"How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully's ego?" -- Paul Krugman, December 4, 2006
Iraq war and occupationThe ISG, headed by Republican James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton, will release its official report next week, but some of the conclusions and recommendations of the report have been leaked to the press. Bush is expected to reject many of the ISG recommendations, and says he is waiting for his own "internal" review of his Iraq policies to be completed. The ISG plan would shift the US mission in Iraq to a secondary role as the fragile Baghdad government and its security forces take the lead in fighting a Sunni insurgency and trying to halt sectarian violence. As part of major changes in the US presence, the plan recommends embedding US soldiers directly in Iraqi security units starting as early as January 2007 to improve leadership and effectiveness. The call to pull out combat brigades by early 2008 would be more a conditional goal than a firm timetable, predicated on the assumption that circumstances on the ground would permit it. But panel members believe that it is vital to set a target to put pressure on Iraqi leaders to do more to assume responsibility for the security of their country. "It's really about transitioning from a combat to a support role, and basically making very clear that this is no longer an open-ended commitment and we're going to get this done whether the Iraqis like it or not," says one of the sources who provided the information. "Everybody understands that we're at the end of the road here."
Iraq war and occupationAfter meeting with Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, he calls Maliki "the right guy for Iraq." Bush and Maliki spent about two hours discussing how to reduce violence in Iraq, and how to better train Iraqi military and security forces to take over responsbility for Iraq's internal security. Bush's stubborn refusal to countenance any troop withdrawals is considered something of a preemptive strike against the recommendations of James Baker's Iraq Study Group, which is expected to recommend gradual drawdowns of US troops over the next year. Although not asked directly about the ISG's expected recommendations, which have been partially leaked to reporters, Bush says "this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever." National security advisor Stephen Hadley tries to soften Bush's recalcitrance later that day, telling reporters that Bush will begin making changes in his Iraq policy soon after receiving the study group's recommendations and the reports of other high-level review panels. "There is a real sense of urgency, but there is not a sense of panic," Hadley says.
Iraq war and occupationThe proposal is part of a crash White House assessment of its Iraq policies and follows an assessment that the ambitious US outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed. US officials are increasingly concerned that their reconciliation efforts may even have backfired, alienating the Shiite majority and leaving the United States vulnerable to having no allies in Iraq. Some insiders call the proposal the "80 percent" solution, a term unpopular with many other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20% of Iraq's 26 million people. US officials say this change would not be an abandonment of the goal of building a unified government out of Iraq's three fractious communities, but instead would leave leadership of the thorny task of reconciliation to the Iraqis. The proposal has met serious resistance from both US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders in Iraq, who believe that intensive diplomatic efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process are pivotal to stabilizing the war-ravaged country. State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, author of the proposal, argues that the US has compromised its prospects of success by reaching too far. (Washington Post)
Domestic spyingThe travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, which the government intends to keep on file for 40 years. The Bush administration calls the system a necessity after the 9/11 attacks, but privacy advocates call it one of the most intrusive and risky schemes yet mounted in the name of anti-terrorism efforts. Virtually every person entering and leaving the United States by air, sea or land is scored by the Homeland Security Department's Automated Targeting System, or ATS. The scores are based on ATS' analysis of their travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered. Although the program has been in use for four years, it was just recently disclosed when DHS put a notice detailing ATS in the Federal Register. The few civil liberties lawyers who had heard of ATS and even some law enforcement officers said they had thought it was only used to screen cargo. David Sobel, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group devoted to civil liberties in cyberspace, says, "It's probably the most invasive system the government has yet deployed in terms of the number of people affected." Government officials refuse to say whether ATS has helped in apprehending any terror suspects. "Homeland Security ought to focus on the simple things it can do and stop trying to build these overly complex jury-rigged systems," says Barry Steinhardt, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, citing problems the agency has had developing a computerized screening system for domestic air travelers. That data-mining project, now known as Secure Flight, caused a furor two years ago in Congress. Lawmakers barred its implementation until it can pass 10 tests for accuracy and privacy protection.
Iraq war and occupationRice says to a question about US mistakes in Iraq, "As to whether the United States has made mistakes, of course, I'm sure, we have. You can't be involved in something as big as the liberation of a country like Iraq and all that has happened since, and I'm sure there are things that we could have done differently; but frankly, we are looking ahead. And when I'm back at Stanford University, I can look back and write books about what we might have done differently." The progressive Web site Think Progress clarifies Rice's statement: "In other words, Rice realizes that -- as bad as things are in Iraq -- the Bush administration must have made mistakes. But she refuses to think about them until she leaves office. The problem with this approach is the there are 140,000 troops in Iraq right now. There is an imperative to identify and correct mistakes in our strategy. Instead, Condoleezza Rice and President Bush are staying the course." (State Deparrment/Think Progress)
Congressional DemocratsPelosi passes over two higher-ranking Democrats, ranking committee member Jane Harman and fellow member Alcee Hastings, who had the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus. Pelosi's choice of Reyes is considered a strong one for many reasons. Reyes, a Vietnam veteran and former Border Patrol official, will spearhead tough questions and investigations of the Bush administration on the Iraq debacle. And in choosing Reyes, Pelosi not only gives the Congressional Hispanic Caucus some much-desired representation in the House leadership, but avoids battles over Harman, who is considered too supportive of the war in Iraq by many Democrats, and Hastings, whose controversial past -- as a judge, he was impeached for corruption and fraud, though he was acquitted of the charges -- would be sure to set off a firestorm of media criticism. "When tough questions are required, whether they relate to intelligence shortcomings before 9-11 attacks or the war in Iraq, or the quality of intelligence on Iran or North Korea, he does not hesitate to ask them," Pelosi says of Reyes. Reyes immediately pledges a forceful questioning over current intelligence programs. "It is important for the committee to ask the tough questions and enact strong policies to keep us safe while protecting the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Americans," he says. Reyes, a veteran law-enforcement official, received the Purple Heart for wounds while serving in the Army as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam in 1968. His congressional district includes Fort Bliss, one of the Army's largest installations, outside El Paso. Pelosi says she chose Reyes because of his "impeccable national security credentials. ...He has served our country as a soldier in combat [and as] a senior law enforcement officer on our southern border." Reyes also has been one of the Democratic Party's most vocal critics of Republican-led immigration proposals and an opponent of legislation that would build 700 miles of fencing in cities along the US-Mexico border. Harman endorsed Reyes for the post once it became clear that she would not get the job herself. (San Antonio Express-News)
War with IranHe tells a reporter, "Iran is a regional power and it will have to be dealt with. We should find ways to speak to them and also speak to the Syrians." Both Iran and Syria have been accused by the US government of sponsoring terrorism and fomenting violence in Iraq. Iran has also been accused of trying to build nuclear weapons. Both countries deny the accusations. "I hope that over time Iran will play a responsible part in the region," Powell says. "As you know Iran is doing very well now, they have no particular pressure on their nuclear program." Powell says the Bush administration will have to work with the United Nations and Russia to keep Iran from evolving its nuclear program beyond power generation. (Reuters/Yahoo! News)
Middle East unrestReporters Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff use Israeli Army reports to conclude, "Only the sector has not been chosen yet." The war will likely center around Lebanon and/or the Gaza Strip. Israeli Defense Forces analysis predicts a war against Hezbollah, the terrorist organization currently in control of large portions of Lebanon, and perhaps against Syria as well. The IDF also predicts a quick failure of the recent cease-fire achieved with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. IDF soldiers may well end up attempting to occupy and "pacify" the area in a huge military operation not seen since 1993. The Israeli Army is already training and preparing for military operations in Lebanon. But one defense official says the preparations and signals about any move against Lebanon are more about image than actual substance. The extremist assessment of the good chances of a conflict in the North is designed to present the army with a target (and more important, with a target date), he says. By summer preparations will be completed, and the IDF will brush itself off and restore the professional capability that it mistakenly thought it had when Israel so hastily went to war last summer.
Partisan Bush appointeesBuchanan, currently the US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, has said that the USA Patriot Act actually preserves Americans' civil liberties. She may be best known for her $12 million "Operation Pipe Dreams," which busted 55 people, including actor Tommy Chong, for the heinous crime of selling bongs. She introduced Chong's fictional pot-smoking characters in court as evidence of what she called his "frivolous" attitude towards drug laws. Buchanan has crusaded against pornography, even relatively tame examples well within the laws, leading observers to believe she is interested in enforcing her own brand of morality, as in the words of the legal director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the ACLU, who once called Buchanan "the vanguard of Ashcroft's attempt to impose his morality on others." Buchanan joins Dr. Eric Keroack (see related items on the November 2006 page) and a raft of judicial nominees as further evidence of the hateful, extremist candidates for public office preferred by Bush. (Feminsting/BlogHer)
Conservative smear campaignsEllison, a Muslim and African-American from Michigan, has essentially been accused of being a terrorist supporter by right-wing agitator Glenn Beck of CNN's Headline News, when Beck told Ellison on November 14, "...you are a Democrat. You are saying, 'Let's cut and run.' And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.'" To his credit, Ellison was far more gracious in his response than Beck was in his ugly questioning.
Iraq war and occupationIt compares Bush's characterization of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki as "the right guy for Iraq," with his characterization of FEMA's Michael Brown as doing "a heck of a job," and says, bluntly, "[o]n Iraq, as on Katrina, Bush has completely slipped the moorings of reality." While Bush was praising al-Maliki, the violence in Iraq -- some led by al-Maliki's patron Moqtada al-Sadr -- continues to escalate. "Whatever happens now in Iraq will have little to do with what the United States wants to happen," the editorial notes. Bush's failures to grasp the realities of the situation was further reflected in his stopver in Latvia earlier in the week (see the related item on the November page of this site). "He refused to acknowledge the civil war that is plain to see; pronounced, incredibly, that al-Qaida is the major threat in Iraq, and pledged, again, that he would 'not pull American troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.' If the troops still have an actual mission in Iraq, it should be to hunker down and stay safe until someone figures out how to get them home." After discussing the hoped-for impact of the Iraq Study Group's imminent report, which aims to, in the words of one ISG member, "move the national debate from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out," the editorial concludes, "A horrific bloodletting may now be inevitable in Iraq no matter what anyone wants. We hope this report, with the pressure it will put on both Bush and Al-Maliki, can help avoid that, but it's a long shot. Through arrogance, willful ignorance and stubborness, Bush has created in Iraq a real dog's breakfast -- a mess." (Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune)
Keith OlbermannConventional media wisdom dictates that there is too much "liberal bias" in the news, and the only way to "counter" this bias is to inundate the news consumer with one more conservative viewpoint after another. Olbermann's MSNBC colleagues are either staunch conservatives like Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson, or mushy, right-leaning centrists like Chris Matthews. Fox News lines up the conservatives one after the other, with lone outsider Alan Colmes primarily on board to be Sean Hannity's punching bag. CNN features the jingoism and hateful spewings of former radio talk show host Glenn Beck on its Headline News channel. And all the news channels feature far more conservative guests than centrist, moderate, and liberal guest combined, as many media studies have shown. But Olbermann is no conservative handpuppet, and as a result, his determination to have his own voice has seen his ratings steadily pole-vault past his competitors until he trails only one -- the dyspeptic, increasingly dysfunctional doyen of television talk, Bill O'Reilly. Countdown is, hands down, the most-watched show on MSNBC, though he still trails O'Reilly's Fox News show by more than a 2-1 margin.
Iraq war and occupation"In my view it is time for a major adjustment," he wrote. "Clearly, what US forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough." The memo stands in stark contrast to Rumsfeld's previous dogged insistence that everything in Iraq is going well and the only concern is to "stay the course" long enough to complete the mission. In his memo, Rumsfeld does not seem to believe that the administration is interested in developing any real alternatives to the current policies, so he recommends limiting the political fallout from shifting strategies by attempting to lower public expectations. "Announce that whatever new approach the US decides on, the US is doing so on a trial basis," he wrote. "This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not 'lose.' Recast the US military mission and the US goals (how we talk about them) -- go minimalist." Rumsfeld expressed his frustration with the pace of change in Iraq, particularly with the inability or unwillingness of the Iraqi authorities to take responsibility for the security and functioning of their country. Rumsfeld wrote that the Iraqis must "pull up their socks," and suggests that reconstruction aid should be withheld in violent areas to avoid rewarding "bad behavior." Other options called for shrinking the number of bases, establishing benchmarks that would mark the Iraqis' progress toward political, economic and security goals and conducting a "reverse embeds" program to attach Iraqi soldiers to American squads.
Partisan Bush appointeesCambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is the most senior Pentagon official to announce he is leaving since Donald Rumsfeld resigned on November 8. Cambone is one of the last members of the original team that came to the Pentagon with Rumsfeld in January 2001. He has been a key player in Rumsfeld's efforts to transform the military into a lighter, high-tech force, and in carving out a larger role for American military intelligence. The Defense Department expanded espionage and other covert intelligence gathering activities under Cambone, drawing criticism from some members of Congress that the department was intruding on turf traditionally dominated by the CIA. (AFP/New York Times)
George W. BushNaturally, Foner's contention stirs up a great deal of controversy, but he gives strong support to his claim. He begins by noting that as time goes on and views of history shift, a president's status among historians can change radically, as with Andrew Johnson, who at the time of the first "official" rankings, 1948, was labeled "near-great," but in recent years has been downgraded to an abject failure. Usually, though, the rankings "display a remarkable year-to-year uniformity." Presidents like Washington, Lincoln, and FDR always achieve "great" status. The bottom rung is always inhabited by presidents such as Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Richard Nixon. Most presidents are rated somewhere in the "average" range. Foner writes that George W. Bush is not only vying for the bottom rung, but the dubious prestige of being the worst even of that bunch.
Minority rightsBreyer, a Clinton appointee, is a moderate who has brokered a number of the Court's 5-4 rulings. As the Court has shifted ever farther right, he has found himself a key member of the Court's shrinking left wing. In an interview on Fox News the day before he and his colleagues begin hearing arguments on a key case concerning race in schools, he says judges must consider the practical impact of a decision to ensure democratic participation. "We're the boundary patrol," Breyer said, reiterating themes in his 2005 book that argue in favor of race preferences in university admissions because they would lead to diverse workplaces and leadership. "It's a Constitution that protects a democratic system, basic liberties, a rule of law, a degree of equality, a division of powers, state, federal, so that no one gets too powerful," he says. On December 4, the court will hear arguments in a pair of cases involving integration plans in K-12 schools. The legal challenge, which is backed by the Bush administration, could be among the most significant school cases since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 banned racial segregation. In 2003, the court upheld race-conscious admissions in higher education in a 5-4 opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Since then, O'Connor has been replaced by conservative justice Samuel Alito. Justice Antonin Scalia, a harsh opponent of using race in school admissions, is expected to lead the charge against such admissions. Breyer argues that in some cases it wouldn't make sense to strictly follow the Constitution because phrases such as "freedom of speech" are vague. Judges must look at the real-world context -- not focus solely on framers' intent, as Scalia has argued -- because society is constantly evolving, he said. "Those words, 'the freedom of speech,' 'Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech' -- neither they, the founders, nor those words tell you how to apply it to the Internet," Breyer says in one example.
Iraq war and occupationHadley also plays down the recently released "Rumsfeld memo" of November 6 as nothing more than a "laundry list" of ideas that may or may not be given serious consideration by administration officials. Spinning like mad, Hadley says that Bush has never said anything differently in private than he has in public, and that he was not portraying a different sense of the war to the public just before the midterm elections than Rumsfeld was giving him in private. "[Bush] has said publicly what Rumsfeld said, that things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough in Iraq." Democrats disagree with Hadley's bland revamping of reality. "The Rumsfeld memo makes it quite clear that one of the greatest concerns is the political fallout from changing course here in the United States," says Senator Joseph Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The bottom line is there is no one, including the former secretary, who thought the policy the president continues to pursue makes any sense." (AP/Yahoo! News)
Latin AmericaChavez garners 61% of the popular vote. Chavez describes his victory as demonstrating Venezuelans' support for his somewhat socialistic policies and calls it "another defeat for the devil who wants to dominate the world," likely a reference to George W. Bush. Chavez also salutes Cuba's Fidel Castro, another outspoken opponent of the United States. In December 1998, Chavez won the presidency with 56% of the votes after campaigning for a broad reform, constitutional changes and a crackdown on corruption. In 1999, he won Venezuelans' approval in a plebiscite of a new constitution that expands executive powers. He was re-elected to a six-year term under the new constitution with close to 60% of the votes in 2000. On April 11, 2002, he was ousted in a brief coup by business leaders and dissident military officers sponsored and planned by the US. On April 14, military troops loyal to Chavez returned him to power. Chavez vows to push ahead with social programs that have won him wide support among the poor Venezuelans who had played a key role in giving him a landslide electoral victory in 1998 and 2000. (Xinhua)
Republican corruptionAccording to the Boston Globe, three of the four employees of Community Lawn Service with a Heart, the small firm that provides upkeep of Romney's property acknowledged in recent interviews that they are in the United States illegally. The employees told the Globe that company owner Ricardo Saenz never asked them to provide documents showing their immigration status and knew they were illegal immigrants. "He never asked for papers," said one worker, who said he had paid smugglers about $5,000 to take him across the US-Mexican border. The workers said they were paid in cash at $9 to $10 an hour and sometimes worked 11-hour days. Romney never inquired about their status, they said. In addition to maintaining the governor's property, they also tended to the lawn at the house owned by Romney's son, Taggart, less than a mile away on the same winding street. When asked by a reporter on December 3 about his use of Community Lawn Service with a Heart, Romney, who was hosting the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami, said, "Aw, geez," and walked away. (Boston Globe/Democratic Underground)
Oil profiteering and the "oiligarchy"He and his team -- eventually a staff of 120 people -- found hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties that the oil companies had shorted the US government. Former secretary of the Interior Gale Norton wrote of him in a 2003 citation, "Mr. Maxwell's career has been characterized by exceptional performance and significant contributions," and praised his "perseverance and leadership" while cataloguing his "many outstanding achievements." So how was Maxwell rewarded for his outstanding performance? He was fired in 2005 after his job fell victim to what the DOI called "reorganization," exactly one week after a federal judge in Denver unsealed a lawsuit in which Maxwell contended that a major oil company had spent years cheating on royalty payments. "When I got this citation, they told me this would be very good for my career," Maxwell says. "Next thing I knew, they fired me." Currently Maxwell lives on a small pension outside of Honolulu.
Republican corruptionHe describes himself as a "Vietnam veteran," but did not serve in Vietnam. Paul Morin, a Republican who lives in Massachusetts, served from 1972 through 1974 in the Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and never left the country to face combat. Morin's description is accurate in a legal sense, as neither the federal government nor the Legion makes any formal distinction between veterans who served in Vietnam and those known as "Vietnam-era" veterans. But it seems clear that Morin is trying to give the impression that he actually served in Vietnam. A Legion spokesman, Joe March, backed Morin's position, saying that any current service member stationed in the United States at present could claim to be an Iraq war veteran. But former senator Max Cleland of Georgia said Morin's claim may undercut the credibility of veterans groups that fight for Congressional funding of veterans' programs. "For the national commander of the American Legion, who never even served in the Vietnam theater, to call himself a Vietnam veteran is a lie," says Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm during combat in Vietnam, and who has been a Legion member since 1969. Thomas Kelley, the Massachusetts secretary of veterans affairs and also a Vietnam veteran, said Morin is misleading people. "When someone says he is a Vietnam veteran, it means he served in the theater of the war," Kelley says. Before his national campaign for the Legion's commander, Morin was a ranking member of the Legion's state office and was described on its Web site as a Vietnam-era veteran who was stationed in New Jersey. (Boston Globe/Editor and Publisher)