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The Nation

July 15, 2008
Robert Dreyfuss
Bob Dreyfuss

There's a rumor going around that Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is feeling his oats, flexing his muscle, and displaying a newfound confidence that has allowed him to challenge the American occupation of Iraq. As a result, or so the story goes, Maliki has suspended talks with the United States on a long-term security agreement, and he has spoken out in favor of a timetable for withdrawing US forces.

But that's mostly wrong. From the start of his reign as prime minister in 2006, Maliki has been a weak and ineffectual leader. His political base is exceedingly narrow, and his Dawa Party is virtually nonexistent as a political force in Iraq today. (Dawa -- which means "The Call," as in Islamic proselytizing, has always been a thin part of the ruling alliance, and it recently splintered, when former Prime Minister Jaafari and his faction withdrew from it.) Maliki's power rests on a shaky coalition of other Iraqi parties, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a militia-based party closely tied to Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

Maliki has tried to strengthen his hand by bringing the religious Sunni bloc back into the ruling coalition. But the party that represents the religious Sunnis, whose core is the Iraqi Islamic Party, won't help Maliki. The IIP, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood secret society, was elected in 2005-2006 to its provincial posts and its parliamentary slots only because it was the sole Sunni party that would take part in an election that was widely boycotted by Sunni Arabs. (Only about two percent of Sunni Arabs voted.) So the idea that IIP has any political power is absurd. Most Sunni Iraqs are secular or moderately religious, and they reject the fundamentalist views of the IIP. The IIP is facing a determined (and armed) force arrayed against it amongst the Sunni "Awakening" or sahwa, also known as the "Sons of Iraq." Either through political means (i.e., the upcoming provincial elections) or by armed force, the Sons of Iraq movement will likely obliterate the IIP fairly soon.

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Bob Dreyfuss
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July 15, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

Barack Obama has begun, finally and reasonably firmly, to clarify his stance regarding the scope and character of the ongoing U.S. role in Iraq. In so doing, the senator from Illinois has imposed clarity on a race for the presidency that, while it certainly is not a single-issue contest, will always at its most fundamental level be about the question of whether America is going to elect a president who plans to end the war or who intends to manage it.

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president says that on his first day in office he will begin the process of extracting U.S. troops from Iraq so that they -- and the United States -- can get serious about combating terrorism.

Noting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's request for a withdrawal timetable, Obama explained in a much-anticipated speech Tuesday that "now is the time for a responsible redeployment of our combat troops that pushes Iraq's leaders toward a political solution, rebuilds our military, and refocuses on Afghanistan and our broader security interests."

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John Nichols
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July 15, 2008
Peter Rothberg
Peter Rothberg

Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel's recent post explained why The Nation has joined with the ACLU in a lawsuit filed in the US District Court of New York challenging the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act.

Moments after President Bush signed the bill into law, the ACLU filed suit challenging the law's constitutionality. Congress has not only legalized the Bush administration's secret NSA spying program, it has given the government even more power to listen to our phone calls and read our emails than even the administration itself claimed for itself under its secret program. And, by granting telecom companies immunity, it has made it highly unlikely that we will ever learn the extent of the administration's lawless actions.

Watch this brief clip of Senator Russell Feingold, one of the Senate's foremost Constitutional defenders, detailing the ramifications of the new FISA bill.

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July 14, 2008
William Greider
William Greider

Phil Gramm, the senator-banker who until recently advised John McCain's campaign, did get it right about a "nation of whiners," but he misidentified thefaint-hearted. It's not the people or even the politicians. It is WallStreet--the financial titans and big-money bankers, the most importantinvestors and worldwide creditors who are scared witless by events.These folks are in full-flight panic and screaming for mercy fromWashington, Their cries were answered by the massive federal bailout ofFannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the endangered mortgage companies.

When the monied interests whined, they made themselves heard by dumping the stocksof these two quasi-public private corporations, threatening to collapsethe two financial firms like the investor "run" that wiped out BearStearns in March. The real distress of the banks and brokerages andmajor investors is that they cannot unload the rotten mortgagesecurities packaged by Fannie Mae and banks sold worldwide. Wall Street's preferred solution: dump the bad paper on the rest of us, the unwitting American taxpayers.

The Bush crowd, always so reluctant to support federal aid for merepeople, stepped up to the challenge and did as it was told. TreasurySecretary Paulson (ex-Goldman Sachs) and his sidekick, Federal ReserveChairman Ben Bernanke, announced their bailout plan on Sunday to preventanother disastrous selloff on Monday when markets opened. Like thefirst-stage rescue of Wall Street's largest investment firms in March,this bold stroke was said to benefit all of us. The whole kingdom ofAmerican high finance would tumble down if government failed to act ormade the financial guys pay for their own reckless delusions. Instead,dump the losses on the people.

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The Notion
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July 14, 2008
Robert Dreyfuss
Bob Dreyfuss

There's no defense for the ugliness in Sudan and Zimbabwe. But US policy in connection with those two problematic nations is running into a buzzsaw. In both cases, the United States is acting clumsily, and it is facing stiff opposition from Russia, China, and many African nations.

Two obvious conclusions: the Bush Administration's muddled pursuit of democracy-by-force has made the entire world suspicious of America's motives in world crises, especially when they're tied to possible armed intervention. And confronting nations' real-world strategic interests, such as China's interest in Sudan, under the guise of humanitarian concerns won't fly, after Iraq.

First, there's the indictment today of Sudan's President Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Hague-based body that was rejected by the Bush Administration but is now embraced by Washington over Sudan. The indictment, not a surprise, was widely feared by world diplomats, who concluded that the consequences of indicting the Sudanese president were unpredictable and probably both dangerous and counterproductive.

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Bob Dreyfuss
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July 14, 2008
Katrina vanden Heuvel

Last Wednesday, on Capitol Hill, at a hearing packed with reporters, photographers, constituents, and industry reps, Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) zeroed in on a key moment in April 2006 that contradicted the testimony of Jim Shea, CEO of Gulf Stream.

Shea's company was paid $500 million to supply the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with 50,000 trailers housing displaced persons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Residents in some trailers would later complain of health problems including bloody noses, burning eyes, acute respiratory illnesses, and even miscarriages – as Amanda Spake reported in The Nation months before most in the mainstream media paid attention to this scandal. Shea testified that his company did nothing to hide any pertinent information about health issues associated with Gulf Stream trailers.

Yet in April 2006, as CNN prepared to air a story on elevated formaldehyde levels found in the trailers, Gulf Stream sent a statement to the network which Rep. Welch read aloud at the hearing: "We are not aware of any complaints of illness from our many customers of… travel trailers over the years, including travel trailers provided under our contracts with FEMA." Rep. Welch asked Shea, "Did your company make that statement?"

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July 14, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

If the point of putting something on the cover of a magazine is to sell copies of the magazine, then the folks at The New Yorker are surely smart to have decided to take the most controversial stereotypes about Barack and Michelle Obama and put them front and center on the magazine racks of America.

The Obamas remain a mystery to most Americans. Primary results and polls suggest that the electorate has found much to like about the Illinois senator and his wife. But the voters who will decide whether to make the Obamas the country's First Couple don't know a whole lot about the people they might install in the White House next January.

That ignorance is the last remaining hope of a Republican Party that, after 14 years of Gingrich and DeLay and eight years of Bush and Cheney, has pretty much blown the franchise. Only if a creaking GOP machine can spin a mild and moderate freshman senator and a crisp and professional hospital administrator into something scary does John McCain stand a chance in November.

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July 12, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

Even as he struggled with cancer, former White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters: "I'm a very lucky guy."

In fact, George Bush was lucky to have had Snow as his spokesman during the period when it became clear that, while Bush could not renew his failed presidency, he could be less of an embarrassment to himself and his country.

Snow was a true-believer Republican who, to a far greater extent than many of the people around the president, took seriously the work of communicating the ideas and ideals of the Bush-Cheney presidency to the American people.

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July 11, 2008
Peter Rothberg
Peter Rothberg

The Senate voted in overwhelming numbers recently to reject an FCC ruling that would unleash a new wave of media consolidation across America. Spurred by a grassroots campaign by our friends at Free Press, more than a quarter-million people took action and sent a powerful message to Washington demanding that legislators curb the ability of a few giant corporations to control the bulk of the nation's media.

The fight now moves to the House, where a bipartisan version of the Senate "resolution of disapproval" (H.J.Res.79) needs your support. Free Press has set an ambitious goal of convincing 100 legislators to agree to co-sponsor the House version of the bill in the next 100 days. The Nation is joining the campaign and asking readers to support Free Press' efforts and sign your name to a new Nation petition calling on House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi to make passage of H.J. Res. 79 a top legislative priority as soon as Congress comes back from recess. (This petition will be delivered to Pelosi as soon as the House reconvenes after its summer break.)

Watch this video by Free Press' Alexandra Russell for a re-telling of how the recent Senate victory was achieved and what still needs to be done to secure victory in the House.

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