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September 27, 2006

The Big Prize

In all the furor over the selectively leaked National Intelligence Estimate, one of the biggest issues raised by the report isn't getting much attention: the direct connection it draws between the growth of jihadist networks, and "pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims." That's most Muslims, not most radical Muslims, or most Arab Muslims, or most Salafist Muslims, or any other troublesome subcategory. Supposedly, most of us understand that the conflict that flared into disaster on 9/11 is preeminently an ideological war, in which the big prize is the allegiance of the vast majority of Muslims who are not predisposed to support jihadism in any form. Well, folks, we ain't doing so well on that most crucial front, are we? I mention this because it appears the US Senate is going to enact legislation today on treatment of terrorist suspects--virtually all of them, of course, Muslims--that will give a fresh bit of ammunition to jihadist efforts to convince their co-religionists that the United States considers them unworthy of any significant legal or moral self-restraint. This "compromise" bill, apparently worked out on the back of an envelope, and motivated almost entirely by domestic political considerations, might theoretically do some good someday, in some hypothetical case of a terrorist suspect with knowledge of a catastrophic attack. Nobody really knows. But what we do know for a fact is that by officially sanctioning some forms of torture, and denial of judicial oversight, this legislation will have a real, tangible and continuing negative impact on how our country is viewed by many millions of people whose good opinion of us has become a major strategic objective. Don't get me wrong: I don't think the United States should formulate its national security policies via poll results among Muslims. Yes, I understand that anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is partially the product of sentiments (e.g., hostility to Israel) that we either can't or shouldn't do anything about. And no, I do not believe terrorist suspects should be treated exactly like prisoners of war; indeed, I'm all for an international push to revise the Geneva Conventions to reflect the fact that terrorists, by deliberately targeting noncombatants, are guilty of crimes against humanity. But none of these considerations can justify the casual abandonment of our own legal and moral traditions at a time when our own safety depends on the ultimate acceptance of the rule of law, and of our own good faith, throughout the Muslim world. There is, of course, a school of thought, identifed most notably with Dick Cheney, that any self-imposed limitations on anti-terrorist actions represent a weak-minded "pre-9/11 framework." The corrolary of this radical concept is that the "new Middle East" we claim as our ultimate objective can be created, and can only be created, via fire and sword; non-jihadist Muslims will ultimately have to choose sides, and we shouldn't waste any time worrying about their opinions in the interim. The steady erosion of our prestige and influence in the region are in no small part attributable to this attitude, which has repeatedly trumped all the presidential rhetoric about our desire for a free and democratic Middle East that mirrors our values. Those supporting the Bush-Cheney position on treatment of terrorist suspects no doubt think they are signalling a tough attitude towards our jihadist enemies. But I fear it may signal something very different: a defeatist attitude, bordering on complete surrender, in the wider war against terrorism that we are waging in the hearts and minds of many millions of Muslims. This is truly a war in which we dare not cut and run.
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September 25, 2006

Kennel Cough

Before wading into the political stuff this week, I wanted to reflect a bit on college football--specifically, the near-catastrophe my Georgia Bulldogs suffered against winless Colorado between the hedges in Athens on Saturday. In case you missed it, the Dawgs were trailing the Buffs 13-0 late in the fourth quarter until their third-string quarterback, redshirt freshman Joe Cox, saved their bacon with two late touchdown drives.Georgia fans shoulda known their boys were ripe for an upset when the big pre-game buzz around Athens wasn't about their opponents, but about Colorado's half-ton mascot, Ralphie IV, who made a rare road appearance. Last Wednesday, the Atlanta papers did a long piece on the big critter with this interesting excerpt:

Ralphie already has a Georgia connection. Longtime Atlantan and CNN founder Ted Turner, who has raised and promoted bison, donated the Montana-born Ralphie IV to Colorado after reading an article in "Bison World" magazine about the school's search for a replacement for Ralphie III.
"Bison World" magazine? Who knew?In any event, the Dawgs might be forgiven for underestimating the Buffs, after they lost their home opener to Ralphie's homies from Montana State, continuing the collapse into total ineptitude they displayed late last year. But during the first half, Colorado totally dominated the game, rolling up over 200 yards of offense on Georgia's vaunted defense and holding the Dawgs to, well, nothing. In the end, after watching his wunderkind true freshman QB Matthew Stafford repeatedly drill Sandy-Koufax-fastball passes through the hands of his receivers, Coach Mark Richt finally put in the little-known Cox, who was calm and very effective. Despite two failed fourth-down plays in the Red Zone, Georgia survived an embarassing outcome, with the help of a particularly ill-timed Buff fumble. According to the Voice of the Dogs, Larry Munson, who added yet another apoplectic performance to his long and brilliant career, Ralphie was already over at the UGA vet school getting loaded into her custom trailer for the long trip home to Boulder when the deal went down. Though they remain in the Top Ten, it's increasingly clear Georgia has benefitted tremendously from its schedule thus far. Two wins were against Western Kentucky and UAB. Another was against a South Cackalacki team that subsequently strugged against the vicious Terriers of Wofford. Then they performed more poorly against Colorado than did Montana State. Next week they go on the road to play one of the worst Ole Miss teams in decades. Let's hope they get their stuff together before the orange-clad hordes of Tennessee come into Athens on October 7, doubtless seeking redemption for their earlier Big Choke against Florida at home. I think Georgia can be for real this year, and I'm glad the Dawgs coughed but did not choke on Saturday. P.S.--Since I didn't blog about it at the time, I wanted to mention a ha-larious comment by the Georgia broadcast team last week, after Steve Spurrier did a press conference and claimed his South Cackalacki team lost to the Dawgs because the refs missed a bunch of Georgia holding calls. I'm not sure who came up with the bon mot (maybe Lauren Smith), but one of them said: "Yeah, but the refs also didn't make an obvious call on Spurrier for Failure to Coach."
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September 22, 2006

Hugo, Charlie, Nancy and Harry

I totally agree with my colleague The Moose in congratulating Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel for their plain-talk trashing of Hugo Chavez's latest Bush-bashing incursion into Harlem. This is pretty basic stuff. Yeah, I think Bush has been an unmitigated disaster for our country. Yeah, given the political capital he possessed on September 12, 2001, I think you could make a pretty good case that the debate over Bush's exact status as one of the worst presidents of the last century is a bit of an insult to the memories of Warren Harding and Richard Nixon. And yeah, I have to remind myself of the dictates of Christian charity in foreswearing hatred of the man and his administration.But still, I do not think Bush's American detractors need any outside help from the likes of Hugo Chavez. He is, as Pelosi pungently put it, an "everyday thug." More generally, he's a guy who would be universally dismissed as just another self-important ex-military caudillo if he wasn't sitting on top of oil revenues that keep his regime from ruin, and enable him to strut around Manhattan showering goodies on low-income Americans. He's pretty much Khadafy without the experience.I find it really odd and reprehensible that Markos took issue with Rangel for upbrading Chavez (missing the point, BTW, that Charlie was objecting to Chavez's extracurricular appearances in Harlem, not his speech at the UN). But I also probably part company with The Moose in rejecting his particular identification of Harry S. Truman with the idea that partisan differences should generally be subordinated to the national interest.As it happens, I'm now re-reading Richard Norton's Smith's political biography of Thomas Dewey, whom Truman famously upset in his signature campaign of 1948. It certainly confirms my often-expressed opinion that George W. Bush's 2004 campaign had an antecedent in 1948 as an incumbent candidacy based on eschewing the political center and pursuing a deliberate polarization of the electorate.Sure, Truman was pre-positioned in the center to some extent via his abandonment by the anti-Cold War "Progressives" backing Henry Wallace, and the anti-civil rights southerners backing Strom Thurmond. And there's no question he was a resolute anti-communist, or that his overall record in building a post-war edifice of international institutions was worthy of all the praise that Democratic centrists have so often given him.But within those parameters, Truman ran one of the most polarizing campaigns in U.S. political history, suggesting repeatedly that Dewey was a front not only for the restoration of Herbert Hoover's domestic and foreign policies, but for an actual American fascist movement determined to abolish democracy and impose an oligarchy of wealth. He ran a very Kos-like campaign, and most of the retrospective Republican commentaries concluded that Dewey (who in part was spooked by the conviction that he lost in 1944 by being too negative towards FDR), erred fatally in campaigning on a "national unity" message.On any issue other than foreign condemnations of an American president, nobody would much accuse Nancy Pelosi or Charles Rangel of insufficient partisan zeal. But that's another example of the true HST legacy: keep the enemies abroad in mind, but domestically, leave no partisan attack behind. You don't have to completely endorse this formula to recognize it as a template for what George W. Bush did in 2004, and for what Democrats feel driven to do today.
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About That GOP "September Surge"

If you read a lot of political commentary, you probably know about the buzz over the last couple of weeks about an alleged "September Surge" in Bush's approval ratings, which allegedly raised GOP confidence about holding onto Congress next month. The Pew organization's Andrew Kohut took a long, cool look at the evidence today, and found no evidence that Republicans have much to cheer about.Here's the key graph:

While some recent polls show Bush's ratings rising modestly, there are few indications that Republicans are closing the gap in the generic congressional ballot. The CBS News/New York Times survey showed Democrats with a 15-point advantage among registered voters, no change from mid-August. The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News survey found Democrats with a stable 49%-39% lead.
While Democratic prospects of taking back the House remain good but hardly certain, and recapturing the Senate would still require a good last-minute wave, it doesn't appear Bush's Terrorism Offensive, the hardiest weapon in the GOP arsenal, is cutting much electoral ice. And if that's true now, it's likely to become even more salient between now and November, barring external events.
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September 19, 2006

The Pope and His Muslim Critics

The global brouhaha over Pope Benedict XVI's remarks quoting a fourteenth century theologian who deplored contemporay Islam's practice of forced conversions has amply illustrated the many false choices that tempt all sides in the religious dimensions of the war against jihadist terrorism.The most obvious malefactors are those jihadists who have rushed to confirm the "insult to Islam" purportedly contained in the Pope's remarks by sacking churches, burning Benedict in effigy, and otherwise seeking to "conquer by the sword." They could care less about the actual content of the Pope's comments; it's all about seizing on any opportunity to foment irreconcilable conflict between the West and Islam. I agree with my colleague The Moose that Democrats, and all other American and European officials, should denounce such violence categorically.But I don't agree with those who view this incident as indistinguishable from the earlier dispute over Danish cartoon caricatures of Muhammad, or who consider the non-violent protests against the Pope's comments indistinguishable from the violent protests in all but tone or degree.The Danish cartoonists were private citizens exercising the free speech rights they enjoy as citizens of Denmark and members of the European Community. Pope Benedict XVI is a head of state, and also head of the largest Christian faith community. He is, moreover, holder of the office which in fact authorized the anti-Muslim Crusades that jihadists so often point to as representing the enduring hostility of Christians towards Muslims. However absurd it may seem to Americans that anyone could fail to understand the vast changes in Vatican attitudes towards non-Christians (and for that matter, non-Catholic Christians) over the ensuing centuries, it's not completely irrational that Muslims would be a little sensitive on this point.More importantly, it should be obvious that most of the official and non-violent statements of Muslim dismay over the Pope's remarks are not slightly less rabid versions of the jihadist fury, but something very different: expressions of anxiety about the western stereotypes of Islam as inherently intolerant and violence-prone, and about jihadist stereotypes of malevolent western intentions towards Islam. If, as most Americans profess to believe, moderate Muslim opinion is critical to our success in the war with jihadism, then it's irresponsible to breezily dismiss moderate Muslim opinion in this case. So does that mean the Pope should be badgered into more fully apologizing for his remarks, even though they have clearly been taken far out of context by his Muslim critics? No, but I think it would be wise of him to issue a clarification that explains the context, and reassures Muslims that they are not the exclusive target of his concerns. From everything I've read about Benedict's speech, he was essentially arguing that violence is incompatible with religious faith of every variety. Perhaps if he frankly acknowledged that Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, has been guilty of the same sort of grievous resorts to coercion and violence as jihadists advocate today, his message would carry more moral weight, and create less offense among non-jihadist Muslims. To cite the most obvious example, forced conversions of hundreds of thousands of Muslims (and of Jews) represented a central chapter in the history of Spanish Catholicism. Indeed, the Spanish Inquisition was primarily aimed at rooting out residual Muslim and Jewish religious practices (e.g., refusing to eat pork) among the population that chose to convert rather than leave Spain. A little historical candor, and the kind of collective act of contrition that Benedict's predecessor so notably exercised with respect to Catholic persecution of Jews, might go a long way not only to end the current protests against the Vatican, but to re-establish the general principle that any faith that tries to "conquer by the sword" is incompatible with its own best traditions, and with civilization itself.
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September 15, 2006

Prognosticating Generation Gap

Via Chris Bowers at MyDD, I recently read a Charlie Cook column that said out loud something I have been puzzling about:

As a general rule, election-watchers under the age of 40, regardless of their party or ideology, see the contest for control of the House as fairly close. They foresee Republicans' losing at least 10 seats, but certainly no more than 20, and they put the odds of a Democratic takeover at 50-50, give or take 10 percentage points. As for the Senate, these observers tend to expect Republicans to lose three or four seats, but probably not five and certainly not the six required for Democrats to take charge.Observers over age 40, meanwhile, tend to see a greater likelihood of sizable Republican losses. They think that the GOP could well lose more than 20 House seats and more than five Senate seats.
This generation gap has been especially notable if you read progressive prognosticators, such as Chris Bowers or Kos. These are people who by and large are completely obsessed with the hope that Democrats will retake Congress. This is largely what they live for. Yet they are very reluctant to predict that their Ahab will indeed slay their Great White Whale. At the same time, nonpartisan and Washington Establishment crystal ball analysts--the very people that progressive bloggers regard as thinly veiled allies of Bush and Rove--are typically suggesting that Bush and Rove's party is about to get 1994'd. Cook gently suggests that Old Folks remember earlier elections that provide the relevant empircal data for what's happening this year. Bowers responds by noting that young'uns are fixated on recent elections where the only real pattern was Democratic futility. As an Old Guy who pays a lot of attention to Young Folk commentary, I think both sides have a point. Cook and Rothenburg and all sorts of conventional handicappers are right to examine the historical evidence for what might happen when you have a deeply unpopular president whose party controls Congress, especially six years into a presidency. But Bowers and company have experienced two straight midterm elections that broke all the rules about the performance of the president's party. Perhaps I'm showing my age here, but I tend to agree with Charlie and Stu and company that it's hard to find any precedent for a presidential party controlling Congress in the sixth year of an administration that avoids disaster when the electorate is completely sour on the status quo. But we're in an era when precedents are being broken every day, so who knows?For all the talk about 1986 and 1994 and 2002 as precursors of what might happen this November, I am increasingly reminded of 1980, when it comes to the allegedly slight possibility of Democrats retaking the Senate. That year, there were a large number of very close Senate races: NY, IA, IN, FL, AL, GA, NC, ID, WA, WI, as I recall. Republicans won every damn one of them, thanks to a last minute "wave." The lay of the land in Senate races this year is strikingly similar. So mark me down as an Old Guy who understands how unpredictable elections have become, but who thinks Democrats are in position, if we don't make mistakes, to do even better in actual races than our national standing might suggest.
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September 13, 2006

Missing Lincs

When returns from RI last night began showing that Sen. Linc Chafee was winning his primary over conservative challenger Stephen Laffey, I bet more than one pundit arose from the sofa, cursing, and began rewriting a prepackaged column that paired Chafee's demise with the Lieberman-Lamont primary in Connecticut as signs of partisan and ideological polarization.Perhaps some Republican chatterers will make the absurd claim that the results show the GOP is more open to centrist candidates than the Democratic Party. My colleague The Moose, an early riser, has already done a post offering a sunnier and more balanced take: Chafee's win and Lieberman's steady poll lead as an indie candidate indicate an appetite for centrist candidates across the board, with the different primary results being attributable to the ability of independents to participate in RI primaries. The Moose may well be right that Lieberman's narrow loss in the August 8 primary would have become a narrow victory if indies could have participated; as always, close races make it possible to point to all sorts of different shoulda woulda scenarios (e.g., that Lieberman would have also won if he had foresworn a post-primary indie race altogether). But I wouldn't overstate the "closed primary" factor. CT allows indies to switch their registration to participate in partisan primaries right up to Election Eve, and anecdotal evidence this year was that thousands of them were doing just that. But there's a much bigger difference between the two primaries that should give pause to anyone making comparisons. Throughout the primary contest in RI, Republicans were deluged with polls showing Laffey getting absolutely killed in general election matchups with Dem candidate Sheldon Whitehouse; Chafee, while often trailing, was always close. That's why national Republicans threw absolutely every available resource into helping Chafee. And by primary day, most of those voting for Laffey did so with an understanding that they might be tossing away a Senate seat at a time when Democrats were beginning to realistically think they could retake the Senate. In CT, by contrast, the implosion of Republican Senate candidate Alan Schlesinger meant that Democrats could cast primary ballots without any real fear of losing a seat. And that's also why national Dems, even though most of them endorsed Lieberman in the primary, didn't devote anything like the kind of effort on Joe's behalf that GOPers made for Chafee (and why a lot of them who have since endorsed Lamont aren't exactly kicking out the jams for him, either, given Lieberman's pledge to stay within the Caucus if he wins). So I dunno if the two primaries can be accurately compared; there are too many missing links, or Lincs.
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September 12, 2006

Solidarity Noted

I didn't get around to blogging about this earlier, given the 9/11 anniversary and such, but I was glad to see someone in the mainstream media took notice of the DLC/Labor event last week, highlighting the DLC endorsement of the Employee Free Choice Act. David Broder devoted his Sunday column to the event, focusing on Gov. Tom Vilsack's role in making it happen:

When Vilsack became chairman of the DLC last year, it raised eyebrows because unions have been a backbone of his support in Iowa. But he said he wanted to try to heal the breach, and he quickly began a series of private conversations with labor leaders, followed by joint sessions of DLC staffers and union operatives.The upshot was the news conference, where the DLC formally endorsed a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act that is high on labor's wish list.
Broder is often derided as fatally old-school. But sometimes having a long memory matters. He's right to suggest that this is an event that would have been hard to imagine not that long ago, and that exhibits Democratic unity across a divide that's as important as the more recent fissures over Iraq. As Broder put it in summarizing Vilsack's efforts:
It has a double significance. For Vilsack, a long-shot candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination, it is the strongest proof of his ability to be a successful power broker.And for the Democrats, it holds important potential. For most of the past decade, the DLC and its adherents have supplied the best policy thinking for the party while the labor movement has supplied most of the grass-roots organization and effort.For the first time, you can see mind and muscle working together, a healthy development for the Democrats.
Selah.
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September 11, 2006

9/11/06

In some respects, September 11, 2001 seems like far more than five years ago. It's hard to remember what it was like to go through airport security before then. And for those of us in politics, it's even harder to recall a time when national security was an entirely subordinate issue, much less when Republicans were calling for "humility" in foreign policy, and suggesting Democrats were too prone to support military actions remote from direct threats to the United States. But at the same time, we all remember that day with extraordinary clarity. I was at work in Washington, and a colleague called me into his office to watch reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Right after I started watching, the second plane hit, and I knew, like everyone else at that moment, what that meant. Almost immediately, it seemed, another colleague called in to say she was sitting in traffic on I-395 and saw an airliner crash into the Pentagon (thinking--erroneously, it turned out--that her husband was in the Pentagon for a meeting, she was understandably beside herself). And then within a minute or two, we could all see the smoke rising on the horizon from the direction of Northern Virginia. Following some odd impulse, a friend and I went down to the street (Pennsylvania Ave. SE) and stood there just watching the Capitol building, half-expecting it to explode any minute. We finally snapped out of it when the sidewalks filled with congressional staffers who had just been evacuated. I didn't lose any friends or family members on 9/11, and it's just one of the traumatic national incidents burned permanently into my memory (others being the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK; the Challenger explosion; Hurricane Katrina; and, as a political junkie, the horror of the Florida recount in 2000). Life more or less returned to normal in New York and Washington within months of the tragedy, and in D.C. we no longer awaken each morning immediately aware of the drone of circling aircraft patrols. But because we are still as a nation grappling with how to respond to 9/11, and to place it in some proper historical context, this particular memory burns bright today, and Lord only knows when it will ever fade from our nightmares, or fail to arouse anger and tears.
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September 7, 2006

More Trouble With Comment Threads

A good while back I made a resolution not to blog about blogging more than once in a blue moon, and I've kept the resolution well enough that I literally can't find my last post on the subject, after googling and scanning the site for about an hour. I do recall that this long-lost post explained why I don't provide comment threads--which some folks consider essential for any legitimate progressive blog--mainly because I literally don't have the time to read, much less manage, a significant number of comments. But at present, there's quite a bit of buzz about comment threads in the blogosphere. Much of it is devoted to the recent incident over at The New Republic, which shut down a "culture blog" written by Lee Siegel after he got caught pseudonymously doing self-hagiographical posts in his own comment threads. And there's continuing discussion (most recently by my colleague The Moose) about anti-semitic comments on progressive blog sites and whether their managers are sufficiently policing them. Siegel's stunt struck me as reflecting more of a psychological disorder than some sort of massive violation of blogospheric ethics; you have to wonder how many other bloggers have succumbed to the temptation to stuff their own ballot box with self-praise. But it does raise obvious questions about the function of comment threads. Their ostensible purpose is to allow readers to "comment" on primary posts. But as anyone knows who slogs through comment threads, particularly at high-traffic sites, threads typically drift into collateral and then non-collateral topics. And there is clearly a hardy band of frequent commenters who drift from site to site; who know each other's views; and who often conduct long-running debates that have little or nothing to do with the posts on which they are "commenting." I have no inherent objection to this practice, but would observe that comment threads in many cases simply offer a way for non-bloggers to blog without the muss and fuss of running a site or creating diaries on the sites that offer them. The topic of objectionable content on comment threads is more important and troublesome. I agree with Kevin Drum that it's fundamentally unfair to tar whole sites, much less whole categories of bloggers, with occasional disgusting views as expressed in comment threads. The Moose is making the somewhat different claim that blog proprietors aren't doing enough to rid their sites of anti-semitic comments. I dunno about that. Most of the big progressive sites have an elaborate (and to me largely incomprehensible) machinery of policies and technological tools to police comments threads, and do regularly "ban" posters who violate the policies chronically. But they don't, and probably can't, instantly expunge comments that express objectionable prejudices, in part because it's not always easy to draw the line between, say, objections to the U.S. alliance with Israel, and genuine anti-semitic utterances, even though they may often overlap.As it happens, I once (successfully) urged Josh Marshall to ban a guy from comments at TPMCafe who was constantly popping up (not just there, but all over the blogosphere) to claim that anyone he disagreed with on virtually any topic was, in fact, acting as an agent of AIPAC, a.k.a. "the Israel Lobby." I contacted Josh after about the fifth time this jerk breezily announced that the DLC existed purely and simply as an AIPAC front. My objection was not exactly that he was expressing anti-semitic opinions, though he likely holds them; it was that his comments weren't expressions of opinion at all, but completely unsupported statements of "fact" that were actually lies, and had to be either conscious lies or products of a deep delusion, since he had no idea what he was talking about. Seems to me this might not be a bad rule of thumb for the general treatment of possibly anti-semitic content on blog sites. After all, the diseased heart of all classic anti-semitism is the stubborn claim that Jews exercise shadowy and disproportionate influence by way of a conspiracy that has ensnared or corrupted the gentiles who ostensibly are in charge of governments and opinion-leading media. If, God forbid, I were in charge of a comment thread, I wouldn't have a beef with people who wanted to argue that America's alliance with Israel is not in our national interest. But there are dozens of reasons for the strong pro-Israeli tradition in U.S. foreign policy--reasons that range from coldly rational analysis to all sorts of ideological and cultural affinities. It would exist if there were no AIPAC, and no high-profile Jews writing about the Middle East. So I'd bounce anybody from a comment thread that resorted to the "Jewish cabal" kind of argument. It's a short distance from there to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And quite frankly, that point of view has been aired more than enough over the centuries, with horrific consequences.
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September 6, 2006

Solidarity

It's been an interesting day here at the DLC. This morning we hosted an event featuring an array of top union officials to announce the DLC's endorsement of the labor movement's current top legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Speakers at the event included Al From; our chairman, Gov. Tom Vilsack; AFL-CIO president John Sweeney; Change to Win Federation chair Anna Burger; AFSCME president Gerald McEntee; and Steelworkers' Secretary-Treasurer James English.The EFCA, colloquially known as "card check," would require recognition of unions as collective bargaining agents if a majority of workers in a particular workplace sign verifiable statements supporting the organization of a union. Under current law, employers can (and generally do) request a formal election before recognizing unions, a requirement that often creates long delays, expensive election campaigns, and, because the penalties for illegal employer activities are so light, all sorts of intimidation tactics against pro-union employees, ranging from firings to threats of layoffs and plant closings. This system has contributed materially to the decline of union membership, despite constant polls showing sizeable majorities of workers would join unions if given a fair chance.The labor movement is making a major push for EFCA this fall, while also seeking to make it a significant campaign issue in Congressional and even state elections. Nearly half of the House, along with 43 senators, are cosponsors, so the timing is right to show a united progressive front on this legislation.As Gov. Vilsack said at the event:

The DLC has come together today with the nation’s top labor leaders to speak with one voice guarding a worker’s right to choose to join a union without fear or intimidation. We believe that worker protection is a concern to all Americans and will work together to ensure the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. I am pleased we have found common ground on this very important issue and look forward to a productive and on-going dialogue between organizations.
As this last comment indicated, the EFCA endorsement represented the first fruits of a dialogue between the DLC and a broad range of unions on economic issues--a dialogue created by Vilsack along with long-time DLC-supporting unions like the Firefighters and the Sheet Metal Workers (the discussions have also included a recent addition to the ranks of DLC donors, the National Education Association). Having been in some of the discussions, I can tell you that for every issue like trade that divides the DLC from some labor movement representatives, there are quite a few others that unite us, aside from the overriding goal of getting rid of the country's current economic leadership.And this common ground is not that surprising. Back in 2004, a similar dialogue between the Progressive Policy Institute and a diverse group of union-oriented journalists and policy wonks (convened by Donkey Rising chief Ruy Teixeira and then-PPI veep Rob Atkinson) produced a remarkable joint op-ed by PPI president Will Marshall and American Prospect founding co-editor Bob Kuttner laying out a common economic agenda for the Democratic Party and the country.Regular readers of this blog probably know I love this sort of stereotype-busting development that serves as a reminder of how much progressives, for all their wrangling, have in common. The Marshall-Kuttner op-ed got very little attention; maybe today's event will be enough of a dog-bites-man story to turn a few heads.
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September 5, 2006

After Labor Day

Although Autumn doesn't officially begin for another two-and-a-half weeks, Labor Day is semi-officially the transition from Vacation Time to the resumption of school, work, and serious politics. On the last point, I intend to blog regularly from now until November about the midterm elections. It is shaping up as a great year for Democrats across the board, and I personally think the abandonment of the all-politics-is-local GOP congressional strategy in favor of a classic Rovian attack on godless pacifist Democrats may well backfire. I may also comment now and then on another obsession: college football. My Georgia Bulldogs won a tune-up game against I-AA Western Kentucky on Saturday, but next week will have to go to Columbia, South Cackalacki to take on the Old Ball Coach, whose Gamecocks shut out Mississippi State in their first contest. Most Georgia fans don't want to admit it, but Steve Spurrier had a lot to do with the Dawgs' SEC title last year, mainly because of his upset win over his alma mater, the Florida Gators. This year, the Roosters are legitimate SEC East contenders. Beating them at home would be satisfying in terms of tormenting Georgia's ancient enemy in the smirk and the visor. But it would also help replicate last year's dynamic of forcing Spurrier to knock off Tennessee and Florida to complete a successful season. I'm glad Labor Day has come and gone, and look forward to the real autumn season when the heat and humidity retreat and the turning leaves remind us all of the passing nature of life, and its perennial beauty.
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