Thursday, February 07, 2008

January 25-Feb 6, 2008


A Cheater's Best Friend

Some have described Hillary Clinton's brand of politics as "Bush-lite." Those who feel that way can find further confirmation in Florida -- the very state where George W. Bush "finagled" his way into the presidency in 2000.

When the Bushies discovered they were not going to win playing by the rules, they changed the rules. Some would say they broke the rules. Others would say, "what's the diff?" Changing the rules in the heat of a close game is cheating, which is the same thing as breaking the rules.

Whatever, the end result back in 2000 was that the guy who actually won the popular vote, Al Gore, didn't get to claim his win. Instead the guy who failed to win the popular vote, George W. Bush, was installed into the presidency, not by voters, but by the Supreme Court.

The lesson was clearly not lost on presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. When campaign rules she agreed to at the start of the race no longer served her, she decided to change those rules. And where better to pull such a stunt than in the perennially "confused" state of Florida.

Think back, for a moment, to when this primary began. The Democratic party of Florida moved it's primary up to January in violation of DNC rules. In return the national party stripped Florida of it's 210 delegates to the August Democratic Party nominating convention.

At the time this decision was made, each of the Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton, agreed to ignore the Florida primary. Florida could have it's primary anytime it wanted, but it's 210 Democratic Party delegates will not be recognized at the party's convention. In other words, no candidate would be able to count Florida delegates in the final count. (The same went for Michigan which also defied the party.)

None of the candidates had a problem with this -- until Barack Obama began to catch fire and close in on Hillary Clinton. Suddenly, what had looked like an easy win for Clinton, turned into a real horse race. Obama's delegate count began closing in on Hillary Clinton's.

Then Obama trounced Clinton in South Carolina, after which Democratic party seniors, like Ted Kennedy, came out for Obama and more indicated they were leaning his way.

That's when Hillary Clinton decided it was time to tear a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook.  Since no Democrats had campaigned in Florida, Clinton was able to leverage her relationship with Florida's expatriate New Yorkers for an easy win.  Coming, as it did, at a moment where events were trending away from her and towards Obama, Clinton decided it was time for a rule change:

Clinton alone in push for Florida delegates

Times Political Editor
Published January 26, 2008

Trying to ramp up the importance of Florida's Democratic presidential primary, Hillary Clinton on Friday called for her Democratic rivals to join her in helping get Florida delegates seated for the national convention.... "I hear all the time from people in Florida and Michigan that they want their voices heard in selecting the Democratic nominee," the New York senator said in a statement. "I believe our nominee will need the enthusiastic support of Democrats in these states to win the general election, and so I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan." (Full)

Just as Neo-con Republicans rallied to Bush's side in the 2000 Florida fight, old-line machine Democrats jumped in to back up their candidate.

Sen. Bill Nelson, who some Democrats expect to endorse Clinton Tuesday, praised her statement, called on other Democrats to follow her lead, and declared in a statement, "All the talk about Florida's Democratic Primary being meaningless is absurd....Many observers expect the eventual nominee will push to reinstate the delegates at the convention."

So there you have it. Hillary Clinton explicitly preparing the ground for a Bush-like Florida-powered coup. Those 210 Florida delegates would be more than enough to tip the balance in what is shaping up to be a neck to neck race to the August convention. And, since Clinton "won" the Florida non-primary, she'd get the lion's share of those delegates if the party caves and certifies them, as Clinton is demanding. 

If Clinton prevails she would have cheated herself to the party nomination, just as Bush cheated his way into the presidency. And that would not be "Bush-lite" at all. It would be more like "Bush-heavy," a repeat of the Bush/Cheney campaign's 2000 Florida coup.

Memo to Howard Dean:

Howard -- please listen very carefully. If the Democratic Party allows Hillary Clinton to get away with reseating the Florida and Michigan delegates then I -- and I suspect tens of millions of other already unhappy Democrats -- will be done with the Democratic party -- this time for good.

You're already on shaky ground, amigo. We put you guys back in power last year and you've accomplished nothing. The war rages on, the economy is tanking, we still don't have a sane (or even humane) health care system, our country is now listed among those that employ torture, we are still being spied on by our own government and Democrats haven't impeached executive branch officials provably guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors.

In short, you're already on thin ice. Put the fix in now for Hillary Clinton by reseating those delegates and that'll be the final straw for millions of us.

Think we're kidding? Think again.

January 28, 2008

Bonnie & Clyde

(And Other Power Couples)

In recent days I've been reintroduced to "Clinton Fatigue." Remember Clinton Fatigue? Oh man, I sure do.

No, I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy." On the contrary. Since 1968 I've been a proud -- if often weary and disappointed -- card-carrying member of the vast left-wing conspiracy.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me back up a few years and tell you about a long-forgotten memory that popped back into my head this week like a bad acid flashback.

About a dozen years ago I was staying a night at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. (Not on my nickel, mind you.  My publisher, HarperCollins, was picking up the tab as part of a book tour.)

Anyway it was morning and I left my room for the first talk show appointment of the day. I punched the "down" button for the elevator. A car was already heading down from a top floor and stopped to pick me up. Inside were just two people, a very burly guy in gray suit and an older, well-dressed woman.

Even before the doors closed it dawned on me that the woman was none other than the former First Lady of the Philippines -- Imelda Marcos.

As the car resumed it's downward voyage I was suddenly consumed with the temptation to address Ms. Marcos with some kind of crack along the lines of;  "Good morning. Nice shoes!"

But I stifled myself after noticing that her very large, not smiling, bodyguard was already burning holes through me with his eyes. The coward in me prevailed over the smart-ass and kept my peace (and my teeth.)

When the doors opened into the lobby a small clutch of Filipino women had gathered to greet Ms. Marcos. They clapped and carried signs praising her. The rotund Ms. Marcos scurried past me towards them, her bejeweled hands outstretched, as she crooned, "Oh, my peeeeople, my peeeeople...."  (Visions of Miss Piggy danced before my eyes.)

As I get older and retreat ever further from my former work-a-day existence, memories like that pay unexpected dividends.  At the time they served as simple conversation pieces -- as in, "You'll never guess who I shared an elevator with this morning."  But years later they end up as pieces of life's jigsaw without which my understanding of the big picture would be lacking.

And so it was that last week, as I watched and listened to the latest episodes of the newly revived Bill and Hillary Show, that my encounter with half of the former Ferdinand and Imelda act suddenly meshed with current events.

Don't fret. I'm not comparing the Clintons with the breathtaking corruption of the Marcos regime. Whatever you think of the Clinton's they're not crooks -- at least not by current Republican standards. Instead the comparison hinges on what appears to be a sense of entitlement power-hungry couples like the Clintons, the Marcos and the Perons of the world develop once they get in office.

Not all power-couples fall victim to this syndrome, but when a couple does it appears to be incurable. They live and breathe to attain "their precious." Once they have it, they devise devious ways to keep it. When they lose it, they will do and say anything it takes to get it back.

I'm not the only one out here who worries about a Bill & Hillary 2008 revival tour:

"The Clinton camp knows what it’s doing, and its slimy maneuvers have been working. .. But the damage to Senator Obama has been real, and so have the benefits to Senator Clinton of these and other lowlife tactics." (NYT: Bob Herbert)

"Mrs. Clinton claims that her time in that role was an active one. (Bill) can hardly be expected to show less involvement when he returns to the scene of his time in power as the resident expert. He is not the kind to be a potted plant in the White House...Which raises an important matter. Do we really want a plural presidency? " (Garry Wills, a professor emeritus of history at Northwestern)

"Do Bill Clinton’s red-faced eruptions and fact-challenged rants enhance or diminish his wife as a woman and a candidate?...Absent from this debate is any sober recognition that a Hillary Clinton nomination, if it happens, will send the Democrats into the general election with a new and huge peril that may well dwarf the current wars over race, gender and who said what about Ronald Reagan." (Frank Rich)

Most of Bill’s tantrums were behind closed doors. But during Hillary’s presidential campaign, we’ve seen the real Bill boiling with rage... But don’t think that he can’t stage blowing his top when he thinks it will be strategically useful...Bill’s tantrums are causing the press to focus on him and not Hillary. That’s what he wants. No more questions about her experience, her ethics, her flip-flops. Now it's all about Bill. (Former Clinton advisor, Dick Morris)

I was so relieved to see the Clinton years come to an end. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't as though I was happy with their replacements. Far from it. George W. Bush will almost surely go down in history as this country's worst president.

The Clinton's on the other hand, will likely go down as the nation's most annoying First Couple.

For eight years we had to wrestle with their unique spousal/political/interpersonal/ethical soap-opera dynamic. And it left me, and many other Democrats, exhausted. And not just exhausted by the spectacles, but by constantly having to defend the Clintons antics from the even sleazier sleaze balls on the right.

And now they're baaaack. And not just the Clintons are back, but the whole disgusting, time-wasting, name-calling, he-said, she-said, sick 1990's reality show of a soap opera.

The first "Clinton years" -- the 1990s. were downright pastoral compared to the Mad Max world of jihad, peak oil and re-(or) de-pression that now loom just ahead of us. The last thing we need right now are the Duke and Duchess of Hazard back the White House -- and all the distractions they tow along in their joint wakes.


Cartoon of The Day


January 24, 2008

Call me Crazy


Some days I wonder if I'm becoming delusional. You know, the kind of person who sees and hears things that no one else sees or hears. Or, worse, the kind of person who finds himself surrounded by a  handful of folks who also see and hear things that few others hear and see and who assure me, "we're not crazy, everyone else is crazy."

I mean here were are now in the midst of an economic collapse of historic proportions that some of us have seen coming for a couple of years. Now suddenly that we're on the rocks all those folks who accused us of seeing problems that did not exist, are now promising to fix those very problems. 

(Nevertheless we, of course, are still the crazy ones.)

But, don't worry, I'm not going to beat that horse today. Buy on the rumor, sell on the news, and that news is now old-news.

No, today I want to flog another dead horse "the voices" have been bugging me about -- the surge. You might have heard -- it's "working."

Every time I hear a politician or general boasting that "the surge is working," the voices roar in my head, "What the f--- are those people talking about?"

It really comes down to this: either they are lying to us (again) or I need to go on anti-psychotic medication immediately.

You tell me which it is. Here's what the "voices" tell me is actually going on with the surge. As my old Marine DI used to like to put it -- "by the numbers:"

1) Once Iraq's minority Sunnis were driven out power by US forces, they accepted offers of help from  al Queda in the hope that al Queda's suicidal nut cakes would destabilize the new US-backed Shiite-dominated government.

2) But, as I wrote long ago, terrorists rarely succeed because they eventually "crap in the own mess kits." That is, they generally end up turning on their hosts, because terrorists tend to be either political and/or religious fundamentalist. And for a fundamentalist no one is ever "pure enough." Sooner or later fundamentalists begin fighting even with their supporters. And that's precisely what happened in the Sunni areas of Iraq. Al Queda fighters abused their hosts and wore out their welcome.

3) Besides wearing out their welcome, Sunnis also came to realize that al Queda's tactics would never defeat the US and Iranian-backed Shiites in Baghdad. In fact, if the Americans left Iraq right then (pre-surge) it was certain that Iran would move right in to fill the security vacuum.

4) So, even before the surge began, Sunni leaders and US commanders suddenly had something in common -- al Queda. So, both parties struck a classic Faustian deal: if Sunni insurgents stopped their anti-US and anti-government attacks the US would arm and fund Sunni militias in their new fight against al Queda.

5) Even long before Bush's surge troops arrived in Iraq this new tactic had slashed US casualties and put al Queda in Iraq on the run.

A cursory examination of the above might lead the uncurious to accept administration claims that "the surge is working." If lower US casualties were the benchmark, the surge "worked" before it even began.

But in fact, if the surge is "working," it's actually working in the same way a near identical tactic worked two decades ago in Afghanistan. Back then the US armed the Mujahideen in  their fight against Soviet occupiers. That "worked" too -- at least in the short run. Today those same US-backed Afghan fighters are now killing US and NATO forces and destabilizing neighboring Pakistan. How's that "working" out?

When it comes to alliances in that part of the world, "working" is a term of art -- the art of the tribal politics of convenience. You know, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Once the common enemy has been dealt with the "working" relationship dissolves, usually to be immediately replaced by the status quo ante as the former allies revert to enemies once again.

And that's just what is happening in Iraq now that al Queda has been chased out of Sunni areas. Now the Sunnis are back to trying to figure out how to prevent majority Shiites from succeeding. Now, thanks to their temporary American friends, Sunni militias are better trained and far better equipped than they were after being chased out of government with little more than the shirts on their backs following Saddam's dethroning by US forces. 

Ah, so now what?

Well the "voices" tell me that, with al Queda on the ropes, and US troops having one foot out the door, the Sunni insurgency will soon switch its (violent) attentions back to destabilizing the US/Iranian-backed government in Baghdad.

None of this has been lost on Iraq's equally shady Shiite leaders. They've been warning the US against the arming of Sunni militias since the get go.  After all, Americans may new to all this, but the Shiites and Sunnis have been at this for a thousand  years. They know each other well -- too well. The last thing the newly entrenched Shiite rulers of Iraq want is to be stuck with a robust Sunni insurgency after their US protectors leave.

That's why they've decided to nip that little problem in the bud, while the nipping good. 

At least that how the voices see it.

Oh, look, the voices were right - again:

Attacks Imperil U.S.-Backed Militias in Iraq

BAGHDAD — American-backed Sunni militias who have fought Sunni extremists to a standstill in some of Iraq’s bloodiest battlegrounds are being hit with a wave of assassinations and bomb attacks, threatening a fragile linchpin of the military’s strategy to pacify the nation. At least 100 predominantly Sunni militiamen, known as Awakening Council members or Concerned Local Citizens, have been killed in the past month, mostly around Baghdad and the provincial capital of Baquba. Violence is also shaking up the Awakening movement, many of whose members are former insurgents, in its birthplace in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province.

Born nearly two years ago in Iraq’s western deserts, the Awakening movement has grown to an 80,000-member nationwide force, four-fifths of whose members are Sunnis. American military officials credit that force, along with the surge in United States troops, the Mahdi Army’s self-imposed cease-fire and an increase in Iraqi security forces, for a precipitous drop in civilian and military fatalities since July.

(Full Story)

So, "the surge is working." But for whom? And for how long? And what about later?

"Later" is important.. maybe more important than the here and now. Exactly what may grow from the seeds planted by this temporary marriage of connivence between US forces and Sunni insurgents? We never saw the bitter harvest we'd reap from the same unholy alliance we made in Afghanistan during the 1980s with anti-Soviet Afghan insurgents. Those tactics were seen as "working" back then too as the Soviets were chased out of Afghanistan.

What we didn't see coming was that arming and training those Afghan insurgents then had set in motion events that would, years later, result in the attacks of 9/11.  Those well-armed Afghan insurgents, once victorious, became the Taliban, who in turn harbored and supported al Queda, which, from its safe havens in Afghanistan, planned the 9/11 attacks.  Cause - effect.

So maybe I'm crazy. But I find it difficult to accept, based on what I see and hear every day, that  Bush's surge in Iraq is "working." If it is working, how so? What metrics are those claiming so using? And what do those temporary Sunni allies of ours have in mind for the days when we leave them and their Shiite enemies to settle matters on their own?

What will Iran do then?

What will we do then?

We didn't ask those questions back in the 1980s in Afghanistan. Instead we decided the short term results were good enough, why bother extrapolating events into the future.

Now look, we're back in Afghanistan, this time big time. Did our arming of Afghan insurgents really "work" in light of events that followed?

With all that in mind, I ask, have those claiming the surge in Iraq is working considered what follows? How will Iraq's minority Sunnis use the billions of dollars in arms, equipment and training in the months and years ahead? Believe me, the Shiites have made those calculations, they don't like the results, and they have no intention of letting them happen.

Neither do the Sunnis, for whom the surge really has worked, putting them back into the game by the same US forces who knocked them out of the game just five bloody years ago.

Now that's crazy.