against abstinence-only education.

The two students at Louis & Clark Junior High School protested their school's abstinence-only education program by wearing shirts to school adorned with condoms, reading "Safe Sex or No Sex." For daring to make a statement, they were suspended for two days from school by the regional superindent, who called the shirts "inappropriate" and a "distraction." As Valenti adds: "Yes, because a 'distraction' in the form of free speech is clearly much worse than spreading dangerous misinformation about sex to teens."

The CNN video shows the girls to be smart, thoughtful, engaged citizens--just the sort of students our schools should be proud of producing.

Defending Clinton’s Virtual Town Hall

Hillary Clinton is under fire again for planted questions, but this time she did nothing wrong.

Clinton pulled a Perot this week, buying a full hour of national television to directly address voters before Super Tuesday. Her campaign convened a virtual town hall, "Voices Across America," and broadcast it on the Hallmark channel and HillaryClinton.com. On the scale of managed presidential campaign events, it was moderately participatory: more than a one-way stump speech, less than an open coffee klatch in Iowa. Specifically, the campaign screened submitted questions, and then Clinton spoke with selected voters, who were sometimes flanked by endorsers or supportive crowds.

Yet the event was the "opposite of interactive," blogs Zephyr Teachout, former Internet director for the Dean Campaign:

By spreading a video message instead of handling press questions, she used the internet to actually reduce interactivity, instead of increase it--she didn't have to interact with [live] questions...


Teachout is a sharp, passionate analyst of web politics -- I'd recommend her new book about the Dean Campaign to anyone who wants to understand what really went down in 2004. But I think it's a mistake to knock a political event simply because it is not 100% interactive. Sure, one potential benefit of Internet politics is deeper interaction between citizens and their leaders. But another is using the web to route around the filters and elites that separate the candidate from the public. Clinton's town halls and web chats enable voters to hear directly from her, just like Obama's one-way YouTube address. And as I've documented before, the public shows a remarkably high interest in hearing directly from these candidates. We can learn a lot about candidates' plans, policies and character by listening to them, even if it's not in a conversation.

2008-02-09-Picture7.pngVoters in San Francisco watch Clinton's virtual town hall. Photo: Cynthia Anne Kruger

Another key dimension is disclosure, which Teachout also raises. The questions appeared pre-selected, but neither the Hallmark program nor Clinton's website provided much information on that front. The Times' Brian Stelter explains:

Mrs. Clinton participated in what amounted to a one-woman debate. A casual viewer could have mistaken the paid programming, purchased last week by her campaign, for a news broadcast, save for a disclaimer at the beginning ("I'm Hillary Clinton, and I approved this message") and a logo in the corner of the screen that rotated between the words "Hillary" and "Vote Feb. 5."


That approval disclaimer is required by federal law for TV ads. But the FEC has not caught up to virtual campaigning. The rules should require on-screen disclaimers for the entire broadcast, so that all viewers know what they're watching. A banner reading "paid political program" would do the trick.

We can't wait around for campaigns to explain their managed events, either. The FEC should require campaigns to prominently explain the format of these virtual events on their websites. There is nothing wrong with culling questions in advance. (Academic and political panels do it all the time, on the theory that you can only take so many questions about a 9/11 conspiracy.) But obviously, the public has a right to know whether questions are live or pre-selected.

Edwards Primary: A Key Win For Obama

David Obey really did want to vote for John Edwards for president.

In fact, aside from the former candidate himself, there could be few better barometers than the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for defining where "the Edwards vote" is headed now that his backers must choose between New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

And Obey has made that choice.

"For eight long years, in extreme partisanship, George W. Bush has governed this country by dividing it," the senior Democrat from Wisconsin explained in an email sent to this reporter after we spoke about the race Thursday. "(Bush) has pursued disastrous foreign and domestic policies and has stubbornly refused to listen to anyone's views except those who march in lockstep with him. America desperately needs a new president who can reach across old barriers to form new alliances that can produce a new era of optimism and a healthier respect for the needs of others. I had originally supported John Edwards for President, but with his withdrawal I am voting for Barack Obama."

Obey, who as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is one of the most powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill, is an economic populist of the old school. No Democrat was angrier about the tax cuts for the rich and the free-trade deals that defined the economic policies of the Bush administration, and few were more frustrated with the compromises of the Clinton administration that came before it.

Obey wants a Democratic president who will work with a Democratic Congress to forge economic policies that favor Main Streets in Wisconsin cities like Wausau, Superior and Ashland rather than Wall Street. For this congressman, the choices are about a lot more more than legislative maneuvers and political positioning. Obey's one of the few really powerful people in Washington who knows the location of every union hall in his home state. And don't get him started talking about trade and economic policies unless you are ready to listen to a lengthy discourse on how successive administrations have let down the factory workers and farmers of his northern Wisconsin district.

Edwards' populist campaign struck a chord with Obey, and with a number of other old-school Democrats who have made economic concerns central to their tenures in Congress. They joined a number of key unions in backing the former senator from North Carolina.

But Edwards is now out of the race. The unions are making their moves: The Transport Workers Union, which represents 140,000 workers nationwide and has long been one of the savviest political players on economic issues, just announced that, "With Senator Edwards out of the race, our officers found it an easy decision to lend our support to the Obama campaign."

And Obey says, "People will, and should, make their own choices, but I believe that, while both remaining candidates would make outstanding presidents, Senator Obama has the best chance of giving this country the new beginning it so desperately needs."

Avoiding a Convention Train Wreck

One thing that's clear after last night, we've got a tough and potentially ugly delegate fight ahead of us for the Democratic nomination. Not only might the unaccountable and undemocratic superdelegates come into play, but the prospect looms of a bitter intra-party battle to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates. The DNC, Governor Dean, and the state parties need to do some serious thinking – starting now – on how to avoid a situation where backroom deals determine the nominee and his or her legitimacy is called into question.

As most people know, the Michigan and Florida delegates aren't supposed to be counted towards determining the nominee, a penalty for unilaterally moving their elections up in the primary season against the party's wishes. The candidates agreed not to campaign in the states, and in fact, only Hillary Clinton appeared on the ballot in Michigan. Once she won both states, her campaign predictably began to argue that these delegates should be counted. This could force the Obama campaign into the unenviable position of looking like they are trying to block voters in two swing states. It's a train wreck waiting to happen – perhaps to be played out before the national media in Denver.

The question is: what can be done to preempt this?

I know that there is a Credentials Committee, and a Rules Committee, and probably even a Committee for the Selection of the Credentials and Rules Committees. I know the delegate process is laid out and explained in the bylaws. But certainly the DNC never anticipated this situation and it calls for a creative and immediate mending of the process.

One proposal is that both Florida and Michigan be permitted to caucus later this spring. It goes without saying that the Clinton forces would reject this. But if the DNC, Governor Dean, state parties, and other prominent Democrats like Jimmy Carter, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, etc. – all called for a fair contest with the candidates competing head-to-head – how long would the Clintons put up a fight? They would move from looking like the defenders of Michigan and Florida voters (the niche they are currently attempting to carve out), to looking like they are once again attempting to "game" the system.

At the very least people need to be reminded that everyone agreed to the earlier decision to strip the states of their delegates – including the Clinton campaign. This fight is not the responsibility of the Obama campaign. It was a party decision, agreed to by all of the candidates, and the party needs to stand by it or come up with a better solution. Seating delegates that Clinton won during a sideshow is unacceptable.

Obama Claims 9-Delegate Win for Super Tuesday

Barack Obama's Campaign wants to make his Super Tuesday victory official.

Campaign Manager David Plouffe says that Obama won 9 more delegates than Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, based on a pledged delegate estimate conducted overnight by analysts in the campaign's Chicago "boiler room." Obama won 845 delegates to Clinton's 836, according to Obama's data team, which includes Democratic targeting buff Ken Strasma and delegate expert Jeff Berman, who caused the AP to reverse its Nevada delegate estimate a few weeks back.

"By winning a majority of delegates and a majority of the states, Barack Obama won an important Super Tuesday victory over Senator Clinton in the closest thing we have to a national primary," Plouffe told reporters on Wednesday. Senior Clinton strategists depicted Clinton as an energized underdog in a media conference call on Wednesday, contending that voters are rejecting Obama's "establishment" campaign.

The Clinton Campaign has not released its own estimate, so Obama's spreadsheet may be all we have to go on for a while. These numbers refer to Super Tuesday only -- not to the total count of delegates from prior states or the party's mercurial, "elite contingent" of superdelegates.


Hillary's Latino Appeal

The 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination will produce the first African-American president or the first woman president.

On Super Tuesday, according to exit polls, African-American voters continued to give Obama important wins in states where they were often definitional players -- Alabama, Georgia, Illinois and, most notably, Missouri.

Obama's overall margin among African-American voters who cast ballots in the almost two-dozen Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses was very close to what a general election lead for a Democratic nominee: 82 percent for the Illinois senator to 17 percent for New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Even in states he lost, Obama's strong African-American support kept him competitive in the race for delegates. Look at Hillary Clinton's New York, where African-American Democrats made up 14 percent of the overall electorate and favored Obama 61-37 -- though, significantly, Clinton won 43 percent of African-American women.

Female voters gave Clinton essential victories all across the country on Super Tuesday. She was winning roughly 60 percent of the votes of white women in states where white men -- freed up by the exit of populist John Edwards -- were dividing up about evenly between the candidates. Clinton's surprisingly easy wins in Massachusetts, New Jersey and several other key states were products of those wide margins among women.

In California, men broke 46-45 for Obama, according to exit polls. Women went 59-34 for Clinton.

Says National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy, "The women's vote carried Hillary Clinton to victory in delegate-rich states that will put her ahead in the ultimate delegate count. Her historic race has energized the gender gap, which is key because women make up the majority of voters in the general election. The gender gap, a significant margin among Hispanic voters, and confidence in her strength on the economy will all give Clinton a strong advantage against John McCain in November."

But couldn't the same be said of African-American voters? In most places where it mattered, yes.

So who is deciding a lot of the key race: Hispanics.

And they are voting for Clinton.

As they had in the Nevada caucuses last month, Hispanics gave Clinton essential wins in California and Arizona. They helped her along in New Jersey. Even in states where Obama was winning, Clinton's strength among Hispanic voters kept her in the running for delegates. For instance, in Obama's Illinois, Latino Democrats made up 15 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. They split 51 percent for Clinton, 48 percent for Obama.

Ultimately, Hispanics favored Clinton by a 2-1 margin nationally. In the state where it mattered most, California, Latino Democrats gave Clinton 73 percent of the vote.

If Clinton secures the nomination, it will be the Hispanic vote that will have carried her across the line in the races she had to win.

In the midst of a fight over immigration that has so frequently seen Republicans target them for attack, Hispanics have moved in increasing numbers into the Democratic camp.

And they are now playing a potentially definitional role.

That role is as the essential component of Hillary Clinton's coalition.

If these trends continues, and if she wins the nomination, Clinton will -- in the electoral sense that politicians tend to take most seriously -- be the first Hispanic president.