Wednesday, May 09, 2007

May 1 to May 8, 2007

May 7, 2007

It's Revolting
Why Aren't We?

Tonight our monkey will climb into a monkey-suit and dine in regal splendor with an anachronism.

At one end of the head table will be President George W. Bush, looking for all the world like a 10-year old spoiled brat being forced to sit respectfully through a the visit of a rich aunt.

At the other end of the table will be the rich aunt, in this case the Queen of England. Never mind that the Queen is little more than a national mantel ornament back home. She's still getting head-of-state treatment in Washington.

At the very moment the caviar and fine wines are served at the White House tonight, followed by no less than five, 5-star quality courses of food, our Gis in Iraq will be cracking open their breakfasts – another Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) – each packet one-course short of five – and way short on yum.

The ambiance at the White House meal will sparkle. So will the ambiance in Iraq. The only difference is the sparkle at the White House is designed to awe. The sparkle in Iraq is designed to shock – to death.

At the White House it will be a Mad Hatter's Tea Party. In Iraq's it's breakfast with Mad Max.

White House guests have each been instructed on the rules for being around the Queen. They should never speak to her unless she speaks to them. They must never touch the Queen. If she puts out her hand they are to put their hand out and let the Queen take it. DO NOT SQUEEZE! If the Queen deems you squeeze-worthy, she will do the squeezing.

It's much the same for the rules of engagement in Iraq, only more so. DON'T SQUEEZE ANYTHING! It might explode.

Am I the only one that feels tonight's state dinner for the Queen has the feel of a red-hot blast of cognitive dissidence -- remarkable even from this White House in it's feeling of unreality?

US and British men and women are being blown by the dozen every day in Iraq. The public in both England and the US overwhelmingly want their governments to rescue their troops from that hopeless hell-hole of a nation. But tonight the leader of one of those countries will fete the pretend-leader of the other country in a lavish dinner, as though at that very moment one or more of their soldier's life is not likely to be soaking into Iraqi sand.

Nevertheless they shall and, I'm guessing that, white wine will be in far more demand at tonight's White House dinner than red wine. It's not so much that the guests might have a hard time choking down red wine. Just imagine how awkward it would be should someone spill a glass of red wine on the white table clothe. Imagine the embarrassed shuffling as butlers rush to wipe it up before it forms those evocative pools of red at the guests feet.

Of course there will be no wine served to our troops in Iraq, white or red. Alcohol is not allowed in Muslim countries as, they fear, it could lead to irrational behavior and violence. Since there's no red wine in Iraq, those pools of red that spot the Iraq landscape are more than just an social embarrassment. They're the real deal.

Tomorrow night the Queen Of-Nothing-Real will return the favor by hosting a state-dinner for the President Of-Fewer-and-Fewer at the British Embassy in Washington. For the second time this week our Commander-in-Chief will climb into his monkey suit and dine in splendor with a woman dressed like the cake at a gay wedding.

Meanwhile, in Iraq their soldiers will wake up to another 100-degree plus day. They too will put on their monkey suits – 12-pounds of body armor, helmet, ammo, rifle – and three square meals... (that are actually square.)

While the food and ambiance at the White House and Embassy dinners will surely be to die for, in Iraq the troops will surely be doing just that.

And still we are not in the streets.

Not to be confused with what's being served at the White House dinner.

May 4, 2007

If Democracy is Messy
Why is Ours So Neat?

First the good news. Democracy – real democracy -- is still alive and well.

The bad news is, just not here.

Americans like to see the US as democracy's Mecca. Nevertheless evidence mounts by the day that the ideal of democracy, while never quite achieved in full, is currently, (hopefully temporarily,) moribund within the borders of it's birthplace.

If you are looking for real democracy in action you have to look abroad where, those of us from the 1960s and 70s will recognize the way it once was here.

In Turkey last week the streets were filled with protesters demanding that Turkey remain a secular state. They had good reason to worry it would not. Turkey sits directly on the fault line that separates secular Europe form the bubbling cauldron of Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalism. And Turkey has been working overtime to become a member of the European Union.

For three quarters of a century Turkey has held Islamic fundamentalism at bay. That struggle began in the 1920s when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk transformed post Ottoman Empire Turkey into a representative, secular state.

To this day the Turkish military establishment considers Ataturk's reforms the scared cornerstone of the Turkish state and democratic governance. On more than one occasion when secular politicians were either too weak or too timid to stand up and protect their democracy from Islamic fundamentalist, the military did. Each of those times it took the military to say “no,” to Islamists whose aim was to return Turkey to the dark ages.

On the surface military interference would seem the antithesis of democracy. But the Turkish military has become Turkey's strongest and most steadfast protector of their nation's secular democracy. Over the decades they has gained the trust of the Turkish people, by doing the right thing, only at the right time. Doing the right thing, is never the wrong thing to do.Yes, it's a dangerous game. But so far at least, the Turkish military has walked that razor's edge with the utmost reluctance, restraint, skill and honor.

Change the venue for a moment. Recent public opinion polls show that well over two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Two-thirds... a super-majority. A veto-proof super-majority. Imagine if Pentagon brass – which has long known there was nothing to “win” through military action in Iraq -- reacted to those poll numbers. And if the Joint Chiefs of Staff went to the President and laid down the law.

“Mr. President, we are the US military. Our job is to defend and protect the American public and the American homeland. Our job is not to maintain a war the public does not support simply because you and those around you don't want to have to admit you made a terrible mistake. We also have a responsibility to the troops we command. We are not to misuse the troops for purely political reasons, which is precisely what you are asking us to do now. Therefore, here in this folder are several options we have develope and are prepared to enact on y our command. Each option is designed to wind down US military operations in Iraq as quickly as possible and in ways that minimize -- as much as possible -- the inevitable negatives from such disengagment. We are offering you thirty days to choose one of these options, or to come up with a better one that gets us to the same place. If you don't we will we go to Congress and the public this matter.”

Mutiny! Really? I'm not so sure about that. When I was in the Marines I was taught that I not only had the right, but the obligation, to oppose unlawful orders. I assumed then, and now, that that rule binds the lowest private all the way up the those star-spangled Generals at the Pentagon. In the scenero above the military is not trying to "subvert" civil authority, but to empower it with the clear thinking, planning and expert opinion and advice. Going diretly to Congress and the American poeple when they believe their Command-in-Chief is up to no good, is the consumate act of honor and duty to their country and the democracy they are there to protect.

I had assumed that career generals had learned something about the danger of blindly following combat plans drawn up by conniving politicians like “General” Lyndon B. Johnson and “General” Richard M. Nixon. Apparently not. Only in Turkey do we find a officers who understand that, at the end of the day, a military that is not supported by it's people and ignores their will, morphs a national army into a kind of domestic political mercenary force.

One more observation on the Turks and their apparent love of secular democracy. The Turkish people filled the streets in protest when it appeared the religious fundamentalist were about to gain control. They understand something that the majority in America does not understand: that religious fundamentalist – of all and any flavor – are anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-democratic morons. Dangerous people who honestly believe they are following the orders of a heavenly spirit. The Turks get that loud and clear. Maybe it's because they were a lot closer to Taliban-run Afghanistan than we were. Or maybe it's because they can already see the signs of creeping Islamic fundamentalism on their streets in the form of growing numbers of burqua imprisoned women.

But Americans have not quite gotten that message yet. Here it's still considered "bad taste" and "intolerance" to openly scoff at nonsensical religious doctrines spouted by politicians. Instead we pretend they are not talking nonsense, and even elect them to public office. I saw a startling example of that last night during the GOP debates. The moderator ask the ten wannabe Presidents to raise their hand if they DID NOT believe in evolution. Three of them proudly raised their hand.

The right response – the intellectually honest response -- from that audience would have been – should have been -- to snicker or hoot right out loud in open derision. Instead most sat silent and expressionless -- not even a wrinkled brow in sight. And a few in the audience even nodded in agreement. Not one of the other seven candidates said a word about it either. Why? Because, to them, a vote from a moron is as valuable as a vote from a sane person. They didn't want to risk losing any Christian fundamentalist votes. So they just stood there with expressions on their faces that did display a hint that three men who want to lead our nation are ignoramuses -- and proud as hell of it.

So here we are, after seven years of biblically warped Bush administration officials feverishly Talibanizing US public health, environment laws, education, foreign aid and our courts, we are still not in the streets about it.

But the Turks were. They were Johnnies on the spot the second they got wind that pro-Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was in line to become President. Because that would tipping the balance of power between ruling secularists and minority Islamist parties. And they knew where that road led. And they were not about to let their nation take that road. (Editor's note: My Neo-Office spell-checker even knows what's up. Each time I typed the word “Islamist” it tried to change it to “Misogynist.”)

Turkey's presidential vote annulled
PM - Wednesday, 2 May , 2007 18:44:13

MARK COLVIN: In Turkey, the latest power struggle between secular and religious leaders has come to a head, with the country's top court annulling the first round of a parliamentary vote for a new President....The decision has prompted the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to announce that his Islamist-based Government will go to the polls within months to resolve its stand-off with the secular elite....The announcement was given added urgency last week, when the Army threatened to intervene to defend the separation of state and religion, and on the weekend when more than one million people demonstrated against the Government and in favour of secularism and democracy. (Full story)

The other place we can see real democracy in action this week is in Israel. (Yes, I know about the mistreatment of Palestinians by Israel. Plenty of blame on both side there. Besides its as different subject.)

Protesters vent anger over Olmert at rally

Friday, May 04, 2007: Judy Giladi travelled from Jerusalem to a rally of more than 100,000 people in Tel Aviv last night to register her anger at Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Amir Peretz, his Defence Minister, remaining in office after the failures of a conflict that had risked the lives of her family...."We want them to take responsibility for what happened. I don't believe we can face Hizbollah again with this leadership and I think we will have to face them again," said Ms Giladi...The 31-year-old backs the left-wing Meretz party but at least one of her brothers ­ also at last night's protest ­ voted for Kadima, Mr Olmert's party...."We are from all parties," Ms Giladi said of her traveling companions. (Full Story)

The protesters were demanding that Olmert resign. And the list of reasons why they say he should resign could serve as a nearly precise template to justify the same demand for George W. Bush's resignation. That he send his nation's military into to war at the wrong time, the wrong place, with the wrong commanders, the wrong orders and without proper equipment. And that he failed to meet his own stated goals.

I am betting that democracy in both Turkey and Israel are in fine shape, at least for now. Not so much here in “the home of the brave and the land of the free.” Here we are demonstrably less free than we were just six short years ago. And, while there are still lots of brave men and women willing to serve in our military. they are now being treated like cannon fodder in Iraq. Meanwhile their top commanders – who know better -- are not brave enough to stand up to a clearly amoral and twisted Commander-in-Chief.

And, dear reader, just what you nodding about? I remember, “back in the day,” when we shut down Washington DC and surrounded the Pentagon with tens of thousands of protesters. I remember when we forced a President to relinquish his hopes of a second term in office, because he insisted on continuing a war that should never have been waged, and which should have been ended.

So stop nodding. You and I and millions of other Americans have a lot to re-learn about what it takes to keep a democracy fresh, alive, healthy and growing.

Democracy – real democracy -- is messy. Unlike the going-through-the-motions kind of democracy we have allowed ours to become. This kind of democracy is neat. In this kind of democracy people do what they're told, put up with what they're given and, should they disagree, keep it to themselves.

In this kind of democracy – our kind -- the military brass does what it's told, even if their heart and mind tell them it's wrong.

They call it “sucking it up,” -- but it's really the reincarnation of “just following orders.”

Monday, May 07, 2007

May 1- May 3, 2007

May 2, 2007

Why Congress Should
Get the Spike-Strips Out
... Now

Events undergo a kind of gestation process. What they appear to be the day they occur is almost never what they grow up over time to become.

What got me thinking about that is impeachment.

A few months ago, when a few voices on the far left first uttered the “I” word in relation to Dick Cheney and George Bush, I was turned off by the idea. Then I started to wonder why I felt that way. After all, if any two public officials in American history ever earned a thorough impeaching it's those two. Yet the idea of actually kicking that process into action produced a sinking, sickish feeling deep within.


Then it dawned on me -- Republicans had “removed” impeachment from the arsenal that made Congress a co-equal branch of government. They didn't do that on purpose, but by accident – a fortunate accident for them, as we now see.

As I said above, events often mature into something else, and that's precisely what happened to the publics feeling about the impeachment process. When mad-dog Republicans misused impeachment during their anti-Clinton feeding frenzy, the public – the sane majority anyway -- was turned off by it. They saw it more for what is was -- a legislative coup attempt by Republicans against a Democratic president, rather than the legitimate use of Congressional power.

It was also viewed as a monumental waste of time, taxpayer money and critically needed legislative bandwidth.

Over time that impression gestated into a deep national ambivalence, bordering on disgust, with the impeachment process. It's now almost a knee-jerk response when someone demands impeachment. You can almost hear a national moan:

“Oh no. Please, no. Don't take us down that road again! Please.”

So there you have it. With their unjust, frivolous, mean spirited, wolf-pack-like pursuit of Bill Clinton the GOP inadvertently inoculated its own top officials from the threat of impeachment today, even when so richly deserved.

While I now understand that, the idea of impeaching George W. Bush and Dick Cheney still didn't feel good, but it did seem thinkable. I still don't have a good feeling about impeachment. Not because I remain “traumatized” by the Clinton impeachment fiasco, but because that's how I think we should always feel about impeaching a sitting President or VP. Impeachment is the ultimate punishment, the constitutional equivalent of a firing squad. Therefore it should be approached accordingly – only when clearly justified, only as the last resort, and only with a sense of judicial solemnity, not partisan glee.

That's where I am now.

What happened to Bill Clinton had nothing to do with the legitimate use of congress' power to impeach. Lying about sex – even under oath – is no reason to unseat the President of a local SPCA, much less the President of the United States. That sorry event reflects, not a flaw in the power to impeach, but a flaw in humans who chose to soil and abuse that power. We must not now compound that mistake by letting it forever place impeachment emotionally and/or politically off limits. To do so would gut the already seriously eroded constitutional separation of powers.

Unlike Bill Clinton's stupid, immature, self-indulgent transgressions, Bush and Cheney have actually committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,”-- and plenty of each. If a court-like impeachment hearing ever began the process of stripping away the Orwellianisms from the Bush/Cheney list of activities over the last six years impeachment would be – if you'll excuse the expression – a slam dunk.

  • What really is what the administration likes to call, “enhanced interrogation techniques?” It's torture.
  • What really is wiretapping without a warrant? It's a crime.
  • What are “Presidential signing statements,” that nix laws passed by congress and signed into law by the President? They are a violations of the US Constitution which the President swore to uphold.
  • What are false statements made to mislead congress into approving war? They are lies – lies to congress – a high crime if ever there was one.
  • What is “preemptive war?” A war against another sovereign nation that had not directly threatened the US? It's an international crime – just as President George H. Bush declared when Saddam invaded and occupied Kuwait.
  • What is it when five million White House documents (emails) “disappear” just as the administration faces it's first real congressional oversight hearings ever? It's called “contempt of Congress,” and when those missing documents involve an ongoing criminal probe it's called “obstruction of justice,” a felony.
Oh, I know, there's more -- plenty more. Just pick the top one or two, start impeachment hearings where everyone involved is put under oath, and George and Dick are goners.

But the question remains, should we? Would impeaching Bush and Cheney be more disruptive than curative? After all, we have only two more years to endure them. So, should we? Should we impeach?

Up until this week I would have said that it was more trouble than it was worth. But, unless the administration begins treating congress with the constitution respect and deference the law requires, especially regarding the war in Iraq, I say yes, impeach.

And so far it does not appear either Bush or Cheney are about to stop acting like they are overseeing a monarchy. Yesterday when the president vetoed the war supplemental with conditions and time lines attached by congress, he said something that indicates he still does not get it.

“I am, of course,” Bush said, “always interested in the ideas offered by congress...but...”

Ah, earth to George --- those are not just “ideas.”

What if Congress had said it. “Of course, we are always interested in any ideas the President has to offer...but..”

Or, what if Congress declared, “We are always interested in any ideas the US Supreme Court has... but...”

Then this morning I read that the White House is backing away from it's agreement to get court approval for warrantless wiretaps. Instead, Bush claims, he as President has the power to approve wiretaps on his own.

I see.

Responsible, cool-headed, soft-talking, clear-thinking Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate should get out their impeachment primers, dust off the swearing-in Bible and oil the rusted wheels of Congressional justice. Because I am starting to think we're going to be forced to impeach these two guys.

Because, by all indicators, these two Dukes of Hazard have clearly decided that, rather than change their ways, they are going to try to beat Smoky to the border. They are putting their lawless heels to the metal.

So it's time for Congress to get the spike-strips of impeachment out – first as a warning.

If that doesn't work, then use them. Use them before these two men do any more damage. Use them also as a clear warning to the next administration. be it Democratic or Republican, that if you break the law, regardless of intentions, you will be held to account.

May 1, 2007

A Short Revolution?

I didn't think it would happen this fast. I figured it would eventually happen, years down the road, not this soon. Because usually, when it starts, it means that politics as usual had again taken over. It also always marks the beginning of the end for the party doing it.

Oh, sorry, I need to back up. I'm not talking about the GOP -- this time. I'm talking about the Democratic Party.

After over a decade out of power the Democrats surged back last November gaining control, if by a tiny margin, of both the House and Senate. Like so many I sighed in relief the morning after that election. Finally there would be a counterbalance to the far-right agenda that had so soiled America's image abroad and rerouted much of her treasure into the bank accounts of the already well-heeled.

The first woman Speaker of the House followed -- another breathe of fresh air. There was talk of ending the foolish and criminal war in Iraq soon, and returning the focus of our over-stretch military to finishing the job in Afghanistan. A minimum wage hike was on the table for the first time in over a decade. The dust covers were removed from the witness tables in House and Senate hearing rooms as congressional oversight resumed after a six year hiatus.

It was a sweet moment, indeed.

But it only took weeks for the very forces that buried the last Democratic period to reassert itself, and with a vengeance.

If you've ever raised chickens you'll understand the kind of creatures I'm talking about. They rule and reward by pecking order. Get in the way of a dominant rooster or hen and they'll peck you to death.

The first rebel rooster to get pecked into his place was John Murtha. This former combat-seasoned, decorated Marine was the first ranking Democrat to have the courage to oppose the war in Iraq. That glimmer of light from the long-dark recesses of the Democratic party arguably proved the edge the Dems they needed to regain both houses of congress.

Nevertheless Murtha was unceremoniously pecked away from the job he wanted, Majority House Leader. Instead that job was given to Steny Hoyer -- a guy who was sipping cold Cokes at Georgetown University student union while John Murtha was taking lead in Vietnam.

Sure there was a war going on, and sure Murtha was tight with dissident Pentagon brass and had forgotten more about all matters military than Hoyer knew. But Hoyer had paid his dues, he had tenure, he was next in the pecking order.

That's how things worked in the old Democratic Party, and increasingly it appears it's how they work in the one we just got back. Peck, peck, peck.

But wait, I just realized that I've slandered chickens. At least when chickens pick a rooster to be in charge of a coop they pick the biggest, meanest, loudest and most colorful rooster. The US Senate is the biggest coup in the Congress so, one would expect, Democrats would select the mother of all roosters to run the place.

Instead they picked Harry Reid, a man who could not inspire fear among a group of pre-schoolers much less battle hardened, egg-stealin', chicken-eatin', Republican wolves. Harry Reid, rather than flashing his spurs at opponents, slips on his tennis shoes as the Mr. Rogers of the US Senate. Welcome to his neighborhood.

Why did the Dems pick Reid? Because, like Hoyer in the House, it was Reid's turn. He was next in the pecking order. Look no further. That was the whole reason. Other than that, Reid's qualification to lead a Democratic counterattack are nil -- maybe worse than nil. Reid's a Mormon. Mormons consider gambling a cardinal sin, ranking right up there with boozing, smoking and caffeinated Starbucks coffee. Nevertheless, as the senior Senator from Nevada, Reid is an enthusiastic supporter of his state's massively powerful – and lucrative – gambling interests. Now, I'm no fan of blue-nose Christians of any stripe, much less Mormons, but it does beg the question -- what does Reid hold sacred? His god, or his political career? (That's a trick question, as it obviously answers itself.)

And, even as Democrats rightfully diss the Bushies for their stubborn refusal to admit mistakes, and for retaliating against those within GOP ranks that dare to do just that, Democrats are guilty of doing the very same.

The peckers within the Democratic party are proving themselves to be fierce defenders of their party pecking order, even when it's choices are clearly wrong. When veteran Washington reporter/columnist, David Broder, dared to suggest that Reid was the wrong man for the job, the party peckers went to work on him with a vengeance. Clintonite, Paul Begala, blasted Broder in an editorial, as did other's of like mind:

Why David Broder Doesn't Deserve His Position at the Top of the Media Food Chain
By Jamison Foser, Media Matters for America.
May 1, 2007 : David Broder, the "Dean of the Washington Press Corps," has been regurgitating flawed Beltway wisdom since long before his recent, baseless assault on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
(Full article)

The attacks on Broder have been unrelenting, leading one to wonder why? Why are they so sensitive about Broder's attack on Reid? On any given day some columnist from a leading publication is reaming a politician. What was it about Broder and his attack on Reid that sparked such a furious counterattack?

And is this just the beginning? I fear so.

A personal note: I get nothing but misery when I write stuff like this. Just a year ago the misery I got came exclusively from right-wingers. Now, when ever I ruminate on the possible shortcomings of Democrats I get blasted – and censored – by the left. This worries me. There's a double standard at work here that the left can't seem to grasp. Let's try this:

Former CIA director, George Tenet, is being raked over the coals – deservedly – for going along and getting along in the run up to the Iraq war, rather than speaking truth to power. Yet anyone on the left – or it seems in the media – that challenges Democratic Party leadership choices or orthodoxy is toast.

Broder dared to turn his “emperor-has-no-cloths” lens on Democratic Senate Leader, Harry Reid, and what he got for it was a concerted, orchestrated smear campaign. His attackers, rather than defending Reid's qualification, instead pecked the living daylights out of Broder.

I don't know about you, but if my life depended on the judgment of either David Broder or Harry Reid I would not have to mull that choice for very long – if at all.

But hope is a hard thing to kill. And it was with a now flickering flame of hope that I watched the first Democratic Party debates last week. There were no home runs from Obama. There was largely same-old, same-old from most of the others, with a touch of tragic-comic relief from Mike Gravel.

But there in the center was the Mother Hen herself, Hillary. She's next in the pecking order. All you had to do was look at her face and watch her body language to understand that.

“This is so annoying, having to share a stage with all these posers. But I have to do this. It's part of the kabuki dance of politics. The charade of democracy. So, let's get it over with, because I am going to be the next Big Hen. Oh, and don't even think about trying to get in my way. Because if you do I'll have my chickens peck your eyes out.”

As much as I hate to admit it, she's probably right about that. Because, the old Democratic Party's pecking order enforcement policies appear to be back in full force -- this time complete with some mean-ass sycophantic political and media enforcers to take care of those who step out of line – or who try to cut in line.

Then there's the issues of our day. There's the war in Iraq. Democrats were elected to end it. But it continues, and will continue. Why? Because actually cutting off funding for operations in Iraq would mean Democrats will shoulder responsibility for what ever follows, and that scares the hell out of them. Still Democrats claim that if we return them to the White House they they will end the war. Why is that different? They could end it now if they really tried. But if they can't handle the responsibility for such a decision now, why should believe they'll have backbone to do so later?

Also, polls show, Democratic voters overwhelmingly support the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. The public record is replete with reasons to do so – illegal aggressive war, torture, false imprisonment, etc. etc... Still, as much as they deserve it, they won't get it. Because Democrats are afraid to go there too. Why? Because the American public rightly considered it a frivolously abuse of the powers of Congress when they tried to impeach Bill Clinton just for lying about sex But there's nothing frivolously about the laundry list of outrages committed Bush and Cheney. Still, don't count on any impeachment hearings. Cheney and Bush will be allowed to escape accountability in January 2009 with their criminal hides in tact.

That breathe of fresh air that blew through our hearts and minds last November has been replaced by the stench of politics as usual.

I fear it was a very short revolution.

Old Lousiana saying when one party is voted out of power:

"It was just time to turn the fat hogs out and let the lean hogs in."

April 27-30, 2007

Weekend Edition

Dying to Go on Vacation

Whether you are for the war or against it, if this piece of news doesn't piss you off you must not have a pulse.

Let me set this up before I give you the punchline.

The Bush administration's stated reason for the surge is to create the kind of order and relative peace in Baghdad so that the Iraqi Parliament can get about the business of addressing the sectarian issues that divide the country.

And, according to the Bush administration the surge will be in full force by this summer – as in July and August.

Already American deaths are way up as the surge, surges in search of that goal.

U.S. death toll in March twice that of Iraq forces

April 1: BAGHDAD - The U.S. military death toll in March, the first full month of the security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army, which American and Iraqi officials say is taking the leading role in the latest attempt to curb violence in the capital, surrounding cities and Anbar province, according to figures compiled on Saturday. (Full story)

Okay, so are you sitting down? Guess what.

The Iraqi parliament refuses to cancel it's two-month long annual summer recess (vacation.)
When? July and August.

While this outrage has gone largely unnoticed and almost completely unreported in the US, it has not been lost on Iraqis or the Iraqi press:

Iraqi Papers: A Parliament on Vacation
Paper Critiques the Perks of Iraq's Deputies

Baghdad, Iraq: A parliament of vacations and privileges” was Az-Zaman’s headline on Monday. The Iraqi newspaper published a critical review of the perks granted to Iraqi deputies and reiterated criticisms concerning the performance of the People’s representatives. The Iraqi deputies are currently enjoying a week-long vacation, in celebration of the Norouz (the Persian New Year, celebrated by Kurds and Zaraostrian minorities in Iraq.) The Norouz vacation follows a month-long halt in the activity of the Iraqi parliament, due to a succession of religious holidays. In addition to that, Az-Zaman said that sources had leaked that a “secret” session of the parliament last Saturday was in fact devoted to discussing the compensations and retirement packages of M.P.s .....What exacerbates the situation further, Az-Zaman reported, is the fact that many Iraqi deputies do not reside in Iraq, preferring the safety and comfort of neighboring capitals, “while the people toil in crises,” said a citizen interviewed by the paper. Other interviewees were outraged that the parliament can hardly achieve the quorum when it comes to discussing urgent and critical matters, but “when it came to (their) salaries and privileges,” the session was held with haste and efficacy. (More)

That's right. It gets hot in Baghdad in July and August, hot as hell itself. So the Iraqi legislators like to get out of Dodge and head for cooler – and safer – locales. Surely they hope that, by the time they get done with their two-month R&R, American troops will have improved conditions for them in Baghdad.

Maybe the Iraqis are simply taking their cue from the guy responsible for their current conditions, George W. Bush, who takes his month-long vacation at his Crawford ranch come hell or high water.

It turns the stomach. All of it. All of them – an Iraqi “parliament” that feels perfectly free to take 2 months off even as the people who voted them into office die daily by the hundreds in the most horrible ways imaginable. And a US “president,” whose recklessly launched and incompetently managed war created this slaughter, insisting it continue just so he can get leave office without admitting failure.

A real president would, first of all, not gotten us into such a mess to begin with. But, if we had a real president/commander-in-chief in office now, he/she would pick up the phone, call the US ambassador in Iraq and ask him to deliver the following message to the Iraqi government:

If you guys go of vacation – any vacation – this summer, while our soldiers are fighting and dying for you, here's what's going happen:

The day the Iraqi Parliament recesses and leaves town I will order the US command to begin an immediate withdrawal of all US troops, beginning in Baghdad,with total withdrawal to be completed by end of August -- just in time for your return from vacation.

Please let me know what you decide as soon as possible. You can call anytime as I'll be here, at my desk, in the Oval Office, all summer.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

President of the United States of America

(P.S. Yes, you can call collect – as usual)

April 26, 2007

Mr. Whipple v. Dr. Evil

I'll be right up front. I shook my head in despair and disbelief when Democrats chose Harry Reid to serve as Senate Majority Leader. Here they were, after a dozen years wandering in the wilderness, back in charge, though by the slimmest of margins imaginable. But they picked Reid to lead them. Why? Because it was his turn. After all, he'd paid his dues.

Meanwhile Republicans were bruised by the 2006 election, but hardly down or out. Democrats would have to deal with a fierce GOP insurgency for at least the next two years. They'd have to watch their every flank, cover every base and be prepared for furious hand to hand combat at every turn in path ahead.

And who do they choose as their leader -- their party's clerk-in-chief - a guy who always appears on the verge of shouting, "Don't squeeze the Charmin."

(Watch the part of this video in which Pelosi and Reid speak outside the Oval Office. See Nancy cringe.)

House Democrats did a better job picking a leader. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has, so far, navigated these treacherous waters with skill, grace and yet with an unspoken, but convincing “don't mess with Momma,” undercurrent.

Meanwhile Reid has been about as inspiring a Senate leader an assistant middle school principal. What a shame. What a missed opportunity. Imagine if it were otherwise. Imagine if they had picked a skilled orator, a person with real gravitas, a person who could stand toe to toe with the White House in a stare down without sparking visions of an aging Barney Fife fumbling to load his single bullet.

Of course I understand that there are those in the Democratic Party who don't want to have this conversation. They will accuse me of falling for a GOP distraction ploy. Which is why I include in this post both views. The first is by Washington Post reporter/columnist, David Broder – a guy who has forgotten more about national politics than most of today's pundits (or politicians) think they know. The other is a retort posted at progressive site,

You decide. I already have. These are the most treacherous of times. The Dems should pick a new Senate leader... and soon.

The Democrats' Gonzales

By David S. Broder
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Here's a Washington political riddle where you fill in the blanks: "As Alberto Gonzales is to the Republicans, ______ ______ is to the Democrats -- a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance."

If you answered Harry Reid, give yourself an A. And join the long list of senators of both parties who are ready for these two springtime exhibitions of ineptitude to come to an end.

President Bush's highly developed tolerance for egregious incompetence in his administration may have met its supreme test in Attorney General Gonzales, who at various times has taken complete responsibility for the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and also professed complete ignorance of the reasons for their dismissal. This demonstration of serial obfuscation so impressed the President that he rushed out to declare that Gonzales had "increased my confidence in his ability to do the job."

As if that were not mind-boggling enough, consider the mental gyrations performed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as he rationalized the recent comment from his majority leader, Harry Reid, the leading light of Searchlight, Nev., that the war in Iraq "is lost."

On "Fox News Sunday," Schumer offered this clarification of Reid's off-the-cuff comment. "What Harry Reid is saying is this war is lost -- in other words, a war where we mainly spend our time policing a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. We are not going to solve that problem. ... The war is not lost. And Harry Reid believes this -- we Democrats believe it. ... So the bottom line is if the war continues on this path, if we continue to try to police and settle a civil war that's been going on for hundreds of years in Iraq, we can't win. But on the other hand, if we change the mission and have that mission focus on the more narrow goal of counterterrorism, we sure can win."

Everyone got that clear? This war is lost. But the war can be won. Not since Bill Clinton famously pondered the meaning of the word "is" has a Democratic leader so confused things as Harry Reid managed to do with his inept discussion of the alternatives in Iraq.

Nor is this the first time that Senate Democrats, who chose Reid as their leader over Chris Dodd of Connecticut, have had reason to ponder the political fallout from Reid's tussles with the language.

Hailed by his staff as "a strong leader who speaks his mind in direct fashion," Reid is assuredly not a man who misses many opportunities to put his foot in his mouth. In 2005, he attacked Alan Greenspan, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, as "one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington."

He called President Bush "a loser," then apologized. He said Bill Frist, then the Senate majority leader, "has no institutional integrity" because Frist planned to leave the Senate to fulfill a personal term-limits pledge. Then he apologized to Frist.

Most of these earlier gaffes were personal, bespeaking a kind of displaced aggressiveness on the part of the one-time amateur boxer. But Reid's verbal wanderings on the war in Iraq are consequential -- not just for his party and the Senate but for the more important question of what happens to U.S. policy in that violent country and to the men and women whose lives are at stake.

Given the way the Constitution divides the war-making power between the president as commander in chief and Congress as the sole source of funds to support the armed services, it is essential that at some point Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi be able to negotiate with the White House to determine the course America will follow from now until a new president takes office.

To say that Reid has sent conflicting signals of his readiness for such discussions is an understatement. It has been impossible for his own members, let alone the White House, to sort out what ground Reid is prepared to defend -- for more than 24 hours at a time.

Instead of reinforcing the important proposition -- defined by the Iraq Study Group -- that a military strategy for Iraq is necessary but not sufficient to solve the myriad political problems of that country, Reid has mistakenly argued that the military effort is lost but a diplomatic-political strategy can still succeed.

The Democrats deserve better and the country needs more than Harry Reid has offered as Senate majority leader.

David S. Broder is a columnist with The Washington Post. His e-mail address is


David Broder’s Continuing Embarrassment
From: Think Progress

Following up on his comments from Tuesday, the Washington Post’s David Broder today publishes a factually inaccurate screed aimed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Titled “The Democrats’ Gonzales,” Broder begins the column tarring Reid as a “continuing embarrassment” whose “amateurish performance” is an “exhibition of ineptitude.”

Broder baselessly claims that a “long list of senators of both parties…are ready” for Reid’s tenure “to end.” Both parties? Here’s Broder’s own paper on Tuesday: “In a closed-door meeting, Reid acknowledged that he had a [White House] target on his back, and Democratic senators responded with a standing ovation.”

Broder criticizes Reid for making a series of supposed verbal “gaffes” — such as calling President Bush “a loser” — which Broder mocks as “displaced aggressiveness on the part of the onetime amateur boxer.” But despite his claim earlier this week that “every six weeks or so there’s another episode where [Reid] has to apologize,” Broder’s most recent example of a “gaffe” is 16 months old.

Broder then turns to Reid’s “consequential” gaffe, that the war in Iraq “is lost” (a view Reid happens to share with the majority of Americans). To highlight Harry Reid’s “inept discussion” of Iraq, Broder quotes…Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

On “Fox News Sunday,” Schumer offered this clarification of Reid’s off-the-cuff comment. “What Harry Reid is saying is that this war is lost — in other words, a war where we mainly spend our time policing a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. We are not going to solve that problem. … The war is not lost. And Harry Reid believes this — we Democrats believe it. … So the bottom line is if the war continues on this path, if we continue to try to police and settle a civil war that’s been going on for hundreds of years in Iraq, we can’t win. But on the other hand, if we change the mission and have that mission focus on the more narrow goal of counterterrorism, we sure can win.”

Everyone got that? This war is lost. But the war can be won. Not since Bill Clinton famously pondered the meaning of the word “is” has a Democratic leader confused things as much as Harry Reid did with his inept discussion of the alternatives in Iraq.

It’s unclear why Reid is attacked for someone else’s remarks. But more importantly, Schumer’s argument (however impromptu) is perfectly clear when one isn’t simply trying to make fun of it. There are multiple wars in Iraq. Echoing the latest National Intelligence Estimate, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in February, “I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq.” The two most significant are Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence and al Qaeda terrorism. Reid and Schumer are saying that the U.S. military cannot possibly “win” Iraq’s sectarian civil war, but that we can still be victorious over the terrorists.

Broder concludes with his most aggressive attack, that Reid “has sent conflicting signals about his readiness” to lead the U.S. Senate in a time of war because of his views on Iraq:

Instead of reinforcing the important proposition — defined by the Iraq Study Group — that a military strategy for Iraq is necessary but not sufficient to solve the myriad political problems of that country, Reid has mistakenly argued that the military effort is lost but a diplomatic-political strategy can still succeed.

In fact, the Iraq Study Group recommended a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by March 2008, a goal the Senate has adopted in its Iraq legislation. The ISG also states that President Bush’s current strategy of “[s]ustained increases in U.S. troop levels [will] not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq.”

Broder’s column today truly backfires, showing himself — the “dean” of Washington journalism — not Harry Reid, to be an amateurish embarrassment.