Filtered news 8/27

Coup and counter coup It seems that a Frank Gaffney front organization published an article to make himself president for life, while Martin Lewis at the Huffington Post for General Pace and the Joint Chiefs to engineer a coup against the Bush administration.

I'm gonna go way out on a limb and say that neither of these are very good ideas. Meanwhile, Jamie Malanowki's new novel , involves a more clever (and funnier) method of toppling the incumbent. I do wonder sometimes what would happen if Bush did something really crazy like just call up the Joint Chiefs one day and order a preventive nuclear first strike (all the GOP contenders say it should be considered) on Iran without congressional authorization. Does the military follow that order?

Should they? My best understanding is that it's completely within the president's legal authority to order a nuclear attack on a whim, but that's a pretty disturbing idea.

"How will America survive the twenty first century without a permanant Republican majority?
  The same way a baby survives without a steel-toe boot kicking her in the face every seven seconds."
      -- David Rees in the new Rolling Stone,

It's not a Socialist plot  I know it’s behind the paywall, but Paul Krugman today about making healthcare available to children.

Suppose, for a moment, that the Heritage Foundation were to put out a press release attacking the liberal view that even children whose parents could afford to send them to private school should be entitled to free government-run education.

They’d have a point: many American families with middle-class incomes do send their kids to school at public expense, so taxpayers without school-age children subsidize families that do. And the effect is to displace the private sector: if public schools weren’t available, many families would pay for private schools instead.

So let’s end this un-American system and make education what it should be — a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise. Oh, and we shouldn’t have any government mandates that force children to get educated, either. As a Republican presidential candidate might say, the future of America’s education system lies in free-market solutions, not socialist models.

O.K., in case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost my mind, I’m drawing an analogy. The real Heritage press release, titled “The Middle-Class Welfare Kid Next Door,” is an attack on proposals to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Such an expansion, says Heritage, will “displace private insurance with government-sponsored health care coverage.” […]

But thinking about how we’d react if they said the same things about education helps dispel the fog of obfuscation right-wingers use to obscure the true nature of their position on children’s health. The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care.

Note to Dems in Congress: this is an analogy that belongs in your talking points.

The price of Iraq  Here's my from Evan Thomas' Newsweek cover story on the hunt for bin Laden:

When Franks refused to send Army Rangers into the mountains at Tora Bora, he was already in the early stages of planning for the next war. By early 2002, new Predators—aerial drones that might have helped the search for bin Laden—were instead being diverted off the assembly line for possible use in Iraq. The military's most elite commando unit, Delta Force, was transferred from Afghanistan to prep for the invasion of Iraq. The Fifth Special Forces Group, including the best Arabic speakers, was sent home to retool for Iraq, replaced by the Seventh Special Forces Group—Spanish speakers with mostly Latin American experience. The most knowledgeable CIA case officers, the ones with tribal contacts, were rotated out. Replacing a fluent Arabic speaker and intellectual, the new CIA station chief in Kabul was a stickler for starting meetings on time (his own watch was always seven minutes fast) but allowed that he had read only one book on Afghanistan.

At any rate, you're welcome to pick your own paragraph, but that's my favorite. Certainly, it's a point that I think Democrats are going to want to emphasize in the 2008 election, which is why I think it would be smart for Democrats to, insofar as possible, not nominate people who think authorizing the invasion of Iraq was a good idea.

   Soldiers in Iraq “are increasingly disdainful of the happy talk that they say commanders on the ground and White House officials are using in their discussions about the war” and “becoming vocal about their and a taxing mission.” The LA Times writes:

Some say two wars are being fought here: the one the enlisted men see, and the one that senior officers and politicians want the world to see.

“I don’t see any progress. Just us getting killed,” said Spc. Yvenson Tertulien, one of those in the dining hall in Yousifiya, 10 miles south of Baghdad, as Bush’s speech aired last month. “I don’t want to be here anymore.” […]

The signs of frustration and of flagging morale are unmistakable, including blunt comments, online rants and the findings of surveys on military morale and suicides.

Sometimes the signs are to be found even in latrines. In the stalls at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty, someone had posted Army help cards listing “nine signs of suicide.” On one card, seven of the boxes had been checked.

  Via :

A call by Puerto Rico’s governor for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq earned a standing ovation from a conference of more than 4,000 National Guardsmen.

Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila said Saturday that the U.S. administration has “no new strategy and no signs of success” and that prolonging the war would needlessly put guardsmen in harm’s way.

“The war in Iraq has fractured the political will of the United States and the world,” he said at the opening of the 129th National Guard Association general conference. “Clearly, a new war strategy is required and urgently.”

Acevedo said sending more troops to Iraq would be a costly blunder.

“By increasing the number of National Guard and reserve troops, we put our soldiers in danger for the umpteenth time since the beginning of the global war on terrorism,” said the governor, adding U.S. territories and states need Guard reserves in the event of natural disasters and domestic disturbances.

Acevedo, a Democrat, has called on Washington to withdraw troops from Iraq in the past, but has not been a vocal critic of the war.

Col. David Carrion Baralt, the Guard’s top official in the U.S. Caribbean territory, said Acevedo received a standing ovation.

Rev. Ted Haggard's funny money Is this another con game ?

"Bush's surge was supposed to create the political space for national reconciliation.
  Instead the politics have reached total gridlock, while the security situation remains
  essentially unchanged. By the President's own measures the surge has failed."
    -- Ilan Goldenberg, National Security Network,  

   Via :

In the dining hall of a U.S. Army post south of Baghdad, President Bush was on the wide-screen TV, giving a speech about the war in Iraq. The soldiers didn’t look up from their chicken and mashed potatoes.

As military and political leaders prepare to deliver a progress report on the conflict to Congress next month, many soldiers are increasingly disdainful of the happy talk that they say commanders on the ground and White House officials are using in their discussions about the war.

And they’re becoming vocal about their frustration over longer deployments and a taxing mission that keeps many living in dangerous and uncomfortably austere conditions. Some say two wars are being fought here: the one the enlisted men see, and the one that senior officers and politicians want the world to see.

“I don’t see any progress. Just us getting killed,” said Spc. Yvenson Tertulien, one of those in the dining hall in Yousifiya, 10 miles south of Baghdad, as Bush’s speech aired last month. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Morale problems come as the Bush administration faces increasing pressure to begin a drawdown of troops.

Move Over, Alberto  It's a pretty short list of headlines that could knock Alberto Gonzales' resignation to second tier status. But the arrest--and guilty plea--of a firebrand conservative U.S. senator for lewd homosexual conduct in a public restroom definitely makes the list.

Roll Call has all the about Sen. Larry Craig's conviction (although traffic to the site is heavy at the moment). While the ins and outs of public restroom trysts, with an apparent language and protocol all its own, may be titillating, this detail about old run-of-the-mill abuse of power caught my eye:

At one point during the interview, Craig handed the plainclothes sergeant who arrested him a business card that identified him as a U.S. Senator and said, “What do you think about that?” the report states.

Nice touch. Bet that made quite an impression.

Naughty Boy   I can't stop laughing.

MR. RUSSERT: Larry Craig, would you want the last word from the Senate be an acquittal of the president and no censure?

SEN. CRAIG: Well, I don’t know where the Senate’s going to be on that issue of an up or down vote on impeachment, but I will tell you that the Senate certainly can bring about a censure reslution and it’s a slap on the wrist. It’s a, “Bad boy, Bill Clinton. You’re a naughty boy.”

The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughtyboy.

I’m going to speak out for the citizens of my state, who in the majority think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy.

The question issue now is simply this: Did he lie under oath? Did he perjure himself and did he obstruct justice? And that’s where we’re trying to go now in this truth-seeking process. And I hope we can get there. And then I’m going to have the chance to decide and vote up or down on those articles. After we’re through with this impeachment trial, it’s collapsed, it’s gone, then the Senate will make a decision on if it’s a censure or not.

From :

In a clear sign that the credit crunch is still affecting the nation’s largest financial institutions, the Federal Reserve agreed this week to bend key banking regulations to help out Citigroup and Bank of America.

The regulations in question effectively limit a bank’s funding exposure to an affiliate to 10% of the bank’s capital. But the Fed has allowed Citibank and Bank of America to blow through that level. Citigroup and Bank of America are able to lend up to $25 billion apiece under this exemption, according to the Fed. If Citibank used the full amount, “that represents about 30% of Citibank’s total regulatory capital, which is no small exemption,” says Charlie Peabody, banks analyst at Portales Partners.

So, how serious is this rule-bending? Very. One of the central tenets of banking regulation is that banks with federally insured deposits should never be over-exposed to brokerage subsidiaries; indeed, for decades financial institutions were legally required to keep the two units completely separate. This move by the Fed eats away at the principle.

Don't Let the Door Hit You . . .   Well, that was as unceremonial and abrupt a from a cabinet official as we are likely to see for some time.VHere's the video. Don't blink. You might miss it.   

Here’s a review of the record:

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who .

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who gave the White House political team .

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who to illegally to the Republican Party and the Bush administration.

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who about the administration’s spying activities.

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who lied in stating that all Bush appointees .

In an op-ed entitled “,” Michael Tomasky writes, “Gonzales’ legacy is so resoundingly awful that one can’t imagine which of his failures and transgressions his eventual obituary writers and future historians will highlight.”

Carnage at DOJ  Paul Kiel runs down the list of by top DOJ officials in the wake of the U.S. Attorneys purge. It's a remarkable list, especially considering the President's assertion that Alberto Gonzales has not been shown to have done anything wrong.

"Bush's speech Wednesday actually managed to shock. You might think that, in wartime,
  a president would acknowledge what no one denies is a terribly grim decision in front of us.
  But no. There is no gray here; no awful decision for the least worst option; not acknowledgment
  of his own moral culpability for such a disaster. There is instead an accusation that those who
  reach a different judgment about the course of the war are, in fact, enemies of the troops."
    -- Andrew Sullivan, always good for an anti-Bush quote, unless he's gushing praise on him, 

John Edwards on Alberto Gonzales' resignation: "Better late than never." That and other news in today's .

Ted Nugent: draft dodging coward  Many Thanks to Richard Roeper for exposing the wingnut fool known as Ted Nugent () for being the coward:    (1191) |  (1311)   (567) |  (674) (h/t C&ler for the vid)

So Ted Nugent roams a concert stage while toting automatic weapons, calls Barack Obama “a piece of —–” and says he told Obama to suck on one of his machine-guns. He also calls Hillary Clinton a “worthless bitch” and Dianne Feinstein a “worthless whore.”

That Nugent, he’s a man’s man. He talks the talk and walks the walk, right?

Except when it was time to register for the draft during the Vietnam era. By his own admission, Nugent stopped all forms of personal hygiene for a month and showed up for his draft board physical in pants caked with his own urine and feces, winning a deferment. Creative!…

Recess Appointment  Judged by the standards of our history, a recess appointment to replace Alberto Gonzales sounds like an incredible proposition. But don't be so sure. Just as we saw with the 'pardon scooter' movement, the word seems already to have gone out to the folks on the right to start preparing the ground for just such a move by the president. I've already heard a few just this morning saying it would be the right thing for the president to do. Watch for it.

What Dems should do Glenn Greenwald’s on this is a helpful guide to Senate Dems.

This is a real moment of truth for the Democratic Congress. Democrats, who have offered up little other than one failure after the next since taking power in January, can take a big step toward redeeming themselves here. No matter what, they must ensure that Gonzales’ replacement is a genuinely trustworthy and independent figure.

That means that Democrats must not confirm anyone, such as Michael Chertoff, who has been ensconced in the Bush circle. Instead, the DOJ and the country desperately need a completely outside figure who will ensure that the prosecutorial machinery operates independently, even if — especially if — that means finally investigating the litany of Executive branch abuses and lawbreaking which have gone almost entirely uninvestigated, as well uncovering those which remain concealed. .

   A new AP investigation finds that despite the “staggering mess” plaguing Iraq reconstruction, people who have attempted to blow the whistle and clean up the fraud have been :

One way to blow the whistle is to file a “qui tam” lawsuit (taken from the Latin phrase “he who sues for the king, as well as for himself”) under the federal False Claims Act.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln in response to military contractors selling defective products to the Union Army, the act allows private citizens to sue on the government’s behalf.

The government has the option to sign on, with all plaintiffs receiving a percentage of monetary damages, which are tripled in these suits. […]

But the government has not joined a single quit tam suit alleging Iraq reconstruction abuse, estimated in the tens of millions. At least a dozen have been filed since 2004.

The dumb idea that won't die Bruce Bartlett shreds the idea of a national sales tax in the Wall Street Journal New things I learned: the idea orginally came from the Church of Scientology ("The Scientologists' idea was that since almost all states have sales taxes, replacing federal taxes with the same sort of tax would allow them to collect the federal government's revenue and thereby get rid of their hated enemy, the IRS") and public support for the idea is wobbly to say the least ("public opinion polls have long shown that support for flat-rate tax reforms is extremely sensitive to the proposed rate, with support dropping off sharply at a rate higher than 23%").

The upshot of this is that sales tax advocates universally claim that their plan can eliminate all federal taxes at a rate of — surprise! — 23%. The real number, you'll be unsurprised to learn, is north of 60%. But public opinion polls say it has to be 23%, so 23% it is.

This, of course, is the Mayberry Machiavelli theory of the modern Republican Party: policy analysis doesn't matter. Only politics matters. If the peepul support a rate of 23%, then who cares what the eggheads say? We're looking for votes here, not tax policy that actually works.

Of course, what's really amazing is that Bruce can write a thousand words on this subject and maintain a calm and even demeanor throughout. After all, among serious tax analysts a national sales tax ranks right up there with eliminating the Fed and putting the United States back on the gold standard. It's crankery. And yet it keeps rearing its ugly head, like a vampire that just won't die. Anybody got a silver bullet handy?

A surge report card  So why have I been doing so much surge blogging lately? It's simple: guilt. I mentioned that a friend had told me I should pay more attention to the daily news from Iraq, but that I had declined on the grounds that Iraq's problems are deep and fundamental, not things that are truly affected by either daily setbacks or short-term successes. Worrying over every new car bomb or every new schoolhouse seemed pointless.

I still believe that, but the whole issue kept gnawing at me. I'm a professional blogger! The magazine pays me to care about stuff like this! Besides, maybe my friend was right. Maybe there really was some good news from the ground that I was overlooking.

I continue to believe that political reconciliation is what really matters in Iraq, and that it's all too easy to let day-to-day news distract you from that. For that reason, I don't plan to become a regular surge blogger. But for what it's worth, here's what I have to say about the situation on the ground:

  • The revolt of the Sunni sheiks against al-Qaeda in Anbar and other Sunni strongholds is genuinely good news. And while the revolt had nothing to do with the surge (it began last September, well before the surge started), our quick support for the sheiks demonstrated welcome military flexibility. On the downside, this is a strategy with obvious risks, since there's a good chance that the sheiks will turn against us as soon as they've finished off AQI.


  • The civilian death toll in Iraq appears to be down from its peak earlier in the year, but still considerably higher than last summer. My best guess is that we're just seeing the usual seasonal pattern here, in which violence peaks in the fall and then drops off over the summer. In any case, casualty figures are vague and unreliable since the Pentagon refuses to release its figures and the Iraqi Health Ministry is no longer cooperating with the UN.


  • It appears that insurgents may have simply left Baghdad temporarily during the surge and increased their activity elsewhere. Again, figures are spotty, but violence appears to be on the rise in northern Iraq.


  • There are widespread reports that the Army under Gen. Petraeus has done a good job of improving its counterinsurgency tactics. However, the evidence so far is mostly anecdotal and based on carefully controlled visits. This makes it very difficult to determine whether this success is genuinely widespread.


  • Reports of progress are considerably undermined by the apparently growing consensus that the U.S. will need to keep a significant military presence in Iraq for the better part of the next decade. This is hard to square with genuine confidence that the surge is reducing violence significantly.


  • Everyone agrees that the Iraqi police is still a disaster: corrupt, violent, and almost entirely infiltrated by Shiite militias.


  • The Iraqi army is doing a little better, according to the Pentagon, but the evidence on that score is thin and anecdotal. Other anecdotal evidence suggests that the Iraqi army is nearly as thoroughly infiltrated by Shiite militias as the police.


  • The British are leaving southern Iraq, which has already begun devolving into intra-Shiite civil war.


  • The Kirkuk election is still scheduled for later this year. Increased violence there seems almost certain regardless of whether the election is postponed or held on schedule.


  • With the exception of the telephone network, the infrastructure news is almost uniformly bad. Oil exports are down, fuel availability is lower, electricity generation is spottier, and attacks on pipelines are up.


  • The Brookings Iraq Index estimates that the size of the insurgency has grown from 20,000 last year to 70,000 this year. I don't know how seriously to take these estimates, but that's a helluva big jump.

So that appears to be the state of affairs on the ground. Anbar is good news despite the long-term risk of arming Sunni tribal leaders. Petraeus seems to be doing a good job on the counterinsurgency front (though it's frankly hard to say how much of this is good PR based on a limited number of success stories and how much is genuine widespread progress). And it's possible that violence is down in Baghdad, though I'd rate the odds of that at no more than 50-50.

On the downside, most of the evidence suggests that violence is following seasonal patterns and is going up, not down. The insurgency seems to be getting worse in the north. Civil war is breaking out in the south. Anecdotal reports of progress are undercut by suggestions that we'll need to stay in Iraq for another decade. The Iraqi police force is a disaster and the army doesn't appears to be much better, despite the usual Pentagon claims of improvement. Kirkuk is a timebomb. Iraqi infrastructure is in a ruinous decline. And the insurgency is apparently bigger than it was a year ago.

The conventional wisdom this summer, after a steady round of dog-and-pony shows from the military, says that although political progress in Iraq is nil (or even in reverse), at least we're finally making some tactical progress on the security front. And maybe we are. But I'm trying to be as honest as I can be here, and it looks to me like the balance of the evidence suggests that this is more hype than reality. As near as I can tell, we're not making much progress on either front.

Dirty China 

This New York Times article about China being sure is something. Manufactured Landscapes, a film I've , is full of really eye-opening images.  This is, perhaps, the achilles heel of Chinese authoritarianism. The Soviet Union was full of just astounding things, like the incredible shrinking pictured above. China, by contrast, used to be too poor for anything truly awful to happen on the environmental front, but capitalism has set the table for nightmare scenarios. Democracies have, obviously, our share of environmental problems, but this really is one of those situations where it's the worst form of government except for all the others.

  There’s been a fun little debate going on over at Andrew Sullivan’s site among a couple of his guest posters: TNR’s Jamie Kirchick and Obsidian Wings’ hilzoy. The exchange has been quite informative, and since my friend hilzoy is clearly winning the “debate,” it’s been quite entertaining.

Kirchick got the ball rolling with about his Providence Journal on what he calls the “Obama Doctrine,” which he defines this way: “The United States will remain impassive in the face of genocide.” Kirchick explained:

In a July 21 interview entitled, “Obama: Don’t Stay in Iraq over Genocide,” the Associated Press reported Obama’s belief that “the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.”

Pressed about the contention — widely shared by people knowledgeable about the situation in Iraq — that a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops early next year could lead to genocide, Obama responded, “Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done.”

For reasons that we’ve , Kirchick is mistaken, and confused about what Obama actually said. It’s not that complicated — Obama wasn’t suggesting genocide is tolerable, and he wasn’t advocating indifference for murder on a grand scale. He was simply making the point that if genocidal attacks alone were the basis for a massive military deployment, we’d have deployed thousands of U.S. troops to central Africa right now. That we haven’t suggests that genocide — or in the case of Iraq, speculative potential for genocide — does not drive U.S. military deployments.

In response to Kirchick’s confusion, hilzoy offered a , explaining the variety of reasons that Kirchick’s analysis was off-base. Indeed, using a variety of well-sourced arguments, hilzoy (politely) explained why Kirchick badly misrepresented Obama’s actual policy.  It led to an interesting response from Kirchick.

Neocon media at play For quite a while this afternoon, treated a football player’s guilty plea in a dog-fighting case as than the resignation of the Attorney General. When I checked a few hours ago, was doing the same thing.

  OK, one more Gonzales post and then I’ll move on to other subjects.

The president read a three-minute public statement this morning on Alberto Gonzales’ resignation as Attorney General, and like the man he affectionately calls “Fredo,” Bush managed to talk about the departure without noting the reason for the resignation. Nothing about a vague sense that it’s “time for new challenges,” not even the perfunctory “spend more time with his family.” Nothing.

At one point, however, Bush’s tone and message became bitter, and he lashed out at those who subjected his dear friend to “months of unfair treatment.” The president added:

“It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented, honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

On their face, Bush’s comments are transparently dumb. Gonzales wasn’t “honorable”; he was a disgrace to himself and his office. Gonzales wasn’t “talented”; by his own admission, a variety of important Justice Department decisions were made with Gonzales barely aware of what was going on around him. His name wasn’t dragged through the mud “for political reasons”; it was dragged through the mud for legitimate reasons.

But there’s another, perhaps more subtle angle to the president’s comments this morning. Bush has said for months that he simply didn’t care whether Democrats, Republicans, the electorate, career DoJ officials, scholars, pundits, or anyone else supported Gonzales. He had one boss, who approved of his work. Nothing else mattered.

Today, however, by whining about “unfair treatment,” Bush was effectively conceding that Gonzales was hounded from office by scandal.

Yes, Obama is different (it's why I like him)   : “Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama often says he will be a candidate that will bring both parties together and Saturday he named a few of the Republicans he would reach out to if elected. ‘There are some very capable Republicans who I have a great deal of respect for,’ Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘The opportunities are there to create a more effective relationship between parties.’ Among the Republicans he would seek help from are Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, John Warner of Virginia and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Obama said.”


August 27, 2007 - 11:20pm