Bolton resigns as UN ambassador
Iraq Study Group repudiates Bush's war policies; Bush brushes off recommendations
- December 6: The Iraq Study Group issues its long-anticipated report, and its conclusions are grim.
Iraq war and occupation
Bush's war policies are failures across the board, the ISG reports, and the group warns of ever-dwindling chances to change course before crisis turns to absolute chaos with dire implications for terrorism, war in the Middle East and higher oil prices around the world. The group is made up of Republicans and Democrats, and led by chairman James Baker, the former secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton. While the group is relatively bipartisan, it has no staunch anti-war advocates on its panel, nor did it consider testimony from any sources who oppose the war and advocate quick withdrawal.
- Nearly four years, $400 billion and more than 2,900 US deaths into a deeply unpopular war, violence is bad and getting worse, there is no guarantee of success and the consequences of failure are great, says the report. It continues by recommending that the US should find ways to pull back most of its combat forces by early 2008 and focus US troops on training and supporting Iraqi units. The US should also begin a "diplomatic offensive" by the end of the month and engage adversaries Iran and Syria in an effort to quell sectarian violence and shore up the fragile Iraqi government. "Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating," the report says. "The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out." Republican senator Chuck Hagel says, "The report is an acknowledgment that there will be no military solution in Iraq. It will require a political solution arrived at through sustained Iraqi and region-wide diplomacy and engagement." Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats said the ball is in Bush's court. "If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible," she says. The ISG leaders say they tried to avoid politically charged language such as "victory," on the one hand or "civil war" on the other, but the words they chose were still powerful. The report says the current strategy is not working and lays out example after example where it has come up short.
- While the group's characterizations of the current civil war in Iraq are grim and blunt, the recommendations are another story. The recommendations were written after long and contentious debate among group and panel members, and reflect their attempt to find a "mushy middle" among the different viewpoints. Nor do the recommendations include ideas that the panel members felt certain would be rejected by the White House, particularly the idea of a quick withdrawal or a firm timetable for withdrawal. Nevertheless, the group says that major changes in policy need to be implemented now. "We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution," says Baker. "In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable." Hamilton adds that while the commission agrees with Bush's goal of an Iraq able to govern, protect and sustain itself, the administration needed new approaches. "No course of action in Iraq is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos," he notes. "Yet, in our view, not all options have been exhausted." Bush says he will give the report due consideration. "This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq," Bush says after an early morning briefing from the group of five Republican and five Democratic former government officials and advisers. "It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion." In a all-too brief nod to bipartisanship, Bush then meets with Congressional leaders from both parties and says he wants to cooperate to "send a message to the American people that the struggle for freedom, the struggle for our security is not the purview of one party over the other." The commission also briefs members of the Iraqi government by teleconference, and one official there agrees that Iraqis must take responsibility for their own security. "Absolute dependence on foreign troops is not possible," says Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh.
- Among its 79 recommendations, the group said the United States should reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress. The report says Iraqi leaders have failed to deliver better security or political compromises that would reduce violence, and it implies that a four-month joint US-Iraqi military campaign to reduce violence in Baghdad, the so-called "go long" option, is hopeless. "Because none of the operations conducted by US and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, US forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end," the report says. This completely repudiates one of the central tenets of the Bush military strategies in Iraq: in Baghdad and elsewhere, US forces are supposed to help Iraqi units "clear, hold and build," shorthand for routing insurgents or other fighters from problem areas, securing those areas from further violence and setting a positive future course. The group would not endorse a timetable for withdrawing US troops, but it does warn against both a precipitous pullback and an open-ended commitment to a large deployment. Instead, the report recommends that some US troops leave relatively soon, and others stay to begin intensive training, equipping, and advising Iraqi forces, perhaps even embedding in Iraqi units.
- The report recommends that Bush put aside his personal grudges and feelings, and engage Syria, Iran and the leaders of insurgent forces in negotiations on Iraq's future, to begin by year's end. It also urges him to revive efforts at a broader Middle East peace.
- The report lays out consequences from bad to worse, including the threat of wider war in the Middle East and reduced oil production that would hurt the global economy. In a slap at the Pentagon, the commission says there is significant underreporting of the actual level of violence in Iraq. It also faults the US intelligence effort, saying the government "still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias." The report notes that Iraq costs run about $8 billion a month and that the bills will keep coming. "Caring for veterans and replacing lost equipment will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars," the commission says. "Estimates run as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of the U.S. involvement in Iraq." (MSNBC [full text of report; embedded PDF file], AP/Yahoo! News)
- December 6: The ISG reports that the Bush administration has routinely underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings.
Iraq war and occupation
The group calls on the Pentagon and the director of the US intelligence community, John Negroponte, to immediately institute a new reporting system that provides "a more accurate picture of events on the ground." The finding confirms allegations by Democratic lawmakers and other critics that the Bush administration has withheld or misconstrued intelligence that conflicted with its Iraq policy while promoting data and claims that supported its positions. Such misrepresentations and lies date back to the beginning of the push for war with Iraq, when Bush and his administration's officials told everyone who would listen that Iraq was laden with WMDs, and that Saddam Hussein was in bed with Islamic terrorism. Both claims were absolute lies. Bush and his top officials have denied the allegations of "fixing" the data surrounding the levels of violence in Iraq, and have repeatedly accused the news media of exaggerating the violence between Iraqi Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, minority Kurds and other groups. On page 94 of its report, the Iraq Study Group found that there had been "significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq." The reason, the group said, was because the tracking system was designed in a way that minimized the deaths of Iraqis. "The standard for recording attacks acts a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said. "A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt US personnel doesn't count. ...Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."
- One example is the data behind the claim by US officials that violence in Iraq dropped by 52% during July and August of 2006. The US fudged the real numbers by excluding all those killed by car bombings and mortar attacks from the tabulations. On one day in July, the US reported a mere 93 attacks or significant acts of violence in Iraq, yet, according to the ISG report, "a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light more than 1,100 acts of violence."
- The panel also notes a shortage of proficient Arabic speakers, a problem that the administration and intelligence officials have been urged to correct since the 9/11 attacks and have yet to adequately address. (McClatchy News)
- December 6 - on: The reaction to the ISG report from the left is relatively mixed, but few have any illusions about either its content or its likelihood of "saving" the situation.
Iraq war and occupation
Progressive political commentator P.M. Carpenter gives credit where credit is due: "Quite aside from the wisdom or folly of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, and quite aside from how much, if at all, those recommendations are executed by the White House, I must admit the ISG did a bang-up job of first lowering expectations and then impressing a resigned public with its sweeping breadth -- and severity." Carpenter writes that he is "stunned" to hear the commission publicly condemn Bush's war management as "a nightmare" equivalent to Saddam Hussein's atrocities. "For anyone watching yesterday, thinking, as I did, that James Baker was there only to wipe Junior's chin, hoist his knickers and rescue his presidency, well, we all got an education. Taking into account the sensitivity of his historical ties to the Bush Dynasty, Baker's defenestration of George W. was as firm-handed as any critic's. 'We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution,' he said in direct repudiation of his old boss' scion. 'In our opinion, that is no longer viable.' He might as well have called George delusional. In private, I suspect he did. I also suspect Baker is no longer on the White House's Christmas card list."
- Carpenter is less enamored of the report's conclusions. He says the idea of leaving a relatively small number of US soldiers embedded with larger Iraqi troop contingents would "irresponsibly leave those advisers at the mercy of their feckless, or worse, militia-aligned Iraqi 'trainees.'" But it may not matter: "Any of the report's irresponsible recommendations are as inconsequential as the sensible ones, however, since Bush 'seriously' pronounced all of them worthy of action 'in a timely fashion.' Translation: they're already collecting dust. No one, let alone one of Daddy's servants, is going to tell George Jr. how to run a war. In fact, the White House laughably declared the report a validation of its policies, in that the panel proposed no timetabled or immediate withdrawal. Then again, that singular omission was the panel's most egregious misjudgment, so in that sense it was indeed a validation of White House thinking."
- The Guardian's Jonathan Steele writes accurately enough, "The country's political elite wants to ignore the American people's doubts and build a new consensus behind a strategy of staying in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit in sight." Progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald, one of the most thoughtful and level-headed voices on the Internet, writes in continuation of Steele's observation, "The [ISG r]eport single-handedly cancelled out the results of the last election by purporting to identify as the 'center' a position which is squarely at odds with the emphatically anti-war views of the American public that is the real mainstream." A solid majority, 60%, of Americans want US troops out of Iraq within six months, Greenwald observes from a recent AP poll. Politically, 60% is a mandate in anyone's party, but Bush officials and their apologists continue to portray supporters of withdrawal as cut-and-run cowards. 71% say they want the troops home within two years. Greenwald writes, "It isn't that most Americans have grown 'weary' from the war or that they are 'frustrated' and 'impatient' because they like to win. Put simply, they have given up on this war, and favor withdrawal -- now. That just has to be the first, clear premise for every one of these discussions." Instead, the ISG report dismisses any consideration of any timetable for withdrawal as "precipitate" and warns that any quick withdrawal will create a venue for even more violence than we see now -- a ludicrous argument, considering the evidence that shows the longer US troops stay in Iraq, the more violence will be seen. Greenwald writes acidly, "[The Washignton Establishment] now recognizes that Americans have given up on the war but they believe that that view is rash, uninformed, emotional -- 'precipitous,' to use the condescending label assigned to that view by the Report. The crazed and lowly masses need the steady, sober hand of the Washington Establishment -- symbolized by the old Washington relics dragged out to put their stern seal of approval on the next two years of our occupation (despite the fact that they were the ones who helped bring about this disaster)."
- The obviously exasperated Greenwald writes, "But the rhetoric and specific claims in the Report matter little. What matters most -- really exclusively -- is that this Report (in the eyes of the Beltway media and related types) has become the defining position of the Center. And the Report unmistakably endorses our ongoing occupation of Iraq, and emphatically rejects the notion of withdrawing any time soon. We just had an election where Americans repudiated this war and made clear that they want to withdraw. Yet somehow, within a matter of weeks, Washington power circles were able to shoo that election result away like the annoying mosquito that it is and supplant their own pro-war judgment as the 'mainstream' view to which all serious people, by definition, pledge their allegiance. When 2008 comes around and we still have between 130,000-150,000 troops occupying Iraq (at the cost of $8 billion per month) -- and another 20,000 or 30,000 American soldiers are dead or maimed and a few hundred thousand or so more Iraqi civilians are dead -- we can look back at this moment when the Washington Establishment, yet again, blocked the path of withdrawal. And none of that damage will be mitigated because the Report included some 'candid' assessments of how badly things have gone, suggested 'negotiations' with Iran or Syria, 'recommended' that we try harder to solve the Israel-Palestine problem, or any of the other nice ideas it included, all so that the Report will feel 'reasonable,' even while it hands George Bush free rein to stay in Iraq through the end of his presidency -- exactly what Americans do not want.
- The New York Times's Frank Rich calls the report's proposals "bogus," and slams the pre-release hype that such a group of aging Washington insiders could produce anything truly departing from the norm: "Only in Washington could an unelected panel of retirees pass for public-policy Viagra," he writes. The panel's recommendations, he writes, "are bogus because the few that have any teeth are completely unattainable. Of course, it would be fantastic if additional Iraqi troops would stand up en masse after an infusion of new American military advisers. And if reconciliation among the country's warring ethnicities could be mandated on a tight schedule. And if the Bush White House could be persuaded to persuade Iran and Syria to 'influence events' for America's benefit. It would also be nice if we could all break the bank in Vegas."
- Rich continues, "The group's coulda-woulda recommendations are either nonstarters, equivocations (it endorses withdrawal of combat troops by 2008 but is averse to timelines) or contradictions of its own findings of fact. To take just one example: Even if we could wave a magic wand and quickly create thousands more military advisers (and Arabic-speaking ones at that), there's no reason to believe they could build a crack Iraqi army and police force where all those who came before have failed. As the report points out, the loyalties and capabilities of the existing units are suspect as it is. By prescribing such placebos, the Iraq Study Group isn't plotting a way forward but delaying the recognition of our defeat. Its real aim is to enact a charade of progress to pacify the public while Washington waits, no doubt in vain, for Mr. Bush to return to the real world."
- Rich concludes by predicting that Bush "will stay the course, with various fake-outs along the way to keep us from thinking we've 'lost,' until the whole mess is deposited in the lap of the next president." Rich adds that it is a "reckless flight from reality to suppose that the world will stand still while we dally. The Iraq Study Group's insistence on dragging out its deliberations until after Election Day for the sake of domestic politics mocked and undermined the urgency of its own mission. Meanwhile the violence metastasized. Eleven more of our soldiers were killed on the day the group finally put on its show." He warns, "As bad as things may seem now, they can yet become worse, and not just in Iraq. The longer we pretend that we have not lost there, the more we risk losing other wars we still may salvage, starting with Afghanistan. The members of the Iraq Study Group are all good Americans of proven service to their country. But to the extent that their report forestalls reality and promotes pipe dreams of one last chance for success in this fiasco, it will be remembered as just one more delusional milestone in the tragedy of our age."
- Progressive political commentator Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch says that the ISG never seriously considered the idea of a relatively quick, time-constrained withdrawal, and that is part of the ISG's tremendous failure. "In fact, withdrawal, aka 'cut and run,' has never been more than a passing foil, one useful 'extreme' guaranteed to make the consensus-to-come more comforting," he writes. What was produced, Engelhardt asserts, was a classic "Washington inside job." He writes that the report suggests the following:
- "Talk to those hostile neighbors; 'embed' swarms of still-to-be-trained military advisors with Iraqi troops where, so far, they have had little luck except in generating scads of complaints; pull out (or back into our massive Iraqi bases) American 'combat forces,' except for those slated to be part of an in-country 'rapid reaction force,' not to speak of all those American trainers and logistics experts; and accomplish this by perhaps early 2008. All of this will be termed a 'short' period of time to change US policy and the path to be headed down will be labeled 'phased withdrawal' or the beginning of an 'exit strategy," when it will be nothing of the sort. And most of those "redeployed" troops will be just over the horizon, most likely in Kuwait, Dubai, and other Gulf states, ready to re-enter Iraq if need be -- and, Engelhardt writes, they will be needed. "Put in a nutshell, the Iraq Study Group plan -- should it ever be put into effect -- might accomplish the following: As a start, it would in no way affect our essential network of monumental permanent bases in Iraq (where, many billions of dollars later, concrete is still being poured); it would leave many less 'combat' troops but many more 'advisors' in-country to 'stand up' the Iraqi Army (tactics already tried, at the cost of many billions of dollars, and just about sure to fail); many more American troops will find themselves either imprisoned on those vast bases of ours in Iraq or on similar installations in the 'neighborhood' where they are likely to bring so many of our problems with them. And those aggressive chats with the neighbors, whose influence in Iraq is overestimated in any case, are unlikely to proceed terribly well because the Bush administration will arrive at the bargaining table, if at all, with so little to offer (except lectures). All of this should ensure that, well into 2008, at least 70,000 American military personnel will still be in Iraq, after which, in the midst of a presidential election season, will actual withdrawal finally appear on some horizon? In other words, the Baker Commission plan guarantees us at least another 3-5 years in Iraq." And of course, the US advisors "embedded" with Iraqi troops will be in mortal peril and virtually unprotected.
- Engelhardt is unforgiving: "Talk about a plan being DOA, when it comes to changing policy, even before an adamant president has the chance to consider how to reject some of its essential parts! After all those endless months, this, it seems, is the best the present generation of Washington 'wise men' (and one woman) can actually deliver. I think I can guarantee that, with eight months and a giant staff of experts at your beck and call, you and a small group of your neighbors -- with no ties to Washington, a cursory knowledge of our 1,347-plus days already embedded in Iraq, and...no, let's say with just eight days, or maybe eight minutes -- could have come up with a plan at least this hopeless. While the Iraqis were experiencing an actual civil war, combined with an actual insurgency, combined with actual American attacks from the air and the ground on actual city neighborhoods, combined with actual terrorist attacks, combined with actual widespread criminal activity, combined with the actual collapse of their economy, combined with the actual non-delivery of essential social services, combined with the actual flight of whole populations from ethnically cleansed or simply half-destroyed neighborhoods, combined with actual staggering death tolls, the American media and White House officialdom have passed through their own maelstrom over whether or not to apply the term 'civil war' to the Iraqi situation. NBC and the Los Angeles Times have finally voted 'yes'; others are waffling; the administration continues to deny that the 'sectarian violence' in Iraq could possibly be a 'civil war,' which is evidently imagined inside the Oval Office as nothing short of Armageddon itself."
- Engelhardt himself recommends full withdrawal, with a strict timetable for departure, but that option was not even considered by the ISG. He says that redeploying troops to Kuwait or the Gulf states could cause the same problems that stationing US forces in Saudi Arabia has already caused -- of course, those troop placements was one of the driving rationales behind the 9/11 attacks. And he notes that there is a very simple explanation why there has never been an "exit strategy" for Iraq: Bush never intends to leave. Engelhardt says you'll know that the discussion surrounding Iraq will be serious when "some serious panel gets together to sort out our future strategy in Iraq, and you start regularly seeing 'withdrawal' surface in the media without an adjective attached, or when you see any sober discussion of permanent bases, American air power, or oil."
- Carpenter's colleague in the progressive blogosphere, Margie Burns, calls the report an exercise in the self-evident. "Both Iraqi and American leaders told us that, as Baghdad goes, so goes Iraq," the report avers. "As Baghdad goes, so goes Iraq." Burns is not impressed. "This is a statement of breathtaking self-evidence. It was always true that Baghdad dominated Iraq. Baghdad was the hub and brainpan of practically the entire resources of Iraq. Most of Iraq outside of Baghdad is desert. Only 13% of Iraq is arable land; its principal waterways, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, run through Baghdad. In a national population of about 27 million people, a sizeable plurality of 5 million lived in Baghdad, one of the more progressive and secular cities in the Middle East and one of the oldest cities in the world. Baghdad is and was the Iraqi national capital and the hub and control center for communications, health, and imports and exports, including oil, which provided 95% of Iraqi government revenues. Everybody engaged in planning to invade Iraq knew this simple fact. ...Anyone who looked at a map knew it. Anyone who read the 'Iraq' entry in the CIA World FactBook knew it. Anyone who looked up Iraq in any standard, respected encyclopedia knew it. Anyone who checked the World Almanac and Book of Facts knew it. The White House itself acknowledged this blatantly obvious disproportion between Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, in harping on the known evils of Saddam Hussein's consolidation of internal power."
- The idea advanced by the ISG, that while US troops could clear any neighborhood, there aren't enough troops on the ground, nor enough support from Iraqi forces, to hold those "cleared" neighborhoods, is "[a]nother statement of breathtaking, if belated, lucidity: there was never any doubt that Iraq could be crushed by the USA." Burns writes, "Iraq is smaller than Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, North or South Korea, and Poland; less than one-twentieth the land area of America; less than one-tenth the population of America. It had less than one-third the population of Vietnam. Iraqis had already been wasted by two wars in two decades that depleted their population, debilitated their industry and agriculture and retarded any potential for national unity or popular resistance to Saddam. Without allies, or Kuwait, they hardly have a port. As those of us knew who were not influenced by Orientalist fantasies about the strange magical powers of Middle Easterners, Bush administration efforts to instill fear did everything but accuse the Iraqis of having magic carpets to fly (yet unknown) weapons across the Atlantic."
- Burns says that almost everything uttered by Bush officials on the subject of Iraq has either been deliberate lies or the product of rampaging ignorance. "But ignorance can be strategic -- within the solipsistic confines of intra-administration politics. Bush-Cheney policy has been to keep genuine ignorance unchallenged, within the administration, as much as possible. This White House has made a practice of hiring personnel without genuine expertise in their fields, of leaving sensitive positions pertaining to the Near East or to intelligence unfilled, and of undermining or retaliating against career intelligence and foreign service personnel whose information could have derailed White House war-boosting. Several prominent Bush insiders, like the current Secretary of State, were professional militarists whose careers of artificial prominence were built by corporate donors in the Cold War and who had to find another insider career of contract-generating bellicosity after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The same mavens are now in the process of either leaving government or distancing themselves from their previous arguments. They continue to try to cover up the shameful fact that Iraq was in a condition of pitiful weakness, partly to distance themselves from the horrors visited on the Iraqi people and partly to avoid blame for the cost in American lives and treasure in Iraq. ...The question was never whether the US could crush Iraq. That was a given. The question (for anyone determined to go to war; that is, setting aside the illegitimacy of the war itself) was how the US could keep Iraq -- or even Baghdad -- once conquered; and by what means or how far this nation would be willing to go, to do so." (TomDispatch, P.M. Carpenter, Margie Burns, New York Times/Editor and Publisher, Guardian/Unclaimed Territory)
- December 6: Ideology rules the final days of the Republican leadership in Congress, with the Senate putting forward a bill advocating tax breaks for millionaires and relaxing restrictions on offshore oil drilling, while the House pushes a controversial, unscientific bill defining the concept of "fetal pain" as an attempt to limit abortion access.
This lame-duck Congressional session has already scheduled to end early, perhaps as soon as the end of the week. The House anti-abortion bill, a transparent attempt to pander to the conservative base, would require abortion providers to inform a woman 20 weeks into her pregnancy that an abortion will cause pain to the fetus. Republicans were unable to pass the bill, which almost certainly would have not passed the new, Democratically-controlled Senate. The bill defined a 20-week-old fetus as a "pain-capable unborn child." Most scientists do not accept that definition, and there is considerable debate whether a fetus at that stage of development has enough of a neural system to feel pain or react to stimuli. (AP/Yahoo! News)
- December 6: Some Republican veterans of the 109th Congress, widely considered the laziest and most venal assemblage of lawmakers since the infamous 80th Congress of 1948, are whining about the new Democratic leadership's announcements that the 110th Congress will work harder and longer than their predecessors.
Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who is writing the schedule for the new Congress, says members should expect longer hours than the four-day week -- or less -- they have grown accustomed to. Expect five-day work weeks starting from the outset: "We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the 4th," Hoyer tells reporters. Under Republican leadership, the 109th Congress got used to coming in late on Tuesday and leaving early Thursday, when the House wasn't in recess altogether. Now, says Hoyer, House members can expect to work till 6:30 PM every weekday except Fridays, when business will conclude around 2 PM. Hoyer and other Democratic leaders say they have two reasons for their new work ethic: to achieve as much of the sweeping legislative agenda they have planned, and to enforce a new work ethic on the lax, lackadaisical Congress, which will go early into recess on December 8 without even bothering to pass the fundamental spending bills that fuel the government. The current Congress will have worked a grand total of 103 days in 2006 at the close of the session, seven fewer days than the infamous "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1948. Hoyer says members can bid farewell to extended holidays, the kind that awarded them six weekdays to relax around Memorial Day, when most Americans get a single day off. Hoyer says members need to spend more time in the Capitol to pass laws and oversee federal agencies. "We are going to meet sufficient times, so the committees can do their jobs on behalf of the American people," he says.
- Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, tries to accuse Democrats of being "anti-family" by their insistence on working a full work week. Keeping us up here eats away at families," says Kingston, who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says." For the record, a one-way flight from Atlanta to Washington's Reagan Airport takes about 90 minutes, according to Delta Airlines. Kingston adds that time away from Washington is just as important to being an effective member of Congress as time spent in the Capitol: "When I'm here, people call me Mr. Congressman. When I'm home, people call me 'Jack, you stupid SOB, why did you vote that way?' It keeps me grounded." California Republican Elton Gallegly says, "If we're doing something truly productive, that's one thing. If it's smoke-and-mirrors hoopla, that's another." One wonders just what kind of legislation Gallegly will define as "hoopla." Republican whip Roy Blunt tries to put a brave face on the longer work week. "They've got a lot more freshmen then we do," he says of the Democrats. "That schedule will make it incredibly difficult for those freshmen to establish themselves in their districts. So we're all for it." At least one Democrat, Florida representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, says the longer work week is making her change her plans: she runs her daughter's Brownie troop meetings on Monday afternoons. "I'll have to talk to the other mothers and see if we can move it to the weekend," she says. Outgoing majority leader John Boehner says that creating a calendar that satisfies the needs of all 435 members, from all 50 states, is impossible. "Between the travel issues, the members' work schedules, the family and district issues, it was a Rubik's cube," he says.
- At least one Democrat is game. Newly elected representative Mike Thompson, who lives in California's Napa Valley and will have to leave his home at 3 AM on Mondays to get to work in Washington, says he's ready. "It's long overdue," he says. "I didn't come here to turn around and go back home." (Washington Post)
- December 6: Former vice president Al Gore, speaking with NBC's Matt Lauer, calls Iraq the "worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States."
Iraq war and occupation
He asks Bush "to try to separate out the personal issues of being blamed in history for this mistake and instead recognize it's not about him. It's about our country and we all have to find a way to get our troops home and to prevent a regional conflagration there." He says, "The fact is, this is a very bad situation. Our country has to find a way to get our troops out as quickly as possible without making the situation even worse in the manner of our leaving." Gore notes that there are several reports coming out on Iraq, the ISG report, one from the Pentagon, and an internal report within the White House, all, according to Gore, pointing the same direction. "This is an utter disaster, the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States. We as a nation have to find a way, in George Mitchell's words, to manage a disaster. But I would urge the president not to -- to try to separate out the personal issues of being blamed in history for this mistake and instead recognize it's not about him. It's about our country and we all have to find a way to get our troops home and to prevent a regional conflagration there." (NBC/Think Progress [link to video])
- December 6: James Inhofe, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is currently chairing hearings intended to, in his words, "turn up the heat on the media coverage of global warming" and focus on "'the hype of global warming' and what causes it."
Global warming and the environment
Fox News airs without contradiction Inhofe's claims that "[i]t was warmer in the '30s than it is today," and "it was warmer in the 15th century than it is today." Neither of these assertions are true; NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies has proven, using its average global mean surface temperatures data, that Inhofe's claim of the Earth being warmer in the 1930s than now is completely wrong. And a June 2006 study from the National Academy of Sciences disproves Inhofe's assertion that "it was warmer in the 15th century than it is today." The NAS study shows that in most global locations, it is warmer now than at any time since at least 900 A.D. Inhofe, who has compared people who assert that global warming is real with terrorists, says that the entire issue of global warming is "being distorted by the media." Of course the Fox coverage, anchored by Fox correspondent Molly Henneberg, is sympathetic with Inhofe's unscientific views, and portrays other, more scientifically based views on the realities of global warming as "questionable." Inhofe's suggestion for combating the problem? "Let's let God work his thing, keep the cycles going, and if there's something that we can do -- certainly, we do want to clean up the air, clean up the pollution -- CO2 is not a pollutant." Inhofe will be replaced with Democrat Barbara Boxer, one of the strongest environmental proponents in the Senate. "We can't, as policymakers, it seems to me, turn our backs on the overwhelming scientific evidence and opinion" about global warming, she says. (Media Matters)
- December 6: Conservative radio talk show host Hal Turner, a frequent advocate of violence against Democratic lawmakers, posts a timetable for the assassination of members of Congress who vote for amnesty for immigrants.
Conservative hate speech and intolerance
On his Web site, Turner posts the following (all postings edited to remove frequent capitalizations): "Any member of Congress who introduces, co-sponsors or votes in favor of any such amnesty will be declared a domestic enemy and will be considered a legitimate target for assassination. ...Members of Congress and the Senate will not be permitted to betray our nation by simply giving away the most cherished aspect of America, citizenship, to millions of people who cared so little for what citizenship means that they came here against our law." Turner says his calls for violence and assassination are protected by the First Amendment.
- Turner actually began his broadcasting career as a regular caller on the Sean Hannity radio show, where he identified himself as "Hal from North Bergen." Turner regularly made remarks on Hannity's show such as his August 1998 bit, "[I]f it weren't for the white man, blacks would still be swinging from the trees in Africa." Hannity apparently approved of Turner's racism; Hannity did not rebuke Turner for his racism, Turner was allowed to speak on the show whenever he called, and the two became friends. (Hannity now refuses to speak about Turner, but at the time he spoke frequently with Turner off the air, and gave Turner advice about how to combat his homosexuality and cocaine addiction.)
- Turner has also been involved in politics and racial activism. He began his public career working with the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, and became a regular caller on the WABC talk show hosted by Bob Grant, a virulent racist and Nazi supporter. In 1994, Turner held a rally for Grant, who, among other racist tirades, frequently advocated "The Bob Grant Mandatory Sterilization Program" for minorities. (After weathering intense pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights groups, WABC fired Grant in 1996. His WABC replacement? Hannity.) In 2000, Turner ran for Congress in his New Jersey district, and Hannity endorsed him on the air during his Fox News show. Turner was enraged when Republican leaders chose Hispanic candidate Theresa de Leon over him, and had what he later called an "epiphany," deciding that the system was rigged against white men and that he would abandon all ties to the mainstream. "I had never judged people on their race, not prior to that point," Turner said in a February 2003 interview. "And there I was, on the receiving end -- in America -- of a decision that I wasn't good enough because I was a white male."
- Shortly thereafter, Hannity began throttling back on the racist rhetoric on his broadcasts, in order to criticize Democrats for being racists themselves. (Of course, Hannity does not object to the racist affiliations of favored guests like Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour, and former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, all of whom have spoken before gatherings of America's largest white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens.) After WABC's screeners began blocking Turner's calls, he began broadcasting ten hours a week, renting time for his own talk show on shortwave radio maverick Allan Weiner's WBCQ, located in Monticello, Maine. Turner built up a fairly substantial audience, paying for the rented airtime with advertising and donations. Turner has become a favorite of many on the radical right, including several in the neo-Nazi National Alliance. After neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator leader Matthew Hale was arrested in late 2002 for allegedly soliciting the murder of a federal judge, Turner openly supported Hale. Since then, Turner has told his listeners how to make bombs, celebrated the firebombing of an apartment containing "Savage Negroes," and called for the murder of immigrants, writing on his Web site, "When enough illegal aliens get killed they will stop coming to the country!"
- In 2003 Turner said US District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow was "worthy of being killed" for ruling against Hale in a trademark dispute. The day after Lefkow's husband and mother were found murdered on February 28, 2003, Turner posted a photo on his website of Judge Lefkow with the headline "GOTCHA!" (Turner called the "Gotcha" headline nothing more than "a ribbing, a zing," and justified the gloating celebration of two senseless murders by saying, "This judge chose to make rulings in -- in a case against people that I know. It was almost as though she had gotten a comeuppance. ...I have rendered an opinion that what she did on the bench makes her worthy of being killed, yeah." Journalist David Neiwert writes, "[P]eople like Turner are clearly using the [murders] to intimidate the judiciary. They're saying: 'See? This is what happens when you don't rule in our favor.' It's a form of terrorism. If that isn't a crime, it ought to be.") Turner also wrote an article for the far-right chat room Liberty Forum outlining tips to help white supremacists avoid scrutiny from federal agents. "So what can we, as White Nationalists (WN), expect as a result [of the killings]?" he wrote. "Frankly, a sh*t storm" Turner was eventually visited by FBI agents, though when a suspect was arrested, he had no organizational links to white supremacist groups. By this time, Turner had quit the Jewish-owned WBCQ because, as he told a reporter, he saw Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and realized he "could no longer do business with Jews." Turner now broadcasts over the Internet.
- On April 12, 2006, Turner had a physical altercation with Jaime Vazquez, a former Jersey City Deputy Mayor and member of the Jersey City Council, and current Jersey City Commissioner of Veterans' Affairs. Vazquez, a disabled, Purple Heart-awarded Vietnam veteran, was conducting a protest in front of Turner's house in response to Turner's hiring an airplane to carry a banner with an anti-Mexican slur over a political rally at Jersey City's Liberty State Park. Turner said at the rally, "The illegal immigrants are breaking the law, and people like me should break the law as well by shooting them down." Vazquez wore a sign that stated: "Hal Turner -- shoot me! Racists and bigots like you are cowards." Turner confronted the disabled Vazquez and a fight ensued, in which Vazquez hurt his back and fractured his wrist. Turner and Vazquez filed criminal charges against each other, but a judge subsequently found neither man criminally liable.
- Turner's penchant for courage behind the keyboard or the microphone and for self-aggrandizement was also on display when, on December 20, 2006, his show was barraged by numerous prank calls. He believed, falsely as it turned out, that the attacks came from an IRC network, and subsequently exhorted his listeners to use reverse phone directories to find the pranksters and to exact justice: beat them to death, firebomb their homes, and slit their throats. On December 22, Turner posted a partial list of phone numbers of people who he believed were the prank callers. Via the comments page, regular listeners began to translate the posted numbers into actual addresses. The list was apparently taken down, but as of December 24, 2006, the list was placed online again after alleged threatening calls were made to Turner's family members. After a period of being offline, on December 27th, 2006 Turner's website redirected to the FBI's homepage. Shortly thereafter, the site came back, with an article claiming that some of Turner's listeners tracked down one of the perpetrators and beaten him bloody. Turner even posted a picture of the supposed victim, but within hours the image was proven to be merely a picture found on the Internet via Google, from a backyard wrestling site. The article was taken down soon afterwards. He is now using the pranks to ask for money to support his bandwidth costs and legal fees, and says the feud was instigated by pedophiles upset with Turner's stance that pedophiles should receive the death penalty.
- Just before the November 7 midterm elections, Turner advocated assassinating Democrats to avoid a turnover of Congress. He posted, "We may have to assassinate some of the people you elect on Nov. 7! This could be your last election chance, to save this Republic.... Sorry to have to be so blunt, but the country is in mortal danger from our present government and our liberty is already near dead because of this government. If you are too stupid to turn things around with your vote, there are people out here like me who are willing to turn things around with guns, force and violence. We hope our method does not become necessary." Turner defined his position as commentary instead of advocacy, when one supporter wrote, "Hey Hal instead of saying 'may' say you will kill them!" Turner replied, "No no no no no. Words mean things. The difference between 'may' and 'will' is the difference between an opinion and a threat. One is lawful, the other is not!"
- Turner says in his current posting, "Congress will not be permitted to betray our nation by giving citizenship to tens of thousands who didn't give a s--- about our other laws as they murdered, raped, robbed, dealt illegal drugs, drove without licenses or insurance, stole the social security numbers and/or identities of millions of lawful citizens and most of whom don't give a s--- enough about our country to even learn our language!" He continues, "Members of The United States House of Representatives or United States Senate who try to grant any form of amnesty to millions of illegal aliens are hereby notified they may as well paint a bulls-eye target on themselves. Our bullets don't care about their sovereign power." In what seems like a direct threat, he says, "This seems to be 'it' folks. I'm going to do what I have to do to protect my nation from its government. I know where all of my New Jersey Congressmen and Senators live. Do you know where yours live? If not, you better find out before January so you can scope out their neighborhoods and prepare yourselves. ...Those of you who, for years, have said you're 'gonna do this' or 'gonna do that' when the time comes; are about to face ugly reality. In January, 'the time' will come. In January the entire world will find out if you're real or just a bigmouth coward." Turner says he will not post lists of addresses or maps to lawmakers' homes -- not because of any concern for personal safety, but because he doesn't want to lose the element of surprise.
- At least one reader seems ready to take Turner up on his challenge: "I'm sitting here now with my 30.06 stripped down. Can do this in the dark. Don't want any grains of sand in the mechanism." Another reader asks, "Where can we get some polonium-210?" referring to the Russian spy recently poisoned with the substance. Posters who object to Turner's hatred and virulence receive very specific death threats, as in one example from a Daily Kos blogger, who, after objecting to Turner's attacks on immigrants on April 29, received the following reply: "...We know where you're at now. And we're going to take you out. You really f*cked up posting here. We have you're [sic] IP address. We have you're [sic] home address. We know all about you. You really did f*ck up, you'll see!" (As far as the editor of this site is aware, nothing overt was done as a followup to the threat. But the posting of such a specific threat is itself illegal.)
- The Secret Service says it is not involved in any consideration of Turner's statements, because Turner has not said anything threatening towards anyone the Secret Service protects. The matter must be taken up with local law enforcement, says a Service spokesman. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson refuses to comment on what, if any, investigations of Turner's statements are taking place. "The Internet does not give anyone a license to espouse violence, but there is a certain amount of protection, First Amendment protections, that are built in and we're mindful of those," he says. Bresson calls it a "fine line," and says the FBI will look at all the information available and "make a determination" as to whether any crime might have been committed.
- Turner responds derisively to a poster who says he's forwarded Turner's comments to the FBI. "You called the FBI about me? Big deal!" he retorts. "One can only illegally 'incite' violence when what is said is uttered in a context which lends itself to imminent lawlessness. I will not be arrested because I have thus far committed no crime. Just because you don't understand the subtle delineations of the law does not mean I have broken the law. The FBI has been receiving reports about me from morons like you for six years. I'm still here. Your posting did, however, give me a chuckle!"
- Still, it is hard to see Turner as anything else but someone inciting others to violence. He piles on an ugly, racist component to his already-racist rant about immigrants, writing, "The pro-white movement has a habit of making martyrs of folks who take action. They hold rallies for them. They put up web sites about them. Just so we're clear, the only people authorized to do that for me after I become a martyr (alive or dead) are those who stand with me when the fight takes place. Because if you are, today, 'pro-white' and you fail to stand with me in confronting our renegade government, then I say you are a coward and I don't want my name being uttered by cowards. ...[Amnesty for immigrants] will erase us as a nation and I will not permit it. What about you?" Earlier, he posted on his site, "I advocate using extreme violence against illegal aliens. Clean your guns. Have plenty of ammunition. Find out where the largest gathering of illegal aliens will be near you. Go to the area well in advance, scope out several places to position yourself and then do what has to be done." During the Terri Schiavo controversy, he wrote, "I advocate the use of force to rescue Terri Schiavo from being starved to death. I further advocate the killing of anyone who interferes with such rescue." The same day, he posted the following ominous statement, with its obvious implications: "Web site updates temporarily offline. I am traveling to do something important." (Editor's note: sure you were, Hal.) He dismisses all of this as "hyperbole."
- Turner twists his anti-Semitism around a bit to respond to Jewish Democrat Joe Lieberman's primary loss in Connecticut, writing on August 9, "Jew news stories and opinion columnists are already screaming how unfair and wrong it is to oust Lieberman. One Democrat columnist (jew) in the New York Post even wrote 'So now that the wackadoo wing of the party has a bloody scalp, what are they going to do with it? Wave it at Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Lebanon and Afghanistan and Indonesia and Great Britain and Spain and Israel and New York and declare peace?' Hal Turner answers, 'no, they're waving the bloody scalp at Jews and declaring peace! And that will work because all these wars have been driven by neo-con jews who are more interested in protecting Israel than they are doing what's right for the United States."
- Turner has a long record of open and aboveboard racism of the most virulent kind. His Web site featured the following headlines and commentary from August 2006: "Washington DC Police Arrest Five in Robbery, Rape Spree.... When you read this MSNBC story, take note of how they carefully avoid telling you that all five are black!" To a California story about a string of gas station robberies apparently committed by blacks, Turner wrote, "Whether they're in California, New York or darkest Africa, negroes just can't help being negroes. Tell me again how 'we're all equal?' He reported that a "sp*c" was arrested for carjacking, and asks, "Tell me again how 'They're just coming here to work hard and better their lives?' ...Those of you who still think illegal aliens should be given 'a path to citizenship' really need to get your head out of your *ss. They broek [sic] our law to come here. Do you really think they'll bother obeying any of our othe [sic] laws? Stop being stupid. Speak out: 'Build a wall; Deport them all!'" His intolerance spreads to homosexuals, with the headline, "F*gs bashed in Estonia parade," and to Jews, when he wrote, "Jew-run media 'shocked' at 'intolerance.' Of course, the jew media is not shocked by grown men jack-hammering each other in the *ss...but then again, perversion and degeneracy is the hallmark of the filthy jew!!" But back to the racism: "When will some of you wake up to the fact that non-whites are genetically different from whites to such an extent as to make them living among us a bad thing? Some of you are so afraid of being called a racist, you are actually willing to ignore 500 murders for the sake of political correctness. Get your head out of your *ss and start speaking out even if you are called 'racist!' If we whites don't do something now, we will lose America to these non-white savages!"
- Despite his rhetoric, Turner says he is merely giving political commentary, and no one should take his threats and incitements to violence seriously. He says earlier statements he made about assassinating half of Congress and three Supreme Court Justices were not serious, and that he never wrote up a hit list because he didn't actually plan to do anything that he was advocating. He says he has been investigated repeatedly by the Secret Service, the US Marshals Service, and other law enforcement organizations. He says that's because he's very careful to "use words such as 'may have' [or] 'might' which are opinions/observations rather than threats. ...I am totally familiar with three specific US Supreme Court decisions and those parameters govern what I say and write. [My comments are] uttered in a context which does not lend itself to imminent lawlessness, [do not constitute a] true threat, [and should be considered] political hyperbole." (World Net Daily, The Nation, Wikipedia, Daily Kos, Daily Kos, Eschaton, Orcinus)
"The truth is a lot of reports in Washington aren't read by anybody. To show you how important this report is, I read it." -- George W. Bush, December 7, 2006