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July 30, 2005

Where Were You When the War Ended?

I know I was kinda busy last week, but still, it was no excuse for missing the news that the Global War On Terrorism was officially ended by the Bush administration. No, they didn't unveil a "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier; they simply let it be known that GWOT would henceforth be replaced by the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, or GSAVE. Why the startling change? Eric Schmitt and Tom Shanker of the New York Times explain it as follows:

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Press Club on Monday that he had "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution." He said the threat instead should be defined as violent extremists, with the recognition that "terror is the method they use."Although the military is heavily engaged in the mission now, he said, future efforts require "all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities' national power." The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military," he concluded.
There are two rather obvious comments to make about Myers' explanation. First, isn't it fairly well established that wars are prevented, begun, waged, won and lost through non-military as well as military means? And second, hasn't the use of "all instruments of national power" and "all instruments of the international communities' national power" been appropriate all along, and certainly since 9/11?Indeed, Myers' line of reasoning might have come in pretty handy before the Pentagon decided to invade Iraq without a post-Saddam plan for the country, and before the White House decided to let DoD supervise the political and economic reconstruction effort.Indeed, the richest passage in the Times report is a graph about the deep thinking that went into the change of terminology:
Administration and Pentagon officials say the revamped campaign has grown out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January, and it reflects the evolution in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
It's probably going to come as a deep shock to Bush's conservative base of support that his "thinking" is subject to "evolution," and I don't mean just those who support scientific creationism. After all, his entire re-election effort was based on marketing him as an unshakable Man of Resolve, as opposed to the dangerously reflective John Kerry. And speaking of Kerry, Matt Yglesias over at TAPPED rightly points out that the same people responsible for suddenly declaring We're Not At War savaged Bush's Democratic opponent for allegedly failing to understand that it was all about the military use of force.These are the people, of course, who never admit mistakes on either side of a flip-flop. But it's going to take a lot of revisionist history to pull this one off. Matt also notes that GWOT is a term in constant use all over the Pentagon website. I'll go him one better: it may take a supplemental defense appropriations bill to rewrite the millions of pages of DoD documents that stipulate GWOT as the long-term underpinning of every aspect of national security policy.
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July 29, 2005

Redistricting Reform News

In the last couple of weeks, there have been big developments on redistricting reform in three states: California, Ohio and Colorado.In Calfornia, a state judge tossed a Schwarzenneger-backed redistricting initiative off the ballot for a November special election. A federal district judge stayed the order pending a hearing, but it doesn't look good for the much-hyped but (IMHO) flawed proposal, which mainly relies on a procedural mechanism of turning redistricting over to a panel of retired judges, without much in the way of new guidelines for map-drawing. Ah-nold has been negotiating with Assembly Democrats on a plan to displace the initiative with a legislatively sponsored reform plan, but there hasn't been much news about that of late.In Ohio, a group of good-government groups and (mostly Democratic) legislators are conducting a frantic and potentially successful petition drive (which must succeed by August 1) to get a package of three initiatives on the November 2005 ballot that includes a redistricting reform plan, along with a campaign finance reform effort and a provision seeking to de-politicize Ohio's highly suspect election administration system. The redistricting initiative is interesting: in sharp contrast to California's initiative, it places a very high premium on competitive districts (while respecting Voting Rights Act considerations), and essentially solicits a variety of plans that will be rated according to the extent that they create the maximum number of competitive congressional and state legislative districts, while ensuring overall partisan balance statewide. The package of reforms in Ohio is being fueled by widespread public disgust with the ongoing and ever-escalating news of scandals implicating the state's entrenched Republican leaders in the executive and legislative branches.And in Colorado, a three-judge federal panel yesterday rejected a suit by Republicans to reinstate a 2001 re-redistricting of congressional districts by what was then a GOP-controlled legislature. And though I haven't been able to find the opinion yet, it sounds like the judges expressed more than a little contempt for the Republicans' argument that their First Amendment rights were violated when a court drew an earlier map after the legislature failed to enact a plan, triggering a state constitutional ban on re-redistricting.Meanwhile, down in Florida, my informants say the effort there to get a package of redistricting reforms on the November 2006 ballot is rolling along nicely on a wave of positive newspaper editorial endorsements and a solid petition drive, led by former Education Secretary and Senate candidate Betty Castor. As in Ohio, the Florida reforms would take place immediately upon enactment. And if you recall that Florida and Ohio represent two of the five states (the others being Pennsylvania, Michigan, and thanks to the Great Texas Power Grab of 2003, the Lone Star State) whose peculiar map-drawing has had a lot to do with GOP control of the U.S. House, this is good news on both small-d and big-D democratic grounds.
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July 28, 2005

When Endless Struggles End

The big news today was from Northern Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army announced it was abandoning its "armed struggle" to end British rule, and called on its members to scrap their weapons.Specifically, the IRA issued an order to "dump arms." Nicholas Watt explained the symbolism of that wording in the Guardian:

Eamon de Valera, the father of modern day Irish republicanism, would probably allow himself a wry smile. More than 80 years after the Irish civil war, the IRA today echoed his famous declaration of 1923 when it ordered all units "to dump arms".With his impeccable republican lineage, Gerry Adams will have known the huge symbolic importance of using the exact words of the hardliners who refused to accept the partition of Ireland in 1921.
De Valera, of course, ultimately won power for his Fianna Fail Party through the ballot box. And that's what Adams is predicting for his own Sinn Fein, which could gain partial power through coalition governments in both Dublin and Belfast within the very near future.Whether or not that happens, it will be very difficult for the IRA to renege on this announcement or turn back to violence in the immediate future, especially if it redeems its pledge to allow independent verification of its disarmament. And that's what makes this moment even more significant than the 1998 Good Friday Accord that ended The Troubles.For most of my adult lifetime, the violence in Northern Ireland ranked with the Cold War and the Israeli-Palestinian impasse as interminable battles that would apparently extend infinitely into the future. If today's news from Ireland doesn't prove illusory, then we're two-thirds of the way towards the end of these endless struggles.
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July 27, 2005

Surreal Estate

As some of you may have heard, there's a big assault underway on the DLC in certain precincts of the blogosphere. And here's my response: Whatever, Nothingburger, De Nada, Yawn, Zen Zen, and above all, Who Cares?If you want to know what the DLC is about, go to our web page, read the big speeches our leaders gave on Monday, and decide for yourself whether this organization is focused on criticizing and providing an alternative to Bushism, or arguing with other Democrats. I think it's pretty clear. But just so you know, I'm not going to go there in the blogospheric argument about the DLC. It's not real, it's surreal; and the Bush administration is providing enough surreal estate in politics and policy to satisfy our imaginations in perpetuity.
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July 26, 2005

Common Perspectives

I won't do a full post on the Monday session of the DLC's National Conversation in Columbus until the transcripts and video of the major speeches are up on our web page, so I can link to them and you can figure out if I'm spinning or truth-telling. But I will offer a few quick observations. And you can check out some of the media reports on the event here.I guess the most notable common threads at the event were: (a) a very sharp and often angry critique of the Bush administration and the GOP; (b) a sense of agreement that security, opportunity, values and reform are the four big issues where Democrats ought to focus their work and their message; and (c) a concern that Democrats must soon begin to offer positive alternatives to the Republicans so that their pain will produce our gains (which isn't much happening yet, according to most polls). Evan Bayh, generally considered a national security hawk, offered a truly acidic critique of the administration's handling of the war on terror, concluding: "That's not strength, that's incompetence."Tom Vilsack systematically decimated the GOP's fidelity to values, especially that of community. Hillary Clinton squarely accused Republicans of trying to return the country to the policies and political practices of the 19th century. And Mark Warner scorned the Bushies for choosing to intervene in the medical decisions of the Schiavo family while choosing to do nothing about the 45 million Americans without health insurance. But the same speakers consistently warned that Democrats can't simply offer negative critiques or counter-polarize, even if that makes unity a bit easier. Bayh described the need for positive alternatives as a party responsibility to the country. Vilsack suggested it's the only way to truly contrast Democratic with Republican values. And Clinton argued that we need to remind voters Democrats did govern the country in a vastly better manner in the 1990s, and can do it again. I can tell you authoritatively that the DLC did not script these speeches at all. Their consistency on both the positive and negative aspects of the Democratic message are mainly attributable to objective reality, and the common conclusions that smart and principled pols tend to reach from their different perspectives. It's a very good signpost for our political future.
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July 25, 2005

Greetings From Columbus

This weekend the DLC National Conversation (our annual meeting) got under way in Columbus, Ohio. Today's public session, featuring speeches by Hillary Clinton, Tom Vilsack (our new chairman), Evan Bayh, Mark Warner, and Tom Carper, will undoubtedly get some serious national press, but in some respects, the heart of the meeting was yesterday, when we held 22 workshops on a variety of policy and political topics. We knew there would be more than 300 state and local elected officials here from more than forty states, but the interesting thing was that every one of them seemed to show up for a full menu of three workshops. I moderated three of them. The first, on "values and frames" (a discussion of the Lackoffian theory of message development, and others, including our own) had to be moved to an auditorium after about 80 people showed up. The second, on Religion and Politics, was SRO. And even in the shank of the afternoon, we had a full room for a discussion of that wonkiest of political topics, election reform and redistricting reform. And best as I could tell, every other workshop was pretty much sold-out as well. These folks (about half of whom were attending their first DLC national event) are hungry to learn and win.Those folks who think of the DLC as an inside-the-beltway organization of old white guys would probably have been surprised by the sheer number of state and local attendees, and their diversity in terms of race and gender (about half the attendees were women). Even ideologically, I think we drew a fairly representative cross-section of state and local Democratic elected officials. The tone of most sessions, though infused with a sense of urgency, was upbeat. There was no talk of litmus tests or purges (please take note, Kos), and as usual with these events, a lot of networking and best-practices exchanges in small gatherings between the formal meetings. We were picketed by a local activist group called the Spine Project which pretty much shows up at every Democratic gathering in Ohio to express their displeasure at the Party's failure to challenge the presidential outcome in this state. But it was reasonably friendly. All in all, the vibes have been good, and I expect that to continue today.
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July 22, 2005

Fred's Take on New York and Rudy

Well, I've been horribly remiss in posting, but being as how I'm supposedly on vacation, have been involved heavily in preparations for the DLC's annual meeting, and am getting dragged into a discussion of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas on the TPMCafe site, I'm not exactly violating the Protestant Work Ethic or anything.At any rate, I wanted to say a word about a new book that's recently gotten a couple of major reviews, in the New York Times and in The New Republic: Fred Siegel's Prince of the City, which is ostensibly a biography of Rudy Guiuliani. I say "ostensibly," because Fred Siegel's take on Rudy is really a take on New York's peculiar political culture in the distant and recent past. And it's a take worth reading and absorbing in detail.By way of full disclosure, I should mention that Fred's a friend and mentor of mine, and the most remarkable polymath I have ever known. For years I used to play "stump Fred" by asking him questions about any and every conceivable topic of social, political, literary, and even sports history, and never found a subject he didn't know a lot about. His particular area of expertise is American urban history, and he brings the full weight of his knowledge to bear on that subject in Prince of the City.Both the reviews I linked to above treat Fred's book as a lionization of Guiliani. But I disagree. While he has a lot of positive things to say about Rudy's initial assault on New York's entrenched problems and powers, and later, about Hizzoner's famous apotheosis on and after 9/11, I think the book's theme is essentially tragic: by the end of his two terms in office, Guiliani was beginning to succumb to the same temptations of fiscal profligacy and interest-group tending as his predecessors. And he was succeeded by a Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who exhibited the same vices without many of Rudy's virtues. Fred's a lifelong Democrat, if often a heretical Democrat, and I think the most important message of his book is about how a city with a 4-1 Democratic registration margin has voted three straight times for Republican mayors, and if current polls are any indication, may do so again later this year. It takes a lot of Democratic dysfunction to make that happen, even if the beneficiary is a man with so many progressive impulses as Rudy, and especially if it's Mike Bloomberg. Prince of the City is, more than anything else, a matchless cautionary tale for Democrats everywhere.
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July 19, 2005

Mr. (Justice?) Roberts

Well, after an extended campaign of indirection, George W. Bush tonight named D.C. Court of Appeals Judge John Roberts as his nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.It's an interesting choice, politically and philosophically. Roberts obviously doesn't get any diversity points, particularly since he would replace one of the two women on the Court. He's not, by general assent, a crazy person; liberal legal analyst Jeffrey Rosen has categorized him as a "principled conservative," free of "Constitution-in-Exile" hubris. But Rosen was evaluating him as a replacement for Rehnquist, not O'Connor; it's likely Roberts would move the Court to the Right.On abortion, Roberts' record is unclear. Yes, as Deputy Solicitor General under Bush 41, he wrote a brief in an abortion case that in passing referenced the administration's support for reversing Roe v. Wade. But that was his job as a lawyer representing his client, and is not a reliable indicator of his position as a Supreme Court Justice. Conservatives tonight seem happy with the appointment, but Democrats should let things sift for a while before taking a definitive position. Without question, the confirmation hearings could produce some questions and answers that might either discomfit the Cultural Right or create legitimate concerns for everybody else.
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July 18, 2005

Darfur Tutorial

This week &c, the New Republic's blog, is performing an extremely important public service: a weeklong tutorial on the Darfur genocide by Eric Reeves of Smith College, one of the best U.S. experts on the subject.It's easy to forget about Darfur, given the grindingly consistent if murky bad news, the lack of interest in official circles much of anywhere, and the usual crypto-racist impulses many people have to write it off as just another African massacre. But I strongly urge you to stick with Reeves' posts all week. If enough Americans do that, then maybe Darfur will become something more than a third-tier issue in U.S. and world politics.
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July 16, 2005

Bush's Rx Drug Plan Lookin' a Little Sick

With all the attention that's been paid this year to Bush's stalled Big Plan in domestic policy--Social Security privatization--there's been little talk in political circles about the fate of his last Big Plan--the Medicare prescription drug benefit enacted in 2003 after an enormous amount of GOP arm-twisting.Opponents of the plan--which included the DLC--pointed to a wide variety of problems, ranging from its exceptional and much-disguised cost, to its relatively meager benefits, to its incredibly complex structure, to the windfalls it might provide to drug companies, especially given the bill's failure to authorize government negotiations over prices.But now, two years later, the big problem is simply that seniors, and more specifically a broad cross-section of seniors, might not sign up.That's the news from Robert Pear of The New York Times, who wrote up the first stop--in Maine--of an administration road show aimed at promoting the benefit.Pear succinctly describes the major fear gripping administration officials:

The economics of the new program depend on the assumption that large numbers of relatively healthy people will enroll and pay premiums, to help defray the costs of those with high drug expenses. Insurers say the new program cannot survive if the only people who sign up are heavy users of prescription drugs.
Ah, but there's the rub. The better-off and healthier seniors are among those who look at the benefit and its costs in premiums and aren't exactly excited about it:
People who said they were healthy said they saw no immediate need to buy the Medicare drug coverage. People who said they were ill said the benefit seemed meager. And local insurance counselors said they shuddered at the complexity of the program.
The road show, which will soon be supplemented by a publicity blitz by a wide array of senior and health care organizations, may get seniors who will clearly benefit from the Rx coverage to sign up. But the underlying problems with the whole plan are not going to go away, and could make its costs go even higher than previously assumed. If so, Republicans will be left holding the bag for a genuinely unique accompishment: a new and very expensive government entitlement that its intended beneficiaries don't like.
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July 14, 2005

GOP Goes Through the Looking Glass for Rove

I'm not much in the habit of reading the RNC's web page, so I'm glad Josh Marshall gave a heads-up about the special cavalcade of quotes defending Karl Rove that went up on the site today.Each of these quotes has its own special taste of unintended humor, but there are two big howlers running throughout: (1) Senate Democratic criticism of the silly little business about Rove is detracting from all the big, important things the GOP is trying to do for The People; and (2) Democrats are unaccountably and without provocation acting partisan.The "tempest in a teapot" argument, made most explicitly by Orrin Hatch, is certainly interesting. If true, the Rove allegations involve (a) a deputy White House chief of staff, and the president's acknowledged political guru, with enormous access to classified information; (b) a possible felony violation of federal law; (c) an act compromising our national security, and motivated by personal spite, as part of a larger coverup of information related to the invasion of Iraq; (d) a deliberate leak in an administration where leaking is a far worse sin than, say, gross incompetence in office. This certainly sounds as important to me as the so-called agenda of the Senate Republican leadership, which at present is focused on a semi-filibuster of stem-cell research legislation. But it's the second claim that's really mind-blowing: that those bad, partisan Democrats have gone medieval on that poor, respected civil servant Karl Rove. This is just bizarre. Whatever you think of the man, it's incontrovertible that Rove has devoted his entire political career to a strategy of partisan and ideological polarization. He's also been deeply and consistently implicated in a long series of truly savage "politics of personal destruction" campaign tactics, and has evinced a sort of giggling adolescent pleasure in those dark arts. The idea of Karl Rove as a victim of partisanship is sort of like the idea of Ken Lay as a victim of corporate malfeasance. He may or may not be guilty of the specific allegations against him in the Plame outing, but give me a break: you have to really go through the looking glass to consider him an innocent lamb among the wolves. Rove is one wolf who dare not don sheep's clothing.
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July 13, 2005

Can Hillary Win?

The latest issue of The Washington Monthly features twinned articles by Amy Sullivan and Carl M. Cannon on the favorite perennial topic of political junkies everywhere: is Sen. Hillary Clinton a potential general election winner in 2008? Cannon says "yes," and Amy says, "maybe not."My friend Amy is by no stretch of the imagination a Hillary-basher; it's clear she thinks Clinton would be a fine president, but that the public's fixed opinions of Hillary, and the high negatives she would take into a tough general election, might be perilously difficult to overcome. Cannon responds by comparing Clinton to Ronald Reagan, another politician who was thought to be too ideological, and carry too much baggage, to turn any new heads in the electorate.I agree with Carl's conclusion, if not with all his talking points, but his crucial argument is this one:

She has paid her dues to the Democratic Party, and she doesn't have to prove her bona fides to anyone. From now on, she only need emulate Reagan, a fellow Illinois native, who campaigned with positive rhetoric and a smile on his face, trusting that the work he'd done cultivating his base would pay off, and that he needed mainly to reassure independent-minded voters.
That's true, but Hillary's positioning is even better than Reagan's. After all, Ronald Reagan wasn't a key figure in an earlier, more moderate Republican administration. In other words, Sen. Clinton has a unique strategic flexibility at a time when other potential Democratic candidates are going to have to spend a lot of time establishing their street cred with different elements of the party, including those who are deeply suspicious of anything that looks or sounds like "centrism," and those who fear Democrats may be lurching too far to the Left. And that's also why she has another asset that neither Sullivan nor Cannon really talked about: her ability to unify the Democratic Party. Sure, there are some moderate Democrats who still think of her as the left axis in her husband's administration, and some folks on the Left who never liked Bill, or who can't forgive Hillary for supporting the Iraq War Resolution. But they are a small minority when it comes to rank-and-file Democratic voters.Moreover, the fixed opinions of Clinton that Amy writes about create opportunities as well as obstacles. Republicans have invested so much time, money and noise in stereotyping Democrats that the image of the party as a whole, both good and bad, is converging with Hillary's image. That makes her unusually capable of challenging those stereotypes, and of surprising voters, and making them think--something her husband did to great advantage.To be clear about it, I'm not endorsing Sen. Clinton for president in 2008, and I'm among those who doubt she's made up her mind to run in the first place. I like a lot of other potential candidates, especially my Governor, Mark Warner, but also the man who should be president today, John Kerry, along with Bayh, Biden, Richardson, and Schweitzer. But early as it is, nobody's allowed to not have an opinion of a potential Hillary Clinton candidacy, and so mark me down as one Democrat who looks at that possibility with much more hope than trepidation.
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July 12, 2005

Zell To Pay

This sure ain't a good week for Republican self-righteousness. Aside from the firestorm over Karl Rove's possible involvement in outing a CIA agent, a federal crime against national security, it looks like the most visible and vociferous convert to Roverie, Zell Miller, may have gotten caught pocketing state funds when he left the governorship of Georgia back in 1999. The story, broken by an Atlanta television reporter named Dale Cardwell, is that Miller took home a $60,000 balance in the Governor's Mansion account upon leaving office. Speaking through a flack, Miller admitted taking the money, and claims it was part of his compensation as Governor. But Cardwell quickly and definitively established otherwise, by contacting every other living former Governor, along with legal and budget officials from both political parties. Looks like Miller is totally busted, though it's not yet clear he'll be prosecuted so long as he coughs up the funds pronto.As regular readers know, I worked for Miller during his first term as Governor, back when he was a loud 'n' proud Democrat. And I personally never saw any signs that the man had a greedy or crooked streak, or was into conspicuous consumption of anything other than pride and bile. Still, it's hard to understand how he'd think he could pocket Mansion funds. In most states, and certainly in Georgia, Governors' Mansions are clearly public property, used frequently for public business; that's why they are staffed by public employees and benefit from public funds. And the Governor lives there as a public employee as well. Converting "excess" Mansion funds to private use is about as clearly wrong as selling off the furniture.But whatever Miller thought he was doing, he sure as hell should have reconsidered it before setting himself up in recent years as a paragon of virtue and a scourge of alleged Democratic "indecency." Instead, here he is, a favorite of a White House awash in mendacity and scandal allegations, and most recently, a big supporter of the scandal-ridden Ralph Reed--and now he's got his own scandal to contend with.Whether or not Zell Miller has committed any crime or misdmeanor, he's certainly living down to the reputation of his new political friends, just when they are almost daily getting caught in all sorts of unsavory gigs. If he manages to get out of his own mess, he should finally and definitively retire from the business of telling other people what to do.
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July 11, 2005

So Many Chickens Coming Home to Roost

I have an almost superstitious fear of getting too caught up in the unfolding story of Karl Rove's possible involvement in outing a CIA agent, and/or lying about it. In the Abramoff-Reed-Norquist Indian Casino Shakedown Scandal, we're already being richly treated to a Morality Play of epic proportions, wherein in which the extraordinary arrogance, hypocrisy and greed of key players in the current conservative Ascendancy have led them steadily to sordid acts of self-destruction.But ah, could it be possible that the man who has raised dirty tricks, poltical intimidation, and character assassination to the highest levels of geopolitical strategy could be laid low by a cheap act of personal spite aimed at an obscure former diplomat who threw a minor monkey wrench into the run-up to the war in Iraq? Could the top operative in a leak-proof White House be brought down by a leak? Is the Boy Genius capable of such stupidity? If so, and Rove falls from power, it will be another sign that the legendary discipline and self-confidence of the Bush administration during W.'s first term represented little more than an unusual ability to ignore the consequences of their irresponsible acts. You can't do that perpetually, of course, and that's why the air now seems filled with the squawking of so many chickens coming home to roost.
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July 10, 2005

Fife and Drum Music

I'm posting from a vacation spot on Daufuskie Island, South Cackalacki after an immensely complicated trip involving cabs, planes, cars, ferries, and golf carts, not to mention a major crisis involving internet access. But it's nice to be here, on an island still partly populated by Gullahs, who are, I hope, benefitting in some ways from the upscale honky development of recent decades. Being an American, as opposed to a vacation-entitled European, I'm still slavishly reading the news sites, and intend to blog more often than the day job has allowed recently. And the first cookie on the plate I sampled after getting in late today was an important article in the New York Times that helps demolish the myth that the "death tax" is a threat to family farms. Check it out:"The number of farms on which estate tax is owed when the owners die has fallen by 82 percent since 2000, to just 300 farms, as Congress has more than doubled the threshold at which the tax applies, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report released last week."You wouldn't know that from the GOP's drive to entirely abolish the federal estate tax, which has already passed the House and is pending in the Senate. Much of the propaganda supporting the Total Repeal idea, of course, revolves around bogus Family Farm nostalgia. Every time a GOP politician mounts a soapbox to rail about the Death Tax, it's like those scenes from Green Acres when (the recently deceased) Eddie Albert would rhaposidize about Our Agrarian Heritage while fife and drum music played in the backround, as his listeners invariably noticed. As David Cay Johnston's report in the Times notes, the true beneficiaries of a total estate tax repeal are not terribly likely to have dirtied their hands farming, or even ordering farm hands around, at least in the last couple of generations. So we should look coldly and rationally, not warmly and nostalgically, when we consider the prospect of abolishing taxes on billionaires and shifting the national tax burden even further towards people who earn an income from their own work, rather than the work of their ancestors.
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July 7, 2005

Solidarity

Like all of us, I'm still in shock and horror about the terrorist attack on London earlier today. No, the death count may not reach the levels of 9/11, Bali or Madrid, but the indiscriminate savagery of the attacks is the same. I did a post over at TPMCafe.com that represented a preemptive strike on the idea that Britain was targeted strictly because of its involvement in Iraq, because I am quite sure that's what we are soon going to hear from all sorts of circles, especially in Europe, where there has long been an illusion that it's possible to strike a separate peace with Jihadist terrorism by engaging in anti-American posturing now and then. Today's New Dem Dispatch deals with the significance of the attacks more generally.Virtually the whole world expressed simple solidarity with our country after 9/11. I hope the differences of opinion about how to fight terrorism that have arisen since then will not inhibit a similar expression of solidarity--especially from Americans--with Britain today.
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July 5, 2005

Rummy's Follies

This is a post I wanted to do yesterday; but then decided I didn't want to profane the Fourth by writing anything political. For at least one day a year, we ought to be able to show some unity.But I just finished reading Larry Diamond's fascinating and disturbing book: Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort To Bring Democracy To Iraq. And it left me absolutely livid about the fact that Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense.You should read Diamond's book; if you don't have time, he wrote an earlier and much briefer version of his basic argument in Foreign Affairs last fall.Diamond, probably America's top expert on democracy-building, spent several months working for the Coalition Provisional Authority (the Pentagon-run U.S. occupation entity) in early 2004. And he came away with an indictment of the early and continuing mistakes, mostly attributable to Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides, that we and the Iraqis continue to pay for today.Most of his litany of errors is familiar, but Diamond puts them, and their consequences, together in a way that takes your breath away. Totally aside from the decision to invade in the first place (which Diamond opposed), Rumsfeld's Big Mistake was his stubborn determination to go into Iraq with about one-third the number of troops that every military and civilian expert told him would be necessary to secure the country. As a result, Coalition troops could do little or nothing to deal with (a) the systematic looting and lawlessness that destroyed what was left of Iraqi civil authority, and paralyzed the economy; (b) a massive influx across unprotected borders of Iranian and Sunni Jihadist agents and fighters; (c) the formation of a vast array of sectarian armed militias, fueled by another bad administration decision to disband the Iraqi army; (d) a decisive erosion of Coalition credibility among Kurds and Shi'a who remember their abandonment by the U.S. to Saddam's vicious reprisals after the First Gulf War; and (e) a security situation that made reconstruction efforts physically impossible.Aside from that Big Mistake, Diamond catalogues a bunch of subsequent blunders, including an inability to take seriously and accomodate the pro-democracy views of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, probably the most important figure in Iraq; an abrupt 180-degree shift in policy from a breezy assumption that the U.S. could turn Iraq over to exiles like Ahmed Chalabi, to a reluctance to relinquish control at all; and a consisent pattern of doing the right thing, if at all, several months too late.Even the famous "purple-finger" election of January 2005, Diamond says, carried the potential seeds of disaster, thanks to a Bush administration decision in favor of a national proportional representation system, with no provision for local districts. This decision guaranteed Sunni under-representation in Iraq's first popularly elected government, while eliminating any incentive for the kind of inter-communal political parties that might have emerged in mixed-population areas of the country.Diamond hasn't give up hope about prospects for the ultimate emergence of a stable Iraqi government, but has laid out an urgent series of U.S. policy changes (which the DLC recently endorsed) necessary to make it possible, including a decisive repudiation of the idea that we want a permanent military presence there.We all know George W. Bush cannot admit mistakes, though he is capable, now and then, of unacknowledged flip-flops. His single biggest mistake with respect to Iraq, before, during and after the invasion, was his and Dick Cheney's categorical trust in Donald Rumsfeld and the people around him. I for one will have trouble expecting things to get better in Iraq until such time as Rummy walks the plank. Maybe the White House will suddenly announce that Rumsfeld is desperately needed for another job--perhaps some presidential commission on what the military should look like if and when we colonize space. After all, they've already found ways to offload Wolfowitz, Feith and Bolton.But any way you look at it, Rummy's got to go, especially if this president ever intends to make something other than a very bad joke of his 2000 pledge to introduce "a responsibility era."
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July 1, 2005

Supreme Math

Today's retirement announcement by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, aside from ruining the vacation plans of the people who work for advocacy groups on both sides of the judicial divide, created two immediate political questions. The first is what Bush will do now that he finally has the opportunity to make an appointment that could reshape the Court. I did an extensive post over at TPMCafe predicting he had little choice, and probably even less inclination, to do anything other than give the Cultural Right what it wants: a sure vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. So I won't recapitulate the whole argument here.But the second question remains open: exactly how much should Democrats, and particularly pro-choice Democrats, invest in trying to stop Bush from doing what he's probably going to do? More to the point, do Senate Democrats launch a filibuster, risk triggering the "nuclear option," and pretty much shut down Washington for the rest of the year?Scanning the Left and Center-Left blogosphere today, I was a bit surprised to discover more doubt on this question than I expected.The main reason for debate is the recognition that replacing O'Connor with a Justice determined to reverse Roe would still leave right-to-lifers one vote short, based on the lineup in the last big case where the Court reaffirmed basic abortion rights, Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992). The confusion on this subject probably flows from a misunderstanding over Justice Kennedy's dissenting vote in the 2000 Stenberg case, which struck down a state "partial-birth" abortion ban. The decision of leading abortion rights activists to make the "partial-birth" issue a litmus test for qualifying as "pro-choice" led to a lot of commentary after Stenberg that Kennedy had flipped to the dark side. But while Kennedy may support some erosion of Roe on the margins, it's hard to imagine him contradicting his position in Casey, which flatly accepted abortion rights as a matter of settled precedent.So: the O'Connor replacement is not necessarily a direct threat to abortion rights. But for the same reason, this appointment truly is a crisis point for those who want to overturn Roe. They need to flip the O'Connor vote, maintain Rehnquist's anti-Roe vote (assuming he's forced to retire at some point), and then hope John Paul Stevens, who's 85, will quit before Bush's second term ends. Otherwise, they'll have to count on another Republican president to get the job done, and right now, 2008 is hardly looking like a GOP slam dunk.The asymetrical stakes of the two sides on the abortion issue with respect to this particular nomination provides Democrats with several options. They can simply spot Bush a fourth vote to overturn Roe, and focus on the broader constitutional issues particular nominees might pose (this may well be Harry Reid's strategy in suggesting several anti-abortion Republican Senators that Democrats could accept). They can play rope-a-dope by opposing Bush's appointment and dragging it out, without resorting to a filibuster. Or they can go to the mattresses.I have no settled opinion at this time about what Democrats should do. But it's nice for once to have our side enjoying some tactical flexibility, while the all-powerful GOP is lashed to the mast of its alliance with the Cultural Right.
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