Browsing the blog archives for March, 2007.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Bush Administration, Middle East

Jim Hoagland writes in today’s Washington Post that the Bushie-Saudi relationship is on the rocks.

President Bush enjoys hosting formal state dinners about as much as having a root canal. Or proposing tax increases. So his decision to schedule a mid-April White House gala for Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah signified the president’s high regard for an Arab monarch who is also a Bush family friend.

Now the White House ponders what Abdullah’s sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner signifies. Nothing good — especially for Condoleezza Rice’s most important Middle East initiatives — is the clearest available answer.

Abdullah’s bowing out of the April 17 event is, in fact, one more warning sign that the Bush administration’s downward spiral at home is undermining its ability to achieve its policy objectives abroad. Friends as well as foes see the need, or the chance, to distance themselves from the politically besieged Bush.

So sad. What’s worse, King Abdullah has been going out with other heads of state.

Abdullah gave a warm welcome to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Riyadh in early March, not long after the Saudis pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into accepting a political accord that entrenches Hamas in an unwieldy coalition government with Abbas’s Fatah movement.

The Saudis “know how to read election returns,” Hoagland says.

Next week: In a jealous rage, George W. Bush mails Bob Woodward a copy of the 28 pages redacted from the congressional report on 9/11. (The section of the report that dealt with Saudi Arabia’s role in the September 11 attacks.)

See also Sun Tzu at The Agonist.

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Supplement Bill Update

Congress, Iraq War

As I keyboard, senators Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel are introducing an amendment that would limit troops deployments and set requirements for training and equipment of troops.

The final Senate vote on the supplement could happen late today or sometime tomorrow.

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Appropriate Appropriations

Bush Administration, Congress, Democratic Party, Iraq War, Republican Party

Today the Senate is scheduled to resume consideration of H.R. 1591, the Supplemental Appropriations bill. There’s a summary of the bill here. If the Senate gets around to voting today I will post about it asap.

By now you’ve heard that the Senate rejected an amendment “To strike language that would tie the hands of the Commander-in-Chief by imposing an arbitrary timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, thereby undermining the position of American Armed Forces and jeopardizing the successful conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The vote was 48 yes, 50 no. The vote split along party lines. One Dem — Pryor (D-AR) — and Joe Lieberman (whatever-CT) voted yes with the Republicans (Lieberman was a co-sponsor of the amendment). Two Republicans — Smith (R-OR) and Hagel (R-NE) — voted no with the Dems. The complete vote record is here.

Shailagh Murray reports for the Washington Post:

The defection of a prominent Republican war critic, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, sealed the Democrats’ win. Hagel, who opposed identical withdrawal language two weeks ago, walked onto the Senate floor an hour before the late-afternoon vote and announced that he would “not support sustaining a flawed and failing policy,” adding: “It’s now time for the Congress to step forward and establish responsible boundaries and conditions for our continued military involvement in Iraq.”

I don’t know how likely it is that the bill will pass as is. But if Congress does send a bill to the White House with conditions attached, expect to see the Olympics of Spinning in Washington. Who would get the blame if George Bush vetoes the bill and money for the Iraq War effort runs short? Seems to me the public might well blame Bush.

Elsewhere in Washington — Yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales cut and ran from a press conference when reporters asked him questions about the U.S. Attorney scandal. But never fear; you can find a video of the AG contradicting himself at Crooks and Liars.

D. Kyle Sampson is scheduled to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow; should be fun.

Today Henry Waxman’s House committee on Oversight and Government Reform will be hearing testimony from Lurita Alexis Doan, who is accused of using her position as chief of the General Services Administration for partisan political purposes.

See David Sirota, “The threat of a ‘clean’ Iraq supplemental still loom large.”

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The Senate’s Turn

Bush Administration, Congress, Democratic Party, Iraq War, Republican Party

Here’s an interesting development. Jeff Zeleny writes for the New York Times:

As the Senate opened debate Monday on a $122 billion Iraq spending bill, Republicans vowed not to allow Congress to impose a withdrawal date for American troops, but said they would rely on President Bush’s veto pen rather than procedural maneuvers to block it.

Mr. Bush has vowed to veto any legislation that establishes a specific timetable to remove combat troops from Iraq. The Democratic-led House has passed such a plan, and Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to advance a similar measure this week, but the party does not have enough votes in either chamber to override a veto.

For weeks, Republican leaders have used procedural maneuvers to delay a debate over Iraq. But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said he did not want to hold up financing for the war by spending more time than necessary on a measure that will never become law.

Republicans signaled that they would not use procedural measures to block the bill, but would instead let the White House kill it and then urge Democrats to pass a bill that provides funding for the war without setting any dates for troop withdrawals.

“We need to get the bill on down to the president and get the veto out of the way,” Senator McConnell said.

This might be the beginning of a Republican congressional retreat away from Bush. E.J. Dionne writes about last week’s House vote on the supplement bill and quotes Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.):

Now, Van Hollen argues, Bush’s “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the bill is also “hurting the political standing of his Republican colleagues” in Congress by forcing them to back an open-ended commitment in Iraq at a time when their constituents are demanding a different approach.

Of the upcoming Senate vote, Dionne writes,

With most counts showing Senate Democrats needing only one more vote to approve the call for troop withdrawals next year, antiwar pressures are growing on Sens. John Sununu (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). All face reelection next year, as does Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who is already seen as leaning toward the withdrawal plan.

What we might expect:

Bush’s threat to veto the House bill might be seen as either safe or empty, because the final compromise that emerges from the House and Senate will be different from the measure passed by Pelosi’s majority. But the president’s uncompromising language and his effective imposition of an April 15 deadline for the funding bill — after that date, he said, “our men and women in uniform will face significant disruptions” — may solidify Democratic ranks without rallying new Republican support.

If the compromise bill sent to Bush’s desk retains some conditions or timetables for withdrawal, even feeble ones, it will be a triumph for the Dems. If Bush then vetoes the bill, he will be further isolated even from his own party and politically weakened. It could get interesting.

Republicans are whining about pork in both the House and Senate bills. I don’t like pork, either, but I understand there hasn’t been an appropriations bill passed in living memory that didn’t have some sweeteners in it. The Republicans are desperate, in other words.

Be sure to read what else Dionne says about the House vote:

Last week’s narrow House vote imposing an August 2008 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops was hugely significant, even if the bill stands no chance of passing in the Senate this week in its current form. The vote was a test of the resolve of the new House Democratic leadership and its ability to pull together an ideologically diverse membership behind a plan pointing the United States out of Iraq.

To understand the importance of the vote, one need only consider what would have been said had it gone the other way: A defeat would have signaled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s powerlessness to create a governing majority from a fragmented Democratic membership. In a do-or-die vote, Pelosi lived to fight another day by creating a consensus in favor of withdrawal that included some of her party’s most liberal and most conservative members.

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Son of a Gun

Bush Administration

By now you may have heard the news story that an aide to Senator Jim Webb was arrested for attempting to carry a loaded firearm into a Senate office building. Here’s as much as I can put together about what happened:

The aide, Phillip Thompson, drove Senator Webb to an airport yesterday. The Senator gave Thompson a semiautomatic, 9 millimeter pistol and two magazines and instructed Thompson to drop these off at a Virginia location before entering the District of Columbia. Thompson forgot, and X-rays revealed the gun and magazines in Thompson’s briefcase as he tried to enter the Russell Senate Office Building.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, said “I don’t think he intended to harm anybody,” and “He was quite cooperative.” Thompson, a former Marine, was arrested and jailed He faces faces felony charges of carrying a pistol without a license and possessing an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition. A very unfortunate episode, but the law is the law.

Naturally, rightie bloggers are gleeful that a Democratic aide was “busted,” and are eagerly looking for a way to make the Senator guilty of something also. Several of them are linking to a Drudge Report item about it that, oddly, doesn’t seem to be on the Drudge site now. Blogs for Bush demands that there be “a full investigation” of Webb’s culpability. Some guy on Free Republic is howling for Webb to be charged with carrying an “unregistered handgun around the District of Columbia. … Only question remains now is when Sen. Webb will be arrested and charged.”

The catch is that DC airports as a rule are not in DC, but in Virginia. This includes Reagan National, in Arlington County. If the Senator were being driven from his home (which the news stories don’t confirm) to an airport, then he wasn’t in DC, but in Virginia, and I’m told that he’s done nothing that wasn’t lawful in Virginia.

Several news stories mention that the gun isn’t registered, but Virginia doesn’t require gun registration. It is public knowledge that the Senator has a carry permit, which he waved about from time to time during last year’s campaign. Also, I’m told that Virginia law allows someone to loan a firearm to a friend without checking ID. If the facts are as I believe them to be, the Senator didn’t violate any laws. Thompson might have been in violation of Virginia law if he didn’t have a permit to carry a weapon; I don’t know if he does or not.

Expect the righties to lose interest in this story as soon as they figure out where the airports are.

Update: Faux Noise is reporting a different story.

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Don’t Watch on a Full Stomach


Speaking of who’s angry and who’s not — Ann Althouse, self-absorbed dimwit and tool for the Right, “debates” Garance Franke-Ruta at Bloggingheads. If you don’t remember the Jessica Valenti Breast Controversy, read Althouse’s infamous post that touched it off here. At Orcinus, David Neiwert patiently explains to Althouse why lefties don’t like her.

See also Scott Lemieux, John Amato, and Michael Bérubé.

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Fluff and Puff

Bush Administration

Glenn Greenwald posts “The most revealing three-minute You Tube clip ever,” in which Chris Matthews and some other beltway blatherers spend nearly four minutes discussing the U.S. Attorney scandal without saying shit about it. Instead of discussing the substance of the scandal, Matthews et al. giggle about Democrats who want to smack Karl Rove.

On a related note, Bob Herbert discusses media coverage of Elizabeth Edwards’s illness:

Since presidential campaigns are covered like sporting events, the speculation immediately centered on whether Mrs. Edwards’s illness would harm her husband’s fund-raising ability, or cause him to go up or down in the polls, or in some other way hamper or enhance his ability to compete.

The pack is obsessed with the horse race, which is regrettable. It would be far more constructive and interesting if this heightened attention to Mr. Edwards’s campaign resulted in the media and the public taking a closer look at the issues he has been pushing, not just in the campaign but ever since his unsuccessful run for vice president in 2004.

If that were to happen it could be part of the silver lining that Elizabeth Edwards hopes will emerge from her family’s latest devastating crisis.

The 2008 presidential campaign has gotten an absurdly early start and has drawn staggering amounts of media coverage. The result has largely been the triumph of the trivial: Who said what nasty thing about whom? Who flipped? Who flopped?

Substance is considered boring, and thus less newsworthy.

If these same clowns had covered the election of 1860, voters would have been subjected to endless chatter about Lincoln’s a shop-a-holic wife, Mary Lincoln, whose family were slaveowners and secessionists. Her every cough would be tagged a proof she was a liability to the campaign. Lincoln himself would be portrayed as a peacenik who lost a House seat in 1848 because he spoke out against the Mexican War. Surely the pundits would decide he was just another James Buchanan, well meaning but soft. I can see Tucker Carlson asking viewers if Lincoln wasn’t a flip-flopper on slavery, because he’d spoken against it in some speeches but had promised to make no attempt to abolish slavery in slave states in other speeches. Etc., etc.

As Herbert says in his column, Edwards is running on a number of issues, such as universal health care. I’ve got issues with Edwards’s proposal on health care, but I think it’s more important for voters to understand Edwards’s views on health care than to watch Katie Couric grill John Edwards on why he is still campaigning when his wife has cancer.

As it was, voters in 1860 probably knew next to nothing about Mary Lincoln. I remember reading somewhere that many Americans had no idea what Lincoln looked like until after he was in the White House — in Mr. Lincoln’s case, that was just as well. Sure there was some imagery hype — “Abe the Rail Splitter” stuff — but mostly what voters knew about Lincoln in 1860 was where he stood on issues. That’s because most of what they knew about Lincoln they learned from reading his speeches, published in thousands of independently owned newspapers all over the country. He was able to speak to voters more directly than today’s candidates, who can only reach voters through the mediation of the likes of Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, Katie Couric, and worse — Faux Noise.

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Doing Business

Bush Administration, corruption, Republican Party, U.S. Attorneys

Lurita Alexis Doan, Chief Administrator of the General Services Administration, says on the GSA web site that she hopes to meet “President Bush’s challenge for all federal agencies to find new and smarter ways to do business.”

That business is, apparently, electing Republicans.

Scott Higham and Robert O’Harrow Jr. write in today’s Washington Post:

Witnesses have told congressional investigators that the chief of the General Services Administration and a deputy in Karl Rove’s political affairs office at the White House joined in a videoconference earlier this year with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates.

With GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and up to 40 regional administrators on hand, J. Scott Jennings, the White House’s deputy director of political affairs, gave a PowerPoint presentation on Jan. 26 of polling data about the 2006 elections.

When Jennings concluded his presentation to the GSA political appointees, Doan allegedly asked them how they could “help ‘our candidates’ in the next elections,” according to a March 6 letter to Doan from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Waxman said in the letter that one method suggested was using “targeted public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country.”

Doan is scheduled to testify to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. Doan and others may have violated the Hatch Act, which forbids executive-branch employees from using their positions for partisan political purposes.

(That’s Henry Waxman’s committee, the same one that heard the testimony of Valerie Plame. I just wanted to point that out to underscore why it was so important to elect a Democratic majority to Congress in the midterms. It wasn’t because Democrats are perfect, because they aren’t, but turning control of committees over to Democrats makes investigation of the Bush Regime possible.)

The planned hearing is part of an expanding examination by Waxman’s committee of Doan’s tumultuous 10-month tenure as administrator of the GSA. The government’s leading procurement agency annually handles about $56 billion worth of federal contracts.

The committee is also expected to question Doan about her attempt to give a no-bid job to a friend and professional associate last summer. In addition, the committee plans to look at Waxman’s charge that Doan “intervened” in a troubled technology contract with Sun Microsystems that could cost taxpayers millions more than necessary.

Ah, yes. Bushies and cronyism. Together forever.

In the Senate, Doan is facing a similar line of questioning in letters from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Also examining Doan are the GSA’s Office of Inspector General and the independent federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates allegations of Hatch Act violations.

In several recent statements, Doan has said she did nothing wrong. She said her troubles are the result of retaliation by the inspector general over her efforts to rein in spending and balance the GSA budget. Doan, a wealthy former government contractor who sold her company before taking over the GSA last May, has hired three law firms and two media relations companies at her own expense to handle inquiries from the federal investigators and the news media.

“Ever since I made the decision to restore fiscal discipline to all divisions within GSA, I have had to face a series of personal attacks and charges,” Doan said in a March 7 statement.

Readers of the rightie e-rag Townhall are being told that Doan has been targeted by Waxman’s Witch Hunt because she dared to cut spending — you know that liberals are pro-spending — and because Doan canceled a $20,000 contract intended to “promote diversity.” The WaPo story mentions the contract and provides some information Townhall leaves out —

On July 25, two months after Doan took office, she took the unusual step of personally signing the no-bid arrangement with Diversity Best Practices and Business Women’s Network, firms then run by Fraser, to produce a report about GSA’s use of businesses owned by minorities or women. The GSA’s general counsel at the time, Alan R. Swendiman, told Waxman’s investigators he was “alarmed” that the project was not competitively bid.

“Fraser” is Edie Fraser, a Washington public relations executive with whom Doan has had a long business relationship and who helped Doan get the plum GSA position. It appears the contract was a quid pro quo.

The GSA general counsel “immediately and repeatedly” advised Doan to terminate the contract. When Doan refused, the general counsel directed another GSA official to do the terminating. Somehow these little details escaped the attention of Townhall.

The J. Scott Jennings, the “deputy in Karl Rove’s political affairs office” mentioned above, was also instrumental in getting one of Rove’s aides, Tim Griffin, a U.S. Attorney job. Among the items discussed during the videoconference were how they could keep Nancy Pelosi from attending the opening of a new courthouse in her district.

Karl Rove and various Republican politicians apparently pushed U.S. attorneys to manufacture charges against Democrats to help Republicans win elections. And now this. What do you want to bet that similar shenanigans are going on in several other federal agencies?

Pass the popcorn.

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We’re Not Angry, Dammit

conservatism, Social Issues

One of the more maddening conceits of the Right is that righties are temperate and reasonable while lefties are a quivering mass of inchoate rage. George Will, master of smug obliviousness, today writes that “Americans” are “infatuated with anger,” but somehow in Will World that anger is mostly on the Left.

There are the tantrums — sometimes both theatrical and perfunctory — of talking heads on television or commentators writing in vitriol (Paul Krugman’s incessant contempt, Ann Coulter’s equally constant loathing). There is road rage (and parking lot rage when the Whole Foods Market parking lot is congested with expressive individualists driving Volvos and Priuses). The blogosphere often is, as one blogger joyfully says, “an electronic primal scream.” And everywhere there is the histrionic fury of ordinary people venting in everyday conversations.

Krugman the equivalent of Coulter? Please. And I like the touch about road rage among Volvo owners in the Whole Foods parking lot. I did a news google for “road rage”; one of the first incidents that came up involved two Arizona guys driving pickup trucks.

Will continues,

Perhaps this should not be surprising, now that Americans are inclined to elect presidents who advertise their emotions — “I feel your pain.” As the late Mary McGrory wrote, Bill Clinton “is a child of his age; he believes more in the thrust-out lower lip than the stiff upper one.”

It never occurred to me before that empathy is a form of anger.

In his column Will quotes an anthropologist named Peter Wood. Wood, who also writes for such bipartisan publications as National Review and FrontPage, is the author of the recently published A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. Here’s a review by Glenn C. Altschuler in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Unfortunately, Wood’s partisan preoccupations mar his ability to understand the origins, nature, and significance of the New Anger. His right-wing prism imprisons. He does not follow the evidence wherever it takes him. And so, A Bee in the Mouth deserves to be derided as a cri de Coors that Scaife-goats the 1960s and Bush-whacks ideological adversaries.

Wood insists that the “New Anger tends more to the political left than the political right.” He believes that once-angry conservative white males have turned their attention “to Home Depot and bass fishing.” For Americans now, “the primary image of anger” is Howard Dean, Al Gore, or a millionaire rapper. And the “leftist anger group” But not Tom DeLay, Pat Robertson or the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Those who believe that anger is caused by secularists, proponents of identity politics, and taboos against the politically incorrect “offer genuine insights.” Wood seems rather unconcerned about angry racists, homophobes, violent opponents of abortion, and civil-liberties-suppressing “super-patriots.”

In popular culture, Wood deems Bob Dylan’s protest songs “a kind of memo” to angri-culture, dividing the world into “weak good guys and powerful creeps.” But country music’s anger at a cultural elite that “proclaims its open-mindedness while simultaneously expressing contempt for traditional values” is “warranted.” Wood acknowledges, grudgingly, that right-wing anger dominates talk radio. But he focuses on Howard Stern and Don Imus, who are not conservatives, proclaims Rush Limbaugh a master of “comic tone and timing” who is not himself angry, and says nothing at all about Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and Neal Boortz.

I’d dismiss Wood as a partisan hack, but I fear that would make me sound angry.

Update: See also Gary Boyd of North Carolina Mountain Dreams. (The photo makes me homesick, btw.)

Update update: Speaking of righties being angry

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Bush Administration, Middle East

The arrest of 15 British sailors by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is a worrisome development. The immediate concern is for the safety and well-being of the sailors, of course. Let us also hope that the sailors are released before tensions escalate and push nations closer to war.

Captain Ed notes that Iran’s trying the sailors for espionage would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions. You remember the Geneva Conventions — they’re some old treaties that Alberto Gonzales thinks are “obsolete” and even “quaint.”

Over the next few days expect Britain and Iran to haggle over whether the sailors were in Iranian waters or not. The Iranians claim to have evidence the sailors deliberately entered Iranian waters. The Brits say the sailors were “miles” inside Iraqi waters. An Iraqi fisherman who claims to have seen the capture says the Brits were on the Iraqi side of the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

The British sailor episode bears a resemblance to the U2 Incident. For the young folks: In May 1960 the Soviet Union shot down a U.S. U2 spy plane that had entered Soviet air space. President Eisenhower at first denied the plane and the pilot were engaged in espionage; he insisted that if the plane had been in Soviet air space, perhaps the pilot was lost. But the Soviets had the pilot, Gary Powers, in custody, and they had film taken with camera equipment installed on the plane, and eventually Eisenhower was forced to admit that, yes, the plane had been on an espionage mission. The Soviets tried and convicted Powers of espionage; he was imprisoned for two years, then swapped for a Soviet spy in February 1962. The U2 Incident contributed to an escalation of tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Then we had leaders who really didn’t want to go to war. As Glenn Greenwald documents, we are not so fortunate now. And compared to current Iranian leadership, Nikita Khrushchev seems almost reasonable. Bad times.

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