Dover Bitch

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Most Trusted Name in Propaganda

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

Via Atrios, I see that CNN has given Laura Ingraham a week to get America clapping louder.

I guess we can expect the kind of hard-hitting war coverage we've already heard from Ingraham on her radio show:

INGRAHAM: Secretary Rumsfeld, I've got to tell you, when I read some of the very small stories about the Afghan elections I thought to myself, here we have about a 50 percent turnout rate in a country where we were promised unending violence, unending chaos, and yet women and young people brave the threats and they made it to the polls and you don't get any coverage of it.


INGRAHAM: One of the things that I think of course is responsible for this, the reason for this refusal to pay attention to the story, is because they'd rather focus on whatever they think is perceived problems in Katrina response, or they'll focus on the difficulty we're facing in Iraq, and on that note, I have to ask you, given everything that you know about the region, what's happening in Iraq, what do you do at the Pentagon to affect public opinion? Because these polls, one after the other, are showing ebbing support for the war. I support the war, I'm think it's worth it, and I'm frustrated that more Americans don't think it's worth it at this juncture.


INGRAHAM: Do we think, Mr. Secretary, that having a military spokesperson on the ground day in and day out, ticking off three positive pieces of news out of Iraq every day, someone that every American knows, comes to know whether it's General Casey or someone else, do you think that's something that would affect the public opinion at this point? Because I'm concerned if these numbers keep going the way they are, it's going to do damage to the President's war on terror overall and obviously his standing on other issues at home.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD: ... Obviously you're quite right, all of that effort has not overcome the negative press that is --

INGRAHAM: Something's got to change.


INGRAHAM: North Korea, I've got to say everyone thinking it was such a positive development, North Korea's commitment in the six-party talks to refrain from further pursuit of nuclear materials and nuclear processing and now they say well, we want a white water reactor, otherwise we're not going to move forward on our commitment.

What are the American people supposed to think about this?


INGRAHAM: The mistake made in 1994 not to look back, but to use it as a way of learning, a mistake of hoping for the best from North Korea just ended up kicking the can down the road, to use the line from one of your former colleagues.


INGRAHAM: Back on Iraq for a second, Mr. Secretary, the major problem outside of Iraq that would affect the future, our future success in Iraq, would it be Iran for you? I know that you talk about the people streaming across the border still, and the foreign fighters we found in Telafar a few weeks ago. But would it be Iran, and what Iran's role in all this is and would be?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: In what sense? Would it be what?

INGRAHAM: A further danger to the situation in Iraq as it is today. What outside forces other than what we're seeing developing on the ground inside of Iraq would you point to as a problem?


INGRAHAM: And your commanders in the field now in Iraq, there are reports back to you about the progress being made. Of course Americans are greeted by headlines every day, 1900 dead, thousands more wounded, roadside bombs. But the commanders were working with the security forces. I've had a chance to talk to some of them. I hear a very different account of what is happening, very positive stories, again, and yet I don't see the stuff reported. It's frustrating to me. I can't imagine how frustrating to you it must be.


INGRAHAM: Two more questions, Mr. Secretary, I know you're on a tight schedule. Are you confident that a year from now or six months from now public opinion will move toward embracing progress in Iraq and the fact that Iraq was worth it?


INGRAHAM: You've got a press corps against you and you've got an international media who's oftentimes against you so it's very difficult.

Before I let you go, the AmericaSupportsYou.Mil charity. We continue to link it and promote it on our web site, Mr. Secretary, at a time when everyone's opening their wallets to Katrina I need to remember and remind everyone to support that web site which helps our troops, their families, and continues to just be a huge outpouring to the benefit of our men and women in uniform.

That's the entirety of her exclusive interview with the Secretary of Defense in the middle of two wars. Other than a dig at Clinton's North Korea policy, the only question was essentially "How bad is Iran?"

Everything else out of her mouth was an attack on the media for ignoring how fantastic the war is. CNN has reacted to her by giving her a prime slot... A woman who asked Rumsfeld "What are the American people supposed to think about this?"

Well done, CNN. In case her willingness to catapult the propaganda isn't obvious enough, here's how the interview ended:

INGRAHAM: Fantastic. If you need someone to be that military spokesperson over in Iraq, I'm happy to give up my microphone any time, Mr. Secretary. Any time you call I'll be happy to jump over there.

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You're terrific, Laura. Thanks so much.

Yes, terrific is the word I'd choose, too:

Main Entry: ter·rif·ic
Pronunciation: t&-'ri-fik
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin terrificus, from terrEre to frighten
1 a : very bad : FRIGHTFUL

You're terrific, too, CNN.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

The dead-on military man

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh warns us all that the demise of John McCain's dream of leading our troops into another glorious war as Commander in Chief is a grave sign that America is not listening to experienced "military men."

In early November 2003, at a time when Fred Dalton Thompson was playing a tough D.A. on "Law and Order," John McCain was cross-examining Donald Rumsfeld for real on Capitol Hill. It was still very early into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but the as-yet-unacknowledged (by Rummy, that is) insurgency was already out of control. Alone among his fellow GOP senators, McCain blasted Rumsfeld for not putting enough U.S. troops on the ground, and for resorting too soon to "Iraqification"—that is, transferring security to ill-prepared Iraqi forces. In an extraordinarily blunt speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that grim autumn, McCain warned that ultimately Iraq could become another Vietnam "if we lose popular support in the United States."

The next day, the secretary of Defense asked McCain to breakfast. "I read your speech," harrumphed Rumsfeld (that "must have been an enjoyable experience for him," McCain later joked to me). Then Rummy patiently explained to his fellow Republican why he and his top civilian brass (Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and the usual crowd of incompetents) would continue to do things the same way. They "believed there was no need for additional troops," McCain later related. McCain had already realized that Rumsfeld was a lost cause. The real question, the senator suggested to me back then, was whether George W. Bush himself would push Rummy to make changes. "I’d like to see the president fully engaged,” McCain said. Bush needed to be on top of “more details of what’s going on."

As we now know nearly four years later, McCain was dead on in his analysis of what went wrong in Iraq. Right down to the need for Bush to get engaged and fire Rumsfeld. McCain was so right that, among military experts today, the emerging conventional wisdom about Bush’s current "surge" is that if it had occurred back then—when McCain wanted it and the political will existed in this country to support it for the necessary number of years—it might well have succeeded. Now even McCain’s fellow Republicans, frightened of the polls and Bush’s Nixonian level of unpopularity, are insisting on success in an impossible nine months (by September, that is). That’s a benchmark Gen. David Petraeus and others in the Iraq command realize is simply untenable. The disparity between the timelines in Washington and Baghdad is now so huge that failure is all but foreordained.

Oh yeah, and Fred Dalton Thompson is still acting on TV, having abandoned Washington for Hollywood five years ago, in the middle of the biggest national crisis since Vietnam. Presumably Thompson will keep acting until he announces for president, which some politicos think will instantly make him the front runner in a field that apparently no longer has room for John McCain. Thompson is, after all, a very good actor—an even better one, many say, than Ronald Reagan was.

And that points up a sad fact of political life in Washington. Americans can’t get enough of praising our military men and women in public—the people who actually know something about war. But we no longer want to elect them president. In a national culture besotted with TV "reality" shows, no one seems able to tell what reality is any more. We saw that in 2004 when two draft dodgers—Bush and Dick Cheney—brazenly painted a Silver Star winner, John Kerry, as fatally soft on war. We’re seeing the same dynamic play out again now.

I'll give Hirsh points for pointing out what a sham of a candidate Fred Thompson is. He also gets another point for calling out Bush and Cheney for the draft-dodging chickenhawks they are.

But the premise of this article is absurd. We are not "seeing the same dynamic play out again now." Not even close. Nobody is fabricating anything about McCain's war record to smear him. If anything, the fabrication is coming from Hirsh in defense of McCain, whom he credits for being "dead on in his analysis."

Hirsh is conveniently forgetting that McCain was the surge's biggest proponent in October 2006:

Republican Sen. John McCain, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, said Friday the United States should send another 20,000 troops to Iraq.

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said increasing U.S. forces would require expanding the standing Army and Marine Corps - a step the Bush administration has resisted. He also reiterated his opposition to a hasty U.S. withdrawal.

Reporters asked him to elaborate on his statement last week in Iowa that more combat troops are needed in Iraq to quell a "classic insurgency."

"Another 20,000 troops in Iraq, but that means expanding the Army and the Marine Corps," he said.

"It's not just a set number."

Bush announced his "surge" about two months later, just what McCain said he wanted. Digby picks it up from there:

Bush called his bluff and John Edwards very astutely immediately began calling it The McCain Escalation Doctrine.

He's since tried to distance himself from Bush by saying that he really meant 30,000 or that Bush wasn't honest about the situation on the ground or that we need benchmarks.

But Bush got this plan from him, not the other way around. It's his baby.

I hope that we can keep the press focused on this. They love them some St. John and are always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Looks like they still are. In fact, one really has to wonder where the love affair comes from. It's not simply that McCain is a "military man" with gravitas. Consider Hirsh's appearance on CNN in November 2005:

ANDERSON COOPER: Mike Hirsh, did the Republicans make a mistake -- mistake tactically in doing this tonight?

MICHAEL HIRSH, "NEWSWEEK": Probably they did.

But, I mean, this is an exercise in irrelevance in my view for other reasons, mainly because the plans are going forward by the Pentagon and the White House for a mid-2006 drawdown, dramatic drawdown. The political military strategy's going forward.

I mean, I think what most of the country is missing here, as they watch Congress, you know, take each other on is that, in fact, there's a strategy for getting out of Iraq. I think this added political pressure will probably make a little bit of difference, perhaps in, you know, telling the White House that it has to go ahead with the strategy.

But there's no question that 2006 is going to be the key year for drawing down troops.

COOPER: Well, just today, Mike, we learned that a top U.S. general has submitted a troop withdrawal plan. It basically calls for U.S. troops -- it's been submitted to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He has not signed it at this point, but this is a plan by a U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, basically calls for brigade-sized withdrawals in 2006, depending on a number of considerations being met inside Iraq, in terms of Iraqi troops level.

Is that a significant document, do you think?


I mean, this is one of a series of plans we have been hearing about since before the summer. There was a little back-and-forth between the Defense Department and the White House over this. Casey had alluded to a dramatic drawdown last spring. He was slapped down by President Bush, who didn't want to give out any kind of a timetable.

But, nonetheless, these plans are there. Those of us who cover the Pentagon have heard about them. And, you know, I think that, no matter what, if things -- if conditions remain just as they are now, they will go forward. You will have a trained-up Iraqi force holding some of these areas that they're clearing, clearing out of insurgents, and you will have a current force of, you know, 140,000 or so nearly halved perhaps by mid-2006.

If you can, for a moment, forget about how painfully wrong Hirsh was about everything there, notice that he pointed out the military was calling for troop reductions in Iraq with a "series of plans." You would think that a "military man" who has been "dead on in his analysis" with regards to Iraq would also be on board with the drawdown scripted by top generals in the Pentagon.

Unless of course that man is John McCain. Here's McCain the following day, Nov. 12, 2005, on Meet Tim Russert [UPDATE: Please read correction below]:

I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops.


We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months.

Hirsh says McCain's floundering campaign shows that America can't tell what reality is anymore. If they could figure out how to take the Washington beltway perspective and put it in a pill, it would be the most potent hallucinogen every created.

CORRECTION: I chose the wrong example of McCain here. The quote above is from Nov. 12, 2006. I meant to link to this speech from Nov. 10, 2005:

To enhance our chances of success with this strategy, and enable our forces to hold as much territory as possible, we need more troops. For this reason, I believe that current ideas to effect a partial drawdown during 2006 are exactly wrong. While the U.S. and its partners are training Iraqi security forces at a furious pace, these Iraqis should supplement, not substitute for, the coalition forces on the ground. Instead of drawing down, we should be ramping up, with more civil-military soldiers, translators, and counterinsurgency operations teams. Our decisions about troop levels should be tied to the success or failure of our mission in Iraq, not to the number of Iraqi troops trained and equipped. And while we seek higher troop levels for Iraq, we should at last face facts and increase the standing size of the U.S. Army. It takes time to build a larger army, but had we done so even after our invasion of Iraq, our military would have more soldiers available for deployment now.

DB regrets the error. Please note that it was essentially a typo and did not alter the substance of this post one iota.

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To talk or not to talk

DB has been tied up this week, so apologies for the light blogging. I'm also a little late getting into this topic, but here's some scattered thoughts about the dust-up between Clinton and Obama over their answers to a YouTube debate question.

Here's the brief synopsis: The candidates were asked if they would, in their first year in office, speak with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. Obama came right out and said yes. Clinton said she would increase the diplomatic efforts, but she wouldn't promise to meet them in her first year, not wanting to be used for propaganda purposes. Since then, Clinton has called Obama naive. Obama has responded by saying that voting to authorize the war in Iraq was naive.

Time will tell who comes out on top. The media, naturally, jumped on the experience vs. judgment angle. I think there are other elements to this disagreement that make it interesting.

International diplomacy is more than simply one president calling another or rolling out the red carpet at the ranch. Obviously, that's important, but diplomacy is a multi-dimensional endeavor and the Bush Administration has been ineffective not just because the doors at Kennebunkport or Crawford weren't wide open, but because the doors at the State Department were essentially closed. It goes without saying that the nation's top diplomat has been more successful at shoe shopping and raising awareness of golf as a sport than she has been at bringing countries together to solve major international problems. The answer to our failed diplomatic record needs to be more than simple cosmetics.

On the other hand, who cannot recognize the absurdity of Bush's notion that it's somehow a form of punishment to be told you can't meet (or get a back rub from) him?

This debate is giving me some flashbacks to 2004 because it's not much different than when John Kerry said he could "fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history." Dick Cheney responded by mocking Kerry for wanting to show al-Qaeda our "soft side." Obviously that wasn't the point Kerry was making, but in the general election, Cheney's bottom-feeding quip was effective enough.

Clinton's answer was clearly more thoughtful. Obama's was more appealing emotionally. Will the Democratic primary voters choose thoughtfulness over emotion? It doesn't look like it.

Then there is the post-debate debate. I'll just say that I think Obama's response (that it was naive to vote for this war) was a pretty good stinger, at least as far as the primary goes.

The point I think will be lost in all this is the idea that a president should do the right thing for the right reasons. The GOP came into power believing that everything President Clinton did was, by default, wrong. If Clinton did it this way, we'll do it that way. Just ask New Orleans how that worked out. Bush's policies are catastrophically bad across the board and the damage he has done will require extensive repair. But the decisions the next president makes have to be more than just opportunities to repudiate George W. Bush.

If the next president is going to speak to another world leader, it has to be because America is ready to talk at that level, not just because a talk is overdue (though it most certainly is). If it takes two or three years of strong diplomatic efforts to get to the point where a talk between top leadership can be productive, that's how it ought to be done. However, if the president feels that a meeting in January 2009 will send the right statement to the world, then that's a justifiable reason to do it, too.

But we cannot allow the next administration to exist solely to prove it's not the Cheney administration. The best way to do that is to be thoughtful and to do what's best for America.

In case you think that sounds too much like Lieberman, keep in mind that I'm not saying it to stop anybody from disagreeing with me. Or to keep America in some sort of insane biblical conflict.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Ivory Tower

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

Washingtonian punditry has given us much to revile, but there are few examples more illustrative of what vexes me than this, from David Brooks:

As Mark says, there's been this year-long momentum, but it has stopped or at least stalled for the time being. And I personally think the Senate will do nothing to change Iraq policy at least for another three or four months.

And that's for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of Republicans who detest where the White House is are furious at Harry Reid. And a colleague of mine wrote a good piece today saying that partisan feeling, rancor in the Senate was already phenomenally high, but now it's extra-phenomenally high. And over this issue, a lot of Republicans would like to peel off from the president, but they feel that Harry Reid is making it impossible. He's taking this as an issue, forcing them to vote with the president for political reasons. So that's stalled it on partisan grounds.

As Digby noted, the piece to which Brooks refers is likely that of Fred Hiatt.

The savants at the Washington Post have really had a banner month. David Ignatius wrote in 2006 that the media's failures in the run up to the Iraq War were excusable, as "the media were victims of their own professionalism," if you can believe that. He explained that "journalistic rules" prevented them from challenging the administration's claims. They were simply powerless to "create a debate on [their] own." The blame, therefore, should be pinned on the Democrats for not being critical enough.

Two weeks ago, however, Ignatius decided that the country would be better off if the Democrats and Republicans stopped disagreeing. "Political disharmony," he wrote, is bad for America. So, even if Bush and Cheney are completely and dangerously wrong about something (imagine that), journalistic rules tell Ignatius not to question the president unless the Democrats do -- and they shouldn't, either.

That would leave it up to us, but David Broder followed Ignatius with a column explaining that any criticism the public might have should simply be ignored, again, for the good of the country. In other words, the view from the ivory tower at the Washington Post is that nobody should question the president. This president.

And now this nonsense from Hiatt, that Harry Reid has done a great injustice by forcing GOP senators to choose between they think is good for their party and what they believe is best for America.

Were an observant outsider to step into the ivory tower, in which all things are viewed solely in a political context, our visitor might ask a few questions. Wouldn't doing what they believe is best for America also be good for their party? Did Bill Frist or Dennis Hastert ever once schedule votes for the benefit of the Democrats? Isn't it strange that my colleagues in the ivory tower find it irresponsible for Reid to make the GOP vote on legislation that would actually accomplish something the American public wants, while they expressed little outrage when the GOP forced votes on resolutions that did nothing but say "hooray for our side" in an obvious effort to embarrass Democrats?

But with midterm elections less than five months away, House leaders -- driven in part by dissenting voices in their party -- decided that their members needed to confront the Iraq issue directly.

"I think all members are going to have to express themselves on this issue as the year goes on. There is no way of avoiding it," Boehner said.

But Republicans wanted to air it out under the most favorable circumstances, debating over 10 hours a leadership-tailored resolution that would not be subject to amendment and would not face competing policy statements. By drafting a resolution that supported U.S. troops, emphasized triumphing over terrorism and called for victory in Iraq, GOP leaders had constructed a measure that was "hard not to support," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).

After the vote, Republicans crowed that they had held ranks while highlighting Democratic division. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "We are pleased that 42 Democrats defied their leadership and stood with House Republicans to support both our troops and their mission to win the global war on terror."

Those would all be obvious questions for an objective person, not full on cocktail weenies, to ask. But they would still represent the view from the ivory tower, where everything is a game and there are absolutely no consequences. In the real world, one might instead ask these questions of David Brooks and his colleagues:

How would delaying a vote in order to placate the Republicans be any different than "stalling it on partisan grounds?" How long should we stick with a failed policy just to allow the GOP senators time to feel comfortable about doing what's right for America? How many soldiers should America tolerate sacrificing while GOP senate aides channel their inner-Frank Luntz and write a series of Friday press releases? 100? 200? 1,000?

How many limbs is it OK for our troops to lose while Mitch McConnell figures out how to save face? How many more terrorists should we be OK with breeding in Iraq? How many more billions of dollars should we be willing to spend?

How much deeper should we dig the hole we're in before the Washington Post decides it's no longer "irresponsible" for Harry Reid to make life awkward for Bush's minions? The Republicans like to portray the Democrats as defeatists who believe the troops are dying for nothing. Now the GOP is actually asking soldiers to die so they don't have to look bad on C-SPAN.

Here's a tip for the pundits at the Washington Post: Nobody gives a crap if any senators are furious at Harry Reid. In the real world, people die when politicians play stupid games. They're not pawns on a board. They're people. These are what we call "consequences."

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Friday, July 20, 2007


(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

I see Ed Koch is, once again, sharing his views on the war:

I’m bailing out. I will no longer defend the policy of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq to assist the Iraqi central government in the ongoing civil war.

Well, hallelujah.

ThinkProgess noted that he attacked war critics a year ago:

There is something terribly wrong with people seeking to demean and weaken the president in war time, thereby strengthening our country’s enemies. As a result of the language and tactics of those opposed to our presence in Iraq, our enemies have been emboldened, believing the American public to be sharply divided on the war, and in fact at war with itself.

Sounds like a certain Senator from Connecticut.

I failed to find any apologies or concessions in his column today. I guess the war critics were wrong until this very moment. Personally, I don't care about apologies from politicians very much, even less when it comes after thousands of unnecessary deaths, including America's reputation. But Koch has a lot to apologize for. It's not simply that he lashed out at people who were right all along. He willingly abandoned the principles he claimed to hold and did so, apparently now, for no reason at all.

Consider the meat of his column today (I'll make no comment on the wisdom of the person upon whom Koch relies for support):

My voice is a modest one, so I would like to buttress my pro-withdrawal position with arguments put forth by the highly regarded New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In his July 11 column, he stated:

“But getting out has at least four advantages. First, no more Americans will be dying while refereeing a civil war. Second, the fear of an all-out civil war, as we do prepare to leave, may be the last best hope for getting the Iraqis to reach an eleventh-hour political agreement. Third, as the civil war in Iraq plays out, it could, painfully, force the realignment of communities on the ground that may create a more stable foundation upon which to build a federal settlement.

Fourth, we will restore our deterrence with Iran. Tehran will no longer be able to bleed us through its proxies in Iraq, and we will be much freer to hit Iran -- should we ever need to -- once we’re out. Moreover, Iran will by default inherit management of the mess in southern Iraq, which, in time, will be an enormous problem for Tehran.”

I agree with Friedman and repeat that I would support our troops remaining in Iraq if our allies were to join us. But they have made it clear they will not.


But my support for remaining in Iraq was conditioned on our allies joining us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, very few have done so. Instead, many of those same allies criticize us for staying in Iraq.

It was all about the allies, huh? Too bad the Democrats didn't run a candidate who made an effort to bring America's allies and regional interests together the centerpiece of his Iraq policy. A candidate who repeated things like this over and over during the debates and throughout the campaign:

I have a better plan for homeland security. I have a better plan to be able to fight the war on terror by strengthening our military, strengthening our intelligence, by going after the financing more authoritatively, by doing what we need to do to rebuild the alliances, by reaching out to the Muslim world, which the president has almost not done, and beginning to isolate the radical Islamic Muslims, not have them isolate the United States of America.

I know I can do a better job in Iraq. I have a plan to have a summit with all of the allies, something this president has not yet achieved, not yet been able to do to bring people to the table.

That would have been a perfect candidate for Koch.

But, no, Koch didn't see or hear anything like that in 2004. Instead, he went to George Bush's convention in New York and said this:

"I, too, disagree with the president on every major domestic issue from taxes to Social Security. Yet I believe those issues are trumped by the overriding need to defeat international terrorism, the biggest threat to our freedom."

Trumped. Every major domestic issue trumped. What a bargain that was... A responsible, effective government dealt away for a failed foreign policy, broken military, catastrophic debt and the loss of respect around the world. Last October, Koch told Chris Matthews that Bush should be given credit for his courage. Now, Koch's home town is disintegrating in an asbestos shower, symptoms of the diseased policies he swallowed out of fear. New Orleans has drowned and the warmonger from Connecticut he endorsed turned around and refused to do his job and investigate the failure .

Koch doesn't just owe the war critics an apology, he owes everybody an apology.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

S.1634 Hearing recap

[UPDATE: Selise recorded the audio and made a podcast available here.]

No big surprises in today's hearing. The most interesting part was learning that a similar bill was introduced in the House.

Here's my quick recap:

Chairman Bingaman opened the hearing, handed off the mic to Sen. Akaka, and left to take care of some other business. Akaka was the only Senator to say anything, probably the only one there (hard to see on the crappy webcast).

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen said things are much better in CNMI than they were five years ago, but there is still a long way to go, CNMI doesn’t have the money/resources to do it alone, and with military development and spending in Guam, this is a post-9/11 issue of national security. (Imagine that, 9/11 rhetoric actually helping the little guy)

CNMI Governor Benigno Fitial and Saipan Chamber of Commerce President Juan T. Guerrero complained that the bill wasn’t necessary, that they’ve got everything under control, that the bill will destroy their fragile economy, that foreign investment will dry up if it passes and that more studies are needed before any action is taken. Essentially, they are trying to stall, which has been their strategy for decades, even articulated with hidden cameras recording conversations by people in control of sweatshops.

Resident Representative Pedro A. Tenorio was urging passage with amendments to protect CNMI from losing skilled workers too quickly, since they could potentially leave freely (imagine that) if they were granted federal status.

Finally, Department of Interior Labor Ombudsman James Benedetto had a few comments about the progress that has been made and the work still left to be done.

There was no testimony from any of the “guest workers.” That was submitted in writing by Dengre, collected in CNMI by human rights advocate Wendy Doromal.

Please continue to contact senators on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and urge them to support S.1634 and real reform in CNMI.

Thanks to everybody who has been supportive. Thanks, Digby, for allowing me to cross-post.

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Here it is, take it

At 9:30 ET this morning, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to discuss a bill that would federalize immigration for the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It should be available via webcast.

Why is this hearing important? After all, it's not on the evening news. It's not even scheduled to be broadcast live on C-SPAN.

The truth is, this hearing is only important to people who believe that America shouldn't be a place like this:

Using its immigration authority, the Commonwealth has created an economy that relies upon the wholesale importation of low-paid, short-term indentured workers. Foreign workers pay up to $7,000 to employers or middlemen for the right to a job in the CNMI. When they finally reach the Commonwealth, they are assigned to tedious, low paying work for long hours with little or no time off. At night they are locked in prison-like barracks. If they complain, they are subject to immediate deportation at the whim of their employer. Some arrive in the islands only to find that they were victims of an employment scam. There are no jobs waiting for them, and no way to work off their bondage debt.

That's from a February 2000 press release, issued by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to announce the unanimous passage in the Senate of a bill that would put an end to the "system of indentured immigrant labor [that] is morally wrong, and violates basic democratic principles."

It's not hard to understand how the Senate came to unanimity on the issue. The Department of the Interior had issued a report that highlighted horrors like "forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry."

Congress, itself, had heard testimony so gut-wrenching, I honestly can't bring myself to quoting it here.

Of course it was a unanimous vote. Who could vote against ending forced abortions? Who could vote against stopping children from being forced into prostitution... On American soil, no less? It just breaks your heart thinking about it.

That is, if you have a heart. Akaka's celebratory press release ends with this: "S. 1052 now moves to the House of Representatives for action."

And that's where Tom DeLay took over. That's where Jack Abramoff's money went. That's where Don Young's convicted felon aide and former CNMI labor secretary worked. That's where a decision was made to allow the rape and slavery continue. DeLay called it "a perfect petri dish of capitalism."

For years, the House of Representatives was a place where these victims -- on American soil legally -- could seek no relief. That can all change right now, if good Americans decide we won't let this oppression continue on U.S. soil.

It's really that simple. Either we convince a Democratic Senate and Congress to stop it right now, while the issue is in front of them, or the Senate will move on to other things and the horrors will continue. The TV isn't telling you that, but that's what the blog-o-sphere is for, right?

Blogger Dengre is attending the hearing. He has brought with him the testimony of thousands of CNMI workers praying for S.1634 to pass (with amendments to make it stronger). The testimony was gathered by human rights advocate Wendy Doromal, who travelled to CNMI specifically to help these victims have their voices heard.

DeLay, Abramoff and their cohorts have prevented Congress from restoring human rights and human dignity to the indentured servants and oppressed women of the Marianas. The universe has finally aligned to give us the opportunity to rescue people who need help. If we squander this opportunity to do what is obviously the right thing -- stopping this abuse -- it will be to our everlasting shame.

Here are the senators on the committee. Please contact yours and urge them to support S.1634. Dengre suggests the following changes:

1. Create a pathway to Citizenship for Guest Workers who have been on the CNMI for more than five years—and a Green Card for all workers with children who are US Citizens.

2. Outline a clear appeals process for any worker denied Immigration Status and/or other rights by the local CNMI Government through new or existing Federal systems of appeals.

3. Mandate that all CNMI entry visa programs—both work and tourist—are run by the Federal Government. (To allow the local CNMI Government to run a tourist visa program is to allow human trafficking.)

4. Mandate random, spot check interviews of guest workers and tourists as they arrive and leave the CNMI to ensure that they were (and are not) victims of abuse.

Sometimes it's hard to find solutions to the worst problems on earth. This one has been handed to us on a silver platter. Let's not miss this chance to do something tremendous.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

CNMI Testimony

DB has received the documents Dengre will submit on behalf of the workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will be holding a hearing on S.1634 tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Human Rights advocate Wendy Doromal is in CNMI gathering this information because these people would otherwise have no voice in the process, which is just par for the course. Please contact your senators on the committee and urge them to support S.1634, amended to protect the exploited workers.

Here (if this widget works) are the PDFs of the documents that will be presented to the committee:

Here is the full-text of the brief statement by the workers (followed by some excerpts from Doromal's statement:

July 12,2007
Dear Chairman Bingaman:

We are foreign confract workers in the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands(CNMI). We have lived and worked in this community for 5, 10, 15, or 20 or more years. We have served the community as nurses, security guards, technicians, mechanics, accountants, engineers farmers, domestic workers, entertainers, construction workers, fishermen, hotel workers, garment workers, restaurant workers, office staff and other positions. We were invited here to work and have contributed much to the commumty. We are the threads that hold the economic fabric of the CNMI together.

We make up the majority of the population in the CNMI, but we have no vote. We pay taxes and many of us have social security and Medicare taxes taken from our pay, yet most of us will never receive those benefits. We are often victims of criminal acts, but we cannot serve on juries. We are voiceless.

The illegal alien workers in the mainland United States have had their voices raised by the U.S. Senate who created a bill to raise their status. As legal non-resident workers also laboring and living on U.S. soil, don't we deserve to have our voices raised by the United States Senate also? An estimated 3,000 of us are documented as having United States citizen children who have lived in the CNMI all of their lives. Presently, we have no way to be united States citizens ourselves. Once we have completed with our contracts we are forced to return to our home countries. How will we be able to provide our U.S. citizen children with education, healthcare and nutrition?

We do believe CNMI is not only a part of the U.S., but is really U.S. soil. As workers, we have seen that the U.S. Constitution is not followed here in the CNMI. We do not understand this. The U.S. Constitution states that all residents of the United States are treated equally and given freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The CNMI and United States are one country, but has two systems -- one democratic and one that supports indentured servitude and refuses to enforce U.S. law.

We need to have federalization of U.S. immigration laws. For years we have suffered with an insecure status and are in the islands only as indentrued servants. Many of us have been victims of illegal recruitment and labor and human rights abuses. Many of us had labor cases that have never been resolved, backwages never recovered, and criminal attacks never prosecuted. We were told that the United States was a democracy, but we do not live in a democratic society here. We urge you to pass legislation that would federalize immigration and help us to achieve the stability and United States citizenship we deserve.

Here are some bits from Doromal's statement:

Thank you for the opportunity to express my views to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over matters affecting territories of the United States. From 1984 to 1995 I lived and worked as a teacher in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). I witnessed appalling labor and human rights abuses of contract workers who came from their homelands to work in the United States. They came from the Philippines, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Russia, Pakistan, and other Asian countries. They sold their land, houses, and businesses to pay up to $7,000 in recruitment fees for a chance to live the American dream. But too many of these workers lived a nightmare instead. In 1993, I wrote a report that detailed the labor and human rights abuses in the CNMI and offered solutions. It was submitted to CNMI officials, to selected U.S. members of Congress, congressional committees, and the U.S. Departments of Labor, Justice and State.

My family left the islands in 1995 due to threats and terrible harassment that came about because of our human rights work on behalf of these victims. I testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May 1995 and submitted an updated report on the status of the guest workers and problems with the CNMI labor and immigration laws.

Before I left the CNMI, I promised the workers that I would continue to appeal to U.S. government leaders to extend United States minimum wage, immigration, labor and customs laws to the CNMI. I am ashamed to tell you that 12 years after I made this promise I continue to plead with US government officials to fulfill this promise and finally put an end to the abuses and systemic corruption, and to give a voice to the foreign contract workers. That is why I am in the CNMI this month to evaluate the current status and conditions of the foreign contract workers.

The United States Congress has known about the seriousness of the labor and immigration problems in the CNMI for two decades. Although there have been attempts over the years to enact effective reform legislation, ultimately the Congress has failed again and again its responsibility to ensure human rights and enforce U.S. law on United States soil. Legislation is long overdue, and S. 1634 offers some solutions to the existing problems. With needed revisions, it could be effective in addressing ongoing problems in the CNMI.


Census figures reveal that the nonresident worker population has grown from 3,709 or 22% of the total population in 1980, to 39,089 or 56% of the total population in 2000. Today there are an estimated 84,000 people in the CNMI and only 20,000, or one-third of the adult population, can vote. The last time guest workers with no voting privileges or political rights outnumbered the citizens on U.S. soil it was called slavery.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do the right thing

Here's a trick question:

Do you think it's OK for women on American soil to be raped, forced into prostitution, forced to have abortions, forced to work for a bowl of noodles a day, forced to live in squalor, ultimately to be deported, broken and penniless?

You know why that's a trick question?

Because it's not a hypothetical. It's been happening in plain sight for decades and unless you do something or say something right now, while Congress is finally looking at the problem, your answer might as well be yes.

It's also a trick question because I have forced you to make a decision. You will either act or you will allow these crimes against humanity to continue.

Sorry, but that's the way it is. Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff and the rest of his thugs have prevented Congress from restoring human rights and human dignity to the enslaved workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Now that the Democrats are in control, the issue has come up again. If we squander this opportunity to do what is obviously the right thing -- stopping this abuse -- it will be to our everlasting shame.

It's that simple. We have a chance to end this practice right now. We might not have the chance again. Please read Dengre's diary, recommend it and take action now.

This is one of the things we really can change. The hard part was getting the chance to actually do something. The universe has aligned to give us the opportunity to rescue people who need help. How can any of us do nothing when it's so clear what the right thing to do is and the opportunity has presented itself to us so readily?

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End the abuse NOW

Timing is a funny thing.

I had been thinking for a while about how I might be able to call some attention to the deplorable conditions of women and men in the Marianas Islands. The forced abortions. The forced prostitution. What can only be called a form of slavery and human trafficking, on U.S. soil no less. I haven't been able to completely understand how it has persisted in America. What segment of the population can tolerate forced abortions? For a nation divided into Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, where is there a constituency willing to sit back and allow women on U.S. soil to be coerced into having abortions in illegal clinics?

I'm not sure what forces of the universe allowed it to happen with such fortuitous timing, but Digby asked me to post on her blog while her traffic was as high as ever, as she was accepting an award on behalf of progressive bloggers. I will always be grateful to Digby for allowing me the opportunity to point readers to the fine work of the blogger Dengre, whose work on the subject is unparalleled.

I looked forward, in that post, to an important Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on S. 1634, a bill introduced by Sen. Akaka to federalize the Islands' immigration policies. With enough pressure, the bill will pass -- with amendments -- and it will put us on the path to ending these atrocities, once and for all.

Here's where the timing is not so great. The hearing is this Thursday and the entire blog-o-sphere is buzzing with the looming battle in the Senate over the Iraq War.

I write tonight to plead with any readers to make sure this chance doesn't get away. We have a very narrow window in which we can literally rescue people in our own country from being treated like meat, locked away with no rights and no hope. Convicted for the crime of accepting a legal offer to work in America.

Thanks to Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and other corrupt and morally bankrupt power-brokers, these victims have had no chance of any help from Washington for a decade. This hearing, this bill, right now is their chance for the kind of human rights we all expect in America. Please help me by telling your senators that this matters to you.

If you are already contacting your senators to encourage them to end the war, you can take the opportunity to ask them to support human rights in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Dengre has an eloquent new post with much more information:

Contact your Senator, especially members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Urge them to support S. 1634 and encourage them to support amendments that would:

  • 1. Create a pathway to Citizenship for Guest Workers who have been on the CNMI for more than five years—and a Green Card for all workers with children who are US Citizens.

  • 2. Outline a clear appeals process for any worker denied Immigration Status and/or other rights by the local CNMI Government through new or existing Federal systems of appeals.

  • 4. Mandate that all CNMI entry visa programs—both work and tourist—are run by the Federal Government. (To allow the local CNMI Government to run a tourist visa program is to allow human trafficking.)

  • 5. Mandate random, spot check interviews of guest workers and tourists as they arrive and leave the CNMI to ensure that they were (and are not) victims of abuse.

    There are other changes that should be made as well, but S. 1634 is a start. It is my hope that a stronger Bill can come out of the House and the final legislation will be real reform. We have to use S. 1634 as the legislative vehicle for reform because the Ethnic Weeding of workers is well underway on the CNMI.

    Next week, on July 25, the new minimum wage will kick in. The Pirates of Saipan will use it to fire thousands of long-time workers. Then they will have 30 days to find a new job. Then they will be on a 45 day clock to deportation.

    That gives us 75 days (until October 8) to pass a final bill and have it signed into law. If it takes longer, more workers will be cleansed for the CNMI and denied justice.

    We need to stand with them as they fight for justice.

    For a very long time, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff and the Republican Party blocked reform. If we fail now it will be our fault.

  • The thing I have always loved the most about America is that every single day, just by virtue of waking up, we have an opportunity to do something extraordinary. Sometimes we need more than that, though... An undeniable recognition that we are at a unique juncture, a brief moment in time when action is absolutely necessary and likely to accomplish something tremendous.

    I'm writing to tell you that this moment in time -- right now -- is such an occasion. These people can be saved; we just have to make our senators understand that human rights are important to us.

    Here are the members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee:

  • Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
  • Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI)
  • Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND)
  • Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Tim Johnson (D-SD)
  • Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Ken Salazar (D-CO)
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
  • Bernard Sanders (D-VT)
  • Jon Tester (D-MT)
  • Pete V. Domenici (R-NM)
  • Larry E. Craig (R-ID)
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Richard Burr (R-NC)
  • Jim DeMint (R-SC)
  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
  • Jim Bunning (R-KY)
  • Gordon Smith (R-OR)
  • Mel Martinez (R-FL)
  • John Barrasso (R-WY)

    If you see your senator above, please tell them to do the right thing. If you can call your favorite radio program, please do it. Isn't it obvious that ending this abuse is the right thing to do? The Senate's attention will move to another topic soon and these people will either be afforded human dignity or doomed to be exploited for years to come.

    When this time has passed, won't you be proud to know you spoke for human rights in your own country when it counted?

    UPDATE: Dengre has published an even newer post since I started (slowly) writing this.

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  • Monday, July 16, 2007

    Singled out

    I just want to make clear that, in these last two posts, I was not trying to single out Sen. Feingold. I see in comment threads around the blog-o-sphere that some have soured on him for this vote. While I am disappointed that no senators could either see the Lieberman Amendment as a dangerous attempt to move the United States towards war with Iran, or simply didn't care to stand against it at this time, I think it's unfair to focus anger at Feingold.

    After all, he had enough respect for American citizens to visit Daily Kos in order to engage the electorate and discuss his rationale -- much more than can be said for nearly all the other 96 senators who voted for this amendment. Similarly, Sen. Feingold is often the only one with the courage to confront this lawless administration, and for that DB applauds him. I wouldn't have kicked off my posts with a similar explanation by many other politicians because it wouldn't have surprised me much hearing such a position articulated by most of them. It did surprise me to read that statement from Feingold specifically because he has such a reputation for honesty, and it is hard for me to understand how anybody could honestly be comforted by the language in the bill.

    In any event, please do not misconstrue my post as a shot at Sen. Feingold. I was aiming at the entire Senate.

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    Deadly potential

    Kagro X read my last post and added an excellent point, that Congress is kidding themselves if they think that "(d) Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of Armed Forces against Iran" will make the administration think twice about proceeding any way they see fit. This is an administration that doesn't think they require any authorization, anyway.

    I also forgot a key point I intended to make... One that RJ Eskow briefly touched on in his outstanding essay:

    The amendment doesn't just ask for intelligence on Iranian activity. It requires ongoing reports on proactive U.S. efforts against alleged Iranian efforts, placing political pressure on our military to become more active against Iran. Word in Washington is that top military leaders are resisting an attack on Iran, saying we lack the resources. This is a great way to lean on the generals to change their minds.

    The way Sen. Feingold put it, "it basically just required a report on Iran's role in Iraq and any responses by the US government" as if this were a passive transaction, like requesting a PDF from the Government Printing Office. Of course, this assignment is a perfect job for whatever Department of Making Stuff Up is currently killing trees and collecting taxpayer dime in the vice president's office.

    But, as Eskow writes, this is an "active" role for our military. The amendment doesn't limit in any way the scope or methods of the intelligence-gathering operation. Did Congress essentially justify an incursion into Iran for the purposes of obtaining information for this ongoing reporting? The intelligence has to come from somewhere and, technically, wandering over the border to gather information isn't the same thing as the "use of Armed Forces against Iran."

    Not only could the Congressionally-mandated increase in intelligence result in less reluctance on behalf of high-ranking military leaders (or, as I'm sure Cheney and Lieberman dream, the production of some justification for preemption), it also radically increases the potential for armed conflict.

    As I mentioned in my last post, when the 15 British sailors were captured in ambiguously-close-to-Iranian waters in March, the Bush administration allegedly offered military options to Tony Blair, who declined. Tony Blair was basically given the power to decide whether or not the United States would go to war with Iran. I cannot understand for a minute how that doesn't infuriate any senators as much as it infuriates me.

    But think how disappointed the neocons must have been when Blair didn't allow his sailors to become pawns in Bush's desired war with Iran. Now imagine American soldiers, seeking information for Congress and crossing the border into enemy lines to get it. What happens if a few are captured?

    Tony Blair [or Gordon Brown] won't be able to say "no, thanks" when Cheney offers the menu of options next time.

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    Sunday, July 15, 2007


    (Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

    Revisiting Digby's post on the Lieberman Amendment, some Senators are explaining themselves and it looks like they've lost the thread, too. Here's Sen. Russ Feingold explaining why he voted for the amendment:

    While I don't agree with Senator Lieberman when it comes to Iraq, his amendment having to do with Iran offered yesterday was not controversial because it basically just required a report on Iran's role in Iraq and any responses by the US government.

    I'm stunned by this response, and not just because it's from Feingold. Apparently, the addition of this clause has convinced senators like Harry Reid that the bill is benign:

    (d) Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of Armed Forces against Iran.

    I just don't see how anybody who's been paying attention can come to that conclusion. First of all, consider the source:

    "I think we have to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," Lieberman said. Host Bob Schieffer followed-up: "Let's just stop right there. Because I think you probably made some news here, Senator Lieberman. You're saying that if the Iranians don't let up, that the United States should take military action?" "I am," Lieberman responded.

    Lieberman added that "if there's any hope" of stopping Iran's nuclear program, "we can't just talk to them. ... We've got to use our force and to me that would include taking military action."

    That was a month ago. While the extent of Lieberman's dementia on this issue is something altogether different than the text of this amendment and its legal implications, it would behoove anybody considering an amendment on this topic from this particular senator to be as skeptical as possible. A 97-0 vote doesn't indicate much skepticism.

    Lieberman's motives don't exist in a vacuum, either. It's been clear for a long time that this administration is itching for a war with Iran. Josh Marshall wrote about the neocon fantasy of "spreading the chaos" way back in 2003. We know that the administration tried to get authorization to fight in Iran and Syria when the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq was approved.

    We have been told by The Guardian that Bush essentially gave Tony Blair a chance to pull the United States into a war with Iran when 15 British sailors were captured last March.

    We also heard from Sy Hersh that the administration has been manipulating language in order to avoid Congressional oversight into their actions involving Iran:

    The new mission for the combat troops is a product of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's long-standing interest in expanding the role of the military in covert operations, which was made official policy in the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, published in February. Such activities, if conducted by C.I.A. operatives, would need a Presidential Finding and would have to be reported to key members of Congress.

    " 'Force protection' is the new buzzword," the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the Pentagon's position that clandestine activities that can be broadly classified as preparing the battlefield or protecting troops are military, not intelligence, operations, and are therefore not subject to congressional oversight. "The guys in the Joint Chiefs of Staff say there are a lot of uncertainties in Iran," he said. "We need to have more than what we had in Iraq. Now we have the green light to do everything we want."

    In normal times, you might wonder if this assertion were true because it might be hard to accept, at least automatically, that the White House would stoop to such a level. In this case, you actually have to wonder if this administration would even waste time coming up with any justification whatsoever for evading any perceived-to-be-legitimate restrictions on its authority.

    Back to the Lieberman Amendment... If "force protection" is the name of the game, Congress has just, despite their attempts to de-fang the bill, handed the administration a list of Congressional "findings" that support whatever Bush and Cheney decide to do in Iran (and in secret). The findings themselves attribute the allegations of Iranian involvment to military representatives, but there shouldn't be any doubt that the White House would argue that the Congress has accepted them through their acknowledgement.

    Consider how the water-carriers for this administration have used the libelous "Additional Views" of three Republican senators to claim that the entire Senate concluded that Joe Wilson is a liar in the Select Intelligence Committee's Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Assessment on Iraq. Now, the White House has a 20-point list of reasons to justify anything Bush has already been doing without Congressional approval.

    If that isn't enough of a reason to have voted this amendment to oblivion, consider what Zbigniew Brzezinski told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February:

    If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

    Continues to be bogged down... Check. Iraqi failure to meet benchmarks... Check. Accusations of Iranian responsibility... Check, thanks to this amendment.

    Where does that leave us? Waiting for George Bush to report back to Congress about whether there are any Iranian "provocations" in Iraq. What do you expect to hear in the next report? What do you think will happen next?

    Sen. Webb introduced a bill back in March that would have required Bush to come back to Congress for approval before using force in Iran. That bill never got out of committee. It was determined that it wasn't "germane" to the toothless Iraq Supplemental Bill that passed in May. Congress has done nothing to assert its authority in lieu of that bill's rejection.

    Is it possible that 97 voting senators all want a war with Iran? Seems hard to believe, but in the absence of any serious opposition to expanding this war, what else could they be thinking?

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    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Weakest Link

    (Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

    The news about toothpaste made of antifreeze and dumplings made of cardboard have gotten quite a bit of attention on television lately (quite rightly). But odds are, the television you're watching was also imported. And on top of that, there's a pretty good chance the shows you enjoy first aired somewhere else. For example, The Office or American Idol, both of which originated in England.

    The United States is also bringing in quite a few movies from other parts of the world. Last year's Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Departed was based on a film called Mou gaan dou. I can't tell you how upset I am that a remake is in the works of what is possibly my favorite film of all time, Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru.

    I was visiting Steve Clemons' Washington Note and saw the show America absolutely must import from England:

    The BBC has a must-listen show on radio tomorrow titled Called to Account (times noted further below) offering a theatrical version of Tony Blair's indictment for Iraq War-related crimes. This may inspire many on this side of the Atlantic pond to think about various strategies to hold America's current political leadership accountable for duplicity and mismanagement of America's national security portfolio -- and particularly for the Iraq War.

    Democracy has become a term derided in much of the world today because for many beleaguered peoples it has come to mean Western duplicity, uneven standards between the mighty and the weak, an excuse for invasion and occupation, a code word for regime change, or obsessive focus on ballots rather than healthy civil society institutions like courts and a free media that help to keep power accountable.

    If 'Democracy' is ever going to shed its bad name, accountability must be one of its fundamental pillars in any genuine system of checks and balances. There should be a price paid for serious errors by national leaders -- and an even higher price paid by those who wield power with impunity and who lie to their publics in so-called democracies.

    Sounds like a good idea to me. If Congress won't hold Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. accountable, let Hollywood do it. They can do a better job scripting an indictment than any Senate or House committee. As compelling as C-Span has been since November 2006, the lack of coordination in these hearings is incredibly frustrating.

    Who would you cast for the prosecution? It doesn't have to be an actor. Fred Thompson can try to defend his friends if he wants, though.

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    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Let me count the ways

    (Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

    Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961, but that remarkable accomplishment wasn't enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. To get a plaque in Cooperstown, a player needs to be consistently spectacular for a long time.

    Conversely, George W. Bush has been spectacularly bad at his job for most of the time he's been in office, and yet Congress is apparently waiting for a single, remarkable, odious act before seriously considering impeachment.

    After posting on the president's outrageous comments about health care Tuesday, I joked that Bush has necessitated a version of the Ninth Amendment for bloggers:

    The enumeration in the blog, of certain transgressions by the president, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others noted by the readers.

    I simply could not list ways the president was wrong and possibly include all of them. Similarly, I couldn't possibly list, at this point, all the things Bush and Cheney have done that would, by themselves, make me vote for impeachment were I representing my district or state. The day the news broke about domestic wiretapping was the day Bush jumped from the "lousy president" to the "felon" category for this blogger.

    Others could point to Katrina, Abu Ghraib, secret prisons... Again, what's the point of trying to list them all?

    But for whatever reason, no singular event has been enough to convince Congress to put impeachment on the table, so to speak. More striking, though, is the failure of Bush's cumulative record to create any traction for impeachment. Not even with a majority of Americans supporting Cheney's impeachment and practically as many in favor of Bush getting the heave-ho as opposed the idea.

    We're supposed to believe that Scooter Libby's probation is a serious consequence of his behavior because he can't lie to any more FBI agents for a while. It is tragic, however, that Bush was never placed on a form of probation when the opportunities presented themselves, repeatedly. For example, when Russ Feingold introduced his measure to censure Bush over the wiretapping, the Democrats responded with anonymous quotes by Senate aides:

    "Feingold's grandstanding screwed the pooch and played into Bill Frist's hands," the aide said. "Thank God Dems punted this down the field. Frist was going to force Democrats to vote on a resolution Feingold had kept a big secret and he would've split the caucus on an issue that needed time to get the whole caucus to support. Russ Feingold had only one persons' interests in mind with his Sunday bombshell, and those were his own. He practically handed a victory to a Bush White House that desperately needs a win."


    "There were concerns that this would backfire on the Democrats just as they were beginning to get the upper hand or at least beefing up the playing field on homeland security credentials," the aide added. "The Dubai deal, the war in Iraq, the president's numbers heading south. Democrats have a long history of shooting themselves in the foot when the good things work and we've been known to do some things that end up hurting us rather than helping us."

    That measure was unlikely to pass, anyway. But think how much easier it would be to hold Bush accountable if the Democrats had been nearly unanimous (thanks, Lieberman) in objecting to his dubious acts. Instead of a series of abstract and already internalized events, there would be a record of established abuses of power and failures of leadership. The same way the administration sold America on the 17 U.N. resolutions Saddam Hussein violated, the Democrats could point to the number of times Bush needed to be reprimanded for violating the trust of the people and his oath of office.

    By failing to hold Bush accountable to even a minimal standard along the way, Congress not only encouraged more bad behavior from this administration, they made it incredibly difficult to ever reach a point where they could say "enough already."

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    No War Left Behind

    (Cross-posted at Hullabaloo)

    On Monday, we learned that there has basically been no measurable progress in Iraq:

    A draft report to Congress on the war will conclude that the U.S.-backed government in Iraq has met none of its targets for political, economic and other reform, speeding up the Bush administration's reckoning on what to do next, a U.S. official said Monday.

    One likely result of the report will be a vastly accelerated debate among President Bush's top aides on withdrawing troops and scaling back the U.S. presence in Iraq.

    Yes, we all held our breath waiting for the "likely" debate in the White House about a change in course. Today, the NY Times gives us the less likely, yet inevitable, actual outcome: Bush to Declare Gains in Iraq on Some Fronts:

    The Bush administration will assert in the next few days that progress in carrying out the new American strategy in Iraq has been satisfactory on nearly half of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress, according to several administration officials.

    But it will qualify some verdicts by saying that even when the political performance of the Iraqi government has been unsatisfactory, it is too early to make final judgments, the officials said.

    The administration's decision to qualify many of the political benchmarks will enable it to present a more optimistic assessment than if it had provided the pass-fail judgment sought by Congress when it approved funding for the war this spring.

    The administration officials who provided details of the draft report to The New York Times, insisting on anonymity, did so partly to rebut claims by members of Congress in recent days that almost no progress had been made in Iraq since President Bush altered course by ordering the deployment of about 30,000 additional troops earlier this year.


    On the political front, none of the benchmarks that have been achieved include the high-profile legislation on which Congress asked to see progress. Debate has not yet begun in the Iraqi Parliament on the oil law or the revenue-sharing law, both of which are crucial to keeping Iraq united over the long term.

    You read that right. Bush "altered course" by ordering more troops into this mess.

    What a perfect example of the Bush administration's tactics. They ask the military to solve everything while our nation's top diplomat works hard "to raise awareness of golf as a sport."

    Bush is like a superintendent with a large toolbox containing only a hammer. When he fails to solve a problem that cannot be fixed with a hammer, he either demands to know how anybody could suggest it's not the finest hammer ever manufactured, or he tries to obscure the view so only the nails are visible.

    I thought this president believed in accountability and testing. His under-funded No Child Left Behind Act requires that 100 percent of students tested will pass. One hundred percent.

    Bush made "accountability" the cornerstone of his sales pitch when NCLB was in front of Congress:

    No longer is it acceptable to hide poor performance. No longer is it acceptable to keep results away from parents. One of the interesting things about this bill, it says that we're never going to give up on a school that's performing poorly; that when we find poor performance, a school will be given time and incentives and resources to correct their problems. A school will be given time to try other methodologies, perhaps other leadership, to make sure that people can succeed. If, however, schools don't perform, if, however, given the new resources, focused resources, they are unable to solve the problem of not educating their children, there must be real consequences. There must be a moment in which parents can say, I've had enough of this school. Parents must be given real options in the face of failure in order to make sure reform is meaningful.

    It's unfortunate that Bush's funding isn't tied anything measurable. America could use some real options, too.

    UPDATE: Over at Corrente, Shane-O spots this in Bush's speech today:

    Economic development funds are critical to helping Iraq make this political progress. Today I'm exercising the waiver authority granted me by Congress to release a substantial portion of those funds.

    That's the final chapter in the toothless Iraq Supplemental Bill that Congress passed after Bush's veto.

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    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Bush: You're on your own, suckers

    The audacity of George W. Bush hit another peak today as the president spoke at Cleveland Clinic. DB found this statement to be pretty galling:

    The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.

    Just go to an emergency room. I wonder if Bush has ever had an experience like this one in Los Angeles this summer:

    In the 40 minutes before a woman's death last month at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, two separate callers pleaded with 911 dispatchers to send help because the hospital staff was ignoring her as she writhed on the floor, according to audio recordings of the calls.

    "My wife is dying and the nurses don't want to help her out," Jose Prado, the woman's boyfriend, told the 911 dispatcher through an interpreter.

    He was calling from a pay phone outside the hospital, his tone increasingly desperate as he described how his 43-year-old girlfriend was spitting up blood.

    That's what's on the news out here. Well, sometimes you don't die on the floor in the emergency room. You might get dumped out of a van in Skid Row.

    But Digby flagged an even more obscene remark the president made today:

    I like the idea of people making decisions that are -- that will, one, enhance their health, and two, save money. The doc told me that -- we were looking at one of these brilliant heart guys working for him. You're not going to believe the technology in this hospital, by the way. If you're a Cleveland resident, you ought to be proud of this hospital. It's unbelievable. (Applause.)

    He said something pretty wise, though. He said, you can have all the technology that man can conceivably create, but if you continue to smoke, we're going backwards. If you're not exercising, if you're not taking care of the body yourself, all the technology isn't going to save your life. In other words, there is a certain responsibility that we have as citizens to take care of ourselves.

    Have we ever had a president who has been more of an obstacle to average Americans' ability to make informed decisions about the food and products they consume? Or a president who has been less interested in protecting average Americans from dangerous products and food?

    He sure talks like he cares. Remember this, from the second 2004 Bush-Kerry debate?

    HORSTMAN: Mr. President, why did you block the reimportation of safer and inexpensive drugs from Canada which would have cut 40 to 60 percent off of the cost?

    BUSH: I haven't yet. Just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you.

    And that's why the FDA and that's why the surgeon general are looking very carefully to make sure it can be done in a safe way. I've got an obligation to make sure our government does everything we can to protect you.

    Despite his talk about personal responsibility, the president sure feels obligated to "protect" us when the drug companies' profits are a factor in the equation.

    And what about the clear mandate his FDA and Surgeon General have to inform the public about risks? Just today we heard from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona:

    [A]lthough most Americans believe that their Surgeon General has the ability to impact the course of public health as "the nation's doctor," the reality is that the nation's doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas. Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological, or political agenda is ignored, marginalized, or simply buried.

    Don't expect to learn anything about the health of the planet, either. In fact, don't expect the government to tell you anything pertinent about your health, even if you are trying to save lives after a terrorist attack.

    In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, the White House instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to give the public misleading information, telling New Yorkers it was safe to breathe when reliable information on air quality was not available.

    That finding is included in a report released Friday by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA, "EPA's Response to the World Trade Center Collapse: Challenges, Successes and Areas for Improvement."

    No, it's up to you to make informed decisions without the government telling you anything you need to know. That's not Bush's job. That's for the private sector to do.

    Except the Bush administration is working harder than ever to rescue the private sector from having to act responsibly or tell you anything.

    Chris Waldrop, Consumer Federation of America-Food Policy Institute, Deputy Director, appeared on C-Span's Washington Journal last week:

    The FDA has been underfunded drastically over the past five years. They can't keep up with the amount of imports coming into this country.


    As an example, since 2003, the people in the field have... Those numbers have been cut by 12 percent. The imports that have come in, starting in 2003, there were 45 billion for food imports. They're now up to 65 billion and the FDA hasn't even gotten the money that's allowed them to keep steady with inflation rates.

    That's the FDA that Bush tasked to work with his muzzled Surgeon General to keep us safe. Is your dinner made in China? Are any ingredients from China? Who knows? Nobody required to tell you does. There are no requirements that anybody tell you where your food comes from.

    Don't expect the Consumer Product Safety Commission to do much for your health, either. The three-person board has been paralyzed with a vacancy since January and the former lobbyist Bush tried to put there withdrew his nomination because we finally have a Democratic Congress. And if you expect the Bush administration to do anything at all, expect it to just make things worse. Kevin Drum today points out that Bush is trying to loosen regulations on lead. Lead, fer crying out loud.

    So when Bush says it's up to us to make smart decisions about how we treat our bodies, it's really up to us. For example, you could buy organic food:

    WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, has changed the rules governing organic foods to allow 38 non-organic, agricultural ingredients to be used in foods that bear the government's "USDA Organic" label.


    The Organic Consumers Association, OCA, says the new rule means that Anheuser Busch will be allowed to sell its "Organic Wild Hops Beer" without using any organic hops at all.

    Sausages, brats, and breakfast links labeled as "USDA Organic" are now allowed to contain intestines from factory farmed animals raised on chemically grown feed, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics, the OCA says.

    "It's disheartening to see how profit motivated businesses like Kraft, Wal-Mart and Anheuser-Busch have more sway over the U.S. Department of Agriculture than family farmers, independent organic producers, and consumers," said OCA National Director Ronnie Cummins.


    Or you could avoid buying some old meat that was given the equivalent of several million chest X-rays and put back on the shelf. Just look for the irradiation label:

    WASHINGTON - The government proposed today relaxing its rules on labeling of irradiated foods and suggested it may allow some products zapped with radiation to be called “pasteurized.” The Food and Drug Administration said the proposed rule would require companies to label irradiated food only when the radiation treatment causes a material change to the product. Examples includes changes to the taste, texture, smell or shelf life of a food.


    Well, what if the private sector actually wants to tell Americans their products are safe?

    WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Arkansas City-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

    George Bush, handed everything in life, has some nerve telling America that "there is a certain responsibility that we have as citizens to take care of ourselves." That rotten son of privilege has done nothing but make it harder for Americans to actually lead healthier lives on a healthy planet.

    UPDATE: Bush video here at Crooks & Liars.

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    Monday, July 09, 2007

    The Arc of Icarus

    This is going to be an extremely busy few days for DB, with another voyage scheduled later in the week. Just in case I won't be able to post anything, as usual, I offer a poem. This one is dedicated to Glenn Greenwald, whose excellent book A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency arrived in my mailbox this week. I'll write more about it when I finish reading it. So far, I find it to be as methodical and damning an accounting of the Bush administration's disastrous tenure as the best posts on Glenn's blog, Unclaimed Territory at Salon.

    Here's a poem for all Dover Bitch readers, picked out for you, Glenn:

    Musee des Beaux Arts
    by W.H. Auden

    About suffering they were never wrong,
    The Old Masters; how well, they understood
    Its human position; how it takes place
    While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
    How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
    For the miraculous birth, there always must be
    Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
    On a pond at the edge of the wood:
    They never forgot
    That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
    Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
    Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
    Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
    In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
    Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
    Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
    But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
    As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
    Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
    Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
    had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

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    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Don't worry, be quiet

    A pair of somnolent editorials this week from the Washington Post show just how pathetic the entrenched Washingtonian media establishment is today. David Ignatius and David Broder have really outdone themselves.

    First Ignatius, who laments the "political disharmony" we face in a divided America, so bad another 9/11 might not snap us out of it:

    Based on the tone of the national debate today, it seems likely that the American public would react angrily -- but not just at the terrorists.

    Liberals would blame the Bush administration for making America a more vulnerable target. Didn't the war in Iraq inflame Muslim terrorists around the world? Wouldn't we have been safer today if we had focused on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan rather than embarking on a costly war that has sapped the military and CIA and added to America's enemies? These arguments aren't imaginary: We hear them every day, almost as rehearsals for the post-attack finger-pointing.

    Those "liberal" arguments are based on facts. Is Ignatius claiming that the war hasn't "inflamed Muslim terrorists around the world?" The evidence for that isn't "imaginary," either. From Ignatius' own paper:

    The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

    Is Ignatius claiming that the war hasn't "sapped the military and CIA and added to America's enemies?" Also from Ignatius' own paper:

    Four years after the invasion of Iraq, the high and growing demand for U.S. troops there and in Afghanistan has left ground forces in the United States short of the training, personnel and equipment that would be vital to fight a major ground conflict elsewhere, senior U.S. military and government officials acknowledge.

    More troubling, the officials say, is that it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials privately have called a "death spiral," in which the ever more rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand.

    Ignatius continues:

    And how would conservatives respond? They would blame liberals, who, in their view, have weakened America's anti-terrorism defenses. Couldn't we have stopped the bombers if critics hadn't exposed the National Security Agency's secret wiretapping program? Wouldn't aggressive CIA interrogation techniques have yielded more intelligence that might have prevented the tragedy? Didn't congressional demands to withdraw from Iraq embolden the terrorists? I can hear the voices on talk radio and cable news right now.

    Where is any evidence that would support these "conservative" claims? There isn't any and there probably wouldn't be any. Those are all hypothetical accusations that not only lack supporting evidence, but are probably examples of things America did illegally, immorally and, in the end, to no avail. But Ignatius and the media would air them all in some sort of perverted show of artificial balance against the points that liberals have been making... Legitimate arguments, not "rehearsals for the post-attack finger-pointing."

    Ignatius obviously isn't writing to point that out, since he can't even appreciate a legitimate argument or identify a ludicrous debate. He just wants everybody to get along.

    America's political disharmony is scary. But so is the lack of practical preparation for the next attack. With all the emotional discussion of Sept. 11 -- all the commissions and studies and new federal agencies -- you might expect that we had gotten that part right. But we haven't.


    In a politically healthy nation, the news from Britain would have a galvanizing effect. Politicians and the public would pull together and take appropriate steps to prepare for future terrorist attacks on America. There was a moment of shared purpose after Sept. 11, 2001. It's frightening how totally that mood of national unity has dissipated. I can think of lots of people to blame for the current polarization, but that's not the point. The point is to get serious, and to get ready.

    Aside from the fact that the "liberal" arguments he presented have merit and the "conservative" ones all lack any supporting evidence, what is Ignatius' real beef? That liberals won't just agree with conservatives and the president on how to fix Bush's DHS, which Ignatius even describes as "woefully unprepared."

    Steve Benen responds:

    It all sounds very nice, except for the details, which in this case are non-existent. As Ignatius describes it, Americans simply need to get unified. Unified behind what? Behind unity.

    I don't doubt that Ignatius means well, but his argument is lazy and hard to take seriously. It's easy to urge Americans to get together; it's a challenge to lay out an agenda for them to rally behind. It's simple to tell people to stop arguing; it's hard to talk about solutions. The column reads like Broderism at its least persuasive.

    Lazy doesn't even cover half of it. After all, here's how Ignatius semi-apologized for his and his colleagues' failures in the run up to the Iraq War:

    In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own.

    As it is, that comment is one of the most infuriating and emblematic excuses of the 21st Century Washington press corps. They were "victims of their own professionalism." Just let that sink in for a minute and then square it with Ignatius' latest column.

    His "journalistic rules" tell him to sit back and wait. There's no point, when the Republicans come forward with one of their schemes, in arguing with it. Just like his imaginary debate above, Ignatius understands his job is to allow political hacks to set the boundaries of the debate, even if one side's claims have no supporting evidence whatsoever.

    And now, having abdicated any responsibility to critically analyze, for the benefit of the American people, the administration's proposals, Ignatius says it's bad for the country if the Democrats do, either. Whom does that leave? Nobody. Ignatius is calling for an end to scrutiny of the Bush administration's policies entirely.

    Then, there's Broder, who's afraid that the general public might actually have something to say about anything:

    Former senator Fred Thompson has begun his unannounced quest for the Republican presidential nomination by telling audiences in New Hampshire that Washington is badly out of touch with the country.

    As a senior campaign adviser put it to The Post's Michael Shear, Thompson believes that "the politicians have lost their connection with what people really want and what they really expect."

    Few if any of the other 17 men and one woman vying for the presidency would be bold enough to challenge Thompson's claim. The belief that official Washington is deaf to the people's wishes is a staple of political rhetoric for both Republicans and Democrats -- even those, including Thompson, who have operated inside the Beltway for decades.

    Let a reporter who is not running for anything suggest that exactly the opposite may be true: A particularly virulent strain of populism has made official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion.

    From Aristotle to Edmund Burke, philosophers have written of the healthy tension that normally exists between the understanding and strategies of leaders and the sentiments and opinions of their people.

    In today's Washington, a badly weakened president and a dangerously compliant congressional leadership are no match for the power of public opinion -- magnified and sometimes exaggerated by modern communications and interest group pressure.

    Without explaining why the immigration bill deserved to be passed, Broder uses the unpopular bill's demise as evidence that Congress is too beholden to the people. His other evidence is that Congress has taken away Bush's nearly unilateral ability to negotiate new trade deals.

    No mention of Washington ignoring the overwhelming numbers of Americans who want us out of Iraq. No mention of the overwhelming numbers of Americans who wanted justice served for Scooter Libby. No mention of Bush's multiple vetoes over stem cell research. No mention of the overwhelming numbers of people who aren't happy with anything that Bush and Cheney are doing or what Congress is letting them get away with.

    So, Ignatius doesn't want the Democrats or the media to question Bush. Broder doesn't want Congress or the people to question Bush. Between the two of them, nobody should question Bush. Whatever Bush says is best for us is best for us and we should have the courage to support him. But, if we, the people, still don't like it, says Broder, well, we should just be ignored:

    The point is pretty basic. Politicians are wise to heed what people want. But they also have an obligation to weigh for themselves what the country needs. In today's Washington, the "wants" of people count far more heavily than the nation's needs.

    You can win elections by promising people what they want. But you win your place in history by doing what the country needs done.

    Politicians should lie to us whenever they face a constitutionally-mandated moment of accountability, if they want a shot at personal greatness. That's what the "Dean" of the Washington press corps has learned by watching democracy up close.

    Also, that he has the rare ability to know what the country needs done. So does Bush.

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