December 08, 2006

Cautious condemnation

Amazing, isn't it?

The Baker-Hamilton Commission report has only been out a little more than one day, and already there's an overwhelming consensus among government officials around the globe. From our President to key members of the Senate to Middle Eastern leaders, an immediate kinship has formed, uniting those who are in positions to actually do something constructive about the spiraling crisis in Iraq.

Unfortunately, that unison chorus is something akin to, "Well, I'm not gonna do that!"

I'll admit that I, too, was somewhat dismissive of the ISG's findings yesterday, even going so far as to highlight Glenn Greenwald's overall argument that the Commission's members are "the same dense, amoral people who could not have been more wrong about everything they recommended and asserted prior to this war." Greenwald continues this theme today, writing:
I recognize that the Report contains some nice acknowledgments and some ideas which might be theoretically praiseworthy. It's also true that the Report deviates from -- and at time criticizes -- the neoconservative view of the world (which is why rabid neoncons hate it).

Nonetheless, the reason I expressed such disdain for the Report is because it not only fails to advocate short-term, genuine withdrawal, but it does the opposite. It advocates that we stay until at least 2008, and endorses the notion that we should keep fighting in the hope that we will achieve something positive. It also expressly and emphatically opposes all efforts to withdraw now.

But beyond what the Report says, its effect -- in the real world, in actuality -- is that it alleviates the pressure on the President to remove our troops from Iraq, thereby ensuring that this war continues indefinitely. And as long as we remain in Iraq, abuses of this sort -- Abu Ghraib and Bilal Hussein and more and more slaughter -- are going to continue and worsen. Fiddling around with "tactics," finding new excuses to stay longer, and proposing incremental strategic changes which will be ignored (and hopelessly botched if adopted) are all just cosmetics -- and dangerous ones at that...

The war in Iraq enables an erosion of liberties, our standing in the world, and our national character in all sorts of devastating ways. Thus, anything which helps prolong it -- and the Baker-Hamilton Report unquestionably does that -- is something that deserves to be discredited, no matter what nice language it contains.
Greenwald does make a compelling argument to reject the ISG's recommendations outright. But if we do so, the end result - "in the real world, in actuality," to use his own words - will be no different than the petulant, knee-jerk, "don't wanna change course" opposition of those same officials I mentioned earlier.

And where does that get us?

I suppose I just think that, until someone in a position of genuine influence and power submits a better approach - not to mention one that has a prayer of actually becoming policy - we should be cautious with our condemnation of the ISG Report, lest we end up doing nothing at all simply for lack of a perfect plan. Of course we should continue to push for a more accelerated withdrawal. Of course there should be a more defined timetable. Of course we should protest anything that smacks of prolonged colonial "occupation."

At the same time, however, we mustn't lose sight of the overall significance of the Baker-Hamilton Report, in terms of its official criticism and pointed rejection of George Bush's grand plan. "Flaws," you say? Sure, more than a few. But it represents, to me, the first truly actionable - and politically unimpeachable - demand for a halt to this Administration's global insanity. I'd have to agree with this anonymous commenter I came across today, who notes:
In spite of its flaws, however, the Baker commission report is a giant leap forward in more ways than one: to begin with, it breaks the long-standing taboo against talking to the Iranians and the Syrians. Secondly, it links the question of Palestine to the broader issue of maintaining peace in the Middle East, and, not only that, it also acknowledges the centrality of the Palestinian problem. Our Israel-centric policy in the region has ruled out dealing with either of these aged sore spots: the great value of the Baker-Hamilton report is that it reasserts the necessity...

The significance of this report goes far beyond the issue of how we get out of Iraq: Baker-Hamilton marks the beginning of resistance by some in the elite to our seriously distorted and dysfunctional foreign policy, which puts narrow ideological interests above the national interest.

A rebellion is afoot, and not just in the streets but in the corridors of power. Our crazed president and his neoconservative Rasputins are seriously alienating the people from their government. A theme running through the report is nervousness about the growing opposition to the war: after all, if the people start questioning the assumptions of U.S. foreign policy, then they might start wondering about a whole lot of other things closer to home.
Yes, we must remain vigilant, and proactive, and committed to finding even better, faster ways out of Iraq. But let's not throw the baby out with the bath-water either. The Baker-Hamilton Report has in a very real sense provided us with a powerful weapon to wield against the madness of King George.

Let's not refuse to unsheathe it simply because there are some rust spots on the blade.

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UPDATE

I adore and admire Russ Feingold. Truth be told, I think he should be President. So it gives me pause when he, too, denigrates the ISG Report as "a report written by Washington insiders, for Washington insiders, who share the same mindset that led us into the misguided war in Iraq."

Again, however, I wonder: If not Baker-Hamilton, what? Don't we have to start somewhere? Doesn't the Commission's roster itself afford some leverage over Bush and his inner circle, to at least force a total reevaluation of our Mid East policy? And what other approach is initially "do-able", given the political realities on the ground in Washington?

Or is the alternative to spend the next two years squabbling as usual, while the situation steadily worsens, and our sons and daughters continue to die?

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December 07, 2006

Outrageous

I read this story with my jaw involuntarily on the floor in disbelief. From journalist Maia Szalavitz at HuffPo:
In a mind-boggling act of sadistic legal buck-passing (I can't bring myself to glorify it with the word "reasoning"), the Florida District Court of Appeals upheld a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence for a Florida man convicted of "drug trafficking" for possessing his own pain medication.

Richard Paey is a wheelchair-bound father of three young children.

He has no prior criminal record - in fact, he's an Ivy League law school graduate. He has not one, but two extensively documented and excruciatingly painful chronic disorders: multiple sclerosis and chronic back pain due to an injury suffered in a car accident that was treated by a surgery that made matters worse...

To add to the exquisite ironies of the case, the reason Paey qualified for such a lengthy sentence was due largely to his possession of acetaminophen (Tylenol), not opioids. Paey was taking pills that included acetaminophen and oxycodone - but the state counted the weight of the acetaminophen towards the weight of illegal drugs when it determined the charges that led to his sentence...

This is a sorry time for justice in America - and an even sorrier time for the media, which continues to ignore the ongoing disgrace of our drug laws and their enforcement.
I wonder when Rush will jump to Mr. Paey's defense. Guess I won't hold my breath.

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Wounded bear

A few quick thoughts on the conclusions and recommendations of the ISG:
1. Yawn... Seems like I've heard all this before. In fact it's a funny thing - I'd almost swear that every one of these amazing "findings" has been suggested for years by Liberal bloggers and editorialists, and the handful of true Progressives we've managed to keep in Congress.

It's just that, prior to yesterday, those analyses were called "obstructionist," "partisan," "treasonous," "supporting the enemy," and "rooting for America to lose." When do the vilified get to stand up and say, "I told you so!"?

2. During yesterday's photo-op, our Dear Leader looked like he was going to cry, almost choking on his verbal assessment of the report as containing "some, uh, interesting proposals."

Either that or he was fighting back laughter, already knowing full well that he has no intentions of following any advice save that of the Almighty and the PNAC. Which brings us to...

3. This report has no teeth. America "should" do such and such - but doesn't have to. The President "could" do so and so - but isn't required to. The Administration's plan so far has been a complete disaster - but we still ought to leave the decision-making power in the hands of those same individuals who engineered the clusterf#%k in the first place.

Come on. Does anyone actually think that George the Younger and his court jesters can simply be shamed into reversing direction?

4. See comment #1. Repeat.
I guess I should be a bit less of a smart-ass, and cheer the fact that the ISG did serve up some relatively sharp criticism of Bush's inept Iraq policy. And the political rock-star status afforded the commission since its inception will make it harder than ever for Bush to reject its suggestions out of hand.

But I was hoping for something far more blunt, if only because Bush and his inner circle have shown no prior evidence whatsoever of being receptive to polite critique of their plans, despite Dubya's consistently laughable claim of being "open to new ideas." The time for gentility is over, people. Our young men and women are dying, day after senseless day. What this Administration needs is a good hard slap in the face. Something along the lines of,
The President and his fellow architects of the Iraq situation are, plainly put, dangerous idiots. Their every strategy has proven inept at best, their every opinion proven catastrophically wrong. This comes as no surprise, since it has also been proven beyond a doubt that their entire rationale for the March 2003 invasion was a lie.

The first step, therefore, in finding a resolution to this fiasco is the exclusion of the President and his "war planners" from any future decision-making processes, even if that entails the removal of the current Administration from office. It would be illogical to believe, after three and a half years of demonstrable stubbornness and incompetence, that any of those decision makers would miraculously discover their inner strategic brilliance - or have even the simple decency to admit their mistakes and voluntarily agree to heed alternative advice.

Thus it is imperative that the 110th Congress immediately move forward with all the legislative tools at its disposal to assume complete control of the military and diplomatic roadmap that will be followed as pertains to Iraq, utilizing the recommendations of actual experts on the Middle East, and citing this Administration's dismal track record as Constitutional justification for overriding an Executive branch obviously operating at diminished capacity.
Let's stop mincing words, America. Until George Bush and his PNAC enablers are removed from positions of decision-making power, there's little chance that a thousand ISGs could force this White House to change direction. I mean, when you're on a crusade ordained by God himself, why listen to any mere defeatist - even if he is one of Daddy's boys.

Of course, even if Bush does, by some unforeseen miracle, embrace every one of the Baker-Hamilton Commission's conclusions, there's the nagging question of why we should listen to this group at all. As Glenn Greenwald points out today,
From the start, the Baker-Hamilton Commission was a travesty waiting to happen. Its composition ensured that it could be nothing else, for exactly the reason Russ Feingold said. James Baker exhibited absolutely horrendous, amoral judgment on Iraq prior to the war, yet here he is, hauled in as the responsible savior, as though his past was really the opposite of what it is...

Compare the profound wrongness of Baker's pre-war arguments to the pre-war prescience and insight of war opponents such as Howard Dean, Jim Webb, Russ Feingold, Al Gore, and Nancy Pelosi, or the statements over a year ago from crazy, insane, cut-and-run-coward Jack Murtha about what would happen in Iraq if we stayed. The incoherence of viewing the former as some sort of responsible and wise foreign policy expert, while viewing the latter as frivolous and irresponsible radicals, is so intense that it makes one almost dizzy to contemplate.

If you go to a doctor for an operation and he completely botches your surgery and you lose an organ due to his abject ineptitude and recklessness, you don't go back to that doctor for repair surgery; you find another one. If you go to a lawyer who almost destroys your company through complete ignorance of your basic legal obligations, you don't stay with that lawyer in the hope that he will get you out of the disaster he created for you; you retain another one. All of that is just basic common sense.

Yet here we are, revering and listening to and following the same dense, amoral people who could not have been more wrong about everything they recommended and asserted prior to this war, while we scorn or (at best) ignore those who were so right.
I hope my pessimism is way off base here. I hope the ISG's report is indeed a turning point of sorts, cautious or tainted as it may be, and the Administration will spend its final two years genuinely trying to make things right.

But the more I see that peculiar look in the President's eyes whenever he speaks these days, the greater my suspicion becomes that the man is more "wounded bear" than lame duck. And like a wounded animal - defiantly defending its turf, lashing out in blind rage, and with nothing to lose - Bush has the potential to do something desperate, even catastrophic, rather than admit he could ever have been wrong.

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December 06, 2006

One small step

Well it's about damn time!

According to today's Washington Post,
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who will become House majority leader and is writing the schedule for the next Congress, said members should expect longer hours than the brief week they have grown accustomed to.

"I have bad news for you," Hoyer told reporters. "Those trips you had planned in January, forget 'em. We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the 4th."
For those of us who've grown resigned to working our asses off - often at more than one job - just to make ends meet, this is an encouraging sign that the Democratic Congress is serious about getting something done in Washington. Finally. Call it karma. Call it poetic justice.

Or just call it long overdue.

I can't even remember the number of times my partner and I have been forced to sacrifice free time because of work loads that simply "had to be done" unexpectedly. We've cancelled vacations, blown off doctors' appointments, survived 36-hour shifts, given up weekends, skipped parties and soccer games and school concerts and parent-teachers' meetings. To my everlasting regret, I even missed my eldest daughter's high-school graduation because of a project I was told was "life or death" for my employer at the time.

Of course, that list of woes is nothing unique. It's repeated a thousand times a day, 365 days a year, across the work force of the nation. Always with the automatic expectation by our task-masters that we accept this as simply the way American business works - and always with the implied threat that unless we make that extra effort, the company will readily replace us with someone who will.

So it's continually galled me that our elected officials never seem to be at the office. Sure, I understand that part of their responsibility entails mingling with the common man - particularly those "common men" from home states and districts. But Washington is where the business of governance takes place. Where legislation is passed. Where problems are supposed to be solved. Where the welfare and image and direction of the nation is decided.

After all, it's where every elected official knew the office was when they first applied for the position.

And theirs is no ordinary job. Look at it this way. The work that you and I do is deemed "crucial" enough that we can only be granted, on average, two weeks away each year. Maybe with a handful of personal days thrown in here and there. And when even minor "crises" arise, we take it as a given that there may be overtime involved, or the odd Sunday, or "just a few hours" on the Fourth of July.

The 109th Congress, by comparison, had on its plate a host of unfinished issues that were, shall we say, of no small importance to the country as a whole. You know, little things like war, and the economy, and corporate corruption, and poverty, and health care, and defending American citizens against terrorism, and protecting the U.S. Constitution, to name a few.

Yet, by the time Congress recesses this Friday, "members will have worked a total of 103 days."

I'm willing to bet that on any given day of the other 262, an American family was going hungry. A skilled American worker was losing his or her job to outsourcing. A sick American child was going untreated due to lack of insurance. An American who used to live in New Orleans was still ignored and uprooted and unemployed.

And on each of those Congressional "days off" another American was dying in Iraq for a lie that Congress helped to sell.

On a humorous note, the Whiner Of The Week award goes to Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia. According to the Post,
"Keeping us up here eats away at families," said [Kingston], who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families - that's what this says."
Awwwwwwww. Pass me my violin, Jack. And welcome to the real world.

I still say that Congress is getting off easy. The job of governing doesn't go away on weekends or holidays or scheduled "recess" breaks, because the problems faced by America - a large number of which were created in the first place by people like Kingston and his cronies - don't get put on hold when the Rotunda is closed.

At least Congressman Hoyer's planned work-schedule is one small step in the right direction.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta get back to work. Unlike our pampered Washington representatives, my holiday break doesn't start on the 8th and last a month - and I'll be lucky if this current project doesn't spill over into the weekend. But that's OK. It goes with the territory. And it's important to me that the challenge gets solved, and that the job gets done right.

Even if it doesn't involve putting other people's loved ones in harm's way.

Oh, and Jack. Hope you enjoy this extended vacation with your family - knowing full well that your pitiful job "performance" (among others) has helped to ensure that thousands won't ever see their families again. Happy Holidays, pal.

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December 03, 2006

Track record

As he has so often in the past, radio host Cenk Uygur once again sums up exactly how I feel. This time, he reminds us that sometimes, assigning blame is a prudent and necessary thing - and which specific Party deserves sole responsibility for the Iraq fiasco:
Let's get this straight - once and for all. It was a Republican president, a Republican administration, a Republican Senate, a Republican House and entirely Republican government that started and lost the war in Iraq. No excuses. They screwed this thing up entirely. It is 100% their fault.

Now that we have lost in Iraq, I think the country would be better off listening to the Democrats on how to extricate us from this mess. But I will not stand by and watch Democrats get blamed for losing Iraq when Iraq is already lost.

Why am I so adamant about this? Is it because I am a lifelong Democrat and an incurable partisan? No, I was a Republican until Bush invaded Iraq. My party loyalty has been to the Republicans for almost my entire life. No, it must be made clear that the Republicans lost Iraq because if it is not clear, the country might be deluded into believing them again.

At this point, these Republicans are incapable of and uninterested in governing. I wanted limited government, not anarchy. These guys are completely incompetent. I don't know if they have a secret plan to show how government can't work, but I am not interested. I don't give a damn about their ridiculous secret plans. I care that they suck.

The media has to snap out of the Svengali mind lock that conservative talk show hosts have over them. The Republicans bungled our government, they bungled Iraq and they don't know what they're doing. How many former Republicans do you have to hear say that? How much overwhelming proof on the ground do you need?
Mr. Uygur concludes with the admonition, "Give the Republicans the blame they so richly deserve so that no one will make the mistake of listening to them anymore." And you know, this conclusion touches on precisely the thing that's bothered me with increasing intensity over the last several years - the fact that anyone cares what the architects of six years' dismal governance think about anything.

To continue giving credence to a group of people that's been either demonstrably wrong - or intentionally untruthful - about virtually every issue, policy, appointment, or prediction they've made since 2001, is simply stupid. Think about it. If there were a doctor in your town that misdiagnosed 90 percent of his patients, would you still go to him for an examination?

If there were a stockbroker in your circle of friends whose investments tanked on 9 out of every 10 occasions, would you continue to trust him with your portfolio?

If there were a mom in your after-school carpool that crashed every time she got behind the wheel, would you still send your kids off to basketball practice in her car?

This is not rocket science, for God's sake. It's basic common sense.

So I'm with Cenk. I don't care what Mr. Bush and his Republican loyalists have to say anymore. They've had plenty of time to get something, anything, right, and their disastrous track record should speak for itself.

If we continue to imagine that these dangerous fools might be right this time around - and continue to give their ideas any consideration whatsoever - then we'll all deserve whatever calamitous consequences are sure to follow.

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