Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Long, hard, in-depth, & probing Taibbi interview

A nice, unguarded interview with Taibbi, for all you true Taibbi fans like me....

And my suspicions are confirmed: the no-name author of the article " The Great Iraq Swindle," which gave so many of you a rise, is... Matt Taibbi. Who else?

U.S. Poverty Drops Slightly; Uninsured Increase

Now, I'm sure it's just coincidence, in the latest U.S. Census, the poor got poorer and the rich got richer.  Not that I'm blaming Bush!  No sirree, Bob!  It's 'cause of 9/11, Katrina, and of course Clinton's dot-com bubble.  Just imagine how much worse things would be if Bush hadn't cut taxes on the rich!   It makes me shudder.

U.S. Poverty Rate Drops; Ranks of Uninsured Grow        
Census Data Show Mixed View of Post-Recession Economy

By N.C. Aizenman and Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 29, 2007; A03


The nation's poverty rate declined last year for the first time this decade, but the number of Americans without health insurance rose to a record 47 million, according to annual census figures released yesterday.

Maryland edged out New Jersey as the nation's richest state, with a median household income of $65,144. The Washington region ranked second among metropolitan areas, with three suburban Washington counties -- Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard -- maintaining their status as the nation's wealthiest large counties. Montgomery and Prince William counties also registered in the top 10.

Nationally, however, the statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau offer a mixed picture of the economy's recovery from the recession of 2000-01.

Although median household income, adjusted for inflation, rose for the second straight year, it has not reached the pre-recession high of 1999.

The increase from 2005 to 2006 in median household income, to $48,201, appeared to be mainly the result of a jump in the number of people per household who held a full-time job rather than a rise in wages. Earnings of both men and women declined by slightly more than 1 percent.

Although the poorest households had the largest percentage income gain from 2005 to last year, income inequality remains at a record high. The share of income going to the 5 percent of households with the highest incomes has never been greater.

The 2006 poverty rate of 12.3 percent remained higher than during the recession. And the slight drop in the rate from 12.6 percent the year before was driven by a decrease in poverty among those older than 65. There was no change in the rates for children or for adults 18 to 24.

The release of the statistics yesterday drew divergent responses from the Bush administration and its critics.

"To be in worse shape in the fifth year of a recovery than during the previous recession is both unprecedented and disappointing," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) placed the blame on the administration's economic policies. "Enormous tax cuts for the wealthy and massive budget deficits have failed the vast majority of the American people," she said in a statement. "The rich have gotten richer, but every other income group under the Bush administration has lost ground."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto disagreed, saying that the data on household income are "good numbers," considering the many blows the economy has suffered, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the bursting of the stock market bubble.

"Our economy was in very bad shape for a significant period of time, and when that happens, you are going to see incomes fall," Fratto said.

President Bush released a statement describing the figures as confirmation of the wisdom of his approach. "When we keep taxes low, spending in check and our economy open -- conditions that empower businesses to create new jobs -- all Americans benefit," he said.

The president said that "challenges remain" in reducing the number of people without health insurance.

The addition of about 2.2 million people to the ranks of those without medical insurance was attributed largely to continuing declines in employer-sponsored insurance coverage, census officials said.

In all, 15.8 percent of Americans lacked coverage last year, up from 15.3 percent in 2005.

Children fared worse. Last year, 11.7 percent of people younger than 18 lacked health insurance, up from 10.9 percent in 2005. The percentage of uninsured children has increased two years in a row after declining for at least five years, according to the census data.

The new figures stirred debate between Congress and the White House over the future of the $5 billion a year State Children's Health Insurance Program, which helps insure 6.6 million children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance on their own.

The Senate and House have passed separate bills that would increase funding and make it possible to enroll millions of children for coverage. Bush has promised to veto the bills, saying that they would inappropriately increase the federal role in health care and extend coverage to middle-class families that might otherwise get private insurance.

The administration recently announced new administrative rules that will make it harder for states to enroll children from families that earn more than 250 percent of the poverty level, or $51,625 for a family of four.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of a House subcommittee on health, said in a statement that he is "particularly troubled" that the number of uninsured children has risen for two years.

"Clearly, these disturbing increases over the last two years demonstrate a need to strengthen this important health-care program that provides access to health insurance for our most vulnerable children," Pallone said, referring to the State Children's Health Insurance Program. "I hope these sobering statistics will serve as a wake-up call to President Bush to reconsider his veto threat of this critically important legislation."

But Fratto said Bush remains convinced that the program should remained focused on low-income uninsured children and that expanding it would encourage some middle-class parents to switch their children from private coverage to the government.

"The target population for SCHIP is not being adequately served," Fratto said. "It's not a question of whether SCHIP should be expanded; it's making SCHIP work in a way that it was intended to work."

The figures also reflect a continuing decline in employer-provided coverage. The percentage of people covered by employer-based health insurance fell to 59.7 percent in 2006, down from 60.2 percent in 2005. The figure was 64.2 percent as recently as 2000.

Business leaders have said the spiraling costs of health insurance are threatening their competitiveness in the global market, forcing companies to shift more expenses to workers or consider dropping the benefit.

The new census data show that many of the newly uninsured are working Americans from middle- and high-income families. Of the 2.2 million people who became uninsured in 2006, 1.4 million had a household income of $75,000 or higher. About 1.2 million of the newly uninsured worked full time.

"This is about the problem of the uninsured spreading to the middle class and working people," said Harvard Medical School professor Stephanie J. Woolhandler, a liberal advocate of creating a government-run national health insurance program. "That's the thing that's emerging newly this time."

Reaction to Petraeus' report is predictable, too

The Utter Uselessness of the Petraeus Report           

Paul Waldman | August 22, 2007 |


Just a few weeks from now, the most eagerly anticipated premier of the year will finally be here, complete with fierce disagreement among the critics and relentless hype by the producers, cameras furiously clicking when the starring players emerge in public. That premier is the report coming in mid-September from U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and, more importantly, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American forces there. If you're expecting a surprise ending, you shouldn't hold your breath.


But it isn't just the report itself that is utterly predictable. The script for what will come afterward is a sure thing, too.


Unfortunately for President Bush, the public is approaching Petraeus's report with a healthy degree of skepticism. A CNN poll last week asked respondents this question: "As you may know, in September the top U.S. commander in Iraq will report to the President and Congress about how the war is going. Do you trust him to report what's really going on in Iraq without making the situation sound better than it actually is, or don't you feel that way?" A majority, 53 percent, said they don't trust Petraeus (who wasn't named) to report what's really going on. After four years of assurances about the "progress" being made in Iraq, the American people have just about had it.


When asked to respond to the poll, the White House telegraphed its strategy. Spokesman Tony Snow said he hoped "people do not try to engage in personal attacks on Gen. Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker." In other words, anyone who criticizes this report will be accused of personally attacking Petraeus.


Without many arguments left in the well, the White House will be hiding behind Petraeus, just as President Bush has been since the general took the job seven months ago. At first the administration didn't want Petraeus to publicly testify about his report, perhaps because it was concerned he might be a little too forthcoming about what is really happening in Iraq. But now the administration seems to have come to its senses, realizing that either Democrats will be cowed into deference by the blinding glare created by all those ribbons and the glittering aura of Petraeus' reputation, or they will question him harshly, at which point they can be accused of hating the troops and their saintly, infallible commander.


Don't interpret my sarcasm to mean that I think Gen. Petraeus is cut from the same dishonest cloth as the rest of the Bush administration. But by this time he is, most certainly, part of that administration. There has never been much dispute over the fact that throughout his career he has been a capable and accomplished, even brilliant, officer. But Petraeus was selected for his current job because of his willingness to support "the surge" (even today, saying it gives you that little shot of testosterone, the scent of victory wafting into your nose). And if he has any desire to keep his job, he will be sure to deliver the message the White House wants.


Not that they're taking any chances. Last week the Los Angeles Times reported, "Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House."  Well knock me over with a feather.  The Bush White House, exercising an iron grip over the message delivered by people who are supposed to offer their assessments based on their professional knowledge and an objective reality? Who'd have thought we'd see the day?


For all the repeated incantations of "Let's wait and see what Gen. Petraeus reports in September," there's little doubt about what he'll say. The report, in whatever form it is finally delivered, will caution that we have a long way to go, that serious problems remain, and that we wish we weren't where we are today. However, it will say we're making important progress, and we need to stay in Iraq for a good long time -- at the bare minimum, until January of 2009, when the boiling cauldron of hatred and misery that is Iraq becomes some other president's problem. The details of the report could vary (contents may settle during shipping, after all), but if you think its ultimate conclusions will be something other than a validation of "the surge" and the Bush administration's larger strategy, you haven't been paying attention.


And since this White House is writing it, we can be sure that many parts of the report will turn out to be either absurdly misleading or purely false. As the indefatigable journalists at McClatchy recently reported, "U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim ... No pattern of improvement is discernible for violence during the five months of the surge. In January, the last full month before the surge began, 438 people were killed in the capital in bombings. In February, that number jumped to 520. It declined in March to 323, but jumped again in April, to 414." Expect the Iraq report to contain heavy doses of statistical chicanery and shameless spin, with relevant facts conveniently absent.


When the report is released, the nests of conservative partisanship on television, radio, and newspaper op-ed pages will buzz with affirmation. "The surge is working," they will declare, and victory will be ours in the end if we remain firm, turgid, engorged with strength and will and resolve. Considering that the front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination recently wrote in all seriousness that the United States was just about to win the Vietnam War in 1972 when we got soft and pulled out in an ignominious victorius interruptus, you can be sure this argument will find eager adherents among those on the right jonesing for their latest dose of Iraq Viagra.


As for those who disagree and raise doubts, they will find their attempts to marshal facts and evidence met with the usual infantile arguments ("Fight them over there!") and inevitable accusations of insufficient fealty to the troops. If nothing else, you can count on that.


And where will we have gotten? Nowhere. American men and women will continue to return home in flag-draped coffins, their young lives sacrificed on the altar of this endless nightmare, brought to us by men with minds so twisted they don't even realize what a mistake it all was. There is no other undertaking in American history that combines the crushing volume of delusion, dishonesty, bad faith, incompetence, and unforeseen yet utterly predictable consequences that is this war. As long as George W. Bush strides purposefully each day into the Oval Office, consumed with looking strong and holding fast, interpreting every feeling that rumbles in his gut as a telegraph from God informing him that he is right in all things, nothing will change.

Reich: Keeping Markets Honest

How can anyone disagree with this? (But I'm sure someone will find a way!)


Keeping Markets Honest      

Robert B. Reich | August 24, 2007 |



Twenty years ago, we divided the world's economic systems into two camps. On one side were communist, government-run economies. On the other side, capitalist, free-market economies.


Now, Chinese free-market capitalists are going gang-busters. And China's problem right now isn't too much government intrusion into its economy; it's too little -- or at least too little of the right kind. Some Chinese toy makers have used lead paint, some Chinese pet-food producers have used toxic chemicals, and makers of counterfeit toothpaste in China have used other toxins.


A basic free market principle is that when consumers cannot differentiate between risky products and good products, they'll withdraw from the market, which is what's happening to China's consumer exports. China's responsible exporters are suffering because irresponsible ones have cut corners to make fatter profits, and global consumers can't tell the difference. So the challenge for China is to rein in its rip-roaring free-market capitalists with regulations that better ensure safe products.


The American financial market is facing much the same challenge. When it became apparent that many sub-prime mortgage loans were far riskier than assumed, and were packaged with other loans, investors began withdrawing from financial instruments altogether. That's because they couldn't figure out how much risk they had taken on. So the challenge for the United States is to rein in our rip-roaring financial capitalists with regulations that clarify risk -- by, for example, forcing hedge funds to disclose more and requiring higher performance from credit-rating agencies.


The lesson on both sides of the Pacific is that free-market capitalism and government intervention are not on opposite sides of a great ideological divide.  Free markets need governments to police them so buyers can be confident about what they're buying, whether it's a toy or a bond. If governments fail in this basic role, buyers will be scared off. And this will bring down even responsible sellers.


The practical question, then -- in both China and America -- is not whether you're in favor of free markets or government regulation. It's what kind of regulation is needed to make markets work.


This column is adapted from Reich's weekly commentary on American Public Radio's Marketplace.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Krauthammer on Iraq: I Knew It All Along

This is Charles Krauthammer at his most smug and infuriating. Reading this I asked myself, "Are we talking about the same Iraq?" and, "Is he mentally retarded or just pure evil?"

I've inserted my comments into the body of this stinking beast….

Now We're Getting Somewhere
The Iraq debate comes to Earth.

By Charles Krauthammer
August 24, 2007 | Washington Post

After months of surreality, the Iraq debate has quite abruptly acquired a relationship to reality. Following the Democratic victory last November, panicked Republican senators began rifling the thesaurus to find exactly the right phrase to express exactly the right nuance to establish exactly the right distance from the president's Iraq policy, while Murtha Democrats searched for exactly the right legislative ruse to force a retreat from Iraq without appearing to do so.

In the last month, however, as a consensus has emerged about realities on the ground in Iraq, a reasoned debate has begun. A number of fair-minded observers, both critics and supporters of the war, agree that the surge has yielded considerable military progress, while at the national political level the Maliki government remains a disaster.

[I want to come up with an analogy that illustrates the profound absurdity of this statement, since Krauthammer is not the only one saying it. Even Hillary is uttering this nonsense. Saying that the surge has yielded considerable military progress, while at the same time the government remains a disaster is like a dentist telling his patient, "Your surgery yielded considerable progress, although you still have no teeth." Somebody help me out, if you can do better!.... -- J ]

The latest report from the battlefield is from Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a strong Iraq-war critic. He returned saying essentially what we have heard from Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution and various liberal congressmen, the latest being Brian Baird (D., Wash.): Al Qaeda has been seriously set back as Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar, Diyala, and other provinces switched from the insurgency to our side.

[Blowback, blowback, blowback. We're arming and funding Sunni ex-insurgents in exchange for their not shooting at us. Krauthammer calls that "switching to our side." What's to prevent them from switching back… Scout's honor? This risky strategy is bound to go south on us. At the very least it's pissing off the Shi'ite militias, who aren't getting free cash and weapons from Uncle Sam like the Sunnis are. To them, America is choosing sides in a civil war. – J]

As critics acknowledge military improvement, the administration is finally beginning to concede the political reality that the Maliki government is hopeless. Bush's own national-security adviser had said as much in a leaked memo back in November. I and others have been arguing that for months. And when Levin returned and openly called for the Iraqi parliament to vote out the Maliki government, the president pointedly refused to contradict him.

[This is what we call "the Washington narrative." The current Washington narrative is that the Iraqi government would be doing fine if it weren't for the "hopeless" al-Maliki. Don't you believe this baloney for a second! It is yet another blame & delay tactic: blame Maliki for the absence of political reconciliation; delay until the U.S. can install a more "effective" puppet leader. They're jerking us around – again! Don't let them delay and draw this thing out another 6 months, another 12 months, always blaming this or that, and promising that things will get better if we only do a, b, and c. That's what they've been saying for 5 years. Enough already! – J]

This convergence about the actual situation in Baghdad will take some of the drama out the highly anticipated Petraeus moment next month. We know what the general and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are going to say when they testify before Congress because multiple sources have already told us what is happening on the ground.

[We knew what Petraeus and Crocker were going to say 6 months ago! "Well, we have good news and bad news, but more good news than bad, so we should stay in Iraq just a little longer." – J]

There will, of course, be the Harry Reids and those on the far Left who will deny inconvenient reality. Reid will continue to call the surge a failure, as he has since even before it began. And the Left will continue to portray Gen. David Petraeus as an unscrupulous commander quite prepared to send his troops into a hopeless battle in order to advance his political ambitions (although exactly how that works is not clear).

But the serious voices will prevail. When the Democratic presidential frontrunner concedes that the surge "is working" (albeit very late) against the insurgency, and when Petraeus himself concedes that the surge cannot continue indefinitely, making inevitable a drawdown of troops sometime in the middle of next year, the terms of the Iraq debate become narrow and the policy question simple: What do we do right now — continue the surge or cut it short and begin withdrawal?

Serious people like Levin argue that with a nonfunctional and sectarian Baghdad government, we can never achieve national reconciliation. Thus the current military successes will prove ephemeral.

The problem with this argument is that it confuses long term and short term. In the longer run, there must be a national unity government. [Wow, what a casual assertion. Please define the "longer run," because in the long run we'll all be dead, and I want to live long enough to see Iraq's unity government! – J] But in the shorter term, our assumption that a national unity government is required to pacify the Sunni insurgency turned out to be false. The Sunnis have turned against al Qaeda and are gradually switching sides in the absence of any oil, federalism, or de-Baathification deal coming out of Baghdad.

In the interim, the surge is advancing our two immediate objectives in Iraq: (a) to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq and prevent the emergence of an al-Qaeda mini-state, and (b) to pacify the Sunni insurgency, which began the post-liberation downward spiral of sectarian bloodshed, economic stagnation and aborted reconstruction.

[Are those really are two immediate objectives in Iraq? I can't be sure. Bush hasn't told us lately what our objectives are, except "getting the job done." – J]

Levin is right that we require a truly national government in Baghdad to obtain our ultimate objective of what O'Hanlon and Pollack call "sustainable stability." The administration had vainly hoped that the surge would provide a window for the Maliki government to reform and become that kind of government. It will not.

We should have given up on Maliki long ago and begun to work with other parties in the Iraqi Parliament to bring down the government, yielding either a new coalition of less sectarian parties or, as Pollack has suggested, new elections.

[Krauthammer casually tosses yet another rhetorical grenade into the debate…. Think about what he's really saying: America should decide who runs Iraq. If that's the case, then Iraqis don't have a democracy. It's that simple. If Maliki can be replaced on a whim by the U.S., then the Shi'ite cleric and militia leader al-Sadr is right: Maliki is just an "American puppet."

Also, his phrase "We should have given up on Maliki long ago" gave me a laugh. Again, how does Krauthammer define "long ago?" Does "long ago" mean before the 'surge' began in earnest on June 15, or before the 'surge' was announced in January, or some time after April 2006 when Maliki became prime minister? If Krauthammer was sure "long ago" that Maliki was hopeless and there could be no political reconciliation with him in power, then why in the world did Krauthammer support the 'surge' in January-February 2006, whose real objective was to give Iraq's politicians "breathing space" (Bush's words) to hammer out a political compromise? Wouldn't Krauthammer have known that the 'surge' would be a waste of time??

The point is that Krauthammer and most other war apologists have known all along the 'surge' would be a waste of time, blood, and treasure. What they want is to keep the Iraq occupation going as long as possible, and they'll use any pretext that's convenient. – J]

The choice is difficult because replacing the Maliki government will take time and because there is no guarantee of ultimate political success. [Man, do you remember when we could just roll in and take down the whole Iraqi government in like 2 weeks? Ah, the good old days! – J] Nonetheless, continuing the surge while finally trying to change the central government is the most rational choice because the only available alternative is defeat — a defeat that is not at all inevitable and would be both catastrophic and self-inflicted.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Reply to M. re: The problem with liberalism

Why is liberalism an "attack" on Christian ethics? Or do you mean abortion again, redundantly? In other words, do you mean, "I'm ready to listen but not embrace because I disagree on too many liberal ideas like abortion, illegal immigrants, and the attack on [pro-life]"?

The basic Judeo-Christian axiom is that we must cherish and value life (because life is a gift from God, not from man). The "revolutionary" Christian axiom is that no life is more or less valuable than any other, i.e. love thy neighbor as thyself (because everyone, even Gentiles, are loved equally by the Father). From these two axioms, we can draw a corollary: That we must value many lives more than any one life, since we mustn't play favorites, not even with ourselves. Therefore, we should embrace what is the best for the most people.

I happen to believe the very same thing, but I don't need the word of God to tell me it is so. Human history tells me it is so.

Abortion is a tragedy, but I think you have to assess rationally which political philosophy -- liberalism or conservatism -- better promotes and cherishes the value of each life individually, and in the aggregate. (Studies have shown that abortion rates are linked to poverty; hence one might seek to alleviate poverty in order to reduce demand for abortions, instead of just outlawing them). Abortion may be a "minus" in the liberal column, but this is heavily outweighed by the many minuses in the conservative column, which don't value or cherish life.

For instance, pure laissez-faire conservatism preaches that there will always be human "refuse" who can't hack it and won't make the cut economically, due to laziness, stupidity, or just plain bad luck. It is a philosophy that not only assumes there will be economic winners and losers -- in order to work properly, it requires winners and losers.

Conservatives have tacked Christianity onto this economic philosophy because it's convenient. Christianity is supposed to sweep up this human refuse at the end of the day through charity. But conservatism and Christianity also flatly contradict one another in terms of how any one person is meant to behave: During my workday I'm supposed to be a selfish economic opportunist, otherwise I may lose my job, my client, my sale, or go out of business; whereas in my free time I'm supposed to be a selfless, community-minded activist, helping those whom I've just done my best to put out of business, or whose job/promotion/sale/client I've just taken away.

Yet history offers no evidence to prove that Christians do an adequate job of caring for the losers and the unfit who drop out of the economic rat race. This is not to say that Christians do nothing; but they leave the majority of life's losers with no alternative but misery or death.

To address this obvious disparity between words and deeds, conservatives have argued that in the aggregate, the "invisible hand" of unfettered free markets leads to win-wins where everybody benefits. In this magical system, each economic actor is absolved of all ethical or personal responsibility, since each man's selfish actions, combined with the independent, selfish actions of everyone else, lead inevitably to the most efficient distribution of scarce goods and resources for everyone. In other words, in a truly free market, the most "generous" thing you can do for your fellow man is to be as greedy and selfish as possible. This thinking is counter-intuitive, to say the least, but it's also a very elegant defense of unlimited greed and selfishness. It means we all get to have our cake and eat it too.

But history doesn't support true conservatives' semi-religious faith in the power of unfettered free markets and unrestrained greed. America and Britain had nearly free markets before 1900, and the disparity in wealth and well being in both countries was immense. At the same time, Christian charities failed -- and have continued to fail -- to help all of life's losers, even in a very Christian country like America.

You may respond, "Well, that only goes to show that everyone should be a Christian!" And that may well be true (I cannot prove otherwise, since it's never happened); but that would also mean that for pure capitalism to work, everyone (or nearly so) would have to be an active, committed Christian.

(This is not to mention another contradiction between capitalism and Christianity: the more time and energy people devote to one, the less they can devote to the other. It may not sound silly to call yourself "sort of" of a capitalist, but it sounds awfully weak, bordering on disingenuous, to say you're "sort of" a Christian, or, "I'm a Christian in my spare time.")

I think America will voluntarily become socialist before its population consists of 301 million Mother Teresa's.

That, in a nutshell, is why I have no choice but to turn to the alternative, liberalism, which says that people have an individual and a collective responsibility to help the poor and unfortunate. And our collective responsibility is usually best exercised through democratic government. This is not to say that I advocate socialism, or that automatically liberalism = socialism. History has shown us that putting too much of the burden of responsibility on government's shoulders (via a socialist system) in the pursuit of everyone's economic well being inevitably leads to government infringement of other liberal ideals, like democracy, personal freedom, and personal responsibility.

Therefore, if neither unfettered free markets nor government can satisfactorily allocate scarce goods and resources and simultaneously promote human freedom and dignity, the answer must be some mixture of the two. (Or some third alternative nobody's thought of yet).

That's why I, like most people, am not a pure liberal. Just like most people aren't pure conservatives. What we have today is a mix, a balancing act. And most of our political debates are really about where to find that balance.

Maybe this is all self-evident, and you think I'm just being long-winded and pedantic. But I want to show you that I've tried to consider all sides. I'm not some brainwashed zealot.

It's not helpful when we demonize each other and call names, because each side has something it must contribute. We could ignore the past 200 years of history and convince ourselves that one side is completely right and the other completely wrong, but we'd only doom ourselves to repeat past mistakes.

I admit it, I too am guilty at times of painting with too broad a brush when criticizing conservatives (although my tone is often tongue-in-cheek). But you must also admit that most Americans have a much stronger, more irrational fear of liberalism than they do of conservatism. In America "liberal" is a dirty word, but "conservative" is something you can be proud to call yourself.

I think this fear and hatred of liberalism betrays an ungrateful ignorance of our history and the liberal reforms that have given us so many of the social protections which today we take for granted -- protections which we would never, ever elect to give back.

For example, would you give up the 8-hour workday? Or say that children don't have to go to school, and instead can work in hazardous factories for lower wages than an adult? Or disband the FDA, and take your chances buying meat tainted with invisible e. coli at the supermarket or dangerous, counterfeit drugs at the pharmacy? Or get rid of the FDIC, so that all the banks that sold risky sub-prime loans couldn't honor your deposits? Or get rid of the SEC, so that stock traders could get rich giving insider deals and information to their cronies while your investments plummet? Or let logging companies cut down all the trees they want, destroying irreplaceable habitats and species and air quality for everybody? Or get rid of OHSA, and let the "labor market" figure out where it's safe to work (but only after they saw you get killed on the job)? Or shut down the EPA, so that factories could go back to pumping untreated waste and sewage into our rivers? Or erase our anti-trust laws, so that eventually our economy would be run by larger and larger corporations with the power to determine the quality and price of essential goods that we can't buy from any other source? I could go on and on like this....

I marvel at the power of markets to turn millions of independent decisions and transactions into a coherent and (fairly) efficient means of distributing scarce goods and resources. But I also revere the contributions of liberal reformers who have made sure that excessive greed, or concentration of wealth and power in too few hands, does not pervert the market and deny the majority of us the benefits of capitalism. I don't want all-or-nothing. All I want is your acknowledgment of the other side of the equation. Give liberalism its due, and -- heaven forbid! -- a thank-you.

Taibbi: Lie Hard with a Vengeance

Here's another over-the-shoulder "snowcone" catch of a Taibbi article that I nearly lost in the troposphere. Enjoy!

Neocon II: Lie Hard with a Vengeance
By Matt Taibbi
June 15, 2007

Call it the Leslie Nielsen effect. Your first attempt at a show-biz career fizzles out and dies, but your failure is so quirky and charming that it wins you a whole second career. Think Robert Goulet, Bill Shatner, even John Travolta. America loves a brave second act, particularly one that doesn't mind doing a take or two with egg still on his face.

What the Zucker brothers did for actors, the neocons are now doing for politics. In the first six years of the Bush presidency the administration's ideological nucleus -- a tribe of humorless conservative revolutionaries led by Dick Cheney and including the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Doug Feith and Elliott Abrams -- racked up a startling record in matters of official policy. From their juking of the case for the Iraq War to their Jacobin-esque purges within the government's intelligence apparatus to their paranoid and sometimes criminal fragging of political enemies great and minor, the neoconservatives working for George Bush botched virtually every important move they made in the last six years.

Moreover, each time they used the presidency's bully pulpit to make a prediction, be it about the post-invasion spread of democracy in the Middle East, the utility of Iraqi oil revenues in financing the occupation, or the chilling effect our presence in Iraq would have on Palestinian resolve, more or less exactly the opposite ended up taking place.

And yet, despite the walloping defeat of the Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections that seemed to spell the end of neocon rule in Washington, the clowns are once again spilling out of the Volkswagen. Lately the neocons seem to be all over the public airwaves, and not as the targets of purgative public flogging or tarring ceremonies, but as the subjects of serious interviews, with respected journalists treating them like real human beings with real opinions. Even worse, a few are still in office, and appear to be cooking up a last-minute encore before the curtain finally comes down in '08.

Richard Perle, the former head of the Defense Policy Board, known in the Beltway as the "Prince of Darkness," has been on TV a lot lately in a much-publicized public spat with former CIA director George Tenet, who recently accused Perle of targeting Iraq days after 9/11. John Bolton, former UN-hating ambassador to the UN, recently won the Bradley Prize for "outstanding intellectual achievement" -- achievement that presumably includes helping make the case for the Iraq disaster and support for a future invasion of Iran. In his acceptance speech, Bolton cheekily credited Tehran, Pyongyang and other rogue nations for his success, thanking them just for "being themselves." And while Scooter Libby crashed at trial, Doug Feith soft-landed into a tenure track at Georgetown, where he will now teach history, a subject he spent the past five years or so violently misinterpreting.

The neocons remain a bold presence in the media for a number of reasons. Number one, they still have real political power. Dick Cheney is still the vice president, and the Pentagon is still guided heavily by the neocon-dominated Office of Special Plans (OSP), where the power is now reportedly concentrated in an office called the Iranian Directorate, charged with helping make the case for war with Iran. Amid all the public hand-wringing about a congressional demand for an Iraq withdrawal timeline, Washington is abuzz with rumors that the neocons are loading up for one last historical Hail Mary, a "long bomb" to throw at Tehran before Bush leaves office. The knowledge that they are crazy enough to try something like that makes people in the capital take them seriously.

But beyond that, there just hasn't been any effort in the media to identify and really make clear the root causes of the Iraq policy failure. In the current Washington mythology -- a mythology reflected in public statements of everyone from John McCain to Hillary Clinton -- the Iraq War blew up in our faces for logistical reasons, because we didn't send enough troops, or have a sound occupation plan, or have an "understanding of the insurgency." It was the right war, wrong execution, wrong defense secretary. The failure had nothing to do with the mistake of placing our bets on a radical revolutionary policy of "pre-emptive invasion," or with the White House's authoritarian efforts to castrate the Pentagon and the CIA and replace them with their own intelligence-gathering and policymaking apparatuses.

The neocons may have been proven wrong in the particulars, and to ordinary people their legacy may turn out to be a nightmarish Middle East bloodbath and decades of debt, but in Washington they're still revered as canny operators who swept two election seasons with a drooling mannequin for a candidate and for years ruled Washington with almost Caligulan abandon. They were idiots in terms of how the world worked, but they understood power in the Beltway better than Nixon, better than Clinton, better really than any White House clan since the Roosevelt years. That's why they'll keep getting top billing on talk shows and invites to all the best Washington parties, even if, as seems likely, they leave office 18 months from now with half the planet in flames.

In Washington there is no shame in being wrong; there's only shame in losing. The neocons were wrong as hell, but they were also winners. That's why no one should expect them to go away now. That's especially true since their only real competition in the intellectual arena is the cynical third-way corporatism of the Democratic party, a tenuous and depressing alliance of business interests and New-Deal interest groups whose most persuasive "idea" is that it is not neo-conservatism. The neocons, wrong and stupid as they might be, at least represent a clearly-articulated dream of unchecked greed, power and big-stick foreign conquest that appeals in an elemental way to the dark side of the American psyche. Until America rejects that dream -- and don't hold your breath for that -- don't count on the Boltons and the Perles disappearing from view.

Taibbi: The biggest problem with liberalism

Can't believe I missed this classic Taibbi essay back in May. It's still relevant and definitely worth reading. Better late than never!

Taibbi's thesis, briefly, is that liberalism is defunct because it no longer takes a stand on economic issues in favor of working-class Americans. Thus liberals are indistinguishable from economic conservatives. The two differ only on "boutique" issues like global warming and gay rights.

Moreover, modern liberalism is hypocritical because the people whom liberals purport to oppose – rich and privileged whites – is the same class of people from which liberals largely spring. For this reason, liberals' criticisms of wealth, privilege, and economic injustice are often half-hearted, vague, or incoherent; to argue too well would be to point the finger of blame at themselves.

Finally, Taibbi calls for leadership from the self-identifying liberal economic elite, instead of encouraging powerless victim-hood; and he makes a reasoned plea for the term "progressive" vs. "liberal."

But don't take my word for it, read on!

The American Left's Silly Victim Complex
By Matt Taibbi
May 23, 2007 | Adbusters

The biggest problem with modern American liberalism may be the word itself. There's just something about the word, liberal, something about the way it sounds – it just hits the ear wrong. If it were an animal it would be something squirming and hairless, something that burrows maybe, with no eyes and too many legs. No child would bring home a wounded liberal and ask to keep it as a pet. More likely he would step on it, or maybe tie it to a bottle-rocket and shoot it over the railroad tracks.

The word has a chilling effect even on the people who basically agree with most of what it stands for. I myself cringe, involuntarily as it were, every time someone calls me a liberal in public. And I'm not the only one. When I called around for this article about the problems of American liberalism to various colleagues who inhabit the same world that I do – iconoclastic columnists and journalists who've had bylines in places like The Nation – they almost universally recoiled in horror from the topic, not wanting to be explicitly linked in public with the idea of the American left.

"Fuck that," responded one, when I asked if he wanted to be quoted in this piece. "I'd rather talk about my genital warts. I'd rather show you pictures of my genital warts, as a matter of fact."

"Ugh. Not sure I want to go there," read one e-mail.

"I really wish I wasn't associated with the left," sighed a third.

When the people who are the public voice of a political class are afraid to even wear the party colors in public, that's a bad sign, and it's worth asking what the reasons are.

A lot of it, surely, has to do with the relentless abuse liberalism takes in the right-wing media, on Fox and afternoon radio, and amid the network of newspaper invective-hurlers. The same dynamic that makes the junior high school kid fear the word "fag" surely has many of us frightened of the word "liberal." Mike Savage says liberalism is a mental disorder, Sean Hannity equates liberals with terrorists, Ann Coulter says that "liberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole." These people have a broad, monolithic audience whose impassioned opinions are increasingly entrenched. In the pseudo-Orwellian political landscape that is modern America, to self-identify as a liberal is almost tantamount to thoughtcrime, a dangerous admission that carries with it the very real risk of instantly and permanently alienating a good half of the population, in particular most of middle America. That reason alone makes it, in a way, wrong and cowardly to abandon liberalism and liberals. If Ann Coulter wants to call all of us fags, well, then, fine, I'm a fag. For the sake of that fight, I'll stay a liberal till the end of time. But between you and me, between all of us on that side of things, liberalism needs to be fixed.

At a time when someone should be organizing forcefully against the war in Iraq and engaging middle America on the alarming issue of big-business occupation of the Washington power process, the American left has turned into a skittish, hysterical old lady, one who defiantly insists on living in the past, is easily mesmerized by half-baked pseudo-intellectual nonsense, and quick to run from anything like real conflict or responsibility.

It shies away from hardcore economic issues but howls endlessly about anything that sounds like a free-speech controversy, shrieking about the notorious bugbears of the post-9/11 "police state" (the Patriot Act, Total Information Awareness, CARNIVORE, etc.) in a way that reveals unmistakably, to those who are paying close attention, a not-so-secret desire to be relevant and threatening enough to warrant the extralegal attention of the FBI. It sells scads of Che t-shirts ($20 at the International ANSWER online store) and has a perfected a high-handed tone of moralistic finger-wagging, but its organizational capacity is almost nil. It says a lot, but does very little.

The sad truth is that if the FBI really is following anyone on the American left, it is engaging in a huge waste of time and personnel. [They're wasting their time spying on groups like "Grannies for Peace," for example. – J] No matter what it claims for a self-image, in reality it's the saddest collection of cowering, ineffectual ninnies ever assembled under one banner on God's green earth. And its ugly little secret is that it really doesn't mind being in the position it's in – politically irrelevant and permanently relegated to the sidelines, tucked into its cozy little cottage industry of polysyllabic, ivory tower criticism. When you get right down to it, the American left is basically just a noisy Upper West side cocktail party for the college-graduate class.

And we all know it. The question is, when will we finally admit it?

Here's the real problem with American liberalism: there is no such thing, not really. What we call American liberalism is really a kind of genetic mutant, a Frankenstein's monster of incongruous parts – a fat, affluent, overeducated New York/Washington head crudely screwed onto the withering corpse of the vanishing middle-American manufacturing class. These days the Roosevelt stratum of rich East Coasters are still liberals, but the industrial middle class that the New Deal helped create is almost all gone. In 1965, manufacturing jobs still made up 53 percent of the US economy; that number was down to nine percent in 2004, and no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs.

Thus, the people who are the public voice of American liberalism rarely have any real connection to the ordinary working people whose interests they putatively champion. They tend instead to be well-off, college-educated yuppies from California or the East Coast, and hard as they try to worry about food stamps or veterans' rights or securing federal assistance for heating oil bills, they invariably gravitate instead to things that actually matter to them – like the slick Al Gore documentary on global warming, or the "All Things Considered" interview on NPR with the British author of Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. They haven't yet come up with something to replace the synergy of patrician and middle-class interests that the New Deal represented.

Bernie Sanders, the new Senator from Vermont and one of the few American politicians in history to have survived publicly admitting to being a socialist, agrees that this peculiar demographic schism is a fundamental problem for the American political opposition.

"Unfortunately, today, when you talk about the 'American left,'" he says, "as often as not you're talking about wealthy folks who are concerned about the environment (which is enormously important) who are concerned about women's rights (which are enormously important) and who are concerned about gay rights (which are enormously important).

"But you're not really referring to millions of workers who have lost their jobs because of disastrous trade agreements," he says. "You're not talking about waitresses who are working for four bucks an hour." As often as not, he says, you're talking about "sophisticated people who have money."

David Sirota, author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government – and How We Can Take it Back, is a guy who frequently appears on television news programs defending the "left" in TV's typical Crossfire-style left-right rock-'em-sock-'em format. Like a lot of people who make their living in this world, he's sometimes frustrated with the lack of discipline and purpose in American liberalism. And like Sanders, he worries that there is a wide chasm between the people who speak for the left and sponsor left-leaning political organizations, and the actual people they supposedly represent.

"Perhaps what the real issue is that the left is not really a grassroots movement," he says. "You have this donor/elite class, and then you have the public . . . You have these zillionaires who are supposedly funding the progressive movement. At some point that gets to be a problem."

Sanders agrees, saying that "where the money comes from" is definitely one of the reasons that the so-called liberals in Washington – i.e. the Democrats – tend not to get too heavily into financial issues that affect ordinary people. This basically regressive electoral formula has been a staple of the Democratic Party ever since the Walter Mondale fiasco in the mid-eighties prompted a few shrewd Washington insiders to create the notorious "pro-business" political formula of the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought to end the party's dependence upon labor money by announcing a new willingness to sell out on financial issues in exchange for support from Wall Street. Once the DLC's financial strategy helped get Bill Clinton elected, no one in Washington ever again bothered to question the wisdom of the political compromises it required.

Within a decade, the process was automatic – Citibank gives money to Tom Daschle, Tom Daschle crafts the hideous Bankruptcy Bill, and suddenly the Midwestern union member who was laid off in the wake of Democrat-passed NAFTA can't even declare bankruptcy to get out from the credit card debt he incurred in his unemployment. He will now probably suck eggs for the rest of his life, paying off credit card debt year after year at a snail's pace while working as a non-union butcher in a Wal-Mart in Butte. Royally screwed twice by the Democratic Party he voted for, he will almost certainly decide to vote Republican the first time he opens up the door to find four pimply college students wearing I READ BANNED BOOKS t-shirts taking up a collection to agitate for dolphin-safe tuna.

But money and campaign contributions aren't the only reason "liberal" politicians screw their voters.

"It's also a cultural thing," Sanders says. "A lot of these folks really don't have a lot of contact with working-class people. They're not comfortable with working-class people. They're more comfortable with environmentalists, with well-educated people. And it's their issues that matter to them."

This is another dirty little secret of the left – the fact that, at least when it comes to per-capita income, those interminable right-wing criticisms about liberals being "elitists" are actually true. According to a 2004 Pew report, Americans who self-identify as liberals have an average annual income of $71,000 – the highest-grossing political category in America. They're also the best-educated class, with over one in four being post-graduates.

The same is true of the political media in Washington – not just the few journalists on the left, but all of the media. Reporters in Washington of both the liberal and conservative variety tend mostly to be interested in issues that they themselves care about, and as a result they end up defining the political landscape in terms of orthodoxies that make sense to them.

"With the media, it's like, 'Are you pro-choice? Yes? Then you're a liberal.' It's bullshit," scoffs Sanders. The senator went on to point out that a recent Senate hearing on veterans' issues attracted over 500 angry war veterans – and no reporters. "It's just not their thing," he sighs.

Progressive politicians in Washington frequently complain that the political mainstream's abandonment of working-class issues opens the door for Republicans to seize the ignored middle-American electorate, mainly by scaring them with bugaboo images of marrying queers, godless commie academics, dirty bearded eco-terrorists, and so on.

To them, the essentially patrician structure of the political left is mostly a logistical political problem, one that can theoretically be solved, as Sanders solved it in his state, by shunning corporate campaign donors, listening to voters again, and re-emphasizing working-class issues.

But having rich college grads acting as the political representatives of the working class isn't just bad politics. It's also silly. And there's probably no political movement in history that's been sillier than the modern American left.

What makes the American left silly? Things that in a vacuum should be logical impossibilities are frighteningly common in lefty political scenes. The word "oppression" escaping, for any reason, the mouths of kids whose parents are paying 20 grand for them to go to private colleges. Academics in Priuses using the word "Amerika." Ebonics, Fanetiks, and other such insane institutional manifestations of white guilt. Combat berets. Combat berets in conjunction with designer coffees. Combat berets in conjunction with designer coffees consumed at leisure in between conversational comparisons of America to Nazi Germany.

We all know where this stuff comes from. Anyone who's ever been to a lefty political meeting knows the deal – the problem is the "spirit of inclusiveness" stretched to the limits of absurdity. The post-sixties dogma that everyone's viewpoint is legitimate, everyone's choice about anything (lifestyle, gender, ethnicity, even class) is valid, that's now so totally ingrained that at every single meeting, every time some yutz gets up and starts rambling about anything, no matter how ridiculous, no one ever tells him to shut the fuck up. Next thing you know, you've got guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats leading a half-million people at an anti-war rally. Why is that guy there? Because no one told him that war is a matter of life and death and that he should leave his fucking stilts at home.

Then there's the tone problem. A hell of a lot of what the left does these days is tediously lecture middle America about how wrong it is, loudly snorting at a stubbornly unchanging litany of Republican villains. There's a weirdly indulgent tone to all of this Bush-bashing that goes on in lefty media, a tone that's not only annoyingly predictable in its pervasiveness, but a turnoff to people who might have tuned in to that channel in search of something else.

"I share the position of a lot of those people, and some of that feel-good Bush-bashing is okay, I guess, but also – can I get some information here?" says Christian Parenti, a journalist who frequently writes for The Nation. "I think just reporting the facts can be enormously empowering, but there's not enough of that. That moralistic thing . . . I think it's something that's built deep into the culture, not just on the left but everywhere."

But to me the biggest problem with American liberalism is that it hasn't found a new legend for itself, one to replace the old one, which is more and more often no longer relevant. I've got no problem with long hair and weed and kids playing "Imagine" on acoustic guitars at peace marches. But we often make the mistake of thinking that the "revolution" of the sixties is something that rightly should continue on to today.

While it's true that we're still fighting against unjust wars and that there's unfinished business on the fronts of women's rights, civil rights, and environmental preservation, there's no generational battle left for America's rich kids to fight. In the sixties, college kids had to fight for their right to refuse to become bankers, soldiers, plastics executives or whatever other types of dreary establishment lifestyles their parents were demanding for them. And because they had to fight that fight, the interests of white college kids were briefly and felicitously aligned with the blacks and the migrant farm workers and the South Vietnamese, who were also victims of the same dug-in, inflexible political establishment. Long hair, tie-dye and the raised black fist all had the same general message – screw the establishment. It was a sort of Marxian perfect storm where even the children of the bourgeoisie could semi-realistically imagine themselves engaged in a class struggle.

But American college types don't have to fight for shit anymore. Remember the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill album? Remember that song "Fight for Your Right to Party"? Well, people, that song was a joke. So was "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "And the Cradle Will Rock." The only thing American college kids have left to fight for are the royalties for their myriad appearances in Girls Gone Wild videos. Which is why they look ridiculous parading around at peace protests in the guise of hapless victims and subjects of the Amerikan neo-Reich. Rich liberals protesting the establishment is absurd because they are the establishment; they're just too embarrassed to admit it.

When they start embracing their position of privilege and taking responsibility for the power they already have – striving to be the leaders of society they actually are, instead of playing at being aggrieved subjects – they'll come across as wise and patriotic citizens, not like the terminally adolescent buffoons trapped in a corny sixties daydream they often seem to be now. They'll stop bringing puppets to marches and, more importantly, they'll start doing more than march.

That, in sum, is why I don't call myself a liberal. To me the word "liberalism" describes an era whose time is past, a time when a liberal was defined more by who he was fighting against – the Man – than what he was fighting for. A liberal wielding power is always going to seem a bit strange because a liberal always imagines himself in an intrepid fight against power, not holding it. I therefore prefer the word "progressive," which describes in a neutral way a set of political values without having these class or aesthetic connotations. To me a progressive is not fighting Mom and Dad, Nixon, Bush or really any people at all, but things – political corruption, commercialism, pollution, etc. It doesn't have that same Marxian us-versus-them connotation that liberalism still has, sometimes ridiculously. It's about goals, not people.

In a few years it will be half a century since the 1960s began. The Baby-Boomer generation that shaped modern liberalism will soon be moving on to the nursing home, many of its battles – for civil, gay, immigrant and women's rights, for workplace protections, and against the Vietnam war and Richard Nixon – already won. They did a lot of good things, but their fight doesn't always make sense anymore. In any case, you can smell something new rising out of the mess in Iraq and the changed American labor market. From among the veterans of this new bad war and the refugees of the global economy, some kind of movement is bound to arise. Who knows what that will be called – but it's safe to say it won't be called liberalism.

Bolton on FOX: I ‘Absolutely’ Hope We Attack Iran In Next ‘6 Months’

Just think, if it weren't for a Democratic majority in 2006 that refused to ratify John Bolton's nomination, he would be America's Ambassador to the U.N. right now, leading us closer to war with Iran.

Bolton is cut from the same neocon cloth as Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz. So whatever Bolton says, you can be sure Cheney agrees 100%. Watch out!

Bolton: I 'Absolutely' Hope The U.S. Will Attack Iran In The Next 'Six Months'

U.S. Nat'l Intel Estimate: 'Surge' not succeeding

Intelligence report at odds with U.S. policies on Iraq
By Damien Cave
August 24, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

BAGHDAD: The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate has effectively discredited the dominant American hypothesis of the past seven months: that safer streets, secured by additional troops, would create enough political calm for Iraq's leaders to reconcile.

They have failed to do so in part, suggests the report, which was released Thursday, because the security gains remain too modest to reverse Iraq's dynamic of violence and fear. Baghdad after all, remains a place where women at the market avoid buying river fish for fear that they've been eating bodies.

But just as important, according to Iraqi political analysts and officials, Iraq has become a cellular nation, dividing and redividing, where the constituency for chaos now outnumbers the constituency for compromise.

The central government has not held. Provinces and even neighborhoods have become the stage where power struggles play out, and as a result, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - or elements of each faction - have come to feel that they could do a better job on their own.

"No one can rely on the political participants who lack a common view of the public interest," said Nabeel Mahmoud, an international relations professor at Baghdad University. "Such a concept is completely absent from the thinking of the political powers in Iraq's government, so each side works to get their own quota of positions or resources."

The Kurds are perhaps best positioned to benefit from the government's failures. Inside their already-autonomous area, cities like Erbil are experiencing a construction boom and already seem entirely disconnected from the rest of Iraqi life. This month the Kurds went even further, passing a regional oil law that would reach its full potential only if a national oil law was never implemented.

Shiites and Sunnis, however, are still the factions with the greatest responsibility for Iraq's political stalemate, and the ones most able to benefit from the dysfunctional status quo.

Shiites in particular, as the majority, have managed to take advantage of the weak government from a number of angles.

Various religious parties in majority-Shiite areas like Basra now openly fight for positions of power. Assassinations by Shiites of Shiite officials in the south have grown more common, and with huge oil wealth located in the region, interference from Baghdad remains entirely unwelcome.

Meanwhile, in the capital, offices run by the militia and civilian organization of the populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr have opened like franchises across the city. His Mahdi army, known as Jaish al-Mahdi, now controls businesses ranging from real estate to guns to gas.

One Mahdi commander from eastern Baghdad recently estimated that the Mahdi army controls 70 percent of the gas stations throughout the capital - a figure that is hard to verify but that falls in line with what American officials describe as a sophisticated network that combines brutality with business.

The American ambassador, Ryan Crocker, for example, recently titled the organization "Jaish al-Mahdi Incorporated."

Sadr, of course, does play a role in the government. Without the support of his party, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a fellow Shiite, would not have become prime minister. The Sadr bloc has expressed frustration with Maliki, repeatedly pulling out of the government to register discontent. And yet Sadr has yet to call for a replacement.

Many suppose that it is in part because he knows that a strong government supported by the Americans would likely crack down on what his organization has built.

"The people outside the law, the militia, the terrorists, the tribal leaders - all these people benefit," said Qasim Dawood, a Shiite member of Parliament. "There are people living on the crisis, gaining their power through the crisis."

New sources of power have also formed in the Sunni community. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in American reconstruction contracts have gone to Sunni tribal groups in Anbar who now work alongside the Americans to fight homegrown groups like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Similar bands of Sunni "guardians," as the American military often calls them, have formed in Diyala Province and in Sunni areas of Baghdad.

Leaders from the groups have said they would like to join the government, but according to some American officers working with the groups, their most common demand has consisted of three things: money, guns and freedom of movement. It is unclear what they will do if they are not given what they consider a fair share of power.

Lieutenant Michael Hoffman, a platoon commander with the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division in Baquba, recently described a scene in which some Baquba Guardians were outraged when he denied them an extraordinary share of a humanitarian food drop meant for some of the area's starved residents.

"There are still a lot of people who don't distinguish between being Baquba Guardians and their heritage," Hoffman said. He added that some of the volunteers he worked with had already quit.

Some Sunni leaders, nearly all of whom have pulled out of Iraq's government, said in recent weeks that they had no choice but to remain in opposition. Their communities view the government as completely opposed to Sunni interests, so signing on to legislation like a new oil law would be viewed as a mistake. Seeing the government work together - at a time when so many are invested in keeping it weak - would be seen as a cause for alarm, not celebration.

Undermining the government for some has become patriotic. As one senior Sunni leader, Saleh al-Mutlak, put it: "We have to satisfy people's frustrations."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What made Cheney change his mind??

Something happened to Dick Cheney between 1994 and 2001 to make him change his mind about invading Iraq. In 1994 he accurately and presciently cited all of the dangers of invading and occupying Iraq. Yet in 2003 he rejected his own wisdom and recklessly stated that we would be "greeted as liberators" in Iraq.

What made Cheney change his mind??

America's Lib'rul Media has so far refused to call Cheney on this flip-flop -- perhaps the most significant policy flip-flop in U.S. history -- or ask him the simple question: " Why did you change your mind?"

David Strahan gives about as reasonable an explanation as any I can think of to this riddle, although many of you have programmed your minds to reject this possibility.

Read it... if you dare!

Why Dick changed his mind about invading Iraq

Posted on Saturday, August 18th, 2007

By David Strahan blog

1 in 10 Iraqis has fled the country

While Americans debate continuing the "surge" vs. withdrawal, all the Iraqis who can do so are withdrawing from Iraq. Kind of ironic, isn't it?

Sadly, the Iraqis who leave tend to be the best and brightest -- the very ones Iraq needs to build a functioning government, start businesses, and maintain universities, hospitals, and vital infrastructure. I don't blame them for leaving and neither should you -- not unless you and your family have lived in their shoes.

It's j
ust another depressing example of how the deck is stacked against "victory" in Iraq.

Iraq's Elite Fleeing in Droves
By Amira El Ahl, Volkhard Windfuhr and Bernhard Zand
Der Spiegel | August 20, 2007

One in ten Iraqis has left the country. Baghdad's elite are trying to make ends meet in neighboring Jordan and Syria. Washington wants the United Nations to address the refugee crisis. In the meantime, the country is losing its best minds -- the very people needed to rebuild Iraq.

Monday, August 20, 2007

FOX: The 'surge' is working, but...

Slanted media coverage from FOX. What did you expect?

The "surge" is working, say U.S. Senators Levin and Warner… except it isn't. They advise dissolving the Iraqi government because it "cannot produce a political settlement."

Excuse me for quibbling, but wasn't the whole point of the surge to give Iraq's political leaders "breathing room" to settle their differences? If anything, Iraqis are farther apart. The Sunnis have boycotted al-Maliki's government. And Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shi'ite cleric and militia leader, calls the al-Maliki government "a tool for the Americans."

So, what has the surge accomplished? This just goes to show that American military power can achieve very little in effecting political change in Iraq.

Withdrawal is the only option. Iraqis must be forced to fend for themselves and settle their differences. And with true responsibility comes true dignity.

Sens. Warner and Levin Travel to Iraq, Praise Surge Results
August 20, 2007 |

WASHINGTON — After a brief trip to Iraq, Sen. Carl Levin said Monday that the Iraqi Parliament should vote no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki because of its sectarian nature and leadership.

"The Maliki government is non-functional," Levin, D-Mich., said in a conference call with reporters.

Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the panel's top Republican, just returned from a fact-finding mission to the country. The two reported that they are encouraged by the effects of the recent U.S. military surge there, but their enthusiasm is tempered by concerns about Iraq's political climate.

"We have seen indications that the surge of additional brigades to Baghdad and its immediate vicinity and the revitalized counter-insurgency strategy being employed have produced tangible results in making several areas of the capital more secure. We are also encouraged by continuing positive results — in al-Anbar Province, from the recent decisions of some of the Sunni tribes to turn against Al Qaeda and cooperate with coalition force efforts to kill or capture its adherents," the two said in a statement issued after leaving the country.

"We remain concerned, however, that in the absence of overall national political reconciliation, we may be inadvertently helping to create another militia which will have to be dealt with in the future," the two said.

[In other words, we may be creating another "blowback" situation a la bin Laden and Afghanistan where we support and fund one armed group – the Sunni militias – only to have this strategy blow up in our faces. – J]

Speaking with reporters, Levin said he hopes when the Parliament reconvenes in the next few weeks, it will dissolve the government, which he said "cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to sectarian leaders."

Levin said "broad frustration" exists across Iraq and within the Bush administration with al-Maliki, and he noted that the Iraqi constitution provides that 25 members of Parliament can sign a petition to hold this vote.

In a separate event, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an on-again, off-again supporter of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a British newspaper on Monday that the Iraqi government is on the brink of collapse.

"Al-Maliki's government will not survive because he has proven that he will not work with important elements of the Iraqi people," the cleric was quoted by The Independent as saying.

"The prime minister is a tool for the Americans, and people see that clearly. It will probably be the Americans who decide to change him when they realize he has failed. We don't have a democracy here, we have a foreign occupation."

The trip, which included an excursion to Jordan, gave the lawmakers a chance to see progress on the ground. The two met with a host of American and Iraqi officials, including Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

The senators also met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Deputy Presidents Adil Abd Al-Mahdi and Tariq Al-Hashimi and Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

The visit comes ahead of an expected September report from Petraeus that is to outline the 18 benchmarks laid out by Congress to measure progress in Iraq. The White House said Monday that report should be provided in open hearings on Capitol Hill on Sept. 11 or 12.

Levin and Warner said that during their meetings they had few reassurances that the Iraqi government will be able to cooperate in any meaningful way.

"In many meetings with Iraqi political leaders, of all different backgrounds, we told them of the deep impatience of the American people and the Congress with the lack of political progress, impressed upon them that time has run out in that regard, and told them of the urgent need to make the essential compromises," the lawmakers said. "In all of our meetings we witnessed a great deal of apprehension regarding the capabilities of the current Iraqi government to shed its sectarian biases and act in a unifying manner."

Levin said the Iraqi government is "stronger and more capable" than 10 months ago when Levin was last in Iraq. The Iraqis have trained 10 of 12 divisions — 163,000 troops. But he said that until U.S. troops pull out of Iraq, the country's army won't take the lead. Levin is still pushing for the U.S. to begin drawing down to well below pre-surge levels in the next four months.

Despite progress being made on the military side of the surge, Sen Levin said that without political progress the military successes won't add up to much.

"There is consensus: there is no military solution to the conflict," Levin said.

While many of the military goals have been met, opponents of the Iraq war are using the failure for reconciliation on several key political goals as ammunition to call for a withdrawal.

Without a political compromise, a lasting calm seems unlikely. However, an additional 20,000 troops are expected to rotate in by December. This is not associated with the surge but would briefly increase the numbers of U.S. soldiers in the country.